Syndicate content

Archive - Jun 9, 2009

Termite Results Suggest Non-Toxic Approach to $30 Billion Pest Problem

Scientists at MIT and collaborating institutions have shown that a naturally occurring, non-toxic glucose derivative, GLD, can be used to compromise the immunity of termites and make them more vulnerable to lethal microbial infections. Insect pests such as termites cause damage to crops and man-made structures estimated at over $30 billion per year, imposing a global challenge on the human economy, the authors noted. They said that the use of GLD may lead to the development of non-toxic, sustainable pest control methods. Termites normally secrete a form of an antimicrobial protein into their nests to prevent pathogenic infections. The authors reported a technique to block this protein’s effects with GDL. They found that adding GDL to termite nests caused the termites to die more quickly at the hands of fungi that normally infect termites, as well as at the hands of opportunistic bacteria. The authors suggested that GDL, which is also biodegradable, and other similar molecules could be developed for food processing and storage and for use in building materials to protect against insect attacks. Plants could be engineered to produce GDL at high amounts in specific locations to increase their immunity, the authors suggested. This work was published online on June 8 in PNAS. [PNAS abstract]

New Angiogenesis Target Discovered

A new angiogenesis-promoting growth factor has been identified by researchers at the University of North Carolina and collaborating institutions. The newly identified growth factor protein, SFRP2, was found in the blood vessels of numerous tumor sites, including breast, prostate, lung, pancreas, ovarian, colon, kidney, and angiosarcomas. “The discovery that SFRP2 stimulates angiogenesis and is present in blood vessels of a wide variety of tumors provides us with a new target for drug design,” said Dr Nancy Klauber-DeMore, the senior author of the study. One growth factor that causes angiogenesis has been previously identified--vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF--and drugs to inhibit VEGF are already in use. But not all tumors respond to the therapy initially or over the long term. Thus, new growth factors need to be identified to aid in developing the next generation of angiogenesis inhibitors. The current work was reported online in Cancer Research. [Press release]

Primary Insomnia Linked to Neurochemical Abnormality

For the first time, researchers have identified a specific neurochemical abnormality in adults with primary insomnia. Primary insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, or having non-refreshing sleep, for at least one month without any known physical or mental condition. The current study results indicate that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the most common inhibitory transmitter in the brain, is reduced by nearly 30 percent in individuals who suffer from primary insomnia for more than six months. These findings suggest that primary insomnia is a manifestation of a neurobiological state of hyperarousal, which is present during both waking and sleep at physiological and cognitive levels. "Recognition that insomnia has manifestations in the brain may increase the legitimacy of those who have insomnia and report substantial daytime consequences," said Dr. John Winkelman, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, the principal investigator on the study. "Insomnia is not just a phenomenon observed at night, but has daytime consequences for energy, concentration, and mood." This work was reported June 9 at SLEEP 2000, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. [Press release]

Active Microenvironment May Provide Treatment Targets for Prostate Cancer

In a study of the response of prostate stroma (the surrounding structural framework of the prostate gland) to prostate cancer, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have identified 1,141 genes whose expression is altered in this response. Among the gene expression changes are ones that induce the formation of new structures such as blood vessels, nerves, and parts of nerves. These changes may explain why men with reactive stroma face a more aggressive disease, said Dr. Michael Ittmann, a senior author of the report. "Often in prostate cancer, you don't see much change in the stromal cells," said Dr. Ittmann. "However, in this subgroup of patients (in which the stroma become visibly reactive), you see a histologically recognizable change in the appearance of the stroma. Dr. (Gustavo) Ayala (another senior author of the report) has shown previously that this correlates with a bad prognosis. We know the stroma are doing something to promote bad behavior in cancer cells." "These findings are very important as this is the first step in discovering pathways and mechanisms in the tumor microenvironment that could be targeted as a novel therapeutic approach to treat prostate cancer by treating the cancer microenvironment niche,” said Dr. David Rowley, another author of the report, which was published in Clinical Cancer Research. [Press release]