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Archive - Mar 25, 2013

Akt Suppression May Prevent Herpes Virus Infections

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City have discovered a novel strategy for preventing infections due to the highly common herpes simplex viruses, the microbes responsible for causing genital herpes (herpes simplex virus 2) and cold sores (herpes simplex virus 1). The finding, published online on March 18, 2013 in The FASEB Journal, could lead to new drugs for treating or suppressing herpes virus infections. "We've essentially identified the molecular "key" that herpes viruses use to penetrate cell membranes and infect cells of the human body," said Betsy Herold, M.D., professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases), of microbiology & immunology and of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Einstein and attending physician of pediatrics, The Children's Hospital at Montefiore. Herpes viruses are known to infect skin cells as well as cells lining the cervix and the genital tract. A 2006 JAMA study estimated that nearly 60 percent of U.S. men and women between the ages of 14 and 49 carry the HSV-1 virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that about 1 in 6 Americans (16.2 percent) between 14 and 49 are infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), according to a 2010 national health survey. HSV-2 is a lifelong and incurable infection that can cause recurrent and painful genital sores and can make those infected with the virus two-to-three times more likely to acquire HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Dr. Herold and her colleagues had previously shown that infection by the herpes viruses depends on calcium released within the cells. In this study, they found that calcium release occurs because the viruses activate a critical cell-signaling molecule called Akt at the cell membrane.

Possible Major Progress on Beta-Thalassemia, Hemochromatosis, and Polycythemia Vera

Two studies led by investigators at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City shed light on the molecular biology of three blood disorders, leading to novel strategies to treat these diseases. The two new studies -- one published online on March 17, 2013 in Nature Medicine and the other published online on March 25, 2013 in an open-access article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation -- propose two new treatments for beta-thalassemia, a blood disorder which affects thousands of people globally every year. In addition, they suggest a new strategy to treat thousands of Caucasians of Northern European ancestry diagnosed with HFE-related hemochromatosis (i.e., hemochromatosis caused by a defect in the HFE gene) and a novel approach to the treatment of the rare blood disorder called polycythemia vera. These research insights were only possible because two teams that included 24 investigators at six American and European institutions decoded the body's exquisite regulation of iron, as well as its factory-like production of red blood cells. "When you tease apart the mechanisms leading to these serious disorders, you find elegant ways to manipulate the system," says Dr. Stefano Rivella, associate professor of genetic medicine in pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College. For example, Dr. Rivella says, two different gene mutations lead to different outcomes. In beta-thalassemia, patients suffer from anemia -- the lack of healthy red blood cells -- and, as a consequence, iron overload. In HFE-related hemochromatosis, patients suffer of iron overload. However, he adds, one treatment strategy that regulates the body's use of iron may work for both disorders.

T-Cell Therapy Eradicates an Aggressive Leukemia in Two Children

Two children with an aggressive form of childhood leukemia had a complete remission of their disease—showing no evidence of cancer cells in their bodies—after treatment with a novel cell therapy that reprogrammed their immune cells to rapidly multiply and destroy leukemia cells. A research team from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania published the case report of two pediatric patients online on March 25, 2013 in an open-access article in The New England Journal of Medicine. One of the patients, 7-year-old Emily Whitehead (photo), was featured in news stories in December 2012 after the experimental therapy led to her dramatic recovery after she relapsed following conventional treatment. Emily remains healthy and cancer-free, 11 months after receiving bioengineered T cells that zeroed in on a target found in this type of leukemia, called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The other patient, a 10-year-old girl, who also had a complete response to the same treatment, suffered a relapse two months later when other leukemia cells appeared that did not harbor the specific cell receptor targeted by the therapy. "This study describes how these cells have a potent anticancer effect in children," said co-first author Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where both patients were treated in this clinical trial. "However, we also learned that in some patients with ALL, we will need to further modify the treatment to target other molecules on the surface of leukemia cells." Dr. Grupp is the director of Translational Research for the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

46-Gene Sequencing Test for Cancer Patients in UK’s National Health Service

The first multi-gene DNA sequencing test that can help predict cancer patients' responses to treatment has been launched in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, thanks to a partnership between scientists at the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. The test uses the latest DNA sequencing techniques to detect mutations across 46 genes that may be driving cancer growth in patients with solid tumors. The presence of a mutation in a gene can potentially determine which treatment a patient should receive. The researchers say the number of genes tested marks a step change in introducing next-generation DNA sequencing technology into the NHS, and heralds the arrival of genomic medicine with whole genome sequencing of patients just around the corner. The many-gene sequencing test has been launched through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a collaboration between the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Oxford University to accelerate healthcare innovation, and which has partly funded this initiative. The BRC Molecular Diagnostics Centre carries out the test. The lab, based at Oxford University Hospitals, covers all cancer patients in the Thames Valley area. But the scientists are looking to scale this up into a truly national NHS service through the course of this year. The new £300 test could save significantly more in drug costs by getting patients on to the right treatments straightaway, reducing harm from side effects as well as the time lost before arriving at an effective treatment. “We are the first to introduce a multi-gene diagnostic test for tumor profiling on the NHS using the latest DNA sequencing technology,” says Dr.