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Archive - Mar 9, 2014

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New Blood Test Identifies Healthy Individuals at Risk of Alzheimer’s in Three Years

Researchers have discovered and validated a blood test that can predict with greater than 90 percent accuracy if a healthy person will develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease within three years. Described in a Nature Medicine article published online on March 9, 2014, the study heralds the potential for developing treatment strategies for Alzheimer's at an earlier stage, when therapy would be more effective at slowing or preventing onset of symptoms. It is the first known published report of blood-based biomarkers for preclinical Alzheimer's. The test identifies 10 lipids, or fats, in the blood that predict disease onset. It could be ready for use in clinical studies in as few as two years and, researchers say, other diagnostic uses are possible. "Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families, and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder," says the study's corresponding author Howard J. Federoff, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center. There is no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer's. Worldwide, approximately 35.6 million individuals have the disease and, according to the World Health Organization, the number will double every 20 years to 115.4 million people with Alzheimer's by 2050. Dr. Federoff explains there have been many efforts to develop drugs to slow or reverse the progression of Alzheimer's disease, but all of them have failed. He says one reason may be the drugs were evaluated too late in the disease process. "The preclinical state of the disease offers a window of opportunity for timely disease-modifying intervention," Dr. Federoff says.

Craig Venter Co-Founds Company Intended to Be Largest Human Sequencing Operation in World

Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company focused on extending the healthy, high-performance human life span, was announced on March 4, 2014 by co-founders J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Robert Hariri, M.D., Ph.D., and Peter H. Diamandis, M.D. The company, headquartered in San Diego, California, is being capitalized with an initial $70 million in investor funding. HLI’s funding is being used to build the largest human sequencing operation in the world to compile the most comprehensive and complete human genotype, microbiome, and phenotype database available to tackle the diseases associated with aging-related human biological decline. HLI is also leading the development of cell-based therapeutics to address age-related decline in endogenous stem cell function. Revenue streams will be derived from database licensing to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and academic organizations, sequencing, and development of advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. “Using the combined power of our core areas of expertise—genomics, informatics, and stem cell therapies, we are tackling one of the greatest medical/scientific and societal challenges—aging and aging related diseases,” said Dr. Venter. “HLI is going to change the way medicine is practiced by helping to shift to a more preventive, genomic-based medicine model which we believe will lower healthcare costs. Our goal is not necessarily lengthening life, but extending a healthier, high-performing, more productive life span.” HLI has initially purchased two Illumina HiSeq X Ten Sequencing Systems (with the option to acquire three additional systems) to sequence up to 40,000 human genomes per year, with plans to rapidly scale up to 100,000 human genomes per year.

Anti-Psychotic Medications Offer Unexpected Hope in Glioblastoma Battle

Researchers at the University of California (UC), San Diego School of Medicine, together with colleagues, have discovered that FDA-approved anti-psychotic drugs possess tumor-killing activity against the most aggressive form of primary brain cancer, glioblastoma. The finding was published online on March 7, 2014 in Oncotarget. The team of scientists, led by principal investigator Clark C. Chen, M.D., Ph.D., vice-chairman, UC San Diego, School of Medicine, division of neurosurgery, used a technology platform called shRNA to test how each gene in the human genome contributed to glioblastoma growth. The discovery that led to the shRNA technology won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2006. "ShRNAs are invaluable tools in the study of what genes do. They function like molecular erasers," said Dr. Chen. "We can design these 'erasers' against every gene in the human genome. These shRNAs can then be packaged into viruses and introduced into cancer cells. If a gene is required for glioblastoma growth and the shRNA erases the function of that gene, then the cancer cell will either stop growing or die." Dr. Chen said that one surprising finding is that many genes required for glioblastoma growth are also required for dopamine receptor function. Dopamine is a small molecule that is released by nerve cells and binds to the dopamine receptor in surrounding nerve cells, enabling cell communication. Abnormal dopamine regulation is associated with Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Because of the importance of dopamine in these diseases, drugs have been developed to neutralize the effect of dopamine, called dopamine antagonists. Following clues unveiled by their shRNA study, Dr.

Test for Persistent Lyme Infection Uses Live Ticks

In a first-of-its-kind study for Lyme disease, researchers have used live, disease-free ticks to see if Lyme disease bacteria can be detected in people who continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue or arthritis after completing antibiotic therapy. The technique, called xenodiagnosis, attempts to find evidence of a disease-causing microbe indirectly, through use of the natural disease-carrier—in this case, ticks. It was well tolerated by the volunteers, but investigators could not find evidence of Lyme disease bacteria in most of the cases where enough ticks were collected to make testing possible. Larger studies are needed, the scientists say, to determine the significance of positive xenodiagnosis results in cases where Lyme disease symptoms persist following antibiotic therapy. Adriana Marques, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and Linden Hu, M.D., of Tufts Medical Center, Boston, led the pilot study. Findings were published online on February 11, 2014 in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The most common tick-borne illness in the United States, Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that are transmitted to people by ticks of the Ixodes genus. "Most cases of Lyme disease are cured by antibiotics, but some patients continue to experience symptoms despite the absence of detectable Lyme bacteria," said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "This poses a mystery that requires continued research into new or improved ways to diagnose Lyme disease and determine the cause of unresolved symptoms." "Xenodiagnosis using ticks to detect B. burgdorferi has been used previously in animal studies, but this is the first time it has been tried in people," said Dr. Marques.