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Archive - Sep 25, 2014

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2014 Ig Nobel Prizes Recognize Outrageous Science

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes, honoring achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think, were awarded at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theatre on the evening of September 18, before 1,100 spectators in a ceremony filled with bananas, toast, dogs, cats, humans impersonating polar bears, opera singers, and paper airplanes. This was the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony (and the 20th consecutive year the ceremony was webcast). Most of the new winners journeyed to Harvard — at their own expense — to accept their prizes. The Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners by four genuine Nobel laureates: Carol Greider (Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, 2009) Eric Maskin (Nobel in Economics, 2007), Rich Roberts (Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, 1993), and Frank Wilczek (Nobel in Physics, 2004). Rich Roberts was also given away in the Win-a-Date-with-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest. The event was produced by the science humor magazine "Annals of Improbable Research" (AIR), and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students. The ceremony included the premiere of "What's Eating You," a three-act mini-opera about people who stop eating food and instead nourish themselves exclusively with pills. This production starred soprano Maria Ferrante, baritone Scott Taylor, and a chorus of microbes (played by ten Boston-area biomedical researchers and the Nobel laureates). The festive ceremony also featured brief talks by Rob Rhinehart, who created the all-in-one food called Soylent, and by Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats (image), the prolific (more than 3,000 patents) Japanese inventor/politican/author, who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for having photographed every meal he had eaten during the previous 34 years. Dr.

Major Drug Delivery Advance: MIT Chemists Use Modified Anthrax Toxin to Deliver Cancer Drugs

Bacillus anthracis bacteria (image) have very efficient machinery for injecting toxic proteins into cells, leading to the potentially deadly infection known as anthrax. A team of MIT researchers has now hijacked that delivery system for a different purpose: administering cancer drugs. “Anthrax toxin is a professional at delivering large enzymes into cells,” says Dr. Bradley Pentelute, the Pfizer-Laubauch Career Development Assistant Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “We wondered if we could render anthrax toxin nontoxic, and use it as a platform to deliver antibody drugs into cells.” In an article published online on September 22, 2014 in the journal ChemBioChem, Dr. Pentelute and colleagues showed that they could use this disarmed version of the anthrax toxin to deliver two proteins known as antibody mimics, which can kill cancer cells by disrupting specific proteins inside the cells. This is the first demonstration of effective delivery of antibody mimics into cells, which could allow researchers to develop new drugs for cancer and many other diseases, says Dr. Pentelute, the senior author of the paper. Antibodies — natural proteins the body produces to bind to foreign invaders — are a rapidly growing area of pharmaceutical development. Inspired by natural protein interactions, scientists have designed new antibodies that can disrupt proteins such as the HER2 receptor, found on the surfaces of some cancer cells. The resulting drug, Herceptin, has been successfully used to treat breast tumors that overexpress the HER2 receptor. Several antibody drugs have been developed to target other receptors found on cancer-cell surfaces.