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Archive - Nov 2015

November 2nd

Novel Exosome Isolation and Exosomal MicroRNA Purification Kits Launched by Canada’s Norgen Biotek

Norgen Biotek, Corp., an innovative privately-held Canadian biotechnology company that is focused on advancing powerful tools for nucleic acid (NA) and protein purification, announced on Monday, November 2, 2015, the launch of novel kits for the fast and simple isolation of exosomes from plasma/serum, urine, and cell culture media. These kits are based on the use of Norgen's proprietary resin to purify and concentrate the exosomes. The company says these new kits are simple, rapid, and scalable. Furthermore, Norgen said it has developed kits for the isolation of high-quality RNA from exosomes. Norgen's exosomal RNA kits are designed to isolate all sizes of extracellular vesicle (EV) RNA, including microRNA. The company believes that the kits provide a clear advantage over other available kits in that they do not require any special instrumentation, protein precipitation reagents, extension tubes, or phenol/chloroform or protease treatments. Moreover, the kits allow the user to elute into flexible elution volumes. Norgen states that the purified RNA is free from any protein-bound circulating RNA and is of the highest integrity. The purified RNA can be used in a number of downstream applications including real-time PCR, RT-PCR, Northern blotting, RNase protection, primer extension, expression array assays, and next-generation sequencing, the company states. Norgen also launched four kits that allow for the depletion of exosomes from fetal bovine serum. Extensive testing has shown that depleted FBS provides the same cellular growth rates as the standard FBS. "The study of exosomes is an exciting new field, and Norgen's technology is well suited for the purification of exosomes and exosomal RNA,” said Dr. Yousef Haj-Ahmad, President & CEO of Norgen.

Uniquely in Oocytes, Spindle Assembly Checkpoint (SAC) Responds to DNA Damage and Can Prevent Birth Defects and Spontaneous Miscarriages

Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK have established that eggs have a protective “checkpoint” that helps to prevent DNA-damaged eggs from being fertilized. Damage to an egg’s DNA can result in infertility, birth defects, and miscarriages. This damage can occur as a result of the natural aging process and also as a result of women taking certain types of medication following chemotherapy, or undergoing radiotherapy. The researchers found that damage to DNA during meiosis, the process that results in the formation of sperm cells and egg cells, activates the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) in the maturing egg, known as an oocyte, which prevents it from fully developing and stops it from being fertilized. While the SAC is known to exist in most cells in our body, where it helps to make sure chromosomes are shared equally when a cell divides into two, this checkpoint, uniquely in oocytes, appears to respond to DNA damage in the chromosomes. Lead author of the study Professor Keith Jones, Head of Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, said, “The discovery of such a checkpoint is an important breakthrough that allows further investigation into what could affect the strength of the checkpoint.” The new work was published online on Novmber 2, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Communications. The article is titled “DNA Damage-Induced Metaphase I Arrest Is Mediated by the Spindle Assembly Checkpoint and Maternal Age.” “My group aims to go on to understand how the initial DNA damage trigger actually manages to switch-on this checkpoint, because the connection is far from clear.” “However, we already know that a woman’s age is an important factor affecting her fertility, and, as such, it would be important to determine if this checkpoint is reduced by the aging process.

Fastest, Most Responsive Flexible Silicon Phototransistor Ever Made

Inspired by mammals' eyes, University of Wisconsin-Madison electrical engineers have created the fastest, most responsive flexible silicon phototransistor ever made. The innovative phototransistor could improve the performance of myriad products -- ranging from digital cameras, night-vision goggles, and smoke detectors to surveillance systems and satellites -- that rely on electronic light sensors. Integrated into a digital camera lens, for example, it could reduce bulkiness and boost both the acquisition speed and quality of video or still photos. Developed by UW-Madison collaborators Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, Ph.D., Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Research Scientist Jung-Hun Seo, Ph.D., the high-performance phototransistor far and away exceeds all previous flexible phototransistor parameters, including sensitivity and response time. The researchers published details of their advance online on October 26, 2015 in the journal Advanced Optical Materials. The article is titled “Flexible Phototransistors Based on Single-Crystalline Silicon Nanomembranes.” Like human eyes, phototransistors essentially sense and collect light, then convert that light into an electrical charge proportional to its intensity and wavelength. In the case of our eyes, the electrical impulses transmit the image to the brain. In a digital camera, that electrical charge becomes the long string of 1’s and 0’s that create the digital image. While many phototransistors are fabricated on rigid surfaces, and therefore are flat, the phototransistors created by Dr. Ma and Dr. Seo are flexible, meaning they more easily mimic the behavior of mammalian eyes. "We actually can make the curve any shape we like to fit the optical system," Dr. Ma says. "Currently, there's no easy way to do that."

November 1st

New Drug Inhibits WEE1 Protein and Kills Cancer Cells Expressing Mutated SETD2 Gene, Often Found in Kidney Cancers and Sometimes Childhood Brain Tumors; Test to ID SETD2 Mutated Tumors Developed, Immediate Diagnostic Use Possible

In a November 1, 2015 press release from the University of Oxford, it was announced that Oxford scientists have identified an Achilles heel of certain cancer cells, namely mutations in a gene called SETD2. Their findings will be presented to the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool, UK, on Monday, November 2, 2015. It is well known that mutations drive cancer cell growth and resistance to treatment. However, these mutations can also become a weak point for a tumor. The Oxford research team found that this is the case for cancer cells with mutations in a key cancer gene called SETD2. Study author Dr. Timothy Humphrey said “Mutations in SETD2 are frequently found in kidney cancer and some childhood brain tumors, so we were excited when we discovered that a new drug we were studying specifically killed cancer cells with this mutation.” The normal human SETD2 gene codes for a histone demthyltransferase that is specific for lysine-36 of histone H3, and methylation of this residue is associated with active chromatin. This protein also contains a novel transcriptional activation domain and has been found associated with hyper-phosphorylated RNA polymerase II. The SETD2 gene is located on the short arm of chromosome 3 and has been shown to play a tumour suppressor role in human cancer The Liverpool presentation will discuss how Dr. Humphrey and his team showed that cancer cells with a mutated SETD2 gene are killed by a drug called AZD1775 that inhibits a protein called WEE1 (image). The WEE1 protein was first discovered by British Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse.

Scientists ID Over 3,000 Long Non-Coding RNA (lncRNA) Genes That May Offer Insights into Development of Human Immune System; Findings Provide “Huge and Unique Resource for the Whole Immunology Community”

Scientists at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research have discovered more than 3,000 previously unknown genes in a poorly understood part of the genome. These genes, found in rare cells in the bone marrow and thymus, give scientists a new understanding of how the human immune system develops. The findings were published online on October 26, 2015 in Nature Immunology. The article is titled “Long Non-Coding RNA Profiling of Human Lymphoid Progenitor Cells Reveals Transcriptional Divergence of B Cell and T Cell Lineages.” “The genes we found are called long non-coding RNAs, or lncRNAs,” said Gay Crooks (photo), M.D., Co-Director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and co-senior author of the Nature Immunology study. “They make up much of what we used to think of as the ‘dark matter’ of our genome because, unlike the better-known messenger RNA genes, they do not produce [code for the production of] proteins. The function of lncRNAs is not well-known, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are not inert; they have a critical role in controlling how other genes function,” she said. Researchers used the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center’s state-of-the-art cell isolation and genetic sequencing technologies, and sophisticated bioinformatics to identify the elusive lncRNA genes. The team was led by Dr. Crooks, co-senior author Chintan Parekh, M.D., (now with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), and first author David Casero, Ph.D. The team isolated rare blood-forming stem cells and progenitor cells from adult human bone marrow and thymus gland tissue. They then separated the genetic information in the cells using sequencing technology. Lastly, Dr.

Initiative to Harness Earth's Microbiomes Put Forward by 48-Member US Consortium Including Prominent Scientists from Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, & California NanoSystems Institute

A consortium of 48 scientists from 50 institutions in the United States – and including Pamela Silver, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University - is calling for a “Unified Microbiome Initiative” that would span national cross-institutional and cross-governmental agency support. The group, called the Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium (UMIC), envisions that a coordinated effort would drive forward cutting-edge microbiome research, enabling breakthrough advances across medicine, ecosystem management, sustainable energy, and production of commodities. Their proposal was published in an open-access Policy Forum article in the October 30, 2015 issue of Science. The article is titled “A Unified Initiative to Harness Earth's Microbiomes.” Microbial life forms, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi, are the most diverse and abundant organisms on earth. They have shaped our evolutionary origins for billions of years and continue to have widespread impact on the planet, its environment, and the species inhabiting it. Together, they make up “microbiomes” that influence each other, the environment, and the host organisms that these microbial communities thrive in. The UMIC foresees that the microbiomes populating our planet and its many diverse species and environments could be leveraged through genetic engineering for applications that improve the greater good, and that many milestones could be reached on this front within ten years. "Microbes are everywhere. Therefore understanding microbiomes, whether they be the ones that live in and on our bodies or the ones in the environment, is essential to understanding life," said Dr. Silver.

Plasma miRNA Biomarkers Identified for Schizophrenia; May Enable First Objective Diagnostic Test for This Disorder; Accompanying Editorial Notes Possible Role of miRNA-Protective Exosomes

Researchers in China have shown that the up-regulation of two microRNAs (miR-130b and miR-193a-3p) in plasma is a state-independent biomarker for schizophrenia and the scientists suggest that these two miRNAs could be used to develop a diagnostic tool for schizophrenia. The new results were published in the November 1, 2015 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry in an article titled “Detection of Circulating miRNA Levels in Schizophrenia.” The authors, from the Peking University Institute of Mental Health; and collaborating institutions in China, noted that schizophrenia is one of the most common severe mental disorders, with a lifetime risk of 1% in the population worldwide. Today, the diagnosis of schizophrenia remains symptom-based, relying mainly on self-reports from patients, mental state examination, and clinical interviews, and lacking objective laboratory tests. Such a diagnostic strategy can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis and has been widely criticized, the authors said. To remedy this “embarrassing state of affairs,” a set of biomarkers has previously (2012) been proposed based on physical and biological tests. The authors stated, however, that while “numerous studies have reported that circulating miRNA levels are highly associated with various diseases in humans, such as diabetes, cancer, and immunological diseases, there has been no systematic research on circulating miRNAs in psychiatric diseases.” The motivation for the current study was to pursue such an effort by determining whether circulating miRNA can serve as a diagnostic biomarker for schizophrenia. Briefly, the details of the new Chines work are as follows.