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Archive - Sep 2015

September 30th

New Test Detects Virtually All Viruses That Infect Humans and Other Animals; ViroCap Test Captures 2 Million Targeted Unique Viral Sequences and Follows with High-Throughput Sequencing

A new test detects virtually any virus that infects people and other animals, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSL School of Medicine), where the technology was developed. The unique new test targets 2 million unique stretches of viral DNA and viral RNA from every known group of viruses that infects humans and other animals. Many thousands of viruses are known to cause illness in people and other animals, and making a diagnosis can be an exhaustive exercise, at times requiring a battery of different tests. That's because current tests aren't sensitive enough to detect low levels of viruses or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of being responsible for a patient's illness. "With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for," said the study's senior author, Gregory Storch, M.D., the Ruth L. Siteman Professor of Pediatrics at WUSL School of Medicine. "It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown." Results published online on September 22, 2015 in an open-access article in the journal Genome Research demonstrate that, in patient samples, the new test - called ViroCap - can detect viruses not found by standard testing that uses simply genome sequencing. The article is titled “Enhanced Virome Sequencing Using Targeted Sequence Capture.” The new test could be used to detect outbreaks of deadly viruses such as Ebola, Marburg and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), as well as more routine viruses, including rotavirus and norovirus, both of which cause severe gastrointestinal infections.

Free Webinar on Extracellular Vesicle (EV) Isolation and Characterization on Thursday, October 1; Sponsored by Beckman Coulter, Presentation Will Begin at 9.30 AM Pacific Time, 12.30 PM Eastern Time

Beckman Coulter is sponsoring a free educational webinar titled “Extracellular Vesicle Isolation by Flow Cytometric Sorting and Characterization by Analytical Ultra-Centrifugation and Dynamic Light Scatter,” which will discuss sorting stained EV populations on a high-speed sorter to provide for their visualization, separation, and characterization. The speaker is Carley Ross (photo), Ph.D., a Staff Development Scientist from Beckman Coulter Life Sciences Research and Development, who has been aiding in the development of the MoFlo Astrios and Astrios EQ as well as carrying out her current work on the analytical ultracentrifuge (AUC). The complimentary webinar, hosted by LabRoots, Inc., will be presented on October 1, 2015, beginning at 9:30 am Pacific Time, 12.30 pm Eastern Time. For full details and free registration go to https://www.labroots.com/ms/webinar/id/151/beckman-ross-oct1. Dr. Ross has been awarded two patents, one in flow cytometric sorting and the other for extracellular vesicle work on the AUC. In addition, she has been awarded the corporate Excellence in Values prize for her work ethic and two Excellence in Innovation awards for her collaborative work on projects for the Astrios. Dr. Ross received her Ph.D from Colorado State University from the Cell and Molecular Biology program with a focus on mammalian mutation assays on a flow cytometer. She then did post-doctoral work in biochemistry by studying the development of yeast prions, with a focus on molecular and protein science. Dr. Ross’ focus now is to bring Beckman Coulter’s technology to the cutting edge with small-particle-detection of extracellular vesicles on both the flow cytometry and AUC platforms.An abstract of Dr. Ross’s presentation is provided below.

Free Webinar on Exosomes & Oral Cancer on October 8; Sponsored by Beckman Coulter, Presenter Will Discuss How Fibroblast-Secreted Exosomes Affect Cell Growth, Motility, and Glucose Metabolism in Oral Cancer

During the development of oral cancer (OC), cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) create a supporting niche by maintaining a bi-directional cross-talk with cancer cells, mediated by classically secreted factors and nanometer-sized vesicles, called exosomes. Little is known about the molecular alterations in CAFs that determine their unique functional properties and how exosomes contribute to OC progression. On September 29, 2015, Beckman Coulter announced that it is sponsoring a new educational webinar titled “Proteome Profiling of the Tumor Microenvironment: Role of Human Primary-Fibroblast-Derived Exosomes in Oral Cancer Progression,” with Simona Principe (photo), Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center, University Health Network in Toronto, Canada. The webinar will present an investigation into stromal heterogeneity in oral cancer and detail how Dr. Principe was able to conclude that fibroblast-secreted exosomes affect OC cells’ growth, motility, and glucose metabolism. The data provides a foundation to investigate how the tumor microenvironment affects OC progression. Presenter Simona Principe completed her Ph.D. in Immunopharmacology in Italy (2011) and she is currently conducting postdoctoral research in the lab of Dr. Thomas Kislinger at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center. Her research interest focuses on applying proteomics technologies to investigate cancer biology. In particular, she studies the role of secreted extracellular vesicles as novel intracellular signaling mediators within the tumor microenvironment that support cancer progression and metastasis. Since 2012, she has published 5 papers/reviews in the field of proteomics and exosomes.The complimentary webinar, hosted by LabRoots, will be presented on October 8, 2015, at 8:00 am Pacific Time, 11:00 am Eastern Time.

Cell Article Analyzes How Much Time & Effort Are Involved in Development of Important Therapeutic Drugs—7,000 Scientists, 5,700 Institutions, 100 years in One Typical Example; Analysis of “Elite Performers” May Accelerate Progress

Scientists from the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco have provided a detailed map of how basic research translates into new treatments for deadly diseases. Charting the network of discoveries that led to the development of important therapeutic drugs, the investigators reveal that, up to now, the path to a cure has required thousands of scientists and many decades. Writing in the September 24, 2015 issue of the journal Cell, the authors propose that a clearer understanding of how past successes have come about can show ways to accelerate the process of finding future cures. Their article is titled “From Scientific Discovery to Cures: Bright Stars within a Galaxy.” "We started with a big question: how do scientific discoveries lay the foundation for successful development of new drugs?" says senior author Alexander Pico, Ph.D., a staff research scientist at the Gladstone Institutes. "We all have an intuitive understanding that basic research provides the starting point for new drug development, but in this paper we wanted to quantify and illuminate features of that path. Our data show that it takes contributions from a surprisingly large and complex network of individual scientists working in many locales to reach a cure." Using newly developed, unbiased data modeling methods, the investigators retrospectively mapped the discovery path to two drugs that have recently been approved by the FDA and could be characterized as "cures"--ipilimumab for certain forms of cancer and ivacaftor for cystic fibrosis. The researchers relied on citations from published research findings, using "bibliometrics" to work backwards to uncover the stepwise scientific advances that led to the new medications.

Fossil Flea Finding Suggests “Extraordinary” Possibility That Ancient Strain of Plague Bacillus Existed 20 Million Years Ago

About 20 million years ago, a single flea became entombed in amber with tiny bacteria attached to it, providing what researchers believe may be the oldest evidence on Earth of a dreaded and historic killer - an ancient strain of plague. If, indeed, the fossil bacteria are related to plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, the discovery would show that this scourge, which killed more than half the population of Europe in the 14th century, actually had been around for millions of years before that, traveled around much of the world, and predates the human race. Findings on this extraordinary amber fossil were published online on September 15, 2015 in an open-access article in the Journal of Medical Entomology by Dr. George Poinar, Jr., an entomology researcher in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and a leading expert on plant and animal life forms found preserved in this semi-precious stone. The article is titled “A New Genus of Fleas with Associated Microorganisms in Dominican Amber.” It cannot be determined with certainty that these bacteria, which were attached to the flea's proboscis in a dried droplet and compacted in its rectum, are related to Yersinia pestis, scientists say. But their size, shape and characteristics are consistent with modern forms of those bacteria. They are coccobacillus bacteria; they are seen in both rod and nearly spherical shapes; and are similar to the shapes of Yersinia pestis. Of the pathogenic bacteria transmitted by fleas today, only Yersinia has such shapes. "Aside from physical characteristics of the fossil bacteria that are similar to plague bacteria, their location in the rectum of the flea is known to occur in modern plague bacteria," Dr. Poinar said.

Threatening Social Encounters Encoded and Retrieved by Same Neural Pathway in Monkeys, Study Suggests

Observing one person threatening another is not an extremely unusual event. Now, in research published online on September 29, 2015 in an open-access article in eLife, scientists have used large-scale neural recording and big data analysis in monkeys to enable a first glimpse of the brain remembering and recalling the memory of such negative social interactions. The article is titled “Cortical Network Architecture for Context Processing in Primate Brain.” The research reveals the complex structure of a neural network for the observation of a negative social interaction and its retrieval from memory. The research, conducted by Dr. Naotaka Fujii and colleagues at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, answers the long-standing question of whether the memory of an observed social encounter can be formed and recalled via the same neural pathway. To test this idea, the authors overlaid a 128-channel large-scale recording array on a monkey cortex to record electrical activity while the subject watched videos of one monkey threatening another. In control studies, the videos showed non-threatening interactions. The researchers recorded the brain activity data to a server and used “big data” analytical techniques to calculate a multi-dimensional value called ERC (Event Related Causality) that indexed the continuous evolution of brain activity in time, space, and the direction of communication between brain areas during the task. The ERC in turn was decomposed to identify hotspots of network activity the team called “modules” that pinpointed specific epochs in the observed social threat interactions. The modules revealed a rich dynamic flow of information in the brain network at unprecedented resolution.

First Optical Rectenna Developed; Converts Light Directly into DC Current; Potentially Completely Disruptive Technology Represents “Opportunity to Change the World”--Commercial Availability Predicted Within a Year

Using nanometer-scale components, researchers have demonstrated the first optical rectenna, a device that combines the functions of an antenna and a rectifier diode to convert light directly into DC current. Based on multi-wall carbon nanotubes and tiny rectifiers fabricated onto them, the optical rectennas could provide a new technology for photodetectors that would operate without the need for cooling, energy harvesters that would convert waste heat to electricity, and, ultimately, for a new way to efficiently capture solar energy. In the new devices, developed by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), the carbon nanotubes act as antennas to capture light from the sun or other sources. As the waves of light hit the nanotube antennas, they create an oscillating charge that moves through rectifier devices attached to them. The rectifiers switch on and off at record high petahertz speeds, creating a small direct current. Billions of rectennas in an array can produce significant current, though the efficiency of the devices demonstrated so far remains below one percent. The researchers hope to boost that output through optimization techniques, and believe that a rectenna with commercial potential may be available within a year. "We could ultimately make solar cells that are twice as efficient at a cost that is ten times lower, and that is to me an opportunity to change the world in a very big way" said Dr. Baratunde Cola, an Associate Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. "As a robust, high-temperature detector, these rectennas could be a completely disruptive technology if we can get to one percent efficiency. If we can get to higher efficiencies, we could apply it to energy conversion technologies and solar energy capture."

Childhood Psychological Stress Linked to Higher Risks for Heart Disease and Diabetes As Adults, Harvard & UCSF Study Shows

A 45-year study of nearly 7,000 people born in a single week in Great Britain in 1958 found that psychological distress in childhood -- even when conditions improved in adulthood -- was associated with higher risk for heart disease and diabetes later in life. The study, published in the October 6, 2015 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at information related to stress and mental health collected on participants in the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, and 42. Researchers also collected data for nine biological indicators at age 45, using information from blood samples and blood pressure measures to create a score indicating risk for heart disease and diabetes, known as the cardiometabolic risk score, for each. The article is titled “Psychological Stress Across the Life Course and Cardiometabolic Risk.” The article includes an audio commentary and is accompanied by a related editorial. The study found that people with persistent distress throughout their lives had the highest cardiometabolic risk score relative to participants who reported low levels of distress throughout childhood and adulthood. Using the same comparison group, participants with high levels of distress occurring primarily in childhood, and those with high levels of distress occurring primarily in adulthood also exhibited higher cardiometabolic risk. The estimated risk for cardiometabolic disease for people with persistent distress through to middle adulthood was higher than risk commonly observed for people who are overweight in childhood.

Scientists Sequence Genomes of Five Parasitic Worms Used Widely As Organic Pesticides Against Agricultural Insect Pests; New Information May Be Used to Increase Efficacy; Also Useful in Understanding Gene Regulation

Many nematodes (worms) have specialized as pathogens, including those that serve as deadly insect-attacking parasites, making them effective biocontrol agents. Now, a research team led by a scientist at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) has sequenced the genomes of five nematodes, specifically, microscopic round worms likely to be involved in parasitism and widely used in agriculture as an organic pesticide. "In sequencing these particular nematodes we hoped to learn something about parasite biology and the evolution of nematodes in general," said Dr. Adler R. Dillman, the lead researcher and an Assistant Professor of Parasitology in the Department of Nematology at UCR. "Although these nematodes are widely used in biological control against agricultural insect pests, their efficacy in the field is limited. Now, with the genomic sequence we will be able to use this genetic information in efforts to improve the efficacy of these parasites to prevent insect damage of important crops." The study results were published online on September 21, 2015 in an open-access article in Genome Biology. The article is titled "Comparative Genomics of Steinernema Reveals Deeply Conserved Gene Regulatory Networks." The five nematodes - Steinernema carpocapsae, S. feltiae, S. glaseri, S. monticolum and S. scapterisci - are used both commercially and in home gardens, and are marketed as beneficial nematodes. Steinernema are considered insect pathogenic because they can rapidly kill an insect host. Dr. Dillman explained that his research team also learned more about gene regulation and the evolution of genomes in general as it compared the five sequences with those of other nematodes. "For example, Caenorhabditis elegans, better known as C. elegans, is the best known nematode in the world and is a heavily studied model organism," Dr.

September 28th

Exosome-Based Platform Can Predict Early Treatment Response, and Serially and Longitudinally Monitor the Continuing Response, to Immunotherapy in Patients with Malignant Melanoma

Exosome Diagnostics, Inc., a developer of potentially revolutionary, biofluid-based molecular diagnostics, announced on Tuesday, September 29, 2015, data demonstrating the ability of its exosomal RNA (exoRNA) technology platform to predict early response to immunotherapy treatment two to four weeks after treatment initiation, based on mRNA expression changes, and to serially and longitudinally monitor the response in patients with malignant melanoma. The data were presented at a poster session entitled, “Profiling Exosomal mRNAs in Patients Undergoing Immunotherapy for Malignant Melanoma,” at the 18th European Cancer Congress (ECCO) – 40th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Annual Meeting in Vienna, Austria (September 25-29). A link to the actual poster is provided at the end of this article. “While immunotherapy has emerged as a promising approach to treating cancer, responses vary dramatically among patients. Based on a current dearth of precise diagnostics, critical time elapses before we can determine whether a patient is responding to treatment – time we can’t afford to lose in patients with metastatic melanoma,” said Keith T. Flaherty, M.D., Director of the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and a co-author of the ECCO-ESMO abstract. “The ability to use exosomal RNA in blood plasma to monitor treatment response and, more so, to predict response represents a breakthrough development that could dramatically accelerate the adoption of immunotherapy treatments by oncologists.