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Archive - Sep 22, 2015

Advance of Destructive Moth Threatens $2 Billion US Tomato Industry

The rapid spread of a highly destructive invasive moth species that threatens tomato crops has prompted a Virginia Tech scientist to lead the charge in issuing a set of recommendations, including quarantine measures, designed to thwart the advance of the pest around the globe, according to a September 22, 2015 press release from Virginia Tech. The insect – established in Panama and Costa Rica – is moving northward, but has not yet arrived in the United States. Its potential arrival is a big concern among U.S. government agricultural officials. "Our domestic tomato industry could be severely affected," said Dr. Devaiah Muruvanda, Senior Risk Manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says. "The United States is taking it so seriously, we haven’t even given permits to do research, in order to prevent any possibility of the insect's escape." The pest in question is the South American tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta. No larger than an eyelash, the tiny moth spread from its native Latin America to Europe in 2006 and later crossed the Mediterranean to Africa. Now threatening Asia, the moth strikes at the world’s most commercially important horticulture crop – the tomato, valuable to farmers around the world. The pest’s path is destructive and its advance is rapid, as it has moved from Spain in 2006 through Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India. "When the tomato leafminer strikes, it can cause between 80 and 100 percent crop loss unless proper management technologies are adopted," says Dr. Muni Muniappan, entomologist and Director of the Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab. "The moth can’t be completely eradicated. The best you can do is control it." Dr. Muniappan convened a group of plant protection scientists at the 18th International Plant Protection Congress in Berlin in August.

Dr. Albert La Spada Receives $900,000 Gund-Harrington Scholar Award to Advance His Work on Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 7 (SCA7), a Genetic Triplet-Repeat Expansion Disorder Like Huntington’s Disease

Albert La Spada, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, has received a 2015 Harrington Scholar award to advance his work on a therapy for spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7), a rare but devastating neurological disorder that can lead to blindness and progressive loss of physical coordination. Dr. La Spada, Chief of the Division of Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine, received a $900,000 award toward further development of a treatment which blocks the gene mutation underlying SCA7. The research may also have implications for Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which are neurodegenerative disorders with similar types of genetic mutations. The scholar award is given by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, which collaborates with various organizations to accelerate the development of promising research by physician-scientists. In particular, the funding helps researchers to bridge the gap from basic research to clinical application, known as the "Valley of Death," which can keep innovative discoveries from advancing far enough to attract pharmaceutical drug development. Dr. La Spada, who is also at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, was one of three inaugural Gund-Harrington Scholars, named after Gordon Gund, founder of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a consortium of groups funding research in the area of degenerative retinal diseases. "People with this disorder (SCA7) have trouble walking, talking, seeing - anything that requires coordinated movement," said Dr. La Spada.

Aspirin-Related Arthritis Drug Targets Tau Acetylation and Reverses All Aspects of Tau Toxicity in Animal Model of Dementia; May Prove Effective Prevention/Treatment Option for Alzheimer’s; Immediate Clinical Implications Possible

Scientists from the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, together with collaborators from Stanford, UCSF, Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and UCSD, have discovered that salsalate, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and a chemical relative of aspirin, effectively reversed tau-related dysfunction in an animal model of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Salsalate prevented the accumulation of tau in the brain and protected against cognitive impairments resembling impairments seen in Alzheimer's disease and FTD. Salsalate inhibits tau acetylation, a chemical process that can change the function and properties of a protein. In results published online on September 21, 2015 in Nature Medicine, the researchers revealed that acetylated tau is a particularly toxic form of the protein, driving neurodegeneration and cognitive deficits. Salsalate successfully reversed these toxic effects in a mouse model of FTD, lowering tau levels in the brain, rescuing memory impairments, and protecting against atrophy of the hippocampus--a brain region essential for memory formation that is impacted by dementia. The Nature Medicine article is titled “Critical Role of Acetylation in Tau-Mediated Neurodegeneration and Cognitive Deficits.” "We identified, for the first time, a pharmacological approach that reverses all aspects of tau toxicity," says co-senior author Li Gan, Ph.D., an Associate Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes. "Remarkably, the profound protective effects of salsalate were achieved even though it was administered after disease onset, indicating that it may be an effective treatment option." Although tau has been a target in dementia research for some time, there are no tau-targeted drugs available for patients.

Exosomal RNA-Based Urine Liquid Biopsy Test Detects High-Grade Prostate Cancer With 97.5% Accuracy Prior to Initial Biopsy; Initial Positive Clinical Study Results Published; Novel Test Has Potential to Stem Tide of Unnecessary Initial Prostate Biopsies

On Monday, September 21, 2015, Exosome Diagnostics, Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based developer of revolutionary, biofluid-based molecular diagnostics, announced the publication of positive data from its initial clinical study of ExoIntelliScore™ Prostate (previously referred to as EXO 106), the first-catch-urine-based, three-gene-signature liquid biopsy test that does not require a digital rectal exam (DRE) or prostate massage before sample collection showing that the test results can predict high-grade prostate cancer (Gleason score ≥ 7) with 97.5 percent accuracy prior to initial biopsy. The paper in which the results are published is titled “A Molecular Signature of PCA3 and ERG Exosomal RNA from Non-DRE Urine Is Predictive of Initial Prostate Biopsy Result.” It was published online on September 8, 2015 in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, a peer-reviewed journal of the Nature Publishing Group. Distinct from all other predictive tests on the market or in clinical development for prostate cancer, ExoIntelliScore Prostate is the first assay to give urologists and their patients molecular insights about prostate cancer using exosomal RNA (exoRNA). The test involves patients giving a simple, first-catch urine sample without having to first undergo a digital rectal exam (DRE). ExoIntelliScore™ Prostate is poised to drive a new prognostic paradigm in which the aggressiveness of prostate cancer can be predicted completely non-invasively from genetic-based information ahead of initial prostate biopsy. For men demonstrating a low-risk for aggressive disease using the assay, urologists may determine that an initial prostate biopsy is not warranted.