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Archive - Jan 2017

January 30th

Researchers Develop Wearable, Low-Cost Sensor to Measure Skin Hydration

Researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) have developed a wearable, wireless sensor that can monitor a person's skin hydration for use in applications that need to detect dehydration before it poses a health problem. The device is lightweight, flexible, and stretchable and has already been incorporated into prototype devices that can be worn on the wrist or as a chest patch. "It's difficult to measure a person's hydration quantitatively, which is relevant for everyone from military personnel to athletes to firefighters, who are at risk of health problems related to heat stress when training or in the field," says John Muth, Ph.D., a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State and co-corresponding author of a paper describing the work. "We have developed technology that allows us to track an individual's skin hydration in real time," says Yong Zhu, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NC State and co-corresponding author of the paper. "Our sensor could be used to protect the health of people working in hot conditions, improve athletic performance and safety, and to track hydration in older adults or in medical patients suffering from various conditions. It can even be used to tell how effective skin moisturizers are for cosmetics." The paper, "A Wearable Hydration Monitor with Conformal Nanowire Electrodes," was published online on January 27, 2017 in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials. In addition to Dr. Muth and Dr. Zhu, the paper was co-authored by Amanda Myers and Abhishek Malhotra, Ph.D. students at NC State; Dr. Feiyan Lin, a former graduate student at NC State; and Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State.

TSRI Scientists Find Brain Hormone (FLP-7) That Triggers Fat Burning in the Gut

Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified a brain hormone that appears to trigger fat burning in the gut. Their findings in animal models could have implications for future pharmaceutical development. "This was basic science that unlocked an interesting mystery," said TSRI Assistant Professor Supriya Srinivasan, Ph.D., senior author of the new study, published online on January 27, 2017 in the journal Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “A Tachykinin-Like Neuroendocrine Signalling Axis Couples Central Serotonin Action and Nutrient Sensing with Peripheral Lipid Metabolism.” Previous studies had shown that the neurotransmitter serotonin can drive fat loss. Yet no one was sure exactly how. To answer that question, Dr. Srinivasan and her colleagues experimented with roundworms called C. elegans, which are often used as model organisms in biology. These worms have simpler metabolic systems than humans, but their brains produce many of the same signaling molecules, leading many researchers to believe that findings in C. elegans may be relevant for humans. The researchers deleted genes in C. elegans to see if they could interrupt the path between brain serotonin and fat burning. By testing one gene after another, they hoped to find the gene without which fat burning wouldn't occur. This process of elimination led them to a gene that codes for a neuropeptide hormone they named FLP-7 (pronounced "flip 7"). Interestingly, they found that the mammalian version of FLP-7 (called tachykinin) had been identified 80 years ago as a peptide that triggered muscle contractions when dribbled on pig intestines. Scientists back then believed this was a hormone that connected the brain to the gut, but no one had linked the neuropeptide to fat metabolism in the time since.

Newborn Screening for Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID); Early Diagnosis and Early Start of Treatment Can Prevent Severe Infections

According to a January 30, 2017 press release, the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) has assessed the benefit of newborn screening for severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Without treatment most young children with SCID die within 1 to 2 years, as their immune response fails. The benefit assessment provides a hint of a benefit of newborn screening for SCID: An early test combined with infection prophylaxis and subsequent curative treatment (allogeneic bone marrow or stem cell transplantation) can prevent severe or deadly infections in affected children. The failure of immune response in SCID is caused by a genetic disorder leading to inhibited development of vital immune cells (T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, natural killer cells). Children with SCID are already highly susceptible to infections as babies and also show impairment of growth. Without treatment most young children with SCID die within 1 to 2 years. It is not exactly known how many children are born with SCID in Germany. For the year 2013, statistics of the statutory health insurance report 21 cases in children younger than a year old. SCID is currently treated with allogeneic bone marrow or stem cell transplantation: In this procedure, the inadequate stem cells of the child are replaced by those of a suitable donor in order to develop the child's immune function. The question of the optimum time of transplantation and the necessity of chemotherapy in newborns with SCID is currently the subject of controversy. Even before initiation of curative treatment the newborns must be stabilized by preventive and supportive measures, such as strict hygienic precautionary measures, infection prophylaxis, and substitution of antibodies.

January 29th

Researchers Find Clue to Altered Protein Production in Skin Cancer; Result May Point to Potential Therapeutic Intervention

Each cell in the body follows a strict protocol for manufacturing the proteins it needs to function. When a cell turns cancerous, however, its protein production goes off script. A new study led by researchers at The Rockefeller University takes a close look at one way in which this procedure goes haywire in skin cells as they turn cancerous. "A cell's identity depends on the levels of proteins it produces, and these can be altered by changes in the way proteins are translated from genetic instructions," says senior author Elaine Fuchs (photo), Ph.D., the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and Head of the Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at The Rockefeler. "Changes in translation appear to be particularly important as normal stem cells become malignant, and our new experiments detail the control mechanisms behind a shift that occurs just prior to the development of skin cancer," adds Dr. Fuchs, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. The research, which identifies a potential avenue for future cancer treatments, was described online in Nature on January 11, 2017. The article is titled “Translation from Unconventional 5′ Start Sites Drives Tumor Initiation.” In order to function, cells need to turn instructions encoded in their DNA into protein. They do so in two major steps: first, DNA is transcribed into a molecule called messenger RNA, which is then translated into protein. Certain cancerous tumors are known to contain an unusual ratio of protein to messenger RNA, however, which suggests translation is altered in cancer. Using mice, the research team explored changes in translation that occur as the animals develop a common type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

The Anti-PD-1 Immunotherapy Pembrolizumab Is Active Against Mucosal Melanoma Tumors, And Prolongs Survival for Patients with Bladder Cancer

Clinical trials of a new immunotherapy, pembrolizumab, have shown that it prolongs life significantly for patients with bladder cancer and is active against a rare sub-type of melanoma, called mucosal melanoma. The findings were presented in two presentations at the European Cancer Congress (ECCO) 2017 on January 29, 2017. Until now, mucosal melanoma has often been excluded from immunotherapy treatments for the disease. Melanoma usually occurs in the skin and is caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (such as sunlight). Mucosal melanoma occurs in the moist surfaces that line the body's cavities, such as the airways, digestive tract, and genitourinary tracts, and is not caused by UV radiation; there is no known cause. It makes up about one per cent of all melanomas and has a poor prognosis, usually because of late diagnosis - the majority of patients with metastatic disease (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) survive for less than a year if they have received conventional treatments. Reporting the results from three trials of pembrolizumab for patients with advanced melanoma, Dr. Marcus Butler, a medical oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada, told ECCO2017 that 84 of the 1,567 patients in the KEYNOTE-001, 002 and 006 studies had advanced mucosal melanoma. "Sixteen of these patients (19%) responded to treatment with pembrolizumab, of whom 12 are still alive without their disease progressing and, so far, the longest time some of these patients have continued to be successfully treated is more than 27 months," he said.

January 28th

Stem Cell Exosomes Promote Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells; Results Point to Potential Therapies for Glaucoma

A new study in rats shows that certain vesicles (exosomes) released from stem cells appear to protect cells in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. The findings, published on January 26, 2017 in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, point to potential therapies for glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The article is titled “Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells-Derived Exosomes Promote Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells Through miRNA-Dependent Mechanisms.” Exosomes are tiny membrane-enclosed packages that form inside of cells before being released. Long thought of as part of a cellular disposal system, scientists have more recently discovered that exosomes can be packed with proteins, lipids, and gene-regulating RNA. Studies have shown that exosomes from one cell can be taken up by another by fusing with the target cell’s membrane, spurring the target cell to make new proteins. Exosomes also facilitate cell-to-cell interactions and play a signaling role, prompting research into their potential therapeutic effect. In the current study, Ben Mead, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at NEI, investigated the role of stem cell exosomes on retinal ganglion cells, a type of retinal cell that forms the optic nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. The death of retinal ganglion cells leads to vision loss in glaucoma and other optic neuropathies. Stem cells have been the focus of therapeutic attempts to replace or repair tissues because of their ability to morph into any type of cell in the body.

Clinical Study to Investigate Use of Exosomal Biomarker to Detect & Monitor Brain Injury in NFL Football Players

On January 25, 2017, researchers with Exosome Sciences, Inc., a diagnostic subsidiary of Aethlon Medical, Inc. (Nasdaq: AEMD), a therapeutic technology company, today announced plans to initiate a clinical study involving retired National Football League (NFL) players and a data-supported biomarker candidate to detect and monitor Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in living individuals. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that has often been found in American football players, boxers, and other individuals with a history of repetitive head trauma. At present, CTE diagnosis is determined after death through an analysis of brain tissue. Planned for initiation in the second quarter, the study intends to establish a clinical collaboration with up to 200 former professional football players and clinical investigators at multiple U.S. locations. If fully enrolled, the study would be the largest to date in former NFL players, who are at a high risk of suffering from CTE. The goal of the study will be to further validate a CTE biomarker candidate known as plasma exosomal tau, or a TauSome™. The biomarker was previously studied as part of the first NIH-funded CTE research program (The DETECT Study), which was managed by the Boston University (BU) CTE Center. Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Translational Genomics Research Institute's (TGen) Center for Noninvasive Diagnostics in Phoenix, will serve as principal investigator for the planned study. Dr. Van Keuren-Jensen is neurodegenerative disease thought leader whose research includes discovery and detection of biomarkers for central nervous system disorders.

Prestigious Awards Presented at Opening of Precision Medicine World Conference 2017

This year’s Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) in California’s Silicon Valley (January 23-25) ( kicked off with a Sunday evening awards presentation that recognized the major contributions of four prominent scientists. Pioneer Awards were presented to James Allison, Ph.D., Chair of Immunology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for his seminal work in the areas of immunology and immunotherapy for cancer, and to Stephen Quake, Ph.D., Professor of Engineering, at Stanford University for his work in biological measurement and in genomics. Luminary Awards were presented to Edward Chang, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of California-San Francisco, for his work in developing advanced neurophysiologic brain mapping methods of both speech and motor circuits to enable safer neurosurgery techniques, and to Jennifer Doudna (photo), Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California-Berkeley for her work in launching the revolutionary field of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. Dr. Allison was one of the first to identify the T-cell receptor and he showed that the CD28 molecule acts as the T-cell’s gas pedal, and in 1995 he identified the T-cell’s brakes. This work led to the development of the antibody drug ipilimumab that targets CTL-4, blocking the T-cell brakes and unleashing a strong immune response that has proven effective in cancer therapy. Dr. Allison’s body of work underpins the tremendous recent advances in immunotherapy for cancer. Dr. Quake has pioneered innovative approaches to biological measurement, including the invention of microfluidic large-scale integration, the biological equivalent of the integrated circuit, which has enabled large-scale automation of biology.

January 27th

Rebalancing Gut Microbiome Lengthens Survival in Mouse Model of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

A bacterial by-product known to be important in maintaining gut health may slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive, neurodegenerative disease. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine report that in a mouse model of ALS, the compound butyrate helped correct a gut microbiome imbalance and reduced gut leakiness - both symptoms of ALS. The treated mice also lived longer compared to mice that weren't given butyrate. The finding was reported online on January 24, 2017 in Clinical Therapeutics. The article is titled “Target Intestinal Microbiota to Alleviate Disease Progression in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.” ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, slowly destroys the motor neurons that control movement. Patients gradually lose the ability to walk, speak, and swallow -- and eventually, to breathe. Conventional treatments include physical therapy and medications, but researchers have recently started looking to the gut as a new target for intervention. "The brain and the gut are linked, so it's not too surprising that the health of the gut can impact the functioning of neurons," says Jun Sun, Associate Professor of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at UIC and corresponding author of the paper. In March 2016, she and her coworkers were the first to identify a gut component to ALS progression. The gut microbiome - the myriad bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that make the gut their home - when in balance, helps maintain health, starting with the gut lining. Leaky gut in ALS may lead to increased inflammation. Reducing this gut-associated inflammation has been a goal of clinicians and researchers, and rebalancing the gut microbiome has shown promise in small-animal studies. Dr.

Data4Cure's AI-Powered Biomedical Intelligence Cloud Features New Tools for Multidimensional Disease Mapping and Immune-Oncology Research

On January 24, 2017, Data4Cure, Inc., announced a series of updates and new case studies using its Biomedical Intelligence® Cloud - a semantic data-driven discovery platform designed to continuously grow knowledge from a multitude of genomic, molecular and clinical data that are accumulating rapidly in the field. These updates were presented at a session hosted by Data4Cure at the Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) in Mountain View, California. The company's Biomedical Intelligence® Cloud now includes new tools for immune-oncology research, improved applications for mapping the molecular basis of disease, and a new multidimensional version of the company's molecular stratification engine. Data4Cure's platform is powered by CURIE™, a dynamic biomedical knowledge graph that is continuously updated with information dynamically extracted from a variety of data sources. Cross-referencing tens of thousands of datasets and bioinformatics analyses, literature, clinical trials, and external databases, CURIE provides immediate data-driven answers to over 100 million biomedical questions. "CURIE understands biology," said Janusz Dutkowski, Ph.D., CEO, Data4Cure, who chaired the PMWC session. "It combines advanced machine learning, systems biology, and semantic search capabilities providing a new way to make discoveries. Our platform allows biological and clinical researchers to leverage diverse datasets to discover relationships between entities in a molecular system, and uncover how these entities and relations are affected by the disease and environment, and how they respond to drug interventions." CURIE is used by multiple applications running on Data4Cure's Biomedical Intelligence Cloud.