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Archive - Apr 5, 2017

Scientists ID Gene Involved in Controlling Sleep Quality in Diverse Species; Study Examines FABP2 Gene Action in Fruit Flies, Mice, and Humans

Washington State University (WSU) researchers, and colleagues, have examined how a particular gene (FABP7) is involved in the quality of sleep experienced by three different animal species--humans, mice, and fruit flies. The gene, and knowledge of its function, open a new avenue for scientists exploring how sleep works and why animals seem to need it so badly. "Sleep must be serving some important function," said Jason Gerstner, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor in WSU's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and lead author of an article published in the April 5, 2017 issue of the open-access journal Science Advances. The article is titled “Normal Sleep Requires the Astrocyte Brain-Type Fatty Acid Binding Protein FABP7." “But as scientists we still don't understand what that [function] is. One way to get closer to that is by understanding how it is regulated or what processes exist that are shared across species." As a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Gerstner investigated genes whose expression changes over the sleep-wake cycle and he found that expression of the gene FABP7 changed over the course of the day throughout the brain of mice. Dr. Gerstner and his colleagues observed that mice with a knocked-out FABP7 gene slept more fitfully compared to normal mice with the gene intact. This suggested the functioning gene is required for normal sleep in mammals. To determine if FABP7 is indeed required for normal sleep in humans, Dr. Gerstner and colleagues in Japan examined data from nearly 300 Japanese men who underwent a seven-day sleep study that included an analysis of their DNA. It turned out that 29 of these men had a variant of the FABP7 gene. As the mice had, these men with the variant FABP7 gene tended to sleep more fitfully.

Exosome-Based Approach to Treating Death of Neurons Wins $250,000 Top Prize in Regeneron Science Talent Search; 17-Year-Old Indrani Das Takes Home Top Honors in Nation’s Most Prestigious Science & Math Competition for High School Seniors

In Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2017, the Society for Science & the Public and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) announced that Indrani Das, 17, of Oradell, New Jersey, had won the top award ($250,000) in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation's oldest and most prestigious science and math competition (previous sponsors of the Talent Search were Westinghouse and Intel). Forty finalists, including Indrani, were honored at the annual Regeneron Science Talent Search Awards Gala for their research projects demonstrating exceptional scientific and mathematical ability, taking home more than $1.8 million in awards provided by Regeneron. Indrani won the top award of $250,000 for her study of a possible approach to treating the death of neurons due to brain injury or neurodegenerative disease. A contributor to neuron death is astrogliosis, a condition that occurs when cells called astrocytes react to injury by growing, dividing, and reducing their uptake of glutamate, which, in excess, is toxic to neurons. In a laboratory model, she showed that exosomes isolated from astrocytes transfected with microRNA-124a both improved astrocyte uptake of glutamate and increased neuron survival. Indrani mentors younger researchers and tutors math in addition to playing the piccolo trumpet in a four-person jazz ensemble. Second place honors and $175,000 went to Aaron Yeiser, 18, of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, for his development of a new mathematical method for solving partial differential equations on complicated geometries. Partial differential equations are ubiquitous in science and engineering and are currently solved using computers. He developed a more efficient way to do this and applied it to the challenging field of computational fluid dynamics.