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Archive - Apr 2017

April 19th

International Anthrax Conference to Explore Latest Scientific Research Findings October 1-5 in Victoria, British Columbia

Scientists and researchers from all over the world who work on Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, and on B. cereus and B. thuringiensis, two closely related bacillus species, will be heading to Victoria, British Columbia, in October 2017 for the international conference known as "Bacillus ACT.(link is external)" ( The bi-annual conference, set for October 1-5, will allow members of the scientific community to present their work and meet more than 200 global peers. "World-renowned scientists will present their latest findings -- from studying genomics, cell wall and spore structure and function, gene regulation, sporulation and germination, toxins, epidemiology, ecology, and bacteria-host interactions of these species," said Bacillus ACT 2017 Co-Chair Staci Kane, Ph.D., of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). In addition, experts working on rapid diagnostics, decontamination, vaccine development, therapeutics, and general physiology will be participating in this conference, which was last held in 2015 in New Delhi, India, Dr. Kane said. "By choosing international destinations, we can tap into local knowledge and bring together global expertise. Friendships and collaborations are formed that may never have happened without people meeting at this conference," she added. Victoria, British Columbia, was chosen because of its access to scientific hubs in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and across California. This year's conference is organized by LLNL's Global Security Principal Directorate, which applies multidisciplinary science and technology to anticipate, innovate, and deliver responsive solutions to complex global security needs.

Frog Secreted Peptide Protects Against H1 Influenza Viryus

A component of the skin mucus secreted by South Indian frogs can kill the H1 variety of influenza viruses, researchers from Emory Vaccine Center in Georgia and the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology in India have discovered. Frogs' skins were known to secrete "host defense peptides" that defend them against bacteria. The finding, published online on April 18, 2017 in Immunity, suggests that the peptides represent a resource for antiviral drug discovery as well. The article is titled “An Amphibian Host Defense Peptide Is Virucidal for Human H1 Hemagglutinin-Bearing Influenza Viruses.” Anti-flu peptides could become handy when vaccines are unavailable, in the case of a new pandemic strain, or when circulating strains become resistant to current drugs, says senior author Joshy Jacob, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory Vaccine Center and Emory University School of Medicine. The first author of the paper is graduate student David Holthausen, and the research grew out of collaboration with M.R. Pillai, Ph.D., and Sanil George, Ph.D., from the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology. Dr. Jacob and his colleagues named one of the antiviral peptides they identified urumin, after a whip-like sword called "urumi" used in southern India centuries ago. Urumin was found in skin secretions from the Indian frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara, which were collected after mild electrical stimulation. Peptides are short chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Some anti-bacterial peptides work by punching holes in cell membranes, and are thus toxic to mammalian cells, but urumin was not. Instead, urumin appears to only disrupt the integrity of flu virus, as seen through electron microscopy.

April 18th

Mechanism of Action Determined for Long-Time Heart Attack Drug--Metoprolol Reduces Damage from Myocardial Infarction by Inhibiting Inflammatory Action of Neutrophils

Scientists at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) in Madrid, Spain, together with collaborators, have discovered a new mechanism of action of metoprolol, a drug that can reduce the damage produced during a heart attack if administered early. The team led by Dr. Borja Ibáñez, Clinical Research Director at the CNIC and cardiologist at the Fundación Jiménez Díaz University Hospital Health Research Institute (IIS-FJD), has identified the mechanism that explains why this drug is so beneficial: rapid administration of metoprolol during a heart attack directly inhibits the inflammatory action of neutrophils, a type of blood cell. The reduced inflammation translates into a smaller area of damaged tissue in the post-infarcted heart. The finding, published on April 18, 2017 in Nature Communications, opens the way to new applications for this cheap, safe, and simple drug. The article is titled “Neutrophil Stunning by Metoprolol Reduces Infarct Size.” Acute myocardial infarction is a serious disease that affects more than 50 000 people a year in Spain. Treatment has advanced a great deal in recent years, especially in the extensive use of coronary angioplasty, in which a catheter is used to re-establish blood flow through the blocked coronary artery. Nevertheless, many heart attack survivors have seriously impaired heart function that limits their long-term health and generates major costs to the health system. The search for treatments to limit the irreversible damage caused by a heart attack is an extremely important research area in terms of both patient care and health policy. Neutrophils are white blood cells that target and fight infections.

FEATURE: CEO of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advocacy Group Is Paradoxical Ball of Productive Energy

On first meeting Carol Head (photo) ( there are many things that you would not likely guess right away. You would not guess, for instance that she was VP of the Organizing Committee for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. You would also likely not guess that she had spent eight years in a variety of executive positions at the LA Times. And most of all, you would never guess that she suffers from the debilitating energy-sapping disease commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). (Patients prefer to call the disease M.E. for myalgic encephalomyelitis and, as a result, the disease has recently been re-named to myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).) [For more information on this disease, please go to this web site (]. But Carol does have this debilitating disease and, for the last three years, this paradoxically dynamic woman has served as CEO and President of the increasingly effective Solve ME/CFS Initiative (SMCI) (, the primary research and advocacy organization for ME/CFS patients in the United States and an international leader in biomedical research for the disease. For the work she is doing with SMCI, Carol was recently recognized as one of fourteen Health Heroes for 2017 in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine ( In 2015, Francis Collins (, M.D. Ph.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), and leader of the Human Genome Project said, “Of the many mysterious illnesses that science has yet to unravel, ME/CFS has proven to be one of the most challenging.”

April 17th

Cannabinoid-Containing Pharmaceuticals May Be Effective Against Eczema, Psoriasis, Atopic Dermatitis, and Contact Dermatitis, Review Concludes; Anti-Inflammatory Effects Could Be Key; Most Promising Role May Be in Treatment of Itch

Cannabinoids contain anti-inflammatory properties that could make them useful in the treatment of a wide-range of skin diseases, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The new study, published online on April 14, 2017 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, summarizes the current literature on the subject and concludes that pharmaceuticals containing cannabinoids may be effective against eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis. Currently, 28 states allow comprehensive medical cannabis programs with close to 1 in 10 adult cannabis users in the U.S. utilizing the drug for medical reasons. As researchers examine the drug for use in treating nausea, chronic pain and anorexia, more and more dermatologists are looking into its ability to fight a range of skin disease. "Perhaps the most promising role for cannabinoids is in the treatment of itch," said the study's senior author Dr. Robert Dellavalle, M.D., Associate Professor of Dermatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He noted that, in one study, 8 of 21 patients who applied a cannabinoid cream twice a day for three weeks completely eliminated severe itching (pruritus). The drug may have reduced the dry skin that gave rise to the itch. Dr. Dellavalle believes the primary driver in these cannabinoid treatments could be their anti-inflammatory properties. In the studies he and his fellow researchers reviewed, they found that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) the active ingredient in marijuana, reduced swelling and inflammation in mice. At the same time, mice with melanoma saw significant inhibition of tumor growth when injected with THC. "These are topical cannabinoid drugs with little or no psychotropic effect that can be used for skin disease," Dr. Dellavalle said.

Single High-Sensitivity Troponin T Result Combined with ECG Could Quickly & Safely Rule Out Myocardial Infarction in Emergency Departments, Meta-Analysis of Published Data Shows

High-sensitivity assays for cardiac troponin T can quickly and safely rule out myocardial infarction (MI) in patients presenting to emergency departments (ED) with possible emergency acute coronary syndrome. A single troponin T concentration below the limit of detection in combination with a non-ischemic electrocardiogram (EKG) means that MI is unlikely and patients can be safely discharged. The findings of a collaborative meta-analysis study were published on April 18, 2017 the in Annals of Internal Medicine. The article is titled “Rapid Rule-Out of Acute Myocardial Infarction with a Single High-Sensitivity Cardiac Troponin T Measurement Below the Limit of Detection: A Collaborative Meta-Analysis.” Only 10 to 20 percent of patients who present to EDs with suspected cardiac-related chest pain are diagnosed with acute MI. High-sensitivity assays for cardiac troponin T have been used to rapidly rule out acute MI, but studies advocating this approach have several limitations. If findings can be validated across multiple studies that are free of these limitations, then this approach could enable safe discharge of many more patients than is achieved in current practice. Researchers at Christchurch Hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand reviewed published data to test the utility of a single high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T measurement combined with an ECG to safely identify patients at low risk for MI on presentation to the ED. To address limitations of previous studies, the review included 11 clinically and geographically diverse cohorts. The data showed that in most, but not all settings, patients investigated for acute coronary syndrome with the cardiac troponin T assay had very low risk for acute MI or for major adverse cardiac events within 30 days.

Newly Described Vasopressin-Sensitive Cells in Retina Transmit Signals from Incident Light to Suprachiasmic Nucleus in Brain, Likely Play Key Role in Setting of Biological Clocks

Researchers have found a new group of cells in the retina that directly affect the biological clock by sending signals to a region of the brain that regulates our daily (circadian) rhythms. This new understanding of how circadian rhythms are regulated through the eye could open up new therapeutic possibilities for restoring biological clocks in people who have jet lag through travelling or working night shifts. Biological clocks are synchronized to light-dark changes and are important to regulate patterns of body temperature, brain activity, hormone production, and other physiological processes. Disruption of this can lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders, depression, and an increased risk of cancer. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a region of the brain which co-ordinates the circadian rhythm using many different signaling molecules, including the neurohormone vasopressin. The retina signals environmental light changes to the SCN, but it was previously unclear on how this process took place. This research shows, for the first time, that the retina has its own population of vasopressin-expressing cells that communicate directly to the SCN and are involved with regulating the circadian rhythm. This gives an insight into how the biological clock is regulated by light and could open up new therapeutic opportunities to help restore altered circadian rhythms through the eye. The researchers interfered with the signaling of light information sent to the SCN in rats. Using a series of physiological tests, they showed that vasopressin-expressing cells in the retina are directly involved in regulating circadian rhythms.

April 16th

Single-Celled Plankton Adjust to Stress by Editing Their RNA, Rather Than by Changing Gene Expression Levels

Single-celled plankton known as dinoflagellates have now been shown to cope with stress by using an unexpected strategy of editing their RNA rather than changing gene expression levels. The finding by KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) researchers in Saudi Arabia began when a team led by Associate Professor Christian Voolstra and Assistant Professor Manuel Aranda compared RNA transcripts from two strains of dinoflagellates thought to belong to the same species in the genus Symbiodinium. The transcripts had more differences than expected, indicating a more distant relationship. However, the team speculated that the RNA transcripts might instead have been edited, producing different information than that encoded in the cell’s DNA. RNA editing had previously been observed in the mitochondria and plastids of dinoflagellates, but not in genes encoded in the nucleus. Earlier studies by Dr. Voolstra and Dr. Aranda had shown that gene expression changes very little in dinoflagellates under stressful conditions. The researchers wondered: “What if they do it completely differently? What if they just edit transcripts the way they need instead of changing expression?’” recalled Dr. Aranda. To test this hypothesis, the team analyzed transcriptomes from Symbiodinium cultures grown in normal conditions and stressed by cold, heat, or darkness. A conservative estimate uncovered 3,300 RNA edits. “This expands the encoding capacity beyond what’s in the genome,” says Dr. Aranda, effectively giving the cell a “fuzzy genome.” “Instead of having just one version of a protein, they can produce multiple different versions by changing the message on a different level.” The team then turned its attention to 229 genes edited in all four growth conditions.

New Method May Enable Scientists to Tap Vast Plant Pharmacopeia to Make New and More Effective Therapeutics

Cocaine, nicotine, capsaicin--these are just three familiar examples of the hundreds of thousands of small molecules (also called specialized or secondary metabolites) that plants use as chemical ammunition to protect themselves from predation. Unfortunately, identifying the networks of genes that plants use to make these biologically active compounds, which are the source of many of the drugs that people use and abuse daily, has vexed scientists for years, hindering efforts to tap this vast pharmacopeia to produce new and improved therapeutics. Now, Vanderbilt University geneticists think they have come up with an effective and powerful new way for identifying these elusive gene networks, which typically consist of a handful to dozens of different genes, that may overcome this road block. "Plants synthesize massive numbers of bioproducts that are of benefit to society. This team has revolutionized the potential to uncover these natural bioproducts and understand how they are synthesized," said Anne Sylvester, Ph.D., Program Director in the National Science Foundation's Biological Sciences Directorate, which funded the research. The revolutionary new approach is based on the well-established observation that plants produce these compounds in response to specific environmental conditions. "We hypothesized that the genes within a network that work together to make a specific compound would all respond similarly to the same environmental conditions," explained Jennifer Wisecaver, Ph.D., the post-doctoral fellow who conducted the study. To test this hypothesis, Dr.

April 15th

Th17 Cells Do Not Lose Anti-Tumor Potency When Expanded Outside Body: New Findings in Mouse Model Have Implications for Advancing Field of Cancer Immunotherapy

In the March 9, 2017 issue of JCI Insight, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) investigators report that long-term expansion protocols for adoptive cancer immunotherapy do not compromise Th17 cells' effectiveness against large tumors. This finding is important because rapid expansion protocols (REPs) that are used to produce sufficient CD8+ T cell numbers for adoptive cell therapy (ACT) degrade their effectiveness. These findings underscore that Th17 cell durability offers promise for next-generation ACT trials. ACT is highly effective at activating the body's immune defenses to fight cancer. This immunotherapy involves extracting, expanding, and enhancing the patient's own T cells before returning them to the patient where they can induce a durable anti-tumor response. In fact, among metastatic melanoma patients treated with ACT, approximately 54 percent achieve an objective response and 24 percent achieve complete remission. However, infusion of large numbers of T cells is required to produce successful anti-tumor responses. Rapid expansion protocols meet this need, but take up to three months before enough tumor-reactive T cells are available to effectively treat cancer patients. In addition, the CD8+ T cells commonly used in clinical trials quickly lose potency when they are extensively expanded outside the body. The open-access JCI Insight article is titled “Th17 Cells Are Refractory to Senescence and Retain Robust Antitumor Activity After Long-Term Ex Vivo Expansion.” Preclinical studies by an MUSC research team led by Chrystal Paulos, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Endowed Peng Chair of Dermatology and including Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) student Jacob Bowers, demonstrate for the first time that one T cell subset, Th17 cells, is resistant to expansion-induced degradation.