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Archive - Apr 2017

April 15th

Immunotherapy for Glioblastoma Well Tolerated; Survival Gains Observed in Small Phase One Trial at Duke; Results Support Further Study in Larger Trials

A phase one study of 11 patients with glioblastoma who received injections of an investigational vaccine therapy and an approved chemotherapy showed the combination to be well tolerated, while also resulting in unexpectedly significant survival increases, researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute report. Patients treated with the study drug (dose-intensified temozolomide and vaccines) were continuously monitored for toxicity and adverse events. Study patients experienced known side effects with temozolomide, including nausea, lymphopenia, thrombocytopenia, and fatigue. There were no treatment-limiting adverse events and no adverse events related to the cellular portion of the vaccine. One patient developed a grade 3 vaccine-related allergic reaction to the GM-CSF component of the vaccine. The patient was able to continue vaccinations in which the GM-CSF was removed and had no subsequent adverse events. Although the trial was small and not designed to evaluate efficacy, 4 of the 11 study patients survived for more than five years following treatment with a combination of vaccine and the drug temozolomide, a first-line chemotherapy drug for glioblastoma. That outcome is uncommon for glioblastoma, a lethal brain cancer that has a median survival of nearly 15 months when treated with the current standard of care. "This is a small study, but it's one in a sequence of clinical trials we have conducted to explore the use of an immunotherapy that specifically targets a protein on glioblastoma tumors," said Duke's Kristen Batich (photo), M.D., Ph.D., lead author of a study published online on April 14, 2017 in the Clinical Cancer Research.

April 14th

Lice and Their Bacterial Sidekicks Have Evolved Together for Millions of Years

A Florida Museum of Natural History study provides new insights into the complex, shared history between blood-sucking lice and the vitamin-producing bacterial sidekicks that enable them to parasitize mammals, including primates and humans. The study was published online on April 14, 2017 in Molecular Biology and Evolution. The study is titled “Primates, Lice and Bacteria: Speciation and Genome Evolution in the Symbionts of Hominid Lice.” Lice depend on bacteria to supply essential vitamins missing from blood, their only food source. These bacterial partners live in specialized cells inside their insect hosts and pass from a female louse to her offspring. Lice could not survive without their symbiotic bacteria, and the bacteria, in turn, cannot live outside their insect hosts. When their partnership began, however, and how it has evolved over time have been unclear. Previous studies suggested lice acquired and replaced their bacterial symbionts multiple times over their evolutionary history. But a study by Florida Museum researchers Bret Boyd, Ph.D., and David Reed, Ph.D., found that lice that parasitize primates and humans have hosted their endosymbionts continuously for at least 20 to 25 million years, aligning with the time period during which great apes and old world monkeys shared a common ancestor. As primates evolved, so did lice, and the evolution of their bacterial partners stayed closely in step. The data provide a new perspective on the evolutionary tree of these symbiotic bacteria, said Dr. Boyd, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at the museum. "While lice are highly maligned, they provide a wealth of scientific information," said Dr. Boyd, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia and the study's first author.

First Large-Scale Survey of Chagas Disease in US Confirms “Silent Killer” Is a Major Public Health Challenge for Country; Importance of Early Detection & Treatment Emphasized

A study of almost 5,000 Latin American-born residents of Los Angeles County found that 1.24% tested positive for Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that can cause life-threatening heart damage if not treated early. This was announced in an April 13, 2017 press release from the Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative. The referenced study was published online on February 12,2017 in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The open-access article is titled “Prevalence of Chagas Disease in the Latin American-born Population of Los Angeles.” Chagas disease is one of the leading causes of heart failure in Latin America. This is the first epidemiological study to back up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) estimate that approximately 300,000 people are living with this disease in the United States. The parasite that causes Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted mainly by the bite of the triatomine bug (photo), which is found throughout the Americas. Roughly 30% of those infected will develop serious cardiac, digestive, or neurological disorders. The disease is not generally transmitted from person-to-person. "Less than 1% with the infection are receiving treatment for Chagas disease," said Dr. Sheba Meymandi, Director of the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease (CECD) at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center and the study's lead author. "Without treatment, many Chagas patients are at risk of a ‘silent death’ due to heart failure. Our study demonstrates the need for similar research in other states, and underscores the critical importance of early detection and treatment to tackle this public health challenge in the US." The study was coordinated by the CECD, the first and only center of excellence for the diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease in the US.

April 13th

Comprehensive Neuropsychological Study of Living Ex-Pro Hockey Players Shows No Significant Brain Impairment, But High Levels of Emotional, Behavioral, & Cognitive Challenges; Scott Thornton Participates, Worried About His Memory

Researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, have reported the most comprehensive neuropsychological study of retired professional ice hockey players to date. They found that the alumni involved in the study, most of whom played in the Nzational Hockey League (NHL), were free from significant brain impairment on objective testing. Yet the players reported a high level of emotional, behavioral and cognitive challenges on questionnaires rating subjective complaints. “The study was published in the the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. The open-access article is titled “Cognitive and Psychosocial Function in Retired Professional Hockey Players.” The ongoing study, which began in 2010, is led by Dr. Brian Levine, neuropsychologist and senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute and Professor of Psychology and Medicine (Neurology) at the University of Toronto, Both institutions are in Toronrto, Canada. The study focuses on retired professional ice hockey players' cognitive and behavioral functioning in relation to their age, concussion history, and genetic risk. "There has been a lot of attention on repeated concussions and neurodegenerative disease, particularly in post-mortem samples of ex-athletes," says Dr. Levine. "There is a need for more comprehensive assessment of mental and behavioral changes during life. This longitudinal study will allow us to track changes over time to better understand aging and brain health in retired professional athletes." Thirty-three retired professional athletes were tested along with eighteen age-matched healthy males recruited from the community as a comparison group with no history of professional contact sports.

Exosomes Delivered by Nasal Spray Can Limit Brain Damage Caused by Seizure Disorder; Inflammation Relieved Is Similar to That Seen in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, & Traumatic Injury, Author States

Tiny sub-cellular vesicles (exosomes) isolated from adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and administered intranasally can limit the damage to the brain of animal models caused by a seizure disorder called status epilepticus, according to research published online on April 10, 2017 in PNAS. The open-access article is titled “Intranasal MSC-Derived A1-Exosomes Ease Inflammation, and Prevent Abnormal Neurogenesis and Memory Dysfunction After Status Epilepticus.” Status epilepticus is the formal name for a single seizure lasting longer than 30 minutes or a series of seizures in which the person does not regain consciousness in between them. If it is not quickly stopped, even one episode can cause brain damage, loss of cognitive function, and memory loss. “Saving the brain from injury and disease is certainly one of the holy grails of medicine,” said Darwin J. Prockop, M.D., Ph.D., the Stearman Chair in Genomic Medicine, Professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and co-senior author of the article. “Our paper suggests one way that this might be done, and not by a procedure that requires brain surgery or even injection into a vein: All that would be required is a nasal spray that a patient might receive in a doctor’s office.” The material in the nasal spray is anti-inflammatory exosomes, which Dr. Prockop and his team isolated from cultures of mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell. Ashok K. Shetty, Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, Associate Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, research career scientist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center, and co-senior author of the paper, and his team tested the efficiency of these exosomes in a status epilepticus model with damage from a period of acute seizures.

CRISPR Gene-Editing Alternative Corrects Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Mutations in Human Cells in Vitro & in Mice in Lab

Using the new gene-editing enzyme CRISPR-Cpf1, researchers at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center have successfully corrected Duchenne muscular dystrophy in human cells in vitro and mice in the lab. The UT Southwestern group had previously used CRISPR-Cas9, the original gene-editing system, to correct the Duchenne defect in a mouse model of the disease and in human cells. In the current work, they used a new variation of the gene-editing system to repair the defect in both a mouse model and in human cells. “We took patient-derived cells that had the most common mutation responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and we corrected them in vitro to restore production of the missing dystrophin protein in the cells. This work provides us with a promising new tool in the CRISPR toolbox,” said author Dr. Eric Olson (phpto), Chairman of Molecular Biology, Co-Director of the UT Southwestern Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center, and Director of the Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine, all at UT Southwestern. The research appeared in the April 12, 2017 issue of Science Advances. The article is titled “CRISPR-Cpf1 Correction of Muscular Dystrophy Mutations in Human Cardiomyocytes and Mice.” CRISPR-Cpf1 differs from CRISPR-Cas9 in a number of key ways. Cpf1 is much smaller than the Cas9 enzyme, which makes it easier to package inside a virus and therefore easier to deliver to muscle cells. Also, Cpf1 recognizes a different sequence of DNA than Cas9 does, which provides greater flexibility in terms of use. “There will be some genes that may be difficult to edit with Cas9, but may be easier to modify with Cpf1, or vice versa.

April 11th

Polar Bears Travel Cross-Wind to Pick Up Scent of Prey

Researchers at the University of Alberta have demystified the way that polar bears search for their typical prey of ringed seals. The answer, it turns out, is simple: they follow their nose using the power of wind. Using satellite telemetry data collected from 123 adult polar bears in Canada's Hudson Bay over 11 years, the researchers merged the movements of polar bears with wind patterns to explore how they looked for seals. They hypothesized that when a bear smells prey, it moves up-wind to find it. But what is a bear to do before it smells anything at all? "Predators search for prey using odors in the air, and their success depends on how they move relative to the wind," explained Ron Togunov, Ph.D., University of Alberta alumnus and lead author on the study. "Travelling crosswind gives the bears a steady supply of new air streams and maximizes the area they can sense through smell." While this phenomenon had been suspected in many animals, it had not been quantified in mammals until now. The best conditions for olfactory hunting, explained U Alberta professor Andrew Derocher, Ph.D., co-author and renowned polar bear expert, takes place at night during the winter. "Crosswind search was most frequent when winds were slow, when it is easier to localize the source of a certain smell, and at night when bears are relatively active and when vision is less effective, so bears rely more heavily on their sense of smell." The findings also raise questions about the implications of climate change. "Wind speeds in the Arctic are projected to increase, potentially making olfaction more difficult," explained Dr. Togunov.

Annual ISEV Meeting on Extracellular Vesicles (Including Exosomes) in Toronto May 17-21

The annual meeting of the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV 2017) (https://isev.site-ym.com/), will take place from May 17-21 in Toronto, Canada, and will offer an unparalleled opportunity to network with, and learn from, the preeminent leaders in extracellular vesicle (EV) research. To register for this meeting, please click here (https://isev.site-ym.com/page/ISEV2017Registration). The scope and quality of the anticipated scientific exchange make ISEV 2017 the largest and the premier meeting in EV research in the world. This event features five days of the best in vesicle science covering all aspects of basic, clinical, and translational research. The research theme includes diverse areas of science encompassing rare and neglected diseases, infectious disease, coagulation, cancer, neuroscience, cardiovascular studies, immunology, regenerative medicine, virology, parasitology, and more. The overall theme of ISEV 2017 is “Diversity of EV Composition and Function in Disease Diagnosis and Therapeutics.” Amidst growing interest in the promise of EVs in disease detection and treatment, ISEV 2017 will bring scientists and clinicians in medical and biotechnology communities together to translate their research. No other meeting in the world offers the scope, participation level, and thematic focus of ISEV 2017 concentrating and cross-pollinating scientific investigations in the field of disease biomarkers and therapeutic tools by disseminating cutting-edge developments in EV research. Among the plenary speakers scheduled to address the meeting are Clotilde Thery, Ph.D. (Research Director, Institut Curie), Philip Stahl, Ph.D. (Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology and Physiology, Washington University School of Medicine), Thomas Thum M.D., Ph.D. (Professor of Cardiology, Imperial College-London), Jeff Wrana, Ph.D.

April 9th

Madison, Wisconsin--Home of BioQuick News--Named #2 Best US City for Successful Aging

If you wish to keep your telomeres long and attain a long & healthy old age, Madison, Wisconsin, may be the perfect place for you. This thriving midwest city of ~250,000 has just been named the #2 in the “Best Cities for Successful Aging” 2017 ranking in the large metropolitan areas category by the prestigious Milken Institute (successfulaging.milkeninstitute.org.). The Madison area is the global headquarters for Epic Systems (electronic health information), Promega Corporation(biotech products), and BioQuick Online News (breaking news in life science). Other well-known cities on the Milken list included Boston (#9) and San Francisco (#10). Provo-Orem, Utah was ranked #1. On March 14, 2017, the influential Milken Institute released the third edition of its "Best Cities for Successful Aging" report and index, (http://www.milkeninstitute.org/newsroom/press-releases/view/321), a collaboration between the Institute's Center for the Future of Aging and its Research Department. The report evaluates 381 U.S. metropolitan areas to determine how well they serve the needs of the nation's growing population of mature adults, enabling them to age productively, securely, and in optimal health. More than 80 percent of Americans age 65-plus live in metropolitan areas, and nearly 90 percent of older adults in the U.S. want to age in their homes and communities. Thus, the "Best Cities for Successful Aging" index is not intended to identify the locales to which older adults should retire. Instead, the index and report are designed to highlight the nation's most livable metropolitan areas—those that enable an optimal quality of life for their aging citizens. "Cities are on the front lines of the largest demographic shift in history," said Paul Irving, Chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.

April 8th

New Studies Reveal How Some Chickens Developed Striped Feathers

Birds show an amazing diversity in plumage color and patterning. But what are the genetic mechanisms creating such patterns? In a new study published on April 7, 2017 in PLOS Genetics, Swedish and French researchers report that two independent mutations are required to explain the development of the sex-linked barring pattern in chickens. Both mutations affect the function of CDKN2A, a tumor suppressor gene associated with melanoma in humans. Research in pigmentation biology has made major advances the last 20 years in identifying genes controlling variation in pigmentation in mammals and birds. However, the most challenging question is still how color patterns are genetically controlled. Birds are outstanding as regards the diversity and complexity in color patterning. The study published in the open-access PLOS Genetics has revealed the genetic basis for the striped feather characteristic of sex-linked barring. One example of this fascinating plumage color is the French breed Coucou de Rennes. The name refers to the fact that this plumage color resembles the barring patterns present in the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The sex-linked barring locus is on the Z chromosome. (In chickens, as well as in other birds, the male has chromosomes ZZ, while females have ZW). The PLOS Genetics article is titled The evolution of Sex-linked barring alleles in chickens involves both regulatory and coding changes in CDKN2A.” "Our data show that sex-linked barring is caused by two independent mutations that act together. One is a regulatory mutation that increases the expression of CDKN2A. The other changes the protein sequence and makes the protein less functionally active.