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Archive - May 31, 2017

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NIH Director & NIDA Director Describe NIH Plans to Launch Effort with Private Partners to Combat Opioid Crisis

Opioid misuse and addiction is an ongoing and rapidly evolving public health crisis, requiring innovative scientific solutions. In a special report published online on May 31, 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine, National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, and National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora D. Volkow, MD, describe NIH's plans to launch an initiative with private partners to develop better overdose reversal and prevention interventions to reduce mortality; find new, innovative medications and technologies to treat opioid addiction; and find safe, effective, non-addictive strategies to manage chronic pain. The open-access NEJM special report is titled “The Role of Science in Addressing the Opioid Crisis.”

[Press release] [NEJM Special Report]

Newly Modified Vancomycin Has Three Independent Mechanisms of Action & Is 1,000-Fold As Active As Native Vancomycin

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have given new superpowers to a lifesaving antibiotic called vancomycin, an advance that could eliminate the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections for years to come. The researchers, led by Dale Boger, PhD, Co-Chair of TSRI's Department of Chemistry, discovered a way to structurally modify vancomycin to make an already-powerful version of the antibiotic even more potent. "Doctors could use this modified form of vancomycin without fear of resistance emerging," said Dr. Boger, whose team announced the finding that was published online on May 30, 2017 in PNAS. The article is titled “Peripheral Modifications of [Ψ[CH2NH]Tpg4]Vancomycin with Added Synergistic Mechanisms of Action Provide Durable and Potent Antibiotics.” The original form of vancomycin is an ideal starting place for developing better antibiotics. The antibiotic has been prescribed by doctors for 60 years, and bacteria are only now developing resistance to it. This suggests bacteria already have a hard time overcoming vancomycin's original "mechanism of action," which works by disrupting how bacteria form cell walls. Dr. Boger called vancomycin "magical" for its proven strength against infections, and previous studies by Boger and his colleagues at TSRI had shown that it is possible to add two modifications to vancomycin to make it even more potent. "With these modifications, you need less of the drug to have the same effect," Dr. Boger said. The new study shows that scientists can make a third modification--which interferes with a bacterium's cell wall in a new way--with promising results. Combined with the previous modifications, this alteration gives vancomycin a 1,000-fold increase in activity, meaning doctors would need to use less of the antibiotic to fight infection.

Tea Consumption Leads to Epigenetic Changes in Women

Epigenetic changes are chemical modifications that turn our genes off or on. In a new study from Uppsala University, researchers show that tea consumption in women leads to epigenetic changes in genes that are known to interact with cancer and estrogen metabolism. The results were published online on May 23, 2017 in the journal Human Molecular Genetics. The article is titled “Tea and Coffee Consumption in Relation to DNA Methylation in Four European Cohorts.” It is well known that our environment and lifestyle factors, such as food choices, smoking, and exposure to chemicals, can lead to epigenetic changes. In the current study, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, in collaboration with research groups around Europe, investigated if coffee and tea consumption may lead to epigenetic changes. Previous studies have suggested that both coffee and tea play an important role in modulating disease-risk in humans by suppressing tumor progression, decreasing inflammation, and influencing estrogen metabolism, mechanisms that may be mediated by epigenetic changes. The results show that there are epigenetic changes in women consuming tea, but not in men. Interestingly, many of these epigenetic changes were found in genes involved in cancer and estrogen metabolism. "Previous studies have shown that tea consumption reduces estrogen levels which highlights a potential difference between the biological response to tea in men and women. Women also drink higher amounts of tea compared to men, which increases our power to find association in women", says Dr. Weronica Ek, researcher at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, who led the study. The study did not find any epigenetic changes in individuals drinking coffee.

Personalized Medicine 10.0 Conference in SF Friday, June 2, 2017

On June 2, 2017, San Francisco State University’s Department of Biology will host Personalized Medicine 10.0 “Has It Changed Your Life?” The meeting will take place from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm on Friday, June 2, 2017 at the South San Francisco Conference Center. For registration information, please contact dnamed@sfsu.edu or visit http://personalizedmedicine.sfsu.edu or contact conference chairman Michael Goldman, PhD, Chairman, Biology, San Francisco State University (goldman@sfsu.edu). Please see the meeting program at this link (http://personalizedmedicine.sfsu.edu/docs/pers_med_2017_program.pdf). Personalized medicine seeks to use genetic variation to develop new diagnostic tests and treatments and to identify the sub-groups of patients for whom they will work best. This approach can also help determine which groups of patients are more prone to developing some diseases and, ideally, help with the selection of lifestyle changes and/or treatments that can delay onset of disease or reduce its impact. This year, to celebrate our tenth anniversary conference on personalized medicine, we take a longer view, looking at how our lives have changed since the advent of personalized, precision and genomic medicine, and just how far we have yet to go. We revisit the topics we focused upon in previous years, including bioinformatics, oncology, epigenetics, the genomics of rare disease, nth generation sequencing technologies, the microbiome, and the unprecedented developments in gene therapy and genome editing. We examine the hard science, the clinical applications, the business potential, and the regulatory and ethical implications of personalized medicine in 2017. Where next for our society and our species?

New Targeted Molecular Therapy Takes Aim at Incurable Prostate Cancer

New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine have begun the first clinical trial in the United States that uses a small molecule to treat men with progressive prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate and is no longer responding to hormonal therapy. The Phase 1 study has completed its second round of patient enrollment, with the first six patients having undergone dosing. The researchers will be discussing the trial on June 5 at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago. The researchers are using the small molecule Lutetium 177Lu-PSMA-617 to target prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), a protein that is abundantly expressed in 85-90 percent of metastasized prostate cancers. The small molecule binds to PSMA and delivers precise radiation therapy intended to shrink the cancer -- even in cases in which cells have yet to form a visible tumor on a bone or CT scan. The trial primarily seeks to determine the highest dose level of the drug that can be given without significant side effects. PSMA-targeted therapy is thought to be one of the most promising approaches in treating metastasized prostate cancer. "This trial represents a new frontier in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer," said Dr. Scott Tagawa, medical director of the genitourinary oncology program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and The Richard A. Stratton Associate Professor in Hematology and Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine. "While this type of therapy has shown promise, this is the first trial of its kind in the United States. So far, patients are doing well."