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Archive - Apr 2018


April 18th

University of Pennsylvania Continues Advancements in Cancer Immunotherapy with New Perspective

(by Rachel DeRita, PhD Candidate,Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Cancer Biology). The Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) continues to make innovative advancements in the field of cancer immunotherapy in the midst of what has been called the “immune revolution” by the cancer center’s director, Robert H. Vonderheide (photo), MD, PhD. He explains that the success with the revolutionary immune system-based therapies is “bittersweet,” as many patients are either non-responsive or re-lapse after initial success. A main strategy of the current cancer immunotherapies is to block the immune system’s “off switch.” For example, when the molecule PD-1 on immune cells is bound to PD-L1 on tumor cells, the immune system deactivates and allows the cancer to hide from the immune system. Antibodies against PD-1 (pembrolizumab, brand name Keytruda) can block the deactivation caused by PD-1/PD-L1 binding, and are approved for the first-line treatment of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer with overexpression of PD-L1. Approximately 30% of patients to not respond to this treatment and another 25% exhibit further tumor progression after one year. The search for improvements to current immunotherapies has led to a new class of immunotherapy drugs known as monoclonal antibodies to a protein called CD40. CD40 is expressed by the antigen-presenting cells of the immune system, which are responsible for eliciting an anti-tumor response. When CD40 is bound by other surface markers on T-helper cells, the antigen-presenting cell (such as a B cells or dendritic cells) is activated to perform a number of functions to eventually target and kill tumor cells. By stimulating this molecule with an antibody, the anti-tumor response is strengthened. Dr.

Moss Capable of Removing Arsenic from Water Discovered in Northern Sweden

A moss capable of removing arsenic from contaminated water has been discovered by researchers from Stockholm University. And it happens quickly - in just one hour, the arsenic level is so low that the water is no longer harmful for people to drink. The study has been published in the in the June 2018 issue of Environmental Pollution. The article is titled “Phytofiltration of Arsenic by Aquatic Moss (Warnstorfia fluitans). The aquatic moss Warnstofia fluitans, which grows in northern Sweden, has the ability to quickly absorb and adsorb arsenic from water. The discovery allows for an environmentally friendly way to purify water of arsenic. One possible scenario is to grow the moss in streams and other watercourses with high levels of arsenic. In the northern part of Sweden, water from mining areas is often contaminated by arsenic. "We hope that the plant-based wetland system that we are developing will solve the arsenic problem in Sweden's northern mining areas," says Dr. Maria Greger, Associate Professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University and leader of the research group. "Our experiments show that the moss has a very high capacity to remove arsenic. It takes no more than an hour to remove 80 per cent of the arsenic from a container of water. By then, the water has reached such a low level of arsenic that it is no longer harmful to people," says research assistant Arifin Sandhi, who has conducted the experiments. In 2004, the use of arsenic compounds in wood products was banned, but arsenic still reaches ground and water systems due to mining. This happens because the ground and bedrock in certain parts of Sweden naturally contain arsenic. As a result, the drinking water and water used for the irrigation of crops also contains elevated levels of arsenic.

April 17th

IDA-Wisconsin Holds Annual Conference on Dyslexia

Almost 90 attendees from all over Wisconsin, and also from Illinois and Minnesota, journeyed through rough winter weather conditions to attend a conference organized by the Wisconsin Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) (, and held in the Wisconsin Dells on Saturday, April 14, 2018. The theme of the conference was “Moving Literacy Forward Until Everyone Can Read.” Attendees included teachers, tutors, parents, some who are afflicted by dyslexia, and vendors who provide products to aid those with dyslexia. Conference sponsors included the Walbridge School in Madison, Wisconsin; Mount St. Joseph University; and the 2017 IDA Reading, Literacy & Learning Conference Audio Recordings. The Walbridge School ( was founded in 1984 by educators and parents in order to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of children who learn differently. Mount St. Joseph University is a Cincinnati-based educational institute that offers a fully online reading science program ( Session recordings with slide decks from the IDA's Reading, Literacy & Learning Conference in November 2017 are now available for purchase at Vendors at this year’s conference included IDA-Wisconsin, Decoding Dyslexia Wisconsin, Mount St. Joseph, Silver Moon Spelling Rules, Sylvan Spirit Pqbd Jewelry, Waldbridge School, School Specialty Instruction & Intervention, and Project Success UW-Oshkosh.

Immunotherapy (Keytruda), When Combined with Chemotherapy, Doubles Survival Time of Patients with Metastatic Lung Cancer

The immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda), when combined with chemotherapy, doubles survival in patients with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSNSCLC) lacking genetic changes in the EGFR or ALK genes, when compared to chemotherapy alone, according to results of an international phase III clinical trial. Principal investigator Leena Gandhi, MD, PhD, Director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University (NYU Langone Health and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, presented these findings April 16, 2018 at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Chicago. The data from this study were simultaneously published online on April 16, 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The open-access article is titled “Combination of Pembrolizumab & Chemotherapy Doubles Survival in Patients with Metastatic Lung Cancer.” A total of 616 patients with untreated metastatic NSNSCLC without EGFR or ALK alterations, from 118 international sites, were randomly allocated for the trial—405 patients were treated with both pembrolizumab and platinum therapy plus pemetrexed, and 202 received platinum therapy plus pemetrexed with a saline placebo. Response rates, overall survival, and progression-free survival rates were superior in the pembrolizumab and chemotherapy combination treatment group. In the press release provided here and below, see a video of Dr.

How Plants Avoid DNA Damage from UV Light--Nobel Laureate Aziz Sancar’s Lab Reveals First-Ever Repair Map of an Entire Multicellular Organism to Illuminate Inner Workings of Plant Kingdom's Highly Efficient DNA Repair System

If the ultraviolet radiation from the sun damages human DNA to cause health problems, does UV radiation also damage plant DNA? The answer is yes, but because plants can't come in from the sun or slather on sunblock, they have a super robust DNA repair kit. Today, the Unversity of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine lab of 2015 Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, has published an exquisite study of this powerful DNA repair system in plants, which closely resembles a repair system found in humans and other animals. The study, published online on April 17, 2018 in Nature Communications, is the first repair map of an entire multicellular organism. It revealed that the "nucleotide excision repair" system works much more efficiently in the active genes of plants as compared to humans. And this efficiency depends on the day/night cycle. The open-access Nature Comminications article is titled “Genome-Wide Excision Repair in Arabidopsis Is Coupled to Transcription and Reflects Circadian Gene Expression Patterns.” "These findings advance our understanding of DNA repair mechanisms common among all organisms and may also have practical applications," said co-corresponding author Ogun Adebali, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sancar lab. First author Onur Oztas, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sancar lab, said, "DNA damage accumulating in a plant will impair its growth and development, so boosting the excision repair system could be a good strategy for improving crop yields." Dr.

April 15th

Depression Study Pinpoints Scores of Genes That May Trigger the Condition

Nearly 80 genes that could be linked to depression have been discovered by scientists. The findings could help explain why some people may be at a higher risk of developing the condition, researchers say. The study could also help researchers develop drugs to tackle mental ill-health, experts say. Depression affects one in five people in the UK every year and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Life events - such as trauma or stress - can contribute to its onset, but it is not clear why some people are more likely to develop the condition than others. Scientists led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh analyzed data from UK Biobank - a research resource containing health and genetic information for half a million people. The scientists scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that could be linked to depression. Some of the pinpointed genes are known to be involved in the function of synapses, tiny connectors that allow brain cells to communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals. The scientists then confirmed their findings by examining anonymized data held by the personal genetics and research company 23andMe, used with the donors' consent. 4.The study, published in Nature Communications, was funded by Wellcome as part of Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally, a £4.7 million ($6.73million) project to better understand the condition.

Newly Identified Bacteria May Preserve Nectar & Pollen and Help Bees Nourish Their Young

A team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) has isolated three previously unknown bacterial species from wild bees and flowers. The bacteria, which belong to the genus Lactobacillus, may play a role in preserving the nectar and pollen that female bees store in their nests as food for their larvae. The results were published online on April 12, 2018 in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The article is titled “Lactobacillus micheneri sp. nov., Lactobacillus timberlakei sp. nov., and Lactobacillus quenuiae sp. nov., Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Wild Bees and Flowers." The study was led by Dr. Quinn McFrederick, an Assistant Professor of Entomology in UCR's College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences. Symbiotic bacteria that live in bee guts are believed to promote bee health by helping to digest food and boost immunity. Compared to honeybees and bumblebees, little is known about the microbial communities associated with wild bees, despite the important role these insects play in the pollination of flowering plants. To study the bacteria associated with wild bees, Dr. McFrederick and co-authors collected wild bees and flowers from two sites in Texas and on the UCR campus. Genomic DNA sequencing, coupled with traditional taxonomic analyses, confirmed the isolation of three new Lactobacillus species, which are closely related to the honeybee-associated bacteria Lactobacillus kunkeei. The news strains are: Lactobacillus micheneri, named after Dr. Charles D. Michener to honor his contributions to the study of bees in natural habitats; Lactobacillus timberlakei, named after Dr. Philip Timberlake to honor his work on the taxonomy of native bees, especially at UC Riverside; and Lactobacillus quenuiae, named after Dr.

April 13th

Loggerhead Sea Turtles Nesting on Beaches with Similar Magnetic Fields Are Genetically Similar to Each Other

New research from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill provides valuable insight into the navigation and nesting behaviors of loggerhead sea turtles that could inform future conservation efforts. Loggerhead sea turtles that nest on beaches with similar magnetic fields are genetically similar to one another, according to a new study by UNC-Chapel Hill biologists Dr. Kenneth J. Lohmann and Dr. J. Roger Brothers. The study was published online on April 12, 2018 in the journal Current Biology on April 12. The open-access article is titled “Evidence that Magnetic Navigation and Geomagnetic Imprinting Shape Spatial Genetic Variation in Sea Turtles.” A key takeaway is that magnetic fields are the strongest predictor of genetic similarity among nesting loggerhead sea turtles, regardless of the geographic proximity or environmental traits of nesting beaches. The findings support previous research from Dr. Lohmann and Dr. Brothers, which indicated that adult loggerhead sea turtles use magnetic fields to find their way back to the beach where they themselves hatched. The new research implies that sometimes the turtles mistakenly nest at a different beach with a similar magnetic field, even if that beach is geographically far away from the beach on which they hatched - like on the opposite coast of Florida. Conservation efforts should note the importance of a beach's magnetic field for attracting loggerhead sea turtles. Sea walls, power lines, and large beachfront buildings may alter the magnetic fields that turtles encounter. "Loggerhead sea turtles are fascinating creatures that begin their lives by migrating alone across the Atlantic Ocean and back. Eventually they return to nest on the beach where they hatched - or else, as it turns out, on a beach with a very similar magnetic field," said Dr.

April 13th

Simple, Inexpensive Blood Test Detects Alzheimer’s Years Before Symptoms Occur

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is often argued that progress in drug research has been hampered by the fact that the disease can only be diagnosed when it is too late for an effective intervention. Alzheimer’s disease is thought to begin long before patients show typical symptoms like memory loss. Scientists have now developed a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease and found that it can detect early indicators of the disease long before the first symptoms appear in patients. The blood test would thus offer an opportunity to identify those at risk and may thereby open the door to new avenues in drug discovery. The research was published online on April 6, 2018 in EMBO Molecular Medicine. The open-access article is titled “Amyloid Blood Biomarker Detects Alzheimer's Disease.” One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation of amyloid-β plaques in the patient’s brain. The blood test, developed by Dr. Klaus Gerwert and his team at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, works by measuring the relative amounts of a pathological and a healthy form of amyloid-β in the blood. The pathological form is a misfolded version of this molecule and known to initiate the formation of toxic plaques in the brain. Toxic amyloid-β molecules start accumulating in the patients’ body 15-20 years before disease onset. In the present study, Dr. Gerwert and colleagues from Germany and Sweden addressed whether the blood test would be able to pick up indications of pathological amyloid-β in very early phases of the disease. The researchers first focused on patients in the early, so-called “prodromal” stages of the disease from the Swedish BioFINDER cohort conducted by Dr. Oskar Hanson.

Germ Cells in the Teleost Fish Medaka Have an Inherent Feminizing Effect

The gender of living organisms is determined either by genetic factors and/or by environmental factors. Interestingly, however, a team of researchers led by Nagoya University scientists previously found that the occurrence of more germ cells - biological cells capable of uniting with one from the opposite sex to form a new individual - in female medaka (teleost fish) gonads is essential for female differentiation of gonads. When germ cells are removed in medaka, XX (female) fish show female-to-male sex reversal, while XY (male) fish with excessive germ cells, which is usually associated with egg production, exhibit male-to-female sex reversal. "This finding implies that, in addition to the most well- known role of germ cells developing into eggs or sperm and produce the next generation, germ cells have a unique and surprising potential to change their surrounding environment," says Dr. Toshiya Nishimura, first author of the current study. "However, the molecular basis of, and the stage of gametogenesis critical for, feminization remain unknown." This question set the researchers to delve more deeply into the topic. In their latest study, they generated three different medaka mutants to demonstrate that the feminizing effect of germ cells is not a result of the progression of gametogenesis or a sexual fate decision of germ cells. They found that the different stages of germ cells in XX mutants have an ability to feminize the gonads, resulting in the formation of gonads with ovarian structures. In addition to normal ovarian development, the increased number of gonocytes (fetal and neonatal germ cells) is sufficient for male-to-female sex reversal in XY medaka.