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January 21st

OncoHost and RayBiotech Awarded $1 Million Grant from BIRD Foundation to Advance Precision Oncology for Patients Receiving Immunotherapy; Partnership Leverages Host Response Analysis to Predict Response to Therapy & Aid ID of New Drug Combinations

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, OncoHost, a global leader in host response profiling for improved personalized cancer therapy, together with its partner RayBiotech, a leading life sciences company developing high-throughput protein detection technologies for biomarker discovery initiatives, announced that the companies have been awarded a $1 million grant from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation ( The BIRD Foundation supports cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies for developing joint products or technologies in a wide range of technology sectors that are of mutual benefit to the U.S. and Israel. The grant will support OncoHost and RayBiotech's combined development and clinical validation of host response testing for the early prediction of treatment responsiveness in non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) patients undergoing immunotherapy. It will also be used to further develop and implement an automated slide assistance platform (ASAP) for reducing the time of large-scale protein processing as part of a new joint service: host response enrichment for pharmaceutical companies. Both of these developments will contribute towards the enablement of personalized cancer therapy for patients. "The BIRD Foundation Board of Governors selected to support the project between OncoHost and RayBiotech on their mission to counteract therapy resistance in order to improve cancer treatment response," said Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, Executive Director of the BIRD Foundation.

January 20th

Breakthrough Genetic Engineering Targets All Four Types of Dengue Virus for First Time, Offers Hope of Reducing Dengue Infection, Which Currently Occurs in More Than 390 Million People Every Year, with Related Annual Health Costs of $40 Billion

Scientists from Australia's national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and the University of California San Diego have engineered the first breed of genetically modified mosquitoes resistant to spreading all four types of the dengue virus. Dengue infects more than 390 million people every year. Typical symptoms include severe fever, headaches, and muscle aches, with severe forms of the disease leading to hemorrhage, shock and even death. CSIRO Senior Research Scientist Dr. Prasad Paradkar said the dengue virus was causing an epidemic in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, with large outbreaks currently occurring in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. "There is a pressing global demand for effective strategies to control the mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus, as there are currently no known treatments and the vaccine that is available is only partially effective," Dr Paradkar said. "In this study, we used recent advances in genetic engineering technologies to successfully genetically modify a mosquito, the Aedes aegypti (photo), with reduced ability to acquire and transmit the dengue virus. "This is the first engineered approach that targets all four dengue types, which is crucial for effective disease suppression. Mosquito-transmitted viruses are expected to climb over the coming years, which is why CSIRO is focused on developing new ways to help solve this global challenge." There have been previous attempts to synthetically engineer dengue-carrying mosquito populations to make them resistant to the virus, however these approaches had limited success due to their ability to only target one or two of the four major dengue types.

Sepsis Associated with 1 In 5 Deaths Globally, Double Previous Estimate; Study Includes Sharper Focus on Low-Income & Middle-Income Countries

Twice as many people as previously believed are dying of sepsis worldwide, according to an analysis published in the January 18, 2020 issue of The Lancet and announced at the Critical Care Reviews annual meeting in Belfast, Ireland ( The Lancet open-access article is titled “Global, Regional, and National Sepsis Incidence and Mortality, 1990–2017: Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study.” Among those dying are a disproportionately high number of children in poor areas. Led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and University of Washington schools of medicine, the study revealed 48.9 million global cases of sepsis in 2017 and 11 million deaths, representing 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Sepsis occurs when a person's organs cease to function properly as the result of an out-of-control immune response to infection. Even if sepsis doesn't kill its victims, it can create lifelong disabilities in survivors. The large majority of sepsis cases -- 85% in 2017 -- occurred in low- or middle-income countries. The highest burden was found in sub-Saharan Africa, the South Pacific islands near Australia, and South, East, and Southeast Asia. Sepsis incidence was higher among females than males. By age, the incidence of sepsis peaks in early childhood, with more than 40% of all cases occurring in children under 5. "I've worked in rural Uganda, and sepsis is what we saw every single day. Watching a baby die of a disease that could have been prevented with basic public health measures really sticks with you," said lead author Kristina E. Rudd, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor in Pitt's Department of Critical Care Medicine. "I want to contribute to solving this tragedy, so I participate in research on sepsis.

January 15th

Study on Recently Discovered Chlorophyll Molecule (Chl f) Could Be Key to Better Solar Cells; New Work Reveals Mechanism That Can Use Light on the Lower Energy Spectrum, Which Has Never Been Seen Before

All living organisms need energy for their survival, and this energy indirectly comes from the sun. Some organisms, such as plants, cyanobacteria, and algae, are capable of directly converting this light energy into chemical energy via a process called "photosynthesis.” These photosynthetic organisms contain special structures to mediate photosynthesis, called "photosystems.” There are two photosystems that carry out light-energy conversion reactions, each of which is composed of a number of proteins and pigments. Among photosynthetic pigments, chlorophyll is the most crucial one, which not only captures light energy from the sun, but also participates in the "electron transfer chain,” a molecular pathway through which photons (from the sunlight) are converted into electrons (which are used as an energy source). There are different types of chlorophyll molecules, each having a specific function ranging from absorbing light and converting it into energy. Moreover, each chlorophyll molecule absorbs light in different regions. Recently, a new type of chlorophyll called Chl f was discovered, but details such as exactly where it is located and how it functions have remained a mystery until now. In a new study published online on January 13, 2020 in Nature Communications, a team of researchers led by Professor Tatsuya Tomo, PhD, at the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, and including collaborating researchers from Okayama University, Tsukuba University, Kobe University, and RIKEN, revealed new details about the location and functions of Chl f.

January 14th

Researchers Develop High-Throughput Method to Study Effects of Removing Hundreds of “Poison Exons” at Same Time; With CRISPR-Based Method, Scientists Show That Poison Exons, Conserved for Over 80 Million Years, Are Essential & Have Anti-Tumor Activity

We don’t have much in common with mice. After 80 million years of diverging evolution, seeing any similarities in our DNA takes some squinting. So, it seems obvious that any bits of DNA that have resisted the forces of evolution and remained identical between mice and humans (and rats and pufferfish) must be critical--probably even essential. Known as “ultra-conserved elements,” these sections of DNA drew immediate scientific attention when the first human genome sequence was released in 2003. And while scientists have discovered some molecular functions for these elements, they have been failing to show their essentiality ever since--until now. In a new study published online on January 7, 2020 in Nature Genetics, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, showed that yes, these ultra-conserved DNA elements are indeed essential. The article is titled “RNA Isoform Screens Uncover the Essentiality and Tumor-Suppressor Activity of Ultraconserved Poison Exons.” Looking at a subclass of ultra-conserved elements known as “poison exons,” the investigators found that certain poison exons were essential for cell growth, while others acted to suppress the growth of lung tumor cells in mice. By showing that ultra-conserved elements operate on a cellular level, these discoveries help shed light on why they have remained unchanged over millions of years. This is the “first study finding large-scale importance of these highly conserved [DNA] elements,” said Dr. Rob Bradley (photo), PhD, a computational biologist and the study’s senior author. The 481 ultra-conserved DNA elements shared between mice, rats, and humans immediately jumped out once these three genomes were sequenced and compared. The finding was “really odd, really interesting,” Dr. Bradley said.

January 14th

Exosomes Promote Remarkable Recovery in Stroke

It’s been almost a quarter century since the first drug was approved for stroke. But what’s even more striking is that only a single drug remains approved today. In an open-access article published on December 6, 2019, in Translational Stroke Research, animal scientists, funded by the NIH, present brain-imaging data for a new stroke treatment that supported full recovery in swine, modeled with the same pattern of neurodegeneration as seen in humans with severe stroke. The open-access article is titled “Neural Stem Cell Extracellular Vesicles Disrupt Midline Shift Predictive Outcomes in Porcine Ischemic Stroke Model. “It was eye-opening and unexpected that you would see such a benefit after having had such a severe stroke,” said Steven Stice, PhD, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor in the University of Georgia’s (UGA’s) College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Dr. Stice is also Chief Science Officer for ArunA Biomedical Inc., and, prior to joining UGA, he was the co-founder of Advanced Cell Technology and served as both CSO and CEO of that company. “Perhaps the most formidable discovery was that one could recover and do so well after the exosome treatment.” Dr. Stice and his colleagues at UGA’s Regenerative Bioscience Center (RBC) report the first observational evidence during a midline shift—when the brain is being pushed to one side— to suggest that a minimally invasive and non-operative exosome treatment can now influence the repair and damage that follow a severe stroke. Exosomes are considered to be powerful mediators of long-distance cell-to-cell communication that can change the behavior of tumor and neighboring cells. The results of the study echo findings from other recent RBC studies using the same licensed exosome technology.

Bacteria As Artists; Surprising Beauty Found in Mixed Bacterial Cultures; Together, E. coli and A. baylyi Form Intricate Flower Patterns Under the Microscope; Non-Motile E. coli Hitching Ride on Motile A. baylyi Is Basis for "Artistic Beauty"

Microbial communities inhabit every ecosystem on Earth, from soil to rivers to the human gut. While monoclonal cultures often exist in labs, in the real world, many different microbial species inhabit the same space. Researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego have discovered that when certain microbes pair up, stunning floral patterns emerge (see photo here and below). In a paper published online on January 14 in eLife, a team of researchers at UC San Diego's BioCircuits Institute (BCI) and Department of Physics, led by Research Scientist and BCI Associate Director Lev Tsimring, PhD, reports that when non-motile E. coli (Escherichia coli) are placed on an agar surface together with motile A. baylyi (Acinetobacter baylyi), the E. coli "catch a wave" at the front of the expanding A. baylyi colony. The agar provided food for the bacteria and also a surface on which E. coli couldn't easily move (making it non-motile). A. baylyi, on the other hand, can crawl readily across the agar using microscopic legs called pili. Thus, a droplet of pure E. coli would barely spread over a 24-hour period, while a droplet of pure A. baylyi would cover the entire area of the petri dish. Yet when the E. coli and A. baylyi were mixed together in the initial droplet, both strains flourished and spread across the whole area as the non-motile E. coli hitched a ride on the highly mobile A. baylyi. However, what most surprised researchers were intricate flower-like patterns that emerged in the growing colony over a 24-hour period.The open-access eLife article is titled “Flower-like patterns in multi-species bacterial colonies.

January 12th

First-Ever Integration of Metabolism, Expression, Thermodynamics, and ‘Omics Provides Algorithm That Is More Accurate and 10 to 100 Times Faster Than Previous State-of-the-Art Models of Metabolism

All living things are made of carbon, and sugars, e.g. glucose, are a very common source of it. Consequently, most cells are good at eating sugars, using enzymes to digest them through a series of chemical reactions that transform the initial sugar into a variety of cell components, including amino acids, DNA building blocks, and fats. Because they help these sugar-metabolism reactions run efficiently, the enzymes called biocatalysts. Given how critical all enzymes are to life itself, scientists have built several mathematical models that describe how the cells use enzymes to transform a sugar. Such models have been successfully used, for instance, to improve 2nd-generation biofuel production or identify drug targets for malaria, but they don't take into account the metabolic "cost" of producing the enzymes that catalyze all these chemical reactions. Accounting for this phenomenon, called "expression,” is key to describing many other phenomena, including beer fermentation and the growth of cancer cells. But all this first depends on accurately modeling the mechanisms of expression. Now, Professor Vassily Hatzimanikatis at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne)(photo)and Pierre Salvy, a PhD student in his lab, have developed a mathematical model that can efficiently model the expression of enzymes in living cells, as well as its associated metabolic cost. The model is called ETFL for "Expression and Thermodynamics Flux" and draws its accuracy from taking into account both biochemistry and thermodynamics (a set of physico-chemical laws that describe how energy flows in systems). Combining this with mathematical tools from the field of optimization, the researchers were able to drastically improve the accuracy of the model's predictions.

Sestrin Proteins May Provide Benefits of Exercise in Absence of Need to Work Out; Possible Small-Molecule Modulators of Sestrins Might Help Combat Muscle Wasting Due to Age or Disease

Whether it be a brisk walk around the park or high-intensity training at the gym, exercise does a body good. But what if you could harness the benefits of a good workout without ever moving a muscle? Researchers at Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan and collaborators, studying a class of naturally occurring proteins called Sestrins have found that these proteins can mimic many of exercise's effects in flies and mice. The findings could eventually help scientists combat muscle wasting due to aging and other causes. The results of the researchers’ work were published online on January 13, 2020 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Sestrins Are Evolutionarily Conserved Mediators of Exercise Benefits.” "Researchers have previously observed that Sestrin accumulates in muscle following exercise," said Myungjin Kim, PhD, a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology at Michigan Medicine. Working with Professor Jun Hee Lee, PhD, Dr. Kim and a team of collaborating researchers wanted to learn more about the protein's apparent link to exercise. Their first step was to encourage a group of flies to work out. Taking advantage of Drosophila flies' normal instinct to climb up and out of a test tube, collaborators Robert Wessells, PhD, and Alyson Sujkowski, both of Wayne State University in Detroit, developed a type of fly treadmill. Using it, the team trained the flies for three weeks and compared the running and flying abilities of normal flies with those of flies bred to lack the ability to make Sestrin. "Flies can usually run around four to six hours at this point and the normal flies' abilities improved over that period," says Dr. Lee. "The flies without Sestrin did not improve with exercise."

January 12th

Baby & Adult Brains “Sync Up” During Play, Princeton Study Shows; Findings Include Evidence That Babies’ Brains Actually Guide Adults During Certain Interactions

Have you ever played with a baby and felt a sense of connection, even though the baby couldn't yet talk to you? New research suggests that you might quite literally be "on the same wavelength," experiencing similar brain activity in the same brain regions. This is something that most mothers likely know instinctively, but it has now been proven scientifically and in great detail. A team of Princeton researchers has conducted the first study of how baby and adult brains interact during natural play, and they found measurable similarities in their neural activity. In other words, baby and adult brain activity rose and fell together as they shared toys and eye contact. The research was conducted at the Princeton Baby Lab (, where University researchers study how babies learn to see, talk, and understand the world. "Previous research has shown that adults' brains sync up when they watch movies and listen to stories, but little is known about how this 'neural synchrony' develops in the first years of life," said Elise Piazza, PhD, an Associate Research Scholar in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) and the first author on a paper published online on December 17, 2019, in Psychological Science. The article is titled “"Infant and Adult Brains Are Coupled to the Dynamics of Natural Communication.” Dr. Piazza and her co-authors (Liat Hasenfratz, PhD, an Associate Research Scholar in PNI; Uri Hasson, PhD, a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Director of Graduate Studies; and Casey Lew-Williams, PhD, an Associate Professor of Psychology) posited that neural synchrony has important implications for social development and language learning. Studying real-life, face-to-face communication between babies and adults is quite difficult.