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Archive - 2011 - Story

Two Genes for "Binge Drinking" Identified

Scientists at the University of Maryland Medical School and the Medical University Vienna have identified two genes associated with binge drinking, a discovery that may pave the way toward new, more effective treatments of excessive alcohol consumption. The scientists found that manipulating two receptors in the brain, GABA receptors and toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), "caused profound reduction" of binge drinking for two weeks in rodents that had been bred and trained to drink excessively. About 30 percent of Americans who drink do so excessively, and about 75,000 people die each year from the effects of excessive drinking. Current treatments for excessive alcohol drinking include prescription drugs Revia and Campral for controlling cravings. To ease withdrawal symptoms, doctors often prescribe medications such as Valium and Librium that carry their own risks of addiction. Valium and Librium reduce the anxiety alcoholics feel when they stop drinking but do not reduce cravings for alcohol. The new study found that treatments that manipulate both the GABA receptor and TLR4 have the potential to reduce anxiety and control cravings, with little to no risk for addiction, according to lead investigator Dr. Harry June, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

February 28th

Stem Cell Study Shows Link Between Rare Lung Disease and Blood Cell Abnormalities

Results from a recent study have revealed a close relationship between pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)—a rare and deadly disease characterized by exceedingly high blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the lungs—and abnormalities of the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow (known as myeloid abnormalities). The study, which was conducted by a team of researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and Vanderbilt University, showed that blood progenitor cells (cells that are capable of forming white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets in the bone marrow and are reported to affect blood vessel formation), are increased in the bone marrow, blood, and lungs of patients with PAH. These findings suggest that the disease processes in the bone marrow and the lungs are related. “This research pieces together a number of previous studies and observations suggesting a very close relationship between PAH and underlying bone marrow abnormalities,” said Dr. Serpil Erzurum, a co-author of the study and Chair of the Department of Pathobiology at the Cleveland Clinic. “Our study honed in on the stem cells involved in blood vessel maintenance to identify factors that might be involved in bone marrow stem cell abnormalities as well as progressive arterial disease.”

Compound Studied in Birth Defects May Be Useful Against Cancer

A compound being studied in the investigation of intestinal birth defects may prove useful in fighting cancer, according to the results of a recent study published in the February 25 issue of Chemistry & Biology. During the screening of chemical compounds created by North Carolina State chemist Dr. Alex Deiters, developmental biologist Dr. Nanette Nascone-Yoder found one of particular interest to her research: a compound that induced heterotaxia, a disordering or mirror-image “flipping” of internal organs, in the frog embryos she was studying. Dr. Nascone-Yoder is particularly interested in the genetic processes involved in proper formation of the gut tube, which later becomes the intestinal tract. “For the intestinal tract to form properly, it has to develop asymmetrically. This compound disrupts asymmetry, so it could be quite useful in helping us to determine when and where intestinal development goes wrong in embryos,” Dr. Nascone-Yoder said. But the compound, dubbed “heterotaxin” by the researchers, had effects beyond just inducing heterotaxia. “We also noticed that the compound prevents normal blood-vessel formation and prevents cells from migrating by increasing cellular adhesion – basically, the cells are stuck together and can’t move.”