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Archive - Mar 2013 - Story

March 31st

New Finding Could Aid Treatment of Pneumonia and Other Inflammatory Diseases

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Health System have discovered a new biological pathway of innate immunity that ramps up inflammation and then identified agents that can block the pathway, leading to increased survival and improved lung function in animal models of pneumonia. They reported their findings online on March 31, 2013 in Nature Immunology. Pneumonia and other infections sometimes provoke an inflammatory response from the body that is more detrimental than the disease-causing bacteria, said senior author Rama Mallampalli, M.D, professor and vice chair for research, Department of Medicine, and director of the Acute Lung Injury Center of Excellence at Pitt. "In our ongoing studies of pneumonia, we found infecting bacteria activate a previously unknown protein called Fbxo3 to form a complex that degrades another protein called Fbxl2, which is needed to suppress the inflammatory response," said Dr. Mallampalli, who is also chief of the pulmonary division of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. "The result is an exaggerated inflammatory response that can lead to further damage of the lung tissue, multi-organ failure, and shock." The research team, led by Bill B. Chen, Ph.D., associate professor, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, conducted experiments in which mice that lacked the ability to make Fbxo3 were infected with a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria, and found that the mice had better lung mechanics and longer survival times than mice that still made the protein. Research team members Bryan J.

New Clues to Development of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)

Johns Hopkins scientists and colleagues say they have evidence from animal studies that a type of central nervous system cell other than motor neurons plays a fundamental role in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal degenerative disease. The discovery holds promise, they say, for identifying new targets for interrupting the disease's progress. In a study described online on March 31, 2013 in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers found that, in mice bred with a gene mutation that causes human ALS, dramatic changes occurred in oligodendrocytes — cells that create insulation for the nerves of the central nervous system — long before the first physical symptoms of the disease appeared. Oligodendrocytes located near motor neurons — cells that govern movement — died off at very high rates, and new ones regenerated in their place were inferior and unhealthy. The researchers also found, to their surprise, that suppressing an ALS-causing gene in oligodendrocytes of mice bred with the disease — while still allowing the gene to remain in the motor neurons — profoundly delayed the onset of ALS. It also prolonged survival of these mice by more than three months, a long time in the life span of a mouse. These observations suggest that oligodendrocytes play a very significant role in the early stage of the disease. "The abnormalities in oligodendrocytes appear to be having a negative impact on the survival of motor neurons," says Dwight E. Bergles, Ph.D., a co-author of the article and a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

March 29th

Article Reviews Advances in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine

Explosive growth in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine has led to innovative and promising applications and techniques, many of which are now being tested in human clinical trials. Hot topics, research advances, and transformative publications that are driving the field forward are highlighted in a comprehensive overview of the field presented in Tissue Engineering, Part B, Reviews, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers (http://www.liebertpub.com). The article is available on the Tissue Engineering website (http://www.liebertpub.com/ten). Matthew Fisher, Ph.D., and Robert Mauck, Ph.D., Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, identify four key areas in which the field is progressing. The first main theme, in the area of tissue engineering, focuses on advances in grafts and materials, including human or animal tissue from which the cells are removed and the remaining scaffold is used to regenerate new tissues, as well as scaffolds made of new types of biomaterials. Second, in the field of regenerative medicine, the authors highlight the role of novel scaffolds and various growth and control factors in promoting tissue formation and, for example, bone healing. In the article "Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine: Recent Innovations and the Transition to Translation," (http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/ten.teb.2012.0723) the authors identify two additional areas that signal progress in the field: the increasing number of applications advancing into clinical trials; and the growing use of novel types of cells, such as induced pluripotent stem cells.

Gene Discovery May Yield Lettuce That Will Sprout in Hot Weather

A team of researchers, led by a University of California (UC), Davis, plant scientist, has identified a lettuce gene and related enzyme that put the brakes on germination during hot weather — a discovery that could lead to lettuces that can sprout year-round, even at high temperatures. The study also included researchers from Arcadia Biosciences in Davis, California, and Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University in India. The finding is particularly important to the nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona, which together produce more than 90 percent of the nation’s lettuce. The study results were published online in March 2013 in the journal The Plant Cell. “Discovery of the genes will enable plant breeders to develop lettuce varieties that can better germinate and grow to maturity under high temperatures,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Kent Bradford, a professor of plant sciences and director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center. “And because this mechanism that inhibits hot-weather germination in lettuce seeds appears to be quite common in many plant species, we suspect that other crops also could be modified to improve their germination,” he said. “This could be increasingly important as global temperatures are predicted to rise.” Most lettuce varieties flower in spring or early summer and then drop their seeds — a trait that is likely linked to their origin in the Mediterranean region, which, like California, characteristically has dry summers. Scientists have observed for years that a built-in dormancy mechanism seems to prevent lettuce seeds from germinating under conditions that would be too hot and dry to sustain growth. While this naturally occurring inhibition works well in the wild, it is an obstacle to commercial lettuce production.

New Metabolite-Based Diagnostic Test Could Detect Pancreatic Cancer Early

A new diagnostic test, developed in Japan, that uses a scientific technique known as metabolomic analysis may be a safe and easy screening method that could improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer through earlier detection. Japanese researchers examined the utility of metabolomic analysis of serum as a diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer and then validated the new approach, according to study results published online on March 29, 2013 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. "Although surgical resection can be a curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, more than 80 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a locally advanced or metastatic tumor that is unresectable at the time of detection," said Masaru Yoshida, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and chief of the Division of Metabolomics Research at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine in Kobe, Japan. "Conventional examinations using blood, imaging, and endoscopy are not appropriate for pancreatic cancer screening and early detection, so a novel screening and diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer is urgently required." Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, the researchers measured the levels of metabolites in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer, patients with chronic pancreatitis, and healthy volunteers. The scientists randomly assigned 43 patients with pancreatic cancer and 42 healthy volunteers to a training set and 42 patients with pancreatic cancer and 41 healthy volunteers to a validation set. They included all 23 patients with chronic pancreatitis in the validation set.

March 28th

New Technologies Used to Combat Aquatic Invasive Species

A new research paper by a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative (ECI) and collaborators demonstrates how two cutting-edge technologies can provide a sensitive and real-time solution to screening real-world water samples for invasive species before they get into our country or before they cause significant damage. The paper was published online on March 22, 2013 in Conservation Letters. "Aquatic invasive species cause ecological and economic damage worldwide, including the loss of native biodiversity and damage to the world's great fisheries," Dr. Scott Egan, a research assistant professor with Notre Dame's Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics Initiative and a member of the research team, said. "This research combines two new, but proven technologies, environmental DNA (eDNA) and Light Transmission Spectroscopy (LTS), to address the growing problem of aquatic invasive species by increasing our ability to detect dangerous species in samples before they arrive or when they are still rare in their environment and have not yet caused significant damage." Egan points out that eDNA is a species surveillance tool that recognizes a unique advantage of aquatic sampling: water often contains microscopic bits of tissue in suspension, including the scales of fish, the exoskeletons of insects, and the sloughed cells of and tissues of aquatic species. These tissue fragments can be filtered from water samples and then a standard DNA extraction is performed on the filtered matter. The new sampling method for invasive species was pioneered by members of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, including Dr. David Lodge and Dr. Chris Jerde, Central Michigan University's Dr. Andrew Mahon, and The Nature Conservancy's Dr. Lindsay Chadderton. Dr.

Study Shows Brain Scans Might Predict Future Criminal Behavior

A new study conducted by The Mind Research Network (MRN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, together with collaborators at Duke University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of California-Santa Barbara, shows that neuroimaging data can predict the likelihood of whether a criminal will reoffend following release from prison. The paper, which was published online on March 27, 2013 in PNAS, studied impulsive and antisocial behavior and centered on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that deals with regulating behavior and impulsivity. The study demonstrated that inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity were twice as likely to reoffend than inmates with high-brain activity in this region. "These findings have incredibly significant ramifications for the future of how our society deals with criminal justice and offenders," said Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, who was senior author on the study and is director of mobile imaging at MRN and an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. "Not only does this study give us a tool to predict which criminals may reoffend and which ones will not reoffend, it also provides a path forward for steering offenders into more effective targeted therapies to reduce the risk of future criminal activity." The study looked at 96 adult male criminal offenders aged 20-52 who volunteered to participate in research studies. This study population was followed over a period of up to four years after inmates were released from prison. "These results point the way toward a promising method of neuroprediction with great practical potential in the legal system," said Dr.

Common Gene Variants Explain 42 Percent of Individual Variation in Antidepressant Response

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression, but many individuals do not experience symptom relief from treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health's STAR*D study, the largest and longest study ever conducted to evaluate depression treatment, found that only approximately one-third of patients responded within their initial medication trial and approximately one-third of patients did not have an adequate clinical response after being treated with several different medications. Thus, identifying predictors of antidepressant response could help to guide the treatment of this disorder. A new study, published online on December 12, 2012 in Biological Psychiatry and printed in the April 1, 2013 issue of that journal, now shares progress in identifying genomic predictors of antidepressant response. Many previous studies have searched for genetic markers that may predict antidepressant response, but have done so despite not knowing the contribution of genetic factors. Dr. Katherine Tansey of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London and colleagues resolved to answer that question. "Our study quantified, for the first time, how much is response to antidepressant medication influenced by an individual's genetic make-up," said Dr. Tansey. To perform this work, the researchers estimated the magnitude of the influence of common genetic variants on antidepressant response using a sample of 2,799 antidepressant-treated subjects with major depressive disorder and genome-wide genotyping data. They found that genetic variants explain 42% of individual differences, and therefore, significantly influence antidepressant response. "While we know that there are no genetic markers with strong effect, this means that there are many genetic markers involved.

March 26th

Elsevier Launches Web-Based Data Mining/Visualization Software for Biologists

Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical, and medical information products and services, announced on March 26, 2013 the launch of a web-based version of Pathway Studio (http://www.elsevier.com/pathway-studio), a research solution for biologists. Additionally, Pathway Studio now incorporates biological data from Elsevier’s biology journals in addition to journals obtained through collaboration with third-party publishers. The addition of this data to Pathway Studio results in a resource that is unparalleled in depth and coverage of molecular interactions with supporting evidence. The new web-based version broadly extends access to researchers to reveal new insights and to assist with critical decision making. “Currently, molecular facts are scattered in individual articles and researchers must gather and integrate these to advance new discovery,” said Jaqui Mason, Product Development Director for Biology Products at Elsevier. “Pathway Studio presents these facts in a graphical context to help researchers assemble biological models that can be applied to target discovery programs, identify potential diagnostics, and reposition drugs.

Researchers Re-Program Other Cells to Become Nerve Cells Directly in the Brain

The field of cell therapy, which aims to form new cells in the body in order to cure disease, has taken another important step in the development towards new treatments. A new report from researchers at Lund University in Sweden shows that it is possible to re-program other cells to become nerve cells, directly in the brain. Two years ago, researchers in Lund were the first in the world to re-program human skin cells, known as fibroblasts, to dopamine-producing nerve cells – without taking a detour via the stem cell stage. The research group has now gone a step further and shown that it is possible to re-programme both skin cells and support cells directly to nerve cells, in place in the brain. “The findings are the first important evidence that it is possible to re-program other cells to become nerve cells inside the brain,” said Dr. Malin Parmar, research group leader and Reader in Neurobiology. The researchers used genes designed to be activated or de-activated using a drug. The genes were inserted into two types of human cells: fibroblasts and glia cells – support cells that are naturally present in the brain. Once the researchers had transplanted the cells into the brains of rats, the genes were activated using a drug in the animals’ drinking water. The cells then began their transformation into nerve cells. In a separate experiment on mice, where similar genes were injected into the mice’s brains, the research group also succeeded in re-programming the mice’s own glia cells to become nerve cells. “The research findings have the potential to open the way for alternatives to cell transplants in the future, which would remove previous obstacles to research, such as the difficulty of getting the brain to accept foreign cells, and the risk of tumor development,” said Dr. Parmar.