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Archive - 2018 - Story

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April 19th

Breathtaking Discovery! Larger Spleens Are Key to Deep Diving Ability of Bajau People; Genetic Mutation May Have Led to Increased Spleen Size in “Sea Nomads” of Southeast Asia

Competitive breath-hold divers have only two options to increase their time underwater - through training, they can try to boost their lung capacity or increase their red blood cell count. Over hundreds, if not thousands of years, however, a group of Southeast Asian "sea nomads" known for their deep-diving prowess has evolved a better solution: larger spleens. The spleen holds oxygenated red blood cells, so presumably an enlarged spleen (those of the sea nomads, or Bajau people, are about 50 percent larger than the spleens of unrelated, non-diving neighboring groups) injects more blood cells into the circulation and makes more oxygen available for basic body functions during prolonged dives. The physical and genetic changes that have enabled the Bajau to dive longer and deeper is yet another example of the immense variety of human adaption to extreme environments, in this case, environments with low levels of oxygen, said Dr. Rasmus Nielsen, a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. These examples can be key to understanding human physiology and human genetics. "We can't really make experiments in humans, where we expose people to new conditions and have controlled genetic experiments in the same way we can do in fruit flies and mice," Dr. Nielsen said. "But nature has made experiments for us that tell us how humans react and adapt genetically to a whole new set of physiological conditions, so that we can explore and learn much more about the interaction between genetics and physiology." The surprise finding led researchers from the University of Copenhagen and UC Berkeley to a genetic mutation that appears to have spread throughout the population to increase spleen size. This genetic variant upregulates thyroid hormone, which in mice has been linked to larger spleen size.

April 18th

To Starve Pancreatic Tumors, Researchers Seek to Block Autophagy & Other Fuel Sources

To get the extra energy they need to fuel their uncontrolled growth, cancer cells break down some of their own parts for fuel - a process known as autophagy, or "self-eating." Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center found a possible therapeutic strategy to block self-eating in one of the deadliest cancers, as well as to cut off the tumor's other energy sources. The researchers are reporting preclinical findings for a potential two-treatment strategy to block multiple mechanisms of cancer cell metabolism in pancreatic cancer at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Chicago. The findings were presented on April 18, 2018. "We know that cancer cells have a greater need for energy than normal cells," said UNC Lineberger's Channing Der (photo), PhD, Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology. "They get their energy by changing normal metabolic processes to allow them to generate more energy, and one of these processes is self-eating. Basically what a cancer cell does is it does this more efficiently than a normal cell." In other studies, pancreatic cancer cells have been known to rely more heavily on autophagy, but UNC Lineberger scientists reported evidence that a type of treatment -- an ERK inhibitor -- actually increased their reliance on this. The researchers believe the compound prevents the cell from relying on other energy sources, driving it toward autophagy. "The cancer cell has many ways to achieve what it wants in terms of getting more energy," Dr. Der said. "We find that if you try to stop one, a cancer cell has the ability to compensate. I think the analogy many of us use is the 'whack-a-mole' concept where you knock one thing down, and something else pops up.

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) (http://wi.dyslexiaida.org/), 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 (http://walbridgeschool.org/) 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 (http://www.msj.edu/academics/graduate-programs/master-of-arts-teacher-ad...). Session recordings with slide decks from the IDA's Reading, Literacy & Learning Conference in November 2017 are now available for purchase at www.dyslexiaida.org. 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.