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April 29th, 2009

Preventive Therapy for Type 1 Diabetes Shows Promise

Scientists in Australia have shown that use of a particular molecule (BCMA) that blocks the action of a B-cell survival hormone (BAFF) may provide a potential preventive therapy for type 1 diabetes. Working with mice that spontaneously develop type 1 diabetes, the researchers found that if BAFF activity was blocked prior to onset of the disease, none of the mice developed diabetes. "This is a remarkable finding, as other B-cell depletion methods tested elsewhere have just delayed or reduced disease incidence," said one of the authors of the study. By removing B-cells from the picture for a while, the researchers indicated, it appears the T regulatory cells are allowed to function as they should, subduing killer T-cells and somehow making them tolerant of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The blocking molecule (BCMA) is already being used in clinical trials for other autoimmune diseases. The research was published online in Diabetes. [Press release]

Oral Delivery System Developed for RNAi

Researchers have shown that interfering RNA (RNAi) enclosed in a yeast-derived particle can be orally delivered to mice to effectively turn off a target gene in cells (macrophages) influencing inflammation. This work has important implications for the promising field of RNAi therapeutics, where progress has been hindered by difficulties in achieving targeted RNAi delivery. "We are very encouraged by these results, which show that oral delivery of a therapeutic dose of small, interfering RNA (siRNA) to a specific cell type in an animal model is possible, and that evidence of gene silencing using this delivery system is measurable," said Professor Michael Czech of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the senior author of the paper. This work is reported in the April 30 issue of Nature. [UMMS press release] [Nature abstract]

April 28th

DNA Sequence Variant Is Associated with Autism

In a genome–wide association study of the largest autism population sample to date, researchers have identified a DNA sequence variant that is associated with this disorder. The variant lies between the cadherin 9 (CDH9) and cadherin 10 (CDH10) genes on chromosome 5. Both these genes encode neuronal cell adhesion molecules. In particular, when the researchers scrutinized the activity of the CDH10 gene in the fetal brain, they discovered that it is most active in key regions that support language, speech and the interpretation of social behavior. In this association study, all subjects were genotyped with the Illumina HumanHap550 BeadChip with over 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. The results of this study were published in the April 28 advance online edition of Nature. [UCLA press release] [CHOP press release] [UPenn press release] [NIH press release] [Chicago Tribune story] [Nature article]

April 27th

New Transgenic Corn Has Much Higher Vitamin Levels

Scientists have created a transgenic form of corn that contains high levels of three vitamins normally present at much lower levels. The newly developed transgenic form of white corn contains high levels of beta-carotene (a building block for vitamin A), vitamin C, and folate (vitamin B9). Compared to wild-type white corn, the engineered corn contained six times as much vitamin C and twice the amount of folate. Beta-carotene levels in the engineered corn were 169 times the normal amount. The researchers employed a technique involving the use of metal particles coated with genes for production of the vitamins. The authors suggest that their technique could be used to provide vitamin supplementation to cereal crops and help address the multiple vitamin deficiencies that affect nearly half of the world’s population, particularly in developing countries. This research was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [PNAS abstract]

Sex Reversal in Humans Associated with Mutation in CBX2 Gene

Researchers describe the birth of a girl with the XY male karyotype, who has a completely normal female phenotype, including uterus and histologically normal ovaries. In mice with a similar phenotype, ablation of the M33 gene, an ortholog of Drosophila Polycomb, causes male-to-female sex reversal. Analysis of the human homolog of M33 (that is, the CBX2 gene) in this girl revealed a loss-of-function mutation in the CBX2 gene. This research was reported in an advance online article in the American Journal of Human Genetics. [AJHG abstract]

April 26th

Powerful New Paint May Kill Super-Bugs

Researchers in South Dakota have developed a broad-spectrum, anti-microbial paint that will not only kill disease-causing bacteria, but also mold, fungi, and viruses. The paint is designed to decorate and disinfect homes, businesses, and health-care settings. The scientists said that the paint holds special promise of effectiveness in killing so-called "super-bugs," antibiotic-resistant microbes that cause an estimated 88,000 deaths annually in the United States. The new paint contains a new anti-microbial polymer that includes a type of N-halamine. The researchers note that anti-microbial paints already on store shelves are only effective against a narrow range of disease-causing organisms, limiting their effectivenss. The work is described in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, published by the American Chemical Society. [ACS press release] [Journal abstract]

Miolecular Secret of Turmeric Spice Finally Revealed

Scientists believe they have discovered the mechanism by which turmeric, a spice revered in India as "holy powder," exerts its fabled healing powers. Turmeric has been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat wounds, infections, and other health problems. Using solid-state NMR spectroscopy, the scientists discovered that molecules of curcumin, the key ingredient in turmeric, insert themselves into cell membranes and make the membranes more stable and orderly in a way that increases cells' resistance to infection by disease-causing microbes. The results were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. [JACS article]

April 25th

Discovery of New Targets May Aid Fight Against Dengue Fever

Using a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila cells, researchers have identified 116 genes that are potential host factors for the mosquito-borne Dengue viruses that cause Dengue fever. Such host factors aid propagation of the Denque virus, and it is suggested that inhibitors of these host factors might interfere with this propagation. Dengue fever is the most frequent insect-borne viral disease of humans, and the virus sickens 50 million to 100 million people, and kills approximately 20,000 people, each year. There are presently no specific drugs to treat this painful and sometimes fatal disease, with only palliative treatment available. This work was carried out by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center, and collaborating institutions, and published in the April 22 issue of Nature. [NIH press release] [Nature abstract]

April 24th

Domestic Cattle Genome Sequenced

An international consortium of researchers has reported the sequencing and analysis of the genome of domestic cattle. This is the first livestock mammal to have its genome sequenced and it is believed that this achievement will aid in efforts to produce better beef and dairy products and also lead to a better understanding of the human genome. The analysis indicates that the bovine genome shares approximately 80% of its genes with humans. The particular cow whose genome was sequenced was named Dominette, a Hereford. [NIH press release] [CSIRO press release] [Science article 1] [Science article 2]

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EDITOR & PUBLISHER

Michael D. O'Neill, MA (Microbiology & Immunology, Duke University)
logophile2000@yahoo.com

SCIENCE & MEDICINE ADVISORS

Alex Andrus, PhD, JD (Patent Attorney, Genentech)
Kazako Aoyagi, PhD (Senior Director, Business Development, Celerion)
Philip Askenase, MD (Professor of Medicine-Immunology, Yale School of Medicine)
Leonora Balaj, PhD (Harvard, MGH)
Ben Zane Cohen, MD (Ophthalmologist)
Patricia Dahl (CEO/Executive Director, Eye Bank for Sight Restoration, New York City)
Rachel DeRita, PhD candidate (Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Cancer Biology)
Dolores Di Vizio, MD, PhD (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center)
Erika Ebbel, PhD (CEO, Ixcela; Founder & Executive Director, Science from Scientists)
Ronald Faanes, PhD (Past Head, Immunology, Boerhinger-Ingelheim)
Bert Fisher, PhD (Principal & Founding Member, Lithochimeia, Inc.)
Richard A. Gatti, MD (Professor-in-Residence, Human Genetics, UCLA)
Michael A. Goldman, PhD (Professor & Chair, Biology, San Francisco State University)
Charles Halasz, MD (Associate Clinical Professor, Dermatology, Columbia University, New York)
Elaine Heron, PhD (Director, BioMarin Pharmaceutical; Past Chairman, Amplyx Pharmaceuticals)
Andrew Hill, PhD (Professor & Department Head, La Trobe University; President, ISEV))