New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers

A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, has found that alemtuzumab not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) but may also restore lost function caused by the disease. The findings were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Continue reading “New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers”

How eating fruit and vegetables can improve cancer patients’ response to chemotherapy

The leading cause of death in all cancer patients continues to be the resistance of tumor cells to chemotherapy, a form of treatment in which chemicals are used to kill cells.

Now a study by UC Riverside biochemists that focuses on cancer cells reports that ingesting apigenin – a naturally occurring dietary agent found in vegetables and fruit – improves cancer cells’ response to chemotherapy. Continue reading “How eating fruit and vegetables can improve cancer patients’ response to chemotherapy”

Scientists find potential strategy to eliminate poisonous protein from Alzheimer brains

Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease (GIND) have identified a new strategy to destroy amyloid-beta (AB) proteins, which are widely believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Li Gan, PhD, and her coworkers discovered that the activity of a potent AB-degrading enzyme can be unleashed in mouse models of the disease by reducing its natural inhibitor cystatin C (CysC). Continue reading “Scientists find potential strategy to eliminate poisonous protein from Alzheimer brains”

Research uncovers new steps on pathway to enlarged heart

Researchers have new insight into the mechanisms that underlie a pathological increase in the size of the heart. The research, published by Cell Press in the October 24th issue of the journal Molecular Cell, may lead to the development of new strategies for managing this extremely common cardiac ailment that often leads to heart failure. Continue reading “Research uncovers new steps on pathway to enlarged heart”

Chemists devise self-assembling ‘organic wires’

From pacemakers constructed of materials that so closely mimic human tissues that a patient’s body can’t discern the difference to devices that bypass injured spinal cords to restore movement to paralyzed limbs, the possibilities presented by organic electronics read like something from a science fiction novel.

Derived from carbon-based compounds (hence the term “organic”), these “soft” electronic materials are valued as lightweight, flexible, easily processed alternatives to “hard” electronics components such as metal wires or silicon semiconductors. And just as the semiconductor industry is actively developing smaller and smaller transistors, so, too, are those involved with organic electronics devising ways to shrink the features of their materials, so they can be better utilized in bioelectronic applications such as those above. Continue reading “Chemists devise self-assembling ‘organic wires’”

Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes

A powerful antioxidant in green tea may prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, Medical College of Georgia researchers say.

Researchers were testing EGCG, green tea’s predominant antioxidant, in a laboratory mouse with type 1 diabetes and primary Sjogren’s syndrome, which damages moisture-producing glands, causing dry mouth and eyes. Continue reading “Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes”

Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have used gene therapy to restore useful vision to mice with degeneration of the light-sensing retinal rods and cones, a common cause of human blindness. Their report, appearing in the Oct. 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the effects of broadly expressing a light-sensitive protein in other neuronal cells found throughout the retina. Continue reading “Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration”

New class of antibiotics may lead to therapy for drug-resistant tuberculosis

Researchers are hot on the trail of a whole new class of broad-spectrum antibiotics, according to a new report in the October 17th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication.

The discovery holds promise at a time when a quarter of all deaths worldwide are the result of bacterial infectious diseases, and yet more and more disease-causing bacteria are growing resistant to currently available antibiotics. What’s more, the antibiotics under study in this report may offer a more effective and shorter course of treatment for tuberculosis (TB), a disease that is carried by one in three people in the world and that is particularly difficult to treat with today’s antibiotics. Continue reading “New class of antibiotics may lead to therapy for drug-resistant tuberculosis”

Researchers identify Achilles heel of common childhood tumor

Researchers have discovered a mechanism for the rapid growth seen in infantile hemangioma, the most common childhood tumor.

The tumors, which are made up of proliferating blood vessels, affect up to 10 percent of children of European descent, with girls more frequently afflicted than boys. The growths appear within days of birth—most often as a single, blood-red lump on the head or face—then grow rapidly in the ensuing months. The development of infantile hemangioma slows later in childhood, and most tumors disappear entirely by the end of puberty. However, while the tumors are benign, they can cause disfigurement or clinical complications. This new research offers hope for the most severe of these cases, pointing at a potential, non-invasive treatment for the condition. Continue reading “Researchers identify Achilles heel of common childhood tumor”

Computer model reveals cells’ inner workings

After spending years developing a computational model to help illuminate cell signaling pathways, a team of MIT researchers decided to see what would happen if they “broke” the model.

The results, reported in the Oct. 17 issue of the journal Cell, reveal new ways in which cells process chemical information and could indicate how to maximize the effectiveness of disease treatments such as chemotherapy. Continue reading “Computer model reveals cells’ inner workings”

Could Dr. House be replaced by a computer?

Scientists know that different normal and diseased tissues behave differently. But a method that tells them just how they do so may one day give medical science a new way to fight obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other dangerous disorders of the metabolism.

Until now, scientists had to rely on basic observations at the cellular level, since they lacked information about the metabolic processes of individual organs, such as the liver, heart and brain.

But a new computational approach developed by computer scientists Tomer Shlomi, Moran Cabili and Prof. Eytan Ruppin from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University may help science gain a clearer overall picture of the metabolic processes in our different tissues. Continue reading “Could Dr. House be replaced by a computer?”

Border control: Study shows how proteins permit entry to a cell

The means by which proteins provide a ‘border control’ service, allowing cells to take up chemicals and substances from their surroundings, whilst keeping others out, is revealed in unprecedented molecular detail for the first time today (16 October) in Science Express. Continue reading “Border control: Study shows how proteins permit entry to a cell”

Emotion and scent create lasting memories – even in a sleeping brain

When French memoirist Marcel Proust dipped a pastry into his tea, the distinctive scent it produced suddenly opened the flood gates of his memory.

In a series of experiments with sleeping mice, researchers at the Duke University Medical Center have shown that the part of the brain that processes scents is indeed a key part of forming long-term memories, especially involving other individuals. Continue reading “Emotion and scent create lasting memories – even in a sleeping brain”

Bioengineers build first-ever multi-input ‘plug-and-play’ synthetic RNA device

Engineers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a “plug-and-play” synthetic RNA device–a sort of eminently customizable biological computer–that is capable of taking in and responding to more than one biological or environmental signal at a time.

In the future, such devices could have a multitude of potential medical applications, including being used as sensors to sniff out tumor cells or determine when to turn modified genes on or off during cancer therapy. Continue reading “Bioengineers build first-ever multi-input ‘plug-and-play’ synthetic RNA device”

Researchers successfully reprogram keratinocytes attached to a single hair

The first reports of the successful reprogramming of adult human cells back into so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which by all appearances looked and acted liked embryonic stem cells created a media stir. But the process was woefully inefficient: Only one out of 10,000 cells could be persuaded to turn back the clock.

Now, a team of researchers led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, succeeded in boosting the reprogramming efficiency more than 100fold, while cutting the time it takes in half. In fact, they repeatedly generated iPS cells from the tiny number of keratinocytes attached to a single hair plucked from a human scalp. Continue reading “Researchers successfully reprogram keratinocytes attached to a single hair”

Waste from gut bacteria helps host control weight

A single molecule in the intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether the host animals are lean or fatty, a research team, including scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center, has found in a mouse study.

When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight. Without this signal, the animals weigh less. Continue reading “Waste from gut bacteria helps host control weight”

Nanotechnology boosts war on superbugs

This week Nature Nanotechnology journal (October 12th) reveals how scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) at UCL are using a novel nanomechanical approach to investigate the workings of vancomycin, one of the few antibiotics that can be used to combat increasingly resistant infections such as MRSA. The researchers, led by Dr Rachel McKendry and Professor Gabriel Aeppli, developed ultra-sensitive probes capable of providing new insight into how antibiotics work, paving the way for the development of more effective new drugs. Continue reading “Nanotechnology boosts war on superbugs”

Weight Loss Surgery Cuts Cancer

Its already known that weight-loss surgery for morbid obesity can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart problems. Now, new research shows that it may also cut a persons risk of cancer by 80-percent.


Scientists eliminate viral vector in stem cell reprogramming

Previously, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, had shown that adult cells can be reprogrammed to become embryonic stem cell–like using a cancer-causing oncogene as one of the four genes required to reprogram the cells, and a virus to transfer the genes into the cells. In the last year, Dr. Yamanaka and other labs showed that the oncogene, c-Myc, is not needed. However the use of viruses that integrate into the genome prohibit use of iPS cells for regenerative medicine because of safety concerns: its integration into the cell’s genome might activate or inactivate critical host genes.

Now Dr. Yamanaka’s laboratory in Kyoto has eliminated the need for the virus. In a report published this week in Science, they showed that the critical genes can be effectively introduced without using a virus. The ability to reprogram adult cells into iPS cells without viral integration into the genome also lays to rest concerns that the reprogramming event might be dependent upon viral integration into specific genomic loci that could mediate the genetic switch. Continue reading “Scientists eliminate viral vector in stem cell reprogramming”

Scientists develop sensitive nanowire disease detectors

Yale scientists have created nanowire sensors coupled with simple microprocessor electronics that are both sensitive and specific enough to be used for point-of-care (POC) disease detection, according to a report in Nano Letters.

The sensors use activation of immune cells by highly specific antigens — signatures of bacteria, viruses or cancer cells — as the detector. When T cells are activated, they produce acid, and generate a tiny current in the nanowire electronics, signaling the presence of a specific antigen. The system can detect as few as 200 activated cells. Continue reading “Scientists develop sensitive nanowire disease detectors”

Can genetic information be controlled by light?

DNA, the molecule that acts as the carrier of genetic information in all forms of life, is highly resistant against alteration by ultraviolet light, but understanding the mechanism for its photostability presents some puzzling problems. A key aspect is the interaction between the four chemical bases that make up the DNA molecule. Researchers at Kiel University have succeeded in showing that DNA strands differ in their light sensitivity depending on their base sequences. Their results are reported by Nina Schwalb and colleagues in the current issue of the journal Science appearing on October 10, 2008. Continue reading “Can genetic information be controlled by light?”

Study unlocks stem cell DNA secrets

In a groundbreaking study led by an eminent molecular biologist at Florida State University, researchers have discovered that as embryonic stem cells turn into different cell types, there are dramatic corresponding changes to the order in which DNA is replicated and reorganized.

The findings bridge a critical knowledge gap for stem cell biologists, enabling them to better understand the enormously complex process by which DNA is repackaged during differentiation — when embryonic stem cells, jacks of all cellular trades, lose their anything-goes attitude and become masters of specialized functions.

Continue reading “Study unlocks stem cell DNA secrets”

Fat-regenerating ‘stem cells’ found in mice

Researchers have identified stem cells with the capacity to build fat, according to a report in the October 17th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication. Although they have yet to show that the cells can renew themselves, transplants of the progenitor cells isolated from the fat tissue of normal mice can restore normal fat tissue in animals that are otherwise lacking it.

The findings may yield insight into the causes of obesity, a condition characterized by an increase in both the size and number of fat cells. Continue reading “Fat-regenerating ‘stem cells’ found in mice”

Scientists identify gene that may make humans more vulnerable to pulmonary tuberculosis

Researchers from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and its collaborators have now identified for the first time a new gene that may confer susceptibility to pulmonary tuberculosis. Their findings, published October 10 in the open access journal PLoS Genetics, reported that a gene named Toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8), previously shown only to recognize some factors from viruses such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has a probable role in human susceptibility to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections. The results from the study also found that males are more susceptible than females. Continue reading “Scientists identify gene that may make humans more vulnerable to pulmonary tuberculosis”

Spectacular video of zebrafish embryo developing in 24 hours

German scientists published new work on zebrafish embryonic development. This time-lapse video shows the zebrafish from 64 cells into development to 20,000 cells. For more information, visit the lab’s home page: http://www.embl-heidelberg.de/digital…

Searching For HIV’s Achilles Heel

Why is it so hard to make an HIV vaccine? Dr. John Coffin, who is one of the fathers of modern retrovirology,  Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University asks in his insightful blog article, full of humor and historical metaphors. Dr. Coffin proposes that the answer to this question, which has eluded us for the last 25 years, lies in the unusual relationship of this particular virus with its host. He explains variety of ingenious ways HIV is able to evade the immune system and how it has evolved to exploit it for its own benefit.

Despite incredible challenges remaining to find this HIV’s Achilles, Dr. Coffin maintains his optimism for overcoming these: ” Given the obvious need for effective prevention to stem the AIDS pandemic, we must keep trying. Unfortunately, HIV has evolved into a niche whose very properties seem designed to thwart our attempts to turn the immune system against it. As an article of faith, we must believe that there is an Achilles’ heel in the virus’s sugary armor that we can exploit, but we haven’t found it yet.”

Read this excellent article at Small Things considered: the microbe blog.

The role of stem cells in renewing the cornea

A group of researchers in Switzerland has published a study appearing in the Oct 1 advance online edition of the Journal Nature that shows how the cornea uses stem cells to repair itself.

Using mouse models they demonstrate that everyday wear and tear on the cornea is repaired from stem cells residing in the corneal epithelium, and that more serious repair jobs require the involvement of other stem cells that migrate from the limbus, a region between the cornea and the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye. Continue reading “The role of stem cells in renewing the cornea”

Biology in Pictures: Clot forming in artery

Clot forming in artery on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

When a light goes on during thought processes

Thought processes made visible: An international team of scientists headed by Mazahir Hasan of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg has succeeded in optically detecting individual action potentials in the brains of living animals.

The scientists introduced fluorescent indicator proteins into the brain cells of mice via viral gene vectors: the illumination of the fluorescent proteins indicates both when and which neurons are communicating with each other. This new method enables the observation of brain activity over a period of many months and provides new ways of identifying, for example, the early onset of dysfunction in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The fluorescent proteins could also provide scientists with information about the ways in which normal aging processes affect nerve cell communication (Nature Methods, September 2008). Continue reading “When a light goes on during thought processes”

Research team discovers brain pathway responsible for obesity

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, for the first time, have found a messaging system in the brain that directly affects food intake and body weight.

Reported in the Oct. 3, 2008 issue of Cell, the findings–from a study in mice–point to a completely new approach to treating and preventing obesity in humans. The discovery also offers hope for new ways to treat related disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases–the most prevalent health problems in the United States and the rest of the developed world. Continue reading “Research team discovers brain pathway responsible for obesity”

Nanodiamond drug device could transform cancer treatment

A Northwestern University research team has developed a promising nanomaterial-based biomedical device that could be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs locally to sites where cancerous tumors have been surgically removed.

The flexible microfilm device, which resembles a piece of plastic wrap and can be customized easily into different shapes, has the potential to transform conventional treatment strategies and reduce patients’ unnecessary exposure to toxic drugs. The device takes advantage of nanodiamonds, an emergent technology, for sustained drug release. Continue reading “Nanodiamond drug device could transform cancer treatment”

Second lumpectomy for breast cancer reduces survival rates

A majority of women with breast cancer today are candidates for lumpectomy, allowing for conservation of most of their breast tissue. Results of a UC Davis study, however, show that a number of women whose cancer recurs in the same breast are treated with a second lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, defying current treatment recommendations and cutting the number of years those women survive in half. Continue reading “Second lumpectomy for breast cancer reduces survival rates”

Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells

Even cells commute. To get from their birthplace to their work site, they sequentially attach to and detach from an elaborate track of exceptionally strong proteins known as the extracellular matrix. Now, in research to appear in the October 3 issue of Cell, scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Rockefeller University show that a molecule, called ACF7, helps regulate and power this movement from the inside – findings that could have implications for understanding how cancer cells metastasize. Continue reading “Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells”

Many receptor models used in drug design may not be useful after all

It may very well be that models used for the design of new drugs have to be regarded as impractical. This is the sobering though important conclusion of the work of two Leiden University scientists published in Science this week. The editorial board of the renowned journal even decided to accelerate the publication on the crystal structure of the adenosine A2A receptor via Science Express. Together with an expert team at the Scripps Institute (La Jolla) led by crystallographer Ray Stevens, Ad IJzerman and postdoctoral fellow Rob Lane worked on the structure elucidation of this protein, which is one of caffeine’s main targets in the human body, and a key player in Parkinson’s disease. Continue reading “Many receptor models used in drug design may not be useful after all”