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New analysis reveals tumor weaknesses

August 13, 2014 7:40 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists have known for decades that cancer can be caused by genetic mutations, but more recently they have discovered that chemical modifications of a gene can also contribute to cancer. These alterations, known as epigenetic modifications, control whether a gene is turned on or off. Analyzing these modifications can provide important clues to the type of tumor a patient has, and how it will respond to different drugs.

R&D Magazine Announces Scientist and Innovator of the Year Award Winners

August 12, 2014 12:00 pm | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | News | Comments

R&D Magazine introduced its annual Scientist of the Year Award winner, Dr. Karl Deisseroth, and its Innovator of the Year Award winner, Dr. Hugh Herr. As R&D Magazine's 49th Scientist of the Year Award winner, Dr. Deisseroth is one of the United States’ leading researchers in the rapidly growing field of optogenetics, having invented several new technologies in support of efforts to understand neural functions in the human brain.

Bioengineers make functional 3-D brain-like tissue model

August 12, 2014 10:40 am | by Kim Thurler, Tufts Univ. | News | Comments

The human brain remains one of the least understood organs in the human body, because of its complexity and the difficulty of studying its physiology in the living body. Tufts Univ. researchers announced development of the first reported complex 3-D model made of brain-like cortical tissue that exhibits biochemical and electrophysiological responses and can function in the laboratory for months.

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From eons to seconds, proteins exploit the same forces

August 12, 2014 7:58 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Nature’s artistic and engineering skills are evident in proteins. Scientists at Rice Univ. have now employed their unique theories to show how the interplay between evolution and physics developed these skills. The team used computer models to show that the energy landscapes that describe how nature selects viable protein sequences over evolutionary timescales employ the same forces as those that allow proteins to fold.

An easier way to manipulate malaria genes

August 11, 2014 10:35 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria, has proven notoriously resistant to scientists’ efforts to study its genetics. It can take up to a year to determine the function of a single gene, which has slowed efforts to develop new, more targeted drugs and vaccines. Biological engineers have now demonstrated a new genome-editing technique that can disrupt a single parasite gene in a matter of weeks.

Scientists unravel mystery of brain cell growth

August 11, 2014 8:16 am | News | Comments

In the developing brain, special proteins that act like molecular tugboats push or pull on growing nerve cells, or neurons, helping them navigate to their assigned places amidst the brain’s wiring. How a single protein can exert both a push and a pull force to nudge a neuron in the desired direction is a longstanding mystery that has now been solved by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Cell signaling pathway linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes

August 8, 2014 7:55 am | by Natalie van Hoose, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

A Purdue Univ. study shows that Notch signaling, a key biological pathway tied to development and cell communication, also plays an important role in the onset of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, a discovery that offers new targets for treatment. The research team found that blocking Notch signaling in the fat tissue of mice caused white fat cells to transform into a "leaner" type of fat known as beige fat.

Team determines structure of a molecular machine that targets viral DNA for destruction

August 7, 2014 5:01 pm | News | Comments

Recent research has made a significant contribution to the understanding of a new field of DNA research that is based on a repetitive piece of DNA in the bacterial genome called a CRISPR. The study provides the first detailed blueprint for this multi-subunit “molecular machinery” that bacteria use to detect and destroy invading viruses.

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Fundamental plant chemicals trace back to bacteria

August 7, 2014 4:55 pm | News | Comments

A fundamental chemical pathway that all plants use to create an essential amino acid needed by all animals to make proteins has now been traced to two groups of ancient bacteria. The pathway is also known for making hundreds of chemicals, including a compound that makes wood strong and the pigments that make red wine red.

In search for Alzheimer’s drug, a major STEP forward

August 7, 2014 8:10 am | by Karen N. Peart, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have discovered a new drug compound that reverses the brain deficits of Alzheimer’s disease in an animal model. The compound, TC-2153, inhibits the negative effects of a protein called STtriatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase (STEP), which is key to regulating learning and memory. These cognitive functions are impaired in Alzheimer’s.

A new way to model cancer

August 7, 2014 7:45 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Sequencing the genomes of tumor cells has revealed thousands of mutations associated with cancer. One way to discover the role of these mutations is to breed a strain of mice that carry the genetic flaw—but breeding such mice is an expensive, time-consuming process. Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have found an alternative.

Study ties new gene to major breast cancer risk

August 6, 2014 5:25 pm | by Marilynn Marchione - AP Chief Medical Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

It's long been known that faulty BRCA genes greatly raise the risk for breast cancer. Now scientists say a more recently identified, less common gene can do the same. Mutations in the gene can make breast cancer up to nine times more likely to develop, an international team of researchers reports in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers boost insect aggression by altering brain metabolism

August 6, 2014 7:37 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Videos | Comments

Scientists report they can crank up insect aggression simply by interfering with a basic metabolic pathway in the insect brain. Their study, of fruit flies and honey bees, shows a direct, causal link between brain metabolism and aggression. The new research follows up on previous work from the laboratory of Univ. of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who also led the new analysis.

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Cytori halts stem cell study due to adverse events

August 5, 2014 5:23 pm | by Matthew Perrone - AP Health Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Cytori Therapeutics said Tuesday it has halted trials of its experimental stem cell therapy for heart failure after three patients developed blood flow problems. The San Diego-based company said it placed the hold on two studies after the patients developed problems with blood flow to the brain. Two of the patients' symptoms resolved in a short period of time and a third was still recovering, the company said in a statement.

Model of viral lifecycle could help find cure for hepatitis B

August 5, 2014 4:36 pm | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

A new technique for studying the lifecycle of the hepatitis B virus could help researchers develop a cure for the disease. A recently published paper describes using microfabricated cell cultures to sustain hepatitis B virus in human liver cells, allowing them to study immune responses and drug treatments.

Researchers uncover clues to flu’s mechanisms

August 4, 2014 3:13 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

A flu virus acts like a Trojan horse as it attacks and infects host cells. Scientists at Rice Univ. and Baylor College of Medicine have acquired a clearer view of the well-hidden mechanism involved. Their computer simulations may lead to new strategies to stop influenza, perhaps even a one-size-fits-all vaccine.

Uncovering the 3-D structure of a key neuroreceptor

August 4, 2014 10:18 am | by Nick Papageorgiu, EPFL | News | Comments

Neurons communicate with each other through electrical signals that are generated by chemicals, which bind to structures on neurons called neuroreceptors. One neuroreceptor, called 5HT3-R, is involved in a variety of neurological disorders. Scientists in Switzerland have revealed for the first time the 3-D structure of this crucial neuroreceptor.

New tools advance bio-logic

August 4, 2014 8:21 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Kansas Medical Center are making genetic circuits that can perform more complex tasks by swapping protein building blocks. The modular genetic circuits engineered from parts of otherwise unrelated bacterial genomes can be set up to handle multiple chemical inputs simultaneously with a minimum of interference from their neighbors.

New paper describes how DNA avoids damage from UV light

July 31, 2014 11:42 am | by Evelyn Boswell, Montana State Univ. | News | Comments

In the same week that the U.S. surgeon general issued a lengthy report about the dangers of skin cancer, researchers at Montana State Univ. published a paper breaking new ground on how DNA responds when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. The study, made possible by femtosecond lasers used for ultrafast spectroscopy, showed how DNA transfers electrons when excited by UV light.

Breakthrough in understanding of important blood protein

July 31, 2014 10:07 am | News | Comments

The human body contains a unique protein that has the unusual property of destroying itself after a few hours of existence. Called PAI-1, it affects many physiological functions, including the dissolving of coagulated blood. Recent research in Denmark has shed light on how PAI-1 changes shape. This is considered important because the protein has one of the largest shape changes in the known world of proteins.

Glucose “control switch” in the brain key to both diabetes types

July 31, 2014 9:36 am | by Karen N. Peart, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have pinpointed a mechanism in part of the brain that is key to sensing glucose levels in the blood, linking it to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Engineering a protein to prevent brain damage from toxic agents

July 31, 2014 8:28 am | News | Comments

Research at New York Univ. is paving the way for a breakthrough that may prevent brain damage in civilians and military troops exposed to poisonous chemicals—particularly those in pesticides and chemical weapons. An article in ChemBioChem outlines the advancement in detoxifying organophosphates, which are compounds commonly used in pesticides and warfare agents.

Researchers find protein that fuels repair of treatment-resistant cancer cells

July 31, 2014 8:06 am | by Laura Bailey, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Imagine you're fighting for your life but no matter how hard you hit, your opponent won't go down. The same can be said of highly treatment-resistant cancers, such as head and neck cancer, where during radiation and chemotherapy some cancer cells repair themselves, survive and thrive. Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, but the late detection and treatment resistance result in a high mortality rate.

Boosting neural pathway from gut to brain could play part in weight control

July 31, 2014 7:40 am | by Amy Patterson Neubert, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

A Purdue Univ. study found an increase in sensory nerve fibers that send signals from the gut to the brain reduces the time spent eating a meal, which could help regulate body weight. The researchers studied a mouse model with a targeted knockout of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene that decreases levels of this nerve growth factor in the gastrointestinal tract.

Classic Lewis Carroll character inspires new ecological model

July 30, 2014 4:55 pm | by Claire Sturgeon, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

Inspired by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s "Through the Looking Glass", collaborators from Illinois and Singapore improved a 35-year-old ecology model to better understand how species evolve. The new model, called a mean field model for competition, incorporates the “Red Queen Effect,” which suggests that organisms must constantly increase fitness in order to compete with other ever-evolving organisms in an ever-changing environment.

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