Written by Keridwen Cornelius
Stephen Johnston dreams of a future in which humans could protect themselves against all types of cancer with a single shot. As the biochemist envisions it, this prophylactic injection would train the immune system to pick off cancerous cells before they could mobilize into malignancies. The catch: many oncology specialists insist this is scientifically impossible.
Critics of the concept say tumor cells are too genetically complex to be consistently thwarted by zeroing in on any one target. Yet Johnston and colleagues at Arizona State University have been working on an experimental inoculation for the past 12 years. They tested blood from hundreds of humans and dogs with cancer to identify potential vaccine targets, then came up with vaccine cocktails and experimentally tested them in hundreds of mice with tumors. The researchers believe they have now identified a recipe that has the right stuff to keep tumors from forming. Johnston says his vaccine cocktail instructions remain unpublished because he made a strategic decision not to release them before securing intellectual property rights. Read more.
Written by John Perritano
Can you imagine biting into a succulent piece of chocolate cake and not craving more? What if you popped a piece of sweet, sweet candy in your mouth, only to spit it out because it tasted bitter? Scientists at Columbia University have found a way to stop mice from craving, or even tasting, sugary and bitter treats. The research could prove beneficial in treating obesity and eating disorders in humans.
The human brain is hardwired to enjoy the pleasing, almost euphoric effect of food, especially sugar. Here’s why: The minute you take a bite of a cookie or some other food, specialized cells on the tongue react with what you just ate. Each of these so-called receptor cells is programmed to respond to one taste — sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami (savory). The receptor cells then take that information and send it to specific regions of the brain. Consequently, we can identify the taste — allowing us to respond appropriately. We might say “yum” when eating a candy bar or pucker our lips when sucking on a lemon. That’s because taste is closely tied to our emotions. Every bite produces a variety of memories, reactions and thoughts. We might remember a pleasant experience at a birthday party where cake and candy were served, or how tart grandma’s lemonade really was. Read more.
Written by: Bob Yirka
Two teams of researchers, one working in the U.S., the other in Italy, have come up with new ways to avert cytokine release syndrome (CRS) in leukemia patients who undergo CAR T-cell therapies. In the first, the researchers working at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York developed a mouse model to replicate the conditions under which CRS develops. They were able to isolate a key molecule involved in the syndrome and then found a drug that blocks it. The second team developed a different mouse model and found the same molecule involved. But instead of blocking it, they genetically modified the T-cells to prevent CRS from arising in the first place. Both have published their results in the journal Nature Medicine. Cliona Rooney and Tim Sauer with Baylor College offer a News & Views piece on the work done by the two teams in the same journal issue. Read more.
Written by PLOS
New research in mice suggests that chronic infection with intestinal worms indirectly reduces the number of cells in lymph nodes near the skin, inhibiting the immune system’s response to the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine for tuberculosis. Xiaogang Feng of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues present these findings in PLOS Pathogens.
Many people worldwide receive the BCG vaccine to boost their immune response to bacteria that cause tuberculosis, lowering risk of the disease. Previous studies have shown that the vaccine, which is injected into the skin, is less effective in people with chronic intestinal worm infections, but the reason for this inhibition was unclear. Read more.
NIH News Release
Scientists have identified a molecule found on human cells and some animal cells that could be a useful target for drugs against chikungunya virus infection and related diseases, according to new research published in the journal Nature. A team led by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis conducted the research, which was funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Read more.
Written by: Katherine Unger Baillie
The human body develops most tissue types during fetal development, in a mother’s uterus. Yet one only tissue develops after birth: the mammary gland. This milk-producing organ, a defining characteristic of mammals, is also the site of one of the most common cancers, breast cancer, which affects roughly one in eight women in the United States over the course of their lifetime. Read more.
Written by: Ashley Yeager
Human neural stem cells transplanted into the injured spines of monkeys matured into nerve cells, spurring neuronal connections and giving the animals an improved ability to grasp an orange, researchers report today (February 26) in Nature Medicine.
“This type of cellular therapy, though still in its infancy, may eventually be a reasonable approach to treating central nervous system injury and possibly even neurodegenerative disease in humans,” Jonathan Glass, a neurologist at Emory University School of Medicine, tells The Scientist by email. Glass, who was not involved in the study, notes that the differentiation of stem cells over time is “impressive,” as is their ability to make connections in the monkeys’ central nervous systems, but more work needs to be done to show if the cells can grow extremely long axons to connect motor and sensory neurons after spinal injury in humans. Read more.
Written by: Krista Conger
Activating T cells in tumors eliminated even distant metastases in mice, Stanford researchers found. Lymphoma patients are being recruited to test the technique in a clinical trial.
Injecting minute amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice can eliminate all traces of cancer in the animals, including distant, untreated metastases, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The approach works for many different types of cancers, including those that arise spontaneously, the study found.
The researchers believe the local application of very small amounts of the agents could serve as a rapid and relatively inexpensive cancer therapy that is unlikely to cause the adverse side effects often seen with bodywide immune stimulation. Read more.
Written by: Silke Schmidt
The diminutive size of our aortic valve — just shy of a quarter — belies its essential role in pushing oxygen-rich blood from the heart into the aorta, our body’s largest vessel, and from there to all other organs. Yet for decades, researchers have focused less on damaged valves than on atherosclerosis, the gradual hardening of the blood vessels themselves.
Thanks, in part, to pigs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station, scientists now are catching up on understanding the roots of calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD).
“For a long time, people thought CAVD was just the valvular equivalent of atherosclerosis,” says Kristyn Masters, a professor of biomedical engineering at UW–Madison. “Today, we know that valve cells are quite unique and distinct from the smooth muscle cells in our blood vessels, which explains why some treatments for atherosclerosis, such as statins, don’t work for CAVD, and why the search for drugs has to start from scratch.” Read more.
Written by: Chris Barncard
Monkeys who catch Zika virus through bites from infected mosquitoes develop infections that look like human Zika cases, and may help researchers understand the many ways Zika can be transmitted.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison infected rhesus macaques at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center with Zika virus one of two ways: by allowing mosquitoes carrying the virus to feed on the monkeys or by injecting virus under the skin, the common method for infecting animals in laboratory studies.
The differences between the resulting infections — reported today (Dec. 13, 2017) in the journal Nature Communications — were subtle, but will be useful as scientists continue to learn more about Zika after a high-profile epidemic in the Americas caused grave birth defects. Read more.