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Stem Cell Implants Improve Monkeys’ Grip After Spinal Cord Injury

Written by: Ashley Yeager

Photo credit: The Scientist

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.

Published by The Scientist February 26, 2018

Cancer ‘vaccine’ eliminates tumors in mice

Written by: Krista Conger

Ronald Levy (left) and Idit Sagiv-Barfi led the work on a possible cancer treatment that involves injecting two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors. Photo credit Steve Fisch, Stanford Univeristy

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.

Published by Stanford University January 31, 2018 

New hope for stopping an understudied heart disease in its tracks

Written by: Silke Schmidt

Biomedical engineering professor Kristyn Masters handles samples in her lab, where she and colleagues identified the early stages of a process that may eventually cause aortic stenosis, a severe narrowing of the aortic valve that reduces blood flow to the body and weakens the heart. Photo credit: Stephanie Precourt UNIVERSITY of WISCONSIN–MADISON

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.

Published on December 25th, 2017 by University of Wisconsin 

Monkeys infected by mosquito bites further Zika virus research

Written by: Chris Barncard

A vacuum tube holds a blood-fed strain of Aedes aegypti mosquito in place under a microscope in a research lab insectary in the Hanson Biomedical Sciences Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 17, 2016. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

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.

Published by University of Wisconsin-Madison December 13, 2017

A Diabetes Drug Has ‘Significantly Reversed Memory Loss’ in Mice With Alzheimer’s

Written by: Fiona MacDonald

A drug developed for type 2 diabetes has “significantly reversed memory loss” in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers now want to test it on humans.

The treatment is exciting for scientists because it works by protecting the brain cells attacked by Alzheimer’s disease in three separate ways, rather than relying on a single approach.

And seeing as the drug has already been tested and approved for use in humans, it’s something that could hit the market a lot faster than other experimental treatment options. Read more.

Published by Science Alert Jan 2, 2018

Turning Piglets Into Personalized Avatars for Sick Kids

Written by: Ed Yong

A gene-edited pig with an NF-1 mutation. Photo credit: Jeff Miller, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A team of scientists wants to accelerate research into a genetic disorder by using CRISPR to copy unique mutations from affected children into pigs.

When Charles Konsitzke and Dhanu Shanmuganayagam first met, they were both just trying to get some peace and quiet. It was early 2014, and they were representing the University of Wisconsin-Madison at a fancy event to promote the university’s research to local politicians. After hours of talking to senators, Shanmuganayagam was fried, and went for a walk to clear his head. That’s when he bumped into Konsitzke, an administrator at the University of Wisconsin’s Biotechnology Center. They introduced themselves, and discussed their work. Shanmuganayagam said that he ran a facility that rears miniature pigs, which are genetically engineered to carry mutations found in human genetic disorders. Scientists can study the mini-pigs to better understand those diseases.

“And I said: I have a project for you,” Konsitzke recalls.

Konsitzke’s son Mason, now aged 7, was born with little brown birthmarks on his buttocks. Many kids have one or two of these café-au-lait spots and at first, Konsitzke thought they were cute. But after more appeared, he did some research and found that such spots are a common symptom of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF-1)—an incurable inherited disease. Around Mason’s first birthday, a pediatrician confirmed the diagnosis. Read more.

Published by The Atlantic December 13, 2017

Texas Zika Researchers Studying Infected Primates To Help Prevent Birth Defects

Written by Joey Palacios

Photo credit: Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Scientists at Texas BioMedical Research Institute in San Antonio are using a type of primate to help prevent birth defects caused by the Zika virus. Texas BioMed is using four marmosets as its animal model for Zika infection. Virologist Dr. Jean Patterson said Zika infection in marmosets is similar to that in humans.

“Like humans, they develop almost immediate Viremia — meaning they have virus in their blood — and, for the males, after the virus declines in blood it then goes into semen, saliva and blood,” she said. Read more. 

Published December 11, 2017, by Texas Public Radio 

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

Multi-step screening process leads to molecule that may protect brain cells. 

In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

While the animals’ brains experience dramatically reduced blood flow during hibernation, just like human patients after a certain type of stroke, the squirrels emerge from their extended naps suffering no ill effects. Now, a team of NIH-funded scientists has identified a potential drug that could grant the same resilience to the brains of ischemic stroke patients by mimicking the cellular changes that protect the brains of those animals. The study was published in The FASEB Journal, the official journal of the Foundation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

“For decades scientists have been searching for an effective brain-protecting stroke therapy to no avail. If the compound identified in this study successfully reduces tissue death and improves recovery in further experiments, it could lead to new approaches for preserving brain cells after an ischemic stroke,” said Francesca Bosetti, Ph.D., Pharm.D., program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot cuts off blood flow to part of the brain, depriving those cells of oxygen and nutrients like the blood sugar glucose that they need to survive. Nearly 800,000 Americans experience a stroke every year and 87 percent of those are ischemic strokes. Read more.

Published by NIH November 17, 2017


Memory-enhancing drug reverses effects of traumatic brain injury in mice

Written by Ryan Cross

The radial-arm water maze is a common test to assess working memory in rodents.
Photo credit: irin717/iStock

Whether caused by a car accident that slams your head into the dashboard or repeated blows to your cranium from high-contact sports, traumatic brain injury can be permanent. There are no drugs to reverse the cognitive decline and memory loss, and any surgical interventions must be carried out within hours to be effective, according to the current medical wisdom. But a compound previously used to enhance memory in mice may offer hope: Rodents who took it up to a month after a concussion had memory capabilities similar to those that had never been injured. Read more.

Published by Science Magazine July 10, 2017

Back home with researchers, more science ahead for ‘mice-tronauts’

Written by: Sandy Mazza

The first 20 star-trekking mice to travel to the International Space Station, riding aboard a spacecraft built by Hawthorne-based Space X, have returned to their home lab at UCLA.

But the mission isn’t over for the mice, plucked last week from their capsule in San Pedro, according to a scientist participating in the project that aims to help humans battle bone loss. Read more.

Published by Daily Breeze July 8, 2017