David Kirkpatrick

September 10, 2010

Graphene could speed up DNA sequencing

I’ve blogged on this topic before (and on this very news bit in the second post from the link), but this just reiterates the versatility of graphene and why the material has so many scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs so excited.

From the second link:

By drilling a tiny pore just a few-nanometers in diameter, called a , in the graphene membrane, they were able to measure exchange of ions through the pore and demonstrated that a long  can be pulled through the graphene nanopore just as a thread is pulled through the eye of a needle.

“By measuring the flow of ions passing through a nanopore drilled in graphene we have demonstrated that the thickness of graphene immersed in liquid is less then 1 nm thick, or many times thinner than the very thin membrane which separates a single animal or human cell from its surrounding environment,” says lead author Slaven Garaj, a Research Associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard. “This makes graphene the thinnest membrane able to separate two liquid compartments from each other. The thickness of the membrane was determined by its interaction with water molecules and ions.”

If you still have your wisdom teeth …

… you may be carrying a little personal stem cell bank around in your mouth.

Good news from the U.S. Court of Appeals

Federally funded stem cell research back in business. Of course it’s stupid this is even a issue, much less a political football. I wrote out, and deleted, two sentences of snark about christianist theocons, but maybe those thoughts are better left to your imagination. Let’s just say I think the groups pushing against stem cell research are a serious threat to my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and everyone would be better off if they could just form their own society on an island somewhere and institute whatever manner of holy book law they wanted to live under.

From the link:

A federal appeals court here ruled Thursday that federal financing of embryonic stem cell research could continue while the court considers a judge’s order last month that banned the government from underwriting the work.

The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals could save research mice from being euthanized, cells in petri dishes from starving and scores of scientists from a suspension of paychecks, according to arguments the Obama administration made in the case.

It could also allow the National Institutes of Health to provide $78 million to 44 scientists whose research the agency had previously agreed to finance.

The stay also gives Congress time to consider legislation that would render the ban, and the court case behind it, largely moot, a prospect that some embattled Democrats have welcomed. Despite staunch opposition by some critics, embryonic stem cell research is popular, and a legislative fight on the issue could prove a tonic for Democrats battling a tough political environment.

September 3, 2010

Coming soon, stem cell factories?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:29 am

News from the world of stem cell research. This item comes from the United Kingdom, and if the current political climate on the right towards ground-breaking science and medical research holds fast most stem cell news will be coming from anywhere but the United States.

This development does look very promising.

From the link:

In a paper published in the September edition of , a team of Nottingham scientists led by Professor Morgan Alexander in the University’s School of Pharmacy, reveal they have discovered some man-made acrylate polymers which allow stem cells to reproduce while maintaining their pluripotency.

Professor Alexander said: “This is an important breakthrough which could have significant implications for a wide range of stem cell therapies, including cancer, heart failure, muscle damage and a number of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

“One of these new manmade materials may translate into an automated method of growing  which will be able to keep up with demand from emerging therapies that will require cells on an industrial scale, while being both cost-effective and safer for patients.”

August 28, 2010

Congress may pass emergency bill to restart stem cell research

And it can’t happen a day too soon. Allowing theocrats to hijack scientific and medical research only puts the United States that much more under the gun of losing dominance  in fields that will — will, not might — have a major influence on human life and the global marketplace in the very near future.

The release:

Congressman, CSHL president urge quick action to reverse judicial embryonic stem cell research ban

A federal judge’s decision ‘sets back’ vital work and handcuffs American science

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Against a backdrop of some of the world’s most sophisticated biological research labs, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) this morning issued a challenge to his colleagues in Congress: immediately upon their return from summer recess, he urged, they should pass legislation that would reverse a recent Federal court decision that has brought embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. to a screeching halt.

Rep. Israel was seconded in his plea by Dr. Bruce Stillman, a renowned cancer researcher and President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which hosted the Congressman’s announcement to the press this morning. Also lending vocal support was Brooke Ellison, a stem cell research advocate and instructor at Stony Brook University, who, since a car accident in 1990, has been a quadriplegic.

Rep. Israel said the Aug. 23 decision by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, “sets back research, sets back patients, and sets back jobs,” on Long Island and across the nation. The decision, which prevents federally funded research from being conducted on any embryonic stem cells derived from human embryos, “has not only rolled back the Obama policy on stem cells, but has actually rolled back the Bush policy,” Israel noted.

The Congressman said he regards the legal appeals process too slow, given the gravity of the matter. “I don’t think we should wait for an appeal,” he said. “We’ve got to act, and act fast.” Congress has twice in the past decade passed bills giving the go-ahead for embryonic stem cell research. “The Judge said Congress created the policy, and only Congress can revisit it. Well, I want to take him up on that. When we return to Washington on Sept. 14, the House, as one of its first priorities, should re-pass the very legislation that it has passed twice before.” If passed by the Senate, such a bill would be almost certain to receive a presidential signature, thus ending any ambiguity about the will of Congress, Israel said.

President Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory praised Rep. Israel for taking a strong position on the issue and calling for an immediate remedy. “To the scientific community,” Dr. Stillman said, “this judicial decision was an absolute shock. Embryonic stem cells have been studied since the 1980s, and now the work has been forced to a complete stop. The judge’s decision reverses the policies of two presidents, goes far beyond the debate that we’ve seen in this country, and sets a standard that is unique in the world. This is now the only country in the world where you cannot do embryonic stem cell research.”

Dr. Stillman said he believed that bringing the matter before Congress once more “will not only clarify the situation,” but will provide Congress with a golden opportunity “to make a strong statement to the people of this country and to patients like Brooke Ellison, who are counting on steady progress in stem cell research.” The prior passage by Congress of two bills enabling research with embryonic stem cells is evidence of the strong public support that exists for this type of research, Stillman said.

Brooke Ellison, who spoke from her wheelchair, said that “stem cell research has been used as a political see-saw,” subject to the uncertainties of the political process. “But this is not a political, judicial or ideological issue,” she said. “It’s a human issue. One that speaks to the very core of what it means to show basic human compassion.”

Dr. Stillman said that while most work involving stem cells at CSHL was not embryonic stem cell research, any labs in which embryonic cells are used will now be subject to the National Institutes of Health’s recent interpretation of Judge Lamberth’s ruling. He said there was still some ambiguity about whether the interpretation will hold up under inevitable challenge. But the point, Dr. Stillman emphasized, is that science cannot properly proceed and the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells cannot be discovered — by researchers working in America — unless research is permitted to proceed in unfettered fashion.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.

December 3, 2009

Cell phones and brain cancer

Maybe there isn’t too much to worry about after all. Lots of frightening real and virtual ink has been spilled on the topic of cell phone usage and brain tumors. Looks like current research isn’t seeing a problem there. Of course brain cancer is not the only medical worry with cell phone usage.

From the first link, the release:

No change in brain tumor incidence during a time when cell phone usage increased

There was no substantial change in brain tumor incidence among adults 5 to 10 years after cell phone usage sharply increased, according to a new brief communication published online December 3 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Although cell phone use has been proposed as a risk factor for brain tumors, a biological mechanism to explain this association is not known.

Isabelle Deltour, Ph.D., of the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, in Copenhagen, and colleagues analyzed annual incidence rates of glioma and meningioma among adults aged 20󈞻 years from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Researchers identified 60,000 patients who were diagnosed with these types of brain tumors between 1974 and 2003.

The researchers found that incidence rates over this 30 year-period were stable, decreased, or continued a gradual increase that started before the introduction of cell phones. They also found no change in incidence trends in brain tumors from 1998 to 2003. The authors say this finding may be due to one of several reasons: that the induction period relating cell phone use to brain tumors exceeds 5󈝶 years; that the increased risk in this population is too small to be observed; that the increased risk is restricted to subgroups of brain tumors or cell phone users; or that there is no increased risk.

The authors did not assess cell phone usage at the individual level during this time period, only brain tumor incidence.

“Because of the high prevalence of mobile phone exposure in this population and worldwide, longer follow-up of time trends in brain tumor incidence rates are warranted,” the authors write.

Note:

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute is published by Oxford University Press and is not affiliated with the National Cancer Institute. Attribution to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is requested in all news coverage.

Visit JNCI online at http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org and the JNCI

For the latest cancer news and studies, follow us on Twitter @JNCI_Now

December 2, 2009

More stem cell lines open for research

Very welcome news and finally a tangible shift away from the idiotic christianist policies of the Bush 43 administration. This is an area of medical research where the United States should be world leaders, not playing catch up after eight years of a completely medieval stance toward science and medicine.

From the link:

The National Institutes of Health said Wednesday that it had approved 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for use by federally financed researchers, with another 96 lines under review.

The action followed President Obama’s decision in March to expand the number of such cell lines beyond those available under a policy set by President George W. Bush, which permitted research to begin only with lines already available on Aug. 9, 2001.

Since that date, biomedical researchers supported by the N.I.H. have had to raise private money to derive the cells, which are obtained from the fertilized embryos left over from in vitro fertility clinics.

With federal money banned from being used in any part of the work on the derived lines, researchers had to divide their laboratories and go to extreme lengths to separate research materials based on the financing source.

“You can imagine what it meant not to be able to carry a pipette from one room to another,” said Ali H. Brivanlou, a researcher at Rockefeller University. “They even had to repaint the walls to ensure no contamination by federal funds.”

November 29, 2009

Nanomagnet cancer treatment

Nanoscale magnetic discs actually physically wreck cancer cells. Nanotech is offering a lot of medical treatments, particularly in cancer research.

From the link:

Laboratory tests found the so-called “nanodiscs”, around 60 billionths of a metre thick, could be used to disrupt the membranes of , causing them to self-destruct.

The discs are made from an iron-nickel alloy, which move when subjected to a magnetic field, damaging the cancer cells, the report published in Nature Materials said.

One of the study’s authors, Elena Rozhlova of Argonne National Laboratory in the United States, said subjecting the discs to a low magnetic field for around ten minutes was enough to destroy 90 percent of cancer cells in tests.

April 6, 2009

News from the department of “no duh,” part two

I would’ve provided the same result for half the funding and none of the scientific rigor.

The release:

Substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages can reduce excess calorie consumption

April 6, 2009– Replacing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) with water could eliminate an average of 235 excess calories per day among children and adolescents, according to a study published in the April 2009 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The study’s authors conclude that such a replacement would be a simple and effective way to reduce excess intake of calories causing childhood overweight and obesity, as well as address dental cavities and other health problems associated with added sugar. And they predict no detrimental effects on nutrition.

“The evidence is now clear that replacing these ‘liquid calories’ with calorie-free beverage alternatives both at home and in schools represents a key strategy to eliminate excess calories and prevent childhood obesity,” said Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

Dr. Wang and colleagues analyzed what children and teens reported they ate and drank on two different days, using nationally representative data from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They then estimated the impact of substituting water for SSBs on the total energy intake of youths ages two to 19.

No data suggest that youths increase their consumption of other foods and beverages to compensate for drinking fewer SSBs, and so every can of soda or fruit drink that is replaced by water means a net reduction of calories. Almost 90 percent of U.S. children and adolescents currently consume SSBs on any given day, including soda, fruit drinks, punches, sports drinks and sweetened tea, and the calories contained in these drinks can represent more than 10 percent of their total daily intake. There is growing evidence that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is an important contributor to rising youth obesity rates in the United States.

“This study shows the substantial impact that replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water could have,” said C. Tracy Orleans, senior scientist and distinguished fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which co-funded the study along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Reversing the rise in childhood obesity requires finding approaches like this to close the gap between daily energy intake and daily energy expenditure. Changes such as this one can potentially add up to significant benefits for the population as a whole.”

In contrast to the caloric reduction noted when replacing SSBs with water, the researchers found no difference when replacing SSBs with milk. But they emphasized the calcium, protein and other nutritional benefits that reduced-fat milk provides, in contrast to most SSBs. Though the findings suggest that reducing SSB consumption may prevent unhealthy weight gain, the researchers say that widespread recommendations to decrease SSB consumption are unlikely to lead to unnecessary or harmful weight loss in healthy-weight or underweight teens.

A 2008 study by the same team of researchers found that children consume SSBs in a variety of locations-homes, schools, fast-food establishments and other restaurants. Up to 70 percent of the consumption occurs in the home environment, whereas seven to 15 percent of consumption occurs in schools.

“Making children and teens more active is important,” Dr. Wang noted, “However, simply eliminating the extra calories they don’t need from these sugary drinks can tip the energy balance in a major way.” A typical 15-year-old boy would need to jog for 30 minutes in order to burn off the calories contained in a 12-oz can of soda. The alternative drink best suited to reduce excess caloric consumption is water.

“These beverages are nothing more than different forms of sugar water, which kids don’t need.” said Steven Gortmaker, PhD, professor of the Practice of Health Sociology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the senior author on the study. “Unless they are running marathons, which we do not recommend for kids, water is the best choice for quenching their thirst. It is also low cost, especially when it comes from a clean tap source.”

 

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About the Mailman School of Public Health

The only accredited school of public health in New York City and among the first in the nation, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting millions of people locally and globally. The Mailman School is the recipient of some of the largest government and private grants in Columbia University’s history. Its more than 1000 graduate students pursue master’s and doctoral degrees, and the School’s 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as infectious and chronic diseases, health promotion and disease prevention, environmental health, maternal and child health, health over the life course, health policy, and public health preparedness. www.mailman.hs.columbia.edu

March 19, 2009

Stem cell differentiation breakthrough

Looks like this research is helping to uncover the building blocks of stem cells and should lead to even bigger breakthroughs.

The release:

Protein is Key to Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation

 

Burnham Scientists Identify Protein that Controls Differentiation in Human and Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells

 
LA JOLLA, Calif., March 18, 2009 — Investigators at Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham) have learned that a protein called Shp2 plays a critical role in the pathways that control decisions for differentiation or self-renewal in both human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs).

The research, led by Gen-Sheng Feng, Ph.D., differs with some earlier findings that suggested hESCs and mESCs differentiate as a result of different signaling mechanisms. The discovery that Shp2 has a conserved role between mice and humans suggests an interesting common signaling mechanism between mESCs and hESCs, despite the known distinct signaling paths and biological properties between the two types of pluripotent stem cells. The study was published online in the journal PLoS ONE on March 17, 2009.

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent cells that can differentiate to become more than 200 different cell types. Because of their plasticity, ESCs have been suggested as potential therapies for numerous diseases and conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, spinal cord injury and tissue damage. Development of such therapies is largely dependent on fully understanding and controlling the processes that lead to differentiation of hESCs into specialized cell types.

“There are many signaling pathways that help embryonic stem cells decide their fate,” said Dr. Feng. “We found that the Shp2 protein acts as a coordinator that fine-tunes the signal strength of multiple pathways and gives us a better understanding of the fundamental signaling methods that determine whether a stem cell’s fate will be self-renewal or differentiation.”

In the study, the Feng lab created mutant Shp2 mESCs and showed that differentiation was dramatically impaired as the cells self-renewed as stem cells. The researchers also demonstrated small interfering RNAs in hESCs reduce Shp2 expression and subsequent cell differentiation. Feng and colleagues screened chemical libraries and identified a small-molecule inhibitor of Shp2 that, in small doses, partially inhibits differentiation in both mESCs and hESCs. Taken together, these results suggest a conserved role for Shp2 in ESC differentiation and self-renewal in both mice and humans.

“This opens the door for new experimental reagents that will amplify the self-renewal process to create more stem cells for research and potential clinical use in the future,” Dr. Feng added. “This research also suggests that comparative analysis of mouse and human embryonic stem cells will provide fundamental insight into the cellular processes that determine ‘stemness,’ a critical question that remains to be answered in the stem cell biology field.”

About Burnham Institute for Medical Research
Burnham Institute for Medical Research is dedicated to revealing the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Burnham, with operations in California and Florida, is one of the fastest-growing research institutes in the country. The Institute ranks among the top-four institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top 25 organizations worldwide for its research impact. Burnham utilizes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, infectious and inflammatory and childhood diseases. The Institute is known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Burnham is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation.

March 6, 2009

Obama ends stem cell restrictions

Filed under: Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:30 pm

Hallelujah, let the light of basic science shine on.

From the link:

President Obama will announce Monday that he is reversing Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of a pledge to separate science and politics, White House officials said Friday.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama spoke out in favor of stem cell research, so his intention to undo the curbs put in place by President George W. Bush is not surprising. But the decision is nonetheless of great interest, involving a long-controversial intersection of science and personal moral beliefs.

The officials said that advocates of unfettered stem cell research, as well as about 30 Democratic and Republican lawmakers who support it, had been invited to a White House ceremony scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Eastern time, when Mr. Obama is expected to make an announcement.

One person familiar with planning for the event said the president would also speak about a general return to “sound science” in his administration, as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to draw a demarcation line between politics and science. The Bush administration was often accused of trying to shade, or even suppress, the findings of government scientists on climate change, sex education, contraceptives and other issues, as well as stem cells.

March 1, 2009

The latest stem cell news

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this news now that the religious right no longer has veto power over good science. This particular breakthrough is Canadian, but finally the NIH can support the best research here in the U.S.

The release:

Mount Sinai Hospital researcher makes stem cell breakthrough

(Toronto, ON, February 25, 2009) – In a study to be released on March 1, 2009, Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dr. Andras Nagy discovered a new method of creating stem cells that could lead to possible cures for devastating diseases including spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The study, to be published by Nature online, accelerates stem cell technology and provides a road map for new clinical approaches to regenerative medicine.

“We hope that these stem cells will form the basis for treatment for many diseases and conditions that are currently considered incurable,” said Dr. Nagy, Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Investigator at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Regeneration. “This new method of generating stem cells does not require embryos as starting points and could be used to generate cells from many adult tissues such as a patient’s own skin cells.”

Dr. Nagy discovered a new method to create pluripotent stem cells (cells that can develop into most other cell types) without disrupting healthy genes. Dr. Nagy’s method uses a novel wrapping procedure to deliver specific genes to reprogram cells into stem cells. Previous approaches required the use of viruses to deliver the required genes, a method that carries the risk of damaging the DNA. Dr. Nagy’s method does not require viruses, and so overcomes a major hurdle for the future of safe, personalized stem cell therapies in humans.

“This research is a huge step forward on the path to new stem cell-based therapies and indicates that researchers at the Lunenfeld are at the leading edge of regenerative medicine,” said Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research for the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. Regenerative medicine refers to enabling the human body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate its own damaged or diseased cells, tissues and organs.

The research was funded by the Canadian Stem Cell Network and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (United States).

Dr. Nagy joined Mount Sinai Hospital as a Principal investigator in 1994. In 2005, he created Canada’s first embryonic stem cell lines from donated embryos no longer required for reproduction by couples undergoing fertility treatment. That research played a pivotal role in Dr. Nagy’s current discovery.

One of the critical components reported in Nagy’s paper was developed in the laboratory of Dr. Keisuke Kaji from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Kaji’s findings are also published in the March 1, 2009 issue of Nature. The two papers are highly complementary and further extend Nagy’s findings.

“I was very excited when I found stem cell-like cells in my culture dishes. Nobody, including me, thought it was really possible,” said Dr. Kaji. “It is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine.”

 

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About the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital

 

 

About the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh

The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine is based at the University of Edinburgh and brings together world leading basic stem cell research with established clinical excellence to deliver a “bench-to-bedside” approach aimed at developing new treatments for major diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and liver failure. www.crm.ed.ac.uk

NOTE to media: Dr. Nagy’s Nature paper is availble upon request. It is titled, PiggyBac transposition reprograms fibroblasts to induced pluripotent stem cells.


The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, a University of Toronto affiliated research centre established in 1985, is one of the world’s premier centres in biomedical research. Thirty-four principal investigators lead research in diabetes, cancer biology, epidemiology, stem cell research, women’s and infants’ health, neurobiology and systems biology. For more information on the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, please visit www.lunenfeld.ca

December 15, 2008

Converting to stem cells

Well, stem cell-like cells.

The release:

Single virus used to convert adult cells to embryonic stem cell-like cells

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Dec. 15, 2008) — Whitehead Institute researchers have greatly simplified the creation of so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, cutting the number of viruses used in the reprogramming process from four to one. Scientists hope that these embryonic stem-cell-like cells could eventually be used to treat such ailments as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

The earliest reprogramming efforts relied on four separate viruses to transfer genes into the cells’ DNA–one virus for each reprogramming gene (Oct4, Sox2, c-Myc and Klf4). Once activated, these genes convert the cells from their adult, differentiated status to an embryonic-like state.

However, this method poses significant risks for potential use in humans. The viruses used in reprogramming are associated with cancer because they may insert DNA anywhere in a cell’s genome, thereby potentially triggering the expression of cancer-causing genes, or oncogenes. For iPS cells to be employed to treat human diseases, researchers must find safe alternatives to reprogramming with such viruses. This latest technique represents a significant advance in the quest to eliminate the potentially harmful viruses.

Bryce Carey, an MIT graduate student working in the lab of Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch, spearheaded the effort by joining in tandem the four reprogramming genes through the use of bits of DNA that code for polymers known as 2A peptides. Working with others in the lab, he then manufactured a so-called polycistronic virus capable of expressing all four reprogramming genes once it is inserted into the genomes of mature mouse and human cells.

When the cells’ protein-creating machinery reads the tandem genes’ DNA, it begins making a protein. However, when it tries to read the 2A peptide DNA that resides between the genes, the machinery momentarily stops, allowing the first gene’s protein to be released. The machinery then moves on to the second gene, creates that gene’s protein, stalls when reaching another piece of 2A peptide DNA, and releases the second gene’s protein. The process continues until the machinery has made the proteins for all four genes.

Using the tandem genes, Carey created iPS cells containing just a single copy of the polycistronic vector instead of multiple integrations of the viruses. This significant advancement indicates that the approach can become even safer if combined with technologies such as gene targeting, which allows a single transgene to be inserted at defined locations.

Interestingly, while Carey’s single-virus method integrates all four genes into the same location, it has proven to be roughly 100 times less efficient than older approaches to reprogramming. This phenomenon remains under investigation.

“We were surprised by the lower efficiency,” Carey says. “We’re not sure why, but we need to look what’s going on with expression levels of the polycistronic virus’s proteins compared to separate viruses’ proteins.”

Although the one virus method is less efficient, Jaenisch maintains it represents an important advance in the field.

“This is an extremely useful tool for studying the mechanisms of reprogramming,” says Jaenisch, who is also a professor of biology at MIT. “Using this one virus creates a single integration in the cells’ DNA, which makes things much easier to handle.”

 

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Written by Nicole Giese

Rudolf Jaenisch’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full citation:

PNAS, online between December 15 and December 19

“Reprogramming of murine and human somatic cells using a single polycistronic vector”

Bryce W. Carey (1,2), Styliani Markoulaki (1), Jacob Hanna (1), Kris Saha (1), Qing Gao (1), Maisam Mitalipova (1), and Rudolf Jaenisch (1,2)

1. Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 9 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.

2. Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.

November 13, 2008

More nanoparticle caution

I’ve blogged on nanotechnology drawbacks before, and here’s a new release providing a little more caution on nanotech. Sounds like this research may be more alarmist than truly useful. Be sure to take your grain of salt here.

The release:

Nanoparticles trigger cell death?

Nanoparticles that are one milliard of a metre in size are widely used, for example, in cosmetics and food packaging materials. There are also significant amounts of nanoparticles in exhaust emissions. However, very little is yet known of their health effects, because only a very small portion of research into nanoparticles is focused on their health and safety risks. Nanoparticles have even been dubbed the asbestos of the 2000s bys some researchers, and therefore a considerable threat to people’s health. While the use of nanoparticles in consumer products increases, their follow-up procedures and legislation are lagging behind. The European Union chemicals directive REACH does not even touch upon nanomaterials.

The research teams of Professor Ilpo Vattulainen (Department of Physics, Tampere University of Technology, Finland) and academy researcher Emppu Salonen (Department of Applied Physics, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland) have together with Professor Pu-Chun Ke’s (Clemson University, SC, USA) team researched how carbon-based nanoparticles interact with cells. The results provided strong biophysical evidence that nanoparticles may alter cell structure and pose health risks.

It emerged from the research that certain cell cultures are not affected when exposed to fullerenes, i.e. nano-sized molecules that consist of spherical, ellipsoid, or cylindrical arrangement of carbon atoms. Cells are also not affected when exposed to gallic acid, an organic acid that is found in almost all plants and, for instance, in tea. However, when fullerenes and gallic acid are present in the cell culture at the same time, they interact to form structures that bind to the cell surface and cause cell death.

The research demonstrates how difficult it is to map out the health effects of nanoparticles. Even if a certain nanoparticle does not appear toxic, the interaction between this nanoparticle and other compounds in the human body may cause serious problems to cell functions. Since the number of possible combinations of nanoparticles and various biomolecules is immense, it is practically impossible to research them systematically.

 

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The research on cell death caused by fullerenes and gallic acid was recently published in the nanoscience journal Small [E. Salonen, S. Lin, M. L. Reid, M. Allegood, X. Wang, A. M. Rao, I. Vattulainen, P.-C. Ke. Real-time translocation of fullerene reveals cell contraction. Small 4, 1986-1992 (2008)].

Descriptions of group leaders and their research groups:

Professor Pu-Chun Ke:
Prof. Pu Chun Ke won a Career Award from the National Science Foundation for his research addressing the fate of nanomaterials in biological systems and the environment. His research lab has first demonstrated the delivery of RNA using single-walled carbon nanotubes and invented the use of lysophospholipids for obtaining biocompatible nanomaterials. Based at Clemson University, USA, the Single-Molecule Biophysics and Polymer Physics Laboratory led by Prof. Ke (http://people.clemson.edu/~pcke11/) also examines topics in DNA damage and repair, microscopy, and fundamental and applied soft matter physics.

Professor Ilpo Vattulainen:
The Biological Physics Group (http://www.tut.fi/biophys/ and http://www.fyslab.hut.fi/bio/) of 26 people located at the Department of Physics at Tampere University of Technology, Finland, is directed by Prof. Ilpo Vattulainen. The Group is part of the Computational Nanoscience team selected as a Center of Excellence by the Academy of Finland. The Group is also an affiliate member of the MEMPHYS Center for Biomembrane Physics in the University of Southern Denmark, selected as a Center of Excellence by The Danish National Research Foundation. The Biological Physics Group focuses on computational and theoretical studies of biological systems, the topics including biomembranes, nanomaterials, lipoproteins, drugs, and carbohydrates.

Academy researcher (Dr.) Emppu Salonen:
The Computational Soft Matter Research Group (http://www.fyslab.hut.fi/soft/) is based at the Department of Applied Physics, Helsinki University of Technology (TKK). The group is headed by Dr. Emppu Salonen, who currently has a Research Fellow position with the Academy of Finland. The focus of the group’s research is in environmental and biological effects of nanomaterials, most importantly carbon-based nanomaterials such as fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. The current nanomaterial-biomaterial research of the group is funded by the Academy of Finland.

October 15, 2008

Web surfing good for the aging brain

KurzweilAI.net — This is good news since we’re all getting older and if you’re reading this I guessing you do at least a little web surfing. Surfing the internet increases brain activity in older adults.

Surfing the Web Stimulates Older Brains
WebMD, Oct. 14, 2008

In an experiment, adults 55 to 78 years old who have regularly searched the Internet showed twice the increase in brain activity in MRI scans when performing a new Internet search than their counterparts without Internet search experience, especially in the areas of the brain that control decision making and complex reasoning, UCLA researchers have found.

 
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September 26, 2008

Stem cells from adult cells

I’m for stem cell research of all stripes, but it is encouraging that research is ongoing beyond just embryonic stem cells such as this application using adult cells.

This is good medical news. But no reason to not lift the asinine theocratic ban on US government support of embryonic stem cell research.

From the link:

Last year, researchers announcedone of the most promising methods yet for creating ethically neutral stem cells: reprogramming adult human cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This involved using four transcription factor proteins to turn specific genes on and off. But the resulting cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for their ability to develop into just about any tissue, have one huge flaw. They’re made with a virus that embeds itself into the cells’ DNA and, over time, can induce cancer. Now, scientists at Harvard University have found a way to effect the same reprogramming without using a harmful virus–a method that paves the way for tissue transplants made from a patient’s own cells.

August 9, 2008

Real health study in virtual world

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 7:34 pm

This is both interesting and maybe a harbinger of the future. An actual health study will be conducted in the virtual world of Second Life.

The linked press release:

TORC at UH turns to virtual world of Second Life for new study

International Health Challenge seeks participants for obesity prevention research

The University of Houston department of health and human performance is launching an international effort to recruit 500 participants for a study promoting healthy dietary habits and physical activity. The study will take place entirely in the virtual world of Second Life (SL).

The project is part of the UH Texas Obesity Research Center’s (TORC) International Health Challenge, and offers an enjoyable way for participants to learn about preventing and treating obesity through education, skills training and outreach.

“This is an excellent opportunity to learn and practice these new behaviors in a virtual environment and in real life,” said Rebecca Lee, associate professor and director of TORC. “It’s also a great place to meet other avatars and share information and experiences.”

The TORC International Health Challenge in Second Life will provide opportunities for avatars to earn Lindens—the currency of Second Life—for walking on treadmills, riding bikes and trying new fruits and vegetables in Second Life. Participants compete to earn “Challenge Points” for their healthy behaviors. The country team that earns the most Challenge Points will win the International Health Challenge. Materials will be available in English, French and Spanish.

TORC was an awardee of the University of Southern California-Annenberg School for Communication’s Network Culture Project: Second Life and the Public Good Community Challenge. TORC will develop space in Second Life, create games and interactive learning opportunities and reward avatars when they join the International Health Challenge and participate in health behaviors in Second Life.

“We hope to develop multi-national collaborations in SL to increase awareness, knowledge, skills and support for healthy living,” Lee said. “Reducing obesity is an international priority, and SL provides a portal to an international community.” Lee has conducted extensive research on the subject of obesity, in particular the neighborhood factors that may lead to obesity, such as availability and quality of fresh produce, and the quality and quantity of physical activity resources available in neighborhoods.

 

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Participants must be members of Second Life and can visit http://slurl.com/secondlife/HHP%20at%20UH/128/128/0 to sign up.

For more information, participants can instant message Sirina Felisimo or Samu Sirnah in Second Life or call TORC at 713-743-9310.

For more information about TORC at the University of Houston, please visit: http://grants.hhp.coe.uh.edu/obesity/

July 30, 2008

Nanopastries fighting disease

Nanoscale bialys, well not really tiny pastries, just tiny pastry-shaped particles are the latest nanotech medical breakthrough.

The release:

New disease-fighting nanoparticles look like miniature pastries

Ultra-miniature bialy-shaped particles — called nanobialys because they resemble tiny versions of the flat, onion-topped rolls popular in New York City — could soon be carrying medicinal compounds through patients’ bloodstreams to tumors or atherosclerotic plaques.

The nanobialys are an important addition to the stock of diagnostic and disease-fighting nanoparticles developed by researchers in the Consortium for Translational Research in Advanced Imaging and Nanomedicine (C-TRAIN) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. C-TRAIN’s “smart” nanoparticles can deliver drugs and imaging agents directly to the site of tumors and plaques.

The nanobialys weren’t cooked up for their appealing shape — that’s a natural result of the manufacturing process. The particles answered a need for an alternative to the research group’s gadolinium-containing nanoparticles, which were created for their high visibility in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Gadolinium is a common contrast agent for MRI scans, but recent studies have shown that it can be harmful to some patients with severe kidney disease.

“The nanobialys contain manganese instead of gadolinium,” says first author Dipanjan Pan, Ph.D., research instructor in medicine in the Cardiovascular Division. “Manganese is an element found naturally in the body. In addition, the manganese in the nanobialys is tied up so it stays with the particles, making them very safe.”

The bulk of a nanobialy is a synthetic polymer that can accept a variety of medical, imaging or targeting components. In the July 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Societythe researchers report that targeted manganese-carrying nanobialys readily attached themselves to fibrin molecules, which are found in atherosclerotic plaques and blood clots. Laboratory-made clots then glowed brightly in MRI scans. They also showed that the nanobialys could carry both water-soluble and insoluble drugs.

Pan, who is a research instructor in medicine, played a leading role in the creation of nanobialys and chose the particles’ name. “When we looked at the particles with an electron microscope, we saw they are round and flat, with a dimple in the center, like red blood cells, but also a little irregular, like bagels,” he says. “I came across the word bialy, which is a Polish roll like a bagel without a hole that can be made with different toppings. So I called the particles nanobialys.”

Pan is one of a group of researchers headed by Gregory M. Lanza, M.D., Ph.D., and Samuel A. Wickline, M.D. Lanza is an associate professor of medicine and biomedical engineering. Wickline is a professor of medicine, physics, biomedical engineering and cell biology and physiology. Lanza and Wickline are Washington University cardiologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Nanoparticles can be a more effective way to administer medications and imaging contrast agents because they are targeted, packaged units — drugs and imaging agents stay on the nanoparticles, which can be made to concentrate at a specific site in the body.

In animal studies, the research group has shown that their original, spherical nanoparticles can carry therapeutic compounds to tumors and atherosclerotic plaques. These nanoparticles also can hold thousands of molecules of gadolinium, which allows the researchers to use standard MRI scanning equipment to see where the nanoparticles congregate. The scans can then detect the size of lesions as well as the effect of drugs delivered by the nanoparticles.

But gadolinium has recently been linked to nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF). First described in 2000, NSF is an unusual progressive, incurable disease seen in about 3 percent of patients with severe kidney disease who have had MRI scans using gadolinium. In NSF, collagen accumulates in tissues causing skin hardening and thickening, joint stiffening that can lead to physical disability, and disorders of the liver, lungs, muscles and heart.

“Even though it seems that gadolinium affects only those with severe renal failure, physicians have decided not to use gadolinium even in those with moderate renal failure,” Lanza says. “A lot of patients with diabetes or hypertension develop renal failure, so that decision potentially affects many people. Our goal has always been that our nanoparticle technology should be able to help everyone. And with a growing number of people having diabetes and related cardiovascular problems, we knew we needed to find a substitute for gadolinium-based particles — nanobialys are our first step in that direction.”

The researchers will continue to adapt the nanobialys for a variety of medicinal applications and work to develop other types of nanoparticles so that they can supply a wide range of medical needs.

“We’re not sitting in the lab generating nanoparticles and then looking for what they could be used for,” Lanza says. “We see a medical problem and ask what kind of particle might overcome it and then try to create it.”

 

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Pan D, Caruthers SD, Hu G, Senpan A, Scott MJ, Gaffney PJ, Wickline SA, Lanza GM. Ligand-directed nanobialys as theranostic agent for drug delivery and manganese-based magnetic resonance imaging of vascular targets. Journal of the American Chemical Society 2008 Jul 23;130(29):9186-7.

Funding from National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute supported this research.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

July 24, 2008

Interesting stem cell news

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:55 pm

This press release from the University of California at Irvine covers a new potential brain injury cure using adult stem cells in the brain.

The complete release (hit the link for photos):

Adult stem cells activated in mammalian brain

Locating cell origin provides foundation for brain injury cure

Irvine, Calif., July 24, 2008

Adult stem cells originate in a different part of the brain than is commonly believed, and with proper stimulation they can produce new brain cells to replace those lost to disease or injury, a study by UC Irvine scientists has shown.

Evidence strongly shows that the true stem cells in the mammalian brain are the ependymal cells that line the ventricles in the brain and spinal cord, rather than cells in the subventricular zone as biologists previously believed. Brain ventricles are hollow chambers filled with fluid that supports brain tissue, and a layer of ependymal cells lines these ventricles.

Knowing the cell source is crucial when developing stem cell-based therapies. Additionally, knowing that these normally dormant cells can be coaxed into dividing lays the groundwork for future therapies in which a patient’s own stem cells produce new brain cells to treat neurological disorders and injuries such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke or traumatic brain injury.

“With such a therapy, we would know which cells in the body to target for activation, and their offspring would have all the properties necessary to replace damaged or missing cells,” said Darius Gleason, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology. “It is a very promising approach to stem cell therapy.”

Study results appear this month online in the journal Neuroscience.

Stem cells are the “master cells” that produce each of the specialized cells within the human body. If researchers could control the production and differentiation of stem cells, they may be able to use them to replace damaged tissues.

One focus of stem cell research is transplantation, which entails injecting into the body healthy cells that may or may not genetically match the patient. Transplantation of nonmatching stem cells requires the use of drugs to prevent the body from rejecting the treatment.

But, working with a patient’s own cells would eliminate the need for transplantation and immunosuppressant drugs and may be a better alternative, scientists say. Ependymal cells line the fluid-filled ventricles, so a drug to activate the cells could theoretically travel through this fluid directly to the stem cells.

“The cells already match your brain completely since they have the same genetic make-up. That is a huge advantage over any other approach that uses cells from a donor,” Gleason said. “If they are your cells, then all we are doing is helping your body fix itself. We’re not reinventing the repair process.”

In this study, Gleason and Peter Bryant, developmental and cell biology professor, used rats treated to develop the animal equivalent of Parkinson’s disease. They chose this type of rat because in a previous study by UCI collaborator James Fallon, a small protein given to the brain-damaged rats sparked a rapid and massive production and migration of new cells, and significantly improved motor behavior.

First, the UCI researchers sought to determine the true location of stem cells in the rats by looking for polarized cells, which have different sets of proteins on opposite sides so that when one divides it can produce two different products. Polarization gives rise to asymmetric cell division, which produces one copy of the parent and a second cell that is programmed to turn into another cell type. Asymmetric cell division is the defining characteristic of a stem cell.

On rat brain samples, the researchers applied antibodies to identify proteins that may be involved in asymmetric cell division, and they found that polarization exists on the ependymal cells. “It couldn’t have been a stronger signal or clearer message. We could see that the only cells undergoing asymmetric cell division were the ependymal cells,” Gleason said.

Next, they gave a drug to induce cell division in the rats and examined their brains at intervals ranging from one to 28 days after the treatment. At each interval, they counted cells that were dividing in the ependymal layer. They found the most division at 28 days, when about one-quarter of the ependymal cells were dividing. Previous studies by researchers at other institutions were successful in getting only a few cells to divide in that layer.

“One interpretation of previous studies is there are scattered stem cells in the ependymal layer, and it is hard to locate them,” Bryant said. “But we believe that all of the ependymal cells are stem cells, and that they all have the ability to be activated.”

Researchers don’t know yet what sparks cell division at the molecular level, but learning that process and how to control it could lead to a safe, effective stem cell therapy.

Fallon, psychiatry and human behavior professor, and researchers Magda Guerra and Jian-Chang Liu contributed to this study. All of the scientists are affiliated with the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

Gleason’s work is supported by a stem cell training grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The UCI Office of Research, the Optical Biology Core in the Developmental Biology Center, a gift from the Joseph’s Foundation, and the UC MEXUS-CONACYT Postdoctoral Research Program also supported this study.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students and nearly 2,000 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.6 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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