Biosingularity

Archive for June 2006

Carnegie Mellon University researchers Kris Noel Dahl and Mohammad F. Islam have made a new breakthrough for children suffering from an extremely rare disease that accelerates the aging process by about seven times the normal rate. Researchers found that children suffering from Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS) have an excessively stiff shell of proteins.

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Scientists are making headway in exploring the potential future use of stem cells to treat heart disease, according to a review article in the current issue of Nature (June 29, 2006).

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Two gene discoveries announced in separate reports in the June 30, 2006 issue of Cell highlight one way to speed through the human genome in search of those genes most important for spawning cancer. Both groups say that a critical element in the enterprise to efficiently characterize the “human cancer genome” –a comprehensive collection of the genetic alterations responsible for major cancers–is the strategic comparison of human tumors with those of mice.

As a demonstration of the value of such strategic comparisons between species, the researchers report promising finds: one of the research teams identified two genes that can–in some circumstances–conspire to produce liver cancer, while the second uncovered a gene important to the spread of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Such functionally important genes, and the larger genetic pathways of which they are a part, are also those with the most promise as potential targets for cancer drugs, according to the researchers.
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Osteoporosis, a disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density and which makes people more susceptible to bone fractures and deformities, afflicts some 10 million Americans over the age of 50. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have discovered that eliminating a protein, Schnurri-3 (Shn3), in mice led to profound increases in bone mass throughout their skeletal system. The results may have implications for the treatment of osteoporosis. The study was published in the May 26 edition of Science.

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Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a novel pathway that regulates the body's ability to store or burn fat, a discovery that suggests new ways to reduce obesity, diabetes and other fat-related human diseases.

Genetically engineered mice, in which the pathway was constantly revved up, were protected from the ravages of a high-fat diet, the Salk team led by Marc Montminy, Ph.D., a professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology reports in this week's issue of Science.
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The brain filters what we hear. It can do this in part because particular groups of neurons react to specific frequencies of sound. Neurobiologists from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen have now created a "frequency map" for numerous areas of the brain. They used magnetic resonance imaging to identify which neuronal fields are activated by single frequencies and by mixtures of frequencies (PLoS Biology, June 20, 2006).
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For many years, researchers believed that stem cells in the bone marrow spent most of their existence in a slumber-like state, unaware of — and unaffected by — the daily battles fought by the body's immune system.
Not so.

Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have discovered that marrow stem cells — undifferentiated cells that eventually give rise to the blood cells that fight infection — possess receptors that recognize bacteria and viruses. When activated, these receptors kick the stem cells and immature blood cells into action, enlisting them to help fight whatever pathogen is attacking the body.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have discovered that neurons in the brains of mice sprout robust new connections when the animals are adjusting to new experiences. The new connections alter the circuitry of the brain by changing communication between neurons.
The researchers said their findings aid understanding of how procedural learning induces long-term rewiring of the brain. This type of learning is used in mastering skills such as riding a bicycle or typing on a computer.
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For the first time, researchers have enticed transplants of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons in the spinal cord to connect with muscles and partially restore function in paralyzed animals. The study suggests that similar techniques may be useful for treating such disorders as spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and spinal muscular atrophy. The study was funded in part by the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
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Visionary futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose remarkable ideas on technological progress have been an inspiration for Biosingularity blogs, have a wonderful concise article on biological advances in recent issue of Scientific American

As a scientist working on biological systems I fully agree and whole heartedly support Kurzweil's observations that: " Biology is now in the early stages of an historic transition to an information science, while also gaining the tools to reprogram the ancient information systems of life ….. We are now beginning to understand biology as a set of information processes, and we're developing realistic models and simulations of how the processes involved in disease and aging progress. Moreover, we are developing the tools to reprogram them."

In the article Kurzweil predicts that tinkering with our genetic programs will extend human lifespan beyond the current limits. He also reiterates that biological systems are also subject to the "law of accelerating returns", which had tremendous impact on information technologies. Indeed, the cost of sequencing and synthesizing gene base pairs have decreased more than 10,000 fold over the last 15 years, and this exponential progress is currently accelerating as predicted by Kurzweil in his recent book. 

Read rest of the article at Scientific American web site.
 

A team of South Korean scientists on Sunday claimed to have created a “cellular fountain of youth,’’ or a small molecule, which enables human cells to avoid aging and dying.

The team, headed by Prof. Kim Tae-kook at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, argued the newly-synthesized molecule, named CGK733, can even make cells younger.

The findings were featured by the Nature Chemical Biology online early today and will be printed as a cover story in the journal’s offline edition early next month. There is also good analysis of this discovery at Fight Aging Blogs Read the rest of this entry »

There is a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer in Asia where people smoke heavily, which may be accounted for by high consumption of tea, particularly green tea, according to a review article published by a Yale School of Medicine researcher.

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Scientists reveal the structure of a protein that packages the viral genome and helps viruses to replicate while avoiding human immune reactions

Ebola, measles and rabies are serious threats to public health in developing countries. Despite different symptoms all of the diseases are caused by the same class of viruses that unlike most other living beings carry their genetic information on a single RNA molecule instead of a double strand of DNA. Now researchers from the Institut de Virologie Moléculaire et Structurale [IVMS] and the Outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] in Grenoble have obtained a detailed structural picture of a protein that allows the rabies virus to withstand the human immune response and survive and replicate in our cells.

The study that is published in this week’s online edition of Science suggests new potential drug targets in rabies and sheds light on how similar approaches can help fighting other viral diseases.
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Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that a common "oncogene engine" – a small family of malfunctioning cell growth switches – drives several seemingly unrelated, lethal forms of cancer, including malignant melanoma. The finding suggests that it may be possible to attack these different cancers with the same therapy.

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An experimental therapy that battles drug resistance in Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) has proved "extremely effective" in fighting cancer, giving patients for whom all conventional therapies have failed another option, researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center reported.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb therapy, Sprycel (dasatinib), treats CML that has mutated and becomes resistant to the leukemia pill Gleevec, said Dr. Charles Sawyers, a professor of hematology/oncology, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and lead author of the study, published in the June 15, 2006 issue of the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine.
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Researchers have discovered that Broca's area in the brain–best known as the region that evolved to manage speech production–is a major "executive" center in the brain for organizing hierarchies of behaviors. Such planning ability, from cooking a meal to organizing a space mission, is considered one of the hallmarks of human intelligence.

The researchers found that Broca's area–which lies on the left side of the brain about in the temple region–and its counterpart on the right side activate when people are asked to organize plans of action. They said their finding of the general executive function of Broca's area could explain its key role in language production.
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The newest concept for treating coronary artery disease is to induce hearts to grow their own new blood vessels to bypass damaged tissue or clogged arteries. Unfortunately, clinical trials of two important blood-vessel growth factors — fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) — have not produced stellar results.

Now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have investigated a third signaling molecule — called Sonic hedgehog — that could overcome problems associated with FGF2 and VEGF therapy.
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The virulence characteristic of HIV-1–the virus predominantly responsible for human AIDS–might amount to an accident of evolution, new evidence reveals. A gene function lost during the course of viral evolution predisposed HIV-1 to spur the fatal immune system failures that are the hallmarks of AIDS, researchers report in the June 16, 2006 Cell.

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During embryonic development, nerve cells hesitantly extend tentacle-like protrusions called axons that sniff their way through a labyrinth of attractive and repulsive chemical cues that guide them to their target.

While several recent studies discovered molecules that repel motor neuron axons from incorrect targets in the limb, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a molecule, known as FGF, that actively lures growing axons closer to the right destination. Their findings appear in the June 15 issue of Neuron.
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Scientists eager to help develop a new generation of pharmaceuticals are studying cellular proteins called transcription factors, which bind to upstream sequences of genes to turn the expression of those genes on or off. Some pharmaceutical companies are also hoping to develop drugs that selectively block the binding of transcription factors as a way to short-circuit the harmful effects of diseases.

Bioengineering researchers at UCSD and two research institutes in Germany report in the June 16 issue of PLoS Computational Biology that transcription factors act not only in isolation, but also in pairs, trios, and combinations of up to 13 to regulate distinct sets of genes.

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia's Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT) have provided ground-breaking evidence for a cure for Huntington disease in a mouse offering hope that this disease can be relieved in humans.

Published today in Cell journal, Dr. Michael Hayden and colleagues discovered that by preventing the cleavage of the mutant huntingtin protein responsible for Huntington disease (HD) in a mouse model, the degenerative symptoms underlying the illness do not appear and the mouse displays normal brain function. This is the first time that a cure for HD in mice has been successfully achieved.
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Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have identified an important mechanism that regulates how many new cells are produced by each intestinal stem cell. The study is published in the latest issue of the prestigious scientific journal, Cell. "This might eventually help us develop new drugs for things like neurological disorders and anaemia," says Professor Jonas Frisén.

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Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed what they call a "Smart Petri Dish" that could be used to rapidly screen new drugs for toxic interactions or identify cells in the early stages of cancer circulating through a patient's blood.

Their invention, described in the June 20 issue of Langmuir, a physical chemistry journal published by the American Chemical Society, uses porous silicon crystals filled with polystyrene to detect subtle changes in the sizes and shapes of the cells.
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For the first time researchers show how restricting caloric intake triggers activity in the brain associated with longevity.

A recent study directed by Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggests that experimental dietary regimens might calm or even reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The study, which appears in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is the first to show that restricting caloric intake, specifically carbohydrates, may prevent AD by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity.
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New insights into how a subpopulation of helper T-cells provides immunity and promotes survival following infection with an AIDS-like virus offer a new means of predicting an AIDS vaccine's effectiveness, a discovery that could help scientists as they test these vaccines in clinical trials.

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One of the body's basic survival mechanisms is the neural machinery that triggers the hungry brain to the alertness needed for seeking food. That same machinery swings the other way after a hearty meal, as exemplified by the long and honored custom of the siesta. However, scientists have understood little about how the basic energy molecule, glucose, regulates such wakefulness and other energy-related behaviors.

Now, in an article in the June 1, 2006, Neuron, Denis Burdakov of the University of Manchester and his colleagues have pinpointed how glucose inhibits neurons that are key to regulating wakefulness. In the process, they have discovered a role for a class of potassium ion channels whose role has remained largely unknown. Such ion channels are porelike proteins in the cell membrane that affect cellular responses by controlling the flow of potassium into the cell.
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"A common molecular denominator in aging and many age-related diseases is oxidative stress," says the study's lead author Azad Bonni, MD, PhD, HMS associate professor of pathology. The skin of a bitten apple will brown because of its exposure to air, and in some ways that is a good metaphor for the damage that oxidative stress is causing to neurons and other types of cells over time.

How the oxidative-stress signals trigger these profound effects in cells has remained unclear. But Bonni and his research team, have now defined how a molecular chain-of-events links oxidative-stress signals to cell death in brain neurons.

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Imagine an Alzheimer's patient receiving a vaccine made of specialized blood cells and then showing a much- improved memory. Also, imagine that vaccine having no side effects and needing to be given only occasionally.

Researchers at the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, have not only imagined these things, they have actually developed such a vaccine that they show reverses memory loss in Alzheimer's mice.
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Genetically modified viruses that assemble into electrodes could one day revolutionise battery manufacturing.

Researchers in the US have created viruses that automatically coat themselves in metals and line up head to tail to form an efficient battery anode – the negatively charged component that channels electrons to generate current. These nanowires could be used to make revolutionary new forms of lithium-ion batteries, the researchers say.

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Selenium, an essential dietary mineral that can act as an antioxidant when incorporated into proteins, has been shown in many studies to reduce the incidence of cancers — notably lung, colorectal and prostate.

Alan Diamond, professor of human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his colleagues report in the May 23 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on research findings using specially bred transgenic mice that suggest it is the level of selenium-containing proteins in the body that is instrumental in preventing cancer, and that dietary selenium plays a role in stimulating the body's level of these selenoproteins.

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As the world marks the 25th year since the first diagnosed case of AIDS, groundbreaking research by scientists at Florida State University has produced remarkable three-dimensional images of the virus and the protein spikes on its surface that allow it to bind and fuse with human immune cells.

Findings from this AIDS research could boost the development of vaccines that will thwart infection by targeting and crippling the sticky HIV-1 spike proteins.

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Cells are like small cities. They contain all the necessary parts that allow their infrastructure, function, growth, and communication to operate. For over a century scientists have been looking at the structures and organelles in cells using microscopic methods, and then drawing conclusions about their function. Biochemical methods have allowed scientists to examine the inner life of the cell, an organisational unit basic to all life. Now, they are clarifying its structures in detail: from mitochondria, the "factories" of cells, which create energy; to the endoplasmic reticulum, necessary for protein synthesis and metabolic processes; to the Golgi apparatus, responsible for lipid synthesis and producing important energy reserves for cell growth.

Scientists have shown how cutting-edge methods can be used to catalogue the entire inventory of active proteins in cell organelles at a particular moment. Their work sheds considerable light on how cells use proteins. The work is published in the journal Cell.

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For the first time, scientists have defined the collective genome of the human gut, or colon. Up to 100 trillion microbes, representing more than 1,000 species, make up a motley "microbiome" that allows humans to digest much of what we eat, including some vitamins, sugars, and fiber, an accomplishment that has far-reaching implications for clinical diagnosis and treatment of many human diseases.

In a study published in the June 2 issue of Science, scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and their colleagues describe and analyze the colon microbiome, which includes more than 60,000 genes–twice as many as found in the human genome. Some of these microbial genes code for enzymes that humans need to digest food, suggesting that bacteria in the colon co-evolved with their human host, to mutual benefit.

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Scientists have discovered that a naturally produced protein that helps protect us from cancer may also determine how long we live.

The findings – published in the highly respected journal Science – open up a new avenue of inquiry into ageing as a risk factor for cancer.
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The researchers also found that calorie restriction (CR) decreases the circulating concentration of a powerful inflammatory molecule called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF). They say the combination of lower T3 levels and reduced inflammation may slow the aging process by reducing the body's metabolic rate as well as oxidative damage to cells and tissues.

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When humans taste or smell, receptors unique to each nerve cell detect the chemical and send signals to the brain, where many cells process the message to understand what we are smelling or tasting. But a bacterium is just a single cell, and it must use many different receptors to sense and interpret everything around it.

Bacteria can sense in their environments changes in molecular concentrations as small as 0.1 percent, the equivalent of one drop diluted in a pool of a 1,000 drops. How do they do it?

New Cornell research, highlighted on the cover of the May issue of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, reveals that receptors assemble into a kind of cooperative lattice on a bacterium's surface to amplify infinitesimal changes in the environment and kick off processes that lead to specific responses within the cell.
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The canny world of advertising has caught on to the free radical theory of aging, marketing a whole array of antioxidants for preventing anything from wrinkles to dry hair to reducing the risk of heart disease — promising to help slow the hands of time.

Nevertheless, numerous studies of people taking antioxidant pills have failed to show a benefit, and the supplements may even be harmful. A study earlier this year hinted that high doses of the antioxidant vitamin E may raise the risk of heart disease, while earlier research has found that beta carotene, another popular antioxidant, puts smokers at higher risk of lung cancer. But that doesn’t mean the free radical theory of aging is wrong, “We think that it is fundamental to the understanding and the implications of aging,” says University of Washington pathologist, Peter Rabinovitch.

Working with genetically engineered mice — to produce a natural antioxidant enzyme called catalase — Rabinovitch’s group found that, on average, the mice live longer. But don’t go running to the medicine cabinet for your bottle of Vitamin C or other antioxidant supplement, only naturally-occurring antioxidants seem to offer a dip in the fountain of youth, and so far, only in mice.

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