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September 19, 2007
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We can only get folate, an important B vitamin, from food or supplements, but bacteria can make it themselves. Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins University identified a long-sought enzyme that completes our scientific understanding of folate production in E. coli bacteria and offers a possible new target for antibiotic medications. This image, created by Hopkins-trained medical illustrator Devon Stuart, depicts a key part of the process from left to right. The salmon-colored image represents the newly identified enzyme. Copyright 2007 Devon Stuart, Devon Medical Art, LLC. To use this image, visit www.devonmedicalart.com.
Based in part on NIGMS-supported research on how gene variation affects a person's response to medicines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has modified the prescribing instructions for warfarin (Coumadin), a widely used blood thinner. Millions of Americans take warfarin to prevent clots after a heart attack, stroke, or major surgery. Finding the optimal dose for each patient is tricky because it depends on many factors, including age, weight, diet, and genetic makeup. Getting it wrong can be fatal. The new information describes variations in two genes—CYP2C9 and VKORC1—that affect the correct dose. In the future, tests of these genes may help doctors determine a more accurate starting dose for each patient and reduce complications.
Lupus occurs when the immune system misfires and attacks the body's organs and tissues. Nobody knows exactly why this happens, but a new study points to one possible cause. A team led by Fred Perrino, a biochemist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has linked defects in an enzyme called TREX1 to lupus and related ailments. TREX1 is thought to chop up DNA in dying cells. If this clean-up process fails, the body may launch an immune attack on its own DNA, resulting in a disease like lupus. In addition to suggesting a possible cause of lupus, the research may open up new treatment strategies.
It's a chemist's dream—a complicated molecule with intriguing properties assembles itself after a simple chemical nudge. That dream came true for Timothy Jamison at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his graduate student, Ivan Vilotijevic. They devised a clever way to synthesize the chemical core of the toxins in red tide, which kills countless marine animals every year. A similar core is found in brevenal, a molecule that neutralizes the toxins and shows promise as a treatment for cystic fibrosis. The new technique will streamline the synthesis of many related molecules and may lead to medical, economic, and ecological advances.
Can mathematical models help us understand social networks? What about traffic, storms, or the spread of avian flu? In the September 2007 issue of Findings, Virginia Tech physicist Stephen Eubank shows how models contribute to a variety of research. In the same issue, step into the lab of Luisa Ann DiPietro of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Although she started her career as a dentist, DiPietro is now an immunology researcher looking for ways to get wounds to heal faster and without scars.