IN THIS ISSUE .
July 15, 2009
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This eerily glowing blob isn't an alien or a creature from the deep sea—it's a mouse embryo just eight and a half days old. The green shell and core show a protein called Smad4. In the center, Smad4 is telling certain cells to begin forming the mouse's liver and pancreas. Researchers recently identified a trio of signaling pathways that help switch on Smad4-making genes, starting immature cells on the path to becoming organs. The research could help biologists learn how to grow human liver and pancreas tissue for research, drug testing and regenerative medicine. Courtesy of cell and developmental biologist Kenneth Zaret, who conducted the work at the Fox Chase Cancer Center.
NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also supported this work.
Scrape a knee or get a paper cut, and white blood cells from all over your body rush to the rescue. But how do they know about your injury? Researchers may have found the flag-raiser in a natural form of the bubbly antiseptic hydrogen peroxide. Studying zebrafish, members of Timothy Mitchison's systems biology lab at Harvard Medical School discovered that tail fin wounds release hydrogen peroxide, summoning white blood cells. When the researchers blocked hydrogen peroxide production, no white cells arrived. Now they want to see if some human immune disorders arise because lung or gut tissues make too much hydrogen peroxide.
The H1N1 or "swine flu" pandemic has given one group of researchers an opportunity to improve computer simulations of infectious disease spread by incorporating information about individual people during a real outbreak. Mathematical biologist Lauren Ancel Meyers at the University of Texas at Austin and collaborator Alison Galvani at Yale University posted a survey on Facebook to capture people's immediate reactions when the flu first broke out in April. Swift responses helped them fine-tune the survey and send it to a broader population. They continue to track how changes in the pandemic affect people's behavior as well as how information spreads through communities.
Some people with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a nerve degeneration disorder, make a mutated form of the protein tyrosyl-tRNA synthetase, or TyrRS. Found in every animal on Earth, tRNA synthetases help our bodies make other proteins. Surprisingly, even the mutated TyrRS still does its protein-making job. To study what else might be going wrong with TyrRS to cause the human disorder, biologist Paul Schimmel at The Scripps Research Institute and his European colleagues mutated a similar protein in fruit flies. The flies experienced many symptoms of the disease, providing the first animal model for studying one form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also supported this work.
Many cancer drugs cause side effects by damaging healthy cells along with cancerous ones. Now, University of Central Florida biochemist J. Manuel Perez has made nanoparticles that can bring the widely used drug Taxol® only to cancer cells. In cell cultures, the tiny particles carried a vitamin-like lure that enticed voracious cancer cells to draw them in—along with the medicine. The nanoparticles can also carry fluorescent dye or magnetic iron that makes them light up in imaging machines, giving them the potential to help doctors diagnose cancer and closely monitor treatment progress.
NIH's National Cancer Institute also supported this work.