Biomedical Beat - A monthly digest of research news from NIGMS

IN THIS ISSUE . . .
October 21, 2009

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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes of Health, supports all research featured in this digest. Although only the lead scientists are named, coworkers and other collaborators also contributed to the findings. To read additional news items, visit NIGMS News. To check out free NIGMS publications, go to the order form.

Cool Video: Stretch Detectors

Courtesy of Christopher Chen, University of Pennsylvania.

Muscles stretch and contract when we walk, and skin splits open and knits back together when we get a paper cut. To study these contractile forces, researchers built a three-dimensional scaffold that mimics tissue in an organism. First, they poured a mixture of cells and elastic collagen over microscopic posts in a dish. Then they studied how the cells pulled and released the posts as they formed a web of tissue. To measure forces between posts, the researchers developed a computer model. Their findings—which show that contractile forces vary throughout the tissue—could have a wide range of medical applications. Courtesy of Christopher Chen, University of Pennsylvania.

Full story (no longer available)
Chen lab
Article abstract (from the June 23 issue of PNAS)

Using Magnetic Fields to Deliver Drugs

Nanoparticles with magnetic properties could help deliver drugs on an as-needed basis.
Nanoparticles with magnetic properties could help deliver drugs on an as-needed basis.

It seems like something right out of a science fiction novel: Researchers use nanoparticles and magnetic fields to deliver drugs. But it's true. A team of scientists led by pediatric critical care specialist Daniel Kohane of Children's Hospital Boston developed a small, implantable device that contains magnetic nanoparticles that deliver drugs in response to an external magnetic field. It also can adjust dosages on an as-needed basis over a long period of time. The team predicts that when the device is more finely honed, it could markedly improve the lives of patients with cancer, diabetes, chronic pain and many other conditions.

Full story (no longer available)
Kohane profile
Article abstract (from the October 14 issue of Nano Letters)

Mathematician with ALS Finds Clues to Disease

Zhang and his wife, researcher Qiuying Sha, found a genetic link to ALS. Courtesy of Zhang.
Zhang and his wife, researcher Qiuying Sha, found a genetic link to ALS. Courtesy of Zhang.
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Shuanglin Zhang's life changed dramatically four years ago when he began showing symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS, a condition that progressively destroys muscle control and can lead to paralysis. Zhang, a mathematician at Michigan Technological University, finds himself in a position to offer new hope for people with the disease. Using biostatistics, he recently scoured billions of DNA "letters" from people with ALS and then compared the readout to DNA from healthy people. Zhang's experiment found a suspect combination of ALS-associated genes, which, if confirmed by more research, could allow earlier disease detection and treatment.

NIH's National Institute on Aging also supported this work.

Full story
Zhang lab
Article abstract (from the September 9 issue of BMC Medical Genetics)

Insulin Control Intertwined with Biological Clock

New evidence shows that metabolic processes can alter the timing of biological clocks. Courtesy of Esther Coit/Patera Design.
New evidence shows that metabolic processes can alter the timing of biological clocks. Courtesy of Esther Coit/Patera Design.

Many studies have shown that disrupting the body's daily rhythm can disturb metabolic processes, including insulin regulation. For example, genetically altered mice with malfunctioning biological clocks become obese and develop diet-induced diabetes. Now, biologists led by Steve Kay of the University of California, San Diego, have shown that the relationship is reciprocal. By individually disabling every human gene, Kay's team found that many components of the body's insulin-control system alter the timing of the biological clock. The discovery of a close connection between the body's clock and metabolism could lead to new strategies for treating sleep disorders and metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

NIH's National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke also supported this work.

Full story
Kay lab
Article abstract (from the October 2 issue of Cell)

Nobel Prizes Celebrate Basic Science

White caps on the blue chromosomes represent telomeres (left); courtesy of Hesed Padilla-Nash and Thomas Ried. The ribosome is large and complex (right); courtesy of Catherine Lawson, Rutgers University, and the RCSB Protein Data Bank.
White caps on the blue chromosomes represent telomeres (left); courtesy of Hesed Padilla-Nash and Thomas Ried. The ribosome is large and complex (right); courtesy of Catherine Lawson, Rutgers University, and the RCSB Protein Data Bank.
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What do telomeres and ribosomes have in common? A 2009 Nobel Prize. Driven by scientific curiosity, three researchers discovered how telomeres form caps at the tips of chromosomes that keep them—and the information they contain—from degrading. For these discoveries that have helped us understand cancer and cellular aging, the three share the prize in physiology or medicine. During the same time, three other researchers achieved what many thought was impossible: They mapped the structure of the ribosome, a large and complex molecular factory that makes proteins, and showed how it worked in biology and medicine. For this, they share the chemistry prize.

Other parts of NIH also supported the work of the 2009 Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Full story (physiology or medicine)
Full story (chemistry)
Other NIGMS Nobelists