Biomedical Beat - A monthly digest of research news from NIGMS

IN THIS ISSUE . . .
June 16, 2010

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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, Twitter or Facebook. To check out free NIGMS publications, go to the order form.

Cool Image: ‘Hairballs’ of Data

Courtesy of Keiichiro Ono, University of California, San Diego.
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If an ordinary picture is worth 1,000 words, then this one is worth about 10,000. It makes visible the thousands of known molecular and genetic interactions happening inside our bodies. After gathering all this information from the BioGrid database, researchers used a computer program called Cytoscape to integrate it into a single image. Technically, images like this are known as network wiring diagrams, but Cytoscape creator Trey Ideker somewhat jokingly calls them "hairballs" because they can be so complicated, intricate and hard to tease apart. Fortunately, Cytoscape comes with tools to help scientists study specific interactions, such as differences between species or between sick and diseased cells. Courtesy of Keiichiro Ono, University of California, San Diego.

Full story
Cytoscape

Controlling Cholesterol

New findings could lead to future treatments for cardiovascular disease.
New findings could lead to future treatments for cardiovascular disease.

Cell biologist Anders Näär and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a family of microRNAs—called miR-33—that works with its host gene to maintain cholesterol levels. After a series of experiments, the scientists determined that they could reduce cellular cholesterol levels in mice by treating them with a molecule that blocked miR-33 action. By injecting that same molecule into mice on high-fat diets, the researchers boosted the rodents' levels of HDL or "good cholesterol" with no effects on their levels of LDL or "bad cholesterol." These findings could lead to future treatments for cardiovascular diseases.

This research was also supported by NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Full story (no longer available)
Näär lab
Article abstract (from the May 13 online issue of Science)

Tumor-Targeting Silica Particles

Honeycomb-like silica particles deliver a powerful punch of anticancer antibodies. Courtesy of PNNL.
Honeycomb-like silica particles deliver a powerful punch of anticancer antibodies. Courtesy of PNNL.
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Antibodies are among the most promising therapies for certain forms of cancer, but patients must take them intravenously, exposing healthy tissues to the drug and increasing the risk of side effects. Now, a team of biochemists, material scientists and cancer biologists led by Chenghong Lei of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has packed the anticancer antibodies into porous silica particles to deliver a heavy dose directly to tumors in mice. The method slowed the growth of melanoma tumors and prolonged the diseased mice's lifespan. Lei's team is now testing the particles on other types of tumors and plans to examine the method in human clinical trials.

This work was also supported by NIH's National Cancer Institute.

Full story (no longer available)
Lei profile
Article abstract (from the May 26 issue of the JACS)

Using Light to Steer Cell Movement

When activated in one region of a cell, Rac (red) sets the direction of motion for a whole cluster of cells in a fruit fly ovary. Courtesy of Xiaobo Wang.
When activated in one region of a cell, Rac (red) sets the direction of motion for a whole cluster of cells in a fruit fly ovary. Courtesy of Xiaobo Wang.
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Using a focused beam of light, biochemists led by Denise Montell of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Klaus Hahn of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have steered the movement of cells in living tissue. They used the light to activate an engineered version of a signaling protein called Rac. Doing this in a single fruit fly ovary cell set an entire group of cells in motion and revealed that neighboring cells communicate and follow the leader. The advance will help scientists better understand the many biological processes that involve cell movement, including development, the immune response and cancer metastasis.

Full story
Montell lab (no longer available)
Hahn lab
Article abstract (from the June issue of Nature Cell Biology)



A New Way to Study the Causes of Complex Diseases

Researchers examined these environmental factors and more than 200 others for their role in causing Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers examined these environmental factors and more than 200 others for their role in causing Type 2 diabetes.
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Like many diseases, Type 2 diabetes is caused by both genes and environmental factors. But these factors—like nutrition and exposure to pathogens, allergens and toxins—have been hard to analyze. Now, a team led by Atul Butte, a pediatrician and computer scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, has devised a way. Using computers and publicly available data, the scientists examined how 226 factors contribute to the development of diabetes. Certain ones, like the toxin PCB, were strongly associated with disease. Others, like the nutrient beta-carotene, protected against it. This new "enviromics" technique, which mirrors genome-wide studies, could be applied to other complex diseases, such as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disorders.

This work was also supported by NIH's National Library of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging.

Full story
Butte profile
Article abstract (from the May 20 issue of PLoS ONE)