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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.

In This Issue... September 15, 2010

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Courtesy of Suncica "Sunny" Canic

Cool Movie: Math from the Heart

Suncica "Sunny" Canic • University of Houston

Cardiologists and computer programmers have come together to study stents—tiny mesh tubes that hold blood vessels open. A simplified computer program helps doctors examine the strengths and weaknesses of various stents on the market, design new stents tailored to specific heart procedures and even search for more effective stent coatings. These simulations could improve patients' health by helping manufacturers optimize stent design and helping doctors choose the best stents for particular procedures. Read more...

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A sensor molecule turns different colors in the presence of acrolein, which is used as an aquatic herbicide. Credit: Florent Samain

On the Scent of Better Biological Sensors

Eric Kool • Stanford University

New sensors change color in the presence of certain vapors. Made of fluorescent compounds attached to a DNA backbone, the sensors could detect up to four different substances (other types detect just one) and thus convey much more detailed information. While their development is still preliminary, the sensors could have many future applications, from smelling differences between healthy and diseased cells to sensing toxins in the environment. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: A sensor molecule turns different colors in the presence of acrolein, which is used as an aquatic herbicide. Credit: Florent Samain. High res. image (JPG, 44KB)
Agelastatins, originally derived from Agelas sea sponges, might serve as the basis for developing new drugs. Credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS

Synthesis of Sponge Substance Could Lead to New Drugs

Mohammad Movassaghi • MIT

Chemists devised a short, efficient way to make six rare and complex substances found in sea sponges. These substances, called agelastatins, appear to have anti-cancer properties and also block an enzyme that's a potential target for treating Alzheimer's disease and bipolar disorder. The method, which comes after years of work by many research groups to synthesize enough of the compounds for drug testing, might allow chemists to create related molecules with even better drug-like qualities. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Agelastatins, originally derived from Agelas sea sponges, might serve as the basis for developing new drugs. Credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS. High res. image (JPG, 64KB)
Identifying proteins in fruit fly olfactory cells could lead to better insect repellents.

Bug Off

Craig Montell • Johns Hopkins University

Scientists have discovered how citronellal, the chemical used in insect-repelling candles, deters pesky insects from attacking. They identified two cell surface channel proteins in fruit fly olfactory cells that trigger "an aversion response" to citronellal. A mosquito version of one of the channels also was directly activated by citronellal. These findings could lead to improved insect repellents, which could potentially reduce mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria and dengue. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also supported this work.

Caption: Identifying proteins in fruit fly olfactory cells could lead to better insect repellents.
A purified protein could help reveal how BRCA2 gene defects trigger breast and ovarian cancers.

BRCA2 Breakthrough

Stephen Kowalczykowski and Wolf-Dietrich Heyer • University of California, Davis

The BRCA2 gene is often linked to inherited cases of breast and ovarian cancers, but efforts to understand its exact role have been hampered because the gene's protein has been difficult to purify. Scientists now have overcome this challenge. In addition, they showed that the BRCA2 protein, instead of acting directly to fix damaged DNA, recruits and activates another repair protein called RAD51. Having the purified protein could help reveal how BRCA2 defects trigger cancer and point to new treatments.

Caption: A purified protein could help reveal how BRCA2 gene defects trigger breast and ovarian cancers.


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This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011