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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... October 20, 2011

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A mass of spinal nerve cells (green) includes the enzyme COX-2 (red).

Cool Image: A Possible New Way to Ease Pain

Lawrence Marnett • Vanderbilt University

In this image, a mass of spinal nerve cells (green) includes the enzyme COX-2 (red). Drugs called NSAIDs—including ibuprofen (such as Advil®) and naproxen (such as Aleve®)—relieve pain and inflammation in part by acting on COX-2. Scientists thought that NSAIDs with a "left-handed" molecular structure do the hard work by stopping COX-2 from making prostaglandins. On the downside, NSAIDs can increase the risk of gastrointestinal and possibly cardiovascular problems. A recent study revealed that right-handed NSAIDs may reduce pain by stopping COX-2 from breaking down natural painkillers called endocannabinoids. The finding could lead to effective new drugs that have fewer side effects. Read more... Link to external Web site
Structure of influenza B virus protein bound to the ISG15 human protein. Credit: Rongjin Guan, et al., Rutgers and University of Texas at Austin.

Why Some Flu Viruses are Species Specific

Gaetano T. Montelione • Rutgers University
Robert M. Krug • University of Texas at Austin

Unlike A strains of the influenza virus, B strains usually only infect humans. Structural data may reveal the basis for this species specificity. Using X-ray crystallography, researchers created a three-dimensional snapshot of an influenza B virus protein bound to a human host protein. They found that only human and non-human primate versions of the protein—not those from other species—have a unique feature that makes this binding possible. The discovery could offer new insights into how influenza A strains infect and cross species, allowing them to mutate into more virulent forms, as well as aid in the development of flu-fighting drugs. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also supported this work.

Caption: Structure of influenza B virus protein bound to the ISG15 human protein. Credit: Rongjin Guan, et al., Rutgers and University of Texas at Austin. High res. image (JPG, 136KB)
Scientists are investigating how genetic information can improve optimal dosage prediction for patients.

Genetic Information Sheds Light on Family's Disease Risks

Russ Altman, Atul Butte and Michael Synder • Stanford University

It may one day become routine practice for doctors to review a patient's genetic information before writing a prescription. Scientists recently studied a family of four's genome sequences to better understand their genetic predisposition to diseases, including blood clotting. Using computational tools, the researchers compared the family members' genomes to genetic data from people with similar ethnic backgrounds. They located variants associated with blood clotting and determined the exact dosage of a medicine taken by the father to prevent blood clots and predicted the dosage the daughter could one day need. These studies may bring doctors closer to personalizing medical treatments for patients. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Scientists are investigating how genetic information can improve optimal dosage prediction for patients.
A two-part protein switch activates compound only in cancer cells.

Switching Off Cancer

Marc Ostermeier • Johns Hopkins University

A challenge faced by cancer drug developers is that many candidates also affect normal cells, causing unwanted side effects. Working with human cells, a team of scientists sidestepped this problem by engineering a protein switch that only gets flipped in cancer cells. When one part of the toggle detects a protein found in cancer cells, it activates the other part—an enzyme that converts an inactive compound into a drug that kills the cells. While the technique needs more testing, it represents a novel way to approach the design of anti-cancer medicines. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Cancer Institute also supported this work.

Caption: A two-part protein switch activates compound only in cancer cells.
Bruce Beutler

Nobel Prize for Research on Immune System

Bruce Beutler • Scripps Research Institute

NIGMS grantee Bruce Beutler will share the 2011 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with two other scientists for research into how the body senses and defends against bacteria, viruses and other invaders. Beutler discovered the long-sought trigger of the body's first-response system. When this trigger, a protein called TLR4, senses foreign bacteria, it mobilizes defenses—including inflammation—to kill the microbes. Further work by Beutler and others has led to improved vaccines, immune-based cancer therapies and new approaches to treating chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. Read more...

Caption: Bruce Beutler.


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This page last reviewed on October 20, 2011