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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.

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In This Issue... December 20, 2012

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Mouse neuron showing mitochondria (red and green) and nucleus (blue). Credit: McMurray lab.

Cool Image: Antioxidant for Damaged Mitochondria

Cynthia McMurray • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Peter Wipf • University of Pittsburgh

Mitochondria (red and green) power cellular activities in this neuron's nucleus (blue) and other components. Mitochondria can be damaged by harmful reactive oxygen species, and this damage is associated with Huntington's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants may mitigate the effects. Because these molecules don't target mitochondria, researchers are designing synthetic ones that do. One collaborative team recently reported developing and testing an antioxidant compound in a mouse model of Huntington's that improved mitochondrial function and suppressed symptoms of the disease. More testing is needed to determine the therapeutic potential in humans. Image courtesy of the McMurray lab. Read more... Link to external Website

Sick man in bed blowing his nose.

Weather Forecast Techniques Used to Predict Regional Flu Outbreaks

Jeffrey Shaman • Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

You take an umbrella when the weather forecast calls for rain, and one day you might take measures to protect your health when the forecast calls for flu in your area. Using a combination of data sets, computational simulations and techniques adapted from modern weather prediction, researchers developed a modeling system that retrospectively forecasted the dynamics of regional flu outbreaks on a week-to-week basis. If additional testing continues to show promise, the system could be a tool to prepare for and manage influenza outbreaks. Read more... Link to external Website

This work also was supported by NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Caption: A flu forecasting system might help people protect themselves from getting sick.
23 pairs of chromosomes. Credit: Hesed Padilla-Nash and Thomas Ried, National Cancer Institute.

Three's a Crowd: Extra Chromosome Removed From Down Syndrome Cell Line

David Russell • University of Washington

In Down syndrome, the body's cells contain three copies of chromosome 21. This extra copy results in serious medical problems, including heart defects, intellectual disabilities, premature aging and certain forms of leukemia. Now, researchers have a new tool to use in studying—and possibly addressing—some of these conditions. They developed a technique to remove the extra chromosome from a Down syndrome cell line, resulting in cells with the normal chromosome number. The technique may help scientists study the mechanisms by which the extra chromosome causes problems in different organ systems and it might lead to therapies that introduce cells lacking the extra chromosome. For example, one day individuals with Down syndrome who are receiving treatment for leukemia might receive transplants of their own blood cells—minus the extra chromosome. Read more... Link to external Website

This work also was supported by NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Caption: Normal human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes. Credit: Hesed Padilla-Nash and Thomas Ried, National Cancer Institute. High res. image (JPG, 97KB)

New Approach May Accelerate Drug Discovery

Phil Baran • The Scripps Research Institute

To develop new drugs, chemists often make many versions of a compound and then select the one that works the best. Scientists recently created a toolkit of chemical reagents that can accelerate the process of synthesizing heterocycles, which are found in many drugs and are a challenge to modify. Researchers discovered that they could use zinc-based salts to attach different modifying molecules to specific heterocycle sites. These reagents make up the new toolkit and may help chemists speed drug development and reduce its cost. Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: Nitrogen-containing heterocycles are common chemical structures found in most pills.
Chemical tags (purple diamonds) attached to a DNA. Credit: NIGMS.

A New Way to Detect Aging

Trey Ideker • University of California, San Diego School of Medicine

Scientists may have found a new way to estimate how fast different parts of a person's body are aging. The technique involves tallying small chemical tags, called methyl groups, attached to DNA. These methyl groups start out in specific, predictable places throughout our genomes. As we age, they are added and removed. By analyzing changes in the number and location of methyl groups, the scientists estimated the chronological age of hundreds of people with surprising accuracy. The work has a wide range of possible applications, including helping predict whether a person is at risk for certain diseases and enabling forensic scientists to determine a person's age from a blood or tissue sample. Read more... Link to external Website

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

Caption: The number of small chemical tags, called methyl groups (purple diamonds), attached to a person's DNA might reveal how fast that person's body is aging. Credit: NIGMS. High res. image (JPG, 185KB)

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For more information about Biomedical Beat, please contact the editor, Emily Carlson, in the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301. The text in this newsletter is not copyrighted, and we encourage its use or reprinting.

This page last reviewed on December 20, 2012