March 26, 2010
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Why Did the Duck Kill the Chicken? Well… a scientific explanation is RIG-I. Ducks are resistant to influenza viruses but may by asymptomatic carriers. One of the reasons for ducks’ resistance is because ducks express the RIG-I protein that senses the presence of the viruses. Chickens, however, do not appear to express RIG-I or a similar protein and have no method to detect the presence of viruses to illicit an immune response. This could have implications to the poultry industry who do not want to see their entire farm wiped out by a viral outbreak and may want to start breeding transgenic chickens expressing RIG-I. The discovery was led by Dr. Katharine Magor and her team at the University of Alberta and is published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Promoting Cancer Cell Growth: The YB-1 (Y-box binding protein-1) transcription factor is a known oncogene that is expressed in a significant percentage of breast cancers. In this study, scientists demonstrated that YB-1 induces the expression of CD44 and CD49f, which are associated with cancer stem cells and used as stem cell markers. Although they do not make a direct link to breast cancer stem cells, they suggest that it is this link that explains why YB-1 expressing cancers are resistant to drugs such as paclitaxel and are associated with disease recurrence and poor outcome. The principal investigator of the study was Dr. Sandra Dunn at the University of British Columbia. Details of the study were reported in Cancer Research.
Knock, knock… Let Me In: A transporter protein that is selectively expressed in blood cells can be manipulated to facilitate the entry of cancer drugs into the cell. This is extremely important for new treatment regimes against blood cancers such as AML and other leukemias. Researchers found that the Human Carnitine Transporter encoded by the SLC22A16 gene acts as a gateway and can mediate the uptake of the polyamine class of drugs such as the anti-cancer agent Bleomycin. Dr. Dindial Ramotar, Université de Montréal, first demonstrated this in yeast cells and now in human cells as reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Please, No More Radiation: A genetic mutation in the p53 gene in children with a rare type of brain cancer – choroid plexus carcinoma (CPC) – is a new marker indicating a poor response to radiation therapy. It is unfortunate that this signals a more aggressive disease, however, this finding would relieve the patient of having to suffer through the difficulties of radiation. The inherited p53 mutation is associated with a condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome and is found in about 50% of CPC cases. Without the mutation, CPC patients treated by radiation have a good chance of recovery. The study, led by Dr. David Malkin at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, is published in the advance online issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Mooooooooo: Scientists have finished sequencing the genome of two different types of cows – one beef and one dairy – using Life Technologies’ next generation SOLiD™ 3 System. It cost $130K and took only seven months to complete. In comparison, it cost $50M and four years, finishing in 2009, to sequence the first cow. The genomic information is important to the industry for making breeding decisions and to identify genetic markers of specific desirable traits. So that T-bone steak waiting for you to grill up this summer will be even juicier and tastier. The Bovine Genomics Program at the University of Alberta led by Dr. Stephen Moore performed the sequencing study.
February 25, 2009
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The question this week: a shot in the arm or a kick in the teeth?
A shot in the arm for:
- Fewer shots in the arm! (har)
- British Columbia is the first jurisdiction in North America to offer a children’s vaccine called Infanrix-hexa™, which contains six immunizations in one, resulting in three fewer needles in the overall B.C. infant vaccine schedule, and
- With the discovery of a constant region of flu virus protein hemagglutinin, a universal flu vaccine may be possible (no more yearly shots);
- The Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, a suburb of Washington, where the FDA is spending $1.15 billion to consolidate its offices and labs and to anchor a new biotech hub;
- Pine Island, near Rochester, Minnesota, which could soon be the home to a new biotech research, development and manufacturing park with the help of up to $900 million in funding reportedly pledged by Steve Burrill. Funding announcements also from Maryland and Pittsburgh;
- Sustainable agriculture, when the White House announced its nominee for second-in-command at USDA: Kathleen Merrigan of Tufts University, who had been a top choice of the Cornucopia Institute to run USDA’s National Organic Program;
- The National Science Foundation, from the stimulus (a $3 billion boost) and the budget (a 6.7% increase, to $6.49 billion);
- Multiple Sclerosis, with Merck, Novartis, Teva, Biogen Idec and Sanofi Aventis all planning to release new oral therapeutics between now and 2012;
- Conflict of interest disclosure, with a new editorial in PLoS Medicine;
- Deterrence, with the arrest of four animal-rights extremists;
- Organ failure biomarkers,
- with the discovery of liver toxicity-associated MicroRNAs, and
- with the injection by Pfizer Canada of $1 million to the PROOF Centre to fund research into vital organ failure biomarkers; and
A kick in the teeth for:
February 18, 2009
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Good thing I waited until evening, because this week’s post is mammoth. Funny, right? So funny, this post may go viral…
And on the topic of vaccines, the U.S. vaccine court issued three different rulings on a group of vaccine-autism claims, and didn’t mince words. The three Special Masters found the claims “speculative and unpersuasive,” “overwhelmingly contrary” to the evidence and relying on “scientifically flawed or unreliable articles”, respectively.
Last but not least, a few viruses turned up in new and interesting places:
February 11, 2009
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Deep Appreciation:for Phillip Terrence Ragon, founder and sole proprietor of database-software provider InterSystems who donated $100 million to establish a research institute that focuses on expediting the development of an AIDS vaccine, and to Pfizer Canada which contributed a further $2 million to British Columbia’s Center for Drug Research and Development (CDRD); and The State of Georgia is contemplating a $180 million bioscience research park.
Social Agitation: French scientists decided their street protests were their best approach to halting the government’s science and higher education reforms and rejected mediation.
Better Cogitation:Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) shows neuroprotective effects in animal models of Alzheimers’, but it won’t stop cries of ‘brain drain’ following Canada’s 2009 Budget.
Free Publication: ScienceInsider reports that Rep. Conyers’ (D-MI) bill that would eliminate free full-text publication of NIH-funded research is back on the table this session.
Self Regulation:More Pharma companies are implementing voluntary disclosure of physician payments (under threat of legislation); and some researchers are taking steps to prevent disclosures of potentially harmful research (under threat of annihilation).
Reconsideration: Researchers at Emory decided that flu pandemic deaths in 1918 may have been primarily from bacterial superinfections rather than the virus itself; Icahn decided to nominate another slate of Biogen-Idec directors; Everybody decided to take another look at their luciferase screening assay controls; and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) decided to take another look at payment for PSA testing for prostate cancer detection.
February 7, 2009
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The latest Senate deal provides an extra $6.5 billion to NIH, amounting to $10 billion for biomedical research but also to improve research infrastructure in NIH facilities. According to Senator Arlen Specter, Ranking Republican on the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, the monies would be divvied up among NIH agencies in amounts proportional to their fiscal year 2008 funding. He said that economists estimate that the additional funds could lead to 70,000 new jobs in the health industry over two years.
The latest Senate stimulus deal cuts $870 million for pandemic influenza preparedness efforts. This funding was largely set aside for advanced development of novel vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. This is quite different from the earlier stage work that would be funded through NIH. I have heard that the funding would not only fund development efforts for flu, but also allow Health and Human Services to support other advanced development programs, namely for biodefense.