January 8, 2010
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I am starting the new year and decade by recognizing the accomplishments of two distinguished scientists…
Two outstanding Canadian scientists were recognized for their valuable contributions to the global research community.
Dr. Andras Nagy’s innovative technique to reprogram mature body cells into stem cells – called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells – was named Method of the Year by the prestigious journal Nature Methods. Earlier in the year, Dr. Nagy was selected as one of Scientific American magazine’s top 10 – Guiding Science for Humanity.
Dr. Tony Pawson was honoured as one of ten “Nation Builders of the Decade” by the Globe and Mail. His breakthrough research over the past decade and beyond has propelled our understanding of the intricate communication that goes on within a cell and between cells. Dr. Pawson was also awarded the Kyoto Prize this year.
Bypassing PTEN Mutants in Cancer Cells: The discovery of a novel link between the proteins PTEN and PKR may lead to new approaches forncer treatments. Dr. Antonis Koromilas’ research at McGill University identified that the tumour suppressor function of PTEN requires it to activate the PKR-eIF2alpha pathway, which applies an inhibitory control on protein synthesis. In a cancer cell where PTEN is mutated, PKR also loses its ability to control protein synthesis and the cell continues growing into a tumour. The significance of this is that they can now try to bypass the PTEN mutation and find alternate ways to activate PKR and regain control of cell growth. The research is reported in the journal Science Signaling.
Distinguishing Sister Chromatids: In studying cell division, scientists have long desired to follow the fate of sister chromatids – the identical chromosome copies that is distributed to each cell during the process of cell division. Researchers used the CO-FISH (chromosome orientation fluorescence in situ hybridization) technique with unidirectional probes. When they observed the process in different cell types, they found that the chromatids segregated randomly in some cell types but not in others. The non-randomness may be a mechanism to direct cells to be slightly different from its sister cell and is one of many layers of complexity in developing higher organisms. The solution to this biological phenomenon by Dr. Peter Lansdorp at the BC Cancer Agency deserves the recognition in the prestigious journal Nature.
Prognostic Marker for Bone Cancer Survival: Genetic deletion mutations in a specific chromosome region called osteo3q13.31 may be predictive of a poor prognosis for osteosarcoma patients. The copy number alteration (CNA) marker was identified in subsets (80%) of osteosarcoma patients where their bone cancers appeared to be more difficult to treat. With this genetic marker, patients may be screened to identify candidates who should be treated more aggressively from the onset of diagnosis. Furthermore, the osteo3q13.31 region contains 3 genes that were not previously associated with the disease and requires further investigation that may lead to additional therapeutic options. The study was conducted by Dr. David Malkin’s team at The Hospital for Sick Children and is published in Cancer Research.
March 6, 2009
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Cool Canadian science stories this week…
Stem Cells: The big Canadian science news this week was the report by Dr. Nagy’s lab at the Lunenfeld that they have found a much safer way to make pluripotent stem cells from adult tissue. Their publication (co-authored with Keisuke Kaji’s team at the University of Edinburgh) appeared in Nature this week.
Also on the stem cell front, Dr. Kremer, the co-director of the Musculoskeletal Axis of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, used Interferon gamma to induce the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells into osteoblasts in vitro, and that IFNγ knockout mice also show reduced bone density and that isolated mesenchymal stem cells from the knockout mice show a differentiation defect. Long story short: a potential new target for improving bone density.
Clinical Trials: Good news for GSK and for scientists at McMaster University, who showed that GSK’s Mepolizumab (pdf), an anti-IL5 humanized antibody that blocks eosinophil production, helps severe asthmatics improve asthma and reduce their need for prednisone by close to 90 per cent, a result that was seconded by a group in the UK.
Nanotechnology Costs: We noted a few weeks ago that there were changes coming to nanotechnology regulatory environment, and now researchers in BC and Minnessota estimate that testing the toxicity of existing nanomaterials in the United States could cost between $249 million and $1.18 billion and that full-scale testing could take decades to complete. They propose a tiered approach, similar to the EU’s REACH program for testing toxic chemicals, to define priorities. Hat tip to ScienceInsider.
Hosted Services: Canadians, being hospitable types, are hosting World Diabetes Congress in Montreal in October, as well as a new Occupational Cancer Research Centre – charged with “improving knowledge and evidence to help identify, prevent and ultimately eliminate exposures to cancer-causing substances in the workplace.”
Musical Chairs: A group at Ryerson University’s centre for learning technologies in conjunction with the science of music, auditory research and technology (SMART) lab have developed a chair that allows the hearing-impaired to experience music by using the skin as a hearing membrane.
Global Issues: An Amazon drought caused a major release of carbon dioxide; but don’t worry, because we’ll find a new planet in no time. Sound painful? Don’t worry – a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.