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Tag Archives: Multiple Sclerosis

Friday Science Review: October 16, 2009

A mixed bag of research reports but nonetheless important and significant…

How MS Drug Works: Glatiramir Acetate (COPAXONE®, Teva Pharmaceuticals) is used for the treatment of patients with Multiple Sclerosis, however, it is not clear how this drug works.  In this new study, researchers demonstrate that glatiramir acetate can regulate the formation of myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibers that is compromised in MS patients.  Glatiramir acetate induces the formation of helper immune cells that produce nerve promoting molecules, which in turn stimulate the myelin repair process. The study was led by Dr. V. Wee Yong at the University of Calgary and appears in this week’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

New Target to Fight Diabetes: In genetic knockouts of the Lkb1 gene specifically in beta cells, the insulin producing units in the pancreas, the knockout mice exhibited an increased number of beta cells that were also larger than normal with greater amounts of insulin.  When they challenged the knockout mice with a high-fat diet to try to induce diabetes, the mice responded and kept blood glucose levels down.  Lkb1 is a tumor suppressor gene that was also known to be involved in energy metabolism but it was unclear whether the Lkb1 protein was associated with diabetes.  Dr. Robert Screaton’s group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute answered this question in a report appearing in this week’s Cell Metabolism.  Also noteworthy is that a research team from Israel published a similar study leading to the same conclusions.  With these surprising and dramatic results, Lkb1 may represent another therapeutic avenue to treat or prevent diabetes.

Sialyltransferase Crystal Structure Solved: Many important proteins, lipids or sugars are modified by the addition of sialic acid and these steps are essential for a number of processes including cell recognition, cell adhesion and immunogenicity.  The key enzyme responsible for catalyzing this reaction is a set of related sialyltransferases (ST).  In a Nature Structural and Molecular Biology report published this week, Dr. Natalie Strynadka (University of British Columbia) describes solving the crystal structure of ST and provides the first detailed understanding of the enzyme.  Without getting into any molecular jargon, suffice it to say that the structural data brings insight into how the enzyme works and how it achieves specificity, which is useful knowledge for developing prospective inhibitors.

Power of Pheromones: Researchers removed the pheromone-producing cells in fruit flies (male or female) and found that these flies were extremely attractive to normal male fruit flies and also flies of other related species.  This contradicts the notion that these chemical signals simply attract one individual to another.  Instead, they are part of a complex signaling system used by the flies to recognize and distinguish sexes and species.  Other unusual behaviour by male fruit flies without pheromones included trying to copulate with each other’s heads.  Dr. Joel Levine and his team at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) describe their research in detail in this week’s edition of Nature.

Beta-globin Switch: A proteomics screen was used to identify the enzyme G9a as the interacting partner of NF-E2, which act together to control expression of the beta-globin genes in red blood cell development.  This study provides a clearer understanding of the molecular determinants controlling embryonic expression of beta-globin where G9a acts as a repressor and its transition to adult beta-globin expression where G9a promotes expression.  The research team at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute was lead by Dr. Marjorie Brand and the study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Friday Science Review: August 14, 2009

Great stuff this week in Canadian science news…

A GIFT for MS patients:  An experimental treatment tested in mice with multiple sclerosis was able to reverse the disorder with few side effects.   The new compound is called GIFT15 – a hybrid protein between GSM-CSF and Interleukin-15.  Surprisingly, it produces results that you would not expect from the action of the individual proteins.  GIFT15 causes B-cells to switch from immune responsive into immune-suppressive regulatory cells and this forces MS into remission.  The treatment method takes B-cells from the individual and exposes them in vitro to GIFT15 to convert them to regulatory B-cells before they are injected back into the patient – a form of personalized medicine.

As always, one should be cautious as these experiments were tested in mice and it is unknown how humans would respond .  It does, however, present a new approach to finding a treatment regime for MS and may also lead to similar therapies for other autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Jacques Galipeau led the study at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, McGill University and it is presented in the early on-line edition of Nature Medicine.

An Epilepsy gene discovery:  A mouse that experiences seizures was identified in a mutagenesis screen that led to the discovery of an inactivating mutation in the Atp1a3 gene encoding the Na(+),K(+)-ATPase alpha3 isoform protein.  It is a sodium-potassium transporter protein having important roles in maintaining the electrochemical gradient across cell membranes.  When the mutant gene was augmented with a wild type Atp1a3 gene by breeding the mutant mouse with a transgenic mouse expressing normal Atp1a3, the protein function was rescued and more importantly, the seizures subsided completely.  The human ATP1A3 is almost identical to the mouse protein and studies are underway to try to find a similar mutation in patients.

Dr. Roder’s group at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto published these results in PNAS this week.

New forensic DNA extraction tool:  High quality nucleic acids can now be extracted from the smallest sample size or from highly contaminated samples.  The technology is based on the electrical properties of nucleic acids rather than on the chemical properties that traditional purification methods are based on.  It uses a novel electrophoresis technology called SCODA (Synchronous Coefficient of Drag Alteration), a fancy name for a type of rotating electrical field that selectively acts on long, charged polymers (e.g. DNA).  This electrical field will concentrate DNA while separating it from contaminants.

The research was performed by the biophysics team led by Dr. Andre Marziali at the University of British Columbia.  They have already teamed up with UBC spin-off company, Boreal Genomics to package the technology into a cool-looking device called the Aurora.  It is not surprising that it has garnered a lot of interest from law enforcement groups in Canada and the U.S.   Of course, there are a number of other applications for this technology such as in clinical research for the early detection of diseases or infections.

The research is described in a PNAS paper that will be coming out very soon but here is the UBC press release.  A great example of “Today’s Canadian science = tomorrow’s Canadian start-ups” (…if you caught the tweet last week).

Wow!  Canadians are on a roll… more research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here are the headlines:

Dr. Jeffery Wrana’s team (Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute) describes how this signaling pathway is involved in breast cancer metastasis.

Dr. Uzonna (University of Manitoba) reports on why in some cases, vaccination against Leishmaniasis (a parasitic disease) can actually make them more susceptible to future infections.

Dr. Brisson (Université de Montréal) studies the Whirly protein – need I say more?

Dr. Barry Honda (Simon Fraser University) uses Drosophila to help us better understand O-linked N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT), which has been implicated in a number of processes including insulin signaling, neurodegenerative disease and cellular stress response.

Dr. Zatorre (Université de Montréal) breaks down how our brain processes sound and suggests that it is similar to the visual system of our brain.

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Wednesday Brain Dump: February 25, 2009

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
  • Aliens.

A kick in the teeth for:

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