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January 31st

Complement System Gene (C4), Previously Associated with Schizophrenia, May Do Damage, When Overexpressed, by Causing Excessive “Synaptic Pruning” in the Brain During Development

Excessive activity of an immune system gene (C4) previously linked to schizophrenia reproduces neural and behavioral aspects of the disease in mice, according to a new study published online on January 14, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology and authored by Dr. Ashley Comer and Dr. Alberto Cruz-Martín of Boston University and colleagues. The article is titled “Increased Expression of Schizophrenia-Associated Gene C4 Leads to Hypoconnectivity of Prefrontal Cortex and Reduced Social Interaction.” The finding provides mechanistic support for the importance of this gene in the development of schizophrenia, and may offer a new avenue for therapy development. Genetic variants that increase the activity of the C4 gene, which encodes part of the immune system's so-called "complement" cascade, have previously been shown to increase risk for schizophrenia in large genome-wide association studies (GWAS). However, the mechanism through which such variants might contribute to the emergence of schizophrenia have not been clear because C4 has not previously been experimentally overexpressed. During normal brain development, it's known that complement sticks to neuronal synapses and attracts microglia (immune cells in the brain), which engulf synaptic material in the process known as "synaptic pruning." When mis-regulated, this process can lead to abnormal connectivity in the brain. Loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex is a hallmark of schizophrenia, which led the authors to ask whether an overactive C4 gene might contribute to development of schizophrenia through mis-regulation of complement-mediated synaptic pruning by microglia.

January 29th

Bluestar Genomics Breakthrough Study Highlights Promising Data for Multi-Cancer Detection from a Single Blood Draw; Novel Enrichment Technology Indicates High Performance for Breast, Lung, Pancreatic, and Prostate Cancer

On January 29, 2020, Bluestar Genomics, a company developing innovative, data-driven, epigenomic approaches to comprehensive disease analysis and diagnostics, announced publication of a new study demonstrating the efficacy of their 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) signal detection technology for its use in breast, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. The study was published online in medRxiv. The article is titled “Pilot Study Demonstrating Changes in DNA Hydroxymethylation Enable Detection of Multiple Cancers in Plasma Cell-Free DNA.” Results from the study provide further evidence that, using a single blood draw, Bluestar Genomics' technology can non-invasively detect cancers and help identify the underlying biology of the disease using epigenetic markers. Breast, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancer make up 41% of the cancer incidence in the United States. Early detection and a deep understanding of each cancer remain critical for implementing the highest quality of care. Tissue biopsy is invasive, and screening methods are limited for many forms of cancer and often fall short of capturing the complete genomic landscape. Bluestar Genomics uses liquid biopsy combined with 5hmC profiling to provide a detailed picture of the genomic landscape and identify potential biologic pathways that may be driving tumor progression. "We have taken significant strides to strengthen our understanding of the underlying biology related to multiple forms of cancer and the tumor microenvironment," said Samuel Levy, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer, Bluestar Genomics. "In addition to early-stage cancer detection capabilities, our knowledge of 5hmC distribution across the genome can potentially yield new candidate biomarkers.

January 28th

Biological Dynamics Enters Collaboration with Microsoft to Advance Access to Novel Diagnostic Biomarker Solutions to Life Science Customers

On January 28, 2020, Biological Dynamics, Inc., an innovative diagnostic company committed to improving global health, announced it has been accepted to Microsoft's One Commercial Partner (OCP) program. The company will use the comprehensive development solutions available to OCP partners to develop and establish a research service delivery model, to provide Microsoft’s Life Science partners and customers access to cutting-edge molecular diagnostic solutions powered by Biological Dynamics’ novel isolation platform. Within the last decade, the discoveries brought forward by personalized medicine have transformed both basic research and drug development. Today, drug developers continue to expand their liquid biopsy toolsets beyond traditional techniques, incorporating the results of genetic and proteomic analysis of the content of the emerging class of biomarkers, such as extracellular vesicles (EVs). Today, the success of this biomarker-driven drug development model is powered by early integration of novel diagnostic methods with robust data and business platforms, such as Microsoft Azure and OCP, to help ensure seamless data sharing and compliance with major global security and privacy standards. Biological Dynamics is developing a suite of novel assays for pharmaceutical applications, with initial focus on detection of DNA and EV-associated biomarkers and liquid biopsy panels. The assays are being built upon Verita™, the company’s proprietary biomarker isolation platform that isolates DNA and extracellular vesicles (EVs) from plasma and serum without the need to pre-process samples.

January 22nd

Newly Identified T-Cell Receptor (TCR) on Killer T-Cells Recognizes Antigen (MR1) Present on Cells from Many Different Cancers; Discovery Offers Prospect of Universal “One Size Fits All” Therapy for Cancer

Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales have discovered a new type of killer T-cell that offers hope of a “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy. T-cell therapies for cancer - where immune cells are removed, modified, and returned to the patient’s blood to seek and destroy cancer cells - are the latest paradigm in cancer treatments. The most widely-used therapy, known as CAR-T, is personalized to each patient, but targets only a few types of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumors, which make up the vast majority of cancers. Cardiff researchers have now discovered T-cells equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) which recognizes and kills most human cancer types, while ignoring healthy cells. This newly discovered TCR recognizes a molecule present on the surface of a wide range of cancer cells, as well as in many of the body’s normal cells but, remarkably, is able to distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous ones, killing only the latter. The researchers said this meant it offered “exciting opportunities for pan-cancer, pan-population” immunotherapies not previously thought possible. Conventional T-cells scan the surface of other cells to find anomalies and eliminate cancerous cells - which express abnormal proteins - but ignore cells that contain only “normal” proteins. The scanning system recognizes small parts of cellular proteins that are bound to cell-surface molecules that belong to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, allowing killer T-cells to see what’s occurring inside cells by scanning their surface. Proteins in the HLA system vary widely between individuals, which has previously prevented scientists from creating a single T-cell-based treatment that targets most cancers in all people.

January 21st

Psychedelic Drugs Could Help Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Clinical trials suggest treatment that involves psychedelic drugs can be more effective than psychotherapy alone. More than three million people in the United States are diagnosed each year with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), whose symptoms include nightmares or unwanted memories of trauma, heightened reactions, anxieties, and depression--and can last months, or even years. People with PTSD--difficulty recovering from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event--have traditionally been treated with a combination of trauma-focused psychotherapy and a regimen of medications. Many sufferers have not responded well to that treatment, but new research to be presented by the Medical University of South Carolina's Michael Mithoefer, MD, and colleagues, at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (Orlando, Florida, December 8-11, 2019 (https://acnp.societyconference.com/conf_website/YWNucC5zb2NpZXR5Y29uZmVyZ/), suggests that the combination of some psychedelic drugs and traditional psychotherapy holds promise. Psychedelic substances are often found in nature and have been used in various cultures over thousands of years. Formal medical research into their medicinal uses starting in the 1950s produced promising results published in major journals, but was largely halted in the 1970s for political rather than for medical or scientific reasons. More recent studies argue that, when administered in a controlled clinical setting, MDMA (more commonly known as ecstasy) and psilocybin (the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms") (photo here is of psilocybin mushrooms) have acceptable risk profiles --and patients who experienced temporary adverse reactions did not require additional medical intervention.

January 21st

OncoHost and RayBiotech Awarded $1 Million Grant from BIRD Foundation to Advance Precision Oncology for Patients Receiving Immunotherapy; Partnership Leverages Host Response Analysis to Predict Response to Therapy & Aid ID of New Drug Combinations

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, OncoHost, a global leader in host response profiling for improved personalized cancer therapy, together with its partner RayBiotech, a leading life sciences company developing high-throughput protein detection technologies for biomarker discovery initiatives, announced that the companies have been awarded a $1 million grant from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation (https://www.birdf.com/). The BIRD Foundation supports cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies for developing joint products or technologies in a wide range of technology sectors that are of mutual benefit to the U.S. and Israel. The grant will support OncoHost and RayBiotech's combined development and clinical validation of host response testing for the early prediction of treatment responsiveness in non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) patients undergoing immunotherapy. It will also be used to further develop and implement an automated slide assistance platform (ASAP) for reducing the time of large-scale protein processing as part of a new joint service: host response enrichment for pharmaceutical companies. Both of these developments will contribute towards the enablement of personalized cancer therapy for patients. "The BIRD Foundation Board of Governors selected to support the project between OncoHost and RayBiotech on their mission to counteract therapy resistance in order to improve cancer treatment response," said Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, Executive Director of the BIRD Foundation.

January 20th

Breakthrough Genetic Engineering Targets All Four Types of Dengue Virus for First Time, Offers Hope of Reducing Dengue Infection, Which Currently Occurs in More Than 390 Million People Every Year, with Related Annual Health Costs of $40 Billion

Scientists from Australia's national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and the University of California San Diego have engineered the first breed of genetically modified mosquitoes resistant to spreading all four types of the dengue virus. Dengue infects more than 390 million people every year. Typical symptoms include severe fever, headaches, and muscle aches, with severe forms of the disease leading to hemorrhage, shock and even death. CSIRO Senior Research Scientist Dr. Prasad Paradkar said the dengue virus was causing an epidemic in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, with large outbreaks currently occurring in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. "There is a pressing global demand for effective strategies to control the mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus, as there are currently no known treatments and the vaccine that is available is only partially effective," Dr Paradkar said. "In this study, we used recent advances in genetic engineering technologies to successfully genetically modify a mosquito, the Aedes aegypti (photo), with reduced ability to acquire and transmit the dengue virus. "This is the first engineered approach that targets all four dengue types, which is crucial for effective disease suppression. Mosquito-transmitted viruses are expected to climb over the coming years, which is why CSIRO is focused on developing new ways to help solve this global challenge." There have been previous attempts to synthetically engineer dengue-carrying mosquito populations to make them resistant to the virus, however these approaches had limited success due to their ability to only target one or two of the four major dengue types.

Sepsis Associated with 1 In 5 Deaths Globally, Double Previous Estimate; Study Includes Sharper Focus on Low-Income & Middle-Income Countries

Twice as many people as previously believed are dying of sepsis worldwide, according to an analysis published in the January 18, 2020 issue of The Lancet and announced at the Critical Care Reviews annual meeting in Belfast, Ireland (https://healthmanagement.org/c/icu/event/critical-care-reviews-meeting-2020). The Lancet open-access article is titled “Global, Regional, and National Sepsis Incidence and Mortality, 1990–2017: Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study.” Among those dying are a disproportionately high number of children in poor areas. Led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and University of Washington schools of medicine, the study revealed 48.9 million global cases of sepsis in 2017 and 11 million deaths, representing 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Sepsis occurs when a person's organs cease to function properly as the result of an out-of-control immune response to infection. Even if sepsis doesn't kill its victims, it can create lifelong disabilities in survivors. The large majority of sepsis cases -- 85% in 2017 -- occurred in low- or middle-income countries. The highest burden was found in sub-Saharan Africa, the South Pacific islands near Australia, and South, East, and Southeast Asia. Sepsis incidence was higher among females than males. By age, the incidence of sepsis peaks in early childhood, with more than 40% of all cases occurring in children under 5. "I've worked in rural Uganda, and sepsis is what we saw every single day. Watching a baby die of a disease that could have been prevented with basic public health measures really sticks with you," said lead author Kristina E. Rudd, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor in Pitt's Department of Critical Care Medicine. "I want to contribute to solving this tragedy, so I participate in research on sepsis.

January 15th

Study on Recently Discovered Chlorophyll Molecule (Chl f) Could Be Key to Better Solar Cells; New Work Reveals Mechanism That Can Use Light on the Lower Energy Spectrum, Which Has Never Been Seen Before

All living organisms need energy for their survival, and this energy indirectly comes from the sun. Some organisms, such as plants, cyanobacteria, and algae, are capable of directly converting this light energy into chemical energy via a process called "photosynthesis.” These photosynthetic organisms contain special structures to mediate photosynthesis, called "photosystems.” There are two photosystems that carry out light-energy conversion reactions, each of which is composed of a number of proteins and pigments. Among photosynthetic pigments, chlorophyll is the most crucial one, which not only captures light energy from the sun, but also participates in the "electron transfer chain,” a molecular pathway through which photons (from the sunlight) are converted into electrons (which are used as an energy source). There are different types of chlorophyll molecules, each having a specific function ranging from absorbing light and converting it into energy. Moreover, each chlorophyll molecule absorbs light in different regions. Recently, a new type of chlorophyll called Chl f was discovered, but details such as exactly where it is located and how it functions have remained a mystery until now. In a new study published online on January 13, 2020 in Nature Communications, a team of researchers led by Professor Tatsuya Tomo, PhD, at the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, and including collaborating researchers from Okayama University, Tsukuba University, Kobe University, and RIKEN, revealed new details about the location and functions of Chl f.

January 14th

Researchers Develop High-Throughput Method to Study Effects of Removing Hundreds of “Poison Exons” at Same Time; With CRISPR-Based Method, Scientists Show That Poison Exons, Conserved for Over 80 Million Years, Are Essential & Have Anti-Tumor Activity

We don’t have much in common with mice. After 80 million years of diverging evolution, seeing any similarities in our DNA takes some squinting. So, it seems obvious that any bits of DNA that have resisted the forces of evolution and remained identical between mice and humans (and rats and pufferfish) must be critical--probably even essential. Known as “ultra-conserved elements,” these sections of DNA drew immediate scientific attention when the first human genome sequence was released in 2003. And while scientists have discovered some molecular functions for these elements, they have been failing to show their essentiality ever since--until now. In a new study published online on January 7, 2020 in Nature Genetics, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, showed that yes, these ultra-conserved DNA elements are indeed essential. The article is titled “RNA Isoform Screens Uncover the Essentiality and Tumor-Suppressor Activity of Ultraconserved Poison Exons.” Looking at a subclass of ultra-conserved elements known as “poison exons,” the investigators found that certain poison exons were essential for cell growth, while others acted to suppress the growth of lung tumor cells in mice. By showing that ultra-conserved elements operate on a cellular level, these discoveries help shed light on why they have remained unchanged over millions of years. This is the “first study finding large-scale importance of these highly conserved [DNA] elements,” said Dr. Rob Bradley (photo), PhD, a computational biologist and the study’s senior author. The 481 ultra-conserved DNA elements shared between mice, rats, and humans immediately jumped out once these three genomes were sequenced and compared. The finding was “really odd, really interesting,” Dr. Bradley said.