Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention An influenza virus binds to receptors on a respiratory tract cell, allowing the virus to enter and infect the cell. Newswise — A Rutgers-led team has developed a tool to monitor influenza A virus mutations in real time, which could help virologists learn how to stop viruses from replicating.The gold nanoparticle-based probe measures viral RNA in live influenza A cells, according to a study in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C. It is the first time in virology that experts have used imaging tools with gold nanoparticles to monitor mutations in influenza, with unparalleled sensitivity.“Our probe will provide important insight on the cellular features that lead a cell to produce abnormally high numbers of viral offspring and on possible conditions that favor stopping viral replication,” said senior author Laura Fabris, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.Viral infections are a leading cause of illness and deaths. The new coronavirus, for example, has led to more than 24,000 confirmed cases globally, including more than 3,200 severe ones and nearly 500 deaths as of Feb. 5, according to a World Health Organization report.Influenza A, a highly contagious virus that arises every year, is concerning due to the unpredictable effectiveness of its vaccine. Influenza A mutates rapidly, growing resistant to drugs and vaccines as it replicates.The new study highlights a promising new tool for virologists to study the behavior of influenza A, as well as any other RNA viruses, in host cells and to identify the external conditions or cell properties affecting them. Until now, studying mutations in cells has required destroying them to extract their contents. The new tool enables analysis without killing cells, allowing researchers to get snapshots of viral replication as it occurs. Next steps include studying multiple segments of viral RNA and monitoring the influenza A virus in animals.The lead author is Kholud Dardir, who earned a doctorate at Rutgers. Rutgers co-authors include senior postdoctoral associate Hao Wang and Maria Atzampou, a doctoral student. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign contributed to the study.
Credit: Zhen Gu Lab/UCLA Schematic picture of cold plasma patch for cancer immunotherapy. Newswise — Los Angeles - An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has developed a medicated patch that can deliver immune checkpoint inhibitors and cold plasma directly to tumors to help boost the immune response and kill cancer cells. The thumb-sized patch has more than 200 hollow microneedles that can penetrate the skin and enter the tumor tissue. The cold plasma is delivered through the hollow structure, destroying cancer cells, which facilitates the release of tumor-specific antigens and boosts an immune response. The immune checkpoint inhibitors — antibodies that block checkpoint proteins, which interferes with immune system function and prevents the immune system from destroying cancer cells — are also released from the sheath of microneedles to boost the T cell-mediated anti-cancer effects. In the study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the UCLA researchers found that delivering the two therapies to mice with melanoma using the patch enabled the immune system to better attack the cancer, significantly inhibiting the growth of the tumor and prolonging the survival of the mice. The team also found that the therapy not only inhibit the growth of the targeted tumor, but it also could inhibit the growth of tumors that had spread to other parts of the body. “Immunotherapy is one of the most groundbreaking advances in cancer treatment,” said study senior author Zhen Gu, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and member of the Jonsson Cancer Center. “Our lab has been working on engineering new ways to apply or deliver drugs to the diseased site that could help improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy, and we found the patch to be a quite promising delivery system.” The study is also the first to demonstrate that cold plasma can be effective in synergizing cancer immunotherapy. Plasma, which is usually hot, is an ionized gas that comprises more than 99% of the universe. Here, cold plasma is generated by a small device operating at atmospheric pressure and room temperature. Therefore, cold plasma can be applied directly to the body — internally or externally. “This study represents an important milestone for the field of plasma medicine,” said co-senior author Richard Wirz, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA Samueli. “It demonstrates that the microneedle patch can realize the plasma delivery while also working with the drug to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapy.” “Plasma can generate reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species, which are a group of chemical species that can destroy cancer cells,” said Guojun Chen, who is the co-first author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Gu’s laboratory. “Those cancers can then release tumor-associated antigens, which can enhance immune response to kill cancers,” said Zhitong Chen, who is the other co-first author and a postdoctoral fellow in Wirz’s lab. The team tested the cold plasma patch on mice with melanoma tumors. The mice that received the treatment showed an increased level of dendritic cells, which are a specific type of white blood cells that alert the immune system of a foreign invader and initiate a T cell-mediated immune response. The group of mice also showed delayed tumor growth compared to the untreated group and 57% were still alive at 60 days, while mice in other control groups had all died. “This treatment strategy can potentially go beyond cancer immunotherapy,” said Gu, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “Integrated with other treatments, this minimally invasive method can be extended to treat different cancer types and a variety of diseases.” The patch will have to go through further testing and approvals before it could be used in humans. But the team members believe the approach holds great promise. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Newswise — A plant-based diet may be key to lowering risk for heart disease. Penn State researchers determined that diets with reduced sulfur amino acids — which occur in protein-rich foods, such as meats, dairy, nuts and soy — were associated with a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. The team also found that the average American consumes almost two and a half times more sulfur amino acids than the estimated average requirement. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. A subcategory, called sulfur amino acids, including methionine and cysteine, play various roles in metabolism and health. “For decades it has been understood that diets restricting sulfur amino acids were beneficial for longevity in animals,” said John Richie, a professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. “This study provides the first epidemiologic evidence that excessive dietary intake of sulfur amino acids may be related to chronic disease outcomes in humans.” Richie led a team that examined the diets and blood biomarkers of more than 11,000 participants from a national study and found that participants who ate foods containing fewer sulfur amino acids tended to have a decreased risk for cardiometabolic disease based on their bloodwork. The team evaluated data from the Third National Examination and Nutritional Health Survey. They compiled a composite cardiometabolic disease risk score based on the levels of certain biomarkers in participants’ blood after a 10-16 hour fast including cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and insulin. “These biomarkers are indicative of an individual’s risk for disease, just as high cholesterol levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Richie said. “Many of these levels can be impacted by a person’s longer-term dietary habits leading up to the test.” Participants were excluded from the study if they reported having either congestive heart failure, heart attack or a reported change in diet due to a heart disease diagnosis. Individuals were also omitted if they reported a dietary intake of sulfur amino acids below the estimated average requirement of 15 mg/kg/day recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine. For a person weighing 132 pounds, food choices for a day that meet the requirement might include a medium slice of bread, a half an avocado, an egg, a half cup of raw cabbage, six cherry tomatoes, two ounces of chicken breast, a cup of brown rice, three quarters of a cup of zucchini, three tablespoons of butter, a cup of spinach, a medium apple, an eight inch diameter pizza and a tablespoon of almonds. Nutritionists collected information about participants’ diets by doing in-person 24-hour recalls. Nutrient intakes were then calculated using the U.S. Department of Agriculture Survey Nutrient Database. After accounting for body weight, the researchers found that average sulfur amino acid intake was almost two and a half times higher than the estimated average requirement. Xiang Gao, associate professor and director of the nutritional epidemiology lab at the Penn State University and co-author of the study, published today (Feb. 3) in Lancet EClinical Medicine, suggested this may be due to trends in the average diet of a person living in the United States. “Many people in the United States consume a diet rich in meat and dairy products and the estimated average requirement is only expected to meet the needs of half of healthy individuals,” Gao said. “Therefore, it is not surprising that many are surpassing the average requirement when considering these foods contain higher amounts of sulfur amino acids.” The researchers found that higher sulfur amino acid intake was associated with a higher composite cardiometabolic risk score after accounting for potential confounders like age, sex and history of diabetes and hypertension. They also found that high sulfur amino acid intake was associated with every type of food except grains, vegetables and fruit. “Meats and other high-protein foods are generally higher in sulfur amino acid content,” said Zhen Dong, lead author on the study and College of Medicine graduate. “People who eat lots of plant-based products like fruits and vegetables will consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids. These results support some of the beneficial health effects observed in those who eat vegan or other plant-based diets.” Dong said that while this study only evaluated dietary intake and cardiometabolic disease risk factors at one point in time, the association between increased sulfur amino acid intake and risk for cardiometabolic disease was strong. She said the data supports the formation of a prospective, longitudinal study evaluating sulfur amino acid intake and health outcomes over time. “Here we saw an observed association between certain dietary habits and higher levels of blood biomarkers that put a person at risk for cardiometabolic diseases,” Richie said. “A longitudinal study would allow us to analyze whether people who eat a certain way do end up developing the diseases these biomarkers indicate a risk for.” Vernon Chinchilli, Raghu Sinha, Joshua Muscat and Renate Winkels of Penn State College of Medicine also contributed to this research. The authors declare no conflict of interest or specific financial support for this research. About Penn State College of MedicineLocated on the campus of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa., Penn State College of Medicine boasts a portfolio of nearly $100 million in funded research. Projects range from development of artificial organs and advanced diagnostics to groundbreaking cancer treatments and understanding the fundamental causes of disease. Enrolling its first students in 1967, the College of Medicine has more than 1,700 students and trainees in medicine, nursing, the health professions and biomedical research on its two campuses. Photo Credit: Getty Images | nensuria
Newswise — In response to the youth vaping crisis, experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) developed CATCH My Breath, a program to prevent electronic cigarette use among fifth – 12th grade students. Research published in Public Health Reports reveals the program significantly reduces the likelihood of e-cigarette use among students who complete the curriculum. Since a 2018 declaration citing the vaping crisis a public health epidemic, the number of middle school students who use e-cigarettes has more than doubled. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 10 middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. This marks a troubling trend with dangerous consequences, as 60 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to lung injury associated with vaping product use. The research collected from the program’s pilot study found that students in schools that received the CATCH My Breath program were half as likely to experiment with e-cigarettes compared with those in schools that did not receive the program. According to the research team, CATCH My Breath is the only evidence-based e-cigarette prevention program that has demonstrated effectiveness for middle school-aged youth. While the program focuses primarily on vaping, it also educates students to resist other forms of tobacco. Research has shown that around 40% of youth tobacco users reported using more than one tobacco product. “This program was created to address the youth vaping crisis and to reverse the growing trend of e-cigarette use among adolescents,” said Steven H. Kelder, PhD, MPH, Beth Toby Grossman Distinguished Professor in Spirituality and Healing at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin and the study’s lead author. “Most children are using JUUL devices, which has the nicotine equivalent of 20 cigarettes for one pod. Many do not know there is nicotine in these devices, much less such a high level. This is why it is urgent to educate schools, families, and kids.” Experts at UTHealth School of Public Health who developed the program received input from school administrators, health education coordinators, and tobacco prevention educators, as well as teachers, students, and parents. The curriculum emphasizes active, student-centered learning through group discussions, goal setting, refusal skills training, capacity building with analyzing tobacco company advertising, and creating counter-advertising and non-smoking policies. The program is disseminated by the nonprofit CATCH Global Foundation and has been implemented in over 2,000 schools across all 50 states. “We designed CATCH My Breath to be easy for teachers to implement in their classrooms. All program materials are available online and are age-appropriate for middle and high school students,” said Kelder, who developed the program as part of his ongoing research at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin. The research team was recently awarded a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a long-term assessment of the program, a first-of-its-kind study on a nationwide nicotine vaping prevention program. Through this large-scale study, the research team will add a parent component to the CATCH My Breath program to further enhance support for e-cigarette prevention. “CATCH My Breath offers theory- and practice-informed strategies for parents to understand the vaping epidemic and how to talk to their children as well,” said Andrew Springer, DrPH, an associate professor at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin and co-investigator of the CATCH My Breath study. Other UTHealth authors of the study included Dale Mantey, MPA; Kathleen Case, DrPH; and Alexandra Haas, MPH. Research was funded by a grant from the St. David’s Foundation.
Newswise — The heart’s ability to beat normally over a lifetime is predicated on the synchronized work of proteins embedded in the cells of the heart muscle. Like a fleet of molecular motors that get turned on and off, these proteins cause the heart cells to contract, then force them to relax, beat after life-sustaining beat. Now a study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the University of Oxford shows that when too many of the heart’s molecular motor units get switched on and too few remain off, the heart muscle begins to contract excessively and fails to relax normally, leading to its gradual overexertion, thickening and failure. Results of the work, published Jan. 27 in Circulation, reveal that this balancing act is an evolutionary mechanism conserved across species to regulate heart muscle contraction by controlling the activity of a protein called myosin, the main contractile protein of the heart muscle. The findings—based on experiments with human, mouse and squirrel heart cells—also demonstrate that when this mechanism goes awry it sets off a molecular cascade that leads to cardiac muscle over-exertion and culminates in the development of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common genetic disease of the heart and a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young people and athletes. “Our findings offer a unifying explanation for the heart muscle pathology seen in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that leads to heart muscle dysfunction and, eventually, causes the most common clinical manifestations of the condition,” said senior author Christine Seidman, professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Importantly, the experiments showed that treatment with an experimental small-molecule drug restored the balance of myosin arrangements and normalized the contraction and relaxation of both human and mouse cardiac cells that carried the two most common gene mutations responsible for nearly half of all HCM cases worldwide. If confirmed in further experiments, the results can inform the design of therapies that halt disease progression and prevent complications. “Correcting the underlying molecular defect and normalizing the function of heart muscle cells could transform treatment options, which are currently limited to alleviating symptoms and preventing worst-case scenarios such as life-threatening rhythm disturbances and heart failure,” said study first author Christopher Toepfer, who performed the work as a postdoctoral researcher in Seidman’s lab and is now a joint fellow in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford. Some of the current therapies used for HCM include medications to relieve symptoms, surgery to shave the enlarged heart muscle or the implantation of cardioverter defibrillators that shock the heart back into rhythm if its electrical activity ceases or goes haywire. None of these therapies address the underlying cause of the disease. Imbalance in the motor fleet Myosin initiates contraction by cross-linking with other proteins to propel the cell into motion. In the current study, the researchers traced the epicenter of mischief down to an imbalance in the ratio of myosin molecule arrangements inside heart cells. Cells containing HCM mutations had too many molecules ready to spring into action and too few myosin molecules idling standby, resulting in stronger contractions and poor relaxation of the cells. An earlier study by the same team found that under normal conditions, the ratio between “on” and “off” myosin molecules in mouse heart cells is around 2-to-3. However, the new study shows that this ratio is off balance in heart cells that harbor HCM mutations, with disproportionately more molecules in active versus inactive states. In an initial set of experiments, the investigators analyzed heart cells obtained from a breed of hibernating squirrel as a model to reflect extremes in physiologic demands during normal activity and hibernation. Cells obtained from squirrels in hibernation—when their heart rate slows down to about six beats per minute—contained 10 percent more “off” myosin molecules than the heart cells of active squirrels, whose heart rate averages 340 beats per minute. “We believe this is one example of nature’s elegant way of conserving cardiac muscle energy in mammals during dormancy and periods of deficient resources,” Toepfer said. Next, researchers looked at cardiac muscle cells from mice harboring the two most common gene defects seen in HCM. As expected, these cells had altered ratios of “on” and “off” myosin reserves. The researchers also analyzed myosin ratios in two types of human heart cells: Stem cell-derived human heart cells engineered in the lab to carry HCM mutations and cells obtained from the excised cardiac muscle tissue of patients with HCM. Both had out-of-balance ratios in their active and inactive myosin molecules. Further experiments showed that this imbalance perturbed the cells’ normal contraction and relaxation cycle. Cells harboring HCM mutations contained too many “on” myosin molecules and contracted more forcefully but relaxed poorly. In the process, the study showed, these cells gobbled up excessive amounts of ATP, the cellular fuel that sustains the work of each cell in our body. And because oxygen is necessary for ATP production, the mutated cells also devoured more oxygen than normal cells, the study showed. To sustain their energy demands, these cells turned to breaking down sugar molecules and fatty acids, which is a sign of altered metabolism, the researchers said. “Taken together, our findings map out the molecular mechanisms that give rise to the cardinal features of the disease,” Seidman said. “They can help explain how chronically overexerted heart cells with high energy consumption in a state of metabolic stress can, over time, lead to a thickened heart muscle that contracts and relaxes abnormally and eventually becomes prone to arrhythmias, dysfunction and failure.”Restoring balance Treating both mouse and human heart cells with an experimental small-molecule drug restored the myosin ratios to levels comparable to those in heart cells free of HCM mutations. The treatment also normalized contraction and relaxation of the cells and lowered oxygen consumption to normal levels. The drug, currently in human trials, restored myosin ratios even in tissue obtained from the hearts of patients with HCM. The compound is being developed by a biotech company; two of the company’s co-founders are authors on the study. The company provided research support for the study. In a final step, the researchers looked at patient outcomes obtained from a database containing medical information and clinical histories of people diagnosed with HCM caused by various gene mutations. Comparing their molecular findings from the laboratory against patient outcomes, the scientists observed that the presence of genetic variants that distorted myosin ratios in heart cells also predicted the severity of symptoms and likelihood of poor outcomes, such as arrhythmias and heart failure, among the subset of people that carried these very genetic variants. What this means, the researchers said, is that clinicians who identify patients harboring gene variants that disrupt normal myosin arrangements in their heart muscle could better predict these patients’ risk of adverse clinical course. “This information can help physicians stratify risk and tailor follow-ups and treatment accordingly,” Seidman said. Other investigators on the research included Amanda Garfinkel, Gabriela Venturini, Hiroko Wakimoto, Giuliana Repetti, Lorenzo Alamo, Arun Sharma, Radhika Agarwal, Jourdan Ewoldt, Paige Cloonan, Justin Letendre, Mingyue Lun, Iacopo Olivotto, Steven Colan, Euan Ashley, Daniel Jacoby, Michelle Michels, Charles Redwood, Hugh Watkins, Sharlene Day, James Staples, Raúl Padrón, Anant Chopra, Christopher Chen, Carolyn Ho, Alexandre Pereira and Jonathan Seidman. The work was supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant 206466/Z/17/Z), Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation, National Science Foundation (cooperative agreement EEC-1647837), MyoKardia, Italian Ministry of Health (grant RF-2013-02356787 NET-2011-02347173), American Heart Association, A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, British Heart Foundation (grant RG/12/16/29939), British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence, Leducq Foundation, National Institutes of Health (grants 1P50HL112349, 1U01HL117006, HL11572784, U01HL098166, 5R01HL080494 and 5R01HL084553), São Paulo Research Foundation (2017/20593-7) and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Relevant disclosures: Researchers Christine Seidman and Jonathan Seidman are founders and own shares in MyoKardia, a company developing therapies that target the heart muscle, including the chemical compound used in the experiments.
Newswise — The NYU Langone Transplant Institute on Monday became the first center in the United States to transplant a heart using a novel method in which, after the heart has stopped beating and death has been declared, surgeons place the organ donor on cardiopulmonary bypass and blood is circulated through the body. This enables transplant surgeons to assess a heart for transplant while mitigating potential injury to all organs. It also holds the promise of significantly increasing the number of heart transplants from donors who have died from cardiac arrest as opposed to the typical donation after brain death. The procedure was performed by a team of cardiothoracic surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensivists, nurses, perfusionists, and others from the Transplant Institute, in collaboration with LiveOnNY, the organ procurement organization. It is the first in an ongoing research study to evaluate the feasibility and safety of the protocol. “This groundbreaking transplant procedure is the culmination of nearly two years of hard work to ensure all the ethical, logistical, and regulatory needs and requirements were met,” says Nader Moazami, MD, professor of cardiothoracic surgery and Surgical Director of Heart Transplantation & Mechanical Circulatory Support at NYU Langone. Other transplant centers in the country have recently launched clinical trials to study Donation after Circulatory Death, or DCD, using a device which circulates warm, oxygenated blood through the heart after it has been removed from the body. NYU Langone’s innovative protocol uses the standard cardiopulmonary bypass used in cardiac surgery to reestablish circulation while the heart is still in the body. “We’re thrilled with the success of this first transplant surgery, which has promise to increase not only heart donation rates, but other lifesaving organs as well,” says Zachary N. Kon, MD, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery and Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation at NYU Langone. “One of the advantages of this novel method is that it gives all organs the potential benefit of restoring perfusion prior to procurement.” While transplant centers across the country have made great strides to address organ shortages, the demand still far exceeds the supply. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there were 3,399 heart transplants in 2018, with 3,800 patient remaining on the wait list, resulting in 314 deaths and 330 becoming too sick for transplantation. Most heart donations in the United States are from patients who are declared brain dead; experts hypothesize that the widespread dissemination of controlled DCD could increase the donor pool by as much as 20 percent. NYU Langone developed the new protocol in collaboration with LiveOnNY, New York City’s organ procurement organization. “This quantum leap forward in American transplantation is a game changer for those desperately awaiting heart transplants by expanding the pool of suitable donors,” says Amy L. Friedman, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at LiveOnNY, which helped NYU Langone identify the organ donor. “It resulted from the generosity and commitment of this one donor and their loved ones who honored the donor’s wish to save the lives of others.” Drs. Kon and Moazami are co-authors on an article published January 8 in the American Journal of Transplantation, investigating the ethical and logistical concerns for establishing controlled DCD heart transplantation in the United States. They collaborated with colleagues in NYU Langone’s Division of Medical Ethics, Brendan Parent, JD, adjunct instructor in the Department of Population Health, and Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics in the Department of Population Health, among others. “The NYU Langone Transplant Institute is constantly seeking to drive discovery and innovation in the field of transplantation, to help all those waiting for a lifesaving organ,” says Robert Montgomery, MD, DPhil, Professor of Surgery and Director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. “This is an exciting advancement that will likely have a major impact on transplantation rates in this country.”
Newswise — What keeps most infectious disease researchers up at night aren’t infamous viruses like Ebola. Instead, influenza, commonly known as the flu, continues to be a clear and present danger to humanity. “Influenza is a huge problem, as the virus sickens or kills millions of people each year,” says David Markovitz, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Michigan Medicine. “A new pandemic along the lines of the 1918 Spanish flu has the potential to kill millions here and abroad.” To that end, he and an extensive team of collaborators have worked for years on broad-spectrum antiviral drugs developed from, of all things, banana plants. In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Markovitz, first author Evelyn Coves-Datson, a M.D., Ph.D. student, Akira Ono, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and their team have shown that an engineered compound based on a banana lectin, a protein called H84T, has real potential for clinical use against influenza. In their experiments, more than 80% of mice exposed to a form of influenza that is typically fatal were able to survive the disease after receiving an injection of the protein, even up to 72 hours after exposure. The team also provides early evidence that the compound is safe. A downside of naturally occurring banana lectin—which can cause inflammation by inappropriately activating the immune system—wasn’t present in mice given H84T. Furthermore, because H84T is a protein, there was concern that the body would recognize it as foreign and develop antibodies against it, thereby neutralizing it or causing harm. The team found that while mice did develop antibodies against H84T, they didn’t appear to be adversely affected by them. The compound works because it targets a sugar called high mannose, which is present on the outside of certain viruses but not on most healthy cells. “We were able to show that H84T blocks the ability of the influenza virus to fuse with structures termed endosomes in the human cell, a key step in infection,” he explains. Doing so disabled their ability to replicate and wreak havoc. Amazingly, this mechanism of action, binding of high mannose sugars on the surface of viruses, means that H84T is effective not only against influenza, but also against Ebola, HIV, measles, MERS, a new deadly viral illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, SARS and all other coronaviruses tested. Even more promising is that the compound works where Tamiflu (oseltamivir), the current standard therapy for severe flu, has failed. “We’ve also shown that there may be a synergistic effect between H84T and Tamiflu,” says Markovitz. His team hopes to do more research with the compound in humans in the hopes of getting it to market. “We envision the government potentially stockpiling it in the event of a pandemic.” However, he says, “there are many difficulties to commercialization. Pharmaceutical economics do not seem to favor the development of antivirals or antibacterials for one-time usage, which is a huge problem.” This paper also included the following U-M researchers: Steven King, Maureen Legendre, Auroni Gupta, Susana Chan and Emily Gitlin. Paper cited: “A molecularly engineered antiviral banana lectin inhibits fusion and is efficacious against influenza virus infection in vivo,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.191515211
Newswise — Virtual Reality during chemotherapy has been shown to improve breast cancer patients’ quality of life during the most stressful treatments, according to a recent study. Breast cancer is, to date, the most frequent oncological disease worldwide, and has an impact both from a physical and psychological point of view. Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a challenge, a trauma that causes severe stress from the moment of diagnosis, with frequent manifestations of anxiety and depression. The advances made by oncology and medical treatments, such as the new chemotherapy drugs, allow today to reach a survival that touches 90%. Although modern cancer treatments have partially reduced the side effects on health and quality of life, these therapies are experienced with considerable suffering by women and these can sometimes develop conditioned responses to treatments (such as anticipatory anxiety), reducing compliance of women with treatment (frequent requests for dose reduction or treatment interruption) and, consequently, the effectiveness of the drugs themselves, and therefore survival. In recent years, several psychological interventions have been implemented breast cancer patients during the various stages of treatment, starting from diagnosis, to hospitalization and during chemotherapy infusions. Among the psychological interventions supported by technological tools, the first study implemented in Italy aimed at evaluating the efficacy of Virtual Reality during chemotherapy treatments has just released its results. The study was published in the international journal: Journal of Cellular Physiology. The study, which saw the participation of an international team of researchers affiliated with the Sbarro Health Research Organization in Philadelphia, the Sapienza University of Rome, the Pascale Institute of Naples, and the University of Siena, Italy. The study was coordinated by the psycho-oncologist Andrea Chirico, researcher at the Sapienza, and the internationally renowned Oncologist Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., founder and Director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization. Several psychological tests designed to accurately measure stress and mood before and after chemotherapy treatment were administered to 94 women who underwent chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer at the Pascale Institute in Naples. During chemotherapy a group of women wore a Virtual Reality headset and were immersed in an alternative reality, the second group of women was subjected to music therapy, the control group did not receive any supportive treatment during chemotherapy, which is the current standard at the oncology department. The results showed that the group of women subjected to virtual reality was able to benefit from the treatment with a substantial lowering of anxiety levels, while the group of women who did not receive any supportive treatment, anxiety increased and mood also deteriorated significantly after chemotherapy. The highly realistic Virtual Environment is a deserted island where women were able to freely interact with the setting, also undertaking some activities such as walking in the forest, doing yoga, observing animals, swimming, etc ... "This represents the first Italian scientific result in terms of the use of virtual reality during chemotherapy," says Giordano. "We must pave the way for scientific studies that can replicate our results to understand the true potential of these tools," adds Chirico. Among the authors of the study, Michelino de Laurentiis, Director of the Department of Breast Cancer, Principal Investigator for the Pascale Institute claims that, “after these important results, agreeing with the CEO Attilio Bianchi and Prof. Gerardo Botti, Scientific Director of the Pascale Institute, we are planning a new department of breast medical oncology with HI TECH chairs equipped with virtual reality to ensure that all of our patients could have a better and unique quality of care in Italy.” About the Sbarro Health Research Organization The Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) is non-profit charity committed to funding excellence in basic genetic research to cure and diagnose cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic illnesses and to foster the training of young doctors in a spirit of professionalism and humanism. To learn more about the SHRO please visit www.shro.org
Credit: Columbia University Irving Medical Center (Kuo Lab) A new study suggests that patients with essential tremor have unusual brain waves in the cerebellum that cause the tremors (the same brain waves in mice produce tremor). The left image show a cerebellar electroencephalogram (EEG) in a control subject; the right image shows the additional brain waves in a patient. Highest intensity is colored in red, lowest intensity in blue. Newswise — NEW YORK, NY (Jan. 15, 2020)—The source of essential tremor—a movement disorder that causes involuntary trembling of the hands, arms, and head—has been enigmatic, impeding the development of effective treatments for a condition that affects 4% of people over 40. Now a new study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian suggests the tremors are caused by overactive brain waves at the base of the brain, raising the possibility of treating the disorder with neuromodulation to calm the oscillations. “Past studies have identified changes in brain structure in people with essential tremor, but we didn’t know how those changes caused tremors,” says Sheng-Han Kuo, MD, the study’s senior author and assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “This study pins down how those structural changes affect brain activity to drive tremor.” The study was published online today in Science Translational Medicine. About Essential Tremor Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder in the United States, affecting about 10 million Americans (approximately eight times as many people as Parkinson’s disease). The condition causes involuntary, rhythmic trembling, usually in the hands, and is exacerbated during such activities as buttoning a shirt or using utensils. Although essential tremor is not life-threatening, it can severely impact quality of life. Some beta blockers and anti-epileptic drugs can reduce symptoms, but they carry side effects, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. They also don’t work very well in essential tremor patients, which Kuo says isn’t surprising since the cause of the condition hasn’t been well understood. Tremor Patients Have Excessive Brain Activity in the Cerebellum The researchers have previously identified structural changes in the cerebellum of essential tremor patients and used a new cerebellar encephalogram (EEG) technique to search for unusual brain waves in this part of the brain. Among 20 essential tremor patients examined with cerebellar EEG, most had strong oscillations (between 4 and 12 Hz) in the cerebellum that were not found in any of the 20 control subjects. Patients with more severe tremors had stronger oscillations. Oscillations First Found in Mice The researchers first discovered the cerebellar oscillations in mice that had developed tremors closely resembling those seen in essential tremor patients. The tremors could be turned on and off by stimulating certain neurons in the mouse brain, alternately suppressing and unleashing the oscillations. “These results established a causal relationship between the brain oscillations and tremor, which cannot be directly tested in patients,” says Kuo, who is also an assistant attending neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Excessive Oscillations Stem from Extra Synapses In previous studies of postmortem brain tissue from essential tremor patients, the Columbia team discovered that patients with essential tremor had an abnormally high number of synapses, or connections, between two types of nerve cells in the brain’s cerebellum—climbing fibers and Purkinje cells. In the current study, again using postmortem brain tissue, the researchers found that the formation of these synapses appears to be influenced by a protein called glutamate receptor delta 2 (GluRẟ2). “When this protein is underexpressed, any excess synapses that form between climbing fibers and Purkinje cells are not eliminated, resulting in too many neuronal connections,” says Kuo. When the team reduced expression of GluRẟ2 in mice, the animals developed tremors similar to those seen in humans. Restoring GluRẟ2 function suppressed the tremors, proving that the protein plays a key role in essential tremor. Potential for New Treatments The study opens several new possibilities for treatment of essential tremor, Kuo says. “Using cerebellar EEG as a guide, we may be able to use neuromodulation techniques such as tDCS or TMS (transcranial direct-current stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation) to reduce tremor, or even drugs to reduce transmission between the climbing fibers and Purkinje cells.” Kuo is also working to develop medications that increase GluRẟ2 expression in the brain, which may reduce tremor. +++ The study is titled “Cerebellar oscillations driven by synaptic pruning deficits of cerebellar climbing fibers contribute to tremor pathophysiology.” The other contributors are Ming-Kai Pan (National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei City, Taiwan), Yong-Shi Li (Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, NY), Shi-Bing Wong (CUIMC and Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, New Taipei City, Taiwan), Chun-Lun Ni (CUIMC), Yi-Mei Wang (National Taiwan University Hospital), Wen-Chuan (National Taiwan University Hospital), Liang-Yin Lu (National Taiwan University Hospital), Jye-Chang Lee (National Taiwan University Hospital), Etty P. Cortes (CUIMC), Jean-Paul G. Vonsatte (CUIMC), Qian Sun (Columbia and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH), Elan D. Louis (Yale University, New Haven, CT), and Phyllis L. Faust (CUIMC). The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants K08NS083738, R01NS104423, R01NS086736, R01NS073872, R01NS085136, R01NS088257, R01NS04289, and R21NS077094), Parkinson’s Foundation, International Essential Tremor Foundation, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan, and National Taiwan University Hospital, and a Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholar Award. The authors declare that they have no financial or other conflicts of interest.
Credit: UC San Diego Health Sciences Artistic representation of changes in mouse brain networks with alcohol dependence. The left side represents control individuals with numerous networks and small sets of connected brain regions indicated by lines. The right side represents individual mice with a history of alcohol dependence, depicting a small set of only three brain networks with a high number of connections. Novel imaging technologies produce first whole-brain atlas at single-cell resolution, revealing how alcohol addiction - and abstinence - change neural physiology and affect previously unsuspected regions of the brain. Newswise — Employing advanced technologies that allow whole brain imaging at single-cell resolution, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that in an alcohol-dependent mouse model, the rodent brain’s functional architecture is substantially remodeled. But when deprived of alcohol, the mice displayed increased coordinated brain activity and reduced modularity compared to nondrinker or casual drinker mice.The findings, published in the January 14, 2020 online issue of PNAS, also identified several previously unsuspected regions of the brain relevant to alcohol consumption, providing new research targets for better understanding and treatment of alcohol dependence in humans.“The neuroscience of addiction has made tremendous progress, but the focus has always been on a limited number of brain circuits and neurotransmitters, primarily dopaminergic neurons, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex,” said senior author Olivier George, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.“Research groups have been fighting for years about whether ‘their’ brain circuit is the key to addiction. Our results confirm these regions are important, but the fact that we see such a massive remodeling of the functional brain architecture was a real shock. It’s like studying the solar system and then discovering that there is an entire universe behind it. It shows that if you really want to understand the neurobiological mechanisms leading to addiction, you can’t just look at a handful of brain regions, you need to look at the entire brain, you need to take a step back and consider the whole organ.”George said the findings further undermine the idea that addiction is simply a psychological condition or consequence of lifestyle. “You would be surprised at how prevalent this view remains,” he said. “The brain-wide remodeling of the functional architecture observed here is not ‘normal.’ It is not observed in a naïve animal. It is not observed in an animal that drinks recreationally. It is only observed in animals with a history of alcohol dependence and it is massive. Such a decrease in brain modularity has been observed in numerous brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury and seizure disorders.”Brain modularity is the theory that there are functionally specialized regions in the brain responsible for different, specific cognitive processes. For example, the frontal lobes of the human brain are involved in executive functions, such as reasoning and planning, while the fusiform face area located in the lower rear of the brain is involved in recognizing faces. Reduced modularity, said George, likely interferes with “normal neuronal activity and information processing and contributes to cognitive impairment, emotional distress and intense craving observed in mice during abstinence from alcohol.”Due to the format of the testing, George said it was not clear if the reduced modularity was permanent. “So far, we only know that it lasts at least one week into abstinence. We have not tested longer durations of abstinence, but it’s one of our goals.”George and colleagues used multiple new and emerging imaging technologies to create their whole-brain atlas of mouse brains, capable of being viewed at the level of single cells. The result was a first, they said, providing unprecedented data and insights.“This new approach allows us to explore an entirely new universe. It can answer so many questions. What I am most interested in now is figuring out how early these brain changes start and how long do they last for. This would be critical to understanding when the switch to addiction happens and when does your brain come back to normal, if it ever does. We are also very interested in comparing the brain network of alcohol dependence with other drugs, such as cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamines.”The imaging approach cannot yet be used with human brains, which are far larger and more complex. “I don’t think that it is possible to do it in humans now, the technology is just not there,” said George. “But when I started doing this research 15 years ago, this technique didn’t exist at all and I never ever imagined it would be possible, so who knows what the future will bring.”Co-authors include: Adam Kimbrough, UC San Diego; Daniel J. Lurie and Mark D’Esposito, UC Berkeley; Andres Collazo, California Institute of Technology; and Max Kreifeldt, Harpreet Sidhu, Giovana Camila Macedo and Candice Contet, The Scripps Research Institute.Funding for this research came, in part, from the National Institutes of Health (grants AA006420, AA026081, AA022977, AA026685, AA024198, NS79698, AA027301, and AA007456), the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.