Friday, March 4, 2011

Science Topics of the Week 2/27/2011

From Nature News/Enzo Porrello

From NY Times/Getty Images

This article, reported on in both Nature News and the NY Times, provides interesting news for stem cell researchers attempting to regrow the heart. It has been known that Zebrafish can regrow their cardiac tissue, and now it has been reported in Science that newborn mice can do the same. This study suggests not only that there is a limited time window for this opportunity but also that the new cardiac tissue come from the existing cardiomyoctes and not from stem cells.

The article suggests that this provides a draw back for stem cell researchers; however, as a stem cell researcher, I disagree. Any study suggesting timing effects for regrowth as well as a mechanism for regrowth provide valuable insight into the processes that drive stem cells.

Steve  Gscmeissner/Science Photo Library

This article reports on the finding of a protein which,when found in lower levels than usual, make tumor cells resistant to Taxol. Taxol typically acts on tubulins to prevent cell division and cause cell death in the cancer cells. When these cells have low levels of MCL1, those cells are resistant to treatment.

Additionally, the FBW7 gene, when lacking in cancer cells, cause those cells to produce less MCL1 and to be resistant to treatment. Combined, these results suggest that drugs may be tailored to cells to prevent this effect, but there remains lots of work to be done to design these drugs.

The article cautions that this does not mean a huge change in cancer treatment because of the time to create new drugs with an effect. This is always a caution with new discoveries in basic science and the translation to a drug treatment. I think that this will be a good step towards creating better treatments for some of the more resistant and more deadly cancers.

Image from Fish and Wildlife Service

The eastern cougar was declared extinct after not being seen for 7 decades. However, some people believe the easter cougar to not be a separate species and it is actually not different from the western cougar. 

Regardless of whether it is decided that the eastern cougar is different from the western cougar and declared an extinct species, I always find it disheartening when a species is declared extinct. It is tough to watch the species dying under the will of humans.

Gene therapy to disrupt a gene known to be involved in HIV entering cells has been tested on men known to have HIV and who are taking the currently available therapies but who still have low immune count.

This gene, CCR5, was selected based on a known population which has a natural resistance to HIV. When the cells were injected, they raised the patient's CD4+ cell count. The researchers suggest that this method could be used to create many resistant cells in a patient.

Of all the stories I covered this week, this one was the most impactful to me. I have been hoping for the discovery of the means of resistance within these populations which do not contract HIV and using this genetic discovery to move HIV therapy forward seems like it will have a great future.

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