Archive for December 7, 2011

Charlie Arntzen’s Group Produces Stable Synthetic Ebola Vaccine

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Around 1,200 people have died of Ebola virus infection since 1976


In a PNAS paper by Phoolcharoena, Dye et. al titled “A nonreplicating subunit vaccine protects mice against lethal Ebola virus challenge” they report that using Ebola glycoproteins coupled antibodies to create Ebola immune complexes (EICs), and coupling these EICs with the Toll-like receptor antagonist polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (PIC) resulted in an 80% survival rate of mice infected with a lethal challenge of Ebola virus. This is significant because the biggest challenge to making an effective Ebola vaccine has been cost and long term stability, this research shows immense promise that a synthetic vaccine will be cheaper, and far more stable than deactivated Ebola viruses.

A less scientific summary from the BBC

Categories: Uncategorized

Remember the Arsenic DNA last year? Bacterium genome sequenced!

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

From Science by Elizabeth Pennisi

Bacterium GFAJ-1

Our data show evidence for arsenate in macromolecules that normally contain phosphate, most notably nucleic acids and proteins.

One year ago those 18 words ignited quite a media controversy when Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues held a press conference to announce the discovery of a bacterium that not only survived high levels of arsenic in its environment but also seemed to use that element in its DNA. Five months later, the debate resurfaced with the publication of critical comments on the original research.

Last week, the genome of the bacterium, known as GFAJ-1, was posted in Genbank, the public repository of DNA sequences for all who care to take a look. But it doesn’t settle the debate over whether arsenic is used in DNA.

Simon Silver, an arsenic microbiologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and one of the most vocal critics of the arsenic bacterium research, and his colleagues sequenced the bacterium and found 3400 genes in its 3.5 million bases. Of note is that even the common gut bacterium, Escherichia coli, has more of the genes known to help it survive arsenic exposure than GFAJ-1, Silver said in a phone interview. Silver didn’t expect the genome to address the core of the controversy, but then again, he doesn’t think any test will convince Wolfe-Simon and her co-authors that they are wrong. “This sort of stuff never gets resolved,” he says. “It eventually goes away.” Silver and his colleagues intend to compare this genome with three others from other microbes living in arsenic-rich environments to better understand arsenic-related chemistry.

Read the complete article here.

Categories: Interesting link

Clinical grade stem cells

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

From Nature by Ewen Callaway

Human embryonic stem cells that are potentially pure enough to be used in therapies have been deposited into the UK Stem Cell Bank, and will soon be available across Europe.

To make ‘clinical-grade’ cells, scientists produced them without the use of any of the animal cells or products typically needed, and did so under certified manufacturing conditions. They are the highest-quality cells of their kind publicly available, says Peter Braude, a stem-cell scientist at King’s College London whose team derived them at an estimated cost of £3 million (US$4.7 million). Much of the money went into infrastructure that will enable the creation of additional clinical-grade cell lines, he says.

“There are quite a few end users who would love to get their hands on these cells, and they will as soon as they are available,” said Daniel Brison, a stem-cell scientist at the University of Manchester, UK, at a press briefing in London today. His own team expects to deposit a clinical-grade human embryonic stem-cell line into the UK Stem Cell Bank in 2012. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, researchers at the University of Sheffield and Roslin Cells, a company based in Edinburgh, are also establishing clinical-grade lines.
Animal effects?

The new cells are not the first clinical-grade cells. Two small trials are already under way. One is using cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injury (although funding problems have stopped the trial enrolling new patients) and another is testing a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Another macular degeneration trial will start soon. But these trials involve cells that were originally created using animal products for research . After a long vetting process, scientists converted them to clinical grade.

And a Singapore-based group created six clinical-grade cell lines in 2007, also using animal products1. These lines are available for researchers funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in San Francisco, says Jeremy Crook, a stem cell biologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who led the team that made the lines.

But Braude says cells that have never touched the mouse ‘feeder’ cells or calf serum typically used to nourish human embryonic stem-cell lines are the safest source of cells for clinical trials. His team describes the creation of their cell lines in the journal Cytotherapy2. Braude says his team has tested the cell lines for viral and mycoplasma infection, as well as for genetic abnormalities.

Read the complete article here.

Categories: Interesting link

Black hole breaks universal record

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

From Nature by Ron Cowen.

An artist’s impression of stars moving in the central regions of a giant elliptical galaxy that harbours a supermassive black hole Photo: AP Photo/Gemini Observatory, AURA artwork by Lynette Cook via Nature

Astronomers have discovered the two most massive black holes known in the Universe. Tipping the scale with masses on the order of 10 billion times that of the Sun, these gravitational monsters could represent a missing link: the first known remnants of the brightest quasars that lit the cosmos only a billion or so years after the Big Bang.

The findings, published this week in Nature, also suggest that there is a difference in the way the largest supermassive black holes reached their formidable size relative to their somewhat smaller cousins.

Supermassive black holes formed early in the history of the Universe, by gorging on gas and stars in the cores of developing galaxies. They are thought to reside in most if not all of the massive galaxies astronomers can observe today, but they cannot be seen directly, as light cannot escape the gravitational field of a black hole.

Chung-Pei Ma, a cosmologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues went hunting for the monsters by measuring the velocities of stars moving closely around the centres of large galaxies. Because the velocities of the stars are related to the mass of the body they orbit, the technique offers an indirect way to ‘weigh’ the supermassive black hole lurking in the cores of other galaxies. The team restricted their observation to galaxies that are both large and embedded in galaxy clusters. In theory, supermassive black holes there could grow to enormous size by consuming gas and stars provided by other galaxies in the cluster.

“One may view these galaxy clusters as archeological sites, where ancient history left its fingerprints for us to discover,” notes cosmologist Avi Loeb of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not part of the study.

Using instruments on the Keck II and Gemini North telescopes atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, the astronomers found that a cluster galaxy called NGC 3842 houses a black hole with a mass equivalent to 9.7 billion Suns. Another galaxy, NGC 4889, which lies at the centre of another cluster, has a black hole with an estimated mass of about 20 billion Suns, although it could be as large as 37 billion. (The previous record holder, a black hole at the centre of the nearby galaxy M87, has a mass of 6.7 billion Suns, some members of Ma’s team reported at on 11 January and in the Astrophysical Journal on 10 March.

Both NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 are a little more than 300 million light-years (92 million parsecs) distant — relatively close by cosmic standards. Nonetheless, homing in on the motion of stars near the centre of each galaxy required high-resolution observations that were not possible even a few years ago, says Ma.

Read the complete article here.

Categories: Interesting link

Just legalize it, maaan

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

From UCSF by Leland Kim

Hector Vizoso, RN, left, and Donald Abrams, MD, prepare a cannabis vaporizer for inpatient use at San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center’s Clinical Research Center. Credit: Leland Kim/UCSF

A UCSF study suggests patients with chronic pain may experience greater relief if their doctors add cannabinoids – the main ingredient in cannabis or medical marijuana – to an opiates-only treatment. The findings, from a small-scale study, also suggest that a combined therapy could result in reduced opiate dosages.

More than 76 million Americans suffer from chronic pain – more people than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, according to the National Centers for Health Statistics.

“Pain is a big problem in America and chronic pain is a reason many people utilize the health care system,” said the paper’s lead author, Donald Abrams, MD, professor of clinical medicine at UCSF and chief of the Hematology-Oncology Division at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGH). “And chronic pain is, unfortunately, one of the problems we’re least capable of managing effectively.”

In a paper published this month in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, researchers examined the interaction between cannabinoids and opiates in the first human study of its kind. They found the combination of the two components reduced pain more than using opiates alone, similar to results previously found in animal studies.

Researchers studied chronic pain patients who were being treated with long-acting morphine or long-acting oxycodone. Their treatment was supplemented with controlled amounts of cannabinoids, inhaled through a vaporizer. The original focus was on whether the opiates’ effectiveness increased, not on whether the cannabinoids helped reduce pain.

“The goal of the study really was to determine if inhalation of cannabis changed the level of the opiates in the bloodstream,” Abrams said. “The way drugs interact, adding cannabis to the chronic dose of opiates could be expected either to increase the plasma level of the opiates or to decrease the plasma level of the opiates or to have no effect. And while we were doing that, we also asked the patients what happened to their pain.”

Read the rest of the article here or take a look at the original manuscript here.

Categories: Interesting link