Genome editing offers huge benefits in both healthcare and agriculture. Therefore, developing new and improved tools for editing the genomes of humans, animals and plants is a rapidly growing area of research. Dr Rosa Di Felice and her team from the University of Southern California are helping to further this effort by performing computational simulations that support experimentalists in their search. They are particularly interested in studying the mechanisms involved in gene editing using enzymes, to find out how their precision can be improved.
Advancements in genetic technologies have made precise gene editing a reality. Used extensively to develop crops that exhibit higher yields and resistance to pests and diseases, genetic modification could also transform livestock production. Building on decades of animal cloning research, Dr Mark Westhusin from the Reproductive Sciences Laboratory at Texas A&M University is using genetic and reproductive technologies to improve livestock for food, medicine, and medical research.
As complex living organisms, plants can often display intricate interactions with the air inside and around them. So far, however, many characteristics of these processes have gone largely unexplored. In their research, Charlotte Coates and Dr Peter Kevan at the University of Guelph combine field surveys with advanced imaging technologies to study the ‘micrometeorology’ that takes place in and around the stems and flowers of many plants. Their discoveries are shedding new light on how these plants grow and reproduce, and how some species are providing ideal habitats for ecologically damaging insects.
The incidence of pancreatic disease, including pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, is on the rise, but currently, preventative measures and effective treatments are scarce. Dr Stephen Pandol at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is working to change this. Dr Pandol carries out broad and far-reaching research, ranging from how lifestyle factors impact pancreatic disease to the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind pancreatic cancer resulting from obesity. His dedicated work has led to significant progress in the field and is driving forward the potential for better patient outcomes.
Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) are a complex group of diseases that profoundly impact the human population, emerging during brain development but often affecting individuals throughout their lives. Human models of NDDs are needed, as many aspects of both the human genome sequence and brain development are human-specific and not recapitulated in animal models. Dr Kristen Kroll, in the Department of Developmental Biology at Washington University School of Medicine, has spent her career modelling neural development and identifying how its disruption can contribute to NDDs.
Decades of research indicate that mental health conditions and psychiatric disorders have a strong genetic basis. Expanding our understanding of mental health by encompassing a more systemic approach may help us improve both diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Chunyu Liu and his team from SUNY Upstate Medical University are using big data to discover the genetic and molecular changes in the brain that occur with different psychiatric disorders. His studies are helping us understand the diversity of human behaviour and develop new methods to treat mental health conditions.
Attention disorders range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to multitasking difficulties due to aging. Regardless of the cause, such difficulties can have a negative impact on peoples’ lives. Dr Adam Gazzaley from the University of California San Francisco has carried out extensive research exploring how customized technology can be utilized to strengthen attention capabilities in individuals across the lifespan. His work has driven him to develop innovative technology companies and software as well as educate us on the benefits of experimental medicine.
The presentation and characteristics of cancer in dogs often resemble those seen in people. This observation led Dr Elinor Karlsson, based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to consider whether these pets could be a good model to study the disease in humans. Dr Karlsson, along with an established multidisciplinary team of collaborators, is working to identify the similarities between cancers in humans and dogs and translate this into better therapeutic approaches for both species.
At least 820 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition globally and human population growth is likely to exacerbate this problem in the future. It is becoming increasingly important to develop sustainable and efficient methods to meet food demands. To address this global issue, Dr Sanju A. Sanjaya and Bagyalakshmi Muthan from West Virginia State University and their colleagues from Michigan State University have developed genetic technologies to improve the nutritional and energy content of crops. Their technology could increase production and improve profitability and sustainability across a range of important crop plants.
Neurodevelopmental disorders range from those on the relatively common autism spectrum to much rarer disorders such as KDM5C-disorder and Weidemann-Steiner Syndrome. Exciting advancements in human genetics have shown that histones – the proteins our DNA wraps around – play a vital role in healthy brain development. Dr Shigeki Iwase from the University of Michigan studies how mutations in the enzymes that regulate histone structure and function can cause cognitive disorders. His work has led to important new discoveries, including how counterpart enzymes can be utilised for therapies.
As medicine progresses, new techniques are needed to visualise abnormal extracellular structures with greater specificity and resolution. Currently, there is a clear lack of molecular tools to image extracellular structures with the detail needed for early diagnosis of various medical conditions. Based at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Collaborative Research Centre 1340 represents a large collaboration of researchers from institutions across Berlin, who are working to establish new methods for medical imaging and research at the anatomical and molecular levels.
Domestic herbivores – such as cattle, sheep, and goats – are remarkably important to ecosystems. Their feeding behaviours aid the management of natural habitats by preventing any individual plant species dominating the landscape. Thus, understanding livestock dietary preferences is vital for informing land management decisions. Dr John Walker from the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center has devoted his career to exploring livestock dietary preferences, and how they can be manipulated to benefit rangelands. His ‘Aggie Cedar Eater’ (ACE) goats are now helping to control invasive juniper shrubs across the Great Plains of the US.
How to support the expanding human population is one of the greatest societal challenges in the 21st century. To meet the demand for food, fuel and fibre, agricultural productivity will need to dramatically increase. However, to ensure long-term sustainability and resilience, increased productivity must not sacrifice the health of the surrounding ecosystems. Led by Dr Dennis Busch and Dr Andrew Cartmill, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Agro-Ecosystem Research Program draws on the expertise of local and international collaborating scientists and farmers to develop alternative agricultural practices that support sustainable intensification for future food security.
The Galapagos Islands are facing increasing danger. Local and global forces – including tourism and climate change – threaten the fragile island ecosystems. The high number of unique plants and animals on the islands means that the loss of a Galapagos species may represent a global extinction event. The Galapagos Initiative, founded by Dr Stephen Walsh of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Dr Carlos Mena of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, aims to save the Galapagos Islands with an innovative, sustainable strategy combining evidence from key interdisciplinary projects and a robust mapping and modelling program.
The bacteria that causes fire blight in apple and pear trees is notoriously difficult to control without antibiotics. With new regulations in the US preventing antibiotic use in organic orchards after 2014, organic farmers faced an impossible choice – lose their organic certification or risk the death of their trees. Working against the clock, plant pathologist Dr Kenneth Johnson from Oregon State University accelerated his efforts to provide organic farmers with another option. With his team of researchers and outreach specialists, he developed and evaluated non-antibiotic management strategies for fire blight in organic apple and pear orchards.
While antibiotics have transformed modern medicine, helped to extend life expectancy in the UK by as much as 20 years and saved millions of lives around the world, the rapid rise of resistance to these drugs presents an imminent global health disaster if not adequately managed in the very near future. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Colin Garner, founder and Chief Executive of Antibiotic Research UK, the world’s first charity focussing on bacterial antibiotic resistance, to hear about their vital efforts targeted at overcoming the challenge of antibiotic resistance.
Founded in 1992, Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Their work is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Characterised by declines in memory and other cognitive functions such as thinking and reasoning, these progressively worsening neurodegenerative and ultimately fatal diseases sadly remain without a cure. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Ian Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive, to hear about the vital work conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Bacteria are found everywhere – in humans, animals and the environment – and are best known for being able to cause painful and even fatal infections. It may come as surprise, therefore, to learn that bacteria can also have useful applications. The lifetime work of Dr Bert Lampson at East Tennessee State University in the USA has focussed on the dangers and applications of bacteria. Over his career, Dr Lampson has discovered new mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, novel antibiotics, and bacterial proteins, with important applications for science and healthcare.
The availability of skilled health practitioners is fundamental to the health of a nation. Unfortunately, many countries experience shortages of healthcare professionals. Shortages typically result when too few choose to enter the health professions and when too many exit the health professions, whether to pursue an alternate career or to retire. Dr Sarah Hewko, based at the University of Prince Edward Island, is conducting valuable research into the reasons why health professionals retire earlier than planned.
When the concentration of antioxidants and free radicals in your cells is out of balance, they experience oxidative stress. This may, in turn, result in damage to important cellular components that alter their original function, potentially having a role in the progression/development of disease. Professor Marino Resendiz from the University of Colorado Denver is researching how the modifications generated by oxidative stress alter the function and structure of RNA, an important component of all cellular organisms. His work has already demonstrated some of the changes that oxidative damage can result in, and how the oxidative modifications may potentially lead to novel structures with potential therapeutic uses.
Professor Hani El-Gabalawy – Emerging Approaches to the Detection and Prevention of Rheumatoid Arthritis in a Predisposed Indigenous North American Population
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term, systematic disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Professor Hani El-Gabalawy and his research team from the University of Manitoba in Canada are finding ways of better identifying those at risk for future RA as a prelude to developing and testing prevention strategies. Since other autoimmune diseases are known to have similar preclinical phases, prevention strategies that can effectively lower the risk of developing RA can potentially be adapted and applied to a broad range of similar disorders.
Professor Tara Perrot and her team at Dalhousie University, Canada, are working to better understand how early development – including the experiences of parents before their offspring are even born – may influence the stress reactions and resilience of their offspring later in life. This research involves not only looking at the brain and hormones but also the gut, and holds important implications for understanding human stress reactivity in the current day.
The prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders represents a serious concern given the deleterious impacts observed on individuals, their families, and society more widely. A better understanding of the factors associated with the development and recovery of Alcohol Use Disorders is essential to the development of more effective treatments. This is the focus of research by Dr Sara Blaine from Auburn University, USA.
Being overweight is a well-recognised risk factor for the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, and certain types of cancer. As such, obesity represents a significant public health issue worldwide. It is the leading cause of death in the USA, notably in Arkansas, where Dr Jamie I. Baum, at the Department of Food Science at the University of Arkansas, is exploring, with her colleagues, the relationship between dietary protein intake and its impact on body composition and metabolism to develop efficient nutritional guidelines to prevent and treat obesity.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from sunlight has been identified as a leading risk factor for the development of melanoma. Despite numerous research studies, the molecular mechanisms underlying the link between UVR and melanoma remain still poorly understood. Dr Chengyu Liang, from The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia and her collaborators from the University of Southern California have identified the function of the UV irradiation resistance associated gene (UVRAG). Their studies show that inactivation of UVRAG affects the ability of the cell to repair UVR-induced damage mechanisms. The researchers also provide compelling in vivo validation of a novel prognostic and predictive biomarker in melanoma.
Fracking has long been controversial for its potential to contaminate local water sources and cause damage to the environment. Dr Kathleen Mullen at Littleton Equine Medical Center in Colorado and her team have carried out novel research into how fracking in close proximity to a horse-breeding farm may be the cause of a specific birth defect in the foals born there. Her findings may be relevant to human babies and considerations of the implications of fracking on long-term health.
Dr J. Kenneth Hoober | Dr Laura L. Eggink – Glycomimetic Peptides as Immune System Activators in the Treatment of Cancer and Viral Infections
Immune system cells express a number of receptors that bind to sugar ligands. This binding initiates the activation of T-cell lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Dr J. Kenneth Hoober, Dr Laura L. Eggink and the team at Susavion have designed peptides that bind to different receptors on immune cells. The peptides effectively extend the lives of mice with glioblastoma and ovarian cancer, and prevent the replication of viruses in the presence of non-neutralising antibodies. The mechanism of action of their peptides could inspire the development of effective treatments for Covid-19 and other viral infections.
Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with high rates of disability and even mortality. Understanding the relationship between patient outcomes and the treatment received, as well as other physiological factors such as inflammation, can improve how we approach TBI. Dr Jack Jallo and his team from the Department of Neurological Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University are researching the factors that influence TBI recovery to help design better care management protocols and optimise patient recovery.
Malnutrition, occurring as either a lack of food or not eating enough of the right types of food, is a significant concern in many African countries, particularly for children. To address this issue, Dr Marlyse Leng and her colleagues at the University of Douala in Cameroon have recently developed a nutritious weaning food for infants, made from an endangered yam species to increase its production and use. After processing the yam with other key nutrients into an optimised formulation, they explored the food’s nutrient availability and antioxidant activity in comparison to other products.
Dr Claudine Bruck | Professor Edward Morrisey | Professor Jason Burdick – A Hydrogel with the Ability to Recover Heart Function
The human heart is a muscle, and like all types of muscles, it can be injured. In humans, heart muscle is not able to regenerate after injury, and this can lead to heart disease which develops over time, eventually leading to an untimely death. A team of researchers, Doctor Claudine Bruck (Prolifagen), Professor Edward Morrisey (Department of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology) and Professor Jason Burdick (Department of Bioengineering) at the University of Pennsylvania, have collaborated to develop a novel therapy to regenerate damaged heart muscle.
Dr Charles Vite – Naturally Occurring Diseases in Dogs and Cats Help to Develop Treatments for Inherited Neurological Disorders
Many inherited neurological diseases are rare but can have severe outcomes, frequently resulting in disability and even death for children. New treatment options are essential to prevent suffering and decrease mortality, but to find such treatments, these diseases need to be more closely studied. Dr Charles Vite and his team at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, are committed to achieving these goals. By utilising animal models and unique markers for inherited neurological disease, they have already delivered promising results supporting the development of new treatment options.
Prolonged exposure to nitrate from contaminated water affects the transport of oxygen in blood. Nitrate can react with haemoglobin, oxidising it into methaemoglobin, which is unable to carry oxygen. High methaemoglobin levels among infants result in a medical condition known as methaemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome. Dr Mina Sadeq and her team from the National Institute of Hygiene in Morocco, conducted two studies to investigate the combined effects of nitrate and bacteria on the development of methaemoglobinaemia in infants and young children.