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.
Epilepsy is one of the most common causes of disability worldwide, but for many patients, treatment fails to be effective. Dr Victoria Morgan and her team from the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are using functional connectivity mapping to find out why some patients respond better to treatment and what alternative ways there may be to tackle this debilitating disorder.
Dr Anton Iliuk – A Non-invasive, Low-cost Procedure to Detect Cancer Biomarkers from Biological Fluids
Liquid biopsies have recently gained attention as sources of non-invasive diagnostic cancer biomarkers. Traditional biofluid sampling methods, however, are onerous and time-consuming and present many limitations including poor sensitivity for biomarkers in low concentrations. Dr Anton Iliuk and his team at Tymora Analytical Operations, West Lafayette, USA, have developed a way to isolate extracellular vesicles from plasma, urine and other biofluids. They now aim to grow their network of collaborators to use their platform for the discovery of protein biomarkers from several cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions.
Medical conditions that affect the brain can have severe impacts on people’s lives. Many of these conditions can be difficult to treat, including epilepsy which affects the brain to cause seizures and the common form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Arun Swaminathan at the University of Nebraska Medical Center specialises in the treatment of epilepsy. He also collaborates with fellow researchers to explore treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.
Applying mathematics to biology can help reveal the elusive details of life. Professor Wilfred D. Stein and his colleagues from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and institutes worldwide have used quantitative tools to tackle topics ranging from cancer treatment to drug-resistant malaria, and lately, the evolution of the human genome. His extensive and broad work has supported scientists in many different areas of biomedicine and will leave a lasting impact on life science.
Dr Richard B. Brandon | Dr Thomas D. Yager – A Fully Integrated Diagnostic Test to Discriminate Sepsis from Infection-negative Systemic Inflammation
Sepsis is a serious medical condition that manifests with a dysregulated immune response to an infection in the bloodstream, and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Many non-infectious conditions can lead to a state of hyper-inflammation known as the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), which clinically can look very similar to sepsis. A lack of analytical tools that allow for the early detection of sepsis makes discrimination between sepsis and SIRS a very complex but critical diagnostic task. Dr Richard B. Brandon, Dr Thomas D. Yager and their colleagues at Immunexpress have developed a molecular diagnostic platform capable of detecting genetic biomarkers diagnostic for sepsis in about an hour. Early sepsis diagnosis can potentially lead to better patient management, more efficient use of resources, and a more sensible approach to the use of antibiotics.
Healthcare systems around the world are under increasing pressure as a result of depleting resources accompanied by rising demands. Dr Johannes Bircher’s reflections on the inherent failings of modern healthcare systems have coalesced into an important proposal for a new concept of health, known as the Meikirch model. Here, we look at the potential of the Meikirch model to drive forward a critical paradigm shift in healthcare delivery.
Dr Yasuhiro Sakai | Dr Kazuhiko Kuwahara – GANP: An Immunoactive Protein with a Key Role in Tumourigenesis
Investigating the role of an immune system protein, GANP, and its coding gene, ganp, Dr Yasuhiro Sakai and Dr Kazuhiko Kuwahara (Fujita Health University School of Medicine) have unveiled a potential role for this important protein in tumourigenesis. The scientists apply a multidisciplinary approach to identify potential therapeutic solutions to aid cancer prognosis, a collaboration that occurs in the emerging field of immunopathology. The researchers focus on the differential levels of GANP which appear to correlate with breast cancers (low GANP) and with lymphocytic cancers (high GANP).
The rise of pandemic-causing viruses is a worrying development arising as a by-product of our hugely connected world, and scientists must forge new paths to tackle these diseases. With researchers like Dr Babita Agrawal from the University of Alberta at the helm, we can hope to enter a new era of preventatives and therapeutics to help us fight disease. Dr Agrawal and her team are investigating novel vaccines and immunotherapeutics for influenza, Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and even cancer.
Ubiquitin is a polypeptide that is tagged on to various proteins to signal a range of biological processes. The alteration of the ubiquitin system plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of diseases including autoimmune disorders and cancer. The process of ubiquitinylation involves a cascade of enzymes, E1, the activating enzyme, E2 (conjugating enzymes) and E3 (ligases). Characterisation of the ubiquitinylation process of key proteins that impact stems cells, immune cells, and cancers is vital to identify therapeutic targets which may influence the progression of autoimmune conditions and cancers. The ubiquitin system is compromised in the majority of cancers and is the focus of research by Dr Yi Sheng of York University, Canada.
Brain tumours and other central nervous system diseases can be exceptionally difficult to treat. This is often due to the blood-brain barrier which can pose a significant obstacle when trying to get drugs to their intended site of action. Dr Sean Lawler and his team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School are aiming to bridge the gap between laboratory research and clinical treatment in their quest to find new ways to effectively deliver therapies to the brain and treat challenging diseases, especially the lethal brain tumour glioblastoma.
Multidrug resistance is one of the main culprits underlying the failure of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. Whilst many therapies are initially effective, a considerable proportion of patients eventually incur a poor prognosis and recurrence of malignant spread due to developing drug resistance at a later stage. Dr Rock J. Mancini, from Washington State University, has devised an approach that exploits proteins over-expressed in drug-resistant cancers to convert inactive prodrug substrates into active drugs that initiate an immune response targeted at cancer cells.
Since the turn of the century, a myriad of exciting applications for graphene have emerged. Amongst the most exciting might be its use as a scaffold for promoting tissue growth in the treatment of various medical conditions, including osteoarthritis. Researchers at Boise State University in the USA and Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany are gaining a greater understanding of the interactions between graphene and cells, towards the development of implantable graphene-based devices that can rebuild damaged tissue.
UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants. The database, which is regularly augmented with additional data, is globally accessible to approved researchers and scientists undertaking vital research into the most common and life-threatening diseases. UK Biobank’s research resource is a major contributor to the advancement of modern medicine and treatment and has enabled several scientific discoveries that improve human health. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Sir Rory Collins FMedSci FRS, Principal Investigator and Chief Executive of UK Biobank, to hear about the achievements to date and the ambitious and unique potential of this exciting project.