Health and Medicine
Cancer can be caused by genetic mutations or epigenetic alterations, which are changes to the way DNA is processed, rather than to the DNA itself. These changes can be brought about by obesity, and more specifically, oxidative stress and consequent reactive oxygen species. However, the molecular mechanisms by which this occurs are not well understood. Dr Aliccia Bollig-Fischer from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan is studying these processes and paving the way for the development of novel cancer therapeutics.
Covalent drugs are molecules that irreversibly bind to specific, targeted sites in the body. They work to inhibit the disease-causing functions of certain proteins by preventing them from interacting with other substances. This is a highly promising field of drug development and the focus of Dr Mikail Abbasov from Cornell University, New York, USA. By creating and utilising new technologies and through collaborative research, Dr Abbasov has mapped novel molecular targets for potential covalent drugs to treat ailments ranging from cancer to autoimmune diseases.
Dr Kristin Parent – Bacteriophage Hunting: Searching for the Tiny Viruses That Kill Harmful Bacteria
Bacteriophages are tiny viruses that infect and kill bacteria but are harmless to humans. With the world facing devastating antibiotic resistance in the coming years, they may be our best hope for treating bacterial disease. There are believed to be 10^31 bacteriophages in the world, and most of them have not yet been identified. Dr Kristin Parent from Michigan State University is working on exciting, collaborative projects hunting for bacteriophages in their natural environment. She has made huge strides in elucidating the mysterious and important world of bacteriophages.
The design of effective antivirals is a key priority in the global effort to curb the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The FDA-approved drug Remdesivir (RDV) acts by interfering with the SARS-CoV-2 viral replication mechanism. Dr Jin Yu and her team from the University of California, Irvine, conducted a computational study to elucidate how the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), responsible for SARS-CoV-2 genomic replication, is inhibited by RDV. Excitingly, they showed that RDV binds tightly to RdRp, stabilising a closed conformation of the active site for successful incorporation to effectively halt viral replication.
Juan Lavista Ferres | Dr Jan-Marino Ramirez | Dr Tatiana Anderson | Professor Edwin Mitchell – Understanding Sudden Unexpected Infant Death: A Unique Collaboration
When a supposedly healthy infant passes away, it can be hard to understand why. Juan Lavista Ferres (Microsoft), Dr Jan-Marino Ramirez and Dr Tatiana Anderson (both from Seattle Children’s Research Institute), and Professor Edwin Mitchell (University of Auckland), form the core of a novel collaboration to conduct vital and extensive research into the risk factors and mechanisms behind sudden unexpected infant death. This unique collaboration spanning across disciplines, industries and continents, is providing the deeper understanding that is needed to prevent unnecessary infant deaths.
Congenital heart disease (CHD) is one of the most common birth defects across the globe. Although prospects and survival rates are improving, there is scant understanding or help available to get children with CHD active. Many believe physical activity is risky or outright dangerous, and as a result, children with CHD are at risk of obesity and other chronic conditions later in life. Dr Marta Erlandson from the University of Saskatchewan has aided the creation of CHAMPS, an innovative program for children with CHD, where researchers and children are learning how to manage the disorder from each other.
Prof Leon WMM Terstappen – A Novel Approach to Single Cell Identification, Isolation and Characterisation
The establishment of cell lines capable of producing high-quality monoclonal antibodies is imperative for the development of therapeutic agents and the advancement of biomedical research. Prof Leon WMM Terstappen and his team from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have developed a highly efficient method of identifying and isolating cells that produce high concentrations of specific antibodies. With his team, Prof Terstappen has further honed this method to aid in the refinement of molecular cloning techniques to increase the yield of superior quality monoclonal cell lines.
Dr. Eric Buckland – Translational Imaging Innovations: Accelerating Ophthalmic Research Through an Integrated Online Platform
Led by Dr. Eric Buckland, Translational Imaging Innovations, Inc. (TII) provides purpose-driven software systems that drive such ophthalmic research forward. The TII image management platform provides researchers with the tools to manage multifaceted imaging workflows and efficiently organize and analyse complex sets of images and data to accelerate the development of new diagnoses and treatments for eye diseases. By unleashing the power of the eye, TII aims to transform medicine.
Our DNA codes for proteins that are essential for the normal structure and function of our cells, tissues and organs. These proteins are folded in specific ways to facilitate these functions, but in disease states, this folding can go wrong. Dr. David Westaway from the University of Alberta in Canada investigates how and why protein misfolding occurs and how strains of misfolded proteins result in neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. His research is paving the way for novel therapies for these currently incurable and devasting conditions.
Dr Anne Hansen – Dream Warmer: An Innovative, Safe and Effective Complement to Skin-to-Skin Care for Neonatal Hypothermia
Dr Anne Hansen is the Medical Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Associate Chief of the Division of Newborn Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. With her colleagues, Dr Hansen has developed and tested a low cost, non-electrical warming mattress called the ‘Dream Warmer’ to help prevent and treat neonatal hypothermia in countries with limited medical resources. Her team has conducted extensive testing in Rwanda with results demonstrating that this medical device is safe, effective and ready for use on a wider scale.
Dr Arpan Ashok Patel of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry is dedicated to better understanding the prevalence and impact of financial toxicity amongst older, more advanced cancer patients. His recent work in this field is the first to analyse real conversations between patients and oncologists in this high-risk group. His findings show that those struggling with financial stability following cancer treatment are more likely to have a lower health-related quality of life, highlighting the need for better screening tools to identify at-risk patients to allow appropriate signposting to support.
Rabies is transmitted from animals to humans through the bite of an infected animal, all too often with fatal consequences, particularly in the developing world. Dr Joanne Maki, Technical Director for the Veterinary Public Health Centre at Boehringer-Ingelheim Animal Health, has worked in rabies prevention for 30 years. With extensive background and experience gained in the rabies vaccine industry, Dr Maki shares her perspectives on the call to action to eliminate this deadly zoonotic disease.
The processes and metabolic pathways in our cells are complex and extensive, but essential for normal life functions, including cell respiration and energy production via the mitochondria. However, sometimes these processes go wrong resulting in disease, including cancer. Dr Chao Sun from the Institute of Modern Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, dedicates his research to unravelling the mechanisms behind tumour progression in relation to mitochondrial dysfunction.
Despite their numerous side effects, opioid drugs and morphine-like agents have remained a pillar in the medical management of pain. Most clinically used opioid drugs act through mu opioid receptors. Dr Ying-Xian Pan and his team from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, USA, studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms of mu opioid receptors and aim to develop novel strategies and opioid analgesics for better treating pain without side effects associated with traditional opiates. Efforts to find substitutes for traditional opioid drugs are helping address the opiate abuse crisis that affects many countries around the globe.
Cancer is the second cause of death worldwide, despite continuous research efforts in the pursuit of better treatments. One of the most promising developments is that of cancer imaging, which aims to help clinicians visualize tumors within the body. Professor Matthew Bogyo and his team from Stanford University have developed fluorescent probes that can be injected into patients prior to cancer surgery. The probes emit fluorescence once in the tumor microenvironment, helping surgeons to distinguish cancer tissue from the surrounding healthy tissue to enable complete removal of the cancer and ultimately, improve patient outcomes.
Stroke can impair a person’s ability to communicate, resulting in a disorder known as aphasia. To facilitate recovery, scientists must understand how language is processed normally as well as how a stroke may impact the language system in the brain. Dr Cynthia K. Thompson, Ralph and Jean Sundin Professor of Communication Science and Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University, has been researching normal and disordered language for over thirty years. Her focus is on understanding and supporting the recovery of language processes when the brain has been damaged.
Prof Ferruh Artunc – Uncovering the Mechanisms Behind Nephrotic Syndrome to Develop Novel Therapeutics
Kidney disease impacts many people throughout the world and it can sometimes take the severe form of nephrotic syndrome. This condition results in many difficult symptoms but it is best represented by the presence of oedema, which is the severe swelling of the legs and eyelids. Currently, the exact mechanisms underlying oedema formation are poorly understood. Prof Ferruh Artunc from the Tübingen University Hospital in Germany is using his expertise in nephrology to uncover these mechanisms. His work has strengthened our comprehension of oedema formation in nephrotic syndrome and it may even lead to novel therapeutics in the future.
Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive and life-threatening form of brain cancer. Although some treatments are available to provide comfort and prolong life, it remains an incurable and devastating disease. With the goal of advancing diagnostics and treatments for glioblastoma, Dr Hernando Lopez-Bertoni is carrying out exciting research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Taking on board the cancer stem cell hypothesis, Dr Lopez-Bertoni has made fascinating discoveries into how miRNA genetic material can be utilised and how it could be delivered to the brain via nanoparticles.
Identifying the cause of an illness in a sick baby or child is not always easy, particularly if the disease is rare. Throughout his career, Dr Michael Wangler, at the Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, has investigated rare childhood diseases. Combining his expertise in paediatrics and genetics, Dr Wangler utilises genomics, metabolomics and the humble fruit fly to identify the genes responsible for rare and undiagnosed diseases to improve both diagnosis and treatment.
Radiation therapy is an effective and widely used method of treating cancer, and as with any treatment, it is essential to get the right dose. However, Dr Stephen Kry from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has found widespread errors in the systems that calculate the doses patients receive. Through his research, he has helped to identify where these errors occur, how common they are, and provide possible solutions. He hopes that his work will go on to improve the quality and efficacy of radiotherapy for many cancer patients.
Dr Peter Bretscher – A Substantiated Framework for the Prevention and Treatment of Immune System-Related Diseases
Immunity is generated normally against invaders, such as viruses and cancer cells, but not against parts of the body to which the immune system belongs. In 1970, Dr Peter Bretscher and Dr Melvin Cohn proposed a theory to account for how this is achieved. Importantly, immune responses against invaders can take one of two main forms, and Dr Bretscher (currently at the University of Saskatchewan) also proposed an explanation for how the choice of immunity is made. These two proposals are supported by diverse findings. Here, we outline and justify these proposals and explain how they lead to strategies to prevent and treat diverse diseases.
Dr Lakshmi Mahadevan – Mental Health First Aid: Bridging the Gap between Rural Communities and Access to Care
In the USA, poor mental health and opioid addiction are prominent and widespread. With a lack of understanding and resources in many rural areas in Texas, many people facing mental health and addiction challenges do not know where to turn. Dr Lakshmi Mahadevan at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is helping to train up rural communities in Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) so that they can provide better care for those in need.
Dr Spencer Proctor – A Novel Antibody with Vaccine-like Properties to Treat Heart Disease in Diabetes
Patients with diabetes mellitus face an increased risk of developing heart disease. The high levels of sugars, lipid and cholesterol associated with diabetes cause thickening of the blood vessels, increasing the incidence of coronary heart disease and stroke. The pioneering team from the Centre of Molecular Immunology, Cuba, in collaboration with Dr Spencer Proctor from the University of Alberta in Canada are testing an antibody that targets the walls of the blood vessels, preventing the binding and accumulation of cholesterol.
Dr Y-H Taguchi – In Silico Drug Discovery for COVID-19 Using an Unsupervised Feature Extraction Method
In silico drug discovery is useful for screening and identifying large numbers of drug candidate compounds in a way that is not possible using classical experimental approaches. Dr Y-H Taguchi at Chuo University, Japan, has developed a computational technique known as ‘tensor decomposition-based unsupervised feature extraction’. He has successfully applied this as an in silico phenotype-based drug discovery method to repurpose known drugs for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and has successfully identified various known anti-viral drugs as viable candidates for the successful treatment of COVID-19.
Dr W. Kent Anger | Dr Fayssal M. Farahat | Dr Pamela J. Lein | Dr Diane S. Rohlman – Establishing the Neurotoxic Impact of Chlorpyrifos Exposure in Workers
Chlorpyrifos (CPF) is one of the most commonly used pesticides in the world. Agricultural workers in Egypt have relatively high levels of exposure to it when working in the cotton fields but until now, the neurotoxic impact of this has been uncertain due to a lack of evidence linking CPF dose and neurotoxicity. Dr W. Kent Anger, Dr Fayssal M. Farahat, Dr Pamela J. Lein and Dr Diane S. Rohlman have brought together their respective research expertise to collaborate on this issue. Their findings have the potential to greatly improve the long-term health of employees working with pesticides.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) touches the lives of millions of people all over the world. Successful antiretroviral drugs allow patients to live longer and healthier lives, without the threat of acquired immunodeficiency developing. However, as with all viruses, HIV can mutate and become resistant to once-effective therapies. Dr Eric Freed at the USA’s National Cancer Institute focuses on elucidating the late stages of HIV replication and how the virus becomes resistant to antiretroviral drugs. His promising results are paving the way for developing new drugs that can combat HIV drug resistance.
Dr Joseph Jerry – Variation in DNA Repair Mechanisms Can Influence Effects of Oestrogen and Environmental Chemicals on Breast Cancer Susceptibility
All women are exposed to oestrogen from puberty through menopause. Oestrogen is a natural hormone that is important for breast development and the maintenance of tissues in women but is also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. As many as 1 in 8 women in the USA will be diagnosed with breast cancer over their lifetime, and the majority of these breast cancers are sensitive to oestrogen. Dr Joseph Jerry and his collaborators at the University of Massachusetts are studying the environmental exposures and genetic differences that alter the consequences of exposure to oestrogens.
Professor Gemmy Cheung – The Translational Asian Age-related Macular Degeneration Program: Improving Age-related Macular Degeneration Outcomes
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an increasingly common disease that causes significant visual impairment. The implications include socioeconomic burdens for individuals and the population as a whole. Working to elucidate the issues surrounding AMD is Professor Gemmy Cheung, who holds senior roles at the Singapore National Eye Centre and the Singapore Eye Research Institute. She has brought together a group of expert scientists to form the Translational Asian Age-Related Macular Degeneration Program. The team is elucidating the mechanisms behind AMD to develop novel therapies, cultivate diagnostics and develop tools to better understand the impact of the disease from patients’ perspective.
Dr Robert Dolin | Dr Srikar Chamala | Dr Gil Alterovitz – vcf2fhir: Bridging the Gap Between Genomics and Healthcare
On molecular scales, the responses of our bodies to particular medical treatments are deeply engrained in our unique genetic codes. Yet so far, the advanced computer science technologies used to study patient responses and molecular-scale mechanisms have remained entirely independent from each other. Now, Dr Robert Dolin of Elimu Informatics, Dr Srikar Chamala at the University of Florida, and Dr Gil Alterovitz at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, address this issue through vcf2fhir: a resource capable of converting between the file formats used by both fields. Through future improvements, his team’s approach could soon transform the ways in which crucial clinical decisions are made.
Dr Robyn S. Klein – Regulation and Loss of Neuroprotection in Viral and Autoimmune Diseases of the Central Nervous System
Viral and autoimmune diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) are often characterised by the onset of inflammation leading to neurological dysfunction, including impairment to memory and other cognitive domains. Dr Robyn S. Klein at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, leads a team that specialises in neuroinflammatory diseases of the CNS. In recent years, they have investigated the regulation of blood-brain barrier permeability in autoimmune diseases and viral infections with pathogens such as the West Nile virus.
Every year, approximately 700,000 new diagnoses of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, are reported to dermatologists in the USA alone, constituting the second most common form of cancer. Treating pre-cancerous skin cells with a therapeutic topical cream could significantly reduce the number of harmful cells, potentially inhibiting the growth of squamous cell carcinoma. Dr John T. Seykora and his team from the University of Philadelphia have been researching the biology of skin squamous cell carcinoma and related precursor lesions to identify new therapeutic targets that could be treated using topical approaches with exciting results.
Damage and disease of the cornea are some of the leading causes of sight loss. This can often be remedied is through a transplant with a healthy cornea from a donor. However, donors are few and far between, so innovative solutions are required. Dr Zi-Bing Jin from the Beijing Institute of Ophthalmology in China is working on this with some exciting results. Utilising specific small molecules to control cell differentiation, he has discovered a new method for creating the necessary cells for corneal transplant, without the need of a cornea donor.