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Take drug additive, not drug?

By | January 26, 2009

A compound used to solubilize drugs surprisingly improves the symptoms of a rare genetic disorder, Niemann-Pick type C, and a new study in PNAS provides some clues as to how. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas fed NPC mice a form of cyclodextrin, a doughnut-shaped chemical with a water-soluble ring and a fat-soluble hole that enables the compound to solubilize an otherwise insoluble molecule, such as a drug. The hallmark of NPC is disrupted cholestero


FDA OKs stem cell trial

By | January 23, 2009

California-based biotech company Geron Corp. announced today (Jan. 23) that it has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin trials for the world's first clinical study on human embryonic stem cell-based therapy. linkurl:Geron; plans to initiate a Phase I multicenter clinical trial in up to 10 patients paralyzed due to spinal cord injury. Its treatment -- currently referred to as "GRNOPC1" -- uses embryonic stem cells coaxed to become nerve cell


Right on Geron

By | January 23, 2009

The US Food and Drug Administration's linkurl:decision; to green light a human embryonic stem cell-based therapy for spinal cord injury isn't just good news for the biotech in question, Geron Corp., analysts say -- instead, they argue, the move opens the door to an entire market that has heretofore been stymied. "It's the first clear evidence of the FDA's willingness to permit cells derived from pluripotent stem cells to go into human trials," lin


Bugs hold clues to human origins

By | January 22, 2009

An unlikely source has provided the answer to a long-standing question over how the geographically isolated Pacific Islands became populated: bacteria. By analyzing both genetic variations in human gut bacteria and linguistic evidence, scientists found that people migrated to the Pacific Islands approximately 5,000 years ago from Taiwan, two papers in this week's Science report. "This is the first paper where bacteria were specifically used for human migration patterns," says Mark Achtman, a p


Immune memory debate heats up

By | January 22, 2009

New findings stir the coals of a hot debate in immunology regarding the origin of memory T cells. The results, published in this week's Science, suggest that memory cells are descendant from the immune system's primary infection fighters, effector cells -- a finding which clashes with the two competing theories of memory cell origin, the authors say. Understanding these cells' origin could help researchers design cell-based vaccines, such as those in development for HIV. The initial response


A dungless dung beetle

By | January 21, 2009

Deep in the Amazon jungle, researchers have discovered a dung beetle that doesn't live up to its name, a sign the insect has undergone speciation. A new study published today (Jan. 20) in __Biology Letters__ reports a dung beetle that shuns its normal muck-eating habits in favor of feasting solely on live millipedes -- the first non-dung-eating dung beetle, say the authors. But not everyone agrees with this claim. Dung beetles are a worldwide group of insects that feed almost exclusively on


Animal rights activists jailed

By | January 21, 2009

Seven animal rights activists who blackmailed companies that supplied linkurl:Huntingdon Life Sciences,; an animal testing laboratory based in the UK, were sentenced today (Jan. 21) to between four and 11 years in prison. From 2001 to 2007, members of the linkurl:Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty; (SHAC) group used inflammatory graffiti, false allegations of pedophilia, and bomb hoaxes to intimidate managers and staff with links to the Cambridge-based


China gunning for brain gain

By | January 21, 2009

A scientific organization in the world's most populous nation is trying to lure foreign researchers to work on short-term contracts within its borders with offers of robust funding. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced last week that it will be offering outstanding foreign scientists funding that "will be higher than their research funding outside China," according to the chief of the CAS's international cooperation bureau Lv Yonglong, who was quoted by linkurl:SciDev.Net.;http://ww


Big unis, big losers?

By | January 20, 2009

Several top UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, stand to lose millions of pounds in research funding as a result of last year's Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), Britain's major review of research quality. However, other institutions that focus less on research may see an increase in funding, setting off accusations that the two tiers of schools could be engaging in "class warfare." On December 18, the RAE released its linkurl:rankings;

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An epigenetic inheritance

By | January 19, 2009

It's not just genes that are inherited. Chemical tags that affect gene expression levels may be inherited too, a new study published online this week in Nature Genetics reports. Molecular biologist Arturas Petronis and his colleagues at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada compared DNA methylation patterns from epithelial cells inside the mouths of 39 sets of identical and 40 sets of fraternal twins. Compared to fraternal twins, identical twins had more similar methyla



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