Week in Review: February 8–12

Targeting tumors with tumor-derived cells; effects of Neanderthal genes on human health; blocking chronic pain in mice; malignancies found in naked mole rats

By | February 12, 2016

Fighting cancer with cancer

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER, ELEONORA DONDOSSOLAGenetically engineering circulating tumor cells (CTCs) to express an anticancer cytokine, scientists from University of New Mexico and their colleagues have successfully targeted tumors implanted in mice. The team’s results were published in PNAS this week (February 8).

“This paper is an elegant example of thinking outside the box,” said Elizabeth Comen of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City who was not involved with the work. “To leverage the cancer cell’s powerful ability to travel all over the body against tumors is fascinating.”

Modern-fit genes

MICHAEL SMELTZER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITYHumans appear to have inherited from Neanderthals alleles linked to depression risk, among other traits, a team led by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, reported in Science this week (February 11).

“A number of previous studies have focused on individual genes,” said evolutionary geneticist Rasmus Neilsen of the University of California, Berkeley, who did not participate in the research. “But this is the first study that really systematically goes through and uses the knowledge we have about genetic variations in humans to answer the question: How much has integration of DNA from Neanderthals affected observable traits in humans?”  

Stress and chronic pain

C. BICKEL, SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINEThe protein FKBP51 can regulate a mouse’s perception of chronic but not acute pain, investigators from University College London and their colleagues showed in Science Translational Medicine this week (February 10).

The results confirm “what has long been suspected,” noted Jaclyn Schwarz from the University of Delaware who was not involved in the study—“that the mechanisms underlying acute pain versus chronic pain are distinct.”

“FKBP51 could be a potentially promising target for treating chronic pain in patients, particularly in those that have had some sort of physical trauma or injury, similar to the mouse model,” Schwarz added. “Given the terrible, sometimes devastating side effects of opiate drugs, we need to consider additional avenues for treatment of chronic pain, and this study makes a very strong case for FKBP51 as one of those targets.”

Other news in life science:

Obama Submits Science-Boosting Budget
But some critics say the President relies too heavily on mandatory funding to support the biomedical research enterprise.

Cancer Detected in Naked Mole Rats
Two captive males of the cancer-resistant species have shown signs of malignant tumors.

Brazil’s Pre-Zika Microcephaly Cases
A review of four years’ worth of medical records finds far greater numbers of microcephaly cases from before the ongoing Zika virus epidemic than had been officially reported.

Another Lyme Disease–Causing Bacterium Found
Scientists discover another species of Borrelia in the U.S.

Neuroscience of Early-Life Learning in C. elegans
Scientists identify the brain circuits with which newly hatched nematodes form and retrieve a lifelong aversive olfactory memory.

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