Week in Review: December 15–19

Reprogramming questioned; dengue-detecting antibodies; drug repurposing for Ebola; transcription of retroviruses

Dec 19, 2014
Tracy Vence

Questioning “reprogramming”

FANJIE MENG Manipulating mechanical forces alone can prompt somatic cells toward a stem cell-like state, according to researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York. Their work, published in PNAS last month (November 24), is reminiscent of the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) papers, which were published in January and retracted in July.

Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell biologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in either project raised questions about this latest work. “I’m concerned in this paper and, more broadly, that the term ‘reprogramming’ is being used too loosely and without definitive evidence,” he told The Scientist.

Toward a dengue vaccine

EMBL-EBI, WANWISA DEJNIRATTISAI ET AL.A team led by investigators at Imperial College London has identified antibodies that recognize an envelope protein unique to dengue virus. The work, published in Nature Immunology this week (December 15), could inform future vaccine development efforts.

“What [our study] suggests is that it is potentially possible to provide cross-reactive immunity, and furthermore it means that we might be able to raise immunity against dengue using recombinant protein,” said study coauthor Gavin Screaton of Imperial College.

New role for retroviruses?

WIKIMEDIA, BRUCEBLAUSTI-2 antigens may stimulate the transcription of normally silent retroviral sequences in B cells, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and their colleagues reported in Science this week (December 18). The retroviral expression in turn spurs B-cell proliferation and increased production of antibodies.

The University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Michael Cancro—who was not involved in the work—said the study “may well be the seminal paper in resolving this long-standing conundrum of exactly what is a TI-2 antigen doing to get these B cells to kick off.”

Ebola drug screen

FLICKR, NIAIDRepurposing existing drugs offers many benefits over discovering and developing new ones, especially if these off-the-shelf compounds are already approved by regulatory agencies. Given the significant need for medicines to treat Ebola patients, researchers from the US National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and their colleagues have found more than 50 drugs that show potential as anti-Ebola treatments. “Hopefully they can be studied quickly and deployed quickly in humans,” study coauthor Adolfo García-Sastre of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City told The Scientist. His team’s work was published in Emerging Microbes and Infections this week (December 17).

Other news in life science:

2015 Science Funding Flat
The US legislature passed a spending agreement for next year, and the deal has only modest increases for federal science agencies.

Iron-Ferrying Protein Impedes Pathogens
Meningitis-causing bacteria exerted strong evolutionary pressure on an iron-binding protein in primates, a study shows.

Ebola Update
Plasma-based therapy trials begin in West Africa; NIH-GSK vaccine shows promise in Phase 1; the real statistics

Communicating Across Kingdoms?
Researchers pinpoint microRNAs that could play a role in how Wolbachia bacteria manipulate their arthropod hosts.

Journalists to Catalog Retractions
Staff of the blog Retraction Watch will create a database of papers retracted from the scientific literature.