Week in Review: October 26–30

Negative citations; cardiac stem cell saga continues; identifying anonymized genomic study participants; evolution of allergens; a call for biodefense innovation

Tracy Vence
Oct 29, 2015

Literature criticism

PIXABAY, OPENCLIPARTVECTORSPapers that call out issues in other papers appear to have little impact on the number of citations a given article receives. And highly cited papers tend to receive the bulk of such negative citations. That’s according to researchers who analyzed papers published in the Journal of Immunology between 1998 and 2007. The team published its results in PNAS this week (October 26).

“The results make sense and fit with what I expect,” said Gonçalo Abecasis of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who was not involved in the work. “Usually, when you take the time to write and say, ‘These [researchers] got it wrong,’ you do it with reference to papers that are otherwise high profile and that people think are probably good.”

“This piece is the harbinger of things to come—that by combining really large data sets with new analytical techniques such as machine learning, we can derive meaning from those article pairs that are linked via citation,” Abecasis added.

Cardiac stem cells

WIKIPEDIA, REGENTS OF UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN MEDICAL SCHOOLDo they or don’t they produce cardiomyoctes? That’s what researchers studying cKit+ cells have been asking for years, generating mixed results. According to the latest study, published this month (October 5) in PNAS, researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and their colleagues showed that, under the right culture conditions, cKit+ cells can produce these cardiac progenitors.

Bernardo Nadal-Ginard, an honorary professor at King’s College London who was not involved in this latest study, called the evidence “convincing.” But not everyone is convinced the results will hold up in vivo. “They never show the myogenic potential of those cells and don’t show them giving rise to cardiomyogensis [in vivo],” said Michael Kotlikoff of Cornell University who was not involved in the study.

Reidentifying study participants

FREEIMAGES, SCHULERGDAnonymized patients whose genomic data have been deposited in databases shared among researchers can be reidentified in certain situations, researchers reported in The American Journal of Human Genetics this week (October 29).

“The paper shows that . . . if you have access to someone’s DNA, you can now go and check in different [databases] to see whether [that person] participated,” said Yaniv Erlich of Columbia University in New York City who was not involved in the work.

Oxytocin, social contact, and cannabinoids

WIKIMEDIA, NIHOxytocin plus social contact can impact endocannabinoid activity in the mouse brain, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and their colleagues showed in PNAS this week (October 26). “The effects of oxytocin are virtually entirely dependent on the ability of oxytocin to drive the formation of anandamide, [an endogenous cannabinoid],” said study coauthor Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine.

Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen, U.K., told The Scientist that the findings could have implications for treating social deficits associated with autism spectrum disorders, if the results hold up in clinical studies.

Allergen evolution

WIKIMEDIA, WAISBERG“There must be some molecular similarity between what the immune system is expecting and designed to see in parasites and what is present in the allergen proteins,” Nicholas Furnham of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told The Scientist. To find out, he and his colleagues analyzed 331 protein families that contain known allergens and found similarities between the DNA sequences that code for them and those that encode parasite proteins. The team’s results were published in PLOS Computational Biology this week (October 29).

“Many, many people have looked at the underlying sequences of these parasite proteins and compared them to known sequences of allergens and identified, on a linear basis, how similar or dissimilar they are,” said Thomas Nutman, deputy chief of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Computational tools the London-based team employed helped the researchers “predict the portions of the molecule that are driving the [allergic] response,” added Nutman, who was not involved in the study.

Other news in life science:

Another Retraction for Fake Nutrition Data
The BMJ yanks a study on baby formula from R.K. Chandra decades after it was published.

FDA OKs Herpesvirus to Treat Cancer
The US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of an engineered herpesvirus for the treatment of melanoma marks the first oncolytic virus to enter the market.

Imaging Entire Organisms
A new microscope allows researchers to watch biological processes at the cellular level in 3-D in living animals.

Stem Cell Similarities
Human induced pluripotent stem cells appear functionally equivalent to stem cells from embryos in a study.

Opinion: Biodefense Innovation Needed
To protect against biological threats, federal agencies and other key stakeholders should commit to a strategic, unified approach.