Week in Review: October 5–9

This year’s Nobel Prizes; toward developing a brown fat-activating drug; certain antioxidants can increase the spread of melanoma in mice; anonymity and post-publication peer review

Oct 9, 2015
Tracy Vence

Nobel Prizes 2015

Left to right: Satoshi Omura, William Campbell, Youyou TuSATOSHI OMURA, DREW UNIVERSITY, LASKER FOUNDATIONWilliam Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their contributions to antiparasitic drug development. The discoveries that led to artemisinin—an antimalarial—and avermectin—a compound that has been used to develop therapies for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis—“are now more than 30 years old,” said David Conway, a professor of biology of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “[These drugs] are still, today, the best two groups of compounds for antimalarial use, on the one hand, and antinematode worms and filariasis on the other.”

Left to right: Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, Aziz SancarILL. N. ELMEHED. © NOBEL MEDIA AB 2015 Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, and Aziz Sancar won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work elucidating mechanisms of DNA repair. “These guys have [made] tremendous, longstanding contributions to DNA repair, which is what keeps us all alive,” said David Lilley, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Dundee, U.K.

Activating brown fat

WIKIPEDIA, HGG6996Will scientists figure out how to activate energy-burning brown fat in people to treat obesity? Harvard Medical School’s Bruce Spiegelman believes so. He leads one of several teams looking to target the tissue for potential obesity therapies. From evaluating compounds that fire up brown fat activity in humans to transplanting the tissue from one mouse to another, among other approaches, the field is heating up. But the work is still early stage, and several obstacles must be overcome before any of these experimental approaches reach the clinic.

“We really haven’t pushed the capacity of brown fat in humans yet,” Aaron Cypess of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases told The Scientist.

Antioxidants and cancer revisited

C. BICKEL, SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINELast year, a team led by Martin Bergo at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden showed that the antioxidants N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and vitamin E could spur the growth of lung cancer in mice. This week (October 7), the team showed that the same antioxidants can lead to an increase in metastasis in mice with melanoma. The results were published in Science Translational Medicine.

“Antioxidants can probably protect both healthy cells and tumor cells from free radicals,” Bergo told The Scientist. “Free radicals can slow down tumor proliferation and metastasis and antioxidants can help tumors overcome those limitations.”

Other news in life science:

Jobs for Refugee Scientists
The European Commission has pledged to help find positions for researchers fleeing their home countries.

Debating the Value of Anonymity
PubPeer responds to criticism that anonymous post-publication peer review threatens the scientific process.

Predatory Journal Biz Booming
Scientific publishers with questionable standards raked in about $75 million and published more than 400,000 articles last year, according to a new analysis.

TS Picks: October 5, 2015
Nobel Prizes edition (TL; DR it’s not all glitz and glamour.)