NAS Report Calls for Creation of a Biomedical Research and Patient Data Network

WASHINGTON — A new data network that integrates emerging research on the molecular makeup of diseases with clinical data on individual patients could drive the development of a more accurate classification of disease and ultimately enhance diagnosis and treatment, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The “new taxonomy” that emerges would define diseases by their underlying molecular causes and other factors in addition to their traditional physical signs and symptoms.  The report adds that the new data network could also improve biomedical research by enabling scientists to access patients’ information during treatment while still protecting their rights.  This would allow the marriage of molecular research and clinical data at the point of care, as opposed to research information continuing to reside primarily in academia.

Latest Complete Genome: The Naked Mole Rat

Biologists have a tool for unraveling the odd collection of traits — including apparent complete resistance to cancer – in this odd rodent from South Africa.    They find may clues that will prove useful to human medicine.   A team of 36 scientists working on three continents published the genome this week, the latest and perhaps most exotic organism to have its entire DNA sequence transcribed.

New Drug Target for Alzheimer’s, Stroke Discovered

A tiny piece of a critical receptor that fuels the brain and without which sentient beings cannot live has been discovered by University at Buffalo scientists as a promising new drug target for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The research on the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor was being published online  in Nature Communications.

Scientists Spot New Clues to HIV-Linked Dementia

Researchers have identified two genetically distinct types of HIV in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with HIV-associated dementia.   The discovery may help explain why the risk of developing neurological difficulties increases as AIDS patients live longer, and may also help predict which patients are at greatest risk for the problem, according to the U.S. scientists.  They said the two newly-identified HIV types aren’t being detected in HIV that circulates in a patient’s blood, and one type may be present cerebrospinal fluid years before the onset of HIV-linked dementia.  The fact that the two HIV types can be detected in the CSF indicates that they grow in the central nervous system. 

The study, which appears in the journal PLoS Pathogens, was led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Being “Good” and Being “Great” The Importance of Working Memory

In a provocative new paper, researchers at Southern Illinois University suggest working memory capacity — which is closely related to general intelligence — may sometimes be the deciding factor between good and great.

In a series of studies, Zach Hambrick and colleagues found that people with higher levels of working memory capacity outperformed those with lower levels — and even in individuals with extensive experience and knowledge of the task at hand. The studies analyzed complex tasks such as piano sight reading.    The research appears in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Viruses: We’ve Barely Begun To Know Them

Though viruses are the most abundant life form on Earth, our knowledge of the viral universe is limited to a tiny fraction of the viruses that likely exist.  An international team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Barcelona have found that raw sewage is home to thousands of novel, undiscovered viruses, some of which could relate to human health.  Read more about developing new techniques to look for novel viruses in unique places around the world.

Cancer Drug Candidate Leads to Proteomics Method

Scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medical have devised an affinity capture-based proteomics technique that could be used to identify and map dysregulated protein pathways in a number of different cancers.

The technique, which was detailed in a paper published Nature Chemical Biology, relies on the inhibitor PU-H71 – a small molecule that selectively binds tumor-enriched Hsp90 proteins, enabling pulldown of Hsp90-bound oncogenic client proteins. According to MSK researcher Gabriela Chiosis ― one of the developers of the method ― measurement of these captured proteins combined with bioinformatic analysis could provide a better understanding of tumor biology.

MicroRNA Helps Put Turtles “In Their Place”

A new technique for animal classification could quell the long-running debate between paleontologists and molecular biologists as to where turtles belong on the evolutionary tree. While some camps have argued that turtles are closer to crocodilians and birds, researchers at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine; Dartmouth College; and Harvard University have published data in Biology Letters suggesting that turtles are more closely related to tuataras and lizards. The team identified 77 new microRNA families in the Anolis carolinensis lizard genome, four of which are also expressed in Chrysemys picta bellii, the Western painted turtle, leading them to conclude that turtles and lizards have much more in common than previously thought.

Gamers Solve Protein Puzzle That Stumped Science

What has taken researchers more than a decade to chip away it, gamers solved in weeks.   Foldit players have solved the structure of a retroviral protease of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus; their solution and its validation appear in a paper published online in advance in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology this week. The University of Washington’s David Baker, the Foldit creator, tells Nature‘s News blog that “the M-PMV structure had stumped scientists for a very long time before Foldit players made their breakthrough, adding: “This is the first example I know of game players solving a long-standing scientific problem.”