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News of the Week – Feb. 11th, 2013

SCIENCE
Controversy over unusual inheritance mechanism in plants revived
A team of Canadian scientists has found evidence that the model plant organism Arabidopsis thaliana may skip over gene copies inherited from its parents, and favor an ‘ancestral’ copy inherited from its grandparents. The postulated mechanism of inheritance involves a putative RNA reservoir that may store gene copies from previous generations, and remains accessible up to two generations later. The study was published in F1000Research, and cites a second paper by an independent group suggesting that vitamin C synthesis in the same plant species may follow the same inheritance mechanism.

Inducing cell death in brain tumors using small molecules
A group at Penn State Hershey has identified a molecule that induces expression of the protein TRAIL, in turn leading to selective cancer cell death. The molecule, TIC10, was effective at triggering apoptosis in breast, lymphatic, colon, lung and especially brain tumors. Two benefits of TIC10 are its small size, allowing it to traverse the blood-brain barrier for easier access to glioblastomas, as well as its ability to activate TRAIL in both cancerous and healthy cells. This leads to the “bystander effect” in which healthy cells can activate cell death in their cancerous neighbors, thus amplifying the effect of TIC10.

Can testosterone make you live longer?
Dr. Jeffry Life, an age management doctor in Las Vegas, is 74 but has the muscular body of a much younger man. He says he achieved this physique by beginning a rigorous exercise routine in his mid-50s, complemented with weekly injections of testosterone starting in his 60s. Dr. Life states that the injections brought him out of andropause, or a decline in testosterone that leads, among other things, to an inability to lose body fat. While there has been a recent trend of testosterone therapy to slow aging, medical professionals are undecided on both the validity of andropause as a definable condition as well as the safety of long-term testosterone injections.

 

POLICY
Girls in US, unlike elsewhere in world, lag behind boys in science exam
A new test given in 65 developed countries has found that among 15-year olds, girls generally do better in science – except for in the US, Britain and Canada. Researchers attribute this gap to cultural pressures that keep girls from becoming interested in or committing to STEM careers. On the other hand, in Russia, Asia and the Middle East, girls outperformed boys. These regions have greater proportions of women in science than many Western nations, including the US.

Some NIH-approved stem cells may be derived from non-consenting egg and sperm donors
The 200 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines approved by the NIH recently underwent review in regards to their origin. While a majority of the lines had traceable and consenting egg and sperm donors, the providers of 30 cell lines could not answer whether donor eggs and sperm were used to create embryos, and if so, whether the donors gave consent. The origins of 19 additional lines could not be determined due to a lack of response to inquiries by their providers. One head reviewer commented that university ethics committees should be aware that simply being sanctioned by the NIH does not guarantee a certain hESC line meets the consenting donor requirement put forth by the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.

 

BIOTECH
European consortium to lead new drug discovery program
A consortium of over 30 academic and corporate partners sponsored by the Europe’s Innovative Medicine Initiative is developing an EU-wide drug discovery program that would screen 500,000 molecules for biological activity. Promising drug candidates will be taken through drug development pipelines with individual industry partners. The initiative, called European Lead Factory, received €80 million EUR from the European Commission and €116 million EUR from industry and regional governments. Laboratories in Scotland and the Netherlands will be re-purposed with robotic systems to speed up the screening.

Celgene multiple myeloma pill approved
A pill for the blood cancer multiple myeloma has been granted FDA approval. Celgene’s Pomalyst, taken as a pill, has been approved for patients with multiple myeloma that have been unresponsive to two or more previous therapies. Pomalyst is the latest cancer drug to be introduced by Celgene, which currently sells the popular Revlimid and Abraxane. The FDA’s approval of Pomalyst marks the second drug for multiple myeloma given the green light in the past year. Multiple myeloma annually claims 10,700 deaths out of 21,700 diagnoses, mostly in older people.

This post was written by:

Jenn Tsau View author bio

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