Cashing in on science

natoutlookcashUniversity research powers innovation and economic development. Countries with intensive research and development (R&D) programmes differ in their approach to turning lab studies into commercial enterprises.

[Read the story at Nature // May 5, 2016]


Male researchers stress out rodents

Male, but not female, experimenters induce intense stress in rodents that can dampen pain responses, according to a paper published today in Nature Methods. Such reactions affect the rodents’ behaviour and potentially confound the results of animal studies, the study suggests.

The authors discovered this surprising gender disparity while investigating whether the presence of experimenters affects rodent pain studies. For years, anecdotal reports have suggested that rodents show a diminished pain response when a handler remains in the room.

[Read more at Nature (also published at Scientific American online) // April 28, 2014]

The Modelling Challenge

Schizophrenia FeatureWhen Patricio O’Donnell started his lab in 1997 at Albany Medical College in New York, schizophrenia research seemed to be moving forward after a long period of stagnation.

For several decades, attention had focused on the idea that the disease was caused by elevated dopamine levels in the brain, particularly in the striatum, a nugget of brain tissue nestled under the cortex. But by the 1990s, the dopamine hypothesis was proving inadequate to fully explain the disease. In vivo imaging with computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, and data from post-mortem studies in people with schizophrenia, pointed to cortical effects and implicated other neurotransmitter systems, such as glutamate and serotonin. Biologists were also learning to create transgenic mouse models of the disease, providing a set of tools with which to investigate genetic and aetiological factors.

[Read more at Nature Outlook (paywall) or download PDF // April 3, 2014]

Profiting from non-profits

Anita Pepper’s second career, as administrator of biomedical grant programmes at a non-profit organization, came about through a combination of luck and circumstance. A geneticist by training, she was approaching the end of a five-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 2008 and was thinking about what to do next. She and her husband did not want to relocate, but she knew that an academic job search in a single city was too limited to be successful. And although she enjoyed bench work, she was a naturally social person who liked the idea of interacting more frequently with people.

So Pepper set out on a mission to meet anyone in Philadelphia who held leadership positions, particularly those involved in improving health through education or research.

[Read more at Nature Jobs // January 22, 2014.]

Industrial Immunology

Olivia Schneider realized early in her graduate work on immune-cell signalling that she had no interest in becoming an academic researcher. “I didn’t want to work in a lab, or to write grants,” she says. In 2009, when she finished her PhD at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, the global recession was in full swing and employment options looked scarce. Her husband had a well-paid job in the area, so relocating was impractical. Then Schneider saw an advert for part-time work through a local contract-research organization, doing tissue culture and cloning for a recombinant-protein manufacturer called Shenandoah Biotechnology in Warwick, Pennsylvania. “I just wanted to get my foot into biotech in some regard,” she says. “I took this position — that I was way overqualified for — with the hope that it would turn into something else.”

[Read more at Nature Jobs // August 14, 2013]

Target Practice

Thirty-five years ago, as a fellow at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, Elihu Estey read dozens of protocols for clinical trials of drugs for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). He was particularly drawn to their ‘rationale’ sections, which explain why the therapy is expected to work.

“They all sounded very compelling,” says Estey, now a haematologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “But of course, very few of them worked.”

Since then, researchers have made significant advances in treating many types of leukaemia. However, AML — an aggressive blood cancer that causes white-blood-cell precursors called myeloid cells to proliferate uncontrollably — has remained a tough nut to crack.

[Read more at Nature Outlook (paywall) or download PDF //  June 27, 2013]

A little brain training goes a long way

brain trainingPeople who use a ‘brain-workout’ program for just 10 hours have a mental edge over their peers even a year later, researchers report today in PLoS ONE.

The search for a regimen of mental callisthenics to stave off age-related cognitive decline is a booming area of research — and a multimillion-dollar business. But critics argue that even though such computer programs can improve performance on specific mental tasks, there is scant proof that they have broader cognitive benefits.

[Read more at Nature // May 1, 2013]

Scientists map protein that creates antibiotic resistance

Japanese researchers have determined the detailed molecular structure of a protein that rids cells of toxins, but can also reduce the effectiveness of some antibiotics and cancer drugs by kicking them out of the cells they are targeting.

The scientists have also identified a molecule that can thwart the activity of the protein, one of a class known as multidrug and toxic compound extrusion transporters (MATEs) that are found in cell membranes. The discovery suggests new approaches to combat antibiotic resistance and boost the power of cancer therapies, the team reports today in Nature. 

[Read more at Nature // March 27. 2013]