What Will It Take To Find a Human Pheromone?

noseIn 1991, at a conference sponsored by a fragrance company called the Erox Corporation, two University of Utah scientists presented research on a tantalizing pair of chemical compounds provided by the company. They reported that in a few dozen human volunteers, the molecules androstadienone and estratetraenol activated the vomeronasal organ (VNO)—an olfactory organ that senses pheromones in many animals—in a sex-specific manner. The company patented these molecules as putative human pheromones. Continue reading “What Will It Take To Find a Human Pheromone?”

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Mutations as munitions: Neoantigen vaccines get a closer look as cancer treatment

nm0216-122-i1In 2010, the Dendreon company received the news it had been hoping for: the US Food and Drug Administration had approved its therapeutic cancer vaccine Provenge for prostate cancer. At the time of Provenge’s approval, the headlines hailed it as groundbreaking, and they noted a surge in the price of Dendreon’s stock as the company announced its $93,000 price tag for the therapy. But enthusiasm fizzled when the company later revealed that fewer people used the therapy than expected, and in November 2014 the company filed for bankruptcy. Continue reading “Mutations as munitions: Neoantigen vaccines get a closer look as cancer treatment”

Hopeful Currents

PsychTodayOne day last September, 40-year-old Jaime Campbell walked into a brain research laboratory at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where a researcher affixed two sponge-covered electrodes to her head. One was positioned above her left eye, over her brain’s prefrontal cortex, and the other was set on the side of her head, over her auditory cortex. With the turn of a dial, a steady two milliamps of direct current coursed through the electrodes for 20 minutes. Continue reading “Hopeful Currents”

Gins of the Fathers: Alcohol and the Next Generation

05_GinsofFather_rotate5It’s something pediatricians are taught to discuss with their young patients: Alcoholism runs in families, they counsel, so if yours has a strong history of this condition, you should be especially careful about drinking. But researchers’ efforts to pin down specific genes that contribute to this heritability have largely come up short. “Nobody has found a smoking gun that says, This is a gene that causes alcoholism,” says Gregg Homanics, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh (with a PhD in animal science). He and Andrey Finegersh, an MD/PhD student in his lab, decided to try a slightly different tack. “We thought that maybe in alcoholics, drinking a lot would cause some changes in what controls the genes—and that is what gets passed down to the next generation,” says Homanics. The findings from the resulting study were published in PLOS ONE in June.

[Read more at Pitt Med Magazine (scroll down to third story) // Fall 2014]

Setback prompts rethink of latency-reversing strategy to eliminate HIV infection

Antiretroviral drugs have been spectacularly effective in controlling HIV by hobbling the virus’s ability to infect cells, but they do not deplete the reservoirs of latently infected cells that remain a major barrier to a cure. One appealing solution to this problem has been latency-reversing agents (LRAs) that can reactivate the dormant virus, bringing it out of hiding so that it can be targeted and killed. The first-generation LRAs, however, have recently hit a snag. Four frontrunners that had shown potential in cell-culture models and preliminary clinical studies are
only minimally effective in a patient cell assay, shows a new study. A fifth compound, although more potent, is likely to be too toxic for
clinical use.

[Read more at Nature Reviews Drug Discovery (paywall) or download PDF // May 30, 2014]