In 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?”
In 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”
A small but growing group of neuroscientists is exploring a striking idea: Growing up in poverty doesn’t just limit children’s circumstances, but actually alters the very structure and physiology of their brains. I took a close look at studies published over the last decade in this new and controversial field. Continue reading “The neuroscience of poverty”
About 13 years ago, when I returned from the UK with my rat-whiskers doctorate in hand and little idea of what I was going to do with it, I went to see a dermatologist. Continue reading “How “scientific” are your skin-care products?”
Sometimes, serendipity arrives on the wings of disease. It was colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious condition that hit honeybee hives in autumn 2006, that brought bees to the laboratory of evolutionary biologist Nancy Moran. Continue reading “The puzzle in a bee’s gut”
A new study may have solved a decade-old debate about whether the brains of people with autism are more or less connected than those of controls: They’re both, depending on where in the brain you look. Continue reading “Noisy patterns of connectivity mark autism brains”
One 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”
It’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]
If it’s natural, it must be good for you – or at least better than the alternative, right? That’s what the majority of shoppers assume when they see the word “natural” on the processed foods that fill supermarket shelves, which in turn is why food manufacturers use it liberally on their product packaging.
[Read more at The Guardian // July 3, 2014]
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