On Message: Media Matters in the Classroom

VinceLarryRemember Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies? They made their debut in 1985, in print, radio, and television ads nationwide that promoted the use of seat belts. “You can learn a lot from a dummy,” the duo told anyone who would listen. Continue reading “On Message: Media Matters in the Classroom”


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]

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]

Control Issues

HIVcontrolJazz found out she was HIV-positive when her daughter was born in 1990. Luckily, she did not transmit the virus to her baby, but the diagnosis threw her own life off the rails. She began using illicit drugs and living rough—“being around the wrong crowd of people,” as she puts it. Three years after her diagnosis, she was convicted for conspiracy to sell cocaine. She spent close to eight years in prison.

In hindsight, Jazz (who requested that Nature Medicine use this pseudonym) says she started acting recklessly because she assumed she had little time left to live. “I had a lot of friends who had [HIV], and I watched their struggle dealing with it and their passing away from it,” she says. “It really scared me, so I just abused myself.” As the years ticked by, though, Jazz never got sick the way many of her acquaintances did.

[Read more at Nature Medicine (paywall) or download PDF // April 7, 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.]

Great Expectations

Angela gronenbornStructural biology, a research endeavor that examines the smallest possible scale of biological life, demands some of the most imposing tools in life science. Amble down the aluminum spiral staircase to the basement of the University of Pittsburgh’s Biomedical Science Tower 3, and you’ll find a massive chamber with sunshine-yellow walls, a concrete floor, and shiny chrome ladders on casters flanking tall white canisters of various sizes. This is the Department of Structural Biology’s fleet of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers. Drop a small tube of your chosen protein into an opening that leads down into the heart of one of the spectrometers, and the magnetic fields it generates—thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s—allow researchers to construct three-dimensional images of your DNA or any other macromolecule, down to the last atom.

[Read more at Pitt Med Magazine // Winter, 2014]