Archive for the ‘Research’ category

Protein Interaction Stokes Hope for Brain-Cancer Treatment

April 1, 2015

Brain-Cancer Treatment pic Researchers have identified an interaction between proteins that could spur the development of new treatments for brain cancer. According to a study published by a team of scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University, an interaction between the proteins created by the AEG-1 and Akt2 genes has an impact on the malignancy of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common kind of brain cancer.

Members of the research team previously discovered that AEG-1 and Akt2 were overexpressed in many cancers. Their new research showed that the proteins created by those genes led to a positive feedback loop that contributed to GBM. The study was the first to identify that particular element of GBM, leading to hopes that new drugs developed to disrupt the feedback loop could become a productive part of GBM treatment strategies.

The hope hinges on the way that cells interact in the brain. Through a process called signaling, a number of cellular functions are regulated. The Akt2 gene has a particularly active role in the way that tumors spread and survive in the brain, and the study found that the proteins created by AEG-1 and Akt2 were a key element of the signaling that regulates it. By attacking the protein interaction in mice, the researchers were able to demonstrate a reduction in the survival of GBM cells.

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Study Finds Stem Cells May Contribute to Bowel Cancer

January 27, 2015

stem cell pic Australian researchers recently announced their theory that stem cells drive the growth of bowel cancer. Professor Tony Burgess of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Dr. Chin Wee Tan, and their colleagues uncovered evidence that stem cells have a key role in the maintenance and generation of the “crypts” that are a part of the bowel lining. The researchers believe that these stem cells contribute to the development of bowel cancer.

Through 3D imaging, the researchers demonstrated that the bowel produces new intestinal crypts through a process known as “budding.” In each crypt, 300 cells die each day and are subsequently replaced. Intestinal “crypts,” which are wells in the wall of the bowel, absorb water and nutrients and create mucous.

Dr. Tan said the team’s research showed a connection between bowel cancer and crypt “budding.” In healthy intestinal development, each regenerating crypt creates one bud at a time. However, he said that in precancerous and cancerous bowel tumors, a number of buds are connected with one crypt, and there is a lot of uncontrollable budding. He said that this suggests that the genes that direct the budding process may be absent, leading to the development of bowel cancer.

Burgess said that while stem cells are silent in a normal bowel, they probably instigate bowel cancer. He said that the reason that the stem cells are causing uncontrollable budding is linked to the APC (adenomatous polyposis coli) gene. Approximately 85 percent of cases of bowel cancer involve the absence of APC function and an overabundance of crypt budding. APC is necessary to curb crypt production and to help bowel stem cells adhere to one another. The loss of APC leads to cancerous and precancerous tumors, Burgess said.

He said that in order to more effectively target bowel cancer, further research is necessary to find out how to eliminate stem cells that lack the APC gene.

Early Safety Tests on Lead Compounds

September 30, 2014

Lead Compounds pic Since the drug discovery process eventually results in tests on humans, safety plays a central role in all stages of research. Scientists generally begin by identifying a promising compound via bioengineering, high-throughput screening, nature, or de novo drug design. After finding a compound that acts on the target molecule, researchers perform preliminary safety tests to determine whether a compound may be suitable for consumption.

In general, early safety tests screen compounds for five pharmacokinetic pathways: absorption into the bloodstream, distribution to the appropriate site in the body, effective and efficient metabolism, successful excretion from the body, and demonstrated non-toxicity. If a compound fails in one or more of these categories, researchers can push it back in favor of compounds that pass all five tests. Researchers conduct early safety tests of compounds using computational models, living cells, and animals. Human testing does not occur until much later in the drug discovery process.

Scientists Continue to Make Strides in Fighting Heart Disease

September 17, 2014

Heart Disease pic While numerous innovative biotech companies specialize in rare conditions and illnesses, many researchers in the United States have strived to maintain a focus on the biggest problems facing patients, including the country’s number-one killer: heart disease. Since the turn of the century, scientists and public health officials have succeeded in reducing the impact of these diseases. As compared to 1999, patients hospitalized in 2010 were 23 percent less likely to die within a year from an unstable angina or a heart attack, while one-year death rates from heart failure and stroke fell by 13 percent. Nevertheless, heart disease still kills some 600,000 Americans every year, and biotech experts have turned to new technologies to enable even better treatments.

One recent breakthrough in the fight against heart failure, a condition that results in the death of half of those afflicted within five years, involves myosin heavy-chain-associated RNA transcript, or Myheart, which regulates a protein responsible for heart development in fetuses. During heart failure, this protein, BRG1, begins altering genetic material in the heart and creates significant problems. With the application of Myheart in mice undergoing a cardiac episode, the RNA chain inhibits BRG1 activity and stops the progression of heart failure. While Myheart itself remains unusable in human subjects due to its size, researchers are now beginning to look for functional portions that may result in a powerful treatment that addresses heart failure at the genetic level.

Maintaining Research Continuity during Mergers and Acquisitions

August 4, 2014

Biotech pic In the wake of the recent merger proposal that Pfizer, Inc., submitted to AstraZeneca PLC, experts have weighed in on how massive pharmaceutical mergers can affect ongoing research and development. These critics point out that when large companies combine, research and development teams often experience detrimental personnel reductions. They argue that some of the most successful biotechnology start-ups have placed significant emphasis on keeping research teams intact even when they are bought out by larger companies. This is especially important given that many of today’s most innovative drugs require knowledge of an increasingly discrete set of novel biological targets.

Interestingly, most successful biotech companies end up discovering drugs that treat illnesses other than those they initially set out to treat. For example, although Genentech launched with the aim of developing drugs for heart disease, the company’s scientists ultimately produced pioneering new cancer drugs. Team continuity is crucial to these sorts of innovations, and large pharmaceutical companies can certainly learn from the lessons offered by biotech start-ups, especially when large mergers are on the table.