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A glimpse into the future III

lyndi-0-lHere is this week’s look into the world of cutting edge research:

  1. A therapeutic target in Alzheimer’s disease identified. Work led by Professor Mark Pepys FRS over more than 20 years has identified a protein known as serum amyloid P component (SAP) as a possible therapeutic target in Alzheimer’s disease.  In collaboration with Roche he developed a new small molecule drug, CPHPC, which specifically targets SAP and removes it from the blood. In the exciting new work reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Pepys team has shown that the drug also removes SAP from the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In this first study of the drug in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, CPHPC was given to 5 individuals for 3 months.  There was the usual depletion of SAP from the blood, seen in all subjects receiving this treatment, but also remarkable disappearance of SAP from the brain. Laboratory tests revealed for the first time the way in which SAP accumulates in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Nanosensors could lead to development of highly sensitive security and medical devices. Scientists have designed tiny new sensor structures that could be used in novel security devices to detect poisons and explosives, or in highly sensitive medical sensors, according to research published in Nano Letters. The new ‘nanosensors’, made of gold or silver, are about 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. One is shaped like a flat circular disk while the other looks like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. When brought together they interact with light very differently than they do on their own.  This difference in the interaction with light is affected by the composition of molecules in close proximity to the structures.  The device could be tailored to detect different chemicals by decorating the nanostructure surface with specific ‘molecular traps’ that bind the chosen target molecules. Once bound, the target molecules would change the colors that the device absorbs and scatters, alerting the sensor to their presence.
  3. Understanding and preventing the movement of tumor cells. Tumor cells that lack a certain protein can become extremely mobile and “adept” at penetrating healthy tissue to form metastases. Scientists at the Pharmacology Institute of the University of Heidelberg have identified this protein as the previously unknown cell signal factor SCAI (suppressor of cancer cell invasion).  When the factor’s functioning was disrupted, the cancer cells moved much more effectively. They adapted to the consistency of the respective tissue by changing their shapes constantly and attaching flexibly to surrounding tissues during movement with the help of special surface structures (receptors).   One of these receptors is known as b1-integrin. Suppression of SCAI causes b1-integrin to be overactive and the tumor cell to take on an aggressive form.  The discovery of SCAI, presented in the prestigious journal Nature Cell Biology, could be an interesting starting point for research into new mechanisms for fighting cancer.
  4. Advances in organic LED’s may provide cheap and efficient natural light. Roughly 20 percent of the electricity consumed worldwide is used to light homes, businesses, and other private and public spaces. Though this consumption represents a large drain on resources, it also presents a tremendous opportunity for savings. Improving the efficiency of commercially available light bulbs — even a little — could translate into dramatically lower energy usage if implemented widely. In the Journal of Applied Physics, a group of scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is reporting an important step towards that goal with their development of a new type of light emitting diode (LED) made from inexpensive, plastic like organic materials. Designed with a simplified “tandem” structure, it can produce twice as much light as a normal LED — including the “natural” white light desired for home and office lighting.  Progress in this area promises further reduction in the price of organic LEDs.
  5. Doctors look to an inexpensive drug to relieve fibromyalgia pain. Fibromyalgia is a disorder classified by chronic widespread pain, debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance and joint disorder. Advocates and doctors who treat the disorder, estimate it affects as much as 4 percent of the population.  In a small 14-week pilot study at Stanford, patients were given a low dose of a drug called naltrexone for the treatment of chronic pain.  The drug, which has been used clinically for more than 30 years to treat opioid addiction, was found to reduce symptoms of pain and fatigue an average of 30 percent over placebo, according to the results of the study published in the journal Pain Medicine.  “Patients’ reactions were really quite profound,” said senior author Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, associate professor at Stanford University Medical Center. Still, Mackey and his colleagues remain cautious about recommending the drug this early on in the research process.  The researchers are moving ahead with a second, longer-term trial of 30 patients who will be tested during a 16-week period.
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