27 December 2006

News of Interest

One of the pressing needs in biomedical research, is to understand genetic control in the living organism. Now, using fruit flies as their experimental subjects, "developmental biologists at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia may have discovered a new way that genes are turned on and off during development." This is only one method of genetic control in the fly, operating in early development. But combining genetic control with gene therapy would give medical therapists powerful tools for treating virtually any serious chronic condition.

Stem cell research is another important area of biomedical inquiry. Thanks to Biosingularity Blog for pointing out this story:

Working with visiting graduate student Fabrizio Gelain from Milan, Zhang created a designer scaffold from a network of protein nanofibers, each 5,000 times thinner than a human hair and containing pores up to 20,000 times smaller than the eye of a needle.

The researchers were able to grow a healthy colony of adult mouse stem cells on the three-dimensional scaffold without the drawbacks of two-dimensional systems.

In addition to helping researchers get a more accurate picture of how cells grow and behave in the body, the new synthetic structure can provide a more conducive microenvironment for tissue cell cultures and tissues used in regenerative medicine, such as skin grafts or neurons to replace brain cells lost to injury or disease.

The scaffold itself can be transplanted directly into the body with no ill effects.
Being able to direct stem cell growth in 3-D is vital in the quest to develop replacement body parts from stem cells.

Roger Pielke Sr. at Climate Science Blog points us to a new online science news service, with stories written mostly by actual scientists. Called Scitizen, the website contains only fact checked science news stories.

Climate Science Blog also discusses a paper that discusses the highly significant role of agriculture in the climate system--yet another very important component left out of most climate models. The "just-so" (contrived) nature of most climate models is receiving much more scrutiny lately.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, avian flu has killed approximately ten Egyptians this year, with the latest cases occurring in families in Zifta, and Garbiya province. The cases appear to have had direct contact with infected birds, and all Egyptian deaths were female. Direct bird-to-human infection appears responsible. Given how difficult it is for the virus to transfer directly from human to human, a large human outbreak anytime soon appears unlikely.

Finally, Biosingularity Blog points to a curious medical case of an Afghan boy in Germany with a unique gene mutation in the XPF gene (involved in DNA repair) causing a progeria syndrome. The German scientists compared the gene expression of liver cells from a group of mice with engineered defects in the XPF-ERCC1 gene ensemble with resulting progeria, with gene expression of liver cells from normal aging mice. They found some fascinating parallels between gene expression in the progeria mice and in the normal aging mice.
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