31 August 2006

Cancer, Hair, Germs, and Steel

First, steel. This story reports on a recently finished bridge that used a new, better form of steel. The copper alloy steel was developed at Northwestern University. The steel has a strength of 70,000 pounds per square inch (psi) compared with 50,000 psi in commonly used structural steel. It is also easy to weld, and tests have shown it has high-impact toughness at low temperatures. In addition, the high copper content gives the alloy much better resistance to atmospheric corrosion than other high-performance steels. Source. I cannot help but wonder why it took 9 years before this better steel was used in large structures when it seems to have so many advantages.

Next, hair. Scientists in the UK have discovered how to command skin cells to become hair follicles. "Which cells are transformed into hair follicles is determined by three proteins that are produced by our genes.

"Our research has identified how one of these proteins working outside of the cell interacts at a molecular level to determine an individual's hair pattern as the embryonic skin spatially organises itself."
The only treatments likely to earn more money for their developers than the cure for baldness, might be the cures for obesity, a true aphrodisiac, and a true life extension drug.

Third, cancer. Researchers at UCR have added to the knowledge of normal prevention of cancer transformation in cells. Liu published her research findings in a featured article titled Mechanistic insights into maintenance of high p53 acetylation by PTEN, in the Aug. 18 issue of Molecular Cell. Co-authors include UCR colleagues Andrew G. Li, Landon G. Piluso Xin Cai and Gang Wei; with William R. Sellers in the Department of Medical Oncology, Dana Ferber Cancer Institute of Harvard University in Boston.

They found that when a cell’s DNA becomes damaged, PTEN forms a complex with another protein, p300, which in effect, switches on p53, a very important tumor suppressor.

“I would like to continue to expand our understanding of how p53 is activated in conjunction with PTEN and under what circumstances it functions to protect the cell,” Liu said.

Finally, germs. Bacterial resistance occurs due to routine mutations in microbes, and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have made a finding that may give drug developers a new advantage in the fight against the gram positive pathogens such as strep and staph. Rock's team showed that gram-positive pathogens first use PlsX to synthesize a compound called fatty acyl-phosphate, then use PlsY to transfer the fatty acid to G3P. These steps initiate membrane phospholipid formation required for cell growth.

"Our discovery of PlsX and PlsY not only solved a troublesome mystery," Rock said. "It's also important because identifying the essential components required for disease-causing bacteria to grow and multiply is a key part of developing new strategies for controlling infections."

Many microbiologists believe that the mutating ability of microbes is so great as to make it unlikely that science will ever develop antibiotics that microbes are unable to resist, eventually. Personally, I believe that evolution only has a limited set of tools for each class of organism. It is up to science to learn what these tools are, then to devise treatments that are not susceptible to those tools. Doing that will require persistence, heightened perception, and invention on the part of scientists.

: For an example of a novel attempt to bypass bacterial resistance, read this newsrelease.

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