May 11th Research Roundup: Some of the Top Research Stories of the Week

Biotechnology Research

There are plenty of great scientific research stories out this week. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

Researchers Engineer Pancreas Cells to Cure Type 1 Diabetes in Mice

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center published a study in Cell Reports where they engineered human pancreatic islets cells that were successfully used to treat sudden-onset type 1 diabetes in mice. The new bioengineering process is called a self-condensation cell culture. The engineered pancreatic islets developed a circulatory system and secreted hormones like insulin.

“This method may serve as a principal curative strategy for treating type 1 diabetes, of which there are 79,000 new diagnoses per year,” said Takanori Takebe, a physician-scientist at the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, in a statement. “This is a life-threatening disease that never goes away, so developing effective and possibly permanent therapeutic approaches would help millions of children and adults around the world.”

University of Exeter Scientists Link Hormone to High Sugar Intake but Lower Body Fat

Scientists at the University of Exeter Medical School in Exeter, UK, published research in Cell Reports that makes connections between fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), a hormone that in some studies shows weight loss and lipid-lowering effects, to an allele in the hormone that is strongly associated with higher blood pressure and waist-hip ratio. “We were surprised that the version of the gene associated with eating more sugar is associated with lower body fat,” Timothy Frayling, the lead author of the study, told the Independent. “This goes against the current perception that eating sugar is bad for health.”

However, it may not be all good news. Because even though body fat was lower in general in this group, it was typically stored more in the hips and belly, which is a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues.

Researchers Discover Hepatitis B Virus in 4,500-Year-Old Skeleton

Researchers at the Center for Pathogen Evolution in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen discovered an extinct strain of the human Hepatitis B virus (HBV) in Bronze Age human skeletons. Their research was published in the journal Nature. Prior to the study, the oldest human viruses discovered were about 450-years-old, and no more than 50-years-old. This work identified the viral genome in at least one skeleton that was 4,500-years-old.

Barbara Muhlemann, joint first author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement, “People have tried to unravel the history of HBV for decades—this study transforms our understanding of the virus and proves it affected people as far back as the Bronze Age. We have also shown that it is possible to recover viral sequences form samples of this age which will have much wider scientific implications.”

A New Approach to Spreading Science-Based Healthcare Solutions

Scientists from the Regenstrief Institute, Eskenazi Health and Indiana University published research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society presenting Agile Implementation, a new methodology for faster and more efficient dissemination of evidence-based healthcare solutions. “We created Agile Implementation because we saw a huge need for rapid diffusion of evidence-based solutions to pressing problems in the healthcare delivery system,” said Malaz Boustani, senior author of the study and founding director of the Indiana University Center for Health Innovation and Implementation Science, in a statement. “While our initial focus has been on older adults, a vulnerable population, Agile Implementation methodology provides a universal platform to implement any evidence-based innovation in any environment in which humans are the major players from aspects of healthcare to such areas as finance or technology.”

The title of the study is, “State of Science: Bridging the Science-Practice Gap in Aging, Dementia and Mental Health.”

Caltech Researchers Show Link Between Gut Bacteria, Good Health and the Immune System

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists in the laboratory of Sarkis Mazmanian, Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology and Heritage Medical Research Institute published research in the journal Science that showed how a particular species of gut bacteria is linked to the immune response. Graduate student Gregory Donaldson and colleagues studied Bacterioides fragilis, which is found in the intestines of many mammals, including humans. Previous research showed it protected mice from certain inflammatory and neurological disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). Although there are numerous strains of the bacteria, people in good health typically only host one. “Studies by other labs have shown that most people carry the same strain of B. fragilis throughout their lives,” Donaldson said in a statement. “We wanted to understand at a molecular level how these bacteria are able to colonize the gut in a stable, long-term way.”

Mazmanian stated, “Our study reveals a molecular mechanism by which specific beneficial bacteria actively promote long-term intestinal colonization by engaging and co-opting the immune system, rather than trying to evade it as pathogens do. This discovery may lead to new ways to correct microbiome imbalances, and perhaps to prevent and treat a variety of human disorders.”

Failed Clinical Trials Cast Doubt on New Immuno-Oncology Targets

Recent failed drug trials for a new cancer target are forcing scientists to question the possibilities of indoleamine (2,3)-dioxygenase (IDO) as a drug target. Most recently, Bristol-Myers Squibb dropped two Phase III clinical trials of its IDO1 inhibitor. In early April, Incyte and Merck’s IDO1 inhibitor, epacadostat, failed a Phase III trial. Ken Garber, writing for Science, notes, “The companies say they aren’t dropping the potential drugs, designed to unleash the immune system on cancer cells by blocking an enzyme called indoleamine (2,e)-dioxygenase (KDO). But the retrenching suggests that the frenzy to combine novel drugs with the wildly successful immunotherapies known as checkpoint inhibitors is outpacing the science. The IDO strategy, says neuroimmunologist Michael Platten of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, ‘has been moved to randomized clinical trials too fast, and now we realize ‘the enzyme is’ still a black box.’”

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