Four Questions with Dr. Cari Kitahara
Thursday, January 23, 2020
As happens with every new year, many people around the world woke up on January 1 committed to improving their health through eating well and exercising. These lifestyle changes have the potential to significantly improve the well-being of the 32 percent of American adults who are overweight and the 40 percent who are obese. Due to the staggering number of individuals struggling with obesity, as well as its serious health consequences, the condition has long been a main priority for researchers at the NIH. As a result of this focus, investigators have made significant strides in identifying biological signals that trigger hunger, understanding genetic influences that play a role in weight gain, and uncovering environmental and behavioral factors that influence obesity.
Study Shows How Molecular Trespasser Gains Entry into Cells’ Energy Producers
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
As a fan of the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons, I’ve witnessed the bumbling Homer Simpson cause several near-meltdowns at the nuclear power plant where he works. Serious problems can arise at such facilities when the wrong person gains access to them, and the same applies to the energy-producing mitochondria that power our cells. A new IRP study has revealed how a protein known to harm neurons gains entry into mitochondria in order to wreak cell-killing havoc.
Smoking While Pregnant Affects a Woman’s Genes Differently From Her Baby’s
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Decades of public health campaigns have made the health consequences of smoking common knowledge. However, for the few women who smoke while pregnant, the habit can affect not only their own bodies but also those of their unborn children. Intriguingly, according to a new study led by IRP researchers, so-called ‘epigenetic’ changes to DNA that can alter the behavior of genes differ significantly in smoking mothers compared to their babies, suggesting that maternal smoking may have unique, long-lasting effects on the way a child’s body functions.
Scientific Team-Up Identifies Source of Tumor Drug Resistance
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
It’s an unfortunate reality that nearly everyone knows somebody whose life has been affected by cancer. However, a discovery by two researchers who met by chance years ago might one day help more cancer patients overcome their disease. Two scientific teams led by the IRP’s Craig Thomas, Ph.D., a group leader at the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and Daniel Starczynowski, Ph.D., of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, recently published a study describing a possible breakthrough in the fight against acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer responsible for nearly 11,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Modifying Tumor’s Surroundings Stymies Cancer’s Expansion
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
If you ever tried planting an apple tree in the desert or growing avocados in New England, you would quickly figure out that such plants need a particular environment in order to thrive. Cancerous tumors are no different, and IRP researchers recently found strong evidence that a molecule naturally produced in the body can suppress the growth and spread of a particularly lethal form of breast cancer via both direct effects on the cancer and by altering its surroundings.
Exceptional Early-Stage Investigators Push the Boundaries of Translational Research
Thursday, December 5, 2019
Online and print publications are constantly touting momentous discoveries by superstar scientists like CRISPR-Cas9 co-discover Jennifer Doudna or the IRP’s own Kevin Hall, who changed the way we think about weight loss. It can be easy to forget that today’s biomedical pioneers were once young researchers toiling to establish themselves in the competitive environment of modern science.
Each year, a small, exceptionally promising group of scientific up-and-comers become Lasker Clinical Research Scholars through a highly competitive program jointly funded by the NIH and the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. The program presents early-stage physician-scientists with the opportunity to carry out independent clinical research at the NIH for five to ten years. The 2019 class of Lasker Scholars consists of five extremely talented researchers who are now beginning a critical new phase in their careers. Let’s meet them.
Understanding Social and Behavioral Research in the IRP
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
The NIH IRP is world-renowned for its high-risk, high-reward biomedical research. While the NIH may be best known for its clinical and biomedical research on topics from cancer to allergies to addiction, IRP investigators have also produced a rich body of work conducted in the area of social and behavioral research (SBR). In this post, I will describe how SBR furthers the NIH’s goals of improving human health with some examples of the excellent work done by SBR investigators in the IRP.
Four Questions with Dr. John Mascola
Friday, November 29, 2019
The disease known as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, attacks and destroys cells vital to the immune system. This leaves the millions of people living with HIV less able to fight other infections and can lead to an extremely severe form of immune system deficiency called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which was responsible for nearly 770,000 deaths in 2018 alone. As of 2019, there are approximately 37.9 million people around the world living with HIV/AIDS.
Although HIV/AIDS has been recognized as a serious public health crisis, finding effective treatments, or a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place, is not a simple task. The HIV virus has many different types and strains — similar to the flu — which makes developing vaccines and treatments extremely challenging, as the virus is constantly changing. At the NIH, there are a number of ongoing collaborative research projects aimed at providing new options for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and those at risk for contracting the virus in the future.
Five Questions with Dr. Heidi Kong and Dr. Julia Segre
Monday, November 25, 2019
When people think of skin health, they often think of protecting it from harmful UV rays or finding ways to avoid the fine lines and wrinkles that often come with aging and sun exposure. However, there are many factors and illnesses that impact skin health, including eczema, a chronic condition that affects tens of millions of Americans and causes the skin to become red and so itchy that it can interfere with patients’ sleep.
To combat such conditions, IRP researchers have spent decades investigating what causes them in humans through techniques such as immunology, genetics, molecular biology, and structural biology. In a 2014 study of healthy volunteers, IRP investigators Julia Segre, Ph.D., and Heidi Kong, M.D., M.H.Sc., used the latest genomic techniques to investigate the collection of microorganisms living on healthy human skin, known as the skin microbiome, in an attempt to understand how this collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses may contribute to skin health. From their interdisciplinary research, the team was able to show that the array of microbes living on human skin is extremely diverse, varying greatly from individual to individual and between different areas of the body. This research opened doors for additional studies exploring how changes in the skin microbiome contribute to both common and rare skin diseases.
Four Questions with Dr. Tim Greten
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
There are over 100 different types of cancer, with liver, breast, and colon cancers among the most common. At the NIH, researchers across the organization have long been committed to furthering cancer research in an effort to increase the number of cancer survivors. They consistently push the boundaries of this field each day in the hopes that their work could lead to better diagnoses, better treatment, and better outcomes for cancer patients.
A 2018 study by IRP senior investigator Tim Greten, M.D., and his IRP colleagues did just that and more. Their research pushed the norms of cancer research by studying how a treatment as simple as antibiotics affects cancerous liver tumors. By utilizing antibiotics to wipe out the collection of microorganisms living in the digestive tracts of mice — known as the gut microbiome — the team identified a link between the gut microbiome and the behavior of the liver’s immune cells, which play a role in defending the organ against cancer. The IRP team ultimately showed that antibiotic treatment reduced the development of liver tumors in these ‘germ-free’ mice, and it also reduced the likelihood that tumors in other areas of the body would metastasize — or spread — to the animals’ livers, a finding that could one day prove beneficial to future cancer patients.