IRP Research Challenges Long-Held Ideas About Muscle Structure
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
It’s not every day an accidental observation overturns 100 years of biological knowledge. But that’s what happened when IRP Stadtman Investigator Brian Glancy, Ph.D., noticed something funny while reviewing high-definition 3D videos of muscle cells.
“To be honest, you could almost call this study an accident,” he says.
Dr. Glancy, who leads the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)’s Muscle Energetics Lab, often uses the high-powered microscopes available through the NHLBI Electron Microscopy Core to study how energy is distributed through skeletal muscle cells — the ones that control voluntary movement — when they expand and contract.
Although he was focused on examining the cells’ energy-producing mitochondria, he could also see the other structures inside them, including the long, tube-like structures called myofibrils that are involved in muscle contraction. As he advanced the video and traveled down the length of the muscle, it looked to him like the myofibrils were changing shape.
NIH Researcher Recognized for Important Insights Into Malaria Transmission
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
In many parts of the world, the high-pitched buzz of a mosquito is a harbinger of more than an annoying itch — it’s a warning of possible malaria infection. Malaria, a disease spread by mosquitos that causes high fever and flu-like illness, is a serious risk for nearly half of the world’s population. According to the World Health Organization, there were 241 million cases of malaria and 627,000 deaths in 2020 alone. More than 95 percent of them occurred in Africa.
Efforts to combat malaria using measures like preventative treatments and environmental mitigation have helped to reduce infections and deaths over the past decade, but those improvements have recently plateaued, according to IRP Distinguished Investigator Carolina Barillas-Mury, M.D., Ph.D., section chief in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Drs. Leslie Baier and Robert Hanson Identify Genetic Risk Factors in American Indians
Monday, November 29, 2021
November is both Diabetes Awareness Month and Native American Heritage Month. Unfortunately, the month of November is not the only link between Indigenous populations and diabetes. Members of minority groups have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its many complications compared to the general population, and this is especially true of some American Indian tribes, whose members are twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes as white Americans.
At the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch in Arizona, part of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), IRP senior investigators Leslie J. Baier, Ph.D., and Robert Hanson, M.D., M.P.H., are working to understand why American Indians living in the southwestern U.S. are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes and obesity. Using family histories, medical records, and other data collected during a decades-long study of these communities, combined with extensive analysis of some of their participants’ DNA, their team has identified several genes that contribute to risk for those two conditions, along with some surprising findings about their prevalence.
Dr. Kelvin Choi Studies Commercial Tobacco Use in Underserved Communities
Monday, November 15, 2021
Each year, millions of smokers in the U.S. attempt to kick the habit. Many begin their journey towards a healthier life with the annual Great American Smokeout, which falls on the third Thursday of November — November 18 this year — and marks a day when all Americans who use commercial tobacco products like cigarettes are encouraged to stop.
While smoking rates in the U.S. have dropped from a hefty 42 percent of the population in 1965 to 14 percent in 2019, it remains the main cause of preventable death globally. In the U.S., 34 million adults still smoke cigarettes, and young people are being lured in by flavored e-cigarettes, which also pose health risks and can lead to smoking cigarettes. These tobacco-related behaviors are also unevenly distributed across the population, meaning some populations suffer the consequences of smoking disproportionately compared with others. IRP senior investigator Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., is working to understand why some groups are more likely to smoke, the effects of continued smoking, and the reciprocal interplay between those factors and health.
Pair Leads Public Health Efforts Focused on Underserved Communities
Monday, November 8, 2021
In the spring of 2020, as the U.S. government implemented public health measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that people in Black, Latino, and American Indian communities were significantly more likely to be hospitalized or die from the new disease than White, non-Hispanic Americans. While the work many scientists did to understand the virus and devise vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatments made the news regularly, efforts to study and address racial disparities in COVID-19’s impacts were equally important.
When called to lead efforts to shrink those gaps, Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., rose to the challenge. The two IRP investigators, who respectively lead the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), helped direct two federal programs dedicated to providing underserved communities with information about, and access to, COVID-19 testing, clinical trials, and vaccines. In recognition of their life-saving work, Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable have been awarded the COVID-19 Response Medal, a special honor bestowed this year as part of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. Also known as the “Sammies,” these annual awards recognize and celebrate exceptional work by government employees
Groundbreaking Immunotherapy Research Revolutionizes Cancer Treatment
Monday, October 25, 2021
Like many young boys, IRP senior investigator Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., initially believed he would grow up to become a cowboy, a dream he shared with his older brother, Jerry. That plan changed after World War II ended and stories began coming out of Europe about members of his family who had perished in concentration camps.
“I just became so upset about the evil that people could perpetrate on one another,” he recalls. “Right then and there, I knew I wanted to do the opposite. I wanted to do things that would help people, and I developed almost a spiritual desire to become a doctor.”
He ultimately did become a doctor, and his pioneering research into how cancer interacts with the immune system has led to treatments that are reducing suffering for many people with cancer. In recognition of this groundbreaking work, Dr. Rosenberg was awarded the HHS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service in August 2021. The highest honor given by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the award celebrates excellence in leadership, ability, and service.
Research Suggests Sleep- and Activity-Based Approaches to Treatment
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Mental Illness Awareness Week, observed this year from October 3 through 9, brings attention and support to the many patients and families who are coping with a variety of psychological conditions. Although an estimated 20 percent of U.S. adults and nearly 17 percent of youth have some type of mental health ailment, these conditions are still not well understood. However, research conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is transforming our knowledge of one such mental health condition that affects more than two million Americans: bipolar disorder.
Marie A. Bernard Leads NIH Efforts to Recruit “Great Minds That Think Differently”
Monday, September 20, 2021
The summer of 2020 will likely be remembered as a turning point in America. The murder of George Floyd and the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color brought the simmering scourge of racism and race-related disparities to the center of public debate and convinced many Americans that something needs to be done.
The biomedical research enterprise has long dealt with its own inequities as well, including outright discrimination against people from certain groups. As a result, a top priority of the National Institutes of Health is to bring greater equity to the scientific and medical workforce and the patients and communities it serves. In her new role as NIH’s Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD), Marie A. Bernard, M.D., has big plans to push the needle further towards reaching that goal.
Brigitte Widemann Recognized for Pioneering Work on Debilitating Disease
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Getting diagnosed with a serious illness as an adult can be devastating, so one can hardly imagine the impact of receiving such news as a child, particularly when the disease has no good treatments. Until recently, this was the case for many children with the potentially severe and frequently disfiguring condition neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). However, pioneering research led by IRP senior investigator Brigitte C. Widemann, M.D., led to the first-ever drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the condition. For this groundbreaking work, Dr. Widemann, her IRP research team, and her collaborators outside NIH were named as finalists for the 2020 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also known as the ‘Sammies,’ an award that honors exceptional work by government employees.
IRP Research Highlights a Novel Target to Stop Viral Infections
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
On July 28, health providers, researchers, patients, advocates, and governments across the globe observe World Hepatitis Day. Like this year’s theme, ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait,’ IRP researchers are wasting no time utilizing the unique resources at the National Institutes of Health to identify innovative ways to combat the virus.
IRP Distinguished Investigator T. Jake Liang, M.D., for example, has focused his life’s work on understanding how hepatitis viruses infect, replicate, and persist in cells. The viruses he studies, hepatitis B and C, together affect more than 10 percent of the worlds’ population and are the most common causes of chronic liver disease and liver cancer. The two viruses were originally discovered in the 1980s by another IRP scientist, Harvey J. Alter, M.D., who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for that work in 2020. Nearly three decades later, Dr. Liang’s lab at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) worked with scientists at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to develop a novel test to screen thousands of molecules using a technology called high-throughput screening, which led to the discovery of several compounds with the potential to block hepatitis C infection.