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.
Kizzmekia Corbett and Barney Graham Recognized for Leading IRP Vaccine Research
Monday, July 12, 2021
At the end of 2019, most people were planning for a typical busy year in 2020. The world was looking forward to the Summer Olympics in Japan, the U.S. was deep into election campaigns, and IRP scientists at NIH’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC) were designing vaccines for several coronaviruses in collaboration with a small biotech company called Moderna.
That all changed on a Saturday morning in early January. Chinese scientists had isolated a new coronavirus that was causing a serious epidemic in China’s Wuhan province and released its genetic sequence to the scientific community around the world. Barney Graham, M.D., Ph.D., director of the VRC’s Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory (VPL), and VRC research fellow Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., dropped everything and immediately began working on a vaccine for the illness that would become known as COVID-19.
Globe-Spanning Collaboration Connected ‘Viking Gene’ to Dementia and ALS
Monday, June 21, 2021
June was an important month in the life of baseball great Lou Gehrig. It was the month he was born and the month he was first picked for the Yankees’ starting lineup. Sadly, it was also the month in 1939 when he was diagnosed with the neurological disease that bears his name — Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — and the month he died of that disease two years later. It is appropriate then that ALS Awareness Day is observed on June 21 as a day of hope for those searching for effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure.
IRP senior investigator Bryan J. Traynor, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is one of the people leading that search. Best known for his work unraveling the genetic causes of ALS and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), he led an international consortium of researchers that uncovered a mutation on chromosome 9 that is the most common ‘familial’ cause of both ALS and FTD. In fact, this mutation, which disrupts the function of the C90RF72 gene, is responsible for 40 percent of all familial cases of ALS and FTD in European and North American populations, meaning cases in which a family member also has the disease. The discovery, published in 2011, revolutionized the scientific understanding of neurodegenerative diseases and the relationships between them. It also suggested a potential target for future gene therapies.
Pioneering Genetic Epidemiologist Takes a Global Approach to Fighting Health Disparities
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
IRP distinguished investigator Charles Rotimi, Ph.D., was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year in recognition of his pioneering work exploring the health implications of genetic diversity in populations with African ancestry, as well as for globalizing the study of genomics, particularly in African nations. Dr. Rotimi joined NIH in 2008 as the founding director of the Intramural Center for Genomics and Health Disparities in the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which was later renamed the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, in part to reflect Dr. Rotimi’s globe-spanning research programs.
Vaccine Research Facilitated Rapid Response to Ebola Outbreak
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
IRP Senior Investigator Heinz Feldmann, M.D., was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) last year for leading the development of the technology that resulted in the first Ebola vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat the deadly disease. Election to the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.
As chief of the Laboratory of Virology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Feldmann’s work focuses on viruses like Ebola that cause hemorrhagic fever, a condition marked by fever, weakness, muscle pain, and sometimes bleeding. These highly contagious viruses require specialized laboratories and strict safety procedures to study.
IRP Research Leads to First FDA-Approved Therapy for Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancers are the most common cancer in the U.S., affecting as many as five million people every year. Yet the rarest of these cancers is also one of the deadliest. Merkel cell carcinoma affects about 3,000 Americans each year, and until recently a lack of effective treatments meant only half of patients survived five years or longer after diagnosis. The median survival was nine months.
This bleak outlook changed radically in 2017 with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a new immunotherapy drug called avelumab. Developed through a collaboration between IRP researchers and the pharmaceutical company EMD Serono, Inc., and marketed as Bavencio, avelumab was the first treatment approved specifically for Merkel cell carcinoma.
Decades Later, IRP Researcher’s Discovery Is Used in Labs Around the World
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
National DNA Day, held on April 25, commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the day in 1953 when a research team led by Drs. James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin published their groundbreaking paper on the structure of DNA in the journal Nature.
The mapping of DNA’s structure opened the door to modern genetics and our current understanding of how DNA affects the health and survival of all living things. Since then, there have been numerous additional major leaps forward in the field of genetics. Among them was the discovery of a universal hallmark of DNA damage by IRP Scientist Emeritus William Bonner, Ph.D., an advance that revolutionized the study of how cells sense and repair genetic defects. Dr. Bonner’s findings paved the way for a deeper understanding of cell biology, as well as clinical advances for treating cancer and for assessing risks from radiation in the environment.