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.
Immune System Genes Linked to Severe Side Effects in Patients with Rare Disease
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
When you run the largest-ever study of a rare childhood disease, you become the go-to person when your peers notice something peculiar in patients with the illness. It was not too surprising, then, when a researcher from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, asked IRP investigator Michael Ombrello, M.D., to help her team follow a new lead in the mystery of why some patients with a rare inflammatory condition called Still’s disease were coming down with a life-threatening lung ailment. The results of their collaboration could lead to a new precision medicine approach that individualizes therapy for Still’s disease based on patients’ DNA.
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).
Dr. Shuai Xie Brings a New Perspective to Research on Environmental Exposures
Monday, December 13, 2021
“Engineering is about solving problems,” says IRP postdoctoral fellow Shuai Xie, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Xie speaks from experience. One of the problems she was interested in solving during her graduate studies in chemical and environmental engineering was how to accurately measure the way airborne contaminants adhere to and release from indoor building materials. This is a particularly important problem to solve because those interactions can affect measurements of indoor air pollution, potentially rendering them inaccurate. Of course, Dr. Xie was not trying to solve this engineering problem for its own sake; accurately gauging contamination of indoor air is important for human health.
Chronic Stress Diminishes Energy Production in the Brain
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
When power lines come down and the electricity shuts off, it’s understandably a worrying situation. As it turns out, people may become anxious not just when their homes are cut off from energy, but also when their brains find themselves short on power, according to recent IRP research done in mice.
While the misfortune of a blackout is temporary, many people experience chronic stress that bothers them continuously. In some individuals, repetitive stressors can contribute to the development of debilitating anxiety that interferes with everyday life. Intriguingly, past research has found evidence that problems with the biological batteries that power our cells, called mitochondria, might be involved in anxiety disorders, as well as some other psychiatric illnesses.
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.
Mouse Study Suggests Approach to Combat Patients’ Debilitating Tiredness
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
The human body is like any delicate ecosystem — disrupting just one part of it can have unexpected, widespread repercussions. Cancer patients know this well, not just because a tumor confined to one organ can cause a range of symptoms, but also because radiation treatment aimed specifically at the tumor sometimes leaves patients feeling utterly exhausted. New IRP research suggests that an inflammatory response to targeted radiation therapy is responsible for this common side effect of the treatment.
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.
New Strategy Could Enhance Benefits of Therapeutic Brain Stimulation
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Electricity can do crazy things to the brain. While it can’t bring back the dead à la Frankenstein or give you new memories like in Total Recall, many scientists believe electrical stimulation could one day help patients with movement or memory problems regain those capabilities. New IRP research bolsters this idea by showing that a brain stimulation technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) significantly boosts motor skill learning when precisely administered during specific periods of brain activity.