New Findings Could Help Improve Risk Assessment and Treatment
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Fresh off celebrating Mother’s Day this past Sunday, as well as Women’s Health Week this week, it’s important to acknowledge that being a new mom isn’t easy. As joyful and exciting as a new baby might be, it can be exhausting and worrisome, too. Many new moms experience some level of baby blues, but for some women, those blues can take a downward turn into symptoms of more serious depression.
Approximately one out of every eight women in the U.S. experiences symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, a recent study led by IRP staff scientist Diane Putnick, Ph.D., has shown that the course of postpartum depression can differ significantly among women. The study of nearly 5,000 women not only showed that 25 percent of them experienced symptoms of postpartum depression, but it also found that depression symptoms followed several different patterns and could persist for at least three years after giving birth. Understanding these different patterns of symptoms and some of the risk factors associated with them may help physicians recognize and monitor mothers who are at higher risk for persistent depression.
IRP Researchers Discover Unexpected Stress-Blunting Effects of Some Neurons
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
The past few years have not been easy for anyone. With world events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine causing everyone to worry, it’s no surprise that during this April’s annual Stress Awareness Month observance, so many people experienced high levels of stress and anxiety. While stress management techniques and talk therapy may help some people, nearly 10 million Americans need prescription anti-anxiety drugs to quell those feelings.
One important target for anti-anxiety medications is norepinephrine, a chemical released by certain neurons in the brain. Norepinephrine — also known as noradrenaline — has traditionally been considered to be a ‘stress chemical’ that triggers anxiety. However, drugs designed to target the neurons that produce it don’t always work as predicted. That’s why IRP senior investigator Patricia Jensen, Ph.D., and her colleagues in the Developmental Neurobiology Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are delving deep into the mouse brain to better understand these neurons and what exactly they do.
IRP Researchers Aim to Regenerate Damaged Salivary Glands
Friday, March 18, 2022
It’s easy to take our saliva for granted. Most people have so much of it that they think nothing of spitting it out into a trash can when they finish chewing a stick of gum. Perhaps only people who have lived without it truly understand the great gift that is a perpetually moist mouth.
“Persistent dry mouth causes lots of problems with quality of life, and people forget how important saliva is until they lose it,” says IRP senior investigator Matthew Hoffman, B.D.S., Ph.D.
In honor of World Oral Health Day on March 20, a celebration of scientific efforts to reduce the burden of oral disease, I talked with Dr. Hoffman about his lab’s efforts to understand the biology of salivary gland dysfunction and translate that knowledge into treatments that bring relief to the many people suffering from it.
IRP Researchers Find Link Between Dementia and Byproducts of Cholesterol Breakdown
Monday, March 14, 2022
When most people think about Alzheimer’s disease, the liver is probably the organ least likely to come to mind. Yet recent IRP research suggests that molecules called bile acids, which are synthesized in the liver, may influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In honor of Brain Awareness Week this week, we’re diving into that work to learn how such an unlikely target could help lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
To date, efforts to develop therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 6 million Americans over the age of 65, have achieved little success. Many scientists are focused on proteins in the brain as potential treatment targets, including the ‘amyloid-beta’ protein now infamous amongst Alzheimer’s researchers. In contrast, IRP senior investigator Madhav Thambisetty, M.D., Ph.D., has been exploring the role that cholesterol might play in the development of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, which is marked by microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage and is the second most common form of dementia.
IRP Researchers Discover Genetic Disorder Affecting the Brain and Skull
Thursday, March 3, 2022
A baby is born with a birth defect every four and a half minutes in the United States, adding up to one in every 33 babies born each year in this country. While some birth defects can be corrected or treated, many result in life-altering disabilities, and sometimes the child doesn’t survive. In fact, birth defects account for about 20 percent of infant deaths in the U.S. World Birth Defects Day, celebrated on March 3 each year, honors the people and organizations who are working to understand, prevent, and treat birth defects.
One of these organizations is the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) at NIH, which connects experts across the IRP’s 23 Institutes and Centers in a joint effort to find explanations for the “most puzzling medical cases" referred to the NIH Clinical Center.
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.
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.
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.
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.