Four Questions with Dr. Niki Moutsopoulos
Friday, March 20, 2020
Our mouths are teeming with bacteria, a microbial ecosystem known as the oral microbiome. While these microbes are typically benign, under certain circumstances they can turn harmful and contribute to oral diseases such as periodontitis, a form of chronic gum disease characterized by microbe-driven inflammation of the soft tissues and bone that support our teeth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 65 million Americans aged 30 or older have some degree of periodontitis. In its early stage, known as gingivitis, the gums become swollen and red due to inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to the presence of bacteria. If the condition worsens, it can lead to loose teeth and, eventually, bone or tooth loss.
NIH senior investigator Niki Moutsopoulos, Ph.D., head of the Oral Immunity and Inflammation Section at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), studies periodontitis and aims to understand the immune system’s role in driving this destruction. In a 2018 study, she and her team of IRP researchers and outside collaborators discovered that an abnormal and unhealthy population of microbes in the mouth causes specialized immune cells, known as T helper 17 (Th17) cells, to trigger inflammation and destroy tissue, leading to periodontitis.
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.
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.
5 Questions with Dr. Francis McMahon
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., affecting nearly seven percent of American adults each year. With the increasing social and economic pressures of the modern world likely contributing to depressive symptoms, it is more important now than ever to study depression and the factors that contribute to recovery.
A number of variables contribute to an individual’s overall mental health and response to treatment, including elements of nature and nurture that have long been studied at the NIH. In a 2013 study, researchers led by IRP senior investigator Francis McMahon, M.D., set out to understand the complex genetic factors that he believed might help explain why antidepressants are less effective for African Americans with depression than for other populations. His research revealed that differences in socioeconomics and health explained most of those differences in antidepressant response, and the remaining differences were explained by differences in genetic ancestry, rather than self-reported race. The discovery that genetics play a role in this health disparity could help close the gap and improve depression treatment for African Americans.
Five Questions with Dr. Catherine Bushnell
Monday, September 9, 2019
Yoga is all the rage these days, with millions of people taking part in the practice for relaxation, meditation, and increasing flexibility and muscle strength. However, the benefits of yoga go beyond what most might think. In fact, the mind-body practice of yoga could have a significant impact on the lives of those living with chronic pain, a condition that affects tens of millions of Americans.
In the past, doctors often prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain. However, research has shown that people with chronic pain have anatomical and neurochemical alterations in the brain that make them less responsive to opioids. In addition, both the medical and political systems are currently contending with a public health crisis stemming from the over-use of opioid pain medications. As a result, researchers have been working to identify ways to better manage chronic pain, particularly without the use of medication.
Five Questions with Dr. Nehal Mehta
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Most Americans know someone who has been affected by heart disease. Despite its status as the leading cause of death in the U.S. today, rates of heart disease have actually been steadily falling since they hit their peak in 1968. In fact, between 1970 and 2005, the life expectancy of the average American increased over 70 percent due in part to reductions in heart disease-related deaths.
Research conducted by IRP scientists has played a key role in curbing the heart disease epidemic by helping identify now well-known risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and physical inactivity. However, not all risk factors are so commonly known. A 2017 study by IRP Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Nehal Mehta, M.D., M.S.C.E., revealed that untreated psoriasis — a chronic, relapsing, inflammatory skin disease — is linked to an elevated risk for premature coronary artery disease. Dr. Mehta’s research demonstrated a strong link between psoriasis-induced skin inflammation and and inflammation of the blood vessels, a precursor to heart disease. Through this study, the largest ongoing study of individuals with psoriasis to-date, Dr. Mehta’s team has concluded that controlling psoriasis-associated skin disease could be an important means of reducing cardiac risk in this population.
Six Questions With Dr. Matthew Memoli
Thursday, August 22, 2019
We all know flu season as the time of year where people are loading up on hand sanitizer and heading to the doctor for their flu shot. However, many underestimate the severity of the flu. During a typical flu season, five to twenty percent of Americans fall ill, leading to more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. Because of this serious threat to the public, the IRP has a long track record of researching vaccines, antivirals, diagnostics, and other resources in an effort to prevent individuals from catching the flu and improve care for those who do.
Five Questions With Dr. Jessica Gill
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Each year, millions of Americans suffer sports-related concussions, and the number of youth suffering from these traumatic brain injuries has been rising. Blows to the head are common in sports such as football and hockey, and when these forces are strong enough to cause a concussion, they can harm the brain and impair cognitive functioning. Although concussions occur in staggering numbers, scientists do not fully understand what happens to the brain at the time of concussion or during the recovery period. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not trying.