IRP Research Aims to Explain the Perils of Peanuts and Other Foods
If you are a parent of school-age children, you’ve probably received a list of prohibited lunch foods and bans on birthday cupcakes. Going out to eat or cooking for guests can present a similar minefield of ingredients that many people must avoid. If it seems like food allergies are on the rise, it’s not your imagination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the prevalence of food allergies has increased by 50 percent since the 1990s, making it a serious public health concern.
This May, Food Allergy Awareness Week reminds parents, kids, teachers, food service workers — really all of us — that we must remain vigilant to the risks of reactions to certain foods. These allergies affect nearly 32 million Americans, including 1 in 13 kids. If you think about the average classroom, that could be two or three children with severe allergies in one room. For many, even a tiny amount of an allergen can trigger a serious, even life-threatening response by the body’s immune system. To address this growing concern, IRP senior investigator Pamela A. Guerrerio, M.D., Ph.D., and her colleagues in the Food Allergy Research Section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are working to unravel how genetics, immune system development, and environmental factors interact to cause food allergies in children.
There’s no doubt that science flourishes when it welcomes individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives. In pursuit of that goal, NIH has put considerable effort into closing the gender gap in the biomedical sciences, a field in which men significantly outnumber women, especially as the heads of labs and in leadership positions. Those efforts have so far yielded promising progress, with the proportion of women in IRP senior investigator positions increasing from 22 percent at the end of fiscal year 2016 to 27 percent at the end of fiscal year 2022. Over that same time period, women went from comprising 38 percent of IRP tenure-track investigators to 44 percent.
Part of what makes the IRP a welcoming place for female scientists is the NIH Women Scientists Advisors (WSA), a group of IRP scientists elected to represent the interests of women in the IRP. Once per year, the WSA selects a few female postdoctoral fellows or graduate students conducting research at NIH as WSA Scholars. At a symposium on April 13 honoring the achievements of this year’s Scholars, the awardees presented their efforts to learn more about a devastating childhood neurological condition, decrease health disparities in breast cancer, and use stem cells to investigate the roots of a nerve-destroying disorder. Read on to learn more about this year’s WSA Scholars and the important work they’re doing in their IRP labs.
The IRP community mourns the recent passing of our colleague W. Michael Kuehl, M.D., former senior investigator in the Genetics Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), after a long struggle with renal cancer.
In his more than 30 years at NCI, Michael was devoted to understanding the cellular and molecular biology of multiple myeloma (MM) and pre-malignant MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance), a precursor of the disease. He identified multiple mechanisms of molecular pathogenesis in MM and he linked pre-malignant MGUS to MM, which is relevant for the early diagnosis and treatment of MM.
IRP Research Breathes New Life into Therapies for Treatment-Resistant Asthma
It may start with a wheeze, a cough, or a feeling of tightness in the chest, but the result is the same. Acute asthma attacks make sufferers feel like they’re breathing through a straw while underwater. And even between attacks, having asthma can sometimes feel like your lungs are bound in tight bandages that make it difficult to take a deep breath.
World Asthma Day, observed this year on May 2, raises awareness of asthma, a common inflammatory disease that causes difficulty breathing in more than 260 million people worldwide, including 25 million in the U.S., roughly 8 percent of the country’s population. While many people can control their symptoms by taking medications and limiting certain activities, the condition still causes significant illness and even death.
The IRP community is saddened by the recent passing of our esteemed colleague, Herb Geller, Ph.D., who died April 16, 2023, at the NIH Clinical Center from complications of advanced prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Nancy Geller, Ph.D., who is the Director of the Office of Biostatistics Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Dr. Geller joined the National Institutes of Health in 2001, where he became the Chief of the Developmental Neurobiology Laboratory in the Cell and Developmental Biology Center at NHLBI.During his long and successful career in neurobiology, Dr. Geller made a significant impact on the field of neuroscience. His laboratory focuses on understanding the role of the extracellular matrix — the intricate network of molecules that surround cells which control migration, pathfinding, and growth of neurons during brain development.
Understanding How Parasite Feeds May Lead to New Treatments
World Malaria Day, commemorated annually on April 25, highlights the need to end an infectious disease that sickens nearly 250 million people around the world each year, killing more than 600,000 in regions where it is common. Children are particularly susceptible to its deadly effects.
Unfortunately, there is still no highly effective vaccine against malaria, so management is mostly limited to preventive measures like bed nets and medications that treat the infection, which must be taken over an extended period to effectively treat the disease and stop it from spreading. However, the speed with which the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, adapts to antimalarial drugs has created a critical need for novel treatments — a need that IRP researchers led by Joshua Zimmerberg, M.D., Ph.D., are taking a unique approach to filling.
Interrupting Sedentary Time Could Help Stave Off Health Problems
Many people don’t get much exercise these days, and kids are no exception. Whether at school, doing homework, or entertaining themselves online, children and teens spend hours on end sitting around. That lack of physical activity raises their risk for metabolic conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes, but according to a recent IRP study, breaking up those long, sedentary periods with just a few minutes of exercise could yield noticeable benefits for their health.
IRP Researchers Pursue New Approaches to Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
While most adults in the U.S. consume alcohol in moderation, for nearly 30 million of them, going even one day without alcohol feels nearly impossible. For these Americans, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious condition that harms their health, relationships, and career. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people with AUD receive treatment, and even then, for many patients, the chances of a relapse are high.
As the search for a reliable and effective treatment continues, IRP senior investigator Lorenzo Leggio, M.D., Ph.D., is exploring the biological processes that underlie alcohol cravings to unlock new approaches to therapy. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, so we took the opportunity to speak with him about recent discoveries made by his IRP team and its collaborators.
IRP Study Points to Strategies to Stop Disease From Spreading
Ancient Greek myth describes how the hero Hercules battled the many-headed hydra, which regrew two heads every time Hercules cut one off. This frustrating fight against a seemingly invulnerable opponent would be an apt metaphor for treating cancer, in which tumor cells sometimes die in a particular way that actually helps their brethren multiply and spread to other parts of the body. In a study of that phenomenon using a mouse model of breast cancer, IRP researchers discovered that it occurs because that form of cell death suppresses the immune system’s response to the cancer,a finding that points to several potential ways to improve cancer therapy.
NIH Scientist Proves What Happens in the Mouth Doesn’t Stay in the Mouth
For many people, good oral health means a pretty smile, not necessarily a healthy body. However, poor dental health can lead to serious illness and disability. IRP senior investigator Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque, D.D.S., Ph.D., has spent her career illuminating the connection between our mouths and our overall health. Dr. Webster-Cyriaque, who recently joined NIH as Deputy Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and Chief of the Viral Oral Infections in Immunosuppression and Cancer Laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in October for her seminal contributions to our understanding of viruses that infect the mouth.
This page was last updated on Friday, January 14, 2022