NIH Researcher Recognized for Important Insights Into Malaria Transmission
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
“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
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
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.
World-Renowned Geneticist Discusses His Experience Leading NIH
Francis S. Collins, who is stepping down from his post as NIH Director by the end of the year, spoke recently with staff from The NIH Catalyst, the NIH Record, and the “I am Intramural” Blog. Read on for a few highlights from that conversation, or read the full interview originally published The NIH Catalyst.
On NIH’s efforts to improve diversity in the scientific workforce
“Diversity is a hugely important issue for our workforce, our grantee community, and our clinical-trials participation. Several years ago I put together a diversity working group of my advisory committee, and out of that came the creation of a new position, the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. The initial holder of that post was Dr. Hannah Valantine, and now Dr. Marie Bernard leads the office. In addition, we have made real strides in increasing diversity in our intramural program through the Distinguished Scholars Program.
Dr. Kelvin Choi Studies Commercial Tobacco Use in Underserved Communities
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.
Pair Leads Public Health Efforts Focused on Underserved Communities
In the spring of 2020, as the U.S. government implemented public health measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that people in Black, Latino, and American Indian communities were significantly more likely to be hospitalized or die from the new disease than White, non-Hispanic Americans. While the work many scientists did to understand the virus and devise vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatments made the news regularly, efforts to study and address racial disparities in COVID-19’s impacts were equally important.
When called to lead efforts to shrink those gaps, Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., rose to the challenge. The two IRP investigators, who respectively lead the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), helped direct two federal programs dedicated to providing underserved communities with information about, and access to, COVID-19 testing, clinical trials, and vaccines. In recognition of their life-saving work, Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable have been awarded the COVID-19 Response Medal, a special honor bestowed this year as part of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. Also known as the “Sammies,” these annual awards recognize and celebrate exceptional work by government employees
Mouse Study Suggests Approach to Combat Patients’ Debilitating Tiredness
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
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
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.
This page was last updated on Friday, January 14, 2022