Training T Cell Assassins

Author: John Charpentier

Editors: Zena Lapp, Theresa Mau, and David Mertz

 

t_cell_assassin
Figure 1. An encounter between a CAR-T cell and a cancer cell

 

The assassins have a description of their targets, who are hiding in plain sight among the non-combatants. The targets are guerillas who’ve infiltrated the neighborhood, overwhelming the local authorities and fomenting chaos. After only minutes on patrol, the assassins go on the attack, quickly identifying and eliminating the enemy without harming a single bystander.

This scenario may sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s also a good metaphor to describe the activity of engineered immune cells against cancer cells. The assassins are called CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor-T) cells, and they receive their elite training at the hands of physicians and scientists, who teach them to recognize particular molecules on the surface of tumors.

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How Your Electronic Health Records Could Help Biomedical Research

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Jimmy Brancho, Shweta Ramdas, Bryan Moyers

Think back to the last time you visited your primary care physician. Was the health care provider using a laptop or tablet to take notes and update your health information? In many doctors’ offices across the country your health records have gone digital. In addition to their exciting potential to help doctors’ offices reduce human error and better serve patients, electronic health records (EHRs) also make available a new source of “big data” for researchers.

EHRs are patient-specific digital records your health care provider maintains. The information in your EHR helps your doctor efficiently track your health over time and helps researchers learn more about diseases, which ultimately improves the clinical care your doctor provides to you and other patients. Believe it or not, EHRs from patients like you and me have already helped researchers make discoveries that improve health care for everyone!

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Spinach and siderophores, part 2: Getting the upper hand

Author: Ada Hagan

Editors: Alisha John, Scott Barolo

As we discussed last time, bacteria that infect the human body face a major challenge: iron, which is essential for bacterial growth, is hard to obtain from human tissues.  Many pathogenic bacteria solve this problem by deploying “stealth siderophores,” which steal iron from human iron-binding proteins while evading our defenses. In the battle between humans and pathogenic bacteria, our best weapons, antibiotics, are being weakened by widespread resistance. Is there a way to use bacteria’s need for iron against them?

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Regenerative medicine – Panacea or hype?

Author: Kaitlin Weskamp

Editors: Brittany Dixon, Zuleirys Santana Rodriguez, Scott Barolo

Zebrafish may not look impressive, but they can do something that no human can: regenerate large portions of organs that are damaged or lost. These fish, each about as long as your pinky finger, are able to regrow amputated fins, repair lesioned brains, and mend damaged eyes, spinal cords, and hearts. This remarkable ability to heal has fascinated scientists for some time, and in recent years, large strides have been made towards translating this regenerative ability to humans. Continue reading “Regenerative medicine – Panacea or hype?”

In silico biology: How math and computer science teach us about life

Author: Hayley Warsinske

Editors: Molly Kozminsky, Ellyn Schinke, Irene Park

We live in a world of science and technology. Biomedical research helps improve our lives everyday by providing us with vital information about everything from hygiene to Alzheimer’s disease. Computers provide us with access to wealth of information on any subject in an instant and expedite many of our daily activities. Often these two worlds overlap and computers are also used to provide scientists with information about our own health and survival to facilitate biomedical research.

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Science behind the scenes: The costs and payoffs of science

By: Bryan Moyers

Edited by:  David Mertz, Shweta Ramdas, Scott Barolo, Kevin Boehnke

Why haven’t we cured cancer?  Physicians have known about cancer for over 5000 years, and the United States spends nearly $5 billion per year on cancer research.  But there’s still no cure.  Also, where is our clean, renewable energy?  We can’t even catch half the energy in sunlight, and solar panels don’t come cheap!  Why don’t we have a moon colony yet or a male birth control pill?

In the U.S., science funding comes from many sources, including the taxpayers.  As an example, half a percent of the federal budget goes to fund NASA, before considering all of the money that goes to the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Institutes of Health and other federal science organizations.  It is reasonable that publicly-funded science should provide some benefit for the public, but it seems like there’s a lot of scientific research out there that’s not giving us the technologies and discoveries we want and need.   So why do we throw money at projects that don’t seem to deliver?

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Interpreting ancient DNA: Not so easy a caveman could do it

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Alex Taylor, Jimmy Brancho, Bryan Moyers

Imagine the year is 1856 and you are toiling in a quarry in the Neander Valley, a few kilometers from Düsseldorf, Germany. Strangely, something is abruptly sticking out of the landscape. You dig around and find ribs, a skull, and other bones—your best guess is that you have stumbled upon the final resting place of a bear. However, what you have actually found are the first identifiable remains of ancient hominins, later named Homo neanderthalensis.

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P-values, or: infinite shades of grey

Author: Peter Orchard

Editors: Theresa Mau, Bryan Moyers, Alisha John

 

Peter Tea_and_MilkAlmost 100 years ago, the English biologist and statistician Dr. Ronald Fisher was enjoying a cup of tea with his Cambridge University colleagues when another biologist, Dr. Muriel Bristol, made an interesting claim. Bristol asserted that just by tasting her tea, she could infer whether the tea was poured into the cup before the milk, or the milk before the tea.

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Mother’s protein intake can affect her child’s weight

Author: Shweta Ramdas

Editors: Ada Hagan, Alisha John, Bryan Moyers, and Irene Park

Google “diet for pregnant or nursing mothers”, and you’ll be swamped with web pages recommending foods that help the baby and foods to avoid. There has been considerable research indicating that the diet of pregnant mothers can affect the child’s health (including risk for schizophrenia). But how? And are these effects long-lasting, or do they wear off once the child hits adulthood?

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Camouflaged: Finding cephalopods

Written by: Irene Park

Edited by: Ada Hagan, Alisha John, Bryan Moyers, Kevin Boehnke

When I was watching Finding Dory, one character caught my eye: Hank the octopus (or septopus since he’s missing a tentacle). Throughout the movie, Hank uses his camouflage ability to blend into his surroundings, a very useful skill for Dory’s quest to reunite with her family without getting noticed by humans.  

I could not help but think how helpful Hank’s camouflage ability would be for different professions: hunters, nature photographers, and perhaps even people in the military. Unsurprisingly, researchers are already taking notes from cephalopods — which include octopuses like Hank, as well as squids and cuttlefishes — to develop better camouflage technology.

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