BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: treatment

Preferential Gene Expression: Not As Random As We Thought

Our conventional knowledge of genetics dictates that the activation of genes in our DNA is random. It is equally likely that our body will express our mother’s alleles as it is that our body will express our father’s. In the case that one parent donates a defective copy, it will be silenced; the other parent’s healthy set of DNA takes precedence and becomes activated.

However, a new study indicates that gene expression and activation is not as random as we thought. In certain regions of the body, our genes demonstrate preferential expression.

A team of scientists at the University of Utah found that almost 85 percent of genes in juvenile mice brains displayed preferential treatment. The mice brains activated one parent’s set of DNA over the other’s. This phenomenon was observed in other areas of the body, as well as in primates.

Although the preferential expression came to a close within ten days, it could provide explanations for vulnerability to brain diseases such as schizophrenia, ADD, and Huntington’s. The temporary preferential treatment to one parent’s copy of DNA could trigger a host of problems specific to that cell site that lead to such disorders, if the parent had given a defective copy of genes.

The study has the potential to alter our basic understandings of genetics, and how we are more prone to certain specialized diseases.

Image: (Public Domain, https://pixabay.com/en/dna-biology-medicine-gene-163466/)

CRISPR-Cas9 Providing New Treatment Possibilities

The genetic editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, is making greater strides regarding RNA linked diseases. The knowledge of how CRISPR-Cas9 can affect DNA has increased over the past couple of years. By targeting the DNA with CRISPR-Cas9 scientists have found new ways to modify protein production and treat certain diseases, which led to editing genes. However, now there is inquiry about what would occur if CRISPR-Cas9 targeted RNA.  Many diseases are linked to RNA and by targeting RNA with CRISPR-Cas9 we could find new treatments to fight off cancer, autism, and X-syndrome. Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have been able to accomplish targeting the RNA. Gene Yeo, PhD, associate professor of cellular and molecular medicine hopes to use this technique to fix RNA behavioral diseases.

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Image Source

RNA can affect when and where proteins will be produced, but if the RNA transport is deficient than it can cause diseases from autism to cancer. Evaluating RNA movement will allow new treatments to be found.  Yeo and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, have created RCas9, which is targeting RNA in live cells. They were able to do so by altering certain features of the CRISPR-Cas9. A short nucleic acid, PAMmer, that they designed was used to direct CRISPR-Cas9 to an RNA molecule. They then targeted RNA that encodes certain proteins which were ACTB, TFRC, and CCNA2. The CRISPR-Cas9 would combine with a fluorescent protein to reveal the movement of RNA into stress granules. This allowed the team to track RNA through the live cells without using artificial tags, which are normally used to track RNA.

CRISPR-Cas9 is opening new ways to find out more information to fix diseases regarding DNA and now RNA. There has been controversy regarding CRISPR-Cas9 because it is a tool to edit genetic material, but in this case it is helping us fight off diseases that have been affecting lives for ages. Do you believe that CRISPR-Cas9 should only be used for certain cases or that people should be able to use it freely?

Original Article

Other sources:

1.https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2016-03-17-CRISPR-Cas9-targets-RNA-in-live-cells.aspx

2. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/142061/20160318/gene-editing-tool-crispr-cas9-can-now-monitor-and-target-rna-in-living-cells.htm

 

 

Editing the Brain Using Epigenetic Tools

Epigenetics is a huge part of our life and influences us in ways we may not be aware of. Did you know that it is impossible to create and save new memories without epigenetic tags? The brain is heavily reliant on Epigenetics to do its functions, and this makes it a huge topic of research to figure out the ways in which the epigenetics of the brain could affect certain diseases or memory. Recently special epigenetic molecular tools have been created that can erase specific epigenetic markers throughout the genome. The possible effects these tools could have on the curing of diseases of the brain or psychological ailments are tremendous.

These “epigenetic editing” procedure use either CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced, short, palindromic repeats) or TALE (Transcription activator-like effector) systems of modification. These systems can carry an Epigenome modifying enzyme and deliver it a specific site they are programmed to go to. This allows researchers to target very specific epigenetic changes and either shut them down or turn them on and possibly determine their correlation with certain ailments of the brain. “We’re going from simply being able to observe changes to being able to manipulate and recapitulate those changes in a controlled way,” Day said. This quote from Day, one of the researchers of this project, shows that we advance from only being able to observe epigenetic influences on the brain, to being able to manipulate and control them to potential aid us in combating diseases.

Researchers can catalog all of the epigenetic changes involved in forming and preserving a new memory. If we are able to track these epigenetic changes, then could we implant memories in to a person’s mind, by copying similar epigenetic changes? These researchers where also able to trigger not only the place where epigenetic change happens, but also the exact time using optogenetics. This form of using light to control neurons allows researchers to use the TALE system and a light switch apply epigenetic change to very specific brain regions or cell types.

One of the final goals of this research is to eventually be able to use epigenetic as a form of therapy to benefit PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, and cognitive function using the ability to alter epigenetic marks. This can also be used in a similar way to silence mutated genes that are damaging the cells or the body as whole. This form of using TALE and CRISPR to alter epigenetic tags creates a lot of hope for PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other similar disease treatment options.

New Breast Cancer Gene Discovered

 

 

 

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Today, one of the most talked about cancers is breast cancer. Breast cancer is defined as cancer that forms in the tissues of the breast. There are two types of breast cancer: ductal carcinoma, which is most common and begins in the lining of the milk ducts (thin tubes that carry milk from the lobules of the breast to the nipple) and lobular carcinoma, which begins in the lobules (milk glands) of the breast.

According to a new study done by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, a gene has been identified to have a major association in aggressive subtypes of breast cancer. The research suggests that an overactive BCL11A gene causes the development of tripe-negative breast cancer.

The study was conducted in human cells and in mice. The study was important because one in five patients are affected by triple-negative breast cancer. From the conducted research, Dr. Walid Khaled discovered that by adding an active human BCL11A gene to a human or a mouse’s breast cells (in the lab) caused them to behave as cancer cells. Increasingly, Dr. Khaled concluded that “by increasing BCL11A activity we increase cancer-like behaviour; by reducing it, we reduce cancer-like behavior.”

This research and study is extremely important because from the results, the team was able to propose that BCL11A is a strong candidate for development of a possible targeted treatment. Typical treatments of breast cancer include radiation and chemotherapy as well as surgery. The most known surgeries are Lumpectomy/partial mastectomy (large portion of the breast is removed) and a full mastectomy (full removal of breasts)

I chose this article because I know many dear friends that have faced and survived the battle of breast cancer. I believe that spreading awareness and screening early is extremely important. In addition, I am very hopeful that new advances will be made so that others need not endure the excruciating fight of breast cancer.

 

The Rise of NFL Brain Injuries and Possible Solutions

tackling leading to brain injuries

tackling leading to brain injuries

Brain-injury treatment program that was created for military veterans hurt on the battlefield has now been updated to include professional athletes. Eisenhower Center’s representatives announced that it will be the main facility used by the NFL Players Association to treat brain and neurological issues. This will be facilitated through the After the Impact program.

Residential neuro-rehab facility is located in Ann Arbor. The program has intense treatment for athletes recovering from concussions, mild traumatic brain injury, or PTSD. It came from Eisenhower Center’s transitional treatment program to serve military soldiers dealing with brain injuries.

The NFL expects 28% of retired players to suffer Alzheimer’s or moderate dementia; this has caused former players to sue. About a third of all retired NFL players will suffer long-term cognitive problems and the After the Impact program has helped some reach the path to recovery.

NFL provoked a judge to approve a $1 billion settlement of concussion lawsuits ignoring concerns raised by former players. The 65-year fund will resolve thousands of lawsuits on the NFL, accusing them of hiding their knowledge of concussions and brain injuries in an attempt to keep players.

I picked this topic because I watch football every weekend and have wondered about the impact of the hitting on the players. It is nice to see that there have been efforts made to fix this.

Sources: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/16/braininjury-program-worki_n_6337018.html?utm_hp_ref=brain

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11905362/nfl-urges-judge-approve-estimated-1-billion-settlement-concussion-lawsuits

http://www.eisenhowercenter.com/neurobehavioral

 

Big News for Retina Pigmentosa Patients

 

Photo by luisar

In a recent article, it was revealed that patients with the rare disease retinitis pigmentosa, may be able to find treatment using the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System. Retinitis Pigmentosa is a rare, only about 100,000 Americans have it, inherited retinal disease that “causes the breakdown of cells in the retina.”

Dr. Robert Greenberg, CEO of Second Sight (the company that created the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System), stated that those with retinal pigmentosa are “looking down a tunnel that gradually narrows until it disappears entirely.”

The Argus II uses a “video camera and a transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses” to help the individual. “Images are then wirelessly transmitted to electrodes implanted into the patient’s retina.” While the Argus II will not restore vision completely, it will allow users to partially regain vision. Tests show that the Argus II helped patients perform daily activities with ease. These activities included “navigating sidewalks and curbs, matching different color socks, and recognizing large words in sentences.”

Personally, I think this is a great technological leap. This prosthesis system will hopefully reach out to those with retinal pigmentosa and others with macular degeneration.

Trial for New ALS Treatment Failed

Photo by: Nemo

Biogen Idec, a drug developing company, has recently discontinued their work on a new drug that was, hopefully, going to help patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A recent article explained that a new drug, known as dexpramipexole, was not effective in the phase 3 trial of the study.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease where nerve cells “waste away and die.” These cells are unable to send messages to muscles, therefore symptoms include paralysis and muscle weakness. The progression of the disease is slow and “once the patient loses the function of muscles in the chest area, it becomes hard to breathe.” There is no known cure for this disease but scientists are looking for ways to prolong the disease.

Biogen Idec believed that the drug, dexpramipexole, was hopefully going to “slow the progression of loss of muscle function and prolong the lives of people with the disease.” While the phase 3 trial was not successful, the phase 2 trial of patients receiving dexpramipexole showed some success. 50% of the patients, in the second trial, showed a slower decline of muscular function. This was a big accomplishment for Biogen Idec but the phase 3 was not as effective. Therefore, Biogen Idec’s study involving a new treatment for ALS ended.

Even though Biogen Idec’s study was not effective, other companies have successfully found a way to slow the progression of ALS. Thus far, only one drug has been approved to help patients with ALS. This drug is known as Rilutek/Riluzole and it is only modestly effective.

Doctors are in need of a new drug that will help patients with ALS. I think its great that companies like Biogen Idec are involved in finding a way to treat this rare disease. I hope that researchers will use the information from the failed trial to find another way to treat ALS.

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