AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: yamagutiplectognathotrema

New Stem Cell Discovered in Brain

Credit Isaac Mao,

At Lund University, researchers have discovered a brand new type of stem cell in the adult human brain, which is thought to be responsible for the regeneration of muscle, bone, cartilage, and adipose tissue.

Stem cells are known for their ability to proliferate into several different cell types, providing a plethora of research opportunities for medical researchers.  These specific stem cells, found near small blood vessels in the brain through the analysis of brain tissue from biopsies, have also been identified in other locations of the body.  In other organs, the stem cell appears to have a similar structure, and is responsible for repair and wound healing, leading scientists to suggest that the curative properties may also apply to the brain.

The next step is to better understand this new type of stem cell, and to learn how to better control and enhance its self-healing properties.  “Our findings show that the cell capacity is much larger than we originally thought, and that these cells are very versatile,” said Gesine Paul-Visse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Lund University.

With a more thorough understanding of how this stem cell operates, researchers hope to use it to better treat neurodegenerative diseases and stroke.

As Paul-Visse puts it, “Ultimately the goal is to strengthen these mechanisms and develop new treatments that can repair the diseased brain.”

For more information, read the article “New stem cell found in the brain”

Or look for the original study published in the journal PLos ONE.

So, what do you think?  Will this new stem cell found in the brain make an important impact in neurobiological research?

New Cancer Study that uses HeLa Cells

Credit Nick 960

A study at Loyola University Chicago Strich School of Medicine has discovered the role of a protein that aids in cancer metastasis, enabling 23 types of cancers (including breast, lung, pancreas, and thyroid) to spread to other parts of the body.  The protein CXCR4 functions in a complex signaling pathway that signals cancer cells to land at new sites and start new tumors.

Through the use of HeLa cells, medical researchers at Loyola University are better understanding the role of CXCR4, and by inhibiting this protein they hope to prevent the cancer from metastasizing.

Scientists hope to develop a drug in the near future that blogs CXCR4, and quickly bring it into testing on animals.  If the drug appears successful, it be tested in a clinical trial of cancer patients.

As Adriano Marchese, PhD at Loyola University states, “”We are laying the groundwork for the development of new drugs to stop cancer from spreading.”

For more information on the research studies being conducted at Loyola, visit the site:

Smart Pills? There’s an App for That!

Credits Tony Buser


Have you ever wished it was easier to communicate with your doctor how your medication was working?  Wouldn’t it be easier for data regarding how your body responds to the medicine to automatically be sent to the doctor’s office?  Well it seems that in the not to distant future, your smart phone will be able to work in pair with a “smart pill,” which contains a biodegradable electronic chip that monitors how your body responds to the medicine, broadcasts the information to your iPhone, which then emails the information to your physician.

This revolutionary idea is currently being explored by Proteus Biomedical and Novartis, as they plan to make patient/doctor relationships more connected through the implementation of smart pills.

One application of smart pills will be glucose meters, which will connect with iPhones to retrieve, archive, and transmit data.  Upon ingestion, these smart pill glucose meters will monitor sugar levels throughout the body and automatically send doctors detailed reports.  This can be especially useful for diabetes patients, as it is extremely important to constantly regulate their blood sugar level.

The possibilities for this new idea are truly endless, and those close to the development process reveal that smart pills will provide detailed information on how individual patients respond to therapy and could help facilitate the rise of an era of personalized medicine.



(link for picture credits: )

New Ways to Combat Cancer

Rights Glucose Biomass Conversion

Rights Glucose Biomass Conversion

What if I told you that one of the newest cancer treatment research methods had to do with glucose?  Glucose is the basic unit practically all food is broken down into, and is used as an energy supply.  By preventing cancerous cells from accessing glucose, could we kill them off?

This idea is being extensively researched, as scientists have discovered that whereas normal cells use the form of the enzyme pyruvate kinase known as PKM1 to utilize glucose, cancer cells use PKM2.  Furthermore, studies have shown that PKM2 was inhibited by the presence of oxidants. In the presence of oxidants, PKM2 does not function properly, causing the cancerous cell to fail to be able to break down glucose into ATP through cellular respiration.  Without an energy source, cancerous cells would be unable to form metabolic functions, causing them to die before they divide and spread.

Pyruvate kinase is an enzyme involved in glycolysis, and catalyzes the transfer of a phosphate group from phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to ADP.  This process creates one molecule of pyruvate and one molecule of ATP.

For more information on this technique, check out this link:


Also, for more information on PKM2, check out: 

Single Cell Sequencing

Rights James Beck, Duke University

Rights James Beck, Duke University

An emerging type of cancer treatment currently being extensively researched is single cell sequencing.  By sequencing the entire genome of individual cells in a primary tumor, researchers hope to find the origins of the cancer, and the exact method of how it spreads.  Often, it is not the primary tumor that proves to be the most deadly, as it is the metastasis of the cancer to other parts of the body that proves most difficult to treat.  By determining the exact cells that the cancer originates, scientists would be able to efficiently target these individual cells before they metastasize.

Just as antibiotics can fail to kill off the entire sickness, resulting in a more powerful, drug resistant strain, the same thing can occur with chemotherapy.  Current chemotherapy methods seek to target the tumor as a whole, and is not specialized to the specific cells within the tumor responsible for causing and spreading the cancer.  Through whole genome amplification, doctors could better access the cancerous cells within the tumor, by looking at the unique pattern of copy number variations, and provide individualized treatment.

This process, although relatively new, has proven to be extremely promising.  As data from volunteer patients continue to produce useful results, the technique of single cell sequencing will hopefully become industrialized in the near future.  Rather than amplifying individual cell’s genomes by hand, machines will perform this task through assembly lines, making individualized cancer treatment widespread and hopefully bringing society one step closer to the end of this terrible disease.

For more information on this groundbreaking technique, visit: A method for amplifying DNA from single bacterial cells shows promise for complete genome sequencing


Single cell sequencing research is currently underway at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as the lab’s state-of-the-art new sequencing machines allow these scientists to lead the way in this new type of cancer research.

New HIV Prevention Technique

CC licensed by photo Micro World (flickr)

An exciting, cutting-edge approach to HIV prevention is quickly gaining support, as researchers  have been learning about special antibodies that have destroyed HIV in the lab.  Now, biologists at Caltech have taken the next step, as they have discovered a way to insert these antibodies into mice, thus protecting them from HIV infection.

This new approach to HIV prevention — called Vectored ImmunoProphylaxis, or VIP — is outlined in the November 30 advance online publication of the journal Nature.

This new technique in HIV prevention is revolutionary, as supposed to traditional methods that centered on developing a vaccine that would provoke the formation of antibodies or T cells in the body, VIP provides protective antibodies directly.

Mice treated with VIP have been shown to produce high concentrations of the protective antibodies throughout their lives, and remain protected from HIV when it is administered intravenously.

Still, researchers must make the next step and show that the antibodies produced from VIP work to destroy HIV in humans.  According to researchers however, the problem will not be whether the antibodies work, as they are relatively sure of its effectiveness.  Rather, experiments will have to be conducted to see if VIP produces enough of these antibodies.  According to Alejandro Balazs, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar, “In typical vaccine studies, those inoculated usually mount an immune response — you just don’t know if it’s going to work to fight the virus.  In this case, because we already know that the antibodies work, my opinion is that if we can induce production of sufficient antibody in people, then the odds that VIP will be successful are actually pretty high.”

For more information on this revolutionary new technique, visit the page 

What do you think?  Will the VIP method be successful in humans, and will HIV and AIDS finally be conquered?










It Seems that Our Eyes are Quite Similar to Our Skin

Credit: Jules.K. Flickr

A breakthrough has been made in how our skin absorbs energy from the sun, as it has been discovered that ultraviolet receptors in the skin react to UV light much faster than previously believed.

UVA light, which accounts for approximately 95% of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches Earth’s surface from the sun, causes pigment producing cells in the skin to create melanin, which protects the skin by absorbing the UVA radiation.  As the melanin pigment is created, calcium is released.

What has been particularly interesting is that the discovery has found that the human skin uses a similar mechanism to that used by the retina to detect light.  It seems that the eye and the skin, the only two organs that are constantly exposed to solar radiation, use similar molecular mechanisms to decode light.  Additionally, according to Elena Oancea and colleagues at Brown University, the process occurs much quicker than what was previously known.  The discovery of the quick biological reaction that takes place in the skin in the absorption of light can have an important application, as new sunscreens can be designed that will be more effective.

“We hypothesize that the early melanin production triggered by rhodopsin activation provides a first line of defense against ultraviolet light-induced damage,” says Oancea. “If this is the case, then this pathway and its protective capacity should be taken into consideration in the design and use of broad-spectrum sunscreens.”

What do you think?  Will this discovery have an important impact, and lead to the creation of more effective sunscreens?  I hope this means that I won’t ever get another sunburn again.

For a detailed look at Oancea’s data, check out her research report,  Identification of Light Sensing Receptors from Skin    ,  and this link:


The Science Behind Dreaming

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