New Treatment Creates Unwelcome Environment for Breast Cancer

4 hours 21 minutes ago
Modifying Tumor’s Surroundings Stymies Cancer’s Expansion

If you ever tried planting an apple tree in the desert or growing avocados in New England, you would quickly figure out that such plants need a particular environment in order to thrive. Cancerous tumors are no different, and IRP researchers recently found strong evidence that a molecule naturally produced in the body can suppress the growth and spread of a particularly lethal form of breast cancer via both direct effects on the cancer and by altering its surroundings.

Brandon Levy

Newest Lasker Scholars Ready to Make Their Mark

5 days 8 hours ago
Exceptional Early-Stage Investigators Push the Boundaries of Translational Research

Online and print publications are constantly touting momentous discoveries by superstar scientists like CRISPR-Cas9 co-discover Jennifer Doudna or the IRP’s own Kevin Hall, who changed the way we think about weight loss. It can be easy to forget that today’s biomedical pioneers were once young researchers toiling to establish themselves in the competitive environment of modern science.

Each year, a small, exceptionally promising group of scientific up-and-comers become Lasker Clinical Research Scholars through a highly competitive program jointly funded by the NIH and the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. The program presents early-stage physician-scientists with the opportunity to carry out independent clinical research at the NIH for five to ten years. The 2019 class of Lasker Scholars consists of five extremely talented researchers who are now beginning a critical new phase in their careers. Let’s meet them.

Brandon Levy

The Social Side of Health

1 week ago
Understanding Social and Behavioral Research in the IRP

The NIH IRP is world-renowned for its high-risk, high-reward biomedical research. While the NIH may be best known for its clinical and biomedical research on topics from cancer to allergies to addiction, IRP investigators have also produced a rich body of work conducted in the area of social and behavioral research (SBR). In this post, I will describe how SBR furthers the NIH’s goals of improving human health with some examples of the excellent work done by SBR investigators in the IRP.

Christopher Marcum

Three-Armed Antibody Could Offer Defense Against AIDS

1 week 3 days ago
Four Questions with Dr. John Mascola

The disease known as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, attacks and destroys cells vital to the immune system. This leaves the millions of people living with HIV less able to fight other infections and can lead to an extremely severe form of immune system deficiency called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which was responsible for nearly 770,000 deaths in 2018 alone. As of 2019, there are approximately 37.9 million people around the world living with HIV/AIDS.

Although HIV/AIDS has been recognized as a serious public health crisis, finding effective treatments, or a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place, is not a simple task. The HIV virus has many different types and strains — similar to the flu — which makes developing vaccines and treatments extremely challenging, as the virus is constantly changing. At the NIH, there are a number of ongoing collaborative research projects aimed at providing new options for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and those at risk for contracting the virus in the future.  

Brooke Worthing

A New Understanding of What’s Living on Your Skin

2 weeks ago
Five Questions with Dr. Heidi Kong and Dr. Julia Segre

When people think of skin health, they often think of protecting it from harmful UV rays or finding ways to avoid the fine lines and wrinkles that often come with aging and sun exposure. However, there are many factors and illnesses that impact skin health, including eczema, a chronic condition that affects tens of millions of Americans and causes the skin to become red and so itchy that it can interfere with patients’ sleep.

To combat such conditions, IRP researchers have spent decades investigating what causes them in humans through techniques such as immunology, genetics, molecular biology, and structural biology. In a 2014 study of healthy volunteers, IRP investigators Julia Segre, Ph.D., and Heidi Kong, M.D., M.H.Sc., used the latest genomic techniques to investigate the collection of microorganisms living on healthy human skin, known as the skin microbiome, in an attempt to understand how this collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses may contribute to skin health. From their interdisciplinary research, the team was able to show that the array of microbes living on human skin is extremely diverse, varying greatly from individual to individual and between different areas of the body. This research opened doors for additional studies exploring how changes in the skin microbiome contribute to both common and rare skin diseases.

Brooke Worthing

Antibiotics Could Assist Liver Cancer Care

2 weeks 6 days ago
Four Questions with Dr. Tim Greten

There are over 100 different types of cancer, with liver, breast, and colon cancers among the most common. At the NIH, researchers across the organization have long been committed to furthering cancer research in an effort to increase the number of cancer survivors. They consistently push the boundaries of this field each day in the hopes that their work could lead to better diagnoses, better treatment, and better outcomes for cancer patients.

A 2018 study by IRP senior investigator Tim Greten, M.D., and his IRP colleagues did just that and more. Their research pushed the norms of cancer research by studying how a treatment as simple as antibiotics affects cancerous liver tumors. By utilizing antibiotics to wipe out the collection of microorganisms living in the digestive tracts of mice — known as the gut microbiome — the team identified a link between the gut microbiome and the behavior of the liver’s immune cells, which play a role in defending the organ against cancer. The IRP team ultimately showed that antibiotic treatment reduced the development of liver tumors in these ‘germ-free’ mice, and it also reduced the likelihood that tumors in other areas of the body would metastasize — or spread — to the animals’ livers, a finding that could one day prove beneficial to future cancer patients.

Brooke Worthing

Reining in Runaway Enzyme Halts Neuronal Destruction

4 weeks ago
Mouse Study Supports Potential Treatment Approach for Numerous Neurological Diseases

Winter is fast approaching, bringing with it both picturesque snow flurries and raging blizzards. It's a good reminder that something that is desirable in moderate amounts can be downright dangerous in large quantities, and the systems that keep our cells healthy are no different. IRP researchers recently found a novel way to tamp down a runaway cellular process that can kill neurons, findings that may one day lead to new treatments for several debilitating neurological conditions.

Brandon Levy

Alcohol Abuse Makes ‘Epigenetic Clock’ Run Faster

1 month 1 week ago
Study Finds Heavy Alcohol Use Accelerates Cellular Aging

In an era when 80-year-olds are running marathons while 30-year-olds suffer from obesity-induced heart attacks, inferring the condition of people’s bodies from their birth years is a bit outdated (pun intended). As a result, scientists and clinicians are increasingly examining biological signposts to gauge how well a person’s tissues are functioning. By looking at chemical markers on DNA, IRP researchers recently found that heavy alcohol use accelerates aging at the cellular level.

Brandon Levy

Cellular Garbage Aids Quest for Alzheimer’s Blood Test

1 month 3 weeks ago
Experimental Approach Predicts Future Alzheimer’s Diagnoses

If you looked through my garbage, you would probably find a litany of apple cores (my favorite fruit) and a couple fundraising requests from my alma mater. Similarly, scientists can learn a lot about what is going on in cells by examining their trash. IRP researchers recently developed a blood test that may be able to predict Alzheimer’s disease years before the onset of symptoms by examining packages of waste products from neurons.

Brandon Levy

IRP Breast Cancer Researchers Answer “Redditor” Questions

1 month 4 weeks ago
Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Commemorates Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer touches the lives of millions of Americans every year. In 2019 alone, researchers expect more than 300,000 American women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, along with more than 2,600 men. Roughly one out of every eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime, making it the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women.

On October 9, in recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) partnered with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to host a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) with two prominent researchers in the NCI's Women's Malignancies Branch: Stanley Lipkowitz, M.D., Ph.D., and Alexandra Zimmer, M.D. Between Dr. Lipkowitz’s extensive knowledge of the cellular and molecular pathways involved in breast cancer and Dr. Zimmer’s expertise in the development of clinical trials for breast cancer treatments, the pair were able to offer intriguing insights on topics ranging from recent advances in breast cancer treatment to genetic and environmental factors that influence risk for the disease. Read on for some of the most interesting exchanges that took place, or check out the full AMA on Reddit.

Brandon Levy

Genes Contribute to Population-Based Differences in Antidepressant Response

2 months ago
5 Questions with Dr. Francis McMahon

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., affecting nearly seven percent of American adults each year. With the increasing social and economic pressures of the modern world likely contributing to depressive symptoms, it is more important now than ever to study depression and the factors that contribute to recovery.  

A number of variables contribute to an individual’s overall mental health and response to treatment, including elements of nature and nurture that have long been studied at the NIH. In a 2013 study, researchers led by IRP senior investigator Francis McMahon, M.D., set out to understand the complex genetic factors that he believed might help explain why antidepressants are less effective for African Americans with depression than for other populations. His research revealed that differences in socioeconomics and health explained most of those differences in antidepressant response, and the remaining differences were explained by differences in genetic ancestry, rather than self-reported race. The discovery that genetics play a role in this health disparity could help close the gap and improve depression treatment for African Americans.

Brooke Worthing

IRP’s Michael Gottesman Elected to National Academy of Sciences

2 months ago
NIH Investigator Recognized for Insights into Drug Resistance in Cancer

The National Academy of Sciences, a private society established in 1863, is made up of the United States’ most distinguished scientific scholars, including nearly 500 members who have won Nobel Prizes. Members of the NAS are elected by their peers and charged with the responsibility of providing independent, objective advice on national matters related to science and technology in an effort to further scientific innovation in the U.S.

IRP Senior Investigator Michael Gottesman, M.D., is one of four IRP researchers who were elected to the Academy over the past two years. At the NIH, Dr. Gottesman plays two very different but equally important roles, serving as Deputy Director for Intramural Research while also leading the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Brooke Worthing

Chemical Tag-Team Shows Promise as Diabetes Treatment

2 months 1 week ago
Therapeutic Strategy Enhances Natural Blood Sugar Control

Just like Sonny needed Cher to achieve music super-stardom and Stephen Curry needed Kevin Durant to win back-to-back NBA championships, sometimes a cell or molecule in the human body needs a partner’s assistance to work optimally. IRP researchers recently showed that a synergy between a lab-designed drug and a molecule naturally produced in the body could make for a promising therapy for type 2 diabetes.

Brandon Levy

NIH Research Festival Hosts Postdoc Poster-Palooza

2 months 3 weeks ago
Annual Event Highlights Contributions of IRP Postdoctoral Fellows

At lunchtime last Wednesday, the NIH Clinical Center’s FAES Terrace echoed with the joyful sounds of scientists nourishing their bodies and their brains. While those stopping by the annual NIH Research Festival poster session could be forgiven for making a beeline straight for the food — including the submissions to this year’s Scientific Directors’ baking competition — once their plates were full, they took advantage of the opportunity to satiate their scientific curiosity as well by checking out the dozens of posters on display.

Brandon Levy

Yoga Helps Pain and Brain

3 months ago
Five Questions with Dr. Catherine Bushnell

Yoga is all the rage these days, with millions of people taking part in the practice for relaxation, meditation, and increasing flexibility and muscle strength. However, the benefits of yoga go beyond what most might think. In fact, the mind-body practice of yoga could have a significant impact on the lives of those living with chronic pain, a condition that affects tens of millions of Americans.

In the past, doctors often prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain. However, research has shown that people with chronic pain have anatomical and neurochemical alterations in the brain that make them less responsive to opioids. In addition, both the medical and political systems are currently contending with a public health crisis stemming from the over-use of opioid pain medications. As a result, researchers have been working to identify ways to better manage chronic pain, particularly without the use of medication.

Brooke Worthing

Genome Modifications Affect Protein Variation in Tumors

3 months ago
Examining DNA Methylation Could Facilitate Targeted Cancer Therapy

As an amateur home chef, I know from experience that the ingredients you use can dramatically alter the way a recipe turns out. Leave out oregano and your tomato sauce will be bland; add too much red pepper and your plate of pasta will scorch your tongue.

In this way, it turns out, cooking is a lot like the process by which your genes manufacture the proteins that keep your body running. Just like the same recipe can result in a delicious or disappointing meal depending on how you modify it, a certain gene can produce several varieties of a single protein that behave in different ways. In some cases, these alterations may lead to disease. New IRP research has revealed that a genetic regulatory process called DNA methylation can contribute to cancer by changing which forms of a protein a gene produces.1

Brandon Levy

Tracing the Path From Inflamed Skin to Heart Disease

3 months 1 week ago
Five Questions with Dr. Nehal Mehta

Most Americans know someone who has been affected by heart disease. Despite its status as the leading cause of death in the U.S. today, rates of heart disease have actually been steadily falling since they hit their peak in 1968. In fact, between 1970 and 2005, the life expectancy of the average American increased over 70 percent due in part to reductions in heart disease-related deaths.

Research conducted by IRP scientists has played a key role in curbing the heart disease epidemic by helping identify now well-known risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and physical inactivity. However, not all risk factors are so commonly known. A 2017 study by IRP Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Nehal Mehta, M.D., M.S.C.E., revealed that untreated psoriasis — a chronic, relapsing, inflammatory skin disease — is linked to an elevated risk for premature coronary artery disease. Dr. Mehta’s research demonstrated a strong link between psoriasis-induced skin inflammation and and inflammation of the blood vessels, a precursor to heart disease. Through this study, the largest ongoing study of individuals with psoriasis to-date, Dr. Mehta’s team has concluded that controlling psoriasis-associated skin disease could be an important means of reducing cardiac risk in this population.  

Brooke Worthing

IRP’s Elaine Ostrander Elected to National Academy of Sciences

3 months 2 weeks ago
Genetic Research in Dogs Sheds Light on Human Disease

The National Academy of Sciences, a private society established in 1863, is made up of the United States’ most distinguished scientific scholars, including nearly 500 members who have won Nobel Prizes. Members of the NAS are elected by their peers and charged with the responsibility of providing independent, objective advice on national matters related to science and technology in an effort to further scientific innovation in the U.S.

IRP Senior Investigator Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., is one of four IRP researchers who were elected to the Academy over the past two years. As head of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch at the NIH’s National Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), Dr. Ostrander focuses on expanding our understanding of the genetic basis of human disease. However, her team does not just study humans. In fact, Dr. Ostrander works with dog owners, breeders, and veterinarians to study our canine companions and understand which genes control the variations seen across dog breeds. She specifically focuses on genes that control growth and genes associated with cancer susceptibility in an effort to understand why changes in those particular genes can cause illness in humans.

Brooke Worthing

A New Approach to Fighting the Flu

3 months 2 weeks ago
Six Questions With Dr. Matthew Memoli

We all know flu season as the time of year where people are loading up on hand sanitizer and heading to the doctor for their flu shot. However, many underestimate the severity of the flu. During a typical flu season, five to twenty percent of Americans fall ill, leading to more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. Because of this serious threat to the public, the IRP has a long track record of researching vaccines, antivirals, diagnostics, and other resources in an effort to prevent individuals from catching the flu and improve care for those who do.

Brooke Worthing