Cellular Garbage Aids Quest for Alzheimer’s Blood Test

3 days 15 hours 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 week 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

1 week 1 day 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

1 week 3 days 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 weeks 3 days 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

1 month 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

1 month 1 week 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

1 month 2 weeks 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

1 month 2 weeks 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

1 month 3 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

1 month 3 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

Rare Disease Research Reveals Why Immune Cells Go Wild

1 month 4 weeks ago
Discovery Could Improve Therapy for Multiple Autoimmune Diseases

Hiding among YouTube’s vast collection of cooking demos and funny cat videos are clips of patients and their advocates designed to raise awareness of specific diseases. It was just such a video that led IRP Senior Investigator Peter Grayson, M.D., M.Sc., to begin studying an extremely rare illness called deficiency of adenosine deaminase 2, or DADA2 for short. The recently published findings of that research could help improve treatment not just for patients with DADA2 but also many more individuals with similar ailments.

Brandon Levy

Poster Day Showcases Summer Student Science

2 months ago
Annual Event Shares Research by IRP’s Summer Interns

NIH’s Natcher Conference Center was packed once again last Thursday for the annual Summer Poster Day. This year, more than 1,200 college and high school students spent their summer performing research in an IRP lab through the NIH’s Summer Internship Program. 

I navigated through the more than 900 posters presented this year to get a taste of the impressive work done by these young men and women in less than three months. If they can make these kinds of discoveries in just one summer, imagine what they might one day accomplish as full-time scientists and clinicians!

Brandon Levy

Developing Science Teams Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform

2 months ago

Overcoming complex diseases, from viruses to cancers to mental health and beyond, requires teams of people in a variety of settings. At the NIH IRP, researchers with very different expertise and backgrounds tackle the most difficult biomedical questions by working together.

If you’re planning to engage in team science or collaborations of any sort, keep these four words in mind, as they are what newly organized team members should expect on the road to success: forming, storming, norming and performing. Each step, outlined in this blog entry with insights from two leading IRP investigators, is a phase of team development, as originally introduced in the 1960s by Bruce Tuckman (See page 46 of NIH’s Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide).

L. Michelle Bennett, Christophe Marchand

Stress-Relieving Chemical Could Combat Alcohol Use Disorder

2 months 1 week ago
Targeting Brain’s Stress Circuitry Curbs Rats’ Alcohol Consumption

For social drinkers, alcohol brings to mind barbecues and bar-hopping with friends, but for the roughly 16 million Americans with alcohol use disorder (AUD), drinking is a source of significant stress. Unfortunately, those negative emotions — particularly those experienced during withdrawal — drive people with AUD to drink even more. A recent IRP study points to a potential way to curb the desire to drink in people who abuse alcohol by altering the behavior of a brain structure that governs negative emotions.

Brandon Levy

Mirror Therapy Alters Brain Response in Phantom Limb Patients

2 months 3 weeks ago
Neuroimaging Could Help Tailor Treatment for Amputees

Our brains frequently cause us to perceive things that are not real, from high-pitched ringing in an empty room to dancing spots in our vision after staring at a bright light. Even more strangely, people with phantom limb syndrome feel sensations, including pain, in arms and legs that they no longer have. New IRP research into the brain mechanisms underlying phantom limb pain could help hone treatment for individuals living with the condition.

Brandon Levy

On the Cusp of Customized Concussion Care

3 months ago
Five Questions With Dr. Jessica Gill

Each year, millions of Americans suffer sports-related concussions, and the number of youth suffering from these traumatic brain injuries has been rising. Blows to the head are common in sports such as football and hockey, and when these forces are strong enough to cause a concussion, they can harm the brain and impair cognitive functioning. Although concussions occur in staggering numbers, scientists do not fully understand what happens to the brain at the time of concussion or during the recovery period. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not trying.

Brooke Worthing

A Friendly Bet Turned Major Scientific Discovery

3 months ago
IRP Investigator Bevil Conway Discusses the Science Behind the Headlines

What started as a friendly bet between investigators soon produced a major scientific discovery that calls into question the long-standing notion that non-human primates serve as accurate models for the way human brains function. The study, conducted by IRP investigator Bevil Conway, Ph.D., made headlines recently with reports in outlets such as NPR and U.S. News and World Report. We’re going Behind the Headlines with Dr. Conway to dive deeper into the story, understand the significance of his findings, and see where his work could lead.

Brooke Worthing

Scientific Detour Advances Understanding of Fatty Liver Disease

3 months 1 week ago
IRP Study Suggests a Way to Prevent Unhealthy Fat Buildup

Many important scientific discoveries happen when a scientist stumbles across something curious and decides to investigate further. Alexander Fleming, for example, famously discovered penicillin by examining mold that grew in one of his petri dishes while he was away on vacation. A recent IRP study spurred by a similarly unexpected observation could eventually lead to a method of preventing or reversing unhealthy amounts of fat storage in the liver.

Brandon Levy

NIH History Heats Up

3 months 2 weeks ago

Summer has finally arrived, and it's once again time to shine some light on NIH's rich history. Over the past couple months, NIH has celebrated several important anniversaries, including the 20th birthday of NIH's Vaccine Research Center and the 70th anniversary of the NIH Record newsletter. Read on to learn more about these milestones and other fun facts and intriguing objects from NIH's past!

Michele Lyons