Over the past few months, the world has gained a new appreciation for the long, difficult process of producing vaccines as it waits anxiously for one that will provide protection from the novel coronavirus. With the NIH Vaccine Research Center’s efforts to develop a COVID19 vaccine drawing a huge amount of media attention, it is easy to forget that the IRP has been making vital contributions to vaccine development for more than 100 years. These efforts have helped produce vaccinations for smallpox, rubella, hepatitis A, whooping cough, human papillomavirus (HPV), and several other diseases. Read on for a visual journey through the history of IRP vaccine research.
The so-called ‘butterfly effect’ supposes that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. While the jury is still out on insect-induced natural disasters, it is clear that a single genetic mutation can have wide-ranging and unexpected consequences throughout a cell. By examining the ripple effects caused by changes in a particular gene, IRP researchers have identified a potential treatment target for a particularly deadly variety of cancer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the way scientists are doing their work. Nevertheless, scientific research is a highly collaborative and interactive enterprise, so it remains essential for researchers to share and discuss their ideas and discoveries.
Every spring, the NIH’s Postbac Poster Day offers recent college graduates participating in the NIH’s Postbaccalaureate IRTA program the chance to show off the fruits of their labors and talk about their projects with both their fellow postbacs and the NIH’s many seasoned scientific veterans. Due to the need to maintain social distancing, the NIH's Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) went through considerable effort to move this year’s Postbac Poster Day to an online forum. The OITE staff's hard work paid off handsomely, with more than 870 postbacs presenting their research via WebEx on April 28, 29, and 30. Keep reading for a few examples of the fascinating scientific questions NIH’s latest crop of postbacs has been investigating.
Our mouths are teeming with bacteria, a microbial ecosystem known as the oral microbiome. While these microbes are typically benign, under certain circumstances they can turn harmful and contribute to oral diseases such as periodontitis, a form of chronic gum disease characterized by microbe-driven inflammation of the soft tissues and bone that support our teeth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 65 million Americans aged 30 or older have some degree of periodontitis. In its early stage, known as gingivitis, the gums become swollen and red due to inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to the presence of bacteria. If the condition worsens, it can lead to loose teeth and, eventually, bone or tooth loss.
NIH senior investigator Niki Moutsopoulos, Ph.D., head of the Oral Immunity and Inflammation Section at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), studies periodontitis and aims to understand the immune system’s role in driving this destruction. In a 2018 study, she and her team of IRP researchers and outside collaborators discovered that an abnormal and unhealthy population of microbes in the mouth causes specialized immune cells, known as T helper 17 (Th17) cells, to trigger inflammation and destroy tissue, leading to periodontitis.
Some say that if something’s not broken, then don’t fix it, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. At least, those were the thoughts of IRP senior investigators Mario Roederer, Ph.D., and Robert Alan Seder, M.D., who recently found that the century-old tuberculosis (TB) vaccine is far more effective when administered via injection into a vein (IV) rather than into the skin, which has long been the standard way it is given. This major breakthrough received extensive media coverage, including a story in the New York Times. We went Behind the Headlines to get the inside scoop on this potentially life-saving discovery.
The internet is filled with lists of ‘life hacks’ that provide instructions on how to re-purpose common items, from turning glass jars into flower vases to using sticky notes to remove dust or crumbs from the crevices of a computer keyboard. On occasion, this kind of inventive spirit can be used to improve human health as well. IRP researchers have found evidence in mice that a statin medication originally created to lower cholesterol might also reduce hearing loss caused by a common cancer therapy.
As the COVID-19 illness has continued to spread, so has anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Now more than ever, we need communicators who can provide clear explanations about the latest research and public health guidelines.
IRP senior investigator Anthony Fauci, Ph.D., has been one of the most prominent voices providing information about the novel coronavirus over the past several weeks. Dr. Fauci, who serves as director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), seems to be doing everything he can to make sure the American public has the best information available about the current situation, from speaking at White House press briefings to appearing on television shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Last Thursday, March 26, Dr. Fauci participated in a live Q&A with NBA superstar Stephen Curry on Curry’s Instagram page. Read on for a few highlights from their discussion, or click on the video below to watch the entire conversation.
In the classic sci-fi film Alien, the protagonist attempts to destroy the titular monster by triggering the self-destruct mechanism on her spaceship. Our cells also sometimes need to destroy themselves in order to circumvent threats like cancer, but uncontrolled cell death can lead to disease. New IRP research suggests that preventing certain cells in the pancreas from tripping their self-destruct switch could help relieve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Most of the time, science is a slow process, with many experiments taking years to yield results. However, as endeavors like the Manhattan Project have shown, scientists can dramatically accelerate the pace of discovery when necessary. Over the past few months, the novel coronavirus pandemic has spurred a burst of research from scientists around the world, including numerous IRP studies. Read on for a round-up of the latest IRP COVID-19 research and learn how IRP investigators are assisting in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
In patients with the inflammatory disease sarcoidosis, the body’s own immune cells rampage around the body like The Incredible Hulk set loose in a city, attacking both harmful pathogens and our own tissues. However, just like the Black Widow can calm The Hulk down and return him to human form in the Avengers films, cells isolated from our bone marrow may be able to change certain immune cells from a damaging state to a benign one, according to new IRP research.
Even the best construction crew cannot repair a building if it is called away from the site before it can begin its work. Similarly, while the body’s ability to cleanse itself of chemicals can prevent the buildup of toxins, it can also stymie the therapeutic effects of medications. IRP researchers recently found that modifying a prospective treatment for heart failure to help it persist longer in the body boosted its beneficial effects in mice.
Our friend and former colleague Phil Leder, among the world's most accomplished molecular geneticists, died on Sunday, February 2, at age 85. His work with Marshall Nirenberg — namely, the famed Nirenberg and Leder experiments starting at the NIH in 1964, which definitively elucidated the triplet nature of the genetic code and culminated in its full deciphering — helped set the stage for the revolution in molecular genetic research that Phil himself would continue to lead for the next three decades.
We all know the feeling of being wiped out after a hard workout or a grueling day at the office — you just want to flop down on the couch and not move, or even think. For many cancer patients, the treatment for their disease can trigger that sort of physical and mental exhaustion for weeks or months. New IRP research has found evidence linking this phenomenon, known as cancer-related fatigue, to a slow-down in cells’ energy-producing mitochondria.
The NIH provides an extraordinarily rich environment for learning and honing the skills needed to pursue a scientific career. It’s no wonder, then, that Ph.D. students from institutions all across the United States and the rest of the world come here to conduct their dissertation research under the mentorship of the IRP’s many renowned investigators.
Nearly 150 of those students presented the fruits of their scientific work at the NIH’s 16th annual Graduate Student Research Symposium on Thursday, February 20. The insights they have produced on topics from cancer to autoimmune disease to environmental contaminants were supremely impressive and will likely contribute to important improvements in medical care in the future. For anyone who missed this exciting event, read on to learn about a few of the many research projects that were on display.
Watching my dad carry the luggage to the car has become an all-too-familiar sight. It’s time for my mom and me to head to the NIH again, another trip in a lifelong journey for answers. I give my dad a long hug goodbye, and then I watch him stand alone in the driveway as we back away. The gravel arduously aches and crunches under our tires, a sound as uncomfortable as my symptoms even on my good days — few as there are.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), established in 1863, is comprised of the United States’ most distinguished scientific scholars, including nearly 500 Nobel Prize winners. Members of the NAS are elected by their peers and entrusted with the responsibility of providing independent, objective advice on national matters related to science and technology in an effort to advance innovations in the United States.
IRP senior investigator Michael Lenardo, M.D., is one of four IRP researchers elected to the NAS over the past two years. At the NIH, Dr. Lenardo serves as Chief of the Molecular Development of the Immune System Section at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where he studies how the cells in the immune system mount protective responses to various pathogens, including viruses and bacteria. A major focus of Dr. Lenardo’s work is the investigation of genetic abnormalities in the immune system, which have the potential to cause life-threatening diseases.
Police pursuing a dangerous criminal rely on witness descriptions of the suspect’s specific traits — height, weight, hair color, tattoos — to pick out the perpetrator from a vast population of mostly innocent individuals. Scientists can likewise distinguish between highly similar cell types using cutting-edge laboratory procedures. Using such techniques, IRP researchers have identified a particular variety of cell in a specific stage of its life cycle as a primary culprit behind the autoimmune disease known as lupus.