Three Billion Base Pairs vs. One Powerful Computer

1 week 4 days ago


The human genome comprises roughly three billion base pairs and around 20,000 protein-coding genes, according to recent estimates. That’s a lot of information crammed into the tiny nucleus of a cell, and it doesn’t even include the many genes that do not produce a protein or the fact that most genes come in multiple flavors that vary in different individuals. Add to that the phenomenon of an identical gene being either more or less active in two different people and you can quickly end up with genomic datasets that would overload nearly any computer. Fortunately for IRP senior investigator Daniel Levy, M.D., the NIH IRP has one of the few computer systems in the world that can handle this mountain of information.

Brandon Levy

Shedding Light on the Deep Darkness of Depression

3 weeks 3 days ago

In 2016, more than one in twenty American adults and one in ten adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode. For nearly 45,000 of these individuals, their condition was severe enough that it led them to take their own lives. Unfortunately, the medications currently available to treat depression are not always effective and can take up to six weeks to substantially reduce symptoms.

To improve treatment and accelerate symptom relief, IRP senior investigator Carlos Zarate Jr., M.D., is working towards the development of new medications for depression, along with the identification of new drug targets and objective measures called biomarkers that yield information about how a patient is responding to treatment. In recent years, his lab has extensively investigated and assessed the effects of the anesthetic drug ketamine on depression and suicidal thoughts. Many of the patients in his trials have had marked and rapid responses to ketamine, sometimes within a single day or just a couple of hours. 

On Tuesday, November 13, Dr. Zarate participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) to answer questions from the public about the way depression is currently treated and the latest efforts to develop cutting-edge therapies for the condition. Read on for some of the most interesting exchanges that took place or check out the full AMA on Reddit.

Brandon Levy

Smartphone Apps Show Promise for Assessing Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

3 weeks 5 days ago

The three-quarters of Americans who own a smartphone use them not just for communicating but also keeping a calendar, playing games, scouring the Internet for funny cat memes, and — soon — maybe even evaluating their neurological health. A new study conducted by IRP and University of Maryland researchers has confirmed the potential of smartphone apps for gauging symptoms of the neurological disease multiple sclerosis.

Brandon Levy

Remembering IRP Scientists Who Gave Their Lives for Their Work

1 month ago

Scientific research is not all writing grants, giving presentations, and publishing papers. There are real risks to probing the secrets of biology, and sometimes scientists lose their lives during the course of their work. In honor of Veterans Day, we woud like to commemorate NIH staff who made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of knowledge that can help us prevent and treat diseases that impact so many lives.

Michele Lyons

Ultrasound-Based Technique Produces Fertile Ground for Therapeutic Stem Cells

1 month 1 week ago


Every good gardener knows the importance of fertilizing the soil before planting seeds, and evidence is accumulating that a similar concept applies to the human body when it comes to experimental stem cell therapies. A new IRP study has uncovered how a medical technology called pulsed-focused ultrasound boosts the healing potency of a particular stem cell treatment.

Brandon Levy

Star-Shaped Brain Cells May Contribute to Marijuana Addiction

1 month 3 weeks ago

The recent spate of state laws legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes has prompted concerns that increased marijuana use will boost the number of people who become dependent on and abuse the drug, a condition known as cannabis use disorder (CUD). Treating the growing number of patients with CUD will require a greater understanding of how chronic marijuana use can lead to addiction. New IRP research has revealed that star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes may play a role in the pleasurable effects of marijuana and contribute to the drug’s addictive properties.

Brandon Levy

CRISPR Pioneer Jennifer Doudna Headlines NHGRI 25th Anniversary Celebration

2 months ago

It seems like every day there is a new story in a prominent news outlet about the revolutionary gene-editing approach known as CRISPR/Cas9. What these reports often fail to mention is all the scientific discoveries that paved the way for that groundbreaking technology, including the key contributions of government scientists working in the Intramural Research Program of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). Last week, the NHGRI IRP celebrated its 25th anniversary with a day-long symposium headlined by a keynote from the co-discoverer of CRISPR/Cas9, University of California, Berkeley professor Dr. Jennifer Doudna.

Brandon Levy

Let’s Collaborate! 10 Elements for Building Successful Teams

2 months ago

What attracts talented scientists to the IRP? And, once they are here, why do they stay? One major factor is the proximity to brilliant colleagues and collaborative relationships across the spectrum of biomedical research.


Seeking to understand the key elements that contribute to successful team science, we studied a number of NIH research teams to discover the secrets of their success. The results are examined in the second edition of Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide, which contains new insights from individuals, teams, and organizations around the world.

What are the 10 Elements of Successful Teams? Read on to find out.

L. Michelle Bennett, Christophe Marchand

Newly Discovered Mutation Causes Eye Disease

2 months 2 weeks ago

The Human Genome Project gave scientists an incredible roadmap of the thousands of genes used to construct the human body. However, many individuals harbor DNA that differs markedly from the standard reference sequence produced by that initiative, and these variations can have profound implications for a person’s health. A recent study led by IRP scientists has uncovered yet another of these genetic variants, a rare mutation that causes the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa.

Brandon Levy

A Hiatus From Food Could Benefit Asthma Patients

2 months 4 weeks ago

Between fast-food outlets, vending machines, and food trucks — not to mention good old-fashioned home cooking — many people face no shortage of opportunities to eat. But as satisfying as a crisp potato chip or a moist pork chop may be, people with asthma and many other conditions may prefer to resist tasty temptations if it means alleviating some of their symptoms. In a small pilot study, IRP researchers found evidence that abstaining from food for 24 hours could inhibit some of the cellular processes that cause asthmatics’ breathing problems.

Brandon Levy

A Summer Dive Into NIH History

3 months ago

With summer winding down, it's about time we took another dive into some NIH history! These new additions to the NIH Stetten Museum collection feature some of the most prominent investigators ever to walk the NIH campus, including a Nobel prize winner and a scientist who made important discoveries about how electricity travels between neurons. 

Michele Lyons

Repurposed Drugs Could Curb Cancer Drug Resistance

3 months 1 week ago

Much of the time, new therapies are built from the ground up, with researchers closely scrutinizing a specific molecule or cellular process and designing compounds that can influence it. In some cases, however, scientists take the opposite approach, throwing a multitude of therapeutic darts at the disease dartboard to see what sticks, and then working backwards to unravel why a drug was effective. IRP researchers recently used this method to identify potential treatments for drug-resistant ovarian cancer and determine how some of those tumors become impervious to a particular chemotherapy.

Brandon Levy