Postbac Poster Day Highlights Budding Researchers

1 week 5일 ago

On Wednesday, May 2, hundreds of researchers gathered at NIH’s Natcher Conference Center to show off their recent discoveries. But unlike a typical scientific conference, the letters “M.D.” and “Ph.D.” were noticeably absent from these scientists’ credentials. Instead, the event — NIH’s annual Postbac Poster Day — celebrated the accomplishments of individuals participating in the NIH Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Program.

Typically called ‘IRTAs’ (pronounced ‘er-tahs’) by the NIH community, all of the programs’ participants recently completed their undergraduate studies and have spent the past year performing research in IRP laboratories all across the NIH. Read on to get to know a handful of these promising future scientists and clinicians.

Sarah Ahmed: Pursuing Parkinson’s Genes

Sarah’s research group is trying to unravel how genes contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Because her work mixes genetics and neuroscience, she collaborates with a large number of researchers specializing in different disciplines.

Brandon Levy

Which Neurons Are Responsible for Anxiety-Related Behaviors?

1 week 5일 ago

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, whether it’s pre-speech jitters or sweaty palms when their plane takes off. While mild feelings of nervousness are completely normal and can even be beneficial, anxiety can also have negative repercussions if it causes somebody to completely avoid situations like social encounters or taking a flight to visit distant family.

In a series of experiments, IRP researchers identified a specific set of neurons that appear to underlie certain fear-related avoidance behaviors in mice, potentially representing a useful target for treating human anxiety disorders.1

Although mice enjoy surveying their surroundings, their position as the lowest link on the food chain makes them averse to brightly lit, open spaces where they might be snatched up by a hungry hawk. The way mice balance the risks and rewards of exploration mirrors many situations that can make humans anxious, says IRP investigator Alexxai V. Kravitz, Ph.D., the study’s senior author.

“If you’re buying a house, you’re going to have a lot of excitement, but once the time to sign the contract comes, you’re going to think about the risks you’re taking and whether this is the right decision,” Dr. Kravitz explains. In other words, if signing makes you too nervous, you might just scrap the whole deal.

Brandon Levy

Francis Collins, NIH Director, Answers Reddit’s Genomics Questions

3 weeks 3일 ago

Ever since the Human Genome Project (HGP) launched in 1990, patients and members of the public have been inundated with predictions about how unraveling the mysteries of genetics will revolutionize healthcare. Today, many of these promises remain unrealized, prompting some to become skeptical of the true utility of this research for improving human health. But, while more work is needed to fully realize the potential of genome-focused medicine, it remains true that patients are benefiting from our knowledge of the human genome in numerous, sometimes under-appreciated ways. 

As a physician and genetics researcher who played a central role in the HGP, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading experts in the relationship between our DNA and our health. What’s more, his position at the NIH gives him a front-row seat to the innovative ways in which this work is making its way into the clinic.

On Friday, April 20, in anticipation of National DNA Day on April 25, Dr. Collins participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) to answer questions from the public about how our increasing knowledge of the human genome is affecting their lives, as well as what might lie in store for this important work in the future. Read on for some of the most interesting exchanges that took place or check out the full AMA on Reddit.

Brandon Levy

In Utero Exposure to Immune Molecules May Affect Neurocognitive Development

3 weeks 4일 ago

In the midst of the 1957 Asian flu pandemic, doctors and researchers were understandably focused on treating patients and developing ways to contain the outbreak. It wasn’t until 30 years later that scientists began reporting that women who were pregnant when they caught the virus were more likely to have children who would later be diagnosed with schizophrenia.1 While that relationship remains controversial,2 numerous studies have since linked activation of a pregnant woman’s immune system with an increased risk that her child will develop certain psychiatric disorders, including not just schizophrenia but also autism spectrum disorder and major depressive disorder.3 A new IRP study has now expanded on this work by showing that exposure to higher levels of two immune system molecules in utero can noticeably alter the neurological and cognitive development of young children.4

Factors from infections to stress to genetics all play a role in how active a person’s immune system is, and a more vigorous immune system releases greater amounts of chemicals called cytokines that can ramp up or tamp down inflammation. When a woman is pregnant, these molecules affect not just her own body but also that of her unborn child. Some cytokines can even pass through the blood-brain barrier and exert direct effects on the developing brain, which may explain the link between a mother’s immune response and her child’s future risk of developing a psychiatric illness.

“That link is very concerning because psychiatric disorders can have a substantial impact on functioning as well as longevity,” says IRP investigator Stephen E. Gilman, Sc.D., the study’s senior author. “Therefore, we wanted to know if the activity of a mother’s immune system can also affect cognitive development more generally before a major psychiatric disorder emerges.”

Brandon Levy

IRP Scientists Curb Inflammation to Protect Brain Cells From Stroke

1 개월 1 week ago

Every forty seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke, and researchers across the country are hunting for a way to help brain cells survive these traumatic events. A group of IRP researchers recently discovered a promising new tool to aid in this effort. By blocking the action of a brain chemical called monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), the scientists markedly reduced stroke-related brain damage and disability in rats.1  

Nearly nine in ten strokes are classified as ‘ischemic,’ meaning they occur when blood flow is cut off to part of the brain. Deprived of oxygen and nutrients, the brain cells in the affected area quickly die off, and soon afterwards inflammation destroys additional cells nearby. Previous research has shown that stroke-induced oxygen deprivation activates MAGL in order to kick off the chain of events that triggers inflammation.

“Inflammation exacerbates the way that the tissue reacts to the lack of blood flow, so if you contain it then you can salvage a significant portion of the affected area,” says IRP Senior Investigator Afonso C. Silva, Ph.D., the new study’s senior author.

Brandon Levy

Summertime Brains: Alex Fuksenko

1 개월 3 weeks ago

Alex Fuksenko, a senior at the University of Maryland in College Park, spent his summer in the lab of NIH IRP Investigator Kevin Briggman, Ph.D.

Fuksenko helped to create a website called Labrainth that “gamifies” the identification and tracing of neurons in 2D images produced by electron microscopes. By visiting the website and completing those activities, members of the public can earn points and move up leaderboards while producing data that machine learning algorithms can use to learn how to trace neurons in these images themselves, a necessary step towards producing an accurate 3D model of the human brain.

Brandon Levy

Sleep Apnea Produces Troubling Signs of Future Brain Disease

1 개월 3 weeks ago

Like a bear leaves its ominous footprints in the snow, diseases and other biological processes often leave traces throughout our bodies. Recent technological and scientific advances have enabled clinicians to use measurements of these ‘biomarkers’ in their attempts to improve our health. A new study by IRP researchers revealed that patients with a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have higher blood concentrations of certain biomarkers that may foreshadow poor brain health later in life.1

When people with OSA sleep, their throat muscles relax and block their windpipes, preventing proper breathing and often waking them up. As a result, these individuals get lower-quality sleep and their brains receive less oxygen at night.  

“The overall idea is that those two conditions are not good for brain health, but nobody had really looked to see if some of the biomarkers we see in brain injury are also common in younger individuals with this type of disordered breathing,” says IRP Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Jessica Gill, Ph.D., R.N., the study’s senior author.

Brandon Levy

Intermittent Fasting Boosts Endurance in Mouse Marathoners

2 개월 1 week ago

Food companies have long marketed carbohydrate-rich drinks and energy bars to athletes with the message that the energy those snacks provide is key to lifting heavier and running farther. A new mouse study by IRP researchers, however, suggests that skipping a meal (or several) might be far more effective for increasing athletic prowess1.

Unlike modern Americans used to three square meals a day, our ancient ancestors couldn’t exactly throw a TV dinner in the microwave whenever they felt a bit peckish. As a result, they probably found themselves hunting wooly mammoths and fending off saber-toothed tigers on an empty stomach.

“From an evolutionary perspective, animals in the wild – particularly predators – need to be able to function at a high level when they’re in a food-deprived state,” says IRP Senior Investigator Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D., the study’s senior author. “Individuals who were able to perform at a high level in a fasted state had a survival advantage.”

Brandon Levy

New Study Categorizes Biomedical Careers

2 개월 1 week ago

After postdoctoral fellows in biomedical research complete their training, they are prepared to land permanent positions that utilize their unique research skills. While some may choose the traditional academic route, and become tenure-track scientists, many take posts that keep them engaged in science, but not necessarily doing research.

For the first time at the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), these non-faculty jobs, and the numbers of NIEHS postdocs in them, are broken down in a study that appeared online in the January 15 issue of Nature Biotechnology. The paper discussed a new tool that visualized the kinds of work the former postdocs were doing.

Robin Arnette

Straight Out of Star Trek: The Biomedical Boon of Virtual Reality

2 개월 1 week ago

Once confined to the realms of science fiction, virtual reality (VR) has crossed over into the real world in a wide array of fields, including scientific research and clinical medicine. In the IRP, several researchers are utilizing the cutting-edge technology in their efforts to improve human health.

Susan Persky, Ph.D., for instance, runs the Immersive Virtual Environment Test Unit, where she uses VR to simulate how genetic information might affect doctor-patient interactions and influence patients’ emotions, beliefs, and decisions. She has also put the technology to use studying the food choices of overweight and obese individuals by presenting them with a simulated buffet. Meanwhile, John Ostuni, Ph.D., explores how VR might help doctors diagnose or treat patients, such as by providing access to physical therapy without going to the hospital. And Victor Cid, M.S., creates virtual reality scenarios for the Disaster Information Management Research Center that can train emergency personnel how to more effectively respond to major crises.

On Friday, February 23, they joined several NIH colleagues for a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) to answer questions from the public about how virtual reality might change the way medicine and research are practiced and ultimately make people’s lives better. Read on for some of the most interesting exchanges that took place or check out the full AMA on Reddit.

Brandon Levy

Summertime Brains: Carly Kaplan

2 개월 2 weeks ago

Carly Kaplan, a junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, spent her summer working in the lab of NIH IRP Investigator Dr. Kareem Zaghloul. As a member of Dr. Zaghloul’s team, Carly examined how the human brain creates and recalls memories. An aspiring doctor, she believes that this sort of research is “the backbone of the medical profession” and that “doctors can’t do what they do without the research behind it.” While at NIH, she was particularly intrigued by the opportunity to watch Dr. Zaghloul perform neurosurgery on the epilepsy patients who were part of in his lab’s studies.

Brandon Levy

Twitter Chat Shines Spotlight on Rare Diseases

2 개월 2 weeks ago

Between 25 and 30 million Americans have a rare disease, defined as a condition affecting fewer than 200,000 people. On March 1, the NIH will host its annual Rare Disease Day to increase awareness of these under-recognized and often undiagnosed illnesses and highlight the efforts of scientists, patients, and advocates to produce treatments.

In anticipation of the occasion, on February 23, NIH organized a Twitter chat with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Sharon Terry, President and CEO of Genetic Alliance and a member of the Research Program Advisory Panel for NIH’s All of US project. Check out some of the more noteworthy exchanges below or look at the full Twitter chat by searching for #NIHchat on Twitter.

Brandon Levy

HIV Uses Host's Own Immune Molecules for Protection

2 개월 2 weeks ago

In one of Aesop’s classic fables, a clever wolf dons a sheep’s skin in order to move through the herd undetected. As it turns out, IRP researchers have discovered that in people with a specific set of immune system genes, the HIV virus uses a similar approach to hide from the body’s defenses.1

Nearly all cells in our bodies are coated with proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). These proteins allow the immune system to distinguish between healthy, native cells and those contaminated by unwelcome visitors like viruses or bacteria that must be destroyed. Each of the various HLA proteins is encoded by a different HLA gene and these genes vary considerably between individuals, causing different people to have different variants of each HLA protein.

“There are thousands of different forms of these HLA genes, and that variation allows us, as a species, to deal with virtually all infectious pathogens,” says IRP Senior Investigator Mary N. Carrington, Ph.D., the senior author of the new paper. “We’re really interested in the diversity of that part of the genome, since the risk of essentially every autoimmune disease, many cancers, and probably every infectious disease is associated with this set of genes.”

Brandon Levy

Labradors, Terriers, and Boxers — Oh My! IRP Researchers Delve Into Doggy DNA

2 개월 3 weeks ago

For over a decade, my family shared our home with a short, fat beagle named Kayla Sue. She had big floppy ears, a tail as straight as an exclamation point, and a coat of fur that was a patchwork of white, brown, and black splotches. Her love of chasing small animals was matched only by her enthusiasm for eating, napping, and belly rubs. One of my best friends growing up, on the other hand, had a mean-spirited Dachshund named Rocky who would not let anyone outside his family touch his long, brown, sausage-shaped body. Meanwhile, one of my brother’s close childhood friends had two humongous, overly-friendly, black-and-brown German shepherds that would immediately bowl you over when you walked through the front door.

It doesn’t take a particularly sharp observer to notice that, despite being the same species, the more than 300 breeds of dog have remarkably different physical and behavioral traits. But what remains less clear even today are the specific biological roots that produce these widely varying attributes. And, perhaps more importantly, scientists seek to understand how learning about that immense diversity might help us improve the health of our canine companions – and ourselves.

Brandon Levy

A Quarter-Century of Advocating for NIH Women Scientists

3 개월 ago

On December 22, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming February 11 of each year as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, with the goal of highlighting the important contributions of women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Here at NIH, a dedicated group of scientists known as the Women Scientist Advisors (WSA) is working not only to recognize the role of women in the biomedical sciences but to expand it as well.

Brandon Levy

Gut Bugs May Convert High-Fat Fare into Cancer Risk

3 개월 ago

Researchers have a long history of fattening up mice to gain insight into the causes and consequences of weight gain in the human body. In one of the more recent studies of this kind, a team of IRP researchers found that that a high-fat diet consistently altered the collection of microbes residing in mice’s digestive tracts and that this diet-microbe combination might pre-dispose the mice – and, potentially, obese humans – to colon cancer by triggering certain changes in how genes behave.

Brandon Levy

After 25 Years, Women Scientist Advisors Still Advocating for NIH Women

3 개월 1 week ago

On December 22, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming February 11 of each year as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, with the goal of highlighting the important contributions of women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Here at NIH, a dedicated group of scientists known as the Women Scientist Advisors (WSA) is working not only to recognize the role of women in the biomedical sciences but to expand it as well.

Brandon Levy

Framingham at 70: Celebrating a Landmark Heart Study

3 개월 1 week ago

At the start of his third term in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s blood pressure was an alarmingly high 188/105—or, more accurately, alarming by today’s standards. But back then, nobody knew that high blood pressure was related in any way to cardiovascular disease (CVD). As a result, the nation was completely blind-sided when Roosevelt died of a stroke four years later.

The link between hypertension and CVD is now common knowledge due to a research program launched in 1948 called the Framingham Heart Study, now in its 70th year. To kick off American Heart Month this February, the Framingham Study’s current director, IRP Senior Investigator Daniel Levy, M.D., gave a lecture on February 1, titled “Unraveling the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease: Lessons from NHLBI’s Framingham Heart Study.”

Brandon Levy