Over the past few decades, the prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise. According to the WHO, 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, causing an estimated 1.5 million deaths every year. Among those with diabetes, 95% have type 2 diabetes—which is caused by the body’s resistance to insulin. It is known that risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, excess weight, poor diet and family history. However, the precise genetic basis of type 2 diabetes is still largely a mystery.
Dr. Mark McCarthy’s lab at the Oxford Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) focuses on understanding the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes. Identifying which genes contribute to type 2 diabetes could provide opportunities for developing new therapeutics. Chris Grove, former lab manager in Dr. McCarthy’s lab, explained how they have approached this challenge.
In the past decade, there has been a sharp rise in studies using spheroids as cell models for basic research and drug discovery. Spheroids are self-organized aggregation of cells that form a spherical mass, and they have become widely popular because they are much more physiologically relevant compared to flat 2D cell cultures.
In spheroids, the inner cells have less access to nutrients and oxygen compared to the outer layer, forming a natural gradient. As a result, metabolite concentration and cellular state such as proliferation and differentiation, can be very different at the periphery compared to the inner core. This phenomenon, known as “heterogeneity”, makes 3D tumor spheroids much more representative of actual tumors in the human body.
Understanding how a compound or drug affects cellular pathways often requires measuring kinetic changes over an extended period of time—from several hours to days. Live-cell kinetic cell-based assays that measure cell viability, cytotoxicity, apoptosis and other cellular pathways are great for collecting real-time data. You don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to run these types of assays. In the videos below, Dr. Sarah Mahan, a research scientist at Promega, demonstrates how you can easily get great 24-hour or multi-day kinetic data using a GloMax® Microplate Reader.
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), or sewershed surveillance, is the analysis of wastewater to identify the presence of biologicals or chemicals for the purpose of monitoring public health. In the past, WBE has been used to detect the presence of pharmaceutical or industrial waste, drugs and viruses. Now, it is seen as a valuable tool to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks.
As we’ve all learned from the current global COVID-19 pandemic, coronaviruses are generally bad news. Among the four genera of coronaviruses, the betacoronavirus genus has been especially notorious. In the past 20 years, three highly pathogenic betacoronaviruses, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 have resulted in serious pandemics. All three of these viruses originated from bats, highlighting the continued risk of coronavirus transmission from animals to humans.
Typically, when a new viral threat emerges, researchers scramble to develop drugs or vaccines after the virus has already gotten out of control. However, developing a vaccine for each new virus is a slow and painstaking process, and many lives will be lost before a vaccine is distributed. But what if we had one, universal coronavirus vaccine that could neutralize not only all existing betacoronaviruses, but any new variants that emerge in the future?
Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive type of brain tumor, and one of the deadliest cancers. GBM is often treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but even if the initial treatment is successful, a majority of patients relapse within months. One reason why GBM is so difficult to treat is the hypoxic (low-oxygen) tumor environment. It is known that hypoxic cells are resistant to radiotherapy; the greater the number of tumor stem cells in a hypoxic environment, the less efficient radiotherapy is at controlling tumor growth.
A new therapeutic approach aims to remove the hypoxic environment in GBM by administering pure oxygen to patients at high pressure, known as “hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy”. Previous studies have shown that HBO improves the efficacy of radiotherapy in GBM patients. However, the therapeutic mechanism of HBO was largely unknown. That is, until now.
Most of us, after we flush the toilet, don’t think twice about our body waste. To us, it’s garbage. To epidemiologists, however, wastewater can provide valuable information about public health and help save lives.
History of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is the analysis of wastewater to monitor public health. The term first emerged in 2001, when a study proposed the idea of analyzing wastewater in sewage-treatment facilities to determine the collective usage of illegal drugs within a community. At the time, this idea to bridge environmental and social sciences seemed radical, but there were clear advantages. Monitoring wastewater is a nonintrusive and relatively inexpensive way to obtain real-time data that accurately reflects community-wide drug usage while ensuring the anonymity of individuals.
When we think of viruses, we often think of diseases, pandemics and death. Our impression of viruses is that they are “bad”. But viruses could also be a possible cure for the deadliest disease in modern history: cancer. The therapeutic effects of “good” cancer-killing oncolytic viruses have been documented over a century ago. Records from as early as 1904 described a 42-year old woman with acute leukemia who experienced temporary remission after an influenza infection. Other early reports showed spontaneous remission of Hodgkin lymphoma and Burkitt’s lymphoma after natural infections with the measles virus.
Despite the long history, oncolytic viruses have only recently gained momentum in the scientific community. Dr. Aldo Pourchet, CSO and co-founder of Omios Biologics—a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay area—is determined to harness the power of oncolytic viruses to develop a new generation of cancer immunotherapy.
How Oncolytic Viruses Work
“One thing that we know for sure is that you need the immune system to fight the cancer,” says Pourchet. “You need to recruit the immune system, and probably the best thing we know for recruiting the immune system is viruses. Our immune system evolved to detect them immediately. That’s why we are still on Earth. It’s because we have been able to fight deadly viruses.”
Inflammation, a process that was meant to defend our body from infection, has been found to contribute to a wide range of diseases, such as chronic inflammation, neurodegenerative disorders—and more recently, COVID-19. The development of new tools and methods to measure inflammation is crucial to help researchers understand these diseases.
Cytokines—small signaling molecules that regulate inflammation and immunity—have recently become the focus of inflammation research due to their role in causing severe COVID-19 symptoms. In these severe cases, the patient’s immune system responds to the infection with uncontrolled cytokine release and immune cell activation, called the “cytokine storm”. Although the cytokine storm can be treated using established drugs, more research is needed to understand what causes this severe immune response and why only some patients develop it.
Wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 is an increasingly common method for monitoring the spread of COVID-19 within a community. As researchers and public health officials around the world are working together to set up wastewater surveillance systems, there is an urgent need to establish standard SARS-CoV-2 detection methods.
A key leader in this new field is Dr. Gloria Sanchez. She is a tenured scientist at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology, a center within the Spanish National Research Council. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, her team focused on detecting human enteric viruses in food and water. But soon, detecting SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater became their main focus.
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