Neurodegenerative disorders represent a significant and growing concern in the realm of public health, particularly as global populations age. Among these, Parkinson’s disease (PD) stands out due to its increasing prevalence and profound impact on individuals. Characterized by the progressive degeneration of motor functions, PD is not just a health challenge but also poses substantial socio-economic burdens. While the etiology of Parkinson’s disease is far from simple, current research efforts elucidating its causes, mechanisms, and potential treatments illustrate the critical nature of this neurodegenerative disorder in today’s healthcare landscape.
In the clinic, Parkinson’s disease is often diagnosed as either sporadic or familial. Familial PD has a clear genetic basis, typically passed down through families, while sporadic PD, comprising about 90% of cases, occurs in individuals without a known family history of the disease. The exact cause of sporadic PD is not fully understood but is believed to be due to a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental factors. In contrast, the factors involved in familial PD are more thoroughly understood, offering insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying PD pathogenesis.
Polymorphisms and Parkinson’s Disease Susceptibility
Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, has become an increasingly severe public health issue. According to the CDC, the frequency of avian influenza outbreaks and diversity of virus subtypes have increased significantly in the past decade. In 2022, there were reports of sporadic H5 virus infections in mammals across several U.S. states, Canada, and other countries. Affected animals included fox kits, bobcats, coyote pups, raccoons, skunks, mink, and even seals. Human cases of H5N6 and other subtypes following poultry exposures were reported in China, with several cases resulting in severe or critical illness and death.
“The cancer has spread.” are perhaps some of the most frightening words for anyone touched by cancer. It means that cancer cells have migrated away from the primary tumor, invaded health tissues and firmed secondary tumors. Called metastasis, this event is the deadliest feature of any type of cancer (1). The cellular mechanisms that play a role in metastasis could serve as powerful therapeutic targets. Unfortunately, understanding of these mechanisms is limited. However, some studies have suggested a link between the dysregulation of microtubule motors and cancer progression. A new study by a team from Penn State has revealed that the motor protein dynein plays a pivotal role in the movement of metastatic breast cancer cells through two model systems simulating soft tissues (1).
Cells produce proteins that serve different purposes in maintaining human health. These bioactive secretions range from growth factors to antibodies to cytokines and vary between different types of cells. Even within a certain cell type, however, there are individual cells that produce more secretions than others, a phenomenon that especially interests scientists studying cell-based therapies. In contrast to molecular therapies, which typically involve specific genes or proteins, a primary challenge to crafting cell therapies is the wide range of functional outputs seen in cells that have the same genetic template. This leads to the question of what molecular properties, from a genomic and transcriptomic perspective, would lead one cell to produce more of a protein than its companions.
There have been few investigative strategies put forth that allow scientists to connect a cell’s characteristics and genetic coding with its secretions. In July 2023 a team of scientists published a paper in Nature Communications outlining an innovative solution: little hydrogel particles, or “nanovials”, that essentially serve as tiny test tubes and can be used to measure protein secretion, track transcriptome data, and identify relevant surface markers in a single cell.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new technological development. The idea of intelligent machines has been popular for several centuries. The term “artificial intelligence” was coined by John McCarthy for a workshop at Dartmouth College in 1955 (1), and this workshop is considered the birthplace of AI research. Modern AI owes much of its existence to an earlier paper by Alan Turing (2), in which he proposed the famous Turing Test to determine whether a machine could exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to—or indistinguishable from—that of a human.
The explosive growth in all things AI over the past few years has evoked strong reactions from the general public. At one end of the spectrum, some people fear AI and refuse to use it—even though they may have unwittingly been using a form of AI in their work for years. At the other extreme, advocates embrace all aspects of AI, regardless of potential ethical implications. Finding a middle ground is not always easy, but it’s the best path forward to take advantage of the improvements in efficiency that AI can bring, while still being cautious about widespread adoption. It’s worth noting that AI is a broad, general term that covers a wide range of technologies (see sidebar).
For life science researchers, AI has the potential to address many common challenges; a previous post on this blog discussed how AI can help develop a research proposal. AI can help with everyday tasks like literature searches, lab notebook management, and data analysis. It is already making strides on a larger scale in applications for lab automation, drug discovery and personalized medicine (reviewed in 3–5). Significant medical breakthroughs have resulted from AI-powered research, such as the discovery of novel antibiotic classes (6) and assessment of atherosclerotic plaques (7). A few examples of AI-driven tools and platforms covering various aspects of life science research are listed here.
Identifying Inflammasome Inhibitors: What’s Missing The NLRP3 inflammasome is implicated in a wide range of diseases. The ability to inhibit this protein complex could provide more precise, targeted relief to inflammatory disease sufferers than current broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory compounds, potentially without side effects.
Studies of NLRP3 inflammasome inhibitors have relied on cell-free assays using purified NLRP3. But cell-free assays cannot assess physical engagement of the inhibitor and target in the cellular micro-environment. Cell-free assays cannot show if an NLRP3 inhibitor enters the cell, binds the target and how long the inhibitor binding lasts.
Cell-based assays that interrogate the physical interaction of the NLRP3 target and inhibitor inside cells are needed.
One key obstacle to crafting effective gene therapies is the ability to tailor dosing according to a patient’s needs. This can be tricky because even if protein production is successful, staying within the therapeutic window is paramount—too much of a protein could be toxic, and too little will not produce the desired effect. This balance is difficult to achieve with current technologies. In a study recently published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine investigated a possible solution to this problem, engineering a molecular “on/off” switch that could regulate gene expression and maintain protein production at dose-dependent, therapeutic levels.
Sickle cell disease is a debilitating blood disorder that causes recurrent pain crises and severe health effects, and can drastically impact quality of life. Recently, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics introduced Casgevy, or exa-cel, a novel form of gene therapy that could radically change the management of sickle cell disease. On the heels of exa-cel’s approval in Britain, this groundbreaking therapy was also recently approved in the U.S.
We made the cover! Of Cell Chemical Biology, that is.
This July, Cell Chemical Biology editors accepted a study from Promega scientists and invited the research team to submit cover art for the issue. The study in question details a BRET-based method to quantify drug-target occupancy within RAF-KRAS complexes in live cells. Promega scientists Matt Robers and Jim Vasta collaborated with one of our talented designers, Michael Stormberg, to craft an image that accurately represents the science in a dynamic and engaging way.
Imagination is often considered a uniquely human trait. Simply put, it is what allows us to think about things that aren’t happening in that moment, and it plays an integral part in our day-to-day lives. We use it when we think through our calendar for the day, consider restaurant options for dinner, or visualize the best route. It turns out this trait might not be as unique to humans as we thought. In fact, a study published in Science suggests that we might share this ability with rats (1).
Rats are the most divisive of rodents. Some people see disease-carrying scourges; some see intelligent, affectionate creatures with larger-than-life personalities; and still others simply can’t get past their bare tails and small eyes. Love them or hate them, science has shown that there is more to these creatures than meets the eye. They are intelligent, ticklish and empathetic; and the study in Science suggests, imaginative.
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