Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer Diagnosis—When Fewer Cases of Cancer is Not Good News

The year 2020 was a year filled with things we didn’t do. The global COVID-19 pandemic meant we didn’t gather with family and friends; we didn’t attend concerts or sporting events; we didn’t even go to work or school in the same way. We also didn’t go to the doctor, and as a result, many countries and organizations are reporting that there was an alarming drop in the number of new cancer cases (1–6). Unfortunately, while fewer diagnosis might sound like a good thing, there is no evidence that the actual rate of new cancer occurrence is declining (7).  

COVID-19 Restrictions Impact Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

The drop in cancer diagnosis happened after countries began to put into place new restrictions intended to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These measures often included limiting or pausing many routine screenings and doctor visits, which also limited or paused opportunities to diagnosis cancer. The resulting decline in new cancer diagnosis was dramatic. In the United States, there was a 46.4% decline in the number of newly diagnosed cases of six of the most common cancer types (breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, lung and pancreatic) per week between March 1, 2020 and April 18, 2020 (1,2,8).

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From Primate Models to SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing and Testing

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread around the world in early 2020, many researchers shifted their focus to support the global endeavors to address the challenge. For two professors at the University of Wisconsin, their efforts started with animal models to study pathogenicity and grew into massive SARS-CoV-2 sequencing and COVID-19 testing projects.

Virologists David and Shelby O'Connor (shown running along Lake Mendota) have worked extensively in SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing and COVID-19 Testing

“Being a scientist in this field gives a sense of purpose, but also a sense of obligation and responsibility,” says David O’Connor, PhD. “You always want to feel like you’re living up to that.”

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A New Method to Detect Cholangiocarcinoma Biomarkers

Cholangiocarcinoma biomarkers were identified and quantitated using mass spectrometry

A new study in Nature Scientific Reports describes a method for detecting Cholangiocarcinoma biomarkers in extracellular vesicles.

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Engineering a Safer SARS-CoV-2 for Use in the Research Laboratory

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Photo Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM CDC
SARS-CoV-2 illustration from CDC; Photo Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM
E = envelope; M = membrane

A worldwide pandemic requires scientific research to understand the viral pathogen. The focused efforts of global scientists are even more necessary in the face of a novel coronavirus like SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. However, because SARS-CoV-2 causes human disease, research efforts are restricted by the need for physical laboratories that are equipped to handle the required level of containment and personnel trained to handle pathogens in these facilities. But what if we could bypass the restrictive facility requirements by engineering a synthetic, replication-defective version of SARS-CoV-2 that more researchers could use to study the pandemic coronavirus, expanding the capacity to test and develop methods to attenuate its devastating effect on humans?

The challenge is to develop a derivative of SARS-CoV-2 that reflects how it behaves in the cell but is compromised such that it is unable to infect cells more than a single time. That is, the virus can get into a cell or be introduced into cells and replicate but is unable to produce infectious virus would offer a pathway to expand research capacity without the use of special laboratory facilities. This replication-defective SARS-CoV-2 could be created to encode as much or as little of the genome needed to examine its lifecycle without becoming a fully infectious virus. In fact, this replication-defective version of SARS-CoV-2 could include additional genetic elements that could be used to control its expression, track the virus in cells and measure the level of its replication. This task has been undertaken by Dr. Bill Sudgen’s group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, explained by graduate student Rebecca Hutcheson during her presentation “Making the Virus Causing COVID-19 Safe for Research”.

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The Wild Genomes Program: Optimizing Conservation Outcomes Using Genomics

Although it is easy to get swept up in the dark year that was 2020, one advantage of overwhelming darkness is it makes it easier to find the bright spots, the beacons of hope, the people working to make the world a better place. One of these bright spots was the launch of Wild Genomes, a new biobanking and genome sequencing program through Revive & Restore.

Back in 2018, the Catalyst Science Fund was established by Revive & Restore with a 3-year pledge from Promega for $1 million annually. The purpose of the fund is to help support proof-of-concept projects and to advance the development of new biotechnology tools to address some of the most challenging and urgent problems in conservation that currently lack viable solutions, including genetic bottlenecks, invasive species, climate change and wildlife diseases. 

Through this fund, the Wild Genomes program was launched, with the goal of getting sequencing and biobanking tools into the hands of people working to protect biodiversity right now, and to help support them in applying genomic technologies towards their wildlife conservation efforts.

In their first request for proposals , the competitive Wild Genomes program received over 58 applications from researchers in 19 different countries, all of which aimed to address various species conservation issues using applied genomic technologies. The second round of projects, to be announced this Spring, will focus solely on marine species. Take a look at these first 11 amazing projects that have been awarded funding and the species conservation challenges they are taking on below:

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Observing the Human Developmental Clock with Bioluminescence Live-Cell Imaging

What is the Developmental Clock?

The development of the human embryo is a complicated process that involves careful coordination of thousands of genes. Just like musical instruments in an orchestra, each gene performs its role—sometimes silent, sometimes intense—but always right on cue. The tempo of the symphony, or the speed of embryonic development, depends on an intrinsic biological clock known as the developmental clock. The developmental clock is like the conductor of the orchestra, controlling the tempo of the music and ensuring that each gene is expressed at the right moment with the right intensity. If just one gene is expressed too soon or going one beat too fast, it could disrupt the harmony of the whole symphony, resulting in an improperly developed embryo.

One example of what could happen when the developmental clock is disrupted is a disease called spondylocostal dysostosis (SCDO). SCDO is a genetic disorder that causes abnormal formation of the spine and ribs. Patients often have a short neck and trunk, and an abnormal curvature in the spine (scoliosis). SCDO can be caused by a mutation in the HES7 gene. HES7 is an “oscillating gene”, a kind of gene that is expressed in a rhythmic pattern—like the beating of a drum. This rhythm is essential for forming our ribs and each vertebra of our spine—a process known as “segmentation”—during early embryonic development.

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Three Pillars of ESI Mastery: Part Three

A Future Vision that Shapes Today’s Behavior

Today’s blog is written by Malynn Utzinger, Director of Integrative Practices, and Tim Weitzel, ESI Architect.

In one of our earliest blogs, we shared one of our favorite parables about a stonecutter. it went as follows:

In medieval times, a traveler happens upon a stonemason and asks him, “What are you doing?” The stonemason says wearily, “I spend long, hard days cutting and laying stone.” Further down the traveler encounters a second stonemason and asks him the same question, “What are you doing?” This stonemason, more energetically, replies. “I’m building a wall. I am blessed to have work that allows me to support my family so well.” Again, walking on, the traveler encounters a third stonemason doing the same work as the previous two; yet this stonemason is beaming with life. When the traveler asks what he is doing, he spreads his arm wide and exclaims, “I am building a cathedral that will uplift countless lives for centuries to come!”

ESI Mastery Part Three

The last pillar of Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) Mastery that we explore in this three-part series is the importance of identifying a vision or writing a future story. This vision or story shapes how we behave so that we can live into it.

In short, stories drive our lives. However, too often, the wrong story causes us to become stuck in a version of reality that cuts us off from giving and receiving the best of ourselves and of life.

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Advancing Understanding of Hypoxic Gene Regulation Using Reporter Genes: Celebrating the Work of Dr. Gregg L. Semenza

This post is written by guest blogger, Amy Landreman, PhD, Sr. Product Manager at Promega Corporation.

Oxygen is necessary for animal life. It’s essential for cellular respiration and the production of energy (ATP) we require to survive. Given the need for oxygen, it isn’t surprising that our bodies have evolved ways to sense and adapt to decreased oxygen conditions (hypoxia). We can increase the production of new blood vessels by producing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) or increase red blood cell (RBC) production by increasing the levels of eythropoietin (EPO), the hormone that plays a key role in the production of RBCs. But how does our body sense low oxygen, increase EPO levels, and kick our RBC production into gear? Nobel laureate Gregg L. Semenza has been honored for his contributions to our understanding of this process, and his research demonstrates the value of reporter genes and bioluminescence for studying gene regulation.

Reporter genes and bioluminescence are important tools for studying gene regulation
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Fighting Plant Pathogens Worldwide with the Maxwell® RSC PureFood GMO and Authentication Kit

Among the one trillion or so species that share space on our planet, complex relationships have emerged over time. Such relationships, in which two or more species closely interact, are collectively termed symbiosis. Although it’s commonly assumed that symbiotic relationships are mutually beneficial, this example constitutes only one type of symbiosis (known as mutualism). The traditional predator-prey relationship, clearly a one-sided arrangement, is also an example of symbiosis.

Olive trees in Italy are being affected by the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa

The sheer diversity of microbial species has led to the development of many well-characterized relationships with plants and animals. Perhaps the best-known example of mutualism in this context is the process of nitrogen fixation. In this process, various types of bacteria that live in water, soil or root nodules convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms that are readily used by plants. On the other hand, some types of bacteria-plant relationships are parasitic: the bacteria rely on the plant for survival but end up damaging their host. Parasitic relationships can have devastating ecological and economic consequences when they affect food crops.

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Oh, The Ways You Can “Glo”

Here at Promega, we have been helping your experiments “Glo” for 30 years by utilizing the sensitivity and wide dynamic range of bioluminescence detection methods. However, we’ve found that many scientists are still more familiar with older techniques like colorimetric or fluorometric detection than with luminescence. This anniversary year we are taking stock of all the assays and applications made possible with luminescence technologies. Check out our 30 Years and Glo-ing Celebration to learn more about how we’re celebrating luminescent assays and technologies this year.

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