Campus & Community

Research in brief

3 min read

Scientists create way to turn gene on and off as needed

Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School have created a novel, elegant, and safer system for controlling gene expression – turning genes on and off as needed – that involves an intervention as simple as giving a drug. Potentially, with this technique a gene could even be activated by natural conditions in the body – for example, in a diabetic patient, a rise in glucose concentration would automatically turn on the gene responsible for insulin production.

The system, described in a proof-of-principle paper in the Sept. 23 issue of the journal Nature, is simpler than current methods of gene regulation, and the technology exists to make it work with virtually any drug, making it suitable for a broad range of therapeutic and research applications.

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Researchers eliminate leukemia in mice

Scientists at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have corrected a flaw in cancer cells that lets them evade the normal cell-death process, and as a result they eliminated leukemia cells from mice. With this achievement, the researchers confirm that a key anticell-death molecule called BCL-2 is required by many types of cancer cells to survive, and that silencing it with designer drugs may prove to be an effective new avenue for cancer therapy.

Using drugs to manipulate apoptosis, or “programmed cell death,” in cancers “is a new paradigm that hasn’t been well explored yet,” said Instructor in Medicine Anthony Letai, in the laboratory of Stanley Korsmeyer at Dana-Farber. “What better way to kill cancer cells than targeting the molecules that directly control their survival?”

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Walking improves cognitive functions in older women

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard School of Public Health (SPH) have found that women aged 70 years and older who exercised regularly – including walking at an easy pace for at least 1.5 hours per week – appeared to have a lower risk of cognitive impairment than counterparts who were inactive. Women who engaged in the most activity – for example, walking at least six hours per week – had a 20 percent decrease in risk of cognitive impairment compared with those who were inactive. They also demonstrated the cognitive functioning of someone three years younger than their actual age. The findings are published in the Sept. 22 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Researchers discover new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of diseases that affect about 100,000 people in the United States and 2 million people worldwide. Patients usually develop night blindness in adolescence, loss of side vision in young adulthood, and eventual loss of central vision around age 60.

In 1993, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary researchers reported the first treatment for most adults with the typical forms of this condition, namely supplementation with vitamin A palmitate. Vitamin A palmitate was estimated to provide seven years of additional vision for those who began this supplement in their 30s. Now, researchers have found that with the addition of an omega-rich fatty acid to the vitaman A therapy, the extension of vision could, in some cases, be as long as 20 years.

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