Ketamine therapy has a swift short-term effect on reducing symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a recent systematic review of all the available evidence. The review was led by the University of Exeter and funded by the Medical Research Council and it analyzed evidence from 83 published research papers. The strongest evidence emerged around the use of ketamine to treat both major depression and bipolar depression. Symptoms were reduced as swiftly as one to four hours after a single treatment, and lasted up to two weeks. Some evidence suggested that repeated treatment may prolong the effects, however more high-quality research is needed to determine by how long. Similarly, single or multiple doses of ketamine resulted in moderate to large reductions in suicidal thoughts. This improvement was seen as early as four hours following ketamine treatment and lasted on average three days, and up to a week.
Control of most bodily functions depends on the ability of cells to talk to each other. We have long known about two routes for cell-to-cell communication: the nervous system and the secretion of hormones. Over the past five years, scientists have recognized an important third route of communication based on exosomes—tiny sacs or vesicles containing protein and RNA molecules that cells secrete into circulation where they can be taken up by other cells to regulate metabolism. Many labs are now focusing on exosomes carrying microRNAs. These are very short RNAs that can regulate the ability of other longer RNAs that make different cellular proteins and control cell function. Thus, microRNAs affect many aspects of cellular behavior in health and disease. Scientists at Joslin Diabetes Center, and collaborators, have now discovered how cells pick a collection of microRNAs for their exosomes, said C. Ronald Kahn, MD, a Joslin Senior Investigator and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Anthrax has a scary reputation. Widely known to cause serious lung infections in humans and unsightly, albeit painless, skin lesions in livestock and people, the anthrax bacterium has even been used as a weapon of terror. Now, the findings of a new study suggest the dreaded microbe also has unexpected beneficial potential—one of its toxins can silence multiple types of pain in animals. The research reveals that this specific anthrax toxin works to alter signaling in pain-sensing neurons and, when delivered in a targeted manner into neurons of the central and peripheral nervous system, can offer relief to animals in distress. The work, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School (HMS) in collaboration with industry scientists and researchers from other institutions, was published online on December 20, 2021 in Nature Neuroscience. The article is titled “Anthrax Toxins Regulate Pain Signaling and Can Deliver Molecular Cargoes into ANTXR2+ DRG Sensory Neurons.”
Multiple changes in brain cells during the first month of embryonic development may contribute to schizophrenia later in life, according to a new study by Weill Cornell Medicine investigators. The researchers, whose study was published online in Molecular Psychiatry on November 17, 2021, used stem cells collected from patients with schizophrenia and people without the disease to grow 3-dimensional “mini-brains” or organoids in the laboratory. By comparing the development of both sets of organoids, the scientists discovered that a reduced expression of two genes in the cells stymies early development and causes a shortage of brain cells in organoids grown from patient stem cells. The open-access article is titled “Schizophrenia Is Defined by Cell-Specific Neuropathology and Multiple Neurodevelopmental Mechanisms in Patient-Derived Cerebral Organoids.”
On December22, 2021, Exopharm Limited (ASX:EX1) announced that it has been granted US patent US 11202805 for its LEAP™ exosome purification technology. The company said that this patent positions Exopharm as a global leader in meeting the challenge of large-scale, commercial production of exosomes needed to enable leading-edge exosome medicines. The latest research points to exosomes as a possibly better and safer way to deliver modern medicines, including mRNA vaccines that currently use lipid nanoparticles.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a biomarker for one type of autism within patients’ cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to a study published online on December 17, 2021 in Neuron. The article is titled “Shed CNTNAP2 Ectodomain Is Detectable in CSF and Regulates Ca2+ Homeostasis and Network Synchrony Via PMCA2/ATP2B2.” This biomarker’s presence helps establish a link between autism and epilepsy, conditions which often co-occur but whose conjunctive mechanisms remain unknown, according to Peter Penzes, PhD, the Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, at Northwestern Medicine, and senior author of the study. “There’s too much excitation and too little inhibition in the brain, which can impact both autism and epilepsy,” said Dr. Penzes (photo), who is also Director of the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment at Northwestern Medicine. “This is the first report of a biomarker for autism in cerebrospinal fluid.”
Small, unique antibody-like proteins known as VNARs (variable new antigen receptors)–derived from the immune systems of sharks–can prevent the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells, according to a new study published online in Nature Communications on December 16, 2021. The open-access article is titled “Mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 Neutralization by Shark Variable New Antigen Receptors Elucidated Through X-Ray Crystallography.” The authors note that “single-domain VNARs from the immune system of sharks are the smallest naturally occurring binding domains found in nature. Possessing flexible paratopes [antigen-binding sites] that can recognize protein motifs inaccessible to classical antibodies, VNARs have yet to be exploited for the development of SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics.” [Editor’s note: Shark VNARs are similar to so-called “nanobodies,” tiny antibodies first identified in camels, and later in llamas, and which are also being investigated for use as anti-SARS-CoV-2 molecules.]
On December 17, 2021, Vera Therapeutics, Inc. (Nasdaq: VERA), a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on developing treatments for immunological diseases that improve patients’ lives, announced that it has acquired MAU868, a first-in-class monoclonal antibody to treat BK virus (BKV) infections, and has entered into a credit facility with Oxford Finance LLC (Oxford) to provide borrowing capacity up to $50 million. MAU868, acquired from Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., has the potential to neutralize infection by blocking BKV virions from binding to host cells.
Below is an open message from Ira Mellman, PhD, VP of Cancer Immunotherapy at Genentech, suggesting the critical need to look broadly at how to exploit the various advancements in cell-based therapies going forward, with a rigorous focus on affordability and scalability. For this reason, the distinguished scientist will host the Immunotherapy Track on Day 2 as part of the Emerging Therapeutics sessions at the Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) January 26-28, 2022 SV conference (Register), and he invites all interested parties to attend.
A trifling paper cut is a site of frenzied activity. Within it, a squad of epidermal stem cells briskly regenerate to patch up the wound. A closer inspection of this war-torn swath of epidermis will reveal that, while some of the stem cells are native to the area, others are newcomers–former hair-producing stem cells that, upon sensing nearby injury, migrated from the hair follicle to the wound bed, where they transformed to resemble indigenous epidermal stem cells. Now, a new study demonstrates that, within their genetic material, these relocated stem cells retain memories of how to travel from the follicle to the skin’s surface, repair damaged skin, and finally adapt to their new home. These seasoned stem cells are largely indistinguishable from naive epidermal stem cells. But the new research, published in the November 26, 2021 issue of Science, suggests that they are primed to heal wounds faster and, after repeated wounds, may develop memories that could lead to chronic disease and cancer. The article is titled “Stem Cells Expand Potency and Alter Tissue Fitness by Accumulating Diverse Epigenetic Memories.”