How Memories Crystallize Over Time

Alipasha Vaziri, PhD, with the light-beads microscopy (LBM) imaging technology he developed. LBM has already enabled several key discoveries that would have been impossible to make with previously existing imaging tools. (Matthew Septimus)

“Practice makes perfect” is no mere cliché, according to a new study from researchers at The Rockefeller University and UCLA. Instead, it’s the recipe for mastering a task, because repeating an activity over and over solidifies neural pathways in your brain. As they describe in Nature, the scientists used a cutting-edge technology developed by Rockefeller’s Alipasha Vaziri, PhD, to simultaneously observe 73,000 cortical neurons in mice as the animals learned and repeated a given task over two weeks. The study revealed that memory representations transform from unstable to solid in working memory circuits, giving insights into why performance becomes more accurate and automatic following repetitive practice. The open-access Nature article was published May 15, 2024, and is titled “Volatile Working Memory Representations Crystallize with Practice.”

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Scientists Uncover Promising Treatment Target for Resistant Brain Cancer (Glioblastoma)

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute scientists identify key cell pathway in glioblastoma, potentially opening new avenues for therapy

For many patients with a deadly type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, chemotherapy resistance is a big problem. Current standard treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy using the drug temozolomide, have limited effectiveness and have not significantly changed in the past five decades.  Although temozolomide can initially slow tumor progression in some patients, typically the tumor cells rapidly become resistant to the drug. But now, Virginia Tech researchers with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC may have moved a step closer to a solution. 

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Modern Plant Enzyme Partners with Surprisingly Ancient Protein

Study reveals that protein responsible for building a key component of modern plant cell walls first emerged in ancient species

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered that a protein responsible for the synthesis of a key plant material evolved much earlier than suspected. This new research explored the origin and evolution of the biochemical machinery that builds lignin, a structural component of plant cell walls with significant impacts on the clean energy industry. When the first land plants emerged from aquatic environments, they needed to adapt in order to survive. Chang-Jun Liu, PhD, a senior scientist in Brookhaven’s Biology Department, said, “The emergence of lignin, which provides structural support for the plants, was a key evolutionary event that enabled plant survival in the new terrestrial environment.”

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Study Finds Association Between Genital Talc Use and Increased Risk of Ovarian Cancer

  • Focus: This study examines the association between the use of intimate care products, specifically genital talc and douching, and the risk of hormone-related cancers such as ovarian, breast, and uterine cancers, correcting for potential biases like recall bias and exposure misclassification.
  • Population: The study involved 50,884 women from the Sister Study cohort, all of whom had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, providing a unique perspective on the genetic predisposition to hormone-related cancers.
  • Main Takeaway: Genital talc use was found to be positively associated with the risk of ovarian cancer across multiple scenarios, even after adjusting for potential reporting biases and misclassification. The association was particularly strong among women who used talc frequently or especially during periods of significant hormonal changes or reproductive activity.
  • Significance: These findings contribute significant insights into the ongoing debate about the safety of intimate care products and underscore the need for further research and potential reevaluation of these products’ safety.

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Pertuzumab Plus Trastuzumab Shows Meaningful Clinical Activity in Biliary Tract Cancer with ERBB2/3 Alterations

Study at-a-Glance

  • Focus: The study explores the efficacy and safety of the combination therapy of pertuzumab plus trastuzumab in patients with advanced biliary tract cancer (BTC) harboring ERBB2/3 alterations. BTC includes gallbladder cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, and ampullary adenocarcinoma.
  • Population: 29 patients with advanced BTC were included, with a median age of 66 years (range: 34-83). 66% were female, and 52% identified as White, 21% as Black or African American, and 10% as Asian/Asian American.
  • Main Takeaway: The study found that pertuzumab plus trastuzumab met the prespecified criteria to declare a signal of activity in patients with advanced BTC and ERBB2/3 alterations, providing an objective response rate (ORR) of 32% and a disease control rate (DCR) of 40%.
  • Significance: This combination therapy demonstrates notable clinical activity for heavily pretreated patients with BTC, showing potential in managing disease progression in those with ERBB2/3 amplification, overexpression, or mutation.

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New Gene Delivery Vehicle (Engineered AAV) Shows Promise for Human Brain Gene Therapy

Scientists have engineered an adeno-associated virus (AAV) that efficiently crosses the blood-brain barrier in human cell models and delivers genes throughout the brain in humanized mice

Graphic image of adeno-associated virus (AAV)
In an important step toward more effective gene therapies for brain diseases, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have engineered a gene-delivery vehicle that uses a human protein to efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier and deliver a disease-relevant gene to the brain in mice expressing the human protein. Because the vehicle binds to a well-studied protein in the blood-brain barrier, the scientists say it has a good chance at working in patients. The work was published in Science on May 16, 2024. The article is Titled “An AAV Capsid Reprogrammed to Bind Human Transferrin Receptor Mediates Brain-Wide Gene Delivery.”

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Illuminating Therapeutic Prospects: Unraveling the EVI1-CTBP2 Axis in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

by Manisha Kashyap, PhD

In a seminal study recently published in Science Advances, researchers have unearthed a compelling therapeutic avenue in the complex landscape of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The article, titled “Oncogene EVI1 Drives Acute Myeloid Leukemia Via a Targetable Interaction with CTBP2,” not only sheds light on the molecular intricacies driving AML but also underscores a transformative opportunity for tailored therapeutic interventions.

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AI Could Accelerate Drug Discovery. But Only If We Can Trust It

Jiankun Lyu, PhD

One of the most consequential advances in artificial intelligence isn’t an eerily conversational chatbot—it’s a new way to unpack the unique 3D structures of proteins. This powerful deep-learning algorithm, dubbed AlphaFold, turns a process that once took scientists years to complete in the lab into a computer program that could run in less than an hour. The implications for medicine are immense: once the molecular nuances of a protein’s structure have been identified, researchers can begin to target it with drugs, correcting dysfunctions, combating infections, and improving health. But before AI can transform biomedicine, researchers will need to demonstrate that the algorithm’s predictions are as accurate as results obtained from tried-and-true experimental methods of the past, such as X-ray crystallography. A new paper in Science suggests this may now be the case. When researchers used sophisticated software to sift through billions of compounds—searching for potential new drugs by matching them against protein structures—they found that structures predicted by AlphaFold2 could, at least in some cases, effectively replace structures determined experimentally. The article, published May 16, 2024, is titled “AlphaFold2 Structures Guide Prospective Ligand Discovery.”

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Fruit Fly Wing Research Offers Window into Birth Defects

Supercomputers help show how groups of cells develop into wings 

If fruit fly wings do not develop into the right shape, the flies will die. UC Riverside (UCR) researchers have learned how fly embryo cells develop as they need to, opening a window into human development and possible treatments for birth defects. Biologists often investigate tissue development by studying parts of individual cells. In contrast, the UCR team used some of the most powerful supercomputers in California to simulate many cells working together. The team examined the mechanical properties of the cells, such as their elasticity and fluid pressure. They also studied how a group of different cell types called a “wing disc” divide and eventually become wing tissue. Their findings are detailed in the journal Nature Communications. The open-access article, published March 20, 2024, is titledBalancing Competing Effects of Tissue Growth and Cytoskeletal Regulation During Drosophila Wing Disc Development.”

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Zombie Cells (Missing Ribosomes) in the Sea: Viruses Keep the Most Common Marine Bacteria in Check

Algae bloom
The ocean waters surrounding the German island of Helgoland provide an ideal setting to study spring algae blooms, a focus of research at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology since 2009. In a previous study, the Max Planck scientists observed a group of bacteria called SAR11 to grow particularly fast during these blooms. However, despite their high growth rates, the abundance of SAR11 decreased by roughly 90% over five days. This suggested that the cells were quickly decimated by predators and/or viral infections. Now, the Max Planck researchers investigated what exactly lies behind this phenomenon. The results of their new study were published on May 2, 2024 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titledGlobally Occurring Pelagiphage Infections Create Ribosome-Deprived Cells.”

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