Jumping genes suspected in Alzheimer’s. Duke Today, Mar. 8, 2017. A string of failed drug trials for Alzheimer’s has researchers questioning the reigning approach to battling the disease, which focuses on preventing amyloid buildup in the brain. Duke scientists have identified a molecular mechanism that could help explain how neurons begin to falter even before amyloid clumps appear. The culprit, they say, may be “jumping genes” that lose their normal controls with age and start to disrupt the machinery that fuels brain cells. Picked up by STAT.
Upward mobility boosts immunity in monkeys. Duke Today, Nov. 24, 2016. The richest and poorest Americans differ in life expectancy by more than a decade. Health inequalities across the socioeconomic spectrum are often attributed to medical care and lifestyle habits. But a study of rhesus monkeys shows the stress of life at the bottom can impact immunity even in the absence of other risk factors. Infection sends immune cells of low-ranking monkeys into overdrive, but social mobility can turn things around, researchers report in Science. Picked up by BBC News, Scientific American, The Telegraph, The Scientist, Science Magazine, Science News, the Daily Mail, New Scientist and The New York Times.
Underfed worms program their babies to cope with famine. Duke Today, Oct. 27, 2016. Worms whose mothers didn’t get enough to eat during pregnancy cope better with famine, finds a new study of the tiny nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The findings are consistent with a decades-old idea for humans, namely that pregnant women who don’t get enough to eat produce babies with “thrifty” metabolisms that are good at rationing nutrients and storing fat.
Analog DNA circuit does math in a test tube. Duke Today, Aug. 23, 2016. Duke University researchers have created strands of synthetic DNA that, when mixed together in a test tube in the right concentrations, form an analog circuit that can add, subtract and multiply as the molecules form and break bonds. While most DNA circuits are digital, their device performs calculations in an analog fashion by measuring the varying concentrations of specific DNA molecules directly, without requiring special circuitry to convert them to zeroes and ones first. Picked up by NPR affiliate WFDD.
Taking math beyond the blackboard. Duke Research blog, July 6, 2016. Mix together 80 or so scientists and engineers from industry and academia with bottomless coffee, and stir for a week. That was the recipe for the 32nd annual Mathematical Problems in Industry Workshop held this summer at Duke.
Moving beyond race-based drugs. Duke Today, May 26, 2016. Prescribing certain medications on the basis of a patient’s race has long come under fire from those uneasy with using race as a surrogate for biology when treating disease. But there are multiple challenges to overcome before we can move beyond race-based treatment decisions, experts say.
Hijacked cell division helped fuel rise of fungi. Duke Today, May 10, 2016. The more than 90,000 known species of fungi may owe their abilities to spread and even cause disease to an ancient virus that hijacked their cell division machinery, researchers report. Over a billion years ago, a viral protein invaded the fungal genome, generating a family of proteins that now play key roles in fungal growth. The research could point to new antifungals that inhibit cell division in fungi but not in their plant or animal hosts.
Rough childhoods have ripple effects for wild baboons. Duke Today, April 19, 2016. Numerous studies show that childhood trauma can have far-reaching effects on adult health; new research finds the same is true for wild baboons. Baboons that experience multiple misfortunes in early life grow up to live shorter adult lives, researchers report. The results show that early adversity can have long-term negative effects even in the absence of factors commonly evoked to explain similar patterns in humans, such as smoking, drinking or medical care. Picked up by New York Magazine, Pacific Standard, Washington Post, CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, and Smithsonian Magazine.
New way to detect human-animal diseases tested in lemurs. Duke Today, Jan. 27, 2016. RNA sequencing is uncovering emerging diseases in wildlife that other diagnostic tests cannot detect. Researchers used a technique called transcriptome sequencing to screen for blood-borne diseases in Madagascar’s lemurs, distant primate cousins to humans. The animals were found to be carrying several previously unknown parasites similar to those that cause Lyme disease in humans. The approach could pave the way for earlier, more accurate detection of disease outbreaks that move between animals and people.
Humans evolved to get better sleep in less time. Duke Today, Dec. 14, 2015. Insomniacs take heart: Humans get by on significantly less sleep than our closest animal relatives. The secret, according to a new study of slumber patterns across 21 species of primates, is that our sleep is more efficient. Picked up by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, the Daily Mail, BBC, Huffington Post, WPTV, News & Observer, Futurity, U.S. News & World Report and Voice of America.
Predicting cancer’s growth when clues are hard to come by. Duke Today, Nov. 2, 2015. Duke mathematicians are developing ways to help doctors predict how different cancers are likely to progress when measurements of tumor growth are hard to come by. In a new study, they describe a way to compare common models of tumor growth, using only two time-point measurements of tumor size — often the maximum available before patients begin treatment. Determining which models work best for different cancers is key to designing optimum treatment strategies.
Blocking the virus torpedo. Duke Today, Oct. 1, 2015. Kevin Welsher uses advanced microscopy techniques to make never-before-seen 3D videos of viruses like flu and HIV just before they invade human cells.
Cell phones help track flu on campus. Duke Today, August 18, 2015. New methods for analyzing personal health and lifestyle data captured through smartphone apps can help identify college students at risk of catching the flu. With help from a mobile app that monitors who students interact with and when, researchers have developed a model that enables them to predict the spread of influenza from one person to the next over time. Unlike most infection models, their approach gives a personalized daily forecast for each patient. Picked up by Time Warner Cable News, WRAL, Futurity and the Huffington Post.
Pinpointing the cause of coughs and sneezes. Duke Research blog, July 30, 2015. Duke University students are trying to help doctors find a faster way to pinpoint the cause of their patients’ coughs, sore throats and sniffles. Undergraduates have teamed up with researchers at Duke Medicine to identify blood markers that could be used to tell whether what’s making someone sick is a bacteria, or a virus. The goal is to better determine if and when to give antibiotics in order to stem the rise of drug-resistant superbugs. Picked up by Nature.
Gut worms protect babies’ brains from inflammation. Duke Today, July 20, 2015. A study in rats finds that gut worms can protect babies’ brains from inflammation and long-term learning and memory problems caused by bacterial infections in newborns. Expectant mother rats with tapeworms even passed the protective benefits on to their worm-free pups, the researchers found. The findings could point to new ways to prevent or treat the chronic brain inflammation linked to cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, autism and depression. Picked up by Science Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Outsmarting HIV with vaccine antigens made to order. Duke Research blog, June 29, 2015. AIDS vaccine researchers may be one step closer to outwitting HIV, thanks to designer antibodies and antigens made to order at Duke. HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS in 1983. Despite decades of progress in understanding the virus, an effective vaccine remains elusive. Now, a team of researchers have published a 3-D close-up of a designer protein that, if injected into patients, could help the immune system make better antibodies against the virus — a step forward in the 30-year HIV vaccine race.
Model could help counteract poisoning from popular painkiller. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. New research could help reverse deadly side effects caused by excessive doses of the drug acetaminophen, the major ingredient in Tylenol and many other medicines. Duke University researchers have developed a mathematical model of acetaminophen metabolism based on data from rats. The findings suggest that giving patients glutamine — a common amino acid in the body — alongside the standard antidote for acetaminophen overdose could prevent liver damage and boost the body’s ability to recover. Picked up by the Durham Herald-Sun.
Being born in lean times is bad news for baboons. Duke Today, April 2, 2015. The saying ”what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Baboons born in times of famine are more vulnerable to food shortages later in life, finds a new study. The findings are important because they help explain why people who are malnourished in early childhood often experience poor health as adults.
Baboon friends swap gut germs. Duke Today, March 16, 2015. The warm soft folds of the intestines are teeming with thousands of species of bacteria that help break down food, synthesize vitamins, regulate weight and resist infection. If they’re so key to health, what factors shape an individual’s gut microbial makeup? Previous studies have pointed to the food we eat, the drugs we take, genetics, even house dust. Now, a new study in baboons suggests that relationships may play a role, too. Picked up by The Scientist.
Urging HPV vaccine for boys could protect more people for same price. Duke Today, March 11, 2015. Whether vaccinating U.S. boys against HPV in addition to girls is worth the cost has been hotly debated. But with HPV-related cancers in men on the rise, and coverage in girls stagnating below the levels needed to ensure that most people are protected, research suggests that devoting a portion of HPV funding to boys — rather than merely attempting to improve female coverage — may protect more people for the same price. Picked up by National Public Radio affiliate WUNC.
Predicting superbugs’ countermoves to new drugs. Duke Today, Jan. 5, 2015. With drug-resistant bacteria on the rise, even common infections that were easily controlled for decades are proving trickier to treat with standard antibiotics. New drugs are desperately needed, but so are ways to maximize the effective lifespan of these drugs. To accomplish that, Duke University researchers used software they developed to predict a constantly-evolving infectious bacterium’s countermoves to one of these new drugs ahead of time, before the drug is even tested on patients. Picked up by the Duke Chronicle, The Scientist and Time Magazine.
Tie-dye fly. 1,100 Words, August 29, 2014. It may look like a poster for the Grateful Dead, but these Day-Glo rainbow stripes belong to a fruit fly. Duke biologist Amy Bejsovec is studying the patterns that emerge during a fruit fly’s development from egg to adult — information that may help treat diseases that arise when normal development goes awry.
Cancer-fighting drugs might also stop malaria early. Duke Today, August 25, 2014. Scientists searching for new drugs for malaria have identified a number of compounds — some of which are in clinical trials to treat cancer — that could lead to new ways to fight the disease. Researchers identified 31 enzyme-blocking molecules, called protein kinase inhibitors, that curb malaria before symptoms start. By focusing on treatments that act early, the researchers hope to give drug-resistant strains less time to spread. Picked up by the Duke Chronicle and the Durham Herald-Sun.
Scientists uncover navigation system used by cancer, nerve cells. Duke Today, August 25, 2014. Researchers have identified a ‘roving detection system’ on the surface of cells that may point to new ways of treating diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The study sheds light on the molecular mechanisms that enable both normal and cancerous cells to break through normal tissue boundaries and burrow into other tissues and organs.
Genome sequences show how lemurs fight infection. Duke Today, May 30, 2014. Coquerel’s sifakas are the only lemur species out of 17 at the Duke Lemur Center to fall prey to Cryptosporidium, a waterborne illness that causes weakness and diarrhea. Young sifakas are more likely to get sick, but if researchers can harness next-generation sequencing technology to figure out how older animals manage to fight the infection, they might be able to develop vaccines that provide infants the same protection. Picked up by National Geographic.