Disease modeling with patient-specific iPS cells

•March 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Whether in mice or macaques, disease modeling traditionally has been a tedious and expensive affair, not to mention unreliable, as mutations that are crippling in humans could have negligible impacts in animals, and vice versa. As drug development often requires preclinical animal studies, that disconnect has had real implications for the pharmaceuticals industry, both in money and missed opportunities. Today, researchers increasingly are migrating their models from the mouse house to the culture room. Armed with induced pluripotent stem cells made from patient cells, these investigators are probing everything from basic biology and disease etiology to drug discovery and cell therapeutics… Read more at Science. (PDF)

Designing a microscale lab

•March 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s not easy to find circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Émigrés from distant tumors, CTCs are incredibly rare—as few as one in a billion cells in human blood in fact. At that density, it takes extraordinary luck to glimpse CTCs under a microscope—unless you enrich for them.

In 2007, researchers in Mehmet Toner’s lab at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School developed a microfluidic device for enriching CTCs. Microfluidics, the manipulation and application of fluid properties and dynamics on the microliter or nanoliter scale, increasingly popular in the life sciences, is being used to automate and downsize reactions, boost reproducibility, and conduct experiments at the single-cell stage. By forcing blood cells to slowly flow through a vast forest of 78,000 “microposts,” each coated with antibodies to the tumor cell antigen EpCAM, Toner’s “CTC-chip” maximized cell-antibody interactions, capturing CTCs with ~65% efficiency… Read more at BioTechniques. (PDF)


Programming: Pick up Python

•February 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last month, Adina Howe took up a post at Iowa State University in Ames. Officially, she is an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. But she works not in the greenhouse, but in front of a keyboard. Howe is a programmer, and a key part of her job is as a ‘data professor’ — developing curricula to teach the next generation of graduates about the mechanics and importance of scientific programming.

Howe does not have a degree in computer science, nor does she have years of formal training. She had a PhD in environmental engineering and expertise in running enzyme assays when she joined the laboratory of Titus Brown at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Brown specializes in bioinformatics and uses computation to extract meaning from genomic data sets, and Howe had to get up to speed on the computational side. Brown’s recommendation: learn Python… Read more at Nature. (PDF)

Finding flavor in food

•January 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

A romantic dinner. Roses. Cabernet Sauvignon sparkling in the candlelight. Warm brie with fresh bread for two. Gazing into your partner’s eyes, you lift your glass, admiring the rich, almost black color of the wine. You inhale … and then take a sip.

A good glass of wine is a multi-sensory experience. There’s the aroma of the wine entering your mouth, a burst of volatiles meeting olfactory and taste receptors; then there’s the tart acidity of the tannins paired with the sweetness of natural sugars, packaged in a luxurious drink whose complex chemical palette results from a union of grapes, yeast, and oak… Read more at BioTechniques.com. (PDF)

Time management: Seize the moment

•January 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

For the brand-new principal investigator (PI), excitement can soon give way to stress as the mountain of tasks becomes clear. In addition to the main charge — to develop and carry out a research programme, complete with writing grants and managing a lab — the new PI must find time to prepare and give lectures, grade papers, develop and administer examinations and fulfil service obligations to the institution and scientific community.

It is all a far cry from a postdoctoral fellowship, in which the job is to focus on research and nothing but. The transition can be like jumping from musical soloist to symphony director, says biologist Jing-Ke Weng, who was hired in 2013 as an assistant professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “You’re not just responsible for your own playing, you are responsible for the music coming from a group of people,” he says… Read more at Nature. (PDF)

Mapping neural connections

•November 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For all its importance, the human brain remains an enigma. It contains and controls everything that makes humans human, yet researchers know little about what truly makes it tick. NIH Director Francis Collins has called the brain “the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works.” Naturally, researchers are working hard to address that information gap. Some are exploring these mysteries using whole-brain imaging. Others are mapping activity at the cellular level. Still others have taken a reductionist approach, tracing the wiring of the brain’s seemingly limitless circuitry… Read more at BioTechniques.com. (PDF)

Investments boost neurotechnology career prospects

•October 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The past few years have seen some extraordinary activity in the neuroscience field. High-profile advances, from the Allen Brain Atlas to the Brainbow mouse, have injected an air of excitement into the study of the brain—an atmosphere that has been amplified by big funding initiatives in the United States and abroad. For budding neuroscientists, it’s heady days—at least if you’ve got a knack for technology development, programming, and engineering. But it will take more than raw skill to land a job… Read more at Science Careers.

Correlating light and electron microscopy

•October 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When Eric Betzig and colleagues first described their new microscopy method, PALM, they chose to highlight its power by comparing it to an ultra-high-resolution approach: transmission electron microscopy (TEM). PALM, or photoactivated localization microscopy, is a super-resolution fluorescence technique allowing users to circumvent the 200 nm diffraction limit that constrains optical microscopy, mapping fluorophores to within 10 nm or so. It produces exceptionally sharp images of the distribution of specific molecules in a cell. The only problem is that the resulting signals are nothing more than bright dots on a black background—“little blobs floating in darkness,” as Harald Hess, a colleague of Betzig at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus and co-author with Betzig on the first PALM article, describes it. Hess, Betzig and their colleagues were stuck with a question: where exactly in the cell were those blobs located? … Read more at BioTechniques.com(PDF)

Rewriting the genome: Even DNA needs an editor

•October 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Until relatively recently, the power of molecular biology was at once vast and limited. Researchers who wanted to knock out specific genes to see what they did mostly had to restrict such studies to mice, and specific strains at that. Now a new class of genome- and epigenome-editing tools is reshaping the landscape. From Arabidopsis to humans to zebrafish, researchers are finding that, generally speaking, when it comes to the genome, if they can dream it, they can build it… Read more at sciencemag.org (PDF).

Eyes on the prize

•October 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In mid-June, Newark, California–based StemCells, Inc. announced interim results of its ongoing Phase 1/2 trial for the treatment of dry age-related macular degeneration, a form of progressive blindness common in the elderly. Seven patients with advanced disease who had been dosed with the experimental therapeutic—multipotent neural stem cells derived from fetal brain tissue—showed slowed retinal atrophy at one year post-transplant, and four had not just stabilized but improved visual function, the company reported. The announcement is the latest in a series of promising developments in the area of cell-based therapeutics for blindness… Read more at The Scientist.