ALSO NOTED: Grant to spur robotics in stem cell research; Researchers identify pancreatic cancer stem cells; Inexpensive cancer

Tools & Technology

Using a €1.7 million grant, the U.K.'s Plasticell hopes to automate its technology so that thousands of stem cell experiments can be run in the same time a handful of tests take now. National Institute for Biological Standards and Control and University College London are collaborating on the automation work. Exploration into cell differentiation is critical to speeding up the work in the field. Report

More Research

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical Center have identified human pancreatic cancer stem cells believed responsible for aggressive tumor growth. Their identification could point the way to new therapies for a disease that has a 97 percent mortality rate over five years. Report

Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton say they're excited by the results they've seen using the inexpensive dichloroacetate to stop cancer development in animals and in test tubes. The hitch in developing this therapy, they say, is that drug companies won't invest in a therapy they can't patent, but the researchers believe they can attract sponsors to their work. Report

Some people appear to be genetically predisposed to developing severe depression, but researchers have yet to pin down the genes responsible. Now, a specific region rife with promise has been located on one chromosome by a consortium of researchers working under Douglas Levinson, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Release

The protein molecule carabin may play a critical role in restraining the body's immune system, says a scientific team at Johns Hopkins University. And that insight may provide new clues to prevent harmful immune reactions. The researchers concluded that the presence of carabin in a cell effectively damped down cellular activity. The team believes that the molecule essentially acts as a brake to prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissue. Report

The brain mechanism underlying the mind-bending effects of hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin has been discovered by neuroscientists. They said their discoveries not only shed light on the longtime mystery of how hallucinogens work, but that the findings also offer a pathway to understanding the function of drugs used to treat neuropsychiatric disorders, which are now being used largely without an understanding of their fundamental mechanism. Release

A new study suggests that a virus, rather than prions, could be responsible for the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Mice infected with two types of BSE had virus-like particles in infected nerve cells which were absent in uninfected cells. Other researchers in the field called the conclusion high speculative. Report

Studies in mice have indicated that the effects of prion disease could be reversed if caught early enough. The researchers said that their findings support developing early treatments that aim to reduce levels of prion protein in the brains of people with prion disease. Also, they said that their findings suggest testing the efficacy of treatments in a new way: by analyzing their cognitive effects in prion-infected mice. Release

HIV prevention advocates from three major civil society organizations emphasized the importance of continued research into new HIV prevention options, despite the recent discontinuation of the phase III effectiveness trials of the microbicide candidate, cellulose sulfate. Two studies were shut down after an anti-AIDS microbicidal gel was found to raise the risk of HIV infection. Report

A team of researchers for Actelion have provided encouraging evidence that blocking the receptors for orexin could be used to fight insomnia. Orexin is a blood peptide that promotes wakefulness and is absent in cases of narcolepsy. The research team developed a drug that blocks the peptide. Report

A single protein in brain cells may act as a linchpin in the body's weight-regulating system, playing a key role in the flurry of signals that govern fat storage, sugar use, energy balance and weight, University of Michigan Medical School researchers report. Release

Half of the U.S. population have a gene variant that is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, says a research team from Saint Louis University. The gene spurs the body to burn more fat, which impedes their ability to process sugar. Report

A team of investigators at the Joslin Diabetes Center has compiled the most complete inventory yet available of the proteins present in a part of the human eye known as the vitreous and has identified a group of proteins that may play critical roles in causing blood vessel leakage in the eyes of people with this common form of diabetic eye disease. Release

A virus that targets bacteria works to enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics, according to a new report from the University of Vienna. Bacteriophages can penetrate the cell membranes of bacteria, making the vaccines more powerful. Report

More than 15,000 patents were filed on DNA sequences in the 23 years through 2003, but only a third were granted and UK researchers have concluded that tough requirements from patent regulators in Japan and Europe have blunted fears that the patent rush could slow research in the field. Article

Using small molecules to disrupt the function of cancer cells could prevent them from doing damage, says a team of investigators. Release

Creatine, a popular nutritional supplement used by weightlifters and sprinters to improve athletic performance, could lend muscle strength to people with muscular dystrophies. Release

As medical advances allow more people the world over to grow older, the number of patients with Parkinson's disease will soar, according to a new study that appears in the journal Neurology. By 2030, the number of people with Parkinson's will grow from 4.1 million to 8.7 million. Report

All tissues, sick and healthy alike, need a blood supply to survive and grow. The key to many medical problems, like preventing tumor development, is therefore to obstruct the spread of the blood vessels. Research scientists at Karolinska Institutet have now discovered a heretofore unknown mechanism for how the body links together its blood vessels. Release

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered new details about how bacteria generate energy to live. In two recently published papers, the scientists add key specifics to the molecular mechanism behind the pathogen that causes cholera. The work could provide a better understanding of this pathogen, while also offering insight into how cells transform energy from the environment into the forms required to sustain life. Release

If you bend a knee, the nerves stretch but do not break. A University of Utah study suggests why: A gene produces a springy protein that keeps nerve cells flexible. When the gene was disabled in tiny worms, their nerve cells literally broke. The discovery may provide a new explanation for a disease previously tied to a human version of the gene and identified in 11 generations of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's family. Release

Tricking a key enzyme can soothe over-excited receptors in the brain, say neuroscientists, calling this a possible strategy against stroke, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers injected laboratory mice with a decoy peptide containing a snippet of a receptor that facilitates cell death in neurodegenerative diseases. Release 

Deals & Dollars

Aruna Biomedical has acquired an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialize neural cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Aruna will offer the academic and industry research communities access to much sought after, but never before available human neural cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, that relate to normal and diseased human conditions. Release

Dr. Richard Pietras of the University of California at Los Angeles has been selected as the recipient of the National Lung Cancer Partnership's research grant for advancing the understanding of gender differences in lung cancer. Release

Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist is proposing that the state provides $20 million in funding for stem cell research that meets the federal restrictions on the field. Report