NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Dr. Ed Boyden, MIT Media Lab, has won the 2016 biomedicine BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for his work developing ‘optogenetics,’ a method of controlling brain activity with light. Dr. Boyden shares the prize with two neuroscientists who helped develop and evolve the technique: Dr. Gero Miesenböck, Oxford University, and Dr. Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University. These annual awards recognize world-class scientific research and artistic creation with an illustrious list of former and current Laureates, including fellow 2016 Laureate in basic sciences Dr. Stephen Hawking.
NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellow Larry Luchsinger, PhD, studies the energy producing centers of the cell, mitochondria, to better understand the cells that produce blood cells, hematopoietic stem cells, and blood-based diseases. Dr. Luchsinger, Columbia University Medical Center, published a paper in Nature on his work which investigates the expression of a protein, mitofusin 2, and its affect on the blood cells that form from hematopoietic stem cells. His research showed that this mitochondria-associating protein is necessary to maintain the stem cell properties of hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells can mature into lymphoid cells, specific immune system cells, or myeloid cells, which include white and red blood cells. By changing the expression of the mitofusin 2 protein, Dr. Luchsinger showed that hematopoietic stem cells would favor differentiating into lymphoid cells. For researchers, this means that after transplanting hematopoietic stem cells, such as bone marrow stem cells, one day they might be able to guide cells to mature into immune system cells.
NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Michael A. Long studies how birds learn songs to understand how patients might re-learn skills following traumatic injuries. Dr. Long, New York University School of Medicine, followed how one bird species, zebra finch, master a song by imitating another bird’s, tutor’s, song. Science featured the resulting report as its cover story. Following the finches revealed that they learn songs “piece-by-piece.” As they master certain elements of a song, inhibition suppresses learning for already-learned components. Dr. Long’s group measured inhibitory currents in the birds’ brains, which showed that the inhibition signals, rather than correlated to bird age, were related to learning. In this picture of song learning, birds imitate what they hear, and as they learn, their premotor neurons show increased activity. Once birds mature, and have learned the song, synaptic inhibition drives down the previous increase in activity in the neurons. By further understanding the mechanism and interplay between suppression and learning activity, researchers can enhance how brain injury patients receive treatment and re-learn lost skills. Dr. Long also authored a study featured in Current Biology on how male and female zebra finches alter the timing of their calls to synchronize their sounds.
NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellow Zhongwei Cao, PhD, conducts research that may yield breakthrough treatments for lung injury. Dr. Cao, Weill Cornell Medical College, focuses on experiments that move research towards harnessing the innate capacity of lung cells to self-repair. She authored a study in Nature Medicine that elucidates the mechanism behind how fibrosis, thickening and scarring of tissue between cells, can inhibit lung regeneration. The study zooms in on the hematopoietic-vascular niche, the microenvironment where stem cells are located, and parses how the niche regulates lung cell repair. Dr. Cao identifies specific receptors and genes activated when modeling the inflammation that occurs following lung injury and finds that recurring lung injury activates cell types that promote fibrosis and hinder lung repair. The paper, senior authored by Bi-Sen Ding, a NYSCF-Druckenmiller Fellowship alumnus and current Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, further suggests that targeting the hematopoietic-vascular niche may provide fruitful therapies to induce lung regeneration.
Bringing treatments out of laboratories and into clinics remains a major obstacle for healthcare. Mice and other common lab animals cannot reliably predict human responses to the same treatment. Using human stem cells sourced directly from patients, NYSCF overcomes that translational obstacle. The Wall Street Journal’s article, “Stem Cells Help Evaluate Experimental Alzheimer’s Drugs” cites NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon laying out the path towards the future of disease modeling and treatment testing directly in patients’ cells. Specifically for evaluating new, experimental treatments to Alzheimer’s, a leading cause of dementia, stem cells generated from patient samples can be turned into brain cells to afford scientists the capacity to look at patients’ neurons without disrupting patients’ lives. The WSJ article also notes a paper featured in The Lancet co-authored by scientific advisor to NYSCF Mahendra Rao on the necessity of accelerating stem cell trials for Alzheimer’s disease.
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NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Ravindra Majeti studies cancer stem cells in leukemia towards creating high quality and patient-specific treatments. Dr. Majeti, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, and Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University, published a paper in Cell Stem Cell focusing on mutations in proteins identified in leukemias. These proteins, cohesins, play important roles in separating chromosomes during cell division and aid in DNA damage repair. Dr. Majeti’s recent study finds mutant cohesins block blood stem and progenitor cells from differentiation. The mutant cohesins associate with DNA and impair generation of new blood cells. Understanding the roles of aberrant molecules in disease gives researchers the power to create therapies to potentially reverse adverse conditions.
NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Vanessa Ruta examined how the brains of fruit flies pass signals from odors to different behavioral pathways. Dr. Ruta, Rockefeller University, shows in her latest paper featured in Cell that the mushroom body, a pair of structures in insect brains, acts as a ‘switchboard’ to relay sensory information to different neuronal networks based on the fruit fly’s previous experience and context. Ruta’s Rockefeller University group of researchers concludes that a single olfactory input can manifest in various behaviors based on individual neurons receiving and passing information to different networks. The study uses imaging technology and electrophysiology to understand what happens between neurons at synapses to make sense of how fruit fly brains process odors.