The first article is about limiting radiation damage by inhibiting a specific protein called AIM2:
While it is well known that high levels of radiation (i.e. from cancer treatments) can be damaging to cells and tissues and cause significant injury in bone marrow and the digestive tract, there remains to be controversy regarding what specifically triggers this type of damage at a molecular level. However, a study led by Richard Flavell, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University, may have found an answer to put the controversy to rest. A protein called AIM2 has previously been known for its role in detecting infectious threats, but this recently completed study discovered that it may also play a role in detecting damage in DNA from radiation and cause a particular type of cell death known as pryoptosis. When radiation affects a non-target cell, the DNA breaks but has the ability of coming back together again. With this, however, comes a high possibility of chromosomal abnormalities and mutations, so AIM2 is activated to kill the cell entirely. This could very well be the molecular mechanism for radiation-induced injury. In animals that were lacking AIM2, it was found that the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tracts had no damage and were protected from radiation. While this AIM2 pathway is undoubtedly beneficial in regular situations, as it prevents harmful cells from growing, it may be more damaging than useful in the case of radiation, as the frequent pryoptosis causes significant and occasionally fatal injury to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract.Â The study has suggested that by limiting the activity of AIM2 in radiation therapy, there is a possibility of also limiting the damage done to the bone marrow and digestive tract. Ultimately, drugs that target this pathway could be incredibly useful in radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
In the first clinical application of CRISPR/Cas9, a group is shutting off a protein that, in turn, shuts off the immune response in the hopes of a more robust immune response to cancer:
Researchers from China, led by oncologist Lu You of the Sichuan University in Chengdu, have become the first in the world to inject a person with the CRISPR/Cas9-edited cells. CRISPR/Cas9 is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/ CRISPER Associated protein 9 and is a powerful gene editor that can cut out mutations in a gene and alter the existing gene sequence- a computer-like copy-paste function. Up until now, this technique had only been tested on lab animals but You and his team were given permission to go ahead with the first ever human clinical trial. The teamâ€™s goal is to use this technology as a new cancer treatment method. Starting with an RNA molecule, which matches the DNA sequence of the targeted mutated or broken gene, the RNA guides the enzyme Cas9 to the damaged site where it can snip out the damaged area, repair it or replace it. As cancers are able to thrive due to a lack of active immune cells to fight it off, scientists are hoping to restore immune cells in cancer patients to begin the process of fighting off existing cancers. Youâ€™s team uses this technology to disable a gene responsible for producing a protein called PD-1, which stops a cell from having that vital immune response, cultures these healthy immune cells and will inject them back into their patient. The first injection has already taken place with Youâ€™s team monitoring the cancer patient closely, who is scheduled for their second injection in the near future. This technology is a major breakthrough in the biotechnology field and the scientists are eagerly awaiting the results.
and finally, something a little more fun...rat tickling!
Have you ever tickled a rat before?
If not, you may not know that rats love to be tickled. When tickled, rats emit ultrasonic giggles and will almost literally jump for joy. Researchers at Humboldt University of Berlin used the phenomenon of rats and their love for being tickled to further offer insight into how the brain creates glee.
Researchers simply stuck their hands into the cage of the rats and scribbled their fingers into the ratâ€™s fir. Almost immediately, the tickled rats emitted an ultrasonic 50-kilohertz giggle that even humans cannot here. The rats also followed the researcherâ€™s hands around the cage and jumped for joy. Researchers found that by using laughter as a measurement, that the belly was the most sensitive to tickling.
But how and where is this joyful response created?
Researchers believe that nerve cells from the somatosensory cortex may play a huge role. Past research has showed that this part of the brain is associated with touch perception and in humans is the brain region that responds from the animal being tickled. In this study, electrodes revealed that many nerve cells in the somatosensory cortex of rats became active during tickling, even more so than when the rats underwent a light stroke. Obviously, due to past research, these results were not surprising. However, researchers further found that the nerve cells in the somatosensory cortex were also active when the rats were following the hands of the researchers, not just during physical touch. This shows us that the rats were not just responding from the touch when being tickled, but also at the thought of being tickled! Further, it was found that when using electrodes to stimulate the somatosensory cortex, the rats actually giggled! Anxious rats that were stressed before being tickled were found to respond less and emitted fewer laugh-like vocalizations compared to the calm rats that responded greatly to the tickling, which showed just how mood-dependent tickling really is.
So what? Why are the findings of this experiment important/interesting?
Unlike any other study before, this experiment shows that laughter can result directly from stimulating the somatosensory cortex. This study further leads into the research of the brains involvement in both the sensory aspect of tickling but also its social context and how the brain ultimately creates and maintains happiness.