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Unlocking Food Craving

Unlocking Food Craving—The nucleus accumbens (NAc), a part of the brain associated with motivation and reward, may hold a key to understanding why people crave high-calorie foods. In a study published online on March 27 in eLife, Saleem M. Nicola, Ph.D., and his graduate student Kevin Caref found that the NAc’s naturally occurring opioids and opioid receptors activate neurons, which then promote the desire to eat palatable foods after animals reach satiety. In a series of trials, Dr. Nicola trained satiated and non-satiated rats to respond to cues indicating they’re about to receive high-fat food. He observed that the opioid system enhanced neuronal activity—and the desire to eat fatty foods—only in rats that were not hungry. The findings suggest that drugs that block the opioid receptors from stimulating neurons could potentially treat obesity. Dr. Nicola is an associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein.

Monday, April 23, 2018
Early Programming of Childhood Obesity

Early Programming of Childhood Obesity—More than one-third of U.S. children are classified as overweight or obese. Studies show that children born underweight are at higher risks for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers believe that one cause of obesity involves changes in the nongenetic (i.e., epigenetic) influences on gene expression—in particular, changes in the pattern of DNA methylation. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development has awarded Maureen Charron, Ph.D., and Mamta Fuloria, M.B.B.S., a five-year, $3.4 million grant to study DNA methylation of blood cells of intrauterine growth restricted infants, who are at high risk for becoming obese. More specifically, Drs. Charron and Fuloria will examine the children’s blood at birth and at age two to determine how DNA methylation has affected their CD3+ T-cells--immune cells that plays a key role in the development of obesity. Dr. Charron is professor of biochemistry, of medicine, and of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Einstein. Dr. Fuloria is an associate professor of pediatrics at Einstein. (1R01HD092533-01A1)

Friday, April 20, 2018
New Approaches Against Zika Infection

New Approaches Against Zika Infection—The number of mosquito-borne Zika virus infections in humans are expected to increase, and drugs for protecting people are urgently needed.  In a study published online on March 23 in Virology, Felipe Diaz-Griffero, Ph.D., describes a family of therapeutic agents that halts the virus’ entry into cells. Theorizing that Zika requires a cellular protein called AXL to attach to cells, Dr. Diaz-Griffero found that cells in which the gene for AXL was deleted were resistant to infection. The drugs may also thwart Zika infection through a second mechanism: by neutralizing acidic compartments within the cells. This group of drugs could potentially treat people infected with Zika and thereby help prevent the well-established neurological problems associated with Zika. Dr. Diaz-Griffero is professor of microbiology & immunology and the Elsie Wachtel Faculty Scholar at Einstein.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Boosting T Cells’ Attack

Boosting T Cells’ Attack—Cell-membrane molecules called glycolipids help cells recognize one another and play an important part in launching immune responses. One class of glycolipids, called alpha-galactosylceramides, have been used as a drug to activate a portion of the immune system’s T cells and effectively treat cancers in laboratory mice, although so far this has been difficult to achieve in people with cancer. Steven Porcelli, M.D. and colleagues have found that simultaneously making two different chemical changes to the structure of alpha-galactosylceramides renders them more effective at stimulating T cells to attack cancers, especially in experiments that more accurately replicate cancer in humans. Their approach, described online on March 22 in Cell Chemical Biology, is a step toward improving current drugs and creating new immunotherapies for cancer. Dr. Porcelli is professor and chair of microbiology & immunology, professor of medicine and the Murray and Evelyn Weinstock Chair in Microbiology and Immunology at Einstein.

Monday, April 16, 2018
Preventing Diabetes in Men

Preventing Diabetes in Men—Men of color in low-income urban neighborhoods face a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes but are less likely to participate in diabetes prevention programs. To better engage them, Elizabeth Walker, Ph.D., R.N., and colleagues launched the first NIH-funded pilot study of a modified diabetes prevention program tailored to these men with prediabetes. In the 16-week “Power Up for Health” program, based on the National Diabetes Prevention Program, 29 middle-aged men agreed to attend weekly sessions with male lifestyle coaches at five New York City recreation centers. The coaches offered the men support, guidance and motivation for choosing healthier diets and increasing exercise, and researchers monitored their weight loss, lifestyle activities and signs of depression. The findings--published online on March 15 in the American Journal of Men’s Health, alongwith two additional reports (report 1 and report 2) of analyses of the program’s design and participants’ feedback--showed that the 23 men who completed the program lost an average of 9.7 pounds and saw improvements in depressive symptoms, diet and exercise. Dr. Walker and colleagues concluded that “Power Up for Health” shows promise for delaying or preventing type 2 diabetes among men at risk for the disease and that further research is needed with a larger sample size of men. Dr. Walker is professor of medicine and of epidemiology & population health, and is director for the pilot and feasibility program of the New York Regional Center for Diabetes Translation Research (CDTR) at Einstein.

Friday, April 13, 2018
Turning Back the Clock

Turning Back the Clock—Aging is usually accompanied by cellular and organ deterioration, due in part to key cellular maintenance pathways that no longer work properly. One such pathway is chaperone-mediate autophagy (CMA), responsible for selectively degrading used proteins so they don’t impair cell function. Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., has received a five-year, $2.2 million NIH grant to study CMA activity in different organs to better understand why CMA efficiency degradation tails off in elderly people. Interventions that could rev up CMA could potentially slow down the aging process and delay the onset of age-related problems such as neurodegeneration, metabolic disorders and muscle weakness. Dr. Cuervo is professor of developmental and molecular biology, of anatomy and structural biology, and of medicine. She is co-director of the Institute for Aging Research and holds the Robert and Renée Belfer Chair for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases at Einstein. (4R37AG021904-17)

Thursday, April 12, 2018
Insights Into Antibody Creation and Cancer

Insights Into Antibody Creation and Cancer—The immune system relies on mutations in genes that code for antibodies to produce the wide variety of antibodies that protect us against pathogens. The enzyme causing these mutations, activation-induced deaminase (AID), sometimes mutates other genes as well, leading to B-cell lymphoma and other cancers. Matthew Scharff, M.D., and Thomas MacCarthy, Ph.D., from Stony Brook University, were awarded a five-year, $2.9 million National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Multiple Principle Investigator grant to determine how AID targets specific regions within antibody genes. Using computational modeling of antibody gene sequences and biological experiments, the team will identify DNA signatures within antibody-coding genes that attract AID activity. Learning more about the mechanisms underlying antibody diversification could lead to strategies for producing protective antibodies in patients. In addition, understanding how AID induces gene mutations could help to identify factors that put people at risk for cancer. Dr. Scharff is a distinguished professor of cell biology and of medicine and holds the Harry Eagle Chair in Cancer Research/National Women’s Division. Dr. MacCarthy is assistant professor of applied mathematics and statistics at Stony Brook University, who did his postdoctoral training with Dr. Aviv Bergman at Einstein. (1R01AI132507-01A1)

Monday, March 26, 2018
Strategies to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic

Strategies to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic—Widespread use and misuse of prescription opioids has led to a nationwide opioid epidemic. Better public health policies and strategies are needed to address the crisis. Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S., treats and studies both chronic pain and addiction. Dr. Starrels has received a five-year, $943,000 NIH grant to mentor junior investigators to conduct research that will improve patient care and public policy approaches to curb the opioid epidemic. For example, she will study how best to reduce opioid doses for patients with chronic pain who are treated in primary care or HIV treatment settings. Dr. Starrels is associate professor of medicine and attending physician at Montefiore Health System. (1K24DA046309-01)

Thursday, March 22, 2018
Mechanisms in Diabetic Bone Loss

Mechanisms in Diabetic Bone Loss —Diabetes affects the way sensory fibers in bones receive mechanical and neural signals. That means bone mass doesn’t increase as it normally does in response to mechanical stimulation. With a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Mia M. Thi, Ph.D., and Sylvia O. Suadicani, Ph.D.,  will build on previous research suggesting that the protein complex Panx1-P2X7R influences bones’ ability to receive and respond to signals. They will examine whether diabetes affects the bones’ sensory fibers; if regulating Panx1-P2X7R is essential for bone adaptation; and if dysfunction of this protein complex triggers inflammation that impairs bone growth. Using animal models of type 1 diabetes, they will investigate new treatments for stemming diabetic bone loss. Dr. Thi is an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and an instructor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience. Dr. Suadicani is associate professor of urology and is an assistant professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience. (1R01AR073475-01)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Visual Clutter and Impaired Vision

Visual Clutter and Impaired Vision—Visual crowding—clutter’s interference with our ability to recognize individual objects—can be a significant problem for people with macular degeneration and other eye diseases. Adam Kohn, Ph.D., has received a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Eye Institute to determine the neural underpinnings of visual crowding. In research using monkeys and focusing on the brain’s visual cortex, Dr. Kohn will examine how crowded visual displays affect the ability of nerves to absorb sensory information. His findings may lead to better therapies for the impaired central vision that characterizes macular degeneration. Dr. Kohn is professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of ophthalmology and visual sciences and systems & computational biology. (1R01EY028626-01)

Friday, March 09, 2018
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