In this issue of our newsletter, we highlight some fascinating scientific discoveries. Scientists at UCL have found that a hunger hormone produced in the gut can directly impact the brain and influence decision-making. UK researchers have also identified a brain pathway in fruit flies responsible for detecting rapid threats, with potential implications for human threat perception. Additionally, researchers at MIT have uncovered how cells remember their identity when they divide, and a study from Northwestern University explores the brain's role in rapid temperature responses. We also feature breakthrough findings in gene therapy for sickle cell disease and discoveries related to Alzheimer's disease, bladder cancer, DNA repair pathways in cancer, obesity, and brain tumor treatment. Read the full issue to stay informed on the latest scientific advancements.
Scientists from UCL have discovered that a hunger hormone produced in the gut can directly impact the brain and influence an animal's decision-making. The study, conducted on mice, found that the hunger hormone can affect the activity of the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for decision-making and memory. The researchers believe that this understanding could help in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, as well as shedding light on the links between diet and mental health.
Scientists Pinpoint Brain's Role in Rapid Temperature Responses
A new study from Northwestern University has identified a brain pathway in fruit flies that is responsible for detecting rapid threats. The research suggests that animals are more likely to react to sudden changes in their environment rather than gradual ones. The study found that flies always responded to rapid temperature changes, but not to slow ones. The team also found a circuit in the fly brain that only responds to rapid temperature change, suggesting that it primes the fly for escape. The findings may have implications for understanding how humans perceive and respond to threats.
Unveiling Cell Division's Secrets
All the cells in our bodies contain the same genetic instructions in their DNA, but different cells only express the genes necessary for their specific function. Scientists have been trying to understand how cells remember what kind of cell they are supposed to be when they divide. A recent study from MIT suggests that the 3D folding of a cell's genome determines which parts of the genome will be marked with chemical modifications. These marks allow cells to maintain their identity and pass it on to future generations. The study also found that the spreading of these marks is similar to the spread of infectious diseases. The researchers hope to further explore the role of epigenetic memory in aging and diseases.
Gene Therapy & Mutations
Gene therapy has shown promise in treating genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease. A recent study, published in Nature Medicine, examined the genetic changes in stem cells before and after gene therapy and compared modified cells to unmodified cells. The researchers found that gene therapy could potentially lead to the growth of stem cells with certain mutations, which could increase the risk of blood cancers. However, the study also suggests that gene therapy may be safer and more effective in younger patients with fewer mutations. Further research is needed to fully understand the risks and refine gene therapy procedures.
Linking Microglia Mutation to Elevated Alzheimer's Risk
Scientists have discovered a genetic mutation that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The mutation affects a protein in the brain's immune cells called microglia, which play a role in clearing harmful debris including the Alzheimer's hallmark protein amyloid beta. The mutation appears to affect the function of microglia, making them more prone to inflammation and less able to respond to neuron injury. The findings may help researchers develop new treatments for Alzheimer's disease.
Unravelling Bladder Cancer Mysteries
Scientists have discovered a new approach to treating metastatic bladder cancer using immunotherapy combinations. Traditionally, chemotherapy has been the primary treatment, but responses have been limited. However, two recent studies have shown that combining immunotherapy with chemotherapy or a new drug called enfortumab vedotin can significantly increase overall survival and progression-free survival. This breakthrough could revolutionize the treatment of advanced bladder cancer. The results of the studies will be published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a scientific journal. Although the treatments are not yet approved for insurance coverage in the Netherlands, they are already available in the US for certain patients. Medical oncologist Michiel van der Heijden, who was involved in both trials, considers this a unique and significant moment for cancer research.
Scientists Discover Key DNA Repair Pathway in Cancers
Our DNA is not invincible; it can break due to natural and environmental factors. Fortunately, our bodies have enzymes and pathways that can repair our broken DNA. However, some cancers can exploit these pathways for their own benefit. Scientists at the University of North Carolina have unraveled a lesser-known DNA repair pathway called polymerase theta-mediated end joining (TMEJ), which is upregulated in certain types of cancer. This new knowledge could potentially lead to the development of drugs that disrupt this pathway in cancer cells, providing more targeted and effective treatment options.
Obesity Linked to Lower Daily Energy Expenditure, Study Finds
New research from Oregon Health & Science University has found that weight can influence how and when our bodies burn energy. The study discovered that people with a healthy weight tend to use more energy during the day, while those with obesity burn more energy at night. This may be due to higher levels of the hormone insulin in those with obesity. The researchers also highlighted the importance of maintaining regular sleeping, eating, and exercise schedules to support the body's natural rhythms.
A Potential Predictor for Brain Tumor Recurrence?
Doctors often use radiation alongside surgery to treat a brain tumor called meningioma. However, radiation can have serious side effects, so it's important to know which patients really need it. Scientists at UC San Francisco and Northwestern Medicine have now found a way to predict the best treatment for patients based on patterns of gene expression in their tumors. By screening tumors using this new approach, the course of treatment for almost 1 in 3 people with meningioma could be changed. This could reduce the need for radiation in some cases and help patients avoid unnecessary side effects.
I hope you enjoyed reading issue #21 of smuklok. I am constantly trying to improve every issue. If you have any feedback, suggestions or criticism for me, please send them to my email at
Sampath Amitash Gadi