December 31, 2007

2007 Research Highlights — Promising Medical Advances

Findings with Potential for Enhancing Human Health

NIH has nearly 6,000 NIH staff scientists and supports more than 325,000 researchers with competitive grants to all 50 states, the territories and more than 90 countries around the world. Here's just a small sampling of the accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2007.

Soaking Up Toxic Protein to Stop Alzheimer’s Disease

Scientists used a variant version of a protein called sLRP to soak up a toxic protein from the bloodstream and prevent its buildup in the brains of mice. The toxic protein, called amyloid-beta, forms dense deposits in the brain called plaques that have been linked to the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The NIH-funded researchers studied a strain of mice known to develop Alzheimer-like symptoms. Mice treated with the sLRP variant protein had improved learning and memory, and amyloid-beta plaques in their brains were reduced by about 90%. PubMed Abstract »

New Risk Factors Identified for Type 2 Diabetes

A collaborative effort by 3 international research teams uncovered new clues about why some people develop type 2 diabetes and others don't. The research relied on a relatively new method, called a genome-wide association study, which rapidly and cost effectively analyzes and compares genetic differences between people with and without specific illnesses. The scientists identified 4 new genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes and confirmed 6 other genetic variants previously associated with the disease.
PubMed Abstract: A genome-wide association study of type 2 diabetes in Finns detects multiple susceptibility variants »
PubMed Abstract: Genome-wide association analysis identifies loci for type 2 diabetes and triglyceride levels »
PubMed Abstract: Replication of genome-wide association signals in UK samples reveals risk loci for type 2 diabetes »

Gene Variants That Help Control HIV Infection

The first genome-wide association study of an infectious disease, conducted by an international group of researchers and funded in part by NIH, offered a new understanding of why some people can suppress virus levels following HIV infection. The scientists identified several genetic variants associated with the amount of virus, or viral load, in a patient's bloodstream. Other variants were linked to disease progression. The findings provide new avenues for developing vaccines and improved therapies to fight HIV infection. PubMed Abstract »

Second-Generation Map of Human Genetic Variation

The International HapMap Consortium published analyses of its second-generation map of human genetic variation, which contains more than 3.1 million genetic variants—3 times the number reported in the initial HapMap of 2005. The new HapMap includes DNA data from 4 diverse populations, based in Nigeria, China, Japan and Utah in the United States. The improved HapMap will help researchers find DNA variants that influence the risk of disease and other traits. PubMed Abstract »

Lack of Sleep Disrupts Brain’s Emotional Controls

Experience tells us that sleepless nights can lead to overwrought emotions. Now NIH-funded scientists have a better understanding of why this occurs. Their imaging studies showed that lack of sleep can lead to greater activation of the brain's emotional centers and disrupt the brain circuits that tame emotional responses. The findings suggest that sleep restores the brain's emotional circuits and prepares people for the next day's challenges and social interactions. PubMed Abstract »

HIV’s Potential Weak Spot

Scientists identified a tiny, unchanging region on an AIDS virus protein that may be the key to neutralizing the virus. A multi-site research team, including NIH scientists, used X-ray crystallography to take detailed 3-D snapshots of an antibody grabbing onto this stable viral region, which HIV uses to latch onto and infect T cells. The discovery of this potential viral weak spot could have a profound impact on the development of an AIDS vaccine. PubMed Abstract »

Predicting Future Bird Flu Mutations

To foretell how the avian flu virus might one day jump from birds to humans, NIH scientists have been looking at the molecular shapes of viral molecules to see how they latch onto cells. They found that just 2 mutations to the viral H5 protein could change the shape in a binding region and make it easier for the avian H5N1 virus to latch onto human cells. These studies could help researchers prepare vaccines and therapies against deadly flu viruses before they mutate and begin to spread in the human population. PubMed Abstract »

Stem Cell Treatment Repairs Damaged Rat Hearts

NIH-funded researchers developed a procedure for repairing damaged rat hearts by using cells generated in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. When the human-derived cells were implanted into the damaged hearts of rats, new heart muscle was incorporated into the heart tissue within a month. Further testing showed that the treatment thickened the heart's walls and improved their ability to contract. The accomplishment brings scientists a step closer to a treatment for people who have had heart attacks. PubMed Abstract »