December 22, 2008

2008 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 2008.

Photo of an African-American couple walking together - cropped

Gene Variations Linked to Kidney Disease in African Americans

For the first time, researchers have identified genetic variations that are strongly associated with certain kidney diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans. The results of this NIH-funded research may eventually lead to new therapies or diagnostic tools to identify people at higher risk various types of kidney disease. PubMed Abstract »

Illustration of a neuron

Artificial Connections Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

For the first time, scientists have shown that a direct artificial connection from the brain to muscles can restore wrist movement in monkeys whose arms have been temporarily anesthetized. The results of this NIH-funded study have promising implications for prosthetic design, although clinical applications are still probably at least a decade away. PubMed Abstract »

Illustration of 4 strands of DNA in different colors

Genome-Wide Studies Shed Light on Several Disorders

In 2008, NIH-funded scientists identified genetic variations that put people at risk for several common and complex disorders, including breast cancer, gout, lung cancer, schizophrenia, glioblastoma and blood cholesterol and lipid levels. Their successes relied on genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which scan the genomes of large numbers of people to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease. By analyzing hundreds or thousands of genomes, GWAS analyses can detect infrequent but significant links to disease that might be obscured in smaller studies. One NIH-funded GWAS even examined the genetic make-up of smokers. The results suggested that certain genetic variants can affect smokers' chances for successful quitting and may also help determine which type of treatment would be most likely to help them quit.
PubMed Abstract: Genome-wide association study provides evidence for a breast cancer risk locus at 6q22.33 »
PubMed Abstract: Association of three genetic loci with uric acid concentration and risk of gout: a genome-wide association study »
PubMed Abstract: Somatic mutations affect key pathways in lung adenocarcinoma »
PubMed Abstract: Large recurrent microdeletions associated with schizophrenia »
PubMed Abstract: Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications increase risk of schizophrenia »
PubMed Abstract: Comprehensive genomic characterization defines human glioblastoma genes and core pathways »
PubMed Abstract: An integrated genomic analysis of human glioblastoma multiforme »
PubMed Abstract: Newly identified loci that influence lipid concentrations and risk of coronary artery disease »
PubMed Abstract: Molecular genetics of successful smoking cessation: convergent genome-wide association study results »

Computer rendering of a flu virus

Quick New Method Makes Human Antibodies that Fight Flu Virus

Researchers devised a fast new technique for producing human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that can roam the bloodstream to target and destroy infectious microbes. Using the new method, NIH-funded scientists created fully human influenza-fighting antibodies in a matter of weeks, rather than the months typically needed to generate mAbs. PubMed Abstract »

photo of calipers measuring fat

Fat Cell Numbers in Teen Years Linger for a Lifetime

After your teen years, the number of fat cells in your body probably stays the same for the rest of your life, even if you gain or lose weight, according to an NIH-funded study. The fat cells simply get bigger or smaller as your weight changes. The findings may help to explain why it can be so hard for some people to drop pounds and keep them off. PubMed Abstract »

Microscopic worm curled into C shape

Fat Cell Numbers in Teen Years Linger for a Lifetime

NIH-supported scientists identified a molecule that holds promise for treating schistosomiasis, a sometimes-deadly disease that afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide. The new compound, called furoxan, can destroy all 3 major species of the microscopic parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis in humans. Furoxan also blocked all stages of the Schistosoma worm's development in infected mice. PubMed Abstract »

Microscopic image of the herpes virus

Learning How Cold Sore Viruses Hide

Once you’ve been infected with a herpesvirus, like the virus that causes cold sores, it takes up permanent residence in your body, hiding quietly in your nerve cells until the next outbreak. NIH-funded scientists discovered tiny molecules, called microRNAs, that seem to help the cold sore virus stay inactive and protected. The finding may eventually lead to new strategies for treating persistent herpesvirus infections. PubMed Abstract »

Image of brightly colored chromosomal pairs

Map of Structural Variation in the Human Genome

NIH-funded researchers produced the first sequence-based map of “structural” variations in the human genome, including gains, losses and rearrangements of long stretches of DNA. Structural variations have already been linked to HIV susceptibility, coronary heart disease, schizophrenia and autism. The map will help researchers better understand how these variations contribute to human health and disease. PubMed Abstract »