December 31, 2012

2012 Research Highlights — Promising Medical Advances

Findings with Potential for Enhancing Human Health

NIH conducts and funds wide-ranging research to improve the nation's health. With NIH support, scientists across the country and around the world uncover basic biomedical advances and conduct the clinical and translational research that transforms discoveries into medical practice. Groundbreaking NIH-funded research often receives top scientific honors. In 2012, these honors included the Nobel Prize in chemistry and several Lasker awards. Here is just a small sampling of the research accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2012.

Oocyte.

Egg-Producing Stem Cells Found in Women

Researchers long believed that women are born with a fixed number of young egg cells, or oocytes, that must last through their reproductive years. NIH-supported scientists were able to isolate egg-producing stem cells from the ovaries of women and observe these cells giving rise to oocytes. The finding may point the way toward improved treatments for female infertility. PubMed Abstract »

Woman holding a crumpled tissue.

Antibodies Protect Against Range of Flu Viruses

Scientists isolated antibodies that protect mice against a variety of lethal influenza B viruses. One of them also guards against influenza A viruses. A universal influenza vaccine—one effective against multiple strains for several years—would have an enormous impact on public health. This NIH-funded accomplishment points the way toward approaches to combat all influenza A and B viruses. PubMed Abstract »

Confocal micrograph of several cells.

Neighbors Help Cancer Cells Resist Treatment

Drugs designed to target unique tumor proteins hold great promise for cancer treatment. However, many tumors become resistant to treatment over time. NIH-supported researchers showed that surrounding cells can help tumors develop resistance to drugs. The finding may change the way researchers approach the treatment of many cancers. PubMed Abstract »

Human eye.

Retinal Device Restores Sight in Mice

Researchers funded by NIH developed a new prosthetic technique that can restore vision to blind mice. The approach could potentially be further developed to improve sight in blind people. PubMed Abstract »

A young girl.

Clues to Emerging Drug-Resistant Malaria

Malaria kills more than a half million people and infects over 200 million each year. An international team of scientists reported that a first-line treatment for malaria is losing its effectiveness in parts of Asia. They also found regions of the parasite’s genome that seem to underlie its drug resistance. The NIH-supported studies may offer clues to help block the spread of hard-to-treat malaria.
PubMed Abstract: Emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria on the western border of Thailand: a longitudinal study »
PubMed Abstract: A major genome region underlying artemisinin resistance in malaria »

pill box.

Organ Transplants Without Life-Long Drugs

An experimental method allowed kidney transplant recipients to eventually stop taking harsh immune-suppressing medications, even though they’d received mismatched organs. The findings from this NIH-supported study may one day reduce the need for anti-rejection drugs and lead to more options for patients awaiting organ transplants. PubMed Abstract »

Confocal micrograph of green and pink patches of cells.

Implanted Heart Cells Stifle Irregular Rhythms

Heart cells derived from human stem cells can protect injured guinea pig hearts against abnormal rhythms, according to a study partly funded by NIH. Similar heart cell transplants might one day hold promise for treating damaged human hearts. PubMed Abstract »

Scanning electron micrograph of cilia.

Gene Therapy Restores Sense of Smell in Mice

Mice that were unable to smell from birth gained the ability to smell when NIH-funded researchers used gene therapy to regrow structures called cilia on cells that detect odor. The approach might one day lead to treatments for related human genetic disorders. PubMed Abstract »