December 21, 2015

2015 Research Highlights — Promising Medical Advances

Findings with Potential for Enhancing Human Health

With NIH support, scientists across the United States and the world conduct wide-ranging research to improve the health of our nation. Groundbreaking NIH-funded research often receives top scientific honors. In 2015, these honors included 3 NIH-supported Nobel Prize winners and 2 NIH-funded recipients of top awards from the Lasker Foundation. Here’s just a small sampling of the research accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2015.

Full 2015 NIH Research Highlights List

Ebola research advances quickly

Researchers at NIH and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that an investigational Ebola vaccine called VSV-ZEBOV was safe and produced robust antibody responses in healthy adults. The vaccine is 1 of 2 experimental Ebola vaccines now being tested in a clinical trial in Liberia. Other scientists reported that a newly designed agent was effective in treating monkeys infected with Ebola virus. The therapy is being evaluated in Sierra Leone in infected people.

Progress in fighting HIV

Even as researchers continue to refine current AIDS treatments, NIH-funded teams are making significant progress on other fronts. An experimental HIV immunotherapy reduced HIV levels in infected people for as long as 28 days. Scientists created a compound that could protect animals against a wider range of HIV strains than any previous approaches. And 3 research teams achieved important steps needed to create an effective vaccine against HIV.

Devices assess cancer drugs in tumors

Although numerous drugs are available to treat cancers, determining which ones to use in which patients can be challenging. Two devices, developed independently, can gauge how tumors will respond to various drugs. With further development, these technologies could help doctors determine the ideal treatment for each person’s particular cancer.

Molecule proves key to brain repair after stroke

Scientists found that a molecule known as growth and differentiation factor 10 (GDF10) plays a key role in repair mechanisms following stroke. The findings advance our knowledge of how the brain heals itself from the devastating effects of stroke and may also help guide efforts to develop new therapeutic strategies to promote stroke recovery.

Antibiotic combinations may combat MRSA infections

MRSA has evolved from a controllable nuisance into a serious public health concern. Researchers showed that a trio of antibiotics that had become powerless against MRSA decades ago were effective in infected mice when used together. Although more testing is needed, the results suggest that combinations of already-approved antibiotics might add to our options to combat MRSA infections.

Bone risks linked to genetic variants

Over 10 million people nationwide have osteoporosis, in which bones become susceptible to fracture. A large-scale genomic study—involving data from over a half million people—uncovered novel genetic variants and led researchers to an unexpected gene that affects bone density and fracture risk. The results provide insights into the genetics underlying osteoporosis and may lead to new ways to prevent bone loss and fractures.

Allergy drug treats hepatitis C in mice

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Many who become infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are unable to rid the virus from their bodies. Researchers screened a comprehensive library of approved drugs for anti-HCV activity and found a common over-the-counter allergy drug that lowered HCV levels in infected mice. The drug is currently being tested in patients with chronic hepatitis C.

Repairing nerve pathways with 3-D printing

Treatment for damage to peripheral nerves, which extend from the brain and spinal cord out to the rest of the body, is often challenging. Scientists used 3-D printing to create custom scaffolds that helped damaged rat nerves regenerate and improved the animals’ ability to walk. With further development, the technique might be used to create a range of scaffolds to aid tissue regeneration.