SciTech

Spotlight on biological advances

Quinn Eastman helps oversee Lab Land ( www.emory-lab-land.org), the health science research blog of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University in Atlanta. The blog highlights work being done at the center in heart research, neurology, cancer study and immunology; and stories range from using human progesterone to fight brain cancer to the ways the hearts of young children may be able to regenerate.

Q. Describe the range of health science research you are highlighting on Lab Land – and a little bit about your intended audience.

A. Any intriguing idea emerging from basic or clinical biomedical research happening at Emory. The blog is aimed at people who are somewhat familiar with biological concepts, like undergraduates who are studying science. Or graduate students or science journalists.

Q. What are some of the most exciting advances you’ve recently written about?

A. Here are a few: Neuroscientists found that a mouse can pass on a learned sensitivity to a smell to its offspring. Cardiologists discovered that heart muscle cells in mice grow in a dramatic spurt after birth, with implications for the treatment of congenital heart defects. (It’s been discovered that) some peoples’ brains produce something that acts like a sleeping pill, giving them hypersomnia. It’s not clear what this mysterious brain chemical is.

(And) biomedical engineers are developing ways to prevent therapeutic stem cells from being washed out of the heart.

Q. Does the blog get a reaction from members of the public who read about possible breakthroughs in cancer therapy, for instance, and want to know how they can tap into that for their own treatment?

A. Occasionally – but not as often as I’d like! And I do try to avoid the word “breakthrough” and overhyping incremental advances. I think this is an intriguing trend: that oncologists might be able to exploit cancer cells’ warped metabolism. With a recent post on fine-tuning the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, I was trying to tap into the big following that the drug DCA (dichloroacetate) has on blogs and patient-support groups.

Q. Immunology is a big focus of the blog. What are some of the trends in that field of research?

A. Genomewide approaches, known as systems biology. Immunoengineering, such as cell therapy or adoptive transfer. Bypassing mouse models. Capturing the breadth of human antibody responses to a vaccine or a virus by directly cloning antibody genes.

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