Monthly Archives: December 2010

Mouse Brain Connectome

30 nanometers at a slice – CAMBRIDGE, Mass — Dr. Jeff Lichtman likes his brains sliced thin — very, very thin.

Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain’s complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.

Rest at NYTimes.com

Melanoma research

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a gene linked to the spread of eye melanoma.

Although more research is needed, the researchers say the discovery is an important step in understanding why some tumors spread (metastasize) and others don’t. They believe the findings could lead to more effective treatments.

Reporting online in the journal Science Express, the team found mutations in a gene called BAP1 in 84 percent of the metastatic eye tumors they studied. In contrast, the mutation was rare in tumors that did not metastasize.

Metastasis is the most common cause of death in cancer patients, yet little is known about how cancer cells evolve the ability to spread to other parts of the body. There is growing evidence that mutations in so-called metastasis suppressor genes may promote the spread of cancer, while having little to do with earlier stages in the life of a tumor. Very few such genes have been identified, but this finding strongly implicates BAP1 as a new member of that small group.

“Scientists and physicians have been waiting for a rational, therapeutic target that we could use to treat high-risk patients,” says first author and Washington University ophthalmologist J. William Harbour, MD. “We believe this discovery may provide insights needed to hasten the development of therapies for these patients.”

Rest at Washington U

The Synthetic Bio Report

A presidential commission has released a report that recommends White House level oversight of US research in synthetic biology – but it stops short of calling for new laws or changes to existing regulations that govern the nascent field, whether in university labs or do-it-yourselfers’ garages.

It also claims to navigate a middle road between unbridled experimentation and a regulatory straightjacket that could stifle the most promising applications of synthetic biology, from malaria medicine to biofuels.

“The Commission endorses neither a moratorium on synthetic biology until all risks are identified and mitigated, nor unfettered freedom for scientific exploration,” writes the 13-member Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, in its report released on 16 December.

Rather, the commission writes, the field can proceed responsibly by embracing “an ongoing process of prudent vigilance that carefully monitors, identifies, and mitigates potential and realized harms over time”.  Rest at Nature