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January 21, 2015

In Brief

Discovery may explain why we gain weight

overweight woman on a scale

Rochester researchers believe they’re on track to solve the mystery of weight gain. They discovered that a protein, Thy1, has a fundamental role in controlling whether a primitive cell decides to become a fat cell, making Thy1 a possible therapeutic target, according to a study published online by the FASEB Journal.

The research brings a new, biological angle to a problem that’s often viewed as behavioral, says lead author Richard Phipps, the Wright Family Research Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and professor of ophthalmology.

Although Thy1 was discovered 40 years ago and has been studied in other contexts, its true molecular function has never been known. Phipps’s laboratory reported for the first time that expression of the protein is lost during the development of fat cells, suggesting obesity could be treated by restoring Thy1.

They’re also working toward developing an anti-obesity drug and have applied for an international patent to protect the invention. The University is trying to identify a company to help commercialize the discovery and bring a new obesity treatment to the marketplace.

“Our goal is to prevent or reduce obesity and in this paper we’ve shown how to do this in principle,” says Phipps. “We believe that weight gain is not necessarily just a result of eating more and exercising less. Our focus is on the intricate network involved in fat cell development.”

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4218.

Medical Center tests HIV vaccine pill

Medical Center researchers are testing a new oral vaccine to prevent infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The vaccine is unique because it is given as a pill, unlike most HIV vaccines tested to date that have been given as shots.

The vaccine is made of a live virus called adenovirus, a common cause of respiratory and gastroenteritis infections. The particular type of virus proposed in the study rarely causes any symptoms in adults and has been weakened to further reduce the risk of people getting sick. It contains a protein that prompts the body to make an immune response against HIV. The study vaccine is not made from actual HIV.

Researchers hope that the oral vaccine will create a more robust immune response against HIV.

“We think that an oral approach may be the way to create a more effective vaccine and I’m sure that most people would rather get a vaccine in a pill rather than by yet another shot,” says Michael Keefer, professor of medicine and director of the University’s NIH-supported HIV Vaccine Trials Unit.

John Treanor, professor of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Strong Memorial Hospital is leading the study with support from Keefer, who has more than 20 years of experience in the preventive HIV vaccine field. They will monitor how people’s immune systems respond to the vaccine and if the vaccine causes any symptoms.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4232.

Technique helps predict how vision recovers after brain tumor removal

An interdisciplinary team of University neuroscientists and neurosurgeons has used a new imaging technique to show how the human brain heals itself in just a few weeks following surgical removal of a brain tumor.

In a study featured on the cover of Science Translational Medicine, the team found that recovery of vision in patients with pituitary tumors is predicted by the integrity of myelin—the insulation that wraps around connections between neurons—in the optic nerves.

“Before the study, we weren’t able to tell patients how much, if at all, they would recover their vision after surgery,” says David Paul, an MD at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, and first author of the study.

Paul and his colleagues used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to show how changes in a particular bundle of nerve fibers relate to vision changes in patients.

“DTI measures how water spreads in tissue,” says senior author Bradford Mahon, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences and of neurosurgery. “The myelin insulation normally prevents water from spreading within the nerves, which would cause the nerves to malfunction.”

“This kind of research will create novel treatments to fix broken nervous systems,” says Brad Berk, director of the Rochester Neurorestorative Institute. “Harnessing new technologies to help us understand how the brain repairs itself and restores function and how we can accelerate that process will be one of the keys to restoring neurological function in a wide range of conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and traumatic brain injury.”

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4219.

Blows to head damage brain’s ‘garbage truck’

A study by Rochester researchers in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that traumatic brain injury can disrupt the function of the brain’s waste removal system. When that occurs, toxic proteins may accumulate in the brain, setting the stage for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“We know that traumatic brain injury early in life is a risk factor for the early development of dementia in the decades that follow,” says Maiken Nedergaard, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine and senior author of the article. “This study shows that these injuries set into motion a cascading series of events that impair the brain’s ability to clear waste, allowing proteins like tau to spread throughout the brain and eventually reach toxic levels.”

The findings are the latest in a series of new insights that are fundamentally changing the way scientists understand neurological disorders. The discoveries are possible due to a study published in 2012 in which Nedergaard and her colleagues described a previously unknown system of waste removal that is unique to the brain and which researchers have dubbed the glymphatic system.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4213.

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