Category: School of Medicine

Researchers Race to Develop Field Tests to Confirm Ebola

August 18th, 2014 in 2014, Bloomberg, Ebola, John Connor, NEIDL, Newsmakers, School of Medicine 0 comments

John Connor, School of Medicine, NEIDL

It took three days recently for a New York City hospital to determine that a patient with Ebola-like symptoms didn’t have the deadly virus…

Expert quote:

“We now have the basic architecture to build the devices to test. We’re working as fast as we can to make it a reality.”

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Doctor, Parental Assumptions Can Delay Delivery of HPV Vaccine, Study Says

August 18th, 2014 in 2014, Blogs, Boston Magazine, Newsmakers, Rebecca Perkins, RESEARCH @ BU, School of Medicine 0 comments

Boston Magazine “Hub Health Blog”
Rebecca Perkins, School of Medicine

Talking with your kids about sex can be awkward for all involved, but new research from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) suggests that not talking about it may be even worse…

Expert quote:

“Emphasis on cancer prevention and concurrent administration with other routine childhood vaccines has the potential to dramatically reduce missed opportunities occurring among well-intentioned providers and parents.”

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The science of baseball draws crowd

August 17th, 2014 in 2014, Boston Herald, Newsmakers, Robert Stern, School of Medicine 0 comments

robert-stern-300x300Boston Herald
Robert Stern, School of Medicine

The fourth annual “Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball” has become a late-summer staple in these parts…

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Exercise Associated with Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer in African American Women

August 15th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments


Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480,

(Boston)—Regular exercise, including brisk walking, is associated with a decrease in the incidence of breast cancer in African American women. In a recently published study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center found strong evidence linking physical exercise to a lower rate of breast cancer in African American women, a group in which previous evidence has been lacking.

In a large prospective study of the health of black women, the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS), researchers collected information about exercise habits, such as time spent exercising per week and type of exercise. They followed more than 44,000 African American women over a span of 16 years and observed whether they developed breast cancer.

They found that women who exercised vigorously for seven or more hours each week were 25 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, compared to those who exercised less than one hour each week. Examples of vigorous activity include basketball, swimming, running and aerobics. The results were similar if women walked briskly, but there was no benefit for walking at normal pace. The results did not differ by the estrogen receptor status of the breast cancer

Lynn Rosenberg, ScD, professor of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health and principal investigator of the Black Women’s Health Study, states, “Although expert review panels have accepted a link between physical exercise and breast cancer incidence, most study participants have been white women. This is the first large scale study to support that vigorous exercise may decrease incidence of breast cancer in African American women.”

Funding for this study was provided by the National Cancer Institute (grants CA058420 and UM1 CA164974).

Researchers Identify a Mechanism That Stops Progression of Abnormal Cells Into Cancer

August 15th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480,

(Boston)– Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) report that a tumor suppressor pathway, called the Hippo pathway, is responsible for sensing abnormal chromosome numbers in cells and triggering cell cycle arrest, thus preventing progression into cancer.

Although the link between abnormal cells and tumor suppressor pathways—like that mediated by the well known p53 gene—has been firmly established, the critical steps in between are not well understood.  According to the authors, whose work appears in Cell, this work completes at least one of the missing links.

Normal human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, but this number doubles to 46 pairs as a cell prepares to divide. At the end of a normal cell division cycle, these chromosomes evenly divide to produce two identical cells with 23 pairs of chromosomes each. Sometimes, however, errors occur during division and cells fail to divide properly, resulting in giant cells with double the number of chromosomes, known as a tetraploid cells. Normally, p53 dependent pathways stop these tetraploid cells from proliferating. This response is critical because those tetraploid cells that escape detection can facilitate cancer development: Recent studies suggest that as many as 40% of all solid tumors have passed through a tetraploid stage at some point during their development. Thus, there has been great interest in understanding how a cell “knows” it has a tetraploid complement of chromosomes and is in need of tumor suppression.

Using a technique known as genome-wide screening, the scientists systematically depleted every human gene from tetraploid cells in order to discover which ones were important to prevent proliferation.  They found that when one specific gene, LATS2, was eliminated, the arrested tetraploid cells resumed proliferation, thus demonstrating that LATS2 was an upstream gene responsible for halting abnormal cell division. The LATS2 gene is known to activate the Hippo tumor suppressor pathway, which is the same pathway our bodies use to ensure our vital organs don’t grow out of control. Now, the authors demonstrate that the Hippo pathway also represents the underlying pathway that prevents tetraploid cells from proliferating and causing tumors. “Although more studies are needed to further clarify this critical pathway, this work may help guide the development of new therapies that specifically target tumor cells with abnormal numbers of chromosomes, while sparing the normal healthy cells from which they originated,” explained corresponding author Neil J. Ganem, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine in the Shamim and Ashraf Dahod Breast Cancer Research Laboratories at BUSM.

Funding for this study was provided in part by a K99/R00 from the National Cancer Institute.

Ebola control suffers from lack of fast detection tool

August 15th, 2014 in 2014, Ebola, John Connor, NEIDL, Newsmakers, School of Medicine 0 comments

Connor-150x150USA Today
John Connor, School of Medicine, NEIDL

Early in August, when doctors worried that a patient at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York had Ebola, it took nearly three days to confirm that he didn’t. And that was in one of the richest, most medically advanced cities in the world…

Expert quote:

“The faster you can diagnose, the better chance you have of giving therapy effectively.”

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New Research from Boston and Duke Universities Offers New Hope for HIV Vaccine Development

August 13th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

BUSM Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480,

Duke Contact: Sarah Avery, 919-660-1306,

(Boston)- In a scientific discovery that has significant implications for HIV vaccine development, collaborators at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Duke University School of Medicine have uncovered novel properties of special HIV antibodies. The paper, published in Host Cell and Microbe, describes how some HIV antibodies experience an unusual type of mutation, a phenomenon that allows them to neutralize many different strains of HIV. These antibodies are called “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” or BNAbs.

Antibodies develop from immune cells known as B cells. When B cells are confronted with foreign elements (known as antigens), some of them experience a high rate of mutations resulting in the substitution of an amino acid within the antibody for another. B cells whose antibodies carry variations that allow them to bind tightly with antigens proliferate, whereas those that do not die off. Thus, the immune system is able to adapt constantly by utilizing its own very fast version of evolution. More rarely, the antibodies will experience more dramatic changes than single amino acid substitutions. When whole strings of amino acids are inserted or deleted, this is known as an indel. Less than four percent of human antibodies contain indels; in BNAbs this figure is more than 50 percent. Only a small subset of HIV-infected individuals produce BNAbs.

Comparing the antibody genes of HIV infected and non-infected individuals, scientists discovered that HIV infected individuals had 27 percent more insertions and 23 percent more deletions than non-infected individuals. They also found this elevated rate of mutation persisted in all HIV-infected individuals, regardless of their ability to produce BNAbs. Most importantly, this high rate of indels was due to an overall increase in mutation frequency rather than something special associated with HIV itself, or unusual characteristics of the people who are able to make BNAbs. “This result suggests that a BNAb-eliciting vaccine is possible after all,” explained lead and corresponding author Thomas B. Kepler, PhD, professor of microbiology at BUSM. “More than 80 percent of indels were found in genetic regions responsible for binding to the HIV virus,” he added.

Since the BNAb indels don’t result from special characteristics of the people who make them, the researchers suspected that the indels may be important for the antibody function. They  studied one particular BNAb called CH31, which has a very large indel, to see what role these indels might have played in the acquisition of broad neutralizing activity. They found that the indel was the key event in the development of CH31. According to the researchers just putting the indel into antibodies that did not originally have it, increased its effectiveness eight-fold; taking it away from ones that did have it initially, made them much worse. “When tested on their ability to broadly neutralize HIV, only those CH31 antibodies with indels were able to accomplish the task,” said Kepler.

Barton Haynes, MD, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and senior author noted, The more we understand about the unusual pathway the BNAbs take to develop, the better chance we will have in inducing them. This news study unravels a particularly complex BNAb pathway.”  The great hope in the quest to prevent HIV-1 is the development of a single vaccine that can cover multiple forms of HIV-1. A vaccine that works by eliciting BNAbs is a major goal, and this new work suggest that strategies for such a vaccine should focus on speeding up the antibody evolution that occurs after every immunization. The study suggests that such a strategy could work in everyone, not just a lucky few.

Other institutions involved in this study included the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Sandringham, Johannesburg, South Africa; the Center for AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; the Vaccine Research Center, NIAID, NIH, Bethesda, MD and Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens

August 13th, 2014 in 2014, Blogs, Ebola, NEIDL, Newsmakers, Paul Duprex, School of Medicine 0 comments

Paul-Duprex-300x300NPR “Morning Edition”
Paul Duprex, School of Medicine

A smoldering debate about whether or not researchers should ever deliberately create superflu strains and other risky germs in the interest of science has flared once again…

Expert quote:

“These viruses are out there; they cause disease, they have killed many, many people in the past. We bring them to the laboratory to work with them.”

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A 2-pronged Ebola mission for Boston doctor – Work abroad may have impact at home

August 13th, 2014 in 2014, Boston Globe, Ebola, Nahid Bhadelia, NEIDL, Newsmakers, School of Medicine 0 comments

Bhadelia-256x300Boston Globe (subscription required)
Nahid Bhadelia, School of Medicine

First, she pulls on the surgical gloves. Then, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia climbs into a Tyvek suit resembling baggy white coveralls. Over that, she dons rubber boots, an apron, a gown, and another pair of gloves. Then, she covers her head in a hood with a clear plastic front, strapping the attached air-filtering device to her waist…

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There’s New Hope for an HIV Vaccine

August 12th, 2014 in 2014, Blogs, Boston Magazine, NEIDL, Newsmakers, RESEARCH @ BU, School of Medicine, Thomas Kepler 0 comments

Kepler-T-150x150Boston Magazine “Hub Health Blog”
Thomas Kepler, School of Medicine

Boston University School of Medicine announced a pretty amazing discovery Monday, one that could have what the school is saying to be “significant implications for HIV vaccine development.”…

Expert quote:

“This result suggests that a BNAb-eliciting vaccine is possible after all. More than 80 percent of indels were found in genetic regions responsible for binding to the HIV virus.”

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