Research Round-up: Week 0

Amedra Basgaran 6 October 2014

1. A novel target for pancreatic cancer therapy

The Vitamin D receptor has recently been highlighted to be a novel target in enhancing pancreatic cancer therapy, by suppressing pancreatitis. Pancreatic cancer is commonly known to be one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the UK, due to its late symptoms, diagnosis and thus treatment. Hence the international team of scientists from Japan, Austrailia, USA and the Cambridge Cancer Research UK Institute have been pioneering efforts into finding treatments for this aggressive cancer. Prior research has shown pancreatic cancer cells to be in an activated state with drug resistance. The recent work has found that treatment with the vitamin D receptor ligand, calcipotriol, induces cells into a quiescent state allowing increased entry of chemotherapeutic drugs, with a 57% increase in survival compared to chemotherapy alone. The research into vitamin D priming is an exciting possibility as an adjunct to pancreatic cancer therapy.

2. Clear skies on a Neptune-sized exoplanet

 A group of international Astronomers , including those at the University of Cambridge, have come together to discover clear skies and water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. The majority of small, warm planets have atmospheres composed of heavy molecular weight atoms, opaque clouds or scattering hazes; thus making it difficult to observe the composition of these atmospheres. However, the exoplanet, HAT-P-11b, located 120 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus, is now the smallest ever planet with an atmosphere that is accessible for observation. This accessibility could mean great things for the field of astronomy according to John Grusnfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate: “This discovery is milepost on the road to eventually searching for molecules in the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth.”

3. ‘CALM’ protein sheds light on pathology of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is known to be the most common form of dementia, with an estimated 850,000 people currently living in the UK with some form of the disease. The protein ‘CALM’ was previously known to be associated with the disease through genome-wide association studies, but its specific contribution was not known. Now scientists at the University of Cambridge and in the US, have published a paper showing the ‘CALM’ protein to modulate cell self-destruction, autophagy, and clearance of the protein tau, which is causatively linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Kevin Moreau, from the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Cambridge, comments on these findings as providing “a plausible mechanistic link between CALM and Alzheimer's disease pathology via autophagy dysregulation. One key question remains: is the CALM locus associated with Alzheimer's disease increased or decreased CALM function?” Hence, by finding more about proteins like ‘CALM’ that are linked to the accumulation of protein tau, scientists can slowly reveal more about the pathology of the disease; baby-steps in the path to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.