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Two Grants Focus on Early Dementia

Two Grants Focus on Early Dementia—Joe Verghese, M.B.B.S., has been awarded two NIH grants totaling $5 million to pursue his research into diagnosing cognitive impairment at an early and potentially treatable stage.
     Cognitive impairment related to dementia is underdiagnosed, even though tests are available for assessing it. The missed diagnoses—especially common among African Americans and Hispanics—cause delays in providing vital support services. One of Dr. Verghese’s two NIH awards is a five-year, $3.8 million grant to develop and validate a low-cost, five-minute cognitive screening test that can be readily administered by non-clinicians after minimal training. The test will be accompanied by a decision tree aimed at helping providers identify and care for multi-ethnic primary care populations at high risk for developing dementia. It will be assessed at Montefiore Medical Group primary care clinics. (1UG3NS105565-01)
     Dr. Verghese’s second NIH award is a five-year, $1.2 million grant to investigate the biological underpinnings of Motoric Cognitive Risk Syndrome (MCR), which Dr. Verghese and a group of international collaborators recently described. People diagnosed with MCR have trouble thinking and walk slowly—an indication that they’re at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Previous studies found that certain interventions can counteract the syndrome, suggesting that treating MCR may prevent it from progressing to more serious disease.
     Dr. Verghese’s MCR research involves more than 10,000 older participants divided into eight cohorts based in five countries: the U.S., Canada, France, India, Japan and Australia. He and his colleagues will evaluate likely biomarkers of MCR, including peripheral inflammation and oxidative stress, along with physiological mechanism that drive the condition.
     Dr. Verghese is professor and division chief of geriatrics, department of medicine; and director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain. (1R56AG057548-01)

Monday, November 20, 2017
Explaining Cerebral Malaria

Explaining Cerebral Malaria—In cerebral malaria, the Plasmodium falciparum parasite breaks down the blood-brain barrier and causes fatal brain swelling. But how the parasite causes disease in the brain is not well understood. In a study published online on October 26 in Cell Host & Microbe, lead author Anne Kessler, Ph.D., and colleagues describe a possible mechanism for disease pathogenesis. Using data from eye exams, blood work and MRIs of infected children, the researchers found that the parasites were most likely to cause cerebral malaria when infected red blood cells express parasite proteins that bound to host proteins vital for maintaining a healthy blood brain barrier. The severity of cerebral malaria also correlates with low platelet counts suggesting that both parasite proteins and host platelets work together to damage the host. Senior author Kami Kim, M.D., supervised this research while at Einstein and is now at the University of South Florida.

Friday, November 17, 2017
Regulating Breast Cancer Metastasis

Regulating Breast Cancer Metastasis—Cancer cells produce protrusions called invadopodia that weaken the surrounding extracellular matrix and help the cancer cells spread. The signaling mechanisms that control invadopodia functioning are not fully known. In a study published online on October 23 in The Journal of Cell Biology, Louis Hodgson, Ph.D., and colleagues studied the role of the protein-coding gene Rac3 in a mouse model of breast cancer. They found that Rac3 protein is part of a signaling pathway that regulates breast cancer metastasis by controlling the invadopodia’s ability to stick to and degrade the extracellular matrix. Rac3-dependent signaling helps balance matrix breakdown with cell adhesion to optimize invasion and metastasis by breast cancer cells. Dr. Hodgson is associate professor of anatomy and structural biology and in the Gruss-Lipper Biophotonics Center.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Better Assays for Aging Rodents

Better Assays for Aging Rodents—Rodents are useful for studying aging and longevity, but they’re often housed under artificial conditions that differ greatly from the actual challenges faced by people as they age. Now, the National Institute on Aging has awarded Derek M. Huffman, Ph.D., a five-year, $1.7 million grant to develop a quick and simple battery of tests to measure rodents’ response to age-related conditions such as elective surgery, radiation exposure and infections. For researchers who use rodents to study aging, Dr. Huffman’s work should help them better gauge whether their findings accurately reflect healthy aging in humans. Dr. Huffman is an assistant professor of medicine and molecular pharmacology, and is co-director of the Chronobiosis and Energetics/Metabolism of Aging Core (CEAC) at Einstein. (1R01AG057429-01)

Monday, November 13, 2017
Getting Ahead of Metastasis

Getting Ahead of Metastasis—Ninety percent of breast cancer-related deaths occur because the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to other parts of the body. Einstein researchers have identified a biomarker for metastasis called “Tumor Microenvironment of Metastasis,” or TMEM, consisting of three different types of cells found together in a tumor. In a paper published on November 8 online in npj Breast Cancer, the researchers assessed TMEM scores for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative early stage breast cancer. They found that high “TMEM scores” (many TMEM sites per volume of tissue) predicted that the cancer was likely to spread.  The ability to predict metastasis could lead to more effective treatments for patients. The study’s first author is Joseph Sparano, M.D., professor of medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health.

Thursday, November 09, 2017
Investigating Poor Cancer Outcomes in Hispanics

Investigating Poor Cancer Outcomes in Hispanics—Using national and local patient cohorts, Einstein-Montefiore researchers in the Division of Hemato-Oncology compared white and Hispanic patients diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and found that Hispanics present with AML at younger ages and have shorter survival than whites. In addition, Hispanic AML patients had an increased frequency of high-risk cancer mutations compared with whites. The findings, published online on October 26 in Blood Advances, suggest that the greater frequency of high-risk mutations among Hispanics may explain their worse AML outcomes compared with whites. The study’s senior author is Ioannis Mantzaris, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and attending physician at Montefiore Medical Center.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017
A Cellular Cocktail for Growth

A Cellular Cocktail for Growth—The mix of nutrients and growth factors used to maintain cell cultures are crucial for proper cell growth and proliferation. Yet researchers know surprisingly little about how the composition of cell culture media can affect certain cell processes. In a study published online on September 18 in PLOS ONE, John Murray, Ph.D., and colleagues report that culture medium solutes including potassium and sodium are vital for maintaining proper trafficking of subcellular compartments. Using time lapse multi-channel fluorescent imaging, Dr. Murray’s team showed that briefly exposing cells to culture media depleted of those solutes strongly inhibited the activity of intracellular motor proteins. The role played by each culture component in maintaining processes that depend on motor proteins may need to be re-evaluated, the researchers conclude. Dr. Murray is instructor anatomy and structural biology.

Monday, October 30, 2017
Decoding the Molecular Basis of Dyskeratosis Congenita

Decoding the Molecular Basis of Dyskeratosis Congenita—Dyskeratosis congenita (DC) is a rare inherited disease that leaves bone marrow unable to produce sufficient blood cells, often leading to premature death. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute awarded U. Thomas Meier, Ph.D., a four-year, $2.38 million grant to investigate the cellular impact of DC. The researchers will focus on mutations in the gene coding for the enzyme NAP57/dyskerin; these mutations are associated with about half of all DC cases. The research may lead to therapies for DC. Dr. Meier is professor of anatomy and structural biology. (1R01HL136662-01)

Friday, October 20, 2017
Unlocking Another Key to Aging

Unlocking Another Key to Aging—Transposons, also known as “jumping genes,” are DNA sequences that move from one location in the genome to another. Transposons are thought to contribute to aging, but their actual role remains to be clarified. The National Institute on Aging has awarded Julie Secombe, Ph.D., a five-year, $1.69 million grant to study whether transposons influence aging. So far, research on transposons and aging has been limited by available techniques. Dr. Secombe and her team will use novel methods to analyze the genomes of single cells. They will also focus on the role of Myc, a transcription factor (i.e., a protein regulating gene expression) known to affect aging in model organisms. By determining interconnections among Myc transposons that contribute to aging, the team may develop strategies for suppressing this activity and, ultimately, improve human longevity. Dr. Secombe is associate professor of genetics and is associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience. (1R01AG053269-01A1)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Investigating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Investigating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—The NIH has established four new centers for mylagic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which affects more than one million Americans. There is no treatment and no laboratory test to diagnose the disease, which is characterized by profound fatigue that does not improve with rest and may include cognitive dysfunction and pain. Now, John Greally, M.B., B.Ch., Ph.D., has been awarded a five-year, $2.17 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to lead a subproject core at the center based at Columbia’s Mailman School for Public Health. The Einstein lab has access to blood samples from newly diagnosed and existing ME/CFS patients and will look for transcriptional changes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells—a type of immune cell shown by previous studies to function abnormally in ME/CFS patients. Dr. Greally is a clinical geneticist at Montefiore and professor of genetics, of medicine and of pediatrics and is director of the Center for Epigenomics at Einstein. (1U54AI138370)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
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