Bioengineers at the University of California San Diego have come up with a novel way of removing dangerous toxins from the bloodstream using biomimetic nanosponges. These tiny clean-up particles work by posing as red blood cells, which serves both to evade the body's immune system response to foreign invaders and to attract the toxins to themselves instead of to actual red blood cells. When the toxins have all attached themselves to the nanosponges, they are processed out through the liver without harming the body. The research into this promising therapy comes out of the Zhang Lab in the Jacobs School of Engineering, where in 2011 they pioneered the red blood cell disguise technology for cloaking cancer drug cocktails, allowing the drugs much more time in the body to target diseased cells. Dr. Liangfang Zhang is also on the research faculty of the UCSD Moores Cancer Center.
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The tighter funding gets, the more likely it is that young investigators pursuing big ideas will get passed over and science grant money will stay with safer, more established projects. Fortunately there are exceptions to that general rule, including a new program established by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation specifically to support select pioneering research projects that aim to unlock fundamental questions in biology. They recently awarded investigators from 5 prestigious US universities a total of $7.5M to pursue basic questions about the origins and mechanisms of cellular behavior. One of those 5 Distinguished Investigator awards, for $1.6M, is going to quantitative biologist and recent hire Suckjoon Jun, who works in physics and molecular biology at the University of California San Diego. His project title is "Cell-size control and its evolution at the single-cell level," and includes developing methods to perform long-term directed single-cell evolution experiments, as well as single-cell on-chip manipulation, sequencing, and mathematical modeling.
The Brain Activity Map project could be the next big federal life science research endeavor, with no less a goal than the mapping of the entire living brain and all its neuronal activity. Like the Human Genome Project of the 90's, the not insignificant financial outlay is being presented as an investment that will net even bigger returns, both in terms of new technology and a vastly increased understanding of the mind. President Obama is expected to include the multi-billion dollar, decade-long funding in his upcoming budget proposal, and neuroscience research was a topic he addressed specifically in his recent State of the Union address.
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If Dr. Seuss were still writing his wonderous books and turned his attention to biotechnology today, we might see a title like Ah, the Things You Can Do With Algae! At the University of California San Diego a number of research institutions have joined together to form the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB) where scientists are pursuing all sorts of innovative projects using the ubiquitous green matter that also happens to be a genetic model organism. Which means it is not only easy to grow, but it can do things that bacteria and even mammalian cells can't, like host a genetically engineered protein that targets cancer.
Cancer research is hot, and the best in the field are hotly-courted by top cancer research centers, often with very attractive compensation packages in addition to state-of-the-art labs and equipment. As if fighting cancer weren't challenging enough, even renowned universities with world-class biomedical programs like the University of California San Diego have had some of their shining stars in the laboratory snatched away by big-money states like Texas in recent years. Not to be outdone or undermined, UCSD has recently engaged in some aggressive recruiting of its own and is proud to announce that two very important players in the cancer research field have joined the Moores Cancer Center faculty: Dr. Napoleone Ferrara (formerly of Genentech) and Dr. Razelle Kurzrock (formerly of MD Anderson at the University of Texas).
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Anyone who's ever pulled an all-nighter to finish a project knows how it wreaks havoc with your metabolism. The fact is, it's not just a nicety to be awake and active during the day and sleep at night: it's the way bodies are hard-wired. Scientists have long-suspected that upsets in a person's biological clock could play a factor in the development of metabolic disorders like diabetes. Now a team of researchers from three Southern California universities has made surprising discoveries that support that hypothesis. Not only have they isolated the protein that regulates the biologic clock (and named it cryptochrome), but they have found a molecule called KL001 that dictates when cryptochrome gets sent to the proteasome recycling bin. Which is to say, they now know a lot more about this complex circadian system that not only tells the body when to sleep and wake, but also how the body should manage glucose levels in those periods of relative activity and dormancy. The bio research study was published in the July 13 advance online issue of the journal Science.
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