With tweaks, brains in a dish may yield clear clues to autism
The human brain is perhaps the most complex system in the universe. It can orchestrate sophisticated behaviors and thoughts, such as language, tool use, self-awareness, symbolic thought, consciousness and cultural learning. From intricate networks in the brain emerge extraordinary technological and artistic masterpieces.

But sophistication comes at a high price. Subtle alterations in the intricate dance of early development can lead to conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. To find clues to these alterations, my research team and I have adapted my old approach to toys: We are working to fine-tune an intricate model of the brain in a dish, built from stem cells that can mature into brain cells.

By Alysson Muotri, PhD
A boy who was born with an inherited disease had an incredible recovery that could signal a new generation of drugs
Inside our cells, the genes in our DNA code are translated into copies made of RNA. These copies, in turn, float into the cell body, where they serve as the information template from which proteins are manufactured. Most drugstore pills act directly on proteins. Gene therapy, meanwhile, seeks to replace DNA instructions with new ones.

New drugs seek to do instead use RNA to block, modify, or add to, the existing RNA messages in a cell. “Right now, RNA therapeutics—that’s the future of medicine,” says Steven Dowdy, PhD of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.
Researchers discover key to drug resistance in common breast cancer treatment
Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the University of California (UC), San Diego and the University of Illinois have found that two immune system molecules may be key to the development of drug resistance in estrogen-driven breast cancers. The researchers believe this finding may open the door to novel therapeutic approaches and influence treatment decisions for the tens of thousands of patients who suffer from estrogen-driven breast cancers.

The new study, published online ahead of print in the journal Molecular Cell, reveals that IL1β and TNFα turn on pathways that modify the actual shape of the estrogen receptor. This phenomenon appears to drive resistance to the common anti-cancer drug tamoxifen.

"Cytokines change the shape of the estrogen receptor, and that change overrides the inhibitory effects of tamoxifen and leads to drug resistance," said TSRI Associate Professor Kendall Nettles, who led the new study alongside senior author Christopher K. Glass and study first author Joshua D. Stender of UC San Diego. "These findings dramatically alter our understanding of the biological actions of pro-inflammatory cytokines in breast cancer cells."
Researchers Create Model of Anorexia Nervosa Using Stem Cells
​An international research team, led by scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, has created the first cellular model of anorexia nervosa (AN), reprogramming induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from adolescent females with the eating disorder. The scientists said the resulting AN neurons — the disease in a dish — revealed a novel gene that appears to contribute to AN pathophysiology, buttressing the idea that AN has a strong genetic factor. “Anorexia is a very complicated, multifactorial neurodevelopmental disorder,” said Alysson Muotri, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and a member of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. “It has proved to be a very difficult disease to study, let alone treat. We don’t actually have good experimental models for eating disorders. In fact, there are no treatments to reverse AN symptoms.”
UC San Diego To Probe How Humans Became Aware Of Death
Everything that is alive on this planet eventually dies. But it's the special lot of human beings to be the only species with an awareness of our own mortality.

Ajit Varki, PhD, a distinguished professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and co-director of the UC San Diego Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny joined KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday, March 2, with more on how humans adapted to awareness of death and whether suicide is a uniquely human action.
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