Research Report: A ‘twist’ found in tumor metastasisBy Lynne Friedmann
A transcription factor called Twist1 plays a key regulatory role in how the human embryo assumes form and function. Normally suppressed after embryogenesis, Twist1 can re-emerge later in life and promote the spread of cancer.
Researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine have identified Twist1 in the formation of invadopodia (“invasive feet”) in tumor cells. Invadopodia are tiny protrusions of tumor cells that extend into the extracellular matrix of surrounding connective tissue and fibers. Invadopodia concentrate enzymes that degrade the matrix so that tumor cells can break away and metastasize.
Previous studies have linked the expression of Twist1 to many aggressive, solid-tumor cancers, including melanomas, neuroblastomas, as well as breast and prostate cancer.
The findings appear in the journal Cancer Cell. News release at bit.ly/hMDDSi.
How long do stem cells live?
Bone marrow (stem cell) transplants don’t always succeed because transplanted stem cells don’t live long enough or because they proliferate too well, leading to leukemia. To help determine how long a bone marrow graft will last, researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have developed a mathematical model that predicts the lifespan of a stem cell and tested those predictions in a mouse model.
It has long been assumed that stem cells are immortal. But researchers found that each stem cell is pre-programmed to self-renew only for a set amount of time that, in mice, ranges from a few months to several years. Use of a computer model to calculate how long a blood stem cell will live may lead to better prediction of the outcome of bone marrow transplants.
The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. News release at bit.ly/dHHCug.
Primordial soup gets spicier
Stanley Miller gained fame with his 1953 experiment showing the synthesis of organic compounds thought to be important in setting the origin of life in motion. Five years later, he produced samples from a similar experiment, shelved them and, as far as anyone knows, never returned to them in his lifetime.
More than 50 years later, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD discovered these samples and, using techniques not available to Miller, suggests that a diversity of organic compounds existed on early Earth to an extent scientists had not previously realized.
The new findings support the case that volcanoes — a major source of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide today — accompanied by lightning converted simple gases into a wide array of amino acids, which are were in turn available for assembly into early proteins.
Researchers also found that the amino acids produced in Miller’s experiment are similar to those found in meteorites. This supports a widely-held hypothesis that processes such as the ones in the laboratory experiments provide a model of how organic material needed for the origin of life are likely widespread in the universe.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. News release at bit.ly/eXK3m3.
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