Sanford-Burnham research projects selected for upcoming space mission

Two Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) research projects will fly as payloads to the International Space Station in late 2013. In one experiment, space-travel effects on astronaut cardiovascular system will be studied using fruit flies as a model. These organisms are ideal for modeling human heart health: They are small, easy to care for, and their genetics are well understood.

In addition, flies and humans share many of the same genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in heart development and function. Spaceflight is well-known to have a detrimental effect on the cardiovascular system. An increased understanding of this space affect could lead to preventive or treatment countermeasures.
The other experiment will measure fluorescence as an indication of changes in the speed of molecular rotation as an antibody binds to a vitamin. This is important, because medicines may work differently in outer space without gravity or under significantly reduced gravity.

The project will also utilize — for the first time in space — plate reader technology that is widely used on Earth in the drug discovery process to identify promising compounds as candidates for new treatments for disease.

The goal of these initial experiments is to open the door for future advanced biology and pharmacology research in microgravity. More information at

Chinese medicine yields secrets

The inner workings of Chang Shan — a Chinese herbal medicine used for thousands of years to treat fevers associated with malaria — have been revealed by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). Scientists have known that a compound derived from the active ingredient in Chang Shan suppresses parts of the immune system, but until now nobody knew exactly how.

A high-resolution image shows in atomic detail a two-headed structure that, like a wrench, jams the “gears” of a molecular machine, which carries out a crucial biological process that allows organisms to synthesize proteins necessary to sustain life.

It is thought that Chang Shan probably mitigates malarial fevers by interfering with this same process in malaria parasites, killing them in an infected person’s bloodstream.

The findings are described in the journal Nature. News release at

Molecules in the ear convert sound into brain signals

Finding the genetic machinery in the inner ear that converts sound waves into electrical impulses that the brain can decipher has been a lofty goal for scientists who study the genetics of hearing and deafness.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report identification of a critical component of this ear-to-brain conversion — a protein called TMHS — that appears to be the direct link between the mechanism in the inner ear that converts mechanical sound waves into electrical impulses transmitted to the nervous system.

To date, dozens of genes have been identified and linked to hearing loss, but what has been lacking is a complete mechanistic picture to account for the various forms of hearing loss. With the discovery of TMHS, the picture is becoming clearer. In addition, the work also suggests a new approach to restoring hearing loss.

When TMHS is missing in mice, signals are not sent to their brains and the animals cannot perceive sound. In the laboratory, scientists were able to place functional TMHS into the sensory cells for sound perception of newborn deaf mice thus restoring function.

The study is described in the journal Cell. News release at

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Posted by Staff on Jan 23, 2013. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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