Research report: Drug to battle flu in the works


When flu virus strikes, it causes injury by killing lung cells and also by triggering an immune response that - when excessive - can turn lethal. A team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute has shown that a drug that acts on a specific aspect of the immune system - rather than killing the virus itself - may lessen the severity of infection.

The drug impacts the cytokine response (small proteins or biological factors with specific effects on cell-cell interaction, communication, and cell behavior); the body’s signature immune reaction to flu infection. Problems arise when a “cytokine storm” occurs in which too many pathogen-fighting cells are called into action flooding and clogging the lung’s alveoli and preventing oxygen absorption.

In the study, a compound administered directly into the lungs of mice was shown to diminish cytokine release yet maintain an immune response sufficient to fight infection.

Oceans turning acid

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD have joined marine scientists from 26 countries in calling for immediate action by policymakers to sharply reduce CO2 emissions so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification. Ocean acidification results from high levels of carbonic acid created when carbon dioxide gas dissolves in sea water.

Increased acidity hampers the ability of a wide variety of marine invertebrates to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletal structures at crucial points in their development.

Screening for breast cancer

One of the dilemmas in breast-conserving “lumpectomies” is whether or not all cancer is removed. To find out, pathologists examine excised tissue. But the process is slow, taking up to a week. If more cancer is detected in a sample’s outer margins then a second surgery is required.

Hoping to reduce costs and the emotional trauma of repeat surgery, researchers at UCSD and the Moores UCSD Cancer Center have developed a rapid, automated image screening processing in which computer software rapidly distinguishes cancer from normal cells from photos of tissue under a microscope.

In a study of normal breast tissue from 10 women and tumor samples from 24 women with cancer the computer-aided technique correctly identified invasive breast cancer cells in 83 percent of the tumor specimens, whereas a normal microscope-only exam identified 65 percent of the cancer specimens.

The new automated technique reduced analysis time to two hours, but is still too slow to be used in real time during breast surgery. It is hoped that with refinement the technique could produce results within minutes, while a patient is still in the operating room.