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Vol. LIX, No. 15
July 27, 2007

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Blocking SARS in Animals-and Humans

A team of international investigators led by scientists from NCI and NIAID has identified the first human antibodies that can neutralize different strains of the virus responsible for outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The study, appearing online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a mouse model and in vitro assays to test the neutralizing activity of the antibodies. Researchers said it's important that the antibodies they identified block both human and animal SARS, because when SARS outbreaks occurred in humans in 2002-2003 and again in 2003-2004, it was thought that the virus had jumped to people from an animal host.

Similar Stem Cells

More findings with mice: Scientists have discovered a new type of mouse embryonic stem cell that is the closest counterpart yet to that of humans. The research, conducted in part by NINDS and NCI, was published online in Nature. The cells the scientists identified are expected to serve as an improved model for human embryonic stem cells in studies of regeneration, disease pathology and basic stem cell biology. Because the cells are farther along the developmental timeline than the traditionally studied cells, they could give scientists a unique look at a critical point in the life of such a cell, when it is poised to start producing mature cell types including neurons, muscle and bone.

Protecting DNA

Meanwhile, NCI scientists have discovered a protein that plays a crucial role in repairing genetic damage that can lead to lymphomas in mice. Published in a July issue of Cell, the research shows that the protein, called ATM kinase, which plays an integral role in repairing double-strand breaks in DNA, also helps prevent cells with this kind of DNA damage from dividing, blocking the passage of persistent DNA damage on to daughter cells. This kind of DNA damage can lead to the development of cancer.

Breakthroughs in Alcohol Dependence Research

Glass of Wine

According to a new study by scientists at NIAAA, analyses of a national sample of people with alcohol dependence reveal five distinct subtypes of the disease, including: young adult, young antisocial, functional, intermediate familial and chronic severe subtypes. Researchers, whose results are available online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, hope these findings will dispel the popular notion of a "typical alcoholic." At the same time, other research also using data from NIAAA's National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, revealed that at some point during their lives, more than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. surveyed in 2001 through 2002 had met current diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Many of these people never received treatment or received it well after the onset of the disorder. The findings point to a "lost decade" between the average age of onset of alcohol dependence and the average age of first treatment. NIAAA researchers say this signals a need to educate both professionals and the public to identify alcohol use disorders early in their course.

Predicting Lupus Flares

Finally, NIAMS-supported researchers have demonstrated that two blood tests can predict severe flares in people with lupus who are clinically stable. Furthermore, the findings, published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, show that moderate doses of corticosteroids can prevent flares in these individuals. Systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease, is characterized by periods of illness, called flares, and periods of wellness or remission. This research suggests a possible preemptive strategy for managing lupus flares in some people with the disease. -

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