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Vol. LIX, No. 18
September 7, 2007

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  There have been mixed mes-sages on the benefits and harms of vitamin D intake.  
  There have been mixed mes-sages on the benefits and harms of vitamin D intake.  
What We Know (and Don't Know) About Vitamin D

A new report on vitamin D and bone health looks at current scientific evidence and identifies its strengths, as well as our gaps in knowledge. Sponsored by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, this independent, scientific review is timely, researchers said, because there have been mixed messages on the benefits and harms of vitamin D intake. Researchers have long known that the vitamin has an impact on bone health, but are uncertain as to how much of it is needed to achieve optimal bone health and whether there are differences in the relationship of vitamin D to bone health in people of all ages and life stages. For example, much evidence exists for the benefits of taking vitamin D supplements for postmenopausal women and men over 60, but less is known about the consequences of low vitamin D on pregnant and lactating women. The report served as a framework for the conference, Vitamin D and Health in the 21st Century: an Update, held on campus Sept. 5 and 6.

Readying Vaccines for Future Bird Flu Strains

How's this for proactive? According to NIAID researchers, it may be possible to prepare vaccines and therapeutics that target predicted mutant strains of H5N1 influenza virus before they evolve naturally. Reported in an August issue of Science, the advance was made possible by creating mutations in the region of the H5N1 hemagglutinin protein that directs the virus to bird or human cells and eliciting antibodies to it. Success of this finding hinges on anticipating and predicting the mutations that would help the virus spread from person to person, but the research will allow scientists to start considering the designs of new vaccines that could help contain a pandemic early on.

New Insights into UV Protection

Researchers in an NCI-led study have identified a protein that plays an important role in the increase of protective skin pigmentation after exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The protein, SOX9, is known to participate in embryo development and to be expressed in many adult tissues. The research confirms its importance to adult skin cells and is the first study to show that a protein in the SOX family can be regulated by UV radiation, which can cause many types of damage to the skin and has been associated with a process that leads to many types of skin cancers. These findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will give scientists insight into the mechanism the human body uses to protect itself from UV rays, as well as into the cellular pathways that might contribute to the origins and spread of melanoma.

Depression and Fighting Emotions

New research supported in part by NIMH shows that brain imaging can reveal a breakdown of normal emotional processing in people with clinical depression. In the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several areas of the brain, including the amygdala, which is known to play a role in generating emotion. Such activity then impaired the ability of these individuals to suppress negative emotional states. Researchers said these findings underscore the importance of emotional regulation deficits in depression, while also suggesting targets for therapeutic intervention.

Quick Test for Oral Cancer

Finally, in the coming years it should be a lot easier to learn whether an unusual mouth sore is cancerous. NIDCR-supported scientists have engineered the first fully automated, all-in-one test-or "lab on a chip"-that can be programmed to probe cells brushed from the mouth for a common sign of oral cancer. The portable device can yield results in less than 10 minutes, a big improvement over the current testing method of a biopsy and a several-day wait. The report on the new test was published, fittingly, in the journal, Lab on a Chip. —

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