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Vol. LXI, No. 18
September 4, 2009

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Imitation Promotes Social Bonding In Primates

Study authors found that capuchin monkeys prefer the company of researchers who imitate them to that of researchers who do not imitate them.
Study authors found that capuchin monkeys prefer the company of researchers who imitate them to that of researchers who do not imitate them.
Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. It also appears to be an ancient interpersonal mechanism that promotes social bonding and, presumably, sets the stage for relative strangers to coalesce into groups of friends, according to a study by scientists at NIH and two Italian research institutions. The study appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of Science. Study authors found that capuchin monkeys preferred the company of researchers who imitated them to that of researchers who did not imitate them. The monkeys not only spent more time with their imitators, but also preferred to engage in a simple task with them even when provided with the option of performing the same task with a non-imitator. “Observing how imitation promotes bonding in primates may lead to insights in disorders in which imitation and bonding is impaired, such as certain forms of autism,” said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. The NIH portion of the study was conducted by NICHD’s Drs. Annika Paukner and Stephen Suomi.

Gene Therapy 1 Year Later: Patients Healthy, Maintain Early Visual Improvement

Three young adults who received gene therapy for a blinding eye condition remained healthy and maintained previous visual gains 1 year later, according to an August online report in Human Gene Therapy. One patient also noticed a visual improvement that helped her perform daily tasks, which scientists describe in an Aug. 13 letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine. These findings have emerged from a phase I clinical trial supported by the National Eye Institute and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida. This is the first study that reports the 1-year safety and effectiveness of successful gene therapy for a form of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a currently untreatable hereditary condition that causes severe vision loss and blindness in infants and children. The three patients in the study—ages 22, 24 and 25—have been legally blind since birth due to a specific form of LCA caused by mutations in the RPE65 gene. The protein made by this gene is a crucial component of the visual cycle.

NIH Researchers Identify Key Factor that Stimulates Brain Cancer Cells to Spread

Researchers funded by NIH have found that the activity of a protein in brain cells helps stimulate the spread of an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). In a move toward therapy, the researchers showed that a small designer protein can block this activity and reduce the spreading of GBM cells grown in the laboratory. GBM is named for the fact that the cancerous cells have properties of support cells in the brain called glial cells. Rather than simply growing in a single tumor mass, GBM cells tend to migrate throughout the brain, making it difficult to remove them surgically. As the cells spread and multiply, they also tend to become resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. NINDS funded the new study through an initiative that encourages research on why brain tumor cells are so highly invasive and how to therapeutically target these cells. The study’s senior author, Dr. Susann Brady-Kalnay, is a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University and an expert on retina development. For years, she has studied how cells migrate to their proper places in the forming retina. In particular, she examined how this process is regulated by cell adhesion molecules—proteins at a cell’s surface that can keep the cell stuck to its surroundings or help the cell move. She has shown that a cell adhesion molecule called PTPmu is required for retinal cell migration. Investigating the role of PTPmu in GBM dispersal was a logical extension, she says.

NIH Study Finds Low Short-Term Risks After Bariatric Surgery for Extreme Obesity

Short-term complications and death rates were low following bariatric surgery to limit the amount of food that can enter the stomach, decrease absorption of food or both, according to the Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS-1). The study was funded by NIDDK. Results were reported in the July 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Less than 1 percent (0.3 percent) of patients died within 30 days of surgery, further supporting the short-term safety of bariatric surgery as a treatment for patients with extreme obesity. Bariatric surgery can have dramatic health benefits such as improved blood sugar control or even reversal of type 2 diabetes. But it also carries serious risks, including death. The LABS-1 study aimed to evaluate the short-term safety of bariatric surgery to help doctors and patients understand the risksó

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