By Bill Beggs Jr.
Concentration of Scientists,
Collaboration are Key
advances in the St. Louis region range from using nanotechnology
for cancer treatmentto robotic dogs that keep nursing-home
residents company. Along the spectrum are techniques and medicines
for improving the wellness of our hearts and minds. Work throughout
the region to cure Alzheimer's and diabetes is promising.
can be a long time comingan HIV drug approved just last
year stems from research that began 30 years ago.
research results in the region's medical community demonstrate
the advantage of having great universities and medical schools
in such close proximity. Face-to-face interaction is a real benefit
to collaboration, researchers say. Core facilities are accessible
to researchers from many institutions, which not only stimulates
joint efforts, but also is cost-effective. Duplication of effort
Here's a synopsis
of significant advances reported over the last year
or so at Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and University of Missouri School of Medicine.
School of Medicine
The med school at Wash U. is fourth in the nation in terms of research dollars garnered from the National Institute of Health. Research advances run the gamut, points out Larry Shapiro, M.D., dean and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs for the School of Medicine.
see that we've noted a pretty good array of different kinds of
things, from heart disease and cancer, to malnutrition in the
Third World and Alzheimer's disease," Shapiro says.
Some of these wash u. developments at a glance:
- Nanotechnology and chemotherapy
By focusing drug-coated nanoparticles directly on tumors in rabbits, a dose 1,000 times lower than the norm has markedly slowed tumor growth.
- Genetic alterations in lung cancer
Working on an international team of researchers, Wash U. scientists have
completed a massive effort to map the genetic changes underlying the most commonly diagnosed form of lung
- Peanut butter and hunger
An enriched peanut-butter mixture
is successfully promoting recovery
for thousands of starving children
- Cross-species transplants and diabetes
Without using risky immune suppression drugs that prevent rejection, scientists have successfully transplanted embryonic pig pancreatic cells destined to produce insulin into diabetic monkeys.
- Valve replacement without
Heart specialists replaced a 78-year-old woman's defective aortic valve with an experimental device, without opening the chest wall or using a heart-lung machine. It was the first such procedure in the region.
- Belly fat and inflammatory
As scientists learn more about the
keyrole of inflammation in diabetes, heart disease and other disorders, research suggests that fat in the
belly may drive that inflammation.
- Simpler atrial fibrillation treatment
Heart surgeons have developed and
tested a device that radically shortens and simplifies a complex surgical
procedure that has had the best
long-term cure rate for persistent
0atrial fibrillation, which can cause stroke.
- Monitoring the infant brain
Researchers hoping to better understand brain development have long been
frustrated because babies will not sit
still for brain scans. A technology using light (high-density diffuse optical tomography, or DOT) should help treat infant brain injury by allowing brain function
monitoring at incubators.
Saint Louis University
School of Medicine
One of the most exciting developments at SLU is the Doisy Research Center, a 206,000-square-foot, $82 million building that is home to researchers working in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, lung/heart
disease, aging/brain disease and vaccine development.
At Chouteau and Grand, the striking
10-story building in steel and glass is the eastern anchor of CORTEX, an area of more than 200 acres within sight of the med schools where research efforts and biotech companies have set up shop.
corner didn't used to be so pretty," notes Jennifer Lodge,
Ph.D., associate dean of research at Saint Louis University School
Like any scientist, Lodge is motivated by the outcomes that research has aimed for, but every so often results that were not
originally projected begin to unfold.
think you're going down one path, and there's a eureka moment
when you see it also could have implications in X, Y or Z,"
Among the significant research developments at SLU:
Last year the FDA approved Raltegravir, a drug in a new class
of medications to treat HIV/AIDS. A professor of molecular virology
began research in the 1970s that led to the development of this
new treatment approach.
flu vaccine vs. injection
An inhaled nasal flu vaccine works better in young children
than the feared injection.
Scientists believe that an accumulation of amyloid-beta protein
causes Alzheimer's. Using an animal model, geriatric medicine
faculty have developed a nasal spray to block certain genes
from producing harmful proteins.
food, lethargy and fatty
liver disease An experiment in an animal model reinforces what
filmmaker Morgan Spurlock found when he put himself on a fast-food
diet in the movie "Super Size Me"a fast-food
diet and sedentary lifestyle is dangerous to liver function.
Understanding how viruses such as smallpox evade the immune
system can help combat some forms of heart disease and rheumatoid
Researchers have found a more accurate way to identify pancreatic
cancer, with which actor Patrick Swayze was diagnosed. By combining
the current "gold standard" diagnostic approach with
immunostaining for specific protein markers, diagnosing this
cancer is much less difficult.
SLU researchers are the first to demonstrate that very aggressive
treatment for patients who have certain biomarkers for severe
juvenile arthritis brings the disease in check within two years.
cholesterol and vision
A high-cholesterol diet could improve sight for people with
Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome. Animal researchers have shown that
dietary supplements of cholesterol can improve daytime vision
by altering the retina's fat composition.
robots and seniors
A robotic canine works as well as a real dog in helping nursing-home
residents feel less lonely.
University of Missouri
School of Medicine
Research continues apace in Columbia, Mo., about two hours west of St. Louis.
more than 1,000 life scientistsall on one campuswho
are united in improving health by studying humans, animals, plants
and the environment," says William Crist, M.D., dean of University
of Missouri School of Medicine. "Their efforts focus on the
deadliest diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease,
and the most vulnerable patients, including children and the elderly."
Researchers are entering the second phase of an Alzheimer's
project to develop treatments that can modify the cellular response
in the brain. Amyloid-beta protein may create abnormal inflammatory
responses that can harm neurons and other brain cells. One researcher
will study enzymes that, when activated, destroy membranes in
brain cells; another will study mechanisms of inflammation in
the brain and A-beta's role in creating
the inflammatory response.
nanomedicine and cancer
A team of scientists has discovered how to make nanoparticles
using gold salts, soybeans and water. No other chemicals are
used, which means this new process could have major environmental
implications for the future. As some chemicals used to make
nanoparticles are toxic, a 100-percent natural process could
allow medical researchers to expand their use.
Using a genetically engineered antibody molecule, a researcher
has found a way to prevent T lymphocytes, a type of white blood
cell, from attacking insulin-producing beta cells. While this
is a significant advance in curing juvenile diabetes, research
also is looking into the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis,
which occurs when T cells attack the fatty covering of nerves.
A highlight of the $10 million biochemistry construction and
renovation project at MU is the $2.3 million high-powered nuclear
magnetic resonance spectrometer (NMR), only the second of its
generation in the United States and the only one in Missouri.
NMRs are basically MRIs for molecules. Scientists can see molecules
in three dimensions and view their interactions, which is crucial
to understanding health and disease.