When a bird brain tops Harvard students on a test

Experiment tests human vs. parrot memory in a complex shell game

What happens when an African grey parrot goes head-to-head with 21 Harvard students in a test measuring a type of visual memory? Put simply: The parrot moves to the head of the class.

Harvard researchers compared how 21 human adults and 21 6- to 8-year-old children stacked up against an African grey parrot named Griffin in a complex version of the classic shell game.

It worked like this: Tiny colored pom-poms were covered with cups and then shuffled, so participants had to track which object was under which cup. The experimenter then showed them a pom-pom that matched one of the same color hidden under one of the cups and asked them to point at the cup. (Griffin, of course, used his beak to point.) The participants were tested on tracking two, three, and four different-colored pom-poms. The position of the cups were swapped zero to four times for each of those combinations. Griffin and the students did 120 trials; the children did 36.

The game tests the brain’s ability to retain memory of items that are no longer in view, and then updating when faced with new information, like a change in location. This cognitive system is known as visual working memory and is the one of the foundations for intelligent behavior.

So how did the parrot fare? Griffin outperformed the 6- to 8-year-olds across all levels on average, and he performed either as well as or slightly better than the 21 Harvard undergraduates on 12 of the 14 of trial types.

That’s not bad at all for a so-called bird brain.

Three graphs indicting the parrot’s success against the human participants

“Think about it: Grey parrot outperforms Harvard undergrads. That’s pretty freaking awesome,” said Hrag Pailian, the postdoctoral fellow at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who led the experiment. “We had students concentrating in engineering, pre-meds, this, that, seniors, and he just kicked their butts.”

Full disclosure: Griffin has been the star of past cognitive studies, like showing he’s smarter than the typical 4-year-old and as intelligent as a 6- to 8-year-old child. But making Harvard students do a double take on their own intelligence is quite the step up.

To be fair, the Harvard students did manage to keep (some) of their Crimson pride intact. On the final two tests, which involved the most items and the most movement, the adults had the clear edge. Griffin’s average dipped toward the children’s performance — though never below it. The researchers were unable to determine the precise reason for this drop, but they believe it has something to do with the way human intelligence works (arguably making the Harvard students’ victory a matter of performance enhancement of the genetic variety).

The experiment was part of a study published in Scientific Reports in May. Pailian was the lead author and he collaborated with comparative psychologist Irene Pepperberg, Henry A. Morss Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Psychology Susan Carey, and Justin Halberda at John Hopkins University.

The researchers were investigating the limits of the brain’s ability to process and update mental representations. In other words, they were looking at the “working” portion of the visual working memory system. The ability is referred to as manipulation. And ultimately, they were hoping to gain insights into the development and origin of the visual working memory system and the nature of human intelligence.

“Any operation that you perform in your mind, it takes place in visual working memory,” Pailian said. “You store information from the outside world; you play around with it; and then you shuttle it up for higher cognition. It helps fuel STEM aptitude, mental wellness, and all these different types of important cognitive attributes …. We think that one of the main components of human intelligence, the key characteristic is that we’re able to think about all these things in our minds and do these mental manipulations, but if we find that other animals, other species can perform those manipulation operations [and also see how ancient this ability is], maybe that can help us inform what delineates human intelligence from other animal intelligence, as well.”

At a broad level, the paper’s findings hint at the possible evolutionary origins of the ability to manipulate visual memory. Griffin’s success suggests it is not limited to humans and might be shared across species derived from a common ancestor. In this case, the ancestor would be the dinosaurs, since humans and parrots are separated by more than 300 million years of evolution.

“We’re suggesting that it’s possible — we can’t prove this — that dinosaurs, our common ancestor, may have had some basic capacity,” said Pepperberg, a research associate in Harvard’s Psychology Department. “Then this [advanced manipulation] ability could have evolved in parallel [in primates and birds]. The other possibility is that our common ancestor lacked this ability, and it somehow arose independently in these two lines. But we’re arguing that because manipulation is built on storage capacity, and so many different species have similar storage capacities, that some simple form of manipulation likely existed in a common ancestor.”

In the paper, the researchers note that future work is needed to confirm manipulation ability across a wider variety of species and identify its origins.

“It’s not that we proved everything provable,” Pepperberg added. “It’s that we’ve demonstrated a behavior that leads to a lot of different questions.”

Griffin was a prime candidate for this experiment because the researchers needed an animal whose brain was functionally similar to humans but evolutionarily distant for comparison. It was also likely that parrots possessed the manipulation ability because of environmental pressures in the wild, like tracking their hungry fledglings or threats like predators. Plus, Griffin is always ready to show off his brain power and earn a few cashews as a reward.

“He’s the kind of student who asks you, ‘What do I have to do to get the A?’” and then goes and does it, Pepperberg said.

References:

When a bird brain tops Harvard students on a test.

 Experiment tests human vs. parrot memory in a complex shell game.

PUBLISHED By: The Harvard Gazette SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY.

Copyright (c) 2020 by mystorywithcrpstheuninvitedguest.com. All rights reserved.

How the Coronavirus Short-Circuits the Immune System

In a disturbing parallel to H.I.V., the coronavirus can cause a depletion of important immune cells, recent studies found.

An alarming new study may explain why immunity after coronavirus infection might be fleeting, and suggests that the virus may need a cocktail of drugs to be brought under control.Credit…Niaid

At the beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus looked to be another respiratory illness. But the virus has turned out to affect not just the lungs, but the kidneys, the heart and the circulatory system — even, somehow, our senses of smell and taste.

Now researchers have discovered yet another unpleasant surprise. In many patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, the immune system is threatened by a depletion of certain essential cells, suggesting eerie parallels with H.I.V.

The findings suggest that a popular treatment to tamp down the immune system in severely ill patients may help a few, but could harm many others. The research offers clues about why very few children get sick when they are infected, and hints that a cocktail of drugs may be needed to bring the coronavirus under control, as is the case with H.I.V.

Growing research points to “very complex immunological signatures of the virus,” said Dr. John Wherry, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania whose lab is taking a detailed look at the immune systems of Covid-19 patients.

In May, Dr. Wherry and his colleagues posted online a paper showing a range of immune system defects in severely ill patients, including a loss of virus-fighting T cells in parts of the body.

In a separate study, the investigators identified three patterns of immune defects, and concluded that T cells and B cells, which help orchestrate the immune response, were inactive in roughly 30 percent of the 71 Covid-19 patients they examined. None of the papers have yet been published or peer reviewed.

Researchers in China have reported a similar depletion of T cells in critically ill patients, Dr. Wherry noted. But the emerging data could be difficult to interpret, he said — “like a Rorschach test.”

Research with severely ill Covid-19 patients is fraught with difficulties, noted Dr. Carl June, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved with the work.

“It is hard to separate the effects of simply being critically ill and in an I.C.U., which can cause havoc on your immune system,” he said. “What is missing is a control population infected with another severe virus, like influenza.”

One of the more detailed studies, published as a preprint and under review at Nature Medicine, was conducted by Dr. Adrian Hayday, an immunologist at King’s College London.

He and his colleagues compared 63 Covid-19 patients at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London to 55 healthy people, some of whom had recovered from coronavirus infections.

St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, where 63 patients involved in one of the studies were treated Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Dr. Hayday and his colleagues began with the assumption that the patients would generate a profound immune response to the coronavirus. That is why most people recover from infections with few, if any, symptoms.

But those who get very sick from the virus could have immune systems that become impaired because they overreact, as happens in sepsis patients. Alternately, the scientists hypothesized, these patients could have immune systems that struggle mightily, but fail to respond adequately to the virus.

One of the most striking aberrations in Covid-19 patients, the investigators found, was a marked increase in levels of a molecule called IP10, which sends T cells to areas of the body where they are needed.

Ordinarily, IP10 levels are only briefly elevated while T cells are dispatched. But in Covid-19 patients — as was the case in patients with SARS and MERS, also caused by coronaviruses — IP10 levels go up and stay up.

That may create chaotic signaling in the body: “It’s like Usain Bolt hearing the starting gun and starting to run,” Dr. Hayday said, referring to the Olympic sprinter. “Then someone keeps firing the starting gun over and over. What would he do? He’d stop, confused and disoriented.”

The result is that the body may be signaling T cells almost at random, confusing the immune response. Some T cells are prepared to destroy the viruses but seem undermined, behaving aberrantly. Many T cells apparently die, and so the body’s reserves are depleted — particularly in those over age 40, in whom the thymus gland, the organ that generates new T cells, has become less efficient.

The research also suggests that a popular idea for treatment may not help most people.

Some patients are severely affected by coronavirus infections because their immune systems respond too vigorously to the virus. The result, a so-called cytokine storm, also has been seen in cancer patients treated with drugs that supercharge T cells to attack tumors.

These overreactions can be quelled with medications that block a molecule called IL-6, another organizer of immune cells. But these drugs have not been markedly effective in most Covid-19 patients, and for good reason, Dr. Hayday said.

“There clearly are some patients where IL-6 is elevated, and so suppressing it may help,” he explained. But “the core goal should be to restore and resurrect the immune system, not suppress it.”

The new research may help answer another pressing question: Why is it so rare for a child to get sick from the coronavirus?

Children have highly active thymus glands, the source of new T cells. That may allow them to stay ahead of the virus, making new T cells faster than the virus can destroy them. In older adults, the thymus does not function as well.

The emerging picture indicates that the model for H.I.V. treatment, a cocktail of antiviral drugs, may be a good bet both for those with mild illnesses and those who are severely ill.

Some experts have wondered if antiviral treatment makes sense for severely ill Covid-19 patients, if their main affliction is an immune system overreaction.

But if the virus directly causes the immune system to malfunction, Dr. Hayday said, then an antiviral makes sense — and perhaps even more than one, since it’s important to stop the infection before it depletes T cells and harms other parts of the immune system.

“I have not lost one ounce of my optimism,” Dr. Hayday said. Even without a vaccine, he foresees Covid-19 becoming a manageable disease, controlled by drugs that act directly against the virus.

“A vaccine would be great,” he said. “But with the logistics of its global rollout being so challenging, it’s comforting to think we may not depend on one.”

Referrences

Published: June 26, 2020, New York Times.

By: Gina Kolata

Copyright (c) 2020 by mystorywithcrpstheuninvitedguest.com. All rights reserved.

Fighting Viruses

How Do Antivirals Work?

Antivirals are medications used specifically to treat viral infections. They aim to minimize the symptoms of an infection and shorten its duration. They also can help reduce transmission of a virus.

Rather than killing a virus directly, antivirals usually suppress the virus’s ability to infect and multiply in your cells. These drugs often work by inhibiting molecular interactions and functions needed by the virus to produce new copies of itself.

The way a drug produces its therapeutic effect is called its mechanism of action. Antivirals are often delivered in combinations that have different mechanisms of action. This helps to prevent the emergence of mutated drug-resistant viral strains that can bypass the effects of a single drug. For example, combination antiviral therapy is now the standard of care in HIV and hepatitis C virus infections. It is highly desirable to develop multiple antivirals whenever possible.

Is there an antiviral treatment for COVID-19?

Currently, antiviral therapy is available only for a limited number of infections, including those caused by HIV, herpes, hepatitis B and C, and influenza A and B. Drug companies and researchers are investigating new and existing antivirals, including Gilead’s remdesivir, for potential use in treating COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The development of antivirals can be challenging. Because viruses are parasites that hijack host cell machinery, care must be taken to select drug targets that interfere with viral replication while causing as little harm to healthy host cells as possible. Like vaccines, antivirals must go through a multistep approval process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Reference: Caltech Science Exchange

Copyright (c) 2020 by mystorywithcrpstheuninvitedguest.com. All rights reserved.

Music as medicine

Researchers are exploring how music therapy can improve health outcomes among a variety of patient populations, including premature infants and people with depression and Parkinson’s disease.

The beep of ventilators and infusion pumps, the hiss of oxygen, the whir of carts and the murmur of voices as physicians and nurses make rounds — these are the typical noises a premature infant hears spending the first days of life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While the sounds of such life-saving equipment are tough to mute, a new study suggests that some sounds, such as lullabies, may soothe pre-term babies and their parents, and even improve the infants’ sleeping and eating patterns, while decreasing parents’ stress (Pediatrics, 2013).

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted the study, which included 272 premature babies 32 weeks gestation or older in 11 mid-Atlantic NICUs. They examined the effects of three types of music: a lullaby selected and sung by the baby’s parents; an “ocean disc,” a round instrument, invented by the Remo drum company, that mimics the sounds of the womb; and a gato box, a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythms. The two instruments were played live by certified music therapists, who matched their music to the babies’ breathing and heart rhythms.

The researchers found that the gato box, the Remo ocean disc and singing all slowed a baby’s heart rate, although singing was the most effective. Singing also increased the amount of time babies stayed quietly alert, and sucking behavior improved most with the gato box, while the ocean disc enhanced sleep. The music therapy also lowered the parents’ stress, says Joanne Loewy, the study’s lead author, director of the Armstrong center and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine.

“There’s just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body,” says Loewy, whose work is part of a growing movement of music therapists and psychologists who are investigating the use of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. “Music very much has a way of enhancing quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery.”

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Music can relieve chronic pain

When we listen to music, the brain is constantly trying to predict the musical structure based on universal, cultural and individual musical rules. Thus, when evaluating the effect of music applications it is necessary to consider whether the intervention is aimed at features that are universal, depend on musical enculturation, or whether it relies on individual and maybe even situational factors

Scientists have found that music can help reduce chronic pain. Previous studies in this field have only focused on acute pain.

Most of us know that a good song can boost our mood. Scientists have also known for some time that music can have a direct and measurable effect on acute pain, such as when you burn your finger.

Now, for the first time, scientists have examined whether music can also have a positive effect on chronic pain in patients who suffer from fibromyalgia, a disease that causes severe chronic pain in the muscles and joints.

The new study found that fibromyalgia patients experienced less chronic pain after listening to their favourite music.

”We measured both directly and indirectly how the participants experienced their pain after having listened to self-chosen, relaxing and pleasant music, and we measured an effect on all parameters. They reported that the pain became less unpleasant and less intense,” says study lead author Peter Vuust, of the Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus University, Denmark.

The brain regions involved in audition, rhythm and motor, emotion and pleasure, and cognition. The auditory cortex and the brain stem are involved in audition. The cerebellum and motor cortex are central for rhythm and motor effects of music, but the brainstem and midbrain regions are also involved. The orbitofrontal cortex, and limbic and paralimbic brain regions are fundamental for emotional processing of music, while pre-frontal regions are associated with the cognitive evaluation of music. (Illustration: from the ‘Music interventions in health care’ white paper)

Vuust believes the new findings may have greater implications than one might think:

“With people who suffer from a disease that causes chronic pain, the greatest problem is all the medicines they are forced to take. Whatever it may be, it’s bad, because it can cause stomach upset, can be addictive, etc.,” he says.

“If music can help us to lower the doses of pain medication, that’s fantastic.”

There are two brain mechanisms that may be responsible for the pain-relieving effect that music has on chronic pain in fibromyalgia patients, explains Line Gebauer, a postdoc fellow at the CFIN, who did not take part in the new study.

It may be that enjoyable music can trigger the release of opioids in the brain. Opioids are the body’s own ‘morphine’, which may explain why music can reduce the feeling of pain and the reduced need for pain medication.

Or it could be that the pain-relieving effect may be the result of music simply being an incredibly effective way of redirecting our attention away from our pain.

“In the study of the fibromyalgia patients, however, it appears most likely that the positive effect is due to the release of opioids in the brain, as the effect remained even after the music had stopped,” says Gebauer.

Vuust adds that a central aspect of the new study is that the participants were given the chance to select what music they wanted to hear:

“In terms of pain, it is important that you listen to music that you already know and like. When you’re in pain, you need a familiar setting in which you can navigate, and if you can do that with music you know and like.”

References:

PUBLISHED; March 25th, 2014.

By: Charlotte Price Persson

Copyright (c) 2020 by mystorywithcrpstheuninvitedguest.com. All rights reserved.

Facts about complex regional pain-syndrome

What is complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic (lasting greater than six months) pain condition that most often affects one limb (arm, leg, hand, or foot) usually after an injury.  CRPS is believed to be caused by damage to, or malfunction of, the peripheral and central nervous systems.  The central nervous system is composed of the brain and spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system involves nerve signaling from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.  CRPS is characterized by prolonged or excessive pain and changes in skin color, temperature, and/or swelling in the affected area.

CRPS is divided into two types:  CRPS-I and CRPS-II. Individuals without a confirmed nerve injury are classified as having CRPS-I (previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome).  CRPS-II (previously known as causalgia) is when there is an associated, confirmed nerve injury.  As some research has identified evidence of nerve injury in CRPS-I, it is unclear if this disorders will always be divided into two types.  Nonetheless, the treatment is similar.

CRPS symptoms vary in severity and duration, although some cases are mild and eventually go away.  In more severe cases, individuals may not recover and may have long-term disability.

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How is CRPS treated?

The following therapies are often used:

Rehabilitation and physical therapy.  An exercise program to keep the painful limb or body part moving can improve blood flow and lessen the circulatory symptoms.  Additionally, exercise can help improve the affected limb’s flexibility, strength, and function.  Rehabilitating the affected limb also can help to prevent or reverse the secondary brain changes that are associated with chronic pain.  Occupational therapy can help the individual learn new ways to work and perform daily tasks.

Psychotherapy. CRPS and other painful and disabling conditions often are associated with profound psychological symptoms for affected individuals and their families.  People with CRPS may develop depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which heighten the perception of pain and make rehabilitation efforts more difficult.  Treating these secondary conditions is important for helping people cope and recover from CRPS.

Medications. Several different classes of medication have been reported to be effective for CRPS, particularly when used early in the course of the disease.  However, no drug is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for CRPS, and no single drug or combination of drugs is guaranteed to be effective in every person.

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Know Your Brain

Introduction

The brain is the most complex part of the human body. This three-pound organ is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of body movement, and controller of behavior. Lying in its bony shell and washed by protective fluid, the brain is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. The brain is the crown jewel of the human body.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been fascinated by the brain, but until recently they viewed the brain as nearly incomprehensible. Now, however, the brain is beginning to relinquish its secrets. Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than in all previous centuries because of the accelerating pace of research in neurological and behavioral science and the development of new research techniques. As a result, Congress named the 1990s the Decade of the Brain. At the forefront of research on the brain and other elements of the nervous system is the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which conducts and supports scientific studies in the United States and around the world.

This fact sheet is a basic introduction to the human brain. It may help you understand how the healthy brain works, how to keep it healthy, and what happens when the brain is diseased or dysfunctional.

Image 1

The Architecture of the Brain

The brain is like a committee of experts. All the parts of the brain work together, but each part has its own special properties. The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain Image 2  , the midbrain Image3, and the hindbrain   Image4 .

The hindbrain includes the upper part of the spinal cord, the brain stem, and a wrinkled ball of tissue called the cerebellum (Image 1). The hindbrain controls the body’s vital functions such as respiration and heart rate. The cerebellum coordinates movement and is involved in learned rote movements. When you play the piano or hit a tennis ball you are activating the cerebellum. The uppermost part of the brainstem is the midbrain, which controls some reflex actions and is part of the circuit involved in the control of eye movements and other voluntary movements. The forebrain is the largest and most highly developed part of the human brain: it consists primarily of the cerebrum (Image 2) and the structures hidden beneath it (see “The Inner Brain Image 5).

When people see pictures of the brain it is usually the cerebrum that they notice. The cerebrum sits at the topmost part of the brain and is the source of intellectual activities. It holds your memories, allows you to plan, enables you to imagine and think. It allows you to recognize friends, read books, and play games.

The cerebrum is split into two halves (hemispheres) by a deep fissure. Despite the split, the two cerebral hemispheres communicate with each other through a thick tract of nerve fibers that lies at the base of this fissure. Although the two hemispheres seem to be mirror images of each other, they are different. For instance, the ability to form words seems to lie primarily in the left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere seems to control many abstract reasoning skills.

For some as-yet-unknown reason, nearly all of the signals from the brain to the body and vice-versa cross over on their way to and from the brain. This means that the right cerebral hemisphere primarily controls the left side of the body and the left hemisphere primarily controls the right side. When one side of the brain is damaged, the opposite side of the body is affected. For example, a stroke in the right hemisphere of the brain can leave the left arm and leg paralyzed.

The Forebrain
The Midbrain
The Hindbrain

Each cerebral hemisphere can be divided into sections, or lobes, each of which specializes in different functions. To understand each lobe and its specialty we will take a tour of the cerebral hemispheres, starting with the two frontal lobes (Image1), which lie directly behind the forehead. When you plan a schedule, imagine the future, or use reasoned arguments, these two lobes do much of the work. One of the ways the frontal lobes seem to do these things is by acting as short-term storage sites, allowing one idea to be kept in mind while other ideas are considered. In the rearmost portion of each frontal lobe is a motor area (Image1), which helps control voluntary movement. A nearby place on the left frontal lobe called Broca’s area (Image 1) allows thoughts to be transformed into words.

When you enjoy a good meal—the taste, aroma, and texture of the food—two sections behind the frontal lobes called the parietal lobes (Image 1) are at work. The forward parts of these lobes, just behind the motor areas, are the primary sensory areas (Image 1). These areas receive information about temperature, taste, touch, and movement from the rest of the body. Reading and arithmetic are also functions in the repertoire of each parietal lobe.

As you look at the words and pictures on this page, two areas at the back of the brain are at work. These lobes, called the occipital lobes (Image 1), process images from the eyes and link that information with images stored in memory. Damage to the occipital lobes can cause blindness.

The last lobes on our tour of the cerebral hemispheres are the temporal lobes (Image 1), which lie in front of the visual areas and nest under the parietal and frontal lobes. Whether you appreciate symphonies or rock music, your brain responds through the activity of these lobes. At the top of each temporal lobe is an area responsible for receiving information from the ears. The underside of each temporal lobe plays a crucial role in forming and retrieving memories, including those associated with music. Other parts of this lobe seem to integrate memories and sensations of taste, sound, sight, and touch.

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Targeted drug shows promise in advanced kidney cancer

Micrograph of clear cell renal cell carcinoma

Singles out abnormal blood vessel formation that fuels tumor growth

Scientists report promising activity of a novel drug that targets a key molecular driver of clear cell renal cell carcinoma in patients with metastatic disease.

Researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report a response rate of 24 percent across all risk categories of patients given an oral first-in-class agent that targets hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) 2-a, which promotes new blood vessel growth that fuels kidney tumors.

Based on these findings, a phase III trial has been launched.

“A new drug [MK-6482] as a single agent showing an overall response rate of 24 percent across all risk categories — poor, intermediate, and good, and in a heavily refractory population — is quite promising,” said Toni Choueiri, first author of the abstract. Choueiri is director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology and the Jerome and Nancy Kohlberg Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The drug targets a component of the body’s mechanism for sensing oxygen levels and turning on genes that enable the body to adjust to hypoxia — a shortage of oxygen — by making more red blood cells and forming new blood vessels. Dana-Farber scientist and Choueiri’s mentor and collaborator William G. Kaelin Jr. shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in medicine with two other researchers for unraveling this complex mechanism, which can be hijacked by cancer to help tumors survive and grow.

In the vast majority of patients with clear cell renal carcinoma, a tumor suppressor protein known as Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) is not functional. As a result, HIF proteins accumulate inside the tumor cell, wrongly signaling a shortage of oxygen, and activating the formation of blood vessels, fueling tumor growth. Understanding this abnormal process has paved the way for new cancer drugs. MK-6482 is one of them, and is distinct in that it targets HIF-2a directly, leading to blocking cancer cell growth, proliferation, and abnormal blood vessel formation.

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Scientists find ally in fight against brain tumors: Ebola

Here glioblastoma cells from a human brain are growing. Addition of the Ebola-VSV oncolytic virus results in tumor infection and cell death, seen here as black cells. Over time the infection spreads to other glioblastoma cells.

Glioblastomas are relentless, hard-to-treat, and often lethal brain tumors. Yale scientists have enlisted a most unlikely ally in efforts to treat this form of cancer — elements of the Ebola virus.

“The irony is that one of the world’s deadliest viruses may be useful in treating one of the deadliest of brain cancers,” said Yale’s Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery, who describes the Yale efforts Feb. 12 in the Journal of Virology.

The approach takes advantage of a weakness in most cancer tumors and also of an Ebola defense against the immune system response to pathogens.

Unlike normal cells, a large percentage of cancer cells lack the ability to generate an innate immune response against invaders such as viruses. This has led cancer researchers to explore the use of viruses to combat a variety of cancers.

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