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GEN News Highlights : Dec 25, 2008

2008’s Life Science Discoveries

GEN takes a look at recent advances in stem cell research, genetic testing, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and HIV.

As we begin to contemplate what next year has to offer, it is useful to consider some key events of this year. Singling out one life science discovery as the breakthrough of the year is an impossible task. Here, we look at a few research segments —stem cells, genetic testing, HIV, cancer, and Alzheimer’s—and some interesting stories GEN covered.

Stem Cells: Scientists have not let the controversies surrounding embryonic stem cells (ESCs) dampen their resolve to realize the potential of this technology and stem cells in general. They found alternatives to using embryos, such as menstrual blood stromal cells. Researchers successfully reprogrammed adult stem cells into their embryonic-like state, revealed details about transcription factors used to do so, and found a way to identify pluripotent stem cells. Not to be stopped, scientists also delved into understanding embryonic stem cells as well as methods to derive and grow ESCs. More ...

Genetic Testing: A key technique has been developed that if validated could mean a safer option to amniocentesis for detecting Down syndrome. The researchers leveraged shotgun sequencing on cell-free DNA from plasma from pregnant women.

Alzheimer’s: This disease continues to mystifies scientists, with the jury still out on what the root cause is. Industry and academia continue to cut away at the basics behind Alzheimer’s. Among this year’s findings is an imaging agent for earlier amyloid plaque detection, a method to carry treatments across the blood-brain barrier, and an invalidated mouse model. More ...

Cancer: The news abounded with stories about genes and proteins associated with cancer, be it as a trigger to disease onset, a risk biomarker, or a prognostic indicator. These are undoubtedly important milestones in uncovering the biological network that this disease affects. Here we take a look at what we learned about cancer itself through revelations in cancer stem cell research, the process of tumorigenesis, and a couple of cancer genome analyses. More ...

HIV: With as yet no cure for HIV and only a cocktail of drugs to keep symptoms at bay, scientists are plowing away. Papers this year further elucidated the structure of the virus and its mechanisms of actions. Researchers found clues to HIV resistance and made new discoveries to advance vaccines and therapeutics. Below are some of this year's highlights:
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus
Scientists Find Cellular Receptor for HIV
Scientist Reveals How HIV Protein Helps the Virus Evade the Immune System
HIV Overpowers Immune System Quicker than Previously Thought
Scientists Pinpoint Trio of Factors that Allow HIV to Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier
Investigators Reveal How HIV Infects CD4 T Cells
Researchers Reveal How HIV Protein Thwarts Immune System

HIV Resistance
Researchers Discover Gene Fusion Linked to HIV Resistance in Monkeys

Vaccines and Therapeutics
Researchers Identify Mechanism for Vaccines to Target HIV Protein
Scientists Identify Protein that Blocks HIV’s Entrance into T Cells
Identification of Host Cell Factors Could Lead to New Class of HIV Therapies
Investigators Engineer Immune Cells to See Past HIV-1’s Disguises

All HIV-Related News