Utah’s weird Zika case, an experimental cancer drug’s utility in heart disease, and a bigger window into the brain.
(Wired Science, 7/19/2016, Sarah Zhang)
The apparent link between the mosquito-borne virus Zika and the birth defect, microcephaly has been well-publicized. But a new case reported recently in Utah has investigators scratching their heads. The patient had not traveled to any Zika-endemic countries, and Zika-carrying mosquitoes have not been discovered in Utah. But the patient did care for an elderly man who contracted Zika and died of unknown causes. The elderly man’s blood had an unusually high amount of Zika virus. The Utah case could come back to saliva. Scientists have detected viral fingerprints of Zika in human saliva, and while it is not usually a smoking gun for transmission the fact that the elderly man had a high concentration of virus could mean that levels of virus in saliva were extremely high as well.
(Science, 7/20/2016, Kelly Servick)
A new antibody drug designed to treat cancer may also be adept at reversing the dangerous build-up of plaque on artery walls, otherwise known as atherosclerosis. Researchers studying the condition found that found a signaling molecule that may prevent dead cells in the arteries from being eaten and disposed of. Blocking that signal, they found, reduces arterial plaque in mice. And because their signal blocker is an antibody already in phase I clinical trials for cancer treatment, they’re hoping to make a quick jump into human testing for cardiovascular disease. The new findings appear this week in Nature.
(New York Times, 7/20/2016, Carl Zimmer)
In what many experts are calling a milestone in neuroscience, researchers published a new map of the brain detailing 100 previously unknown regions. Scientists will rely on this guide as they attempt to understand virtually every aspect of the brain, from how it develops in children and ages over decades, to how it can be corrupted by diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. Scientists created the map with advanced scanners and computers running artificial intelligence programs that “learned” to identify the brain’s hidden regions from vast amounts of data collected from hundreds of test subjects, a far more sophisticated and broader effort than had been previously attempted. The findings appeared this week in Nature.
—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery