The plight of the missing rodents, the future of optogenetics, the links between insomnia and dementia, and newcomers to the Periodic Table. This week in Abstract Science.
(Nature, 1/5/16, Monya Baker)
The latest in a series of papers criticizing shoddy research suggests that hundreds of published research experiments fail to disclose crucial pieces of animal data. A team led by Ulrich Dirnagl of the Charité Medical University in Berlin reviewed 100 reports describing 522 experiments that used rodents to test cancer and stroke treatments. About two-thirds of the experiments failed to state whether they had dropped any animals from the final analysis, a stark contrast to major clinical trials where it is routine to disclose whether patients die or drop out during the course of a study. And of the 30% (53) that did mention dropping rodents from a study analysis, only 14 explained why. Similarly, a team led by John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, examined a random sample of PubMed articles published between 2000 and 2014. They found that none of the 268 biomedical papers made its full data available, and all but one lacked details needed for other researchers to replicate the work. The Dirnagl and Ioannidis findings both appeared this week in the journal PLoS Biology.
(Scientific American, 1/5/16, Stephani Sutherland)
A company formed by optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth plans to begin clinical trials of the revolutionary neuroscience technique within the next several years. The goal is to use the tool to treat chronic pain. Several other start-ups are also contemplating clinical trials of optogenetics to treat a variety of neurological disorders. While this is perhaps the biggest indication yet that this technique is not a momentary blip in the world of neurological discovery, challenges remain. The main obstacle before optogenetic therapies become a reality is getting opsin genes into the adult human neurons to be targeted in a treatment.
(NPR, 1/6/16, John Hamilton)
Brain scientist Jeffrey Illif of Oregon Health & Science University is getting ready to launch a clinical study that could clarify links between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease. The study builds on previous findings by Illif and others that suggest poor or erratic sleep habits may impede a remarkable cleansing process, via the glymphatic system, that takes place in the brain during deep sleep. In animal studies, the brain appears to use the deep sleep cycle to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer’s, leading scientists to believe that without enough solid shut-eye such toxins will build up and damage the brain. Iliff plans to use imaging equipment powerful enough to detect changes that indicate precisely when the glymphatic system gets switched on in a person’s brain.
(Huffington Post, 1/6/16, Melanie Fine)
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry announced this week that four new—elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 will receive their permanent seats at the Periodic Table, thereby completing the heretofore incomplete seventh row. But try picking them out of a crowd. These four elements were synthesized in large particle accelerators. Scientists don’t actually “see” these new elements, but extrapolate their fleeting existence from their decay products. These elements are so “superheavy,” that they decay within thousandths of a second after they are formed into smaller, more stable elements.
—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery