A major breakthrough in gene therapy, can a tiny spinning molecule cure cancer and what is so special about sheep calls?

Why Sheep Calls Have That Unmistakable Vibrato

(Discover, 8/30/2017, Nathaniel Scharping)

Have you ever sang the Old MacDonald nursery rhyme? If so, you must be familiar with the baaaaa sound that sheep make. But what makes that sound so special? Their calls feature a vibrato-like trill. Vibrato is the small, quick oscillation in pitch that musicians use to accentuate certain notes. A new study from University College Dublin says that these characteristic vocal modulations help animals to be heard by making their vocalizations more distinct. In humans and goats alike, the physical layout of the vocal tract means that certain harmonics are emphasized when sound is produced. These are called formants, and they play a crucial role in helping animals to distinguish between different types of calls. By varying the fundamental frequency of a tone, the harmonics change accordingly, and the researchers think this subtle variation in pitch helps formants stand out.

FDA Approves First Gene Therapy for Leukemia

(NPR, 8/30/2017, Rob Stein)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an historic action this week making the first gene therapy available in the United States. The move ushers in a new approach to the treatment of cancer and other serious and life-threatening diseases. The FDA approved Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) for certain pediatric and young adult patients with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Kymriah, a cell-based gene therapy, is approved in the United States for the treatment of patients up to 25 years of age with B-cell precursor ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse. Each dose of Kymriah is a customized treatment created using an individual patient’s own T-cells, a type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte. The patient’s T-cells are collected and sent to a manufacturing center where they are genetically modified to include a new gene that contains a specific protein (a chimeric antigen receptor or CAR) that directs the T-cells to target and kill leukemia cells that have a specific antigen (CD19) on the surface. Once the cells are modified, they are infused back into the patient to kill the cancer cells.

Nanomachines drill holes into cancer cells

(Science, 8/30/2017, Ryan Cross)

A tiny spinning molecule known as a nanomachine has been developed by scientists at Durham University. Nanomachines are driven by light and move so quickly they can burrow through cell linings. Although the nanodrillers bear no physical resemblance to a machine we would recognize, the molecules strung together by chemists run like an electric motor. When scientists unleashed the nanomachines on human kidney cells in a dish, holes formed in the cells within a minute, and death soon followed. Molecules added to the stator’s arms can work as chemical zip codes to selectively direct the nanomachines to a particular structure on a cell’s surface, such as a protein expressed on prostate cancer cells.


—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola