Archive | February 2012

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GW-As: The Toxicity Risk in the Genes

By Rob Mitchum Arsenic is a deadly toxin, but it’s not one dose fits all. Two people exposed to the same level of the chemical can have entirely different responses, with Patient A developing the skin lesions, cancers, and respiratory conditions that are a hallmark of arsenic toxicity, while Patient B is entirely unaffected. Currently, […]

The Risky Value of Imperfection

By Rob Mitchum Cells, like people, are not perfect. If a cell’s primary responsibility is to produce proteins, then it makes a remarkable amount of mistakes in that job, with some studies estimating that an error appears in as many as 1 out of every 5 proteins. Defective proteins can be a serious problem — […]

Mitochondria and Cancer: The Trigger Becomes the Treatment

Once considered the cause of cancer, a tiny organelle known as the “powerhouse of the cell” may soon spawn a new treatment. In 1955, Otto Warburg, recipient of the 1931 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology, attributed cancer to damage to the mitochondria, tiny structures within each cell that are involved in energy production, the […]

The Two Faces of microRNA

By Rob Mitchum Among the most hyped cancer therapies for the future, microRNA looms large. While much smaller than the RNA produced by protein-coding genes, these tiny transcripts play an important regulatory role in cells by acting as a brake on the process of making proteins from genes. MicroRNAs bind to their relatives, the messenger-RNAs, […]

Trajectories: Gender and Racial Differences in Substance Use

By Matt Wood Substance use among adolescents and young adults in the United States is a perennial problem. Despite decades of campaigns by health care providers, schools and the government warning about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, substantial numbers of young people still report using these substances on a regular basis. Research has […]

Recalculating a 40-Year-Old Ecology Riddle

By Rob Mitchum In 1972, a physicist named Robert May tried his hand at a different scientific discipline, publishing a simple formula that inflamed the field of ecology. Scientists studying the structure of natural ecosystems had long assumed that diversity was an inherently good thing — those ecosystems stocked with thousands of species were likely […]

Fighting Two Addictions with One Pill?

By Rob Mitchum Since its approval by the FDA in 2006, varenicline has become a valuable aide for people trying to get over the hump of quitting smoking. Marketed as Chantix, the drug has joined buproprion and nicotine replacement therapy as popular options for helping smokers fight cravings and withdrawal as they try to kick […]

Filtering the Flood of Medical Social Media

By Matt Wood It’s hard to avoid consumer advertising for prescription medications. Flip open a magazine and you’re likely to see a picture of a middle-aged couple, sitting in matching bathtubs, hawking erectile dysfunction pills. Turn on the TV and you’ll hear an actor rattling off a long list of scary-sounding side effects from a […]

Doubling the Dictionary of Protein Modification

A cell is full of language. There’s the four-letter code of DNA, the slightly different four-letter dialect of RNA, and the three-letter words that direct the construction of proteins, which are built out of an alphabet of 20 amino acids. In recent years, scientists have slowly revealed another vocabulary superimposed on top of this language, […]

Thinking Outside the Black Box on Antidepressants

By Rob Mitchum In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration placed their equivalent of a scarlet letter on the antidepressant fluoxetine. Acting on the compiled results of several clinical trials, the FDA affixed its foreboding “black box warning” on to the drug best known as Prozac, preaching caution about increased suicide risk in children and […]


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