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News in a nutshell

Posted Apr 11 2011 9:55am

This week’s news includes the spread of an antibiotic-resistant gene in microbes and international efforts to curb the rise of antibiotic resistance, the development of tiny kidneys from stem cells, the identification of the first patient in the Geron hESC trial, a 3D model of rat whiskers, and the genetic basis of caffeine fiends.

Superbug spreading

A gene conferring resistance to a major class of antibiotics appears to be spreading in bacteria. In August, researchers reported that infections involving New Delhi metallobeta-lactamase, or NMD-1, an enzyme which destroys a valuable class of antibiotics, were recorded in patients in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Britain. Now, a paper published last Thursday (April 7) in Lancet Infectious Diseases found NMD-1 present in bacteria in drinking water and sewage samples in New Delhi, India.

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria

The spread of antibiotic-resistant genes across species of bacteria, including NMD-1, is causing a stir around the world. Last Thursday, World Health Day, the World Health Organization issued a call to action to combat the rise of antibiotic resistance, which they estimate currently costs the US health care system more than $20 billion and tens of thousands of lives lost each year. The Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now (GAIN) Act to incentivize the development of new antibiotics is expected to be introduced to the US Congress soon. India’s Union Health Ministry is also taking efforts to contain the spread of resistance in the form of a formal antibiotic policy to regulate the use of antibiotics in the country, according to India Express , though some infectious disease experts have questioned the ability of Indian officials to enforce stricter regulations, according to The Telegraph in Calcutta, India.

Artificial kidney breakthrough

Scientists at Edinburgh University in the UK have succeeded in creating an artificial mammalian kidney from stem cells. The kidney, which is half a centimeter in length, the size of a fetal kidney, was created using a combination of cells from human amniotic fluid and animal fetal cells, according to the Daily Record . The research is still ten years from the clinic, the team says, but they believe if the kidneys were transplanted into humans, they would grow into a normal size, reports Stv.tv . If successfully taken to the market, the technology could dramatically reduce the demand for donor organs.

First hESC therapy patient identified

An Alabama nursing student paralyzed from the chest down after a car crash in September has come forward as the first patient in Geron’s human embryonic stem cell (hESC) trial for spinal cord injury, the first hESC trial approved in the United States. Timothy Atchison had more than 2 million cells derived from hESCs injected into his spine in September at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Atchison declined to discuss if the treatment had shown beneficial effects: “It’s too early to talk about that,” he told The Washington Post . “We’re just in the early stages right now. It’s not at the stage to really know what’s going on.”

Virtual whiskers

You may hate live rats, but how about a virtual one? Scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have created a 3D computer model of rats’ whiskers, which provide sensory input to the scavenging animals to give them a detailed sense of their surroundings. The model realistically simulates real rats’ whiskery explorations, reports ScienceNow , and could help humans better understand how the brain processes sensory information.

Caffeine genes

In a genome-wide association study of over 45,000 human genomes, researchers have identified two genetic variants associated with caffeine consumption. One variant was next to a gene called CYP1A2, known to be responsible for caffeine metabolism, and the second was near a gene that regulates CYP1A2. Subjects with both variants drank about 40 mg more caffeine a day — half a cup of brewed coffee — than subjects with neither variant, reports ScienceNow . Still, the two genetic variants are responsible for less than 1 percent of the variation in caffeine intake among the subjects, the team reports, suggesting that rarer variants remain to be discovered.

April 11: This article has been updated from a previous version.

Related News Stories:

  • Opinion: 5 ways to save antibiotics
    [14th December 2010]
  • New lab-grown lungs
    [24th June 2010]
  • Geron trial may resume next year
    [30th October 2009]
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