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Creighton Awarded $1.44 Million for Bench-to-Bedside Asthma Research

What started as basic cancer research at Creighton University has yielded promising results for diagnosing and treating asthma – and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees, investing nearly $1.5 million in Creighton to find out more.

In a previous prostate cancer study, Yaping Tu, Ph.D., a cancer biologist and associate professor of pharmacology at Creighton University School of Medicine, studied a mouse model that was missing a specific gene, called RGS2; he believed the deleted gene would lead to prostate cancer in the animals. Though the tumors failed to develop, Tu noticed the mice had trouble breathing and were less active, similar to asthma patients. With the help of Creighton’s renowned allergy and asthma researcher Thomas Casale, M.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology and Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology, Tu soon determined the animals suffered from airway hyperresponsiveness, or a twitchiness of the airways – a cardinal feature of asthma.

“This finding piqued our interest and made us wonder if there was a connection to human patients with asthma,” says Tu. “In a preliminary study funded by the American Asthma Foundation, we were able to confirm that RGS2 is downregulated in a high percentage of patients with asthma, confirming the possibility that this may be a target for a novel gene therapy in asthma patients.”
Now with a $1.44 million, four-year NIH grant, Tu and collaborators Casale and Peter Abel, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at Creighton University School of Medicine, will take a bench-to-bedside approach to explore how the gene works in the development of airway hyperresponsiveness and whether it can be used as a diagnostic marker for asthma. Finally, the collaborators will work to develop a therapeutic approach to restore gene function, with the hope of one day applying the research to human trials.

Asthma currently affects more than 25 million Americans. There is not one cause; different patients have different triggers. The one shared trait, however, is airway hypperresponsiveness possibly related to the change to RGS2.

“Our current treatment options are similar to a lock-and-key,” Casale explains. “Each drug on the market is the key to unlock and treat a different symptom or pathway important in causing asthma – and we still haven’t found all of the keys. We still have a lot of work to do, but our findings suggest that therapy targeting RGS2 gene expression might just be the master key to managing a critical component of asthma as a whole.”

Research reported in this press release was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01HL116849. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Creighton University

New Test Assesses Gestational Diabetes Risk Early in Pregnancy

Levels of a biomarker in a pregnant woman’s blood can help physicians gauge her risk of developing gestational diabetes during the first trimester, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy, often during the second trimester. The condition causes glucose levels in the bloodstream to be higher than normal. Early diagnosis and treatment can help the woman manage the condition. If left untreated, high blood glucose in the mother increases the risk of jaundice, breathing and hypoglycemia problems in the newborn. Uncontrolled gestational diabetes also can increase the risk of premature delivery and preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

“Although it is important to quickly intervene in cases of gestational diabetes, often only women who have risk factors like a family history or obesity are screened early in pregnancy,” said one of the study’s authors, Atsuhiro Ichihara, MD, PhD, of Tokyo Women’s Medical University. “Women who don’t have the traditional risk factors may not be diagnosed until the second trimester. The method identified in this study offers every pregnant woman the opportunity to know her risk early on.”

The prospective cohort study tested the blood of 716 pregnant women during the first trimester to measure their levels of the soluble (pro)renin receptor, or s(P)RR. Of the participants, 44 women developed gestational diabetes.

Researchers found pregnant women with elevated s(P)RR levels were more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Women who had the highest s(P)RR levels were 2.9 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who had the lowest levels.

“In addition to gestational diabetes, recent studies have found elevated s(P)RR levels are associated with the birth of larger babies and high blood pressure in late pregnancy,” Ichihara said. “The evidence suggests the biomarker is important in the interaction between mother and fetus during pregnancy.”

Source: Prediction of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus by Soluble (Pro)Renin Receptor during the First Trimester

Source: EurekAlert!

ALS Association-Funded Study Finds Blood Protein May Serve as Biomarker to Measure ALS Decline

According to a new study published online on October 31 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, a protein in the blood may serve as a biomarker, providing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) researchers a way to track the progress of the disease and potentially to determine quickly whether a patient is responding to therapy. The study was supported by the EMD/ALS Biomarker Research Fund through the Keith Worthington Chapter of The ALS Association and is one of 80 active projects in The ALS Association’s Translational Research Advancing Therapies (TREAT ALS™) research portfolio.

Time to Breathe a Sigh of Relief

British Columbia is facing a healthcare funding challenge and two of the major drivers contributing to it are emphysema and bronchitis, known together as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Exacerbations of COPD, or ‘lung attacks’, are currently the leading cause of emergency room visits and hospitalizations among chronic disease sufferers in BC, and across the country. Such lung attacks are also costly to the healthcare system, accounting for over $5.7 billion in direct, and $6.7 billion for indirect, healthcare costs every year in Canada.

Biogen Idec to Acquire Stromedix

Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and Stromedix, Inc. recently announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Biogen Idec will acquire Stromedix Inc., a privately held biotechnology company focused on innovative therapies for fibrosis and organ failure. Under the terms of the agreement, Biogen Idec will make an upfront cash payment of $75 million and additional contingent value payments of up to $487.5 million based on the achievement of certain development and approval milestones across multiple indications.