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Research Spotlight: Researchers propose aberrant genes as cure for ALS

Researchers propose aberrant genes as cure for ALS

After six years studying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, a team of five University faculty members received a $1.8 million research grant from the ALS Finding a Cure Foundation this fall. They will use this grant to further investigate aberrant genes — genetic mutations that suppress ALS — as a possible cure for the disease, and they could potentially receive up to $4 million over the next two years should their research prove fruitful.

The team is researching these aberrant genes because while some gene mutations can harm humans, others could potentially help by defending motor neurons.

The research is unconventional because it is a collective effort focusing on multiple species. By examining ALS in human cells as well as in other organisms such as mice, flies and worms, the team hopes to combine various models and reach conclusions more quickly. For example, the flies and worms would allow researchers to spot gene mutations, mice would provide a mammal cell model and human cells would indicate how the research could be applied clinically.

Clues found to unknown cause of deep earthquakes in subduction zones

University geologists discovered strong evidence that mysterious earthquakes occurring at Earth’s subduction zones­ — the areas where one of Earth’s tectonic plates goes underneath another — are caused when water escapes a mineral called lawsonite.

Greg Hirth, professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences, and Keishi Okazaki, postdoctoral research associate, have determined through experiments that as water leaks from the mineral at a high temperature and pressure, it weakens the mineral’s structure.

“For 50 years everyone has assumed this is a process related to antigorite, despite the fact that there wasn’t much evidence for it,” Hirth said in a University press release. “Now we have good experimental evidence of this dehydration process involving lawsonite.”

Earthquakes in the subduction zones can go unnoticed if they occur deep in the ground but can be very dangerous if they occur close to the surface, as in the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. This research can help scientists understand why earthquakes differ from one location to another, ultimately leading to greater predictability and more organized responses.

Professors honored for accomplishments in biotechnologies

Jeffrey Morgan, professor of medical science and engineering, and Anubhav Tripathi, professor of engineering and director of biomedical engineering, have been elected fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Among Morgan’s most notable contributions to the field are a device that could potentially be used for making artificial organs and  founding the company MicroTissues, which creates tissue cultures.

Some of Tripathi’s most significant research has investigated ways to enlarge the RNA of viruses, which in turn facilitates disease diagnoses.


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