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Archive - Mar 14, 2017

3D Visualization of the Islets of Langerhans--New Tool Available for Diabetes Research

Umeå University researchers in Sweden have created datasets that map the three-dimensional distribution and volume of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The wealth of visual and quantitative information may serve as a powerful reference resource for diabetes researchers. The Umeå University researchers have published their datasets online on March 10, 2017 in Scientific Data, which is a Nature Research journal for scientifically valuable collections of research data with high reuse potential. The publication is titled “Data from: Spatial and Quantitative Datasets of the Pancreatic Β-Cell Mass Distribution in Lean and Obese Mice.” The hormone insulin -- which is needed to regulate the blood sugar levels of the body -- is produced by the pancreas and plays a key role in the development of diabetes. Insulin-producing cells are organized in the so-called Islets of Langerhans (or pancreatic islets), which are scattered by the thousands in the pancreas. In diabetes research, it is often important to study the quantity and distribution of insulin-producing cells. At present, such studies are generally based upon analyses of chosen cross-sections of pancreatic tissue. These, in turn, form the basis for attempting to gain an overall picture of the pancreas. "However, such analyses only provide limited information and are often ridden with relatively large margins of error because the conclusions are based only on two-dimensional data," says Ulf Ahlgren, Professor in Molecular Medicine at Umeå University and in charge of the publications. Dr. Ahlgren and his research colleagues at the Umeå Centre for Molecular Medicine (UCMM) have previously developed new methods to create three-dimensional images of the insulin cell distribution in intact pancreas based on so-called optical projection tomography (OPT).

New Way to Reset Gene Expression in Cancer Cells Shows Promise for Leukemia Treatment

New findings from Rockefeller University researchers could guide the development of potent combination therapies that deliver more effective and durable treatment of leukemia. In work published online on March 1, 2017 in Nature, the scientists show that it’s possible to deactivate cellular programs involved in tumor growth by disrupting a protein that regulates genes. The article is titled “ENL Links Histone Acetylation to Oncogenic Gene Expression in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.” At the center of this research are proteins called histones, which provide a physical support structure for the genome, and can also help regulate gene expression. Chemical modifications to histones can turn nearby genes on or off, and the cell interprets these chemical marks with the help of a variety of “reader” proteins. Once they recognize and bind to the chemically modified histones, the reader proteins recruit other factors that coordinate gene activation or inhibition. This process can become derailed in cancer, and drugs that selectively inhibit a class of readers known as BET proteins have already shown early promise in treating certain tumors. Now, a multi-institutional research team—led in part by Dr. David Allis, Joy and Jack Fishman Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics—has uncovered similar therapeutic potential for another, recently-identified class of reader proteins. These proteins share a structural feature called a YEATS domain, which specifically recognizes histones modified with a type of chemical mark called an acetyl group. “The functional importance of this reading activity by the YEATS domain was unknown,” says Dr. Liling Wan, a postdoctoral fellow in the Allis lab and lead author on the study, but she also notes strong evidence linking these proteins to cancer.