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Archive - Nov 11, 2018

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POTION Project Will Study Scent of Emotion; Planned Five-Year Project Has 6.5 Million Euros in Funding

What does fear smell like? And happiness? When we feel emotions do we emit substances specific to that particular emotional state which can be “smelled” by our peers? This is certainly true of animals, but for human beings, it has yet to be proven. Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, PhD, Professor of Electronic and Information Bioinformation at the Department of Information Engineering (DII) of the University of Pisa, who heads the Computational Physiology group at the Research Center “E. Piaggio,” is coordinating a project the aim of which is to study whether the emotions we feel lead us to emit specific molecules, identifiable through the sense of smell, by analyzing sweat. The project called POTION has been awarded over 6,500,000 euros, for a period of five years during which time Professor Scilingo will coordinate a consortium of 10 international partners from 8 different countries, each with a scientific profile which is complementary, multidisciplinary and of consolidated experience in the research sector referred to in the themes of the project. A team from the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry of the University of Pisa, coordinated by Professor Fabio di Francesco, will also be taking part in the project. Their task will be to identify and synthesize the molecules in question, using the most advanced analytical techniques. “POTION aims to study the human capacity to transmit emotions and influence social behaviour through body odor: chemosignals,” explains Professor Scilingo. “When we feel emotions such as happiness and fear, the human body produces chemosignals that are released through sweat and which could be emotionally contagious the moment they are perceived by others.

New Stem Cell Population That Promotes Repair of Spinal Cord Injury Identified by Yale & Pisa Scientists

A team of scientists from the Yale School of Medicine and the Department of Biology at the University of Pisa in Italy has identified a specific stem cell population, known as neuroepithelial stem cells, which have proved to be particularly effective in the repair in animal models of spinal cord injury. The experiment demonstrated that these cells are able to integrate within the damaged tissue, extend processes by a few centimeters after the transplant, and offer motor and functional recovery in the animals subjected to the treatment. Furthermore, as the laboratory tests showed, recovery is proportionate to the extent of the injury: if, for example, the spinal cord damage is not higher than 25%, there is a significant improvement in the use of the lower limbs within two months. “Thanks to this study, it has been demonstrated for the first time that the anatomical origin of stem cells is of vital importance to the success of transplants,” explains Marco Onorati, PhD, a researcher from the University of Pisa and one of the first authors of the study published online on August 24, 2018 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Human Neuroepithelial Stem Cell Regional Specificity Enables Spinal Cord Repair Through a Relay Circuit.” In fact, while similar in vitro, the neural stem cells which have the same origin as the recipient tissue (in this case the spinal cord) turned out to be much more efficient than those with a diverse origin (for example derived from the brain) at re-establishing connections with the damaged area and guaranteeing the formation of new neuronal circuits. “Not all stem cells have the same potential,” concludes Dr.

ASHG Honors Geneticist Mary-Claire King with Advocacy Award

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Mary-Claire King, PhD, as the 2018 recipient of its Advocacy Award. Dr. King is American Cancer Society Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. This award honors individuals or groups who have exhibited excellence and achievement in applications of human genetics for the common good, in areas such as facilitating public awareness of genetics issues, promoting funding for biomedical research, and integrating genetics into health systems. The ASHG presented the award, which includes a plaque and $10,000 prize, on Friday, October 19, 2018 during the organization’s 68th Annual Meeting in San Diego, California. “Best known for her pivotal discoveries in breast cancer genetics, Dr. King has also spent many years as a tireless advocate for the use of genetics to help people and families around the world,” said David L. Nelson, PhD, President of ASHG. “This award recognizes her efforts to devise and implement solutions to real-world, societal challenges using genetic technologies.” Since 1983, Dr. King’s lab at the University of Washington has partnered with the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina to reunite families using genetics. Together, they identify children who were kidnapped as infants after their parents were murdered during the Argentinean military dictatorship of 1975-1983. For this purpose, Dr. King developed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing to match kidnapped children to possible maternal relatives. Over the past 35 years, her lab has helped reunite 130 families. Since the 1990s, Dr.