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Archive - Oct 14, 2020

ASHG Honors Janina Jeff, PhD, with Its $10,000 Advocacy Award for Producing Hip-Hop Inspired Podcast That Uses Genetics to Uncover Lost Identities of African-Descended Americans Through Lens of Black Culture

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Janina Jeff, PhD, MS, as the 2020 recipient of the Society’s Advocacy Award ( Dr. Jeff is the host and executive producer of “In Those Genes,” described as “a hip-hop inspired podcast that uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African descended Americans through the lens of Black Culture.” See sample podcast at Dr. Jeff is a Senior Scientist at Illumina, a company at the intersection of biology and technology. This award, which includes a plaque with a $10,000 prize, 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. “Dr. Janina Jeff’s groundbreaking podcast ‘In Those Genes’ has provided fundamental insight into genetics and the exploration of the lost identities of African-descended Americans through the lens of Black culture,” said ASHG President Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, MD, PhD. “She is also an inspiring leader with a deep commitment to educating others and is a very important spokesperson in human genetics for a wider audience beyond scientists.” “In the wake of COVID-19, the podcast has quickly evolved as a forum dispensing scientific and medical truths and dispelling rumors and conspiracy theories circulating in the Black community on social media,” said Dana Crawford, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Services, Case Western University, in her nomination letter. Dr.

Two UTSW Studies in Science Focus on Elucidating Molecular Underpinnings of Schistosiomiasis

Two studies led by University of Texas (UT) Southwestern (UTSW) researchers have shed light on the biology and potential vulnerabilities of schistosomes – parasitic flatworms that cause the little-known tropical disease schistosomiasis. The findings, published in the Septembr 25, 2020 issue of Science, could change the course of this disease that kills up to 250,000 people a year. About 240 million people around the world have schistosomiasis – mostly children in Africa, Asia, and South America in populations that represent “the poorest of the poor,” says study leader James J. Collins (photo) (, PhD, Associate Professor in UTSW’s Department of Pharmacology. Most of those infected survive, but those who die often suffer organ failure or parasite-induced cancer. Symptoms can be serious enough to keep people from living productive lives, Dr. Collins says. The parasite that causes this disease has a complicated life cycle that involves stages in both freshwater snails and mammals. Dwelling in mammalian hosts’ circulatory systems, schistosomes feed on blood and lay copious numbers of eggs, all while causing an array of symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine. Larval worms are released from snails into water, where the flatworms then may infect humans by penetrating the skin. Schistosomiasis may become a chronic disease that affects the person for years. Only one drug, praziquantel, is available to treat this condition. However, Dr. Collins explains, it is of limited use – it doesn’t kill all intramammalian stages of the schistosome life cycle, and it has a variable cure rate in some endemic settings. There’s been little interest by pharmaceutical companies in developing new drugs for this disease, he adds, because there is no monetary incentive to do so.

Fighting Intestinal Infections with Body's Own Endocannabinoids: Native Chemicals Similar to Those Found in Cannabis Can Inhibit Bacterial Virulence, UTSW-Led Study Suggests

Endocannabinoids, signaling molecules produced in the body that share features with chemicals found in marijuana, can shut down genes needed for some pathogenic intestinal bacteria to colonize, multiply, and cause disease, new research led by University of Texas (UT) Southwestern (UTSW) scientists shows. The findings, published online on October 7, 2020 in Cell, could help explain why the cannabis plant--the most potent part of which is marijuana--can lessen the symptoms of various bowel conditions and may eventually lead to new ways to fight gastrointestinal infections. The Cell article is titled” Endocannabinoids Inhibit the Induction of Virulence in Enteric Pathogens.” Discovered in 1992, endocannabinoids are lipid-based neurotransmitters that play a variety of roles in the body, including regulating immunity, appetite, and mood. Cannabis and its derivatives have long been used to relieve chronic gastrointestinal conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Studies have shown that dysregulation of the body’s endocannabinoid system can lead to intestinal inflammation and affect the makeup of gut microbiota, the population of different bacterial species that inhabit the digestive tract. However, study leader Vanessa Sperandio (photo), PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Biochemistry at UTSW, says it’s been unknown whether endocannabinoids affect susceptibility to pathogenic gastrointestinal infections.