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Wellcome Research Round-up

28 Apr, 2014

Our fortnightly look at news from the Wellcome Trust research community.

New treatment to boost immunity in patients with liver disease

wrr picInfusing the globular protein albumin into the veins of patients who suffer from cirrhosis could make them less susceptible to life-threatening infections.

A study published in Nature Medicine, led by Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow Professor Derek Gilroy and Dr Alistair O’Brien, suggests that cirrhosis patients overproduce the hormone prostaglandin E2 which prevents white blood cells ingesting, and killing, bacteria. Levels of the protein albumin, which aids the inactivation of this hormone,  were also found to be lower than usual. The team propose that infusions of albumin could therefore reverse immune suppression.

“We have discovered that the immune system of patients with advanced liver disease can be boosted for at least 24 hours by infusing albumin into a vein which reduces PGE2’s effects” said Dr Alistair O’Brien, who was also involved in the study . “This safe process is currently given when patients need extra fluid, for example those with kidney damage”.

Protein discovery could signal changes in reproductive health

Wrr pic 2

Scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have identified the protein that enables eggs to fuse with sperm during fertilisation, a development that could help improve fertility treatments and improve contraceptives.

The protein named Juno was discovered on the surface of the egg and binds with the already known Izumo protein on sperm to initiate fertilisation.

The findings were confirmed in the lab and in mouse models lacking the Juno protein, linking the protein to infertility.

“Without this essential interaction, fertilisation just cannot happen. We may be able to use this discovery to improve fertility treatments and develop new contraceptives,” said Dr Gavin Wright who co-authored the paper published in Nature.

Study highlights resurgence of whooping cough

N0009966 PertussisNew genetic insight into the evolution of Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria behind whooping cough, could shape future strategies to control the disease, according to a study published in mBIO.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute studied 343 strains of the bacteria collected from all over the world over the last century and found great diversity as they evolved, perhaps to avoid the effects of vaccination, which was introduced in 1940.

“To stem the rise of whooping cough without returning to whole-cell vaccines…we need to employ strategic vaccination,” says Dr Marieke Bart from the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands who led the study.

“This could include vaccinating mothers in pregnancy so babies are born with some level of protection and cocooning a new-born by vaccinating adults around it. In the long run, however, we need better pertussis vaccines”.

The study has also found that whooping cough emerged later than previously thought.

Other news

  • Wellcome Trust senior clinical fellow Professor Sadaf Farooqi, will be giving a prestigious Royal Institution Friday evening discourse on 30th May. Tickets for her talk ‘Resisting Temptation – the Biology of appetite’ are available on the Ri website.
  • Breath Cycle, a Wellcome Trust small arts award project,has been nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Award. The project is a collaboration between Scottish Opera and Cystic Fibrosis (CF) patients to create new cycles of music as well as trial the effects of classic music techniques for improving lung function in CF patients.

Image credit: (Top image)Free Images/ Jeff Osborne, (lower image) Pertussis, Wellcome Photo Library, Wellcome Images

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