Unhealthy Gut Promotes Spread of Breast Cancer, UVA Study Finds

Melanie Rutkowski, PhD, of UVA’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology, found that disrupting the microbiome of mice caused hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to become more aggressive. Altering the microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that live in the gut and elsewhere, had dramatic effects in the body, priming the cancer to spread.

This new research suggests that an unhealthy, inflamed gut causes breast cancer to become much more invasive and spread more quickly to other parts of the body.

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UVA Researcher Receives One of Science’s Highest Honors

The University of Virginia’s School of Medicine’s Edward H. Egelman has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for a scientist.

Egelman is Harrison Distinguished Professor in UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. His work focuses on using cryo-electron microscopy and 3-D modeling to map out the world that is far too small for even the most powerful light microscopes to see.

“This is an amazing honor,” Egelman said. “It is truly gratifying to have my work receive such recognition.” [Read more]


The Secret Superpower That Makes C. Difficile So Deadly

(l-r) Researcher Mahmoud Saleh and William Petri Jr., MD, PhD.

A new discovery about dangerous C. difficile diarrhea has identified a new way that the bacteria — and possibly others like it — cause severe disease. C. diff is the most common hospital-acquired infection and estimated to result in 453,000 cases per year, with 29,300 associated deaths.  The new finding from the University of Virginia School of Medicine explains why certain patients are highly susceptible to C. diff infections, provides doctors with a way to predict disease severity and points to a new way to treat the often-deadly condition. [Read more]


A UVA Doctor Reflects on Her Work With NASA

Francine Garrett-Bakelman, MD, PhD, is a cancer doctor and researcher at UVA. She worked with NASA on a twins study.

On March 3, 2016, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly came home from a yearlong stay on the International Space Station, and a young physician-scientist, Francine Garrett-Bakelman, was waiting anxiously to receive samples of Scott Kelly’s blood that had been collected on the space station. Those samples, along with many others collected since 2014, would allow her and a massive team of colleagues to conduct far-reaching tests to determine how Kelly’s extended time in space had affected him. The researchers could then compare his results with those from his identical twin brother, who had remained on Earth. [Read more]


Electricity-Conducting Bacteria Yield Secret to Tiny Batteries, Big Medical Advances

UVA’s Edward H. Egelman and colleagues used cutting-edge technology to gain a greater understanding of how a bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens, conducts electricity.

Scientists at the University of Virginia and elsewhere have made a surprising discovery about how strange bacteria that live in soil and sediment can conduct electricity. The bacteria do so, the researchers determined, through a seamless biological structure never before seen in nature – a structure scientists could co-opt to miniaturize electronics, create powerful-yet-tiny batteries, build pacemakers without wires and develop a host of other medical advances. [Read more]

Surprise Rheumatoid Arthritis Discovery Points to New Treatment for Joint Inflammation

Kodi Ravichandran, left, and Sanja Arandjelovic led new research into the causes of rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified an unexpected contributor to rheumatoid arthritis that may help explain the painful flare-ups associated with the disease.  The new findings about rheumatoid arthritis came in an unexpected fashion. Sanja Arandjelovic, a research scientist in the Ravichandran group, was seeking to better understand what causes the inflammation associated with inflammatory arthritis when she noted that deleting a gene called ELMO1 alleviated arthritis symptoms in mice. This was particularly surprising because Arandjelovic and Ravichandran initially thought that loss of ELMO1 would result in increased inflammation.  [Read more]


New Contributor to Age-Related Hearing Loss

Postdoctoral researcher Ting-Ting Du, left, led the research in the lab of neuroscientist Jung-Bum Shin, right, that explores the role of the inner ear’s cuticular plate in hearing loss. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered a new potential contributor to age-related hearing loss, a finding that could eventually help doctors identify people at risk. The finding suggests that genetic predisposition can cause this “cuticular plate,” as the foundation is known, to weaken over time.
The research was supported by the Virginia Lions Hearing Foundation, by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.  [Read more]


UVA Discovers Secret to Making Immune Cells Better Cancer Killers

Researchers Lelisa F. Gemta (left) and Timothy Bullock have determined why killer T cells can be so helpless against cancer. Their finding could allow doctors to make the cells more effective cancer killers.
Scientists at the School of Medicine have discovered a defect in immune cells known as “killer T cells” that explains their inability to destroy cancer tumors. The researchers believe that repairing this defect could make the cells much better cancer killers. Further, they predict their discovery could be used within three to five years to help identify patients who will best respond to cancer therapies.
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OCD Medication Could Also Stop Deadly Sepsis, UVA Study Suggests

An antidepressant drug used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder could save people from deadly sepsis, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Sepsis is a significant cause of death around the world. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Infection calls it “the body’s extreme response to an infection.” Essentially, the body’s immune response spirals out of control, and the normally beneficial inflammation becomes harmful. The result can be tissue damage, organ failure or even death.

To evaluate the potential of one drug, the antidepressant fluvoxamine, to stop sepsis, Gaultier’s team tested it in a mouse model of the disease. The drug worked very effectively, they found.  [Read more]


Study Shows that Exercise Before Surgery Can Protect Muscles and Nerves

UVA’s Zhen Yan, PhD, a top expert on the cellular benefits of exercise, and his team are working to better understand how the body is damaged by the restoration of blood flow – known as ischemia reperfusion injury – and to find ways to improve outcomes for people who suffer it, including surgery and trauma patients and soldiers injured on the battlefield. They found that pre-injury exercise clearly reduced the damage to both muscle and nerve, but it did not significantly reduce the amount of oxidative stress. “We know exercise made the muscle and nerve tougher,” Yan said. “The protection is very clear.”  [Read more]


Brain Discovery at UVA Makes ‘Most Promising Medical Advances’ List

University of Virginia School of Medicine discovery about the role of the brain’s cleaning system in aging and Alzheimer’s disease has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as one of 2018’s most promising medical advances.

The finding, published in the prestigious journal Nature, suggests that impairments in the lymphatic vessels that carry waste from the brain could be major contributors both to Alzheimer’s and the cognitive decline that comes with age. The NIH included the discovery in its 2018 research highlights in the category of “findings with potential for enhancing human health.” [Read more]


Gene Discovery Reveals New Targets for Treating Atherosclerosis, Inflammatory Diseases

A group of genes that has been largely ignored by scientists could play critical roles in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), inflammation, and likely obesity and other metabolic diseases, new research suggests.

“We came across the genes, called SLCs, kind of by accident,” said researcher Kodi Ravichandran. “Initially, just like everybody else, we were not paying much attention to the SLCs. But they kept coming up repeatedly in our gene expression analyses, and we realized this must be relevant. Then we took a serious dive into their biology, and we had a lot of fun surprises.” [Read more]


HPV Discovery Raises Hope for New Cervical Cancer Treatments

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made a discovery about human papillomavirus, or HPV for short, that could lead to new treatments for cervical cancer and other cancers caused by the virus. Anindya Dutta said that despite a vaccine, HPV cancers are likely “here to stay. So we need new therapies.”

HPV is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer and 95 percent of anal cancers. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease, infecting more than 79 million Americans. Most have no idea that they are infected or that they could be spreading it. [Read more]


Kipnis Receives Prestigious NIH Director’s Pioneer Award

Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, a School of Medicine neuroscientist who is transforming our understanding of the brain’s relationship to the immune system has been awarded the prestigious Director’s Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health.

As chairman of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and director of its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG), Kipnis will receive more than $5.6 million in research funding over five years as part of the award.

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Kipnis Lab

In Scientific American cover story, “The Seventh Sense,” neuroscientist Jonathan Kipnis describes the relationship between the nervous and immune systems. “Mounting evidence indicates that the brain and the immune system interact routinely, both in sickness and in health,” he writes. The immune system may “qualify as a kind of surveillance organ that detects microorganisms in … the body and informs the brain about them, much as our eyes relay visual information and our ears transmit auditory signals.” [Read more…]







Leitinger Lab Discovery Reveals How Obesity Causes Disease and How We Can Stop It

New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine explains why obesity causes harmful inflammation that can lead to diabetes, clogged arteries and other health problems. Doctors may be able to use this knowledge to battle these chronic diseases and others driven by damaging inflammation.

“All these diseases have a common denominator,” said researcher Vlad Serbulea, PhD. “It may well be that we’ve identified what starts off the whole cascade of inflammation and metabolic changes.”

Check out the full story on UVA Health System Connect, 7/23/18.