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Research Matters

December 22, 2008

Research Matters 2008 Recap

NIH has nearly 6,000 NIH staff scientists and supports more than 325,000 researchers with competitive grants to all 50 states, the territories and more than 90 countries around the world. Here's just a small sampling of the accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2008.

Clinical Breakthroughs

Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of Human Disease

Photo of multiple vitamin pills and spoon.Dietary Supplements Fail to Prevent Prostate Cancer
Two large NIH-funded clinical trials found that taking vitamin E, vitamin C or selenium does not reduce the risk of prostate cancer or other cancers in older men, as some previous studies had suggested. The results highlight the fact that dietary supplements can sometimes seem beneficial in small observational studies, but large, carefully controlled trials are needed to test whether they really live up to their hoped-for benefits.
Research Matters | PubMed-selenium and vitamin E | PubMed-vitamins E and C

a photo of a person administering a blood glucose testIntensive Blood Sugar Control in Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes need to keep their blood sugar from getting too high. But a large NIH-funded clinical trial found that tighter control isn't always better. A therapeutic strategy designed to aggressively control blood sugar in adults with diabetes who are also at high risk for cardiovascular disease not only failed to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events; it actually raised patients’ risk of death.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a crushed cigarette.Smokers Band Together and Quit Together
Spouses, friends, siblings and co-workers usually decide to light up or stub out their cigarettes for good around the same time, an NIH-funded study found. Married couples seemed to exert the greatest influence on each other. When one spouse quit smoking, the other’s likelihood of smoking dropped by nearly 70%. A better understanding of how social ties affect smoking behavior may lead to more effective ways to prevent or reduce smoking.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a baby and motherTreatment Lowers Preterm Infants’ Risk for Cerebral Palsy
Preterm infants born to mothers receiving intravenous magnesium sulfate—a common treatment to delay labor—are less likely to develop cerebral palsy than those whose mothers don’t receive it, according to NIH-supported research. The study, involving more than 2,200 pregnant women, is the largest, most comprehensive effort to date to examine the link between the often-used drug and cerebral palsy.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a female patient receiving laser eye therapy.Laser Treatment Best for Diabetic Macular Edema
Traditional laser therapy proved more effective than newer steroid injections for treating people with diabetes who have abnormal swelling in the eye, a condition called diabetic macular edema. About 700 patients were studied in the NIH-funded clinical trial, which showed that laser therapy protected against vision loss and had far fewer side effects than the corticosteroid treatments.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a person taking a waist measurement.Wide Waists Boost Mortality Risk
Even if your weight is in the normal range, your risk of death increases if your waist is wide, according to research by NIH scientists. The investigators studied nearly a quarter-million people over age 50. Those with the largest waists had about a 25% higher mortality risk than those with a normal-sized waist. Normal-weight people with large waists had a 20% higher risk of death than those with both a normal weight and waist size.
Research Matters| PubMed

a photo of a boy and a girl playing leap frog.Children’s Physical Activity Drops from Age 9 to 15
Physical activity levels sharply declined in a large group of American children between the ages of 9 and 15, according to a long-term study by NIH-supported scientists. At ages 9 and 11, more than 90% of the children met recommended activity levels—at least 60 minutes of physical activities most days of the week. By age of 15, however, only 31% met the recommended level on weekdays, and only 17% on weekends.
Research Matters | PubMed

Computer rendered image of microscopic allergens.Increased Allergen Levels in Homes Linked to Asthma
A little housecleaning may help to reduce asthma symptoms in people who have both asthma and allergies, suggests a study by NIH scientists and their colleagues. A survey of more than 2,500 people showed that allergy-triggering substances, called allergens, were common in most homes. Households with asthmatic people were more likely to have higher levels of multiple allergens, including those from dog, cat, mouse and dust mite.
Research Matters | PubMed


Promising Medical Advances

Findings with Potential for Enhancing Human Health

a photo of an African-American couple walking together.Gene Variations Linked to Kidney Disease in African Americans
For the first time, researchers have identified genetic variations that are strongly associated with certain kidney diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans. The results of this NIH-funded research may eventually lead to new therapies or diagnostic tools to identify people at higher risk various types of kidney disease.
Research Matters | PubMed

an illustration of a neuron.Artificial Connections Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs
For the first time, scientists have shown that a direct artificial connection from the brain to muscles can restore wrist movement in monkeys whose arms have been temporarily anesthetized. The results of this NIH-funded study have promising implications for prosthetic design, although clinical applications are still probably at least a decade away.
Research Matters | PubMed

an illustration of 3 strands of DNA in different colors.Genome-Wide Studies Shed Light on Several Disorders
In 2008, NIH-funded scientists identified genetic variations that put people at risk for several common and complex disorders, including breast cancer, gout, lung cancer, schizophrenia, glioblastoma and blood cholesterol and lipid levels. Their successes relied on genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which scan the genomes of large numbers of people to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease. By analyzing hundreds or thousands of genomes, GWAS analyses can detect infrequent but significant links to disease that might be obscured in smaller studies. One NIH-funded GWAS even examined the genetic make-up of smokers. The results suggested that certain genetic variants can affect smokers’ chances for successful quitting and may also help determine which type of treatment would be most likely to help them quit.
PubMed–breast cancer | PubMed-gout | PubMed–lung cancer | PubMed1, PubMed2–schizophrenia | PubMed1, PubMed2–glioblastoma | PubMed–cholesterol and lipids | PubMed–smokers

a computer rendering of a flu virus.Quick New Method Makes Human Antibodies that Flight Flu Virus
Researchers devised a fast new technique for producing human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that can roam the bloodstream to target and destroy infectious microbes. Using the new method, NIH-funded scientists created fully human influenza-fighting antibodies in a matter of weeks, rather than the months typically needed to generate mAbs.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of calipers measuring fatFat Cell Numbers in Teen Years Linger for a Lifetime
After your teen years, the number of fat cells in your body probably stays the same for the rest of your life, even if you gain or lose weight, according to an NIH-funded study. The fat cells simply get bigger or smaller as your weight changes. The findings may help to explain why it can be so hard for some people to drop pounds and keep them off.
Research Matters | PubMed

Microscopic worm curled into "C" shape.Newly Identified Compounds Can Block Parasitic Worms
NIH-supported scientists identified a molecule that holds promise for treating schistosomiasis, a sometimes-deadly disease that afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide. The new compound, called furoxan, can destroy all 3 major species of the microscopic parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis in humans. Furoxan also blocked all stages of the Schistosoma worm's development in infected mice.
Research Matters | PubMed

a microscopic image of the herpes virus.Learning How Cold Sore Viruses Hide
Once you’ve been infected with a herpesvirus, like the virus that causes cold sores, it takes up permanent residence in your body, hiding quietly in your nerve cells until the next outbreak. NIH-funded scientists discovered tiny molecules, called microRNAs, that seem to help the cold sore virus stay inactive and protected. The finding may eventually lead to new strategies for treating persistent herpesvirus infections.
Research Matters | PubMed

an image of brightly colored chromosomal pairs.Map of Structural Variation in the Human Genome
NIH-funded researchers produced the first sequence-based map of "structural" variations in the human genome, including gains, losses and rearrangements of long stretches of DNA. Structural variations have already been linked to HIV susceptibility, coronary heart disease, schizophrenia and autism. The map will help researchers better understand how these variations contribute to human health and disease.
Research Matters | PubMed


Insights from the Lab

Noteworthy Advances in Basic Research

an illustration of HIV viruses.Novel Type of Antibody Inhibits HIV Infection
NIH scientists identified a small antibody fragment that’s highly effective at neutralizing the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The antibody strongly binds to different versions of the HIV envelope protein and prevents a wide range of HIV strains from entering immune cells. The finding may ultimately lead to new therapies against HIV and other viruses.
Research Matters | PubMed

Photo of cultured stem cells in a well plate.Making "Safer" Stem Cells
NIH-funded scientists developed a new technique that converts adult cells into versatile stem cells that can grow into a wide variety of cell types. This approach uses a common cold virus to insert 4 transformative genes into mouse cells. The new method sidesteps the cancer-causing potential of a previously developed technique, which used a different kind of virus to deliver the stem cell-generating genes.
Research Matters | PubMed

Scanning electron micrograph of cancer cell.Rethinking Metastasis
Most cancer deaths result from metastasis, the spread of cancer from a tumor to other parts of the body. Researchers have long thought that metastasis comes at a late stage of cancer. NIH-funded studies of genetically altered mice now suggest that metastasis may start long before that. Normal cells may travel to other parts of the body early in the cancer process and then later become malignant.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a mosquito.Human Genes Associated With West Nile Virus Infection
Since West Nile virus first appeared in the United States a decade ago, it’s become a seasonal epidemic that flares up each summer. Unfortunately, our understanding of the virus on a molecular level has been limited. A study by NIH-funded scientists identified over 300 human genes that play a role in West Nile virus infection. The findings reveal several potential targets for antiviral therapies.
Research Matters | PubMed

a symbolic representation of a networkMetabolic Network Finds Disease Links
By building an extensive computer network of molecular relationships, NIH-funded researchers uncovered completely unexpected connections between diseases. The metabolic disease network pinpointed 193 pairs of diseases that are metabolically linked and tend to occur together. This research broadens the study of disease by moving beyond single genes to consider multiple genes or proteins at the same time.
Research Matters
| PubMed

an illustration of two metal discs with spacers separating them.Adding "Color" to MRI
NIH researchers and their colleagues have figured out how to add the equivalent of color to MRI. The scientists engineered different microscopic magnetic particles that give off distinct signals in an MRI scan. Computers can convert these signals into a rainbow of colors. With further development, the technique may produce MRI scans that better distinguish between the body’s internal structures and cell types.
Research Matters | PubMed

a photo of a sandfly.Immune Cells Help Tropical Parasites Evade Death
Tiny parasites that cause the tropical disease leishmaniasis may take advantage of the body’s initial defenses by hiding and surviving inside the fast-acting immune cells sent to devour them, according to a study by NIH scientists. The research provides a new view of the earliest stages of Leishmania infection, which affects about 12 million people worldwide.
Research Matters | PubMed

Clusters of round, golden bacteria.Cholesterol Drug Makes Staph More Vulnerable
NIH-funded researchers discovered that an experimental cholesterol-fighting drug may also prove useful as an antibiotic that beats back staph infections. The scientists showed that the cholesterol drug can strip Staphylococcus aureus bacteria of their golden color, weakening bacterial defenses and making them more to susceptible to killing by the immune systems of mice.
Research Matters | PubMed

This page was last updated December 23, 2008 .
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