biomedical research

Outlook: Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a devastating disease that induces the body’s own immune system to eat away at the central nervous system, slowly robbing patients of their physical mobility. It is also mysterious. Despite years of research, the cause remains elusive, and treatments are few and far between. But new research to find the causes and provide innovative treatments means that progress, although still slow, is beginning to speed up. Read more in this Nature Outlook that I edited.

Nature Outlook: Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer has long flown under the radar despite being one of the top-ten cancer killers worldwide. It lacks the research spotlight and public awareness of other cancers that can help to drive new discoveries. It remains hard to detect, difficult to treat and poorly understood. But that is starting to change as researchers dig into the mysteries surrounding the disease. Read more in this Nature Outlook that I edited.

NIAID director wins Canada Gairdner Global Health Award

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has been awarded 2016’s Global Health Award from the Gairdner Foundation for his decades of work against HIV/AIDS.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has won the 2016 Global Health Award from Canada’s Gairdner Foundation for his work on HIV/AIDS.

Fauci is “one of the towering figures in understanding the natural history of HIV”, John Dirks, president of the Gairdner Foundation, tells The Lancet. Fauci is being given the award for his important fundamental research on the virus, as well as his leadership of NIAID over the past three decades where he contributed to the development of new treatments, and worked on combating AIDS around the world, especially in Africa. “Without him, we would not have made the overwhelming progress that we have made”, says Dirks. Read more in The Lancet.

Profile: The Scripps Research Institute under new leadership

Steve Kay, the new president of The Scripps Research Institute, has big plans for the venerable biomedical research institution. Alongside incoming CEO Peter Shultz, he hopes to extend the institute’s mission beyond basic science to incorporate more translational work, in a complete bench-to-bedside approach. “If you can couple the strength in basic sciences of an institute like Scripps with real pipeline capability to make drug candidates, then you could make a really unique institute that is centred around therapeutics for unmet medical needs”, he says.

The principal way in which this transformation will be accomplished is through close cooperation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), an independent drug discovery institute of which Shultz is the director. Kay says he and Shultz want to “align, anneal, and eventually merge” the two institutes to create one with complete pipeline capabilities from basic discovery research to early-stage clinical work. “We want to join the drug discovery capability of Calibr with the brain trust at Scripps”, says Kay. Read more in The Lancet.

2015 Nobel Prize goes to antiparasitic drug discoverers

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to three researchers from Japan, Ireland, and China who identified treatments for major tropical diseases.

The discoverers of drugs to treat parasitic diseases that predominantly affect people in the developing world have won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Satoshi Omura, from Kitasato University in Tokyo, Japan, and Irish-born William Campbell, from Drew University in Madison, NJ, USA, shared half of the prize for their work on avermectin and its derivatives, a drug that has proven highly effective against river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and several other parasitic infections. The other half of the prize went to Youyou Tu, from the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing, for her discovery of artemisinin, which forms the backbone of the most effective current treatment for malaria. Read more in The Lancet.

George King: research leader at the Joslin Diabetes Center

Like many medical researchers, George King has a personal connection to the disease that he has spent his career studying. He has been working to understand and treat diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA, USA, since 1981, partly because of how it has affected his own family. “Asians develop diabetes at a high rate even at low body-mass index”, he says. “So many members of my family, including my father, have developed diabetes.”

King, now Chief Scientific Officer and Director of Research at Joslin Diabetes Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has had a remarkably successful career at the research centre, developing new ways to deal with diabetes and the complications that come with the disease. Read more in The Lancet.

Profile: Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston, MA, USA

The Joslin Diabetes Center has a long history of being on the cutting edge of diabetes care and research. It was founded 117 years ago by Elliott Joslin, a physician dedicated to understanding and treating type 1 diabetes in young people. He used the latest methods to treat the disease—which at that time mainly meant enforcing a starvation diet—but was quick to adopt new techniques, said John Brooks, the centre’s current president.

Joslin’s clinic became the first centre in the USA to test the use of insulin to treat diabetes in 1922, but the physician did not consider it a wonder drug. “Joslin was a pioneer in his day, he was astute enough to recognise that it wasn’t just insulin that was going to cure diabetes”, said Brooks. Read more in The Lancet.

Blood in the water

Proteins from salmon blood can stop bleeding and alleviate pain.

In pens and hatcheries along the coasts of New Brunswick, Canada, and Maine, USA, young salmon are growing into adults that will soon grace dinner plates around the world. But these fish have much more to offer than just their delicious pink meat. If on-going research pans out, medicines derived from salmon blood could help save human lives and, possibly, mitigate chronic pain. Read more in Hakai.

Outlook: Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease that can destroy the lives of individuals and their families. Researchers are teasing apart the complex neural, genetic and behavioural factors that drive people to lose the ability to resist damaging substances, and are looking for ways to treat, reverse or even prevent addictions. Read more in this special Outlook supplement I edited for Nature.

Tight budgets complicate Canadian health research reforms

A major overhaul of the grant and peer review system at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is underway. But will finances and objections from researchers hamper plans?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) received some good news in the federal government’s pre-election budget this spring: a modest CAN$15 million increase in its $1 billion annual funding. But the extra cash comes with strings attached. The annual increases don’t begin until next year, and all of the new money is earmarked for specific programmes. $2 million is reserved for research on antimicrobial resistance, while the rest will go to the agency’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), which is focused on health-care efficiency and effectiveness. The budget for individual research grants has not been cut, but has failed to keep pace with inflation over the past several years. Read more in The Lancet.