PatientsLikeMe: Top Innovative Company in Biomedicine

PatientsLikeMe is one of 10 biomedicine companies included in Technology Review’s 50 Most Innovative Companies (TR50) for 2012 [1].


A Light Switch to Turn Specific Neurons On and Off

Ed Boyden is creating new brains. A pioneer in the field of optogenetics, he is the founder and principal investigator of the synthetic neurobiology group at the MIT Media Lab, which invents technologies to reveal how cognition and emotion arise from brain networks — and to enable systematic repair of disorders such as epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd).

Using a combination of lasers and genetic engineering, Boyden’s lab implants brains with optical fibers that allow them to activate special proteins in specific neurons and see their connections. In addition to helping create detailed maps of brain circuitry, the engineering of these cells has been used to cure blindness in mice, and could point the way to cures for Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. On the horizon: ways of connecting to the brain via prosthetics.

By inserting genes for light-sensitive proteins into brain cells, neurons can be selectively activated or de-activated with fiber-optic implants. Check out Boyden’s demonstration at TED2011 below.

Biomarker Bulletin: October 10, 2011

Biomarker Bulletin is an occasionally recurring update of news focused on biomarkers aggregated at Biomarkers are physical, functional or biochemical indicators of normal physiological or disease processes. The individualization of disease management — personalized medicine — is dependent on developing biomarkers that promote specific clinical domains, including early detection, risk, diagnosis, prognosis and predicted response to therapy.

Biomarker Commons


Synergy Between Antibiotics and Nonantibiotic Drugs

Antibiotic resistance is an ever-growing clinical problem. Four years ago, a study found that antibiotics are overprescribed for sinus infections. Compounding the issue is the fact that as bacteria are learning to tolerate and even circumvent existing classes of antibiotics, not enough work is being done to discover new ones. Combinations or cocktails of antibiotics are often used to broaden the antimicrobial spectrum of each and to achieve synergistic effects; this approach has successfully been applied to combat tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, and famously, HIV. Yet the discovery of effective combinations has usually been almost fortuitous, most often resulting from trial and error rather than a systematic analysis.

Antibiotic cocktail

In the current study, researchers systematically examined combinations of 1,057 compounds previously approved as drugs to find those that exhibited synergy with the antibiotic minocycline. Their work is reported in the April 24, 2011 issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology [1]. The compounds were chosen because they have already been approved as drugs, they are known to have activity in vivo and are known to be relatively safe. Many approved drugs are known to have utility for clinical indications other than those for which they initially received approval. Moreover, using pre-approved compounds also reduces the time and cost associated with developing new compounds for therapeutic use.

Alzheimer’s Disease May Protect Against Cancer and Vice Versa

As we get older, and care for our parents as they get older, the most feared age-related conditions we face are arguably Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. But researchers at Washington University have just shown that at least we don’t have to fear both of them at the same time; they recently published a paper in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology demonstrating that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a significantly reduced risk of being hospitalized for cancer [1].

Feared age-related conditions

This potential link between these two diseases had been noted for some time, but in this study researchers devoted considerable effort to overcoming the limitations in their previous work. Firstly, they used a population-based sample of 3,020 people older than 65, so their results were not limited to a particular geographic area or socio-economic segment of society. Secondly, they used hospital records rather than informant reports to quantify cancer diagnoses. This controlled for the risk that people with Alzheimer’s disease may be less likely to report their cancers than those without. And lastly, to ensure that they were not seeing less cancer in Alzheimer’s patients because physicians were less likely to look for cancer in people with dementia, or because people with dementia simply die earlier than those without it and thereby avoid cancer, they also looked at cancer risk among people with vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is not neurodegenerative in origin; rather, it results from brain damage due to vascular pathology.