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Thursday, January 27, 2011
Hormone Helps Short-Term Memories Stick Around
Scientists have identified a substance that can dramatically improve memory in rats, according to a study in the journal Nature. It's a growth hormone called IGF2 that is produced naturally in both humans and rodents. And the discovery could lead to drugs that affect memories in people, researchers say.
The hormone appears to play an important role in turning short-term memories, which may last only a few seconds, into long-term memories that can last for days or an entire lifetime.
Its importance was discovered by a team at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. The team was studying the brains of rats that get an electric shock when they step into a dark area of their cage.
"They learn that that's unpleasant, and they're going to avoid it," says neuroscientist Cristina Alberini.
Eventually, though, the memory fades and the rats venture into the dark area again. The amount of time it takes them to forget provides a way to measure the persistence of a memory, Alberini says.
The scientists realized that soon after rats got a shock, levels of IGF2 increased sharply in a part of the brain called the hippocampus.
Before this, scientists had known what IGF2 did in other parts of the body. But they hadn't studied it much in the brain.
The IGF2 increase in the hippocampus led them to suspect that the hormone was somehow involved in turning short-term memories into long-term ones.
They confirmed this by reducing the amount of hormone in the brains of certain rats. These rats never learned to avoid the dangerous place.
But when the scientists injected extra hormone into the rats' hippocampus, "we saw that they avoided the place for much, much longer," Alberini says.
In some cases, the treated rats stayed away more than twice as long. But the extra hormone only made a difference if the rats got it within a few hours of a shock. This suggests there is a critical period in which IGF2 helps form long-term memories, Alberini says.
Applicable To People?
The hormone probably plays a similar role in memory formation in many other species, Alberini says. She says there are "a number of suggestions here that are very encouraging for thinking that it may work in humans.
The new study is "really, really exciting," says Li-Huei Tsai from the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
The new research could help scientists design a drug that enhances memory in people, perhaps even those with Alzheimer's disease, she says.
But she says IGF2 itself may not be a good choice for a drug because of things it does outside the brain.
"It actually can increase the growth of cancer cells," she says. "So, I just hope that people wouldn't think about, you know, injecting IGF2 into themselves."
Some researchers are more interested in what the study suggests about eliminating bad memories, like the ones associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Erasing Bad Memories?
The new study changes the scientific model of how a frightening experience becomes a long-term memory, says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped fund the research.
"For understanding that, we're going to have a new player that we have to think about," Insel says. "This is a biochemical step that, frankly, no one had identified before."
People with PTSD might benefit from a treatment that reduces the amount of IGF2 in the brain, Insel says, which could help them get rid of a bad memory.
"What happens in PTSD is not that you want to remember," he says. "You want to learn to forget."
And manipulating levels of IGF2 might help people with the disorder do that, Insel says.
California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships
Offered by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), the California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships place professional scientists and engineers in the California State Legislature for one-year appointments. These professional development opportunities will enable fellows to work hands on with policy-makers to develop solutions to complex scientific and technical issues facing California through their interaction with the legislative process. The fellowships are ideal for qualified applicants who are interested in improving the interface between science and legislative decision-making and who want to learn the public policy decision-making process. Fellows will be placed, for one year, in various offices of the California State Legislature.
With increasingly complex science and technological issues facing society today, the effective interface of science and public policy is becoming ever more important. Building on the successful and highly acclaimed national model of the Science and Technology Policy Fellowships offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the federal public policy arena, the California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships will create a similar interface in the California Legislature. The fellows will learn the intricacies of the California legislative process and will provide legislators and their staffs with clear and unbiased advice, answers to technical questions, and clarification of policy options for issues with science and technology related attributes.
CCST is pleased to acknowledge the valuable input of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to help launch the California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships and the CCST Executive Oversight Committee for their guidance.
Please explore our website to learn more about the California Science and Technology Fellowships and to complete the application and instructions. If, after looking, you are unable to find an answer to your questions please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The application period for the 2011-2012 program will open on December 1, 2010 and close on March 31, 2011.
In science-career terms, 2009 -- that is, last year -- was a year of private-sector layoffs and canceled faculty searches, of basic-research downsizing in industry and postdocs hanging on until the job market improves. 2010 was mild by comparison; it seemed like not much happened, economically (though much great science was done). The problem with 2010 is -- or was -- that the job market just didn't improve fast enough. It still felt like doldrums. We kept waiting and wanting to be hopeful, but things refused to look up.
In fact, things were looking up all along, even if it was hard to notice. According to one metric -- the number of science-relevant job ads posted online, as measured by The Conference Board and tracked by Science Careers -- 2010 was a year of recovery. Job ads in the life, physical, and social sciences were up 42.5% in November -- the most recent month for which we have data -- over the same month a year earlier. The ratio of jobs to job seekers in this category -- about 1.4:1 -- was double what it had been at the local minimum it reached in December 2009. That number indicates that late in 2010 it was half as hard (or if you prefer, twice as easy) to find a job as it was late in the previous year.
That sounds pretty good, but it felt worse. Although the year lacked the previous year's economic drama, there seemed to be little relief in the hiring market.
And yet the global scientific community kept doing what it does -- science -- and we at Science Careers got to watch and tell stories about it. As CTSciNet Editor Kate Travis says, the best thing about our jobs "is getting to tell you awesome stories." And in 2010 there were lots of awesome stories to tell.
So, without further delay or explanation, we present some of those awesome stories, our editors' selections for the best Science Careers stories of 2010, presented in chronological order.
Drug to Treat a Type of Mental Retardation Shows Promise
A small study of 30 people with the most common inherited form of mental retardation has found encouraging evidence that some symptoms of the disorder can be alleviated with drugs. Some patients with Fragile X syndrome who received an experimental drug showed reductions in repetitive behaviors, hyperactivity, inappropriate speech, and social withdrawal. However, the drug affected only patients with a particular genetic alteration—a discouraging sign, perhaps, for those without that marker, but a potentially useful tool for identifying the patients most likely to respond to treatment.
As recently as 10 years ago, the idea of reversing mental retardation was unthinkable. That's because many of these conditions result from genetic glitches that derail brain development even before birth. But recent studies with mice and other animals have given researchers hope that it may be possible to develop treatments that improve cognition and behavior in conditions like Fragile X syndrome, in which a mutation to a gene on the X chromosome makes part of the chromosome look unusually thin, and Rett syndrome, another common cause of mental retardation.
One of the hottest prospects to emerge for treating Fragile X syndrome is a class of drugs that block a receptor in the brain called metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5). This receptor plays a role in protein synthesis at the junctions between nerve cells, and it becomes hyperactive as a result of the gene mutation that causes Fragile X. Blocking this receptor, the thinking goes, helps restore its activity to a normal level.
Other studies have reported that mGluR5-blocking drugs appear to have only moderate side effects, such as fatigue, in humans, but the new study is the first systematic report on behavioral changes in people with Fragile X. The 30 patients, all men between the ages of 18 and 35, were part of a phase II clinical trial sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, which makes the drug, called AFQ056. Half of the patients received AFQ056 for 4 weeks, then a placebo for 4 weeks. The other half took the placebo first, then the drug. Neither the patients, their caregivers, nor the researchers knew which group a patient had been assigned to until after the study.
To assess a patient's behavior before and after treatment, the researchers, led by Sébastien Jacquemont, a medical geneticist at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Baltazar Gomez-Mancilla, a neurologist at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, had his caregiver—typically a parent—fill out a battery of standardized questionnaires. At first, the drug seemed to have had no effect, says Gomez-Mancilla. "We were really puzzled," he says.
But when the team reexamined the data, they discovered that seven patients with a particular genetic signature had shown reduced repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth and clapping, and other behavioral improvements after treatment. Some parents told the researchers they'd been more able to engage and interact with their children while they were taking the drug, Gomez-Mancilla says. Some reported fewer disruptive behaviors, such as tantrums. The researchers did not see any evidence of improvements in learning and memory, Gomez-Mancilla says, but he thinks such cognitive changes might require longer treatment times.
The Fragile X patients who responded to AFQ056 all had a "fully methylated" version of the control region of the FMR1 gene, the gene that is mutated in Fragile X. Methlyation is a chemical modification to DNA that turns a gene off, and the patients who responded to the drug appeared to have a completely inactive FMR1 gene. The others had a partially active FMR1 gene. Why this would make a difference in how people respond is still an open question, Gomez-Mancilla says.
"It's hopeful, but it's still very small numbers," says Stephen Warren, a geneticist and veteran Fragile X researcher at Emory University in Atlanta. The idea of using methylation as a biomarker to determine who might respond to this type of treatment is potentially exciting, says Ben Philpot, who studies neurodevelopmental disorders at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. But he shares Warren's sense of caution: "They really need to replicate this in a larger group."
That's precisely what researchers at Novartis are trying to do now. In November, they began recruiting for a larger clinical trial that will test the effects of AFQ056 in 160 people with Fragile X. This time, the researchers will test for methylation of the FMR1 gene at the outset, and patients will take the drug for 3 months.
Career Development Grants for Postdoctoral Women are given to enhance the careers of postdoctoral women with outstanding scientific accomplishments and potential for significant research in the area of microbiology. The fields covered by the award are any of those represented by Divisions of the American Society for Microbiology. The grants are to support the career development of the candidate by providing funds to travel to a meeting, visit another laboratory, take a course in a geographically distant place, or for other purposes to advance the candidate's career. Currently, three grants are given annually.
To be eligible to apply for this program, a woman scientist must hold a doctoral degree and have no more than five years of relevant research experience since receipt of her most recent doctoral degree. Candidates must currently be performing postdoctoral work in microbiology, at an institution in the United States, in one of the aforementioned scientific areas. The candidate must be a member of ASM.
A cash award of $1,200 and a commemorative plaque will be presented.
Nominations for the grant will consist of four parts:
1. Candidate must complete a Candidate Statement which will describe her academic accomplishments, career goals and how the grant will be used to aid her career. The length of the statement may not exceed 3 pages, single-spaced.
2. The candidate’s CV may be any length and must be submitted with the Candidate Statement.
3. A letter of support must be provided by a nominator, who should be the candidate’s mentor, Department Chair, or Center Director. The nominator must be a member of ASM and may only support one candidate for this award per year.
4. A second Letter of Support from a scientist familiar with the candidate and her work must be submitted. The scientist drafting the Letter of Support does not have to be a member of ASM.
All submissions must be dated no later than February 1st. The Selection Committee will announce the winners by mid March.
Additional Nomination Information
Candidates may be re-nominated as long as the nominee continues to meet eligibility criteria. No person shall be a nominator for more than one candidate in any given year. Once submitted, nomination materials become the property of the Selection Committee and will not be returned. Winners will be decided by a Selection Committee appointed by the Membership Board Chair. Career Development Grants for Postdoctoral Women are administered by the ASM Membership Services Department.
Please note: In general, requests for funds to attend the ASM General Meeting are not viewed favorably if the advisor has grants that would normally support attendance by people in his/her laboratory. Also, the career development activity should not be one for which the applicant's advisor is already funded.
Submit grant nomination materials (Candidate Statement, CV, Nomination letter, additional Letter of Support) by email to Anne Dempsey at email@example.com or by mail to the address below. Copies are not required. All submissions must be dated no later than February 1st. The Selection Committee will announce the winners by mid March.
Membership Board Career Development Grants for Postdoctoral Women
The PPFP provides postdoctoral fellows and other junior scientists who are committed to a career in biomedical research with the opportunity to learn about and participate in the public policy and legislative activities of AAI. Up to 10 Fellows may participate annually. This year's inaugural program runs from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012.
The primary goals of the program are 1) to help young AAI members better understand the role of the President and Administration, Congress, and the National Institutes of Health on both the advancement of biomedical research and the careers of scientists, and 2) to teach participants how to best advocate for, and impact, the policies that guide their careers. The program also helps to ensure that AAI has within its ranks a cadre of well-informed young scientists who can help lead the organization's public policy efforts in the future.
Capitol Hill Day: Fellows come to Washington, D.C., for a two-day "Capitol Hill Day," during which time they a) attend a training session with AAI staff, and b) visit their Senators, Congressperson, and/or other key members/staff to advocate for biomedical research and funding for NIH. AAI pays for Fellows' flights, hotels, and other reasonable expenses (per the AAI PPFP Reimbursement Policy).
AAI Annual Meeting Program: Fellows are required to attend the AAI Annual Meeting (during their Fellowship year), including any public policy or PPFP sessions requested by AAI. Attendance at the meeting is at the Fellows' expense.
Communication with AAI Public Policy Staff: The staff of the AAI Office of Public Policy and Government Affairs is in email and phone contact with the Fellows during their Fellowship year to keep them informed and solicit their views on key topics. Fellows receive, and respond as appropriate, to emails and phone calls from AAI staff and/or other program participants during their participation year, and complete a program evaluation at the end of their Fellowship.
All PPFP Fellows are selected by the AAI Committee on Public Affairs. Applicants are required to:
have received their Ph.D., M.D., or equivalent within the previous 10 years in immunology or a related field;
be a member in good standing of AAI;
be committed to a career in biomedical research;
have excellent interpersonal and communication skills;
have an interest in public policy as it relates to biomedical research; and
The SNSF Professorships of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) enable junior researchers with several years of recognized research experience to make a significant step forward in their academic careers. A SNSF Professorship funds the establishment of an independent team to implement a research project. In addition, it also enables researchers to resume their careers at a Swiss higher education institution on return from a stay abroad.
SNSF Professorships are available for all SNSF-supported disciplines. The funding covers the salary of the applicant (at assistant professor level), a contribution to research costs (incl. collaborators) and a contribution to infrastructure costs.
The duration of this subsidy is four years and can be extended by a maximum of two years. Women are especially encouraged to submit applications. Part-time professorships and exceptions from the academic age may be considered.
Conditions of participation
Publications in scientific journals with high impact factor
Postdoctoral research experience of at least two years and at most nine years
Several years of research activities at institutions other than where the candidate obtained the doctorate; at least one year of these activities will usually have been abroad
Swiss university degree or at least two years activity at a Swiss university at the time of the submission deadline
In addition, the following are desired
experience in teaching and project management
collaborative experience with researchers and institutions in Switzerland and abroad
Specific conditions for young researchers in the fields of clinical orientated research
To promote well-aimed young researchers in the fields of clinical orientated research, the SNSF issues specific conditions: 50% of the working time are reserved for research, 50% are available for clinically activities.
A personal dossier, including a project outline, has to be submitted by the deadline for the ongoing call for applications (Stage 1). The Research Council of the SNSF uses these documents to produce a shortlist. The shortlisted candidates will be invited to submit a detailed application and to present their research plans at an interview (Stage 2). Each year, 30 – 40 subsidies will be granted. The earliest possible date for the release of funding is 1 March of the year after the call for applications was announced.
Please note, that the host institution will need some time to evaluate your possible hosting. Please address as soon as possible to the chosen host institution.
Call for applications and submission
All application documents should be submitted electronically via the web platform mySNF. Documents submitted as hard-copy can only be accepted in exceptional cases if agreed upon with the SNSF prior to submission.
Applications for these subsidies may only be submitted in response to a specific call. Any documents submitted outside this period cannot be processed until after the submission deadline for the next call for applications.
Next call for applications: beginning of February 2011 Next Submission deadline:beginning of May 2011
mySNF: To meet the submission deadline a mySNF user account must be requested two weeks before the submission deadline at the latest.