What's New in Science? Week of February 27, 2011

weekly_newsOur weekly compilation of science news for the week of February 27, 2011.

Gene fuelled transporter causes breast cancer cells to self-destruct: Scientists at Queen's University Belfast have shown that they can deliver a gene directly into breast cancer cells causing them to self-destruct, using an innovative, miniscule gene transport system, according to research published today (28 February) in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics. Using a transport system called a Designer Biomimetic Vector (DBV), Dr Helen McCarthy, from Queen's School of Pharmacy, funded by Breast Cancer Campaign, packaged a gene into a nanoparticle 400 times smaller than the width of a human hair, allowing it to be delivered straight into breast cancer cells in the laboratory.

Scientists Book Trips Aboard Private Spaceships, In An Industry First: The commercial space industry has booked its first science expeditions, the Southwest Research Institute announced today. At least two researchers have tickets to fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, with another six seats on reserve, and the team also reserved six flights on an XCOR Lynx I rocket plane. The Virgin Galactic deal, worth $1.6 million, is the first commercial spaceflight agreement specifically designed for scientists. The researchers will conduct biomedical, microgravity and astronomical imaging experiments, according to SwRI. The SpaceShipTwo expeditions will give researchers ample room to move around and conduct their experiments at up to 350,000 feet. The Lynx I trips will involve a pilot and a single researcher flying at 200,000 feet.

An Alzheimer's vaccine in a nasal spray: One in eight Americans will fall prey to Alzheimer's disease at some point in their life, current statistics say. Because Alzheimer's is associated with vascular damage in the brain, many of them will succumb through a painful and potentially fatal stroke. But researchers led by Dr. Dan Frenkel of Tel Aviv University's Department of Neurobiology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences are working on a nasally-delivered 2-in-1 vaccine that promises to protect against both Alzheimer's and stroke. The new vaccine repairs vascular damage in the brain by rounding up "troops" from the body's own immune system.

New cell therapy a promising atherosclerosis treatment: Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have shown in a new study on mice, that cell therapy can be used to reverse the effect of 'bad' LDL cholesterol and reduce the inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis. The new cell therapy, which is presented in the prestigious scientific journal Circulation, can open the way for new therapies for stroke and myocardial infarction if the results prove translatable to humans. Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammation of the blood vessels. Cholesterol is transported in the blood in particles called LDL ('bad' cholesterol) that can accumulate in the vessel walls. This triggers the body's immune system to react against LDL, which then cause inflammation in the vessels, and eventually thrombus formation. If such a thrombus forms in the coronary artery, the patient suffers a myocardial infarction; if it forms in the brain, a stroke can result. The research group, under the direction of Professor Göran K Hansson at the Centre for Molecular Medicine, have developed a cell therapy that selectively dampens vascular inflammation induced by LDL. The therapy makes use of dendritic cells, which are characterized by a high degree of plasticity that renders them amenable to manipulation.