Scientists Find New Treatment for Kidney Disease


Two researchers at UCSB, associate professor Thomas Weimbs and graduate student Jeffery Talbot, recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on a new possible drug target for the treatment of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease.

Using mouse models of the disease, the study showed the protein polycycstin-1 to cause the up-regulation of STAT3, a transcription factor which turns on the gene responsible for the disease. This in turn causes the proliferation of cysts in the cells lining the kidney.

Polycystic kidney disease, which emerges around age 50, can eventually cause patients to need either a kidney transplant or life-long dialysis.

A diseased kidney may have thousands of cysts, each developing from a single diseased cell, causing the disease to be difficult to treat.

While current post-transplant treatment drugs were found to be successful in preclinical trials, they have been deemed ineffective due to the side effects of the high doses needed in order to successfully treat patients.

Dr. Weimbs and Talbot, along with researchers from John Hopkins and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, are searching for a new, more effective way to treat the disease.

According to Weimbs, the drugs currently being researched aim to block the STAT3 transcription factor from activating the pathogenic gene. The researchers’ goal is to find a drug that specifically targets STAT3 in order to minimize the detrimental side effects of treatment.

Berkeley Astronomers Search for Communication With Extraterrestrial Civilizations


A group of UC Berkeley astronomers have identified 86 planetary systems to radio telescope as part of their search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Out of 1,235 possible stars of interest detected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, the 68 chosen for the study were the candidates whose planets appeared to be most like Earth.

The Berkeley team of researchers is pointing Arecibo — the largest radio telescope in the world — toward their planets of choice. They hope to be able to detect signals from the planets in question, potentially staging the first interplanetary communication.

“With Arecibo, we focus on stars like our sun, hoping that they have planets around them that emit intelligent signals,” physicist Dan Werthimer, a physicist involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, said. “But we’ve never had a list of planets like this before.”

Planets considered for study must have a surface temperature that can sustain liquid water, similar to that of Earth. This is the first time that Werthimer and his colleagues have received such a list of Earth-like planets detected by the Kepler telescope.

According to Werthimer, the study’s search for and analysis of potential signs of extraterrestrial civilizations could take a year.

Sex Hormones May Mediate Inflammation


Researchers at UCSD’s School of Medicine have found a precursor to sex hormones that may serve as a treatment for patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders in which inflammation is a problem.

The steroid hormone, known as ADIOL, is important for the regulation of the inflammation of microglia cells, which are involved in the immune system’s response to damage or pathogens. Some neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Alzheimer’s disease, can be a result of this response going too far or lasting too long. ADIOL activates its anti-inflammatory response by binding to estrogen receptors, but the same response is not found when estrogen itself binds, so high levels of estrogen can actually inhibit the process. This discovery may provide scientists with insight on what may disrupt the normal function of the immune response, such as genetic factors or estrogen levels. There is a possibility that women are more susceptible to inflammatory diseases because of the ADIOL inhibition, and the findings may provide an explanation for problems that arise from estrogen treatments for post-menopausal women.

However, more research needs to be done in order to determine the relationship between immune responses and neurodegenerative diseases. Further research must be done to fully understand the mechanisms of ADIOL in the body and whether treatments can be designed using the knowledge gained from the study of the hormone.