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LabTV: Curious About Bacteria

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Robert Morton IIIOther than wondering what might be lurking in those leftovers stashed in the back of the fridge, you probably don’t think much about bacteria. But Robert Morton III—a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, Bloomington, and the focus of our latest LabTV profile—sure does. He’s fascinated by the complicated and even beautiful ways in which bacteria interact with their environments. In fact, scientists can learn a whole lot about biology by studying bacteria and other single-celled organisms.

Working in the NIH-funded lab of Yves Brun, Morton has spent many of his days peering through microscopes into the otherwise invisible world of bacteria. His sights are set on the relatively simple, two-component interactions that enable bacteria to sense and respond to various external factors. Each of these interactions features a histidine kinase sensor partnered with a response regulator. Specifically, Morton has focused much of his research on one particular protein thought to play a role in these interactions—a protein that he calls an “orphan” because no scientist has yet identified its partner or determined quite what it does.


LabTV: Curious about the Aging Brain

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Saul Villeda

This LabTV video takes us to the West Coast to meet Saul Villeda, a creative young researcher who’s exploring ways to reduce the effects of aging on the human brain. Thanks to a 2012 NIH Director’s Early Independence award, Villeda set up his own lab at the University of California, San Francisco to study how age-related immune changes may affect the ability of brain cells to regenerate. By figuring out exactly what’s going on, Villeda and his team hope to devise ways to counteract such changes, possibly preventing or even reversing the cognitive declines that all too often come with age.

Villeda is the first person in his family to become a scientist. His parents immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, settled into a working-class neighborhood in Pasadena, CA, and enrolled their kids in public schools. While he was growing up, Villeda says he’d never even heard of a Ph.D. and thought all doctors were M.D.’s who wore stethoscopes. But he did have a keen mind and a strong sense of curiosity—gifts that helped him become the valedictorian of his high school class and find his calling in science. Villeda went on to earn an undergraduate degree in physiological science from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University Medical School, Palo Alto, CA, as well as to publish his research findings in several influential scientific journals.


Creative Minds: Opening a Window on Alzheimer’s Before It Strikes

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Yakeel Quiroz

Yakeel Quiroz

While attending college in her native Colombia, Yakeel T. Quiroz joined the Grupo de Neurociencias de Antioquia. This dedicated group of Colombian researchers, healthcare workers, and students has worked for many years with a large extended family in the northwestern district of Antioquia that is truly unique. About half of the more than 5,000 family members inherit a gene mutation that predisposes them to what is known locally as “la bobera,” or “the foolishness,” a devastating form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Those born with the mutation are cognitively healthy through their 20s, become forgetful in their 30s, and descend into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease by their mid-to- late 40s. Making matters worse, multiple family members sometimes are in different stages of dementia at the same time, including the caregiver attempting to hold the household together.

Quiroz, now a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, vowed never to forget these families. She hasn’t, working hard to understand early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and helping to establish the Forget Me Not Initiative to raise money for affected families. With an NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, Quiroz also recently launched her own lab to pursue an even broader scientific opportunity: discover subtle pre-symptomatic changes in the brain years before they give rise to detectable Alzheimer’s. What she learns will have application not only to detect and possibly treat early-onset Alzheimer’s in Colombia but also to understand the late-onset forms of the dementia that affect an estimated 35.6 million people worldwide.


LabTV: Young Scientist Curious About How Cancer Cells Thrive

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Craig RamirezThis week’s featured LabTV video takes us to New York City to see what’s going on in the world of Craig Ramirez, a young scientist who’s trying to find ways “to starve cancer cells.” Building on an interest in science that stretches back to first grade, this New Jersey native is busy working towards a Ph.D. in the lab of Dafna Bar-Sagi, an NIH-supported researcher at the NYU Langone Medical Center. (Oddly enough, Dr. Bar-Sagi and I actually collaborated more than 20 years ago when we were both junior professors on a project studying the genetic disease neurofibromatosis.)

Ramirez’s goal is to develop targeted approaches to disrupt the metabolism of cancer cells in ways that shrink or eliminate a patient’s tumor, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. He’s tackling this challenge by designing and conducting experiments on human cancer cell lines. But Ramirez isn’t working on this all alone. If he runs into an obstacle or needs to bounce an idea off someone, he just turns to his mentor or other colleagues in the friendly, fast-paced New York lab. By the way, it’s only natural that Ramirez would appreciate the value of strong teamwork—he was the starting shortstop on his high school baseball team!


LabTV: Young Scientist Curious About The Immune System

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video of Heardley Moses Murdock
Welcome to LabTV! If you haven’t already, take a look at this video. I hope you will enjoy meeting the first young scientist featured in this brand new series that I’ve chosen to highlight on my blog. The inspiration for LabTV comes from Jay Walker, who is the founder of PriceLine, and curator and chairman of TEDMED, an annual conference focused on new ideas in health and medicine.

A few years ago, Walker noticed that there were many talented young people across America who are interested in science, but are uncertain about what a career in biomedical research is like. His solution was to create an online video community where anyone interested in going into research could learn from the experiences of scientists who, not so long ago, walked in their shoes. As you will see from spending a few moments in the lab with Heardley Moses Murdock, whose research involves a rare immune disorder called DOCK 8 deficiency, these video profiles put a human face on science and show its everyday stories.


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