Research Roundup

For the complete stories on this research, click on the title of each summary.

Scientists use nanosensors for first time to measure cancer biomarkers in blood

Yale engineers Mark Reed and Tarek Fahmy have used nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in whole blood for the first time. Using tiny nanowires, they detected and measured concentrations of two specific biomarkers — one for prostate cancer and the other for breast cancer — in a matter of minutes and with far greater accuracy than current tests, which often take days to complete. They hope that one day the technology could lead to portable detectors that doctors could use to test for a wide range of ­diseases.

Fossil leaves depict warm, high Sierra Nevada mountains in ancient past

A team led by Yale geologists has reconstructed the climate and elevation of California’s northern Sierra Nevada mountains using fossil leaves and bacteria. Mark Pagani and former postdoctoral fellow Michael Hren show that the Sierra Nevada was 6 to 8 degrees Celsius warmer than today and was a prominent topographic feature at least 50 million years ago, helping to resolve long-standing questions about the tectonic history of the mountain range.

Greater risk of brain aneurysms found in people with aortic aneurysms

Yale School of Medicine researchers led by Dr. John Elefteriades found that people suffering from thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) may be at significantly greater risk — nine times that of the general population — of having an intracranial aneurysm at the same time. This indicates that individuals with TAA should be screened for possible brain aneurysms, says Elefteriades, adding: “[I]f we catch the brain aneurysm before it ruptures, we can save lives and prevent devastating loss of brain function.”

Treatment with anabolic hormones may enhance local bone regeneration

Yale School of Medicine scientists have found that a combination of bone marrow aspiration followed by treatment with anabolic parathyroid hormone greatly boosted bone regeneration in localized areas in rats. According to lead author Agnès Vignery, this research could open new avenues of investigation in the prevention and treatment of fractures, in bone regeneration and in tissue engineering.

New technology could boost disease detection tests’ speed and sensitivity

A team led by engineer Hur Koser has developed a way to rapidly manipulate and sort different cells in the blood using magnetizable liquids — a development that could dramatically improve the speed and sensitivity of tests used to detect cancer biomarkers, blood disorders, viruses and other diseases. While many of today’s tests require hours or even days to complete, Koser and his colleagues believe their method may make it possible for blood analyses to be completed in minutes, perhaps eventually leading to portable sensors that doctors can carry into the field.

Yale scientists isolate specific tumor cells that cause cancer

Researchers from Yale Cancer Center and other institutions are the first to demonstrate differences in the abilities of cells from the same tumor to form another tumor. “This is the only time a research group has been able to take individual cells from a cancer and determine that one will definitely form a tumor and the other will not,” says team leader Dr. Marcus Bosenberg, noting that this may help develop more effective treatment options for patients.

Rain or Shine? Computer models how brain cells reach a decision

Yale School of Medicine neurobiologist Xiao-Jing Wang and his former postdoctoral associate Alireza Soltani have built computer models of neural circuits to explain how the brain makes decisions based on statistical probabilities — as, for instance, when a doctor makes a diagnosis based on several conflicting test results. Their work helps explain “base rate neglect,” a phenomenon wherein people who receive information that suggests two equally possible outcomes tend to believe that it predicts the less-probable outcome.

Researchers reveal secrets of duck sex: It’s all screwed up

In ducks, the battle of the sexes over who controls fertilization has taken a new twist — literally. Female ducks have evolved a way to avoid becoming impregnated by undesirable but aggressive males endowed with large corkscrew-shaped penises: They’ve developed vaginas with clockwise spirals that thwart oppositely spiraled males. “[F]inding a system where the ‘arms race’ between the sexes is so dramatic is exceedingly rare,” says postdoctoral researcher Patricia L.R. Brennan, who led the study.

Yale Researchers Create New Way To Locate Big Genetic Variants

A team of biomedical technologists led by Mark Gerstein has developed a library of 2,000 signposts that mark the boundaries of large blocks of human genomic structural variants, or SVs, which can be associated with diseases such as cancer and HIV and also with developmental disorders. By showing the precise locations of these SV “breakpoints,” the new library will help researchers rapidly scan for and characterize SVs in newly sequenced personal genomes.

Impact of menu-labeling: Study shows people eat less when they know more

A new study by researchers from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity shows that people who see calorie labels on their restaurant menus consume significantly fewer calories — about 14% less — than those whose menus aren’t labeled. The study, led by Yale School of Public Health student Christina Roberto, also looked at what the study participants ate after dinner, and found that the individuals who had seen calorie labels consumed an average of 250 fewer calories than the other participants.

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