Cell suicide to prevent infection

Host cells may self-immolate if the action can abort the infection they carry. A research team led by Penn Vet scientists studied the bacteria Yersenia and found that a mutant form can potently induce cell death of infected cells. “That led us to the hypothesis that maybe cell death was actually a host cell response,” Penn Vet’s Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathobiology Igor Brodsky said.

Yersenia may try to cause infections by suppressing the immune response, but the host can fight back when cells trigger inflammation, alerting that a potential infection is underway. 

Research to advance addiction treatment

Neuroscientists and neurosurgeons at Penn’s psychology department and in the Perelman School of Medicine have conducted the first study in humans to show that electrical stimulation of dopaminergic neurons in the brain can affect reward-based learning. Eleven subjects with Parkinson’s disease played a game in which choosing certain objects resulted in different rates of rewards. The objects were then disassociated from reward and the dopamine receptors were electrically stimulated. Participants continued to make old choices, despite doing worse in the game. The finding may have clinical significance for treating patients with addictions. 

Biological ways to live longer

At the Perelman School of Medicine, Professor Shelley Berger and her team found a way to promote longevity by working with yeast. “Aging is, in part, the accumulation of cellular stress,” Berger said. “If you can better respond to these stresses, this ameliorates the damage it can cause.”

Berger and her team focused on epigenetics — the study that encompasses how gene packaging can influence gene expression. The team deleted the gene that encodes for ISW2 protein, which is involved in DNA wrapping and packaging. By deleting the ISW2, DNA damage repair increased and extended the lifespan of yeast by 25 percent. 

The holistic side of cancer treatment

According to oncologist Neha Vapiwala at HUP, cancer patients who are involved in their treatment decisions are more satisfied. Around 300 patients who underwent radiation therapy were survyed after their treatment. The survey asked patients about their involvement in treatment decisions, as well as how often they experienced depression, anxiety and fatigue. Patients who wished to provide input showed significantly higher percentages of depression, anxiety and fatigue. Vapiwala concluded that the results of the survey highlight the importance of doctor-patient collaboration. 

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