Tony Wyss-Coray’s research highlighted in New Scientist article “Young people’s blood is being tested as a treatment for Parkinson’s”

Tony Wyss-Coray (Photo: Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts)

Blood from young adults is being trialled as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease by a firm that wants to use the therapy to target neurodegenerative conditions.

Alkahest, a firm co-founded by Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University, California, has already tested blood-based treatments in people with Alzheimer’s disease. In the latest trial, 90 people with Parkinson’s – mostly in their 70s and 80s – will receive injections five days in a row, and then again three months later.

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Svante Pääbo cited in Forbes’ “Four Biggest New Things We Learned About Human Evolution In 2018”

2018 was a banner year for discoveries about our species’s evolution and extinct relatives like the Neanderthals. Here are the biggest finds, sorted according to how they fit into our evolutionary story.

The Little Foot skeleton may be an unrecognised species

Little Foot is a near-complete skeleton of an Australopithecus, a kind of hominin that lived in Africa between 2 and 4 million years ago. Ronald Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa found the skeleton in Sterkfontein cave in the 1990s and has spent 20 years meticulously excavating it. The first detailed analyses finally came out in late November. Little Foot was an elderly female who seems to have sustained an arm injury in her youth. She ate an almost entirely vegetarian diet.

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SRF: “Genome crime scene: from Neandertal to superhumans?”

In China, the first genetically modified babies are said to have seen the light of day. This once-taboo act shows how far genetic engineering can revolutionize life on the planet. Swiss radio and television company SRF’s Wolfram Eilenberger interviewed NOMIS awardee and paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo and bioethicist Effy Vayena in the Sternstunde Philosophie (Great moments in philosophy) program “Tatort Genom: Vom Neandertaler zum Übermenschen?” (“Genome crime scene: from Neandertal to superhumans?”).

No field of knowledge has achieved greater progress in recent decades than human genetics. The questions involved are at the heart of our way of life: Which genes are specific to humans? How much Neandertal is still in us? Which forms of diagnosis and healing promise new techniques and intervention options? Are we on the cusp of a new, genetically optimized superhuman? Together with Vayena and Pääbo, Eilenberger discusses the limits, dangers and utopian possibilities of human genetics. The program is presented in German.

Pääbo is director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany and recipient of the 2017 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award. He is one of the founders of paleogenetics and became best known for his pioneering research on the Neandertal genome. Pääbo is investigating the genetic differences and functional consequences that occurred at the split between the modern human and their archaic human ancestors about half a million years ago.

Victoria Orphan and team of scientists discover new hydrothermal vent and species

Victoria Orphan (photo: Shana Goffredi)

According to an article on Phys.org, NOMIS awardee Victoria Orphan, together with a team of scientists from multiple institutions, have discovered a spectacular new hydrothermal vent field, named JaichMatt, during an expedition aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor. The vents were identified using Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institution’s (MBARI) Dorado autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct exploratory seafloor surveys with one meter lateral resolution. Simultaneously, MBARI’s new Low Altitude Survey System was used from Schmidt Ocean Institute’s remotely operated vehicle SuBastian to map the previously discovered Auka Vent field at centimeter scale resolution using co-located multibeam sonar, scanning laser Lidar, and stereo photography. The biological communities and the geological and geochemical characteristics of these vent fields were then explored and sampled using ROV SuBastian.

The team demonstrated the multidisciplinary use of submarine robotics while investigating an area of unique geologic activity where submarine volcanism in heavily sedimented basins results in high-temperature venting with unusual chemistry and geology. The nested-scale mapping approach allowed the team to efficiently progress from large-scale exploratory seafloor coverage to precision targeted sampling on and around the vents. The detailed maps also allow for quantification of various microbial and animal communities in precise relation to geologic features and areas of focused and diffuse hydrothermal fluid flow. “By using submarine robotics for seafloor mapping in combination with remotely operated vehicles, the science team has been able to interactively explore and sample animals, microbes, rocks, and sediment,” said David Caress, one of the principal investigators.

Orphan is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, United States and recipient of the 2018 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award. She is investigating the impact of marine viruses on the transformation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in ocean surface waters and sediments, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the data from this unique stable isotope approach into trophic models for ocean ecosystems.

Svante Pääbo’s mixed ancestry discovery makes PLOS’s “Top 6 Human Evolution Discoveries of 2018” list

Svante Pääbo (photo: Christian Perrenoud)

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) has included in its post “Top 6 Human Evolution Discoveries of 2018” Svante Pääbo’s and Viviane Slon’s discovery of interbreeding between Neandertals and Denisovans. Denisovans are an ancient human species first discovered in 2008. The discovery was made from a fragment of a long bone identified as coming from a 13-year-old girl nicknamed “Denny” who lived about 90,000 years ago: She was the daughter of a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father.

Pääbo is director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany and recipient of the 2017 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award. He is one of the founders of paleogenetics and became best known for his pioneering research on the Neandertal genome. Pääbo is investigating the genetic differences and functional consequences that occurred at the split between the modern human and their archaic human ancestors about half a million years ago.

PLOS is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization on a mission to lead a transformation in research communication.

Tages Anzeiger features Don W. Cleveland’s work in article “The tamer of severe brain disorders”

Don W. Cleveland

The groundbreaking research of NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee Don W. Cleveland is the subject of Swiss newspaper the Tages Anzeiger’s article “Der Bändiger von schweren Hirnleiden” (“The tamer of severe brain disorders”). Cleveland developed gene-silencing therapies, called designer DNA drugs, which he demonstrated can significantly slow the progression of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in mice. The designer DNA drugs are being tested in clinical trials to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia.

NOMIS is supporting Cleveland’s research project, Mechanisms of Gene Silencing and Liquid-Liquid De-mixing in the Nervous System.