Researchers cover it all

Across Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute three new journal covers are being framed and hung proudly on the walls.  It has been a monumental start to 2014 with three different research papers featured on the covers of academic journals just in January and February alone.  

Recoding the Genetic Code
Patrick O’Donoghue, PhD, assistant professor in the Departments of Biochemistry, and Chemistry, had his work on recoding the genetic code with selenocysteine featured on the cover of the January edition of Angewandte Chemie International.

His research showed for the first time that it is possible to completely change the meaning of a codon at a specific site in a protein and proves that it is possible to rewrite the genetic code altogether.

“It is exciting because it shows that we have a feasible method to recode many different codons and genetically encode many more than 20 amino acids,” O’Donoghue said.

He and his team hope this will have applications for determining the specific role of posttranslationally modified amino acids in cells and signaling pathways. “We want to be able to make these proteins with predetermined modifications to figure out exactly what their role is,” he said.

For O’Donoghue this was the first time his research was featured on the cover of a journal and he says it feels good to have his work recognized in this way. “I think the reason that it caught people’s attention is because it was nothing overly complicated but it showed something very dramatic,” he said.

Imaging Asthma
At Robarts Research Institute, PhD student Sarah Svenningsen’s work was featured on the January cover of the journal, Thorax.

“It was a great accomplishment for our work to be published in the second highest impact factor respiratory medicine journal, and for the work to be featured on the cover is very exciting for me and our respiratory imaging research team,” Svenningsen said. “I think this is a huge breakthrough for us.”

Working under the supervision of Robarts Scientist Grace Parraga, PhD, Svenningsen’s work used hyperpolarized helium MRI to show ventilation defects in patients with asthma. 

The research demonstrated that subsegmental defects were present in two thirds of patients and were shown to be associated with decreased lung function, airway inflammation and greater airway wall thickening.  

The research not only supports the use of hyperpolarized helium MRI to guide diagnosis and treatment for asthmatic patients, but also provides us with a better picture of the underlying structural and clinical determinants of asthma.

Halting the progression of atherosclerosis
Murray Huff, PhD, and his team at Robarts Research Institute have shown that a novel pharmacological intervention can halt the progression of pre-established atherosclerosis and can reverse many of the risk factors associated with heart attack and stroke.

Their work was featured on the cover of this month’s edition of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Huff and PhD Candidate, Lazar Bojic, who was the lead author of the study, used a drug to activate a nuclear hormone receptor called PPAR-delta which had been shown in the past to regulate a number of metabolic pathways. 

They discovered that not only does activation of this receptor have the ability to prevent obesity and lower risk factors for heart attack, it can actually reverse these metabolic abnormalities.

“We found that when we intervened by adding a specific activator of PPAR-delta to the diet of mice who were susceptible to heart disease and were being fed a high-fat diet, we actually reversed pre-established elevations in plasma fats, we reversed insulin resistance, we reversed obesity and slowed the progression of atherosclerotic lesion size by 30%,” Huff said.

The activator also changed the characteristics of these atherosclerotic lesions. After being treated with the PPAR-delta activator, the lesions were less inflammatory and appeared to be more stable. More stable lesions are less likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.