Week ending Apr 6, 2018

​‘Molecular scissors’ could be key to cutting off diseases including HIV infection
The Ohio State University – 4/2/18
One way to fight diseases including HIV infection and autoimmune disorders could involve changing how a naturally occurring enzyme called SAMHD1 works to influence the immune system, new research suggests. SAMHD1 isn’t a molecular “good guy” or “bad guy” per se, but there are cases in which blocking its activity might thwart disease progression. The study, led by researchers from The Ohio State University, details how the enzyme influences proteins that stimulate the immune response. The interdisciplinary research effort included scientists from Ohio State’s departments of Veterinary Biosciences, Microbial Infection and Immunity and Cancer Biology and Genetics, as well as from the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Read more

Mathematical modeling offers new way to understand variable responses to targeted therapy
Medical XPress – 4/3/18
Cancer therapies that target a specific protein have improved outcomes for patients. However, many patients eventually develop resistance to these targeted therapies and their cancer comes back. It is believed that differences among tumor cells, or heterogeneity, may contribute to this drug resistance. Moffitt Cancer Center researchers are using a unique approach by combining typical cell culture studies with mathematical modeling to determine how heterogeneity within a tumor and the surrounding tumor environment affect responses to targeted drug therapies. The interdisciplinary research team was composed of mathematical modelers, led by Alexander Anderson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology at Moffitt, and basic/translational biologists, led by Eric Haura, M.D., co-leader of the Chemical Biology & Molecular Medicine Program and senior member of the Department of Thoracic Oncology at Moffitt. Read more

When it comes to news, America is in a state of ‘pure polarization,’ physicist says
Miami Herald – 4/3/18
Americans are consuming more news than ever — and it’s driving us further and further apart.That’s according to a new paper from Neil Johnson, a physicist who now runs the University of Miami’s Complexity interdisciplinary group, which is examining collective behavior in a number of fields. Johnson and his team have found that when it comes to digesting news of any kind, Americans now exist in a state of pure polarization: the size of the extremes of the left and right are now so large that they outnumber those in the middle ground. As a physicist, Johnson is used to seeing populations sorting into bell curves — think of heights and weights, he says. So one might expect that people would naturally sort into this normal distribution when it comes to ideology. Not so. It doesn’t even matter whether news is real or fake, let alone left or right: The mere act of absorbing news that everyone else is seeing causes a polarizing effect. Read more

Stanford researchers use machine-learning algorithm to measure changes in gender, ethnic bias in U.S.
Stanford University – 4/3/18
New Stanford research shows that, over the past century, linguistic changes in gender and ethnic stereotypes correlated with major social movements and demographic changes in the U.S. Census data. Artificial intelligence systems and machine-learning algorithms have come under fire recently because they can pick up and reinforce existing biases in our society, depending on what data they are programmed with. But an interdisciplinary group of Stanford scholars turned this problem on its head in a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper published April 3. The researchers used word embeddings – an algorithmic technique that can map relationships and associations between words –  to measure changes in gender and ethnic stereotypes over the past century in the United States. They analyzed large databases of American books, newspapers and other texts and looked at how those linguistic changes correlated with actual U.S. Census demographic data and major social shifts such as the women’s movement in the 1960s and the increase in Asian immigration. Read more 

We’ll pay more for unhealthy foods we crave, neuroscience research finds
ScienceDaily – 4/2/18
We’ll pay more for unhealthy foods when we crave them, new neuroscience research finds. The study also shows that we’re willing to pay disproportionately more for higher portion sizes of craved food items. The research, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), identifies an obstacle to healthy living. There is growing interest across several sectors — marketing, psychology, economics, and medicine — in understanding how our psychological states and physiological needs affect our behavior as consumers. Of particular concern is craving, which has long been recognized as a state of mind that contributes to addiction and, in recent years, to eating disorders and obesity. Read more