Vascular Biology: Keeping endometriosis at bay
Developmental Medicine: Sound games train dyslexic children to read
Newborn Medicine: Umbilical-cord studies shed light on lung disease
Up to 15 percent of women suffer from endometriosis, in which tissue normally found in the uterus grows elsewhere in the body. Now, a discovery that certain immune cells trigger angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels—opens the possibility of more effective, less toxic treatments.
Angiogenesis, which stimulates growth of cancerous tumors, also encourages small, symptomless endometriosis lesions to enlarge, causing pelvic pain and infertility. Working in a mouse model, research fellow Ofer Fainaru, MD, PhD, and colleagues in Vascular Biology found that dendritic cells, part of the immune system, invade endometriosis lesions, and that new vessels soon form nearby. Fainaru thinks the dendritic cells send signals that attract endothelial cells, which help build blood vessels, to the lesions.
If the findings hold true in humans, Fainaru hopes to find a way to kill or alter dendritic cells so that endometriosis lesions remain tiny and harmless. The study was published online in September by the journal FASEB; Judah Folkman, MD, director of the Vascular Biology Program, was senior author.
About 40 years ago, cognitive researchers raised scientific eyebrows by suggesting that some dyslexic children struggle to read because of an auditory problem: a difficulty in processing fast-changing sounds. Now, Nadine Gaab, PhD, in the Developmental Medicine Center's Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, has provided the first brain images to support this idea. Her study, in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, also shows that the problem can partially be trained away and brain wiring can be changed in at least some children with dyslexia.
Being able to capture nuances within fast-changing sounds, like the syllable "ba," is critical to learning language and, later, to knowing what printed letters sound like. But when Gaab's 9- to 12-year-old subjects with dyslexia listened to sounds that changed quickly—more than a few milliseconds—their brains didn't show the activity seen in typical readers' brains. Functional MRI (fMRI) images showed that the dyslexic children's brains weren't properly wired for fast sounds.
The solution? Computer games that played the fast-changing sounds slowly, then gradually sped them up. After eight weeks of sessions, the dyslexic children's brains responded more like typical readers' when processing fast sounds, and their reading improved.
In her child-friendly fMRI lab at Children's Waltham center, Gaab will now study preschoolers whose family members have dyslexia. By looking for sound-processing problems on fMRI, she hopes to catch—and fix—dyslexia at an early stage, before the children begin learning to read. For more, visit www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2545/mainpageS2545P0.html.
Up to 40 percent of extremely premature infants develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Little is known about how to predict this debilitating lung disease, let alone prevent or treat it. Now, genetic studies of preemies' umbilical cords, published online by Genome Biology on October 4, provide a much-needed lead.
A team led by Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, director of the Children's Hospital Informatics Program, and Neonatology fellow Jennifer Cohen, MD, obtained cord tissue from 54 babies born before 28 weeks' gestation and analyzed the activity of all their 30,000-odd genes. Children's Hospital Boston researchers found that the 20 infants who went on to have BPD had a difference in a pathway that is also disrupted in adult chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This so-called chromatin remodeling pathway is responsible for the "unwrapping" of coiled DNA strands so that a gene can "turn on," says Kohane. When it's disrupted, certain inflammatory genes get stuck on, and lung tissue is chewed away.
Drugs known as histone deacetylase inhibitors already target this pathway and are being developed to treat COPD in adults. Kohane and Cohen hope the drugs can also prevent or treat BPD in premature infants.