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Stopping Cell Death
Molecule lessens stroke damage via a new biochemical pathway


Results: Harvard Medical School researcher Junying Yuan and colleagues have discovered a molecule that prevented a type of cell death in human cell cultures and lowered the amount of brain damage caused by stroke in live mice by 30 percent. The study suggests that some cases of cell death thought to be the uncontrollable result of injury or disease are instead regulated by a molecular pathway.

Why It Matters: Researchers have long known of one form of regulated cell death called apoptosis. This is a helpful type of cell death that prevents cancer and contributes to early development. Yuan’s research demonstrates the existence of another type of programmed cell death that she and her team call “necroptosis.” This process may be involved in brain trauma, heart attacks, stroke, and other diseases. In showing that necroptosis is the result of a programmed set of steps that a chemical can interrupt, Yuan’s work suggests the possibility of new drug therapies to combat these diseases.

Methods: In order to find an anti-necroptosis molecule, the researchers tested 15,000 chemicals concurrently in cells grown in separate wells. Yuan’s team induced cell death and examined which chemicals prevented the cells from dying. Once they found a promising compound, they administered it to live mice whose brains had been temporarily deprived of blood, and compared the resulting damage to that induced in a control group.

Next Step: Yuan and her team have discovered eight other necroptosis-blocking molecules and are using them to identify the steps in the necroptosis pathway by observing how each molecule affects dying cells. They are also seeking funding to develop a drug therapy for stroke based on their findings.

Sources: Yuan, J., et al. 2005. Chemical inhibitor of nonapoptotic cell death with therapeutic potential for ischemic brain injury. Nature Chemical Biology 1:112-119.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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