Big Sugar’s not-so-sweet research practices

Cristin Kearns, assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry, stumbled across a decades-old research paper that shows a link between high-sugar diets and both high triglyceride levels and cancer in rats. But she had to stumble across the study because it was never published in a scientific journal. Oh, I almost forgot…the study was sponsored by the sugar industry. The implication, of course, is that the organization, now called The Sugar Association, buried the findings to avoid likely negative commercial implications. In response, The Sugar Association has stated that the study was never published, in part, because it was significantly delayed and over budget. In other words, they probably wouldn’t have published the study even if a high-sugar diet showed health benefits. As King George once said, “If you buy that I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.”

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Body brokers or broken bodies?

A Reuters special report released last week looks at the business of post-mortem body donation. You know how organ donation has a bunch of regulations surrounding it so that shady practices like organ harvesting before death (warning: graphic but fake) don’t occur? Well Americans may be surprised to know there’s little regulation protecting your body after you’re gone. While the UK has bodies (ha) like the Human Tissue Authority, in the US your torso could end up being defrosted by an unemployed guy using a hose… and he wouldn’t even be breaking any major laws. Don’t get us wrong, body donation is a very important aspect of scientific research and should continue—which is exactly why we should get serious about regulating it. Happy Halloween!

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Crowdsourcing consortium causes competing companies’ collaboration

Transparency and drug discovery don’t usually go together, what with patents, IP and paywalls hiding useful knowledge from researchers working on similar problems. But the Structural Genomics Consortium has a different approach. That’s right, crowdsourcing has made its way to drug discovery. The SGC partners with six research universities, nine of the largest pharma innovators, and government agencies to provide open source data about protein structures that can be used to develop hard-to-design drugs. They’re currently using the approach to, ahem, stick it to Huntington’s (see, it’s funny because they’re literally trying to bind molecules to the protein that causes the disease.) For a small contribution of $8 million—cheap by R&D standards—any organization can nominate proteins to the SGC’s master to-do list.

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Who needs sleep?

Turns out there might be somebody to blame when you can’t sleep at night. Snoring partner? Crying baby? Game of Thrones creators for making us wait forever for season 7? Nope, nope, and nope. Your parents. But not because they inflicted irreparable emotional damage by never buying you Legos. It’s because you may have genes that cause sleep issues. Scientists have recently linked two genes with sleeping problems. Research subjects with a mutant FABP7 gene sleep more fitfully at night and those with a CRY1 variant are found to have abnormal circadian rhythms. With more research, hopefully more effective sleep disorder treatments can be developed. Barenaked Ladies asked, “Who Needs Sleep?” Not this guy. He’s good.

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Out with the old, in with the…still old?

Ever looking for something to wear and end up deciding that pair of jeans at the bottom of the hamper is your best option, even though you’d previously deemed them too stained/stinky/crusty to wear? (Uh, yeah, us neither… Awkward.) Anyway…AstraZeneca is doing the same thing. But with drugs. Its “Emerging Innovations Unit” oversees a number of drugs that AZ had shelved and molecules that never progressed to human testing. The unit licenses shelved drugs to other companies and also partners with university scientists to continue research.  AZ says the new strategy has led to substantial improvements in its research output.  Maybe, just maybe, those dirty jeans are worth taking for another spin around the block.

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2. Pioneering partnership proposition portends promising pipelines

Takeda is building a Bbidge, both literally and figuratively. Their newest venture, Bridge Medicines, combines the innovative research from three leading US universities and Takeda’s checkbook along with the capital of two healthcare VC firms. The three universities, all part of the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute (Tri-I TDI), discover new therapies that oftentimes don’t make it to clinical trials. This is where Bridge Medicines comes in. The most promising projects will now have resources and funding to expedite the development process to move from proof-of-concept to in-human clinical trials. Tip of the hat to Takeda on this one as they are then positioned to call dibs on the most appealing ones.

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