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Research Briefs

Antibiotic May be Effective in ALS

A common class of antibiotics that includes penicillin may be able to lengthen the lives of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a team of researchers from P&S and Johns Hopkins has found. ALS is a fatal disease that attacks and kills motor neurons.

A study in the Jan. 6 issue of Nature, showed that one of the beta-lactam antibiotics – ceftriaxone – delayed the loss of neurons and muscle strength and increased survival in mice with a form of ALS.

"Currently there's only one drug available for ALS, Riluzole, and it only lengthens the life of patients by about three months," says one of the study's authors, Paul B. Fisher, Ph.D., professor of clinical pathology and the Michael and Stella Chernow Urological Cancer Research Scientist. "We desperately need new and more effective medications."

This research was funded by the NIH, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Project ALS, and the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins.

Faulty DNA Repair Linked to Breast Cancer

Mailman School of Public Health researchers have found that deficiencies in a cell's ability to repair damaged DNA may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

"DNA repair may be a valuable biomarker to identify women at high risk, and in the future we may be able to develop methods to decrease that risk," says the study's leader, Regina Santella, Ph.D., professor of environmental health sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan. "But for now there are no known methods for elevating the body's ability to repair DNA. Therefore, the most sensible course is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce exposure to known carcinogens such as cigarette smoke."

The results showed women with the worst DNA repair had three times the risk of breast cancer than women with the best repair mechanism.

The study was published in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and was supported by the NIH and the Cancer Prevention and Research Foundation.

Old Drug Inspires New Hope in Alzheimer's

Brief treatments with an old antidepressant, Rolipram, may be able to slow, and possibly even reverse, the short and long-term memory loss of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study by Ottavio Arancio, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology; Michael Shelanski, M.D., Ph.D., chairman and Delafield Professor; and Bing Gong, M.D., postdoctoral research scientist, all of the Department of Pathology and the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain.

When given to Alzheimer's model mice, Rolipram corrected short- and long-term memory deficits for months after the three-week treatment. The study appeared in the Dec. 1 Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"Before cells die in Alzheimer's, synaptic dysfunction causes the first memory deficits. Rolipram may improve the strength of the synapse and slow cognitive impairment," says Dr. Arancio. The researchers hope to start an Alzheimer's trial within a year at the Taub Institute.

The work was supported by the Institute for the Study of Aging, the Alzheimer's Association, and the NIH.