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Discoveries & Achievements

Gaining Greater Understanding of Cancer's Biological Machinery
In 2005, Columbia cancer researchers - led by geneticist and Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Riccardo Dalla-Favera - took a major step in understanding cancer's genetics and biology by creating the world's first mouse model that can develop a human-like diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common form of lymphoma in humans. This innovation enabled Columbia's researchers to confirm that a specific genetic mutation triggers the type of cancer linked to a vast majority of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

First Mouse Model for the Cognitive Deficits of Schizophrenia
Columbia researchers, led by Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel with Christoph Kellendonk and Eleanor Simpson, two researchers in the Kandel lab, have created a mouse model that can be used to study the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia (i.e., difficulty with working memory, and adaptive behavior skills, etc.). The researchers are working with this mouse model to determine how the brain's excess stimulation of dopamine D2 receptors, a characteristic of schizophrenia, may lead to such symptoms. This new model is of great significance because the genetic and physiological complexities of schizophrenia have seriously hindered efforts to understand the disorder. The research was published in the Feb. 16, 2006 issue of Neuron.

Explaining the Link Between Chromosome Deletion and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is one of the most baffling and devastating mental illnesses, often exceptionally resistant to treatment and manifested through any number of poorly understood behaviors. Luckily, only about one percent of the general public is affected. For a very special segment of the population, however, the risk is strikingly higher. Among people born without a small section of chromosome 22, up to a third develop schizophrenia in late adolescence or early adulthood-making the deletion the disease's greatest known risk factor.

Now, Columbia researchers-led by physiology professor Joseph Gogos-have begun to figure out precisely why this chromosomal abnormality impacts schizophrenia, thanks to their work with mouse models. When they inhibited the expression activity of two specific, interrelated genes located in the chromosome 22 region, the investigators found that the mice exhibited major schizophrenia-like symptoms. This discovery has not only shed light on the basic science of the disease, but may also contribute to better, more effective genetic testing and gene-based therapies for a significant number of schizophrenia sufferers.

Heart Arrhythmia Drug to Prevent Sudden Death
A drug to prevent heart arrhythmia—a change in the regular beat of the heart, causing it to skip a beat, or beat more quickly or slowly than usual—could help millions of people who face the risk of sudden death due to heart failure. The treatment, discovered by a team of Columbia researchers in a study involving mice, is the first to target the molecule responsible for cardiac arrhythmias, while avoiding the toxicity of previous treatments. In their study, our investigators found that the experimental drug completely prevented sudden death from arrhythmia.

Vaccine to Slow Debilitating Effects of Parkinson's Disease
Some of the world's leading research in Parkinson's disease is conducted at Columbia, where scientists rely heavily on research involving mice to identify the mechanisms involved in this degenerative disease. As a result of this research, scientists at Columbia and the University of Nebraska have developed the first vaccine targeting Parkinson's disease, following a successful test in mice in which the vaccine prevented the death of neurons in the brain. The vaccine does not prevent Parkinson's disease from occurring, but slows its progression. Human trials of the vaccine are under way for patients with ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, which involves the same inflammatory processes as Parkinson's.

Methods for Restoring Connections in Spinal Cord Injury
Within weeks after a spinal cord injury, scar tissue forms, preventing the re-establishment of connections between the brain and paralyzed limbs. Researchers at Columbia and New York University developed and tested a new surgical procedure in rats that helps restore movement to limbs paralyzed by spinal cord injury. The researchers re-routed a nerve from abdominal muscles into the spinal cord below the injury site. Continued work on the technique is expected to lead to clinical trials in humans within the next few years.

First Pediatric Heart Transplant
A 4-year-old boy from Denver, James Preston "J.P." Lovette IV, became the beneficiary of the world's first successful pediatric heart transplant in 1984. Columbia surgeons refined the surgical technique first tested on monkeys and baboons. The transplant was done by a surgical team led by Dr. Eric A. Rose, now chair of the Department of Surgery at Columbia. J.P. returned in October 2002 to help celebrate 25 years of heart transplantation at Columbia. His medical history inspired him to work toward a career as a physician. Sadly, J.P. Lovette died unexpectedly in his sleep in 2005 at the age of 25, just months before he was to begin medical school at the State University of New York- Buffalo.

Vaccine to Prevent Chickenpox
The chickenpox vaccine, introduced in 1995, was developed in part by Columbia pediatricians who led pivotal clinical trials of the vaccine. It is widely expected to significantly reduce the incidence of chickenpox, which used to cause 10,000 hospitalizations and 50-100 deaths annually in the United States, and to significantly reduce cases of shingles in the elderly. Today, our clinicians continue to study the vaccine, working with a guinea pig model, to understand latent infection—when the chickenpox virus lives silently in the body and eventually reactivates later in a person's life - in order to create new therapies to further reduce cases of painful shingles among the elderly.

Therapies to Reduce Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS
Columbia researchers, in studies involving rodents and primates, developed clinical therapies that have significantly reduced the transmission of HIV/AIDS from an infected mother to her unborn child. Their research has contributed to the optimization of treatment and reduction of risk to the fetus. This is a significant breakthrough in prenatal care for this devastating virus.
© 2005 Columbia University