Taking out the trash

Autophagy (self eating) has long been considered a kind of indiscriminate Pac Man-like process of waste disposal. Now, scientists at Washington University have shown that apart from conditions of cell starvation, it is carefully regulated: both in plants and yeast — and most likely in people. The finding is relevant to aggregation-prone pathologies such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Eye’s recycling process key to seeing color, bright light

The retina’s rods and cones allow us to see. But although scientists have an idea of what makes rods perform and flourish, they’ve been somewhat in the dark regarding what keeps cones working and thriving. Now, School of Medicine researchers led by Thomas A. Ferguson, PhD, believe they’re closer to the answer and that their findings may one day help preserve vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration and other retinal diseases.

$32 million NIH grant funds study of multipurpose infection fighter

A multi-institutional campaign to harness a newly recognized cellular defense against infection is being led by researchers at the School of Medicine. A $32 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is funding the collaborative, which could lead to drugs with unprecedented versatility in fighting different infections. Washington University’s Herbert W. Virgin IV, MD, PhD, is the principal investigator.

Nanoparticles treat muscular dystrophy in mice

Researchers at the School of Medicine have demonstrated a new approach to treating muscular dystrophy. Mice with a form of the disease showed improved strength and heart function when treated with nanoparticles loaded with rapamycin, an immunosuppressive drug recently found to improve recycling of cellular waste.

Recycling in the eye promotes good vision

Researchers have found that seeing well as we age depends, at least in part, on a recycling process in the eye that mops up cellular debris and recycles light-sensitive proteins. The findings suggest that disruptions in that process may harm vision and play a key role in the development of eye diseases related to aging. Inside the retinal pigment epithelium cells pictured are structures used for recycling (green) that engulf and digest spent parts of photoreceptor cells (red).

Discovery helps mice beat urinary tract infections

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found new clues to why some urinary tract infections recur persistently after multiple rounds of treatment. Their research, conducted in mice, suggests that the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections take advantage of a cellular waste disposal system that normally helps fight invaders.

School receives $8 million grant to study asthma, allergies

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, including Michael Holtzman, MD, have received an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the role of the barrier functions of the skin, gut, and airway in asthma and allergic diseases. Understanding the role of the epithelial cells in these tissues may help prevent and treat respiratory illnesses in the future, the researchers say.