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Research Roundup: Omega-3 fatty acids, cystic fibrosis diagnostic test, drug pair to treat rare brain tumor

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Nov. 17 – Nov. 23.

Omega-3 fatty acids linked to stem cell growth

Connecting the worlds of dietary science and molecular biology, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to how stem cells in fat tissue grow and divide into fat cells, a study published by Stanford researchers on Nov. 21 in “Cell” found.

“When we saw that the cell was responding to omega-3 fatty acids, we realized that this had changed from just a molecular biology story to a story showing the molecular biology of how diet controls stem cells,” said microbiology, immunology and pathology professor Peter Jackson to Stanford Medicine News.

The cells sense levels of omega-3 fatty acids through a small thin-like appendage called the primary cilium. When omega-3 fatty acids bind to a receptor located on cilia of fat stem cells, this prompts the stem cells to divide, increasing the number of fat cells. The body then has more cells to store energy, which is healthier than storing too much energy in existing cells.

“What you want is more, small fat cells rather than fewer, large fat cells,” Jackson told Stanford Medicine News. “A large fat cell is not a healthy fat cell. The center is farther away from an oxygen supply, it sends out bad signals and it can burst and release toxic contents.”

New improved diagnostic test for cystic fibrosis

An improved diagnostic pediatric test for cystic fibrosis has been developed by Stanford researchers, according to findings published on Nov. 18 in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Led by pediatrics professor Carlos Milla and chemistry professor Richard Zare, the team is dedicated to improving methods in diagnosing cystic fibrosis. The current gold-standard, known as the sweat chloride test, takes around three hours to get results and can be unreliable.

The newly developed method needs only minute amounts of a baby’s perspiration. In pilot tests, it was able to correctly identify patients with cystic fibrosis in 98% of cases, and it takes two minutes to perform. 

The methodology can be applied to other basic tests for a wide range of conditions, Zare said.

“It’s faster, cheaper and it has the ability to do more than cystic fibrosis,” he told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE.

Pair of drugs identified to treat rare brain tumor

Researchers have identified a pair of drugs that kill diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which is a deadly brain tumor that affects primarily children. The study was published by Stanford researchers on Nov. 20 in “Science Translational Medicine.”

Led by associate professor of neurology Michelle Monje, the team collaborated with scientists from the National Institutes of Health to identify a pair of drugs that would prove useful to fight against DIPG tumors.

“The goal of this study was to identify two drugs that work together better than one,” Monje told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE.

The findings suggested that panobinostat and marizomib worked as a pair to increase survival time in animal models of the disease. 

The researchers also found that there are particular drugs effective for certain brain tumors, but not for treating DIPG. For example, the drug selumetinib should not be used as selumetinib promotes the growth of the DIPG tumor.

“What we found was that, in some DIPG cells, this drug actually seemed to make things worse,” Monje told SCOPE. “The misses in these studies are as important as the hits. They help guide the field away from exposing children to medications that are unlikely to be beneficial to them.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.