Lab Notes


Mast cells can be white knights against sepsis

Sepsis, the spread of bacteria through the body that is thought to be an inappropriate response to infection, is the most common cause of death in hospital intensive care units in the United States. The factors responsible for sepsis are not fully understood. In 2004, a team headed by Stephen Galli, MD, the Mary Hewitt Loveless, MD, Professor and chair of pathology, demonstrated for the first time that mast cells - immune cells known mainly for their bothersome effects such as wheezing, itching and sneezing - can also play a beneficial role in providing protection from sepsis.

Now Galli's group has published findings in the March 30 issue of Nature Medicine showing another favorable effect of the maligned cells. Mast cells can destroy a molecule called neurotensin that contributes to the pathology and death associated with infection.

'In the 'good, bad and ugly' context, this would be a 'good' function of this fascinating cell,' said Galli. The study also provides the foundation for studying the role of neurotensin in sepsis. - MITZI BAKER

Nanotubes not toxic

All of the methods of getting images of various biochemical events occurring inside a living body aren't sensitive enough to be able to detect molecular details, such as the earliest stages of cancer in just a few cells. Nanotechnology, which involves working at the atomic and molecular levels, could provide that needed boost in sensitivity.

Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor of radiology, and his group recently showed that a nanotechnology technique called Raman spectroscopy could illuminate tumors in living subjects with a sensitivity 100 to 1,000 times greater than the imaging strategies currently available.

In their Raman spectroscopy work, Gambhir's team used two types of engineered Raman nanoparticles; one was single-wall carbon nanotubes.

These particles are controversial, said Gambhir, because cell culture studies have indicated that they can potentially damage cells. In a preliminary study, Gambhir's group injected mice with the carbon nanotubes and followed them for four months. They found no evidence of significant toxicity in the mice. Published in the March 30 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Gambhir said the results should encourage further exploration of the potential of these carbon nanoparticles to be used for imaging and targeting tumors in living subjects. - MITZI BAKER

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