Research Discoveries

Antimicrobial Ingredient in Toothpaste, Soaps, Linked to Inflammation, Altered Gut Microbiota

A research team led by UMass Amherst food scientist Guodong Zhang reports that the antimicrobial ingredient triclosan, found in hand soaps and toothpastes among other products, could have adverse effects on colonic inflammation and colon cancer by altering gut microbiota, the microbes found in our intestines. The study, reported in Science Translational Medicine, suggests that short-time treatment with low-dose triclosan caused low-grade colonic inflammation and exaggerated the development of colitis and colitis-associated colon cancer in mice. Read More.

New Frontiers for Materials Design

Chemical engineer Sarah L. Perry is using chemistry to help design materials similar to how nature uses amino acids to create proteins. The manufacturing challenge has been how to change materials in order to modify the texture or the thickness in consumer products such as cosmetics or food. Perry has found a way to use electrostatic force to make these provisions naturally, without the need to change materials. Her research opens up new frontiers for materials design. Her findings are published in the journal Nature Communications. Read More.

Novel Cancer Immunotherapy Shows Promise 

Much cancer immunotherapy research has focused on harnessing the immune system’s 

T cells to fight tumors, “but we knew that other types of immune cells could be important in fighting cancer too,” says biomedical engineer Ashish Kulkarni. He and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and elsewhere are reprogramming specific macrophages to eat tumor cells. They report that in preclinical models they can amplify macrophage immune responses against cancer using a self-assembling supramolecule. Details appear in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Read More.

Code to 36-Year-Old Computation Problem Cracked

UMass Amherst computer scientist Barna Saha and colleagues have offered a theoretical solution to a problem in RNA folding predictions, widely used in biology for understanding genome sequences. Knowing more about RNA structure may reveal clues to its role in the origin and evolution of life on earth. Over the past 36 years, the running time for the algorithm had not improved until Saha and colleagues developed a new faster algorithm. Saha’s article appears in a special issue of the Journal of Computing, published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Read More.

Exposure to Fracking Chemicals Affects Mammalian Breast Tissue

With more than 17 million Americans now living within one mile of an oil or gas well, research on the effects of chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) extraction such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is increasingly important. Environmental health scientist Laura Vandenberg and her team have released the first study to show that mouse mammary gland tissues are sensitive to a mixture of 23 commonly used UOG chemicals, with dose-specific effects on tissue morphology, cell proliferation, and induction of intraductal hyperplasia, an overgrowth of cells, considered a marker for future breast cancer risk. Details appear in the journal Endocrinology. Read More.

New Blood Test Quickly Detects Liver Damage

UMass Amherst chemist Vincent Rotello and an international team of colleagues have developed a blood test that can detect liver damage before symptoms appear. Their find could lead to a significant advance in the early detection of liver disease, a leading cause of premature mortality in the United States and the U.K. Liver disease often goes unnoticed until its late stages, when the damage it causes is irreversible. The team’s method can detect liver irregularities from a blood sample in 30–45 minutes. Details appear in Advanced Materials. Read More.

Biochemists Develop Molecular Probe to Measure Accessible Cholesterol in Cells

UMass researchers have developed a new molecular probe for measuring the amount of accessible cholesterol in cells. The cholesterol research community once focused only on the total amount of cholesterol present in the membrane. The research, done by graduate students Ben Johnson and Mariana Breña and faculty adviser Alejandro Heuck, suggests that the accessibility of cholesterol plays an important role in how cholesterol levels are regulated in the cell. That finding will be useful in the study of cholesterol transport and cholesterol-related diseases. The team’s paper appears in Springer Nature journal Scientific Reports. Read More.

Molecular Switch for On-Demand Release of Molecular Cargo

For the first time, it is now known how the movement of a single chemical bond can compromise a membrane made up of more than 500 such bonds. Chemist Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan and colleagues at UMass Amherst have developed a system that uses light as a switch to create a reversible, on-demand molecular control mechanism. Their work was supported by a Department of Defense Multi-University Research Initiative award and published in Nature Chemistry. Read More.

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