New research led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) provides insights on why people with red hair exhibit altered sensitivity to certain kinds of pain. The findings are published in Science Advances. In people with red hair (as in numerous other species of animals with red fur), the pigment-producing cells of the skin—called melanocytes—contain a variant form of the melanocortin…
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Scientists are keenly interested in monoclonal antibodies as a class of therapeutics for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because in general, they can neutralize (block) infection. However, it’s unclear whether neutralization alone will be sufficient. To fully prevent disease it may be essential to clear the virus from cells in the upper respiratory tract that have already become infected.…
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In the first study to use whole genome sequencing (WGS) to discover rare genomic variants associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), researchers have identified 13 such variants (or mutations). In another novel finding, this study establishes new genetic links between AD and the function of synapses, which are the junctions that transmit information between neurons, and neuroplasticity, or the ability of…
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New research reveals that when breast cancer cells spread to the brain, they must boost production of fatty acids, the building blocks of fat, in order to survive there. The work, which is published in Nature Cancer and was led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Koch Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), points to a…
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More than just a sign of illness, mucus is a critical part of our body’s defenses against disease. Every day, our bodies produce more than a liter of the slippery substance, covering a surface area of more than 400 square meters to trap and disarm microbial invaders. Mucus is made from mucins — proteins that are decorated with sugar molecules.…
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An Itching Question

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis (AD), is sometimes called “the itch that rashes.” Often, the itch begins before the rash appears, and, in many cases, the itchiness never really goes away. Approximately 9.6 million children and 16.5 million adults in the U.S. have AD, and it can have a serious effect on a person’s quality of life. Although much has been…
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Matthew Vander Heiden, an MIT professor of biology and a pioneer in the field of cancer cell metabolism, has been named the next director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, effective April 1. Vander Heiden will succeed Tyler Jacks, who has served as director for more than 19 years, first for the MIT Center for Cancer Research and…
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Thousands of different bacterial species live within the human gut. Most are beneficial, while others can be harmful. A new study from an MIT-led team has revealed that these bacterial populations can remake themselves within the lifetime of their host, by passing genes back and forth. The researchers also showed that this kind of gene transfer occurs more frequently in…
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Last year, a team of biologists and computer scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont (UVM) created novel, tiny self-healing biological machines from frog cells called “Xenobots” that could move around, push a payload, and even exhibit collective behavior in the presence of a swarm of other Xenobots. Get ready for Xenobots 2.0. The same team has now…
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How Chronic Stress Leads to Hair Loss

Harvard University researchers have identified the biological mechanism by which chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells, confirming long-standing observations that stress might lead to hair loss. In a mouse study published in the journal Nature, the researchers found that a major stress hormone puts hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase, without regenerating the follicle or the hair.…
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