While the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system has become the poster child for innovation in synthetic biology, it has some major limitations. CRISPR-Cas9 can be programmed to find and cut specific pieces of DNA, but editing the DNA to create desired mutations requires tricking the cell into using a new piece of DNA to repair the break. This bait-and-switch can be…
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Humans of MGRI: Dr. Hoang Le

The Mass General Research Institute (MGRI) is home to a research community of 9,500+ individuals working to understand disease and develop solutions to medicine’s most pressing challenges. But who are they and what do they do when they’re not conducting research? Meet Dr. Hoang Le, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Neurology’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit, which…
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According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 13,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States and it is the most common gynecological cancer in the world. The World Health Organization reports that it is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in women, worldwide. However, despite its prevalence, the etiology of cervical cancer is still…
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Postdoc Joseph Zak Receives Polak Young Investigator Award

Postdoc Joseph Zak of the Murthy Lab has been chosen by leaders of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) as a recipient of this year’s Polak Young Investigator Award. This award recognizes postdocs and early-career researchers who study organisms’ ability to sense and respond to chemicals in their environment. Zak and the other honorees presented their research at a virtual symposium on April 20 as part of the…
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As organelles of the innate immune system, inflammasomes activate caspase-1 and other inflammatory caspases that cleave gasdermin D (GSDMD). Caspase-1 also cleaves inactive precursors of the interleukin (IL)-1 family to generate mature cytokines such as IL-1β and IL-18. Cleaved GSDMD forms transmembrane pores to enable the release of IL-1 and to drive cell lysis through pyroptosis. Here we report cryo-electron…
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Nature Reviews Materials speaks to Donald Ingber, Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, about the animal testing conundrum and the importance of human-relevant models in biomedical research. A main power of animal models is the possibility of genetic engineering, based on specific genetic alterations that we suspect may be involved. The question is…
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Scientists from several hospitals and research centers have shown what happens in individual cells of patients who died of COVID-19. In a study published in Nature, the researchers describe how infected cells from multiple organs exhibited a range of molecular and genomic changes. They also saw signs of multiple, unsuccessful attempts of the lungs to repair themselves in response to respiratory failure,…
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How B Cells Fight the COVID-19 Virus

Inside the body of a person with COVID-19, the immune system’s B cells are engaged in a full-scale battle with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But some B cells are better at this than others. Now, scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, California Institute of Technology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other institutions have for the…
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Research News: Lung Precancer Pathology

A recently published study from the Varelas laboratory has identified new mechanisms contributing to the development of precancer lesions in lung airways. Precancer lesions that arise in airways are associated with chronic lung damage, such as that induced by cigarette smoke, and such lesions are predisposed to transitioning into lung squamous cell carcinoma, a poorly treatable subtype of non-small cell lung…
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This year, more than 60,000 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, statistically, as few as 10 percent will survive five years after diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society. Because pancreatic cancer is hidden deep within the body and often symptomless, it’s frequently diagnosed after the disease has progressed too far for surgical intervention…
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