By Lisa Brown
MED’s Holick will discuss the sunshine nutrient and why we need it
“Vitamin D chose me,” says Michael Holick, who has been an outspoken advocate worldwide for awareness of the ravages of vitamin D deficiency. As tonight’s 2013 University Lecturer, the School of Medicine professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics will speak about his long career studying what he dubs the “D-Lightful” nutrient and share the story of how he became consumed by a subject he once considered boring.
Director of Boston Medical Center’s Bone Health Care Clinic and of MED’s Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory, Holick is a winner of the Linus Pauling Institute’s Linus Pauling Prize for health research and the author of The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem (Plume, 2011). He believes the world is in the throes of a vitamin D defiency pandemic, which is causing bone disease and osteoporosis in adults as well as increasing the risk of a range of diseases, including some cancers, tuberculosis, influenza, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and schizophrenia. About a third of all Americans are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, he says, and that the risk is higher for young children. It’s estimated that vitamin D deficiency affects nearly two billion people worldwide, making it, he says, one of the world’s leading medical problems.
Vitamin D regulates insulin production in the pancreas as well as in genes that control cell growth, and it helps the immune system, says Holick, who has been studying how skin makes vitamin D for more than 30 years. “Every tissue and cell has a vitamin D receptor. We estimate that as many as 2,000 genes—up to one-sixth of the total human genome—are directly or indirectly regulated by vitamin D.”
Holick’s zeal for the “sunshine vitamin,” which has earned him some detractors, has its roots in his early research as a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, which shed light, so to speak, on the elegant way that our bodies synthesize the vitamin in our skin during sun exposure. His research resulted in what he calls “the concept of sensible sun exposure” coexisting with protection from skin cancers and other damage. Recently he worked with a California-based software engineer to develop an app that he says “not only tells you how much Vitamin D you are producing anywhere at any time of the year, but also provides a warning when you’ve made enough Vitamin D and that further sun exposure can increase the risk of skin damage.”
“The major cause of the vitamin D deficiency epidemic is the lack of appreciation that sun exposure has been, and continues to be, the major source of the vitamin worldwide,” says Holick, who in his lecture will elaborate on his three-step strategy to treat and prevent vitamin D deficiency.
The University Lecture was established in 1950 to honor faculty engaged in outstanding research and to offer an opportunity to hear a distinguished scholar discuss a favorite topic. All faculty members are invited each spring to nominate the subsequent year’s lecturer. University Lecturers from the previous five years act as the selection committee.
Michael Holick will give the 2013 University Lecture, titled The D-Lightful Vitamin D for Health, tonight, Wednesday, November 6, at 7 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is free and open to the public.
This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) have generated the first known disease-specific induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from a patient with familial transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR). The findings, which are reported in Stem Cell Reports, may lead to new treatments for genetic diseases such as familial amyloidosis.
iPSCs are a form of stem cells that come from skin or blood cells reprogrammed into cells that have the ability to become any type of tissue in the body. ATTR is a lethal, autosomal dominant protein-folding disorder caused by one of more than 100 distinct mutations in the transthyretin (TTR) gene. In ATTR, protein secreted from the liver aggregates and forms fibrils in target organs, chiefly the heart and peripheral nervous system, highlighting the need for a model capable of duplicating the multisystem complexity of this clinically variable disease.
According to researchers using iPSC technology, cell lines can be established that are genetically identical to the individual from whom they are derived, allowing for disease modeling and development of novel therapeutics in the personalized genetic context of the patient from which they are made.
In this study, the researchers used the iPSC to generate liver cells that secrete the disease-specific mutant protein as well as cardiac and neuronal cells, the downstream target tissues of the disease. Upon exposure to the mutant protein, the heart and neuronal cells displayed signs of stress and an increased level of cell death as compared to those exposed to normal protein, thereby recreating essential aspects of the disease in vitro. Furthermore, small molecule stabilizers of the mutant protein that are being tested in clinical trials show efficacy in this model, validating this iPSC-based, patient-specific in vitro system as a platform for testing therapeutic strategies.
“Our work demonstrates that it is possible to model a complex, multisystem genetic disease in a relatively short space of time, using lineage-specified cells derived from patient stem cells,” explained George J. Murphy, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the section of Hematology and Oncology and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) at BUSM and BMC.
“This is a major breakthrough that will facilitate testing novel targeted therapies that are being developed for ATTR amyloidosis,” said coauthor John Berk, MD, clinical director of the Amyloidosis Center at BUSM and BMC, where these rare diseases have been studied for more than 50 years. “Patients and families from all over the world who come to us for treatment may soon benefit from this research.”
Funding for the study was provided by the Amyloidosis Foundation, the Young Family Amyloid Research Fund and the Boston University Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics at BU School of Medicine Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, will be delivering the 2013 University Lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 6 on the Charles River Campus. Dr. Holick will speak on The D-Lightful Vitamin D for Health.
Since 1950, the University Lecture has offered members of the BU community and the general public an opportunity to hear from distinguished faculty about the outstanding and often groundbreaking research and scholarship in which they are actively engaged.
University Lecturers represent a vast array of disciplines and research topics, yet share a common commitment to excellence in scholarly inquiry and discovery. The annual lecture provides an opportunity to highlight the work of a distinguished scholar and engages both the University community and the broader public in the vibrant intellectual life of Boston University.
Dr. Holick is Professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics at BU School of Medicine; Director of the General Clinical Research Unit; Director of the Bone Health Care Clinic; and Director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center.
He has made numerous contributions to the biochemistry, physiology, metabolism, and photobiology of vitamin D for human nutrition, among them, establishing global recommendations advising sunlight exposure as an integral source of vitamin D. He has also helped increase awareness regarding vitamin D deficiency pandemic, and its role in causing not only metabolic bone disease, and osteoporosis in adults, but increasing risk of children and adults developing preeclampsia, common deadly cancers, schizophrenia, infectious diseases including TB and influenza, autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Dr. Holick is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Association of Physicians. He has received numerous honors, including the General Clinical Research Centers Program Award for Excellence in Clinical Research from NIH, American College of Nutrition’s Communication Media Award, Best Docs in America, and the Linus Pauling Prize for Human Nutrition. He has authored more than 400 peer-reviewed publications, edited or co-edited 13 books, written The UV Advantage (2004) and The Vitamin D Solution (2010), and helped develop the dminder.info app.
2013 University Lecture
- Dr. Michael F. Holick
- The D-Lightful Vitamin D for Health
- Wednesday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m.
- Tsai Performance Center
- 685 Commonwealth Avenue
- Charles River Campus
Admission is free. The public is invited.
Boston Public Health Commission gives go-ahead
BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will begin doing tuberculosis research at a higher biosafety level in the coming months, following approval of the work by the Boston Public Health Commission. The research will be transferred from another lab on the Medical Campus.
TB researchers Igor Kramnik, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and director of NEIDL’s Aerobiology Core, and James Galagan, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering and NEIDL associate director of systems biology, have also received approval from BU’s Institutional Biosafety Committee (ISB) to begin preparing for Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) research at NEIDL. BSL-3 research at the lab was green-lighted by a federal court in September.
Kramnik says his research probes the “mechanisms of host susceptibility to tuberculosis, to determine how to prevent destructive lung inflammation caused by the pathogen.” He and his colleagues have managed to stem the disease’s lung lesions in mice, and they are now trying to figure out how to activate such protection in humans and prevent TB transmission by coughing.
“We’ll be able to start training in the new BSL-3 lab within a month,” says Kramnik. “We’ll start working with the pathogenic strain as soon as we are comfortable using the space.” Additional ISB review may be required before the BSL-3 work begins.
NEIDL associate director Ronald Corley, Medical Campus associate provost for research and a MED professor and chair of microbiology, says Boston is the only city he knows of that requires municipal health commission approval of BSL-3 research. The approval adds important external oversight to the high-containment laboratory, he says.
Kevin Tuohey, executive director for research compliance at BU and Boston Medical Center, says the Boston Public Health Commission’s review “is a comprehensive process that requires the submission of project-specific information and a variety of safety plans addressing biological safety, employee health, emergency response, security, transportation, training, and the maintenance of the laboratory space.” The submission of that information, he says, is followed by a commission inspection of labs and their procedures and equipment.
Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) research at NEIDL is not expected to begin until after the resolution of a state court case and approval by the Boston Public Health Commission and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lab was cleared two years ago for BioSafety Level 2 (BSL-2) research, which has included Dengue fever virus and some TB work using “surrogates” of human TB.
TB is “one of the areas of research we are planning to expand in NEIDL,” Corley says, “because it is one of the biggest health problems in the world, and it is also a disease that exists in Boston. There are more and more drug-resistant varieties that are emerging. It’s quite appropriate for NEIDL to be studying it.
This BU Today story was written by Rich Barlow. He can be reached at email@example.com.
People with longer life spans also are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis, cancer and other health problems, suggesting that longevity-prone families may be “an important resource to discover genetic and environmental factors” that keep people healthy longer, a study led by a BUSPH researcher has found.
The study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Public Health, Epidemiology, found that compared to a control group, older subjects with family histories of longevity had lower risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease, severe dementia, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and stroke. The age at which 20 percent of the longevity-prone families had one or more age-related diseases was approximately 10 years later than the controls.
“The analyses . . . suggest that this aging cohort provides an important resource to discover genetic and environmental factors that promote prolonged health-span, in addition to longer life-span,” said the research team, headed by Paola Sebastiani, professor of biostatistics at BU School of Public Health.
Sebastiani and colleagues compared the “health-spans” of older-generation subjects of the Long Life Family Study (LLFS), who have family histories of longevity, to controls that have no family longevity, and to centenarians of the New England Centenarian Study. The LLFS is an ongoing study of longevity and healthy aging in 583 families and almost 5,000 family members demonstrating clustering for longevity. The median age of the subjects and their siblings at enrollment was 92 years, with an age range of 72–109 years.
The study found that the LLFS subjects’ overall disease-free survival was almost comparable to that of the NECS centenarians, with the exception of severe dementia, where the LLFS subjects demonstrated an even greater delay. Pulmonary disease was much less prevalent in the LLFS group and the centenarians, compared to the controls.
A similar pattern of delay in age-of-onset was observed for nearly all the age-related diseases included in the analyses.
“Perhaps members of these families age at slower rates and they have biological factors that impact upon both rate of aging and pathogeneses of age-related diseases,” the researchers wrote.
Sebastiani and her co-authors said future analyses that integrate genetic data with other risk factors will be needed to further explore “health-span.”
Co-authors on the study include: Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician and researcher at the BU School of Medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study; and Fangui X. Sun of the BUSPH Department of Biostatistics.
Also contributing were researchers from the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University; the Department of Genetics at Washington University; the Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, at the University of Pittsburgh; and the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University.
Submitted by Lisa Chedekel
BUSM has established a new endowed professor position, the Aubrey Milunsky Professor of Human Genetics. Any faculty member with a superb research program in a discipline related to human genetics is encouraged to submit an application. For the purposes of this position, human genetics is broadly defined. It is considered to encompass diverse interests including but not limited to genetics, epigenetics, genomics, personalized medicine and gene regulation. While human relevance is essential, genetic research based on human subjects or model organisms (such as mice, fish, worms, flies, or yeast) are all of great interest.
Applicants must have strong records of accomplishment in an area or discipline broadly related to human genetics. An outstanding and well-established independent research program is required. Basic, translational and clinical research avenues are all equally valued. Creativity, innovation and fundamental advances will distinguish the strongest applications. Perceived potential for future connections and synergies with existing or developing research strengths on the BU Medical Campus will be important considerations. In addition to relationships with faculty and research groups in the BU Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Public Health, applicants may also benefit from connections to programs on the Charles River Campus in BU Schools of Arts & Sciences, Engineering or others.
The primary appointment may be in any department of the BU School of Medicine, and will be guided by the search committee and determined by the natural fit of the incoming faculty member with a goal of maximizing productivity of the research program.
BU is committed to building a culturally diverse faculty and strongly encourages applications from female and minority candidates.
Candidates should already be at the Professor or at minimum Associate Professor level (or comparable achievement levels, if outside academia) to be considered.
To guarantee consideration, applications should be submitted by Jan. 1, 2014, but applications will continue to be considered until the position is filled. Interested applicants should send a CV and brief summary of research interests and plans to Dr. Joseph P. Mizgerd, Chair of the Search Committee for the Aubrey Milunsky Professor of Human Genetics, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUSM Professor, BMC Physician Receives Award for Advancing Research on Tobacco Smoke’s Effect on Lungs
Avrum Spira, MD, MSc, the Alexander Graham Bell professor of medicine and chief of the division of computational biomedicine at Boston University School of Medicine, is the recipient of the Alton Ochsner Award Relating Smoking and Disease. The award will be presented to Spira today at the Opening Session of the Annual Meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago.
This award recognizes Spira’s seminal research contributions that have enhanced the understanding of the biological response of lung tissue to tobacco smoke, which can cause lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Spira has applied innovative approaches to measure gene expression in populations of lung cells damaged by tobacco toxins and was the first to define the reversibility and permanent impact of cigarette smoke on gene activity in the bronchial airway. Spira’s lab has leveraged this genomic response in the airway to develop an early detection biomarker that can enable physicians to diagnose lung cancer earlier among smokers at risk for disease. This has important scientific, clinical and therapeutic implications. More recently, his group has extended this genomic approach to develop molecular biomarkers that can guide treatment decisions in COPD and identify novel therapeutic opportunities for this chronic debilitating disease.
Spira, who also is a physician in the pulmonary, critical care and allergy department at Boston Medical Center, is a graduate of Vanier College, Montreal, Canada, the McGill University Faculty of Medicine, also in Montreal, and Boston University (BU). He also is the Director of the Translational Bioinformatics Program within the Clinical Translational Science Institute of BU.
The Award is named in honor of Doctor Alton Ochsner, co-founder of the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. In 1939, Ochsner was the first to publish evidence relating cigarette (tobacco) smoking as the primary cause of lung cancer.
Attention researchers! Did you know that there is a resource to facilitate the reuse/recycle of surplus research equipment within the BU Medical Campus community? Visit the BUMC Equipment Exchange.
This week the Exchange is featuring a donation from the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology: a JEOL 100S TEM microscope. This one owner scope can be fitted with a digital camera. It has been meticulously maintained and is under maintenance contract with Jeol. The scope is fully functional and currently plugged in and under vacuum. Although it is approximately 25 years old, it was last used about six months ago. It is valued at $250K.
Here are particulars on the piece of equipment
- Tungsten filament
- Voltage acceleration range: from 40 to 100 kV
- Maximal resolution: 5 Å
- Magnification range: from x 1000 to x 200 000
- Specimen tilt angle: ± 10 °
- Data acquisition on photographic film
Keep in mind that the cost of moving this scope is approximately $11K and maintenance is about $16k annually.
To learn more, please contact Office of the Vice Provost for Research, at email@example.com
Yoga – whether it’s your cup of tea or not – may be more than just a form of alternative exercise according to BUSM Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology Chris Streeter, MD.
In her research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Streeter found that those who practiced yoga, compared with walkers, had greater improvements in mood and a decrease in anxiety. This study is the first to demonstrate a relationship between increased levels of GABA, a neuro-transmitter that is associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety, and yoga using scans of the physiological changes in the brain.
To take the next step in validating yoga’s potential to treat depression and anxiety, Streeter is conducting another study to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga for symptoms of depression, a disorder where GABA levels have been shown to be low and increase when treated with antidepressants like Prozac. She is recruiting people for the study with mild to moderate depression without suicidal ideation who are not on medication for depression who are interested in participating. For more information or to participate in the study, call the research line at 617-638-8046 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MED’s Jack, SPH’s Jette earn honor for research, service
Two BU professors have been inducted into the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that confers membership on people in the health and medical fields who combine outstanding professional achievements with a commitment to service. Among the 70 new IOM members nationwide are Brian Jack, a School of Medicine professor and chair of family medicine and chief of family medicine at Boston Medical Center, and Alan Jette, a School of Public Health professor of health policy and management and director of the Health & Disabilities Research Institute. They join IOM’s active membership of just 1,753, a respected body that offers independent analysis and recommendations on important health issues.
“Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, who is also a member. “Dr. Jack has made invaluable contributions to the field of medicine, specifically his extensive research regarding hospital readmissions.” Robert Meenan (MED’72, GSM’89), dean of SPH, who has worked closely with Jette for three decades, lauded his colleague for his longtime leadership in the field of disability. “Through Alan’s insightful studies, disability has become better understood by being more measurable, and his findings have led to important changes in major government policies and programs,” Meenan says.
Although his election came as a pleasant surprise, Jette, who from 1996 to 2004 was dean of Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been working with IOM for several years. He chaired the institute’s Future of Disability in America project, which led to the release of a landmark report in 2007 that shaped national priorities in the field of disability. Trained as a physical therapist, he worked with patients in the clinical setting before earning a doctorate in public health, hands-on experience that informs his work helping communities and the Social Security Administration to develop assessment tools. Jette, whose work embraces several fields, recently completed a study of older people who have fractured a hip, and did a clinical trial looking at the benefits of extending traditional rehabilitation.
“We work with social scientists, physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, physical and occupational therapists,” says Jette. He sees the aging of the American population—a major focus of the IOM panel he chaired—as a huge challenge to researchers studying prevention and management of late life disability.
“Election to the IOM is a great honor,” says Jack, whose team has earned international recognition for developing Project RED, a set of 12 detailed steps for reengineered discharge, which reduces hospital readmissions. The IOM membership also recognizes Jack’s work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which presented him with its External Partner award for his role on a panel on preconception care. Jack has devoted much of his career to improving global health, working on family medicine training programs in Hungary, Romania, Albania, and Lesotho. He believes that preventing “poor maternity outcomes is indeed possible, and in developing family medicine training programs around the world that meet the needs of society, all came about from observations in my clinical work and my reflections on how we can do better.”
The IOM is one of several branches of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. It seeks to help both government and the private sector make informed health decisions. Every year, thousands of professionals, IOM members and nonmembers, volunteer their expertise to work on studies launched as specific mandates from Congress or at the request of federal agencies and independent organizations.
This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson. She can be reached at email@example.com.