NYU School of Medicine’s cadre of more than 400 researchers is tackling medicine’s toughest challenges, from obesity to organ transplantation, through cross-discipline collaboration and creative problem solving. It’s a simple formula that continues to yield extraordinary results. Here are just a few examples of our stellar science.
Finding the Molecular Link between Obesity, Diabetes, and Atherosclerosis
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, conditions that fuel diabetes and heart disease. “Unfortunately, people with obesity and diabetes overwhelmingly die of heart disease,” explains Edward A. Fisher, MD, PhD, a clinician–scientist whose research focuses on atherosclerosis, the leading cause of heart attacks. “These three conditions likely share molecular mechanisms.” With a 5-year, $12 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Dr. Fisher and his colleagues at NYU School of Medicine Kathryn Moore, PhD, the Jean and David Blechman Professor of Cardiology, and Ann Marie Schmidt, MD, PhD, the Dr. Iven Young Professor of Endocrinology, are zooming in on the particular role of the macrophage, a type of white blood cell.
High-Dose Vitamin C Fights Certain Types of Blood Cancers
Scientists have been investigating the anticancer potential of high-dose vitamin C for decades. Now researchers at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center have reported that the vitamin might help block the progression of some blood-borne cancers by preventing a chain of molecular reactions that stimulate the runaway growth of abnormal cells.
“This study adds a brand new strategy to our list of potential treatment approaches,” says corresponding author Iannis Aifantis, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at NYU Langone Health. An enzyme called TET2 helps oversee the normal maturation of precursor blood cells. But a mutated form of the enzyme, prevalent in some leukemias and other cancers, traps the cells in perpetual immaturity and allows them to proliferate uncontrollably. In mice genetically engineered with a TET2 mutation, the NYU School of Medicine team was able to correct the deficiency by treating the animals intravenously with high-dose vitamin C. The experimental method, recently described in the journal Cell, also suppressed implanted human leukemia cells and could eventually complement existing anticancer strategies.
“We’re excited by the prospect that high-dose vitamin C might become a safe and effective supplemental treatment option for these blood diseases,” says corresponding author Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, director of the National Cancer Institute-designated Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health.
A Pioneering Project Synthesizes Functional Chromosomes from Scratch
Roughly half of the human genome is composed of repetitive DNA stretches that can be cut and pasted into new locations. Jef Boeke, PhD, is clarifying how some of these plug-and-play bits of DNA can move and influence development and diseases such as cancer.
His lab’s in-depth knowledge of DNA guides its major new direction: redesigning or synthesizing chromosomes and genomes from scratch. To that end, Dr. Boeke, director of the Institute for Systems Genetics, is leading an international project to construct the 12 million DNA letters of the Baker’s yeast genome. Last March, in a landmark package of seven papers published in Science, his team of more than 200 scientists worldwide announced the successful synthesis of 5 of the 16 chromosomes that make up the yeast species S. cerevisiae. “This work sets the stage for completion of synthetic genomes to address unmet needs in medicine and industry,” says Dr. Boeke, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology. “Beyond any one application, the papers confirm that newly created systems and software can answer basic questions about the nature of genetic machinery by reprogramming chromosomes in living cells.”
In a related initiative called Genome Project-Write, Dr. Boeke and team aim to assemble the 3 billion DNA letters of the human genome, as well as other organisms’ genomes, from their individual parts. To facilitate such work, he has established the GenomeFoundry@ISG to automate critical steps in DNA writing. One of the major goals, Dr. Boeke says, is to encourage new technology that can dramatically reduce the cost of synthesizing large DNA segments. Building genes and genomes and analyzing them in cells, he adds, may allow scientists to compare genetic variants and understand which sequences contribute to health and disease.
And, finally Dr. Boeke is also collaborating with NYU Langone’s Transplant Institute and other researchers to grow human organs in pigs—a forward-thinking effort to help alleviate a critical organ shortage that kills 20 people a day.