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Prospective Alzheimer’s drug builds new brain cell connections

Jay Wright
Jay Wright

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

Washington State University researchers have developed a new drug candidate that dramatically improves the cognitive function of rats with Alzheimer’s-like mental impairment.

Their compound, which is intended to repair brain damage that has already occurred, is a significant departure from current Alzheimer’s treatments, which either slow the process of cell death or inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme believed to break down a key neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory development.

Such drugs, says Joe Harding, a professor in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, are not designed to restore lost brain function, which can be done by rebuilding connections between nerve cells.

“This is about recovering function,” he says. “That’s what makes these things totally unique. They’re not designed necessarily to stop anything. They’re designed to fix what’s broken. As far as we can see, they work.”

Harding, Jay Wright (regents professor, psychology), and other WSU colleagues report their findings in the online “Fast Forward” section of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Continue story →

WSU researcher to model drought resistance

By Joanna Steward, College of Arts and Sciences

From the tomatoes in your garden to the grain yield of an acre of wheat, the availability of water significantly influences a plant’s productivity. Even within the same plot, individual plants can sometimes handle drought conditions better than others—and Washington State University plant biologist Asaph Cousins wants to know why.

Cousins is part of a nationwide team hoping to discover the mechanisms that underlie drought responses and identify candidate genes and pathways for improving plant productivity, particularly in bioenergy grasses. » More …

Pulitzer grant funds coup coverage

By Phyllis Shier, College of Arts and Sciences

After navigating a coup and rebellion in West Africa with funding from a Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant, a Washington State University English professor will share his first-person account in an e-book for a Washington Post publication.

Creative writing professor Peter Chilson’s investigative journalism will be the basis for the e-book, to be released early in December by Foreign Policy magazine. Tentatively titled We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from a Borderland in Africa, the book addresses the turmoil in Mali over the last year and how those problems relate to the legacy of Africa’s colonial borders.

Peter Chilson with Tuareg nationalists
Peter Chilson with Tuareg nationalists at the Mentao Red Cross refugee camp in northern Burkina Faso.

Chilson received a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting to cover the crises from Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso for six weeks from mid-May to early June. The Pulitzer Center partners with worldwide media agencies to provide coverage on issues of global importance underreported in mainstream American media. Chilson was one of four writers to receive grants to cover borderland disputes around the world. » More …

Dioxin causes disease, reproductive problems across generations

Michael Skinner
Michael Skinner

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

Since the 1960s, when the defoliant Agent Orange was widely used in Vietnam, military, industry, and environmental groups have debated the toxicity of one of its ingredients, the chemical dioxin, and how it should be regulated.

But even if all the dioxin were eliminated from the planet, Washington State University researchers say its legacy would live on in the way it turns genes on and off in the descendants of people exposed over the past half century.

Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, biologist Michael Skinner and members of his lab say dioxin administered to pregnant rats resulted in a variety of reproductive problems and disease in subsequent generations. The first generation of rats had prostate disease, polycystic ovarian disease, and fewer ovarian follicles, the structures that contain eggs. To the surprise of Skinner and his colleagues, the third generation had even more dramatic incidences of ovarian disease and, in males, kidney disease.  Continue story →