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NIH funds much research at MIT, Whitehead

The National Institutes of Health, headed by MIT Commencement speaker Elias A. Zerhouni, are the federal focal point for health research and have supported a wide range of research at MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

The NIH, which is based in Bethesda, Md., is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to conduct and support research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention and cure of human diseases, including those related to environmental contaminants.

Recent NIH-funded projects at MIT and Whitehead include:

• A study that showed yeast cells' ability to dismantle amyloid fibers, the clumps of plaque-like proteins that clog the brains of Alzheimer's patients (see story on page 1). The fibers, known for their resilient molecular structure, have never before been dismantled. Although amyloid fibers are not necessarily the cause of Alzheimer's, they are associated with it and many other neurological conditions.
• Established a new research center with an MIT researcher's involvement--The Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health--to study the distribution of biological organisms that have potential consequences for human health in the temperate coastal ocean and its bays, harbors and estuaries.
• Research showing that the lightening-quick shifts our eyes make when taking in a scene--long thought to be random--occur in a specific order. This kind of information about the brain's inner workings may shed light on how the visual cortex processes cues from the eyes.
• A body of work that suggests a new treatment for adult-onset diabetes. A research team at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has found a gene that revs up the energy-producing ability of muscle cells, which could lessen the harmful effects of the disease.
• A study on the effects of blocking a single mutated gene to treat many of the psychiatric and neurological disabilities associated with a primary cause of mental retardation, fragile X syndrome.
• A report by MIT researchers that identifies a potential new way to combat smallpox.

For more information on these and other research projects, go to the MIT News Office web site at and click on "research" or "by topic."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 2, 2004 (download PDF).

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