Science news

Courtesy of Seattle Biomed

A Seattle scientist is set to begin clinical trials of a new malaria vaccine candidate, hoping a new twist on an old approach will finally yield an effective preventive treatment for the disease.

The idea of using a weakened pathogen to stimulate the body’s immune response is not new — it is widely in use in, say, the nasal-spray version of the seasonal flu shot. In that vaccine, the idea is to hobble the virus enough that it cannot hurt the patient, but still allows the body to learn to recognize and fight the invader.

Malcolm Griffes / KPLU

The Food and Drug Administration FDA is proposing ending the lifetime ban on gay blood donors. But even if such is the case, there would still be restrictions. And that disappoints activists who’ve been pushing for change.

Creative Commons

The Northwest business that has investors buzzing right now is the Seattle biotech company Juno Therapeutics. It’s going public Friday morning and hopes the IPO will raise more than $200 million. It will trade on the Nasdaq under JUNO.

Juno Therapeutics specializes in immunotherapies to treat leukemia and lymphoma. This involves taking a person’s T-cells, the ones that fight infections in our bodies, and reengineering them to become stronger.

Settling ground is affecting the Alaskan Way viaduct, Pioneer Square buildings and underground water pipes, Seattle utilities officials said Monday. Engineers think the sinking is connected to the Highway 99 tunnel project, but it probably has little to do with actual digging.

net_efekt / Flickr

The occasional home visit from a health worker can be strong medicine for people who suffer from asthma. A new study based in King County shows it can have as much benefit, and cost even less, than prescription drugs.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

State health officials are putting a positive spin on the bumpy rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange.

Over the weekend, the Washington Healthplanfinder website shut down just a few hours after it opened for business. It’s now back online after a glitch involving tax credit calculations was fixed.

Cynthia Goldsmith / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Scientists from the University of Washington have managed to get lab mice with Ebola to mimic the symptoms of infected humans. And the findings show genes play a big role in how sick people get.

Scientists want to understand why Ebola makes some people terribly sick and gives others much milder symptoms. Now UW researchers have gotten mice to show a similar range of responses — something that has long eluded scientists. The new development could help them understand exactly how the virus takes its toll, and potentially speed up vaccine and drug development.

Gerry Lauzon / Flickr

A new study finds girls treated with radiation for a rare childhood cancer are much more likely to develop breast cancer as young women. The Seattle scientist who led the study said it shows some kinds of radiation therapy can be risky for children even at relatively low doses.  

The study looked at kids with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer diagnosed in just 500 or so North Americans a year. The study has been going on for 45 years, and statistician Norman Breslow of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has been with it all along.

chichacha / Flickr

A love for coffee may run deep in the Northwest, but now a Seattle scientist says the craving for coffee seems to be written into some people’s DNA.

Researchers from Harvard University, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and elsewhere sifted through the genes of more than 100,000 people, looking for common variants that correlate with heavy coffee consumption. They zeroed in on eight genetic variations associated with that deep compulsion to hoist a mug of joe.

Washington State University

A team of scientists has come up with a way to search for water on Mars, and the person behind much of the research is a Washington State University undergraduate.

At age 19, Kellie Wall was planning to major in communications. She needed a science credit and wound up in a geology course with a professor who was a big believer in undergrads getting research experience. There, Wall learned about a project involving volcanoes and other planets.

“I was really excited about it because there was this buzzword Mars attached to it,” she said.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Surgeons at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle treated a patient for metastatic brain cancer last week with sound in what is believed to be the first procedure of its kind in the world.

Besides drugs, there used to be basically one tool for attacking attack brain cancer: a knife. Scientists have been developing less and less invasive ways to get at brain tumors, and now an early-stage trial at Swedish Neuroscience Institute has shown surgeons can treat a metastatic tumor with high-frequency sound beamed painlessly through the skull.

University of Washington

A researcher in genetics at the University of Washington has won a prominent award, sometimes referred to as the American version of the Nobel Prize, in part for a key contribution to understanding breast cancer.

Mary-Claire King knew that breast cancer runs in some families, but it wasn’t clear why. In the 1970s and '80s, genetic research was much more cumbersome and expensive than it is today, and the very idea that a gene could trigger a complex disease like cancer was controversial.

Kaytee Rlek / Flickr

Seattle scientists have zeroed in on a part of the brain that seems to have an interesting job: motivating the brain’s owner to exercise. The findings could have implications for understanding depression.

The dorsal medial habenula is a little structure tucked inside the brain, above the brainstem. Psychiatrist Eric Turner of Seattle Children’s Research Institute knew it had something to do with regulating mood, but not a lot more.

“People asked me, 'Well, what does it do?' And I actually didn’t know. And when I looked it up I found that very little is known about this area of the brain,” he said.

Texas A&M University Press

A skeleton some 9,000 years old is giving up a few of his secrets. A new book about the so-called Kennewick Man, whose remains were found 18 years ago, is due to hit bookstands in mid-September.

Kennewick Man was found resting in the shallow water of the Columbia River. His early story was that of some strife; a rock-point was found buried in his hip bone.

Zack Gainsforth

An unmanned NASA research mission led by a Seattle scientist has caught what are believed to be seven tiny pieces of distant stars and brought them back to Earth.

The Stardust Mission sent a spacecraft on three trips around the sun, dipping into an extremely faint jet of interstellar particles flowing into the solar system. It grabbed seven motes of interstellar dust, giving us a glimpse of what stars other than the Sun are like.

Alison Marcotte / KPLU

Here’s a thought experiment: You’re a scientist researching a treatment for depression, and you’ve become profoundly depressed. Your work is slow and painstaking, and involves methodical experiments with monkeys. It’s likely years before anything you might discover would become available for people.

Gerry Broome / AP Photo

For someone with cancer who lives far from a big city, it can be hard to access cutting-edge care, but a network of Northwest hospitals is getting millions to bring clinical cancer trials to far-flung communities.

Clinical trials study experimental drugs and therapies, and they're the main tool for bringing new treatments to market. But they can also have more immediate benefits for the people enrolled in a study.

Courtney Flatt

Washington State University’s mascot is the cougar, but the university is also home to the nation’s only captive grizzly bear research center. A new study involving those bears yields insights into possible therapies for human obesity and diabetes.

Grizzly bears pile on the fat every autumn. But in their obese state through hibernation, they don’t appear to suffer health consequences like overweight humans do.


A small landslide in 2006 set the stage for the catastrophe that claimed 43 lives in Oso, Washington this past March, say a panel of scientists in a federally-funded study.

The hills above the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River had slid before, at least 15 times over the centuries, according to the study.

But one slide in particular left Oso vulnerable. In 2006, that smaller slide left a loosely-packed mass of debris perched dangerously above the Steelhead Haven development and its neighbors.

Billy V / Flickr

Fighting fires is a dangerous job, and new research on firehouses around Washington state has revealed another hazard — one that lurks on firefighters’ boots, their trucks and even their TV remotes.

MRSA is a nasty and sometimes deadly bacterium that’s hard to kill with antibiotics. It’s normally associated with hospitals, nursing homes or prisons, but researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health recently tested 33 firehouses for the presence of MRSA. They found the bug at 19 of those firehouses. Twelve crews reported having at least one member who’d gotten an infection requiring medical care.

Charles Krupa / AP Photo

When a traumatic event happens, some people find ways to cope while others get caught in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorder. A new study led by a Seattle researcher and enabled by an unexpected disaster suggests a way we might be able to predict who’s most likely to struggle.

Gabriel Spitzer

The human papillomavirus is a bit like a tiny hacker — black hat, of course — that sneaks into your cells, hijacks your hardware and uses it to copy itself. For nearly 80 million Americans, this is happening right now, and nearly all sexually-active people will pick up HPV at one time or another.

For a smaller number of us, that bit of forced entry touches off a chain of events that leads to cancer — mainly cervical cancer, but also penile, rectal, throat and tongue cancers. If scientists could figure out exactly how that happens, they might able to intervene and disrupt the process.

Scott MacLeod Liddle / Flickr

The nation’s largest association of pediatricians is recommending parents read to their children starting at birth. Research by Seattle-area scientists suggests kids can indeed benefit from hearing lots of language right from day one – or even earlier,  even though most kids don’t start talking until they’re at least a year old.

Jane Waterbury / Flickr

The University of Washington will host a big party this weekend to drum up publicity for a key branch of research, and only twins are on the guest list.

Scientists have long had a keen interest in twins because people who share genes can help tease out the influences of nature and nurture.

“There’s this very unique kind of natural experiment that they provide,” said Dr. Glen Duncan, director of the UW Twin Registry. “So they really provide a very powerful approach to studying very difficult questions.”

Smithsonian Institution

A squishy little sea creature fished out of the Salish Sea may be rewriting our history of how animal life first evolved.

They’re called comb jellies, and they have nothing to do with hair products. They are translucent blobs that propel themselves with rows of shimmering threads called cilia.

Scientists captured specimens at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories and analyzed their genomes, coming to two pretty startling conclusions. First, these animals have nervous systems, but they look almost nothing like those of people or fish, or any other animal on Earth.

Courtesy of Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

They call her Naia. She was probably about 16, a forager living mainly on fruit in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. One day she ventured into a cave when the floor gave out. She plunged maybe 100 feet and died.

And that’s how divers would find her, some 12,000 years later, alongside saber-tooth cats and other extinct animal bones in the now-underwater cave system.

“It’s the most complete female paleoamerican skeleton, period,” said James Chatters, owner of the Bothell-based company Applied Paleoscience.


For engineers that use sensitive equipment like electron microscopes, a train is a big, moving, magnetic nightmare.

That’s why Sound Transit and the University of Washington are hashing out a deal that would give the university $43 million to move some of its labs across campus, away from a new light rail line in the works set to run beneath them.

Joint Base Lewis McChord Public Affairs Office

Spending just 20 minutes talking to a social worker might boost recovery from head injuries, and the benefits seem to last for months according to new research out of the University of Washington’s School of Social Work.

Courtesy of the Murry Lab / University of Washignton

Seattle researchers have taken a key step toward beating back the world’s leading cause of death by regrowing damaged heart tissue in monkeys.

Scientists had long thought getting heart tissue to regenerate was impossible. But stem cell research began to raise hopes in the 1990s, and over the years, researchers like Chuck Murry of University of Washington Medicine’s cardiology division started to get some traction.

First came successes with rats, then with guinea pigs. Now Murry’s team has managed to repair heart tissue in an animal more closely related to humans: monkeys called pigtail macaques.