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From the College of Natural Sciences
DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

This illustration shows the most common structure of DNA found in a cell, called B-DNA. Credit: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In the same way that barcodes on your groceries help stores know what's in your cart, DNA barcodes help biologists attach genetic labels to biological molecules to do their own tracking during research, including of how a cancerous tumor evolves, how organs develop or which drug candidates actually work. Unfortunately with current methods, many DNA barcodes have a reliability problem much worse than your corner grocer's. They contain errors about 10 percent of the time, making interpreting data tricky and limiting the kinds of experiments that can be reliably done.

James Allison Eases Off the Brakes (Audio)

James Allison Eases Off the Brakes (Audio)

Forty years ago, when James Allison had just gotten his PhD in biochemistry, he was intrigued by this far-out idea that was floating around about a new way to treat cancer. The idea—dubbed cancer immunotherapy—was to train the body's immune system to attack cancer cells—the same way this system already goes after bacteria and viruses. He was one of the few people who actually believed it could work.

The Physics of Rapidly Spreading Cancer

The Physics of Rapidly Spreading Cancer

Using a computer simulation that models the physical and chemical interactions of cancerous cells (colored dots), researchers discovered that over time, tumors develop a distinctive two-part structure: slow moving cells moving randomly in a dense core (blue and purple), surrounded by a band of cells moving faster and more directly outward (green, yellow, red). Arrows indicate direction of motion. The image at right is the same tumor cut in half to reveal the inner structure. Image credit: Anne Bowen, Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Scientists have recently discovered a method in cancer's madness. Before now, they've been perplexed by how cancer cells, growing alongside healthy cells, often spread much faster into surrounding tissue than randomness would dictate. It's as if cancerous cells are intentionally moving directly outward, invading healthy tissue.

Pen-Like Device That Detects Cancer Takes Prize at SXSW

Pen-Like Device That Detects Cancer Takes Prize at SXSW

A University of Texas at Austin professor and her team were honored with a prestigious SXSW Interactive Innovation Award for the MasSpec Pen, a device that will allow surgeons to identify cancerous tissue in seconds.

A Score to Settle with Cancer (Audio)

A Score to Settle with Cancer (Audio)

Jonathan Sessler was a college student when he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Fortunately, he was also a chemistry major. After surviving radiation therapy, relapsing and then surviving extremely high doses of what he calls "rat poison" (a.k.a. chemotherapy), his oncologist challenged him: "You're a chemist. Find new cancer drugs."

Cancer Agency Awards More than $3 Million to University of Texas at Austin Scientists

Cancer Agency Awards More than $3 Million to University of Texas at Austin Scientists

Three awards totaling $3.19 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) will support cancer research in The University of Texas at Austin's Departments of Molecular Biosciences and Chemistry.

Alumna Tackles Disparities in Cancer Treatment

Alumna Tackles Disparities in Cancer Treatment

Leticia Nogueira. Photo credit: Vivian Abagiu.

Leticia Nogueira, Director of Health Services at the American Cancer Society, received her PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.

Building a Solid Structure: A Q&A with Molecular Biosciences Chair Dan Leahy

Building a Solid Structure: A Q&A with Molecular Biosciences Chair Dan Leahy

The Department of Molecular Biosciences was established in 2013. With the help of a recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), Dan Leahy, a structural biologist from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, became the department's first permanent chair in 2016. We sat down with Leahy to talk about his vision for the college's largest department, how its researchers are working with the Dell Medical School, the department's new facility for cryo-electron microscopy (the technique celebrated by a 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) and his own research on cancer.

Ancient Enzyme Could Boost Power of Liquid Biopsies to Detect and Profile Cancers

Ancient Enzyme Could Boost Power of Liquid Biopsies to Detect and Profile Cancers

Scientists are developing a set of medical tests called liquid biopsies that can rapidly detect the presence of cancers, infectious diseases and other conditions from only a small blood sample. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are developing a new tool for liquid biopsy that could soon provide doctors with a more complete picture of an individual's disease, improving their chances of finding the best treatment, while also sparing patients the pain, inconvenience and long wait times associated with surgical biopsies.

Scientists: New Device Accurately Identifies Cancer in Seconds (Updated)

Scientists: New Device Accurately Identifies Cancer in Seconds (Updated)

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has invented a powerful tool that rapidly and accurately identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, delivering results in about 10 seconds—more than 150 times as fast as existing technology. The MasSpec Pen is an innovative handheld instrument that gives surgeons precise diagnostic information about what tissue to cut or preserve, helping improve treatment and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence.