Gerstner Philanthropies COVID-19 Response

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mayo Clinic

  • New Fossil of Extinct Human Relative Suggests Climate Change Led to Rapid Evolution
    November 18, 2020

    A new fossil discovery in South Africa suggests that Paranthropus robustus, an extinct species that co-existed with early members of our own genus, Homo, may have evolved rapidly during a turbulent period of local climate change about 2 million years ago. “This is an incredibly well-preserved fossil that adds to the evolutionary story of this small-brained, large-toothed hominin from South Africa. The ability to document this level of anatomical detail in one of our extinct relatives is a rare and exciting opportunity for understanding human evolution,” said Carrie Mongle, a Gerstner Scholar and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Museum who was part of an international research team that discovered and described the specimen, one of the most complete skulls of P. robustus ever found, in a study published this week in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

    Read more at amnh.org
  • Children Produce Different Antibodies in Response to New Coronavirus
    November 16, 2020

    Children and adults produce different types and amounts of antibodies in response to infection with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, a new study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has found. The differences in antibodies suggest the course of the infection and immune response is distinct in children and most children easily clear the virus from their bodies. “Our study provides an in-depth examination of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in kids, revealing a stark contrast with adults,” says Columbia University immunologist Donna Farber, PhD, the George H. Humphreys II Professor of Surgical Sciences in the Department of Surgery, who led the study with Matteo Porotto, PhD, associate professor of viral molecular pathogenesis in Columbia’s Department of Pediatrics. Major contributors to the study include Stuart Weisberg, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology & cell biology, and Thomas Connors, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics; Both are recent Gerstner Scholars who are working alongside Dr. Farber, their mentor through the Scholars program.

    Read more at columbia.edu
  • Study Identifies New “Hidden” Gene in COVID-19 Virus
    November 12, 2020

    Researchers have discovered a new “hidden” gene in SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—that may have contributed to its unique biology and pandemic potential. In a virus that only has about 15 genes in total, knowing more about this and other overlapping genes—or “genes within genes”—could have a significant impact on how we combat the virus. “Overlapping genes may be one of an arsenal of ways in which coronaviruses have evolved to replicate efficiently, thwart host immunity, or get themselves transmitted,” said lead author Chase Nelson, a postdoctoral researcher at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History. “Knowing that overlapping genes exist and how they function may reveal new avenues for coronavirus control, for example through antiviral drugs.” Prior to the pandemic, while working at the Museum as a Gerstner Scholar in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Nelson developed a computer program that screens genomes for patterns of genetic change that are unique to overlapping genes.

    Read more at amnh.org
  • Mayo Clinic study finds 1 in 8 patients with cancer harbor inherited genetic mutations

    In a new study published in JAMA Oncology, scientists with Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine conducted genetic testing in more than 3,000 patients who were diagnosed with cancer at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center locations in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota. In all, the scientists found that 1 in 8 patients with cancer had an inherited cancer-related gene mutation. This mutation would not have been detected in half of these patients using a standard guideline-based approach. "We found that 13.5% of patients had an inherited mutation in a gene associated with the development of their cancer," says Niloy Jewel Samadder, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and hepatologist, who is the study's author. "Everyone has some risk of developing cancer, and in most cases the disease develops by chance. However, some people are genetically predisposed to developing certain types of cancer, such as breast or colon cancers."Dr. Samadder says uncovering these hidden inherited genetic mutations could lead to opportunities for cancer management in families and targeted cancer therapies that can save lives. Support for this project was provided in part by a Faculty Career Development Award from Gerstner Philanthropies.

    Read more at mayoclinic.org
  • Helping Hands Program Update: Q2 2020 Trends
    September 11, 2020

    Our Helping Hands grantee social services organizations are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. We communicate with our Helping Hands grantee organizations informally throughout the year, and each quarter we ask them to report formally on program statistics, trends, and case studies. The immediate impact of the pandemic in Q2 led to some interesting trends, such as an overwhelming need for food, a decrease in domestic violence cases despite reports that violence is escalating, and a drop in rental arrears cases, though an increase in the level of arrears our grantees are seeing.

    Read Q2 Trend Report