The same genes that allow many cancers to proliferate and thrive could in the future be repurposed as a force for good. A study at the San Diego State University (SDSU) Heart Institute has found that mouse hearts regenerate cells better, causing the mice to live longer, when their progenitor cells are modified to over-express a key gene in cancer production. The researchers believe this could lead to a new treatment for people with heart disease or who have suffered from other age-related cardiac problems.
The human heart normally heals and repairs itself using cardiac progenitor cells, which are basically cells that transform themselves into whatever specific type of heart cell is required. But as we get older, the process becomes less efficient. The body's self-therapy treatment weakens or stops entirely. This can lead to heart disease or cause complications in the recovery of people who have suffered heart failure.
Heart progenitor cells essentially wear out, and when they wear out they get cautious about dividing further to keep the supply up. Scientists believe they evolved to do this to protect the heart – if there's a transcription error during cell division, that could be it for you because even a minor problem in the heart can kill you.
Climbing a tree or balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills, according to a study recently conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida.
The study is the first to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time, have dramatic working memory benefits.
Working memory (the ability to process and recall information), is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports. Proprioception (awareness of body positioning and orientation) is also associated with working memory.
The results of this research, led by Ross Alloway, a research associate, and Tracy Alloway, an associate professor, recently published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, suggest that working-memory improvements can be made in just a couple of hours with these physical exercises.
The aim of this study was to see if proprioceptive activities completed over a short period of time can enhance working memory performance, and whether an acute and highly intensive period of exercise would yield working memory gains.
The UNF researchers recruited adults ages 18 to 59 and tested their working memory. Next, they undertook proprioceptively dynamic activities, designed by the company Movnat, which required proprioception and at least one other element, such as locomotion or route planning.
Working memory capacity increase of 50 percent; better than yoga
Neuroscientists have identified an area of the brain that might give the human mind its unique abilities, including language. The area lit up in human, but not monkey, brains when they were presented with different types of abstract information.
The idea that integrating abstract information drives many of the human brain's unique abilities has been around for decades. But a paper published in Current Biology, which directly compares activity in human and macaque monkey brains as they listen to simple auditory patterns, provides the first physical evidence that a specific area for such integration may exist in humans. Other studies that compare monkeys and humans have revealed differences in the brain’s anatomy, for example, but not differences that could explain where humans’ abstract abilities come from, say neuroscientists.
“This gives us a powerful clue about what is special about our minds,” says psychologist Gary Marcus at New York University. “Nothing is more important than understanding how we got to be how we are.”
When it comes to technological advances that could reduce human suffering, improve health and reduce disease, we are generally all in favour. But recent advances in procedures that tinker with reproductive cells are often seen as an exception. They attract fierce opposition from people who believe they are unethical and should be treated as serious criminal offences – which in some jurisdictions they are already. I don’t think these arguments are decisive, however. Indeed some of them are not convincing at all.
Ethical debates about changing the human genome make a distinction between two different types of cells. All cells except those involved in reproduction are known as somatic. These have been the subject of less controversial research for a number of years now – for example editing a type of white blood cell known as T-cells has become a major area of enquiry in cancer research.
Cells involved in reproduction are called germ cells. Changing them, which is sometimes described as germline editing, can have effects that can be inherited by the offspring of the people whose bodies are amended. In other words, the changes can enter the gene pool.
People suffering from cataracts aren't exactly flush with options when it comes to restoring their vision. As they grow over time, they start to impede the ability to perform everyday tasks like reading and driving, prompting surgical removal either by scalpel or laser. But new research suggests a less invasive solution might be on the way in the form of a naturally-occurring molecule that can be administered through a simple eye drop.
Scientists had suspected that a molecule called lanosterol may have a role to play in the onset of cataracts. This suspicion was borne out of research at China's Sun Yat-sen University that found two children with inherited cataracts both shared the same genetic mutation that adversely affected the production of lanosterol. This lead researchers to surmise that the molecule might prevent cataract-forming proteins from clumping in the eyes.
The scientists then conducted testing where dogs suffering from naturally occurring cataracts were treated with eye drops containing lanosterol. Following six weeks of treatment, the team observed a reduction in both the size and cloudiness of the cataracts.
As with every form of the deadly disease, early detection of oesophageal cancer is critical to recovery. The current approach of detecting the cancer through biopsy can be a little hit and miss, so the University of Cambridge's Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and her team have developed what they claim to be a more accurate tool for early-diagnosis. Billed as "a pill on a string," the Cytosponge is designed to scrape off cells from the length of the oesophagus as it is yanked out after swallowing, offering up a much larger sample for inspection of cancer cells.
According to Fitzgerald, the five-year survival rate for oesophageal cancer is only 13 percent, a fact which has led researchers to hunt for signs of a condition that precedes the disease, known as Barrett's oesophagus. This sees the cells located in the lining of the oesophagus take on a different shape and grow abnormally, a process that is brought about by acid and bile reflux when fluids from the stomach come up to say hello. Between one and five of every 100 people with Barrett's oesophagus go on to develop oesophageal cancer.
The first drug that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease if caught early is expected to be unveiled this week.
Trials have been ongoing into a new treatment called Solanezumab which appears to stop the degenerative disease in its tracks.
The results will be announced by drugs giant Eli Lilly on at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Wednesday morning but if positive it will be the first drug proven to be effective for treating dementia.
Solanezumab, is an antibody which works by binding to the amyloid plaques which cause Alzheimer’s disease and clearing them from the brain.
Initial trials failed to show any benefit, but when researchers went back over the data they found that it seemed to work in people with mild symptoms and launched a new study.
There are 850,000 people currently suffering from dementia in the UK, with Alzheimer's disease being the most common type. The disease kills at least 60,000 people each year.
Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said it would be interesting to find out if the treatment worked in the long term.
"Current treatments only help with symptoms. They enable nerve cells to communicate with each other more effectively, but don't stop the underlying disease from getting worse," he said.
In order to monitor their blood glucose levels, diabetics typically have to perform painful and inconvenient finger-prick blood tests – in some cases, several times a day. Using an implantable glucose-monitoring sensor is one alternative, although it must be surgically installed and subsequently removed for replacement. Another option may be on the way, however, in the form of a device that simply shines a laser on the user's finger.
Known as GlucoSense, the system was developed by Prof. Gin Jose and his team at the University of Leeds.
To use it, patients simply place the pad of their finger against a small glass window on the device. A low-powered laser beam is then projected through that window, and into their finger. Some of that light is absorbed by glucose in the bloodstream, and some is reflected back down onto the window.
Ions on the window glass surface subsequently fluorescence in infrared when exposed to that reflected light – the more light that hits them, the longer they glow. By measuring the duration of that fluorescence, a processor in the device is able to determine how much of the original laser light was absorbed by glucose, and can thus deduce the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds.
In one important way, the recipient of a heart transplant ignores its new organ: Its nervous system usually doesn’t rewire to communicate with it. The 40,000 neurons controlling a heart operate so perfectly, and are so self-contained, that a heart can be cut out of one body, placed into another, and continue to function perfectly, even in the absence of external control, for a decade or more. This seems necessary: The parts of our nervous system managing our most essential functions behave like a Swiss watch, precisely timed and impervious to perturbations. Chaotic behavior has been throttled out.
Or has it? Two simple pendulums that swing with perfect regularity can, when yoked together, move in a chaotic trajectory. Given that the billions of neurons in our brain are each like a pendulum, oscillating back and forth between resting and firing, and connected to 10,000 other neurons, isn’t chaos in our nervous system unavoidable? The prospect is terrifying to imagine. Chaos is extremely sensitive to initial conditions—just think of the butterfly effect. What if the wrong perturbation plunged us into irrevocable madness? Among many scientists, too, there is a great deal of resistance to the idea that chaos is at work in biological systems. Many intentionally preclude it from their models. It subverts computationalism, which is the idea that the brain is nothing more than a complicated, but fundamentally rule-based, computer. Chaos seems unqualified as a mechanism of biological information processing, as it allows noise to propagate without bounds, corrupting information transmission and storage.
The field of optogenetics where individual brains cells are made to behave differently when exposed to light has wide-ranging potential. It may one day be used to reverse acquired blindness, alter pain thresholds and even hit the rest button on our biological clocks. With one eye on this emerging area of neuroscience, scientists have developed a device the width of a human hair that can be planted in the brain to deliver light or drugs only where needed, offering better targeted treatments and reduced side effects.
The tiny device features microfluid channels and microscale pumps, and is made to be soft like brain tissue so as not to cause inflammation and neural damage. It also houses four separate chambers for carrying drugs directly to the brain and cellular-scale inorganic light-emitting diode (μ-ILED) arrays, allowing it to shine light on targeted cells. And critically, its functions can be triggered remotely.
"Now, we literally can deliver drug therapy with the press of a button," says Jordan McCall, a graduate student at Washington University in St Louis and member of the research team. "We’ve designed it to exploit infrared technology, similar to that used in a TV remote. If we want to influence an animal’s behavior with light or with a particular drug, we can simply point the remote at the animal and press a button."
Building on previous work, researchers at Duke University have developed a new technology that wraps nanoshells in a thin film of drug-infused hydrogel, adding additional firepower to the already promising targeted cancer treatment. The hydrogel is loaded with cancer-fighting drugs and coated onto the nanoshells, which heat up when exposed to infrared light and release the chemotherapeutic drugs, delivering a one-two punch, directly to the tumour.
In 2013, Duke researchers discovered that soft-tissue tumors could be destroyed by injecting gold-covered nanoshells at the site of the tumors and heating them up by exposing them to infrared light. This photothermal treatment, which is currently undergoing clinical trials, offers a targeted approach that avoids the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation, which also destroy healthy cells, leaving surrounding flesh damaged and the immune system decimated.
The nanoshells measure around 100 nanometers wide and are tuned to absorb infrared light and quickly heat up when exposed to it, destroying the cancer cells. This is possible because the 800 nm wavelength infrared light passes harmlessly through water and tissue, allowing doctors to apply it directly to the patient’s tumour. Additionally, due to the leaky vasculature found in tumors, the nanoshells tend to accumulate there.
Data from your iPhone can detect depression by tracking the number of minutes you use the device, as well as where you go.
The more time you spend using your phone, the more likely you are depressed. The average daily usage for depressed individuals was about 68 minutes, while for non-depressed individuals it was about 17 minutes.
Spending most of your time at home and most of your time in fewer locations—as measured by GPS tracking—also are linked to depression. And, having a less regular day-to-day schedule, leaving your house and going to work at different times each day, for example, also is linked to depression.
Based on the phone sensor data, scientists could identify people with depressive symptoms with 87 percent accuracy in a small study.
“The significance of this is we can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions,” says senior author David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We now have an objective measure of behavior related to depression. And we’re detecting it passively. Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user.”
The research could ultimately lead to monitoring people at risk of depression and enabling health care providers to intervene more quickly. The results appear in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. ‘Avoidance behavior’
The smartphone data was more reliable in detecting depression than daily questions participants answered about how sad they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Their answers may be rote and often are not reliable, says lead author Sohrob Saeb, a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine.
Scientists have engineered a drug delivery system that uses specially designed nanoparticles that release drugs in the presence of a specific enzymes — the very ones that enable cancers to metastasize.
“We can start with a small molecule and build that into a nanoscale carrier that can seek out a tumor and deliver a payload of drug,” said Cassandra Callmann, a graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and first author of the report published in the journal Advanced Materials July 14.
The system takes advantage of a class of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) that many cancers make in abundance. MMPs normally chew through through the body’s membranes, allowing cancer cells to escape to metastasize (colonize other regions of the body), often with deadly consequences.
In our super-sized world, it’s not easy to eat less at meals. But a new study suggests even modest incentives to eat smaller portions can pay off in a big way.
Call it the “Happy Meal effect.” Given the choice between a full-sized meal and one half the size with a modest “prize,” people will consistently choose the smaller meal. What’s better, it doesn’t take a free car to motivate healthier eating. Just the chance of winning a $10 lottery is enough.
Researchers say the findings could be a way to fight obesity rates and health care costs.
“Portion sizes at US restaurants are often two or three times what they were 20 years ago, which is also distorting how much we eat at home,” says Deborah MacInnis, professor of business administration and professor of marketing at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “The increase in portion size directly parallels the increase we observe in obesity.”
New research on the brain’s capacity to learn suggests there’s more to it than “practice makes perfect.”
A music-training study finds evidence to distinguish the parts of the brain that account for individual talent from the parts that are activated through training.
The research involved brain-imaging studies of 15 young adults with little or no musical background who were scanned before and after they underwent six weeks of musical training. Participants were required to learn simple piano pieces.
Brain activity in certain areas changed after learning, indicating the effect of training. But the activity in a different set of brain structures, measured before the training session had started, predicted which test subjects would learn quickly or slowly.
“Predisposition plays an important role for auditory-motor learning that can be clearly distinguished from training-induced plasticity,” says Robert Zatorre, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University who co-directs Montreal’s International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS).
“Our findings pertain to the debate about the relative influence of ‘nature or nurture,’ but also have potential practical relevance for medicine and education.”
The human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another for a fraction of a second and harmonize, then go back to improvising, according to new research.
These findings, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could pave the way for more targeted treatments for people with brain disorders marked by fast, slow, or chaotic brain waves, also known as neural oscillations.
Tracking the changing rhythms of the healthy human brain at work advances our understanding of such disorders as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and even autism, which are characterized in part by offbeat brain rhythms. In jazz lingo, for example, bands of neurons in certain mental illnesses may be malfunctioning because they’re tuning in to blue notes, or playing double time or half time. “The human brain has 86 billion or so neurons all trying to talk to each other in this incredibly messy, noisy, and electrochemical soup,” says study lead author Bradley Voytek. “Our results help explain the mechanism for how brain networks quickly come together and break apart as needed.”
Steven Pete can put his hand on a hot stove or step on a piece of glass and not feel a thing, all because of a quirk in his genes. Only a few dozen people in the world share Pete's congenital insensitivity to pain. Drug companies see riches in his rare mutation. They also have their eye on people like Timothy Dreyer, 25, who has bones so dense he could walk away from accidents that would leave others with broken limbs. About 100 people have sclerosteosis, Dreyer's condition.
Both men's apparent superpowers come from exceedingly uncommon deviations in their DNA. They are genetic outliers, coveted by drug companies Amgen, Genentech, and others in search of drugs for some of the industry's biggest, most lucrative markets.
Their genes also have caused the two men enormous suffering. Pete's parents first realized something was wrong when, as a teething baby, their son almost chewed off his tongue. "That was a giant red flag," says Pete, now 34 and living in Kelso, Washington. It took doctors months to figure out he had congenital insensitivity to pain, caused by two different mutations, one inherited from each parent. On their own, the single mutations were benign; combined, they were harmful.
If this isn't an honest-to-goodness crystal ball, it's close.
Neurobiologist Nina Kraus believes she and her team at Northwestern University have found a way — a half-hour test — to predict kids' literacy skill long before they're old enough to begin reading.
When I first read the study in the journal PLOS Biology, two words came to mind: science fiction.
Because flagging some 3-year-olds as potentially troubled readers — before they've even tried reading — feels eerily like being handcuffed by Tom Cruise in Minority Report for a crime that hasn't happened yet.
Kraus herself says the test is nothing short of "a biological looking glass into a child's literacy potential."
To understand how the test works, she says, you need to understand that reading begins not with our eyes but with our ears, as we hear and catalog speech sounds. It's hard work. Everything we hear, our brains have to process, separating the stuff that's meaningful from pure noise. And they do it in microseconds.
"This is arguably some of the most complex computation that we ask our brain to do," says Kraus.
Every sound creates a kind of electric reflection in the brain. Brain waves even look like the sound waves they're reacting to. And it's loads of information packed into these brain waves that, Kraus says, can tell her if a child who can't yet read may have trouble reading down the road.
London - There have been many failed attempts to provide evidence of a sixth sense, but now scientists have at least, they claim, come up with a sixth taste - the taste of fat.
Fat, which now joins sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savoury) has a unique and unpleasant taste that researchers have called oleogustus. They suggest its identification could lead to new ways of fighting obesity and heart disease, and to the creation of improved fat replacements.
“Our experiments provide a missing element in the evidence that fat has a taste sensation, and that it is different from other tastes,” says Professor Richard Mattes, director of the Ingestive Behaviour Research Centre at Purdue University in Indiana, US.
“Identifying the taste of fat has a range of important health implications. At high concentrations, the signal it generates would dissuade the eating of rancid foods,” he adds.
“But at low levels, it may enhance the appeal of some foods by adding to the overall sensory profile, in the same way that bitterness alone is unpleasant but at appropriate levels adds to the appeal of wine and chocolate.”
Current fat replacements may have been less successful than was hoped because they mimic the texture of fat, but not the taste, says the professor. Our food choices are often based on memories of how we felt after eating an item, but the taste of fat may contribute to those associations, he adds.
There has been a consistent recognition over the centuries of four primary taste qualities - sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami, referring to a meaty or savoury taste and first reported in 1908, has increasingly been accepted as a fifth basic taste.
If you or someone you know has celiac disease, then you'll know how much it can limit one's diet. Because people with the autoimmune condition have a negative reaction to the gluten in grains such as wheat, rye or barley, that means they can't consume many baked goods, pastas, liquors, or any number of processed foods that use wheat as a binding agent. Soon, however, they may be able to eat whatever they want – if they take a new egg-based supplement first.
The supplement was developed by associate professor Hoon Sunwoo and retired professor Jeong Sim, at Canada's University of Alberta.
Utilizing a compound derived from the yolks of chicken eggs, it binds with gluten in the stomach. This keeps a class of proteins known as gliadin, which is the "problem" component of gluten, from damaging the absorptive surface of the small intestine.
As a result, sufferers of celiac disease (or other forms of gluten intolerance) should be spared the usual symptoms that occur when they consume gluten – these can include headaches, fatigue, bloating and anemia.
Before that can happen, however, the supplement will need to be put through an efficacy trial which is due to take place within a year. It is hoped that a consumer product could subsequently be available in Canada within three years, with a rollout in the US and Europe to follow.
The university has partnered with the UK-based Vetanda Group to commercialize the supplement.
India has been called the pharmacy of the world. Many generic drugs are made there and much of its drug production is exported internationally. Thousands of fixed dose combination (FDC) drugs – where two or more drugs are combined in a set ratio in a single dose form, usually a tablet or capsule – are formulated, made and sold within India.
Many FDCs are safe and effective. They are used in situations where both the drug combination and the doses needed are standardised and stable, for example, in the treatment of HIV, for Parkinson’s disease and in contraceptive pills.
However, in a study investigating these drugs in India, we found thousands of FDCs on the market made up of formulations never approved for marketing by the national regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, and that were likely to be more harmful than beneficial to patients.
Taking a radical research approach to understanding autism, Yale School of Medicine researchers converted skin cells from autism patients into stem cells and then grew them into tiny brains in a dish — revealing unexpected mechanisms of the disease.
The study was published in an open-access paper today (July 16) in the journal Cell.
Most autism research has taken the approach of combing through patient genomes for mutations that may underlie the disorder and then using animal or cell-based models to study the genes and their possible roles in brain development. That has left more than 80% of autism cases with no clear genetic cause.
“Instead of starting from genetics, we’ve started with the biology of the disorder itself to try to get a window into the genome,” says senior author Flora Vaccarino the Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry and Professor or Neurobiology at Yale.
The clinical characteristics of autism are complex and wide-ranging, making the prospect of finding common underlying factors slim. So the researchers focused on the approximately one-fifth of autism patients that share a distinctive feature correlated with disease severity — an enlarged brain.
Seaweed is widely considered to be a health food. Bacon, on the other hand ... well, bacon isn't. There may yet be hope for pork belly lovers around the world, however. Scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) have patented a lab-bred strain of dulce seaweed, that they claim has "a strong bacon flavor" when fried.
A new study offers yet more evidence that higher levels of education are linked to living longer.
Researchers looked at data on more than a million people from 1986 to 2006 to estimate the number of deaths in the United States that could be attributed to low levels of education. They studied people born in 1925, 1935, and 1945 to understand how education levels affected mortality over time, and noted the causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
They found that 145,243 deaths could be saved in the 2010 population if adults who had not completed high school went on to earn a GED or high school degree, which is comparable to the estimated number of deaths that could be averted if all current smokers had the mortality rates of former smokers.
In addition, 110,068 deaths could be saved if adults who had some college went on to complete their bachelor’s degree. The findings appear in the journal PLOS ONE.
“In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking,” says Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health, and associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine.
“Education—which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities—should also be a key element of US health policy.”
More than 10 percent of US adults ages 25 to 34 do not have a high school degree, while more than a quarter have some college but no bachelor’s degree. Yet studies show that a higher level of education is a strong predictor of longevity due to many factors, including higher income and social status, healthier behaviors, and improved social and psychological well being. Evidence from studies including natural experiments consistently show a strong association between education level and mortality. High school vs. college
The disparities in mortality across different levels of education widened substantially over time. For example, mortality rates fell modestly among those with high school degrees, but mortality rates fell much more rapidly among those with college degrees.
Gerald Burgess, a University of Leicester lecturer in clinical psychology, has described treating an individual who suffered a “Memento/Before I Go to Sleep“-style anterograde amnesia memory loss after a treatment at a dentist — “like nothing we have ever seen before.”
Since the one-hour root-canal treatment, during which the a 38-year-old man from the UK was given a local anesthetic, the individual cannot remember anything beyond 90 minutes.
He is fully aware of his identity and his personality did not change, says Burgess, but every day the man thinks it is the day of his dental appointment. He has to manage his life through an electronic diary and access to prompts.
Burgess has now described the study, done a decade ago, in an open-access paper published in May in the journal Neurocase. He is also appealing for people who know of someone who might have suffered similar symptoms of memory loss, or medical or allied health professionals working with someone like this, to contact him to build up knowledge and evidence in this field of study.
Burgess notes that “what we did know about from decades of research and hundreds of case studies, is that bilateral damage to the hippocampal and/or diencephalon structures causes profound amnesia … [but] we should perhaps not be so stuck in thinking that profound amnesia only occurs in the context of visible damage to the brain’s hippocampal and/or diencephalon structures.
“Those structures appear just to be needed for the initial holding or retention of information before engrams then proceed slowly through several other neuro-electrical and neuro-chemical events, before finally permanent memories are stored, and that something can occur at some later point in this process to vanquish the memory trace permanently.
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