The future of medicine and health
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Marine compound first new natural antibiotic in decades

A new antibiotic that is effective at killing anthrax and superbug MRSA bacteria could be a weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance – and terrorism.

Anthracimycin, a chemical compound derived from the Steptomyces bacteria, was discovered in the ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara in California. Its unique chemical structure makes it a new addition to the antibiotic family that could pave the way for new drugs.

Most new antibiotics are derivatives of existing compounds. The last new naturally-derived antibiotic that entered the market was Daptomycin, a soil-derived compound from Streptomyces roseosporus, approved a decade ago in 2003. It was originally discovered in 1986.

“The discovery of truly new antibiotic compounds is quite rare,” said William Fenical, Professor of Oceanography and Pharmaceutical Science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who led the research team.

“It’s not just one discovery,” he said. “It opens up the opportunity to develop analogues – potentially hundreds. Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin in the 1928 and from that more than 25 drugs were developed. When you find a new antibiotic structure, it goes beyond just one.”

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Scientists Have Reversed Age-Related Blindness by Deliberately Infecting Eyes With a Virus

Scientists Have Reversed Age-Related Blindness by Deliberately Infecting Eyes With a Virus | The future of medicine and health |
A small and preliminary clinical trial has found that injecting a common cold-like virus into the eyes of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients - one of the leading causes of blindness in the US - can halt and even reverse the progression of the disease.

The results will need to be replicated in a much larger group of patients, but the early signs suggest that a single injection of the specially engineered virus can kick the body's natural immune response into gear, and clear out the fluid that causes permanent vision loss.

The approach, trialled by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, targeted a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is overactive in people with wet AMD - a rare and more severe form of the disease, which causes new blood vessels to grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid into the eye.

This build-up of fluid causes permanent damage to light-sensitive retinal cells, prompting them to progressively die off, leaving blind spots in the centre of a person's vision. Wet AMD affects around 10 percent of all AMD patients.

While treatments do currently exist for wet AMD, they involve getting injections in the eye once every four weeks - and if you want to maintain the benefits, you have to keep up those monthly injections for the rest of your life.

Side effects of current medications include eye infections and a heightened risk of stroke.

What the team at Johns Hopkins has demonstrated in a handful of patients is that, in some cases, there could be a way to halt and even reverse the progression of wet AMD with a single injection.

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This New Glue-Like Substance Could Be The Key to Healing Wounds Without Scars

This New Glue-Like Substance Could Be The Key to Healing Wounds Without Scars | The future of medicine and health |
Our skin is pretty good at protecting the squishy human body from external danger, so the moment that barrier is compromised with a wound or a cut, a defence system has to kick into action.

But that action often results in scar tissue, since we're not really capable of regenerating skin cells to their previous condition. Doctors already use various imperfect solutions to try and minimise scarring, but now researchers have come up with a new substance that borrows its healing power from mussels.

When skin tissue is damaged by a deep cut, it repairs itself by quickly filling up the wound with collagen.

This protein is a key ingredient for normal skin tissue, but when it's growing to cover a wound, the collagen fibres form a scar because they don't arrange themselves in the same neat cross-weave pattern as they do in skin.

Doctors can do their best to minimise scar tissue from forming, but most of the time there's little they can do to prevent a scar altogether.

One option to help a wound heal better is to use an adhesive, based on chemicals similar to those found in Super Glue. But not all wounds can be glued shut, chemically-derived skin glue can cause irritation, and it often doesn't work when you need to keep the wound from drying out.

There's also a substance called decorin, which helps organise collagen into a neater structure, but it's expensive stuff, and tricky to produce in large-enough quantities for medical use.
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Your Sense of Smell Is More Powerful Than You Think

Your Sense of Smell Is More Powerful Than You Think | The future of medicine and health |
Humans have a centuries-old reputation as poor smellers. Though we can see more colours than the average mammal, our noses are simply no match for the questing snouts of rabbits and hounds.

Sure, the aromas of coffee and pie are great. But intelligent humans outgrew the need to sniff our way through life. Or so the thinking went.

In a review published Thursday in the journal Science, John McGann, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, argued that this is a flawed perception dating back to the 19th century.

He blamed pioneering French anatomist Paul Broca, who wrote that, given the comparatively small olfactory organs in the primate brain, "it is no longer the sense of smell that guides the animal."

As for smelling in apes, humans included, "All that exceeded the needs of this humble function became useless."

Broca was hunting for the part of the brain that gave humans free will, McGann said, to separate us from animals. At the time, too, the Catholic Church in France was criticising Broca's work at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris.

"He's under pressure for humans to be special," McGann said. "He's under pressure for humans to be different."
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Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong

Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong | The future of medicine and health |
The salt equation taught to doctors for more than 200 years is not hard to understand.

The body relies on this essential mineral for a variety of functions, including blood pressure and the transmission of nerve impulses. Sodium levels in the blood must be carefully maintained.

If you eat a lot of salt — sodium chloride — you will become thirsty and drink water, diluting your blood enough to maintain the proper concentration of sodium. Ultimately you will excrete much of the excess salt and water in urine.

The theory is intuitive and simple. And it may be completely wrong.

New studies of Russian cosmonauts, held in isolation to simulate space travel, show that eating more salt made them less thirsty but somehow hungrier. Subsequent experiments found that mice burned more calories when they got more salt, eating 25 percent more just to maintain their weight.

The research, published recently in two dense papers in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, contradicts much of the conventional wisdom about how the body handles salt and suggests that high levels may play a role in weight loss.
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Observing Your Own Brain Activity Could Be The Future of Treating Depression

Observing Your Own Brain Activity Could Be The Future of Treating Depression | The future of medicine and health |
A non-invasive technique that stimulates a part of the brain known to be involved in depression could have major benefits for people with the disorder, a recent study has found.

The technique involves having a person observe the activity of their own amygdala, and consciously try to increase that activity by recalling positive memories. It's called fMRI neurofeedback.

Kymberly Young, the leading author of the new study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says the experiment, while small, yielded promising results.

For the study, Young divided 36 adult volunteers with depression into two groups - one that did the neurofeedback on their amygdalas, and a control that did a fake neurofeedback exercise on a part of the brain not involved in emotional processing.

People in both groups had their brains scanned by an fMRI to pinpoint the location of either their amygdala or the control region of the brain.

The researchers then showed the participants a signal from the part of the brain being measured and had the participants try to regulate the strength of that signal by recalling happy moments.

After two sessions, 12 out of 19 participants who tried fMRI neurofeedback showed a significant decrease in a standard rating scale of depression after two sessions, compared with just two people in the control group.

"We're at the stage where we are showing this is effective," Young says.
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A Gluten-Free Diet Could Do More Harm Than Good For People Without Coeliac Disease

A Gluten-Free Diet Could Do More Harm Than Good For People Without Coeliac Disease | The future of medicine and health |
Unless you have coeliac disease, where digested gluten irritates your small intestine, you might be putting subjecting yourself to unintended health risks by switching to a gluten-free diet, new research has found.

Going gluten-free has become a popular lifestyle choice among those who want to improve their health, but it won't reduce your risk of heart disease, and may limit the amount of beneficial whole grains you eat.

"Our findings show that gluten restriction has no benefit, at least in terms of heart health, for people without coeliac disease," says one of the researchers, Benjamin Lebwohl from the Columbia University Medical Centre.

For those who do have coeliac disease, the irritation caused by the gluten protein (found in wheat, barley, and rye) can block the uptake of nutrients from the small intestine. Long-term, the problem can lead to heart disease, anaemia, and osteoporosis.

This irritation and associated health issues can be avoided with a gluten-free diet, but if you don't have coeliac disease, cutting out gluten doesn't appear to have the same heart-healthy effects.

Lebwohl and his colleagues came to this conclusion by analysing survey responses from 110,017 non-coeliac people taken over the years 1986 to 2010. The participants were split into five groups, based on the amount of gluten they ate.

It turns out that the risk of a heart attack wasn't significantly different between the group that ate the most gluten and the group that ate the least.
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How artificial wombs will change our ideas of gender, family and equality | Aarathi Prasad

How artificial wombs will change our ideas of gender, family and equality | Aarathi Prasad | The future of medicine and health |
In 1924 the evolutionary biologist JBS Haldane coined the term ectogenesis to describe pregnancy in humans provided through an artificial womb. Haldane imagined that artificial wombs might become so popular by 2074 that only a small minority – fewer “than 30% of children” – would then “be born of woman”.

In one sense, the journey to ectogenesis had already started in 1880, when the French obstetrician Etienne Stéphane Tarnier built a crude incubator – essentially a wooden box for infants, outfitted with a compartment to hold a hot-water bottle. Tarnier’s simple box reduced the mortality of premature babies by nearly a half, but his design did not become much more technologically sophisticated until the 1950s.

By the 1960s experiments began on incubators that would function smarter – almost like the womb itself. They attempted the creation of an artificial placenta – a complex, specialised organ that should provide life support until a foetus develops to a stage where it is able to perform these functions on its own. A truly artificial womb would need to replicate all the placenta’s functions, not just the womb’s fluids, bacteria and other stuff essential to the making of life. These 1960s experiments used lamb, goat and rabbit foetuses, but ultimately always failed, due to contamination or the catastrophic problems of maintaining circulation to the foetus’s hearts.

The incubators we have today may look sleek and efficient, yet the way they function and what they provide have essentially not changed in decades. While the incubators can provide warmth and humidity, they still cannot give any of the nutrients necessary for growth. Instead, a premature baby must have tubes inserted into his or her body to deliver nutrition via needle-like catheters inserted directly into the veins. The baby will also be sedated, at least some of the time, to stop her from pulling inserted tubes out, and to decrease or prevent any discomfort or pain. Moreover, infection around the tubes is a serious threat, and can lead to severe problems for the child’s future health, should she survive. However you look at it, the incubators we have today are still a poor substitute for the mother’s womb.
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We're Now a Step Closer to Using MDMA to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress

We're Now a Step Closer to Using MDMA to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress | The future of medicine and health |
For over a century there has been a divide in how we see legal pharmaceuticals used to treat illness and illicit ones we use to get high and party.

Yet the line is gradually blurring with the psychoactive substances in drugs such as ecstasy increasingly showing promise in the treatment of certain mental health conditions, meaning we could see them being legally prescribed in the next few years.

At the recent Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in California, researchers affiliated with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) gave a presentation on phase II trials of the amphetamine relative MDMA being used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While this was the first public release of results they are yet to publish, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a sneak preview last November, and have already given their approval for testing to move onto the third and final stage.

To make sure a drug actually works, and that it has more benefits than risks, it moves through a number of levels of experimentation.

Pre-clinical testing is what we often read about with great excitement in news articles, where a chemical shows some promise in petri-dishes or animals.

From there it can be tested on healthy people in increasing doses just to make sure any down sides aren't too extreme. That's Phase I.
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The science of laughter – and why it also has a dark side

The science of laughter – and why it also has a dark side | The future of medicine and health |
When you hear someone laugh behind you, you probably picture them on the phone or with a friend – smiling and experiencing a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Chances are just the sound of the laughter could make you smile or even laugh along. But imagine that the person laughing is just walking around alone in the street, or sitting behind you at a funeral. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so inviting.

The truth is that laughter isn’t always positive or healthy. According to science, it can be classified into different types, ranging from genuine and spontaneous to simulated (fake), stimulated (for example by tickling), induced (by drugs) or even pathological. But the actual neural basis of laughter is still not very well known – and what we do know about it largely comes from pathological clinical cases.

Laughter and the appreciation of humour are vital components of adaptive social, emotional and cognitive function. Surprisingly, they are not uniquely human. Primates and apes also enjoy a good chuckle. This may have evolved because it helps them survive. Laughter is, after all, a communal activity which promotes bonding, diffuses potential conflict and eases stress and anxiety. But it loses its momentum quickly when indulged in alone (solitary laughter can have ominous connotations).
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'Exciting' blood test spots cancer a year early - BBC News

'Exciting' blood test spots cancer a year early - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Doctors have spotted cancer coming back up to a year before normal scans in an "exciting" discovery.

The UK team was able to scour the blood for signs of cancer while it was just a tiny cluster of cells invisible to X-ray or CT scans.

It should allow doctors to hit the tumour earlier and increase the chances of a cure.

They also have new ideas for drugs after finding how unstable DNA fuels rampant cancer development.

The research project was on lung cancer, but the processes studied are so fundamental that they should apply across all cancer types.

Lung cancer kills more people than any other type of tumour and the point of the study is to track how it can "evolve" into a killer that spreads through the body.
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Drug delivery in a nasal spray might open a direct route to the brain

Drug delivery in a nasal spray might open a direct route to the brain | The future of medicine and health |
Locusts and humans don't have a lot of physical similarities. But peer inside our noggins, and our blood-brain barriers – a protective shield that prevents harmful particles from entering the brain – share a useful anatomical likeness. Scientists have successfully used the brains of these tropical grasshoppers as a testbed for a new type of drug delivery, one that could see life-saving medicines carried directly to the brain by way of a simple sniff.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective membrane that surrounds vessels in the brain to protect it from foreign substances that may cause harm. But the trouble is, it stops 98 percent of therapeutic molecules from entering at the same time, presenting a major roadblock to the treatment of brain disease.

Researchers have made some promising advances in this area, with ultrasound techniques that help open the door and engineered fat cells that can make it through on their own. But by and large, getting drugs to this part of the brain is invasive and tricky business. Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis, however, say that they have come up with a nasal-spray-like technology that could make things much, much simpler.

The team, led by research scientist Ramesh Raliya, developed an aerosol made up of gold nanoparticles. These were crafted to a certain size and shape, and were tagged with fluorescent markers so the researchers could track their movement.
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Sperm Are Being Turned Into Tiny Weapons to Attack Gynaecological Cancer

Sperm Are Being Turned Into Tiny Weapons to Attack Gynaecological Cancer | The future of medicine and health |
Getting enough toxic material to the right place in your body for it to kill tumours – while not damaging anything else – has always required thinking outside of the box.

Wrapping sperm cells in an iron suit and then guiding them to a target using magnetic fields could be one innovative way to deliver drugs to parts of the female reproductive system affected by cancer.

Researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences and the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany have found a way to harness a process already well adapted to navigating the harsh environments of the vagina, cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes to treat conditions such as gynaecological cancer, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory diseases.

Delivering drugs in effective doses to the right site without damaging healthy cells is one of the main challenges in research on cancer treatment.

Packing the drugs in tiny bubbles, such as in microscopic vessels called liposomes, helps make them more soluble and helps protect the body from the toxic contents as they're carried through the body.
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This New Type of Male Contraceptive Not Only Prevents Babies; It's Completely Reversible

This New Type of Male Contraceptive Not Only Prevents Babies; It's Completely Reversible | The future of medicine and health |
Until now, men have had only two serious options for preventing baby-making: condoms or 'the snip'.

A promising new product could be set to change all that, with animal trials indicating that it's not only close to 100 percent effective, but that it can also be fully reversed, making it less drastic than the vasectomy while still offering similar benefits.

Trademarked under the name Vasalgel, the contraceptive is a polymer gel being developed by the non-profit Parsemus Foundation in California, which aims to "find low cost solutions that have been neglected by the pharmaceutical industry".

We reported on Vasagel back in February after it showed itself to be effective in preventing rhesus monkeys from getting pregnant for up to two years.

The gel acts as a barricade to sperm when injected into the thin tube that channels sperm from each teste to the ejaculatory ducts – a tube also known as the vas deferens.

Sperm produced in the testes usually travel up the vas deferens to meet with other glands that add various substances to make up semen; when blocked by the gel, they are either embedded in the material or are simply reabsorbed by the body.
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Why Bad Moods Are Good For You: The Surprising Benefits of Sadness

Why Bad Moods Are Good For You: The Surprising Benefits of Sadness | The future of medicine and health |
Homo sapiens is a very moody species. Even though sadness and bad moods have always been part of the human experience, we now live in an age that ignores or devalues these feelings.

In our culture, normal human emotions like temporary sadness are often treated as disorders. Manipulative advertising, marketing and self-help industries claim happiness should be ours for the asking. Yet bad moods remain an essential part of the normal range of moods we regularly experience.

Despite the near-universal cult of happiness and unprecedented material wealth, happiness and life satisfaction in Western societies has not improved for decades.

It's time to re-assess the role of bad moods in our lives. We should recognise they are a normal, and even a useful and adaptive part of being human, helping us cope with many everyday situations and challenges.

A short history of sadness

In earlier historical times, short spells of feeling sad or moody (known as mild dysphoria) have always been accepted as a normal part of everyday life. In fact, many of the greatest achievements of the human spirit deal with evoking, rehearsing and even cultivating negative feelings.

Greek tragedies exposed and trained audiences to accept and deal with inevitable misfortune as a normal part of human life. Shakespeare's tragedies are classics because they echo this theme. And the works of many great artists such as Beethoven and Chopin in music, or Chekhov and Ibsen in literature explore the landscape of sadness, a theme long recognised as instructive and valuable.

Ancient philosophers have also believed accepting bad moods is essential to living a full life. Even hedonist philosophers like Epicurus recognised living well involves exercising wise judgement, restraint, self-control and accepting inevitable adversity.

Other philosophers like the stoics also highlighted the importance of learning to anticipate and accept misfortunes, such as loss, sorrow or injustice.
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Battery-free medical implants use body's fluids as fuel

Battery-free medical implants use body's fluids as fuel | The future of medicine and health |
Despite the continual evolution of medical implant technologies, such as making smaller and smaller pacemakers, we still power these devices with traditional batteries. Such batteries contain toxic chemicals that aren't ideal to have inside the human body and also need to be periodically replaced, resulting in painful, and risky surgical procedures. A new energy storage system dubbed a "biological supercapacitor" could enable battery-free implantable devices that never need to be replaced.

Over the years we have seen a variety of innovative alternatives for powering medical implants. A German research team developed a type of biological fuel cell that draws its power from a patient's blood sugar; a Korean team looked into harnessing electricity from the body's own muscles; and an electrical engineer from Stanford developed a technique that allowed devices to be wirelessly recharged by radio waves.

Now a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Connecticut have designed a biofriendly supercapacitor system that charges up using electrolytes from biological fluids, such as blood serum and urine. It works in tandem with an energy harvester that can convert heat and motion into electricity that is stored in the supercapacitor.
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Can LSD Microdosing Tip The Scales in a New Human Versus AI Battle?

Can LSD Microdosing Tip The Scales in a New Human Versus AI Battle? | The future of medicine and health |
Last year, scientists imaged the human brain on LSD for the first time, showing how the powerful psychedelic activates regions and causes them to connect with each other in totally new and unified ways.

It was the first solid evidence of the drug's ability to change the way our brains function. Now, researchers want to test whether microdosing LSD - taking a small amount that doesn't have a hallucinogenic effect - can offer the same mental boost. And they're planning to pit microdosed humans against AI in the ancient Chinese game of Go to do it.

The idea came from lead researcher Amanda Feilding, who took LSD (lysergic acid deithylamide) daily before work to boost her productivity and creativity before it was made illegal in 1968.

Back then, she also played a lot of Go in her spare time.

"I found that if I was on LSD and my opponent wasn't, I won more games," Feilding told Daniel Oberhaus from Motherboard.

"For me, that was a very clear indication that it improves cognitive function, particularly a kind of intuitive pattern recognition."

Feilding now runs the Beckley Foundation for psychedelic research in the UK, which partly funded last year's brain imaging study. She's also well known in the neuroscience world for drilling a hole in her own head to study the science of consciousness.

In last year's study, a team from Imperial College London took 20 healthy volunteers, gave them a hefty 75 micrograms of LSD one day and a placebo the next, and then studied their brains using three different image techniques.

They found that while the volunteers were under the effects of LSD, their visual processing was no longer limited to the visual cortex - multiple regions of the brain were kicking in, as though they were "seeing with their eyes shut".

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Why You Shouldn't Tell People about Your Dreams

Why You Shouldn't Tell People about Your Dreams | The future of medicine and health |
I had a friend who tried hard to remember more of her dreams. She’d write them down and then tell people about them. She stopped, though, because it started interfering with her social life. She'd start talking about her dreams and people would leave the room.

There are two major theories about why we dream. The first is the activation-synthesis theory, which holds that dreams are interpretations by our forebrains of essentially random activity from the spinal cord and cerebellum during sleep, especially REM sleep.

Part of the explanation for why dreams can be so weird is that they are interpreted from chaotic information. The evolutionarily older parts of our brains are also the seat of our basic emotions. According to this theory, the emotion comes first and dreams are made to make sense of the emotion. Evidence of this comes from scene-changes that happen: when we have anxiety dreams, for example, they often switch from one anxious situation to a different one—so rather than us feeling anxious because of the content of our dreams, it could be that our feeling is causing an anxious narrative in the dream!
The other major theory of dreaming is “threat simulation theory,” which holds that the evolutionary function of dreaming is for us to practice how to behave in threatening situations. There's a lot of evidence for this theory to
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Scientists Have Discovered What Really Happens in The Skin When You Have Eczema

Scientists Have Discovered What Really Happens in The Skin When You Have Eczema | The future of medicine and health |
For the first time, scientists have pinpointed a bunch of processes that go wrong in the skin for people who have eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), and it could help us finally figure out how to combat this chronic condition.

Back in 2006, researchers found a strong link between people lacking in a certain skin protein, and the risk of developing eczema. Now scientists have built on those results to show exactly goes wrong, and their results could even take us closer to an eczema cure.

Eczema is a common skin condition affecting up to 20 percent of children and 3 percent of adults worldwide. While there's no shortage of creams and lotions than help alleviate the chronic symptoms of eczema, we still haven't found a cure that can clear it up for good.

For the past decade, scientists have known that eczema is associated with a genetic lack of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein) in the skin. This protein helps shape individual skin cells, and plays an important role in our skin's barrier function.

If a person has a genetic mutation that prevents proper filaggrin supply, they can develop skin conditions such as eczema or ichthyosis vulgaris, where skin cells don't shed, and instead pile up in a pattern that looks like fish scales.

But until now, researchers weren't sure how eczema actually develops when filaggrin is lacking.
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How 'smart' stem cells could lead to arthritis vaccine - Futurity

How 'smart' stem cells could lead to arthritis vaccine - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers have modified mouse stem cells to combat the kind of inflammation that arthritis and other conditions cause. The stem cells may one day be used in a vaccine that would fight arthritis and other chronic inflammation conditions in humans, a new paper suggests.

Such stem cells, known as SMART cells (Stem cells Modified for Autonomous Regenerative Therapy), develop into cartilage cells that produce a biologic anti-inflammatory drug that, ideally, will replace arthritic cartilage and simultaneously protect joints and other tissues from damage that occurs with chronic inflammation.

Researchers initially worked with skin cells from the tails of mice and converted those cells into stem cells. Then, using the gene-editing tool CRISPR in cells grown in culture, they removed a key gene in the inflammatory process and replaced it with a gene that releases a biologic drug that combats inflammation. The research is available in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“Our goal is to package the rewired stem cells as a vaccine for arthritis, which would deliver an anti-inflammatory drug to an arthritic joint but only when it is needed,” says Farshid Guilak, the paper’s senior author and a professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. “To do this, we needed to create a ‘smart’ cell.”
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How weather forecasts could help develop 'designer' drugs personalised to your illness

How weather forecasts could help develop 'designer' drugs personalised to your illness | The future of medicine and health |
We need a better way to discover blockbuster treatments: it seems the more money companies spend on research and development and the more we understand about the genome, microbiome and other "omes", the harder it becomes to bring new drugs to market. With the cost of delivering a novel drug reaching a staggering $2.6 billion (£2.1bn), according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, and gestation times of a decade or longer, many are worried about the future of pharma. Now, however, we are on the brink of harnessing the power of computers to customise the right drug to suit the right patient.

It realises a dream first articulated by Britain's greatest theoretician, Paul Dirac. In 1929 he said that, because of advances in quantum mechanics, "The underlying physical laws necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known." So why not use computers to put these laws to work to design drugs? After all, we know aspirin works because it inhibits COX enzymes, rather like a key slides into a lock. Why not try to model how various potential drugs interact with targets in the body?
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Musclebound mice study brings "exercise pill" a step closer

Musclebound mice study brings "exercise pill" a step closer | The future of medicine and health |
New research could mean that a pill to provide some of the same health benefits as exercise could eventually move from fantasy to reality. One day we may thank scientists at Augusta University for playing a role in saving all that sweat. A team there has found that suppressing a particular protein can enhance muscle mass and help obese people reduce their risk of a number of health concerns.

Researchers bred both lean and obese mice that were unable to produce the protein myostatin, which is known to inhibit muscle growth. Both groups of mice bulked up as a result, but although the obese mice still remained obese, they had cardiovascular and metabolic health markers similar to the lean mice and much better than obese mice that produce myostatin.

"While much more research is needed, at this point myostatin appears to be a very promising pathway for protection against obesity-derived cardiometabolic dysfunction," explains Joshua T. Butcher, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Vascular Biology Center at Augusta University.

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Fountain of Youth? Young Blood Infusions "Rejuvenate" Old Mice

Fountain of Youth? Young Blood Infusions "Rejuvenate" Old Mice | The future of medicine and health |
An injection of “new blood” is a phrase long used as a metaphor for the revitalizing effect of fresh minds on a stagnant organization. But research now suggests it also applies in a literal sense. In a development that calls to mind both vampire lore and stories of bathing in blood, young blood appears to in fact rejuvenate old brains.

Researchers at Stanford University led by neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray showed in a 2014 study that infusions of blood from young mice reversed cognitive and neurological impairments seen in old ones. They used a somewhat bizarre technique in which two mice were sutured together in such as way that they shared a circulatory system (known as parabiosis), and found old mice joined to their youthful counterparts showed changes in gene activity in a brain region called the hippocampus as well as increased neural connections and enhanced “synaptic plasticity”—a mechanism believed to underlie learning and memory in which the strength of neural connections change in response to experience. They also gave old mice infusions of young blood plasma (the liquid component of blood containing proteins and hormones but no cells), which significantly improved their performance in learning and memory tests.
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Human Umbilical Blood Has Regenerated the Brains of Elderly Mice

Human Umbilical Blood Has Regenerated the Brains of Elderly Mice | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers have regenerated the memories and learning abilities of elderly mice by injecting their brains with proteins taken from human umbilical cord blood.

The blood of human teenagers had previously been shown to rejuvenate ageing mice, but this new study shows that blood from the umbilical cords of babies could have even more powerful effects.

Based on these findings, the researchers suggest properties in umbilical blood could one day be used to slow down neurological degeneration in elderly human brains, too.

But these results are yet to be replicated in humans, so we can't get too carried away.

"The really exciting thing about this study, and previous studies that have come before it, is that we've sort of tapped into previously unappreciated potential of our blood - our plasma - and what it can do for reversing the harmful effects of aging on the brain," lead researcher Joe Castellano from Stanford University School of Medicine told NPR.

In the latest study, the researchers collected blood from humans at three different ages: babies' umbilical cords; young people aged between 19 to 24 years old; and older people aged between 61 and 82.

The team then injected plasma taken from these blood samples into mice that were the equivalent of around 50 years old.

Impressively, the mice that received the plasma from umbilical cord blood started to perform better on behavioural tests than their peers, and their memories also improved - they were better at remembering the way out of a maze.
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Scientists Discover a Hidden Network of 'Mini Brains' That Could Be Responsible for Pain

Scientists Discover a Hidden Network of 'Mini Brains' That Could Be Responsible for Pain | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have found evidence of a hidden network of 'mini brains' that could overhaul our understanding of how pain is transmitted throughout the body, and revolutionise the way we design pain medication.

The current assumption is that pain sensations are only interpreted by the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord. But the new research suggests that the peripheral nervous system plays a much more important role that's been eluding us for centuries.

To be clear, this research has only been done in rats and mice for now, and the results need to be replicated in humans before we think about rewriting the textbooks.

But given the similarities between rodent and human nervous systems, the finding provides a pretty compelling reason to take a closer look at the peripheral nervous system in humans, too. Especially given the ongoing struggle to create effective pain relief for chronic and severe pain.

"We don't yet know how the system works, but the machinery is definitely in place to allow the peripheral system to interpret and modify the tactile information perceived by the brain in terms of interpreting pain, warmth or the solidity of objects," said lead researcher Nikita Gamper from the University of Leeds in the UK.

"Further research is needed to understand exactly how it operates, but we have no reason to believe that the same nerve arrangements would not exist in humans."

The peripheral nervous system is the name given to all the nerves that feed into the central nervous system from around our body.
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FDA approves home genetic tests for Alzheimer's and other diseases

FDA approves home genetic tests for Alzheimer's and other diseases | The future of medicine and health |
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally approved a direct-to-consumer genetic screening service into the market, after initially banning the device back in 2013 following concerns about the public health consequences of inaccurate results.

The company 23andMe was founded in 2006 with the goal of bringing genetic testing to the general public. Its saliva testing kits claimed to offer the subject a variety of genetic information from whether you are at risk for some inherited diseases to what parts of the world your ancestry heralds from. On initial release the company was providing results to customers indicating risk levels for 254 diseases and conditions.

Because the reliability of many of those genetic markers were questioned, the FDA pulled the plug on the service in 2013, expressing concern that "assessments for drug responses carry the risks that patients relying on such tests may begin to self-manage their treatments through dose changes or even abandon certain therapies depending on the outcome of the assessment."
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