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Search of DNA Sequences Reveals Full Identities

Search of DNA Sequences Reveals Full Identities | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Surprising results from a DNA researcher highlight the growing tension between the advancement of medical research and privacy concerns.

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The genetic data posted online seemed perfectly anonymous — strings of billions of DNA letters from more than 1,000 people. But all it took was some clever sleuthing on the Web for a geneticsresearcher to identify five people he randomly selected from the study group. Not only that, he found their entire families, even though the relatives had no part in the study — identifying nearly 50 people.

The researcher did not reveal the names of the people he found, but the exercise, published Thursday in the journal Science, illustrates the difficulty of protecting the privacy of volunteers involved in medical research when the genetic information they provide needs to be public so scientists can use it.

Other reports have identified people whose genetic data was online, but none had done so using such limited information: the long strings of DNA letters, an age and, because the study focused on only American subjects, a state.

“I’ve been worried about this for a long time,” said Barbara Koenig, a researcher at the University of California in San Francisco who studies issues involving genetic data. “We always should be operating on the assumption that this is possible.”

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Cynthia Hack's curator insight, March 3, 2013 12:28 PM

star trek here we come

The future of medicine and health
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Here's Why You Really Shouldn't Clean The Wax From Your Ears

Here's Why You Really Shouldn't Clean The Wax From Your Ears | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Earwax can feel a lot like the stuff inside pimples: It's gross, and cleaning it out feels satisfying. Even watching other people's earwax get cleaned out feels satisfying.

So you might be surprised to learn that earwax serves an important purpose - and doctors say that most of us should not be trying to remove it at all.

This is the official decree of the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), which released official earwax guidelines earlier this year.

The guidelines make it clear : "Earwax that does not cause symptoms or block the ear canal should be left alone."

No ear candling. No syringes full of water. And especially no Q-tips.

As earwax removal extraordinaire Dr. Mark Vaughan told INSIDER in August, Q-tips are too big and too blunt to actually scoop out wax from your ears. "All you can do is push [wax] in," he said.

Besides, as the guidelines explain, earwax is there for a reason. It helps to trap dirt and dust, preventing them from traveling further into the ear.

It also cleans itself: Chewing, jaw motion, and the growth of new skin continuously push old wax out of the ear canal. Then it just flakes off or falls away in the shower.

It's a natural process that helps keep your ears healthy, and there's no good reason to mess with it.
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From Ayurveda to biomedicine: understanding the human body

From Ayurveda to biomedicine: understanding the human body | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
What is a human body? This may seem a facetious question, but the answer will be very different according to which medical tradition you consult. Take Ayurveda, a traditional system of medical knowledge from India which has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity in the West since the 1980s – and is the subject of a new exhibition at London’s Wellcome Collection.

Walking round the show, one is encouraged to explore different ways of understanding and visualising the human body. The Ayurvedic body differs significantly from that of European biomedicine, which is based on dissection. The Ayurvedic body is a body of systems. It is conceptualised as being composed of five constituent parts (mahābūta), seven body substances (dhātu) and three regulating qualities (doṣa). According to Ayurvedic theory, by attending to imbalances between these principles in a body, health might be promoted and illness avoided. The Ayurvedic concepts of the doṣas – vata, pitta and kapha can be seen in the West today promoting teas, soaps and massages.
But of course, there are many other different conceptions of the human body. There is the tantric understanding, often conflated with that of Ayurveda. Tantra focuses on the concept of energy channels (nāḍīs) which have particular centres of concentration along a line in the centre of the body (chakras). The traditional Chinese model, on the other hand, emphasises the dynamic principles of ying and yang as being paramount for ensuring health. Meanwhile, indigenous healing in many traditional cultures identifies problems between the individual and the greater social and metaphysical context as the cause of illness.
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Scientists Have Tried First-Ever Gene Editing Directly Inside a Patient's Body

Scientists Have Tried First-Ever Gene Editing Directly Inside a Patient's Body | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
In a bold first-of-its-kind experiment, scientists have edited a person's genes directly inside living tissue in an ambitious bid to cure a man of a rare, crippling genetic disorder.

While CRISPR has broken ground in things like editing human embryos and injecting patients with genetically edited cells, this alternative technique pioneers a new real-time approach to infusing a person's blood with a gene-editing virus.

"For the first time, a patient has received a therapy intended to precisely edit the DNA of cells directly inside the body," says CEO of Sangamo Therapeutics, Sandy Macrae, whose company is testing the experimental procedure.

"We are at the start of a new frontier of genomic medicine."

The patient on the edge of that frontier is 44-year-old Brian Madeux from Arizona, who has Hunter syndrome (aka mucopolysaccharidosis II) – a serious, progressively debilitating genetic disease caused by the deficiency of an enzyme called iduronate–2-sulfatase (I2S).
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The firm that can 3D print human body parts

The firm that can 3D print human body parts | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Erik Gatenholm grins widely as he presses the start button on a 3D printer, instructing it to print a life-size human nose.

It sparks a frenzied 30-minute burst of energy from the printer, as its thin metal needle buzzes around a Petri dish, distributing light blue ink in a carefully programmed order.

The process looks something like a hi-tech sewing machine weaving an emblem onto a garment.

But soon the pattern begins to rise and swell, and a nose, constructed using a bio-ink containing real human cells, grows upwards from the glass, glowing brightly under an ultraviolet light.

This is 3D bioprinting, and it's almost too obvious to point out that its potential reads like something from a science fiction novel.

Currently focused on growing cartilage and skin cells suitable for testing drugs and cosmetics, Erik, 28, believes that within 20 years it could be used to produce organs that are actually fit for human implantation.

Erik is the chief executive and co-founder of a small Swedish company called Cellink. Founded in Gothenburg only a year ago, it is a world leader in bioprinting, and Erik has big ambitions.
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Compound found in berries and red wine can rejuvenate cells, suggests new study

By the middle of this century the over 60s will outnumber the under 18s for the first time in human history. This should be good news, but growing old today also means becoming frail, sick and dependent. A healthy old age is good for you and a remarkably good deal for society. Improving the overall health of older Americans could save the US alone enough money to pay for clean drinking water for everyone on Earth for the next 30 years.

But if we want people to be healthy in old age we have to understand the mechanisms underlying the deterioration of our bodies over time. Doing so – and learning how we can prevent it – has been the goal of ageing research for more than 60 years.

There has been astonishing progress made over the last decade. In 2009, it was shown that the drug rapamcyin extended the lifespans of mice by 10-15%. Two years later a landmark study showed that experimental clearance of “senescent” cells – dysfunctional cells which build up as we age and cause damage to tissue – improved healthy lifespan in laboratory mice. These results delighted those of us who had argued for decades that senescent cells were a major cause of late life problems and should therefore be therapeutic targets.
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Why saunas really are good for your health

Why saunas really are good for your health | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it

They provide more than warmth.


Things are hotting up in the world of sauna research. Previously, anecdotal claims of possible benefits were rarely backed up by medical evidence. But recent studies have shown that taking a regular sauna can be extremely good for your health – alleviating and preventing the risk of common acute and chronic conditions. Sauna “bathing” is a form of passive heat therapy which originates from Finland and is mostly associated with Nordic countries. It is used mainly for pleasure and relaxation, and involves spending short periods of time (usually five to 20 minutes) in temperatures of 80°C to 100°C, interspersed with moments of cooling-off in a pool or shower. Although there are other forms of heat therapy such as Turkish baths, infrared saunas, and Waon therapy, the traditional Finnish sauna is the most examined to date. In a 2015 study, scientists from the University of Eastern Finland recorded the sauna bathing habits of 2,300 men, and tracked their health for more than two decades. They found that those who used saunas regularly suffered from dramatically fewer deaths from heart disease or stroke. In a follow-up study by the same group the following year, regular sauna sessions were found to substantially reduce the risk of dementia. Our latest research this year involved recording the habits and health of 1,621 men over 22 years. Having regular saunas (four to seven times a week) was shown to slash the risk of high blood pressure by almost 50%. Scientists are not certain how saunas reduce heart disease, but one theory is that they contribute to a reduction in high blood pressure, one of the condition’s major risk factors. Additionally, the heat from the sauna causes an increase in heart rate and widening of blood vessels in the skin. This leads to increased blood flow, which improves cardiovascular function and subsequently reduces the risk of heart disease.

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People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Are Exhausted at a Cellular Level, Study Shows

People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Are Exhausted at a Cellular Level, Study Shows | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
If you're one of the millions of people worldwide who deals with the symptoms of CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome, sometimes also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME), it can often feel like your entire body is drained of energy.

New research has found immune cells taken from the blood of volunteers diagnosed with the condition show clear signs of low energy production, not only adding details to a complex and confusing condition, but demonstrating once again that it's not a disease that can be fixed with willpower alone.

Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK investigated how white blood cells taken from healthy patients differed to those taken from individuals with a history of CFS.

For one of the scientists involved, it was more than just an academic question. Biomedical researcher and PhD student Cara Tomas knows from personal experience what the condition is capable of, and how often it is seen as poor mental health.

"A lot of people dismiss it as a psychological disease, which is a big frustration," Tomas told Andy Coghlan at New Scientist.

Derisively referred to as "Yuppy Flu" just a few short decades ago, CFS has been dismissed as a fashionable condition that reflects a lazy, unmotivated generation of layabouts.

For half a century researchers have debated underlying mechanisms of the syndrome, leading many to speculate whether it has a psychological basis.

To some, this sounds awfully like CFS is 'all in the mind', making it feel like weak willpower rather than something rooted in biology. Poorly conducted studies have made a mess of recommended treatments in recent years, continuing to leave those suffering from CFS with a stigma and few options.

Thankfully the trend is slowly changing as scientists have begun to identify stark distinctions in immune cells, gut bacteria, and blood biomarkers among those diagnosed with the disease.
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Your Weird Tastebuds Are to Blame For Your Huge Love of Carbs, Says New Study

Your Weird Tastebuds Are to Blame For Your Huge Love of Carbs, Says New Study | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it

More than sweet.


If you've gone for seconds, or even thirds, on your housemate's rather average homemade pasta, there's a chance your taste for starch might have more to do with your freaky tastebuds than their culinary skills. Following up on earlier discoveries of an additional gustatory sense specific to complex carbohydrates, researchers have now found some of us more sensitive to the taste than others, which could be helping to fill out some of our waistlines. Scientists are now pretty certain our tastebuds can actually detect the long chains of sugar making up the complex starches found in food items such as bread, pasta, and rice. So even though we still only have five 'official' tastes, we can actually list the sensations caused by chemicals dissolving in our mouth as sweet, salty, umami (savoury, meaty flavours), bitter, fat, sour, and... starchy. While we're on the subject, forget that tongue map nonsense you might have learned as a kid, too. Even though most of us might be able to detect bitter flavours better down the throat, our entire tongue reacts to all of these sensations. That said, taste sensitivity varies significantly across the population. So-called 'supertasters' experience far more intense flavour sensations. And a little more than a quarter of us – depending on our genetic background – can't even taste a compound called phenylthiourea. Since our individual tasting talents vary, researchers from Deakin University in Australia were keen to put the discovery about starchy tastes to the population test.

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Volunteering keeps older minds sharp - Futurity

Volunteering keeps older minds sharp - Futurity | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Volunteering may improve cognitive function of older adults, especially for women and those with lower levels of education.

While the links of volunteering to physical health are well known, its associations with mental functioning are less clear.

“Cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory, and processing are essential for living an independent life,” says Christine Proulx, an associate professor of human development and family science department at the University of Missouri.

“They’re the tools and methods the brain uses to process information. It’s the brain’s working memory and processing capacity that benefit the most from volunteering.”

Processing is how fast the mind is able to take in and store information. Working memory, which is different from long-term memory, is what the brain needs to temporarily store and manage information.

Proulx used national data from the Health and Retirement Study, which researchers have collected for the past 25 years. The results from more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and older show significant associations between cognitive function and volunteering among all participants, regardless of the amount of time spent. Adults with lower levels of education and women seemed to benefit the most.
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Reading stories creates universal patterns in the brain

Reading stories creates universal patterns in the brain | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
New research shows that when we hear stories, brain patterns appear that transcend culture and language. There may be a universal code that underlies making sense of narratives.

Telling and listening to stories is a pastime that spans all cultures. From crime novels to bedtime stories and from ancient legends to spicy romances, humanity loves a good book.

We are all very used to the idea of stories, but the processes at work in the brain are more complex than it seems.

Following a narrative and understanding the story's meaning and themes, as well as the interaction of causes and effects across time, involves challenging cognitive gymnastics. But of course, our brains make it seem effortless.

Neuroscience has made headway in finding out which brain regions help us to understand smaller chunks of language - words and sentences, that is - but we still have a lot to learn about how the brain understands a narrative. Following a story involves a steady accumulation of meaning.
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Fire ant venom offers new option for psoriasis - Futurity

Fire ant venom offers new option for psoriasis - Futurity | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Compounds derived from fire ant venom can reduce skin thickening and inflammation in a mouse model of psoriasis, research shows.

The findings, published in Scientific Reports, could lead to new treatments for psoriasis, a common autoimmune skin disease. Topical steroids are now the most frequent treatment for mild to moderate psoriasis, but they have side effects such as skin thinning and easy bruising.

Solenopsins are the main toxic components of fire ant venom. They chemically resemble ceramides, which are lipid-like molecules essential for maintaining the barrier function of the skin. Ceramides are in many skin-care products.

Ceramides can act as a double-edged sword, says lead author Jack Arbiser, professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine. Under certain conditions, cells can convert them into S1P (sphingosine-1-phosphate), an inflammatory molecule.

Arbiser and his colleagues devised two solenopsin analogs that look like ceramides, but can’t be degraded into S1P. They then tested them in a mouse model of psoriasis, applying the compounds in a one percent skin cream for 28 days.
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Happy faces really are healthy faces

For thousands of years, we have been obsessed with having a healthy and attractive facial appearance – by any means necessary. The Egyptians crafted eyeliner from kohl, containing lead (definitely not good for you), and at the turn of the last century, people eagerly applied night cream fortified with radium to achieve a healthy glow (even worse).

We know how dangerous these practices are today, but are modern day beauty trends all that different? With acid peels that can permanently damage skin, to injections of the most acutely lethal toxin known to man – under its brand name Botox – the quest for a healthy-looking face has always been fraught with danger.

The reason we put our faces through all of this is straightforward: a healthy looking face brings huge benefits. Healthy looking people are more attractive; we’re more likely to vote for healthy-looking politicians, and a healthy appearance is preferred in faces across the globe.

Scientists have uncovered numerous facial qualities that are linked to health, and have found that people rely on these to judge who is healthy and who isn’t. Some you’re stuck with, like your facial symmetry, or how close your facial shape is to the average shape of the population. These have been shown to be related to health but are fixed aspects of your face.

Others you can change, with a bit of effort. Facial adiposity – the weight that’s carried in your face – for example, is related to your BMI and how many colds you have a year.
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Why haven't we evolved immortality? The answer is in our genes

If evolution works by selecting for the most advantageous genes, it begs the question: why haven't we evolved immortality? According to a decades-old hypothesis, certain genes that promote reproductive success also promote aging later in life, and now a study from Johannes Gutenberg University has identified some of these genes. The team also found that switching off those genes dramatically extended the lifespan of worms.

Getting old and dying is a natural part of life, but that doesn't mean we aren't interested in slowing or stopping it. There's a huge body of science dedicated to fighting aging at the genetic level, to find ways to extend not just our lifespan but our "healthspan" – the percentage of our lives in which we enjoy good health. There's not much point living to 110 if we spend our last 30 years completely bedridden.

But why hasn't evolution already done the heavy lifting for us? Individuals with traits that help them live longer are more likely to pass on their genes, so in theory, aging should have been entirely weeded out by now. To explain this apparent contradiction, in the 1950s biologist George Williams proposed the theory of antagonistic pleiotropy (AP), which operates on the principle of "benefit now, pay later." Essentially, the idea goes that evolution would select for genes that improve an individual's reproductive success in youth, and ignore any negative repercussions later in life because the genes have already been passed onto the next generation.

Williams' theory has since been backed up mathematically, and its effects can be seen in nature, but direct evidence had proven elusive. To test the idea, the Johannes Gutenberg team screened the genes of a worm species called C. elegans, and identified 30 genes that seem to fit the AP bill, helping in youth but turning against the animals in old age.
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How the sugar industry tried to hide the health effects of its product 50 years ago

How the sugar industry tried to hide the health effects of its product 50 years ago | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
About 50 years ago, the sugar industry stopped funding research that began to show something they wanted to hide: that eating lots of sugar is linked to heart disease. A new study exposes the sugar industry’s decades-old effort to stifle that critical research.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recently analyzed historical documents regarding a rat study called Project 259 that was launched in 1968. The study was funded by a sugar industry trade group called the International Sugar Research Foundation, or ISRF, and conducted by W. F. R. Pover at the University of Birmingham. When the preliminary findings from that study began to show that eating lots of sugar might be associated with heart disease, and even bladder cancer, the ISRF pulled the plug on the research. Without additional funding, the study was terminated and the results were never published, according to a study published today in PLOS Biology.
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Choosy Eggs May Pick Sperm for Their Genes, Defying Mendel’s Law | Quanta Magazine

Choosy Eggs May Pick Sperm for Their Genes, Defying Mendel’s Law | Quanta Magazine | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
In the winner-takes-all game of fertilization, millions of sperm race toward the egg that’s waiting at the finish line. Plenty of sperm don’t even make it off the starting line, thanks to missing or deformed tails and other defects. Still others lack the energy to finish the long journey through the female reproductive tract, or they get snared in sticky fluid meant to impede all but the strongest swimmers. For the subset of a subset of spermatozoa that reach their trophy, the final winner would be determined by one last sprint to the end. The exact identity of the sperm was random, and the egg waited passively until the Michael Phelps of gametes finally arrived. Or so scientists have thought.

Joe Nadeau, principal scientist at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute, is challenging this dogma. Random fertilization should lead to specific ratios of gene combinations in offspring, but Nadeau has found two examples just from his own lab that indicate fertilization can be far from random: Certain pairings of gamete genes are much more likely than others. After ruling out obvious alternative explanations, he could only conclude that fertilization wasn’t random at all.

“It’s the gamete equivalent of choosing a partner,” Nadeau said.

His hypothesis – that the egg could woo sperm with specific genes and vice versa – is part of a growing realization in biology that the egg is not the submissive, docile cell that scientists long thought it was. Instead, researchers now see the egg as an equal and active player in reproduction, adding layers of evolutionary control and selection to one of the most important processes in life.
“Female reproductive anatomy is more cryptic and difficult to study, but there’s a growing recognition of the female role in fertilization,” said Mollie Manier, an evolutionary biologist at George Washington University.
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Blame these bacteria for itchy eczema skin - Futurity

Blame these bacteria for itchy eczema skin - Futurity | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Researchers may have found why our skin can become itchy and inflamed due to conditions like eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis.

A common bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus sometimes stimulates production of a protein that causes our own cells to react and cause the inflammation, the researchers report.

“Our skin is covered with bacteria as part of our normal skin microbiome and typically serves as a barrier that protects us from infection and inflammation,” says Lloyd Miller, associate professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “However, when that barrier is broken, the increased exposure to certain bacteria really causes problems.”

S. aureus is an important human pathogen, already known as the most common cause of skin infections in people. In the United States, 20 to 30 percent of the population has it living on the skin or in the nose, Miller adds, and over time, up to 85 percent of people come into contact with it.

Eczema is an inflammatory skin disease that affects 20 percent of children and about 5 percent of adults. Ninety percent of patients with eczema have exceedingly high numbers of S. aureus bacteria on their inflamed skin.

Untreated eczema can lead to other allergic conditions, including asthma, food allergies, seasonal allergies, and conjunctivitis. Blocking the skin inflammation in eczema has the potential to prevent these unwanted conditions.

“We don’t really know what causes atopic dermatitis, and there aren’t many good treatments for it,” Miller says.
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For The First Time Ever Scientists Have Boosted Human Memory With a Brain Implant

For The First Time Ever Scientists Have Boosted Human Memory With a Brain Implant | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
With everyone from Elon Musk to MIT to the US Department of Defense researching brain implants, it seems only a matter of time before such devices are ready to help humans extend their natural capabilities.

Now, a professor from theUniversity of Southern California (USC) has demonstrated the use of a brain implant to improve the human memory, and the device could have major implications for the treatment of one of the US's deadliest diseases.

Dong Song is a research associate professor of biomedical engineering at USC, and he recently presented his findings on a "memory prosthesis" during a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington D.C. According to a New Scientist report, the device is the first to effectively improve the human memory.

To test his device, Song's team enlisted the help of 20 volunteers who were having brain electrodes implanted for the treatment of epilepsy.

Once implanted in the volunteers, Song's device could collect data on their brain activity during tests designed to stimulate either short-term memory or working memory.

The researchers then determined the pattern associated with optimal memory performance and used the device's electrodes to stimulate the brain following that pattern during later tests.

Based on their research, such stimulation improved short-term memory by roughly 15 percent and working memory by about 25 percent. When the researchers stimulated the brain randomly, performance worsened.

As Song told New Scientist, "We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function. This has never been done before."
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Your 'Gluten Sensitivity' Could Be Explained by Something Else Found in Wheat

Your 'Gluten Sensitivity' Could Be Explained by Something Else Found in Wheat | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it

Sharing the science that matters.


If you're one of those people who don't have coeliac disease but still think gluten is causing your gut problems, scientists may finally have a clue as to what's going on. Studies have been pointing towards 'gluten sensitivity' not being a real thing. But plenty of people seem to have stomach upsets when they eat bread - and now a study shows that it's probably nothing to do with gluten, but there's another wheat component to blame. Coeliac disease manifests as an immune response to gluten, a family of proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats. Based on various studies, prevalence of coeliac disease in an average population can be up to around 1.3 percent. Yet the percentage of people who report adverse symptoms when they eat wheat is significantly higher. The exact prevalence of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) as it is called, is unknown, although a recent study suggests it could be as high as 13 percent. And because gluten has been turning out to be an unlikely culprit, a growing body of research has been looking at what's actually going on. Peter Gibson of Monash University and his team have performed extensive research into NCGS, and discovered that short-chain carbohydrates (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols - also known as FODMAPs) - could be responsible. These ferment in the gut, causing bloating and other unpleasant symptoms. A study published in 2014 showed that a diet low in FODMAPs can reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel disease. Now Gibson's team has drawn a correlation between adverse gastrointestinal symptoms and a type of FODMAP carbohydrate called fructan.

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Plagued by unwanted thoughts? You may be low on hippocampal GABA

Plagued by unwanted thoughts? You may be low on hippocampal GABA | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it

Recurrent unwanted thoughts are a key feature of conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia. Now, in a step towards better-treating these disorders, scientists have identified a chemical in the brain that lets most people suppress such thoughts.


Whether they take the form of worries, unpleasant memories or hallucinations, recurrent unwanted thoughts are a key feature of conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia. Now, in a step towards better-treating these disorders, scientists from Britain's University of Cambridge have identified a chemical in the brain that lets most people suppress such thoughts. Led by Prof. Michael Anderson and Dr. Taylor Schmitz, the researchers submitted a group of healthy test subjects to what's known as a Think/No-Think procedure. This involved first teaching the subjects to associate a series of words with other unrelated words, such as associating the word "ordeal" with "roach." Next, they were asked to recall the associated word when shown the first word, but only if the letters of that first word were colored green. If the letters were red, they were instead supposed to suppress any thoughts of the associated word. Utilizing both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the activity and chemistry of the subjects' brains were monitored as they performed this exercise. It was already known that the prefrontal cortex – the "command center" of the brain – played a role. What was found, however, was that a chemical known as GABA was more directly responsible for suppressing the unwanted thoughts. 

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'Incredible' editing of life's building blocks

'Incredible' editing of life's building blocks | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
Scientists have demonstrated an "incredibly powerful" ability to manipulate the building blocks of life in two separate studies.

One altered the atoms in DNA to rewrite the human genetic code and the instructions for life.

The other edited RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA and unlocks the information in the genetic code.

The studies - which could eventually treat diseases - have been described as clever, important and exciting.

Cystic fibrosis, inherited blindness and other diseases caused by a single typo in the genetic code could ultimately be prevented or treated with such approaches.

Both studies were performed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Base editing

The first, published in the journal Nature, developed tools called base editors.

DNA is built out of the four bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). If a single one of them is in the wrong place, it can cause disease.

Base editors alter the atomic structure of one base to convert it into another. Researchers can now manipulate the four bases.

And the team used base editing to correct an inherited disease that leads to dangerously high levels of iron in the blood.

Prof David Liu of the Broad Institute said: "We are hard at work trying to translate base editing technology into human therapeutics."
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Evidence Is Mounting That The Drug Ketamine Can Actually Treat Chronic Migraines

Evidence Is Mounting That The Drug Ketamine Can Actually Treat Chronic Migraines | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it

When nothing else gives relief. 


When you hear about ketamine, you may associate it with being an illegal party drug that causes vivid hallucinations. But it's also a powerful anaesthetic, listed on the World Health Organisation's list of essential medicines. And now it looks like we've found yet another amazing application for it - the treatment of migraines that have no cure. The latest study focussed on 61 patients, all male, who had been suffering chronic migraines that did not respond to any of the treatments available. This type of migraine is known as a refractory headache or intractable migraine. Even though it only affects less than 1 percent of all migraine sufferers, this version tends to be an especially severe form, causing debilitating episodes that last for days at a time or even longer. Using an intravenous ketamine infusion for stubborn migraines is not an entirely new concept, but it's considered to be a "last resort" treatment and is not widely available. It does make sense, though, because research has indicated that ketamine infusions can help with other stubborn pain conditions that don't respond to more conventional treatments. Patients in this study all received ketamine infusions at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, a hospital that not only offers this option to patients, but also works to investigate its clinical benefits. Each of the participants received a 3-7 day course of ketamine infusions at the hospital, and by the end of the treatment almost 75 percent of the patients had less intense migraines than before. Migraine severity is typically rated on a scale of 0-10, and on average the 61 patients had a severity of 7.5. After the ketamine treatment, upon discharge from hospital that average rating dropped down to 3.4. "Our study focused only on short-term relief, but it is encouraging that this treatment might have the potential to help patients long-term," says one of the team, anaesthesiologist Eric Schwenk. It's important to note that so far all evidence for ketamine as an option for stubborn migraines comes from case studies and retrospective studies, rather than clinical trials which can establish a more direct causal link.

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Magic mushrooms 'reset' depressed brain

Magic mushrooms 'reset' depressed brain | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
A hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms can "reset" the brains of people with untreatable depression, raising hopes of a future treatment, scans suggest.

The small study gave 19 patients a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin.

Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks.

However, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate.

There has been a series of small studies suggesting psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a "lubricant for the mind" that allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms.

But the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known.

The team at Imperial performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after (when the patients were "sober" again).

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain.

The amygdala - which is heavily involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety - became less active. The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in reported symptoms.
The default-mode network - a collaboration of different brain regions - became more stable after taking psilocybin.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, said the depressed brain was being "clammed up" and the psychedelic experience "reset" it.

He told the BBC News website: "Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, 'I've been reset, reborn, rebooted', and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up."

However, this remains a small study and had no "control" group of healthy people with whom to compare the brain scans.

Further, larger studies are still needed before psilocybin could be accepted as a treatment for depression.
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Universal flu vaccine to begin human trials this winter

The flu virus is a crafty foe, constantly adapting to our best weapons. It's an arms race every year, as scientists need to go back to the drawing board and predict how the virus might change. But now we might be gaining the upper hand in the war: a universal flu vaccine has been cleared for widespread human trials in the UK that should be much more effective at destroying different forms of the virus.

The flu might seem common and largely harmless, but the virus is not to be underestimated: the illness spreads easily and in severe cases can annually cause up to half a million deaths worldwide, particularly in people over the age of 65. Every year, it's a race for scientists to develop and deliver vaccines to fight the strains predicted by the World Health Organization to be the most likely to circulate. Unfortunately, the constantly-adapting bug often has other plans, with different strains spreading and undermining the vaccine's effectiveness – that's why you might still get the flu after getting the jab.
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This molecule stores our long-term memories - Futurity

This molecule stores our long-term memories - Futurity | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
New research has uncovered the molecule that stores long-term memories—it’s called calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase, or CaMKII for short.

The discovery of the memory molecule resolves one of the oldest mysteries in neuroscience—how do our brains create and retain long-term memories?

The finding also opens up radically new avenues of brain research. One day, by targeting CaMKII, it may be possible to erase the memories that underlie trauma or drug addiction. Though it would raise serious ethical issues, it might also allow us to change our pasts by wiping out recollections of unhappy experiences.

CaMKII has also been found to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s never been clear if the illness deletes long-term memories or if they remain present, yet inaccessible to recall. A better understanding of CaMKII might clarify this.

“Just like it’s unimaginable that we could understand cells if we didn’t understand DNA, it’s unimaginable that you can understand memory if you don’t know what molecule stores it,” says John Lisman, chair in neuroscience at Brandeis University, whose lab made the discovery.

A memory may feel abstract or immaterial, but it is actually a biochemical process taking place in the brain. It involves neurons communicating with each other via the “wires” or synapses connecting them.

The pathway an electrochemical signal follows as it continually travels from neuron to synapse to neuron constitutes a memory. Whenever you have that memory, the same pathway gets activated. And the more it’s activated, the more it becomes hardwired into the brain’s circuitry. Eventually, it becomes a long-term memory.

Activation also requires enzymes, molecules that set off chemical reactions. The problem is that these enzymes don’t exist for longer than a week. If a memory is to endure, it would seem that the enzymes would have to remain functioning for years or even decades.

Once the enzymes turn off, one would expect the memories to go with them. “This became a holy grail in neuroscience,” Lisman says. “How can a molecule in your brain serve as a memory? How does nature accomplish this?”
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UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos | The future of medicine and health | Scoop.it
The blueprint for life - DNA - has been altered in human embryos for the first time in the UK.

The team at the Francis Crick Institute are unravelling the mysteries of the earliest moments of life.

Understanding what happens after a sperm fertilises an egg could lead to ways of improving IVF or explain why some women miscarry.

The embryos were modified shortly after fertilisation and allowed to develop for seven days.

The researchers are exploring one of the most astounding of transformations.

We have all journeyed from a single fertilised egg to a human being - built from myriad different tissues ranging from bone to those needed to read this page.

The first few steps on that journey are as critical as they are poorly understood.

Breakthroughs in manipulating DNA have allowed the team at the Crick to turn off a gene - a genetic instruction - suspected to be of vital importance.

The easiest way of working out how something works is to remove it and see what happens.

So the researchers used the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9 to scour the billions of letters of genetic code, find their genetic target and break the DNA to effectively disable it.

They were targeting a gene. You are unlikely to have heard of it, but OCT4 is a superstar in early embryo development.

Its complete role is not understood but it acts like an army general issuing commands to keep development on track.

The researchers used 41 embryos that had been donated by couples who no longer needed them for IVF.

After performing the genetic modification, the team could watch how the embryos developed without OCT4.
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