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Archive for August, 2014

New Synthetic Amino Acid for a New Class of Drugs


Creating new drug molecules is challenging, developing drugs that are highly effective against a target, but with minimal (or no) toxicity and side-effects to the patient can be an exercise in futility. These drug properties are directly conferred by the 3D structure of the drug molecule. So ideally, the drug should have a shape that is perfectly complementary to a disease-causing target, so that it binds it with high specificity.With that, scientists have developed a synthetic amino acid that can impact the 3D structure of bioactive peptides and enhance their potency.


Predictor of Sudden Death helps identify ICD candidates


New guidelines for patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) identify candidates for implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). These devices help protect patients from arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat) which can limit blood flow to vital organs, like the brain for example. Identifying which pacents would benefit from an ICD has been difficult. But the new guidelines, which were recently published, will help determine the patients most likely to benefit from ICDs by testing to see which of these patients are at higher risk for sudden cardiac death.


The Ever Mutating Ebola Virus


Ebola has a nasty reputation for the way it damages the body. It’s rightfully earned when you look at the death rate. But when you look at the actual details of an Ebola infection, a surprising fact surfaces: The virus isn’t what ends up killing you, it’s your own immune system. Sure they are trying different ways to outsmart the virus, but it’s mutating… quickly. In fact, scientists have rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. The hope it to better understand the enemy and possibly outsmart it.


This is your Brain. This is your Brain on Drugs

Drug abuse is bad for the brain. That is (excuse the horrible pun) a no-brainer, but while scientists have seen the after effect addictive drugs such as cocaine can have on the brain, we have never seen how they affect the actual blood flow to the brain. That is of course, until now. A new method for measuring and imaging how quickly blood flows in the brain could help doctors and researchers better understand how drug abuse affects the brain and they are currently testing this new method as we speak.


Oh the Things Living on your Toothbrush…


Did you remember to brush? I hope you did, but you may be throwing away your toothbrush soon. Get ready for your daily amount of gross, because have I got a scientific discovery that will make you rethink your dental hygiene. Researchers have found that “solid-head” power toothbrushes have up to 3,000 times less bacteria when compared to “hollow-head” toothbrushes.

The researchers note that microbial counts were lower in the solid-head toothbrush group than in the two hollow-head toothbrush groups in 9 out of 10 comparisons.

“Toothbrushes can transmit microorganisms that cause disease and infections. A solid-head design allows for less growth of bacteria and bristles should be soft and made of nylon,” Morris said. “It is also important to disinfect and to let your toothbrush dry between uses. Some power toothbrushes now include an ultraviolet system or you can soak the head in mouthwash for 20 minutes.”

The surprisingly obvious study was conducted over a three-week period where participants brushed twice daily with one out of three randomly assigned power toothbrushes. Participants used non-antimicrobial toothpaste (which it should be mentioned that most toothpaste is not antimicrobial) and continued their flossing routine throughout the study, but refrained from using other dental products like mouthwash.

“The packaging on most power toothbrushes won’t distinguish between a hollow-head and a solid-head design,” Morris said. “The best way to identify a solid-head design is through the connection to the body of the power toothbrush. Naturally, there will be some space to connect the two parts but a significant portion will be solid, up to the bristles or brush head.”

During the study the group found that the brush heads were exposed to five categories of oral microorganisms: anaerobes and facultative microorganisms, yeast and mold, oral streptococci and oral enterococci anaerobes, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Fusobacterium species.

The article also mentions that there is no present or published study that has demonstrated that bacterial growth on toothbrushes can lead to systematic health effects, but as Morris stated, several microorganisms have been associated with systemic diseases.

“We do know and there are studies that have linked Fusobacterium to colorectal cancer. Some of these other bacteria have been linked with cardiovascular disease,” Morris said. “There is a high association with gum disease and cardiovascular disease. Researchers have been able to culture the same bacteria around the heart that causes gum disease. ”

So while you shouldn’t worry about getting sick from the bacteria, the news might not be too appetizing. I know as a science fan that there are tons of bacteria and odd things we cannot see living around us, on us, and even in us. But sometimes it’s just better not to point that out.

I think what I’m really trying to say, is that it’s probably time to change my toothbrush.

Morris DW, Goldschmidt M, Keene H, & Cron SG (2014). Microbial contamination of power toothbrushes: a comparison of solid-head versus hollow-head designs. Journal of dental hygiene : JDH / American Dental Hygienists’ Association, 88 (4), 237-42 PMID: 25134956

The Learning Brain Unravelled


As an engineer you would think math would come easy to me, it didn’t. Funny thing though, science in general and biology in particular came very easy to me. The big question is why? Why would math, something I need to know how to do for my work and my degree, be so hard to learn? Thankfully science has stepped in to answer the question, at least partially, about why somethings can come so easy to a person and other things (like me and math) take so much longer to pick up.


The Holographic Universe [we might Live in!]


Are you feeling a little… flat? Well that might be because you are only in 2 dimensions. I know what you’re thinking, insane! Well first check the name of the business and second, check out the science. In fact, it may seem like a joke, but the math suggests that it could very well be true and with it could come a deeper understanding of the universe. Testing this hypothesis (which was first made in the late 90’s) has been harder to do than you might think, but that has now changed. We are officially checking to see if our universe is a hologram!


Zombie Ant Fungi knows it’s Prey

zombie fungus

So awhile back I was bored and to kill some time wisely I wrote this little bit on real life (sometime potential) zombies. It featured a special section on a particular group of fungi that created some really crazy zombie ants. Ants, which would do the bidding of the fungus, would eventually latch itself in a “death bite” and sprout the parasite from its head. Yeah I know, not a pleasant death. In any case new research is showing just how cool — and evidently smart — these fungi really are.


mTOR and the Cause of Autism

autism blocks

Autism is a hot topic, lets face it, the increase in prevalence has started to cause a panic in some people. That fear is what the anti-vaccination movement is hoping to capitalize on, but that doesn’t stop science from trying to solve what is really causing the problem. There are probably several roads to autism, most — if not all — of them genetic. Scientists have already found one definite genetic cause of autism and several genetic factors. Now it looks like they may have even found the actual brain changes that cause it. With these new discoveries come better testing, treatment and more individualized care.


An end to Finger Pricking for Diabetics

Glucose level blood test

About 10% of the US is diabetic, that doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize how many people there are in the US (roughly 311 million and counting). Think about it like this, every 7 seconds (roughly) a child is born. With that statistic every minute and 10 seconds leads to another person with diabetes. By the time you finish reading this, about two people in the US will be diagnosed with diabetes.


Pomegranate eases Alzheimer’s? I’m skeptical


Alternative medicine is garbage, there I said it. Thankfully there is a difference between alternative and “natural” medicine. I shudder at the term “natural” medicine, but that is typically what medicine based from things in nature (in other words practically all medicine used). Well to cut to the chase, new research shows that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed and some of its symptoms curbed by a natural compound that is found in pomegranate, unfortunately I am just a little skeptical of this.


Jonas Salk and the Polio Comeback


Jonas Salk, you should know this name, but chances are you don’t. He was the inventor of the polio vaccine, a disease that was feared more than the atomic bomb. Today we don’t think about it, no one “gets” polio anymore. Scientists get a bad rap today with the whole “autism-vaccine” BS. But they don’t know Salk, instead of making a small [see: huge] fortune from the drug, he refused to patent it and gave it to the people for essentially free. You think this story would have a happy ending, I mean we don’t have polio anymore… right? Well the devils in the details and it’s not good.


The DNA Signature of Lupus


My Uncle suffered from Lupus. The disease itself should have a more sinister sounding name, given the effect it has on the body. Lupus is a form of autoimmune disease which attacks the body and causes an incredible amount of pain. It’s not pretty and complications from the disease can make life even more unbearable for people. There is no cure and sadly there are few treatments outside of managing the pain and side effects of the disease. Thankfully medical researchers have used DNA sequencing to identify a gene variant responsible for causing lupus in a young patient. This doesn’t mean they are on the verge of a cure, but it could possibly lead to tailored treatments.


Hobby Lobby and the War on Race and Women

womens health

There is a war going on and it’s not on foreign soil. This war is the fight for the status quo, a war where you are only worth your skin color, a war where you are only worth as much as your gender. This war is all around us, we see it everyday, yet we let it quietly pass us by. We do this because, in all actuality, we are losing this war. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me, you shouldn’t. Frankly I would read this to see the history of this war in action. But where that post focused more on color, I am going to be focusing more on gender and it isn’t pretty.


We can Build it Better: The First Artificial Cell Network


artificial cells

How does the old saying go? Imitation, is the sincerest form of flattery? Well that is what we’ve been trying to do for a very long time, but mimicking the intricate networks and dynamic interactions that are inherent to living cells is difficult to achieve outside the cell. Unfortunately despite all our intelligence nature has had the upper hand on us for a long time. That has not changed… until now that is.


Schizophrenia and the Twilight Zone

twilight zone

You are now entering the Twilight Zone. You may remember the television show, with it’s odd twists and turns, but for people with schizophrenia it means something just a little different. It’s unfortunate, but people with schizophrenia struggle to turn goals into actions, this sort of “twilight zone” has been seen in patients, however the cause was unknown. Now, according to new research, the brain structures governing desire and emotion are less active and fail to pass goal-directed messages to cortical regions affecting human decision-making.


Is your Stomach… Controlling your Mind?

mind control

Close the blinds, lock the doors, and find a safe place to hide. Are you alone? No, no you aren’t and you may not even be in control of your own actions. Shhh, take a deep breath. I don’t want to alarm you, but you are being controlled. No, I’m not being paranoid and while it may sound like science fiction it looks like that bacteria within us — which for the record outnumber our own cells about 100-fold — may very well be affecting both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity.


Swamp Thing and Plant Communication

swamp thing

Maybe I’m dating myself here, but ever see the swamp thing movie, television show, or even the comic? Call me picky, after all we are talking about a human/plant hybrid, but he never needed to talk. I know, some of you are probably rolling your eyes at me given it’s a comic, movie or tv show [depending on your level of geek], but come on, this is science!


Bringing the Fight to hidden HIV


We’ve got even more news for the HIV cure front. Yesterday we talked about broadly neutralizing antibodies, today we are going to be touching on that yet again,so if you missed it, you can read more about that here. Now, although HIV can now be effectively suppressed using anti-retroviral drugs, it still comes surging back the moment the flow of drugs is stopped. We sadly saw this delayed response in an infant that was thought to be effectively “cured” of HIV. It is unfortunate, but latent reservoirs of HIV-infected cells, invisible to the body’s immune system and unreachable by pharmaceuticals, ensure that the infection will rebound after therapy is terminated. This is a big reason that, even when the viral load drops below detection, you still need constant check ups and continuous anti-retrovirals.


HIV Vaccine One Step Closer to Reality

HIV virus

The war on HIV, that tricky little guy has avoided every thing we could throw at it in a broad sense. Sure a few people here and there get lucky, but we have yet to actually make any sort of we’re going to kick your ass headway [don’t worry it’s the technical term for it]. That is hopefully going to change with a new scientific discovery that has enormous implications for HIV vaccine development. Researchers have uncovered novel properties of special HIV antibodies that promise to help eliminate HIV.


Treatment and Prevention of PTSD


It’s no secret for anyone who follows me that I am a Marine veteran. It’s also no secret for anyone who follows me that I’ve had my own ups and downs in life because of my experiences. PTSD is a nightmare, one that you can’t quite shake no matter how hard you try. Then again, not everyone reacts the same way to the trauma that typically causes PTSD, not everyone walks away from war with it. The big question that scientists set out to answer was, why? And now they might just have an answer.


New Hope for Autoimmune Diseases


Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. Since I have a history of over sharing, my Uncle suffered from a form of lupus. It caused him intense and — in my opinion — unbearable pain although he shouldered it like the incredible man he was and never complained. My sister unfortunately is suffering from a rare disease that has yet to be diagnosed, which in my opinion has autoimmune dysfunction as the root cause. If you or anyone you know suffers in a similar fashion then you know that the treatments for such things are, expensive, moderately effective at best, and are overall inadequate.


State of the Art Bridge: A Failed Engineer Comic

Introducing the Failed Engineer…

Failed Bridge upright

It was about that time that the failed engineer decided to rethink the new lookout tower position.

Pregnancy and Antibacterial Soap a Potentially Dangerous Combination


My wife likes to sanitize everything with bleach. I don’t really approve, but I bite my tongue because it makes her feel better. Germs are everywhere and honestly there is no way to escape them because frankly…. they are you! In hospitals it makes sense to try to fight it, to be as sanitary as possible for the health of the patients. At home it makes a little less sense, there is no need, but that hasn’t stopped the rise of antibacterial soaps. In fact, it’s hard to find a soap that isn’t antibacterial these days, which has brought with it an interesting dilemma, along with potential health issues.


Marijuana and the Developing Brain


You can’t get away from it, the big marijuana debate here in the US. Is it good? Is it bad? What are other countries doing? There are also a lot of claims made about marijuana, most of which aren’t true, namely the big medical claims. Then there is the other side of that fence, what about some of the health issues that are claimed, where does science sit on that?


The Self Assembling Brain

some assembly

Let’s face it, if the brain were a lego set I would still be staring at the box wondering what I got myself into. So I guess we can just chalk that one up to yet another thing the body can do than I can. When the brain is just developing, special proteins that act like a sort of molecular tugboat. These proteins push or pull on the growing nerve cells, or neurons, helping them organize and placing them in their assigned places amidst the brain’s wiring. Doing a better job organizing all those cells than I ever did organizing my sock drawer.


Nerve Regeneration: Another Piece of the Stem Cell Puzzle

rat lab

Almost everyone regenerates nerves, but you! Sure, yesterday we talked about how other animals in the kingdom regenerate damaged nerves and how we got left in the dust. But we forge ahead and we have more good news in the race to catch up to some other animals. Building upon previous research, a team of scientists report that neurons which were derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells [ or iPSC for short] and grafted into rats after a spinal cord injury produced cells with tens of thousands of axons extending virtually the entire length of the animals’ central nervous system.


Nerve Regeneration: Everyone does it, but you

Dogs do it, frogs do it, and even whales do it! No, this isn’t everyone poops. I’m talking about regrowing nerves after an injury and sadly, we don’t do it… yet. Now, thanks to a small molecule that may be able to convince damaged nerves to not just grow, but effectively rewire circuits, that all could change. Such breakthrough could eventually lead to therapies for the thousands of Americans with severe spinal cord injuries and paralysis.


Weight loss Stalled? Kick those Hunger Cravings!


Trying to drop the weight, but find yourself picking up more of it? Is your diet failing because you are so hungry you could eat a horse?  Well a new study offers some, maybe obvious, but nevertheless helpful insights to help you wrangle in that waist line. A healthy diet will help you drop the weight, but if you aren’t sure what a healthy diet contains that might be a problem. If you are trying to cut the weight, but can’t fight the hunger you might just need to try beans!


Want a Larger Brain: How About an Implant?


Feel like you could use some extra grey matter? Maybe get a dash of genius added to all those cobwebs in the brain? Well then science might just have the answer. Researchers have managed to graft neurons that were made from reprogrammed stem cells into the brains of mice for the first time with long term stability.The best part, six months after implantation, the neurons had become fully functionally integrated into the brain.


Is Fat Making you… Fat?


Fast food, let’s face it, it’s not the best for you. Yet Mcdonalds and Pizza hut are known practically world wide [although menu options differ]. With the rise of our waist lines and the shrinking cost of fast food, you might suspect a connection. Fortunately for your big mac addiction [no judgement] it isn’t what you might think. If you’re finding it harder and harder to see your toes, you might just have your brain, and not your stomach, to thank for it.


At risk for Cancer? Try Spicy Food!


Like spicy food? Well next time you eat some you should hug that chili pepper, because he might just save your life. This is an interesting find, researchers have found that dietary capsaicin — the stuff that gives chili pepers that spicy burn — produces chronic activation of a receptor on cells lining the intestines of mice, which just happens to trigger a reaction that ultimately reduces the risk of colorectal tumors [a fancy way of saying tumors in the intestinal tract].


Possible treatment and Prevention for Parkinson’s

The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

From the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research — you can donate by clicking the link.

Parkinson’s disease affects neurons in a particular brain region, when it develops brain cells have their mitochondrial activity cease and then the cells die. But now researchers have shown that supplying D-lactate or glycolate [two products of the gene DJ-1] can stop and even counteract this process, a huge step forward to finding a cure or even a way to prevent parkinson’s.