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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for September, 2014

New Immune System Discovery

Virus in blood - Scanning Electron Microscopy stylised

The immune system is sort of this big enigma, we know how pieces of it work, but we don’t know it as well as we would like or we wouldn’t have autoimmunity to contend with. Well new research reveals new information about how our immune system functions, shedding light on a vital process that determines how the body’s ability to fight infection develops. Which brings us one step closer to the big picture of the immune system.

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New Protein Implicated in Alzheimer’s

alzhiemers

Alzheimer’s prevention has made some strides in recent years. We’ve even identified some new causes, and in some cases we can do both. In fact, researchers have now shown that low levels of the protein progranulin in the brain can increase the formation of amyloid-beta plaques (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease). These plaques can cause neuroinflammation, and worsen memory deficits in a mouse model of this condition. Conversely, by using a gene therapy approach to elevate progranulin levels, scientists were able to prevent these abnormalities and block cell death.

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The Genetic Evolutionary Arms Race

genetics

Genes are tricky little buggers, the stuff that makes us up has fought the test of time to make it to where we are today. It is thought that our genes changed in an attempt to outpace other life, albeit random changes.That might only be half right however, new findings suggest that there is an evolutionary arms race going on within the genome against, of all things, itself. This inherent competition of primates  drove the evolution of complex regulatory networks that orchestrate the activity of genes in every cell of our bodies

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Are Black Holes just in Our Imagination?!

black hole

Black holes, physicists have been fighting over them forever, heck there is even a book entitled the black hole war! (which I do recommend for anyone interested) It’s no real surprise since they are the ultimate unknown – the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren’t bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.

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“GMO” Foods (Once Again) Proven Safe

GM food is safe

food-fight

GMO, I shudder every time I hear someone talk about the “dangers”. It’s one of the new buzzwords that doesn’t actually mean anything, but still manages to scare people. Well a new scientific review reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed. Not that this will stop people from spreading fear, but it’s a start.

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A New Discovery in the Treatment of Autoimmunity and Chronic Inflammation

cure

Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis are all diseases brought on by autoimmunity — the bodies inability to tell itself apart from foreign invaders. Finding a cure, or even a suitable treatment has been to put it gently a long, painful road, with little to show for it. On the forefront of the war against the body betrayal is immunosuppressants, which with them carry their own set of side effects and in most cases only off mild to moderate relief of symptoms. But that is all changing and new research on something called immunoproteasomes offer that new hope.

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A new Medicine may help Lupus Sufferers

Lupus, it's more common than you might think.

It’s never Lupus, until it is…  that’s because it’s more common than you might think.

Lupus, a particularly bad hell on earth for people suffering from it. Lupus is caused by autoimmunity, in where the body attacks itself. I have a special place in my heart for people suffering from the disease because my Uncle suffered from it. There is no cure and only moderately effective treatments for the disorder, which causes, in some cases, the most excruciating pain you will ever feel. Thankfully new findings by a biomedical engineering team raise hope for a new class of drugs to treat lupus that may not include the long list of adverse risks and side effects often associated with current treatments.

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Lie Detection using Brain Waves: It’s just as creepy as it sounds…

polygraph

Currently lie detectors (polygraphs) are not admissible in court, this is because (despite what you may read) there is little proof to show that they are much better than a guess — coming in at roughly 50% accuracy. They aren’t really based in science, making them more of a toy. There might just be a new contender in the lie detection department coming soon however, researchers have found that brain activity can be used to tell whether someone recognizes details they encountered in normal, daily life. This finding may have very real implications for criminal investigations and use in courtrooms.

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Autism and the Low Iron Connection

Pregnant Stomach

The topic of autism is a charged one. Maybe it’s because it isn’t a simple diagnosis; there are many roads to autism. Most of them are probably genetic, some of them are likely environmental, and none of them are related to vaccination (sorry to burst your bubble anti vax people, it’s called science). Some new research shows another possible (environmental) cause. The new study shows that mothers of children with autism are significantly less likely to report taking iron supplements before and during their pregnancies than the mothers of children who are developing normally.

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Move over Carbon nanotubes introducing Diamond nanothreads

The core of the nanothreads that Badding's team made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure -- zig-zag 'cyclohexane' rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. Image credit goes to: Penn State University

The core of the nanothreads that researchers made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond’s structure — zig-zag ‘cyclohexane’ rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. Image credit goes to: Penn State University

Carbon nanotubes our hopes and dreams for the future have been firmly placed in using the unique material for everything from electronics to engineering. Unfortunately the production of carbon nanotubes has been hampered by setbacks, which as it turns out might not be a bad thing. This is because for the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin “diamond nanothreads” that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today’s strongest nanotubes and polymers.

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Lengthen Telomeres and Turn Back Aging

telomeres

Want to live longer and healthier? Of course you do, well science may just have the answer! Scientists have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing and generating, for example, new lung or liver tissue, even in old age. Getting cells to divide might not be that hard (or even very useful), but that isn’t all, it gets better!

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Nanosponges Clean up Antibody-mediated Autoimmune Disease

autoimmune-arthritis-day

What does lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatic heart disease have in common? All of these (and many other) apparently unrelated disorders are caused by autoimmunity, in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack normal, healthy cells and tissues. Currently considered incurable, these autoimmune diseases can be managed, but to varying degrees and not without serious side effects. Moreover, autoimmune diseases include a wide range of dysfunctional immune responses known as type II, type III, and type IV immune hypersensitivity reactions.

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New test for Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Early

Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s diagnosis is important, like the famous slogan “with a stroke, time lost is brain lost,” detecting alzheimer’s is important in order to stave off cognitive decline. A just like a stroke time lost is brain lost. Unfortunately early diagnosis has been hard to come by, but now researchers say a simple test that combines thinking and movement can help to detect heightened risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in a person. The best part, they say this will work even before there are any telltale behavioural signs of dementia.

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Is Stress Eating Away at You? No, Literally…

stress

Ever wonder why, when people are too stressed, they are often grouchy, grumpy, nasty, distracted or forgetful? It may not be something you’ve done, in fact it turns out stress is literally tearing apart the brain. By this I mean that researchers have just highlighted a fundamental synaptic mechanism that explains the relationship between chronic stress and the loss of social skills and cognitive impairment. When triggered by stress, an enzyme attacks a synaptic regulatory molecule in the brain. In other words, when people use the colloquialism “what’s eating you?” the answer might just be, stress.

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Biofilms: Using Bacteria for new Designer Nanomaterials

science

For most people biofilms conjure up images of slippery stones in a streambed and dirty drains. While there are plenty of “bad” biofilms around – they are even the same stuff that causes pesky dental plaque and a host of other more serious medical problems – a team of researchers sees biofilms as a robust new platform for designer nanomaterials that could clean up polluted rivers, manufacture pharmaceutical products, fabricate new textiles, and more.

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New Cocktail Turns Adult Cells into Stem Cells

cells

For those of us who were following stem cell news, recently the field had a huge setback when a paper, that offered a cheap and novel way to create stem cells, was retracted from publication. Regenerative medicine aims to replace lost or damaged cells, tissues or organs through cellular transplantation, but the promise to a better life has been hampered. Because stem cells derived from human embryos can trigger ethical concerns, a good solution is reprogramming adult cells back to an embryo-like state using a combination of reprogramming factors. Unfortunately that has been easier said than done.

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The Genetic Roots of Schizophrenia

schizophrenia

I have a friend who lost an eye — not in a war zone like you might suspect given my background — but to his brother. Yes, you read that correctly, his brother tried to kill him and in the process he lost his eye. I’ve told this story before, but whenever new schizophrenia research comes out I feel the need to tell it again. While he has forgiven his brother (partly because not long after, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic), he will not be able to see him again until he is released from prison. A tragedy that could’ve been avoided had he been diagnosed sooner.

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Biospleen Helps Clean Blood to Prevent Sepsis

When a patient has sepsis, things can go downhill fast. A life-threatening condition in which bacteria or fungi multiply in a patient’s blood — sepsis is often too fast for antibiotics to help. But that’s all about to change with the introduction of a new device — inspired by the human spleen — that may radically transform the way doctors treat sepsis.

“Even with the best current treatments, sepsis patients are dying in intensive care units at least 30 percent of the time,” said Mike Super, Ph.D. “We need a new approach.”

To put things into perspective sepsis kills at least eight million people worldwide each year and it’s the leading cause of hospital deaths.

The Spleen-on-a-chip, developed at the Wyss Institute, will be used to treat bloodstream infections that are the leading cause of death in critically ill patients and soldiers injured in combat. Image credit goes to: Wyss Institute

The Spleen-on-a-chip, developed at the Wyss Institute, will be used to treat bloodstream infections that are the leading cause of death in critically ill patients and soldiers injured in combat. Image credit goes to: Wyss Institute

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Need a Kidney? Lab Grown Kidneys Coming Soon!

stem cells

Stem cells offered the promise of having a patents own organ grown to replace a failing or damaged one. Unfortunately the road to that future has been paved with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Thankfully now we are one step closer, researchers have addressed a major challenge in the quest to build replacement kidneys in the lab. Working with human-sized pig kidneys, the scientists developed the most successful method to date to keep blood vessels in the new organs open and flowing with blood.

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Inflammation of the Brain and Memory Problems

chemo

Neurological disorders typically involve memory issues. Most of the problems are attributed to plaques that build up in the brain (which are typically prions), yet some causes are unknown. New research however sheds some light on at least one cause of memory problems. As it turns out brain inflammation can rapidly disrupt our ability to retrieve complex memories of similar but distinct experiences.

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The Origami Brain and a new marker for Schizophrenia

brain

Anyone who has seen pictures or models of the human brain (like the one above) is aware that the outside layer, or cortex, of the brain is folded in an intricate pattern of “hills”, called gyri, and “valleys”, called sulci which give the brain it’s distinctive look. It turns out that the patterns of cortical folding are largely consistent across healthy humans, broadly speaking. However, disturbances in cortical folding patterns suggest deeper disturbances in brain structure and function.

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Multiple Sclerosis and Myelin loss

MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. The exact cause is unknown, however people with multiple sclerosis lose myelin in the gray matter of their brains and the loss is closely correlated with the severity of the disease, according to a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study.

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Autism and Testosterone

Autism

As a male we are at higher risk for heart disease, we are also at higher risk for stroke. It’s that pesky testosterone, sure it has its benefits, don’t get me wrong I think testosterone over all is great. Estrogen has it’s own downsides too, things like certain cancers for example. Well estrogen has some other benefits and as it turns out, the same sex hormone that helps protect females from stroke may also reduce their risk of autism.

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Genes Smash! An Oxytricha trifallax story

hulk smash

In DNA mutation is often a bad thing. It’s sort of like building a car, there are far more wrong ways to one together than there are right ways. Still, mutation happens often which brings with it good (and more often bad) things. Usually mutation is spontaneous, it has no real rhyme or reason (in a broad sense) and while it brings things like cancers, it also can bring amazingly beneficial traits too. Maybe this is why a pond-dwelling, single-celled organism called Oxytricha trifallax is so keen on mixing things up. By that I mean it has the remarkable ability to break its own DNA into nearly a quarter-million pieces and rapidly reassemble those pieces when it’s time to mate.

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A new Hope for Muscle Wasting Diseases

muscular dystrophy

Muscle wasting diseases can be difficult to watch. They are typically slow and have a very painful progression, some to the point of not even being able to breath on ones own. But new research might change all that. Scientists have developed a novel technique to promote tissue repair in damaged muscles. The technique also creates a sustainable pool of muscle stem cells needed to support multiple rounds of muscle repair.

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Women and sexual assault: Unfortunate news…

bar

I was debating about this new study. On one hand it’s important to share all sorts of different findings. On the other hand, my faith in humanity was more than just a little shaken, but there is no point on sweeping it under the rug. So disturbing news for women on college campuses, a new study indicates that female college students who are victims of sexual assault are at a much higher risk of becoming victims again. Please hold your disgust till the end…

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Artificial Cells: They’re alive!!

frankenstein's monster

Frankenstein’s monster was (in the story) a scientific marvel that could not be matched. Growing up with the story, the idea of creating life where there was none was a feat that I had once thought was going to always be science fiction. Maybe this is why I was so surprised when I found out that scientists, using only a few ingredients, have successfully implemented a minimalistic model of the cell that can change its shape and move on its own.

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Total Recall: How the Brain Processes Color and Motion

memory recall

Despite the barrage of visual information the brain receives almost constantly, it retains a remarkable ability to focus on important and relevant items. This fall, for example, NFL quarterbacks will be rewarded handsomely for how well they can focus their attention on color and motion – being able to quickly judge the jersey colors of teammates and opponents and where they’re headed is a valuable skill. How the brain accomplishes this feat, however, has been poorly understood.

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HIV and Dementia

dementia-illustration

With the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy (or cART) during the mid-90s, the life expectancy of HIV patients has significantly improved. An unfortunate side effect of this is that long-term complications are becoming more relevant: almost every second HIV patient is affected by neurocognitive disorders, which can lead to dementia. It has not as yet been fully understood how these disorders occur, but new research is shining a light on the culprit.

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Epigenetics: Taking Control of the Music

epigenetics

When I try to explain epigenetics to someone, I like to use the musician metaphor. Your genes are the sheet music and how your body reads those genes, that is your body acting like a musician, making those notes it’s own. This is even more evident when you realize that all human cells contain essentially the same DNA sequence. Up until now we’ve had to be the audience to this genetic symphony, but new research is helping scientists take control of the music.

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Assemblages: 50 Years Later, We Know Nothing About Them

cell bio

You would think we learn about every part of a cell in biology, but we really don’t. Case in point, about 50 years ago, electron microscopy revealed the presence of tiny blob-like structures that form inside cells, move around and disappear. The reason you probably haven’t heard of these structures is because scientists really don’t know what they do even 50 years later. Although they do have an idea about them, these shifting cloud-like collections of proteins are believed to be crucial to the life of a cell, and will ideally offer a new approach to disease treatment.

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