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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for July, 2015

Crystal clear images uncover secrets of hormone receptors

Crystal clear images uncover secrets of hormone receptors

Crystal clear images uncover secrets of hormone receptors

Many hormones and neurotransmitters work by binding to receptors on a cell’s exterior surface. This activates receptors causing them to twist, turn and spark chemical reactions inside cells. NIH scientists used atomic level images to show how the neuropeptide hormone neurotensin might activate its receptors. Their description is the first of its kind for a neuropeptide-binding G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), a class of receptors involved in a wide range of disorders and the target of many drugs.

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Paralyzed men move legs with new non-invasive spinal cord stimulation

Paralyzed men move legs with new non-invasive spinal cord stimulation

This image shows the range of voluntary movement prior to receiving stimulation compared to movement after receiving stimulation, physical conditioning, and buspirone. The subject’s legs are supported so that they can move without resistance from gravity. The electrodes on the legs are used for recording muscle activity.
Image credit goes to: Edgerton lab/UCLA

Five men with complete motor paralysis were able to voluntarily generate step-like movements thanks to a new strategy that non-invasively delivers electrical stimulation to their spinal cords. The strategy, called transcutaneous stimulation, delivers electrical current to the spinal cord by way of electrodes strategically placed on the skin of the lower back.

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We can build it better: The first artificial ribosome

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins and enzymes within the cell. The engineered ribosome may enable the production of new drugs and next-generation biomaterials and lead to a better understanding of how ribosomes function.

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Prostate cancer is 5 different diseases

Prostate cancer is 5 different diseases

Cancer Research UK scientists have for the first time identified that there are five distinct types of prostate cancer and found a way to distinguish between them, according to a landmark study. The findings could have important implications for how doctors treat prostate cancer in the future, by identifying tumours that are more likely to grow and spread aggressively through the body.

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Where memory is encoded and retrieved

Where memory is encoded and retrieved

Are the same regions and even the same cells of the brain area called hippocampus involved in encoding and retrieving memories or are different areas of this structure engaged? This question has kept neuroscientists busy for a long time. Researchers at the Mercator Research Group “Structure of Memory” at RUB have now found out that the same brain cells exhibit activity in both processes.

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Some vaccines support evolution of more-virulent viruses

Some Vaccines Support Evolution of More-Virulent Viruses

This image shows chickens in agricultural production. Image credit goes to: Andrew Read, Penn State University

Scientific experiments with the herpes virus such as the one that causes Marek’s disease in poultry have confirmed, for the first time, the highly controversial theory that some vaccines could allow more-virulent versions of a virus to survive, putting unvaccinated individuals at greater risk of severe illness. The research has important implications for food-chain security and food-chain economics, as well as for other diseases that affect humans and agricultural animals.

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Sleep not just protects memories against forgetting, it also makes them more accessible

neuroscience Sleep makes our memories more accessible

Sleeping not only protects memories from being forgotten, it also makes them easier to access, according to new research from the University of Exeter and the Basque Centre for Cognition, Brain and Language. The findings suggest that after sleep we are more likely to recall facts which we could not remember while still awake.

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Cell phone notifications may be driving you to distraction

Cell phone notifications may be driving you to distraction

Whether you are alerted to an incoming phone call or text by a trendy ringtone, an alarm bell or a quiet vibration, just receiving a notification on your cell phone can cause enough of a distraction to impair your ability to focus on a given task. In fact, the distraction caused by a simple notification — whether it is a sound or a vibration — is comparable to the effects seen when users actively use their cell phones to make calls or send text messages, the researchers found.

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Spines of boys and girls differ at birth

Spines of boys and girls differ at birth

Looking at measurements of the vertebrae – the series of small bones that make up the spinal column – in newborn children, investigators at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles found that differences between the sexes are present at birth. Results of the study suggest that this difference is evolutionary, allowing the female spine to adapt to the fetal load during pregnancy.

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Brain structure reveals ability to regulate emotions

Human brain illustrated with interconnected small nerves

We all vary in how often we become happy, sad or angry, and also in how strongly these emotions are expressed. This variability is a part of our personality and can be seen as a positive aspect that increases diversity in society. However, there are people that find it so difficult to regulate their emotions that it has a serious impact on their work, family and social life. These individuals may be given an emotional instability diagnosis such as borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.

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Body fat can send signals to brain, affecting stress response

stress eating

The brain’s effect on other parts of the body has been well established. Now, a group of researchers has found that it’s a two-way street: Body fat can send a signal that affects the way the brain deals with stress and metabolism. While the exact nature of those signals remains a mystery, researchers say simply knowing such a pathway exists and learning more about it could help break a vicious cycle: Stress causes a desire to eat more, which can lead to obesity. And too much extra fat can impair the body’s ability to send a signal to the brain to shut off the stress response.

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Using low-dose irradiation, researchers can now edit human genes

dna editing using radiation

For the first time, researchers have employed a gene-editing technique involving low-dose irradiation to repair patient cells. This method, developed by researchers in the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, is 10 times more effective than techniques currently in use.

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Static synapses on a moving structure: Mind the gap!

neuroscience

In biology, stability is important. From body temperature to blood pressure and sugar levels, our body ensures that these remain within reasonable limits and do not reach potentially damaging extremes. Neurons in the brain are no different and, in fact, have developed a number of ways to stabilise their electrical activity so as to avoid becoming either overexcitable, potentially leading to epilepsy, or not excitable enough, leading to non functional neurons.

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Drawing a line between quantum and classical world

Schrodinger's cat

Quantum theory is one of the great achievements of 20th century science, yet physicists have struggled to find a clear boundary between our everyday world and what Albert Einstein called the “spooky” features of the quantum world, including cats that could be both alive and dead, and photons that can communicate with each other across space instantaneously.

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Research investigates whether solar events could trigger birth defects on Earth

solar flare

Studies find airplane crews at high altitude are exposed to potentially harmful levels of radiation from cosmic rays. But could these cosmic rays pose hazards even at sea level? In recent years, research has suggested congenital birth defects down on Earth’s surface could be caused by these “solar particle events” — spikes in cosmic rays from the sun that touch off the northern lights and sometimes hamper communications or the electric power grid.

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Dead galaxies in Coma Cluster may be packed with dark matter

Coma Cluster
Coma Cluster

This artist’s impression of the ‘quenching’ process shows how a normal blue (star-forming) galaxy lost its gas while falling into the Coma Cluster very early on in its formation.
Image credit goes to: Ameron Yozin, ICRAR/UWA

Galaxies in a cluster roughly 300 million light years from Earth could contain as much as 100 times more dark matter than visible matter, according to an Australian study. The research, published today, used powerful computer simulations to study galaxies that have fallen into the Coma Cluster, one of the largest structures in the Universe in which thousands of galaxies are bound together by gravity.

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Study finds metal foams capable of shielding X-rays, gamma rays, neutron radiation

metal foam

Research from North Carolina State University shows that lightweight composite metal foams — like the one pictured here — are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high impact collisions. The finding means the metal foams hold promise for use in nuclear safety, space exploration and medical technology applications.
Image credit goes to: Afsaneh Rabiei, North Carolina State University

Research from North Carolina State University shows that lightweight composite metal foams are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high impact collisions. The finding means the metal foams hold promise for use in nuclear safety, space exploration and medical technology applications.

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Anyone hear the new Taylor Shift song?

Since I’m apparently feeling a little punny…

Taylor shift


Image

While #PlutoFlyby is trending, not everyone is excited with the news

Angry Philae


Cholesterol metabolism in immune cells linked to HIV progression, may lead to new therapy

How HIV spreads

This infographic shows how HIV spreads in the body. Image credit goes to: 2014 UPMC

Enhanced cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells may help some people infected with HIV naturally control disease progression, according to new research. The findings provide a basis for potential development of new approaches to control HIV infection by regulating cellular cholesterol metabolism.

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Women and fragrances: Scents and sensitivity

How perfume works

How perfume works

Researchers have sniffed out an unspoken rule among women when it comes to fragrances: Women don’t buy perfume for other women, and they certainly don’t share them. Like boyfriends, current fragrance choices are hands off, forbidden–neither touch, nor smell. You can look, but that’s all, says BYU industrial design professor and study coauthor Bryan Howell.

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What’s that!? Brain network that controls, redirects attention identified

social media overload

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have found that key parts of the human brain network that give us the power to control and redirect our attention–a core cognitive ability–may be unique to humans. The research suggests that the network may have evolved in response to increasingly complex social cues.

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Vaginal douches may expose women to harmful phthalate chemicals

douche aisle

Women who use feminine care products called douches may increase their exposure to harmful chemicals called phthalates–and black women may be at particularly high risk due to frequent use. Public health officials advise against the use of douching products, which can hide vaginal infections and lead to other serious health problems. Despite that, douching products are still a popular item on the drug store shelf, and are disproportionately used by black women.

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Intellectual pursuits may buffer the brain against addiction

sudoku mouse

New study of mice finds that intellectual pursuits can make us more resistant to the lure of drugs Image credit goes to: Emily Strange)

Challenging the idea that addiction is hardwired in the brain, a new study suggests that even a short time spent in a stimulating learning environment can rewire the brain’s reward system and buffer it against drug dependence. Scientists tracked cocaine cravings in more than 70 adult male mice and found that those rodents whose daily drill included exploration, learning and finding hidden tasty morsels were less likely than their enrichment-deprived counterparts to seek solace in a chamber where they had been given cocaine.

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Baby’s first stool can alert doctors to future cognitive issues

newborns

A newborn’s first stool can signal the child may struggle with persistent cognitive problems, according to Case Western Reserve University Project Newborn researchers. In particular, high levels of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) found in the meconium (a newborn’s first stool) from a mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy can alert doctors that a child is at risk for problems with intelligence and reasoning.

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Less intensive chemo avoids irreversible side effects in children’s cancer

children cancer

Children with a rare type of cancer called Wilms’ tumour who are at low risk of relapsing can now be given less intensive treatment, avoiding a type of chemotherapy that can cause irreversible heart problems in later life. The move follows the results of a Cancer Research UK trial showing that the drug doxorubicin can be safely omitted from treatment without affecting patients’ chances of survival.

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Spinal cord injury and the bodies response: Modulating the macrophage

spine injury

Macrophages are cellular sentinels in the body, assigned to identify “attacks” from viruses, bacteria, or fungi and sound the alarm when they are present. However, these cells are a “double edged sword” in spinal cord injury, providing both neural repair-promoting properties and pathological functions that destroy neuronal tissue.

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‘Conjunction junction’ for brain’s navigation function

fridge in dark

Ever wake at night needing a drink of water and then find your way to the kitchen in the dark without stubbing your toe? Researchers at the University of California, San Diego say they have identified a region of the brain that enables you to do that – and generally helps you navigate the world.

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A new wrinkle: Geometry of brain’s outer surface correlates with genetic heritage

cerebral cortex

In the study, the researchers found that the shape of the cerebral cortex correlates with genetic ancestry. Image credit goes to: UC San Diego

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the School of Medicine have found that the three-dimensional shape of the cerebral cortex – the wrinkled outer layer of the brain controlling many functions of thinking and sensation – strongly correlates with ancestral background. The study opens the door to more precise studies of brain anatomy going forward and could eventually lead to more personalized medicine approaches for diagnosing and treating brain diseases.

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Study finds violent video games provide quick stress relief, but at a price

videogames

A study authored by two University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students indicates that while playing video games can improve mood, violent games may increase aggressive outcomes. The researchers looked at how video games may be used to manage emotions — specifically, whether playing the games can improve mood.

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Study shows long-term effects of type 2 diabetes on the brain, thinking

diabetic blood test

In just two years, people with type 2 diabetes experienced negative changes in their ability to regulate blood flow in the brain, which was associated with lower scores on tests of cognition skills and their ability to perform their daily activities, according to a new study.

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How the tumor escapes the immune response

lymphoma

Natural killer cells of the immune system can fend off malignant lymphoma cells and thus are considered a promising therapeutic approach. However, in the direct vicinity of the tumor they lose their effect. Scientists have now elucidated which mechanisms block the natural killer cells and how this blockade could be lifted.

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Pupil response predicts depression risk in kids

pupil response and depression

Findings suggest that physiological reactivity to sad stimuli, assessed using pupillometry, serves as one potential biomarker of depression risk among children of depressed mothers. Image credit goes to: Jonathan Cohen, Binghamton University Photographer

Most parents don’t want to think about their children as depressed, but that can be a deadly mistake. Short of clinical diagnosis through cost prohibitive therapy, there is no real way to tell if a child is at risk for depression. However, according to new research from Binghamton University , how much a child’s pupil dilates in response to seeing an emotional image can predict his or her risk of depression over the next two years.

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Link between autoimmune diseases, medications, and a dangerous heart condition

Image credit goes to: The one and only Beatrice the biologist

Image credit goes to: The one and only Beatrice the biologist

Mohamed Boutjdir, PhD, professor of medicine, cell biology, and physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has led a study with international collaborators identifying the mechanism by which patients with various autoimmune and connective tissue disorders may be at risk for life-threatening cardiac events if they take certain anti-histamine or anti-depressant medications. Dr. Boutjdir is also director of the Cardiac Research Program at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System.

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Restraint and confinement still an everyday practice in mental health settings

medical restrains mental health

Providers of mental-health services still rely on intervention techniques such as physical restraint and confinement to control some psychiatric hospital patients, a practice which can cause harm to both patients and care facilities, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. The study found that almost one in four psychiatric patients in Ontario hospitals are restrained using control interventions, such as chairs that prevent rising, wrist restraints, seclusion rooms or acute control medications.

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Discovery points to a new path toward a universal flu vaccine

flu vaccine

Flu vaccines can be something of a shot in the dark. Not only must they be given yearly, there’s no guarantee the strains against which they protect will be the ones circulating once the season arrives. New research by Rockefeller University scientists suggests it may be possible to harness a previously unknown mechanism within the immune system to create more effective and efficient vaccines against this ever-mutating virus.

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Long-term memories are maintained by prion-like proteins

memories in the brain

memories in the brain

Research from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has uncovered further evidence of a system in the brain that persistently maintains memories for long periods of time. And paradoxically, it works in the same way as mechanisms that cause mad cow disease, kuru, and other degenerative brain diseases.

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REM sleep critical for young brain development; medication interferes

REM sleep and dreaming

Rapid eye movement or REM sleep actively converts waking experiences into lasting memories and abilities in young brains reports a new study. The finding broadens the understanding of children’s sleep needs and calls into question the increasing use of REM-disrupting medications such as stimulants and antidepressants.

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Novel DNA repair mechanism brings new horizons

RNA Polymerase

Estimated structure of the nucleosomal DNA loops, which are temporarily formed during transcription of chromatin containing intact DNA by RNA polymerase II (Pol II). In the presence of a single-strand DNA break, the loop structure likely changes, preventing rotation of the RNA polymerase along the DNA helix (orange arrow).
Image credit goes to: Nadezhda S. Gerasimova et al

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed. A group of researchers discovered a new mechanism of DNA repair, which opens up new perspectives for the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.

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Freezing single atoms to absolute zero with microwaves brings quantum technology closer

absolute zero

Physicists at the University of Sussex have found a way of using everyday technology found in kitchen microwaves and mobile telephones to bring quantum physics closer to helping solve enormous scientific problems that the most powerful of today’s supercomputers cannot even begin to embark upon.

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Digesting bread and pasta can release biologically active molecules

gluten free bread

Biologically active molecules released by digesting bread and pasta can survive digestion and potentially pass through the gut lining, suggests new research. The study reveals the molecules released when real samples of bread and pasta are digested, providing new information for research into gluten sensitivity.

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New epigenetic mechanism revealed in brain cells

Epigenetics in the brain

For decades, researchers in the genetics field have theorized that the protein spools around which DNA is wound, histones, remain constant in the brain, never changing after development in the womb. Now, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have discovered that histones are steadily replaced in brain cells throughout life – a process which helps to switch genes on and off.

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