An algorithm developed to recognize people at risk for developing cancer has proven itself to be useful for use by general practitioners. The program combines risk factors and symptoms that are provided by patient data, which results in a warning when this combination could lead to cancer in the future. Specifically, the tool is able to predict lung cancer and gastro-oesophagael cancer. By raising awareness to GP's, the tool could save about 5000 lives each year. That is what scientists conclude after conducting experiments with the program, which seems quite high for a tool that just raises attention to known risk factors and symptoms.
Monday, October 31, 2011
A field trial has revealed that genetically modified organisms released in nature are able to, or at least partly, integrate with the native population. In a recent study, male mosquitoes that can carry the dengue virus were genetically altered to render them unable to survive without antibiotics. The arthropods were kept alive in the lab, whereafter they were released in nature, where they managed to mate with females and produce offspring, carrying the same genetic difference that causes them to die before mature age when left untreated. This shows releasing modified organisms into the wild can help us in reducing the numbers of disease carriers.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Series of screening has created a library of possible new drugs that can be used to treat cancer. The activity of 178 enzyme inhibitors has been assessed, catalogued, documented and made available for the scientific community. While it is unsure whether these enzyme inhibitors can be used in cancer treatment, the enormous collection of data is a starting point for new research that could give rise to multiple new drugs for patients that suffer from cancer. The blocked enzymes, called kinases, all have the same basal function, but we were previously unable to systematically assess their function in the body.
Therapies that focus on delivering cells to individual organs, for regenerative purposes, might just be much more effective with a new technique developed by scientists. To send cells to their respective organs effectively, researchers engineered certain receptors on the cellular surface, that function as a 'homing device'. By doing this, cells containing the receptors will only 'hook' on to tissue that is damaged. Being able to specifically target tissues that require cell treatment is a big step forward for cell-based therapies, for example with stem cells, that have been hallowed as a 'wonder drug' for several diseases.
Friday, October 28, 2011
We may very well be producing blood by ourselves soon, without the need to tap it from volunteers. Scientists in Edinburgh, Scotland have found a way to produce blood by using stem cells. They would only need two to three years to start tests in humans. If it all works, the artificial blood could be used in situations of acute blood loss, surgery, and other reasons that involve the rapid administration of extra blood to a patient. Because we currently rely heavily on donors, finding artificial ways for blood production is an important step forward.
Lots of claims have been made about probiotics; dairy products that contain a set of bacteria that are supposed to improve our gut flora. It is claimed, mostly by the companies that produce them, that they improve our digestion and metabolism, but none of these effects have ever been properly shown in a scientific study. However, a recent study shows that there might be beneficial effect of probiotic products. While the ingested bacteria do not seem to stick in the gut, where a lot of other human populating bacteria are, the metabolism of people who consume yoghurt with micro-organisms may be altered. While the implications of this study are yet to be unraveled, it could be that probiotics have a beneficial effect after all, even though it might be small.
Daily intake of aspirin has a beneficial effect in preventing cancer, as shown by a recent study in people with increased risk on hereditary colorectal cancer, called Lynch syndrome. The participants all have a genetic predisposition that makes them prone to developing colorectal cancer, but in the study group that took daily aspirin, there was a dramatic decrease in cancer development. Even though the researchers focused on people that have a specific genetic disorder increasing the chance on colorectal cancer, they think that a daily dose of aspirin is beneficial for everyone that in some way has an elevated risk on cancer.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Clues have been found that the very first biological molecules used to create life may have been produced in Greenland, almost four billion years ago. That's what a team of French scientists discovered, after they looked at mud volcanoes containing a specific element that is believed to be required to form the first biological molecules that roamed the earth. While volcanoes have already been touted as the creators of life's molecules, the French scientists believe the ones in Greenland are the most promising candidate to have sparked the creation of life on earth.
The difference between humans and chimpanzees is even smaller than originally thought. New genetic research indicates that there is no difference in the genes that we possess, compared to chimps. That is peculiar, because genes function as a blueprint for all the proteins, enzymes and other building blocks that we need to form life. Instead, differences are found in the so-called 'junk DNA', parts of our genome that do not code for genes. While the name of this part of the genome hints at useless pieces of code, there is evidence that sequences in junk DNA is important for regulating gene transcription. Nevertheless, this is another striking example in how the building plans between humans and monkeys are almost identical.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Basically all life is made with water, and carbon molecules. In humans, water can reach up to 80 percent of body weight, highlighting the immense volumes that are used for life. But it seems that only small changes in the laws of physics are needed to completely eradicate the life-giving properties of water. A new study has shown that quantum effects cancel each other out, in order to stabilize the water molecule: H2O. Due to these complicated effects, water is more dense in liquid form, than in solid form, an unique feature that almost no other molecule possesses. The stability of H2O makes that our bodies can use it to maintain temperature, something that would otherwise be impossible.
Monday, October 24, 2011
By doing research on a special kind of worm, scientists have found that factors determining the life span of an organism can be passed down to future generations. This would seem like a genetical inheritable pattern, but it is not. The alterations that were studied focus on modifications to the structure that 'winds up' the DNA: chromatin. By modifying the 'spool' that is used to keep our DNA neatly packed, it was possible to elongate the life span of C. elegans, a model organism often used in the lab. Future generations of this worm appeared also to increase in life span, shedding light on mechanisms that could possibly let us live longer.
The protein that is thought to be the key component in Parkinson's disease has finally been modelled, revealing its structure to us. Now that we know what α-synuclein, the protein in question, looks like, we can start developing new therapies, that specifically target this compound. This could give rise to new drugs for Parkinson's disease, that hopefully reduce the symptoms, and maybe even cure the disease. Though, the question remains what the exact role of α-synuclein is in Parkinson's, as the underlying pathology has not yet been unravelled.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
A study linking social and economic factors to genetics revealed that your living conditions during the time you grow up have an impact on the way your genetic code functions. These alterations persist during life, and are still visible long after reaching adulthood. According to the researchers, based at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada, this is the first time a study is able to link social and economic factors to DNA structures. In the nature vs. nurture debate (which basically does not exist anymore), this is an important discovery, highlighting that the environment leaves a mark on the blueprint by which we create life's components.
Friday, October 21, 2011
A single gene seems to play a major role in how our body develops all the different parts during the embryonic stage. While there are a lot of genes responsible for the development of an organism, there is one that rules them all, scientists have shown. Zelda (not the character from the videogame) turns groups of genes on during development, and does that at just the right moment, thereby controlling and coordinating the development of the embryo in time. The discovery adds to earlier findings, that showed that a group of genes called Hox get activated by a precisely timed, but unknown, mechanism to start development of the different body parts. Discovering the function of Zelda is a new step in unravelling the precise mechanisms of one of the most wondrous creations of nature: life.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
A long-term population study has revealed that stress, in moderate or high levels, is a risk factor for mortality rate. Scientists followed almost a thousand healthy people starting in 1985, and found that the group that experienced moderate to high numbers of stressful events in their lives had a 50 percent higher mortality rate, which is measured as the number of deaths, corrected for the population size, per year. This means that someone with moderate or high stress levels is 50 percent more likely to die than someone without stress. The participants were examined for about 18 years in total, before the researchers concluded their study.
A British team of researchers have shown they can make the building blocks for a computer by using DNA from bacteria. These biological components could in time give rise to the first biological computer, that can be build on a molecular scale. Small computers give us new possibilities to use digital processing power, such as using it in the human body, where size matters. However, actually creating a computer with the biological building blocks is still years away.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has performed clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of a vaccine that is supposed to prevent the deadly disease malaria. Results show that a shot with the new drug halves the risk of acquiring a bad form of malaria, when it was tested in African children. Because of its effectiveness, it is very likely that the vaccine developed by the UK based company will be the world's first vaccine against malaria.
A bacterium species called Fusobacterium has been found in high quantities in patients with colon cancer. This sheds new light on this form of cancer, as a role of potential harmful bacteria has never been shown before. While the scientists that made the discovery can not tell anything about a causal relationship of Fusobacterium prevalence and the onset of tumours in the colon, it provides a new angle for research. And that may lead to new ways to treat the disease, that currently kills around 600.000 people worldwide each year.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Geneticists have not only discovered a new form of genetic modification, they have also shown that this process is involved with obesity, and the development of diabetes. When genes are being translated into functional proteins to help with various processes in the cell, a form of genetic code called RNA is formed. This is a 'transcript' of the gene, and can be used to make the actual translation to protein. What the scientists found, is that these RNA molecules, called mRNA to be exact, can be reversibly modified, impacting their function as a translate tool to make proteins. A protein that was shown to be involved with the modification of RNA, is also involved with obesity and diabetes. Not only could this discovery lead to a whole new field of research, it might also give rise to novel therapies to combat obesity and diabetes.
A new test has made diagnosing Down syndrome in the unborn child much easier. Genetic screening assures that mothers-to-be do not need all sorts of unnecessary invasive tests to determine abnormalities that can lead to Down syndrome. The new method works from about ten weeks of pregnancy, providing answers to mothers early in pregnancy. In addition, the genetic screening scores exceptionally high on reliability, rarely providing an incorrect reading. However, to confirm the outcome, some form of invasive testing is still necessary.
A new production process enables us to create materials that have the capability to replicate themselves. The copy process relies on the same molecule that replicates itself in our bodies: DNA. Scientists succeeded in creating artificial materials based on a DNA-like structure that is able to copy itself in a way that is similar to how our genetic code is replicated in cells. In their experiments, the researchers made 'letters' that have a structure similar to DNA, which form a word. This word is placed in a chemical solution with other DNA-like molecules, sort of like a 'letter soup'. The molecular word is consequently copied, letter by letter, whereafter the copied word is the same as the original one. This replication process gives rise to new possibilities of creating materials, by making it cheaper and easier.
Scientists predict global warming will have an effect on the sizes of animals: they are expected to get smaller with higher temperatures. The predictions are based on a period of increased temperatures about 56 million years ago. Researchers have found that, during that time, animals, such as beetles, were between 50 and 75 percent smaller than they are today. A spectacular decrease in size, which would severely disrupt our ecosystem, if it were to happen again in present days. According to the National University of Singapore, the decrease in size of animals will continue during this century.
Friday, October 14, 2011
The discovery of a new type of biological clock has given us an astonishing insight into the development of many organisms, including ourselves. A genetic clock that 'unwinds' in a time-dependent fashion gives rise to the basic components of our body, that later become fully developed and distinguished parts. The so-called Hox genes are responsible for creating the basic layout of many animals, but it was not known how they are regulated and create the right body parts at the right time. A team of scientists have found that the Hox genes, that lay next to each other on the genome, 'unwind' with the precision of a clock, so that the right Hox gene has its effect at the right time. This mechanism reveals one of the most basic concepts of life, a mechanism that ultimately decides the development of an organism.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
A new diagnostic tool works with spit of cancer patients, by focusing on the differences in bacterial composition when compared with healthy people. Researchers found that patients suffering from pancreatic cancer have a significantly different composition of bacteria in their spit, which could lead to a new method of diagnosis to discover this form of cancer. Diagnosing spit would have an advantage over conventional methods, as it is an easy, fast and non-invasive way of probing possible patients.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A new approach to cure HIV infection, which can cause AIDS, focuses on transporting a drug across the barrier that prevents molecules from entering the brain. Scientists have found a way to get two important features into a new drug: persuading the blood brain barrier (BBB) to open up and let the molecule in, and correspondingly kill the virus. Currently, one of the main issues in treating HIV infection is the fact that the virus can cross the BBB, while the drugs that are supposed to kill it, can not. The new drug adds to a series of new therapies that are in development to cure HIV.
Melatonin is best known for it's actions in the sleep-wake cycle: it's circadian production cycle makes us sleepy in the evening, whereafter the protein is broken down during the night, so that we may wake up in the morning. Surprisingly, researchers have found that melatonin can also play a role in Huntington's disease, a rare hereditary disorder that causes loss of control over muscles, and in a later stage loss of cognitive functions, eventually leading to death. There are virtually no drugs available to treat Huntington's, highlighting the importance of this discovery. Sadly, melatonin is no wonder drug. It only delays the onset of the disease and eases the symptoms.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Experiments on a simple particle that consists only of one proton and one neutron, elements that make up the core of an atom, could unravel a phenomenon called time reversal violation. This means, particles that travel through time in the opposite direction, compared to what we are used to, but with a little twist. Basically, what scientists think is that certain particles move through time the way we perceive, and other particles balance this by travel back in time as part of their 'natural course'. A violation in time reversal could explain why the universe consists of the elements we see today, and why there is no balance between particles going through time the way we perceive it, versus particles moving in the opposite direction.
Monday, October 10, 2011
By modifying an existing technique, scientists have found a way to increase the stem cell production in the lab by 100-fold. In addition, the created cells are of higher quality, compared to the old technique. By increasing quantity and quality, scientists gain more options to use stem cells in experimental treatments that focus on regeneration of tissues. Before, artifically creating cells with the capability to differentiate into many cellular lineages was a difficult and slow process with low yields. By updating the method to create stem cells, research in this field has just been made a whole lot easier, possibly speeding up development of novel stem cell treatments, for example to counter neurodegenerative diseases which we are currently unable to repair.
A paraplegic man was able to control a mechanic arm using only his brain, paving the way for true robotic limbs that we can control as if they were our own. This was achieved by connecting electrodes in a chip to brain parts that normally control muscles. Because the brain output is wired through the electrodes, thoughts about movement can be translated into actual movement by the robotic arm. The hard part is, of course, to 'read' what the brain wants and turn that into movement that reflects what the patient thought. While we are able to determine, by imaging techniques, what brain area is used for specific thoughts, actually using the output as input for a mechanical device is new. Because the man with the brain chip was able to grab a ball and consequently let it go, the device seems to be suitable for complex movement.
A gene that codes for the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is linked with suicide, a new study suggests. People that have a mutated BDNF gene, that causes decreased functionality of the corresponding protein, are found to have an higher incidence of suicidal behaviour compared to those who have proper functioning BDNF. By pooling 12 studies together, scientists investigated the behaviour of a total of 3352 people.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
A heart attack is characterised by death of tissue due to a lack of oxygen, for example due to blockage of blood vessels. With new treatment options, it seems possible to reduce the damage that occurs after the body responds to a heart attack. The immune system launches a response against the dead and damaged cells, to clear them from the body, and replace them with a filler, called scar tissue. Because of this inflammatory response from the body, a lot of extra tissue dies after the initial death due to lack of oxygen. For this secondary form of damage, a protein shake might be able to prevent most of it. Though we can never bring dead cells back to live, we might be able to prevent at least part of the damage in heart attack, which might just be enough to keep a patient alive, with more options for recovery.
A novel mechanism in order to kill cancer cells has yielded interesting results. When a process is blocked that causes cells to eat part of itself, tumour growth can be inhibited. This process, called autophagy, is important to allocate cellular nutrients elsewhere, so they can be harnessed for survival, for example in the case of starvation. Cancer cells abuse this process to allocate lots of resources to cellular growth. Blocking autophagy in breast cancer made tumour cells sensitive to tamoxifen, a drug often used in this type of cancer. Because resistance to tamoxifen is a major problem, the discovery could lead to better treatment of breast cancer. In addition, cancer cells that harness autophagy to stimulate growth are also found in the liver and pancreas.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
A novel drug could be effective in treating cystic fibrosis (CF), a study on lung cells shows. The disease is characterised by a protein defect that causes build up of mucus along the walls of the airways, eventually leading to loss of lung function and death. The newly discovered drug was chosen from a screening of 164.000 chemical compounds, to assess whether it could interact with the defective CTFR protein in epithelial cells, which form the outer lining of the airways. They found that a chemical called VX-809 was effective in restoring the functionality of CTFR up to a level that is associated with mild CF. The drug is a promising new lead to prevent the build up of mucus and give CF patients a longer, high quality life.
Parasitic fluke worms that cause the deadly disease schistosomiasis can be treated by making the worm kill its own cells. Scientists discovered a complex cell death program in these worms, which are dubbed schistosomes. This mechanism relies on a balance with molecules that promote cell death, and molecules that help the cells survive. With a little help, the balance could be tipped towards cell death, which could serve as a novel therapy for the disease that kills 200.000 people each year, and has already infected over 200 million people.
Friday, October 7, 2011
An important new step in the generation of cells from the nervous system, which we can possible use to restore functions in disabled patients. While scientists normally make use of stem cells that are consequently guided into becoming cells of choice, Stanford University used liver cells. These hepatocytes can be turned into neurons, the cells of the nervous system, with the introduction of just three genes. This seemingly simple operation brings the generation of neurons for tissue repair in disabled people one step forward.
Scientists have discovered a new mechanism by which the body makes sure that the immune system does not turn against its own cells. The liver is found to be involved in the process of maintaining tolerance: making sure that immune cells tolerate the cells of the body, but will launch an immune response against anything that is foreign. What the liver seems to be doing is taking up T lymphocytes, that play a role in killing cells. These cells, named CD8+, are in a naive state when they enter the liver cell. That means, they are not yet activated, in order to become a fully-fledged killer cell. Clearing CD8+ lymphocytes in the liver appears to be essential, as blocking this process caused accumulation of the T cells, that consequently got activated and started attacking and destroying the body's own cells.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
A new treatment has risen to combat an aggressive form of brain cancer, called glioblastoma. It consists of a nanoparticle coupled with a protein that only recognizes tumour cells, and a protein that is toxic to cells. The corresponding 'nanosystem' did not only directly and specifically target the malicious cells, they also destroyed them. The nanoparticle reduces toxicity for normal cells, because it guides the cell-killing protein directly to the cellular compartment where the drug is effective: the mitochondrium. This 'cell organ' is involved with the creation of energy, which the cell needs to survive. The combined drug was found to almost eradicate a tumour completely in one mouse model, while a different model showed significant delay in tumour growth.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
With a new cloning technique, it is now possible to create embryonic stem cells (ES) in the lab from unfertilized eggs, instead of obtaining them from embryos. When the scientists artificially fertilized the eggs with the genetic material of an adult skin cell, a fibroblast, the resulting embryo was able to reach a stage that is called a blastocyst. In this stage, the embryo has an outer layer, and an inner layer of cells, that are true stem cells. In this early stage, none of the cells have differentiated into a specific cellular lineage, which means they can be used to make all kinds of tissues. This is the hallmark of stem cell research: being able to grow cells without limits to differentiation, to create tissues that we can use to repair damaged bodies.
An animal study shows that the cause of Alzheimer's may be related to an infectious process. Mice, that normally never develop the neurodegenerative disease, that were 'infected' with brain tissue from an Alzheimer's patient started developing the disease themselves, which spread throughout the brain. Because Alzheimer's is characterized by malicious folding of certain proteins that consequently accumulate in the brain, it could very well have the same underlying pathology as infectious prion diseases such as the mad cow disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob. The discovery could hint towards the origin of Alzheimer's, which as of now is still largely unknown.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Three scientists that have been working on a mysterious force in the universe called dark energy have won the Nobel Prize in physics. Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess have studied supernovae, which are basically exploding stars, to measure the expansion of the universe over time. While they anticipated to find that it would slow over time, they found that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating. This stunning observation required the presence of a still largely unknown force, fittingly dubbed dark energy. It is thought that this mysterious energy causes an effect that opposes gravity. We know there has to be such a force, as the universe would otherwise crumble because of the gravity that is exerted by matter.
Currently, stem cells are used to artificially create cells of interest, by guiding them towards a certain cellular fate. A molecule, which functions as a modulator of gene transcription, shows that it is possible to convert a cell directly from one type to another, without the need for stem cells. By showing that cells can be directly transformed into other cell types, a feat that was long thought to be only possible in stem cells, scientists have new options to create tissue that can be used for treatment.
Experiments with human stem cells that have been directed to differentiate into spinal cord tissue were found to be effective in restoring motor functions in mice. The cells transformed themselves into all the necessary cell types of the spinal cord, and mice receiving the treatment showed improved recovery after functional damage was induced. The next step would be testing the cells in humans, making it a promising treatment for patients that are permanently disabled because their spinal cord is damaged. Transforming stem cells is not new, but because the scientists have shown functional improved in damaged mice, their treatment is very promising.
By discovering how our body handles protection of ingested food molecules from attacks of the immune system, scientists may very well have found a new way to treat various autoimmune diseases. The production of a molecule called αvß6 made immune cells tolerant towards food particles, while normally all foreign material is being attacked by the immune system. This endogenous system may be used as a foundation for new drugs that combat diseases in which the body is not tolerant towards its own cells and molecules: autoimmunity.
Monday, October 3, 2011
By shutting off a certain type of brain cell, scientists have shown that mice that were fed copious amounts of alcohol were not getting drunk at all. Glial cells, which have nothing to do with the neurons that wire your brain, play a role in the immune system, but are also affected by alcohol. By inhibiting the function of glial cells, the mice were apparently unable to get drunk. The rodents were shown to have much more control over their motoric functions and had better reflexes: two elements that also play a role in drunk humans. According to the researchers, they want to focus on developing a drug that prevents you from embarrassing yourself on a night out. An alternative would be, of course, to control yourself while drinking, something which does not require the intake of possibly hazardous drugs.
Bruce Beutler, Jules Hoffmann and Ralph Steinman have won this years Nobel Prize for medicine. Beutler and Hoffman have collectively discovered the existence and function of Toll-like receptors. They function in recognizing certain sugar molecules on bacterial surfaces, which causes activation of the immune system to get rid of the invading microbes. Steinman is responsible for discovering dendritic cells (DC), that also have a role in the immune system. DC reside in various tissues where they 'eat' microbes, and consequently 'present' it to specialized cells of the immune system, which in response launch a response against the invaders. This proces is called phagocytosis, and DC are named after their ability to form long tree-like appendices that aids in engulfing foreign material.
A single gene, coding for a protein that is part of a mechanism involved with setting your internal clock, seems to be responsible for creating a biological wake up call. It was already known that humans have a biological clock that ticks with a certain rhythm. This is how we maintain our daily cycle. In a recent study, the gene KDM5A was found to be responsible for activating the internal circuit that makes us wake up from sleep, without an alarm clock. KDM5A codes for a protein called JARID1a, which functions as a biochemical switch that sets it all in motion. While the mechanism behind our daily, circadian rhythm was already known, it was not clear what gave the signal to start up our physiological functions.
Mushrooms that cause hallucinations contain a chemical that is able to induce permanent changes to one's personality, a new study suggests. Over half of the participants in a study with psilocybin, which is found in these so-called Magic Mushrooms, were found to have permanent changes in a personality trait scientists have dubbed 'openness'. The participants who were affected by psilocybin were found to be more broad-minded; an effect that lasted beyond a year, which lead the scientists to conclude that the personality change is permanent. The personality assessment was conducted with a standardized test, specifically designed for these purposes. However, psilocybin is still illegal in most parts of the world, and it does not have a beneficial effect on everyone.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
In the future, you might be given the ADHD drug ritalin in order to wake you up after being anaesthetized for surgery. Experiments in rats show that ritalin counters the effects of general anaesthetic drugs, and consequently wakes them up. Currently, the drug is used in humans to counter ADHD symptoms, but the study in rats shows it may in the future be administered after surgery, to wake you up faster. After surgery, patients are taken to a seperate room to let the anaesthetics wear off, but with ritalin, the whole surgical process could be over with much faster.
After the cloak of invisibility, scientists have created yet another item that has long been present merely in our imagination: the flying carpet. By incorporating rather complicated piezoelectric effects into a plastic sheet, scientists of Princeton University have found a way to let it float above the ground. By creating air waves that move from front to back under the sheet, the plastic carpet managed to stay floating just above the ground, with a speed of one centimeter per second. Though the 'flying carpet' is limited, its concept is interesting. According to Princeton University, the mechanism used to let the plastic float might one day be used in a Mars rover, to float around the planet.