The stuff that makes up almost a quarter of our universe but has never been observed directly, probably consists of a particle that is relatively heavy, a new study suggests. Because we know dark matter has a gravitational pull on the matter we can see, we know it consists of particles that possess mass. However, it is unknown what the characteristics of these particles are, because we can not observe them, hence the name dark matter. A team of scientists from the famous Fermi lab set out to discover the mass of this unknown particle, by looking at radiation coming from so-called dwarf galaxies. They found out that the dark matter particle is likely to be 44 times heavier than a proton, the latter being a building block for atoms and thus for matter we can observe. With this discovery, scientists can calibrate their particle detectors to look for things that fit the size range found by Fermi lab, which might speed up the search to find the illusive dark matter particle. Additionally, a newly constructed dark matter map, ought to help in the process.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Vaccines function by eliciting an immune response in the body. When it encounters an actual pathogenic micro-organism afterwards, our defences are prepared for it. This has been so effective that we succeeded in eliminating a few diseases completely, such as smallpox. Now, a team of scientists from Harvard Medical School has created a new version of the vaccine that is supposed to perform a hundred times better than conventional ones. If it proves to be effective in humans, we might be able to get rid of more life-threatening diseases.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Combining all sorts of relevant medical data in a complex 3D computer model should improve the way we do face transplantations. This is much needed, as accidents leaving patients with a disfigured face often leave permanent marks. Because we use our face to express and present ourselves, being able to perform better reparations can give disfigured people a much better life.
Cyborgs can be used for various tasks. Especially ones that involve risk and danger. With this idea in mind, the University of Michigan has developed a way to load up an insect with various tools that turn it into a machine that we can control. The biggest hurdle was finding a method to provide it with enough energy so it can sustain itself. The researchers managed to find a way, creating an insect robot that we could send into dangerous situations to perform tasks we'd rather not leave to humans.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
The American space organisation NASA has just launched its latest piece of machinery to a foreign planet. The Mars rover Curiosity is supposed to find evidence for the existence of life and possible habitable environments. According to NASA, the 2,5 billion dollar launch was successful, and Curiosity is now on its way to the Red Planet, where it is supposed to arrive in August next year. You can find a video of the launch after the break.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Huntington's disease is a severe muscle disease that slowly degenerates muscles and cognitive functions over time. There is no cure, but a study with an existing drug performed by the University of Texas shows that we might be able to slow the disease down, and protect the brain cells that are involved with the disease. While the compound has not yet been tested on humans, patients may be given more years with good life quality when it eventually finds its way to the clinic.
Friday, November 25, 2011
A study conducted by Harvard University yielded a surprising result, as they managed to decrease obesity in mice by transplanting a bunch of cells to their brain. These so-called neurons were placed in a part of the brain that is known to regulate food intake behaviour. Transplanted cells were found to survive, and contribute to brain function. Mice receiving the treatment ended up weighing about 30 percent less than their counterparts, who did not receive treatment. Brain cell transplants are not being performed in humans, but this could have important implications for the treatment of disorders which's underlying pathology starts in the brain.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
New research reveals that those striving to obtain a healthy, balanced weight can benefit more from genes than what was previously thought. One gene in particular seems to be involved with maintaining energy balance, which is known as homeostasis. MC3R helps mice to keep balance between energy input and expenditure. But when it is dysfunctional, the animals were found to increase in weight, leading to obesity. This has important implications for research on one of mankind's biggest problems, the ever-increasing weight of the population that leads to all sorts of complications. It is however not the first time genetic factors have been implicated in diabetes.
A molecular mechanism discovered in yeast has implication on research that focuses on prolonging lifespan. It was found that a certain protein has the capability to significantly affect the lifespan of yeast. The question remains whether the same mechanism applies to humans. But if it does, we may have found a target to develop therapies to prolong our own lifespan. Of course, much more research would be required to find out whether we can do so in a healthy and pleasant way. Previously, scientists already discovered that longer life span is something that can be inherited.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Alzheimer's disease is marked by progressive degeneration of certain brain areas and associated loss of memory. There is no cure, but a recent study with a technique called deep brain stimulation (DBS) shows we might be able to treat the symptoms, by reversing some of the brain shrinkage found in Alzheimer's. A key brain part involved in the disease was found to grow, and the neurological deteroriation that is accompanied with it was found to be slowed. This shows using DBS may alleviate the symptoms and possibly keep the disease from progressing once it is finetuned. It was already shown that stimulating a part of the brain involved with the disease was able to let cells grow back, but this is the first time clinical improvement was found.
Bacteria are known to produce hydrogen sulfide, which was long believed to be a by-product of cellular activities. However, scientists from NYU School of Medicine have shown that it is actually involved in an important process. Their findings reveal that the chemical compound is used in a mechanism that we can target to make antibiotics more effective. If we can develop adequate drugs based on this finding, we can improve treatment of bacterial infections, and perhaps reduce the number of deaths related to bacteria that are resistant to our current range of antibiotics.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
German astronomers have released a video showing the structure of the moon in very high detail. They used a wide-angle camera that took over 70,000 pictures. Stitched together into a 3d movie, the viewer gets an overview of nearly the full surface of the moon, and all its craters and mountains. Red colour depicts high areas on the moon, while blue is an indicator for low-lying areas. The movie, that also provides more close-up images, reveals a crater of over 9000 meters deep, and a mountain with a height surpassing 10,000 meters. In addition, the landing sites of a few lunar landers are highlighted. While the video, which you can find after the break, does not provide any new insights, it is interesting to get a detailed view of Earth's only satellite companion.
A recent animal study has revealed that new drugs interfering with our genes can reduce mortality of the leading cause of infant death worldwide: a disease called spinal muscular atrophy. It is caused by a dysfunctional gene, but fortunately, our genome provides a backup. However, it needs to be modified before it can produce a functional protein, that is able to take over the function of the original one. Spinal muscular atrophy affects 1 in 6000 children, who mostly die young because their body is unable to control muscle function. Scientists have also recently discovered key proteins that are involved with another severe muscle disease, called Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. In addition, the genetic basis for a more rare, but not less severe, form of muscle disease has recently been uncovered.
Monday, November 21, 2011
A newly discovered cellular mechanism provides clues to both how our body tries to fight off tumours, as well as killing micro-organisms in wounds. Both processes involve the immune system, which's first line of defence consists of a group of cells called neutrophils. These cells are first to be on site, and the mechanism by which they are activated has recently been discovered by a group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A tumour, or a wound, generates large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which causes neutrophil activation, which basically jump-starts the immune response. Discovering how this mechanism can be utilized could be beneficial to developing new methods to improve wound healing and tumour killing.
When bacteria are unable to find enough food to supply them with energy, they are able to switch to a survival mode, which renders them capable of sustaining themselves with far less In addition, bacteria that transform themselves into this low-energy mode are found to have a far greater resistance to antibiotics. While scientists have argued that this is caused by a lack of metabolism needed for the drugs to work, a recent study has shown that this feature is actually acquired by means of an active process. This is an important discovery, because resistance to antibiotics is an emerging problem that renders our drugs ineffective.
The cause of one the most severe form of diseases humans can suffer from has just been uncovered. A large British family with a muscle disease was found to have a mutation in a gene that is important for muscle function. The so-called MEGF10 gene was found to be dysfunctional, in a study conducted by the University of Leeds. It plays an important role in a population of adult stem cells required for muscle repair, which hints at the possible underlying pathology for this particular form of muscle disease. More importantly, the discovery can aid doctors in the diagnosis, and provide a new angle for scientists to develop new therapies to cure muscle diseases, which are often incurable and frequently lead to early death.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
A highly branched synthetic device, that functions as a net in the blood, could be beneficial in detecting the spread of cancer throughout the body. The branching makes sure it covers a lot of surface, which is populated with certain molecules able to recognize cells, and consequently bind to them. These antibodies recognize an adhesion molecule on the cell surface, which is often found to be upregulated in cancer cells. The device also consists of adhesion molecules found on the interior of blood vessels. In this way, the net mimics the vascular wall which the cancer cells use to bind and invade new organs. The scientists from the University of Illinois who created the device have shown that the binding strength is increased by a million-fold and the detection efficiency by sevenfold compared to conventional detection methods.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Scientists have demonstrated that they can produce photons, the individual particles that make up light, out of vacuum. While vacuum is often described as being empty, consisting of nothing, it appears that photons are constantly appearing into existence, only to disappear again a short while after. Particles that constantly come in and out of existence have been predicted many years ago, and are dubbed virtual particles. This concept of particles that are both existent and non-existent seems like science fiction. Though, it's the result of quantum theory, which is known to produce counterintuitive laws of physics, and which are found to be true every time they are tested.
A newly developed nanomicroscope differs from conventional light microscopy by the fact that it allows us to 'see' what is inside our cells. Because cellular structures are too small to see with ordinary light waves, scientists from the Northwestern University in Illinois used a trick that allows them to reconstruct an image from the reflection of the light that passing through a cell. Light waves are altered in accordance with the density of the material it passes through, and the difference in reflection is what the images are based upon. By constructing a view of what is going on inside a cell, it should be easier to spot changes that can eventually lead a cell to become cancerous. If this proves to be effective in the clinic, we can kill cancer before it starts.
Two studies have independently shown that probiotics, dairy products with added bacteria, could have clinical relevance after all. While many studies have failed to produce a positive outcome of probiotics treatment, scientists from Utrecht University recently found that they can reduce the severity of pancreatitis, which is characterized by severe inflammation of the pancreas by using a bacterial shake. In addition, American researchers in St. Louis revealed that pre-treatment with probiotics ameliorates the damage caused by radiation therapy.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
By using a scanning technique called fMRI, scientists found that frequent gamers have a bigger ventral striatum, a brain area involved with reward. This part of the brain responds to the chemical messenger dopamine, which was already found to be involved with a feeling of reward for certain actions. In addition, they found that there are differences on a functional level as well. For example, gamers with an enlarged ventral striatum were found to have decreased deliberation times when playing a game that involved betting. It is however unknown whether gaming induces changes in the brain, or that a changed brain makes tempts people into playing games.
A microscopic weighing scale is able to measure the weight of cells with an accuracy of a few trillionths of a gram. This incredibly delicate weighing scale could play a role in the treatment of cancers, the creators at MIT noted. By constantly measuring the weight of cells, it is possible to observe growth in time, and that gives you an idea about how effective your cancer treatment is. Specifically, the response of cells to a chemical compound, in terms of growth rate, gives doctors more information about individual responses to cancer treatment.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Metastasis of cancer is the spreading of tumour cells to other organs. This often adds to the deadliness of the disease, and therefore is an important feature to study. Scientists from MIT have shown that a component of the blood aids spreading of cancer cells throughout the body. Blood platelets function in blood clotting, but also seem to produce chemical signals that turn tumour cells into travellers, which are consequently able to find a home in a different organ. The findings are relevant, because if we are able to develop drugs that inhibit this process, we could greatly reduce the deadliness of some cancers.
Using stem cells to regenerate functionality of damaged organs is something that has caught the attention of many researchers. Especially the patient's own stem cells have gained interest over the years: when harvested, these could be more easily transplanted back because the immune system does not recognize them as foreign. In a clinical trial, scientists have shown that using adult stem cells in patients that have suffered from a heart attack, can revive the heart's pumping function. Over time, the scientists noted that the damaged pump was slowly being restored after being treated with stem cells that were derived from the patient's own inventory.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Killing cancer cells without the side-effect of hurting healthy cells is one of the most important features of cancer drugs that are in development. A recent study has yielded surprising results, as a new way of inhibiting a much studied enzyme seems to be very effective in selectively killing cancer cells. The enzyme, dubbed RAF, is involved the cell cycle: a process that regulates growth and proliferation of the cell. This is obviously an interesting feature for cancer cells, that wish to grow and proliferate as fast as possible. A new drug inhibits RAF in an unusual way. But it does so without side-effects, making it a very interesting therapeutic agent.
Space organisation NASA has released a time-lapse video shot from the International Space Station. Over the course of several months, they compiled a video which stunningly shows the planet we live on. The effect of human beings populating the Earth is clearly visible: many parts of the world are lit up when they are not being illuminated by the sun. In addition, the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, are clearly visible, giving a surrealistic view over the Earth. The video, found below, was shot by a highly sensitive camera that records in 4k resolution.
With a new device, comprising of many electrodes, scientists have become one step closer to developing a convenient brain-computer interface. The recorder, that consists of 360 recording channels, can be fit in the brain more easily than previous versions with conventional electrode arrays. It was developed by the University of Pennsylvania, and can record information in 360 channels with the use of 720 nanotransistors. Because it is very small and foldable, surgeons can place the brain recorder in areas that could previously not been reached by using conventional arrays of electrodes. Animal studies have already revealed that the new recorder is able to generate data that we have not seen before.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Several pharmaceutical companies are betting on a gene that, when its transcription is inhibited, increases the filtering of cholesterol by the liver. Less cholesterol means less chance of atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits can lead to blocking of coronary arteries, resulting in a heart attack. Therefore, it is seen as a big opportunity in medicine, especially because heart attacks caused by building up fat in artery walls are increasing in frequency because of our eating habits. It will, however, still take years to develop a working drug for use in human patients.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
A novel treatment that focuses on altering the structure of our DNA was found to be effective in patients suffering from lung cancer. It works on an epigenetic level. That means it works by altering the activity of genes, without actually touching the genetic code. The epigenetic treatment was given in concert with ordinary treatment, in cancer patients that suffered from metastasis, and were already pretreated for a long time. The epigenetic therapy was found to prolong patient life, and one participant even fully recovered and is still alive, two years after he joined the study.
Friday, November 11, 2011
One gene makes a significant difference in the health status of mice, two groups of scientists have determined in collaboration with each other. A Swiss group of scientists showed that knocking out the NCoR1 gene renders mice able to run for much longer than normal. In fact, their endurance doubles, as the mice in the experiment where found to run twice as far as without the genetic adaptation. A group of scientists from California found, in collaboration with those in Switzerland, that knocking out the same gene results in a decreased chance of developing diabetes. That is an interesting duality, for just a single gene.
Two pristine gas clouds have been discovered which were created during the first minutes after The Big Bang. That is what chemical analysis of their contents reveals. The composition of the clouds matches theoretical predictions about the first moments after The Big Bang, further reinforcing the theory about the creation of the universe, which has already been investigated and tested rigorously.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
It is known that mothers should be careful when pregnant. Not only because they are physically carrying an unborn child around, but also because their health status can affect the foetus. Doctors advice to not take any alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, and pharmaceuticals should be avoided as much as possible. Ignoring it can cause serious brain damage to the foetus, leading to severe troubles during life. A new study reveals that not only consumption pattern is relevant for foetal development: unborn babies can also sense when a mother is depressed, scientists from the University of California-Irvine have found. And peculiar enough, for the baby's development after birth it was found to be beneficial that a depressed mother stays depressed.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a technique that has already shown efficacy in a number of diseases, notably parkinson's disease. In addition, it is found to be useful to improve the memory, though this has not yet been tested on human patients. It works by sticking electrodes into the brain and electrically stimulating brain cells, called neurons. In an effort of optimization, scientists have shown that the process of thinking in addition to DBS is found to increase the efficiency of the therapy. Parkinson's patients who were instructed to think about movement, which is problematic in this particular disease, showed a 37 percent decrease in typical symptoms, such as rigidity and tremors after two months. Which is not bad, given the fact that it is all about thought.
A detailed model of an important enzyme in our body can aid us in the development of new drugs. An unprecedented high resolution picture shows individual atoms of a member of the MAP kinase family: enzymes that play an important role in cascaded signals that are sent throughout a cell, and regulate various cellular functions. They also play a role in disease, but because there are many MAP kinases with related structures, it is not easy to develop a drug that only inhibits one of them. Therefore, most drugs recognize multiple MAP kinases, which causes side-effects. Because of the stunningly high resolution of the investigated enzyme, researchers have found a seemingly unique area on a MAP kinase complex, which can possibly be used for the development of specific drugs.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
T. gondii, a parasite found in mammals, is able to alter brain chemistry by increasing the levels of dopamine. This chemical messenger has a lot of functions in the brain, and the increase caused by the parasite correspondingly alters host behaviour. It can cause reduced fear in animals, especially rodents, which causes them to be eaten more frequent than animals who are not infected by of T. gondii. The findings are relevant because the parasite is also found in humans.
A research project by the University of Nottingham focuses on the ability to reprogram cells on the fly. For this, an equivalent of a computer's operating system needs to be developed, to give the right cellular cues to alter behaviour. The reprogramming system would be able to modify multiple cells at the same time, in order to build up artificial organs, or even new forms of life. Computer models that accurately predict cellular behaviour will be used to develop biological commands to instruct cellular differentiation, that can hopefully be used to create complex tissues, much like what is happening in our body during development.
Monday, November 7, 2011
By transforming stem cells into neurons, the cells of the brain, scientists have shown that they are able to treat parkinson's disease in monkeys. By this, they finally delivered some of the promises that stem cells have when it comes to treating diseases. Monkeys that have human-like parkinson's disease were treated with neurons that were derived from stem cells, and guided into producing the brain messenger dopamine. The cells integrated into the brain, and were able to restore movement that was lost due to the disease, while no side-effects were noted. This is an important step for the development of a cure for parkinson's, which currently can only be treated by reducing the symptoms.
Combining a unique protein with computer-controlled rays of light, rendered scientists able to control gene expression in yeast. Because the micro-organism contains a light-sensitive protein called phytochrome, light pulses are able to modify its behaviour. A computer, that was programmed to produce red light, activated the phytochrome, which correspondingly lead to the onset of gene expression. The gene of interest was modified by the scientists, to contain a fluorescent label. Whenever this gene is translated into a protein, this would be marked by a detectable fluorescent label. By picking up the intensity of the fluorescent signal, the amount of protein that is being produced by the yeast is known, allowing the computer to be in full control over the process.
A new molecular probe developed by Massachusetts General Hospital seems able to detect changes in walls of arteries that reveal early deposits of substance that could later break loose and turn into a blood cloth. These, often fatty, deposits also cause the vascular wall to become narrow, thereby restraining blood flow. The newly developed probe is able to travel through the arteries, and because it has a fluorescent label attached to it, will light up the places in our vascular network where a possible dangerous placque is developing.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
A mouse study revealed that a peptide that is derived from viruses can kill cancer cells by targeting a specific protein inside the cell. According to the scientists that conducted the study, the molecule they used as treatment could be more effective than what is currently used in the clinic to treat lymphoma, a cancer of white blood cells. The viral molecule targets an enzyme in our cells that functions by inhibiting a protein called P53, that is important in regulating many cellular functions. P53 is the most well-known tumour-suppressor, and loss of P53 is found in almost all cancers. By inhibiting the inhibiting factor of P53, the scientists found that the levels of the tumour-suppressor rise which in turn lead to death of the cancer cell. The benefits of this type of treatment is that there seem to be less side-effects than conventional attempts.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
A bacterial strain is able to modify the activity of a gene, which in response causes DNA damage and correspondingly increases the risk of cancer. In a study with cell lines, cells exposed to B. fragilis were found to have two to fourfold increase of the spermine oxidase (SMO) gene. The gene codes for enzymes that are involved with oxidation processes inside cells, which can cause damage when their activity is too high. It results in inflammaton and DNA damage, both severly increasing the risk of cancer. Because bacteria reside in the colon, that is also where the increase in cancer incidence is observed. While micro-organisms, especially viruses, were already implied in various forms of cancer, it is peculiar that this form of bacteria-induced cancer works by altering the activity of a gene, instead of just causing cellular damage by producing toxins, or other pathological mechanisms.
A group of cells located in a brain area called the hypothalamus, involved with receiving various sensory input, is responsible for keeping us awake, a new study has shown. By releasing a chemical messenger, they keep our body in an aroused state, under the influence of day light. It was already known that light influences our behavioural state, but the brain cells that are associated with translating day light to a message of keeping us awake were previously unknown. This study sheds light on why people are narcoleptic, a disease in which patients are always sleepy and drowsy, which is associated with a loss of this particular messenger.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Rejuvenation of our cells and organs has been long sought after, in an attempt to make our bodies live longer. While we are not yet able to constantly revitalize ourselves, scientists have found a way to turn cells from people over a 100 years old back into primitive stem cells, which then acquired the ability of self-renewal, and the capacity to differentiate into many different cell types. While genetic reprogramming in order to transform ordinary cells in the body back to stem cells has been done many times before, French scientists have shown that age is no barrier for reprogramming, highlighting the possibility to squeeze much more life out of our cells than nature provides us.
Patients suffering from a rare bleeding disorder that prevent proper clotting of the blood during injury may very well be treated with a combination of stem cells with gene therapy in the near future. Experiments on sheep show that administering stem cells that posses a copy of a gene coding for a missing protein in haemophilia, ameliorate the disease. The injected stem cells produce a clotting factor, and are able to migrate to a site of inflammation, which is a sign for injury, and consequently bleeding. Although the therapy has not yet been tested on humans, it is a fine example of how controversial therapies such as stem cells and gene therapy can help us.
A large comparison study has found that patients who received an organ transplant, being kidney, lung, heart or liver, have a much bigger chance to develop cancer. The researchers found that receiving an organ significantly increases the chance of developing a tumour in that particular organ. However, lung cancer was not only elevated in lung recipients, but also in kidney, liver and heart recipients. In addition, kidney cancer was found to be increased in kidney, heart and liver recipients. The overall increased risk on cancer after transplantation was found to be doubled compared to the general population, highlighting the need for proper screening after patients receive a new organ, and new therapies to accompany transplanted patients to decrease the risks.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Scientists have found a relationship between certain days of the year and the number of births, as part of the hypothesis that cultural representations of days influences the minds of women, which correspondingly can delay or speed up birth. On Halloween, scientists found a decrease of births by 5,3 percent, while cesarean births were down 16,9 percent. In contrast, Valentine's day was found to be associated with an increase of 3,6 percent, while cesarean births were up 12,1 percent. All differences were found to be statistically relevant.
In an effort to create a more detailed model of the early universe, scientists will let the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland perform collisions with lead ions, a positively charged version of the lead atom. This should recreate the conditions right after the Big Bang, which is commonly perceived as the start of our universe. Lead ions are chosen for the collision experiments, because earlier on, data revealed that they are able to create a so-called quark-gluon plasma. This is basically a soup of particles that are able to form the protons and neutrons that make up the core of an atom. During the Big Bang, these building blocks must have grouped together, to form atoms. The LHC will fire lead ions at higher energy than previously done, which will hopefully recreate the conditions of the Big Bang in more detail, so scientists can study the start of our universe.