Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Parasite helps us to repress allergies

Allergies are caused by an immune system that is overreacting to something that does not pose a real threat. A common form is being allergic to house dust mite, a little bug that creeps around your bedroom and in carpets. There is a reason the immune system normally lies dormant: when it stirs up a war against something foreign, it drains all your energy and leaves you feeling ill. In extreme cases, the immune response can be so heavy that it causes death, which can happen when pathogens enter the bloodstream during sepsis. Luckily, allergies normally aren't that bad. Also, not all bugs or microbes are necessarily bad. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have found that some bugs actually help us to repress allergies. It appears as if they are training our immune system.

Diabetes patients might produce insulin after all

People suffering from diabetes type 1 have a faulty immune system that attacks the cells responsible for the production of insulin. This hormone is extremely important for our metabolism, as it allows cells to take up glucose and therefore allows storage. This is important because glucose functions as the universal fuel for our body. Without insulin, levels of glucose in the blood reach dangerously high levels and patients die if left untreated. Long was thought that people with diabetes type 1, as opposed to patients with type 2 which simply have become insensitive to the hormone, do not produce insulin. Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered this may not be true. They found a pretty strong hint suggesting there is insulin production after all.

Monday, February 27, 2012

DNA injection 'weaponizes' the immune system

Scientists have found a way to make the immune system more effective against malicious cells that need to be cleared away from the body. A group of killer cells that function by helping us to combat cancer or to fight off an HIV infection can be increased in numbers with DNA injections. With this mechanism, we may be able to treat patients with cancer of HIV by enabling them to make better use of their own defence systems.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Memory relies on a balance of old and new

In the brain, there are various structures involved with the generation of memories. What Japanese scientists found is that there are also variations in cells and their functionality when it comes to memory formation. It appears that age determines how the brain cell functions, which is rather peculiar. The study increases our understanding of creating and holding on to memories, which is in turn beneficial for studies regarding how to prevent or treat dementia.

Brain implant simulates finger movements

We continue to learn more about how the brain functions, and how neurons work together to control our bodily functions. Scientists have made use of this knowledge by developing brain implants that read signals that cells send to each other, and translate that to robot movement. This is still work in progress, but we are getting closer to creating a mind-reading device that renders us able to control limbs with our brain. Chinese researchers have refined this system by showing that a brain implant is able to read out complex brain patterns involved with finger movement. A previous study by American scientists already showed we can retrieve thoughts from people's brain.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Drug may treat previously untreatable cancers

A drug that is currently in clinical trials may have unprecedented efficacy in the treatment of certain cancers. Various studies have shown that it is highly effective in slowing down cancers that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to treat. Its effect can be explained because it works on two mechanisms that help spread cancer and make it deadly, New Scientist explains. According to scientists, its effect on cancer patients is truly remarkable, which naturally is very good news.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Two new blood types discovered

In addition to the well-known A, B and O types, there are many other factors influencing blood compatibility. Two factors called Junior and Langereis could be important in certain blood transfusions, researchers from the University of Vermont have discovered. While these factors have already proven to be involved with determining blood characteristics, unravelling the genetic basis of these proteins means we are able to test patients for these factors. In turn this ought to prevent problems arising from blood transfusion in certain patients.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NASA finds planet consisting largely of water

NASA has been quite busy lately with discovering new exoplanets; planets that orbit a star other than our Sun. A while back, an exoplanet has shown to be a possible candidate for extraterrestrial life. The space organisation makes use of the Hubble telescope, which is located high above Earth, where it orbits our planet as a satellite. Now, NASA has announced the discovery of GJ1214b, a seemingly unique planet because it consists largely of water.

Faster-than-light neutrino does not exist after all

In September last year, researchers from CERN shocked the world by announcing that a specific particle was able to travel faster than light, something that is impossible according to laws of physics. After a revaluation of their systems, the scientists found a flaw that explains why they measured neutrino's to be faster than light. It appears to be an end to something that would cause Einstein to turn over in his grave.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Molecular switch is able to turn off feelings of pain

There are several analgesics available to surpress pain. Mild ones can freely be used by patients, but other, more heavy ones, are restricted to use in hospitals. For example, during surgery, patients are given a painkiller first, before the surgeons are cutting away in your body. Morphine is probably one of the most well-known painkillers, and is often used for hospitalized patients that suffer from painful diseases. Based on the mechanism by which most analgesics work, scientists from Munich, Germany have developed a switch that is able to turn conduction of pain signals on and off. This would allow for control when, and when not to feel pain.

Stress and worries cause you to age faster

Worrying about things you have to take care of often leads to stress. It is also often said that stress is bad for your health, and makes you age faster: there are proverbs claiming one gets grey hair from stressful events. Scientists from the University of California in San Francisco discovered that worrying about, and anticipating, future stressful events actually leads to increased ageing speed. That is what they found when they looked at the cellular health of their participants. A different group of researchers already found that people with high stress levels die younger.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mood disorder drug can help fixing nerve damage

Sometimes drugs have unusual properties, that allow them to be used for more than originally developed for. Lithium chloride, a form of salt, is such a drug. It is normally used to treat bipolar disorder, where patients suffer from mood swings ranging from depression to mania. Research from the Descartes University in Paris has shown it is effective in restoring nerves in mice. Because our body is more or less unable to repair the nervous system itself, finding drugs that do is highly relevant.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Study on dangerous H5N1 virus to be published

A while ago, scientists discovered how they could make H5N1, a strain of flu virus commonly known as bird flu, much more contagious. Because the virus is extremely dangerous if it manages to spread, the study caused public uproar. Authorities fear the research could be used for bioterrorism purposes, and halted the studies. Now, the scientists have decided to push on with publishing. They feel the benefits of sharing the knowledge outweighs the risk of terrorism.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life's first cells probably arose from thermal pools

One of the biggest questions of the evolution of life, is how its most basic form came to be. Cells, spheres covered by a lipid layer containing DNA, proteins and various cellular machines which all work together to function as a single organism. It is hard to imagine how the first cells could have been created from a 'soup' of inorganic molecules. Scientists believe it all started about 4 billion years ago. At the University of Osnabrück, scientists argue that the first cells probably arose from thermal pools: extremely hot sources of water and various elements, that are similar to the conditions found inside cells.

DNA nanorobot delivers drugs to cancer cells

Getting a drug to the place where it needs to do its job is not all that easy. Especially when compounds are toxic, efficient targeting is highly required to ameliorate side effects. Many strategies to get drugs where we need them are currently in development, but scientists from Harvard University have thought of something new: a 'nanorobot' that holds drugs inside, and only releases its load when it finds it predetermined target.

Evolutionary origin of photosynthesis traced

Scientists claim to have found the evolutionary origin of photosynthesis, the process which enables plants to turn sunlight into energy with aid of carbon dioxide. A group of international scientists lead by the Rutgers University unravelled the genome of a specific type of algae, that is supposed to be one of the earliest life forms that acquired the capability of photosynthesis. Getting to know the evolutionary step of how plants can retrieve energy from sunlight is important for our knowledge about how we came to exist, because it is one of the most important features in the evolution theory of life.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Implant functions as wireless drug delivery system

Technology is getting more and more entwined with the medical world. Implants are finding their way into the patient, where they perform various functions. One of the first implants was the pacemaker, which has proven to be very successful. Now, scientists from MIT, in cooperation with a company called MicroCHIPS, developed a chip that enables doctors to wirelessly administer drugs to patients. This could make treatment easier and more precise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Disease-causing prions have evolutionary benefits

Prions are usually associated with mad cow disease, or creutzfeldt-jakob disease. They are proteins gone bad, which aggregate in places where they shouldn't, such as the brain. They have changed their appearance resulting in loss of their original function. Because their capability to reproduce and aggregate is harmful, it usually causes the patient to die. However, scientists have shown that prion formation may actually benefit an organism in harsh conditions. It is thought to be an important evolutionary process to create the much-needed diversity to survive challenging environments as a species.

Molecule found that could decrease allergies

Many people suffer from an allergy, which is described as a hypersensitive response of the immune system towards environmental factors that do not require the body to launch a full-scale attack. Various complex and difficult molecular mechanisms are involved with such an extreme immune response. In a recent study, scientists from the University of Nottingham discovered a molecule that plays a role in the allergy process. Because it appears to be involved with toning down the allergic response, it is relevant towards developing anti-allergy strategies.

Incidence of brain injury higher than previously thought

Brain injury can be slumbering and can go unnoticed for a long time, especially if the damage is mild. However, the actual health impact may be much larger, predominantly because the brain is tasked with regulating and controlling many of our bodily functions, both the voluntary and involuntary ones. According to a study performed by the Mayo Clinic, we may be missing many cases in which the patient has obtained brain injury. Clinicians are thought to frequently miss cases of brain injury due to lack of visible or distinguishable symptoms. A new assessment system ought to change this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Scientists freeze and resurrect flies

By discovering how some small animals are able to withstand body temperatures below zero centigrade, scientists have found a way to freeze fruit flies and resurrect them afterwards. By feeding them a specific diet, researchers from a Czech research institute made the animals, which normally are quite susceptible to cold environments, overcome temperatures that caused part of their blood to freeze. The experiments could aid us in finding ways of preserving ourselves when exposed to cold temperatures.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mechanism found that protects against HIV infection

One particular protein appears to be effective in preventing HIV to enter a cell. Scientists from New York University studied it, and found out how it works. We can use this knowledge to develop new strategies in order to prevent HIV infection, ultimately preventing AIDS. As this disease is still not curable, studies regarding new treatment options are highly relevant.

Oestrogen makes males attractive to other males

Chemicals produced by cells to induce behavioural changes to other cells are often called hormones. They travel to the blood in order to eventually find their target: a receptor somewhere on the cell's surface. A class of chemicals similar to hormones travels in a slight different way: they are excreted by the organism, instead of dumped into the blood. They make their way to an other organism of the same species, where it induces behavioural changes. These molecules are called pheromones, and they are thought to play an important role in the mating process, possibly even in humans. Scientists from Oregon State University have shown that oestrogen, which is actually a known hormone, can influence pheromone levels in snakes: males that excrete it in high levels attract other males, which are interested in mating. In a previous study scientists showed that male-female attraction is also governed by DNA.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cancer drug swiftly reverses Alzheimer's disease

Sometimes drugs are useful for treating diseases they were not originally designed for. When scientists learn more about how a certain drug works, they sometimes find that it is much more widely applicable than previously thought. Such is the case for bexarotene, which is normally used to treat lymphoma, but is now also used for lung and breast cancer. Scientists from Case Western Reserve University discovered it is also useful for something totally different: alzheimer's disease. They found that it works well on mice, which means we need clinical studies to observe its efficacy in humans.

New form of surgery can prevent paralysis

Damage to nerves is often irreparable, due to insufficient repair mechanisms of our body. Trauma, such as a car crash, can result in extensive impairment of bodily functions if a nerve system gets damaged. People become paralysed, for example, never to walk again. Usually, there is not much we can do, but a new surgical technique developed by Vanderbilt University may improve the chances that patients have of recovery. Though, doctors will need to act fast after a patient suffers his or her injury.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Treating breast cancer with nanotubes

A new type of drug seems to work well in treating breast cancer, scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have noted. They created small carbon tubes, known as nanotubes and injected them in mice. They found that the microscopic tubes were able to kill cancer cells effectively. They were already found to be effective in kidney cancer, and it appears nanotubes are also useful for other types of cancer, which makes the treatment very promising.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gene variant found that protects against Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease is a devastating disorder of the brain, which induces tremors and muscle disability followed by cognitive problems. Various attempts are being made to cure the disease. So far, we only have some experimental therapies, which still leaves many people suffering from it. In an attempt to come up with a new idea to cure or prevent the disease, scientists from the University of Alabama have discovered that a certain variant of a certain gene prevents the brain damage that is associated with parkinson's. They discovered how this particular gene variant works, which may help us base a new therapy on it.

Biological computer built with DNA

Making computers using biological components is getting increasingly popular. Scientists found that the structure of DNA can be used to store information, and the wide variety of DNA-modifying enzymes we possess can help us modify input and output the way we want. Now, scientists from research institutes in California and Israel managed to create a computer that can encrypt, and consequently decipher information stored in DNA. Their system may help us build a computer based on biological molecules.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Remote controlled leg lengthening underway

Lengthening of limbs is mostly performed when the patient is born with legs that are not of equal length. Surgeons usually put a metal device in place which is attached to the bone and needs to be controlled manually, but a new version made by the Sinai Hospital can be controlled remotely. With their system, the whole process ought to cause less discomfort. Normally, limb lengthening is extremely painful. It is likely that the remote controlled system is not quite pain free, but will at least be more smooth.

Breath analyser can predict disease

Scientists are working on a device that can diagnose a number of diseases merely by analysing the breath of the patient. According to the developers, that work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the device is sensitive enough to diseases while they are in their early stages. If it works the way they claim, diagnosing various diseases such as diabetes and cancer may become a lot easier. In turn, a faster diagnosis benefits treatments and a patient's health.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mechanism explains how immune cells detect threats

The immune system consists of different components. Some cells are tasked with detecting threats, such as bacteria and viruses. Others are present in the 'effector phase', which means they are supposed to eradicate the threat. The latter part is performed with cells that contain poison to kill other, infected cells with, or with cells that create antibodies which bind and neutralize whatever it is that invaded our body. We know that during the detection phase, specialized immune cells use receptors to recognize patterns that hint at foreign material. However, the mechanism that explains how they present their findings to other cells and initiate the immune response was not entirely known. A study performed by the University of British Columbia explains how invasions are flagged and how the findings are presented to effector cells.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mechanism explains why cells age and cause disease

Cells have a certain life span. After a while, they stop dividing and that eventually means our life comes to an end, if we are fortunate enough to live long enough to let the ageing process run its course. A study performed on nerve cells in rats by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies gives an explanation about why cells age, aside from existing theories. Apparently, cells contain proteins that are as old as the organism itself. It means they are not renewed, while most proteins renew every two days tops. These 'extremely long lived proteins' (ELLP) may explain why our cells age, as they suffer damage over time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Silver can be used to treat cancer

Silver is not just something you can make jewellery and cutlery with. A study from the University of Leeds revealed that it has anti-cancer potential. Silver atoms can be used as basis for drugs that react with DNA of cancer cells, killing them in the process. Crucially, they seem to have less side effects than similar anti-cancer drugs. Silver was already shown to have antibiotic properties, making it a useful agent to kill bacteria.

Malaria may kill far more people than we think

When it comes to diseases caused by parasites, malaria is by far the most deadly. The World Health Organisation estimates that about 655.000 people died from the disease in 2010, but new models show this figure may need to be doubled. Because malaria is most common in Africa and a lot of countries there have poor healthcare and lack statistics, there is still a lot of uncertainty. However, it does highlight the need for scientific efforts in order to eradicate the disease.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Beautiful pictures of the cellular world

Every year, GE Healthcare is hosting a competition for the most beautiful pictures made of the microscopic world. While it is basically an advertisement for their image analysis products, the submissions provide a stunning look into the world of cells, that normally is invisible to us, or looks rather dull when we look through the microscopes ourselves.

Earth-like planet found that may be able to host life

Somewhere in space, 22 million light years away, there is a planet in a solar system of three stars. According to a team of scientists, it has many of the right characteristics to bring about life. Though we do not know for sure, it is the best candidate to have liquid water, which is one of the prerequisites for life we are accustomed to.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

One step closer to creating a mind-reading device

A device to read people's minds sounds like science fiction, but it is actually getting closer to reality. Scientists from the University of Berkely have developed a device that is able to discern words from analysing brain waves. It is the first step to getting a machine to retrieve people's thoughts. Luckily it does not work wireless, yet.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stem cells found to be effective in brain injury

Stem cells are often described as a therapeutic that can work wonders by regrowing damaged tissues. They are of special interest in neurology, because nerves are barely being repaired by the body itself. Recently, we have been able to get some success by using stem cells, especially for treating neurological disorders. Now, an animal study has revealed that stem cells are able to restore functionality after brain injury. It may help us heal otherwise permanent brain damage.

Plant enzyme gathers energy day and night

Plants are renown for their capability of creating energy out of sunlight; a process called photosynthesis. At night, there is no sun which means the energy creating process lays dormant. However, plants appear to have an enzyme that does not only aid in photosynthesis during the day, but also gathers energy during the night. During its night shift, it aids in taking up nutrients and transporting energy from the roots. It is peculiar how one particular enzyme can have two distinctive functions, which depend on time of day.