Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breast milk contains high levels of anti-cancer protein

It is well-known that breast milk is beneficial for newborns, as its contents protect against all sorts of diseases. Breast milk contains a variety of substances that cow milk for human consumption does not. Italian scientists have shown it also protects against cancer, by revealing that breast milk contains high levels of an anti-cancer protein.

Light can prevent a heart attack

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a serious condition where heart cells die, reducing the pump function and thereby the blood supply to the body. The heart itself needs to be supplied by blood as well, and if the so-called coronary arteries are shut down, heart cells die because of a lack of oxygen. Risk factors include bad diet habits, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol and all other things that can damage blood vessels. Therefore, it is highly advisable to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Scientists from the University of Colorado have discovered an additional factor to help prevent heart attack: light. Strong light, or even daylight, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Special properties make skin water resistant

Whenever we swim or take a bath, our bodies do not get soaked with water, sinking us to the bottom. Even though skin gets wet and wrinkled because of the water, it is largely kept out of our bodies. Scientists have finally discovered how that works, and it is attributed to special properties of fat, functioning as water repellents. Working out the mechanism enables us to improve drug delivery across the skin barrier.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Computer simulation reveals 115 potential cancer drugs

Organisms exist because countless different proteins and other molecules work together in endlessly complex processes that keep our cells packed together in an organized fashion. It is therefore no surprise that scientists have increased the use of computer models to analyse interactions and biological mechanisms. When the Hospital del Mar Research Institute performed a computer study to find proteins involved with cancer mechanisms, they found a library of 115 that could potentially be targeted for new therapies.

Early evolution of life tells us how to treat many diseases

There are still many secrets surrounding the question of how life on Earth came to be. Somehow, out of inorganic molecules, biological compounds such as amino acids and strings of genetic code were created. Later, these substances were 'packaged' into cells and possibly viruses, and the first bacteria also came into existence. Because bacteria are still around today, they are readily studied by scientists to uncover traces of evolutionary mechanisms that brought us to where we are today. A biological process analysed by the Case Western Reserve University explains something about the evolution of bacteria, but more importantly, gives us leads to treat a great variety of diseases.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When it comes to the brain, it is 'use it or lose it'

Scientists have found biological proof for the common belief that it is beneficial to 'use' your brain, as doing so will increase your cognitive capabilities. As it turns out, having a 'cognitive lifestyle', which basically is doing a lot of thinking, preserves your brain. Even though it does not protect you against various brain diseases, thinking helps to keep your brain cells functioning for longer. Studies led by the University of Sydney revealed what happens in the brains of people that frequently utilize their cognitive capabilities.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Junk DNA can function as virus detector

DNA is the blueprint for the information that all life forms depend on. Cells use specialized machinery to read specific parts of the genetic code, called genes, which are used for the production of proteins. In turn, proteins govern almost all cellular functions and thus are the building blocks of life. Despite the fact that our entire genetic code, dubbed the genome, holds tens of thousands of genes, there are large parts that are not used for protein production at all. This so-called junk DNA was thought to be unimportant, as remnants of evolutionary processes. More recently it was revealed junk DNA does have surprising functions, such as distinguishing us from monkeys. A recent study shows this so-called non-coding DNA is able to function as a detector for virus infections. This is normally a job for the immune system, which is why the role of our DNA is peculiar.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Smoking can actually reduce the risk of tumours

Almost everyone knows that smoking is harmful and greatly increases the risk of developing tumours, most notable being lung cancer. Even smokers know that their habit is almost universally bad. However, as it turns out, there are positive side effects to smoking, as scientists from Ohio State University discovered that it reduces the risk of developing a particular tumour. It is nevertheless no reason to start smoking, as it is quite rare and relatively benign.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nanostructures can treat all kinds of brain diseases

Diseases of the brain are often hard to treat, because the tissue is easily damaged, and it is hard for drugs to cross the barriers that prevent molecules from entering brain areas. Patients coping with well-known illnesses such as Alzheimer's, cerebral palsy, stroke, autism and multiple sclerosis all suffer from brain damage that severely impacts their life. It means finding ways to stop these diseases is very important, and a method devised by Wayne State University and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development may be able to treat them all. Scientists made a nanostructure that decreases the inflammation commonly found in the aforementioned illnesses, and has already undergone a few successful tests.

Scientists set out to discover what causes 'brain freeze'

Brain freeze is a peculiar phenomenon that mostly occurs when eating or drinking something very cold, and causes a temporary headache. Even though everybody has experienced this at some point, scientists are still pondering about why consuming cold beverages causes headache symptoms. New studies point out it may have something to do with the blood flow to the brain, and these results may help us to find treatments for other, more serious forms of headache.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Measuring brain magnetism diagnoses disease

There are various tools that clinicians use to scan brains of patients to assess whether something is malfunctioning. Techniques such as MRI or fMRI are used frequently, and work by utilizing magnetic fields. By making pictures of our insides, clinicians are able to detect anomalies, such as tumours or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. A new type of sensor developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology makes measurements relying on magnetic fields a lot easier and cheaper. The small chip is sugar cube-sized and ought to make registration of brain signals easier. It can help detect diseases, but could also eventually be used to read minds.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Screening and taxes prevent heart-related deaths

Cardiovascular diseases are still among the highest ranking causes of death worldwide, and are expected to increase due to bad diet habits. Eating fatty foods and lack of exercise can cause arteries to be blocked, resulting in tissue death because of a lack of oxygen flow. Most well-known is atherosclerosis, which causes tightening of the arteries due to accumulation of fatty deposits including cholesterol, which can dangerously obstruct the blood flow. At this year's World Congress of Cardiology, scientists have presented findings that reveal increased screening may decrease the number of deaths related to cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, increasing taxes on salt may be equally beneficial.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gallbladder holds stem cells that can cure disease

Stem cells can be found in various shapes in many organs. Some are 'true' stem cells that still have the ability to turn into any tissue type, and are mostly found in embryos. Our organs mainly hold those of the adult type, which are still capable of turning into various cell types, but have already committed to a certain lineage, limiting their possibilities. Scientists use stem cells to restore organ damage by regenerating tissue, which is why sources of stem cells usable for therapy are of great interest. A study presented at this year's International Liver Congress explains that gallbladder tissue, though normally disregarded, is a potential source for multipotent stem cells, similar to the adult ones described previously. Cells from the gallbladder can therefore possibly help us cure disease.

Protein inhibition can treat many common cancers

Cancer requires an increase in cellular proteins that promote uncontrolled growth, while proteins that dampen growth levels need to disappear. Scientists have already discovered a large set of proteins that play a role in the development of tumours, and they play an important role in our efforts to create new cancer treatments. At the Lund University in Sweden, they found how the absence of a well-known protein can lead to common tumours. They also showed how this process can be blocked, revealing new treatment options for common cancers.

Light helps enzymes do their work faster

Most of the processes in our body are sped up by enzymes. Without them, we would be unable to function, as enzymes are facilitators of chemical processes we require to allow our cells to do their job. By catalysing the breakdown of all sorts of molecules enzymes help us maintain metabolism, for example. They already greatly speed up anything that happens in our body, but scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory have found a way to make them work as much as 3000 times faster. Utilizing their technique, we may be able to alter chemical processes for our own benefit, which can have big consequences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vacuum pump prevents brain damage after injury

When your body gets injured, for example because of a car crash, damaged tissues and organs often increase in fluid content, resulting in swelling. Aside from the initial damage, the body's response can lead to increased tissue death. Tissues and cells that die because of sustained trauma are irreversibly lost, but the damage that occurs after the initial impact may be prevented. One of the possibilities of achieving this is reducing the amount of fluid that is causing swelling, and thereby also reducing the toxic substances that either cause more cells to die or induce damage because of inflammation. Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found a way to reduce fluid levels, which they achieved by using a vacuum pump.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Genetically modified immune system fights HIV

HIV is a particularly dangerous virus because it chooses to infect cells that are part of the immune system. Because of that, our defensive systems break down, leaving us unable to recoup from the viral infection. HIV infects so-called T helper lymphocytes, that function by enabling others to destroy infected cells. Although attempts are being made to boost our immune system, for example by letting other cells take over the role as helpers, or boosting other immune mechanisms, the lack of 'killers' that destroy HIV-infected cells remains a problem. Research conducted by the University of California in Los Angeles has shown that genetically engineering blood stem cells can overcome the lack of HIV destroyers. This should help getting rid of an infection and stop AIDS.

Gene shown to increase brain size and intelligence

How smart you are is determined by environmental as well as genetic factors. What exactly determines our intelligence is not well understood, but a large study performed by the University of California in Las Vegas has revealed that a certain genetic variant increases brain size as well as intelligence, providing a biological foundation for smartness. In future studies, the scientists also hope to uncover genes that are associated with various brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Packaging reveals how genetic information gets modified

Our DNA holds the blueprint for our existence and consists of a long string of building blocks that represent coded information. It contains the blueprint for production of proteins in individual strings of code called genes. All genes combined is what we call the genome, and cells have found neat ways to package our genetic code. DNA is wound on beads to make it compact, and these wound up structures are stored in separate structures called chromosomes. In total, there are 23 chromosomes holding our entire genome, but because there is a paternal and maternal form of each chromosome, the total number of chromosomes reaches 46. They sometimes get mixed up and share genetic material with each other, a process that promotes genetic diversification and thus evolution. Cells require tight regulation to prevent damage, and two studies have revealed how chromosomes keep themselves properly packed.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fat metabolism aided evolution of the human brain

Our brains are arguably one of the most wondrous results of billions of years of evolution, which is why scientists are devoting a lot of resources to uncover how our capabilities of thought have developed. A recent study performed by Uppsala University revealed that the way we metabolize certain fats has in the past aided the way our brains evolved our extraordinary features. A previous study, performed by universities in Manchester and Barcelona, already showed how our skull shape contributed to brain evolution.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Computing grid to find cures for neurological diseases

A large network of computers is being set up in seven European countries to crunch data from patients suffering from neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. By analyzing data from around 6500 MRI scans, scientists hope to find new treatments and faster ways of diagnosis for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. The project is funded with 2,8 million euros from the EU.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Being nice is partly genetical

We are continuously increasing our knowledge about how our genes influence our behaviour. Certain personality traits can be partly caused by having a variant of a particular gene, though the environment plays a rather large role as well. Scientists from the University of Buffalo and the University of California have discovered that genes also play a role in being nice: it appears that having a certain gene variant makes someone more inclined to be nice. In addition, the researchers also revealed what mechanism underlies kind behaviour.

Different political beliefs have biological basis

Having a particular political ideology is not just a simple state of mind; it seems to be more deeply rooted in how you function as a human being. Research performed by the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has shown that there are behavioural differences between people of different political beliefs. Experiments show that having a particular political ideology can be the result of viewing the world in a different way than others.

Monday, April 9, 2012

New method tracks down people's DNA profile

When analyzing the sequence of someone's DNA, the information is often kept secret due to privacy reasons. So far, it has been necessary to directly analyze the genetic code to gain information about the sequence and the secrets it bears about physical characteristics. Scientists from Mount Sinai Medical Center have found a way to use another source of information to infer the structure of the DNA. It shows that privacy regarding your genes may not be so tight after all. The method can also be used to track down disease, however.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Link between biological clock and metabolic disorders

Our biological clock sets our daily rhythm, and is located somewhere in the brain, above our eyes. The brain centre that controls your circadian rhythm is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and scientists have already largely discovered how it works, and how it affects your body. There is an in-built daily rhythm, which can be externally affected by light. New research shows the internal workings of the SCN and the clock mechanisms in our body may actually be rather different than what is currently known. Additionally, it tells us something about how the biological clock affects the body's metabolism and corresponding disorders. It may lead to new treatment for all kinds of diseases.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Diet can significantly reduce risk of Parkinson's disease

It is important to eat healthy, and scientists from Harvard University have just found an additional reason to keep an eye on your diet. It appears that a particular substance found, among others, in berries and wine, can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that slowly renders you unable to properly control your muscles. The compounds, known as flavonoids have already been shown to have beneficial effects.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Light switch turns genes on and off in individual cells

Controlling gene expression is one of the most powerful tools researchers have. Genes are blueprints for proteins, and proteins control basically all cellular functions, which means we are able to change the behaviour of a cell, tissues or even whole organisms. However, influencing gene expression is not very precise, as scientists usually have to intervene early in the embryonic phase to turn genes off in whole organisms, such as mice. A new method developed by the University of Oregon allows for more precise and flexible control, by modifying gene expression in much the same way like switching the light on an off.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vitamin D helps terminally ill patients survive

It is widely known that vitamins are good for your health, and many people take vitamin supplements in an effort to improve their health. They come in different flavours, labelled with letters A, B, C, D, E and K, and are vital to our survival even though we require only small amounts of them. Scientists are still studying vitamins, even though their existence has been known for many years. A recent study revealed that vitamin D, which is known for its beneficial effect on bone health, can help critically ill patients survive. Therefore it may be worthwhile for clinicians to issue vitamin D supplements for patients at intensive care.

Scientists close in on the identity of dark matter

Dark matter is still one of the biggest mysteries in the universe, in addition to dark energy. It consists of matter we cannot see, but we know exists because of its gravitational effect, just like ordinary observable matter. Over time, scientists gathered clues about the identity of dark matter, and a couple of particles are currently under investigation to find out whether one of them forms the illusive dark matter. New research from NASA closes in on the true particle of dark matter, by excluding some postulated candidates. Slowly, but steadily, the mystery of one of the universe's biggest secrets is being unravelled.

Painkillers can be made more effective

Painkillers are arguably one of the best man-made inventions: even if a patient cannot be treated for his or her disease, it is still possible to ease discomfort by soothing the pain. However, painkillers such as morphine are not perfect, as it is possible to build up a form of resistance, which renders the drug ineffective. In an attempt to improve morphine, scientists from the University of Adelaide set out to find what exactly causes these side-effects and how to prevent the build-up of resistance.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Protein evolution allows for longer life

Not all animals reach the same age during their life. Usually, bigger animals have a longer life span, even though there are some exceptions. Humans seem to live exceptionally long, but that might just be due to our own, seemingly artificial, attempts at prolonging life. Scientists from the University of Liverpool investigated 30 animal species to find out what makes certain species live longer than others. They tracked a bunch of proteins and correlated differences in structure with longevity, which yielded results showing how evolution of certain protein structures made animals live longer. We may be able to use this information to slow down our own ageing process.