Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Genes 'collaborate' in order to cause cancer

It is often said that cancer is a disease of the DNA. Indeed, tumours often start due to genetic modifications that alter the growth rate of cells. Scientists therefore spend a lot of time on genetics, in order to find specific mutations that tell us something about the foundations of the disease. Genetic alterations also help us predict future cases of cancer, and tell us something about possible treatment. Researchers from a Singaporean institute found a way to scan the DNA for modified genes that 'cooperate' in order to make a cell cancerous, while they would be harmless on their own. This new way of detecting harmful genetic changes enables doctors to more accurately predict cancer and disease progression.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Termites can act as 'suicide bombers' against intruders

Suicide by blowing yourself up has become increasingly popular in the last decade, sadly. Most of us would say only certain, confused people would do such a thing, but surprisingly, such behaviour can also be found elsewhere in the animal world. An international team of researchers studied termites and found that old workers defended their lair against intruders by 'blowing' themselves up.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Uganda is suffering from a deadly Ebola outbreak

Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known to roam the world. It causes deadly internal bleeding all over the body and it is especially lethal because there is no known cure, despite the fact that a recent study shows a vaccine may prevent infection in the future. That does not help us now, as is evident from the fact that the virus has wreaked havoc in the African country Uganda.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Important protein for pain regulation discovered

Although trying to prevent pain does not cure anyone from a disease or injury, it is arguably one of the most important things doctors can do for a patient. Pain relief increases feelings of well-being tremendously, which is why scientists still devote resources to discovering how the body regulates these feelings, despite the fact that we have already have access to a rather large library of painkillers. A recent study from John Hopkins University shows that modifying a certain protein may help us create a new class of such drugs, but it also tells us more about how the body regulates pain.

Lucid dreams aid attempts to find the conscious brain

Lucid dreams are arguably the most interesting when it comes to dreaming. People capable of lucid dreams are aware that they are dreaming and can act on it. This can be rather amusing, but it can also help us to discover where consciousness is located in the brain. Because a lucid dream is quite similar to being conscious, comparing brain activity between ordinary periods of sleep and a conscious dream  is of interest to scientists. At the Max Planck Institute in Germany, such experiments were set up, which helped to discern brain patterns involved with consciousness.

Women's brains age faster, possibly due to stress

Stress is not just a psychological thing: it can greatly impact physiology, because the body acts differently under stressful conditions. For example, the hormone cortisol is produced by many mammals during feelings of stress. A so far unproven hypothesis states that stress can lead to faster ageing, and scientists from the University of California in Berkely set out to investigate whether there is any truth to it. They found that the brains of women age faster, and that stress is likely increasing the pace.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Genetics reveal females do produce eggs during life

It is often said that females are on the clock when it comes to reproduction. They are believed to be born with a fixed amount of potential eggs suitable for reproduction, of which on average one is matured and released every month. Over time, these so-called oocytes decrease in quality, meaning that reproducing at relatively old age is not recommended, as it may lead to birth defects or spontaneous abortions. However, a recent genetic study tracking certain special cells in the ovary reveals that females seem to produce potential eggs during life after all.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kepler-30 solar system looks just like our own

NASA's Kepler space telescope has once again found interesting facts about distant stars and planets. It already aided the discovery of many interesting planetary bodies, such as Kepler 22-b which shares a lot of similarities with earth. Now, the telescope found evidence that the Kepler-30 star, which we already knew exists, has three planets in its orbit, and it just so happens that this solar systems looks a lot like ours. While that is interesting, it does not mean we are any closer to finding life in distant solar systems.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scientists banned after deadly probiotic treatment

Recently, scientists have begun experiments with bacteria as a new form of treatment. For some diseases it is hypothesized that administering bacteria can improve health, for example by providing patients with probiotic drinks. Despite a lack of conclusive evidence for its efficacy, scientists have been experimenting with probiotics for new patient groups, of which brain cancer is perhaps the most peculiar example. Needless to say, things can go wrong with experimenting. Two scientists that experimented with infecting patients suffering from brain cancer found their results a little off: instead of treating the tumour, the patients died from the supposedly beneficial infection.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cheese reduces the chance of developing diabetes

Food is important for our survival, but our dietary pattern also tells us something about chances of developing nasty diseases. Eating a lot of fat, for example, does not bode well for your heart and blood vessels. When it comes to food, recent studies have shown that chocolate has all kinds of beneficial effects. Now, a study conducted by a large European consortium of researchers revealed that eating cheese and other fermented dairy products helps to prevent diabetes.

Using lasers to fight cancer

There are many interesting new forms of cancer treatment that are currently being investigated and tested. Examples include the use of nanoparticles or magnetism to burn away tumours. Even breast milk or chickens can help us treat cancer, surprisingly. Yet another novel attempt makes use of lasers to destroy malicious and cancerous cells. The technology, developed by the University of Tennessee, goes on a "seek and destroy" mission.

NASA publishes clearest ever pictures of the sun

Without the sun, our current life on earth would not have been possible. It is the star that our planet revolves around, and is therefore of special interest to us. Many astronomers study it, and NASA recently published a bunch of great pictures of the sun. Now, they have done so again, but in unprecedented high detail. You can find the pictures and a video after the break.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Artificially constructed jellyfish is built from heart

Artificial construction of organs is bound to get big in the next decade. A lot of scientific groups are devoted to discovering methods that allow us to grow tissues and organs in the lab, in order to transplant those to patients that need them. Naturally, it is not easy to copy nature's miracles in the lab, and much more knowledge is needed to fully understand how organs develop. Sometimes, scientists adopt rather unusual techniques in order to get a certain tissue type to grow in laboratory conditions, as is illustrated by a recent study from Harvard University. They used heart cells from a rat, and surprisingly managed to create a jellyfish out of it. It behaves like a live animal and, surprisingly enough, can help us with artificial organ construction.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Computer grid simulates entire living organism

Simulation of life is something that sounds like science fiction or part of the popular film trilogy The Matrix. However, computers are getting increasingly powerful and have begun to find their way into the laboratories of biologists. Computers are able to calculate a lot more than us human beings, and are therefore often used to study protein or gene interactions. Because molecules inside a cell can come into contact with billions of other molecules, it is impossible for us to turn it into something that can be calculated beforehand, but computers can do some of the job for us. Now, scientists have proven capable of simulating an entire organism by simply using enough computing power.

Scientists 'read' the brains of monkeys

In the last couple of years, scientists have greatly increased their abilities to extract thoughts or behaviour from brains. By discovering the function of individual brain areas, consisting of groups of neurons, it is possible to translate brain activity into patterns that tell us something about what the person is thinking or doing. For example, scientists have proven capable of allowing paraplegics to control robot limbs, simply by using their thoughts. While these new options greatly increase the possibilities of artificial limbs or other robotic equipment, it is also possible to translate these methods to animal research. Now, researchers from the Washington University have applied a brain scanning technique to monkeys, revealing how they process thoughts necessary to perform a task.

Friday, July 20, 2012

New drug has the potential to eliminate HIV infection

When it comes to viral infections, HIV is the most well-known. It causes AIDS, resulting in the death of many cells of the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to secondary infections. It is hard to treat, even though recent years have seen the development of various anti-viral drugs. AIDS is still not curable, and while the progress of the disease can be delayed, patients still die relatively young because of secondary infections. A new drug could possibly be the answer, as scientists have shown that it has the potential to kill all HIV-infected cells.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unconscious memory to improve security

Passwords are used for a lot of things, and it is not uncommon that people forget them. Normally, it is necessary to consciously remember a password in order to provide it when necessary. A new security mechanism does things rather differently, by relying on unconscious memory in order to 'remember' a password. Neurological tricks were used in order to get participants to remember a password without consciously knowing it, or being able to tell it to someone.

Irradiated microbes can help treat deadly diseases

Many different bacteria and viruses try to infect our bodies on a daily basis. Some are more deadly than others, and for various microbes we have found protection mechanisms by means of vaccines. However, we are currently unable to develop protecting vaccines for all infectious diseases, meaning that a lot of people still die from infections. A novel method developed by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences works by using radiation to render microbes harmless, and can be used to make new vaccines. This should help us treat a variety of dangerous diseases.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EU wants open access policy for published research

When scientists discover something important, they usually report their findings in scientific journals. Normally, these are printed and distributed weekly or monthly, but with the rise of the internet, more and more journals move towards the web. While scientific publications were originally meant to educate fellow scientists regarding the latest developments, access to such articles is largely restricted. They are frequently closed for the public and demand outrageous payments for access. One of the most well-known scientific journals is Nature, which charges a stunning 34 dollars to access a single article. Fortunately, new scientific journals have moved towards open-access, meaning everybody can access their publications for free. In an effort to promote such journals, the EU has proposed to make all research that they fund publicly accessible.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Earliest signs of alzheimer's disease uncovered

A lot of research goes towards discovering what causes dementia, of which alzheimer's disease is the most famous example. Because our life span is ever-increasing, incidence of alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will also increase over the course of years. Normally, alzheimer's starts off late in life, and its most well-known cause is the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain, effectively destroying the neurological tissue. It is important to uncover early signs pointing towards alzheimer's disease, because it gives the patient a chance to set his or her affairs in order. Also, it may give clinicians a better shot at treating or slowing down the disease, although a cure is not yet available. Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine conducted a study that tells us more about how alzheimer's develops.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ovulation makes women dance more attractively

Evolutionary speaking, a male and female having sex is the most efficient during ovulation. During that time, an egg is released from the female ovaries, which means pregnancy is possible. It is possible that, over the course of millions of years, evolution has made women behave slightly differently during ovulation, in an 'effort' to promote sexual activity during periods of fertility. Previous studies showed that women have a different choice in men during ovulation, and a more recent publication reveals that men perceive a dancing women who is in her fertile period to be more attractive. It seems that fertility therefore coincides with a higher degree of being desired by men, something that is, of course, evolutionary favourable.

Video shows how nanoparticles destroy a blood clot

In order for bodily tissues to survive, a steady supply of blood, providing nutrients and oxygen, is required. When blood flow is blocked, the surrounding tissue dies. When an important blood vessel gets blocked, for example one that supplies the heart or brain, then the patient is in big trouble. In such cases of blockage, which can be induced by clotting, we call it a heart attack or stroke, respectively. This often leads to death and therefore needs to be treated rapidly. New, modern-day treatments attempt to clear blockages by including the use of nanoparticles, which are artificially constructed molecules with a medicinal effect. A video made by Harvard University shows how nanoparticles slowly remove a clot from a blood vessel.

Alcohol can reduce risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Not all effects of alcohol are bad, as scientists recently proved by showing that it reduces the risk of asthma and improves social behaviour in a group. Now, a group of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that alcohol consumption can also reduce the risk of acquiring rheumatoid arthritis. This disease is marked by hyperactivity of the immune system, predominantly leading to damaged joints, skin and sometimes also several organs. Because it is a painful, disabling condition to which no cure is available, discovering ways to prevent it is highly necessary. The discovered effects of alcohol are therefore very welcome, albeit a bit odd.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Resurrection: bringing old genes back to life

As evolutionary processes such as selection pressure continue to endanger life's existence, many animal species have become extinct over the course of millions and billions of years. Once they go extinct, there is no way to bring them back on earth: a species is defined as a group of animals that are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. That means that once the last member of the group is gone, no new offspring of that species can be produced. A loss of animal species means a loss of biodiversity, which is why some scientists have tried to find ways to 'resurrect' extinct organisms, which also tells us something about why they went extinct. To do this, researchers try to obtain DNA still present on bones found from fossils or other remains. Because DNA contains the building blocks for building an organism, animal species can theoretically be brought back to life. Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have set a first step in that direction.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chickens provide clues for cancer treatment

There are many different methods that scientists have tried in order to come up with cures for cancer. Recent studies have shown that grape seeds or viruses may help us in fighting this awful disease; not something most of us would expect. Now, an international team of scientists has shown that chickens also hold clues for new treatments. A genetic study shows that a specific chicken protein has the capability to kill cancer cells.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fast camera used to analyse cells for cancer

Cancer is a nasty disease and sadly takes the lives of millions of people each year. Even though various forms of cancer are treatable, or even curable, its prognosis deteriorates if the disease remains unnoticed for a long time. Ideally, diagnostic tools would provide us with a level of sensitivity that allows us to detect cancer even if only a few cells have yet gone bad. This is however not a realistic scenario: most equipment will not notice a tumour unless it has attained a certain size. A new screening attempt developed by the University of California in Las Vegas has developed a system that scans cells individually and thereby greatly increased sensitivity compared to conventional scanners. Their system relies on a high-speed camera that takes pictures of cells.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pharmaceutical company fined $3 billion after fraud

We rely on pharmaceutical companies, and, in lesser extent, academics, to get new drugs onto the market. They fulfil an important role in society, because their efforts can save lives by curing diseases. However, much can be said about the conduct of such companies, as they need to invest a lot of money in development, meaning they want to earn as much as possible when bringing a drug to the market. There is a thin line between securing much-needed profits and unethical conduct, which sadly sometimes leads to companies crossing the line of what is deemed fair and reasonable. GlaxoSmithKline, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, was ordered to pay 3 billion dollars after the company was found to be guilty of fraudulent conduct.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Spelling computer extracts letters from your brain

In order to be able to speak, you need your vocal chords and muscles in your mouth. While you generally do not think about it, speaking involves the effort of many muscles, that are more or less autonomously guided by your brain. When the brain loses its ability to control muscles, you can lose the ability to speak. The most famous example is that of Stephen Hawking, who suffers from a disease that shuts down all of his muscles. Scientists from the University in Maastricht have developed a brain scanner that can be used as a spelling computer. It allows people to speak merely by using thoughts.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Clues about reversing brain ageing found in bees

Our brain is what makes us human, and capable of doing all kinds of things that other animals cannot. Sadly, our most precious possession starts deteriorating relatively early in life. Therefore, it is not surprising that scientists look for ways to reverse brain ageing, which could prove to be beneficial for patients suffering from all kinds of dementia. New clues that may help us artificially reduce brain ageing have been found in bees, which indeed sounds rather surprising. The findings, from Arizona State University seem to be relevant for humans, and may help us develop brain treatments.

Scientists successfully treat autism, in mice

Autism spectrum disorders cover a wide array of brain malfunctions, that predominantly lead to impaired social skills, problems with communication, and, in severe cases, cognitive impairment. A proper treatment for autism does not exist, and patients often need special attention and care. Because scientists are constantly improving their knowledge of the brain, new treatment options have become available over the last couple of years. Some of them are currently under investigation, and a scientific group from the University of Cincinnati found a way to treat autism by reversing the cognitive impairment. So far, they have seen success in a mouse model.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Psychological strategy ought to reduce aggression

Human beings almost universally agree that aggression and threats of violence are bad. However, it seems impossible to get rid of such behaviour, because it seems rather entangled with the human mind. Nevertheless, there are ways to reduce the level of aggression. Obvious examples include the employment of police to enforce social security, but there are other ways. Scientists came up with a way to help people reduce one's own level of aggression, by embracing a technique called 'self-distancing'. According to a study with a group of participants, this little trick seems to help.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Scientists create liver by using 3D printer

Over the last couple of years, 3D printers have gained the interest of many scientists that have been trying to create artificial organs in the lab. Because these machines are able to print layers of cells, providing them with the right instructions could help us create tissues for transplantable organs. This should in turn aid us in getting rid of donor organ shortage. Scientists from MIT developed a new printing mechanism that allowed them to create a functioning liver, paving the way for transplantable lab-grown organs. Previously, researchers showed that they were able to print bone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

CERN seems to have found the Higgs boson

Scientists are getting closer and closer to the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, a particle that should exist according to theory. While previous measurements on collisions in the Large Hadron Collider showed ever-increasing hints pointing at the existence of the Higgs boson, CERN now claims to have found its actual 'footprints', although this does not directly prove the particle exists.

Update 04/07: CERN has elaborated on their findings, and state that they have indeed found a new particle.

Mosquitoes bite based on how we smell

Summer is upon us in the northern hemisphere, and in most parts of the world this is accompanied by a fair dose of nasty mosquitoes. These little creatures are out there to get some of our blood, but it appears that while some people always get targeted, others manage to stay clear from mosquito bites. Scientists from University of Notre Dame figured out why mosquitoes bite us, and it appears that smell is an important factor. It may help us treat malaria and similar diseases.

Saturn moon likely contains liquid water

Water is not very exciting on Earth, but when we find it in space, it is big news. NASA is currently exploring water content on Mars, and have just launched a new spacecraft to investigate The Red Planet, but have lately shifted their attention to somewhere else. According to measurements from the Cassini spacecraft, Saturn's moon Titan may have a liquid ocean of water beneath the surface.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gravity helps scientists make use of stem cells

Stem cells are well-known as a promising therapeutic agent, because they have the capability to specialize in all possible cell types, allowing scientists to create a great variety of tissues. When the body fails to repair certain tissues by itself, such as those of the brain and heart, science may be able to lend a hand by use of stem cells. However, coaching these cells into becoming the right kind of tissue that does exactly what the scientists want, and make it ready for transplantation, is not that easy. Now, researchers from the Sbarro Health Research Organization have discovered that gravity plays an important role in stem cell behaviour, and reducing gravitational pressure may actually be helpful to improve stem cell therapy.