Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Using HIV to cure cancer

HIV and cancer are both awful and have serious health impacts. None of us would like to be affected by either one of those, but it seems that putting them together may actually result in something useful. Scientists from the French CNRS institute think we can transform HIV into a tool that helps us fight cancer. It is an interesting idea that helps make something good out of something bad.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First steps to creating a cyborg

A cybernetic organism, or cyborg, is a being that consists of both electronic and biological parts. While that sounds like science fiction, some of us actually look forward to building one. In fact, researchers at Harvard University and MIT have made the first steps in order to create a real cyborg, by creating tissues that are part electronics, part biology. Scientists have increasingly been trying to link electronics with biology, and have already managed to simulate an entire organism with a computer.

Energy drinks improve heart function

Energy drinks have become increasingly popular in the last decade. They promise a quick boost of energy and are therefore used a lot by those of us not getting enough sleep, for example. However, everything comes at a price, which in the case of energy drinks means that such temporary boosts are not good for your health. This is common knowledge, but a recent study from the University of Siena points in a different direction. Scientists argue that energy drinks actually improve your heart function.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anti-smoking legislation has significant health benefits

In many European countries it is no longer allowed to smoke in public places, such as restaurants or bars. That means smokers need to find designated areas for their unhealthy habits, away from non-smokers. This means that not only is smoking discouraged by such laws, non-smokers also benefit because they are no longer covered by second hand smoke when visiting public places. German research has pointed out that this latter group benefits the most in terms of health from such anti-smoking regulations.

Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, passed away

One of the greatest achievements of mankind was the lunar landing in 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on a place different than the earth. As he said in his own words: 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind'. Sadly, Armstrong's family announced he has passed away at the age of 82. Humanity will have to go on without one of its legends.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Herbal tea as a drug to fight breast cancer

There are lots of old wives' tales and folklore when it comes to herbs or other natural products and their medicinal effects. Lots of the attributed effects are not scientifically proven and mostly rely on the so-called placebo effect. Of course, it would be too easy to just write all of them off as rubbish, which is why some scientists have taken a keen interest into scientifically analysing the effects of certain herbal treatments. As it turns out, some components in herbal tea may actually help to fight breast cancer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enzyme modification helps burn fat three times faster

Obesity is a growing problem in the western world. The percentage of people that are overweight is increasing at an alarming rate, and so are the concurring diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems. Much research is devoted to combating this problem, and scientists at the University of Copenhagen have found a molecular trick to make you burn fat much faster. In fact, the speed at which body fat is burned can be tripled.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Evolution favoured menopause to reduce competition

Once a woman hits the menopause, she is no longer fertile, effectively ending her capabilities of reproduction. Evolutionists have wondered why something like the menopause exists. Surely it has no evolutionary benefit to keep an organism alive that has no ability to reproduce, one would think. However, there have been some theories regarding the potential benefits, and an international group of scientists performed experiments to see if one of them holds any truth. They found that the menopause reduces competition in families, especially between in-laws.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo

Whenever there is an outbreak of an Ebola virus, it poses a big problem for the infected population. It is spread by body fluids and various forms of human contact, and can cause severe internal bleeding which often leads to death. What makes it even more dangerous is the fact that there is no cure, despite promising attempts to create one. A few weeks ago, the Ebola virus wreaked havoc in the African country Uganda, killing at least 16 people. Now, the World Health Organisation has confirmed the virus has also been found in Congo, where the death toll has already reached 10.

NASA is planning to send another robot to Mars

NASA recently dropped off its latest and greatest rover on the planet Mars. The machine, called Curiosity, harbours a fully fledged laboratory and a bunch of interesting equipment in order to investigate the Martian surface. Recently, Curiosity beamed a couple of high-resolution pictures back to earth, giving us a clear view of the Red Planet. The whole adventure stirred up a lot of media coverage, and in the wake of its success, NASA announced to send another explorer to Mars in 2016. According to the space organisation, this particular robot will do geological research to discover what lies beneath the surface.

New theory argues universe started with a Big Freeze

In the beginning, there was a Big Bang and it created the whole universe. That is the condensed and oversimplified version of the theory that supposedly started off everything we know exists, about 14 billion years ago. According to the theory, everything was in a extremely hot and condensed state, which resulted in rapid expansion, forming atoms and thereafter more complex forms of matter, eventually giving rise to a wide dispersion of galaxies, solar systems, stars and planets. A new hypothesis from the University of Melbourne states that a Big Bang is not the most accurate model to describe the early phase of the universe. Scientists think it was more similar to a 'Big Freeze', like water turning into ice.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Folding DNA like a trojan horse

DNA is normally shaped like a double helix, which basically looks similar to a spiralling staircase. By building DNA in this particular way, it is possible to form endless chains of genetic material, suitable for read-out by cellular machinery, in order to derive the required information for protein production. However, by changing chemical properties, it is possible to give DNA a different shape, and fold it in ways similar to the way proteins are folded into their unique shape. DNA folding has been used by a group of scientists to create something similar to a trojan horse, in order to help kill cancer cells.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deciphering the neural code can restore vision

Our eyes are responsible for gathering the required light to create vision in our brains. Light is absorbed on the retina, a layer that is comparable to an analogue film used to capture images or video. In order to get the information to the brain, neural cells transform incoming light to electrical pulses, suitable to be interpreted by the brain. When the retina does not work, no more pulses are sent to the brain, resulting in blindness. This can be overcome with artificial electrical stimulation using implants, but it has proven to be hard to mimic the patterns that neural cells use to communicate with the brain. However, scientists have managed to 'crack the code', enabling us to restore vision to normal levels.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sub-atomic 'soup' reaches highest temperature ever

CERN keeps breaking the boundaries of science with their experiments in physics. A while ago, they reported to have found a candidate for the much sought after Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that is supposed to complete the standard model of particle physics. Before that, they found another new particle, by pushing the limits of science by creating high-speed collisions of particles. Such collisions create high temperatures, and CERN now reports to have broken the record of the highest man-made temperature ever, creating a 'soup' of subatomic particles that was supposedly also present during the Big Bang.

State of emergency after West Nile virus outbreak

Outbreaks of West Nile virus are pretty common, especially in the United States. About a decade ago, the number of deaths related to West Nile outbreaks were increasing, as well as the number of deaths due to infection. However, more recent years saw a drop in the number of deaths and mortality rate. Because the virus can cause lethal encephalitis, it is necessary to keep it under control. That is why the mayor of the Texan city Dallas has declared a state of emergency, after a recent outbreak hit a death toll of ten.

Writing a book with DNA

Living beings almost exclusively use DNA to store information necessary to produce the building blocks for biological components. We human beings use bits to store data used for a computer. Scientists from Harvard Medical School sought to combine the two, and managed to 'write' an electronic book by encoding it with DNA. It is one of the first practical applications of genetic code as a substitute for bits and bytes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Taking the social approach to beat cancer

Social phenomena are getting increasingly popular on the internet. Many people are registered on social networking sites and the concept is also being used more and more by companies. Even research projects benefit from social attempts. Now, scientists think cancer should also be treated with regard for its social features. According to researchers from the Tel Aviv University, regarding cancer cells as a micro-community with the ability to cooperate will enable us to develop new ways to treat tumours.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Side effects from chemotherapy can be greatly reduced

Treating cancer with chemotherapeutics is a double-edged sword. While it is proven to be very effective in killing cancer cells, it also harms healthy tissue, which means clinicians have to balance between an effective dose and the associated side effects. Despite our best efforts, getting rid of chemotherapy and replacing it with more specific treatments will take a while. That is why some scientists instead look at improving chemotherapy instead of finding replacements. Scientists from KU Leuven found that it is possible to greatly reduce the side effects by providing patients with an additional treatment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fruit fly can be upgraded with artificial DNA

Genes are individual packets containing instructions to produce a specific protein, and they form the foundation of life and evolution. A lot of genetic functions have been discovered by investigating fruit flies: they function as a so-called model organism which scientists have freely used to experiment with. Inducing genetic changes lead to visible, or invisible, changes, and that has helped us a great deal in genetic research. Now, British scientists have managed to modify fruit flies by adding DNA to their genome. This made the little flies produce a modified protein, paving the way for 'DNA upgrades'.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Curiosity sends back hi-res pictures from Mars

About a week ago, NASA's latest space project Curiosity landed on Mars. The car-sized machine with a built-in laboratory is now fully operational, and managed to send a few high-resolution photos back to earth. The Martian landscape is visible in vivid colours and looks much like a typical rock desert on earth. A few of NASA's Mars pictures can be found below.

Singing mice help us study language problems

Did you know mice can sing? A species called S. teguina from the tropical cloud forests in the mountains of Costa Rica have the ability to communicate by song, similar to the way birds do. Their chirps carry over long distances in the wild, and are often used to attract males or to display dominance. Such singing mice are unique to their kind, and are of interest to scientists wishing to learn more about how language develops in humans.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

'Selfish' DNA reduces survival and fertility

DNA is present in every living cell and forms the blueprint for the production of all cellular components. The genetic code is safely stored in chromosomes, located in the cellular core, called the nucleus. A little less known is the fact that a particular cellular component called the mitochondrion packs its own DNA, with its own 'reproduction' cycle. Despite the fact that our cells need mitochondria for energy production, scientists seem to have found a competitive element in mitochondrial DNA, that results in decreased chances of survival and fertility.

Scientists simulate touch with artificial skin

We use our nervous system to record input from the outside world, enabling us to see, feel, hear, smell and touch. Being able to register that our body is touching something is governed by sensory neurons that are present in the skin. They respond to tactile input from the outside world, after which an electrical pulse is sent to the brain, making us aware of what is happening. Scientists have been able to simulate touch by electrically stimulating the skin, something that can be used for various purposes. Virtual touch could be used for surgery and games, for example.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Heavy drinking by teens predicted by looking at brain

Heavy alcohol consumption by minors is an ongoing problem. According to recent studies, teenagers often have no sense when to stop drinking, because the physical effects of the alcohol are different when compared to adults. Because sometimes young people drink so much that they fall into an alcohol-induced coma, it is necessary to do something about it. Scientists from the University of California in San Diego discovered that future heavy drinking by youngsters can be predicted by scanning their brains.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

'Noise' may boost research towards quantum computer

For most people, quantum physics is weird and hard to understand. That is not surprising, because our observations at the sub-atomic level are radically different from what we have come to expect in the 'real' world. A famous example is quantum entanglement; a weird interaction between two particles, that assume each other's opposite form regardless of how far away they are from each other. This sort of behaviour makes instant teleportation of data a possibility, as has recently been shown by transferring data over 100km without a 'physical' connection. When particles on the quantum level interact, that is not only due to entanglement, but also due to something called quantum discord. Often regarded as background noise, but scientists have now found that it may actually be even more useful than applications of entanglement.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

281-gigapixel photo made of an embryo

Because imaging quality has been steadily improving over the last years, making pictures of small biological building blocks such as cells or tissues became possible. Making detailed pictures can help study biological structures or aid by detecting anomalies that point at disease. Dutch scientists working at Leiden University Medical Center created a huge picture with a stunning 281 gigapixels of a zebrafish embryo. The technique they used is suitable for other samples as well, which means it can be used as a tool to study very small structures.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chemotherapy can sometimes increase cancer growth

Therapies for cancer are never very pretty. Scientists struggle with creating treatments that specifically target cancerous cells and leave healthy tissue alone. Radiation therapy, for example, can be targeted directly onto a tumour, but surrounding tissue suffers from it as well. Chemotherapy is another example: basically, it is poison that just kills malicious cells a bit faster than healthy cells. However, a recent study shows that chemotherapy can actually increase growth of tumour cells. Disturbing, but knowing the mechanism helps us to improve therapies.

NASA's Curiosity lands on Mars

At the end of 2011, NASA launched its latest and greatest Mars rover, packed with instruments to investigate the Martian surface and weather. Perhaps more importantly, it is tasked with finding clues that Mars harbours, or has harboured, life. Now, around nine months later, Curiosity safely landed on Mars without a lot of trouble. The rover already sent its first pictures back to earth.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

3D-printed 'exoskeleton' enables use of arms

Printing objects in 3D has rapidly become popular in the last couple of years. A wide variety of objects can be printed, including synthetic things that are relevant for the medical world. Now, a printing company called Stratasys made an 'exoskeleton' that enabled a little girl to use her arms properly. As demonstrated in a video, the plastic print made her cope with a disease called arthrogryposis.

Findings reveal new difficulties for transplantations

There is a great need for more organ donors, because there are not enough replacements, such as heart, kidney or lung, to provide all patients with the organs they require. Because being an organ donor can save lives, in case yours can no longer be saved, getting registered as a donor is something everyone of us should do. However, availability is not the only issue in transplantation. Scientists have had to put in a lot of effort in order to get transplantations to work, because our bodies are not quite prone to accepting organs from others. Due to our increased knowledge, we have gotten transplantation procedures to work, but scientists from the University of California in Berkeley have discovered new difficulties.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A sneeze may function as a 'reboot' for the nose

Sneezing is one of those things we consider normal, despite the fact that we do not quite know what our body uses it for. The same goes for yawning, although there are some theories that involve brain temperature. Now, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania claim to have found why our bodies have developed the sneeze reflex: it appears that sneezing helps to 'reboot' the nose. Basically, it is thought to reset the nasal environment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Smiling helps to relieve stress

A person smiling is mostly considered to be a good thing. While the gesture is not universally positive in the animal kingdom, it is definitely something that most of us human beings appreciate. A smile shows pleasure or joy, and can be quite 'contagious'. It is sometimes said that smiling makes you live longer. While that seems unlikely, scientists did recently show that a smile helps to relieve stress, indicating there may be real health benefits after all.