Friday, November 30, 2012

New drug promising for treatment of Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease affects the part of the brain that takes care of muscle control. Because the brain part responsible for these functions is dying in patients with Parkinson's, the symptoms slowly progress from slight tremors to all kinds of problems that also affect cognition and behaviour. Our ever-increasing knowledge of the brain and its pathology has resulted in several interesting and novel treatments, such as electrical stimulation. In addition, scientists have recently uncovered how vitamins, diet and genes affect symptoms in Parkinson's. However, there is still no proper cure, but a novel drug that is currently being tested has shown very promising results.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Method devised to build our own proteins

Proteins are the basic building blocks of cells, and they have all sorts of functions. Some of them appear as true building blocks that hold the cell together, but others catalyse chemical reactions in the body, and are known as enzymes. There is an enourmous variety in the functions that proteins can perform, which is basically governed by their shape. Proteins are created from long chains that automatically fold into the right position. This folding process is what interests scientists, because we can use it to make our own proteins. A group of scientists has now devised a set of principles to actually make this happen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Looking through the eyes of a monkey

It is not easy to decipher the behaviour of animals, because they have no way of communicating their motives and feelings to us. That is why we have to rely on rather indirect measurements to analyze their behaviour. A new method, developed by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus literally lets us look through the eyes of animals. Their technique tracks eye movement, and thereby allows us to see what the animal sees. According to the researchers, this helps with improving behavioural studies.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nano structures aid in studying individual cells

A cell is the most basic form of life there is. Some organisms consist of just a single cell, but us human beings have billions of them. Because we consist of so many individual components, cells need to work closely together. They do so by forming a cooperation of multiple cells that all do the same thing. That is what we call tissue. Communication is very important, and cells normally receive signals from all sides. In the lab, things are a bit different. We use special culture flasks in which the cells attach to the bottom. However, this does not accurately mimic the situation in the body. Scientists from the University of Twente have designed nano structures to grow cells individually, in the shape of a pyramid.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Time is not symmetrical, new study shows

We experience time as a straight line; it only goes forward and never backwards, unless you are playing back a piece of video or audio in reverse. This is something that is never questioned, but the wondrous world of quantum mechanics has taught us to look differently at things that seem obvious. Einstein already proved with his theory of relativity that time differs depending on the observer, but individual particles appear to go one step further. There supposedly is an anti-particle for every particle that has exact opposites characteristics, and that also means that it has a different direction in time. An associated theory is dubbed supersymmetry, but scientists have revealed that time is actually asymmetrical.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Device prints words directly on a blind person's retina

Blindness is very hard to cure, and it is one of the few things for which there are barely any effective treatments. Being blind is often permanent, but newly developed technologies offer a bit of hope for those who are unable to see. For example, a newly developed eye implant based on laser looks very promising, and the same goes for attempts with gene therapy. Now, scientists from the company Second Sight have developed a device that stimulates the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue of the eye. This way they succeeded in letting blind people read words and even see colour.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recordings show that fetuses yawn in the womb

Ever so often we discover things that do not seem particularly useful, but are still interesting enough to mention. An example of this is a recent study regarding the phenomenon of yawning. A group of scientists working at Durham and Lancaster University tried to find out whether fetuses also exhibit this peculiar form of behaviour. While we do not actually understand the function of yawning, aside from a rather interesting and recent theory, we at least know that we already do so in the womb.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Engineered bacteria sacrifice themselves for others

Altruism is a form of behaviour thought only to exist in animals that are highly intelligent, such as us human beings. It is defined as having concern for the welfare of others, without having a certain moral obligation. Sacrificing your own life for the well-being of someone else could be considered the ultimate form of altruism, although scientists are still debating whether true altruism exists at all, evolutionary speaking. Scientists have now found such behaviour in bacteria, although this required a bit of modification.

Monday, November 19, 2012

First steps to a functioning brain transplant

One of the hardest tissue types to replace is that of the nervous system. Individual cells, called neurons, are hard to acquire and even harder to grow new in the body. Being able to provide our central nervous system, especially our brain, with fresh neurons may be a way to counter neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. Scientists have already shown capable of growing neurons from stem cells, but a recent study has now provided a way to actually make them functional after transplantation, which is a big step forward towards regrowing parts of the brain.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A 3D-printed self-walking robot based on heart cells

It is amazing what engineers can do nowadays. New technology has allowed us to create our own biological systems that can, for example, be used for transplantation or for the creation of biological robots, otherwise known as cyborgs. An interesting recent example is a project where scientists turned an insect into something that we can control. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois have created a biological machine by printing layers of heart cells and a hydrogel polymer using a 3D printer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Robot fish capable of interacting with live fish

Robots are getting increasingly intelligent, as we advance in our technology. Nowadays, robots are capable of performing complex tasks, and we are already finding ways to attach robot elements to our bodies, creating so-called cyborgs. It is, however, still too difficult to make robots just as intelligent, or complex, as live animals. Scientists from the University of New York have now set the first steps towards a robot model that behaves just like a fish and is capable of real interaction. Such principles ought to help us change the behaviour of groups of animals, in an effort to preserve nature.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pig DNA unraveled, helps us cure diseases

In various animals, including humans, the DNA sequence is completely known. That means we know exactly, on average, how a genome is built up. Knowing the structure of the DNA helps us to decipher the function of individual genes as well as what it means when we find variations in genetic structures. Because we use various animals as models for human research, it is worthwhile to unravel their genomes as well. This has now been done for the pig, an animal that looks very much like us; we have already been able to harness their organs for transplantation into human beings, which means that genetic research in the pig could very well help us learn more about human disease, leading to cures.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another possible Earth-like planet found

Recent advancements in technology have allowed for the discovery of exoplanets; planets that exist beyond our solar system. Our own system consists of only a few planets, and it is therefore very interesting to venture deep into space to see what kind of variations we can find beyond those we already know. Such endeavours have led to various interesting discoveries, including a planet made of diamond and a planet that orbits not one, but four stars. In addition, we happen to stumble upon planets that look very much like our own earth, and another example has recently been found: this so-called super earth may even have a similar climate, which means it is an interesting finding in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Low levels of vitamin D linked to long life

The relationship between food and nutritional substances and health are a complex matter, and while we generally know what is good for us and what is not, there are still a lot of things that are unknown to us. This is highlighted by a recent study on the effect of vitamin D and its relationship to longevity, which showed that low levels of the substance is associated with a longer life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Healthy lifestyle adds on average 14 years to life

Everybody knows that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy. We also know that regular exercise is quite beneficial for our health. Nevertheless, diseases such as diabetes and obesity are increasing in prevalence, because adopting a healthy lifestyle is not always easy when tempted with the prospect of laziness and unhealthy food. A recent study, however, does show that adopting a healthy lifestyle is definitely something to consider: keeping a healthy heart would add at least fourteen years of disease-free living.

New ways to predict how diseases will progress

Being able to predict diseases would be very beneficial. It allows us to take preventive measures, which not only spares the patient, but also reduces the costs of healthcare, especially when it comes to chronic diseases. Because we continuously increase our understanding of the pathology of diseases, we find new ways to construct models that predict the onset or progression of a disease. A novel way, developed by the Emory University allows us to predict the progression of various diseases by simply taking a blood sample.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pacemaker can be powered with heart beats

Pacemakers are one of the oldest implantable devices that we use to adjust body functions. Such devices function by generating pulses that instruct the heart to keep beating. This can save the lives of people who are unable to create these pulses themselves, for example as a result of heart damage. A pacemaker makes up for that, but the downside is that it needs batteries in order to be able to generate the necessary electrical pulses. A novel device is supposed to eliminate the need for batteries, saving patients from future surgery.

Man walks with robot leg using only his brain

Our attempts at understanding how the brain works have yielded very interesting results in the last couple of years We have seen paraplegics operate robot limbs using only their brain, and it is even possible to mimic the fine finger movements, allowing for complicated brain-controlled actions. Now, American scientists have come up with something new, as they have found a way to let a person control a bionic leg with his mind. He even proved to be capable to climb one of the highest skyscrapers with the robot leg, using only his brain and his one healthy leg.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Human genetic catalog seeks the origin of disease

In 2003, the first ever complete sequence of the human genome was published. This marked a huge milestone in biology and has lead to lots of post-hoc analysis to discover clues about our evolution, genes and their function and other bits of our DNA. Nowadays, it is a lot faster and cheaper to unravel the entire sequence of a person's DNA, but the costs are still too high to allow large-scale sequencing. Nevertheless, we have accumulated a rather large collection of human genomes, and a group of researchers has just started a project to use this catalogue in the search of the origin of disease.

How habits get hard-coded in your brain

Many forms of behaviour require our attention and conscious thinking. However, we all have our habits; things we have gotten used to and which are performed on 'auto-pilot'. Once we have gotten accustomed to certain patterns of behaviour, our conscious brain is no longer needed, and it can be 'used' for other purposes. It is quite peculiar that habituation helps us to 'relieve' us from conscious control, which is why neurologists from MIT set out to discover what actually happens in our brain.