The body contains many different highly specialized cells that all have their own function in the various organs we have. Constant renewal is necessary to keep tissues healthy: so-called progenitor cells help replenish tissues and organs by replicating themselves and forming new highly specialized cells, depending on the context they find themselves in. For example, we have progenitor cells that help form fat cells. Despite the fact that most people do not require additional formation of fat, scientists have discovered that such progenitor cells can also help restoring damaged muscles.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Monday, April 15, 2013
For most of us, beer is a convivial drink, but for some, it can be addicting. Alcoholism is an affliction in which a person has become physically dependent on an alcohol-containing drink, of which beer is an example. To understand alcoholism, one has to study the brain and its chemistry. For those that have become addicted to beer, the release of a brain chemical known as dopamine plays a large role in creating a physical dependency. Scientists from the Indiana University have studied what happens to the brain if people drink alcohol, and found that the act of drinking by itself is enough to trigger the release of dopamine.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Our immune system is tasked with guarding our body against foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. Less commonly known is that immune cells also keep a close eye on the way our body functions. Cells that go haywire are swiftly removed from the tissues and are consequently replaced by healthy cells. However, the immune system does not always recognize those cells that need to be cleared, and in such cases a tumour may arise: cancer cells have found a way to escape detection and can therefore proliferate and endanger our health. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to modify immune cells in such a way that they recognize and destroy tumours.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
A large proportion of the matter in our universe cannot be detected by conventional means. It is called dark matter because it does not reflect any light, but we can detect its presence due to gravitational influence. Dark matter is actually much more prevalent than conventional matter, and over the years several theories have been proposed about what it actually is. We already saw that astronomers are closing in on the identity of dark matter, but it has not officially been detected yet. Measurements on board of the International Space Station have revealed traces of something that could help us find dark matter.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Stem cell therapies are as controversial as they are experimental. So far, it has been proven difficult to develop treatments that are beneficial for a patients' health, although improvements have been made with the use of stem cells to repair blood vessels, liver tissue and visual impairment, for example. It will take a while before such therapies become a commodity. In Italy, a new stem cell treatment has been given the green light, and is aimed at treating terminally ill children. The sole reason for the approval is the high unmet clinical need, as this novel treatment has no proven track record.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A lot of behavioural patterns are hard to discern by simply looking at the biological level, which is why we have invented a field of science called psychology. Linking biology and psychology has proven to be hard because our knowledge of the brain is still lacking. Often exaggerated claims are made regarding the way biological parameters affect things such as behaviour, but then again, it is a discipline that has not yet received the scientific attention it deserves. A novel study by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center raises an eyebrow as it claims to have found a relationship between hormonal components in saliva and the frequency of aggressive behaviour in boys. Could aggressive behaviour be something we can detect and 'treat' before it actually occurs?
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Ever so often viruses manage to successfully infect human beings and spread throughout the population. In the past, viral outbreaks could lead to high death tolls, the influenza outbreak of 1918 being a famous example with 500 million infections and between 50 and 100 million deaths. Nowadays, viral outbreaks are less pronounced, but we have to remain cautious, as the 'swine flu' and 'bird flu' have taught us. In order to cope with future viral outbreaks, scientists have developed a model that can predict outbreaks before they occur. The method will mainly be used for viral spread in Africa.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
One of the most important parts of clinical oncology is to find the cancer before it does any real harm to the body. Speedy diagnosis significantly improves the chances for survival, and for that, we need proper imaging tools. At the University of California in San Diego, scientists have found a better way to detect so-called sentinel lymph nodes, which are important in cancer metastasis. A novel, radioactive molecule was shown capable of improving the detection of the spread of a tumour throughout the body, indicating that our ways of cancer detection can be improved, thus promoting survival.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
It is commonly known that there are not enough organs being donated to supply all patients in need of a replacement. Another factor that contributes to scarcity is the fact that it is not always easy to get a harvested organ to the site of transplantation in time. Organs can deteriorate in quality during transit, accounting for a loss of over 2000 livers each year, for example. To counter this, scientists have developed a device that can keep a donor liver alive for over 24 hours, much longer than what is currently possible with existing techniques.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Oxygen is one of the most important compounds needed in order to facilitate life. It helps us to burn our fuel and turn it into energy that we use for all our bodily functions. There are also forms of oxygen that are a little less beneficial. Some chemical variants of oxygen are not entirely stable and readily react with anything they encounter. We call this reactive oxygen species (ROS) and this forms the center component to oxidative stress. While ROS are used by the immune system to kill invading microbes, oxidative stress can also damage our body. Researchers have now found a mechanism by which oxidative stress kills cells, providing new insights into novel therapeutic options for a wide range of diseases.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
When AIDS was first discovered it was a disease that eventually kills the patient. With new antiviral therapies, AIDS, and the corresponding HIV infection, is now a disease that is manageable. Nevertheless, HIV remains a big problem because the virus cannot be eradicated completely and it is still readily spreading around the globe, especially because it can be transferred from the mother to the unborn child. But now, for the first time, doctors have reported to have cured a baby infected with HIV, an incredible milestone. The patient was a newborn that was 'aggressively' treated with antiviral drugs.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Using your thoughts to control robot arms and robot legs are the next big thing currently in development for paraplegics. Proof of concepts have already shown that it is possible to read a person's thoughts and translate that to movement. For example, clinical studies with 'brain chips' show that we can translate thoughts to movement of robot arms, or robot legs, and even the fine movements of the finger can be simulated. Downside is that people have to be hooked up to computers in order to derive one's thoughts from the brain, but scientists have now created a chip that transmits brain activity wirelessly, which means thoughts can be read with no strings attached.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Organ transplantations are nothing new nowadays, as hospitals are readily replacing various organs, including lungs, heart, kidneys and others. There is one organ that remains elusive, and that is the brain. It is obviously impossible to put the brain of one person in another body and make it work. It is also unclear what would happen: is it possible to transfer a personality from one body to another? While brain transplants remain impossible, several interesting studies revealed it is possible to partially replace brain tissue. Scientists from the Duke University School of Medicine have now found a way to transfer thoughts, in the form of behavioural patterns, from one rat to another by means of electrical stimulation.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Theoretically, stem cells should be able to regenerate all damaged tissues in our body. Basically every organ has its own mature stem cells that are able to produce new cells when needed, although some are more active than others. So far, we have seen limited success with the use of stem cells. A prime example was the generation of an artificial kidney based on stem cells, which was successfully transplanted. Now, scientists have shown capable of growing liver cells out of specific stem cells, and also transplanted them successfully, paving the way for a cure for liver disease.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
It has been known for quite some time that cold blooded animals live longer when they are in a cold environment. Apparently, a cold temperature changes the behaviour of genes and preserves the body, promoting longevity. Scientists have found the genetic program that responds to cold temperatures and correspondingly helps animals to live longer. And the best part is that the temperature sensitive genes found in cold blooded animals are also present in warm blooded animals like ourselves. That means that manipulating these genes may help us live longer.
In order to understand the unimaginable vastness of the universe and its mysterious behaviour, it is necessary to study the smallest entities we know to exist. Particles are the foundation of all of physics, and can be used to explain all phenomena we encounter. Recently, scientists discovered the Higgs boson, a particle that is, among other things, expected to explain us why other particles have mass. Astronomers now also believe that the existence of the Higgs boson gives rise to a theory that may eventually result in the universe collapsing in on itself.
Friday, February 22, 2013
3D printers have rapidly gained interest from both scientists as well as the general public. Hailed as machines that can make everything, they are especially of interest to researchers in the field of regenerative medicine. Because 3D printers are capable of printing biological material as well, it is possible to create artificial tissues and organs in the lab, and use those for transplantation. In a recent study, scientists from the Cornell University managed to print a complete human ear.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Control of biological mechanisms starts with modifying the action of genes. Genetics provides the blueprint for the production of all the cell's molecules and therefore determines cellular behaviour to a great extent. Scientists have found ways to shut genes off, or to make them more active. By doing that, we are able to treat diseases, or modify stem cells to behave the way we want them to. But sometimes, this is not enough; it would be handy if we had a mechanism that allowed us to precisely tune how much of an individual gene needs to be expressed in a particular cell. Such a refined piece of equipment has now been made available for human cells.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Blindness has been impossible to cure for a very long time. More recently, we have begun to understand how the eye turns light into the electrical signals that stimulate the nerves leading to the brain. Because the brain is where our eye sight is actually formed, it is necessary to copy the necessary electrical pulses, should we wish to restore blindness in cases where the normal conduction system in the eye is no longer functional. An implant from the company Second Sight is now available in Europe, and has been shown to restore vision at least partly in transplanted patients.
Because of a lack of donors it is highly necessary to find an alternative source of organs that can be used for transplantation. Recent studies have shown the success of using stem cells for lab-grown organs, but it is still troublesome to produce such tissues in high quantities. 3D-printing technologies appear to be the solution for this problem, as scientists have shown that such printers can be used for biological material as well. So far, however, stem cells could not be printed because they are too delicate and would die in the process. Researchers have now found a solution for this problem as well, paving the way for 3D-printed organs based on stem cells.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Olive oil is popular for cooking, as it is supposedly the most healthy when it comes to oils. While scientific evidence has shown beneficial effects of olive oil consumption, there is a lot of work left to be done to investigate whether the health claims are actually valid. A recent study conducted by the University of Messina revealed that a certain compound that is present in olive oil may help prevent damage to the organs caused by faulty blood supply.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
It is impossible to create a functional multicellular organism from ordinary 'dead' matter without having the right set of molecules that allow for chemical reactions in the body, which is called metabolism. In order to be able to convert one product into the other, for example turning food into energy, bodies need enzymes. Because the required chemistry in the body is unlikely to happen by chance alone, enzymes are there to speed up the process, by favouring the conditions for a chemical reaction between specific compounds. Enzymes are therefore important and were created very early in evolution, as without them, it is very hard to produce something that is alive. Scientists have great interest in the artificial production of enzymes, something that would allow us to produce things of our own choice. A group of researchers has found a way to let evolution run its course in the artificial production of enzymes.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
War can leave devastating scars on the bodies of soldiers, and the loss of arms and legs is frequent. As we are unable to regrow organs or limbs, doctors have resorted to transplants from donors. Getting an arm or leg to function again, however, is extremely difficult. Transplanted limbs need to be connected to the brain in order for the recipient to be able to use it. Doctors from the John Hopkins Hospital attempted to give two new arms to an Iraqi war veteran, an operation that has only been attempted a couple of times. The recipient, a 26-year-old, says he can already able to feel his 'new' arms a little bit.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
In the search of new drugs to treat diseases, scientists often resort to nature in order to find new compounds with useful biological activity. We have found a lot of medicinal compounds in plants, and used them as the foundation for new drugs by modifications and enhancements through chemistry. As we are constantly looking for novel, interesting compounds, the search sometimes takes us to peculiar places. Such is the case with scientists from the Oregon Health & Science University, who proposed to go look for new drugs on the bottom of the ocean.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Cancer treatment is intense and often results in severe side effects because anti-cancer drugs or radiotherapy can be quite toxic. For skin cancer, scientists discovered that treatment, in some cases, with light can be highly beneficial. Basically, that means skin cancer patients can be treated by prolonged exposure to a big lamp. This concept sparked the interest of some engineers that consequently developed a LED-based device that patients can use to provide themselves with a personal form of treatment.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
A tractor beam is something that most of us will know from science fiction, such as Star Trek or Star Wars. It is classified as a beam that can attract an object from a distance, without a seeming physical connection. It functions pretty much like gravity, but instead it can be aimed at a specific object and drag it towards itself. It seems ludicrous to pursue the development of such a device, but scientists from the University of St Andrews actually managed to make one. That does not immediately mean we can drag star ships from outer space, however: their device works on a microscopic level.
Men and women are different at heart; not figuratively, but literally. It is known that there are functional differences between the physiology of the heart between men and women, This can be observed by looking at the prevalence of certain heart diseases: some are more frequent in men, while others are more frequent in women. Geneticists from the Washington University in St. Louis have found an explanation for such phenomenon.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
For many diseases the underlying mechanism or pathology can be explained by looking at the behaviour of cells. Because groups of cells form tissues, and tissues form organs and eventually us, effective treatment can in many cases be achieved by making cells healthy again. In order to achieve that, drugs need to find their way into the cell, but that is not always easy. Cells have shells, called membranes, that are very selective in letting molecules pass their borders. A novel technique developed by MIT may help increase the amount of molecules that can pass the cellular membrane. As it turns out, squeezing them does the trick.
Monday, January 21, 2013
All life forms on earth are based on DNA, the building blocks that hold the information that cells need to produce the necessary proteins to keep themselves alive and functional. In 1953, scientists finally elucidated the structure of the DNA, that became henceforth known as the double helix structure. Basically, it looks like two spiralling and entwining staircases that are made up of four different building blocks. All DNA that we know pretty much looks like a double helix, but now it appears that there may also be something now known as a quadruple helix. This discovery regarding a fundamental new structure of the DNA begs the question what kind of hidden information we have yet to discover in our genetic code.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Scientists have found a relationship between being lonely and the performance of the immune system. It was already known that factors such as stress negatively influence the body's ability to keep itself safe from introducing bacteria and viruses, but it is peculiar that a lack of social contact has a similar effect. Nevertheless this may be one of the factors that explains why some people get sick from an infection, while others seem unaffected.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
It is true that micro-organisms such as bacteria have a bad image, as they are the cause of various nasty diseases and discomfort. On the other hand, we have discovered that bacteria play an important role in the body: we have more of these microbes than cells in our body, and scientists previously discovered that they help to fight off all kinds of infections, as well as help us with digestion. Now, a study revealed that bacteria that populate our intestine help to prevent diabetes, a rather interesting finding.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
With the increasing power of computers, recent years have seen the rise of software models to explain biological phenomena. Computer simulations based on known behavioural patterns may help us gain more insight in how things work and make certain predictions; for example to see whether a novel drug would have a beneficial effect. At the University of Manchester, scientists developed a 3D model of the heart and by doing so discovered how certain cases of heart failure may arise.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
One's socio-economic status is an important predictor for all kinds of behavioural patterns, but also affects health status. It is known that having a higher socio-economic status, which includes income and education, relates to better health. The same holds true for people in relationships. Couples with higher socio-economic status are in better shape than those with a lower status. This may seem obvious, as two people with a high status are bound to do better than a couple with lower status. However, a new study shows that the socio-economic situation of your partner may independently influence your own health.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
After a drug is brought on the market for a specific use, follow-up studies sometimes reveal surprising new ways to use it. Perhaps the most famous example is aspirin, which was approved decades ago, but has since then seen a large increase in ways it can be used. In addition to its use as a painkiller, it has been shown to cut down the risk of cardiovascular diseases, as well as cancer. Now, a collaboration between the University of Geneva and the University of Lausanne revealed that a well-known breast cancer drug can also be used for something totally different: they showed that it may be used to treat a severely debilitating muscle disease, to which currently no cure is available.
Posted by Bauke Schievink at 12:03 PM
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Astronomers have discovered something that appears to be the largest structure ever encountered in the entire universe. It consists of a group of quasars, which are highly energetic regions present inside the center of galaxies. It is known that such entities tend to clump together, but the newly discovered group of quasars is so big its vastness is not only beyond what we can imagine, it is also bigger than what we thought to be possible according to the laws of physics.
Being able to hear is governed by the nervous system, by gathering input from the ears and turning it into information regarding our surroundings in the brain. Because we need the nervous system to hear, any damage to the ear or the hearing process can be permanent. The delicate cells of the ear and the nervous system are hard to repair, which is why deafness can rarely be cured. However, a new drug may change that, by allowing for repair of the sensory cells in the ear.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Stem cells have the potential to specialize in all possible tissue types, and are therefore of great interest to scientists that wish to regenerate damaged tissues and organs. Several recent successes saw the development of therapies to repair heart damage by making use of stem cells, but we have also shown capable of creating bone, restore vision or repairing brain injury. There are various other examples of what we can do with stem cells, but most therapies are currently still in development. Another interesting new therapy is making use of stem cells to repair damaged blood vessels: scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute have already shown to be capable of fully restoring a damaged artery.
Our brains are the most vital when we are young, and during that time we learn the most. As we age, it becomes increasingly hard to learn something. When learning something, new connections are formed between brain cells. Therefore, it is hypothesized that no longer being able to properly form new connections is one of the underlying reasons behind the age-related learning impairment. A new study shows that it is actually the inability of breaking the brain bonds that may be causing this phenomenon.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
For those materials that we cannot find or produce from natural resources, we use chemistry. Chemical reactions in the lab cane take place under a variety of circumstances, which helps us create a large number of artificial compounds with properties that we desire. A while back, scientists discovered that bacteria can help us with performing chemical reactions and producing desirable compounds. They now produce various things for us that are complex to make with conventional chemistry, including insulin. Now, researchers from the University of California in Davis have found a way to create fuel and plastics with bacteria.
Monday, January 7, 2013
After homosexuality was recognized as a natural phenomenon in the scientific world, researchers have begun looking at the origins of same-sex preferences. Structural differences in the brain tell us that sexuality is something that is developed early in life, and is not something that can be learned, as religious institutes often like to exclaim. This biological background lead to the belief that there must be genes that influence homosexuality, but a group of European and American scientists shows that differences in the structure of the DNA are more suited towards explaining this phenomenon.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Sometimes studies reveal biological mechanisms that have way more consequences that one could possibly imagine. Such is the case in a recent study conducted by American and Israeli scientists, showing that a protein that keeps eyes healthy may also be used to treat a variety of diseases. This includes cancer, but also problems that result from thrombosis and other diseases that are characterized by cardiovascular problems. Key to these findings appears to be a single protein.
Obesity can be characterized as the accumulation of too much fat, causing health problems. Fat is normally regarded as universally bad, but the body is actually more complex. There is 'good' and 'bad' fat, otherwise known as brown and white fat, respectively. Brown fat is more than just a useless lump of mass in your body: it has all kind of metabolic purposes, and does not make you obese in the way that white fat does. It appears that a mismatch in the balance between brown and white fat may be one of the underlying causes of obesity, a new study suggests. They also found a protein that is associated with keeping this balance, which therefore poses as an interesting target.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
One of the fundamental laws of physics is that it is not possible to achieve temperatures lower than absolute zero, which is defined as 0 Kelvin. This equals to -273.15 degrees Celcius and attaining this temperature will cause particles to come at an absolute stand still. Temperature can be regarded as the 'tremblings' of atoms and molecules, and movements less than zero are therefore considered impossible. Scientists have already achieved near zero temperatures, and have shown that all kinds of weird behaviour occurs at that level. Now it appears that scientists have actually managed to let the temperature drop below absolute zero, thereby defying what was thought to be an absolute constant in the realm of physics, and revealing all kinds of interesting phenomena in the process.
Although a difference in the average intelligence level between boys and girls has never been proven, it is often said that girls perform better in school. Because there does not seem to be a biological explanation for this phenomenon, there may be other reasons for the differences between the sexes when it comes to school performance. According to a study from the University of Georgia and Columbia University, the difference may actually lie in how teachers perceive the behaviour of their young students.