Thursday, January 31, 2013

LED bandage is a personal treatment for skin cancer

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

Functional tractor beam created

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.

Why the heart is different between men and women

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

Injecting proteins and molecules in cells by squeezing

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

Scientists find entirely new DNA structure

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

Loneliness harms our ability to fight off infections

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

Bacteria help to prevent diabetes

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

A virtual heart to explain cardiovascular anomalies

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

Choice of life partner may affect health

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

Cancer drug may treat severe muscle disease

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.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Largest structure in the universe ever found

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.

New drug may cure deafness

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 cell therapy to repair damaged blood vessels

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.

Breaking brain bonds helps us learn

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

Engineered bacteria to produce fuel and plastics

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

Epigenetics may explain sexual preferences

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

Keeping your eyes healthy, and treating diseases too

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.

Keeping a fat balance may counter obesity

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

Temperatures below absolute zero are possible

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.

Study explains why girls perform better in school

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.