Ebola: Can dogs transmit the virus?

iStock_000011963680LargeRecently, there’s been a lot in the news about Ebola and dogs- particularly, about a dog in Spain named Excalibur, who was euthanized on Wednesday, October 8th. Excalibur was the family pet of a nurse’s assistant who is currently being treated after contracting the virus. The question: can dogs carry and transmit the virus?

Wild animals are certainly capable of carrying and transmitting the virus. The World Health Organization recognizes that Ebola is transmitted to people from wild animals, and fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Infection has been documented in wild bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines. However, there are no conclusive studies showing that dogs can transmit Ebola to humans. But there also aren’t any conclusive studies showing that dogs don’t pose a risk, either.

During the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon, dogs were exposed to Ebola from eating dead animals that had been infected with the disease. Researchers took blood samples from over 400 dogs, and results suggested that dogs could be infected by Ebola and potentially remain asymptomatic. It’s possible that viral particles could be excreted in urine, feces, and saliva (as has been seen in other animals), potentially putting humans at risk of contracting the virus. But again, no concrete answers. This study shows that the dogs were exposed to the virus and their immune systems responded to it, but it still doesn’t tell us whether or not dogs that have encountered Ebola can shed the virus or not. 

Without conducting specific research into canine infection, at this point, the short answer is that researchers really aren’t sure whether or not dogs can transmit the virus to humans. The decision to euthanize Excalibur has evoked strong emotions and responses, and rightly so. Many are outraged at Excalibur’s death. Some argue that he should have been quarantined and tested to determine whether or not he was a risk to the human population; others are taking the “better safe than sorry” approach. What do YOU think? Should Excalibur have been euthanized? How should companion animals be handled if their owners contract the virus? We’d love to hear your thoughts- please post below.

Infertility hope: Uterus transplant results in a healthy baby boy

pixabay baby holding dad's fingerInfertility is a heartbreaking problem that many women and couples face. There’s nothing worse than wanting a baby and being told that it will never happen, or being given the “one in a million” speech. And while there have been many advances in medicine that have helped women overcome the diagnosis of “infertility,” recent news of womb transplant success gives us a new reason to be optimistic!

For women who were born without a uterus (this affects about 1 in 5000 women worldwide) or have lost theirs to cancer, becoming pregnant doesn’t even seem like an option. But in September, all that changed when baby Vincent was born. Vincent’s mother was one of nine patients who had undergone a uterine transplant over the last two years in this particular study. Out of those nine patients, Vincent’s mom was the first to deliver her baby, and six others are currently pregnant.

While several countries may now start their own womb transplant programs, this is unlikely to become a commonplace technique, as it is expensive and risky. Patients must remain on anti-rejection medication to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted uterus. After birth, the uterus would need be removed to prevent long-term health effects from anti-rejection drugs. But it’s still an incredible advance, and women who had no hope of becoming pregnant may now have a chance.

None of this would have been possible without dedicated researchers worldwide and the animal models that have contributed to the understanding and application of this science. Surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs have progressed to the point of actually allowing a woman without a uterus to undergo a successful transplant and give birth to healthy baby- and that’s amazing! Read more about it here.

Cat saved by a dog- and you’ll never guess how!

dog and cat lying togetherIt’s a happy ending for Buttercup the cat, but the story didn’t start out that way. When Buttercup’s owner brought him to the vet clinic, he was pretty sick. He was lethargic and his red blood cell count was abnormally low. What he needed was a blood transfusion- but veterinarians didn’t think he had much time left. As donated cat blood wasn’t readily available, vets turned to the next best thing: dog blood.

That’s right- Buttercup the cat received a blood transfusion with donated dog blood! Cats and dogs have blood types, like humans do, but just as there is a universal blood type in humans (if you’re curious, it’s O negative), there’s also a universal blood type in dogs. Buttercup received a blood transfusion from the equivalent of an “O negative” blood donor, and the blood transfusion bought Buttercup enough time to allow his own bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.

Cross-species blood transfusions, also called xenotransfusions, aren’t very common in veterinary medicine. However, in Buttercup’s case, he was lucky that this was a viable option! Thanks to advances in biomedical research and an anonymous greyhound blood donor, Buttercup has a shot at ALL nine lives. 

Read more about Buttercup’s story here.

Breast cancer- could LIGHT exposure affect treatment?

pixabay light through treesNew research is showing that exposure to dim light at night may negatively impact the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments. In a laboratory setting, dim light exposure during night cycles made human breast tumors in rats more resistant to doxorubicin, a standard chemotherapy for breast cancer.

But why? Well, it’s all about melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by the body during dark periods at night. In this research study, exposure to light at night disrupted rats’ melatonin cycles. Half of the rats, however, received melatonin supplements to make up for this. Researchers found that the tumors grew almost three times faster in rats that did not receive supplements, and their tumors were completely resistant to doxorubicin. It seems that the presence of melatonin helped support higher levels of active doxorubicin in the breast cancer cells, and prevented enzymes from breaking it down and making it less effective.

At this point, researchers aren’t ready to make supplementation recommendations for human breast cancer patients. And if the effects of melatonin ARE similar in humans, recommendations for supplementation would need to be carefully monitored. If disrupting the natural melatonin cycle can cause the body to react to cancer treatments differently, then incorrectly supplementing could also cause undesired effects. However, since this isn’t the first time that dim light exposure at night has been shown to have negative effects, it’s possible that this research could prompt patients to be more aware of light exposure disruptions during night cycles.

Read more about it here: http://www.aacr.org/Newsroom/Pages/News-Release-Detail.aspx?ItemID=608#.VC9VpPldWSo

 

Dogs are providing clues to human breast cancer

pixabay cocker spanielDogs are often called man’s best friend. In this case, dogs are helping humans more than you might think! Dogs can be a great model for understanding cancer, because they develop cancer spontaneously, and in this case, cocker spaniels may be able to help researchers better understand human breast cancer.

Recently, the epigenome of the cocker spaniel has been characterized. Researchers compared dog and human epigenetic changes, and found that when looking at breast cancer, the same regions of DNA are affected in dogs and humans.

So, why is this important? Discovering common mechanisms can help both humans and dogs in future research studies. It’s possible that targeting these epigenetic changes could help slow disease progression, and dogs may be able to help us understand this faster. And ultimately, understanding more about the connection between canine and human cancer will benefit both species.

Read more about this research here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/ibri-deg100214.php

Mesothelioma: Are YOU at risk?

Bad newsMesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen (the mesothelium). The mesothelium is important because the lungs, heart and stomach are constantly in motion, and the cells in the mesothelium provide lubrication and assist in organ function. There is no cure, and the relative 5-year survival rate is between 5% and 10%. But how does one develop mesothelioma- and are YOU at risk?

Mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos occurs naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. Small, individual fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and if they’re breathed in, a buildup of fibers can cause plenty of lung problems- including mesothelioma.

Because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals, asbestos was commonly used in many different industries for years. However, in the later 1900s, asbestos-related cancers became better understood. Laboratory studies with rodents have confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and cancer.

Since the mid 1970s, its use has been significantly decreased, but asbestos exposure is still a concern when working with older building materials. The World Trade Center, for example, was built at a time when asbestos was very common in building materials. It’s estimated that 400 tons of asbestos were used in its construction, and when the buildings collapsed, the EPA reports that asbestos was “pulverized” into fine particles and scattered over Lower Manhattan. In 2006, researchers estimated that almost 70% of recovery personnel had suffered from lung problems, and it’s expected that in the years to come, more first responders and workers that assisted in the cleanup will be diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Awareness is key. The use of asbestos is regulated by OSHA and the EPA, and anyone who believes they may come in contact with asbestos in their workplace can contact OSHA for more information on regulations and safe practices. In the meanwhile, researchers continue to look for answers. Animal research has helped lead to two approved chemotherapy medications for mesothelioma, and researchers are continuing to work on gene therapies, new ways to target cancer cells, and more efficient methods to deliver radiation.

To find out more about this disease, visit the pages listed below and follow the links in this article. To spread awareness, you can start by sharing this article on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts- has this disease touched you or your family? What do YOU want people to know about mesothelioma? Leave your comments below.

http://www.mesothelioma.com/

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/index

Antibiotic resistance… the NEXT generation

MRSA- Picture courtesy of CDC's Public Health Image Library

MRSA- Picture courtesy of CDC’s Public Health Image Library

Antibiotic resistance is a growing- and serious- problem. Most antibiotics work by interfering with cell functions, but certain types of bacteria (like MRSA) have evolved in such a way that these antibiotics just won’t work. Researchers all over the world are working on this problem, and it seems that scientists at MIT have made a pretty significant breakthrough.

By using a genome-editing system called CRISPR, researchers have been able to target the genes that allow bacteria to resist antibiotics. And by targeting the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance and disrupting them, they were able to kill over 99% of the resistant bacteria. Using this method, they also successfully increased survival rates of waxworm larvae infected with a nasty form of E. coli.

Currently, research in mice is in progress. The goal is that one day, this technology could be modified to work on humans. As recent research hasn’t yielded many new classes of antibiotics, this method may ultimately play an important role in stopping the spread of antibiotic resistance in the human population.

Read more about it here: http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/fighting-drug-resistant-bacteria-0921

Anthrax as a secret weapon to kill cancer?

pixabay petri dishBacillus anthracis, commonly known as anthrax, is extremely efficient at injecting its toxin into host cells. This characteristic is part of the reason that live Bacillus anthracis is handled at high biosafety levels in the laboratory. But it also prompted researchers at MIT to consider ways to use anthrax’s efficient delivery method to their advantage. The result? A new potential drug delivery method for cancer treatments!

Antibody mimics can disrupt protein interactions inside cells- including cancer-causing proteins. But getting them there is the challenge. Researchers used a component of the anthrax toxin to carry them. But this time, instead of injecting anthrax toxin into cells, the antibody mimics were injected. And it worked! The next step in this research is to attempt to translate it into animal models. Hopefully, this research will move forward and prove to be successful enough in animals to start human clinical trials! Read about it here.

This isn’t the first time researchers have used the Trojan horse approach in disease treatment research. Read about a similar method used in Alzheimer’s research here.

 

Moms: Could there be such a thing as “too clean”?

iStock_000016947232LargeIf you are a parent, you undoubtedly know that children are magnets for germs. Literally- magnets. I’m sure that there is scientific evidence of this somewhere. I haven’t found it yet, but when I do, trust me- there will be a blog post about it.

Despite the obvious- yet unsubstantiated- theory of child/dirt magnetism, we all have that mom friend who has undoubtedly been recruited by the government to eliminate germs. And she is awesome at it. Her child is mid-cough, and a container of hand sanitizer magically appears out of her back pocket. Milk spilled from a glass hasn’t even hit the floor before her third arm appears with a mop. YOUR child is about to sneeze, and as you pretend to search for the tissue in your pocket that you should probably have ready, Super Mom produces a travel pack of baby wipes out of nowhere and comes to the rescue. You walk into her house and marvel at the lack of crumbs/ dust/ dog hair/ Cheerios imbedded in the carpet, and think “My God, this woman is amazing!”

We all love our germ-defying mom friends. They are the epitome of “Super Moms,” and give us something to strive for. But now, science is here to make the rest of us feel a little bit better about the crumbs/ dust/ dog hair/ Cheerios imbedded in our OWN carpets. Scientific research suggests that “exceptionally clean living environments” may be linked to a weakened immune system and food allergies in children.

Research studies showed that mice living in sterile environments lacked a certain gut bacteria, called Clostridia, that can protect against food allergies. The solution? Provide them with this bacteria (think mouse probiotics), and the sensitization to food allergens can be reversed. While this was a study in mice, other research studies have suggested that the use of disinfecting products, anti-microbial soap, and antibiotics can change the composition of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts.

So, when you start to feel inadequate as Super Mom wields her secret-weapon-germ-cleaning-abilities, maybe you can feel a little better about your toddler picking his nose while playing in the dirt. After all, you’re just trying to help boost his immune system- right?

http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Health/2014/09/11/Being-too-clean-weakens-your-childs-immunity/

Lasers: A new way to map the brain!

pixabay lasersResearchers have found a way to map the brain using lasers! Chemists from Stanford University have come up with a way to track blood vessels in the brain in a new, non-invasive technique. Ultimately, this research could help improve the understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Current methods for investigating the brain are either too invasive or not detailed enough. Surgery can cause trauma that can negatively impact brain activity, and while MRIs and CT scans can give a good amount of information, sometimes it just isn’t enough.

That’s where this new technique comes in. Researchers inject water-soluble carbon nanotubes into a mouse’s bloodstream. These nanotubes fluoresce at particular wavelengths, so when researchers shine a near-infrared laser over the mouse’s skull, they can see the nanotubes, which show the structures of blood vessels. Scientists were able to see about 3mm underneath the scalp, and this technique doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on brain functions.

This research was developed in mice, but it may be able to be used in humans as well. The technique would need to be modified to allow researchers to see deeper into the brain, and they would need to identify an appropriate fluorescing agent to use. But hopefully, this new technique could give researchers a new way to study strokes, migraines, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Read more about it here:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/august/skull-blood-flow-080614.html