Monthly Archives: November 2013


Malaria target could be a major breakthrough!

While there are some therapies for the most common forms of malaria, they’re usually only effective in one stage of the disease, leaving many patients at risk for a relapse. In one form of malaria, parasites can remain dormant in the liver for up to two years! But by isolating strains of parasites that are resistant to current treatments, scientists were able to develop a new target for malaria treatment that could work at multiple stages of the malaria life cycle. This is an important step in developing next-generation antimalarial drugs that can not only treat, but also prevent and block the spread of malaria. There’s still a lot of work to be done in the quest to eliminate the disease, but this new breakthrough is great news!

Pretty cool- the Novartis Malaria Initiative is a  program that provides access to medicines, and over the last 10 years, they have delivered over 600 million treatments in over 60 countries- without profit! Their program aims to improve human health by creating long-term, sustainable access to medicines to those in developing countries.


Can fear be inherited?

Plenty of traits are passed down from one generation to the next. Eye color, hair color, height, body type- but did you know that offspring can also inherit a parent’s trauma?

Studies in the past have shown that women who have experienced trauma tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Children of these women also had lower cortisol levels. And it might be expected that if a mother has experienced trauma and is stressed, her kids would be stressed due to her own behavior.

But a new study shows that nature AND nurture both play a role in this- that traumatic experiences can be transferred to the offspring through sex cells! Male mice were trained to fear a particular odor. During the process, this learning changed neuronal organization in the mouse’s nose. Then, IVF was performed with sperm from these males. Both the first and second generation offspring had similar neuronal organization in their noses, and they feared the same odor that their fathers did!

This shows that information stored in the brain is somehow transferred to sperm cells. Researchers don’t know how yet… but they’re working on it!


Alzheimer’s, Marijuana, and Ibuprofen

I’ll admit, I tried it once in college. Once. That was enough for me- the very next day, I felt so dumb that I had no desire to try it again! Literally- I felt stupid. Attempting to study didn’t go too well- I couldn’t remember what I had just read! And apparently, that’s a common side effect of marijuana use. So the thought of using marijuana (THC)  to alleviate Alzheimer’s symptoms seems pretty far-fetched- the side effects of the marijuana are similar to the symptoms of the disease!

But after careful research, scientists have learned the reason for the unwanted side effects of THC. It causes an increase in levels of an enzyme called COX-2 in the part of the brain involved in learning and memory. And they found that using ibuprofen (an over-the-counter painkiller that happens to inhibit COX-2) minimizes these side effects.

This is important, because if unwanted side effects can be eliminated for patients currently using marijuana for medicinal purposes, it could have a much broader treatment range. It has been shown that mouse models of Alzheimer’s had reduced neuronal damage after THC treatment. What do you think? The use of medical marijuana can be controversial. What are your thoughts?


Resurrecting extinct species?

We’re not talking about Jurassic Park, but there are plenty of species that have recently gone extinct due to human interference. Deforestation, hunting, and human expansion have been the cause of countless species’ extinction, and many people believe that we have a moral obligation to attempt to do something about it.

Scientists have already used knowledge gained through research- including IVF, genetic testing, and novel tracking and census methods- to save species that were on the brink of extinction, including Bald Eagles, Grizzly Bears, Green Sea Turtles, Giant Pandas, the White Rhino, the Siberian Tiger… the list goes on and on.

Some researchers want to take these efforts even further. The Centre for Research and Food Technology of Aragon in Spain is starting a new project to look at frozen cells of the burcado, an extinct type of ibex, to see if the cells are viable enough to potentially bring this species back. While plans are in the early stages, it’s exciting to think that we could potentially ‘resurrect’ species that have recently gone extinct due to human actions. The Tasmanian tiger, Western Black Rhino, Javan Tiger, Japanese Sea Lion- what would you bring back if you could? What do you think about bringing extinct animals back?

Evolution 1

E. coli gives researchers insight into evolution

E. coli showing evolution? Yes! Researchers at Michigan State University have been growing Escherichia coli for 25 years, which is over 58,000 generations, in a project called the Long-Term Experimental Evolution project. And during this time, through studying 12 populations of E. coli, they have found that the bacteria continues to adapt to its environment, with no upper limit in sight- even in the 40,00-50,000 generation range, E. coli‘s “fitness” (a measure of how the organism has adapted to its environment) increased by 3-4% per generation!

Another interesting find: several genetic changes that took place over thousands of generations allowed one of the E. coli colonies to develop the ability to eat the chemical citrate in the presence of oxygen (an ability that E. coli hasn’t had since the Miocene epoch!). Careful record-keeping allowed the researchers to look  back at previous generations and track the development of this ability.

Just a fun fact for you- it would take almost two and a half million years to look at 58,000 generations of humans. Bacteria and animals with short lifespans can give us incredible insights into genetic changes that we wouldn’t be able to see in humans.–coli/

Cancer diagnosis- from a honeybee!

beesA bee has an incredible sense of smell- better than a dog’s. And they can be trained to ‘alert’ to targeted odors in as little as 10 minutes! Training involves exposing the bees to certain odors and then rewarding them with sugar water- and the bees have the capability to remember the actions that cause sugar rewards for the rest of their lives!

Bees are placed in a glass container that patients exhale into. If the bees sense the odor that they were trained to recognize, they fly into a secondary container as an ‘alert’ to the presence of the odor.

If bees can be trained to detect cancer on the breath, and they are this easy to train to respond to specific smells, it stands to reason that bees could potentially become an invaluable medical tool for diagnostic purposes in many different applications! An interesting example of animal research at work!

Devastating pediatric disease may have a new treatment option

iStock_000006773546XSmallLeigh syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that occurs in approximately 1 in 40,000 children, usually affects kids in their first year of life. The disease causes progressive brain damage and muscle weakness, and cause of death is usually due to respiratory failure. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Leigh disease, and children with this disease rarely live past their 6th or 7th birthdays.

Mouse models of human diseases give researchers a way to look at potential treatments or therapies. Rapamycin, a transplant anti-rejection drug, unexpectedly showed some promising results with mouse models of Leigh disease! The average lifespan of this mouse model is 50 days, but after daily rapamycin injections, these treated mice lived over twice as long as untreated mice! Coordination and breathing were substantially improved as well.

There are far fewer drugs available for pediatric diseases than there are for adult illnesses- and this could be a great breakthrough! After determining that this drug works to alleviate symptoms of the disease in mice, researchers can now focus on the mechanisms involved in order to develop a drug treatment regimen that would be appropriate for human patients. A benefit is that rapamycin is already approved for use in humans, so a treatment might not be too far off. Let’s hope that this works!

Virus-blocking mosquitos to the rescue!

mosquitosIn an interesting example of animal research in action, it was found that mosquitos carrying Wolbachia bacteria cannot transmit dengue. So, mosquitos engineered to carry this bacteria- as well as transmit it to their offspring- were painstakingly hand-transported to an island off the coast of Vietnam (where dengue is a serious problem) in an attempt to replace the indigenous mosquito population. Read more in a post earlier this month:

People on the island are welcoming their new ‘pests’- they take care to allow these mosquitos to live, understanding that an increase in the Wolbachia mosquito population is critical! Researchers estimate that people on the island will be protected from dengue when the Wolbachia mosquito population reaches 80%- and in recent news- it’s up to about 65% and climbing!

Amazing! While researchers are still working on vaccines and treatments for dengue (of which there currently are none), this creative approach to the problem is a great example of animal research at work. In an attempt to save human populations, while introducing a bacteria that won’t do any damage to the ecosystem, this is a great example of ingenuity in research. Keep it up, guys!

Sugary drinks may cause more damage than you think

Child drinking unhealthy bottled sodaThere’s plenty of research out there showing that sugary drinks can contribute to hyperactivity, obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. We already know that. But new research might make you pause the next time you grab a sugary drink from the fridge- or give your kids soda instead of water.

We know what sugar can do to your body. But what about your brain? It’s a really good question- and you need to pay close attention to the answer! In recent laboratory studies in Sydney, Australia, it was found that hundreds of proteins in the brain were altered in rats that consumed sugar water instead of plain water. In fact, there were more changes seen in these proteins than in rats given caffeine!

The most worrisome part? A significant number of these altered proteins are known to play a role in cellular lifespan, and 30% of these proteins are linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and cancer. If sugary drinks can play a role in the development of neurological disorders, that’s one more really good reason to choose water instead of soda or sugary juices!

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

Stress during pregnancy is bad for your baby, too!

iStock_000013924965XSmallThink that stress during pregnancy doesn’t affect your baby? Think again.

When a baby is born, the first bacteria that it receives is from the birth canal- and this bacteria is responsible for beginning the bacterial colonization in the baby’s digestive system.

Stress has been proven to cause changes in the bacteria in the mother’s birth canal. In mouse studies, it was found that stressed, pregnant mice not only produced more types of bacteria, but Lactobacillus, a common and helpful bacteria for babies’ gut colonization, was greatly reduced. After birth, it was also found that gene expression in the brain was negatively affected by a reduced amount of Lactobacillus- specifically, genes related to neuron grown and connections in the brain.

Understanding this could lead to helpful therapies for human patients. By discovering the most useful bacteria to begin gut colonization, doctors can give newborns a dose of this beneficial bacteria after birth- this would be particularly helpful for babies born via C-section (who do not travel through the birth canal) and babies born to mothers who were on antibiotics (further altering the types of bacteria present).

So for pregnant moms out there- take it easy! Less stress for you ultimately means a healthier, happier baby.

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