Monthly Archives: November 2013

Cocaine-using males have offspring that resist addictive behaviors

cocaine cutting drugs addictionResearch at the University of Pennsylvania showed that male offspring of male rats that used cocaine were less likely to become addicted to the drug after having experienced it, and less likely to want the drug in the first place. Researchers found that cocaine use among males likely causes changes in the DNA that are transmitted to male offspring!

It seems that the neurons of the male offspring were less sensitive to cocaine. Normally, after repeated cocaine use, certain receptors in the brain are usually remodeled; this is part of the development of addiction. But in these male offspring, that didn’t happen.

This is important, because it will be interesting to see how these changes in behavior are passed down from generation to generation. Interestingly, this type of ‘immunity’ to addiction wasn’t seen in female offspring. Understanding the mechanisms behind this could potentially help lead to treatments for addiction.

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Alzheimer’s progression tracked through retinal changes

Aging ConceptThe ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s before the onset of symptoms would be extremely valuable. By the time people show clinical signs of the disease, significant damage to the brain has already been done. Because of this, pro-active therapies in patients with pre-clinical signs of the disease could be much more effective than therapies aimed at patients in later stages of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers found that genetically engineered mice with Alzheimer’s showed thinning in a specific layer of retinal cells that were normal in control mice. They suspect that this retinal thinning occurs long before clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s begins. If the loss of retinal neurons correlates to the loss of brain cells, it’s possible that early signs of the disease could be detected at routine eye checks!

And this works both ways- while retinal changes could help doctors detect patients in early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s also possible that treatments developed for Alzheimer’s could be useful in the treatment of glaucoma.

Further research will continue to determine if these changes are also seen in human patients. Early detection is an important factor in preventing memory loss- and thanks to the mice, researchers may have a whole new approach!

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X-Men regenerating abilities… in a mouse!

wolverine google freeRegeneration is one of Wolverine’s best-known abilities. But attempting to replicate this ability in humans seems like something out of science fiction- and not too probable. Mice, however, are apparently another story! Cancer researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital inadvertently discovered a unique ability in one of their mouse models- regeneration!

Quite often, mouse littermates look identical. So to distinguish between mice that carried a gene called Lin28a and control mice, researchers clipped a small piece of tissue from the edge of the ears of the study mice. But in one particular strain of mice, they found that the ear tissue was quickly regenerating, making their identification system useless. When attempting other identification methods, including clipping hair from their backs as identifying markers, they found that the hair grew back much faster than expected.

By studying these abilities, researchers attempted to use drugs to activate the metabolic processes that were responsible for these healing powers- and they succeeded!

So will researchers be able to duplicate this in humans? Well, nowhere in the near future. But the information learned about the role of metabolism in regenerative capabilities could prompt some interesting new research. Read more here:

Alzheimer’s: Would you want to know?

iStock_000015944645XSmallIf you carried a biomarker that might mean that you were at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, would you want to know?

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are looking at patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s, and they are looking at certain proteins in an attempt to find out what kind of signatures Alzheimer’s Disease might create in the body. They hope to follow patients over many years to determine whether or not these biomarkers are actually accurate indicators of the disease. 

But that brings up a question- if a patient has biomarkers that researchers currently think might contribute to the development of the disease, should the patients be told about this? Opinions differ. Some researchers don’t want to share information about biomarkers with their patients until they are sure that this information is clinically relevant. Others believe that there could be some benefits to knowing.

What do you think? Would you want this information, or do you think it would cause more harm than good to have it hanging over your head? Let me know what you think- I’d love to get your opinion on this!

Vaccinating your pet’s tail?

iStock_000004262922XSmallVaccinating your pet is extremely important for your pet’s health as well as your own. The diseases that vaccines prevent can be deadly, expensive to treat, and could potentially affect you and your family (think rabies). But occasionally, there are side effects to these vaccines. Specifically, in cat vaccines, a small percentage (about 1 in 10,000 cats) can develop a tumor at the vaccine site. 

Veterinarians have been able to improve vaccines in many ways to reduce the risk to your pets. A new research study shows that vaccinating cats at the ends of their tails can be just as effective as traditional vaccine sites- and in the event that the cat has an adverse reaction and develops cancer at the injection site, a tumor at the tip of a cat’s tail is more easily treated than tumors at other locations.

While the diseases that these vaccines prevent certainly cause more damage than the low percentage of cats who have adverse reactions to the vaccine itself, it is always important to keep our pets as safe as possible! Check out the link below for more information.

Her Heart Will Go On

iStock_000022911974XSmallTragedy. Heartbreak. The death of a loved one is difficult to handle, and we never have all the answers we need. But thanks to biomedical research, organ donation can bring something good out of the tragedy of death. Heart transplants have been successful for over 40 years, with 60+ years of crucial animal studies leading up to the very first heart transplant in 1967. The video below, which was shown on Good Morning America a couple of years ago, has begun to circulate around the internet again- and after you watch the video, you’ll understand why. A mother, who lost her teenage daughter, gets to meet the woman whose life was saved and hear her daughter’s heart beat again. This story is sad, beautiful, and hopeful, and is a perfect example of the reason why people in the field of biomedical research are so passionate about what they do.



For more information on animal contributions to transplant research:

A pickle a day… keeps the flu away?

iStock_000004841980XSmallSounds funny, but check it out! It’s possible that influenza infections could be prevented by a drink made from a Japanese pickle! It seems that Lactobacillus bacteria (naturally found in a pickled turnip called Suguki) boosts the immune system, and in research studies, it was found to have protective effects against influenza in mice. It’s also possible that this bacteria could prevent H1N1 and H7N9- which is nothing to laugh at!

As more and more people search for natural approaches to staying healthy, this type of research is definitely in high demand. Often, false claims are made about the effectiveness of natural supplements, so being able to back up those claims with scientific evidence is important. And just think- through research into the mechanisms behind these protective qualities, wouldn’t it be cool if researchers could develop flu-fighting foods? Pass the pickles!

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Cervical cancer protection in one shot

iStock_000027350736XSmallCervical cancer kills approximately 4,000 women in the U.S. each year. And about 85% of all cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries, where routine screening is not a standard of care. Currently, only a small percentage of American women receive the series of vaccinations- and physicians are definitely interested in increasing this number.

Gardasil and Cervarix, the two cervical cancer vaccines currently available, require three doses within a six-month period. But a vaccine that could be effective after only one dose is highly desirable. One dose, given during a yearly physical, would be a much easier ‘sell’ than a vaccine requiring two more follow-up visits. Vaccination would also be more affordable.

After looking at immune responses in women who had received one, two, or three doses of the vaccine, researchers found that even after only receiving one vaccine, lasting effects were seen. While long-term research is definitely needed to determine whether or not these effects are enough to be considered protective, it’s definitely looking promising that current vaccine recommendations may be able to be altered in a way that would be more efficient. Read more here:


Botox- for cancer patients?

eautician giving an injectionBotox- for cancer patients? What?? Yes, you read that right. Botox is commonly known for use in plastic surgery applications. But it may soon have clinical applications for patients suffering from chronic pain!

Botox’s main component is a bacterial poison called botulinum. It works by blocking signaling between muscles and nerve cells, which is useful for cosmetic injections because it stops muscles from moving and wrinkles from developing. Botox can also have pain-relieving qualities, but there is some concern that if Botox is used for pain relief, patients might suffer from paralysis in the area in question.

But now, researchers have combined the pain-relieving elements of Botox with elements of the tetanus bug in such a way that it can stop pain signals sent between the spinal cord and the brain- basically taking the best parts of the two molecules and using them for good. This makes this new drug a potentially useful pain medication for cancer patients as well as others suffering from chronic pain.

As animal trials have been successful, it looks like this new drug could be available in as soon as 3 years! Check out the link below to learn more.

Postoperative pain management improvements

Neck painNarcotics tend to be the standard treatment for managing postoperative pain after major operations, but they come with many possible side effects, including the potential for drug dependency. However, new research could reduce or eliminate the need for narcotic medication in post-op pain management.

Researchers at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have developed a method to deliver lidocaine (a drug that usually has short-lived effects) in a way that will prolong the therapeutic effects of the drug. When combined with daily NSAIDs, studies in rats showed that the combination therapy was as effective as daily treatment with narcotics- without the undesirable side effects! While further research is necessary, this could be a great solution for post-operative pain management in both humans and animals!