Monthly Archives: December 2013

Alzheimer’s and a Trojan horse

iStock_000003250297XSmallA roadblock in treating diseases of the brain- like Alzheimer’s- is something called the “blood-brain barrier.” The brain is very well-protected in several ways- not only is is encased in bone, but cells lining the brain and spinal cord are so efficiently arranged that it’s very difficult for anything to enter the central nervous system from the bloodstream. As you can imagine, this barrier makes it difficult for drugs to cross, and this presents a challenge when researchers are specifically trying to target the brain with certain compounds.

Researchers at U Penn have come up with a solution. By linking a protein that can clear dementia-causing plaques from the brain with a molecule that is already able to cross the blood-brain barrier, they are able to get this protein into the brain- think of it as a tiny “Trojan horse.”

To test this, they linked a fluorescent protein to this Trojan horse and tried it in mice. After the mice consumed this new treatment, researchers were able to track the ‘glow’ of the protein and found that it was successfully incorporated into the brain and retina! And- in both mouse studies and cell studies- the treatment was successful in dissolving plaques! This is one Trojan horse that could prove to be a lifesaver. Read about it here:

Fatherhood: The most important job you’ll ever love!

Man and young boy outdoors playing airplane smilingWhile there have been many studies showing the importance of maternal influence on children, new findings show that a father’s presence can make a big difference in the social development of offspring. Researchers have found that mice raised without a father were more aggressive than those raised with both parents, and abnormal social interactions were more common. This is consistent with human studies of kids raised without their fathers, where¬†higher incidences of substance abuse and deviant behaviors are seen.

Why is this important? In 2012, it was estimated that 1 in 3 children in the United States- or about 15 million children- lived in a home without their fathers. Compare this to 1960, when only about 1 in 10 children grew up without their fathers. This research shows that both parents are very important to a child’s mental health development, and that parents should be aware of potential social and behavioral changes in children raised without a father’s presence.

Dads- are you hearing this? You are so important in your kids’ lives! Take advantage of the moments you spend with them. They depend on you!

Birth control pills… for men!

iStock_000028100444XSmallIn the past, attempts at a male contraceptive pill were centered on altering hormones or affecting sperm production. Both of those methods could potentially cause negative long-term effects on fertility, as well as impact sexual performance.

But researchers in Australia have had great success with male birth control attempts in mice. There are two proteins that are responsible for transporting sperm during ejaculation, and by using genetically modified mice that have these proteins blocked, researchers found that the males were infertile but their sexual performance and sperm viability were normal! Translation: the sperm is there, it’s just not going anywhere.

The goal is to replicate this process chemically in an attempt to block these same proteins, with the goal of creating a daily oral contraceptive that would have completely reversible side effects. While in this study, mouse infertility was not reversible, the theory is that a contraceptive could be developed that would act on these proteins while in the patient’s system but then be fully reversible once the patient stopped taking it- similar to oral contraceptives for use in women.¬†It’s possible that a safe, reversible oral contraceptive for men could be available within 10 years. Pretty cool!