Monthly Archives: June 2014

Liver transplant availability improved by rats

iStock_000015700850SmallLiver transplants may soon become available to many more patients, thanks to a slow-cooling method that  was developed in rats. This technique could make over 5,000 extra organs available to patients each year. Currently, a human liver only lasts for about 12 hours, so the pool of transplant recipients is very limited and depends on the patient’s proximity to the donor hospital.

Freezing organs can cause ice crystals, which can damage the cells. This slow-cooling method prevents the formation of ice crystals by introducing a chemical that protects the cells. The liver can then be stored at -6 degrees Celsius before it’s warmed back to body temperature and transplanted. Researchers also believe it’s possible to use this method on larger organs.

Pretty amazing- and this could mean the difference between life and death for thousands of patients! Between this cooling method and other advances aimed at organ preservation during transport, humans could likely begin to see the benefits of this research rather quickly. In this instance, the chemical components of this technique are already approved for use in humans, so after further research in larger animals, human trials won’t be far behind.

http://www.nature.com/news/supercooled-livers-last-for-days-1.15465

Reducing cholesterol levels- PERMANENTLY!

stop high cholesterolOver 35 million Americans take daily medications to reduce their cholesterol, and that number continues to increase. But thanks to new research from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, it’s possible that patients will be able to experience an improved quality of life with a single injection!

By disrupting gene activity in a gene (PCSK9) that regulates cholesterol, researchers were able to permanently reduce cholesterol by 35-40%. First, they targeted the DNA sequence where the gene resides, then created a break in the system, and then used adenovirus to carry the treatment to the liver. In one injection, they were able to permanently change the genome, meaning that the benefits are there forever.

While this treatment is probably at least 5-10 years away for humans, the accomplishment in mice is pretty amazing. The next step in this research is to work with mice that have human-derived liver cells before moving into human studies. Read more about it here:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-10/cholesterol-controlled-for-good-by-gene-therapy-in-mice.html

Shocking discovery from an electric eel!

eel-228748_640Electric eels are fascinating animals, not only because they look pretty cool, but also because they can generate electricity and deliver shocks of up to 600 volts. But they’re not the only fish that can produce electric fields, and recently, research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has yielded some surprising information about the evolution of this ability- and what it could mean for other species.

Researchers analyzed the genes of the electric eel as well as other electric fish from unrelated families. It appears that there are a limited number of ways to evolve electric organs, and in at least six different fish, their electric organs evolved in the same way.

So… why should we care? By understanding the way electric organs were created through evolution, scientists may be able to gain the information needed to one day create electric organs in humans or other other animals. The zebrafish, a commonly used research animal, may play a role in attempts at this type of modification. If humans were able to have electric organs, they could possibly serve to power pacemakers, neurostimulators, or other implanted medical devices. Read more about it here:

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/26/325246710/a-shocking-fish-tale-surprises-evolutionary-biologists

Canine melanoma vaccine coming soon!

jackrussellpixabayThe first therapeutic vaccine for cancer has been conditionally licensed by the USDA! And man’s best friend will benefit from it. This vaccine is intended as a treatment for dogs with stage II or stage III oral melanoma, and hopefully, it will dramatically improve the quality of life for pets suffering from this type of cancer.

Canine oral melanoma is very aggressive and can be difficult to treat. Melanoma tumors contain a protein called tyrosinase, and the vaccine works by introducing human tyrosinase into the dog’s body, which stimulates an immune response against the protein.

Because canine oral melanoma affects a small percentage of the dog population, using a vaccine as a treatment instead of a preventative seems to be the best option at this point. But if veterinarians were able to determine certain breeds or populations of dogs that were at risk, it’s possible that this treatment could be modified for use as a preventative vaccine.

By starting with a vaccine treatment for oral melanoma, it’s possible that this could lead to the development of vaccine treatments for other types of cancer. Interestingly, this development first began with basic animal research, moved into research in human treatments, and now it’s back to animals by benefiting man’s best friend! Who knows- this may lead to the development of human melanoma treatments. Read more about it here:

http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-dept/canine-practice/canine-melanoma-vaccine-gets-conditional-ok.aspx

More cocoa= less Alzheimer’s?

pixabay chocolateYes, you read that right- new research suggests that diets including specific types of cocoa could prevent Alzheimer’s! We’re not talking about the candy bars you grab at the grocery store check-out line, though… we’re talking about cocoa extract.

In Alzheimer’s patients, the accumulation of beta amyloid proteins damages nerve cells. But through a recent mouse study, researchers found that a specific cocoa extract prevents this accumulation. Lavado cocoa extract is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, and the study suggests that using it as a dietary supplement could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Because brain damage begins to occur in Alzheimer’s patients long before the onset of physical symptoms, prevention is extremely important.

This isn’t the first time the chocolate has been recommended for health benefits. Past research suggests that chocolate may lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes. Read more about cocoa and Alzheimer’s here:

http://www.alnmag.com/news/2014/06/cocoa-extract-counters-alzheimers-mechanisms-mice?et_cid=4013152&et_rid=655142386&location=top

Virus may obliterate triple-negative breast cancer!

iStock_000013954899SmallNot all cases of breast cancer are the same, and patients can require very different treatments depending of the type of tumors involved. Because different types of tumors contain different receptors, it’s important to tailor the treatments in order to be as effective as possible. Now, researchers have found that a virus could prove to be an effective treatment for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, which is extremely aggressive and difficult to treat.

Adeno-associated virus type 2, or AAV2, is a virus that doesn’t cause illness in humans. It does, however, kill cancer cells without affecting normal cells. In cell cultures, AAV2 wiped out 100% of the targeted cancer cells! As an added bonus, when cancer cells were infected with AAV2, more proteins that promoted healthy cell growth were produced!

In mice with tumors derived from human breast cancer cells, researchers saw amazing results after injecting AAV2- tumors shrank, the mice didn’t show any signs of illness, and they all survived through the study, unlike the untreated mice. This research could mean hope on the horizon for patients with triple-negative breast cancer! Read more about it here:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-06/ps-vkt062414.php

Leukemia pill could bring hope to other cancer patients

iStock_000014156140SmallA pill intended for leukemia treatment may soon make a big difference for patients suffering from a variety of cancers. These drugs worked so well against leukemia that during trials, patients taking placebo pills were switched over to the real drug!

Cancer cells produce an enzyme called p110. This enzyme suppresses immunity, making it hard for the body to fight back against disease. The drug works by blocking that enzyme so the body can fight back more efficiently.

It turns out that this pill could be effective against a wider range of cancers than previously thought. Through research in mice with a variety of cancers, survival rate was greatly increased. Mouse studies indicate that this could be an effective treatment against breast cancer by not only minimizing the spread of the disease, but also by improving survival rates after removal of breast tumors!

P110 inhibitors could quickly become part of cancer treatments, as the drugs are already being successfully used on cancer patients. It will be interesting to see if administration of this drug for other types of cancer will be as successful as animal trials. Read more about it here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2655793/Pill-used-treat-leukaemia-used-beat-cancers-stop-deadly-disease-returning.html

Mosquito bites could become ancient history

tiger-mosquito-49141_640Now that summer’s here, have you noticed that the mosquitoes are out in full force? Did you know that mosquitoes cause more human suffering and disease than any other organism on the planet? Over 750,000 people a year die from mosquito-borne illnesses, and it’s not just humans that are affected! Mosquitoes spread dog heartworms, Eastern equine encephalitis, and many other diseases that affect our pets and local wildlife. But there might soon be a solution!

Researchers have figured out a way to genetically engineer mosquitoes that could dramatically reduce or eliminate some mosquito-borne illnesses. In these mosquitoes, when sperm is produced, the X chromosome that the male would normally pass on to its female young is destroyed, so 95% of the time they only have male offspring. Why does this matter? Well, male mosquitoes don’t bite- the females do. Females spread disease, and one female can lay up to 3,000 eggs over the course of her lifetime.

Hopefully, this type of pest control could eliminate many mosquito-borne illnesses. But could this type of gender control work in other species? Could this research have applications in the understanding and management of X-linked diseases? What do you think?

Read more about it here:

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/boys-only-experiment-could-end-biting-mosquitoes-n126806

Surprise, surprise… Viagara efficacy is gender-dependent

iStock_000000357228SmallAlmost 30 years ago, scientists started developing a drug to treat heart failure. They were looking for a drug that would vasodilate arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce strain on the heart. In clinical trials to determine safety, male participants reported some unexpected side effects… you get the picture. Based on these side effects, researchers switched gears, and Viagara proved to be a very successful drug in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

It’s no stretch to see what Viagara has done for men. But as doctors now reconsider the drug as a treatment for heart failure, new research shows that taking gender into consideration is really important. By working with a mouse model that mimics heart failure, researchers looked at the difference between females with different estrogen levels. They found that the hormone estrogen affects the potential benefits of the drug. Based on this new research, it seems that the drug only benefits female mice with higher estrogen levels.

The connection between the drug and estrogen levels shouldn’t be ignored. Hopefully this research will result in better gender-specific treatment strategies, and maybe women will get to benefit from Viagara in a completely different way! Read more here:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/gender_differences_stand_out_in_measuring_impact_of_viagra_as_therapy_for_heart_failure

Albino Doberman Pinschers: genetic culprit identified!

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092127.g001

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092127.g001

Researchers at Michigan State University have finally identified the genetic mutation that causes albinism in Doberman Pinschers. The same gene can also cause a form of albinism in humans. This gene mutation results in a missing protein that is necessary for cells to be pigmented. And unfortunately, both dogs and humans with albinism can experience sun sensitivity and are at a higher risk for skin tumors. But identifying the genetic culprit behind the condition is a big deal!

This gene can be carried without being expressed, which means that a dog that doesn’t exhibit albinism could pass the gene to its offspring. This research could help improve Doberman breeding programs by identifying the genes to select away from. Healthier dogs are good for everyone!

Humans and animals are more similar than you may think when it comes to genes, diseases, and illnesses. In this particular case, the genetic variance that causes albinism is similar in dogs and in humans. It’s possible that this knowledge could allow researchers to look at possible ways of preventing skin tumors in dogs with albinism, and then translate those results into treatments for humans!

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/mans-best-friend-shares-similar-albino-gene/

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0092127