Monthly Archives: August 2014

Mouse avatars for cancer patients?

My beautiful pictureCancer patients with their own mouse avatars? It sounds bizarre, but this is actually pretty incredible. Patients can have their own tumor cells grafted into nude mice to determine the best treatment for their particular cancer. For difficult cancer cases, this could give patients and doctors much-needed information.

These nude mice can grow human tumors in their bodies because they don’t have an immune system to reject the cancer cells. Researchers can then try several different treatments to determine the best course of action. For a human patient dealing with cancer that’s difficult to treat, doctors often need to take their best guess as to the most appropriate treatment. By using mouse avatars, the hope is that some of the guesswork is removed, and doctors can tailor their approaches based on results in personalized mouse studies.

This procedure is still experimental, and not without its challenges, but hopefully with time and promising results, mouse avatars will help more and more patients win their battles against cancer.

Read more about it here:

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/529901/a-mouse-with-the-same-cancer-as-you/

Teaching fish how to walk teaches us about evolution

google free bichirIn an incredible research study, scientists studied juvenile bichir (a type of fish) on land to understand the evolutionary changes that may have taken place about 400 million years ago. That’s right- teaching fish how to walk is teaching researchers about evolution! These African fish are unique because they have lungs AND gills, and juveniles will sometimes walk on their fins. Researchers believe that bichirs walk in a way that is similar to early tetrapod ancestors.

When scientists looked at the differences in walking ability between bichirs raised in an aquatic environment versus bichirs raised in a terrestrial environnment, they found that the terrestrial animals became much more efficient at walking. What’s more, their anatomy began to change to facilitate walking!

Watch the video here- it’s interesting!

This research suggests that organisms’ anatomy is changed in response to environmental changes. This is called developmental plasticity. The theory is that developmental plasticity gave early ancestors of tetrapods the ability to walk onto land. Once in a terrestrial environment, the animals were forced to evolve more quickly to keep up with the environment.

This research is amazing, because scientists pretty much created a snapshot of evolution right in the laboratory! They also provided a pretty good basis for the argument that plasticity was important in the evolutionary steps that led to walking. Read more about it here: http://www.nature.com/news/how-fish-can-learn-to-walk-1.15778

Sheepdogs and robots- there’s a connection!

google free sheepdogsWhat do sheepdogs and robots have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but actually, there’s a real connection! By studying sheepdogs and understanding the way they manipulate herds of sheep, researchers are learning how to create models that will mimic these strategies and improve the efficiency of robots.

Researchers fitted sheep and sheepdogs with GPS devices on harnesses to attempt to develop a mathematical model for herding. They found that sheepdogs use two main rules when working: 1) collect the sheep when they’re scattered and 2) move them forward when they’re all together. It’s surprisingly simple- and it’s more efficient than many current models that have been attempted! The dogs are constantly reviewing the situation in front of them to determine if the sheep are gathered together enough to drive forward, and if not, they herd them closer together. Using these two rules, a dog can herd over 100 individual animals, but current robot models can only handle groups of about 40. The understanding gained from these dogs may change that!

Learning from sheepdogs can likely make a big difference in the development of computer models and robots created for herding, cleaning the environment, and crowd control. As usual, I’m amazed at the knowledge that we’re able to gain by studying man’s best friend!

Read more about this research here and here.

Allergies and antibiotics: learning from the link

iStock_000004448077SmallNew research suggests a link between the use of antibiotics in early childhood and the development of food allergies. But before you freak out, there’s good news- this research also shows that there may be a new way to treat these allergies!

Over a decade ago, researchers found links between antibiotic use and increased allergies and asthma. It was speculated that antibiotics kill normal gut microbes, prompting allergic responses. Those microbes help your immune system recognize the difference between harmless and hurtful molecules that make their way into your body. When this microbe balance is disturbed, it’s possible that the body can react to harmless molecules in such a way as to cause an allergic response. This was observed in laboratory mice, and new research shows that the mice provided helpful clues in understanding this problem in humans.

In recently published research, scientists documented this link in children. They also identified a particular gut bacteria, Clostridia, that is important in preventing people from developing food allergies. When young mice were given antibiotics, researchers found that they were more likely to develop allergies to peanuts. But when Clostridia was given to the mice after their antibiotic regimen, their peanut sensitivity went away.

This research is important because it helps further our understanding of the balance of microbia in the intestinal system and its relation to allergy development. Food allergies are becoming more and more common. It’s estimated approximately 1 in 13 children suffer from a food allergy. Could probiotic treatments help children overcome allergies? There’s still research to be done, but this is a promising development!

Infertility culprits may be in your kitchen cabinets

pixabay disinfectant spray bottlesNew research shows that two chemicals found in household detergents may be linked to fertility problems. These particular chemicals- didecyl dimethylammonium chloride (DDAC) and alkyl dimethyl benzalkonium chloride (ADBAC)- are found in detergents, disinfectants, cleaners and hand sanitizers, as well as some makeup and dryer sheets.

In laboratory studies, mice exposed to these chemicals suffered from infertility and increased mortality during pregnancy and delivery. Researchers think it’s possible that these chemicals can also affect human fertility.

Research in animals is often necessary to show such links. By working with animals in a laboratory environment, researchers can control variables to determine that any side effects (in this case, infertility) are indeed caused by the chemicals in question. Further research is necessary to study the impact of these chemicals on people, but these initial studies are certainly enough to raise concerns about DDAC and ADBAC.

Read more about this study here:

http://www.emaxhealth.com/12410/detergents-linked-fertility-problems

Spiders and erectile dysfunction: a reason to get excited!

google free brazilian wandering spiderFor most people, the sight of a spider isn’t cause for good news. Instead, these eight-legged creatures often bring out the worst in people, causing voices to jump up an octave or two. So it may be surprising that a poisonous spider would prompt excitement from anyone other than a dedicated entomologist. But actually, patients with erectile dysfunction may be pretty excited about the prospects of clinical applications for a particular spider’s venom!

The Brazilian Wandering Spider may be the world’s most toxic spider. With a leg-span of up to five inches, and a deadly neurotoxin on board, this spider is definitely one for your nightmares.

If a man is bitten, one side effect can be a painful erection that lasts for hours, potentially causing permanent damage. But researchers investigated further and extracted a particular toxin (PnTx2-6) from the venom. They found that it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. In rats with erectile dysfunction, researchers saw promising results!

As the toxin works differently than erectile dysfunction drugs that are on the market today, it’s possible that therapies using this toxin could be effective treatments for erectile dysfunction in patients that haven’t responded to conventional therapies. This isn’t the first time scientists have looked towards venomous animals to provide inspiration for human therapies- read more about tarantula and centipede venom as pain medications, and snake venom for cancer treatments and possible treatments for heart disease. It will be interesting to see if spider venom can help human patients with ED- stay tuned for more research!

Alzheimer’s and low Vitamin D: a link confirmed

3d vitamins.New research finds an association between low vitamin D levels and the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

This study followed 1,658 people over the age of 65 who showed no signs of dementia. The results were surprising- it seems that people with low vitamin D levels had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia, and people with extremely deficient levels had a 125% increased risk of developing dementia (in comparison to participants with normal vitamin D levels).

It’s important to note that this research doesn’t imply that low vitamin D levels CAUSE dementia. However, it seems that there is a correlation between the two that warrants further investigation. It’s possible that this research could lead to new dietary recommendations in an attempt to boost vitamin D levels. Could vitamin D supplements prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s?

Research in the past has shown that vitamin D could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease in mice. Alzheimer’s research is actually a great example of the importance of animal models. Because Alzheimer’s is generally a disease that affects people later in life, studies in humans could take years- or decades- to yield useful results. Alzheimer’s mouse models are used in research because researchers can observe changes from one generation to the next in a relatively short period of time.

Read more about the possible correlation between vitamin D and dementia here:

https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1300

New drug reduces blood clots without increasing bleeding risk

iStock_000000529518SmallIt’s pretty likely that you’ve injured yourself at some point or another and experienced a break in your skin that caused bleeding. Skinned knees, paper cuts, hangnails- we’ve all been there. Initially, these injuries can bleed quite a bit, but after a few minutes the bleeding slows and eventually stops.

This is a normal defense mechanism- kind of like your body’s version of a Band-Aid. Platelets clump together to form clots over injuries in order to slow the bleeding and protect your body. But if blood clots form inside veins or arteries, they can slow or even stop blood flow to vital parts of the body and cause serious damage, including heart attacks and strokes.

To prevent or treat blood clots, at-risk patients are usually given blood-thinning drugs. However, these oral medications can spread throughout the body, so the risk of bleeding is also increased.

However, new research could change that. A new drug has proven to be effective in reducing blood clots in dogs and mice without increasing the risk of bleeding! The enzyme in this drug regulates platelet clumping, and it can be injected near the blood clot to work in the desired area without causing unwanted bleeding in other locations.

This type of drug could make a huge difference to patients currently taking blood thinners. The next steps will likely include human trials to determine if results in animals are an indication of the drug’s chances for success in humans. Read more about it here:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26033-targeted-clotbusting-drug-wont-boost-bleeding-risk.html#.U-q-0fldWSp

Alzheimer’s Disease successfully reversed in mice!

alzheimer's freeThe incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease is increasing, and it’s projected that by the year 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could triple. But new research could change that: researchers have discovered a drug compound that has successfully reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice! After just one dose of this compound, called TC-2153, mice with Alzheimer’s were able to learn just as well as healthy mice!

Here’s how they figured it out: the protein STEP (STriatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase) attacks neurotransmitters in the brain and prevents patients with Alzheimer’s from learning and retaining new information. STEP levels are often elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Knowing this, researchers turned to mice for help. They previously found that when Alzheimer’s mouse models (mice that are genetically engineered to develop the disease) had lowered levels of STEP, their cognitive abilities were similar to those of unaffected mice. The problem is that researchers could genetically lower STEP levels in mice- but you can’t do that in humans.

The understanding of STEP’s role in the disease led researchers to search for different compounds that could block it. And it appears that they’ve succeeded! More research is certainly needed to determine whether or not TC-2153 will work in other animals, and possibly humans, but the identification of this STEP-inhibiting compound is certainly good news! Read more about it here: http://www.newsweek.com/alzheimers-cure-worked-mice-compound-tc-2153-263171

Chronic pain sufferers: emotional effects, explained

girl sits in a depression on the floor near the wallPeople suffering from chronic pain often have to deal with depression and lack of motivation. It can be difficult to explain to friends and family who say “Just get out and DO something… it will make you feel better!” But now, there’s some science behind the lack of motivation felt by chronic pain sufferers.

Chronic pain, as debilitating as it may be, actually has a purpose. It serves to limit your behavior in such a way as to promote healing and prevent further injuries. And in the process of preventing you from further damage, chronic pain may actually rewire your brain in a way that decreases your motivation.

Researchers found that mice with chronic pain showed decreased motivation, even when they were given painkillers. They looked at a specific area in the brain associated with pain and motivation and found that nerve cells weren’t firing properly. They found that a specific chemical, called galanin, was the key. When galanin receptors were inactivated in this area, neurons began firing properly, and injured mice showed similar motivation to control mice.

Could treatments targeting galanin receptors change brain currents in such a way as to alleviate the lack of motivation that many HUMAN chronic pain sufferers feel? The emotional effects of chronic pain are often just as draining as the physical effects, and this research could bring hope to chronic pain sufferers. Read more about it here:

http://news.yahoo.com/chronic-pain-makes-mice-lazy-153242900.html