Monthly Archives: September 2014

Mesothelioma: Are YOU at risk?

Bad newsMesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen (the mesothelium). The mesothelium is important because the lungs, heart and stomach are constantly in motion, and the cells in the mesothelium provide lubrication and assist in organ function. There is no cure, and the relative 5-year survival rate is between 5% and 10%. But how does one develop mesothelioma- and are YOU at risk?

Mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos occurs naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. Small, individual fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and if they’re breathed in, a buildup of fibers can cause plenty of lung problems- including mesothelioma.

Because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals, asbestos was commonly used in many different industries for years. However, in the later 1900s, asbestos-related cancers became better understood. Laboratory studies with rodents have confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and cancer.

Since the mid 1970s, its use has been significantly decreased, but asbestos exposure is still a concern when working with older building materials. The World Trade Center, for example, was built at a time when asbestos was very common in building materials. It’s estimated that 400 tons of asbestos were used in its construction, and when the buildings collapsed, the EPA reports that asbestos was “pulverized” into fine particles and scattered over Lower Manhattan. In 2006, researchers estimated that almost 70% of recovery personnel had suffered from lung problems, and it’s expected that in the years to come, more first responders and workers that assisted in the cleanup will be diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Awareness is key. The use of asbestos is regulated by OSHA and the EPA, and anyone who believes they may come in contact with asbestos in their workplace can contact OSHA for more information on regulations and safe practices. In the meanwhile, researchers continue to look for answers. Animal research has helped lead to two approved chemotherapy medications for mesothelioma, and researchers are continuing to work on gene therapies, new ways to target cancer cells, and more efficient methods to deliver radiation.

To find out more about this disease, visit the pages listed below and follow the links in this article. To spread awareness, you can start by sharing this article on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts- has this disease touched you or your family? What do YOU want people to know about mesothelioma? Leave your comments below.

http://www.mesothelioma.com/

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/index

Antibiotic resistance… the NEXT generation

MRSA- Picture courtesy of CDC's Public Health Image Library

MRSA- Picture courtesy of CDC’s Public Health Image Library

Antibiotic resistance is a growing- and serious- problem. Most antibiotics work by interfering with cell functions, but certain types of bacteria (like MRSA) have evolved in such a way that these antibiotics just won’t work. Researchers all over the world are working on this problem, and it seems that scientists at MIT have made a pretty significant breakthrough.

By using a genome-editing system called CRISPR, researchers have been able to target the genes that allow bacteria to resist antibiotics. And by targeting the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance and disrupting them, they were able to kill over 99% of the resistant bacteria. Using this method, they also successfully increased survival rates of waxworm larvae infected with a nasty form of E. coli.

Currently, research in mice is in progress. The goal is that one day, this technology could be modified to work on humans. As recent research hasn’t yielded many new classes of antibiotics, this method may ultimately play an important role in stopping the spread of antibiotic resistance in the human population.

Read more about it here: http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/fighting-drug-resistant-bacteria-0921

Anthrax as a secret weapon to kill cancer?

pixabay petri dishBacillus anthracis, commonly known as anthrax, is extremely efficient at injecting its toxin into host cells. This characteristic is part of the reason that live Bacillus anthracis is handled at high biosafety levels in the laboratory. But it also prompted researchers at MIT to consider ways to use anthrax’s efficient delivery method to their advantage. The result? A new potential drug delivery method for cancer treatments!

Antibody mimics can disrupt protein interactions inside cells- including cancer-causing proteins. But getting them there is the challenge. Researchers used a component of the anthrax toxin to carry them. But this time, instead of injecting anthrax toxin into cells, the antibody mimics were injected. And it worked! The next step in this research is to attempt to translate it into animal models. Hopefully, this research will move forward and prove to be successful enough in animals to start human clinical trials! Read about it here.

This isn’t the first time researchers have used the Trojan horse approach in disease treatment research. Read about a similar method used in Alzheimer’s research here.

 

Moms: Could there be such a thing as “too clean”?

iStock_000016947232LargeIf you are a parent, you undoubtedly know that children are magnets for germs. Literally- magnets. I’m sure that there is scientific evidence of this somewhere. I haven’t found it yet, but when I do, trust me- there will be a blog post about it.

Despite the obvious- yet unsubstantiated- theory of child/dirt magnetism, we all have that mom friend who has undoubtedly been recruited by the government to eliminate germs. And she is awesome at it. Her child is mid-cough, and a container of hand sanitizer magically appears out of her back pocket. Milk spilled from a glass hasn’t even hit the floor before her third arm appears with a mop. YOUR child is about to sneeze, and as you pretend to search for the tissue in your pocket that you should probably have ready, Super Mom produces a travel pack of baby wipes out of nowhere and comes to the rescue. You walk into her house and marvel at the lack of crumbs/ dust/ dog hair/ Cheerios imbedded in the carpet, and think “My God, this woman is amazing!”

We all love our germ-defying mom friends. They are the epitome of “Super Moms,” and give us something to strive for. But now, science is here to make the rest of us feel a little bit better about the crumbs/ dust/ dog hair/ Cheerios imbedded in our OWN carpets. Scientific research suggests that “exceptionally clean living environments” may be linked to a weakened immune system and food allergies in children.

Research studies showed that mice living in sterile environments lacked a certain gut bacteria, called Clostridia, that can protect against food allergies. The solution? Provide them with this bacteria (think mouse probiotics), and the sensitization to food allergens can be reversed. While this was a study in mice, other research studies have suggested that the use of disinfecting products, anti-microbial soap, and antibiotics can change the composition of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts.

So, when you start to feel inadequate as Super Mom wields her secret-weapon-germ-cleaning-abilities, maybe you can feel a little better about your toddler picking his nose while playing in the dirt. After all, you’re just trying to help boost his immune system- right?

http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Health/2014/09/11/Being-too-clean-weakens-your-childs-immunity/

Lasers: A new way to map the brain!

pixabay lasersResearchers have found a way to map the brain using lasers! Chemists from Stanford University have come up with a way to track blood vessels in the brain in a new, non-invasive technique. Ultimately, this research could help improve the understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Current methods for investigating the brain are either too invasive or not detailed enough. Surgery can cause trauma that can negatively impact brain activity, and while MRIs and CT scans can give a good amount of information, sometimes it just isn’t enough.

That’s where this new technique comes in. Researchers inject water-soluble carbon nanotubes into a mouse’s bloodstream. These nanotubes fluoresce at particular wavelengths, so when researchers shine a near-infrared laser over the mouse’s skull, they can see the nanotubes, which show the structures of blood vessels. Scientists were able to see about 3mm underneath the scalp, and this technique doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on brain functions.

This research was developed in mice, but it may be able to be used in humans as well. The technique would need to be modified to allow researchers to see deeper into the brain, and they would need to identify an appropriate fluorescing agent to use. But hopefully, this new technique could give researchers a new way to study strokes, migraines, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Read more about it here:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/august/skull-blood-flow-080614.html

Invisibility cloaks: Out of science fiction and into reality

iStock_000042489660LargeInvisibility cloaks are becoming one step closer to reality, thanks to cephalopods. Octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish have the ability to change the color and texture of their skin to match their surroundings, and by studying these animals, researchers at MIT and Duke University have created a material that can change color and texture on demand.

In cephalopods, muscle contractions change the shapes of pigment sacs and skin texture into a large variety of colors and patterns. This new octopus-inspired material works by using voltage changes to activate molecules in the elastomer. Essentially, you’d use a remote control to change color and texture. When you turn it off, it returns to its original state. Watch the video in the link here.

Besides being very popular with Harry Potter fans, this technology is really important. A system that can modify its camouflage with a touch of a button could be extremely useful, and even life-saving. Researchers are interested in developing anti-fouling coating for ships, and military camouflage could be revolutionized. Can you think of other applications where changing the texture or color of an object could be useful? Post your ideas in the comments below!

https://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/material-changes-color-texture-octopus-0916

See some other ways the octopuses are awesome: http://fbresearch.org/octopuses-are-awesome-see-why/

Biomedical research: allowing you and your pets to appreciate life to the fullest

Silhouette of Happy Family and Dog“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” You’ve undoubtedly heard a variation of this saying, and often, it’s all too true when it comes to your health or the health of your loved ones. How often do you take your health for granted? The number of medical advances we can take advantage of today are staggering- vaccines, organ transplants, blood transfusions, insulin, pain medication, allergy medication, antibiotics, skin grafts, prosthetics, pacemakers- the list goes on and on.

Researchers are working hard, often behind the scenes, to try to give you and your loved ones every possible chance to fight disease or injury. Often, biomedical research involves working with animal models to understand diseases and develop new drugs and treatments. But it’s not just for you- biomedical research is helping your pets, too!

The FDA recently approved three new drugs to treat cancer in dogs. Previously, canine cancer was treated with drugs that were approved for use in humans. But researchers have developed specialized drugs to treat mast cell tumors, mammary carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in man’s best friend.

“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Thanks to biomedical research, we can enjoy our health and the health of our pets for much, much longer.

Read more about new canine cancer treatments here: http://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/mis-cancer-news-102/cancer-drugs-approved-just-for-dogs-691349.html

Read more about the benefits of biomedical research here: http://fbresearch.org/education/benefits-of-biomedical-research/

Malaria: Are malaria parasites smarter than we think?

tiger-mosquito-49141_640Smart parasites? It sounds ominous, but new research into malaria parasites is giving scientists a better understanding of disease transmission. It seems that the malaria parasite is able to increase its own transmission rate by ‘relapsing’ during the times that the host animal is bitten by the insects that are capable of spreading it.

Researchers worked with domestic canaries infected with Plasmodium relictum, which is the most common parasite involved in cases of bird malaria in Eastern songbirds. They found that when the canaries were bitten by uninfected mosquitoes, parasite numbers in their blood increased, which in turn resulted in higher infection rates of the mosquitoes.

Pretty efficient. So how can understanding parasite evolution help us? Ultimately, understanding the factors that lead to these ‘relapses’ could help researchers develop better ways to control the disease. While it’s not yet known whether this type of transmission is present in humans, there are many other human pathogens that can also relapse after dormant periods (such as HIV, Herpes Simplex, and Mycobacterium tuburculosis), so it’s possible that this research could help scientists understand potential triggers for relapse in these diseases, as well. Read more about it here:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140911135436.htm

Premature infants and the benefits of massage

iStock_000013183519LargeThe health of premature infants has been helped considerably by researchers who have been working on a study in rats that started in 1979. The research shows that the health conditions of premature infants can be improved significantly by introducing certain massage techniques.

Using these stimulation techniques, it’s been found that premature infants have been able to be released from the ICU an average of six days earlier than when these techniques weren’t used. Not only is this beneficial for infant health, it’s also a significant cost savings for insurance companies- a win-win for everyone.

Interestingly enough, when the research study started, the original questions that were being asked had nothing to do with premature infants. Instead, researchers were trying to determine how applying moderate pressure to rats could affect a particular brain growth enzyme. Later, it was found that this stimulation also improved brain growth in premature infants. This isn’t the first time that research studies have led to results that led scientists in a different direction. Read about more research with unexpected results here- including Viagra and new medication to improve recovery after heart attacks.

This research has earned a Golden Goose Award, which will be awarded near the end of September 2014. This is a great recognition- and also a reminder that the support of basic research is extremely important! Who knows where it could lead next?

Read more about it here: http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2014/09/11/golden-goose-award-presented-duke-researchers-rat-study

Vasectomies: the next generation (or not…)

iStock_000018769253SmallFor men who don’t want to commit to a surgical vasectomy, a new option may soon be available. It’s called Vasalgel, and this “no-scalpel vasectomy” could be the next generation of men’s birth control by effectively eliminating the creation of… yes, the next generation.

Traditional vasectomies involve cutting the vas deferens in a brief surgical procedure. Vasalgel is just what is sounds like: a gel. The non-hormonal gel is injected into the vas deferens, where it stays in place and tears apart sperm as they pass through. It’s likely to be more easily reversed than a traditional vasectomy, as the reversal would involve flushing the gel out of the vas deferens with a separate injection.

Researchers are still working on this gel, and it’s been successfully tested in rabbits and is currently being tested in male baboons. Results are promising, as none of the baboons has successfully impregnated any females. Researchers estimate that this gel should last for at least 10 years in humans before needing to be re-injected. Read more about it here:

http://www.wpxi.com/news/news/health-med-fit-science/gel-injection-could-be-vasectomy-alternative/nhKWH/