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/

Glioblastoma multiforme: a new weapon in the surgeon’s arsenal

Molecular ThoughtsGlioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a devastating form of brain cancer that usually results in death within 15 months of diagnosis. Tumor cells at the margins of these brain tumors often invade surrounding tissues, and this means that they can be difficult to remove completely. If a patient is able to undergo surgery, the goal is to remove as many malignant cells as possible without affecting parts of the brain that are necessary for other essential neurological functions. Currently, surgeons have no way of knowing for sure that they’ve removed all of the cancerous cells. But new research could change that.

The day before surgery, a patient would be injected with nanoprobes that migrate to the tumor cells. These nanoprobes don’t affect normal brain tissue. Then, during surgery, the surgeon would use a device that detects these nanoprobes to determine whether they had successfully removed all of the malignant cells. The device looks like a laser pointer, and in laboratory studies with mouse models of human GBM, researchers were able to remove all of the malignant cells from the mice!

This may be ready for human clinical trials relatively quickly, and it’s possible that it could be helpful in the treatment of other types of brain cancer as well. Read more about it here:

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2014/acs-presspac-september-3-2014/handheld-scanner-could-make-brain-tumor-removal-more-complete-reducing-recurrence.html

 

Salamanders: The future of wound healing

salamanderSalamanders are pretty awesome. They can regenerate limbs that have been lost, and they’re able to heal body parts even after pretty significant damage. So it’s not a stretch to think that these small amphibians are providing some inspiration for the next generation of wound healing therapies in humans.

Researchers discovered a peptide in salamander skin called tylotoin that promotes wound healing. In laboratory studies, this peptide also promoted wound healing in mice with skin wounds. Tylotoin works by increasing the motility and production of certain types of cells, and as a result, skin cell regeneration and tissue formation around the wound occur more quickly.

Pretty amazing! And this type of research illustrates the importance of animal models in several different ways. Researchers were able to isolate this specific protein from the salamander AND prove its effectiveness on the mouse. Hopefully, unlocking the salamander’s secrets will also be able to help humans recover from injuries more quickly. Read more about it here:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/foas-ssp090214.php

Cancer that glows in the dark

pixabay green lightsGlow in the dark tumors: it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but actually, the use of a dye that glows under infrared light could drastically improve surgical outcomes for cancer patients and reduce the chance of recurrence.

Often, surgical removal is difficult because doctors can’t always be certain of the location of tumor margins. So researchers tested a dye that is already approved by the FDA and glows green under infrared light.This dye concentrates in cancerous tissues, so when the surgeon shines an infrared light on the surgical area, the tumor cells will glow.

Working with mice, they found that this dye helped them ‘highlight’ tumors before they were visible to the naked eye. Veterinarians then used the dye on several pet dogs with lung cancer before surgery, and found that it improved visibility of the tumors.

After proving the effectiveness of this dye in mice and dogs, human clinical trials were approved, and the dye actually helped doctors visualize human tumors as well as diagnose patients more accurately. This is a great example of research progressing from bench to bedside. Read more about it here:

http://www.alnmag.com/news/2014/07/cancer-glow-improves-surgical-outcomes?et_cid=4073942&et_rid=655142386&location=top

Bees are creating a buzz in cancer research

pixabay beesIf you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you know how painful it is. It’s hard to imagine that bee venom could save lives, but actually, new research is showing that bee venom has been able to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells!

Bee venom contains proteins that can attach to cancer cells and block tumor growth. Unfortunately, using bee venom by itself can cause unwanted problems- think about that bee sting! Bee venom can damage nerve and heart cells. So researchers got creative and figured out a way to harness the positive effects of bee venom without the nasty side effects.

Honeybee venom contains a substance called melittin that can prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Researchers were able to synthesize melittin in the laboratory and pack the toxin into nanoparticles. These particles evade the immune system, and they deliver the toxin right to the cancer cells. This doesn’t affect normal tissue, and doesn’t have the toxic effects of pure venom.

Hopefully, after animal testing, this treatment will prove to be effective, and it can proceed to human trials in the next three to five years. Read more about bee venom in cancer research here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/buzz-over-bee-venom-in-cancer-research/

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/