For 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.
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:
Salamanders 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:
Glow 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:
If 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:
In 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!
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
What 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!
New 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.
New 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.
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.
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: