Biosingularity

Archive for February 2007

This is a wonderful biomedical animation, which seems was created to explain physiology and disease processes to patients and to health professionals. Thanks to Al Fin for finding this animation.

I wonder if in future we can have the HealthTube equivalent of YouTube, where one can watch thousands of animations such as this to understand how biological systems work.

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Deep red tomatoes get their rich color from lycopene, a disease-fighting antioxidant. A new study, however, suggests that a special variety of orange-colored tomatoes provide a different form of lycopene, one that our bodies may more readily use.

Researchers found that eating spaghetti covered in sauce made from these orange tomatoes, called Tangerine tomatoes, caused a noticeable boost in this form of lycopene in participants’ blood.
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Scientists have developed a new procedure for the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells, with which they have created the first transplantable source of lung epithelial cells.

The method involves the use of protein markers under the control of cell-specific promoters to convert undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells into highly-specialized cells. The human embryonic stem cells were cultured on specially coated dishes and transfected with a lung epithelial gene regulator of a drug selection gene.
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Oxygen is the quintessential two-edged sword of molecular biology: essential for (animal) life, but at the same time a perennial source of damage to macromolecules. Reactive oxygen species (ROS), arising from both external sources and the intrinsic metabolic machinery of the cell itself, have been implicated in many aspects of cellular aging.

Of particular interest to human beings, especially those living in the rapidly aging post-industrial Western nations, is the relationship between oxidative damage and neurodegenerative illness. While most of the age-related neurodegenerative diseases are caused by accumulation of protein aggregates, it is becoming evident that ROS play an important role in exacerbating the underlying pathologies: e.g., DNA oxidation arises early in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease; and oxidative damage to a key anti-oxidant defense protein may generate a pernicious positive-feedback loop in the initiating events of Parkinson’s disease.

Read rest of the story at Ouroboros site.

A report published in the April 15, 2007 issue of the International Journal of Cancer described the finding of a study funded by the National Cancer Institute that a greater intake of calories, attributable to a higher proportion of animal-sourced protein and fat, is associated with an increased risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer, and plant sources of these nutrients as well as vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, fiber and vitamin supplements are associated with a decreased risk.
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Researchers at Stanford University have added one more trick to carbon nanotubes’ repertoire of accomplishments: a way to fight the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Chemistry professor Hongjie Dai and his colleagues have used carbon nanotubes to transport RNA into human white blood cells that defend the body from disease, making the cells less susceptible to HIV attack.

In a paper now online in the journal Angewandte Chemie, Dai and his colleagues describe attaching RNA to carbon nanotubes, which enter T cells and deliver the RNA. When the researchers placed T cells in a solution of the carbon nanotube-RNA complex, receptor proteins on the cell surfaces went down by 80 percent. Carbon nanotubes are known to enter many different types of human cells, although researchers don’t understand exactly how they do it. Some experts suspect that because of their long, thin shape, nanotubes enter cells much as a needle passes through skin.

Read rest of the story on Technology Review site

Evidence began mounting as long as 70 years ago that restricting calories while consuming necessary amounts of sustenance could increase one’s life span. Since then, a group called the North Carolina-based Calorie Restriction Society has sprouted whose 1,800 members routinely down about half of the daily caloric intake recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the hope of living to the ripe old age of 120.

New research may prompt the organization to send out nose plugs with its next newsletter.A team of scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, found that the average life span of fruit flies on restricted diets decreased when they were exposed to food odors.

Read rest of this story on Scientific American site.

Chronic inflammation spurred by an immune system run amok appears to play a role in medical evils from arthritis to Alzheimer’s, diabetes to heart disease. There’s no grand proof of this “theory of everything.” But doctors say it’s compelling enough that we should act as if it were true — which means eating an “anti-inflammatory diet,” getting lots of physical activity, and losing the dangerous, internal belly fat that pumps out the chemicals that drive inflammation.

This is a year old article but well written to summarize the potency of inflammation as source of age-related damage.

Are you always on the hunt for a way to iron out the time lines etched in your face? Behold: a new study has found that multiple injections of Restylane, a popular “skin filler” believed to temporarily zap lines by literally filling them in, actually stimulates the skin to produce collagen, a protein that keeps it firm and supple but dwindles with age and sun exposure causing sagging and wrinkling.

“We found that in addition to filling up space, these injections induce robust production of collagen, thought to give rise to the smooth contour of the skin,” says Frank Wang, co-author of the study published in the February issue of Archives of Dermatology.

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Read rest of this story on Scientific American site.

A special cocoa made to retain naturally occurring compounds called flavanols may have the potential to help maintain healthy brain function and chart the course for future research that could lead to new solutions for preventing cognitive decline and dementia, according to a panel of scientists who presented new data at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Several studies suggest that consumption of a special cocoa made to be rich in flavanols, a naturally occurring nutrient abundant in fresh cocoa, may improve blood vessel function. Now, scientists believe the potential blood flow benefits associated with consumption of this flavanol-rich cocoa may extend to the brain — which could have important implications for learning and memory.
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Plant-based omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) may have a protective effect on bone health, according to a team of Penn State researchers who carried out the first controlled diet study of these fatty acids contained in such foods as flaxseed and walnuts.

Normally, most of the omega-3 fatty acids in the diet are plant-derived and come mainly from soybean and canola oil. Other sources are flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil. Smaller amounts also come from marine sources, mainly fish, but also algae. Omega-3s are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect and may play an important part in heart and bone health.
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Using gene chips to profile tumors before treatment, researchers at Harvard and Yale Universities found markers that identified breast cancer subtypes resistant to Herceptin, the primary treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer. They say this advance could help further refine therapy for the 25 to 30 percent of breast cancer patients with this class of tumor.

In the February 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers found that HER2-positive tumors that did not respond to Herceptin expressed certain basal markers, growth factors and growth factor receptors. One of these, insulin-growth factor receptor 1(IGF-1R), was associated with a Herceptin response rate that was half that of tumors that did not express IGF-1R.
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A protein known for its ability to “bridge” interactions between other cellular proteins may spur metastasis in breast cancer, the disease’s deadliest stage, a study from Burnham Institute for Medical Research has found.
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Habitual intake of caffeinated beverages provides protection against heart disease mortality in the elderly, say researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Brooklyn College.

Using data from the first federal National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study, the researchers found that survey participants 65 or more years old with higher caffeinated beverage intake exhibited lower relative risk of coronary vascular disease and heart mortality than did participants with lower caffeinated beverage intake.
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Researchers from Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at University of Copenhagen have identified a new group of proteins that regulate the function of stem cells. The results are published in the new issue of Cell.
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Pinpointing the genes involved in cancer will help chart a new course across the complex landscape of human malignancies.

“If we wish to learn more about cancer, we must now concentrate on the cellular genome.” Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco penned those words more than 20 years ago in one of the earliest public calls for what would become the Human Genome Project. “We are at a turning point,” Dulbecco, a pioneering cancer researcher, declared in 1986 in the journal Science. Discoveries in preceding years had made clear that much of the deranged behavior of cancer cells stemmed from damage to their genes and alterations in their functioning. “We have two options,” he wrote. “Either try to discover the genes important in malignancy by a piecemeal approach, or & sequence the whole genome.”
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Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine have derived uniparental embryonic stem cells – created from a single donor’s eggs or two sperm – and, for the first time, successfully used them to repopulate a damaged organ with healthy cells in adult mice. Their findings demonstrate that single-parent stem cells can proliferate normally in an adult organ and could provide a less controversial alternative to the therapeutic cloning of embryonic stem cells.
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It appears that the skin, the largest organ in our body, is a kind of zoo and some of the inhabitants are quite novel, according to a new study. Researchers found evidence for 182 species of bacteria in skin samples. Eight percent were unknown species that had never before been described.

It is the first study to identify the composition of bacterial populations on the skin using a powerful molecular method. Not only were the bacteria more diverse than previously estimated, but some of them had not been found before, says Martin J. Blaser, M.D., Frederick King Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine and Professor of Microbiology at NYU School of Medicine, one of the authors of the study.

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A newly designed porous membrane, so thin it’s invisible edge-on, may revolutionize the way doctors and scientists manipulate objects as small as a molecule.

The 50-atom thick filter can withstand surprisingly high pressures and may be a key to better separation of blood proteins for dialysis patients, speeding ion exchange in fuel cells, creating a new environment for growing neurological stem cells, and purifying air and water in hospitals and clean-rooms at the nanoscopic level.

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The next health trend might come out of nursery school instead of the gym: A study of nearly 24,000 people found that those who regularly took midday naps were nearly 40% less likely to die from heart disease than non-nappers.

Researchers suggest that siestas might protect the heart by lowering levels of stress hormones.

Read rest of the story on New Scientist website.

For cells that hold so much promise, stem cells’ potential has so far gone largely untapped. But new research from Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists now shows that adult stem cells taken from skin can be used to clone mice using a procedure called nuclear transfer. The findings are reported in the Feb. 12 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Two new vitamin D studies using a sophisticated form of analysis called meta-analysis, in which data from multiple reports is combined, have revealed new prescriptions for possibly preventing up to half of the cases of breast cancer and two-thirds of the cases of colorectal cancer in the United States.
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In recent years, scientists have discovered that a family of enzymes called sirtuins can dramatically extend life in organisms as diverse as yeast, worms, and flies. They may also be able to control age-associated metabolic disorders, including obesity and type II diabetes.

Naturally occurring substances have been shown to activate sirtuins, including a constituent of red wine called resveratrol – although an individual would need to drink about two cases of wine a day to derive a clinically effective dose of resveratrol. Still, the findings have energized a number of scientific groups and biotechnology companies, all of which are now eagerly searching for drug candidates able to boost sirtuin activity. The public-health benefits of such an “anti-aging” drug would be substantial – as would the economic returns.

Now, a new study from scientists at The Wistar Institute points to another strategy for activating sirtuins to unleash their anti-aging powers.
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Scientists have found a set of “master switches” that keep adult blood-forming stem cells in their primitive state. Unlocking the switches’ code may one day enable scientists to grow new blood cells for transplant into patients with cancer and other bone marrow disorders.

The scientists located the control switches not at the gene level, but farther down the protein production line in more recently discovered forms of ribonucleic acid, or RNA. MicroRNA molecules, once thought to be cellular junk, are now known to switch off activity of the larger RNA strands which allow assembly of the proteins that let cells grow and function.
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Every day we plan numerous actions, such as to return a book to a friend or to make an appointment. How and where the brain stores these intentions has been revealed by John-Dylan Haynes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. For the first time they were able to “read” participants’ intentions out of their brain activity. This was made possible by a new combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and sophisticated computer algorithms

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A decades-old cancer mystery has been solved by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). “We not only found a critical tumor suppressor gene, but have revealed a master switch for a tumor suppressive network that means more targeted and effective cancer therapy in the future,” said CSHL Associate Professor Alea Mills, Ph.D. The study was published in the February issue of Cell.

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A robotic exoskeleton controlled by the wearer’s own nervous system could help users regain limb function, which is encouraging news for people with partial nervous system impairment, say University of Michigan researchers.

The ankle exoskeleton developed at U-M was worn by healthy subjects to measure how the device affected ankle function. The U-M team has no plans to build a commercial exoskeleton, but their results suggest promising applications for rehabilitation and physical therapy, and a similar approach could be used by other groups who do build such technology.
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A novel approach to synthesizing nanowires (NWs) allows their direct integration with microelectronic systems for the first time, as well as their ability to act as highly sensitive biomolecule detectors that could revolutionize biological diagnostic applications, according to a report in Nature.

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Caption: Schematic of nanowire sensors operating in solution. Credit Yale University.
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DNA testing is transforming health care and medicine, but current technologies only give a snapshot of an individual’s genetic makeup. Any patient wanting a complete picture of their inherited DNA, or genome, would drop their jaw at the sight of the bill — to the current tune of $10 million or more charged for every human or mammalian-sized genome sequenced.

The NHGRI, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has set an ambitious target of $1,000 or less – a cost 10,000 times lower than current technology – to make genome sequencing a routine diagnostic tool in medical care. The reduced cost may allow doctors to tailor medical treatments to an individual’s genetic profile for diagnosing, treating, and ultimately preventing many common diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
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Researchers have discovered the small number of cells in pancreatic cancer that are capable of fueling the tumor’s growth. The finding is the first identification of cancer stem cells in pancreatic tumors.

Cancer stem cells are the small number of cancer cells that replicate to drive tumor growth. Researchers believe current cancer treatments sometimes fail because they are not attacking the cancer stem cells. By identifying the stem cells, researchers can then develop drugs to target and kill these cells.

This is particularly crucial for pancreatic cancer, which has the worst survival rate of any major cancer type. Nearly everyone who develops pancreatic cancer dies from the disease.
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