Biosingularity

Archive for August 2008

A recent study shows that popular fish oil supplements have an effect on the healing process of small, acute wounds in human skin. But whether that effect is detrimental, as researchers initially suspected, remains a mystery.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils are widely considered to benefit cardiovascular health and other diseases related to chronic inflammation because of their anti-inflammatory properties. But insufficient inflammation during the initial stage of wound healing may delay the advancement of later stages.
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Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have discovered that vitamin A, when applied to breast cancer cells, turns on genes that can push stem cells embedded in a tumor to morph into endothelial cells. These cells can then build blood vessels to link up to the body’s blood supply, promoting further tumor growth.
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Morphology: Thrombocytopenia, 4+ schizocytes, 3+ spherocytes, 4+ polychromatophilic rbc.

Diagnosis: Disseminated carcinomatosis with DIC

DIC With Microangiopathic Hemolytic Anemia on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Protein chips – or ‘protein arrays’ as they are more commonly known – are objects such as slides that have proteins attached to them and allow important scientific data about the behaviour of proteins to be gathered.

Functional protein arrays could give scientists the ability to run tests on tens of thousands of different proteins simultaneously, observing how they interact with cells, other proteins, DNA and drugs.
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Cocoa flavanols, the unique compounds found naturally in cocoa, may increase blood flow to the brain, according to new research published in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal. The researchers suggest that long-term improvements in brain blood flow could impact cognitive behavior, offering future potential for debilitating brain conditions including dementia and stroke.
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Segway inventor Dean Kamen is looking to re-invent the prosthetic arm. IEEE Spectrum caught up with Kamen and one of his “test pilots,” to see the robotic arm (named after Luke Skywalker’s articficial limb) in action.

Scientists have identified about two dozen genes that control embryonic stem cell fate. The genes may either prod or restrain stem cells from drifting into a kind of limbo, they suspect. The limbo lies between the embryonic stage and fully differentiated, or specialized, cells, such as bone, muscle or fat.

By knowing the genes and proteins that control a cell’s progress toward the differentiated form, researchers may be able to accelerate the process — a potential boon for the use of stem cells in therapy or the study of some degenerative diseases, the scientists say.
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Killing cancer cells, while leaving normal tissue unscathed, is almost impossible.

Nanotechnology may do the trick, but big pharmaceutical companies are far from embracing that strategy. In the meantime, highly-engineered biological molecules will fill the void.


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A Monash University scientist has discovered key appetite control cells in the human brain degenerate over time, causing increased hunger and potentially weight-gain as we grow older.
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The typical American diet often lacks omega-3 fatty acids despite clinical research that shows their potential human health benefits. Zhiyou Wen, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, found a way to grow these compounds using a byproduct of the emerging biodiesel industry.

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Plastic coatings could someday help neural implants treat conditions as diverse as Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration.

The coatings encourage neurons in the body to grow and connect with the electrodes that provide treatment.
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Mimivirus on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

For generations, people have consumed cranberry juice, convinced of its power to ward off urinary tract infections, though the exact mechanism of its action has not been well understood. A new study by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) reveals that the juice changes the thermodynamic properties of bacteria in the urinary tract, creating an energy barrier that prevents the microorganisms from getting close enough to latch onto cells and initiate an infection.
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The problem with using a shotgun to kill a housefly is that even if you get the pest, you’ll likely do a lot of damage to your home in the process. Hence the value of the more surgical flyswatter.

Cancer researchers have long faced a similar situation in chemotherapy: how to get the most medication into the cells of a tumor without “spillover” of the medication adversely affecting the healthy cells in a patient’s body.

Now researchers at Stanford University have addressed that problem using single-walled carbon nanotubes as delivery vehicles. The new method has enabled the researchers to get a higher proportion of a given dose of medication into the tumor cells than is possible with the “free” drug-that is, the one not bound to nanotubes-thus reducing the amount of medication that they need to inject into a subject to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.
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Researchers at Sheffield University and the University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom, have helped determine why relearning a few pieces of information may or may not easily cause a recollection of other associated, previously learned information. The key, they find, is in the way in which the learned information is forgotten. Details are published August 22nd in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.
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A stable form of cell-cycle arrest known to offer potent protection against cancer also limits liver fibrosis, a condition characterized by an excess of fibrous tissue, according to a new report in the August 22nd Cell, a Cell Press publication. Triggered by chronic liver damage produced by hepatitis infection, alcohol abuse, or fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis can lead to cirrhosis, a major health problem worldwide and the 12th most common cause of death in the United States.

The new findings may have important implications for treating cirrhosis, a disease now considered to be irreversible. It could offer new insight into other disease states as well.
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Two hormone-like compounds linked to the consumption of soy-based foods can cause irreversible changes in the structure of the brain, resulting in early-onset puberty and symptoms of advanced menopause in research animals, according to a new study by researchers at North Carolina State University. The study is important in determining how these compounds can cause reproductive health problems, as well as in providing a key building block for how to treat these problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Micromanagers may generate resentment in an office setting, but they get results in your body. New data indicate that a dividing cell takes micromanagement to the extreme, tagging more than 14,000 different sites on its proteins with phosphate, a molecule that typically serves as a signal for a variety of biological processes.

This preponderance of signals suggests that the cell may become a control freak during the division process, regulating each of its parts, no matter how obscure. It may take extreme measures to ensure that each “daughter” receives a full complement of cellular material. The new data—published online in PNAS—open unexplored frontiers to developmental biologists, cancer researchers, and others who study cell growth and proliferation.
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Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but endurance exercise seems to make it younger. According to a study conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, older people who did endurance exercise training for about a year ended up with metabolically much younger hearts. The researchers also showed that by one metabolic measure, women benefited more than men from the training.
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Imagine trying to figure out how your car’s power train works from just a few of its myriad components: It would be nearly impossible. Scientists have long faced a similar challenge in understanding cells’ tiny powerhouses — called “mitochondria” — from scant knowledge of their molecular parts.

Now, an international team of researchers has created the most comprehensive “parts list” to date for mitochondria, a compendium that includes nearly 1,100 proteins. By mining this critical resource, the researchers have already gained deep insights into the biological roles and evolutionary histories of several key proteins. In addition, this careful cataloging has identified a mutation in a novel protein-coding gene as the cause behind one devastating mitochondrial disease.
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Switches are a part of daily life, from snoozing your alarm, turning on the coffee maker, firing up your car engine, and so on until we turn off the lights at night. Researchers have now cataloged even more templates of possible switches within a living cell than we use throughout our day.

A colorful "map" of switches within cells was created by Naren Ramakrishnan at Virginia Tech and Upinder S. Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India, using Virginia Tech’s SystemX supercomputer. Every little square in the picture is a "switch." The lines indicate the relationship between the switches.

A colorful "map" of switches within cells was created by Naren Ramakrishnan at Virginia Tech and Upinder S. Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India, using Virginia Tech’s SystemX supercomputer. Every little square in the picture is a "switch." The lines indicate the relationship between the switches.

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Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a simple and inexpensive method to screen small synthetic molecules and pull out a handful that might treat cancer and other diseases less expensively than current methods.

In one screen of more than 300,000 such molecules, called peptoids, the new technique quickly singled out five promising candidates that mimicked an antibody already on the market for treating cancer. One of the compounds blocked the growth of human tumors in a mouse model. Read the rest of this entry »

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Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have turned science fiction into reality with their development of a super-compact high-resolution microscope, small enough to fit on a finger tip. This “microscopic microscope” operates without lenses but has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope, can be used in the field to analyze blood samples for malaria or check water supplies for giardia and other pathogens, and can be mass-produced for around $10. Read the rest of this entry »

I had posted on this really cool online video journal called Jove which is sort of like Youtube for scientists. The scientific videos are peer reviewed and is now also accepted for indexing in PubMed and MEDLINE. Great idea and implementation.
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Cardiomyocytes (red) and fibroblasts (green) isolated from chicken embryo heart.

Heart cells on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Ever since the human genome was sequenced less than 10 years ago, researchers have been able to access a dizzying plethora of genomic information with a simple click of a mouse. This digitizing of genomic data—and its public access—is something that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier.
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As people age, their cells become less efficient at getting rid of damaged protein — resulting in a buildup of toxic material that is especially pronounced in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Now, for the first time, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have prevented this age-related decline in an entire organ — the liver — and shown that, as a result, the livers of older animals functioned as well as they did when the animals were much younger. Published in the online edition of Nature Medicine, these findings suggest that therapies for boosting protein clearance might help stave off some of the declines in function that accompany old age.

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This superb animation from Youtube explains the RNA interference mechanism that recently won the Nobel prize for its discovery. The original video is from the journal Nature.

About one-third of colorectal cancers are inherited, but the genetic cause of most of these cancers is unknown. The genes linked to colorectal cancer account for less than 5 percent of all cases.

Scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and colleagues have discovered a genetic trait that is present in 10 to 20 percent of patients with colorectal cancer. The findings strongly suggest that the trait is a major contributor to colorectal cancer risk and likely the most common cause of colorectal cancer to date.
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Small, specially designed bits of ribonucleic acid (RNA) can interfere with cholesterol metabolism, reducing harmful cholesterol by two-thirds in pre-clinical tests, according to a new study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in collaboration with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a study that appears online today and in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that a single dose of a small interfering RNA (siRNA), a chemical cousin of DNA, lowered cholesterol levels up to 60 percent in rodents, with the effects lasting for weeks.

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For patients with clogged heart arteries who take long-term, low-dose aspirin to prevent a cardiac event, adding a stomach acid-blocking drug to their daily routine has been shown to reduce their risk for upper gastrointestinal bleeding – an infrequent, but serious side-effect of regular aspirin use.

But do the benefits of these acid blockers – called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs – outweigh their long-term costs?

In a new study, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System reveal that, from the perspective of a long-term payer, over-the-counter PPIs are worth the price for coronary heart disease patients taking low-dose aspirin as a preventative measure. At prescription costs, however, PPIs are cost-effective only for elderly patients and patients at high risk for upper GI bleeding.
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When you make a new material on a nano scale how can you see what you have made? A team of scientists has made a significant step toward overcoming this major challenge faced by nanotechnology scientists.

With new research published today (13 August) in ChemBioChem, the team from the University of Liverpool, The School of Pharmacy (University of London) and the University of Leeds, show that they have developed a technique to examine tiny protein molecules called peptides on the surface of a gold nanoparticle. This is the first time scientists have been able to build a detailed picture of self-assembled peptides on a nanoparticle and it offers the promise of new ways to design and manufacture novel materials on the tiniest scale – one of the key aims of nanoscience.
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Seeking to improve on nature, scientists used a spice-based compound as a starting point and developed synthetic molecules that, in lab settings, are able to kill cancer cells and stop the cells from spreading.

The researchers are combining organic chemistry, computer-aided design and molecular biology techniques in developing and testing pharmaceutical compounds that can fight breast and prostate cancer cells. The synthetic molecules are derived from curcumin, a naturally occurring compound found in the spice turmeric.
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Ninety years after the sweeping destruction of the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt have recovered antibodies to the virus – from elderly survivors of the original outbreak.

In addition to revealing the surprisingly long-lasting immunity to such viruses, these antibodies could be effective treatments to have on hand if another virus similar to the 1918 flu breaks out in the future.
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For millennia, humans and viruses have been locked in an evolutionary back-and-forth — one changes to outsmart the other, prompting the second to change and outsmart the first. With retroviruses, which work by inserting themselves into their host’s DNA, the evidence remains in our genes. Last year, researchers at Rockefeller University and the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center brought an ancient retrovirus back to life and showed it could reproduce and infect human cells. Now, the same scientists have looked at the human side of the story and found evidence that our ancestors fought back against that virus with a defense mechanism our bodies still use today. Read the rest of this entry »

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found the brain’s appetite center uses fat for fuel by involving oxygen free radicals—molecules associated with aging and neurodegeneration. The findings, reported in the journal Nature, suggest that antioxidants could play a role in weight control.
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Chili peppers can do more than just make you feel hot, reports a study in the August 1 Journal of Biological Chemistry; the active chemical in peppers can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat.

Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that contributes to their spiciness; CPS stimulates a receptor found in sensory neurons, creating the heat sensation and subsequent reactions like redness and sweating. Read the rest of this entry »

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According to new research, old ideas about water behavior are all wet.

Ubiquitous on Earth, water also has been found in comets, on Mars and in molecular clouds in interstellar space. Now, scientists say this common fluid is not as well understood as we thought.
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Herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants, and a new University of Georgia study suggests they are also potent inhibitors of tissue damage and inflammation caused by high levels of blood sugar.

Researchers, whose results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food, tested extracts from 24 common herbs and spices. In addition to finding high levels of antioxidant-rich compounds known as phenols, they revealed a direct correlation between phenol content and the ability of the extracts to block the formation of compounds that contribute to damage caused by diabetes and aging.
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High-dose injections of vitamin C, also known as ascorbate or ascorbic acid, reduced tumor weight and growth rate by about 50 percent in mouse models of brain, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report in the August 5, 2008, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers traced ascorbate’s anti-cancer effect to the formation of hydrogen peroxide in the extracellular fluid surrounding the tumors. Normal cells were unaffected.
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Trying to reap the health benefits of exercise? Forget treadmills and spin classes, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have found a way around the sweat and pain. They identified two signaling pathways that are activated in response to exercise and converge to dramatically increase endurance.


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New research has uncovered a fundamental cellular mechanism that may drive pathological drug-seeking behavior. The study, published by Cell Press in the July 31 issue of the journal Neuron, examines the brain’s reward circuitry and details strikingly distinct influences of self-administered cocaine compared to natural rewards or passive cocaine injection.
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In our brains, groups of neurons fire up simultaneously for just milliseconds at a time, in random rhythms, similar to twinkling lightning bugs in our backyards. New research from neuroscientists at Indiana University and the University of Montreal provides a model — a rhyme and reason — for this random synchronization.
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Ultra-miniature bialy-shaped particles — called nanobialys because they resemble tiny versions of the flat, onion-topped rolls popular in New York City — could soon be carrying medicinal compounds through patients’ bloodstreams to tumors or atherosclerotic plaques.
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Discovery may lead to new treatments for cystic fibrosis, other inherited diseases

Researchers in Japan and Canada have discovered a key component of the quality control mechanism that operates inside human cells – sometimes too well. The breakthrough has significant implications for the development of new treatments for cystic fibrosis (CF) and some other hereditary diseases, the researchers say. Their results were published July 25 in the journal Science.
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The tendency toward obesity is directly related to the brain system that is involved in food reward and addictive behaviors, according to a new study. Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) and colleagues have demonstrated a link between a predisposition to obesity and defective dopamine signaling in the mesolimbic system in rats. Their report appears in the August 2008 issue of The FASEB Journal.
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