Cancer is one of the most deadly diseases that leave most people hopeless. According to the National Institutes of Health, for every 100,000 people, there are 439.2 new cases of cancer every year. Meanwhile, for every 100,000 people, there are a total of 163.5 cancer deaths per year.
Researchers at the Salk Institute had a new discovery about the mechanisms of cancer. A cellular recycling process called autophagy—which was generally thought to fuel cancer’s growth—can actually lead to its death, thus preventing cancer before it starts.
In the paper published in the journal Nature, researchers investigated molecular tips called telomeres to find out how they are linked to cancer. The researchers likened the telomeres to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. Those tips “keep the laces from fraying when we tie them,” similarly the telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes to “keep them from fusing when cells continually divide and duplicate their DNA.” However, while the loss of the plastic tips may lead to messy laces, losing the telomere may lead to cancer.
Every time the cells duplicate their DNA to divide and grow, their telomeres are slowly chipped away. The researchers explained that once the telomeres become too short “that they can no longer effectively protect chromosomes,” the cells stop dividing permanently.
However, due to cancer-causing viruses or other factors, cells may continue to divide. And because the telomeres are either too short or missing, the unprotected chromosomes undergo “crisis.” They can fuse and become dysfunctional, which may result in the initiation of some types of cancer.
The team dug deeper to understand this “crisis.” The typical response to this crisis is widespread cell death in order to stop the dangerous fused cells to become full-blown cancer.
To investigate this crisis and the resulting cell death, the research team used healthy human cells in experiments to compare the normally growing cells with the cells they forced into crisis. They then investigated the cellular mechanisms which occur during the crisis; such as apoptosis and autophagy.
Results revealed that when they prevented autophagy in the crisis cells, the cells replicated tirelessly. Additionally, they were fused and disfigured. The severe DNA damage in the cells indicates that they have become cancerous cells. This means that autophagy is an important early cancer-suppressing mechanism.
Previously, the so-called autophagy was generally thought of as a survival mechanism of cancer cells; A process that supports the unsanctioned growth of cancerous cells by eating other cells to recycle raw materials.
However, it seems that this understanding was wrong. The researchers claimed autophagy to be a “completely novel tumor-suppressing pathway.” They added the treatment programs that block the autophagy in order to curb cancer may have the opposite effect and unintentionally promote cancer instead.
Even the researchers were taken by surprise by the results of their study. “These results were a complete surprise. There are many checkpoints that prevent cells from dividing out of control and becoming cancerous, but we did not expect autophagy to be one of them,” said Jan Karlseder, a professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and the senior author of the study.
We’ve learned about the widely known benefits of exercise. It enhances and maintains your overall health and wellness as well as physical fitness. It can also help in increasing body growth and development, strengthening muscles, weight loss, preventing cardiovascular diseases and aging.
But if you think that’s all there is to exercise, you are largely mistaken. A new study reveals it may benefit the brain function in older adults, and prevent or delay the onset of dementia.
Brain Effects of Exercise
In a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseases, researchers revealed that exercise was associated with a change in the blood flow in key regions in the brain. This, in turn, resulted in an improved cognitive performance in a group of healthy older adults and a group diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
The researchers had two groups of older adults go through an exercise training program. The program consists of 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity treadmill walking or aerobic exercises, four days per week for a total of 12 weeks.
One group was composed of those with mild cognitive impairment while another was composed of healthy older adults without MCI. Before and after the program, the participants underwent aerobic fitness testing, neuropsychological assessment, and an MRI scan.
Both groups yielded positive results. The healthy group had increased cerebral blood flow in the frontal cortex after 12 weeks, which significantly improved their performance on cognitive tests.
On the other hand, the MCI group had decreased cerebral blood flow in the left anterior cingulate cortex and left insula after 12 weeks. This resulted in their improved performance on a test used to measure memory and cognitive health.
How Reduced Blood Flow Increases Brain Function
According to Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the University Of Maryland and one of the authors of the study, when we begin to experience subtle memory loss, the brain responds to the crisis by trying to “compensate” the inadequate brain function by increasing the blood flow.
However, while increased cerebral blood flow can be beneficial in normal brain situations, in those diagnosed with MCI, it gives the opposite effect. Dr. Smith states that there is evidence that it may bring further memory loss to those in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dr. Smith explains the result of the study:
“A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program. But after 12-weeks of exercise, adults with MCI experienced decreases in cerebral blood flow. They simultaneously improved significantly in their scores on cognitive tests.”
These findings provide evidence that exercise can improve brain function in older adults—whether or not their cognitive abilities are already in decline.
Dr. Smith added that that exercise can positively affect “biomarkers of brain function in a way that might protect people by preventing or postponing the onset of dementia.” He highlighted how exercise influences the brain’s neural networks which are linked to memory loss and amyloid accumulation—both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s.
When we breathe in polluted air, it irritates our respiratory system and we may experience breathing difficulties. In the long run, exposure contaminated air and smoke produced by industries and vehicles can lead to decreased lung function, diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. Now another health problem might be added to the list—childhood obesity.
Impacts of Obesity in Children
Looking at the many severe diseases linked to air pollution, obesity seems a little insignificant. However, this condition should not be overlooked.
Obesity affects up to 15-20 percent of children worldwide. Aside from the various health hazards linked to obesity such as diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea, gallstones, and cardiovascular diseases. Overweight and obesity also affect the psychological being of children.
Several studies reveal that childhood obesity can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. This is commonly due to social exclusion, negative stereotypes, and bullying. In fact, some experts described being overweight as “one of the most stigmatizing and least socially acceptable conditions in childhood.”
Obesity and Air Pollution
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) claimed that exposure to air pollution, especially at school, might be liked with a higher risk of overweight and obesity during childhood. In a study published in Environment International, researchers investigated 2,660 children ages 7-10 years old from 39 schools in Barcelona under the BREATHE project.
The team collected data on the children’s height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI). They also assessed the levels of pollution in the school areas. Among the pollutants they measured are nitrogen dioxide, elemental carbon, particle matter, and ultrafine particles. They examined the pollutants twice; during a week in summer and another week in winter.
Jeroen de Bont, a researcher at ISGlobal and first author of the study concluded that children exposed with medium to high levels of the measured air pollutants had “a higher risk of obesity and overweight as compared to those exposed to lower levels.”
It was also revealed that many children were exposed to air pollution levels above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels. To be specific, more than 75 percent were exposed to unsafe levels of particle matter. While more than 50 percent were exposed to the above-recommended level of nitrogen dioxide.
The researchers, however, highlighted that their study has limitations. One of the reasons is because their analysis was done with only estimates of exposure levels. Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal researcher and study coordinator explained:
“The study has however some limitations, which means that the results are to be cautiously interpreted. Being a cross-sectional study, we only have data at one time-point, and we do not have enough data to establish the nature of the association. To draw more solid conclusions, we need new longitudinal studies that follow the study participants over time.”
But how can air pollution possibly affect obesity? Researchers explained the underlying mechanisms on the idea. Previous animal studies reveal that air pollution can induce insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and systemic inflammation. These are known factors that contribute to obesity.
In the study in particular researchers identified that ultrafine particles were the pollutants that had the most effect in increasing the risk of overweight or obesity. “This may be explained by the fact that the ultrafine fraction of the particles deposit in greater number and deeper into the lungs than do large-size particles, having more capacity to reach the circulation and induce oxidative stress and inflammation,” the researchers wrote.
Chicken eggs are good, nutritional food sources on their own. However, if we can make them to be more useful, why not?
Scientists genetically modified chickens to produce human proteins in their eggs. This breakthrough can offer a new cost-effective method for producing high-quality drugs with cheaper ingredients.
Genetically Modifying the Chickens
According to the researchers, the project was initially aimed at creating high-quality proteins that can be used for scientific research. However, they soon found that drugs created using these proteins.
This is not the first time eggs have shown their usefulness in drug production. Previously, eggs were used to grow strains of viruses that can be used in vaccines. But this time, researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute tweaked the chickens themselves. They encoded the DNA of the chickens to produce human protein as part of the egg whites
In the study published in BMC Biotechnology, the researchers made sure the genetic modification did not have adverse effects on the chickens—they can lay eggs as normal. The proteins on eggs, on the other hand, can be harvested in high quantities using a simple purification.
High quantities of the proteins can be recovered from each egg system and there are no on the chickens themselves, which lay eggs as normal.
Researchers say the findings provide sound evidence for using chickens as a cheap method of producing high-quality drugs for use in research studies and, potentially one day, in patients.
Eggs are already used for growing viruses that are used as vaccines, such as the flu jab. This new approach is different because the therapeutic proteins are encoded in the chicken’s DNA and produced as part of the egg white.
Three Eggs for a Dose of Drug
The researchers focused on developing two types of protein. One is a human protein called IFNalpha2a which is important to the immune system. This protein has antiviral properties and can be used to fight against cancer. The second is the human and pig versions of a protein called macrophage-CSF which has therapeutic potential. It is being developed to stimulate damaged tissues to repair themselves.
A dose of drug only needs three eggs. The researchers have not produced a drug for patients yet. However, the study offers proof of a new feasible drug production method.
If researchers adapted the same method to produce other human proteins, it can greatly contribute to the production of many protein-based drugs. A few examples of these drugs are Avastin and Herceptin, which are used for treating cancer and other diseases.
Looking at how costly anti-cancer medicines are currently, this would certainly be a more economical substitute. It is less expensive than the current production method of similar drugs. Currently, the only way to produce these proteins is through mammalian cell culture techniques. This is not only very expensive, but it also produces a low yield.
“We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology,” said Professor Helen Sang, of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute.
Parents always use the trick of putting kids into a hammock and swaying it gently to put them to sleep—and it has always been effective. However, if you think you don’t need it now that you are older, you are largely mistaken. New studies reveal the benefits of rocking motion to adults. It does not just aid sleep it also boosts memory.
Rocking Motion in Sleep
In a study published in Current Biology, researchers investigated the effects of rocking motion to sleep as well as its associated brain waves throughout the night. The study was headed by Laurence Bayer and Sophie Schwartz from the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
The researchers observed 18 healthy young adults which underwent sleep monitoring in the lab. They first had the volunteers get used to sleeping in the lab before observing them for two nights. On one night they slept on a gently rocking bed. On the other night, they slept on an identical bed that wasn’t moving.
Results revealed that volunteers slept better on a rocking bed. They were able to fall asleep faster and deeper. They also stayed longer in non-rapid eye movement sleep and woke up less.
“Having a good night’s sleep means falling asleep rapidly and then staying asleep during the whole night. Our volunteers — even if they were all good sleepers — fell asleep more rapidly when rocked and had longer periods of deeper sleep associated with fewer arousals during the night. We thus show that rocking is good for sleep.”
Sleep is very important for our body functions. During the non-rapid eye movement sleep, our body does its daily repair of cells and tissues. However, as we grow older, we sleep less deeply. Aging is also associated with shorter sleep.
Rocking Motion in Memory
Researchers also assessed how better sleep, and thus, the rocking motion influenced memory. They had the volunteers study word pairs before sleep and tested them the next morning. The results of the tests where higher when they were rocked during sleep.
Bayer and his colleagues highlighted that the rocking motion affects brain oscillations during sleep It helped synchronize neural activity in the networks of the brain, which resulted in both sleep and memory consolidation.
On the other hand, a separate study investigated the effects of rocking motion on other species. In a study led by Paul Franken, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, they found that mice slept better with a rocking motion. In fact, their most efficient rocking frequency is four times higher than in humans. However, they did not find any evidence of sleeping more deeply.
The researchers explain the study could provide new insights into developing a treatment for those people with sleep disorders.
“Current tools, such as optogenetics, can help us decipher which structures, or even neuronal populations, receive the stimulus from the otolithic organs and transfer it further to the structures of the sleep circuitry. Mapping the network of communication between the two systems will provide with a basic understanding, as well as novel clinical targets to cope with sleep disorders, like insomnia.”