November 19, 2018

    Bacteriophages are viruses that can kill bacteria. Credit: bigstockphoto
    New technology developed for building custom viruses

    Bacteriophages, or phages, are naturally occurring viruses that can kill bacteria. Scientists are trying to biologically engineer bacteriophages in order to fight bacterial infections. Now, a team of researchers from ETH Zurich has just presented a new technology that enables the production of genetically modified viruses. The viruses are thus provided with additional properties and then, once delivered in the host cells, they can be activated. The tool is extremely powerful and also quick, allowing scientists to create almost any type of bacteriophage. The new technique may enable the destruction of harmful bacteria, difficult to target otherwise, as in the case of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.

    Read the full story: ETH Zurich
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    Asthma patients use inhalers to open their airways. Image: Pixabay
    Blocking of airways in asthma patients explained

    Houston Methodist researchers have found that a particular class of white blood cells, called T helper cells, overstimulate the production of a sticky protein, mucin, which cloggs up the airways. Mucin protects the surface of the airways, but excessive secretion of mucin, as seen in asthma, is damaging. Now that scientists have resolved the molecular mechanism of T helper cell activation and mucin secretion, new drugs for asthma may be developed that are completely different from the steroids that are being used today.

    Read the full story: Houston Methodist
    Scientific publication: Journal of Experimental Medicine

    Cell phone may or may not damage health. Credit: bigstockphoto
    Effects of cell phone radiation on health still not clear after two more research studies

    Two new studies investigating the effects of radiation emitted by cell phones on health have been made public. However, the research, performed on animals, gave sometime puzzling results and it didn’t resolve the old debate about the issue. Phones emit non-ionizing radiation, similar to the one produced by a microwave and scientists have not managed to conclusively link it to health problems. The study showed that male rats exposed to radiation had a higher risk of developing tumors, but they also lived longer. However, the sometimes-counterintuitive results are very important and provide the foundations for the next step in this line of research.

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    Scientific publication: National Toxicology Program
    Scientific publication: National Toxicology Program

    Colon cancer. Credit: Elizabeth Cook, John Hopkins Medicine
    Bacteria drive tumor formation in hereditary colon cancer

    Scientist show in a new study that two species of bacteria work together to stimulate tumor formation in patients with an inherited form of colon cancer. These patients harbor the bacterial species inside their colon. Interestingly, the same species were also discovered in people who develop a sporadic form of colon cancer. The mechanisms behind the phenomenon are explained in another study performed in mice, in which researchers showed that the bacteria promote an immune response that stimulates the formation of tumors. The findings could lead to new ways to more effectively screen for and ultimately prevent colon cancer.

    Read the full story: John Hopkins Medicine
    Scientific publication: Cell
    Scientific publication: Science

    New treatment may help to improve bone healing. Image: Pixabay
    New therapeutic approach for bone healing

    Delivery of a naturally-occurring protein, Jagged-1, to a fracture improves bone repair in experimental mice. Although the technique needs further optimization, it is hoped that this new approach might be of benefit to patients with impaired bone healing. Currently, these patients are treated with a costly bone grafting surgical procedure or with other proteins that induce unwanted side-effects.

    Read the full story: Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan
    Scientific publication: npj Regenerative Medicine

    Effective cancer treatment in mice, would it also work in humans? Image: Pixabay

    Hopeful news from Stanford University School of Medecine : a new sort of immunotherapy effectively eradicates cancers in mice. The therapy leads to triggering of a T cell immune response locally at the site of the tumour, but some T cells will migrate and attack distant tumours. Mobilizing T cells in this way results in long-term survival of most of the mice tested, and seems effective for the treatment of different types of cancer.

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    Scientific publication: Science Translational Medicine

    Trying to lose weight encourages others to do the same. Image source: bigstockphoto
    Having a partner on a diet may help you lose weight too

    A new study that followed 130 couples over six months reports that when one member of a couple commits to losing weight the other one will lose weight too, even if not actively engaged in this direction. The researchers called this “the ripple effect”. Approximately one third of the partners not engaged in a diet lost three percent or more of their body weight despite not participating in any active intervention. Researchers explain that this is due to the positive influence from the partners dedicated to losing weight. The positive changes in their behavior are copied by the people around them.

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    Scientific publication:

    Simple blood test reveals high levels of amyloid-beta in Alzheimer's patients. Image: Pixabay
    New diagnostic assay for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease

    Japanese and Australian scientists have developed a simple and cheap diagnostic assay to measure proteins in the blood that are known to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins are normally found in the brain, and it has been an outstanding question for a long time whether their presence in the blood could reflect their presence in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. With this assay it becomes possible to diagnose patients in early stages of the disease so that they can be enrolled in clinical trials before their brains are affected.

    Read the full story: nature
    Scientific publication: nature

    Radiography of thorax; lungs appear black. Image: Pixabay
    Possible cure of lung fibrosis in the making

    Treatment to cure lung fibrosis may finally be on the horizon. In a proof-of-principle study, researchers of the CNIO in Spain found that lengthening telomers on chromosomes in mice strongly improves or even cures lung fibrosis. Telomers cap chromosomes to protect the DNA, and become shorter with ageing. Shortened telomers are also found in lung fibrosis. By making telomers longer, the researchers corrected this and lung fibrosis in the mice disappeared.

    Scientific publication: eLIFE

    Botox injection. Image by
    A new BOTOX is on its way

    Botulinum toxin type A, or BOTOX, derived from Clostridium botulinum in the environment has several applications like treatment of migraine, wrinkles, excessive amount of sweating, heart conditions and bladder problems. However, Dr. Andrew Doxey from University of Waterloo and colleagues from Havard University has identified a similar toxin from bacteria Enterococcus faecium which is usually found in animal guts. This was a chance discovery, as the original intention of the study was to identify the origin of antibiotic resistance in E. faecium. The researchers are confident that identification of more versions of the toxin could help in expansion and optimization of its therapeutic applications.

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    A new type of ion channels was just discovered. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
    A new type of ion channels was just discovered

    It doesn’t happen every day: a new class of proteins has been discovered. Called Otop1, the protein is an ion channels located in the membrane of the cells where it transports protons (particles that produce acid pH). This proton channel serves several functions in the body. For example, it is involved in sensing sour (acidic) taste. Moreover, in the internal ear Otop1 is important for the function of structures called otoconia which perceive gravity and acceleration, thus they are essential for our equilibrium. Discovery of a protein involved in such distant, but important biological functions is remarkable and it outlines the power of scientific research.

    Read the full story: University of Southern CAlifornia
    Scientific publication: Science

    Alzheimer is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease affecting older people. By ScienceBriefss
    Promising drug for Alzheimer disease fails in clinical trial - health news

    The results of a clinical trial evaluating the effects of the drug solanezumab in preventing Alzheimer symptoms just came in and they are disappointing. Although the drug showed some positive effects, it was ineffective in preventing the characteristic cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer. Solanezumab is developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and it targets the formation of amyloid plaques. These are agglomerations of proteins considered to be responsible for Alzheimer. Other studies involving the same drug are ongoing, so there is still hope that some of them will show positive results.

    What is Alzheimer disease? Watch the video below to learn!

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    Scientific publication:

    New smart contact lens senses glucose. Image: Wikimedia Commons
    Smart contact lens developed to measure glucose

    Korean scientists have developed a smart contact lens that is able to measure glucose levels in tears. It is equipped with a LED that reports when glucose levels are abnormally high. The lens monitors glucose constantly and measurements show a good correlation with glucose blood levels. The advantages for diabetics are clear: blood samples are no longer needed, the lens works 24 hours per day, and has an alarm system built-in. Patients need to be patient though: the lens is a prototype that has been tested only in rabbits.

    Read the full story:
    Scientific publication:

    Drinking alcohol in late teens damages the liver later in life. Image by ScienceBriefss.
    Adolescent drinking can lead to liver problems in adulthood

    A large long-term study conducted in Sweden provides convincing evidence that drinking alcohol during adolescence is correlated with liver disorders later in life. The study used data about drinking habits for a large number of young men, collected during 1969-1970. Next, they checked if the participants developed liver injuries later in life (the data goes until 2009). They found a positive correlation between the quantity of alcohol in teens and the incidence of severe liver disease later in life. Now, the authors advocate that the recommended alcohol consumption limit (presently at 30 grams/day) should be decreased in order to prevent diseases in adults.

    Read the full story:
    Scientific publication:

    Baby in the womb. Image by ScienceBriefss.
    The force of fetus kicks in the womb measured for the first time

    It is a well know fact that a fetus moves and kicks inside the womb of the mother. Until now the mechanical forces and biomechanics of these fetal movements have never been measured. Using modeling of cine-magnetic resonance images scientists managed to quantify the fetal kick and muscle forces during the second half of gestation. Amazingly the force of a fetus kick was around 4 kilograms (8.8 lbs) of force, quite impressive for a developing human being. The stronger kicks occurred between weeks 20 and 30 of gestation. These movements are benefic for the babies because they promote development of muscles and bones.

    See below an example of one of the movies used to measure the kicks:


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    Scientific publication:

    Cancer cells have special metabolic demands that are now being explored for new treatment options
    Starvation of cancer cells to arrest their growth

    Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center have tapped into the unique metabolic demands of cancer cells to deprive these cells from glutamine, an amino acid necessary for biosynthesis, cell communication and protection against oxidative stress. They developed a small molecule that effectively blocks the glutamine transporter that is expressed on cancer cells for glutamine uptake. The molecule inhibited cell growth and proliferation and increased cell death in the laboratory, and might thus be at the basis of news ways to treat cancers.

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    Scientific publication:

    Cardiac stem cells. Image by Gepstein Laboratory, via Wikimedia Commons
    Scientists transform skin cells into valuable stem cells

    Stem cells are amazing because in the body they can be converted into any other type of cells. However, in the lab they are difficult to study, amongst other reasons because they are hard to obtain. A group of scientists may have a solution: they were able to convert regular skin cells into stem cells. The research outlines an innovative way to obtain stem cells and provides the opportunity to study in detail cellular and genetic processes. Amazingly, the transformation was achieved by modifying only one gene in the original skin cells!

    Read the full story:
    Scientific publication:

    Cancers leave biochemical markers in the blood that researchers aim to detect
    Development of blood test for early detection of cancers advances

    Researchers report progress in detecting gene mutations and protein levels in the blood that indicate eight different types of cancers throughout the body. Samples were taken from patients that had already been diagnosed with cancer, and the assay showed the best results for ovarian cancer (98%), but was less efficient for breast cancer (33%). The challenge for the years ahead is to refine the test to measure small deviations in undiagnosed people, without reporting false positive cases.

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    Scientific publication:

    Sneezing may not be required to spread the flu. Image by James Gathany, CDC
    Flu spreads easier than previously thought: no coughing or sneezing necessary

    The common believe is that the flu spreads by droplets generated by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated surfaces. A new study suggests spreading the flu virus (influenza) is actually much easier: breathing is enough! Infected persons contaminate the air with influenza viral particles just by breathing, especially during the initial phase of the flu. The droplets stay in the air for a long time and they can easily be taken in by other people. This may pave the way for improving ventilation systems in public spaces in order to minimize the risk of transmission.

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    Scientific publication:

    Colorized microscope image of the pathogen Salmonella enteritidis. Photo by Jean Guard, ARS
    Salmonella The culprit for one of the most deadly epidemics from Mexico

    The 16th century was a dark time for what is now Mexico. A deadly epidemic was at loose, with terrifying symptoms: fever, liver damage, bleeding nose and years. It is estimated that it killed 45% of the population, but the cause of this has never been identified.

    Now, a new study suggests the culprit is not an Ebola-like microbe, but rather the common Slamonella that usually gives food sickness. The conclusion is based on DNA extracted from skeletons of people that have lived at that time. Likely, the Spanish that arrived in Mexico in the 16th century carried the bacteria.

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    Scientific publication:

    Position of the thymus in the human body. Cancer Research UK, Wikimedia Commons
    Regeneration of an immune system’s organ by the molecule BMP4

    The thymus – an important organ of the immune system – can recover astonishingly quickly from damage, for example by chemotherapy. A study described in Science Immunology reports that this is made possible by BMP4, a protein that is synthesised within the thymus and switches on a genetic development and repair programme. However, thymic regeneration fades with age, and limits the production of T cells that attack cancer cells. A better understanding of thymus regeneration may lead to increased thymic repair and sustained activity in elderly people, and thus enhance immune function to eliminate cancer cells.

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    Scientific publication:

    Sleep deprivation renders the brain both asleep and awake at the same time
    Sleep deprivation renders the brain both asleep and awake at the same time
    Dr. Vyazovskiy from the University of Oxford in UK, who studies the effect of sleep deprivation on rodents, found that the brain activity usually found only during sleep was also recorded in sleep deprived awake mice. His research further showed that sleep deprivation affects those cognitive abilities that require intense effort. Similarly, Dr. Cohen-Zion from Israel studies the mood and behavioral effects of sleep loss on adolescents and found that a difficult task, forces these teens to focus more than usual to retrieve information. While several people do not assign importance to a sound sleep, research points towards affliction of our reasoning capacities if we are sleep deprived.

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    Cancer cells under microscope
    Cancer cells under microscope - Cancer news
    Modelling studies performed by researchers at the North Carolina State University indicate that the doses of radiotherapy to treat cancers might be reduced by adopting a novel protocol. This protocol aims to exert the same effects on the treatment of the cancer, while at the same time sparing the surrounding healthy tissue from damage. This will reduce patient side-effects.

    Read the full story:

    Scientific publication:

    Ebola virus seen with the electron microscope. Photo by CDC Global (Ebola virus), via Wikimedia Commons
    Ebola virus seen with the electron microscope. Photo by CDC Global (Ebola virus), via Wikimedia Commons
    Ebola survivors from the virus’ first outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 still have immunity to the virus. Their immune cells are able to produce antibodies, and prevent the infection of other cells by the Ebola virus. In the light of recent Ebola outbreaks such as the one in 2014 in West Africa, with more than 11,000 victims, this observation is important for the quest for effective anti-Ebola vaccination strategies.

    Read the full story:

    Scientific publication:

    New molecule linked to food intake control
    New molecule linked to food intake control - science news
    Researchers from NGM Biopharmaceuticals in San Francisco, California have identified a molecule naturally made by the body, that can inhibit ghrelin “the hunger hormone”. Named LEAP2, it decreases food intake.

    The study shows that LEAP2 is a previously unknown part of the ghrelin system, essential for our survival and with huge potential to treat disorders such as obesity, anorexia, and diabetes. In humans, there are several conceivable applications of this discovery, such as preventing the strong urge to eat that follows weight loss.

    Currently, this is the first tool that allows the manipulation of the ghrelin system. 


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