Scientific Earth Conscientious

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened (Madame de Stael)

Archive for December, 2012

Schizophrenia linked to social inequality. Urban neighbourhoods with high deprivation, population density and inequality found to have higher rates of schizophrenia

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 14, 2012

Genetic CausesSchizophrenia has a strong hereditary component. Individuals with a first-degree relative (parent or siblng) who has schizophrenia have 10 percent chance of developing the disorder, as opposed to the 1 percent chance of general population. But schizophrenia is only influenced by genetics, not determined by it. While schizophrenia runs in families, about 60% of schizophrenics have no family members with the disorder. Furthermore, individuals who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia don’t always develop the disease, which shows that biology is not destiny.Environmental CausesTwin and adoption studies suggest that inherited genes make a person vulnerable to schizophrenia and then environmental factors act this vulnerability to trigger the disorder. As for the environmental factors involved, more and more research is pointing to stress, either during pregnancy or at a later stage of development. High levels of stress are believed to trigger schizophrenia by increasing the body ‘s production of the hormone cortisol. Research points to several stress-inducing environmental factors that may be involved in schizophrenia, including:* Prenatal exposure to a viral infection* Low oxygen levels during birth (from prolonged labor or premature birth)* Exposure to a virus during infancy* Early parental loss or separation* Physical or sexual abuse in childhood Abnormal Brain StructuresIn addition to abnormal brain chemistry, abnormalities in brain structure may also play a role in schizophrenia. Enlarged brain ventricles are seen in some schizophrenics, indicating a deficit in the volume of brain tissue. There is also evidence of abnormally low activity in the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning, and decision-making.Some studies also suggest that abnormalities in the temporal lobes, hippocampus, and amygdala are connected to schizophrenia’s positive symptoms. But despite the evidence of brain abnormalities, it is highly unlikely that schizophrenia is the result of any one problem in any one region of the brain.

Genetic Causes
Schizophrenia has a strong hereditary component. Individuals with a first-degree relative (parent or siblng) who has schizophrenia have 10 percent chance of developing the disorder, as opposed to the 1 percent chance of general population. But schizophrenia is only influenced by genetics, not determined by it. While schizophrenia runs in families, about 60% of schizophrenics have no family members with the disorder. Furthermore, individuals who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia don’t always develop the disease, which shows that biology is not destiny.
Environmental Causes
Twin and adoption studies suggest that inherited genes make a person vulnerable to schizophrenia and then environmental factors act this vulnerability to trigger the disorder. As for the environmental factors involved, more and more research is pointing to stress, either during pregnancy or at a later stage of development. High levels of stress are believed to trigger schizophrenia by increasing the body ‘s production of the hormone cortisol. Research points to several stress-inducing environmental factors that may be involved in schizophrenia, including:
* Prenatal exposure to a viral infection
* Low oxygen levels during birth (from prolonged labor or premature birth)
* Exposure to a virus during infancy
* Early parental loss or separation
* Physical or sexual abuse in childhood
Abnormal Brain Structures
In addition to abnormal brain chemistry, abnormalities in brain structure may also play a role in schizophrenia. Enlarged brain ventricles are seen in some schizophrenics, indicating a deficit in the volume of brain tissue. There is also evidence of abnormally low activity in the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning, and decision-making.
Some studies also suggest that abnormalities in the temporal lobes, hippocampus, and amygdala are connected to schizophrenia’s positive symptoms. But despite the evidence of brain abnormalities, it is highly unlikely that schizophrenia is the result of any one problem in any one region of the brain.

Higher rates of schizophrenia in urban areas can be attributed to increased deprivation, increased population density and an increase in inequality within a neighbourhood, new research reveals. The research, led by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Queen Mary University of London, was published today in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Dr James Kirkbride, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge, said: “Although we already know that schizophrenia tends to be elevated in more urban communities, it was unclear why. Our research suggests that more densely populated, more deprived and less equal communities experience higher rates of schizophrenia and other similar disorders. This is important because other research has shown that many health and social outcomes also tend to be optimal when societies are more equal.”

The scientists used data from a large population-based incidence study (the East London first-episode psychosis study directed by Professor Jeremy Coid at the East London NHS Foundation Trust and Queen Mary, University of London) conducted in three neighbouring inner city, ethnically diverse boroughs in East London: City & Hackney, Newham, and Tower Hamlets.

427 people aged 18-64 years old were included in the study, all of whom experienced a first episode of psychotic disorder in East London between 1996 and 2000. The researchers assessed their social environment through measures of the neighbourhood in which they lived at the time they first presented to mental health services because of a psychotic disorder. Using the 2001 census, they estimated the population aged 18-64 years old in each neighbourhood, and then compared the incidence rate between neighbourhoods.

The incidence of schizophrenia (and other similar disorders where hallucinations and delusions are the dominant feature) still showed variation between neighbourhoods after taking into account age, sex, ethnicity and social class. Three environmental factors predicted risk of schizophrenia – increased deprivation (which includes employment, income, education and crime) increased population density, and an increase in inequality (the gap between the rich and poor).

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Fertile soil doesn’t fall from the sky. The contribution of bacterial remnants to soil fertility has been underestimated until now

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 14, 2012

The Damma Glacier, on which a broad range of studies is being conducted, has become an important outdoor laboratory not only for climate researchers, but for ecologists as well. The soil investigated with the samples was between 0 and 120 years old and thus allowed insight into early processes of soil development.Photo: Christian Schurig/ UFZCC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/)

The Damma Glacier, on which a broad range of studies is being conducted, has become an important outdoor laboratory not only for climate researchers, but for ecologists as well. The soil investigated with the samples was between 0 and 120 years old and thus allowed insight into early processes of soil development.
Photo: Christian Schurig/ UFZ
CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/)

Leipzig. Remains of dead bacteria have far greater meaning for soils than previously assumed. Around 40 per cent of the microbial biomass is converted to organic soil components, write researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Technische Universität Dresden (Technical University of Dresden) , the University of Stockholm, the Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie (Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology) and the Leibniz-Universität Hannover (Leibniz University Hannover) in the professional journal Biogeochemistry. Until now It was assumed that the organic components of the soil were comprised mostly of decomposed plant material which is directly converted to humic substances. In a laboratory experiment and in field testing the researchers have now refuted this thesis. Evidently the easily biologically degradable plant material is initially converted to microbial biomass which then provides the source material to soil organic matter.
Soil organic matter represent the largest fraction of terrestrially bound carbon in the biosphere. The compounds therefore play an important role not only for soil fertility and agricultural yields. They are also one of the key factors controlling the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climatic change can therefore be slowed down or accelerated, according to the management of the soil resource.

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Previously unknown mechanism identified in oncogene-induced senescence. Reported in The American Journal of Pathology

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 12, 2012

Prototypic oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) by Ras/Raf/Mek. Activated Ras/Raf/Mek oncogenes damage DNA, thereby triggering cellular DNA damage response (DDR) signaling involving ATM/ATR kinases and various components of the double strand break (DSB) repair machinery. Signals from unresolved DSB are relayed to the tumor suppressor p53, PML and pRB, which eventually promote a dynamic process of local, senescence-associated heterochromatin foci (SAHF) formation with the help of histone methyltransferases (such as Suv39h1) in the vicinity of E2F-responsive target genes, thereby transcriptionally silencing E2F-dependent S-phase genes. Moreover, persistent DSB may also trigger a second senescence-associated response, the massive production of largely pro-inflammatory cytokines and other secretable factors (termed “senescence-associated secretory phenotype [SASP]”), considered to reinforce the senescent arrest. Notably, the Myc oncogene is also known to evoke reactive oxygen species (ROS) and DNA replication stress like Ras/Raf-type oncogenes, and, a small fraction of Myc-activated cells directly enter senescence in a cell-autonomous fashion.

Prototypic oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) by Ras/Raf/Mek. Activated Ras/Raf/Mek oncogenes damage DNA, thereby triggering cellular DNA damage response (DDR) signaling involving ATM/ATR kinases and various components of the double strand break (DSB) repair machinery. Signals from unresolved DSB are relayed to the tumor suppressor p53, PML and pRB, which eventually promote a dynamic process of local, senescence-associated heterochromatin foci (SAHF) formation with the help of histone methyltransferases (such as Suv39h1) in the vicinity of E2F-responsive target genes, thereby transcriptionally silencing E2F-dependent S-phase genes. Moreover, persistent DSB may also trigger a second senescence-associated response, the massive production of largely pro-inflammatory cytokines and other secretable factors (termed “senescence-associated secretory phenotype [SASP]”), considered to reinforce the senescent arrest. Notably, the Myc oncogene is also known to evoke reactive oxygen species (ROS) and DNA replication stress like Ras/Raf-type oncogenes, and, a small fraction of Myc-activated cells directly enter senescence in a cell-autonomous fashion.

Cell aging, or cellular senescence, has an important role in the natural physiological response to tumor development. Activated oncogenes are able to induce senescence, and recent findings have suggested that oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) could play a key role in future cancer therapy. Researchers have now identified a previously unknown mechanism in the regulation of OIS. This study is published online in advance of the January issue of The American Journal of Pathology.

In many types of normal cells, OIS depends on induction of DNA damage response. Oxidative stress and hyper-replication of genomic DNA have already been proposed as major causes of DNA damage in OIS cells. A group of investigators from New York, Oregon, and Michigan reports that down-regulation of deoxyribonucleoside pools is another endogenous source of DNA damage. In normal human cells, “OIS represents an important fail-safe mechanism that suppresses proliferation of pre-malignant cells,” explains lead investigator Dr Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, Department of Cell Stress Biology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York. “Compelling evidence suggests that one of the intrinsic processes required for the induction of OIS is the cellular response to DNA damage.”

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Discovery in Ghent could improve screening for sudden cardiac death

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 12, 2012

Screening cardiac

Screening cardiac

Unfortunately, newspaper articles about young athletes dying suddenly on the field are not unheard of. Such reports fuel discussions about compulsory screening, for example of young footballers, for heart failure. Research by scientists from Ghent (VIB/UGent) and Italy will benefit these screening methods. They have discovered a link between mutations in a certain gene and the heart condition Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy.

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy or ARVC
ARVC is a hereditary heart condition in which the heart muscle (particularly the right ventricle) is partly replaced by fatty tissue and connective tissue. Cardiac arrhythmias can occur as a result of the changes in the heart muscle. Severe arrhythmias can cause dizziness or even lead to fainting or an acute cardiac arrest (= sudden death). ARVC is a progressive disease that usually presents during the teenage years.

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‘Smart stethoscope’, developed by scientists from the University of Southampton, used in monitoring treatment of kidney stones

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 12, 2012

Prototype of 'Smart Stethoscope.'Credit: University of Southampton

Prototype of ‘Smart Stethoscope.’
Credit: University of Southampton

A new listening device, developed by scientists from the University of Southampton, is being used to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment of kidney stones – saving patients unnecessary repeat therapy and x-ray monitoring.

If kidney stones cannot be dissolved by drugs, the favoured procedure is lithotripsy. Lithotripsy works by focusing thousands of shock waves onto the kidney stones in an effort to break them into pieces small enough to urinate out of the body or be dissolved by drugs.

However, it is difficult to discover exactly when the treatment has succeeded in breaking the stone and patients frequently have to experience more shocks than necessary, or be sent home when an insufficient number of shocks have been delivered to break the stone.

The new ‘Smart stethoscope’ has been developed by a team from the University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Environment in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust (GSTT) and Precision Acoustics Ltd. The programme was led by Professor Tim Leighton from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR).

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Device Helps Children with Disabilities Access Tablets

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 11, 2012

Research team

Ayanna Howard (right), professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park (left) have created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet.

Imagine not being able to touch a touch-screen device. Tablets and smartphones—with all their educational, entertaining and social benefits—would be useless.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are trying to open the world of tablets to children whose limited mobility makes it difficult for them to perform the common pinch and swipe gestures required to control the devices.

Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park have created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet.

The device, coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, allows children with fine motor impairments to access off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.

“Every child wants access to tablet technology. So to say, ‘No you can’t use it because you have a physical limitation’ is totally unfair,” Howard said. “We’re giving them the ability to use what’s in their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world.”

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A Mobile App Helps Children with Special Needs Improve Language and Social Skills

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 11, 2012

Picaa Screenshots

Picaa Screenshots

 

  • University of Granada researchers have developed the Picaa application, which can be downloaded free from App Store.
  • A study demonstrates that this application –which is also available in English, Galician and Arab– enhances perception, vocabulary acquisition, phonetic and syntactic performance, memory development and eye-hand coordination in children with Down syndrome and autism-related disorders.
  • University of Granada researchers have developed a cell phone that can be downloaded free from App Store and improves basic competences (maths, language, knowledge of the environment, autonomy and social skills) in children with autism-related disorders or Down Syndrome.

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New evidence for epigenetic effects of diet in healthy ageing

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 6, 2012

Dr Nigel Belshaw

Dr Nigel Belshaw

New research in human volunteers has shown that molecular changes to our genes, known as epigenetic marks, are driven mainly by ageing but are also affected by what we eat.

The study showed that whilst age had the biggest effects on these molecular changes, selenium and vitamin D status reduced the accumulation of epigenetic changes, and high blood folate and obesity increased them. These findings support the idea that healthy ageing is affected by what we eat.

Researchers from the Institute of Food Research led by Dr Nigel Belshaw, working with Prof John Mathers and colleagues from Newcastle University, examined the cells lining the gut wall from volunteers attending colonoscopy clinic. The Institute of Food Research is strategically funded the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and this study was also funded by the Food Standards Agency.

The study volunteers were free from cancer or inflammatory bowel disease and consumed their usual diet without any supplements. The researchers looked for specific epigenetic modifications of the volunteers’ genes that have been associated with the earliest signs of the onset of bowel cancer – an age-related disease. These epigenetic marks, known as DNA methylation, do not alter the genetic code but affect whether the genes are turned on or off. These methylation marks are transmitted when cells divide, and some have been associated with the development of cancer.

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Numerical study suggests subsea injection of chemicals didn’t prevent oil from rising to sea surface. Groundbreaking 3D models show that oil droplets were too small for dispersants to have significant impact

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 6, 2012

This is a time sequence of the simulated 3D spatial distribution of oil products below the surface based on current advection and oil buoyancy in the region. The color-bar indicates the size of individual oil droplets for the hypothetical scenario without deep injection of dispersant. The formation of the prominent deep hydrocarbon plume (blue) and the layering of shallower plumes demonstrates that chemical dispersants injected at the wellhead were likely not effective in changing the amount of oil reaching the surface. These findings appear in a new article in Environmental Science and Technology. The oil in the top 20 m of the sea surface is not shown (e.g., transport of oil reaching the surface is not depicted).Credit: Claire Paris, et. al.

This is a time sequence of the simulated 3D spatial distribution of oil products below the surface based on current advection and oil buoyancy in the region. The color-bar indicates the size of individual oil droplets for the hypothetical scenario without deep injection of dispersant. The formation of the prominent deep hydrocarbon plume (blue) and the layering of shallower plumes demonstrates that chemical dispersants injected at the wellhead were likely not effective in changing the amount of oil reaching the surface. These findings appear in a new article in Environmental Science and Technology. The oil in the top 20 m of the sea surface is not shown (e.g., transport of oil reaching the surface is not depicted).
Credit: Claire Paris, et. al.

The 2010 blowout of the Macondo well in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the region’s largest oil spill in U.S. history. As the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) incident unfolded, in an effort to prevent the oil from coming to the surface and reaching coastal and marsh ecosystems, chemical dispersants were injected at the wellhead. These powerful dispersants, typically used to break up oil slicks at the sea surface had never been used in such large quantities and over such a prolonged period of time in the deep ocean.

A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology, led by University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science Associate Professor of Applied Marine Physics Claire Paris, is the first to examine the effects of the use of unprecedented quantities of synthetic dispersants on the distribution of an oil mass in the water column, based on a modeling approach. The team of researchers included UM Rosenstiel School Assistant Scientist Matthieu Le Henaff and Research Associate Professor Villy Kourafalou, UM Center for Computational Science (CCS) Scientist Judith Helgers and Research Associate Professor Ashwanth Srinivasan, Ph.D. Candidate Zachary Aman from Colorado School of Mines, Research Associate Professor Ajit Subramaniam from Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Professor Dong-Ping Wang from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of SUNY at Stony Brook. Together they developed and tested models to show that the application of oil-dispersing chemicals had little effect on the oil surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The research opens the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved, or twisted solar fabrics

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 6, 2012

For the first time, a silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities has been developed that is capable of being scaled up to many meters in length. The research, led by a Penn State University chemist, opens the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved, or twisted solar fabrics. The information will be posted in the early online edition of the journal Advanced Materials on 6 December 2012. More information and high-resolution images are online at http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Badding12-2012. This photo shows a cross-sectional image of the new silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities. Shown are the layers -- labeled n+, i, and p+ -- that have been deposited inside the pore of the fiber.Credit: Badding lab, Penn State University

For the first time, a silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities has been developed that is capable of being scaled up to many meters in length. The research, led by a Penn State University chemist, opens the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved, or twisted solar fabrics. The information will be posted in the early online edition of the journal Advanced Materials on 6 December 2012. More information and high-resolution images are online at http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Badding12-2012. This photo shows a cross-sectional image of the new silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities. Shown are the layers — labeled n+, i, and p+ — that have been deposited inside the pore of the fiber.
Credit: Badding lab, Penn State University

For the first time, a silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities has been developed that has been shown to be scalable to many meters in length. The research opens the door to the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved, or twisted solar fabrics. The findings by an international team of chemists, physicists, and engineers, led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, will be posted by the journal Advanced Materials in an early online edition on 6 December 2012 and will be published on a future date in the journal’s print edition.

The team’s new findings build on earlier work addressing the challenge of merging optical fibers with electronic chips — silicon-based integrated circuits that serve as the building blocks for most semiconductor electronic devices such as solar cells, computers, and cell phones. Rather than merge a flat chip with a round optical fiber, the team found a way to build a new kind of optical fiber — which is thinner than the width of a human hair — with its own integrated electronic component, thereby bypassing the need to integrate fiber-optics with chips. To do this, they used high-pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials directly, layer by layer, into tiny holes in optical fibers.

Now, in their new research, the team members have used the same high-pressure chemistry techniques to make a fiber out of crystalline silicon semiconductor materials that can function as a solar cell — a photovoltaic device that can generate electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct-current electricity. “Our goal is to extend high-performance electronic and solar-cell function to longer lengths and to more flexible forms. We already have made meters-long fibers but, in principle, our team’s new method could be used to create bendable silicon solar-cell fibers of over 10 meters in length,” Badding said. “Long, fiber-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn’t really do before: We can take the silicon fibers and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing, and biomedical devices.”

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Mercury releases contaminate ocean fish: Dartmouth-led effort publishes major findings. New research important to discussion of international mercury

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

Mercury releases contaminate ocean fish Dartmouth-led effort publishes major findings. New research important to discussion of international mercury

The graphic, “Mercury in the Open Ocean: Sources to Seafood” is reproduced from Sources to Seafood: Mercury Pollution in the Marine Environment by the Coastal and Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative, December 2012.
Credit: Coastal and Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative

In new research published in a special issue of the journal Environmental Research and in “Sources to Seafood: Mercury Pollution in the Marine Environment”— a companion report by the Dartmouth-led Coastal and Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative (C-MERC), scientists report that mercury released into the air and then deposited into oceans contaminates seafood commonly eaten by people in the U.S. and globally.

Over the past century, mercury pollution in the surface ocean has more than doubled, as a result of past and present human activities such as coal burning, mining, and other industrial processes. The research findings by C-MERC published today also examine the effects of local mercury inputs that dominate some near-shore coastal waters.

C-MERC’s research is presented through nine scientific papers in Environmental Research and is the culmination of two years of work by approximately 70 mercury and marine scientists from multiple disciplines including biology, ecotoxicology, engineering, environmental geochemistry, and epidemiology. The research provides a synthesis of the science on the sources, fate, and human exposure to mercury in marine systems by tracing the pathways and transformation of mercury to methylmercury from sources to seafood to consumers.

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5 big strides to fight bronchopulmonary dysplasia or BPD disease

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

These are micro-tomography scans of blood vessels in the lung. Image A shows a normal lung. Image B shows the injury caused by oxygen. Image C shows a lung given oxygen and treated with stems cells from a human umbilical cord.Credit: Dr. Bernard Thébaud

These are micro-tomography scans of blood vessels in the lung. Image A shows a normal lung. Image B shows the injury caused by oxygen. Image C shows a lung given oxygen and treated with stems cells from a human umbilical cord.
Credit: Dr. Bernard Thébaud

For Ottawa scientist and neonatologist Dr. Bernard Thébaud, even a major paper that answers five significant questions still doesn’t seem quite enough in his determined path to get his laboratory breakthrough into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Dr. Thébaud’s proposed therapy would use stem cells from umbilical cords to treat a disease previously thought to be untreatable — bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD.

“BPD is a lung disease described 45 years ago in which we have made zero progress. And now, with these cord-derived stem cells there is a true potential for a major breakthrough,” says Dr. Thébaud, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and CHEO Research Institute, a neonatologist at CHEO and The Ottawa Hospital, and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

“I am confident that we have the talent and the tools here at CHEO and OHRI to find a treatment for BPD. These findings published today are helping us get there,” continues Thébaud.

BPD affects approximately 10,000 very premature newborns in Canada and the U.S. every year. The lungs of these infants are not developed enough to sustain them, so they must receive oxygen through a breathing machine. However, this combination of mechanical ventilation and oxygen damages the lungs and stops their development. In addition, longer stays in the NICU for these extremely premature babies affect the normal development of other parts of the body, including the retina, the kidneys and the brain.

Today in the journal Thorax, Dr. Thébaud’s team provides significant findings in experiments with newborn rats given oxygen. The lung development of a newborn rat mimics that of a premature baby born at 24 weeks. The five major findings reported in Thorax are:

  1. Stem cells called mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) from a human umbilical cord (not the blood) have a protective effect on the lungs when injected into the lungs as they were put on oxygen.
  2. MSCs had a reparative effect when injected two weeks after being on oxygen.
  3. When conditioned media — a cell-free substance produced by MSCs — was administered instead of MSCs, it was found to have the same protective and reparative effects as the stem cells.
  4. When examined after six months (the equivalent of 40 human years), treated animals had better exercise performance and persistent benefit in lung structure.
  5. MSCs did not adversely affect the long-term health of normal rats. One of the concerns about stem cells is that by promoting cell growth, they may cause cancerous growth. To address this question, Dr. Thébaud gave MSCs to a control group that was not treated with oxygen. When examined after six months, these animals were normal and healthy.

Within two years, Dr. Thébaud wants to be talking about a pilot study with 20 human patients showing that this stem-cell therapy is feasible and safe, and in four years he wants to embark on a randomized control trial. These are all steps in his profound desire to help the babies he sees in the NICU with BPD, and he is confident a treatment will be developed.

“It’s going to happen here in Ottawa, but for babies worldwide,” says Dr. Thébaud.

 

 

The full article “Short, Long-term and Paracrine Effect of Human Umbilical Cord-derived Stem Cells in Lung Injury Prevention and Repair in Experimental BPD” was published online first by Thorax on December 4, 2012. This work was a collaborative project with a group in Milano, Italy.

Funding for this study was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Maternal-Fetal Neonatal Training Program sponsored by CIHR’s Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research/Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, the 6FP EU Project – THERCORD and the 7FP EU Project – CASCADE and REBORNE.

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About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the university’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. OHRI includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. http://www.ohri.ca.

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University of Tennessee researchers find fungus (Arthrobotrys oligospora) has cancer-fighting power. Professor finds roundworm eating fungus could also be a cancer fighter

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

University of Tennessee researchers find fungus (Arthrobotrys oligospora) has cancer-fighting power. Professor finds roundworm eating fungus could also be a cancer fighter

Arthrobotrys oligospora

Arthrobotrys oligospora doesn’t live a charmed life; it survives on a diet of roundworm.

But a discovery by a team led by Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, could give the fungus’s life more purpose—as a cancer fighter.

Zhang and his team have discovered that nanoparticles produced by A. oligospora hold promise for stimulating the immune system and killing tumors. The findings are published in this month’s edition of Advanced Functional Materials.

Zhang commonly looks to nature for solutions to the world’s challenges. He and research associate Yongzhong Wang were examining A. oligospora‘s trapping mechanism for roundworms when they discovered the fungus secretes nanocomposites consisting of highly uniform nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are tiny particles that have been shown to be important in cancer therapies.

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Food allergies? Pesticides in tap water might be to blame. New study finds chemicals used for water purification can lead to food allergies

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

 Pesticides in tap water might be to blame. New study finds chemicals used for water purification can lead to food allergies

Pesticides in tap water might be to blame. New study finds chemicals used for water purification can lead to food allergies

Food allergies are on the rise, affecting 15 million Americans. And according to a new study published in the December issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), pesticides and tap water could be partially to blame.

The study reported that high levels of dichlorophenols, a chemical used in pesticides and to chlorinate water, when found in the human body, are associated with food allergies.

“Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy,” said allergist Elina Jerschow, M.D., M.Sc., ACAAI fellow and lead study author. “This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water.”

Among 10,348 participants in a US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006, 2,548 had dichlorophenols measured in their urine and 2,211 were included into the study. Food allergy was found in 411 of these participants, while 1,016 had an environmental allergy.

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New findings on glucagon synthesis

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

Alpha cells of Gcgr−/− mice express GLP1r. A–C immunohistochemical visualization of GLP1r (A) and glucagon (B) in an islet of CD-1 mouse. Note that glucagon cells do not express GLP1r; (C)= A + B. bar = 40 um. (D–F) immunostaining for Glp1r (D) and glucagon (E) in an islet from an adult PC2−/− mouse. Note that the islet does not contain GLP1r+ GLU+ cells. (F)= D + E. Bar = 40 um. (G–I) immunostaining for Glp1r (G) and glucagon (H) in a Gcgr−/− islet. I = G + H. The islet contains GLP1r+ GLU+ cells (yellow). Arrowhead indicates a representative cell coexpressing glucagon and GLP1r, bar = 30 um. (J–L). Photomicrograph illustrates an islet of e-18 Gcgr−/− mouse immunostained for GLP1r (J, green) and glucagon (K, red). A subset of alpha cells express the receptor. Bar = 30 um (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of the article).

Alpha cells of Gcgr−/− mice express GLP1r. A–C immunohistochemical visualization of GLP1r (A) and glucagon (B) in an islet of CD-1 mouse. Note that glucagon cells do not express GLP1r; (C)= A + B. bar = 40 um. (D–F) immunostaining for Glp1r (D) and glucagon (E) in an islet from an adult PC2−/− mouse. Note that the islet does not contain GLP1r+ GLU+ cells. (F)= D + E. Bar = 40 um. (G–I) immunostaining for Glp1r (G) and glucagon (H) in a Gcgr−/− islet. I = G + H. The islet contains GLP1r+ GLU+ cells (yellow). Arrowhead indicates a representative cell coexpressing glucagon and GLP1r, bar = 30 um. (J–L). Photomicrograph illustrates an islet of e-18 Gcgr−/− mouse immunostained for GLP1r (J, green) and glucagon (K, red). A subset of alpha cells express the receptor. Bar = 30 um (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of the article).

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have shown that the cells that produce glucagon are stimulated by the hormone itself. A previous study by the same group demonstrated that this principle also applies to insulin. This means that a feedback system is at work in the body, whereby hormone secreting cells receive an immediate signal to produce more of the hormone.

While insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of glucose in the blood, glucagon is a hormone that increases it. Associate Professors Barbara and Ingo Leibiger and Professor Per-Olof Berggren at Karolinska Institutet have already published results showing that the insulin-producing cells are activated by the very hormone they release. Whether this process applies only to insulin or whether it reflects a general biological principle for all hormone-secreting cells has, however, remained unclear.

Now, the same team have shown that glucagon can also stimulate its own synthesis. This it does by binding to a specific binding site on the glucagon-secreting cells in the pancreas, where it subsequently influences a number of signalling pathways that lead to the activation of the gene that produces glucagon. It thus seems that the positive-feedback process, whereby secreted hormones affect their own production, has general biological significance.

“Learning about how the hormones regulate their own production will eventually enable us to study defects in this process, and if these defects are implicated in diabetes, then an important piece of the puzzle might well be in place,” says Per-Olof Berggren.

 

The study was financed by grants from the Swedish Research Council, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Swedish Diabetes Association, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD), the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, the Berth von Kantzow Foundation, Skandia, the National Research Foundation of Korea, the Strategic Research Programme in Diabetes at Karolinska Institutet, the Stichting af Jochnick Foundation, and the Erling-Persson Family Foundation.

Publication: ‘Glucagon regulates its own synthesis by autocrine signaling’, Barbara Leibiger, Tilo Moede, Thusitha P. Muhandiramlage, Daniel Kaiser, Pilar Vaca Sanchez, Ingo B. Leibiger, and Per-Olof Berggren, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Early Edition 3-7 December 2012.

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Healthy diet may help prevent recurrent heart attacks, strokes

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on December 4, 2012

Healthy diet may help prevent recurrent heart attacks, strokesIf you have cardiovascular disease, a heart-healthy diet may help protect you from recurrent heart attacks and strokes, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

“At times, patients don’t think they need to follow a healthy diet since their medications have already lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol — that is wrong,” said Mahshid Dehghan, Ph.D., study author and a nutritionist at the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “Dietary modification has benefits in addition to those seen with aspirin, angiotensin modulators, lipid-lowering agents and beta blockers.”

For the study, 31,546 adults (average age 66.5) with cardiovascular disease or end organ damage were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, meat and poultry in the past 12 months. They were also asked about lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. Total scores were determined by daily fruits, vegetables, grains and milk consumed and the ratio of fish to meats consumed.

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