BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Cancer (Page 1 of 2)

Possible Links Between Gut Microbes and Obesity, Cancer & Autism

While the bacteria in our gut play a vital role in the digestion process, recent findings have suggested that it could effect much more in our bodies. New studies have found possible links between the bacteria in our gut and obesity, cancer and autism.

Creative Commons image link

A study done by Cornell University and King’s College London revealed that Christensenellaceae minuta, a strain of gut bacteria, was found more often and in larger quantities in people with lower body masses. To investigate whether the bacteria is actually linked with obesity, researchers added the same bacteria into the guts of mice and compared their weight gain to mice lacking the bacteria. The research showed that the mice with Christensenellaceae minuta gained noticeably less weight than the mice lacking the bacteria. While research is still in its early stages, these results have made an exciting connection between bacteria in our gut and weight gain, which could dramatically impact the future of our health.

In addition to obesity, the bacteria in our gut has also been linked to cancer- in both beneficial and detrimental aspects. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute tested the effect of gut bacteria on chemotherapy in mice and found that the chemotherapy was significantly less effective in the mice lacking the bacteria. Similarly, another study found that cyclophosphamide, an antitumor drug, was less effective in mice with insufficient gut bacteria compared to those with normal levels. While these studies showed positive links between gut bacteria and cancer, other studies have found adverse effects of gut bacteria.

Unfortunately, a study published in The Journal of Cancer Research in 2012 has made a possible connection between Lactobacillus johnsonii, a strain of gut bacteria, and lymphoma, cancer of the white blood cells. The study claims that the presence of this specific strain of bacteria could lead to the development of lymphoma. Another study done in the UK in 2013 found that a specific gut bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, has the ability to deactivate the part of our immune system responsible for regulating inflammation. In effect, this could cause stomach cancer and ulcers.

While it may seem like a stretch, numerous studies have found a possible link to autism and the bacteria in our gut. A study done in 2013 by Arizona State University found that compared to children without autism, children suffering from autism had lower levels of Prevotella, Coprococcus and Veillonellaceae, three strains of gut bacteria. Even more surprisingly, another study revealed that the presence of Bacteroides fragilis in the gut reduced autism-like symptoms in mice. Research in this field is still in its primary stages, as researchers are trying to figure out if these connection are in fact related, and if so, how the bacteria directly effects these conditions.

 

Our Intestines Cure Cancer??

There are over one hundred trillion organisms- most are bacteria- living in our intestine today. These are referred to as the gut microbiota.

While trillions of bacteria sounds scary, they can actually be very helpful. Research has been done worldwide and the discovery has been that gut microbes actually can kill cancer cells all over the body. (Not just in the intestines) But how? Gut microbes and cancer actually cross paths. Gut microbes can manipulate the immune system and can either increase inflammation or lower it as needed. This means the bacteria can actually work with cancer treatments, boost T-cells, and control other factors that help cancer grow such as fungi, or viruses.

However, this is not all. While some cells help against cancer growth, others do the opposite. It varies cancer to cancer, and all have different results. As said by microbiologist and immunologist Patrick Schloss “What we really need is to have a much better understanding of which species, which type of bug, is doing what and try to change the balance.” So more research is still being done to decide how to control the microbiota, but a possible theory is that because it’s in the intestine it is related to our metabolisms and so what we eat controls the bacterium- this can also then effect the colon, thus effecting more cancer: colon cancer.

 

Cells Kill Cells—New Cancer Treatment Promotes Immune System response to Tumors

According to a recent article, oncological research has been a recent area of vast development. Cancer is a widespread form of disease that affects different areas uniquely and operates very subjectively. On a basic level, cancer is the uncontrolled growth and division of a cell.  This often yields a malignant tumor which can metastasize to other areas of the body.  When a tumor metastasizes and spreads beyond the primary site to other organs of the body, the cancer is considered to be Stage IV.  This is the most aggressive stage of cancer development and is often the most difficult to treat.  The new treatment revealed by Cornell University Engineers seeks to inhibit a tumor’s ability to metastasize.

https://flic.kr/p/xuSZkh

Killer T Cells attacking a cancerous cell

https://flic.kr/p/xuSZkh 

 

The paper explained the new approach in “annihilating” the tumors before they progress to a metastatic stage.  The key to this is not actually killing the cell, rather, inducing apoptosis of the cancerous cell.  Without the jargon, it means that the new treatment will not explicitly kill the cell, instead it will cause the cell to kill itself. The engineers accomplished this in model organism trials using mice.  The procedure involves injecting specialized liposomes in the lymph nodes, which commonly play a key role in metastasis.  The lymph nodes are parts of the lymphatic system where lymphocytes are formed. Lymphocytes are known as “killer cells” because they are a form of leukocytes (white blood cells).  The injection contains liposomes (membranous sacs of water) with a special “Tumor necrosis factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand” protein.  These will attach to the lymphocytes and target the cancerous cells, and effectively eliminate the tumor before it metastasizes.

The paper also references previous work by the engineering group where they created a similar approach for eliminating bloodstream metastases in January 2014.  This coupled with a lymphatic treatment can greatly reduce the rate of metastasis in patients with aggressive malignant tumors.  Recent developments in oncological treatments have suggested promising developments in the way of cancer treatments–and cures.

Img. Source

Original Article

Wait… Smoking is bad for you???

Thinking back, it’s pretty hard to believe that at one point most people thought smoking was good for you. Up until about 60 years ago, advertisements preached that smoking cigarettes was not only the cool thing to do, but was also in some ways beneficial for your health.

Lewis_Hine,_Newsies_smoking_at_Skeeter's_Branch,_St._Louis,_1910

Cigarette ads used doctors and scientists to preach that smoking helped alleviate social anxiety, dry mouth, colds, and headaches. Although in some cases the menthol used in many cigarettes did have a positive effect on cold symptoms, in many cases the ill symptoms were caused by smoking withdrawal itself. (i.e. social anxiety and headaches)

To much of 1940’s doctors’ demise, enumerable amounts of studies have come out proving that smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, gum cancer, tongue cancer, throat cancer, and most of all emphysema. Now, the tobacco is not always the cause of all these diseases; all the other fun chemicals that the cigarette companies put in the cigs to “enhance the experience” and help them burn faster, are the culprits. Just a few of the chemicals in modern cigarettes are as follows:

Acetone = commonly found in nail polish and many paint removers

Ammonia = highly toxic; usually found in household cleaners

Arsenic = found most in rat poisons

Butane = found in lighter fluid (helps cigarette to burn faster)

Cadmium = component of battery acid

Carbon Monoxide = found in car exhaust fumes

Formaldehyde = embalming fluid (used to preserve dead bodies)

Need I go on? Okay!

Lead = decreases function and activity of the nervous system (brain, spine, etc.)

Methanol = main component of rocket fuel

Nicotine = main component of insecticide but has a very addicting side-effect

Tar = used for paving roads

Toluene = found in dynamite (TNT = Tri-Nitro Toluene)

Some_Kills

It is obvious to me why cigarette companies have stopped running their ads that depict doctors, scientists, teachers and other professions often lauded as some of the most intelligent in society, smoking and promoting cigarettes. Even so, what troubles me, is how 17% of America’s population still chooses to smoke. With 8% of that 17% being teenagers, the number of smokers has steadily declined over the years, but not at a rate rapid enough. The common sense that goes behind just not smoking is maddening to those who watch smokers constantly spending $15 (NY) per pack.

PS: Up until 1978, Camel Cigarettes actually contained minute particles of camel. The company used the fat because it burned very quickly, was odorless, and gave the cigarette a more mild taste.

Original Article: http://www.vox.com/2015/11/14/9732414/how-many-americans-smoke

Information on Emphysema: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/emphysema/basics/definition/con-20014218

Lung Cancer Facts: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/learn-about-lung-cancer/lung-cancer-fact-sheet.html

 

The Real Scoop on Artificial Food Coloring

Although artificial colors and dyes have been used in foods since the early 1900’s, the FDA has banned many of them due to health concerns. Thirty-seven artificial colors still remain approved for general food use in the USA, many of which are now prohibited in some European countries. Many of these chemicals have been researched and found to have harmful side effects, but they are still used in popular candies, soft drinks, cereals, and other processed foods.

Americans are now consuming more processed foods and drinks than ever before, and therefore more artificial colors and dyes. Many scientists have researched these common chemicals and found shocking results. The most common blue 1 & 2, citrus red 2, green 3, red 3 & 40, and yellow 5 & 6, have been found to cause a wide degree of side effects. Some have been found to cause cancer, ADHD, neurochemical and behavioral effects, allergies and more. Because of link between artificial dyes and the frequently seen side effects of cancer and ADHD, many European countries such as Norway, France, Finland, The U.K., and Sweden have banned a number of these chemicals from their foods.

It is no secret that these additives have harmful side effects, so why do companies still choose to use them? It is a very simple marketing tactic. “You eat with your eyes”, therefore companies will try to make their food look visually appealing to convince you to buy their products. Using artificial dyes and colors is just one method companies use to attract buyers. Artificial dyes like Yellow 5 have more vibrant and concentrated color than natural ones like saffron or turmeric. They are also much cheaper than natural dyes because companies do not need to use much in order to get the color they want. Artificial colors are also easier to use and their results are more reliable because they are much less sensitive to heat than naturally-derived food dyes are.

Silly Rabbit

(A bowl of Trix cereal made with artificial colors and flavors. The new Trix will go on sale later this year, without its blue and green puffs.)

This news may seem very alarming and upsetting to the average consumer, but there is hope. The FDA requires that companies put their ingredients on the food labels, so you know which foods are organic and which ones have artificial coloring. Research on artificial food dyes has led many consumers to cut out harmful processed foods and sodas from their diet and led to more awareness among buyers. And although there are companies such as Coca-Cola that use harmful cancer causing dyes such like 4-MEI, there are brands like General Mills that are promising to soon cut out all artificial dyes from their cereals by 2017. The new direction American consumers are taking now towards organic and health foods is slowly leading the food industry to change their foods in a healthy way. No longer are some food companies looking for the most vibrant look with their presentation, but rather the healthiest.

 

 

New Understanding in Telomerase Structure: Can It Lead to New Cancer Treatment Medications?

Telomerase. They know what it is. They know what it does. They know it is involved with the formation of malignant tumors. Yet for years, cancer researchers could not figure out a way to curb telomerase activity. Not until recently, when a group of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz discovered an important structural component of telomerase that could lead to the development of new and more efficient cancer treatment medications.

But first things first: what even is telomerase? To understand the role of telomerase, we must first understand what a telomere is. Analogous to the “plastic tips of shoelaces”, telomeres are located at the tips of chromosomes to keep the ends of DNA from “fraying”, consisting of the repetition of the same nitrogenous base sequence over and over again. In humans, this base sequence is TTAGGG.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 7.44.26 PM(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere#/media/File:Telomere.png)

The sequence can be up to 15,000 base pairs long; however, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter and shorter until they become they become too small to divide again. That is when the telomerase comes in; it adds nucelotides to the telomere to prevent it from becoming senescent, or at least prolong the cell’s life span.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Not when the telomerase gets out of control and does not allow for cells to die, causing a huge growth of cells that eventually evolve into malignant tumors.

What makes it hard for scientists to combat excessive telomerase activity is due to the enzyme’s unique and complex structure. In addition to its sophisticated quaternary structure, telomerase also has an RNA template that allows the telomerase to make the DNA bases (TTAGGG) for the telomere.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.24.26 PM

(Source: https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomerase#/media/File:Telomerase_illustration.jpg)

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz determined the structure of the RNA binding domain of telomerase and how the template border is dependent on how the protein and RNA components interact with each other. Understanding this interaction can help scientists develop cancer medications that more specifically inhibit telomerase. This is the first major advancement in telomerase research since November of 2010 when biochemists at UCLA created an unprecedented 3D model of telomerase’s RNA structure.

While this discovery is a major step forward in cancer treatment research,  some experts have their reservations against finding methods of inhibiting telomerase altogether.

However, regardless of the controversy surrounding telomerase inhibition in cancer treatment, this discovery will be useful in coming up with tactics to prevent aging, and improve treatments in other medical fields, such as burns, bone marrow transplants, and heart disease.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

 

 

Original Article

From Beef to Blood to Breast Cancer: Bovine Leukemia Virus

Scientists have studied Bovine Leukemia Virus, informally known as BLV for quite a while. Investigators have studied the cellular structure of the virus, the hypothetical vaccine and the correlation with cow’s milk. However, recently a study done by researchers at the University of California Berkeley concludes that there is a link between the infection (BLV) and human breast cancer.

In a study published in PLOS ONE,the investigators take note of all of the potential causes of breast cancer. They extrapolate that the key reasons behind breast cancer are age, reproductive history, hormones and genetics. The researchers additionally detected that the Bovine Leukemia Virus was in the breast epithelium of humans. The objective of this experiment was to determine whether the presence of BLV DNA in human mammary epithelium is associated with breast cancer.

The researchers conducted a case study in which archival formalin-fixed paraffin embedded breast tissue was injected in the control group (women without history of breast cancer) and the experimental group (women with a history of breast cancer.) The rate of occurrence of BLV DNA from women with breast cancer was 59%, while the rate in the control group was a diminutive 29%.

This experiment has helped researchers conclude that the presence of amplified BLV DNA is significantly correlated with female breast cancer. The findings in this experiment and ones similar to it assist in conceptualizing a potential primary and secondary breast cancer prevention tactic.

Humans get BLV from cows!

Humans get BLV from cows!

Does the aging process influence changes on a cellular level or do changes on a cellular level influence the aging process?

wrinkles

How do humans age? While we are “programmed to die,” there doesn’t seem to be one thing that causes our death by “old age.” For example, one way we carry out our own deaths is found on the cellular level, where we accumulate mutations in the DNA repair process and the cells themselves die, or the enter senescence (non-replicating state) as they age. These processes occur at several different times, overlapping and alternating. Therefore, what appears to be the best time to intervene in order to promote healthy aging? No one knows, but they do know what DNA becomes extremely damaged as time goes on and has an incredible impact on our aging process. The cells have sooner suicide dates where they undergo apoptosis more rapidly than normal, and the loss of too many cells can cause tissue atrophy and dysfunction. In addition to creating a lack of cells, the damaged DNA can even shift epigenetic markers.

Typically, epigenetic marks shift in tumor cells, which can lead to cancerous cells. However, in the early 1990s at Johns Hopkins University, Jean-Pierre Issa was studying changes in DNA methylation in colon cancer cells when he observed shifts in epigenetic markers over time, but not only in tumor cells; he found that (to a lesser degree) these shifts were occurring in healthy cells as well. After mapping DNA methylation in human cells, we know that some areas of the genome become hypermethylated with age while others exhibit reduced methylation. These changes typically occur through DNA replication or DNA damage repair because the histone modifications are not always perfectly reproduced and in order to repair damaged DNA, repair proteins must remove the epigenetic marks to access the damaged genetic material to repair it, and once completed, the epigenetic marks can be omitted or misplaced. These epigenetic alterations have been linked to a reduced regenerative capacity of stem cells with age, and bring up a valuable question:

“Is this an epiphenomenon that happens just because we age, or is it actually causing symptoms or diseases of aging and limiting life span?”

Article source: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/42280/title/How-We-Age/

The mutation and spread of Cancer caused by changes in Epigenetics

Epigenetics could be the key to understanding how cancer originates, when it mutates, and how it spreads. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) believe that different types of cancer are caused by an “on and off” switch in the epigenome. While many scientists believe  that many cancers originate in cells called progenitor cells, they cannot concoct a model that explains  how cancer spreads from the progenitor cell and mutates into many forms as it continues to grow in a person’s body.

One of the lead researchers, Sibaji Sarkar, posited “there should be a general mechanism that initiates cancer progression from predisposed progenitor cells, which likely involves epigenetic changes.” The researchers believe that the theory of an epigenetic switch is supported by the growth of tumors, which go through many different stages. The team believes that if cells can be altered to become cancerous and remain stuck in their stage of growth while they replicate out of control, then there must also be an off switch to this uncontrolled replication. They also suspect that epigenetic changes can determine the rapidity of growth and the mutability of the characteristics of the cancer and tumors.

Although Sarkar’s team has not yet found specific epigenetic code that causes these mutations and growth, he believes that their hypothesis will cause other scientists to focus their attention on the epigenome and find ways to prevent progenitor cells from spreading and mutating into malignant tumors.

This epigenetic research relates to our study of the relationship between the epigenome and cancer. Specifically the absence of an active p53 protein would prevent a certain part of the DNA from being  read and the cell would therefore lack a protein that inhibits the cell cycle. This would cause uninhibited cell division and the spread of cancer.

 

Methylation of DNA

640px-DNA_methylation

New Breast Cancer Gene Discovered

 

 

 

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Today, one of the most talked about cancers is breast cancer. Breast cancer is defined as cancer that forms in the tissues of the breast. There are two types of breast cancer: ductal carcinoma, which is most common and begins in the lining of the milk ducts (thin tubes that carry milk from the lobules of the breast to the nipple) and lobular carcinoma, which begins in the lobules (milk glands) of the breast.

According to a new study done by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, a gene has been identified to have a major association in aggressive subtypes of breast cancer. The research suggests that an overactive BCL11A gene causes the development of tripe-negative breast cancer.

The study was conducted in human cells and in mice. The study was important because one in five patients are affected by triple-negative breast cancer. From the conducted research, Dr. Walid Khaled discovered that by adding an active human BCL11A gene to a human or a mouse’s breast cells (in the lab) caused them to behave as cancer cells. Increasingly, Dr. Khaled concluded that “by increasing BCL11A activity we increase cancer-like behaviour; by reducing it, we reduce cancer-like behavior.”

This research and study is extremely important because from the results, the team was able to propose that BCL11A is a strong candidate for development of a possible targeted treatment. Typical treatments of breast cancer include radiation and chemotherapy as well as surgery. The most known surgeries are Lumpectomy/partial mastectomy (large portion of the breast is removed) and a full mastectomy (full removal of breasts)

I chose this article because I know many dear friends that have faced and survived the battle of breast cancer. I believe that spreading awareness and screening early is extremely important. In addition, I am very hopeful that new advances will be made so that others need not endure the excruciating fight of breast cancer.

 

Your Potato Chips Could be Killing You

800px-Potato-Chips

Last year the FDA found a very dangerous chemical that forms in many common foods during cooking.  The chemical is called acrylamide and research suggests that it makes people more susceptible to certain cancers.  Acrylamide forms during frying, grilling, baking, roasting, or toasting when the amino acid asparagine reacts with sugars in the food.  It is what gives food like potato chips their crunchy-ness and taste.

French Fries, potato chips and other potato products have the most acrylamide in them.  Scientists have also found acrylamide in products such as coffee (especially dark roast), roasted nuts, and breakfast cereals. It is estimated that 38% of calories come from food that contains acrylamide.  Acrylamide is also found in cigarette smoke.

Acrylamide has also been found to affect pregnant women and infants.  One study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that high acrylamide intake may be connected to slower and less fetal growth.

There are a couple of things that you can do to limit the effects of acrylamide.  The first is cooking/frying/roasting potatoes for a shorter time and toasting bread for a shorter time.  Do not let the potatoes become dark brown and do not char/burn your toast.  Another thing you can do is cook at a lower heat and use more organic ingredients.  You can also eat less potato products, cookies, and pastries and switch to a light roast coffee.  

Research on this chemical isn’t totally conclusive so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.  However, I will be more careful about the potato products that I eat and the way I cook my food.

Article:

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/acrylamide-food-chip-tips

Other Articles:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/11/15/the-fda-calls-out-yet-another-food-chemical-to-avoid-acrylamide/

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/19/246188051/remember-death-by-french-fries-here-s-the-story

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/ChemicalContaminants/ucm053569.htm

Directed evolution: Bioengineered decoy protein may stop cancer from spreading

Biomedical_Engineering_Laboratory

Researchers Jennifer Cochran and Amato Giaccia from Stanford University have recently made a breakthrough in cancer research. The Bioengineers have developed a synthetic form of the protein Axls that binds to the protein Gas6 in our blood. Cancerous cells have Axls proteins lining the cell membrane awaiting connections with Gas6 proteins. Once the two join together, the cancerous cells break away from the central cancer mass and spread through the body during a process known as Metastasis. However, the new synthetic Axls protein binds to Gas6 in the blood and inhibits Metastasis from ever beginning. This stops the original Axls cells on the cancer from receiving the chemical signals to break away and form new cancerous nodules.

The scientists conducted preliminary testing on lab mice with aggressive forms of ovarian and breast cancer. The Bioengineers found that, “Mice in the breast cancer treatment group had 78 percent fewer metastatic nodules than untreated mice. Mice with ovarian cancer had a 90 percent reduction in metastatic nodules when treated with the engineered decoy protein.” Scientists currently treat cancers with chemotherapy and radiation, however these early studies show that the synthetic protein Axls could prove to be a safe and effective alternative.

I believe that this type of Bioengineering, specifically directed evolution, holds the key to discovering cures for many of earth’s deadly diseases. Despite the recent breakthrough researchers have made at Stanford, it will still be years before synthetic Axls is approved for clinical studies and then for use in the medical field.

Original Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145112.htm

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/

Photo Credit:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biomedical_Engineering_Laboratory.jpg

Useful Links:

http://engineering.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-create-evolved-protein-may-stop-cancer-spreading

http://bioengineering.stanford.edu/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389034405000055

To Know or Not to Know: Cancer Risk Gene Testing

Breast Cancer Cells

Genetic mutation testing has been a hotly debated and controversial topic since its initial prevalence in 1990.  Originally genetic testing was used to test females who have cancer in their family history for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations.  Early detection of these mutations allowed for precautionary measure sure to be exercised prior to cancer even being diagnosed. The hereditary breast cancer risk testing was done mainly by Myraid Genetics but just last year the Supreme Court invalidated Myraid’s patents on the testing of the BRCA genes.  This ruling opened up many windows for the competition of Myraid in the field of genetic testing.  Many other companies and Myraid itself began not only offering BRCA testing but also more elaborate multi gene testing for the same price (apron $4000) as it would have been to test just the two BRCA genes.  This “bargain” influenced many patients to have more genes (up to 25) tested for mutations despite the fact that they may not have a family history to tendency towards certain cancers.  This multiplex testing has raised many eyebrows in the medical field because patients and doctors are getting information that sometimes they are unsure as to what they should do.  Doctor Kenneth Offit of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stated when referring to multiple gene mutation testing, “because they could be tested,not necessarily because they should be…individuals are getting results we’re not fully educated to council them on. ” However Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is working on setting up a database for more knowledge on genetic testing.  This online forum, the Prospective Registry of Multiplex Testing (PROMPT) will allow for more research to be done and for patients to learn more.   Often genetic mutations are found and doctors are unsure how to react to the information due to lack of knowledge in that specific field of mutation leading to a specific type of cancer with out any family history.   Professor Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington voiced her opinion that, “We need to report back only what is devastating and clearly devastating.”  Meaning she felt that patients and physicians should only receive specific information as opposed to a full list of all the genetic mutations that tested position or inconclusive.  When do we know when to much information become frivolous? When it come to human health, the more we know the better the outcomes.  How will doctors be able to sift through extraneous data to find what truly are indications for higher risk of cancer?  Is this “extra” testing and information skewing the data and prognosis of many patients?

 

Main Article Used:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/health/finding-risks-not-answers-in-gene-tests.html?ref=health&_r=0

 

Tasmanian Devil Extinction on the Horizon

The tasmanian devil is most readily remembered by it’s cartoon character, however the extinction of the animal seems to be on the horizon. Tasmanian devils are wild animals of the Dasyuridae family found only in the wild of Australian island of Tasmania. Recently, it has been predicted that a facial cancer on the marsupial will extinct the species in the next ten years.

First reported in 1996, the parasitic tumor has declined the species by seventy percent. The onset of the non-viral tumor was caused by the environment of the animal (who live in high-density populations that suffer from invasions of nonnative species and pollution.) Devil facial tumor disease likely began in what are called Schwann cells. Schwann cells are found in the peripheral nervous system; they produce myelin and other proteins essential for the functions of nerve cells.

Scientists are trying to remedy the infectious disease by breeding a certain species of tasmanian devil that was shown to have a partial immunity to the tumor. After preliminary research on the disease, scientists have come to see that the answers to the tasmanian devil’s circumstance, if uncovered, could lead to answers for human cancers as well. More knowledge of the direction and rate of the tumor in devil populations will help scientists to find out more about how the disease spreads byYoung_tasmanian_devil examining the interactions between the animals. Scientists remain positive; Andrew Storfer, who works closely with the animals on location, says “the answers will help in developing responses to this and other disease outbreaks in Tasmanian devils–and potentially in people.”

Largest Mass Poisoning of a Population in History

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arsenic_alchemical_symbol.svg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arsenic_alchemical_symbol.svg

Picture this familiar scene: waking up in the middle of the night, too lazy to go to kitchen, and quenching your parched mouth with water from the bathroom sink. To people in America, this is a safe undertaking. But to people in Bangladesh, it could be deadly.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element on Earth’s crust, which can enter drinking water from natural deposits. Its effects on the human body have been known to cause respiratory, circulatory and heart problems. Recently, however, researchers have had the chance to study itseffects on humans more closely in Bangladesh because of its unusually high percentage of arsenic in its water supply. And what researchers found was eye opening.

Researchers at the University of Chicago studied more than 11,000 Bangladesh men and women. After 6.6 years, they found that residents exposed to arsenic at 19 parts per billion or less showed signs of reduced lung function. While people who were exposed to 20 parts per billion or higher had the lung capacity similar to that of a long-term smoker.

The researchers recorded 407 deaths, 198 from circulatory diseases. 35-77 million people are exposed to arsenic in Bangladesh alone.  The World Health Organization deemed the country’s arsenic contamination as “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”

Why should we be worried (other than the obvious ethical issues)? A group of Dartmouth researchers found that 2.3 million people in New England use wells as their main source of drinking water. This makes up approximately 40 percent of the population in Maine and New Hampshire. Although wells in the United States generally contain small amounts of arsenic, the researchers found that overtime, small doses of arsenic can lead to skin, bladder and lung cancer. So maybe next time it’s worth the trip to the kitchen.

With Summer Around the Corner, Will You Keep An Eye Out to Protect Your Skin?

Piece of Human Skin
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human_skin_structure.jpg

Tanning Salons are extremely dangerous to one’s health due to the unnatural and intense UVA and UVB rays that are aimed at the skin. These Ultra Violet rays can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. While most people know the dangers of tanning salons, many people are unaware of the dangers of natural sun tanning.

Natural sun tanning can be as bad as tanning salons. Your risk of skin cancer increases as you spend more time underneath the strong sun. “According to Arthur Sober, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Harvard University Medical School, ‘On a cloudy day, a person feels cooler, but is still getting a good amount of UV exposure’.” (FDA,enotalone.com) Which means that although it may be cloudy you are still coming in contact with UV rays. There is still enough sun rays penetrating the newly weakened ozone layer to have an effect on your skin!

The sun has vitamin D which is beneficial to our bodies, so about fifteen to twenty minutes of sun a day is healthy, but not more than that.

The sun emits two major wavelengths- UVA and UVB and these wavelengths increase one’s chances of skin cancer. The body tans because the body is being injured by ultra violet radiation that hits the skin. “These UV rays cause the body to produce an excess amount of melanin which acts like a natural sun screen. In order to get a tan, you must injure your skin first.” (FDA,enotalone.com) In addition to the risk of skin cancer from sun tanning, UVB rays impair the body’s immune system, which normally defends against disease. This increases one’s chances of skin cancers and other diseases.

“UVA rays speed up the skin’s aging due to the changes in the skin’s collagen, the protein in the skin’s connective tissue.” (FDA, enotalone.com). Many cosmetic companies make cremes enhanced with collagen for older women; they add extra collagen on their skin in hopes of reducing the amount of wrinkles they have.– These UVA rays speed up the wrinkling process of you skin, causing pre-mature aging.

Statistics about skin cancer:

“-Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million cases in two million people are diagnosed annually.

-Melanoma accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases, but it causes more than 75% of skin cancer deaths.

-Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.

-A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.

-More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma. One person dies of melanoma almost every hour.”

(www.skincancer.org)

Try to keep these statistics in mind and protect your skin from being harmed by excess sun!

Read more at:

http://www.medicinenet.com/skin_cancer/article.htm

http://cancer.about.com/od/skincancermelanoma/f/skincancersympt.htm

http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer-Facts/

http://www.enotalone.com/article/8106.html

 

HeLa Cells Sequenced!

Photo By: University of Arkansas
Wellcome Trust

The immortal cell, also known as HeLa cells, have been used by scientists for years for various medical research. But, until today the genome of HeLa cells was never known. Jonathan Landry and Paul Pyl, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, performed the study to sequence Henrietta Lacks‘ genome, and what they found was quite remarkable. They found striking differences between her cells and the cells of a normal human being. The genome had abnormalities in both chromosome number and structure. They also found that countless regions of the chromosomes in each cell were arranged in the wrong order and had extra or fewer copies of genes, all telltale signs of chromosome shattering. Chromosome shattering has recently been found to be linked to 2-3% of cancers. Seeing as how Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken from a cervical tumor, this is not a surprising find. However, because her genome had never been sequenced this was all new to Landry and Pyl. They said, “The results provide the first detailed sequence of a HeLa genome. It demonstrates how genetically complex HeLa is compared to normal human tissue. Yet, possibly because of this complexity, no one had systematically sequenced the genome, until now.” Another scientist, Lars Steinmetz, who led the project, added, “Our study underscores the importance of accounting for the abnormal characteristics of HeLa cells in experimental design and analysis, and has the potential to refine the use of HeLa cells as a model of human biology.” Although this study is nowhere near groundbreaking, it still helps to highlight the importance of the extensive differences that cell lines can have from their human references.

For more information on this study and HeLa cells in general, you can go to:http://www.science20.com/news_articles/genome_hela_cell_line_sequenced-106181

 

Save the Devils

When most people hear the name Tasmanian Devil, they think of the small and ferocious little animal from the Looney Tunes named Taz. Just like in the show, Tasmanian Devils (carniverous marsupials)  are tough, rugged and very aggressive animals. Unfortunately, over the past two decades, a rare case of contagious facial cancer, with a 100% mortality rate, has decimated the population. Scientists have estimated that this specific cancer has wiped out about 85% of the entire population, almost to the point of extinction. The cancer is typically spread when the Devils bite each other in the face during battle, killing it in a matter of months. Scientists are working tirelessly to find out how this cancer is slipping by the immune system and hope to find a cure.

Until recently, scientists believed that the cancer was able to develop, without

being detected by the immune system, because Tasmanian Devils lack genetic diversity. However, a study led by the University of Cambridge claims it is much more complex. On the surface of most cells are histocompatability complex (MCH) molecules, which determine whether other cells are good or bad. If the cell happens to be a threat, then the cell triggers an immune response. According to the research, these DFTD cancer cells lack theses complexes and can therefor avoid detection.

Researchers also found that the DFTD cells have just lost the expression of MCH molecules and that its genetic code is still in tact (it can be turned on). By introducing specific signaling molecules, scientists believe they can force the DFTD cells to express these molecules, leading to the detection of the cancer. Not only will this research help save the Devils, but it will also give scientists a head start on contagious cancers in other species when the time comes.

Epigenetics, Dads, and Obesity

 

By Ynse. Photo from Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/1531699476/

 

It turns out that kids with obese fathers have unique epigenetic changes that can affect their health… for the worse.

According to a recent study, “children with obese fathers have different epigenetic markings on the gene for insulin-type growth factor 2 (IGF2) than children with fathers of normal weight.”

Children with obese fathers have less methylation on a specific region of the IGF2 gene. Sadly, this occurrence is linked with many types of cancers such as ovarian cancer.

However, it is too soon to tell if these epigenetic changes are directly linked to the children’s’ health.

According to the biologist Gudrun Moore, “it is tempting to over-emphasize the role of a small number of parent-of-origin expressing genes and to speculate about the effects of modest variation in methylation, but we must not be too hasty to blame either parent for their offspring’s health outcomes.”

However, other researchers are sure that that your parent’s environment and habits affect children’s health.

According to Michael Skinner, this research “suggests that environmental epigenetics might be the mechanism for these effects.”

Maybe now both the mother and father have to be careful about what they eat during the pregnancy. Sorry Dads-to-be, you are going to have to eat healthy now!

For more information on epigenetics and health, you can visit these links.

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21565573-some-effects-smoking-may-be-passed-grandmother

http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/editorial/editorial.cfm/i/249/t/Understanding%20epigenetics/

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/1531699476/

Enzyme Protects Against Dangers of Oxygen

Yes, you read the title correctly: Oxygen can be dangerous.

As you may (or may not) remember, Oxygen is needed for two parts of cellular respiration. 1) For the Pyruvate made in Glycolysis to enter the mitochondria for the Krebs Cycle 2) As the final electron acceptor in the electron transport chain during Chemiosmosis. If there isn’t enough oxygen around (say, you’re running and there’s not enough oxygen to go to your muscle cells), the pyruvate made in glycolysis will not enter the mitochondria, but will instead undergo fermentation, which basically turns the NADH back into NAD+ so cycle of cellular respiration can continue.

Oxygen becomes dangerous when unhealthy cells fail to undergo cellular respiration, despite plentiful oxygen and instead undergo fermentation. This leads to uncontrollable cell growth: cancer. Luckily, scientists just discovered the enzyme superoxide dimutase, or SOD1 for short, regulates cell energy and metabolism by  transmitting signals from oxygen to glucose to repress respiration. This happens through cell signaling, when SOD1 protects the enzyme Kinase-1 gamma, of CK1Y, an important key from switching from respiration to fermentation. The results of this study were published in the Journal “Cell” on January 17th.

 

 

This diagram shows how enzymes, like SOD1, work. The substrate binds to the active site of the enzyme and the enzyme either breaks the substrate in two or puts two substrates together.

 

The interesting thing about this study is that SOD1 is not a new discovery. Scientists have known about SOD1 since 1969, but they thought it only protected against free radicals. Researcher Valeria C. Culotta calls SOD cells “superheroes” because of their many powers: protecting against free radicles and regulating cellular respiration.

According to Vernon Anderson, PhD, the result of this study might find out why cells turn to fermentation, casing cancer and some other diseases.

 

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