BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: cure

Can Probiotics Cure Alzheimer’s?

 

 

Research on how gut microbiota affects Alzheimer’s Disease, also called AD, has been done, and promising data collected. The only problem is that all of this data comes solely from research done on mice. There has been minimal research up to the present that was tested on actual people.

The closest thing to real-life research in this field, however, would be the research done by Dr. Mahmoud Salami, as reviewed by Gut Microbiota Research and Practice. Dr. Salami has collected data from a trial he is conducting in Iran. This trial consists of 60 people between the age 60 and 95. Now since we know that there has been minimal research on how gut microbiota effects Alzheimer’s, this work done by Dr. Salami is impressive.

Dr. Salami has found that a daily dose of probiotic Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria taken over 12 weeks may improve cognitive function in elderly Alzheimer’s patients. Although more research must be done to have more definitive answers, Dr. Salami’s research opens up even more of a reason to human testing to be done.

Countless research has been done on how where one lives can affect there health, so wouldn’t it be interesting to see if data, similar to Dr. Salami’s, collected in varying locations throughout the world may provide varying results due to the location the participant calls their home?

 

 

Gut Microbes and Parkinson’s Disease: A Fascinating New Study

Parkinson’s, a disease of the central nervous system, affects approximately one million people in the United States. While the disease known for impairing motor skills, it can also have digestive symptoms such as constipation years before diagnosis. Because of this phenomenon, scientists have begun to investigate the role of gut microbiome composition in this awful disease. One such study conducted by a team at Caltech used transgenic mice to get to the answer. All of the mice overexpressed the protein human a-synuclein, which can form the insoluble fibrils that lead to Parkinson’s. However, the researchers raised some of the mice germ-free, or gave them antibiotics, so no intestinal microbes formed. In these mice, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and brain pathology decreased. In addition, the researchers found that the mice that did have gut microbiota had brain inflammation that the germ-free mice didn’t. Only when the researchers fed the germ-free mice short-chain fatty acids (to stimulate gut microbiota) did they show signs of inflammation and other Parkinson’s symptoms. This suggests that gut microbiota that produce short-chain fatty acids could be what triggers this disease.

The researchers then tried to investigate more about which gut bacteria could cause Parkinson’s. Since different communities of gut bacteria live in people with Parkinson’s disease than in healthy people, they wanted to find out if these different communities are merely a byproduct or a cause of the disease. To do so, they transplanted human gut-derived microbes from Parkinson’s patients into some mice, and microbes from healthy people into others. The transgenic mice with microbiota from the Parkinson’s patients ended up with typical Parkinson’s symptoms like motor dysfunction. However, wild-type mice (mice that didn’t overexpress human a-synuclein) weren’t affected. This finding shows that people who are genetically predisposed to Parkinson’s can be afflicted with symptoms if introduced to microbes that are associated with the disease.

This is such groundbreaking work because it establishes a causality between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s. It also raises questions about the negative affects of short-chain fatty acids on the mice in this study, since they’ve been known to be beneficial in humans. The researchers wish to continue their work by investigating the types of microbes in people with Parkinson’s to get to the fundamental cause of the disease and possible cures.

Do you think that short-chain fatty acids are actually harming humans in unseen ways? Is investigating human gut microbiomes is the right path to find the cure to Parkinson’s? Let me know in the comments!

Three-dimensional Human Intestinal Cells

Human Intestinal Cells Cultured with Gut Bacteria

Credit: Scitechnol Publisher, URL: https://flic.kr/p/fzFoNE

 

Original Article: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/47640/title/Gut-Microbes-Linked-to-Neurodegenerative-Disease/

Asthma From The Gut

Asthma is a a disease without a cure. Unfortunately, it is spreading rapidly throughout the world.  With asthma, a person’s lungs do not function normally, and the lungs are a key part of the immune system.Asthma is related to a hyperactive immune system, a system that is gut-centric. Since it can not be cured, the best we can currently do is try to identify it’s causes. This can be very challenging and scientists do not know much about the bacteria inside of us. Being gut-centric implies a direct relationship between the gut microbiome and the immune system.

Asthma Inhaler

Image courtesy of NIAID on Flickr

Recently, a team of scientists proved this direct relationship. Their study discovered that the abundance of FLVR bacterium in a baby’s gut can affect their likelihood of being diagnosed with asthma. The study showed how Canadian children with low levels of FLVR in their feces when they were three months old proved much more likely to get asthma. By the time they reach age one most kids have the same levels of FLVR, this shows how key the timing is. The study then provided mice with extra FLVR, and tried to induce asthma. But, instead of getting inflamed lungs, the mice continued to breathe normally. This displays a potential solution. Scientists now believe that in those first three months of life, FLVR is necessary to properly train the immune system.

I chose to do this study because asthma is a disease that rapidly affects more and more people. The study, discovering a new cause of asthma holds promise. This suggests a possible future cure for asthma. If scientists can use antibiotics to perhaps enhance the levels of FLVR in the early days of children’s lives, perhaps asthma can be cured. This study of the different types of bacteria in the immune system is especially interesting due to our unit on the structure of different types of cells. Learning about the greater, medical application of this particular type of bacteria is especially fascinating. Please feel free to comment below with any thoughts or questions you have regarding this topic.

The original article can be found here. 

Just Because My D1 Neurons Are Excited, Doesn’t Mean My Risk of Alcoholism Increases…Does it?!

Alcoholism can now not only be studied and analyzed at the psychological level, but also at the molecular level, thanks to researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. They recently conducted a study that found how alcohol influences the dorsomedial striatum, the part of the brain that participates in decision-making and goal-driven behaviors.

The dorsomedial striatum is composed of medium spiny neurons, neurons that have many branches, or spines, protruding off their dendrites.

(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confocal_image_of_spiny_neuron_-_1.jpg)

Spiny neurons have receptors for dopamine, which is further categorized into dopamine D1 and D2 neurotransmitters. D1 neurons have receptors for D1 neurotransmitters. They send excitatory postsynaptic potentials and encourage the action potential/signal to continue. D2 neurons counteract D1 neurons; they send inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and discourage further actions. In this study, D1 neurons prove to be a major part of alcoholism and addiction.

High consumption of alcohol, scientists learned, excites D1 neurons. The more excited they become, the more compelled one feels to perform an action…in this case, the action is drinking another alcoholic beverage.

More drinking induces more D1 neuron excitement, which leads to even more drinking.

Not only does it affect a D1 neuron’s excitability, alcohol also makes physical changes to the neuron itself at the molecular level, and consequently affects the neuron’s function.

In their study, researchers divided their test subjects into two groups: one that’s exposed to alcohol and one that’s not. Analyzing their spiny neurons, scientists saw that though the number of spines in the neurons of the individuals of each group didn’t change, the ratio of the difference between mature and immature spines was dramatic. The subjects that drank alcohol had notably longer branches and a high number of mature mushroom-shaped spines. The abstainers’ neurons had shorter branches and more immature mushroom-shaped spines. Mature, mushroom-shaped spines are involved in long-term memory; activation of long-term memory through alcohol underlies addiction.

However, there’s promising news! The study also showed results that blocking, or at least partially blocking, D1 receptors via a drug can inhibit and reduce the desire for consumption of another drink.

This is a huge step towards finding a cure for alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease that affects not only the individual, but also his or her family, relatives, friends, etc…With this study, the scientific community has more of an understanding of how to go about creating new drugs and combating alcoholism.

If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons.

-Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

What do you think? Do you think this study promotes a viable option towards curing alcoholism and addiction, or is there another method out there that we should be pursuing? Leave a comment below!

 

Original Article

The Ebola Epidemic: When Will it End?

Ebola Virus

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has captivated international audiences the last few weeks.  Ebola Virus Disease is an often fatal disease which is systemic meaning it attacks all organs and tissue in the body. It can be spread through any human to human contact, making this disease highly contagious. The countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been heavily affected by this disease. On tuesday September 23th the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta Georgia released new projections on the Ebola epidemic in Africa based on computer modeling.  The CDC released a best-case scenario being that if proper measures are taken the disease could be eradicated by January 2nd and a worse-case scenario that if disease is left unmonitored and continues as is, there will be approximately 1.4 million cases by January 2nd.   Doctor Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Ebola epidemic, has stated that since the data was received in August conditions have improved slightly due to increased aid to the affected regions. Another report was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stated more conservative figures but also acknowledged that there could possibly be more due to unreported cases. The WHO report brings about the idea that the epidemic may not end and the Ebola virus will perpetuate in West Africa. It is obvious to health officials, such as Dr. Jack Chow, that even in a medium case scenario the amount of hospital beds and aid are rapidly being surpassed by the number of cases. The CDC does acknowledge this impending lack of bed and isolation unit crisis. One solution to this problem is to educate citizens on home care and send home care packages to support this movement.  Although some are dubious, Frieden states that home care had been effective in the smallpox crisis in the 1960s in Africa.  In addition to homecare, Doctor D. A. Henderson explains that funds and food play a huge roll in the containment and elimination of disease because when you give victims money and food there is no need for them to beg or go out to the market for food where they might encounter other human contact. How should this epidemic be handled? Is homecare an effective solution? Where should money be allocated, homecare or hospital expansion?

 

Link to Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/health/ebola-cases-could-reach-14-million-in-4-months-cdc-estimates.html?ref=health&_r=1

 

Kid Cured from HIV

For the first time an infant was cured from HIV virus as in, the child does not have “detectable levels of virus” and there are “no signs of disease without the antiretroviral therapy.” The child’s mother with diagnosed with HIV gave birth to her child that also had HIV which was confirmed when she was born. Doctors immedietly began a regiment of a “liquid antiretroviral treatment consisting of a combination of three anti-HIV drugs: zidovudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine.” This treatment was continued for 18 months. It is also noted that by day 29 the amount of infant’s viral load had fallen to less than 50 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood (copies/mL).

HIV is spread via blood, semen and vaginal fluids and breastmilk making children with HIV infected mothers extremely susceptible to the virus. HIV is a retrovirus meaning the virus does transcription in reverse, transcribing DNA from RNA. During infection, the HIV virus attaches to a compatible receptor on the host cell’s surface. The virus  and injects its RNA and proteins into the host cell. The enzymes reverse transcriptase, integrase and protease are used to transcribe the virus from RNA to DNA and to integrate it into the host cell’s genome. The host cell then becomes a production house for the HIV virus producing the needed enzymes and genetic material to produce many more viruses. These newly formed viruses leave the cells in vesicles via exocytosis damaging the cell. This persistent damage to CD4 lymphocytes and the immune system eventually cases AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. This diagnosis is determined through the person’s blood and their CD4 count.

18 months later the treatment was discontinued for unclear reasons.” After, blood samples were taken which revealed that there were undetectable HIV levels in the child’s blood. The child continues to thrive with no detectable levels of HIV in the the body without antiretroviral therapy. What doctors and scientists have taken from this case is that if antiretroviral therapy is started on “infants who are infected with HIV through their mothers via pregnancy or delivery” it may “prevent HIV from establishing a reservoir or a hiding place.” (http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2013/03/04/toddler_functionally_cured_of_hiv_infection_nihsupported_investigators_report.html)

Protein Might Help Fight Deadly Diseases

The enzyme “Cholesterol-25-Hydroxylase,” or CH25H, might help fight against human viruses such as Rift Valley Fever, Niphah and HIV. CH25H converts cholesterol to an oxysterol called 25HC, which can permeate a cell’s wall to prevent a virus from getting in. The CH25H enzyme is activated by interferon, an anti-viral cell signaling protein produced in the body.  Researchers have known that interferon has been part of the body’s defense mechanism against viruses, though it does not have any antiviral properties itself.

This discovery is revolutionary because other antiviral genes have not been able to be used for treatment of viruses in humans. According to Yang Lui, a student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, most antiviral genes are difficult to use in therapy because the genes are difficult for cells to express. However, CH25H is different because it is naturally synthesized.

HIV Replication within a cell

The discovery of CH25H is relevant to the efforts to develop broad antivirals against an increase of emerging pathogens. In a collaboration with Dr. Lee, another UCLA professor, it was discovered that the 25HC produced from CH25H can inhibit HIV growth in vivo. The researchers initially found that 25HC inhibited HIV growth in cultures. When implanted mice with human tissues, the 25HC reduced the HIV in within 7 days and reversed T-Cell depletion caused by the HIV. It was also discovered that 25HC inhibited the growth of other diseases such as Rift Valley Fever Virus and Ebola.

There are still some weaknesses with the study. It’s difficult to deliver 25HC in the large doses needed to fight viruses. Researchers also need to compare 25HC to other antiviral HIV treatments.

Can we fight off AIDS?

AIDS is a tragic epidemic world wide. More than 34 million people are affected by AIDS and in 2011 alone, 1.7 million people died from AIDS. The people affected by AIDS are largely from regions in Africa and Asia, but more than one million people in the US are living with AIDS.

Obviously such a prevalent disease attracts scientists looking to help find a cure from all over the world. There have been significant advances in medications that can prevent symptoms and prolong life, but there is yet to be a cure.

A new discovery in treatment for AIDS gives hope for a long term or even permanent control over the HIV. The treatment includes a vaccine with a disabled version of the virus. The heat-inactivated version of HIV “awakens immune protection in some patients”. This means certain patients didn’t have to take their medication for weeks or even months. Thought the affects of the vaccination are temporary, this method of treatment shows promise.

Even if scientists don’t come up with a more permanent treatment for HIV in the near future, the temporary suppressing of the virus results in “knocking the virus down to extremely low levels would mean many patients wouldn’t need drugs, wouldn’t show disease symptoms and wouldn’t be likely to transmit HIV to others.” This is a significant accomplishment. It could lower the amount of people infected with AIDS world wide by stopping the transmission between people and would also improve the quality of life for AIDS infected people.

 

Sources:

main article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/347357/description/Inactivated_virus_shows_promise_against_HIV_

extra articles:

http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__worldwide/

http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/

photo:

Earth taken by Galileo after completing its first Earth Gravity Assist

Trial for New ALS Treatment Failed

Photo by: Nemo

Biogen Idec, a drug developing company, has recently discontinued their work on a new drug that was, hopefully, going to help patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A recent article explained that a new drug, known as dexpramipexole, was not effective in the phase 3 trial of the study.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease where nerve cells “waste away and die.” These cells are unable to send messages to muscles, therefore symptoms include paralysis and muscle weakness. The progression of the disease is slow and “once the patient loses the function of muscles in the chest area, it becomes hard to breathe.” There is no known cure for this disease but scientists are looking for ways to prolong the disease.

Biogen Idec believed that the drug, dexpramipexole, was hopefully going to “slow the progression of loss of muscle function and prolong the lives of people with the disease.” While the phase 3 trial was not successful, the phase 2 trial of patients receiving dexpramipexole showed some success. 50% of the patients, in the second trial, showed a slower decline of muscular function. This was a big accomplishment for Biogen Idec but the phase 3 was not as effective. Therefore, Biogen Idec’s study involving a new treatment for ALS ended.

Even though Biogen Idec’s study was not effective, other companies have successfully found a way to slow the progression of ALS. Thus far, only one drug has been approved to help patients with ALS. This drug is known as Rilutek/Riluzole and it is only modestly effective.

Doctors are in need of a new drug that will help patients with ALS. I think its great that companies like Biogen Idec are involved in finding a way to treat this rare disease. I hope that researchers will use the information from the failed trial to find another way to treat ALS.

Why use Advil? Just get bitten by a snake…

Traditionally, snakes have not been regarded as friendly animals. In fact, snakes have struggled to gain respect given their track record in poisoning and killing humans. However, a new study has arisen that may help their case…

http://www.public-domain-image.com

The black mamba (shown above), is considered to be one of the most lethal snakes on earth. However, a team of researchers in France discovered compunds in black mamba venom that could actually relieve pain. In fact, when the substance was tested on mice, it’s “pain-killing” effects were comprable to that of morphine!

The compounds are called mambalgins, and the seem to work by blocking certain channels and pathways in nerve cells. Generally speaking, the said channels open up in acidic environments, thus triggering pain signals. The mambalgins work by preventing the flow of charged atoms through the channels, thus stoping the pain killers entirely.

In this study, the analysis of the mambalgins was conducted on mice. The team injected the mice with either the mambalgin or morphine before exposing the animals to “pain” (such as painful chemicals). In the majority of the steps, the venom treatment and the morphine alleviated the pain equally as well. However, because mambalgin happens to cure pain through an entirely different mechanism than morphine, it lacks some of the major side effects of morphine such as nausea or seizure.

As with any new scientific breakthrough or theory, the results are still preliminary. Currently, the performance of mambalgins have only been tested on mice. The researchers are predicting a long while before mambalgins may be of real clinical use as they have to undergo a more rigorous scientific evaluation, not to mention all of the legal hurdles. So don’t go out searching for a snake to bite you just yet! 🙂

I found this article very intriguing and ironic. I found this ironic because the source of this new pain killer is one of the most pain-full animals on the planet. This is also intriguing because scientists may have just stumbled upon the first “pain-less” pain killer, which is ironic in itself as well. On a larger scale, I find this article even more fascinating because it testifies to just how little we know about the environment we live in.

Could there be another reason?

From Chris Berwick's blog- White blood cells amongst red blood cells

Leukemia has always been a tough form of cancer to combat. It is the leading cancer found in children and can also be found in adults. Leukemia “is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow (which produces blood cells). A person who has leukemia suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, generally leukocytes (white blood cells).”

In this specific case, long island doctor Steven Allen had a patient with cell leukemia. Cell leukemia is a rare form of leukemia and usually has fatal results within 6 months. Recently Dr. Allen’s patient died after just three months after she was diagnosed.

Cell leukemia is rarely treatable because most patients have a genetic mutation in a gene called KIT. This gene refutes any type of drug that is typically used on patients with leukemia. The phenomenon about Dr. Allen’s patient in particular case is that she did not have this genetic mutation on KIT, but her body still would not accept any drug, which resulted in her early death.

With her death came two discoveries that were ground breaking in the cure for leukemia. Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have found two other gene mutations that refute the other drugs that have recently been studied as a cure for people with mast cell leukemia with a mutation on the gene KIT.

While Dr. Allen remains confident that this is going to change the direction of cures for leukemia, his colleague said “We must reallykeep in mind this was a single case study and we have to follow it up with many other studies.” These studies will help  “prove the mutations are present in other patients.”

What still confuses me is: if these mutations are the cause of mast cell leukemia, are there other mutations we have not yet discovered in all other forms of  cancer. If this be the case how do we know that the drugs we are using are not just a waste of time. Maybe it would be better for doctors to understand all gene mutations leading to each persons specific type of cancer before rushing into one form of treatment that has worked on others. Besides aren’t all humans different?

photo credit: angleys82

Sources: http://www.newsday.com/news/health/li-researchers-make-leukemia-discovery-1.3400035

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/142595.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CD117

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