AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: summercules

From Stress to Depression to Diabetes

Can being stressed out cause autoimmune diseases?

Chronic stress can have profound effects on the body, particularly on mental health. One significant consequence is the development of stress-related psychiatric illnesses like depression, which have been linked to changes in the immune system. Despite these known associations, the precise mechanisms underlying how these changes impact the brain remain largely unclear. However, recent research by the University of Zurich has identified a novel mechanism involving the enzyme matrix metalloproteinase-8 (MMP-8), which increases in response to stress. This enzyme travels from the bloodstream to the brain, which alters specific neurons’ functioning. In animal studies, this led to behavioral changes such as withdrawal and social avoidance, similar to depressive symptoms.

This discovery offers hope for new depression treatments by revealing the complex relationship between the immune system and mental health. Understanding MMP-8’s impact on brain function could lead to targeted therapies for depressive symptoms. It highlights the crucial link between the immune system and psychiatric disorders, with the potential to revolutionize treatment approaches. Researchers plan further clinical studies in humans to enhance future interventions.

In AP Bio’s Unit 3 on Cell Communication, we touched upon the immune system: the body’s defense mechanism against harmful invaders like viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. It comprises a network of cells, tissues, and organs that identify and eliminate foreign substances while distinguishing them from the body’s cells. This defense system operates through two main pathways: the innate immune response, which provides immediate, nonspecific defense, and the adaptive immune response, which involves a targeted and long-lasting defense tailored to specific pathogens. When the immune system is disrupted, it can lead to various health complications. For instance, a weakened immune system can increase susceptibility to infections and diseases, while an overactive immune response can lead to autoimmune disorders, where the body mistakenly attacks its tissues. 

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus

A few years ago, my cousin, who lives in Westchester, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is essential for regulating blood sugar levels, so when these cells are destroyed, the body can no longer produce enough insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. To control her blood sugar levels, she has to monitor her blood sugar levels regularly, take insulin, eat healthy, count her carbohydrate intake, exercise regularly, and, most importantly, keep her stress to a minimum.

Understanding how stress affects mental health through mechanisms like MMP-8 not only sheds light on novel depression treatments but also holds promise for future advancements in the field. This underscores the vital link between the immune system and psychological well-being, offering a beacon of hope for those affected by mental health conditions. This parallel with managing conditions like type 1 diabetes, where immune system dysfunction necessitates vigilant care, further emphasizes the potential for future breakthroughs in mental health research. So, what’s your take on the enzyme matrix metalloproteinase-8 (MMP-8)? Share your thoughts or any interesting facts you know!

Unlocking Cancer’s Secrets: The Power of CRISPR

Is there a cure for cancer? 

MIT researchers have developed a novel technique using prime editing, a variant of CRISPR genome-editing, to screen thousands of mutations in cancer genes, such as the tumor suppressor gene p53, more efficiently. This method allows for the identification of harmful mutations previously overlooked, shedding light on their role in tumor development and response to treatment. Unlike previous approaches, which introduced artificial versions of mutant genes, this technique edits the genome directly, providing more accurate insights into mutation effects.

Breast cancer cell (2)

The researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of their approach by examining over 1,000 mutations in the p53 gene found in cancer patients, revealing previously unknown harmful mutations. By enabling the generation of various mutations seen in cancer patients and testing their response to therapy, this technique holds promise for precision medicine, potentially revolutionizing cancer treatment strategies. With further exploration into other cancer-linked genes, the researchers aim to uncover new therapeutic targets and eventually personalize cancer therapies based on individual genetic makeup, marking a significant advancement in cancer research and treatment.

In AP Bio’s Unit 6 on Cell Cycle and Mendelian Genetics, we briefly touched upon the topic of cancer, but I found myself captivated and eager to delve further into its complexities and implications. In learning about cancer, I discovered that its development stems from cells breaking free of normal controls, leading to unregulated division and tumor formation. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells disregard signals that regulate division, perpetuating their growth indefinitely. Furthermore, cancer spreads through a process called metastasis, where tumors manipulate blood vessels to obtain nutrients and travel to distant parts of the body, contributing significantly to cancer-related deaths. Treatments target the diverse population of cancer cells, aiming to eliminate them; however, the high mutation rate often leads to drug resistance and tumor recurrence.

Growing up, I heard stories of my family’s experiences with cancer, especially the loss of my mother’s birth father to a rare liver cancer when she was just a child. His passing at such a young age left an indelible mark on our family. Unfortunately, his story isn’t the only one. Cancer has touched other members of my family too, reminding me of the importance of understanding this disease. Instead of feeling weighed down by sadness, I’ve chosen to embrace curiosity and become proactive in learning about cancer. It’s my way of honoring their memories and empowering myself to make a difference. As I prepare for college this Fall, I’ve been reflecting on my career aspirations. My goal is to make a meaningful and purposeful impact in the field of medicine, so I’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing. This path resonates with me as it aligns with my passion for helping others and allows me to realize my professional ambitions.

The innovative technique developed by MIT researchers, along with my personal journey, has inspired me to join the fight against cancer. With a newfound understanding and determination, I eagerly look forward to pursuing a nursing career, driven by the belief that every effort contributes to better treatments and outcomes for those impacted by cancer.What’s your take on CRISPR genome-editing? Share your thoughts or any interesting facts you know!

Childhood Stress: Impact on Blood Pressure, Obesity, and Diabetes

Childhood stress can lead to chronic diseases? A study conducted by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, emphasizes the importance of comprehending the impact of perceived stress on cardiometabolic health factors, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Based on data from the Southern California Children’s Health Study, the study revealed that consistently high levels of perceived stress from adolescence through adulthood were associated with a greater risk for cardiometabolic diseases in young adulthood. Individuals experiencing prolonged stress during this period exhibited worse vascular health, higher total body fat, increased abdominal fat, and a heightened risk of obesity. 

The study indicated a general association between higher perceived stress levels and elevated risks of various cardiometabolic health conditions. Those reporting higher stress levels demonstrated poorer vascular health and higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The findings suggest that healthcare professionals could benefit from incorporating the Perceived Stress Scale into routine clinic assessments to identify individuals with higher stress levels early, enabling timely intervention and treatment. 

While the study provides valuable insights into the long-term impact of stress on cardiometabolic health, it acknowledges the limitation of its relatively small size. The researchers recommend more extensive studies to clarify and validate the associations between perceived stress patterns and various risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases. In a study on adolescents in Louisiana, researchers found that poor diet quality during adolescence is linked to lasting health risks, according to the article Poor diet quality during adolescence is linked to serious health risks. The study focused on physical activity, sleep, and dietary patterns, aiming to improve diet and reduce health risks, including cardiometabolic risks. The findings show that not following dietary guidelines is tied to ongoing health issues in teens over two years. Ensuring adolescents maintain an active lifestyle, adopt a wholesome diet, prioritize quality sleep, and manage stress levels becomes crucial for their overall well-being.

In AP Bio’s Unit 3 on Cell Communication, we explored the endocrine system: a complex network of glands and organs that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to regulate various physiological functions and maintain homeostasis in the body. Perceived stress triggers the activation of the body’s stress response, which involves the release of stress hormones from the endocrine system, primarily cortisol and adrenaline. The prolonged exposure to high levels of stress, as indicated by the study, may lead to dysregulation in the endocrine system. This dysregulation could contribute to disturbances in metabolic processes, potentially explaining the observed associations with cardiometabolic risk factors.  Endocrine EnglishMy grandfather, Steve, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1995. His body’s cells became resistant to the effects of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, glucose cannot enter cells efficiently, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. As a kid, my grandfather always told me to drink water and get in those daily vegetables with every sweet I ate. As I’ve researched, diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugars, and saturated fats contribute to obesity and insulin resistance. A diet rich in processed foods and poor in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. I would love to hear your thoughts and insights on childhood stress linked to chronic diseases. Please share your comments and join the conversation!

Tardigrades: Tiny Survivors in Denmark

What happened to the Tardigrade when it was bit by a zombie…? The tardigrade went into cryptobiosis,  half-dead state! 

The University of Copenhagen’s research reveals the widespread presence of microscopic water bears, or tardigrades, in Denmark’s diverse environments. Previously associated with extreme locations like Mount Everest and deep seas, tardigrades were found in soil, moss, and rain gutters across the country. Using environmental DNA analysis, scientists identified 96 unique tardigrade DNA sequences, indicating a diverse and previously underestimated population.

Tardigrades, resembling chubby teddy bears, exhibit unparalleled resilience, surviving freezing temperatures, desiccation, extreme radiation, and even the vacuum of outer space. Tardigrades, with unique genomic features enabling resilience in these harsh environments, intrigue scientists exploring the genetic mechanisms behind their remarkable adaptability. The study, the first of its kind in over 50 years, highlights the importance of tardigrades in local ecosystems and their unique ability to enter cryptobiosis, a state where metabolic activities are suspended. This extraordinary survival mechanism sparks interest in various scientific fields, including biomedicine and space research, as researchers explore the potential applications of tardigrade abilities in enhancing the resilience of other organisms. According to the article ‘Once-in-a generation’ tardigrade fossil discovery reveals new species in 16-million-year-old amber, discovering rare tardigrade fossils, like Pdo. chronocaribbeus, can help scientists learn more about the changes that happened during important events in tardigrade evolution. This includes understanding how they became some of Earth’s tiniest animals with legs.

In AP Bio’s Unit 3 on Cell Communication, we explored the world of Tardigrades very vaguely, but I was intrigued to know more. As part of the learning experience, I took the opportunity to complete an extra credit creative project about Tardigrades. I discovered so many captivating and cool facts about these water bugs. Although labeled as aquatic due to their dependence on water to prevent dehydration, Tardigrades possess a remarkable capacity to withstand extremely dry and harsh conditions. A key player in this resilience is the Tardigrade-specific Intrinsically Disordered Protein (TDP). When tardigrades experience dehydration, TDP replaces intracellular water, forming a glass-like substance. This unique mechanism preserves the integrity of their cellular structures, contributing to their ability to endure hostile environments.

In my creative Tardigrade project, I reimagined Tyler, the Creator’s “Flower Boy” album cover by replacing the bees with tardigrades. As I explored the connection between tardigrades and the album’s meaning, I discovered their remarkable ability to endure extreme environments, mirroring the metaphorical journey depicted in “Flower Boy.” Much like tardigrades thriving in harsh habitats, Tyler, the Creator explores the resilience needed to navigate life’s extremes. The album’s aquatic imagery aligns with tardigrades’ dependence on water for survival, fittingly nicknamed “water bears.” Water, symbolizing life and change, parallels the exploration of fluctuating experiences and emotions in “Flower Boy,” echoing the dynamic environments where tardigrades thrive. 

The University of Copenhagen’s research highlights the widespread presence and remarkable resilience of tardigrades in Denmark. From genetic studies to creative projects, the exploration emphasizes the significance of these tiny creatures in scientific understanding and survival strategies. What’s your take on the incredible resilience of tardigrades? Share your thoughts or any interesting facts you know!

Covid Brain Fog

COVID BRAIN? That’s a thing? Yes. Within the metaphorical shadow of an ice sheet, “brain fog” has evolved into a comprehensive label, encompassing the intricate cognitive, psychological, and emotional struggles intertwined with long COVID.3D medical animation coronavirus structure

The referenced article shares the story of Kenton Kaplan, a senior in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, showing signs of COVID-related brain symptoms. Ken’s year-long battle with severe memory loss, extreme fatigue, and immunosuppression highlights the diverse experiences enclosed by this term. Despite its recognition as a federally acknowledged disability, individuals reporting “brain fog” face disbelief, hindering their access to necessary accommodations. 

Emily Mendenhall, a medical anthropologist, explored the varied manifestations of long COVID symptoms beyond the popular definition of mild forgetfulness. Interviews with 22 sufferers revealed debilitating episodes, with individuals describing struggles with daily tasks during “brain fog” episodes. These individuals spoke of debilitating days where routine tasks became overwhelming: chronic nerve pain, severe headaches, episodes of dizziness, nausea, and fainting. The disparity between how healthcare professionals perceive “brain fog” and the actual experiences of those affected emphasizes the necessity for clear categorizations that can more effectively address the range and intensity of symptoms. 

Faced with difficulties in securing accommodations, Ken’s ongoing struggles with sporadic memory loss emphasize the importance of acknowledging the complexity of a cloudy consciousness. Clearer names and understanding the various aspects of symptoms could help make medical leave and accommodations more accepted. This support would be beneficial for those dealing with the continued effects of long COVID in their everyday lives.

When the immune system encounters specific pathogens, such as the COVID-19 virus, it relies on the binding action of B cell antigen receptors or antibodies to epitopes on the pathogen for recognition. This recognition serves as a trigger, setting off a cascade of events that activate B cells and stimulate the production of antibodies. These antibodies play a crucial role in safeguarding the body against the virus. This shows how important a strong immune system is in dealing with complicated conditions like long COVID, especially when it comes to cognitive challenges like “brain fog.”

A couple of weeks ago, my mom tested positive for COVID, marking the first time she had ever faced the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite being up to date on all her vaccines, including mRNA shots, which introduce genetic material into cells to prompt the production of viral proteins and trigger the immune system, she still experienced a severe case. Unfortunately, COVID hit her hard, unleashing a wave of symptoms ranging from chills and fever to body aches, a runny nose, and a persistent cough. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, she started experiencing heightened anxiety as she struggled with memory lapses, struggling to recall the day she tested positive, losing track of time, and questioning how long she had been in quarantine. It was a tough period for her, navigating not only the physical toll of the illness but also the mental strain of uncertainty. So, how can we collectively raise awareness about the diverse experiences encapsulated by the term “brain fog” and advocate for better understanding and support?

3D Printed Cerebral Cortex

A 3D PRINTED BRAIN? Have you ever wondered what methods or technologies could be used for repairing brain injuries? University of Oxford researchers have achieved a groundbreaking feat by utilizing 3D printing of human stem cells to create engineered tissue resembling a simplified cerebral cortex. This innovative approach, detailed in a publication in Nature Communications, demonstrates the potential for tailored repairs in cases of brain injuries when the printed tissue is implanted into mouse brain slices and integrates seamlessly with the host tissue. Trauma, stroke, and brain tumor surgeries often result in significant damage to the cerebral cortex, impacting cognition, movement, and communication for millions globally. 

Utilizing human induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (hiPSCs), the study employed an advanced 3D printing technique to construct a two-layered brain tissue, offering the advantage of deriving cells from the patient and minimizing the risk of immune response. This topic relates to Unit 1: Molecules & Cells. The endomembrane system includes various organelles like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi apparatus, which are responsible for processing and modifying proteins. When hiPSCs differentiate into various cell types for tissue repair, it involves the activation of specific genes and the production of proteins. These newly differentiated cells will utilize the components of the endomembrane system to synthesize, modify, and transport proteins to their appropriate locations within the cell. This process showcases the importance of the endomembrane system in maintaining cellular function and specialization, a crucial topic in AP Biology.

3-D Bioprinting.jpg

Upon implantation, the printed tissues not only demonstrated structural integration with the host tissue but also exhibited functional integration. Led by Dr. Yongcheng Jin, the research team aims to enhance the technique for creating intricate, multi-layered cerebral cortex tissues closely resembling the human brain’s architecture. This breakthrough, representing a decade-long effort in advancing 3D bioprinting technologies at the University of Oxford, involved collaborative efforts between the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics. The senior authors emphasize the potential for personalized implantation treatments and the broader impact on brain repair and research, signaling a significant leap forward in the field. 

In 7th grade, I experienced my first concussion, and unfortunately, the following year in 8th grade, I experienced another one. Despite being classified as mild, the impact on my well-being was significant. Following medical advice diligently, I adhered to the protocol to allow for proper healing. Doctors emphasized the seriousness of brain injuries, cautioning that they should not be taken lightly. Despite my commitment to the recovery process, I continue to struggle with severe migraines lasting nearly two weeks. The persistence of these symptoms prompted me to deep dive into research on the complexities of the brain. Acknowledging the intricate nature of the brain and unsure if my concussions directly correlate with the migraines, I embarked on a personal exploration of this topic, seeking to understand the intricate workings of this vital organ and perhaps find insights that could contribute to my own well-being. What are your thoughts on the potential of 3D printing human stem cells for repairing brain injuries? Do you believe this innovative approach could revolutionize treatments for trauma, stroke, and brain tumor surgeries? Share your opinions related to brain injuries and the advancements in 3D bioprinting.

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