10th Aug 2014, 04:08 PM #1341
Re: Health Bulletin
Sharon fruit reduce heart attacks
An apple a day may keep the doctor away - but a persimmon a day could save you from a heart attack, scientists are claiming.
They say the reddish-coloured fruit that looks like a large tomato and is normally found in the 'exotic' section at supermarkets does a far better job of reducing the risk of heart disease.
Researchers have carried out the first known study of its health-giving qualities compared to those of other fruits - particularly the apple.
And bite for bite it comes out top of the fruit bowl according to the Journal Agricultural and Food Chemistry published today.
Apart from its abundance of benefits, the persimmon, first cultivated in China thousands of years ago, also seems to have more names than most other fruits.
In Latin it is Diospyros and in English it was also called the date plum. Then growers in Israel dubbed it the Sharon fruit - apparently in an attempt to make it more attractive to customers. But they reckoned without the connotation with Essex girls for British buyers.
With sales suffering, at least one UK supermarket chain - Tesco - has gone back to calling it the persimmon.
The team from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found that persimmons contain significantly higher concentrations of dietary fibre, minerals and phenolic compounds.
These are all vital in fighting atherosclerosis, in which the arteries become blocked - a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.
A separate research project by the same team also published in the same journal showed that a diet rich in persimmons improved lipid metabolism - the way the body copes with fat - in laboratory rats.
Project leader Dr Shela Gorinstein, a medicinal chemist, said their high contents of fibres, phenolics, minerals and trace elements 'make persimmon preferable for an anti-atherosclerotic diet'.
They contain twice as much dietary fibre as apples and more of the major phenolics, or antioxidants thought to ward off cancer and help prevent blood clots.
The fruit had significantly higher levels of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese. Apples, however, had higher overall concentrations of copper and zinc.
Dr Gorinstein said eating one medium-sized persimmon a day was enough to help fight athero-sclerosis.
But she stressed that other fruits also help guard against heart disease and urged people to include them in their diet as well.
The persimmon tree is now cultivated in many countries - it has been grown in Britain since 1629. The fruit can be eaten hard or soft, and with or without the brown spots that appear on the skin as it ripens.
Many people slice off the top and scoop out the pulp. At this time of year, they tend to be imported from Israel and cost around 50p each.
Waitrose said persimmons were one of their best-selling exotic fruits.
11th Aug 2014, 12:48 PM #1342
Re: Health Bulletin
A wonder wrap that keeps infections at bay
A wonder wrap has now been discovered that clings to the body's most difficult-to-protect parts to keep infections at bay.
Wrapping wound dressings around fingers and toes can be tricky, but for burn victims, guarding them against infection is critical.
Scientists have now reported the development of a novel, ultrathin coatings called nano sheets that cling to the body's most difficult-to-protect contours and keep it free of bacteria.
Scientist Yosuke Okamura explains that existing wound dressings work well when it comes to treating burns on relatively flat and broad areas.
But the human body has curves, wrinkles and ridges that present problems for these dressings. So Okamura's team developed a novel biomaterial out of tiny pieces of nano sheets that are super-flexible and sticky.
"The nanosheets can adhere not only to flat surfaces, but also to uneven and irregular surfaces without adding any adhesives," he says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone is injured by fire every 30 minutes. Burn wounds are vulnerable to infection, and keeping them sealed off from bacteria is essential for a successful recovery.
Okamura's team at Tokai University makes the nano sheets out of a biodegradable polyester called poly(L-lactic acid), or PLLA. They put the material into a test tube with water and spin it, which breaks up the sheets into even smaller pieces. When they pour the liquid onto a flat surface, the tiny fragments overlap in a patchwork and dry as a single nanosheet.
They tested out the nanosheets' ability to coat small and irregular shapes by dipping different things into the mixture, including a metal needle and a mouse's fingers. The nanosheet patchwork effectively covered even the smallest bumps and wrinkles on the mouse's digits, and after the material dried, it clung in place.
When the researchers tested the nanosheets on burns, the dressing effectively kept out the common bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This species of pathogen is often a culprit in skin infections and is notorious for causing hospital-acquired infections that can be deadly. Multi-drug resistant strains are also a serious concern.
The dressing protected wounds from infection for three continuous days. With an additional coating, the nanosheets kept bacteria out for a total of six days. That means the material, if eventually approved for human patients, could cut down the number of times dressings have to be changed. With an eye toward human clinical trials, the researchers are currently planning large-scale animal tests and safety tests.
11th Aug 2014, 12:49 PM #1343
Re: Health Bulletin
Windowless offices with air conditioned rooms, a threat to health
Modern day offices with centrally air conditioned rooms and air tight windows could be seriously harming your health.
Office workers with more light exposure at the office have been found to have longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace.
Employees with windows in the workplace received 173% more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night than employees who did not have the natural light exposure in the workplace.
There also was a trend for workers in offices with windows to have more physical activity than those without windows.
Scientists from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois have highlighted the importance of exposure to natural light to employee health and the priority architectural designs of office environments should place on natural daylight exposure for workers.
"Light is the most important synchronizing agent for the brain and body," said Ivy Cheung from Northwestern. "Proper synchronization of your internal biological rhythms with the earth's daily rotation has been shown to be essential for health.''
Workers without windows reported poorer scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality, as well as poorer outcomes on measures of overall sleep quality and sleep disturbances.
"There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism," said senior study author Phyllis Zee, a Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist.
"Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day. The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health.''
"Architects need to be aware of the importance of natural light not only in terms of their potential energy savings but also in terms of affecting occupants' health," said co-lead author Mohamed Boubekri, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois.
A simple design solution to augment daylight penetration in office buildings would be to make sure the workstations are within 20 to 25 feet of the peripheral walls containing the windows, noted Boubekri.
Daylight from side windows almost vanishes after 20 to 25 feet from the windows, he added.
The study group included 49 day-shift office workers; 27 in windowless workplaces and 22 in workplaces with windows.
Health-related quality of life and sleep quality were measured with a self-reported form and sleep quality was evaluated with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Light exposure, activity and sleep were measured by actigraphy in a representative subset of 21 participants; 10 in windowless workplaces and 11 in workplaces with windows.
Actigraphy is a single device worn on the wrist that gives measures of light exposure as well as activity and sleep. This is an ambulatory physiological data logger that records motion and light illuminance. The motion was used to determine activity levels during waking time and to calculate sleep time. The light luminance was used for measures of light exposure during the
12th Aug 2014, 05:48 PM #1344
Re: Health Bulletin
Doctors master science of making perfect babies
Thirty five years ago, when Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay in Kolkata fused an egg and sperm outside the body to assist reproduction, it gave birth to Durga, India's first test tube baby. It took another ten years for doctors at GG Hospital Chennai to facilitate the birth of a test tube in the south. Assisted reproduction had improved greatly hence, but experts have not, till recently, been able to ensure that the test tube baby was free of genetic disorders. Now doctors have perfected a technique of testing cells drawn from the embryo to make healthy babies in laboratories. In most cases doctors have multiple embryos to choose from to transfer into the uterus. And, for various reasons, pregnancies have failed.
Doctors now say that one of the most common reasons is probably chromosomes. Fetuses with chromosomal abnormalities aren't likely to attach to the uterus for long. For this reason, three days after a woman's eggs are fertilized in a culture, fertility experts check if the 4-8 cell embryo for the right number of chromosomes before it is implanted in the uterus.
Too few chromosomes, doctors say, is one of the common causes of abortion. Doctors at Chennai-based GG Hospitals decided to extend the study by putting the cells inside the embryo for tests including those for genetic defects. "We remove just one cell from the embryo for this test. It represents the entire embryo but makes no difference to the embryo development. But it has made a world of difference to assisted reproduction," said fertility expert Dr Priya Selvaraj.
Studies show that this screening rules out most failures that arise out of assisted reproduction techniques and increases pregnancy rates up to 30%.
No one agrees more than 29-year-old Radhika, married for two years, who came to the fertility clinic in 2012 with complaints of infertility. After primary tests, doctors gave her medicines to help her conceive naturally . In January 2013, doctors listed her for IVF treatment.
The treatment failed at least twice but during the second time doctors discovered that the fetus had Down's Syndrome due to chromosomal abnormality that came from her spouse.
The couple were counselled about embryo biopsy. Doctors drilled a hole into the shells of 10 embryos and pulled out one cell using a special equipment for biopsy. Tests found just five were normal on the third day of fertilization. Among these only two survived up to day five and they were transferred into Radhika's uterus. "If we had not tested the embryo, she had risks of abortion. She is now in the second trimester of her pregnancy," said Dr Selvaraj.
Along with Radhika is 23-year-old Sangeetha*, who was not able to conceive because her husband had very low sperm count. She was enrolled for the IVF programme in August 2013 but doctors found the embryo quality remained poor. Doctors planned an embryo biopsy to identify the normal embryo. Six days after fertilization doctors transferred one embryo, which was normal.
Doctors predict that embryo biopsy would soon be available for most women in the high risk groups, especially those suffering from recurrent miscarriages and for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization. "We will have healthier babies and happy mothers," she said.
Studies are on to see if these defective genes in the three-day old embryos can be replaced and infused with new genes, and if that happens, it would be one of the major leaps in reproductive medicine.
12th Aug 2014, 05:57 PM #1345
Re: Health Bulletin
Now, VIP jab that can protect against malaria
Researchers have found a new promising approach, Vectored immunoprophylaxis, in order to fight better against malaria.
Vectored immunoprophylaxis injection triggered creation of antibodies that prevented malaria in 70 percent of mice. Mice, injected with a virus genetically altered to help the rodents create an antibody designed to fight the malaria parasite, produced high levels of the anti-malaria antibody. The approach, known as Vector immunoprophylaxis or VIP, has shown promising results in HIV studies but was never been tested with malaria, for which no licensed vaccine exists.
There would be a fine line between a vaccine and a VIP injection. One key difference: a VIP injection has been formulated to produce a specific antibody. VIP technology bypasses the requirement of the host to make its own immune response against malaria, which was what occurs with a vaccine. Instead VIP provides the protective antibody gene, giving the host the tools to target the malaria parasite.
Gary Ketner, PhD, said that the body was actually producing a malaria-neutralizing antibody, instead of playing defense, the host wasplaying offense.
One advantage of this targeted approach over a traditional vaccine was that the body might be able to continue to produce the antibody. With a vaccine, the natural immune response wanes over time, sometimes losing the ability to continue to resist infection, which would require follow-up booster shots. However, this could be challenging for people living in remote and or rural areas where malaria was prevalent but health care access limited. Any immunization protocol that involved one injection would be preferable.
Cailin Deal, PhD, said that its dose dependent, however, they don't know what the human dosage would be, but it's conceivable that the right dosage could completely protect against malaria.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
13th Aug 2014, 11:47 AM #1346
Re: Health Bulletin
Scientists create brain tissue containing white and grey matter in the lab
Scientists have for the first time ever created brain tissue containing white and grey matter in the lab.
The tissue with the same chemical and electrical functions of the human brain and can stay fresh for over two months has great implications for dementia and Alzheimer's cure.
As a first demonstration of its potential, researchers used the brain-like tissue to study chemical and electrical changes that occur immediately following traumatic brain injury and, in a separate experiment, changes that occur in response to a drug.
The tissue could provide a superior model for studying normal brain function as well as injury and disease, and could assist in the development of new treatments for brain dysfunction.
The brain-like tissue was developed at the Tissue Engineering Resource Centre at Tufts University, Boston.
David Kaplan, who is the director of the centre was the lead researcher.
Currently, scientists grow neurons in petri dishes to study their behaviour in a controllable environment. Yet neurons grown in two dimensions are unable to replicate the complex structural organization of brain tissue, which consists of segregated regions of grey and white matter.
In the brain, grey matter is comprised primarily of neuron cell bodies, while white matter is made up of bundles of axons, which are the projections neurons send out to connect with one another.
Because brain injuries and diseases often affect these areas differently, models are needed that exhibit grey and white matter compartmentalization.
Recently, tissue engineers have attempted to grow neurons in 3D gel environments, where they can freely establish connections in all directions. Yet these gel-based tissue models don't live long and fail to yield robust, tissue-level function.
This is because the extracellular environment is a complex matrix in which local signals establish different neighbourhoods that encourage distinct cell growth and/or development and function.
Kaplan therefore led a group of bioengineers who have successfully created functional 3D brain-like tissue that exhibits grey-white matter compartmentalization and can survive in the lab for more than two months.
"This work is an exceptional feat," said Rosemarie Hunziker, program director of tissue engineering at NIBIB. "It combines a deep understand of brain physiology with a large and growing suite of bioengineering tools to create an environment that is both necessary and sufficient to mimic brain function".
The key to generating the brain-like tissue was the creation of a novel composite structure that consisted of two biomaterials with different physical properties: a spongy scaffold made out of silk protein and a softer, collagen-based gel. The scaffold served as a structure onto which neurons could anchor themselves and the gel encouraged axons to grow through it.
To achieve grey-white matter compartmentalization, the researchers cut the spongy scaffold into a donut shape and populated it with rat neurons. They then filled the middle of the donut with the collagen-based gel, which subsequently permeated the scaffold.
In just a few days, the neurons formed functional networks around the pores of the scaffold, and sent longer axon projections through the centre gel to connect with neurons on the opposite side of the donut. The result was a distinct white matter region (containing mostly cellular projections, the axons) formed in the centre of the donut that was separate from the surrounding grey matter (where the cell bodies were concentrated).
Over a period of several weeks, the researchers conducted experiments to determine the health and function of the neurons growing in their 3D brain-like tissue and to compare them with neurons grown in a collagen gel-only environment or in a 2D dish.
The researchers found that the neurons in the 3D brain-like tissues had higher expression of genes involved in neuron growth and function. In addition, the neurons grown in the 3D brain-like tissue maintained stable metabolic activity for up to five weeks, while the health of neurons grown in the gel-only environment began to deteriorate within 24 hours. In regard to function, neurons in the 3D brain-like tissue exhibited electrical activity and responsiveness that mimic signals seen in the intact brain, including a typical electrophysiological response pattern to a neurotoxin.
"With the system we have, you can essentially track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time," said Kaplan. "Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time".
13th Aug 2014, 05:59 PM #1347
Re: Health Bulletin
Tiny gold particles shown to kill deadly brain cancer in new study
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have been successful in treating a deadly and common type of brain cancer using tiny gold particles. The ground-breaking technique could eventually be used to treat glioblastomamultiforme (GBM), which is the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults, and notoriously difficult to treat. Many sufferers die within a few months of diagnosis, and just six in every 100 patients with the condition are alive after five years, a University statement said.
"The combined therapy that we have devised appears to be incredibly effective in the live cell culture," said Professor Welland, professor of nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge, who led the research. "This is not a cure, but it does demonstrate what nanotechnology can achieve in fighting these aggressive cancers. By combining this strategy with cancer cell-targeting materials, we should be able to develop a therapy for glioblastoma and other challenging cancers in the future.""
The research involved building nanoparticles of gold with a conventional chemotherapy drug cisplatin attached. These were released into tumour cells that had been taken from glioblastoma patients and grown in the lab.
Once the gold nanoparticles entered the cancer cells they were exposed to radiotherapy. This caused the gold to release electrons which damaged the cancer cell's DNA and its overall structure, thereby enhancing the impact of the chemotherapy drug. The process was so effective that 20 days later, the cell culture showed no evidence of any revival, suggesting that the tumour cells had been destroyed, the University statement said.
While further work needs to be done before the same technology can be used to treat people with glioblastoma, the results offer a highly promising foundation for future therapies. Importantly, the research was carried out on cell lines derived directly from glioblastoma patients, enabling the team to test the approach on evolving, drug-resistant tumours. Ther work is reported in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Nanoscale.
"We need to be able to hit the cancer cells directly with more than one treatment at the same time," Dr Colin Watts consultant neurosurgeon at the university said. "This is important because some cancer cells are more resistant to one type of treatment than another. Nanotechnology provides the opportunity to give the cancer cells this 'double whammy' and open up new treatment options in the future."
The researchers believe that similar models could eventually be used to treat other types of challenging cancers. First, however, the method itself needs to be turned into an applicable treatment for GBM patients. This process, which will be the focus of much of the group's forthcoming research, will necessarily involve extensive trials.
Sonali Setua, a PhD student who worked on the project, said: "It was hugely satisfying to chase such a challenging goal and to be able to target and destroy these aggressive cancer cells. This finding has enormous potential to be tested in a clinical trial in the near future and developed into a novel treatment to overcome therapeutic resistance of glioblastoma."
14th Aug 2014, 11:49 AM #1348
Re: Health Bulletin
Bee, snake and scorpion venom could be used to fight cancer
Bee, snake and scorpion venom could be used in fight against cancer after lab trials by an Indian- origin scientist-led team showed that the toxins can kill tumours.
According to a paper presented at the American Chemical Society conference this week, Dipanjan Pan and his team from the University of Illinois said they may have found a way to stop cancer cell growth.
The work is in very early stages, but has shown success in stopping breast cancer and melanoma cell growth in lab tests.
Pan's technique uses nanotechnology to deliver a synthesised element similar to the venom found in bees, snakes and scorpions.
Ancient texts show doctors have used venom to treat aliments for years. In 14 BC, the Greek writer Pliny the Elder described the use of bee venom as a cure for baldness. Doctors used bee stings to treat the Emperor Charlemagne's gout in the 700s. Traditional Chinese medicine has used frog venom to fight liver, lung, colon and pancreatic cancers.
The general problem with injecting someone with venom is that there can be harmful side effects.
The properties in venom that destroy cancer cells can have the same effect on healthy cells — much in the same way chemotherapy causes cell damage, and painful side effects, while treating cancer.
But Pan and his team have developed a technique to separate out the important proteins and peptides in the venom so they can be used to stop cancer cell growth. His lab has found a way to synthesize these helpful cells.
"Since it's synthetic, there's no ambiguity" in what the substance contains, Pan was quoted as saying by CNN.
The synthetic material is then delivered to cancer cells using nanotechnology. In "camouflaging the whole toxin as a part of the nanoparticle," Pan said, it bypasses healthy cells and is attracted to only the cancer cells.
Attached to the cancer cells, these nanoparticles with the synthesised venom can either slow down or stop cancer cell growth, and may ultimately stop the cancer from spreading.
Particles in bee venom seem to specifically stop the cancer stem cells.
"That's what we are interested in — those are the cells responsible for metastasizing and also responsible for having the cancer cells grow back," Pan said.
"If we can target better using this technique, we potentially have a better cancer treatment," he said.
Unlike chemotherapy, this more targeted technique would, in theory, only affect cancer cells. If it is successful, this natural agent found in venom could become the basis for a whole legion of cancer-fighting drugs.
Pan's lab will now try the synthesised venom and nanotechnology combination on cancer cells in rats and pigs. If successful, they will then try the technique on humans. He predicts that step could happen in the next three to five years.
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14th Aug 2014, 11:49 AM #1349
Re: Health Bulletin
Sleeping pills may do more harm than good
Drugs that shift workers use to stay awake or go to sleep are not of much benefit and may do more harm than good, new research has warned. Shift workers are taking drugs to help them stay awake or get to sleep despite weak evidence for their benefit, researchers said.
The authors of the review found only small numbers of trials testing over-the-counter and prescription drugs used by shift workers, and the results suggest that for some people they might do more harm than good. In most developed countries, at least 10 per cent of the workforce is involved in some form of shift work.
Disturbances to normal sleeping and waking patterns increase risk of accidents and affect shift workers' health.
"It is important to avoid shift work where possible and improve shift work schedules to help workers achieve normal sleeping, waking patterns," researchers said.
14th Aug 2014, 04:14 PM #1350
Re: Health Bulletin
Indian-origin scientists discover sleep-regulating gene
A team led by two Indian-origin scientists has identified a gene that regulates sleep and wake rhythms.
The discovery can provide potential therapeutic target to help night-shift workers or jet-lagged travellers adjust to time differences more quickly.
"It is possible that the severity of many dementias comes from sleep disturbances. If we can restore normal sleep, we can address half of the problem," said Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the US.
The discovery of the role of this gene, called Lhx1, can point to treatment strategies for sleep problems caused by a variety of disorders.
During the study, researchers disrupted the light-dark cycles in mice and compared changes in the expression of thousands of genes in the SCN with other mouse tissues.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a small, densely packed region of about 20,000 neurons housed in the brain's hypothalamus.
They identified 213 gene expression changes that were unique to the SCN and narrowed in on 13 of these that coded for molecules that turn on and off other genes.
Of those, only one was suppressed in response to light: Lhx1.
"No one had ever imagined that Lhx1 - known for its role in neural development - might be so intricately involved in SCN function," added Shubhroz Gill, a postdoctoral researcher and co-first author of the paper.
Studying a mouse version of jet lag - an 8-hour shift in their day-night cycle -they found that those with little or no Lhx1 readjusted much faster to the shift than normal mice.
These mice also exhibited reduced activity of certain genes, including one that creates vasoactive intestinal peptide (Vip) - a molecule that has important roles in development and as a hormone in the intestine and blood.
"This approach helped us to close that knowledge gap and show that Vip is a very important protein. It can compensate for the loss of Lhx1," Panda said.
On the other hand, cutting back on Vip could be another way to treat jet lag, said the study that appeared in the journal eLife.
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