New brain pathways for understanding type 2 diabetes and obesity uncovered

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified neural pathways that increase understanding of how the brain regulates body weight, energy expenditure, and blood glucose levels — a discovery that can lead to new therapies for treating Type 2 diabetes and obesity.The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4Rs) expressed by neurons that control the autonomic nervous system are key in regulating glucose metabolism and energy expenditure, said senior author Dr. Joel Elmquist, Director of the Division of Hypothalamic Research, and Professor of Internal Medicine, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry.”A number of previous studies have demonstrated that MC4Rs are key regulators of energy expenditure and glucose homeostasis, but the key neurons required to regulate these responses were unclear,” said Dr. Elmquist, who holds the Carl H. Westcott Distinguished Chair in Medical Research, and the Maclin Family Distinguished Professorship in Medical Science, in Honor of Dr. Roy A. Brinkley. “In the current study, we found that expression of these receptors by neurons that control the sympathetic nervous system, seem to be key regulators of metabolism. In particular, these cells regulate blood glucose levels and the ability of white fat to become ‘brown or beige’ fat.”Using mouse models, the team of researchers, including co-first authors Dr. Eric Berglund, Assistant Professor in the Advanced Imaging Research Center and Pharmacology, and Dr. Tiemin Liu, a postdoctoral research fellow in Internal Medicine, deleted MC4Rs in neurons controlling the sympathetic nervous system. …

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Ivy is 1 year old!

…and my post is a day late, typical. You learn to roll with the punches when you have 4 kids.We celebrated today since Eric and I had a dinner event up on campus yesterday.I wanted to do a white cake with ombre green inside and green ivy leaves. But I didn’t have oil-based or powder food dyes to tint the white chocolate. So I reversed the scheme: We painted real ivy leaves with melted white chocolate, then peeled the leaves off once the chocolate had hardened. It worked really well! According to Ivy’s birth certificate, she supposedly born today, March 26, not yesterday, March 25. I’m not sure who messed it up, but I’d like to get her passport and have been waiting almost 2 weeks for her…

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U.S. cocaine use cut by half, while marijuana consumption jumps

The use of cocaine dropped sharply across the United States from 2006 to 2010, while the amount of marijuana consumed increased significantly during the same period, according to a new report.Studying illegal drug use nationally from 2000 to 2010, researchers found the amount of marijuana consumed by Americans increased by more than 30 percent from 2006 to 2010, while cocaine consumption fell by about half. Meanwhile, heroin use was fairly stable throughout the decade.Methamphetamine consumption dramatically increased during the first half of the decade and then declined, but researchers did not have enough information to make a credible estimate of the drug’s use from 2008 to 2010.The findings come from a report compiled for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by researchers affiliated with the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.”Having credible estimates of the number of heavy drug users and how much they spend is critical for evaluating policies, making decisions about treatment funding and understanding the drug revenues going to criminal organizations,” said Beau Kilmer, the study’s lead author and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “This work synthesizes information from many sources to present the best estimates to date for illicit drug consumption and spending in the United States.”Because the project only generated estimates through 2010, researchers say the report does not address the recent reported spike in heroin use or the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. The report also does not try to explain the causes behind changes in drug use or evaluate the effectiveness of drug control strategies.The study, published on the website of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, provides estimates of the amount of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine used each year from 2000 to 2010. The study includes estimates of retail spending on illicit drugs and the number of chronic users, who account for a majority of drug consumption.Researchers say that drug users in the United States spent on the order of $100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine throughout the decade. While the amount remained stable from 2000 to 2010, the spending shifted. While much more was spent on cocaine than on marijuana in 2000, the opposite was true by 2010.”Our analysis shows that Americans likely spent more than one trillion dollars on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010,” Kilmer said.The surge in marijuana use appears to be related to an increase in the number of people who reported using the drug on a daily or near-daily basis.The estimates for marijuana are rooted in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which surveys nearly 70,000 individuals each year. Estimates for cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are largely based on information from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program, or ADAM. The final estimates also incorporated information from other data sourcesHowever, since the federal government recently halted funding for ADAM, researchers say it will be considerably harder to track the abuse of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in the future.”The ADAM program provided unique insights about those who abused hard drugs and how much they spent on these substances,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a study co-author and the Stever Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s a tragedy that 2013 was the last year for ADAM. …

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Glow jars

We like making glow jars for Christmas and birthday presents. For the best effect, you need the right paint. Strontium aluminate based glow-in-the-dark paints are far brighter than the kinds you can find in most local craft or hardware stores. You can buy ready-made paints or glow powder to mix into a transparent paint or glaze. I bought a sampler of 6 paints from Glonation. If you search “strontium aluminate glow paint,” you’ll find several glow paint companies.Glonation’s paints are water-based and become rubbery and stretchy rather quickly. If you’re working with stencils–say, for a painting on a wall or ceiling–you have to remove the pattern almost immediately, otherwise the paint will peel off with the pattern.The green …

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NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars

A team of scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite. In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.The team’s findings have been published in the February issue of the journal Astrobiology. The lead author, Lauren White, is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Co-authors are Gibson, Thomas-Keprta, Simon Clemett and McKay, all based at Johnson. McKay, who led the team that studied the ALH84001 meteorite, died a year ago.”While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet’s history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites,” said White. “On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look into meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars. These samples offer clues to the past habitability of this planet. As more Martian meteorites are discovered, continued research focusing on these samples collectively will offer deeper insight into attributes which are indigenous to ancient Mars. Furthermore, as these meteorite studies are compared to present day robotic observations on Mars, the mysteries of the planet’s seemingly wetter past will be revealed.”Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. …

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New blood cells fight brain inflammation

Hyperactivity of our immune system can cause a state of chronic inflammation. If chronic, the inflammation will affect our body and result in disease. In the devastating disease multiple sclerosis, hyperactivity of immune cells called T-cells induce chronic inflammation and degeneration of the brain. Researchers at BRIC, the University of Copenhagen, have identified a new type of regulatory blood cells that can combat such hyperactive T-cells in blood from patients with multiple sclerosis. By stimulating the regulatory blood cells, the researchers significantly decreased the level of brain inflammation and disease in a biological model. The results are published in the journal Nature Medicine.Molecule activate anti-inflammatory blood cellsThe new blood cells belong to the group of our white blood cells called lymphocytes. The cells express a molecule called FoxA1 that the researchers found is responsible for the cells’ development and suppressive functions.”We knew that some unidentified blood cells were able to inhibit multiple sclerosis-like disease in mice and through gene analysis we found out, that these cells are a subset of our lymphocytes expressing the gene FoxA1. Importantly, when inserting FoxA1 into normal lymphocytes with gene therapy, we could change them to actively regulate inflammation and inhibit multiple sclerosis, explains associated professor Yawei Liu leading the experimental studies.Activating own blood cells for treatment of diseaseFoxA1 expressing lymphocytes were not known until now, and this is the first documentation of their importance in controlling multiple sclerosis. The number of people living with this devastating disease around the world has increased by 10 percent in the past five years to 2.3 million. It affects women twice more than men and no curing treatment exists. …

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Addiction Treatment After Naloxone

Photo Credit California is now following the footsteps of Colorado and other states that allows the use of naloxone or Narcan, an FDA approved, non-addictive drug that prevents heroin overdose.California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 635 into law, which took effect on January 1st of this year permitting the use of naloxone by non-medical professionals across the state. Just this week, Gil Kerlikowske the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy highlighted the effectiveness of naloxone as one of many attempts to limit the rise of heroin abuse and overdose in the US. Currently, more than 100 overdose deaths occur from heroin abuse in the US each day. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman last week was one of an estimated 700 that occurred that…

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Poaching threatens savannah ecosystems

White rhinoceros may be extinct in twenty years with the current poaching rates. The loss of this megaherbivore is in itself a tragedy, but it may also have tremendous effects on the ecosystems they now live in.The white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), and other megaherbivores, are key drivers of ecosystem functioning because theyre not controlled by predation.A new study by Joris Cromsigt and Mariska te Beest, published in Journal of Ecology, highlights the role of the white rhino in the savannah ecosystems.Earlier empirical studies on the ecosystem impact of megaherbivores are strongly biased to African elephant with very little contemporary evidence for other megaherbivore species. Cromsigt and te Beest quantifies how rhino recolonized Kruger National Park (KNP) following their re-introduction in the 1960s to create a unique ‘recolonization experiment’ and tests how this megagrazer is affecting the structure of savannah grasslands.The researchers identified landscapes that rhino recolonized long time ago versus landscapes that were recolonized more recently. The assumption was that time since colonization represents a proxy for extent of rhino impact. Grassland heterogeneity on 40 transects covering a total of 30 kilometer were recorded. Short grass cover was clearly higher in the high rhino impact than low rhino impact landscape. Moreover, they encountered about 20 times more grazing lawns, a specific grassland community, in the high rhino impact landscape. The conclusion is that white rhinoceros may have started to change the structure and composition of KNP’s savannah grasslands. The amount of short grass has important consequences for other species, but also components of ecosystem functioning such as fire regimes. The results highlight that this poaching crisis not only affects the species but threatens the potentially key role of this megaherbivore as a driver of savannah functioning.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). …

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Genetics impact risk of early menopause among some female smokers

New research is lighting up yet another reason for women to quit smoking. In a study published online in the journal Menopause, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania report the first evidence showing that smoking causes earlier signs of menopause — in the case of heavy smokers, up to nine years earlier than average — in white women with certain genetic variations.Though previous studies have shown that smoking hastens menopause by approximately one to two years regardless of race or genetic background, this study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that genetic background is significantly associated with a further increased risk of menopause in some white women who smoke. No statistically significant relationships between smoking, the gene variants under investigation and earlier menopause were observed in African American women.While symptoms of menopause — such as hot flashes, anxiety and insomnia — can result in discomfort, embarrassment, and irritability, the onset of menopause is also associated with risks of coronary artery disease, osteoporosis, and death from all causes. On average, women enter menopause at around 50 years of age. However, the research team now reports that menopause may begin at an earlier age in white female smokers who are carriers of two different gene variants. While the genes themselves do not result in early onset menopause, variations of the genes — CYP3A4*1B and CYP1B1*3 — were found to increase the risk of entering menopause at an earlier age in white smokers. The genetic variants were present in seven and 62 percent of white women in the study population, respectively.”This study could shed new light on how we think about the reproductive risks of smoking in women. We already know that smoking causes early menopause in women of all races, but these new results show that if you are a white smoker with these specific genetic variants, your risk of entering menopause at any given time increases dramatically,” said the study’s lead author Samantha F. Butts, MD, MSCE, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Penn Medicine.Results of the study, which enrolled over 400 women aged 35 to 47 from the Penn Ovarian Aging Study, found that in carriers of the CYP3A4*1B variation, the average time-to-menopause after entering the study in heavy smokers, light smokers, and nonsmokers was 5.09 years, 11.36 years, and 13.91 years, respectively. This means that for heavily smoking white females with this genetic background, the average time-to-menopause was approximately nine years earlier than in nonsmoking carriers.In white carriers of the CYP1B1*3 variation, the average time-to-menopause in heavy smokers, light smokers, and nonsmokers was 10.41 years, 10.42 years, and 11.08 years, respectively — a statistically significant difference although not as stark as the findings for the CYP3A4*1B variant.The Penn study did not examine why no statistically significant relationships between smoking, the gene variants under investigation, and earlier menopause were observed in African Americans.”It is possible that uniform relationships among white and African American women were not found due to other factors associated with race that modify the interaction between smoking and genes,” said Butts. …

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Embrace the cold: Evidence that shivering and exercise may convert white fat to brown

A new study suggests that shivering and bouts of moderate exercise are equally capable of stimulating the conversion of energy-storing ‘white fat’ into energy-burning ‘brown fat’.Around 50 g of white fat stores more than 300 kilocalories of energy. The same amount of brown fat could burn up to 300 kilocalories a day.Endocrinologist Dr Paul Lee, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, recently undertook the study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington, funded as an NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow.His work uncovered a way that fat and muscle communicate with each other through specific hormones — turning white fat cells into brown fat cells to protect us against cold.Dr Lee showed that during cold exposure and exercise, levels of the hormone irisin (produced by muscle) and FGF21 (produced by brown fat) rose. Specifically, around 10-15 minutes of shivering resulted in equivalent rises in irisin as an hour of moderate exercise. In the laboratory, irisin and FGF21 turn human white fat cells into brown fat cells over a period of six days. The study is now published in Cell Metabolism.We are all born with supplies of brown fat around our necks, nature’s way of helping to keep us warm as infants. Until only a few years ago, it was thought to vanish in early infancy, but we now know that brown fat is present in most, if not all, adults. Adults with more brown fat are slimmer than those without.”Excitement in the brown fat field has risen significantly over last few years because its energy-burning nature makes it a potential therapeutic target against obesity and diabetes,” said Dr Lee.”White fat transformation into brown fat could protect animals against diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Glucose levels are lower in humans with more brown fat.”In the current study, Lee set out to understand the mechanism underlying the activation of brown fat. It was already known that cold temperatures stimulate brown fat, but was unclear how the body signals that message to its cells.The body can sense and relay environmental changes to different organs via nerves and hormones. Being an endocrinologist, Lee investigated the hormones that are stimulated by cold environments.”When we are cold, we first activate our brown fat because it burns energy and releases heat to protect us. …

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Canvas prints of the kids for our new office

Canvas prints of the kids for our new office Emily Dickey posted this in ReviewsI love taking photos of the kids and we have professional family photos taken at least once a year. I upload them to my computer and most of the time that’s where they sit. If I’m on top of things (I’m not.) they get uploaded to Facebook for friends and family to see or I use some in a blog post… but I want them printed and displayed in our home!I love canvas prints because they add a special touch to your photo wall—something different to stand out from printed photos. And the bigger, the better! Last summer we had photos of the kids taken and they’re my favorite! I’ve used…

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American families taking ‘divergent paths’

Sep. 11, 2013 — After a period of relative calm during the 1990s, rapid changes in American families began anew during the 2000s, a new analysis suggests.Young people delayed marriage longer than ever before, permanent singlehood increased, and divorce and remarriage continued to rise during the first decade of the century.But the most troubling finding, researchers say, may be how American families have taken divergent paths: White people, the educated and the economically secure have much more stable family situations than minorities, the uneducated and the poor.”The state of American families has become increasingly polarized,” said Zhenchao Qian, author of the new study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.”Race and ethnicity, education, economics and immigration status are increasingly linked to how well families fare.”Qian said the end result of the continuing changes he found in the 2000s is that “there is no longer any such thing as a typical American family.”Qian’s analysis, based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, among other sources, is contained in a new report for the US2010 Project, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University.Qian said the Great Recession of the late 2000s played a large role in the changes he saw in American families during the decade covered by this study.”There is no doubt that the gap between America’s haves and have-nots grew larger than ever during the 2000s,” he said.”This gap has shaped American families in multiple ways. It influences the kind of families we live in and the kind of family environment in which we raise our children.”The recession may be a big reason why young people delayed marriage longer than ever before, with many moving back with their parents as they search for work or weather financial difficulties. In 2008-2010, 43 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds and 19 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds lived with their parents.Meanwhile, the percentage of U.S.-born women aged 20-24 who have ever been married declined from 31 percent to 19 percent between 2000 and 2008-2010. For men, the decline was from 21 percent to 11 percent.By ages 50 to 54, 13 percent of American-born men and 10 percent of women remained unmarried.Divorce and remarriage also increased during the decade. Among currently married men, the proportion who were married more than once increased from 17 percent in 1980 to 25 percent in 2008-2010. Similar results were found for women.”We’re seeing more evidence of a ‘marriage-go-round’ in which people go from marriage to divorce to remarriage, sometimes multiple times,” Qian said.But all of these results mask the important differences in family outcomes depending on race, education, immigrant status and economic status. Race was especially important.African Americans had the lowest percentage ever married at every age group, the highest proportion of permanent singlehood by ages 50-54, lower levels of cohabitation, highest divorce-to-marriage ratios, and a larger share of remarriages.”A lot of this can be linked to the poor economic circumstances of African Americans,” he said.”Unemployment, underemployment and poor economic prospects have a strong negative effect on whether people get married and stay married. African Americans are more likely than other groups to experience all of these problems.”Education also had a strong role in family life. …

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Discovery shows cerebellum plays important role in sensing limb position and movement

Sep. 4, 2013 — Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute announced today study findings showing, for the first time, the link between the brain’s cerebellum and proprioception, or the body’s ability to sense movement and joint and limb position. Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the study uncovers a previously unknown perceptual deficit among cerebellar patients, suggesting that damage to this portion of the brain can directly impact a person’s ability to sense the position of their limbs and predict movement. This discovery could prompt future researchers to reexamine physical therapy tactics for cerebellar patients, who often have impaired coordination or appear clumsy.The sense of proprioception arises from the brain’s readout of signals from receptors in muscles, joints and ligaments, but also from the brain’s predictions of how motor commands will move the limb. The latter can only contribute to proprioception when a person actively moves their own body. To date, researchers and neurologists believed that proprioception did not occur in the cerebellum, and thus, damage to the cerebellum did not affect proprioception.”Proprioception was previously not considered a factor in the therapy or recovery of cerebellar patients. In fact, previous research has shown that individuals with cerebellum damage and no other clinical neurological impairments have normal proprioception when their limbs are moved passively in a clinical setting,” says Amy J. Bastian, Ph.D., PT, director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Kennedy Krieger Institute. “However, when these patients move their limbs actively, they exhibit significant proprioceptive impairment.”Additionally, researchers found that proprioception in healthy subjects was impaired when unpredictable dynamics, or small disturbances to the cerebellum, were incorporated into active movement. This suggests that muscle activity alone is likely insufficient to improve perception of limb placement, and proprioception should be taken into consideration when determining therapeutic practices for cerebellar patients.Study Results and MethodologyThe study compared 11 healthy people (control group) to 11 patients with cerebellar damage (caused by spinocerebellar ataxia, sporadic cerebellar ataxia or autosomal-dominant cerebellar ataxia type III) but no evidence of white matter damage, spontaneous nystagmus or atrophy to the brainstem. …

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Low inflammation may explain healthy metabolic status in some obese people

Aug. 27, 2013 — Reduced levels of inflammation may explain how some obese people are able to remain metabolically healthy, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).Obesity generally is linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. Some people who are obese, however, do not develop high blood pressure and unfavorable cholesterol profiles — factors that increase the risk of metabolic diseases. This phenomenon is described as metabolically healthy obesity. Although estimates vary widely, as much as 35 percent of the obese population may be metabolically healthy.”In our study, metabolically healthy people — both obese and non-obese — had lower levels of a range of inflammatory markers,” said the study’s lead author, Catherine Phillips, BSc, PhD, of University College Cork in Ireland. “Regardless of their body mass index, people with favorable inflammatory profiles also tended to have healthy metabolic profiles.”The cross-sectional study was conducted between 2010 and 2011 at a large primary care center in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. Researchers analyzed data from 2,040 participants in the Cork and Kerry Diabetes and Heart Disease Study (Phase II). Participants, who were between the ages of 50 and 69, completed lifestyle questionnaires, physical and clinical assessments, and underwent blood testing so their body mass index (BMI), metabolic profiles and inflammatory markers could be determined.Researchers examined levels of several inflammatory markers. People who were metabolically healthy had reduced counts of white blood cells and acute-phase response proteins, which proliferate when inflammation occurs. Metabolically healthy people also had higher levels of adiponectin, a hormone that has an anti-inflammatory effect, compared to their metabolically unhealthy counterparts. …

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Removing a protein enhances defense against bacteria in CGD mice

Aug. 1, 2013 — Deletion of a protein in white blood cells improves their ability to fight the bacteria staphylococcus aureus and possibly other infections in mice with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), according to a National Institutes of Health study. CGD, a genetic disorder also found in people, is marked by recurrent, life-threatening infections. The study’s findings appear online in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.A team of researchers from NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) compared three groups: CGD-afflicted mice with the protein Olfm4; CGD-afflicted mice in which the protein had been deleted, and healthy mice in which the protein had been deleted. Olfm4, also known as olfactomedin 4, is sometimes helpful in limiting tissue damage but can also hinder white blood cells’ ability to kill bacteria.The researchers found that the white blood cells in mice without the protein could better withstand staphylococcus aureus infection, a major threat to patients with CGD.”Although treatment for CGD has greatly improved over the past several years, the disease remains challenging,” said Dr. Wenli Liu, staff scientist and lead author. “Our research suggests a novel strategy that might pave the way toward developing new treatments to fight against common and often deadly infections.”The results also suggest another potential method to treat methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other drug-resistant bacteria in patients without CGD, used alongside other therapies. MRSA is a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics most often used to treat staph infections. Most commonly contracted in hospitals, MRSA represents a significant public health threat.”Over the years, MRSA and other bacteria have evolved to be resistant to many antibiotics,” said Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., NIDDK director and study lead. …

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Intestinal bacteria linked to white blood cell cancer

July 16, 2013 — Researchers from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) have discovered that specific types of bacteria that live in the gut are major contributors to lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells that are part of the human immune system. The study, led by Robert Schiestl, member of the JCCC and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, environmental health sciences, and radiation oncology, was published online recently in the journal Cancer Research.In rodents, intestinal bacteria influence obesity, intestinal inflammation, and certain types of epithelial cancers. Those cancers affect the coverings of the stomach, liver or colon. However, little is known about the identity of the bacterial species that promote the growth of or protect the body from cancer, or about their effect on lymphoma.Up to 1,000 different species of bacteria (intestinal microbiota) live in the human gut. Intestinal microbiota number 100 trillion cells; over 90% of the cells in the body are bacteria. The composition of each person’s microbiome — the body’s bacterial make-up — is very different, due to the original childhood source of bacteria, and the effects of diet and lifestyle.Schiestl’s group wanted to determine whether differences in peoples’ microbiomes affect their risk for lymphoma, and whether changing the bacteria can reduce this risk. They studied mice with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a genetic disease that in humans and mice is associated with a high rate of B-cell lymphoma. They discovered that, of mice with A-T, those with certain microbial species lived much longer than those with other bacteria before developing lymphoma, and had less of the gene damage (genotoxicity) that causes lymphoma.”This study is the first to show a relationship between intestinal microbiota and the onset of lymphoma,” Schiestl said. “Given that intestinal microbiota is a potentially modifiable trait, these results hold considerable promise for intervention of B cell lymphoma and other diseases.”The scientists were also able to create a detailed catalog of bacteria types with promoting or protective effects on genotoxicity lymphoma, which could be used in the future to create combined therapies that kill the bacteria that promote cancer (such as antibiotics) and expand the bacteria that protect from cancer (such as probiotics).This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), JCCC, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, NASA, University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program, and the UCLA Graduate Division.

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Interspecies transplant works in first step for new diabetes therapy

July 12, 2013 — In the first step toward animal-to-human transplants of insulin-producing cells for people with type 1 diabetes, Northwestern Medicine® scientists have successfully transplanted islets, the cells that produce insulin, from one species to another. And the islets survived without immunosuppressive drugs.Northwestern scientists developed a new method that prevented rejection of the islets, a huge problem in transplants between species, called xenotransplantation.”This is the first time that an interspecies transplant of islet cells has been achieved for an indefinite period of time without the use of immunosuppressive drugs,” said study co-senior author Stephen Miller. “It’s a big step forward.””Our ultimate goal is to be able to transplant pig islets into humans, but we have to take baby steps,” said Xunrong Luo, M.D., also co-senior author of the study that will be published online July 12 in the journal Diabetes. “Pig islets produce insulin that controls blood sugar in humans.”Luo is an associate professor of nephrology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and medical director of the Human Islet Cell Transplantation Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Miller is the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Feinberg.For people with hard-to-control type 1 diabetes, a transplant of insulin-producing islets from a deceased donor is one important way to control their chronic disease, in which their bodies do not produce insulin. However, there is a severe shortage of islet cells from deceased donors. Many patients on waiting lists don’t receive the transplant or suffer damage to their heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys while they wait.Using islets from another species would provide wider access to transplants for humans and solve the problem. But concerns about controlling rejection of transplants from a different species have made that approach seem insurmountable until now.In the new study, scientists persuaded the immune systems of mice to recognize rat islets as their own and not reject them. Notably, the method did not require the long-term use of drugs to suppress the immune system, which have serious side effects. The islets lived and produced insulin in the mice for at least 300 days, which is as long as scientists followed the mice.While the barrier from rats to mice is probably lower than from pigs to humans, the study showed interspecies islet transplants are possible and without immunosuppressive drugs, Luo said.In the study, the rat splenocytes, a type of white blood cell located in the spleen, were removed and treated with a chemical that caused their deaths. …

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Brain structural deficits may contribute to increased functional connections between brain regions implicated in depression

July 8, 2013 — Major depressive disorder is associated with a dysregulation of brain regions including the prefrontal cortex and limbic system. The relationship between structural and functional abnormalities in these brain regions in depressed patients is far from clear. However, both types of changes are assumed to underlie the symptoms of this disorder..This lack of understanding prompted Dr. Bart de Kwaasteniet at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam and his colleagues to use a multimodal neuroimaging approach to further investigate this relationship.The researchers, led by Professor Damiaan Denys, recruited 18 patients with major depressive disorder and 24 healthy individuals, all of whom underwent multiple neuroimaging scans. They specifically focused on the structural and functional connectivity between the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial temporal lobe, two regions that are connected by a white matter tract called the uncinate fasciculus. These regions are known to be involved in the regulation of emotion and memory.de Kwaasteniet explained their findings: “We identified decreased structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus connecting the medial temporal lobe and the subgenual ACC. Furthermore, we identified an increased functional connection between these regions in major depression relative to controls. Importantly, we identified a negative correlation between the integrity of this white matter tract and the functional connection between the subgenual ACC and bilateral hippocampus in major depression.”These results suggest that structural disturbances in the uncinate fasciculus contribute to abnormally high functional interactions among brain circuits associated with the symptoms of depression. “This leads to the hypothesis that abnormalities in brain structure lead to differences in connectivity between brain areas in depressive disorder,” added de Kwaasteniet.However, they also hypothesized that the reverse may be true as well. In other words, that the increased functional connectivity among these brain regions leads to structural changes in the brain’s white matter fibers by means of an abnormally increased signal transduction. …

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White dwarf star throws light on possible variability of a constant of Nature

July 4, 2013 — An international team led by the University of New South Wales has studied a distant star where gravity is more than 30,000 times greater than on Earth to test its controversial theory that one of the constants of Nature is not a constant.Dr Julian Berengut and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the strength of the electromagnetic force — known as alpha — on a white dwarf star.Their results, which do not contradict the variable constant theory, are to be published in the journal Physical Review Letters. Dr Berengut, of the UNSW School of Physics, said the team’s previous research on light from distant quasars suggests that alpha — known as the fine-structure constant — may vary across the universe.”This idea that the laws of physics are different in different places in the cosmos is a huge claim, and needs to be backed up with solid evidence,” he says.”A white dwarf star was chosen for our study because it has been predicted that exotic, scalar energy fields could significant alter alpha in places where gravity is very strong.””Scalar fields are forms of energy that often appear in theories of physics that seek to combine the Standard Model of particle physics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity.””By measuring the value of alpha near the white dwarf and comparing it with its value here and now in the laboratory we can indirectly probe whether these alpha-changing scalar fields actually exist.”White dwarfs are very dense stars near the ends of their lives. The researchers studied the light absorbed by nickel and iron ions in the atmosphere of a white dwarf called G191-B2B. The ions are kept above the surface by the star’s strong radiation, despite the pull of its extremely strong gravitational field.”This absorption spectrum allows us to determine the value of alpha with high accuracy. We found that any difference between the value of alpha in the strong gravitational field of the white dwarf and its value on Earth must be smaller than one part in ten thousand,” Dr Berengut says.”This means any scalar fields present in the star’s atmosphere must only weakly affect the electromagnetic force.” Dr Berengut said that more precise measurements of the iron and nickel ions on earth are needed to complement the high-precision astronomical data.”Then we should be able to measure any change in alpha down to one part per million. That would help determine whether alpha is a true constant of Nature, or not.”

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Rocket-launched camera reveals highways and sparkles in the solar atmosphere

June 30, 2013 — Using an innovative new camera on board a sounding rocket, an international team of scientists have captured the sharpest images yet of the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The team discovered fast-track ‘highways’ and intriguing ‘sparkles’ that may help answer a long-standing solar mystery. Prof. Robert Walsh of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) will present the new results on Monday 1 July at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews, Scotland.With partners in the United States and Russia, the UCLan team used a sounding rocket to launch the NASA High Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA. During its short flight, the Hi-C team obtained images of the solar atmosphere (the solar corona) five times sharper than anything seen before and acquired data at a rate of about one image every five seconds.The new camera observed the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light and focused on a large, magnetically-active sunspot region. Images from Hi-C reveal a number of new features in the corona, including ‘blobs’ of gas ricocheting along ‘highways’ and bright dots that switch on and off rapidly which the group call ‘sparkles’.In the new images, small clumps of electrified gas (plasma) at a temperature of about one million degrees Celsius are seen racing along highways shaped by the Sun’s magnetic field. These blobs travel at around 80 km per second (the equivalent of 235 times the speed of sound on Earth), fast enough to travel the distance from Glasgow to London in 7 seconds. The highways are 450 km across, roughly the length of Ireland from north to south.The flows of material are inside a so-called solar filament, a region of dense plasma that can erupt outwards from the Sun. These eruptions, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), carry billions of tonnes of plasma into space. If a CME travels in the right direction it can interact with Earth, disturbing the terrestrial magnetic field in a ‘space weather’ event that can have a range of destructive consequences from damaging satellite electronics to overloading power grids on the ground. …

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