Feeding Infants Peanut Products Cuts Allergy Risk

Peanuts - BS9244

Peanuts - BS9244

A recent study by British scientists found that infants as young as four months old were 86% less likely to develop peanut allergies when fed peanut-based snacks.  Allergy rates for children who were already sensitive to peanuts also fell from 35% to 11%.  It is believed that "at-risk" children could potentially benefit from this new diet by gradually exposing them to peanuts in order to build a tolerance.  It is not yet known if this tactic will work for other food allergies, but parents are warned not to try this at home. 

Allergy rates in the US have quadrupled since 2008, with factors such as cleaner homes, processed food and changing gut bacteria possibly effecting the body's allergic response to normally harmless antigens.  Despite the study's promising results, scientists still need to establish safety measures about when to start/stop the process, especially for children at higher risk.  Nonetheless, doctors may soon have a method to prevent a growing epidemic of food allergies in the future.

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Science's Quest for 'Drugs From Dirt'

Scientists from Rockefeller University recently discovered a potential new antibiotic, known as teixobactin, after screening uncultured bacteria with soil samples containing various soil nutrients and growth factors.  Researchers found that the compound was extremely effective against gram-positive bacteria that are normally antibiotic resistant, such as MRSA or Streptococcus pneumoniae.  The quest has begun to collect soil samples from around the world, particularly from unique or unexplored environments like caves and islands, to unearth new compounds produced by soil bacteria. 

Developing drugs from microbes found in the soil is nothing new.  Antibiotics such as penicillin are derived from compounds produced by the Penicillium soil fungi, known for causing mold and spoiling food.  However widespread misuse of modern antibiotics has contributed to the development of resistant strains of bacteria.  The organic diversity found in these new soil samples will hopefully lead to a new generation of antibiotics to combat the more dangerous strains of bacterial infections.

U.K. Approves Three-Parent Gene Therapy

In vitro fertilization - FC2298

In vitro fertilization - FC2298

The British government voted to allow researchers to pursue a controversial fertility treatment which involves altering an embryo's DNA in order to prevent certain genetic diseases.  In some situations, a mother's egg cell may contain disease-causing mutations in their mitochondrial DNA that may be passed on to their children.  The technique, known as mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy, involves extracting the genetic material from the mother's defective egg and transferring it to a donor egg with healthy mitochondria.  The resulting embryo will contain genetic information from the parents' nuclear DNA, while also carrying mitochondrial DNA from the egg donor.

Mitochondria are organelles responsible for a cell's energy production, and contain their own separate DNA which has not effect on inherited traits such as height, hair color, eye color, etc.  When genetic material in the mitochondria is faulty, cells are not able to work properly and result in mitochondrial disease.  Some children born with mitochondrial disease die within months or may exhibit a variety of symptoms later in life.  However some opponents cite that not enough is known about the possible long-term effects of DNA replacement therapy, as well as the ethical questions surrounding genetic modification.

Blueberries May Help Patients With Hypertension

Blueberry Heart - JA7955

Blueberry Heart - JA7955

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that daily blueberry consumption improved blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women.  Researchers performed a double-blind study on a group of women, ages 45-65, with pre- and stage 1-hypertension.  Half the participants were given daily servings of freeze-dried blueberry powder, while the other half received a placebo.  After eight weeks, blueberry eaters showed significant decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as an increase in levels of nitric oxide, a chemical known to relax and widen blood vessels.

Though the changes in blood pressure were modest compared to traditional blood pressure medications, a growing number of patients are turning to more natural remedies.  Blueberries in particular have demonstrated anti-hypertensive and vascular-protective abilities which other fruits have not been able to exhibit.

New Drug Combines Hormones to Treat Obesity and Diabetes

Research on obesity - BC4625

Research on obesity - BC4625

Researchers from the Hemholtz Diabetes Center in Munich, Germany were able to successfully test a drug on rodents which reversed the effects of obesity and diabetes over the course of three weeks.  At the end of the study, the fat mass of the rodents dropped by a third and their blood glucose fell by half.  The drug is a combination of the hormones glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP) and glucagon, which are responsible for regulating blood sugar and appetite.  The newly created hybird-hormone would be able to stimulate chemical signals to trigger the body's metabolism to lower blood glucose, burn fat, and lose weight. 

Bariatric surgery is typically reserved for patients suffering from life threatening obesity, and sometimes involves removing part of the stomach or small intestine to limit food intake.  Recent studies have shown that these procedures can alter the way hormones are released from the gut in order to stimulate weight loss.  This latest finding may be the first step in creating a drug with the benefits of weight loss surgery, without the risks associated with the operation.

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Cell Transplant Helps Paralyzed Man Walk Again

The brain and cervical spinal cord - FC3882

The brain and cervical spinal cord - FC3882

A 40 year old Polish man, who was paralyzed from the chest down in 2010, has regained his ability to walk after a team of Polish surgeons and British scientists transplanted sensory nerve cells into his injured spinal cord.  The treatment involves regenerative olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC's) found on olfactory bulbs, the sensory nerves responsible for our sense of smell.  Surgeons grew OEC's in a cell culture after removing one of the patient's olfactory bulbs, and grafted thin strips of nervous tissue harvested from his ankle to bridge a gap in the injured spinal cord.  The OEC's were injected into the spine, stimulating a pathway for spinal cord cells to regenerate along the harvested nerve grafts.

Six months after the treatment, the patient's legs had regained enough muscle and sensation for him to take his first steps using supportive rails and leg braces.  After two years of intensive physical rehabilitation, he can now walk on his own and has recovered some bladder and bowel sensation, as well as sexual function.  Since the transplant involved the patient's own cells, researchers note that there is no risk of rejection or need for immunosuppressive drugs, as seen in other transplant surgeries.

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Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29645760

American Life Expectancy Increases

Health in old age - SQ3597

Health in old age - SQ3597

A report from the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) on mortality rates in the U.S. showed that in 2012, life expectancy for Americans over 65 continued to increase.  It's estimated that men over 65 could live an additional 17.9 years, while women over 65 could expect to live up to 20.5 years longer.  In 1960, the average life expectancy of Americans over 65 was only 14.4 years.  Researchers note that differences in life expectancy related to race or ethnicity are also narrowing.

Fewer deaths from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and pneumonia, were all seen to decrease in 2012 compared to 2011.  As more patients learn to manage their disabilities or chronic illnesses more effectively, advances in medical technology and better treatment options may attribute to the increased longevity.

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Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db...

Athletes May Be At Greater Risk Of Dental Problems

Exercise - BC7130

Exercise - BC7130

A study conducted by The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that intense exercise and endurance training may put athletes at greater risk of developing cavities and other dental problems.  A previous study found that many athletes suffered from poor oral health, including higher levels of tooth decay, gum disease, and the erosion of tooth enamel (the hard, outer surface of a tooth).  Researchers assumed that poor oral hygiene or consuming sugary sports drinks and energy bars was affecting their oral health.  However, this most recent study indicates that the chemical composition of an athlete's saliva changes during exercise, which may be influencing dental decay.

Saliva plays an important role in not only digestion, but washing away bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.  You may produce less saliva during an intense workout, but researchers also found that athlete's saliva became more alkaline the longer they exercised, which can contribute to the development of tartar and plaque. 

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Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/i...

Researchers Developing an Artificial Spleen

Healthy spleen, artwork - RC7446

Healthy spleen, artwork - RC7446

Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a device that can filter toxins and pathogens out of the blood, in hopes of preventing the body's fatal immune response to blood infections known as sepsis.  The device, inspired by the spleen's ability to clean the blood, uses magnetic nanobeads coated with a protein found in humans known as MBL.  The MBL protein binds to the surface of different bacteria, viruses, and toxins, while a magnet in the device pulls the protein coated beads and pathogens out of blood filtered through the machine.

When the device was tested on rats infected with E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, the device improved survival rates and removed more than 90% of the bacteria from the rats' blood.  Researchers hope that by removing the majority of pathogens from a patient's blood, the body's immune system can easily fight off the remaining infection without resorting to the overuse of antibiotics. 

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Source: http://www.nature.com/news/artificial-sple...

Future Treatments for Asthma Attacks Involving the Nervous System

Respiratory System - BY1854

Respiratory System - BY1854

Genetic research is being conducted at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to see how the nervous system responds to asthma attacks, and the possible future of medications that can be used for treatment.  Asthma attacks are triggered by a hypersensitive immune response to exercise, temperature, dust or allergens, leading to the inflammation and constriction of a person's airways.  Sensitive bundles of neurons in the chest, branching from the vagus nerve, control the muscles in the airway that are responsible for contracting and relaxing. 

Researchers performed an experiment on mice by selectively turning off genes which expressed specific nerve cells.  When those mice were exposed to an allergen that would cause asthma-like symptoms, there was no airway constriction despite an immune response.  They also found that immune system molecules may even interact and alter a neuron's behavior to constrict an airway.  Researchers hope to develop drugs that can alter these neurons or its communication with the immune system in order to treat attacks or even reverse a person's hypersensitivity before an attack even begins.

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Source: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/07...