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The Power of Two

Crinkle Wrinkle Free
October 16, 2014 4:25 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Today a gray hair sprang up when I started rinsing out the shampoo from my morning shower. Not so happy about gray hairs, but I am happy to report no wrinkles -- or, better yet, no crow’s feet. For those not familiar with signs of aging, crow’s feet otherwise known as "laugh lines" are those lines that radiate from the eyes. Once you start getting crow’s feet, even makeup won’t help hide them

There are a numerous reasons why people start getting crow’s feet as they age. One rationale is that the skin starts to lose its collagen and elastin, which result in wrinkles. Geneticists say that another reason for those laugh lines are heredity, and still others say that the origins of crow’s feet are the result of years of laughing, frowning and squinting.

I am not a big fan of crow’s feet, so I try to refrain from making big facial expressions when I laugh. Keeping in mind that the world is my playground keeps me from frowning. And finally, as much as I love looking up at clouds I try to avoid that activity when it is sunny as to avoid squinting at the sunlight and smoke. So far, so good.

Health experts recommend that hydrating skin often is an excellent way to avoid laugh lines. It is recommended that one should drink plenty of water, moisturize the skin with eye creams and wear sunscreen when outdoors.

For those of you who didn’t heed the aforementioned avoidance tips and have already started to develop wrinkles around the eyes, don’t fret. The government agency known as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a form of botulinum toxin known to treat those unwanted lines.

This botulinum toxin (known as Botox Cosmetic) is an injectable drug, which contains small amounts of the toxin produced by the clostridium botulinum bacterium. It is reported to temporarily paralyzing muscles, reducing the furrowed appearance of the skin thereby smoothing away wrinkles around the eyes.

According to the news, this drug treatment is the only current FDA approved medication for eye wrinkles. The most common side effects, according to the government agency, involve swollen eyelids.

Automation on Rise
October 14, 2014 10:39 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Candida is a common source of hospital-acquired infections, a fungus that affects the blood stream, and is occurring more frequently to become the fourth most common pathogen found in blood cultures in the U.S.

The infections resulting from Candida can lead to sepsis, a dangerous life-threatening complication where inflammation throughout the body can damage multiple organs and result in septic shock. Candida infections in the blood have a mortality rate of 40 percent, due largely to the extended time needed to test blood for the pathogen.

Faster automated test results are one the rise. A wonderful team of life scientists have come to the rescue with the creation fast result test used within their clinical studies. The fast results producing test is known as “T2Candida,” which identified the pathogen in whole blood samples in a few hours, rather than the two-to-five days needed by current tests.

This inventive tool is the brain child of employees from T2 Biosystems, a Lexington, Massachusetts biotechnology company, along with life science colleagues from Brown University and Harvard University medical schools.

At this writing, their technology is still considered investigational and not yet approved by FDA for clinical use. However, this faster testing tool is very innovative and will bring a tremendous boost to laboratories worldwide since the rapid detection of pathogen can lead to early intervention that will ultimately save lives.

Stepping Up Tests
October 9, 2014 3:37 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

The growth of sports lab testing on illicit drug use and abuse is on the rise due to the seriousness of blood boosting. Yearly, over 100,000 sports drug tests are conducted worldwide at a cost of $30 million. The hope is that the lab tests detect and deter drug abuse among competitors.

With so much money on the line for both individual athletes and their countries, the temptation for the use of sports enhancement drugs is powerful. Huge sums of money and prestige are the rewards of a sporting event well done.

Just about every type of sport -- including archery, gymnastics, even water polo -- has seen steroid blood boosting abuses, or doping as it is sometimes called. Steroids have been uncovered in the test specimens of amateurs and professional athletes at both high school and college levels.

In early 2000, laboratorians gained significant global recognition and employment opportunities when approached by sports authorities to join forces to uncover and discourage drug abuses. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was founded in 1999 after a doping scandal during the 1998 Tour de France occurred. WADA is an international agency which awards accreditation to testing labs. Currently, up to thirty-four testing laboratories have been awarded accreditation by this global agency.

Athletes violating illegal drug use are operating on a risk-reward factor. They know they will be tested and retested on an ongoing basis throughout the sporting event, with a high risk is getting caught. But the reward of instant notoriety, vast wealth, and multiple endorsement contacts for many abusers outweighs the risk.

Enhancement drugs are sheer boosters. The best analogy is these drugs introduced into the blood stream are similar to pouring super turbo gasoline into racing cars. We know that the enhanced racing cars are going to run faster than the racing car with just normal gasoline pumped in. “Jacked up” gasoline or blood it is considered cheating, in that the normal attributes are enhanced giving the victor an unfair advantage. So, as drug use and abuse increases, undoubtedly the need for lab testing will rise as well.

Vitamin Tidbit
October 7, 2014 10:56 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

As scientists, we know that vitamin D is essential for the formation, growth and repair of bones -- and for normal calcium absorption and immune function. Healthcare studies are quick to lay out the multiple benefits of vitamin D, which include but are not limited to immune system regulation; it can also reduce the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms; it has been shown to reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women; various studies have shown that people with adequate levels of vitamin D have a significantly lower risk of developing cancer; and high vitamin D doses can help people recover from tuberculosis more rapidly.

The field of mental health has just recently added another benefit. Specifically, the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2014 publication is all a buzz about the mental health risk of vitamin D deficiency. According to research, the potential of a schizophrenia diagnosis is raised when there is a marked deficient in this vitamin.

Specifically, individual lacking vitamin D are more at risk to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as opposed to persons who have sufficient levels of the vitamin in their system.

Why does vitamin D play such an important role in reducing the occurrence of this mental health disease? That tidbit is unknown at this time. But what is known is that observation studies and blood tests on vitamin D and schizophrenia reveals that patients with schizophrenia have lower vitamin D levels than healthy people, which leads to the thought that vitamin D deficiency is more common among people with schizophrenia.

Endocrinologists and food scientists are working collaboratively to better understand that why of this puzzle. Without a doubt, more research into the much-talked-about vitamin D will be forthcoming.

Undesired Outcome
September 30, 2014 10:16 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Our modern world has seen some unintentional, insane acts, but what I am about to write about borders on chilling thoughts.

Over the weekend, a friend of mine mentioned that there seems to be a problem with contaminated water being used to dilute pesticides sprayed on fresh foods. Virologists and food scientists are looking into the possibility that viruses are entering the food chain via pesticides.

According to my friend – who happens to be a microbiologist and a wanna-be chef – the report about this happenstance appeared in the International Journal of Food Microbiology (IJFM). If interested, the title of the 2012 article is “Persistence of Human Norovirus in Reconstituted Pesticides.” The article addresses the possibility that contaminated pesticide applications may be the source of viruses in fresh produce chains. In fact, the pesticides may be a potential source of noroviruses in fresh food supply chains.

It seems that farmers utilized a variety of water sources for producing fresh fruits and vegetables. Some test samples of waters from wells, rivers and lakes contained the human norovirus (hNoV).

I know it is summer, but if you can think back to previous winters, much of the news media covered the hNoV, which is also known as the winter vomiting bug, hNoV is one of the most common stomach bugs in the world.

The reason for the high alert on the hNoV bug is that the virus is highly contagious, causing vomiting and diarrhea, and the number of affected cases is growing. And what is worst is currently there is no cure.

So, it stands to reason that the consumption of fresh produce sprayed with contaminated water may be causing the frequent associated with outbreaks of hNoV. The IJFM article did state that it remains difficult to identify where in the supply chain the virus first enters production, but ongoing analysis is being conducted of several varieties of pesticides to track and trace the origin of the virus.

I don’t even know how to process this unintentional public health occurrence. It’s like a bad television sci-fi rerun of the Twilight Zone. Hopefully the collaborative efforts of food scientist, microbiologists and virologists can get to the bottom of the issue and save the day.

Tickled Pink
September 25, 2014 3:41 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

I have always loved the expression "tickled pink," which essentially means that one is very much pleased and entertained.

Well, my friends, I don’t know about the pink part, but I can truly say that the art of tickling has reached new and innovative heights. Yesterday, I was reading an interesting article about a team of scientists who have uncovered that the stimulation of a patient’s nerves in their ear may improve heart health.

It seems that it was already known that the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine, which when used relieves labor pains, can also improve cardiac performance when electrical pulses are applied to the small raised flap at the front of the ear canal.

The electrical stimulation -- which causes a tickling sensation when applied -- is effective because the pulses influences of the heart’s nervous system by reducing the nervous signals that can drive failing hearts too hard.

I am particularly excited about this research because, first of all, it is noninvasive. And, secondly, everyone should find value in this study because the World Health Organization (WHO) states that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death across the entire planet.

This innovative use of the TENS machine may be just one of the right prescriptions the doctor ordered. In a sense, the research and its findings supports the old proverb which says, “A happy heart is a healthy heart.”

Sleeping Virus
September 23, 2014 1:55 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

What the world now knows about the human immunodeficiency virus infection / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) has expanded tremendously over the past decade. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies have done an excellent job in teaching, as well as research. HIV/AIDS is a global issues that is being dealt with on a worldwide scale. Just recently, Denmark made a significant mark on the research front.

Two Denmark institutions named Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital recently reported that they have uncovered via a pilot study that the anti-cancer drug romidepsin may increase the virus production in latent HIV-infected cells. HIV can hide in a "state of hibernation" in the so-called CD4 cells.

This vital information was discovered during a pilot study by HIV researchers from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital. The study is part of a bigger research project investigating the possibilities of combining activation of HIV and a vaccine to strengthen the ability of the immune system to fight HIV. The findings were shared in this year’s international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia.

What is amazing is that this same research team had earlier shown that a medication called drug panobinostat could activate hidden HIV in the cells. But with this most recent pilot study the scientists have been demonstrate the possibility to activate the hidden virus to levels detectable in standard blood methods.

This is exciting research findings, in that the mechanism to activate and expose the hibernating HIV virus may lead to future interventions.

Play to Win
September 18, 2014 11:59 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Every blue moon, when the money prize skyrockets, I purchase a lottery ticket. Generally, what drives me is the multi-million dollar money prize. However, just recently I learned that our gambling impulses may actually be driven by our genes.

Scientists uncovered that there are two major areas of the brain, namely the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum, that control our competitive thinking.

Collaborative studies conducted by both the University of California (UC)-Berkeley and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) involved performing brain scans on several genes which affect how gamblers deal with trial-and-error and betting learning.

The upshot of their research is that it suggests that people’s gambling and stock market investing strategies are determined, for the most part, by their genes and the release of a dopamine neurotransmitter chemical. This chemical is released by brain cells to signal other brain cells during the reward and pleasure-seeking activities.

The researchers pointed out that previous research has clearly shown the important function of neurotransmitter dopamine in social interactions. The UC/UIUC scientific endeavor is the first study to illustrate the interactions to specific genes which regulates dopamine functioning.

Eight Hour Nap
September 16, 2014 11:45 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

What defines learning?  When does learning actually start? How does learning occur? Theses all question that regardless of your life science specialty, you have probably pondered.

Each of you probably has your own answer, but here’s what several University of Arizona (UA) scientists think about the learning puzzle box.The UA team took a unique approach in that they looked at the infant learning development of 15-month old infants. Their findings were interest. They found that infants need ample sleep in order to learn about the world around them. Sleep deficiencies, including interrupted naps impair their learning process.

In fact the research team, who titled their work “Early Learning in Infants May Depend on Sleep”, found that infants who could garner daytime naps displayed a higher level of learning.

In their research, the team played recorded of "phrases" created from the same three syllables, until the babies became familiar with the syllables. These phrases were taught in between during scheduled sleep and nap time with varying allotments of sleep for the test groups.

The infant’s facial expression as they recordings were played helped the scientists rate their level of attention. The findings revealed that infants with longer glazes who were sleep deprived, were different than those that received ample sleep.

The study contained more details such as REM analysis and flashing lights in combination with the phases all of which are too detailed to highlight within this space. But the just of the theme is that this ingenious research study has finally nailed down early learning patterns.

I am looking forward to reading up on the next phase of research coming out of UA and perhaps how it can be augmented to tie into the sleep research for Parkinson disease (PD).  Studies have revealed that sleep patterns definitely play a vital role on the benefits of sleep for PD patients and cognitive functioning. Specifically, recent studies have shown that there are benefits in daytime naps, which suggests a specific relationship between sleep and this illness.

Cloaking Device Not Needed
September 12, 2014 9:51 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

According to Wikipedia, “A cloaking device is a theoretical or fictional stealth technology that can cause objects, such as spaceships or individuals, to be partially or wholly invisible to parts of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.”

Basically what this means in non-Einstein-physics jargon is light could be reflected and absorbed by the object causing it to be visible or invisible dependent on light manipulations.

Now for the question of the day for all sci-fi fans: Who doesn’t want a cloaking device? The beneficial possibilities of a visible-to-invisible device are endless.

Cloaking devices are no longer fictional, they are real. In fact in 2013 China stated that they were leading the scientific pursuit for the design of the world's first invisibility cloak.

But St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital genetic scientists have gone one step further than concealment. It seems that their laboratory experiments have uncovered a way to turn brain tumor cells into normal cells.

Specifically, what the life scientists of the hospital’s  Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology department have uncovered is that three proteins called” BMP2”, “BMP4” and “BMP7” can actually  stop the growth of brain tumor cells and turn them into normal brain cells. They suggest that this method is a safer way to treat rare but often fatal childhood brain tumor, medullo-blastoma. The traditional and conventional therapies combine surgery, irradiation and chemotherapy, all of which can lead to permanent neurocognitive impairment.

Although much of the research in this area is still in the developing stages, it still shows tremendous promise for the future of molecular medicine.

Bully Named Ox
September 9, 2014 10:24 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

A bully’s mean attitude stomps into the china shop of a person’s life like an ox. It does not matter what age you are, where you work, or live, bullies are everywhere. Now it seems that these relentless oppressors come in microscopic sizes too.

Just recently Netherland scientists have uncovered evidence that oxytocin hormone, a neurotransmitter, which is created in the brain leads to internal group conflict. Specifically, the neurobiological researchers put forth the theory that this neuropeptide can lead people to an act of self-sacrifice to benefit their own group, thereby showing aggression against threatening out-groups. The results f this study supports the belief that oxytocin promote trust.

There are new published works that refer to oxytocin as the "bonding hormone". It seems that this hormone functions as the cause of defensive aggression to neutralize a threatening out-group. When the competitors are not considered a threat, then the hormone acts in an altruistic ways towards its own group.

The neurobiological summation of all of this is that conflicts between groups escalate when other groups are seen as a threat. And then the threat is low, conflict acceleration is less low.

The Netherland researchers believe that their findings supports Charles Darwin’s thesis on evolutionary altruistic group behavior at the molecular level.

People Pet Paradox
September 4, 2014 1:14 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

What in the world is going on? Today I read two conflicting articles regarding the global shortage of food for people and the worldwide abundance of food for pets.

The first document stated that there is a severe shortage of food for humans and literally thousands are starving on a daily basis. Then the other document, which was separated by just a few web page clicks away, stated that four out of five pet owners are spending $5 to $7 billion dollars annually in order to feed their animal companions gourmet meals. It seems pet owners - who can afford it - are splurging on food purchases loaded with added antioxidants, protein and vitamins because they consider their pets as members of their family.

Again, what the what?

Thank the heavens food consumption or lack thereof for humans is moving to the forefront. For example, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (UMIE) looking into the food shortage in a unique and innovative way. Scientists at this institution have discovered that existing land dedicated for crops could feed a billion of additional people without adding hardship to the environment. This is important since the population is increasing.

Because farming, deforestation, and fertilization activities account for close to 35% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in Brazil, China, India and the United States are and other UMIE and other reports reveal that states that "feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth's already strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge", but it is not.

There are countless worldwide studies underway by various research institutions seeking to focus on improving natural food systems in targeted regions, so that crop actions may make it feasible to reduce damage to the agriculture's environmental and at the same time meet basic eating requirements of billions of people.

Nose Digestion
August 26, 2014 2:44 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

The human body is equipped with 5 senses: sight, touch, hear, smell and taste. Our sense of smell as it relates to eating is important because it helps us enjoy the favor of food and drinks. As laboratory biologists we know that the sense of smell -- like the sense of taste -- is part of your chemosensory system, or the chemical senses.

Most people tend to think of digestion as consisting of only tasting, chewing, swallowing and the inner organs churning foods. However, digestion is really a two-part process: the first part being the intake of food, otherwise known as mechanical; and the second part, which the chemical digestion which begins when you smell food. Nerve impulses from your nose trigger the chemical release of enzymes and other substances that will eventually break down food to release the nutrients inside. So as you can see when eating, the smell sense is as vital as the senses for sight and taste.

The other day a news announcer stated that a team of Florida State University (FSU) neuroscientists have uncovered high-fatty diets foods may adversely affect the smelling sense, so much so that individuals to lose their sense of smell. This FSU study was reported to be the first of its kind to show a correlation between high-fat diets and a loss of smell.

Interestingly enough the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) addresses the impact and treatment of smell disorders. Statistics collected by this governmental agency reveal upwards of 2% of U.S. citizens report having problems with their sense of smell. NIDCD's website states that smell disorders cause noticeable parallel problems with the sense of taste as well.

Furthermore, the NIDCD website states that when a person's "smell is impaired some people change their eating habits. Some may eat too little and lose weight while others may eat too much and gain weight."

On another but similar note the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that the global obesity rates are high and increasing. NIH studies reveal that 2 in 3 adults are considered obese and an estimated one in three children and adolescents are considered obese and an estimated one in three children and adolescents are considered to be overweight.

The news story mentioned that as a result of the pioneering results from the high-fatty diet/lose of smell research, FSU and other private and governmental institutions most likely will examine the correlation between high-sugar diets and smell and whether or not exercise could slow down a high-fat diet's impact on smell.

Epically Speaking
August 22, 2014 12:48 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Examining the mechanics of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is poetry in motion. The genius of DNA is that this nucleic acid that carries the genetic information in the cell and is capable of self-replication and synthesis of RNA. However, with any science- poetic or not - a glance at ethical behavior is necessary.

Epically and ethically speaking any DNA research work is both challenging and powerful as the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) would tell you. Genetic research raises ethical and moral questions that the public, researchers, and policy-makers must consider.

Ethics has and continues to play a strong role in the field of genetics. The meaning of 'ethics' is hard to pin down, and the views many people have about ethics are shaky, because many people tend to equate ethics with their feelings. And although there are numerous debates regarding the long-term effectiveness of gene therapy, it is clear that future research endeavors will lead to a time when all diseases will be treated in individualized custom-made fashions.

One research project that may open the door to this future is the recent collaboration between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Single Cell Genomics Centre. Scientists at both institutions uncovered a powerful single-cell technique to help examine the impact of the environment on human development and the traits they inherit from our parents.

The new technique will assist genetic scientists in mapping epigenetic marks on the DNA within a single cell. Epigenetic marks are the chemical protein tags that that serve as DNA cellular memory or recorder. This recorder remembers a cell's experience long after it has faded.

This environmental memory can range from diet makeup through illness episodes. The partnership research teams believe that these marks will help in understanding the stages from as early as embryonic development. The future clinical applications and pharmaceutical custom-made treatments may be explored due to this ground-breaking work.

Cognitive Seeds
August 20, 2014 3:37 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Will the nature versus nurture debate ever be resolved? You know the controversy. The one that addresses the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited by nature (i.e. genetic) or acquired (i.e. learned) characteristics. For decades, the nature/nurture debates were a monopoly within the psychology field, but lately life scientists have jumped on the band wagon. And it is a good thing they have, because the electronic advancements in molecular technology will one day soon answer many of the lingering nature/nurture questions.

To put the large volume of genetic versus environmental learning theories to bed, keen scientific and evidence-based studies are required. You see as early as the 1800's, academia deemed reading, writing and arithmetic as the basic necessary skills to build higher education upon. However, the primary question has been how can humans be better equipped to learn three these vital skills.

Currently there is global research being conducted to address this inquiry. For example, research conducted in the genetics department at the University College London (UCL), has revealed that about 50% of our genes Influence how well a person will read and do math. It has been long understood that math and reading abilities can be attributed to the family tree, however the genes affecting these skills acquirement characteristics have gone unidentified. Because of the vagueness of which genes are involved in reading and math cognitive development, a team of scientists from UCL, King's College London and the University of Oxford are leading studies to investigate the genetic basis of basic cognitive characteristics.

The collaborative study will examine the impact of genetics on basic reading writing and arithmetic performance skills of close to 3,000 British elementary school children. Educational tests will be administered and combined with DNA data. The hope is to find significant correlations in the genetics that influence mathematics and reading.

Another example involves similar skills attainment studies that are being conducted on the other side of the planet. Specifically, within the United States human development scientists at Ohio State University are conducting studies with identical and fraternal twin children to ascertain the role genetics reading skills. The research study titled the Western Research Reading Project is testing about three hundred subjects. The ultimate goal is to reveal the influence of the environment on reading performance over time. What they may uncover will add to the understanding of the environmental influences on reading skills, thereby settling a few nature/nurture questions.