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The Power of Two

TKO Diseased Cells
November 20, 2014 11:12 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

The sport of boxing teaches people to be strong physically and mentally. Boxing teaches the skill of how to take a punch and not turn to run away when you see the menacing glove approaching your bare face. This sport reinforces the underline meaning of the physiological hormonal "fight or flight" response.

Well it seems that scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have rallied the cells to the boxing ring and are intent on arming them with boxing gloves to fight when disease is present. All boxers need a good coach and that is what these molecular and biochemical researchers are doing. They are teaching through the use of chemicals -- the disease and weak cells -- to fight against themselves for the goal of a technical knockout (TKO).

If I understand their research correctly, they prompt diseased cells to morph into chemical manufacturing sites so that they can act against the disease itself. So, instead of flight (i.e. dying out) the cells are being “coached” to fight.

According to TSRI Professor Matthew Disney and his colleagues, a cell can be used as a reaction vessel and a disease-causing defect as a catalyst to synthesize a treatment in a diseased cell. The actual treatment is synthesized only in diseased cells.

I know I am over simplifying their fascinating research findings. So, if interested in further review of  TSRI’s clinical and technical methodology, you can pull the International Chemistry Journal article, "A Toxic RNA Catalyzes the In Cellulo Synthesis of Its Own Inhibitor" – Volume 53, Issue 4 published August 27, 2014 and again on October 6, 2014.

In closing, I hope this team receives ongoing research grants and funding for this vital clinical study can only lead to an eventual TKO for diseased cells.

Score One for the Team
November 18, 2014 1:08 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

When a sports team has possession of the football, it can score points in several ways, such as field goals and touchdowns. It seems that a group of international scientists has just recently uncovered a genetic mechanism that controls the Streptococcus pneumonia, which causes infections which could lead to death

The bacterium pathogen Pneumococcal can be attributed to the leading cause of serious illness, including ear infections, meningitis, pneumonia, and sinusitis. This disease affects infants and the elderly and has an adverse effect across the globe.

Points against this brutal adversary are being gained thanks to the international research work from geneticists and pathologists from the joint efforts of the Pacific Biosciences and the three Universities of Leicester, Griffith and Adelaide. To provide supportive documentation for the research findings, statistical data analysis was conducted by a math team at the University of Leicester’s Department of Mathematics.

Specifically, this team has revealed that when a genetic switch is turned on, it that allows the bacterium to change its characteristics at-randomly into several alternative states. The varying states can produce a different outcome from harmless to a life-threatening disease.

The international team’s research findings left them with the conclusion that the pneumococcal is capable of producing subpopulations with distinct DNA methylation patterns. These subgroups can alter both gene expressions and resistance. Furthermore, each time the pathogen divides, any one of six different cell types can emerge.

This innovative study was funded European and Australian grants, including the 7th Framework Program of the European Commission’s Marie Curie projects. Strategic Support Fund and supported by innovative sequencing technology from Pacific Biosciences.

If you are interested, the study, entitled, “A Random Six-Phase Switch Regulates Pneumococcal Virulence via Global Epigenetic Changes,” can be reviewed by pulling a copy of the Nature Communications journal.

Melting Antifreeze
November 13, 2014 11:46 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Antifreeze has worn many faces, both positive and negative. On the positive side, it is used across the globe as a liquid used to cool engines. However there has been occasion where this chemical was viewed from the negative of poisoning.

For example, my first acquaintance with the negative side of antifreeze was during a freshman biology course, where I learnt that in the year 1937 there were multiple deaths across the nation when ill patients were dose with a brand new cough syrup. The FDA scientists found that the syrup was lethal because it was sweetened by a toxic compound known as diethylene glycol (antifreeze).

Moving forward into the year 2006, hundreds of Panamanian citizens died from taking medicine which was contaminated with diethylene glycol. It seems that diethylene glycol was mixed into over two hundred thousand bottles of cold medicine which was imported from a China pharmaceutical manufacturing company.

Antifreeze shows yet another face in that, just the other day, I was reading that there has been a major recall of a batch of popular whiskey, which was imported into the United States because the liquor sweetener contained a higher amount of the antifreeze ingredient propylene glycol than is allowed by the FDA.

However, there are some positive faces of antifreeze that melt away some of the adverse press. One such positive function is published in a study, “Antivirulence Properties of an Antifreeze Protein,” which is published in the Cell Reports, 2014, is the fascinating work by Yale University scientists. It seems that they have uncovered another face of antifreeze and this one is useful. In fact, this new antifreeze face has the potential of benefiting humans in the medical pathology arena.

Specifically, the scientists in this study have discovered that an antifreeze protein exists in tick insects and is activated during the winter months to ward off infection. The research hope is that this discovery many lead to a new class of antibiotics for humans.

The ultimate goal of the research study which is funded by the National Institutes of Health will be to synthesize the protein so that new medical therapies and pharmaceutical interventions may be created to fight of serious pathogens such as MRSA.

Hot Cup of DNA
November 11, 2014 10:26 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Coffee manufacturers and healthcare researchers have shared a long and happy relationship discovering the multiple benefits of the coffee bean. But who would have ever thought that the genetic DNA codes of A, T, C and G would share an equally made-in-heaven relationship with coffee as well? Molecular scientists and psychiatrists are collaboratively seeking to answer the multiple effects of habitual coffee drinking on the gene behavior.

Multiple health benefits of drinking coffee have been reported for over fifty years. Advantages of routine coffee drinking include, but are not limited to: Antioxidants and Cancer-Fighting Properties; Laxative-like Bowel Stimulation; Reduced Risk for Alzheimer and Parkinson's diseases and the Reduction of Gall Stones. In addition, studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers score significantly higher on cognitive ability tests and awareness exams.

Now an international Coffee and Caffeine Genetics Consortium have found that when examining DNA samples from 120,000 coffee drinking subjects with African –American and European ancestries that the caffeine influences each group’s coffee-drinking behavior.

The international research team has found six new genes underlying our coffee-slurping ways.

The study, led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, uncovered that of right genes: two relate to metabolism of caffeine: two were relating to the psychoactive effects of coffee; and two genes are related to lipid and glucose metabolism. Furthermore, this study reveals some insight as to why caffeine affects each person’s energy levels differently.

The scientists do say that culture most likely plays a role in the influence of coffee drinking behavior, but that there is significant evidence that there is genetic interplay as well.

I do drink coffee. Lots of it. I love coffee. So, of course, I am pleased as peas to see scientists taking a different approach to answer the mystery of habitual coffee drinking behaviors.

Crowd Control
November 6, 2014 2:14 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Many years ago in a biochemistry course, the professor proposed this question: If, when in crowded situations, humans act differently -- is the same true of biochemical reactions occurring in crowded intercellular spaces? Social scientists have long known that people act and react differently in large crowds, often unfavorably (i.e. riots), hence the reason for crowd control management. Now, there is a volume of research evolving supporting the school of thought that the biochemical reactions within cells behave differently when they experience intercellular crowding too.

Yes, biochemists can agree with psychologists and social scientists that molecular crowding inside cells has both significant physical and chemical behavioral consequences. Intercellular crowding is not a new concept, but recently the volume of work on this topic is growing.

What is intercellular crowding? According to R. John Ellis in his paper, ‘Macromolecular crowding: an important but neglected aspect of the intracellular environment,' “crowding presents an unusual combination of features: 1. It is ubiquitous, occurring in the interiors of all types of cell; 2. It is predicted by theory to have large effects on the interactions between all types of macromolecule, with consequent effects on the reaction rates and equilibrium of many macromolecular reactions; and 3. Despite the foregoing, it is a property that, with certain exceptions, is ignored by most biochemists.”

My understanding of the phenomena is that when there is a reduction of space available for each molecule, the end result can cause a boost in the concentration and a marked increase in the chemical potential.

On one side of the coin, microbiologists now know that there is a slowdown of molecular diffusion, which implies that diffusion-limited reactions occur slower. The slower-lower diffusion rates cause a counteracting, which makes the intermolecular reactions more difficult to predict.

But on the other flip-side, the closeness and coziness encourage collaborative kinetic reactivity. Similar to the survival and thriving organization processes of birds that fly in flock formation, swimming schools of fish and bee swarms.

As scientists continue to examine the benefits and disadvantages of intercellular crowding, it would be wise to keep in mind the humanistic mechanisms of crowd control, such as the prevention of adverse disorder. The goal should be to manipulate – if possible, the desired behavior toward a specific group action.

Clap On/Clap Off
November 4, 2014 11:48 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Who hasn’t heard of the “Clapper”? It is a sound activated on/off device that can switch off electric lights and appliances simply by clapping ones hands. Well the researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a biochemical clapper, in that they have uncovered an on/off switch aging cells. What’s more they have the data to support that the on-and-off switch in cells that may actually hold the answer to aging.

As lab biologists, we are taught that the human body’s cells divide constantly restock lung, skin, and other tissue cells with new cells. The sad part if, those cells cannot continue to divide and renew forever for with each division the telomere or ends of chromosomes shortens. The outcome is that eventually tissues and organs degenerate leading to old age.

The other day I was reading in the Genes and Development Journal, an interesting Salk research study conducted by Timothy M. Tucey, Victoria Lundblad and associates. As I am always interested in what causes aging and how it can be halted or reversed, their paper titled, “Regulated Assembly and Disassembly of the Yeast Telomerase Quaternary Complex” definitely *** my curiosity.

It seems the switch may control the cell’s mechanism that produces telomerase, which is an enzyme. This enzymogen system rebuilds telomeres which allow cells to divide indefinitely. But telomerase can be controlled.

In fact, in the Salk Institute study, scientists have discovered that telomerase can be turned off. Historically it was believed that telomerase was a constant, but the Salk team uncovered that the enzyme has an off switch, which starts a dismantling process. The scientists are examining how the off switch can be controlled for the purpose of slowing down the telomere shortening process of the telomeres.

If such switching manipulation could occur, the Salk team theorizes that better medical interventions could be developed for the diseases attributed to aging. This is some exciting work in that it will lead to other collaborative geriatric and genome joint studies.

CDC Says, “Wake Up!”
October 28, 2014 12:44 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

The Centers for Disease Control and Surveillance (CDC) state that over nine million Americans are using varies types of prescriptions for sleep aids. According to the CDC, four percent of the entire population uses sleep aids to try and obtain rest. It is thought provoking when one imagines what the number climbs to when Canadians and citizens of other countries are added to that figure. 

Sleep medications include but are not limited to barbiturates, benzodiazepines, eszopiclone, temazepam, sedative antihistamines, zaleplon, and zolpidem. Although the CDC study does not address non-prescription (over-the counter, OTC) sleep aids, some users take over-the-counter medications that contain an antihistamine. Antihistamines are generally taken for allergies, common colds, hay fever symptoms.

This variety of sleep medications and the high amount of users begs to question deeper what is going on with the physical and mental health of the public?  The report does provide some insight of the going-on with a look into the demographics of the users.

Age: It seems that the use of prescription sleep medications increases with age, 50 to 80 year olds the exhibiting higher rates that 49 years old and younger; Gender: Females use more than males population; Race and Ethnicity: Caucasian adults use sleep aids more frequently than Black and Latino adults; and Education Levels: Even the level of education is revealing. It seems from the study that those with higher education beyond high school use prescription sleep aids more than those only a high school education or those who did not complete high school.

The public health concerns center round the side effects from inappropriate and prolonged use of use of prescription and OTC sleep aids. Some of the side effects could include: drowsiness the next day, confusion, forgetfulness, severe withdrawal symptoms (i.e. nausea, sweating and shaking), and the masking an underlying problem, such as a medical or a mental disorder.

The CDC concludes that, while prescription sleep medication is an important part of a sleep solution, it must not be the only solution. Researchers encourage the medical professional to delve further into mental and physical health issues affecting the public’s health.

Bio-Mental Eating Link
October 24, 2014 3:20 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Both neurologists and psychiatrists work with the dynamics of brain and thought patterns, which are leading them to link their research findings for treating persons with eating disorders. According the research studies conducted by biologists and mental health professionals, it seems there is strong correlation between eating disorders and anorexic teenagers who have bigger brains that the peers.

A recent University of Colorado study examined two sets of adolescent girls: those with the illness of anorexia nervosa and those without the illness. The girls with anorexia had a tended to possess a larger insula and orbitofrontal cortex. The parts of the brain involved are the insula, which involves taste, and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is the center that tells people to stop eating.

The lead researcher put forth the idea that, while environmental factors trigger eating disorders, as scientists we must examine the physiological factors that work in union to develop the eating problems -- such as anorexia nervosa. Research is revealing that there area definitely the brain circuitry in regulating food intake is involved in this illness.

There have been many families adversely affected due to this baffling impairment. The collaborative effort between the fields of neurology and psychiatry on uncovering the mysterious illness is of great value. Their important work will shed more light and exposure to the general public. You see, eating disorders have always been linked to females and particularly adolescent girls, but what most people do not know is that it actually affects both genders. Young boys and men are also afflicted with anorexia nervosa and another little known illness known as bulimia nervosa.

Many males do not seek help for these eating disorders, because it is tagged as a ‘female issue’. More medically, evidence-based research will hopefully remove the stigma, so that men as women can receive the necessary medical and psychiatric interventions to treat this debilitating illness.


Freeze Dried
October 20, 2014 11:18 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

I read in a recent study that scientists placed single-celled organisms in a watery medium and lowered the temperature. As the temperature fell, the medium started to turn into ice and as the ice crystals grew, the water inside the organisms seeped out to form more ice. This left the cells first dehydrated, and then vitrified.

Once a cell has vitrified, scientists no longer consider it living as it cannot reproduce, but cells can be brought back to life when temperatures rise again. This temperature phase is similar to the state plant seeds enter when they dry out. What is interesting is that once a cell is vitrified it can continue to survive right down to incredibly low temperatures. It just can't do much until it warms up.

Biologists state that unicellular cells freeze at a swifter rate than multicellular organisms. These scientists have pinpointed the lowest temperature at which simple life can live and grow.

When temperatures dip below -20 °C, single-celled organisms dehydrate, sending them into a vitrified – glass-like – state during which they are unable to complete their life cycle. Researchers hypothesize that, since the organisms cannot reproduce below this temperature, -20 °C is the lowest temperature limit for life on Earth.

More complex organisms are able to survive at lower temperatures because they are able to control the medium the cells sit in to some extent. For example, the research study revealed that animals, trees and insects have the ability to control the fluid that surrounds their internal cells.

In a human’s case its blood and lymph. In a complicated organism, the cells sit in an environment that the organism can control. Free-living organisms don't have this. If ice forms in the environment, they are subject to all the stresses that implies. And if a free-living cell cools too quickly it would be unable to dehydrate and vitrify; instead it would freeze and wouldn't survive.

Cryonics is swiftly discovering more ways to preserve life. It will be interesting to see what the next five years will add to this molecular branch of science.


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.”