By Niharika Vattikonda
What if we could heal ourselves? The question seems to be straight out of a supernatural fantasy, but recently, a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has proved that we are not very far. Led by Dr. Elena Batrakova, the research group created “smarter” immune cells to be delivered to the brain for healing damaged neurons. These immune cells produce and deliver a protein that heals the brain while “teaching” the affected neurons how to continue making that protein for themselves.
By Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin
Vaccinations and antibiotics. Artificial lighting. Winter woollens.
Since the dawn of anatomically modern humans around 200,000 years ago, we have striven to develop every substance that would allow us to evade natural selection and to have complete control over our present and our future. Despite this, we have continued to follow certain evolutionary behaviours - ones that improve the chances of our genes being passed on. Isn’t this a surprise? I have often been fascinated by this paradoxical behaviour.
Particularly one trait that I keep noticing in couples, recently: they are nearly always of a similar attractiveness level, at least, as perceived by today’s society. In an age when environmental factors probably play a bigger role than genetic ones - when beauty is no longer the sole indication of social standing, and power and money can be acquired with one click of a button - we are still judging our mates by the laws of our ancestors: “pick someone with whom you are most likely to produce genetically successful offspring”. This seems odd to me.
By Uma Chandrasekaran
Greek philosopher Thales once said “A sound mind in a sound body”, suggesting that mental and physical well-being are closely linked. The recent discoveries made by scientists on the gut microbial community in humans have made us believe, “A sound gut for a sound body”.
‘Gut microbes influence obesity’, ‘Gut bacteria and cancer incidence’, ‘Gut bacteria guide your mind’, ‘Diabetes start in your Gut’, ‘Gut bacteria signal Asthma Risk’ and the list goes on. In all, gut microbial community or intestinal microflora is emerging as a major pivot between health and disease.
By Michael Clausen
October is known for something other than Halloween. News articles, magazine stories, and blog posts are now out advertising Breast Cancer Awareness Month; a chance to learn more about the devastating disease and to donate in support of the cause. But this month, I invite you to reflect on whether we’re going about breast cancer in the wrong way.
By Uma Chandrasekaran
Ebola outbreak. SARS epidemic. Swine-flu pandemic. If these weren’t enough to claim our lives, re-emergence of measles, polio, whooping cough and, of course the ever-changing strains of flu always poses a threat.
In stark contrast, according to WHO, the global life expectancy at birth in 2013 has risen to 71 years from a mere 20-35 years at the turn of the century1,2. How do these two pieces of data fit together?
It turns out that we are not dead yet, because of the advancements in the field of medicine, specifically, the discovery of vaccines. Many of us would have received the kiss of death from small pox or rabies - if not for vaccines, well before we hit the five-year milestone. Despite coming out in the clear from the commonly afflicted childhood communicable diseases, human races’ ever-raging battles with the microbial and viral communities continue throughout our lifetime. Vaccines are the prime tried and tested arsenal for humans in this battle.
By Uma Chandrasekaran
Long gone are the days of saying that an “apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Modern day science has transformed our lives. They have made us believe, “pill a day keeps the disease at bay”. Not just drugs, but our day-to-day existence is unimaginable without a myriad of personal care products (PPCPs) like antibacterials, antiperspirants and sunscreen.
Turns out, these pharmaceutical drugs and personal care products, in addition to adorning our household cabinets, also spill out into our waterways. Their journey does not end there. This uncanny mixture of assorted chemicals finds its way to our rivers only to turn them into a “chemical soup.”
According to a recent study , a total of 93 pharmaceuticals (concentration range:0.35-15,000 ng/L) ranging from caffeine to prescription drugs (antibiotics, anti-depressants and contraceptives) to disinfectants contaminate the surface waters of the USA.
Editor's note: This article placed first in our inaugural Scientista DiscovHER science writing competition. Scientista would like to congratulate Amy Chan on her achievement and welcome her to our team of regular bloggers!
By Amy Chan
Paleo? Atkins? FODMAP diet? If those don’t take your fancy – then how about the Werewolf diet? Weight loss and diets seem to plague us no matter where we look. Google ads, Facebook pop ups, Twitter feeds – the topic of food and weight is never far from our lips…or perhaps our hips for that matter. Obesity struggle is a real and global one. The World Health Organisation reports a doubling in worldwide obesity since 1980, with 50% of people in the WHO European region overweight and another 23% of women and 20% of men obese. Recent research suggests that obesity may be deadlier than previously thought – with 18% of all deaths in the US accounted for by obesity (1). But the good news is, new fad diets seem to appear as fast as the obesity epidemic grows, infesting our social networks each time we refresh our feeds – and they’re all just a click away.
And indeed, it is tempting. With the abundance of food around us 24/7, and the ever-growing fast food industry, it is easy to look for a simple solution to a weighty problem. How great would it be to eat anything you wanted, anything at all, without having to worry about the extra pounds that might pile on. This calls for new measures beyond fad diets. Perhaps science is the answer. If science informs all our other choices – from car design to human relationships – then maybe we can apply science to food too?
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By Diana Crow
Biology is never simple. Geneticists have identified dozens of genetic mutations that are more common in autistic people than in the general population, but researchers like University of California- San Diego psychiatric systems biologist Lilia Iakoucheva are quickly discovering that genes are only part of the story.
When geneticists collect samples to analyze, they rarely take samples from neural tissue. When researchers describe a negative effect of a particular mutation, they're often describing an effect they observed in a blood cell or a skin cell and assuming that the same effect happens in neural cells as well.
Iakocheva wondered if that assumption was safe, so she teamed up with a group of scientists at the Dana Farber Cancer who study protein interaction networks to find out.
Image Courtesy of Argonne's Midwest Center for Structural Genomics and Wikimedia Commons
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By Alexandra Brumberg
Everyone has heard that quality comes at a price. In a never-ending effort to lower costs, quality is, therefore, the first thing to go even though it might actually be worth the price. Recently, methanol—the same chemical that is found in antifreeze and drain cleaner—has become popular as a replacement for ethanol in alcoholic beverages. Although the alcohol produces a similar buzz to that of ethanol, the effects that come later are horrific and, unfortunately, often deadly.
In a recent case (as reported by the Daily Mail Online), Kate McCormick and Laura Livanou—two British lawyers—were on vacation in Bali when they fell ill after having had vodka Red Bulls at a local bar. After making it back to their hotels, they began to throw up—the beginning of symptoms that lasted over a week. Kate noted that "even turning over in bed or just moving our head would make us sick. We felt dizzy and disoriented, too, and had to lie very still." The intense sickness, accompanied by pounding headaches, lasted for two days. However, it took an additional week to fully recover.
Luckily for them, Kate and Laura's symptoms were rather tame in comparison to what could have happened. A lethal dose of methanol is 100-200 mL, roughly the same as the alcohol content in six shots of vodka. Kate and Laura only had four shots, a decision that led to their survival. Had they had more, they would have died, or, at the very least, suffered permanent internal damage.
Cheznye Emmons, a British backpacker vacationing in Sumatra, was not so lucky. She died five days after consuming fruit punch made from a locally purchased bottle of gin that had been tainted with methanol. The morning after drinking the fruit punch, Cheznye lost her eyesight. Although she made it to a hospital, she died in a drug-induced coma five days after the lethal drink.
Cheznye's symptoms are among the more common effects of methanol poisoning. Side effects range from headaches—as Kate and Laura described—and overall sickness to more severe symptoms such as blindness, seizures, breathing difficulties, comas, kidney failure, and, as in Cheznye's case, death. Once a patient falls into a coma or has a seizure, there is only a 20% chance of survival.
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