Health & Physiology

Number of breaks: 15

Driving down malaria

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on earth, having killed more people than wars and plagues combined. This is because they spread debilitating diseases like malaria - which affects more than 200 million people each year. Despite a momentous effort to combat the disease over the past two decades, we are unlikely to completely eliminate malaria without new interventions. Scientists have now turned to the tools of genetic engineering for new solutions. Malaria is caused by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, that needs to develop in both a human and mosquito host to survive. If we make it impossible for the parasite to develop in the mosquito, then we could stop malaria dead in its tracks. Recent advances in genetic engineering have made (...)

· Andrew Hammond | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London, UK

· Xenia Karlsson | M.Sc. student at Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London, UK

· Ziyin Wang | M.Sc. student at Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London, UK

Published on July 18, 2017 Reading time: 4 min

A Weekend Camping is Just What the Doctor Ordered

The invention of electrical lighting has permitted work and social activities to continue beyond sunlight, however it has also caused an unnatural desynchrony between human's biology and the environment. The body's internal timekeeping system (also called circadian clock) is designed to predict environmental time in order to appropriately coordinate behaviors, such as sleeping and eating, with the solar night and day. The fine-tuning of such delicate timing is made possible thanks to our ability to perceive the quality (i.e. colors) and intensity of the surrounding light. However, with the invention of electrical light, the sun is not the only light source providing time-of-day information to the internal clock. Specifically, exposure to electrical light at night - whether from a lamp, (...)

· Ellen R. Stothard | PhD student at Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder CO, USA

· Hannah Kent Ritchie | PhD student at Integrative Physiology Department, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder CO, USA

· Kenneth P. Wright | Professor at Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

Published on June 21, 2017 Reading time: 4 min

Toxic brain cells are a new target for treating neurodegeneration

After decades of research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, there is still no cure. Instead of focusing on the neurons that die in these diseases, they may be treatable by blocking the metamorphosis of helpful support cells into toxic support cells, or by pharmaceutically countering the neuron-killing toxin these harmful cells secrete. Astrocytes, a type of glial cell, are the most abundant cell in the brain. Though we have known about them for over 100 years, very little was understood about their function both in normal development, and in response to injuries and in neurodegeneration. Key advances in the past decade have shown that they strongly promote the connections between neurons (called synapses), as well as provide nutrients and remove (...)

· Shane A. Liddelow | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA

Published on May 24, 2017 Reading time: 3.5 min

The power of our adaptive immunity against Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the fears that arise with aging is being afflicted with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease (simply ”Alzheimer” from now onwards) is the most common type of dementia worldwide, representing up to 60% of total cases of dementia in western countries. Alzheimer is a serious world-health threat that involves 5.2 million of patients only in the United States. Furthermore, due to the increasing average age within modern societies, the number is predicted to rise in the future. Since multiple causes lead to the onset of the disease, Alzheimer is called multifactorial disease. The scientific community considers the involvement of our innate immune system as part of such multiple causes. As a matter of fact, during the early stage of the disease, (...)

· Daniele Guido | PhD student at Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Published on May 10, 2017 Reading time: 3 min

Hacking the tryptophan metabolic process to reduce neurodegeneration

Oats, dried prunes, tuna fish, milk, chicken, bread, peanuts, and chocolate are fabulous foods that enrich our everyday meals. But apart from their culinary properties, they are also great sources of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is used by cells either as a building block for the synthesis of proteins or as a precursor in several metabolic pathways. Serotonin - our natural mood stabiliser - is an example of a product generated from tryptophan absorbed in our diet. However, the great majority of ingested tryptophan is used by a metabolic process called the kynurenine pathway. The final products of this process provide an ultra violet (UV) filter in our eyes which protects the retina from UV damage and (...)

· Carlo Breda | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

Published on April 25, 2017 Reading time: 3 min

Lower calorie intake allows monkeys to live long and prosper

The recent report in Nature Communications settles a persistent controversy in biology of aging research; namely, whether or not caloric restriction (CR), reduced calorie intake without malnutrition, confers health and longevity benefits in nonhuman primates. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH study teams came together to analyze data from the two parallel studies that up until now had reported contrasting outcomes of CR. In 2009, the UW-Madison study team reported significant benefits in survival and reductions in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance for monkeys who ate less than their peers. In 2012, however, the NIA study team reported no significant improvement in survival, but did find a trend toward improved health. Working (...)

· Rozalyn Anderson | Associate Professor at Department of Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin Madison, & Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison WI

Published on March 24, 2017 Reading time: 3 min

Could we reverse memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients? Mice answer yes!

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. A striking characteristic is memory loss. In the brain, nerve cells or neurons make connections, named synapses, to process information. When the synapses are not functional or when the neurons are not well connected anymore, cognitive deficits arise including loss of memory. In Alzheimer's disease, a molecule called amyloid beta (Aβ), present in a healthy brain becomes deregulated and starts to accumulate in the brain of patients forming the sadly well-known amyloid plaques, one of the hallmarks of the disease. We know that Aβ induces synapse loss triggering deficit in memory, but how this occurs remains uncertain. Aβ can affect the levels of certain molecules in the brain, one in particular is called (...)

· Patricia Salinas | Professor at Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

· Faye McLeod | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

· Aude Marzo | Postdoctoral Research fellow at University College London, Department Cellular and Developmental Biology, London, UK

Published on March 16, 2017 Reading time: 2.5 min

What happens to our genes in the twilight of death?

Death -- the ultimate end of everyone's journey. What is there to study? Is anything interesting happening? Aside from religious and philosophical discourses, valuable knowledge might be obtained from tangible physical facts. Consider an analogy: a disaster happens in a chemical plant that results in its halt and potential destruction. A chemical plant is a complex chain of reactors linked together by a multitude of control networks that normally determine its functionality. Most disaster-like processes involve a sequence of events that occurs due to the availability of residual energy and materials. Understanding this process helps us determine whether it may be stopped and reverted. It might even provide information on what parts are salvageable. Similar to a disaster at a (...)

· Alex Pozhitkov | Research Scientist at Department of Oral Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

· Peter Noble | Professor at Department of Periodontics, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Published on February 28, 2017 Reading time: 3.5 min

Aluminium in antiperspirants: an effective tool or a breast cancer threat?

Aluminium is the most abundant metal in Earth's crust. Due to its abundance and to its remarkable physical and chemical properties - it is lightweight, durable, and resistant to corrosion - aluminium is widely present in many different industrial products, including sunscreens, lipsticks, toothpastes, anti-acid drugs, food additives and vaccines. As a salt, aluminium is used as an extremely efficient antiperspirant. The precise reasons for this property are not know, but are thought to involve physical obstruction of sweat ducts. Aluminium's wide presence in industrial products could lead to the assumption that it is a safe material. However, surprisingly little is known about aluminium's distribution and removal from the body after its absorption. Studies appeared in recent years (1, 2 and (...)

· Stefano Mandriota | Research Director at Laboratoire de cancérogenèse environnementale, Fondation des Grangettes, Geneva, Switzerland

Published on February 9, 2017 Reading time: 3 min

The surprising effects of a Paleo diet on diabetic patients

Diabetes is a widely spread disease in modern society, a condition in which the capacity of the body to manage blood glucose is impaired. Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) is associated with many metabolic dysfunctions, such as insulin resistance (the inability of the tissues - mainly muscle and fat - to absorb glucose from the blood in response to the insulin hormone signal), hypertension and dyslipidemia (abnormal amount of lipids in the blood). T2D depends on both genetic and lifestyle factors: the typical Western diet (processed meat, high-fat dairy products and refined grains) is associated with T2D development1. The so-called Paleo(lithic) diets limit the food intake to items that were most likely consumed by our ancestors during the Paleolithic period (2.5 MYA (...)

· Alice Matone | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The Microsoft Research - University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI)

Published on December 14, 2016 Reading time: 3 min

Exploring nature to treat multiple sclerosis

The chemical diversity in nature is unprecedented and exploring natural products for medical applications has a long tradition with many successful stories to be told. As a matter of fact, natural products or natural product-derived pharmaceuticals, constitute about half of all medical drugs on the market. One of the most well-known examples is the acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin™), an anti-inflammatory compound originally derived (for the first time in 1828) from the bark of Salix trees. Another example is cyclosporine (Sandimmune™) an immunosuppressive peptide discovered at the beginnings of the 1970s and isolated from Slime moulds (Ascomycotas). The discovery of cyclosporine was revolutionary and is still used in the clinics today for the prevention of organ rejection following transplantation. These are just (...)

· Christian W. Gruber | Assistant Professor at School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland, Australia

· Carsten Gründemann | PD Dr. rer. nat. at Environmental Health Sciences and Hospital Infection control, Universitätsklinikum Freiburg, Germany

Published on November 16, 2016 Reading time: 3.5 min

How early-life adversity gets under the skin

Many women experience mental health problems during pregnancy and this can have health consequences for the unborn child. Indeed, a wealth of research findings have now shown that women with depression and anxiety in pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely, to have a smaller birthweight baby and their child is more likely to experience developmental delays. It is not yet clear exactly why this occurs, but determining the biological mechanisms involved is essential if we want to prevent or reduce the harmful effects being passed from mother to child. All individuals have a specific genetic code, or DNA, which remains relatively fixed from conception until death. However additional information in our cells helps control how that genetic code is (...)

· Joanne Ryan | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI), Melbourne, Australia

Published on May 19, 2016 Reading time: 3.5 min

SERINC5: a blood cell guardian against HIV

HIV-1 is a virus that currently affects 36 million people worldwide. While the trend of the epidemic has slowed down in recent years thanks to a drug cocktail capable of efficiently inhibiting virus replication, neither a preventive vaccine nor an eradication therapy exist. New targets are therefore needed to develop therapeutic strategies complementary to the existing ones, in order to eradicate the infection. HIV carries proteins that the virus needs to infect new cells within infected individuals (click here to read more about how HIV replicates within cells). One of these proteins, called Nef, was found to be particularly important for the development of the syndrome linked to this virus, AIDS. This was demonstrated by rare cases of patients infected with (...)

· Massimo Pizzato | Associate Professor at Centre for Integrated Biology, University of Trento, Italy

Published on May 13, 2016 Reading time: 3.5 min

One run a day keeps the...cancer away!

A healthy life-style, including regular exercise, has long been associated with the prevention of diabetes and heart attack. Moreover, exercise helps to lower other major disease risk factors, e.g. obesity and high blood pressure. When it comes to cancer, it is suggested that exercise confers some protection, but to which extent, why, and how is largely unknown. We recently set out to study if exercise would impact tumor incidence and growth in mice. Obviously, if one wishes to study a potential role of exercise using animal models it is crucial that the chosen animal is willing to exercise. With a simple running wheel in the cage, a mouse will voluntarily run between 4 and 8 kilometres per night, suggesting that mice (...)

· Manja Idorn | PhD student at Centre for Cancer Immune Therapy, Copenhagen University Hospital Herlev, Denmark

· Per thor Straten | Professor at Centre for Cancer Immune Therapy, Copenhagen University Hospital Herlev, Denmark

Published on May 5, 2016 Reading time: 3.5 min

The colour beige: heating up the fat

In mammals, adipose tissue is a specialized tissue that functions as the major storage site for fat. When glucose supplies are low (for example when an organism is food-deprived), the stored fat can be used to produce energy, so that the organism may be constantly supplied of the fuel it needs to survive. For this purpose, mammals possess two different types of adipose tissue: (i) white fat, used to store metabolic energy (necessary for organisms' physiological activities) and (ii) brown fat, specialized in storing energy that will be used to generate heat in mammalian new-borns and adult hibernating mammals. Across the animal kingdom, brown fat is essential to avoid hypothermia and is of great importance as cold is a major death (...)

· Caterina Da Rè | Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Department of Molecular Biology, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Published on April 1, 2016 Reading time: 3.5 min