Hair Regeneration

This just in from Johns Hopkins Hospital researchers in Baltimore, MD. It may be possible to regrow hair in people. The target is for injury and burn victims that need to regrow hair and skin and not scar tissue. This would be a major benefit to a lot of people. Who knows, maybe it could be used for people who are going bald as well, but the research didn’t deal with this at all. Continue reading Hair Regeneration

Blue Pill and Malaria

There has been negative publicity recently about that ubiquitous blue pill because some people feel that taking it could lead to susceptibility of getting melanoma. Of course, some lawyers are very excited about this and are busy bringing lawsuits even though there is no definitive answer yet one way or the other. But that hasn’t stopped them from going ahead with lawsuits.

However, the big news is about the blue pill and how it can fight against malaria. It is almost like it creates a fence to block the malaria parasite. It seems to be particularly effective against one of the worst strains of malaria which has become good at evading the immune system. There are many articles about this all over the internet, such as one from CNBC. Continue reading Blue Pill and Malaria

Preventing Nosocomial Infections

Nosocomial Infections – So what is that? Infections picked up in the hospital. Proper cleaning can reduce it, such as wound cleaning, hand cleaning, facilities cleaning such as carpet cleaning, floor cleaning, and any other surface you can think of. It is not a trivial matter. Five to ten percent of all patients get a hospital acquired infection and about 100,000 people die of the complications each year. Continue reading Preventing Nosocomial Infections

HPV Vaccine – Important or Not?

HPV Vaccine, is it mandatory and Why?

(Human Papillomavirus Vaccine) HPV vaccine is important as it protects against cancers that is caused by HPV infection. HPV is a common virus; that almost one in four in the United States is affected. HPV infection in women may cause vulvar, vaginal and cervical cancers, in men penile cancer and both women and men can suffer with cancer of the throat, anal cancer and genital warts.

It is recommended to get HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 for boys and girls so that they are not exposed to virus. HPV vaccine in the preteen years produces robust immune response. Older teens get health check-ups very rarely and if you know you never had the vaccine shot, consult your nurse or doctor and get it administered.

The normal course of HPV vaccine is in 3 shots. The routine practice is that the second shot is given after the first shot in 1 or 2 months. After 6 months, the third shot is given exactly after the first shot. It is recommended to receive the HPV vaccine full series. Young men and women can get vaccinated through ages 21 and 26.

HPV in the United States is the most sexual commonly transmitted infection and most sexually active person also becomes infected in life at some time. The virus causes more than 90 percent cervical cancers and cancers of the penis, vulva, anus, vagina and oropharynx, including the tongue and tonsils base and the back of the throat. It also causes genital warts.

The HPV immunization is at a low rate among young teens as it is expensive and relatively new.  The society updated its guideline immunization recently and it is observed that the effectiveness is low with the age and so it highlights the early vaccination importance. Another obstacle is the belief that it promotes teenage promiscuity.

There was publicity initially on preventing sexually transmitted disease, but doctors affirm it is a vaccine to prevent cancer.  Multiple studies reveal absolutely no negative impact on sexual activity when the HPV vaccine is given to girls.

Parental support for having vaccinated against HPV for 11 and 12 year old children is weak. Several states propose vaccination as mandatory for school entry, and many parents of children ages also “opt out” this provision.

Exercise’s Effects on Cancer

Cancer can be exacerbated by inflammation and exercise is known to cause inflammation. So shouldn’t exercise make cancer worse? On the contrary, it seems to make it better, but why?

It turns out that in studies they have found that people who regularly exercise and less likely to get cancer and if they have cancer, they are less likely to die.

Pumped Up Mice Have Clues

A recent study has noted that in mice who exercise changes take place including a raised level of insulin, and increases in specific chemicals and immune cells. It is thought that the combination of these can help prevent cancer or ameliorate its effects.

They injected a group of mice with melanoma cancer cells and gave half of them running wheels and the other half no wheel. After only 4 weeks there some stark differences between the two groups. Many more of the non-runners had developed melanoma in this time. In addition, they more lesions and larger lesions than the runners who had developed melanoma. Plus, they were more likely to have metastases.

Adrenaline & Interleukin-6

Adrenaline is produced as a response to stress, including exercise. It was found at higher levels in the runners not just after exercise but throughout the day. The runners also had higher levels of Interleukin-6 than the sedentary mice. IL-6 is a bit odd in that it can raise or lower inflammation based on where in the body and how it starts to work.

Natural Killer Cells

Natural Killer cells (NK cells) were also found at much higher levels in the blood stream of the runners and this might be most important of all because these potent fighters of cancer.

Adrenaline a Key to a Cascade of Effects

The scientists repeated the experiment with a twist. They injected some of the runners with a chemical that blocked adrenaline production and these runners developed cancer at the same rate as the sedentary mice.

They also gave some of the sedentary mice shots of adrenaline to raise their levels to near those of the runners. These mice developed much less cancer than other sedentary mice.

Gene Study

The scientists looked at how certain genes in the mice were working and found that the adrenaline was signaling the IL-6 cells. It was kind of a wake up call putting them at greater attention. The cells were then more responsive so that when cancer began to form they created a faster and larger response by activating the NK cells in the bloodstream.

Since the runners have more adrenaline, IL-6 and NK cells, they were able to combat the melanoma faster and better than the sedentary mice.

Get Some Exercise

There is no guarantee that the effect will be the same in people but it is known that exercise in people also increases adrenaline and NK cells. So it would be a good idea to make sure you get more exercise.

Killing College Kids- Is Yours Next?

Your college age student could be killing themselves at college and you may never know. How? Tanning beds or salons! Don’t laugh until you read the rest of this.

Tanning Beds Rampant on Campuses

How many of the top 125 colleges in the United States have tanning beds on campus or in off-campus housing? If you guessed 50% you would be right. Worse, at many of these schools, students’ can use their campus debit cards to pay for tanning sessions.

Why is this bad? You may be surprised to find out that tanning beds has been put in the top class of most virulent carcinogens along with asbestos, plutonium and sun exposure.

Greatly Increased Melanoma Risk

Tanning beds increase the risk of the three most common skin cancers. Just one use of a tanning bed increases the chances of melanoma by 20% and each session after that increases the chances by another 2%. Even scarier, for people in the 18-29 age range who have contracted melanoma, 76% of the cases were tied to the use of tanning beds. We don’t know if you know anything about melanoma, but it is a fast death sentence if not caught soon enough.

Increased Risk for Basal Cell Carcinoma Too

The numbers are similar for basal cell carcinoma. The chance of getting basal cell carcinoma increased by 73% for women who used a tanning bed 6 times a year or more in high school or college.

Females At Greatest Risk Because Greatest Users

Who uses tanning beds. Girls and young women primarily. Of 28 million people in the US who use them each year, 70% are females between 16 and 28.

It is of such concern that 12 states and DC have banned tanning bed use for anyone under the age of 18. This has reduced use but then they get to college and almost half of college students use tanning beds. And 96% of off campus housing facilities supply free tanning to residents. Not healthy.

Typically the tanning beds are poorly supervised, the students don’t wear proper eye protection and the conditions are frequently not very sanitary.

Efforts to Ban – Liability?

There are now efforts to get colleges to ban tanning beds or at least not allow students to pay for tanning services with their college debit card. One very effective way to get colleges to reconsider is to point out that if they don’t change it is very likely that they would held liable if a student was injured or developed skin cancer.

Concerns about tobacco, drugs and alcohol should be expanded to include tanning beds.

 

Antibody Issues

There are questions about the reproducibility of antibodies. There are potential major problems because of the change in the the way the antibodies are being produced and the way they are being used.

History of Antibody Research

Antibodies were used over 50 years ago in immunoassays in immunohistochemistry and Western blots. The technology today, ELISA/aPCR, nanoscopy, ChIP sequencing, and nanoimmunoassays are stretching the limits of antibody capabilities.

Mergers

In the 1950s, scientists created their own polyclonal antibodies. In the 70s and 80s different small companies were formed that sold antibodies to researchers. Then pathologists began using the antibodies and the light bulb went off in larger companies that antibodies had market potential. By the 1990s many of the startup companies were being bought out by larger companies.

Quality

The original companies often had the names of the founders and they took great pride in the quality of the product. The merged companies are putting out product but there are questions about the validity and the reproducibility of data generated using the new antibody tools.

Researchers are not blameless. Due to pressures to publish, many just buy something from a catalog instead of taking the time to check and make sure that it is the best product for their intended purpose. Some by on the reputation of the company alone, others buy on price figuring that high priced products must be good.

Expertise?

There is another problem. If the company, because of mergers just sells what it has acquired and has never developed any of these products, they may not have the expertise to give advice to researchers as to what would be best for their intended purpose.

Some of the problems can be overcome by researchers stopping inappropriate short cuts. One of these short cuts is the not used controls. And Western blots have limited use if there aren’t positive and negative controls. If it is done correctly though, it can be very helpful and revealing.

Another problem is that research reagents aren’t adequately scrutinized and tested. Some antibodies are sold by OEMS. Some are bad and some are good. The good ones have excellent quality control. Bad ones look to sell as much as possible and have little or no technical support.

One thing that would improve the situation would be to slow down the rush to market and also to have well defined acceptance criteria.

 

Vaccines

It is kind of ironic that the last post talked about malaria. This post will talk about the vaccines for malaria and ebola. The new ebola vaccine is apparently quite effective which is a relief with such a scary disease. The malaria vaccine is effective but not as much as had been hoped for.

Malaria vaccine

Interestingly, this vaccine won’t be given to travelers. It was designed for children of affected regions. This would be Africa, Pakistan and India, the primary places where 80-100% of the people are at risk of contracting malaria. Almost 600,000 people die a year from malaria, mostly kids under 5 from sub Saharan Africa.

Efficacy

The problem is that four shots are needed. Without the final booster shot administered 20 months after the first three shots, you might just as well not bother. There is no significant difference. With the booster shot, severe malaria cases decreased by about a third. Not ideal, but far better than nothing.

Timing

The other problem is the timing. It was found that it was more effective done a bit later and not at the same time that the children got their other vaccine shots. This will create a logistical nightmare for giving the shots. It also means that the youngest children who are very susceptible will not be protected.

Economic Impact

Anthropologists have found that in areas with high malaria, the population was more spread out, there were fewer beasts of burden and the people were never able to organize into a more advanced civilization. Rather amazing that one parasite can have such an effect. Modern technology is helping some and even something as simple as bed netting can be as effective or more so than the vaccine. Will the two of them combined help to bring sub Saharan Africa into the 21st century?

The malaria vaccine has been worked on for 30 years and is the first human vaccine against a parasite. The Ebola vaccine was essentially developed 10 years ago and then just sat.

Ebola Vaccine

The problem is that vaccines are just as expensive to take through the regulatory process but little or no money is made on them. The only reason that the Ebola vaccine that was developed 10 years ago is getting out now is because of the recent Ebola outbreak. If the vaccine had come out when it was developed, it would have saved the lives of thousands of people in this recent outbreak. Recent tests have shown it to be extremely effective.

A proposal has been made to create an international fund to support vaccine research and to pay for the regulatory approval process. Countries and drug companies would contribute. The amount of money sought is around $2 billion dollars which may seem like a lot, but considering the cost of clinical trials isn’t that much. Also when you consider that fighting the recent Ebola outbreak cost over $10 billion, it would be an investment that was well worth it.

Novel Mental Illness Solution

Wonder Solution to Mental Illness Too Good to be True?

This one solution promises to treat many kinds of mental illness from depression to schizophrenia to autism. Sounds like patent medicine doesn’t it? But, it isn’t psycotherapy and it isn’t a drug, but once it is explained, it will make sense. It was described in the June 1, 2015 issue of Genetic Engineering News on p. 8.

Brain Waves

It has to do with the electrical properties of the brain and not the chemical or biochemical aspects. Even the genetics doesn’t need to be considered.

Dr. Jin

Yi Jin, MD is the driving force behind this discovery. His father was a philosopher but he was worried when Dr. Jin who had gone to Shanghai Medical University switched from cardiology to psychiatry. His father didn’t believe in psychiatry and didn’t think the mind could understand itself.

Dr. Jin’s focus on the brain started in the 1980s and at this time nothing much had happened in treatments of mental illness for the past 30 years. His father might have a point. Symptoms could be improved somewhat or masked with drugs, but there were not cures.

So what to do? Dr. Jin decided to go off in a different direction since the standard approaches weren’t working. Luckily, Dr. Jin also had a background in electrical engineering and decided to look at the brain from this perspective as well.

MIT & Cybernetics

Dr. Jin was a fan of Dr. Norbert Wiener of MIT whose specialty was cybernetics. He showed the importance of a computer having an internal clock which would coordinate the work to be done. Without this, computers were much less efficient. The information becomes chaotic and is significantly degraded.

As part of his research, Dr. Wiener had found that human brains normally operated at 10 Hz (Hz or Hertz = cycles / second). Dr. Jin looked at this and found that when the frequency is close to this and also when the wave is very regular, it takes the brain / body very little energy to maintain this. The billions of brain cells are working in harmony. But when this is disrupted and the brain has multiple irregular frequencies, the energy required to control the system rises very dramatically. Sometimes the signal even disappears.

Dr. Jin then had the good luck to become a researcher at University of California – Irivine. The reason it was lucky was that he now had access to EEG equipment and a PET scanner, the only one in a department of psychiatry in the world at the time. He could now look at energy flows and measure energy processing in combination with signal processing in the brain to understand how they were interconnected.

This allowed him to make a surprising discovery. People had assumed a brain functioning at a higher metabolic rate would work better. But that turned out to be wrong. Higher metabolic rates tended to correlate with brain waves that were less rhythmical and required more energy and were less efficient. It also turned out that these people tended to have autism, schizophrenia, ADHD, panic attack, PTSD and more.

It turned out the other direction was not good either. Low frequency tended to Alzheimer’s, major depression and being comatose. The ideal turned out to be for 95% of the brain’s waves to be in the 8-12 Hertz range. Outside of that was a marker of mental illness.

Quest for a Cure

That raised the question of where it was possible to influence someone’s brain frequency. For a decade, Dr. Jin tried everything he could think of to affect a change in someone’s energy flows; sound  stimulation, light flickering, mechanical tapping and more, but nothing was effective.

In 1997 he was working with Dr. Earl Cowen at the University of Maryland. Dr. Cowen and Dr. Jin found that magnetic resonance therapy stimulated dopamine and was therefore able to decrease depression.

With this awareness, Dr. Jin wondered if this was finally the answer to retraining the brain to have more synchronized brain waves at the right frequency. His team created a machine that generates gentle electric currents.

There is no need for surgery or medication. It is safe and there are no side affects. They have been able to get slower brains to speed up and have higher energy brains slow down. They did a study with children with autism and were able to get 50% of them back into a normal brain pattern. Currently a study is being done at the NIH on PTSD using this method.

Dr. Jin has joined with a Dr. Robert Silvetz and opened the Brain Treatment Center to treat people using this technology.

Viral History in One Drop of Blood

The newspapers of course are blowing the research findings a bit out of proportion.  Baltimore Sun “Drop of blood may disclose person’s whole viral history”, New York Times “Every Virus a Person Has Had Can be Seen in a Drop of Blood, Researchers Find” or the Washington Post “This Blood Test can Tell You Every Virus You’ve Ever Had”

Wow, sounds impressive right? But is you read carefully, it is still impressive, just not as impressive as the headlines make it sound. So here is the deal:

The June 5, 2015 issue of  the journal Science had an article about a new diagnostic test which scans the blood for antibodies to any of 206 virus species and over 1,000 strains that infects people. It is a DNA test that focuses on this specific topic. Although specific might not be the right word here because most diagnostic tests will test for a single pathogen such as HIV.

Research vs. Clinical Use

It is not clear yet how this could be used in a clinical diagnostic setting. Currently it is mostly of interest to researchers. One problem in terms of disease treatment is that antibodies aren’t formed immediately and the build over time. So in some sense you are looking at history and not the present.

For research, scientists are starting to use this test to look and see what viruses people have been exposed to and if that leads to any diseases such as cancers and various chronic diseases due to that exposure.

The test is called VirScan and currently costs about $25. A number of people were tested in the US, Peru, South Africa and Thailand. On average people had been exposed to 10 of the different species although some were much higher. (If you have caught a cold on multiple occasions, and each time it was caused by a different strain of rhinovirus, it will only show up as one infection and one species.)

It was interesting that people in the US had antibodies to a lot fewer viruses than people in the other three countries. It is not known if this is due to genetic differences, different local strains of viruses, cultural differences, sanitation differences or something else.

Where the Headlines are Overblown

The test rarely had false positives and picked up 90% of known infections. But, adults will have been exposed to more than 10 viruses over their lifetime and they aren’t showing up. The immune response fades over time, so this test will pick up more recent infections but it isn’t clear yet how far back it will detect viral infections.

An interesting and unexpected finding was the similarity in the response to different viruses. It was thought that each person responded differently, but it turned out that the antibodies of each person targeted the same amino acids for any given virus. That could lead to new therapies or vaccines.

Cancer in 3D

Incorrect Cancer Knowledge?

Is what we think we know about cancer wrong? Or at least some major assumptions? Probably yes. Since the genome project allowed us to learn so much more about the human genome and perhaps as importantly or more so, bringing down the cost and increasing the speed of tests by many fold, advances are accelerating. They are now finding that all that “junk DNA” that supposedly had no purpose is very important and codes for non-coding RNA that doesn’t make proteins, but control the making of them and many other functions. However, other than the DNA studies, there have been many studies on a more macro level and primarily in petri dishes. This could be a big mistake.

Petri dishes basically create a two dimensional environment for the cancer cells to grow in. The Johns Hopkins Health Review describes research being done at Hopkins by Denis Wirtz on how cancer behaves when it is in a 3D format as it would be in the body.

Zig Zag Path

Cancer cells have been thought to take zigzag path when they move, almost a random pattern. (That isn’t because they used zig zags.) When Dr. Wirtz and his team put cancer cells in a 3D matrix that better replicates the environment in the body, the cancer cells behave very differently. They move in a straight line through the cells. In a petri dish they look flat and tend to adhere to the bottom and have problems moving. In the 3D environment, the cells were rounder and had long protrusions at each end. The proteins that predict is virulence were spread through the cell instead of mostly on the bottom of the cell. They didn’t stick to the bottom of the medium and move slowly. They moved rapidly through the medium and in straight lines.

Bad research and New Life for Drugs?

So a lot of what research has shown to be the behavior of cancers was just caused by the two dimensional environment of the petri dish. Dr. Wirtz thinks that a lot of the research has to be re-examined and possibly thrown out. Of course, other scientists aren’t too pleased with this. He also thinks that drug companies might want to reexamine some of the drugs that failed clinical trials. They might work very differently on cancer cells in a 3D environment.

Kenneth Yamada has also published some important papers on the need to investigate in a 3D environment. He is one of the most cited scientists and has published on a range of topics.

Problems to Solve

Using 3D matrices should help research, but there will be problems too. Scientists sometimes do things because they are easy even though they don’t replicate the in vivo environment. Petri dishes are easy. The problem is that electron microscopy works great in a dish, not so much in a 3D matrix.  Same goes for other important research tools. That problem needs to be resolved.

Metastasis

Most research has been on tumor shrinkage. Why? Once again because it is easy to study and measure. But a big problem with cancer is metastasis, when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body. This is still poorly understood but very little research dollars are going toward this. We really need for more money to be put into metastasis research using 3D matrices.