Remember When?

Researchers discover technique to erase newly formed memories

Erasing memories has long been a staple of sci-fi films, but researchers now believe they have made a breakthrough in making the process reality.

The groundbreaking research at Uppsala University in Sweden could lead to radical new treatments for sufferers of anxiety and post traumatic stress disorders.

It shows for the first time that newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain.

Men in Black famously used memory erasing gadgets - now scientists believe they can actually erase short term memories.

Men in Black famously used memory erasing gadgets – now scientists believe they can actually erase short term memories.

This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study now being published by the academic journal Science.

‘These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks,’ says Thomas Ågren, who led the study.

When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins in the brain.

When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process.

‘In other words, it can be said that we are not remembering what originally happened, but rather what we remembered the last time we thought about what happened,’ the researchers say.

By disrupting the reconsolidation process, the team found they can change what was remembered.

In the study the researchers showed subjects a neutral picture and simultaneously administered an electric shock.

In this way the picture came to elicit fear in the subjects which meant a fear memory had been formed.

In order to activate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without any accompanying shock.

For one experimental group the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture.

For a control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.

In subjects that were not allowed to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated, and the memory was rendered neutral.

At the same time, using a MR-scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories, the nuclear group of amygdala in the temporal lobe.

Attribution: Daily Mail

It’s Alive!

by: Sam Shead

Experiments with echoes of Frankenstein suggest electricity could one day be used to regenerate tissue and regrow lost limbs.

Scientists believe electric currents and fields hold the key to major advances in tissue engineering.

In the distant future they may even help people with severed limbs, such as victims of industrial accidents or soldiers, to grow new arms and legs.

 
Electric currents and fields could one day be used to grow tissue for soldiers with severed limbs
Electric currents and fields could one day be used to grow tissue for soldiers with severed limbs

Electrical stimulus has already shown some success in stimulating sensory nerve regrowth in people with damaged spinal cords.

There is also evidence that bio-electric fields play a role in regenerating lost fingertips, especially in children.

But the importance of electricity in wound healing and tissue repair has been largely overlooked because of its association with Victorian quackery and Frankenstein, according to Dr Ann Rajnicek.

‘Electricity is key; its something that has been under-appreciated,’ she said. ‘But people still think of Frankenstein and the Victorian age. Even when you try to sell the idea to a research funding agency, they say ‘oh no, I’m not sure about that’.’

In Mary Shelley’s novel, electricity provides the spark that brings Frankenstein’s monster to life. 

The idea of using electricity for tissue engineering has been dismissed due to the connotations it holds with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel.

 
The creature created by Frankenstein later went on to be called Frankenstein itself
The creature created by Frankenstein later went on to be called Frankenstein itself
 

During the Victorian era, when the novel was written, electricity and its biological effects gripped the public imagination.

Electrical devices were built that were supposed to treat all manner of ills, from depression to kidney disease and impotence.

Macabre stage experiments were also common in which the dead were apparently brought to life using electricity to make limbs jerk or teeth chatter, said Dr Rajnicek.

In a show conducted in Glasgow in 1818, the corpse of a man hung for murder suddenly sat up, causing members of the audience to flee in terror. One man fainted.

Dr Rajnicek’s research at the University of Aberdeen has demonstrated the effect of electricity on flatworms rather than human corpses.

‘We’re using flatworms that multiply asexually by spontaneous fission,’ she said. ‘The worm snaps itself in two like an elastic band so you have one end missing a head and other missing a tail.

Geckos have the ability to regrow their tails with a surplus of stem cells that migrate towards parts of the body that need healing

‘Each half reforms, and this is something that has perplexed scientists for hundreds of years. How does a tail know it needs a head or a head know it needs a tail?

‘We believe the natural electrical field that’s associated with the wounding process acts like a compass to tell cells where to migrate. You get a field that points towards the wound and directs cells there.

‘We’ve also found that there’s a gradient – the electrical field is positive but at the very tip of the head of the worm its much less positive, so the animal has natural electrical polarity. We think the stem cells are being directed to build either a head or tail because one end is more positive and the other end is more negative.’

When a flatworm is cut, electricity leaks out of the wound – and the same thing occurs in all other animals, including humans, said Dr Rajnicek. ‘The skin [is] like a battery,’ she said.

 
Earmouse: Scientists managed to graft a lab grown human-like ear onto the back of a mouse
Earmouse: MIT Scientists managed to graft a lab grown human-like ear onto the back of a mouse in 1995

In animals that regenerate limbs, such as flatworms and amphibians, the leakage produces an electrical potential that causes cells at the ‘stump’ to regress to an embryonic state. They can then mature into different kinds of new regenerated cells.

By reversing the polarity of the electric field at the wound site, Dr Rajnicek was able to produce worms with heads where their tails should be, and vice-versa. Manipulating the field led to worms with two heads or two tails.

The scientists know there is much more to the story because flatworms are not completely simple creatures. They have complex nervous systems with two parallel nerve cords and a brain, eyes, a gut, and around 40 different cell types.

‘We are still at the early stages, but we want to look at the genes that are switched on or off by the presence or absence of this field,’ said Dr Rajnicek, who gave a presentation on her work at the British Science Festival at the University of Aberdeen.

There is evidence that the leakage of electricity from wounds aids healing in humans, she added.

In the 1980s, researchers studied cases of children who regrew the tips of their fingers after having them sliced off in car doors.

They found that younger children healed better, and also leaked the most current from their wounds. When the wounds were sutured and sealed up, it prevented regeneration.

Another case in 2008 involved American Lee Spievak who chopped half an inch off the end of a finger in the propeller of a model aeroplane. The finger tip was lost, but Mr Spievak treated himself with a powder obtained from a tissue engineering lab at the University of Pennsylvania where his brother worked. The media described the regrowth of his finger tip as a ‘medical miracle’.

Mr Spievak put his recovery down to the powder, prepared from pigs bladder cells, which he called “pixie dust”. Dr Rajnicek believes growth factors in the powder may have worked in conjunction with the electrical effect of the open wound.

Covering up open wounds might help prevent infection, but could also hinder recovery, she suggested.

She added that early work had already shown that manipulating electricity can help repair damaged spinal cords.

A team from the University of North Texas improved sensory nerve function in 10 patients using electrical stimulus, although no effect was seen on motor function.

‘We’re not saying electricity is the only thing that matters, but it is one piece of the puzzle that has been neglected,’ said Dr Rajnicek.

Work it Out

It sounds like a couch potato’s dream: two-and-a-half minutes of exercise could be just as good as a 90-minute run.

Research suggests that short, sharp bursts of exercise are better at warding off heart disease than much longer – but less strenuous – sessions.

Academic Stuart Gray asked a group of men aged between 18 and 35 to either do high-intensity sprints on an exercise bike or walk for half an hour on a treadmill.

Those on the exercise bike pedalled as hard as they could for 30 seconds, rested for up to four minutes and then repeated the pattern four times.

This meant that, in all, they did two and a half minutes of exercise strenuous enough to make them sweat and leave them out of breath.

The others walked at the sort of brisk pace recommended in health guidelines.

A day later, they came back into the lab and ate a fatty breakfast and lunch consisting of bread, mayonnaise and cheese.

Their blood was then tested to see how quickly the levels of fat in their blood fell – as fat lingering in the blood after eating is known to trigger the first in a series of steps that can lead to clogging of the arteries and heart disease.

The results revealed that walking cut fat by 11 per cent, compared with not doing any exercise.

'Less strenuous': The other group of men were asked to walk for half an hour on a treadmillBut the short sharp bursts of exercise cut it by 33 per cent – the sort of effect expected from a 90-minute run.

Dr Gray, of Aberdeen University, told the British Science Festival that short bursts of intensive exercise may somehow spur the liver into taking in more fat from the blood, before storing it or burning it off.

He said that, while the high intensity training ‘won’t necessarily’ improve strength, it does boost endurance. He added that the short duration of the exercise was ‘highly important as time is often cited as the main barrier to taking part in exercise’.

The need to rest between the high-intensity activity means the whole routine took around 20 minutes – and it has to be done regularly.

Dr Gray said: ‘Although moderate intensity, longer sessions of exercise can help protect the body against cardio-vascular disease, the findings of our study showed that higher-intensity shorter intervals of exercise might be a more effective method to improve health and reduce the time commitment to exercise.’

 Attribution: Mail Online

Cures What Ails Ya

It’s not a drug known for its benefits to health. In fact, if you were caught with this class A substance and claimed it was for ‘medicinal purposes’ you’d probably be laughed at all the way to the police station.

But, bizarrely, cocaine – and other drugs like morphine – were routinely used in remedies for coughs, colds and toothaches as a cure-all magic ingredient in the Victorian era.

Long before the drugs were criminalized – and prior to the regulation of both medicine and advertising – the substances were frequently touted as effective treatments for illnesses as serious as cancer and liver disease.

 
Inappropriate: An advert for cocaine toothache drops, marketed at children, which cost just 15 cents in 1885 
 
An advert for Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup, a patent medicine of the late 19th century which contained morphine, and was used as a cure for teething troubles in infants
 advert for Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a patent medicine of the late 19th century which contained morphine, and was used as a cure for teething troubles in infants

These bizarre posters reveal the lethal medical concoctions containing cocaine and opium once unwittingly consumed by millions.

The quack cure advertisements – often depicting children – claimed to heal a long list of illnesses.

But the miracle cures were often loaded with substances such as cocaine, morphine and alcohol – all of which have been proven to be detrimental to our health in large doses.

Seems we’ve come a long way.

Up in smoke: An advert produced by Minnesota Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company in 1895 claiming its cigars don't damage health because they are pure and scientific  An advert produced by Minnesota Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company in 1895 claiming its cigars don’t damage health because they are pure and scientific
 
 
 
An advert from 1900s for Vin Mariani, French tonic wine made from coca leaves, a source of cocaine
A drug advert from 1891 for a kidney and liver cure from US drug company Warner
An advert from 1900s for Vin Mariani (upper), French tonic wine made from coca leaves, a source of cocaine. Pictured (lower) is a drug advert from 1891 for a kidney and liver cure from US drug company Warner.
 

Dr Seth Arnold's Cough Killer, which contained morphine, from the late 1800s was claimed to cure coughs, asthma, pneumonia, malaria and many other diseases

Dr Seth Arnold’s Cough Killer, which contained morphine, from the late 1800s was claimed to cure coughs, asthma, pneumonia, malaria and many other diseases

All the products were once readily available over the counter and millions rushed to snap them up around the world in the late 1800s.

One advert for Ozone paper urges buyers to ignite its special paper and inhale the smoke to cure their asthma and bronchitis.

While Dr Seth Arnold’s Cough Killer’s campaign showed a young girl clutching a puppy – but contained high levels of Morphine.

Another ad dating back to 1885 advertised its ‘instantaneous cure’ for toothache – using cocaine.

 
Purely ridiculous: These products from the early 1900s were advertised as a 'blood purifier' to treat cancer
Purely ridiculous: These products from the early 1900s were advertised as a ‘blood purifier’ to treat cancer
 
 
 
An advert from 1895 selling a product that makes you fat, something seen as the sign of good health before regulation was introduced
An advertisement for an anti-fat remedy, patented by the Botanic Medicine Company, Buffalo, New York, in 1878
 Weighty issue: An advert, (upper), from 1895 selling a product that makes you fat – something seen as the sign of good health- and one for weight loss,(lower), in 1878
 
An advert for Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup for children from the late 19th century, which contained morphine
 advert for Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for children from the late 19th century, which contained morphine

Stephen Jackson, a quack cure and medicine historian, said: ‘There were a lot of medicines before the 1900s that incorporated cocaine and alcohol, simply because they were cheap components.

‘Since nobody tested them to see if they lived up to their wild claims, companies could say and claim anything they wanted to.

‘They invested a tremendous amount of money in advertising and the public was pretty gullible. People made a tremendous amount of money around the world hawking this stuff.

‘They used a lot of alcohol in products for kidney and liver problems for example, which is the last thing you want in that situation.

Dr Scott's Electric Flesh Brush, featured in this 1881 advert, is a concept still used today. Millions use body brushes to improve circulation and skin conditionDr Scott’s Electric Flesh Brush, featured in this 1881 advert, is a concept still used today. Millions use body brushes to improve circulation and skin condition
 
 
An advert from 1912 claiming to offer treatment for female diseases and piles, which consisted mainly of cocoa butter
An advert from 1912 claiming to offer treatment for female diseases and piles, which consisted mainly of cocoa butter
 An advert from 1912 (upper) claiming to offer treatment for female diseases and piles, which consisted mainly of cocoa butter. A breast enlargement advert (lower) dating from the early 1900s
 
This tubular device claimed to cure erectile dysfunction in the 1900s. The Vital Power massager created a vacuum via a crank that supposedly increased blood flow to the penis
This tubular device claimed to cure erectile dysfunction in the 1900s. The Vital Power massager created a vacuum via a crank that supposedly increased blood flow to the penis

Shock tactics: This advertisement from 1889 shows a product that supplied patients with a continuous current of low intensity electricity for a range of health remedies

Shock tactics: This advertisement from 1889 shows a product that supplied patients with a continuous current of low intensity electricity for a range of health remedies

 
 
Vintage health clinic advertisement in a newspaper dating from the early 1900's for Dr. Flint, Chicago Rupture Specialist, an unproven proprietary or patent medicine
Vintage health clinic advertisement in a newspaper dating from the early 1900’s for Dr. Flint, Chicago Rupture Specialist, an unproven proprietary or patent medicine
 
Attribution: Daily Mail

The ‘Hulk’ Protein

If you hate the idea of working out in a gym to look toned and muscle-bound, then this could be the news you have been waiting for.

Scientists in Australia believe they have found one of the molecular keys to a protein that promotes weight and muscle mass gain – without any exercise involved.

Researchers have found that by blocking the function of Grb10 – nicknamed the ‘Hulk’ protein – while mice were in the womb, they were considerably stronger and more muscular at birth than normal mice.

The study, published in the September issue of the respected FASEB Journal, has important implications for a wide range of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, Type 2 diabetes, and problems produced by muscle inflammation.

Grb10 seems to have a significant role in promoting muscle growth without any change in activity, diet, or adverse health effects, according to researchers.

“By identifying a novel mechanism regulating muscle development, our work has revealed potential new strategies to increase muscle mass”, said Lowenna J. Holt from the Diabetes and Obesity Research Program at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

Holt and her colleagues compared two groups of mice. One with the Grb10 gene and the other where it was blocked.

Researchers examined the properties of the muscles in both adult and newborn mice and discovered that the increase caused by the loss of Grb10 had mainly occurred during prenatal development.

These results suggested that it may in future be possible to alter muscle growth and help faster healing, as the processes involved in muscle regeneration and repair are similar to

Um…Gross

those for the initial formation of muscle.

But Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, warned: “Don’t turn in your gym membership just yet.  If you want big muscles, the classic prescription still applies: lift heavy things, eat and sleep right, and have your hormones checked.”

‘”But this study shows that when we understand the basic science of how muscle fibers grow and multiply, we will be able to lift the burden – literally – of muscle disease for many of our patients.”

Attribution: Mail Online

Antibiotics Cause Obesity

I don’t know if I buy this but it’s an interesting tidbit to consider. I personally, am more concerned with the overuse of antibiotics leading the way to anitbiotic resistant super-bugs.

Antibiotics Can Make Kids Fat

by:

Researchers are exploring a new culprit in the ever-growing childhood obesity epidemic: rampant use of antibiotic drugs to treat minor childhood illness.

For decades, farmers have been doping commercial livestock with antibiotics because the drugs increase, by about 15 percent, the weight of cattle, pigs and chickens.

A new study from the International Journal of Obesity suggests that treating infants with antibiotics during the first several months of their lives could have the same fattening effects. Babies that were given antibiotics within the first six months of life were more likely to be overweight as toddlers than those not exposed to the drugs. The study couldn’t prove beyond the shadow of doubt, however, that antibiotics were the only cause of weight gain.

A similar study examined the medical records of children born in the U.K. in the early 1990s and also found that infants given antibiotics within the first six months of life were more likely to be overweight or obese as toddlers when compared to babies not exposed to the drugs.

Other studies on the effects of antibiotics on the gut microbes of lab mice might explain the reason behind the weight gain. Researchers found that in the mice, antibiotics changed the makeup of gut bacteria that are instrumental in helping the body break down food and store proper amounts of fat.

More Advances in Cancer Research

A chemical found in green tea has been used to treat two types of skin cancer, scientists say.

The extract is too weak to make an impact when consumed in tea. However, when applied to cancer cells in the lab it made two-thirds of tumors shrink or disappear.

Scientists at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, who carried out the research, found the extract, known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), had no side-effects on other cells or tissue.

They created a cell with EGCg and transferrin, a protein that naturally targets and latches on to the surface of cancer cells, and applied it to tumors.

Tests were done on two types of skin cancer: epidermoid carcinoma which forms scales on the surface of the skin and melanoma which often develops in people who have moles on their skin.

In both studies, 40 per cent of tumors vanished, while 30 per cent of tumors in carcinoma cases and 20 per cent in melanoma cases shrank. A further 10 per cent of melanoma tumors were stabilized, so did not grow or shrink.

Anti-cancer properties of EGCg were established in earlier laboratory tests elsewhere. Scientists at other universities around the world have experimented with it to treat prostate cancer and leukemia.

Lead researcher Dr Christine Dufes, from the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘These are very encouraging results which we hope could pave the way for new and effective cancer treatments.

‘When we used our method, the green tea extract reduced the size of many of the tumors every day, in some cases removing them altogether. By contrast, the extract had no effect at all when it was delivered by other means, as every one of these tumors continued to grow.

‘This research could open doors to new treatments for what is still one of the biggest killer diseases in many countries.’

The research is published in the medical journal Nanomedicine.
Attribution: Nanomedicine, Daily Mail

Sunbathing Sharks

Sharks who spend too much time in the sun get a tan, researchers have discovered.

However, they do not appear to suffer from skin disease, raising hopes that shark skin could hold the key to beating skin cancer.

‘As far as I’m aware, sharks appear very robust to skin damage and disease,’ said Michael Sweet, a researcher in the School of Biology at Newcastle University’s Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability.

‘I don’t know what makes shark skin so special, but it definitely needs to be studied.

‘There have been a lot of attempts to induce melanomas in sharks to no affect.’

Researchers hope that if they can find the secret of how shark skin protects itself, it could be used to create a ‘shark lotion’ to protect human skin.

Another recent study, undertaken by the California State University Shark Lab, also looked at tanning in sharks.

Hammerhead shark pups held in a shallow clear seawater pond at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology darkened after several weeks, where UV levels are 600 times greater than those in their regular habitat of Kaneohe Bay.

An opaque filter was placed over the pectoral fins of untanned sharks to cut out UV light, to determine whether the darkening was due to solar radiation.

‘Areas of skin from under the opaque filter were untanned, whereas all other skin exposed to direct sunlight was considerably darker, resulting in distinct ‘tan lines’, the researchers said.

Our experiments demonstrated that the sharks were truly sun-tanning and that the response was, in fact, induced by the increase in solar radiation, particularly UV.

‘These sharks increased the melanin content in their skin by 14 percent over 21 days, and up to 28 percent over 215 days.’

The researchers said the only other animals known to suntan are mammals.

Attribution: Medical Daily, Mail Online

Gimme Some Skin

Replacement skin may soon be easily available for burn victims and sufferers of other skin-related conditions following a break-through in the laboratory.

Scientists have been able to engineer skin on a large-scale – growing centimeters at a time, a huge step-up from previous techniques which could grow just microns at a time.

The researchers from the University of Toronto are able to grow sheets of skin by placing individual cells into a gel-like sheet, and they can  even be grown into specific shapes – such as letters.

Axel Guenther, associate professor in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, said: ‘There’s a lot of interest in soft materials, particularly biomaterials, but until now no one has demonstrated a simple and scalable one-step process to go from microns to centimeters.’

The invention, presented in a cover article for the journal Advanced Materials this month, is currently being commercialized, with the university filing two patents on the device.

The scientists perfected the technique by mixing biomaterials, causing a chemical reaction that forms a ‘mosaic hydrogel’ – a sheet-like substance compatible with the growth of cells into living tissues, into which different types of cells can be seeded in very precise and controlled placements.

This is unlike more typical methods, for instance scaffolding, where cells are seeded onto an artificial structure capable of supporting three-dimensional tissue formation.

Instead, cells are planted onto the mosaic hydrogel sheets as they are being created – generating the perfect conditions for cells to grow.

The placement of the cells is so precise, in fact, that scientists can spell words and can precisely mimic the natural placement of cells in living tissues, which could prove very beneficial for burn victims.

The resulting tissues, says Lian Leng, lead author on the project and a 3rd year PHD candidate, are remarkably stable.

She said: ‘In this case, when we put the cells in the right places we create cellular organization quite naturally.’

Guenther added: ‘My laboratory is currently pursuing different applications of the technology with different tissues.’

Currently, the two UofT labs are also collaborating their research with a burn unit at Sunnybrook Hospital.

‘At some point [the machine] could allow dermal [skin] grafts to be prepared that perhaps will be less expensive, and more efficient,’ said Guenther.

Attribution: Mail Online

Cancer Cure?

The deadly ‘mother cells’ that drive the growth of tumors have been pinpointed for the first time – a breakthrough which could help in the development of a ‘real cure’, scientists say.

In three separate studies on different cancers, researchers have shown the growth and life of a tumor to be dependent on one small group of cells.

These cells, known as cancer stem cells, are also thought to fuel the disease’s spread around the body – the most common cause of death in cancer patients.

They are believed to be resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and so to be to blame for cancers coming back after treatment.

But, until now, no one had proved them to exist in tumors.

The breakthrough, reported simultaneously in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, raises the prospect of better treatments for cancer.

Some scientists liken the killing of cancer stem cells to pulling dandelions out by the roots, rather than merely removing their heads.

They say that combining a drug that attacks these cells with current treatments could lead to a cure.

Ben Simons, of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said that knowing just which cells to target ‘might be a much better strategy to effect a real cure and prevent relapse’.

Professor Simons’s study tracked the development of skin cancer in mice. By tracking individual cells, it showed a small number of them drive the growth of the tumor.

A second study identified a group of cells that allow the most common type of brain tumor to regrow after chemotherapy.

This recurrence and resistance to treatment is blamed for the poor prognosis of glioblastoma, with patients living an average of just a year after diagnosis.

University of Texas researcher Luis Parada showed that killing the stem cells, with the help of genetic wizardry, stopped the brain tumors from growing any further in mice.

The third study showed the importance of cancer stem cells in early-stage stomach cancer.

The experiments are important because they tracked the progress of individual cells in tumors as they appeared. This makes the results more reliable than those of previous experiments, which have used more artificial scenarios.

In time, the work could lead to new drugs that home in on and destroy the ‘mother cells’. Options could include combining these with standard therapies to mop up cancer cells left behind by traditional treatment.

However, the work is still in the early stages and any patient benefits are likely to be many years away.

Hurdles include finding a drug that kills cancer stem cells without harming essential healthy stem cells.

Dr Michaela Frye, a Cancer Research UK scientist based at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Their results add even more weight to the theory that cancers are driven by a distinct group of cells called cancer stem cells.’

Attribution: Mail Online