A Nasal Spray to Treat Alzheimer’s?

A host of debilitating disorders of the central nervous system cry out for treatment. Diseases like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s — colloquially known as “The Long Goodbye” — come prominently to mind. All exact torturous tolls, both physical and mental, on the afflicted and their families. Nobody should have to endure them.

But imagine, one day, if Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s could be treated with a simple nasal spray. Wouldn’t that be incredible? Well, that’s just what Cobi Heijnen, a professor of neuroimmunology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, hopes to accomplish, using ubiquitous, often-overlooked bubble-like organelles present in almost all kinds of cells: exosomes.

Perhaps the most obstructing barrier to treating neurological conditions is quite literally a barrier. Tightly packed endothelial cells with restrictive junctions separate the body’s circulating blood from the brain’s extracellular fluid. This blood-brain barrier is a decidedly good thing, as it seals off our precious brains from common bacterial infections. However, like the overprotective father that blindly regards all of his daughter’s boyfriends as devilish miscreants, the blood-brain barrier frequently thwarts the delivery of many beneficial diagnostic and therapeutic agents to the brain, making it exceedingly difficult to treat neurological ailments.

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How Affordable Will Your Care Be?

by: the Common Constitutionalist

You think health care is expensive now; just wait til it’s free.

ShockingStatements-Part1Welcome to the wonderful world of the “Affordable” Care Act, or Obamacare. It hasn’t even been fully implemented, but the nation is already feeling its positive vibe.

First came the new federal tax on medical devices. Then a shrinkage of Doctor own private practices. And now, more than a year away from full implementation, the largest state in the union claims it won’t have enough doctors.

The makers of medical devices, such as implants, have already been hit with the medical device tax to help pay for Obamacare. Because of the tax one such employer, Signus medical, a Minnesota based maker of spinal implants, has but nine employees left. Those still employed have taken a 40% pay cut and the company owner, Tom Hogbaug, no longer gets paid at adevice taxll. He feels terrible having to let people go saying, “Sorry, I have to lay you off but I have to pay tax to the federal government. I look around and don’t know how to explain it to everybody.”

Minnesota Congressman Eric Paulsen explains, “There have already been thousands of layoffs across the country. That means fewer jobs. It means less innovation.”

As the act gets closer to full implementation sometime in 2014, more and more doctors will simply hang it up and stop practicing medicine. They may sell their practices, convert to fee-for-service, if they are able, or just retire altogether.

Dr. Richard Armdoctors-quittingstrong, a Michigan surgeon and anti-Obamacare advocate says, “every single day, colleagues are talking about retiring early, getting out of clinical medicine or going into hospital administration, where you don’t have to think about patient care anymore.”

Dermatologist, Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser, who practiced medicine for 25 years has already gotten out. The doctor stop practicing in 2011 saying, “I’ve interrupted practicing medicine because of Obamacare. I read the bill… and didn’t want to go down that road with Obamacare.”

Now the L.A. Times is reporting that there will be a severe shortage of doctors in California due to the “Affordable Care Act”. Frankly, if it were just California, I’d say it couldn’t happen to a better state. But alas California is just the harbinger of things to come nationwide.

Michael Mishak of the Los Angeles Times writes, “There aren’t enough doctors to treat the crush of newly insured patients.”

Ed Hernandez, a state senator from West Covina California asks, “What good is it if they are going to have a health insurance card but no access to doctors?”obamacare means rationed care

Mr. Mishak reports that some lawmakers want to fill the gap by redefining who can provide healthcare.

Some California lawmakers are proposing that physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners set up independent primary care practices. Pharmacists and optometrists could also be primary care providers, diagnosing and managing some chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Yes Dr., I’ll take the bifocal lenses, that lovely pair of eyeglasses frames over there, and some insulin. Brilliant!

Doctors claim that this proposal could jeopardize patient safety. Could jeopardize safety?! Ya think?!

California state secretary of HHS told a group of healthcare advocates, “We’re are going to have to provide care at lower levels. I think a lot of people are trained to do work that licenses don’t allow them to do.”

It seems the reality of the nightmare that is Obamacare, that I’m quite certain they all supported, is starting to sink in. So a state like California, where you need a license to be a dog walker or give someone a manicure is proposing that those without proper credentials or licenses just be allowed to open medical practices and treat potentially life-threatening illnesses.

If that’s the case, why don’t we just let the guy at the auto body shop become a Chiropractor? Maybe the Roto-Rooter man can become a proctologist. The local barkeep can set up a psychiatrist practice and my plumber can moonlight as a gastroenterologist. Man, we will be swimming in doctors! This will be great!

My advice… Don’t get sick… Ever!

Attribution: Michelle Malkin, LA Times

The Joys of Obamacare

Funds run low for health insurance in state ‘high-risk pools’

 

Tens of thousands of Americans who cannot get health insurance because of preexisting medical problems will be blocked from a program designed to help them because funding is running low.

Obama administration officials said Friday that the state-based “high-risk pools” set up under the 2010 health-care law will be closed to new applicants as soon as Saturday and no later than March 2, depending on the state.

But they stressed that coverage for about 100,000 people who are now enrolled in the high-risk pools will not be affected.

“We’re being very careful stewards of the money that has been appropriated to us and we wanted to balance our desire to maximize the number of people who can gain from this program while making sure people who are in the program have coverage,” said Gary Cohen, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. “This was the most prudent step for us to take at this point in time.”

The program, which was launched in summer 2010, was always intended as a temporary bridge for the uninsured. But it was supposed to last until 2014. At that point,  the health-care law will bar insurers from rejecting or otherwise discriminating against people who are already sick, enabling such people to buy plans through the private market.

From the start, analysts questioned whether the $5 billion that Congress appropriated for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan — as the program is called — was sufficient. Please Continue Reading

Cure for Deafness

Drug could reverse ‘permanent’ deafness by regenerating hair cells in inner ear

A potential cure for permanent deafness has  been found by scientists using a drug that stimulates the inner  ear.

The drug, codenamed LY411575, triggers the regeneration of sensory hair cells.

Until now it has not been possible to restore the cells once they have been lost due to factors such as loud noise exposure,  infection and toxic drugs.

This type of deafness, often suffered by rock  musicians and DJs, is generally assumed to be irreversible.

Too loud? Scientists are developing a drug to reverse damage caused by loud noises
Too loud? Scientists are developing a drug to reverse  damage caused by loud noises

Scientists succeeded in partially restoring hearing to mice that had been deafened by loud noise.

Although the research is at an early stage,  they believe it could lead to effective treatments for acute noise-induced deafness in humans.

The tiny sensory hairs in the cochlea are vital to hearing. Sound vibrations transferred from the eardrum shake the hairs, causing nerve messages to be fired to the brain.

Without the hairs, the hearing pathway is  blocked and no signals are received by the brain’s auditory  centre.

While birds and fish are capable of regenerating sound-sensing hair cells, mammals are not.

Close-up: Tiny inner ear hairs are essential for hearing
Close-up: Tiny inner ear hairs are essential for  hearing

The new approach involves reprogramming inner  ear cells by inhibiting a protein called Notch.

Previous laboratory research had shown that  Notch signals help prevent stem cells in the cochlea transforming themselves  into new sensory hair cells.

The drug LY411575 suppresses Notch. Mice with noise-induced hearing loss generated functioning sensory hair cells after the  drug was injected into their damaged cochleas.

Lead researcher Dr Albert Edge, from Harvard  Medical School in the US, said: ‘We show that hair cells can be regenerated from the surrounding cells in the cochlea.

‘These cells, called supporting cells,  transdifferentiate into hair cells after inhibition of the Notch signalling  pathway, and the new hair cell generation results in a recovery of hearing in  the region of the cochlea where the new hair cells appear.

‘The significance of this study is that  hearing loss is a huge problem affecting 250 million worldwide.’

Hearing loss is a problem affecting 250 million worldwide
Hearing loss is a problem affecting 250 million  worldwide

Details of the study are reported in the journal Neuron.

A green fluorescent protein was used to label  the newly generated hair cells.

Electronic measurements of auditory brainstem responses confirmed that three months after treatment, lost hair cells had been replaced and were working.

Improvement in hearing was seen over a wide range of frequencies.

Dr Edge added: ‘The missing hair cells had been replaced by new hair cells after the drug treatment, and analysis of their location allowed us to correlate the improvement in hearing to the areas where the hair cells were replaced.

‘We’re excited about these results because  they are a step forward in the biology of regeneration and prove that mammalian  hair cells have the capacity to regenerate.

‘With more research, we think that regeneration of hair cells opens the door to potential therapeutic applications  in deafness.’

Vivienne Michael, chief executive of the charity Deafness Research UK, said: ‘As always, we have to be cautious about new research findings but this US research is extremely encouraging.

‘At the moment there is no way of reversing eight in 10 cases of hearing loss, including noise-induced deafness and the progressive deafness so many of us experience as we age – hearing aids are the only answer.

Attribution: Mail Online

Killer T Cell

No, it’s not the name of a rap artist.

Scientists have created cells capable of killing cancer for the first time.

The dramatic breakthrough was made by researchers in Japan who created cancer-specific killer T cells.

They say the development paves the way for the cells being directly injected into cancer patients for therapy.

Scientists have created cells capable of killing cancer for the first time. Pictured: microscopic cells being cultured to kill cancerScientists have created cells capable of killing cancer  for the first time. Pictured: microscopic cells being cultured to kill  cancer

The cells naturally occur in small numbers,  but it is hoped injecting huge quantities back into a patient could turbo-charge the immune system.

Researchers at the RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology revealed they have succeeded for the first time in creating cancer-specific, immune system cells called killer T lymphocytes.

To create these, the team first had to reprogram T lymphocytes specialized in killing a certain type of cancer, into another type of cell called induced pluripotent stem cells  (iPS cells).

These iPS cells then generated fully active, cancer-specific T lymphocytes.killer-t-cell

These lymphocytes regenerated from iPS cells  could potentially serve as cancer therapy in the future.

Previous research has shown that killer T  lymphocytes produced in the lab using conventional methods are inefficient in  killing cancer cells mainly because they have a very short life-span, which  limits their use as treatment for cancer.

To overcome the problems, the Japanese researchers, led by Hiroshi Kawamoto reprogrammed mature human killer T lymphocytes into iPS cells and investigated how these cells differentiate.

The team induced killer T lymphocytes  specific for a certain type of skin cancer to reprogram into iPS cells by exposing the lymphocytes to the ‘Yamanaka factors’ – a group of  compounds that induce cells to revert back to a non-specialized, stage.

Japanese researchers who created cancer-specific killer T cells (pictured) say the development paves the way for the cells being directly injected into cancer patients for therapyJapanese researchers who created cancer-specific killer  T cells (pictured) say the development paves the way for the cells being  directly injected into cancer patients for therapy

The iPS cells obtained were then grown in the lab and induced to differentiate into killer T lymphocytes again. This new batch of T lymphocytes was shown to be specific for the same type of skin cancer as the original lymphocytes.

They maintained the genetic reorganisation, enabling them to express the cancer-specific receptor on their surface. The new T lymphocytes were also shown to be active and to produce an anti-tumor compound.

Doctor Kawamoto said: ‘We have succeeded in the expansion of antigen-specific T cells by making iPS cells and differentiating them back into functional T cells.

‘The next step will be to test whether these T cells can selectively kill tumor cells but not other cells in the body. If  they do, these cells might be directly injected into patients for therapy. This could be realized in the not-so-distant future.’

The findings were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Dr Dusko Ilic, Senior Lecturer in Stem Cell Science, King’s College London, said: ‘The study tackled a novel, quite interesting approach to cell based therapy, something that we do not usually hear about.

‘Although this approach requires further verification and a lot of work needs to be done before we can think about clinical trials, the initial data are promising.

‘This pioneering work definitely provides a strong foundation to build and expand our knowledge about new opportunities in cell based therapy and personalized medicine.’

Attribution: Daily Mail

Heal Thy Self

Human skin is a special material: It needs to be flexible, so that it doesn’t crack every time a user clenches his fist. It needs to be sensitive to stimuli like touch and pressure—which are measured as electrical signals, so it needs to conduct electricity. Crucially, if it’s to survive the wear and tear it’s put through every day, it needs to be able to repair itself. Now, researchers in California may have designed a synthetic version—a flexible, electrically conductive, self-healing polymer.

The result is part of a decadelong miniboom in “epidermal electronics”—the production of circuits thin and flexible enough to be attached to skin (for use as wearable heart rate monitors, for example) or to provide skinlike touch sensitivity to prosthetic limbs. The problem is that silicon, the base material of the electronics industry, is brittle. So various research groups have investigated different ways to produce flexible electronic sensors.

Chemists, meanwhile, have become increasingly interested in “self-healing” polymers. This sounds like science fiction, but several research groups have produced plastics that can join their cut edges together when scientists heat them, shine a light on them, or even just hold the cut edges together. In 2008, researchers at ESPCI ParisTech showed that a specially designed rubber compound could recover its mechanical properties after being broken and healed repeatedly.

Chemical engineer Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and her team combined these two concepts and explored the potential of  self-healing polymers in epidermal electronics. However, all the self-healing polymers demonstrated to date had had very low bulk electrical conductivities and would have been little use in electrical sensors. Writing in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers detail how they increased the conductivity of a self-healing polymer by incorporating nickel atoms, allowing electrons to “jump” between the metal atoms. The polymer is sensitive to applied forces like pressure and torsion (twisting) because such forces alter the distance between the nickel atoms, affecting the difficulty the electrons have jumping from one to the other and changing the electrical resistance of the polymer.

To demonstrate that both the mechanical and the electrical properties of the material could be repeatedly restored to their original values after the material had been damaged and healed, the researchers cut the polymer completely through with a scalpel. After pressing the cut edges together gently for 15 seconds, the researchers found the sample went on to regain 98% of its original conductivity. And crucially, just like the ESPCI group’s rubber compound, the Stanford team’s polymer could be cut and healed over and over again.

“I think it’s kind of a breakthrough,” says John J. Boland, a chemist at the CRANN nanoscience institute at Trinity College Dublin. “It’s the first time that we’ve seen this combination of both mechanical and electrical self-healing.” He is, however, skeptical about one point: “With a scalpel you can very precisely cut the material without inducing significant local mechanical deformation around the wound.” Failure due to mechanical tension, however, could stretch the material, producing significant scarring and preventing complete self-healing, he suspects.

Now, Bao and her fellow researchers are working to make the polymer more like human skin. “I think it will be very interesting if we can make the self-healing skin elastic,” she says, “because, while it’s currently flexible, it’s still not stretchable. That’s definitely something we’re moving towards for our next-generation self-healing skin.”

Attribution: Real Clear Science

New Pacemaker

More than 3 million people worldwide have their hearts regulated by a pacemaker, with numbers rising due to an aging population.

Patients face regular operations to replace worn-out batteries, but now scientists believe a person’s own beating heart could generate enough electricity to power the life-saving  devices.

Researchers at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan have created a prototype that runs of piezoelectricity – the electrical charge generated from motion.

Future of pacemakers? The energy harvester developed at the University of Michigan can harness energy from vibrations and convert it to electricityFuture of pacemakers? The energy harvester developed at the University of Michigan can harness energy from vibrations and convert it to  electricity

Lead author Dr Amin Karami said it could be a promising technological solution for pacemakers, because they require only small amounts of power to operate.

At present the implanted devices, which send electrical impulses into the heart to help  maintain a normal heartbeat, have to be replaced every five to seven years when their batteries run out.

Dr Karami said: ‘Many of the patients are children who live with pacemakers for many years. You can imagine how many operations they are spared if this new technology is  implemented.’

The researchers stumbled across the medical breakthrough by accident. They were looking to design a light unmanned aircraft which could be powered by the vibrations of its own  wings.

They then realized that the properties of  certain power-generating piezoelectric materials could be applied to powering pacemakers.

Dr Karami: Said device could save patients from countless operations to replace batteries
Dr Karami said device could save patients from countless operations to replace batteries

For the latest study the team measured heartbeat-induced vibrations in the chest. They then used a ‘shaker’ to reproduce the vibrations in the laboratory and connected it to a prototype cardiac energy harvester they had developed.

Measurements of the prototype’s performance, based on a wide range of simulated heartbeats, showed the energy harvester generated more than 10 times the power required by modern pacemakers.

‘The device is about half the size of batteries now used in pacemakers and includes a self-powering back-up capacitor’, Dr Karami said. Researchers hope to integrate their technology into commercial pacemakers.

‘What we have proven is that under optimal conditions, this concept is working,’ Dr Karami said.

The researcher, who presented the study at a meeting of the American Heart Association, said the technology might one day also power other implantable cardiac devices, such as  defibrillators.

About 700,000 people worldwide, including 100,000 in the U.S who have heart rhythm disturbances get a pacemaker or defibrillator each year.

In the United States, pacemakers sell for about $5,000, which does not include the cost of surgery, a hospital stay and additional care.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Center for  Advancing  Translational Sciences.

Attribution: Claire Bates

Spare Parts

A kidney-like organ grown from scratch in the lab has been shown to work in animals – an achievement that could be the prelude to growing spare kidneys for someone from their own stem cells.

Donated kidneys are in huge demand worldwide.

Christodoulos Xinaris of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Bergamo, Italy, and his colleagues extracted cells from the kidneys of mouse embryos as they grew in the mother. The cells formed clumps that could be grown for a week in the lab to become “organoids” containing the fine plumbing of nephrons – the basic functional unit of the kidney. A human kidney can contain over 1 million nephrons.

Chemical broth

Next, Xinaris’s team marinated the organoids in a chemical broth called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which makes blood vessels grow. Then they transplanted the organoids onto the kidneys of adult rats.

By injecting the rats with extra VEGF, the researchers encouraged the new tissue to grow its own blood vessels within days. The tissue also developed features called glomeruli, chambers where blood enters the nephrons to be cleansed and filtered.

The researchers then injected the animals with albumin proteins labelled with markers that give out light. They found that the kidney grafts successfully filtered the proteins from the bloodstream, proving that they could crudely perform the main function of real kidneys.

“This is the first kidney tissue in the world totally made from single cells,” says Xinaris. “We have functional, viable, vascularized tissue, able to filter blood and absorb large molecules from it. The final aim is to construct human tissues.”

“This technique could not be used clinically, but it shows a possible way forward for developing a functional kidney in the future,” says Anthony Hollander, a tissue engineer at the University of Bristol, UK. Although it will be several years before lab-grown tissues can benefit patients, the team says that the latest findings are a key milestone on the way.

Xinaris is currently working out how to add ducts to siphon urine to the bladder. So too are other groups. “We can now engineer kidneys with a proper drainage system,” says Jamie Davies at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who is a co-author on the Xinaris paper. “But we’ve not put these in animals yet.”

Cell sources needed

The other stumbling block is finding sources of human cells that will behave like the mouse embryonic kidney cells and self-assemble into complex kidney structures such as nephrons.

Obviously, says Davies, it is unethical to extract kidney embryonic cells from growing human embryos, but several potential cell sources are emerging. These include stem cells from amniotic fluid or the bone marrow, and adult cells such as skin cells converted in the lab into primitive kidney cells.

Both Davies and Xinaris are now working with human cells, incorporating them into the cultures of mouse cells that already grow into kidney tissue. Davies’s team is growing the kidneys within membranes taken from hen’s eggs, which allows them to view and manipulate the whole process.

Kidneys are the latest of several lab-grown organs and replacement parts to be developed, including livers, windpipes, parts of voiceboxes and hearts

The biggest question of all, however, is whether large enough grafts can be made to benefit patients. “We don’t know whether these little fetal kidneys could grow large enough to become fully functioning tissue in humans,” says Davies.

Attribution: NewScientist

Forever Young

Marine animals could hold the key to looking young

Sea urchins could hold the key to youth

Sea urchins could hold the key to youth

Sea cucumbers and sea urchins are able to change the elasticity of collagen within their bodies, and could hold the key to maintaining a youthful appearance, according to scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.

The researchers investigated the genes of marine creatures such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers, known as echinoderms. They found the genes for “messenger molecules” known as peptides, which are released by cells and tell other cells in their bodies what to do.

The study was published online in the journals PLOS One and General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Project leader Professor Maurice Elphick, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Probably the most exciting discovery from our research was finding genes encoding peptides that cause rapid stiffening or softening of collagen in the body wall of sea cucumbers.

“Although sea urchins and sea cucumbers may not look much like us, we are actually quite closely related to them. As we get older, changes in collagen cause wrinkling of our skin, so if we can find out how peptides cause the body wall of a sea cucumber to quickly become stiff or soft then our research might lead to new ways to keeping skin looking young and healthy.”

The scientists analyzed the DNA sequences of thousands of genes in the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the edible sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus and specifically searched for genes encoding peptide messenger molecules. Rapid advances in technology used to sequence genes made the research possible.

“When the human genome was sequenced over a decade ago it cost millions of pounds – now all of the genes in an animal can be sequenced for just a few thousand pounds,” Professor Elphick said.

“We also found that sea urchins have a peptide that is very similar to calcitonin, a hormone that regulates our bones to make sure that they remain strong,” Professor Elphick said.

“So it will be fascinating to find out if calcitonin-type peptides have a similar sort of role in spiny-skinned creatures like sea urchins.”

“These types of advances in basic science are fascinating in their own right but they are also important because they underpin the medical breakthroughs that lead to improvement in the quality of people’s lives.”

Attribution: Real Clear Science

A Slice of Water

You’ve likely heard of or seen swordsmen who can expertly and accurately slice through all kinds of objects, but scientists are now taking precision-cutting to the next level of awesome.

Researchers at Arizona State University, in cooperation with colleagues at Youngstown State University, have perfected the subtle science of slicing water droplets in half. They detailed their exploits in a study just published in the online open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The scientists accomplished the feat using superhydrophobic (extremely water-resistant) knives and cutting surfaces. The knives were composed of polyethylene and zinc and dipped in solutions of silver nitrate and another superhydrophobic solution abbreviated HDFT (its systematic name is far too long to fit on one line). Cutting surfaces were simply composed of Teflon.

Even with their water-resistant knives and cutting boards, the researchers had to be incredibly meticulous when actually slicing the H2O. They delicately cut through water droplets ranging in size from 15 to 70 µL, utilizing wire loops to keep the droplets stationary. Their meticulous efforts produced no satellite drops, nor did they result in any “catastrophic rupture” of the water droplets.

The researchers envision their knives and methods potentially being employed in biomolecular research settings where scientists have to efficiently separate proteins or other components in very small liquid samples.

Attribution: Real Clear Science, The New Scientist