Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Muscular Dystrophy and Eye Defects

photo by Look Into My Eyes

Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is a degenerative disease causing the weakening of muscles in the face, shoulders, and upper arms. The disease usually manifests itself by the age of 20 and progresses slowly, with occasional stages of rapid deterioration. As an autosomal dominant disorder, FSHD is caused by a DNA deletion in chromosome 4. In addition to the weakening of muscles, many with the disorder experience vision problems due to abnormal blood vessel formation in the eyes.

About 95% of those affected show a defect in the expression of FRG1, a gene which aids in skeletal muscle development in frogs as well as humans. Researchers at the University of Illinois decided to determine if the FRG1 gene was also responsible for the defective angiogenesis in the eye of FSHD patients. They determined that the FRG1 gene product was highly expressed in the blood vessels of frogs and is important for proper vessel growth and organization. Thus the lack of this gene would account for abnormalities seen in the eye of humans, which was further shown by the study. Aberrant FRG1 expression therefore leads to defective skeletal muscle development and angiogenesis of the eye, both hallmarks of FSHD.

Source: Science Daily- Researchers Identify Gene Associated With Muscular Dystrophy-related Vision Problems

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walnuts and Breast Cancer

photo by SusanneK

The health benefit of eating nuts regularly is known by most- nuts contain protein, healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamins. A study from the Marshall University School of Medicine now shows that consuming walnuts, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols and flavonoids, may help to prevent breast cancer. The study was done using a strain of mice that normally develops breast cancer. Mice were put on either a standard diet or fed the human equivalent of 2 ounces of walnuts each day. The walnut-fed mice developed fewer tumors; when tumors did arise, they took longer to develop and were much smaller compared to tumors in non-walnut fed mice. Although these studies were performed in mice, it is likely that similar cancer prevention benefits would be seen in humans. Previous reports have also linked nuts with lowered risk of coronary heart disease in women. In addition to walnuts, other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish (particularly salmon), flaxseeds and green vegetables.

Sources: BBC News- “Walnuts May Prevent Breast Cancer”
Science Daily- “Walnuts May Prevent Breast Cancer”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Intradermal Vaccinations

photo by NathanF

The thought of shots and needles makes many people cringe and in some cases avoid getting important vaccinations. Most vaccines are administered intramuscularly, as this optimizes the immunogenicity of the vaccine and minimizes adverse reactions at the site of injection. Researchers have recently studied the efficiency of intradermal (ID) vaccination compared to intramuscular (IM) vaccination against seasonal influenza. The ID method uses a narrow 1.5 mm needle which is inserted perpendicularly into the skin, delivering the drug into the upper layers of the skin rather than into deeper tissues beneath the skin or muscle. Since skin acts as an immunological barrier and is home to professional antigen-presenting cells such as dermal dendritic cells (see March 18, 2009 post) and Langerhans cells, ID vaccination delivers antigen directly to immune cells.

By testing different amounts of the vaccine delivered either ID or IM, a dose was determined where ID vaccination was statistically non-inferior to IM vaccination and showed comparable immunogenic and safety profiles. Although ID injection resulted in increased local inflammation and redness, this study validates the use of ID vaccination and may prove to be a good alternative for those who dislike IM injections.

Reference: Beran J, Ambrozaitis A, Laiskonis A, Mickuviene N, Bacart P, Calozet Y, Demanet E, Heijmans S, Van Belle P, Weber F, Salamand C. (2009) Intradermal influenza vaccination of healthy adults using a new microinjection system: a 3-year randomised controlled safety and immunogenicity trial. BMC Medicine 7(1):13.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Magnetic Stem Cells

photo by JonathanPalero

Self-renewal and potency: the beauty of stem cells. Researchers at Keele University have now developed a clever method of delivering stem cells to a desired destination through the use of magnets. In the study, stem cells coated with magnetic particles were injected into mice and magnetically maneuvered to where they were needed, leading to the growth of new bone. The team estimates that the technique could be tested in humans within 5 years and used to treat injuries, fractures, and arthritis. In this case, a patient’s own stem cells would be harvested from their bone marrow and coated with magnetic particles. The magnetized cells would then be re-injected into the body where magnets would be used to properly position them.

Source: BBC News- “Bone-repairing stem cell jab hope”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eat Your Curry Powder

photo by madpai

Curry powder may be doing more than flavoring your food! Turmeric, a spice found in curry powder, has been shown to have many health benefits. These benefits arise from curcumin, the main component of turmeric which gives the spice its rich yellow-orange color. In addition to having antioxidant properties, curcumin exhibits anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects, all of which are important in disease progression. Several reports now show that curcumin has the potential to fight against Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, psoriasis, and cardiovascular diseases. In the case of Alzheimer’s, curcumin inhibits/slows the accumulation of amyloid plaques (dense deposits of beta-amyloid protein) in the brain of mice. Some suggest this may explain in part the low rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India, a population with prevalent use of curry powder and related spices.

Reference: Jagetia, GC and Aggarwal, BB (2007) “Spicing up” of the immune system by curcumin. Journal of Clinical Immunology 27(1): 19-35.

"Curry Spice May Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Red in the Face

photo by nyki_m

What do you find attractive? Rosy red cheeks, perhaps? In humans, red coloration of the skin is usually viewed as a sign of physiological health and attractiveness. The same is true for several bird species and non-human primates; animals often use red coloration as signals for health, social status, hormonal conditions or attracting mates. Researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland hypothesized that increased skin blood perfusion would be perceived as healthy and that oxygenated blood color (bright red) of the face would appear healthier than deoxygenated blood color (bluish-red). To test this theory, individuals were shown facial images on a monitor, where color could be adjusted, and asked to change the coloring of the faces until they appeared as healthy as possible. The adjustments in color corresponded to an increase or decrease in facial blood perfusion and oxygen.

The hypothesis proved to be true- blood coloration of facial images was increased, suggesting skin coloration is viewed as a cue to underlying health. Interestingly, when comparing female and male faces, more oxygenated blood color was added to female faces. So how can you get that rosy glow? For women, the formation and widening of blood vessels results in an increase in skin blood color, processes intensified naturally by female hormones and exercise.

Reference: Stephen ID, Coetzee V, Law Smith M, Perrett DI (2009) Skin Blood Perfusion and Oxygenation Colour Affect Perceived Human Health. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5083. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005083