Category Archives: Medicine

How Bacteria in Placenta Could Help Shape Human Health

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Even before a baby is born a microbial ecosystem takes up residence in the placenta, creating a microbiome that may help shape the newborn’s immune system and perhaps exert influence over premature births. The revelation, based on the genetic profile of hundreds of placentas, provides the most definitive answer to date that the life-sustaining organ, which nourishes the fetus and helps remove waste, is far from sterile.

Although the composition of human microbiota has become increasingly clear with genetic-sequencing technology, little is known about what shapes humans’ early microbial communities and exactly when an infant is first exposed to and colonized by those microorganisms.

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Functional nerve cells from skin cells

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A new method of generating mature nerve cells from skin cells could greatly enhance understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, and could accelerate the development of new drugs and stem cell-based regenerative medicine. The nerve cells generated by this new method show the same functional characteristics as the mature cells found in the body, making them much better models for the study of age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and for the testing of new drugs.

Eventually, the technique could also be used to generate mature nerve cells for transplantation into patients with a range of neurodegenerative diseases.

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How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin

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For the 35 percent of American adults who do daily battle with obesity, the main causes of their condition are all too familiar: an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and perhaps some unlucky genes. In recent years, however, researchers have become increasingly convinced that important hidden players literally lurk in human bowels: billions on billions of gut microbes.

Throughout our evolutionary history, the microscopic denizens of our intestines have helped us break down tough plant fibers in exchange for the privilege of living in such a nutritious broth. Yet their roles appear to extend beyond digestion. New evidence indicates that gut bacteria alter the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full. The wrong mix of microbes, it seems, can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes from the moment of birth.

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Lifespan Boosted in Worms via Dietary Supplement Compound

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A compound available in some dietary supplements extends lifespan in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans by interfering with cellular energy production and mimicking the effects of severe calorie restriction. The results, published online in Nature today, suggest that the compound, called α-ketoglutarate, could provide a way to increase longevity.

Though intriguing, data linking the compound to longevity are limited to short-term studies in a worm and should not lead people to start taking α-ketoglutarate supplements, cautions Matt Kaeberlein, who studies ageing at the University of Washington in Seattle. “I’m not sure I would characterize α-ketoglutarate as an anti-ageing drug yet,” says Kaeberlein, who was not involved in the study. “It’s premature.”

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New method sneaks drugs into cancer cells before triggering release

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Biomedical engineering researchers have developed an anti-cancer drug delivery method that essentially smuggles the drug into a cancer cell before triggering its release. The method can be likened to keeping a cancer-killing bomb and its detonator separate until they are inside a cancer cell, where they then combine to destroy the cell. “This is an efficient, fast-acting way of delivering drugs to cancer cells and triggering cell death,” says Dr. Ran Mo, lead author of a paper on the work and a postdoctoral researcher in the joint biomedical engineering program at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We also used lipid-based nanocapsules that are already in use for clinical applications, making it closer to use in the real world.”

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