Posts Categorized: Health

Scientists discover way to fight drug-resistant bacteria using light

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have found a new way to fight drug-resistant bacteria using light-activated nanoparticles.

Bacterial infections are usually treated easily with antibiotics, but some bacteria, known as “superbugs,” can adapt to survive the efforts of drugs like penicillin. According to the CDC, superbugs affect around 2 million people and kill around 23,000 people in the United States every year. The problem is that with each new form of antibiotic that is developed, bacteria quickly adapt to be able to survive whatever new attack is thrown at them.

Researches have now begun to utilize extremely small particles (22,000 times smaller than a human hair) to target and kill infected cells. Previous research has shown some success with using nanoparticles to fight infections, but relied on particles made from metals, which kill all cells rather than just those infected. This new approach uses semiconductor-like particles, which are only activated when exposed to light, making them able to target and kill individual cells. The light-activation property of these particles also allows scientists to tinker with their function and stay one step ahead of bacteria. In short, these nanoparticles are promising because they don’t kill healthy cells and they can adapt just as quickly as the bacteria they are fighting: two things which can’t be said of traditional antibiotics. And these nanoparticles are proving effective, killing 92 percent of drug-resistant bacteria in a lab-grown culture.

Antibiotics are not only baseline treatment for infections like Staphylococcus, E. Coli, and Salmonella, but are also used to treat HIV and cancer, which makes clear how consequential these findings could be.

FDA approves genetically modified chicken

shutterstock_179491004While genetically modified animals are usually looked at as being a bad thing, the United States government has just approved a type of genetically modified chicken that will supposedly improve the health of individuals.  These engineered chickens would make the drug Kanuma in their eggs, which is said to be a treatment for people with lysosomal acid lipase deficiency.  The rare condition prevents people’s bodies from breaking down fatty molecules inside cells but Kanuma works to replace this faulty enzyme.  The disease can be potentially fatal, especially when acquired by infants.

In order to collect the protein, researchers would have to purify the whites of the chickens’ egg.  This means the chicken would have the protein throughout their entire body, making it unsafe to eat.  Researchers have said, however, that because the chickens are raised indoors, it is highly unlikely that they would ever enter the food supply.  The FDA is still looking into whether altering the chickens’ DNA would harm the animal and if the modification could be passed onto future generations.

This isn’t the first time a transgenic animal modified to produce a drug has been approved—six years ago, genetically modified goats that could produce a drug in their milk that would prevent blood clots were approved —and researchers hope it isn’t the last. So why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe the actual answer was always to make a potentially life-saving drug for countless Americans in their eggs????

Tapeworm transmits cancer to Colombia man

shutterstock_183701153Anyone who has ever had, or even heard about, a tapeworm probably agrees that they are just the worst thing ever for numerous reasons. But a man from Colombia had a nasty tapeworm with an even worse side effect than usual. In January 2013, a 41-year-old man visited a local hospital complaining of fatigue, fever, cough, and weight loss that had lasted over several months. The man, who had tested positive for HIV in 2006, had not taken his medication and was open to serious infection, which resulted in countless dwarf tapeworms taking up residency in his body.

As the doctors began to run tests, they noticed extremely tiny, human-like tumors that lined the man’s lymph nodes.  Further tests showed cancer cells were present in the man’s body, but were not human.  As they ran more and more tests in the coming months, they found that the tapeworms had transmitted their own cancer to the man. Scientists were baffled by the findings, as they didn’t know that tapeworms could develop tumors in the first place, calling it one of the strangest cases they have seen.  Unfortunately, the man passed away before proper treatment could take place.

Doctors who worked on the case warn other medical professionals around the world to be on the lookout for strange medical occurrences such as this one. It seems like tapeworms are disgusting and terrible for even more reasons than we previously thought possible.

Scientists recreate functional vocal cords

shutterstock_128575862In a breakthrough study, scientists have grown and recreated functional vocal cords in a lab.  Scientists were able to reconstruct almost 170 vocal cords by using vocal tissue from four patients who had their larynxes removed and used cells from vocal folds to create the new vocal cords.  The cells were able to grow the vocal cords in the lab by themselves over the course of just 14 days.  When scientists tested the vocal cords, they found that blowing air through them made the same humming noise that isolated vocal cords in humans make.

While the study is still in the early stages, the scientists hope that it will help the over 20 million people across the United States who suffer vocal cord damage or have lost their voice all together.  These individuals include Julie Andrews, who lost her singing voice fully in 1997, Adele, and John Mayer.   They believe that through this discovery, they will eventually be able to grow damaged parts of vocal cords and implant them surgically. Tests also indicated that the immune system was surprisingly tolerant to the recreated vocal cords, something that have not seen in many other tests involving recreated organs.

Scientists hope to continue experiments on other animals to confirm that the vocal cords would be safe for use in humans. But I think we can all agree that any medical experiment that may be able to help Julie Andrews sing again is a winner in our eyes.

Internet Freaks Out after WHO Reveals Link between Eating Meat and Cancer

shutterstock_264832343Meat lovers everywhere may have to rethink their choices after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a link between some meats and cancer.  The study found that processed meat, like hot dogs and bacon, increases the risk of cancer, along with red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb.  The report comes from WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and puts processed meats at the top tier of cancer causes along with alcohol and cigarettes, with red meat sitting on the second tier list.

The study shows a positive correlation in the risk for colorectal (bowel) and other types of cancer in individuals who consumed processed and red meat.  Essentially, as the amount of processed and red meat you ate increased, so did your risk of cancer.  For example, the agency estimated that eating a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily increased the risk of bowel cancer by up to 18%.  That’s only about 3 slices of bacon daily.  However, the study has already received criticism from meat industry groups who say the studies did not consider lifestyles and that meat is an important part of a balanced diet.  However, the IARC says their studies were extensive and show a probable cause between processed and red meat and cancer.

According to the reports, however, the risk can be decreased with a healthy lifestyle. Maybe vegetarians had the right idea the whole time???

Noble Prize Winners Wash Their Hands of Parasites

shutterstock_200494427The winners of the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced as William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu for their advancement in parasite fighting medication. Unlike the Magic School Bus episode in which Ms. Frizzle leads the kids on a germ fighting adventure, this medical breakthrough is helping hundreds of millions. Campbell and Omura won for developing the drug Avermectin, a cure for river blindness and elephantiasis. They are sharing the $960,000 prize money with Tu, the inventor of the drug Artemisinin which is responsible for significantly reducing deaths from malaria.

While these parasites might be not as terrifying as the worm-like space creature from Alien, they are just as merciless. Over a third of the world’s population suffers from parasitic worms. While the most afflicted areas are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, these parasites affect the entire world. Not to continue being a Negative Nancy, but malaria is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths each year.

Dr. Tu previously won a Lasker Award in 2011 for the development of Artemisinin. Her work centered on using ancient Chinese remedies to find a cure for malaria. Her work includes researching 380 extracts from 200 different plants. Her discovery is now a working pharmaceutical that saves over 100,000 lives in Africa annually. When combined with other therapies, Artemisinin can reduce the mortality rate of malaria by more than 20 percent.

The three winners will be awarded diplomas and gold medals during a ceremony in December. Hopefully their work will inspire further research that leads to the complete eradication of disease-causing parasites. Lastly, a note to future Nobel Prize contenders: unfortunately, the Nobel Assembly does not have enough participation ribbons for all of the papier-mâché volcano entries.

30,000-Year-Old Virus Comes Back from the Dead

shutterstock_113494426While more scientists would have you believe that rising sea levels will be the cause of worldwide headaches in a few decades, a new discovery may literally cause humanity headaches in the near future. Researchers recently discovered a giant, 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the thawed permafrost of a frozen region in Siberia. This discovery comes on the heels of scientists warning of melting Polar Regions and rising sea levels.

Okay, so the virus is technically not harmful to humans. The ancient virus is named Pithovirus sibericum and only infects amoebas. However, this new discovery may lead to a number of other frozen viruses, bacteria, and previously extinct organisms that could threaten human health. This includes viruses that previously caused planet-wide epidemics, which only furthers the fear of an Armageddon virus.

Scientists have already discovered previous giant virus families: Megaviridae and Pandoraviridae. These types of viruses have 50-250 times as many genes as modern day viruses such as AIDS or the flu. For instance, Pithovirus has 500 genes in comparison to the 10 genes of AIDS.

The discovery of Frosty the Snow Virus is not a surprise. Giant frozen viruses have been found in thawing permafrost since 2003 and scientists are only now beginning to discover the nature of the organisms. Drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic is bridging the previous gap between modern immunizations and old world viruses. If there is a world-ending virus awoken from cryosleep, it will be a comfort knowing that history rarely repeats itself.


Man Eats Nothing but McDonald’s for 180 days…and loses weight

shutterstock_220538989There have been plenty of diet fads over the years as people search for a way to lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible.  Many people put on this weight as a result of too much fast food, but an Iowa science teacher is silencing the fast-food haters and showing that, if done right, fast food can actually lead to losing weight.  As a part of a class experiment, John Cisna embarked on the hypothesis that a person could end up in better shape after eating McDonald’s every day, three meals a day. This included the healthier options as well as Big Mac’s and French fries on the daily. Cisna’s students were tasked with planning his meals—he could eat no more than 2,000 calories a day and had to stay within the FDA’s daily recommendations for fat, sugar, protein, carbs, and a number of other nutrients.  He also started walking for 45 minutes a day.

Even though this sounds like the beginning of Supersize Me, a documentary by Morgan Spurlock who packed on 24 pounds in the course of a month by eating McDonald’s every day, Cisna had experienced very different results. By the end of the six months, the science teacher had lost 60 pounds—a virtual dream come true for grease and fast-food loving Americans.  So what does Cisna have to say about his experiment?  He says his results show that individuals should take individual accountability and responsibility for their food choices and not be so quick to blame fast food restaurants for their weight.

Even though Cisna does not recommend the diet for everyone, he says the experiment has changed his life for the better.  So, next time you’re eating a Big Mac, you can actually tell people you’re on a new health kick.


No pain no gain in the race for the fountain of youth

The key to longevity has been linked to many things over the years, from this lady who claims booze is her secret, to the more traditional approach of living a healthy lifestyle by working out and eating well.


A recent study out of China now links longevity to eating spicy food. The study found a slightly lower risk of dying young related to eating spicy foods frequently. Basically, for those looking for the elusive fountain of youth, the answer very well may be pain. If you want to live longer, you could live in pain busting your butt to be healthy at the gym, or while enduring copious amounts of painfully tasty spicy food.

The study observed 500,000 people in China between the ages of 30 and 79 over the course of seven years. By the end of the study, approximately 20,000 had passed away. Ultimately, the study found that those who ate spicy food a few times a week were 10% less likely to die during the study, compared to those who ate it less than once a week.

Scientists say there is not enough research as of yet to identify a definitive link and cause between the two. However, it is speculated that it could be attributed to the link between eating spicy foods and lower inflammation, improve breakdown of fat in the body, or modified stomach bacteria.

So, start throwing back more cold ones and enjoy something muy caliente in the name of health.

You Won’t Like Me When I’m Hangry: The Science Behind Hunger Induced Anger

shutterstock_226371208Everyone has felt it – the short temper that creeps over you when the waiter seems to serve every other table before so much as taking your order; when your first meal of the day is the free samples at Costco and the person in front of you takes the very last artisan meatball; when the fast food drive-though could not move ANY slower. This phenomenon of hunger-induced anger has not gone unnoticed by anyone whose ever gone to the supermarket with an empty stomach.

This state of being “hangry” – a word invented to describe the feeling of being hungry-angry – was previously an unexplained correlation. Now, however, researchers the University of Sydney seem to have found an evolutionary explanation for this feeling. In her book “Don’t Go Hungry for Life,” Amanda Salis explains the chemical mechanisms that lead to this sensation.  Our glucose levels drop as time passes since our last meal. When this occurs, our bodies are alerted to produce other chemicals, most notably, adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. These are stress hormones, the same that one would feel in a fight-or-flight scenario. It’s these hormones that increase ones irritability.

Before you get frustrated at all of this unnecessary stress your body is putting you through, realize that this stress has not always been unnecessary. This chemical reaction originally served as a survival mechanism for early humans. Salis explains how this could have developed over the course of human evolution, noting “if hungry organisms stood back and graciously let others eat before them, their species could die out.” Species that exhibit this stress response, therefore, are more likely to survive.

So next time your “hanger” has you ready to become an uncontrollable rage monster, remember that it’s only natural- natural selection that is.