Patrick Cox's Tech Digest

Protector Gene’s Evil Twin Linked to Spread of Cancer

July 30, 2014

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory researchers, releasing data in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, report an interesting new finding related to the p53 gene, its possible mutations, as well as its role in cancer’s spread. Typically, p53 helps to clear out of the body abnormal cells before they can become cancerous. But a rare variation of p53, called p53-psi, discovered by the Cold Spring Harbor scientists, could have the opposite effect and actually encourage the spread of cancer. With further study, researchers could someday find a way to encourage good p53 expression while also cutting off p53-psi.

New Potential Biomarker for Alzheimer’s Discovered

July 30, 2014

Boston University School of Medicine researchers, writing in the Annals of Neurology, report that carrying a variation of the PLXNA4 gene could increase the risk of a person developing Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also found that a protein associated with this gene promotes the “tangles” of tau protein, which have long been suspected of contributing to the onset of the disease. Screening for the PLXNA4 gene, and then developing a way to stop it from expressing, could prove a powerful new way to use advanced biomarker analysis in future drug development trials.

Healthy Lifestyle May Buffer Against Stress-Related Cell Aging

July 30, 2014

New research from University of California San Francisco scientists, appearing in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that proper sleep, diet, and exercise can slow the rate at which telomeres shorten, and thus also slow cellular aging. An unhealthy lifestyle, it appears, has a cumulative effect on cellular aging over time, but committing to a sleep, diet, and exercise routine can have profound impacts for guarding against telomere decay. When exposed to stressors, those in the study who had taken steps to create a sustained healthy lifestyle also showed no increase in the rate at which their telomeres shortened.

Pea-Sized Brain Hub Could Shed Light on Depression

July 29, 2014

University College London scientists, releasing data in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, report that a tiny brain region known as the habenula appears to determine how humans anticipate and react to severe stress situations. After noting habenula activity using MRIs in a study of punishment vs. reward, the researchers suggested further research into hyperactive habenula responses could prove useful to understanding the brain function implications of depression symptoms.

Short Jogs Linked to Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

July 29, 2014

Iowa State University researchers, writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, report the findings of a large observational study which suggests running or jogging, even in short, limited bursts, can decrease a person’s overall risk of death from heart disease or stroke. Regardless of age, sex, or weight, running or light jogging just 30 to 60 minutes per week had an overall positive effect on mortality rates. The researchers noted, however, that this study of exercise, while broadly positive, does not apply to everyone. Those with medical conditions who haven’t been active should consult with their doctor before beginning a walking, jogging, or running regimen.

New Protein Structure Could Help Treat Alzheimer’s, Related Diseases

July 29, 2014

University of Washington scientists, releasing data in the journal eLife, report the creation of a peptide structure which shows promise to stop the mutation of proteins over time into the forms associated with, among other diseases, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even heart disease. The structure assists in maintaining a proper folding of proteins, as abnormally folded proteins not disposed of by an aging body can collect in the brain, for example, and increase Alzheimer’s risk. The implications of this new work are vast for the study and potential treatment of a host of ailments.

Brain Cells Can Suppress Appetite, Study in Mice Shows

July 28, 2014

California Institute of Technology researchers, writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, report that a central collection of brain cells could regulate appetite in ways more powerful than previously thought. In their study, the scientists stimulated this collection of brain cells collectively and found they could immediately compel mice to stop eating. The researchers noted that this collection of brain neurons, located in the amygdala, is near other neuron groups known to regulate responses to stress and fear.

Liberia Shuts Border Crossings, Restricts Gatherings to Curb Ebola Spreading

July 28, 2014

Reuters reports that Liberia has closed its border crossings and is initiating controls on groups of people gathering together in public in an effort to curtail the spread of the Ebola virus. The latest estimate of total Ebola-related deaths in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone stands at 660, and several doctors who had traveled to the outbreak center as volunteers from international relief organizations have also recently been infected. Though Ebola can sometimes produce a mortality rate of up to 90%, in the current infection outbreak the virus is producing about a 60% mortality rate, high enough to count this epidemic among the most lethal virus outbreaks of the last generation.

Six New Genetic Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Found

July 28, 2014

National Institutes of Health scientists, writing in the journal Nature Genetics, discuss the discovery of six new genetic variations that could increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease up to threefold. By examining genetic data from over 13,700 Parkinson’s patients and tens of thousands of control subjects, the researchers were able to locate over two dozen genetic variant possibilities, including the six new variations, that in specific combinations in one person lead to the increase in Parkinson’s risk. In time, with further research, the hope is that certain gene expressions can be controlled to the point that Parkinson’s and other diseases can be stopped before they develop.

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