research

University of Virginia Research Reveals What Determines Autism Risk

A mother’s microbiome, the collection of microscopic organisms that live inside us, determines the risk of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in her offspring, new research from the UVA School of Medicine shows. The microbiome can be manipulated by changing what we eat, by consuming beneficial bacteria known as probiotics or even by transplanting fecal material from one person to another. This suggests simple ways we might prevent the development of autism. The UVA researchers prevented the development of autism-like disorders in mice by blocking an inflammatory molecule produced by the immune system – a molecule already implicated in multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The discovery could also offer a way to detect autism early in pregnancy. CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., July 18, 2018 – The risk of developing autism-spectrum disorders is determined by the mother’s microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that naturally live inside us – during pregnancy, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests. The work raises the possibility that preventing forms of autism could be as simple as an expectant mom modifying her diet or taking custom probiotics. Further, the UVA scientists were able to use their discovery to prevent the development of autism-like neurodevelopmental disorders in lab mice. They found they could halt the development of such disorders by blocking a particular inflammatory molecule produced by the immune system. Targeting this molecule, interleukin-17a, offers another potential avenue...

Is Air Conditioning a Problem in the Workplace?

Almost half of people have experienced tension at work because of temperature Temperature is a big issue in the workplace. Half of those asked said that temperature affects their ability to work, with almost half experiencing tension at work because of temperature. Whether to keep the air conditioning on or off is a hot topic. This amount of workplace bickering sounds pretty dramatic and a study found that 2% of office hours in the UK are lost to temperature arguments. Being warm helps boost creativity A study at the Technical University of Denmark found that ‘creative thinking was […] significantly and negatively affected by noise, anxiety and hunger, and to be significantly and positively affected by moderately raised temperature in the absence of noise.’ A study at Cornell University also found that when temperatures rose from 68°F (20°C) to 77°F (25°C), typing errors fell by 44% and typing output rose by 150%. Almost half of men will change the temperature at work, with only a third of women doing the same Despite more women reporting they are negatively affected by being too hot or cold, it is men who are more likely to adjust the temperature at work without telling their colleagues. A quarter of women have had to take time off work because of the temperature Women are more likely to be affected by workplace temperature, with almost three quarters reporting their productivity is negatively...

Is the Answer to Cancer an Immune Defense Enhancer?

Traditional cancer therapies such as chemotherapy are effective in obliterating tumor cells; however, their destruction is not selective. The death of normal, healthy tissue results in the adverse side effects we’re familiar with such as vomiting, hair loss, infection, and anemia. Radiation, on the other hand, is more localized but nearby normal cells are commonly affected. What if we could exclusively target cancerous cells, leaving the healthy surrounding tissue intact? Immunotherapy is a promising technique that is being analyzed both in laboratory and clinical settings to do just that. Particularly, researchers have been experimenting with cancer vaccines containing specific oncogenic antigens to train the immune system to attack its own tumor. Immune system evasion is one of the many hallmarks of cancer; therefore, activating the host’s effector cells through antigen exposure will result in enhanced tumor recognition and destruction. Similar to vaccines for the chicken pox or the flu, cancer vaccines boost the body’s natural defense mechanisms. However, instead of acting as a preventative measure, immunotherapy will treat the already acquired cancer at various stages. Breast cancer in particular has proven to be an effective target for vaccine therapy given the clear evidence of the immune system in breast cancer pathogenesis. There are several known self- and tumor-specific antigens associated with breast cancer including HER2, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), and mucin-1 (MUC-1) that have been used to construct therapeutic vaccines....

Listen to Your Gut: The Microbiome Might Be Your Disease’s Foundation

Growing evidence supports the idea that the gut microbiome is the foundation of most illness and disease. A bacterial imbalance or pathogen in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can lead to irritation and inflammation, increasing the risk for leaky gut and inflammation in other body systems. Not good. Recent studies suggest that gut microbiota influence communication between the GI tract’s very own nervous system— the enteric nervous system (ENS)— and central nervous system. The ENS is commonly referred to as the “brain in your gut” which communicates back and forth with the brain in your skull. To overcome physiological stressors, dysbiosis, and to promote an overall healthy gut, the enteric nervous system fires signals to the brain for support from the rest of the body by means of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. It is when these gut-brain and brain-gut interactions are prompted too often and subsequently put into overdrive when problems occur, specifically in the brain. More simply, a healthy, diverse, and balanced gut is an important factor for a normal, healthy brain. However, an impaired microbiota is believed to increase the risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and even neurodegeneration. It is not yet known whether the bacterial imbalance is the source or outcome of these disorders. Dr. Michael Zasloff conducts research on the gut-brain axis where he targets the enteric nervous system to potentially treat...

What’s All The Buzz About CRISPR?

It’s inevitable— genetics is the future of medicine. With the discovery of certain diseases linked to specific gene mutations, the science community became engrossed in DNA manipulation. Precisely, CRISPR gained global recognition in the past few years as a promising therapeutic strategy in human genetic diseases. CRISPR could provide a means to directly alter mutations that underlie single-gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis or more complex diseases such as cancer. So, what is the mechanism behind this novel genome editing technique? “CRISPR,” an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is part of the bacterial adaptive immune system to combat invading viruses. In short, these DNA segments or CRISPR arrays are created upon the first invasion as a means for the bacteria to “remember” the virus. Upon subsequent attacks, the bacteria can then transcribe RNA segments from the CRISPR arrays to direct enzymes such as Cas9 to a target sequence of the viruses’ DNA. Cas9 or a similar nuclease can then cut the DNA and kill the virus. Just five years ago, the CRISPR-Cas9 system was utilized for the first time in a laboratory setting. In January 2013, the Zhang lab published CRISPR-Cas9 as a genome modification tool in eukaryotic cells (Cong et al., 2013). In the same way as the bacterial defense system, researchers can generate RNA sequences that attach to specific target locations of DNA. These...

Climate Change and the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice, decreased snow cover, ocean acidification and rise in sea levels. Do these terms sound familiar? These terms are indeed stark reminders of how human beings continue to damage the planet. Climate change is one of the most severe threats to human health and well-being. While the scientific community has made tremendous progress in eradicating many diseases, not a lot of research has been put towards the perplexing topic of climate change and the spread of infectious diseases. Long before the role of infectious agents was discovered, humans knew that climatic conditions affect epidemic diseases. Roman aristocrats spent their summers in hill resorts to avoid Malaria. South Asians preferred curried foods in summers to avoid diarrhea. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather conditions and patterns of extreme weather events. Appropriate climate and weather conditions are necessary for the survival, reproduction, distribution and transmission of disease pathogens. Thus, long-term climate change and weather shifts tend to favor the spread of several infectious diseases and extreme weather conditions might create opportunities for newer outbreaks or outbreaks at non-traditional places. It has been known for a while now that warming temperatures can help certain diseases. Malaria, which kills an estimated 650,000 people a year, thrives in the hot and humid areas where the Anopheles mosquito can live. The link between malaria and extreme climatic events has...

It’s All About Lifestyle—24 Healthy Habits, Hobbies & Scientific Facts

There’s no doubt that if people were asked about whether or not they want to be healthy, the answer would be “yes.” So, why do we wait for some special opportunity if it’s possible to have healthy habits without putting much effort into it? All that’s needed is a bit of free time, dedication, and a certain amount of patience. Why all that? Because the change doesn’t happen in a single day. Staying healthy is something you invest time and effort into. And your body will thank you. The infographic below leads you through the steps to becoming healthier. No one says that you should stop there. This may only be the beginning. After getting a taste of it, you’ll want to move to something a bit more serious. So, the infographic contains 24 healthy lifestyle habits and hobbies for you to pick up. Apart from that, it’s going to share a couple of scientific facts showing the benefits to your academic performance and life in general from staying fit. Want to learn more about exercising the right way? Make sure to take this quiz! Or if you want to keep up your good work, make working out into a game! Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University set out to test the theory that participants could be incentivized to increase their physical activity through the gamification of exercise. All participants...