Photo credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK. Wellcome Images

Science Snippets

This issue’s round-up of science news

By Joanna Kritikou

 

CANCEROUS PARASITES?

In a recently published case report, a man plagued by HIV succumbed to tumors in his lungs and liver. This makes sense since HIV patients are severely immunocompromised. What was unusual, however, was that the cancer cells appeared smaller in size and turned out to be of non-human origin. The man was revealed to be simultaneously infected with Hymenolepis nana, a common tapeworm. The cells from this parasite had undergone somatic mutations causing them to transform and invade surrounding tissue causing tumorous growths in the unfortunate patient. (New England Journal of Medicine, November 2015)

YOU SMELL LIKE PARKINSON’S

One day, Joy Milne started noticing a change in her husband’s smell. Six years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Once she joined the charity Parkinson’s UK, she met other sufferers of the disease, each with the same odor. This led researchers at the University of Manchester to test her nose and found that she could very accurately identify people with the disease just by smelling their clothes. It is thought that the sebum – an oily fluid on the skin – is altered in those suffering from Parkinson’s, producing a unique chemical. Could this be used for diagnosis? It remains to be seen! (BBC News, October 2015)

HERPES VIRUS RECRUITED TO FIGHT CANCER

Photo credit: Anne Weston, Wellcome Images

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is something no one wants to be infected with. Therefore, it might strike you as odd that a drug using HSV has not only been made (Imlygic, by Amgen Inc.) but has also been approved by the FDA. It uses a modified version of the virus to infiltrate and reduce the size of tumors in patients with malignant melanoma. HSV infects cells, hijacks the replication machinery and viral particles emerge from the cell, thereby killing it. The mere presence of the virus within the tumor will, apart from directly killing the cells, elicit a strong immune response towards the tumor. (The Guardian, October 2015)

 

HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT) AS EFFECTIVE AS LONGER EXERCISE

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Photo credit: IvanClow, Flickr

For those of us who do not have as much time as we would like to exercise, this is great news. In a study from Karolinska Institutet, active men were exposed to one session of HIIT. Thigh muscle biopsies were collected 24 hours after HIIT and revealed an extensive release of free radicals. These break down calcium channels in the muscle cells, leading to the formation of mitochondria, among other benefits. The calcium channel breakdown does not occur in muscles exposed to antioxidant, which explains why antioxidants blunt effects of endurance training. (PNAS, November 2015)

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM IN THE BRAIN? 

The hippocampus has been thought to be disproportionately large in the brains of females, implying that women’s tendency to express themselves more outwardly emotionally than men has a neurological explanation. But are male and female brains inherently different? New research claims essentially no. This new meta-study evaluated the methods and conclusions of the 76 MRI studies looking at the hippocampal volume in over 6,000 males and females. The result: the frequent claim that women have a disproportionately larger hippocampus than men can be laid to rest. (NeuroImage, September 2015)

LONG TERM EFFECTS OF ANTIBIOTICS 

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Photo credit: Sparky, Flickr

It is known that a harsh dose of antibiotics has vast effects on our microbiome. A recent study assessing antibiotic treatments over a year, finds that the gut microbes are especially affected. In this clinical trial, each participant was given either a placebo or one of four common antibiotics. Their feces and saliva were analyzed before and after the treatment, and their contents sequenced. While the microbiome in the mouth recovered after a week, the gut microbe diversity was severely impacted and genes implicated in antibiotic resistance were enhanced. In the era of superbugs this is an important finding that should not be overlooked in the clinic. (mBio, November 2015)

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