Friday, September 8, 2017

High Coffee Consumption May Lower Your Risk of Death

Coffee, the fuel that keeps us going as we make our way to work in the morning. It is the lifeline that students cling to as they make their way through college and exams. It's a massive industry that seems to keep growing as more and more coffee is consumed throughout the world. I drink it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. A dark roast coffee with a little bit of milk added to it? That's my power-up that gives me a swift kick in the pants and gets me going every morning. Coffee is good for it's caffeine to keep us going, but is there any other benefit to it?

According to a recent study, it could possibly lower your risk of dying.

Mind you, this isn't saying that coffee makes you immortal, and that if you drink it then you last forever. However, a study recently presented to the European Society of Cardiology proposed that drinking a couple cups of coffee a day can lower your overall risk of mortality. "Previous studies have suggested that drinking coffee might be inversely associated with all-cause mortality but this has not been investigated in a Mediterranean country," said Dr. Adela Navarro, a cardiologist at Hospital de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain. In order to explore the effects of coffee, the study was conducted through the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project, a long-term study in which about 22 500 Spanish university graduates participate, which started in 1999. The study focused on 19,896 participants who were asked to complete a questionnaire that asked about their consumption of coffee and lifestyle habits. After a period of 10 years, the study followed up with each of the participants and compared the results to the National Death Index. Cox Regression Models were also used to determine a confidence interval with the data.

After 10 years, 337 participants died. Through this data, the experiment revealed that participants who had about 4 cups of coffee every day had a 64% lower risk of all-cause death (meaning all causes of death were analyzed in the 10 year period) compared to those who didn't drink coffee. In addition, for every two additional cups of coffee that were consumed, a 22% lower risk of death was also evident. To confirm that these results were not just coincidental, the team then focused on age, sex, and race as factors that could affect the outcome. By looking at the data, they determined that a lower risk of mortality was greatest for those aged 45 or older.

So this data looks promising, right? I mean, coffee could help us live longer! However, a couple questions arise after the completion of this study. In terms of chemistry, does coffee or caffeine have an effect on us? If the amount of years in this study increased, would the results change? And above all, this study focused on a Mediterranean country. Would the results be affected if they looked at the United States? The United Kingdom? Or even Russia or China?

If anything, this study might open a couple of doors to other research down the road. Sure, coffee is a wonderful drink, and this study might show some increased benefits beyond just having caffeine to wake us up. But for now, go ahead and grab an extra cup of joe, you may be helping yourself out in the long run. Just don't load it up with a ton of sugar, that just leads to all kinds of other problems.

Here is the article written for Forbes that was published:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2017/08/27/drinking-coffee-may-lower-risk-of-death-in-healthy-people-according-to-new-study/#45c338674f82

Another article that focuses on a different coffee study, but with similar results:

http://annals.org/aim/article/2643433/association-coffee-consumption-total-cause-specific-mortality-among-nonwhite-populations

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mars Might Not be Habitable (At Least on the Surface)

Right now, the hunt is on to locate possible alien life on Mars. Additionally, many organizations are looking to land probes on Mars, and quite possibly people in the near future. With all of this exploration going on that's directed towards the red planet, we've heard of water possibly existing on the planet (an earlier article reported here at Science Bureau). We've gathered samples from the surface of Mars for observation. And there just might be a new discovery that could change the way we look at Mars.

Turns out, there's a toxic cocktail of chemicals on the surface that completely sterilize the planet.


Yep, the toxic soil shows no signs of life, and the compounds within the soil are turned into potent bactericides by the ultraviolet light. A bactericide is a substance that kills bacteria, effectively sterilizing whatever surface it is touching. And the compounds found in the soil are located all over the entire planet. So chances are there's nothing in terms of alien life on the surface of Mars.


Granted, this is only the surface. There still exists the possibility of life that could exist at some point beneath the surface. Due to the current onslaught of ultraviolet light and radiation on the surface, the most hospitable area on the planet could be a couple feet below the surface. “At those depths, it’s possible Martian life may survive,” said Jennifer Wadsworth, a postgraduate astrobiologist at Edinburgh University who completed this research. Back in the 1970s, the Viking landers on Mars made the discovery of detecting perchlorates on the surface. Perchlorates are powerful oxidants that are often used in propellants for rockets. In short, they are not the best for human health if they are consumed. And in 2015, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted signs of perchlorates that streaked on the surface, suggesting possible liquid movement on Mars.


At first, the notion was that alien bacterial life might have trouble existing in an environment with these perchlorates, but they could maybe exist in some form that could utilize the perchlorates as energy. With this in mind, Wadsworth worked with a fellow astrobiologist named Charles Cockell, and put the bacteria Bacillus subtilis through an experiment to simulate the surface on Mars. B. subtilis is a common soil bacterium and a contaminant found on many space probes. When the bacteria was mixed with perchlorates like the ones on Mars and blasted with UV light, the bacteria was found to die twice as fast when the perchlorates were present. In addition, the UV light also was observed breaking down the perchlorates into hypochlorite and chlorite, which are also destructive to bacteria.


The study also focused on other compounds found on the surface of Mars, such as iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide. When these were hit with UV light, the bacteria was found to die 11 times faster than combined with the perchlorates. So as of now, life on the surface seems like a dismal possibility. “I can’t speak for life in the past,” said Wadsworth. “As far as present life, it doesn’t rule it out but probably means we should look for life underground where it’s shielded from the harsh radiation environment on the surface.”


Luckily, that's what many space agencies plan to do. The European Space Agency plans to launch its ExoMars rover to the planet so that it can bore down 2 meters into the soil to retrieve samples and observe them for possible alien life. But for now, especially on the surface of the red planet, any alien life - if it did exist in the past - probably has no chance now thriving or even existing on the surface of Mars. Again, we may find something in the planet, but we are going to need to wait a few more years for some more answers.


A news article on this topic posted at The Guardian can be read here:


https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/06/mars-covered-in-toxic-chemicals-that-can-wipe-out-living-organisms-tests-reveal


The research paper published in the journal Nature can be found here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-04910-3

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Creation of Human Heart Tissue using a Spinach Leaf

For ages, mankind has tried to find new methods to producing viable human tissue to use in organ transplants and tissue repair. As medical and healthcare technology advance, so do the methods we use. For example, organs can now be grown from tissue samples using a 3D printer. Each day, new ideas and methods are discovered. And as of a month or two ago, a new one was determined to be a successful option.

We can create heart tissue samples from decellularized spinach leaves. Yeah, the same leaves you sometimes have in your salads.

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic University have discovered a way to turn spinach leaves into beating human heart tissue. Before, issues with growing viable blood vessels to support the heart were troublesome. It is very hard to manufacture or print such small vessels for the heart. “The main limiting factor for tissue engineering … is the lack of a vascular network,” says study co-author Joshua Gershlak, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. However, one of the characteristics of leaves are their extensive vein network that supplies nutrients throughout the leaf. If these veins could be altered to provide blood flow to a makeshift heart, then the heart would have an adequate supply of blood.

So the research team first took a spinach leaf and decellularized it, meaning that only the shell of the leaf remained (no plant cells were left in the leaf). Then the team bathed the leaf structure in human cells, which allowed the human cells to infiltrate the spinach leaf scaffolding and surround all of the structures within. After a period of time, the cells began to take on the structure of heart muscle tissue. Finally, the team injected red dyed fluid and micro beads to stimulate the flow of blood in the leaf veins.

The eventual goal of this study is to provide a new method to repair heart tissue in victims of heart attacks or other cardiac issues. The veins in the leaf would be able to bring blood to the affected areas of the heart, supplying key nutrients in keeping the heart healthy and building new heart tissue. The research team also mentioned that they would be testing this theory on other plants (for example, inserting human cells into wood might help provide some benefits in repairing bones). “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” study co-author Glenn Gaudette, also of WPI, said. “Adapting abundant plants that farmers have been cultivating for thousands of years for use in tissue engineering could solve a host of problems limiting the field.”

This new discovery may provide a cheaper and efficient way in repairing tissue and organ damage in the near future. Quite possibly, we may not have to rely on using other more expensive methods (3D printing, using a pig's heart, etc.) And even so, how cool would it be to say that a chunk of your heart is actually spinach leaves? I know, super weird to say, but it could very well be a possibility.

An article written on this paper can be found here at National Geographic:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/human-heart-spinach-leaf-medicine-science/

PHOTO CREDIT TO NEW ATLAS
A second news article by New Atlas can be found here:
http://newatlas.com/spinach-leaves-grow-heart-tissue/48564/

The published research paper can be read here:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142961217300856

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cannabis Related Treatment for Epilepsy Proves Effective

Marijuana treatment is a touchy subject in today's society. Many express approval for using medicinal Marijuana to help treat cancer and other mental diseases (Parkinson's, extreme stress, etc.). However, others share a discontent with the drug, stating that it is a drug with no benefit and should remain illegal. Even so, multiple studies have linked Marijuana to problems with the brain, including reduced memory, levels of psychosis, and increased levels of random neural activity, . On the other hand, the drug has been shown to increase brain connectivity between neurons, relaxation, and hunger. So from all of this, one simple question arises: is Marijuana (or specifically Cannabis) good for you or bad for you?

From a scientist's opinion, the pros outweigh the cons tenfold.

There have been countless studies that show the benefits of using medicinal cannabis to treat diseases in the past few years. One great example is a recent story about an 11 year old girl that was diagnosed with Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome (Fires). This disease only affects one in a million children, but it is extremely terrible. The patient usually suffers hundreds of seizures a day for a fortnight after contracting an illness, usually a cold or the flu. Annalise Lujan, from Tucson, Arizona, was struck with these seizures one day after participating in a gymnastics competition and was rushed to the hospital. From there, she was hooked onto a ventilator and put into a medical coma. In a new move, the Phoenix Children's Hospital sought approval from the FDA to use marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment to try and save the little girl. After 48-hours of treatment with cannabis, Lujan’s seizures stopped and she woke up. The treatment of CBD literally save the little girl's life. "She was afraid. She cried. And, I whispered to her that she was very strong, she's beautiful, and she's strong, and she needed to keep breathing, and she did,” Maryann (her mother) stated in a story written by Kashmira Gander for Independent.

As seen with this story, the potential for cannabis related treatment is incredibly great. A recent study done last week by Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, and a few colleagues tested 120 children that were diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. This syndrome kills about 20 percent of those with this disease by the time they are 20. The patients were treated with CBD (or Epidiolex, as branded by GW Pharmaceuticals who sponsered this study). Half of the children were given Epidiolex while the other half were given a placebo. Over a span of 14 weeks, they found that CBD reduced the seizures from about 12.4 to 5.9 per month, while the placebo group went from 14.9 seizures to 14.1 per month. However, some children experienced some adverse effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. 8 of the children withdrew from the study because of these effects. Nonetheless, the benefit of CBD treatment can be seen. "We now have solid, rigorous scientific evidence that in this specific syndrome, cannabidol is effective at reducing seizures," said Orrin Devinsky.

The evidence is all there, and it is coming from many different studies and stories; CBD based treatment is an effective method for treating epileptic seizures across different kinds of diseases. When adding this onto the benefits that are being found for cannabis based treatment, the argument for the legal use of medicinal marijuana (and even legalizing marijuana) gets even stronger. Looking at these cases, maybe it's time we start utilizing this form of treatment to its potential. We could be saving lives by doing so.

For more information, the story of Annalise Lujan can be found here:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/cannabis-cbd-febrile-infection-related-epilepsy-syndrome-annalise-lujan-cannabidiol-a7770621.html

The study done on children with Dravet syndrome can be found here:
https://www.statnews.com/2017/05/24/cannabis-epilepsy-trial/

The original research article for the above study that was published by The New England Journal of Medicine can be found here:
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1611618

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Artificial Uterine-System: Growing Babies Outside of the Uterus

At some point in the future I expected to see something like this.  Some sort of science fiction technology that would allow for humans and animals to be grown in other forms of a makeshift uterus could very well be possible.  Well, that time appears to be now.

Published on the 25 of April, 2017, a study was proven to grow a fetal lamb outside of its mother in an artificial uterine-system.  Now, mind you, the technology proven to work here does not mean we have reached the point where we could take an egg outside of the mother, insert it into this system, and a baby would grow completely fine.  This artificial uterine-system is a method to continue the development of a baby that might have been born prematurely or that still needed time to develop.  In addition, this new form of a makeshift uterus (being called the BioBag) has only been tested on sheep as of now.

The BioBag works by mimicking the conditions of a uterus within the mother.  For starters, a pump filters in amniotic fluid into the pouch that the baby is located.  That fluid is cycled out in order to provide healthy amniotic fluid through pressure derived at the other end that forces out the old fluid.  In addition, a gas blender keeps the environment in check by providing the correct amount of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, and Oxygen within the pouch to ensure the baby's survival.  Finally, an umbilical system is attached to the baby to provide nutrients, oxygenated blood, and medicine to keep the baby healthy and alive.  All of the data taken from the study was proven to show statistical correlation with what the lamb receives while growing in the mother.

To prove that this study showed positive results with a premature baby, the lamb used was developmentally equivalent to an extreme premature baby.  The lamb survived and thrived in this artificial uterine-system for 4 weeks.  However, further research remains a priority.  Lambs and Humans develop different, with different brain capacities and functions that separate the two.  Overtime, human trials may be a possibility.  "I think its realistic to think about three years for first-in-human-trials," said Alan Flake, who is one of the lead writers on this study.

So we aren't quite at the point yet where we can grow babies completely outside of the mother.  But this discovery could help save the lives of thousands of prematurely born babies.  Soon after, we may be able to assist the growth of endangered species by recreating the uterine-system to harbor the babies of those species.  We may even have the ability to combine this technology with cloning to finally create those dinosaurs we see in Jurassic Park (I really hope not, we have many movies to show why growing actual dinosaurs is a bad idea).  The point of this study is to find a way to assist prematurely born babies in a better way than what we have now.  It's not completely done yet, but it is an incredibly important first step into saving those babies' lives.

Thanks to Kate Berglung for sending in the following article for information on this topic!:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/4/25/15421734/artificial-womb-fetus-biobag-uterus-lamb-sheep-birth-premie-preterm-infant

The research paper published on April 25 can be read here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15112

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Science Bureau adopted a small part of Earth

In celebration of Earth Day, NASA is giving people the ability to adopt a small part of Earth to call their own!  As of April 20th, Science Bureau is now the proud adopter of a small plot of land in Africa, located at 12.24° N, 4.8° W.  Here's the ID card that states the adoption:



And here is a picture of that plot of land (courtesy of Google Earth):



It is important to remember the importance of keeping our Earth clean and the environment healthy everyday as we go about our lives.  Little things, like recycling and not littering can go a long way if we all work together.  Earth day is on April 22 this year, so remember to consider the well-being of planet Earth as you go about your day!

Anyone can adopt a piece of land on Earth to celebrate Earth day!  You can find out how to do so at:

https://climate.nasa.gov/adopt-the-planet/#/

Thank you all for reading and participating in the quest to discover science through the Science Bureau!  The growing audience and enthusiasm from people around the globe is greatly appreciated!  Remember to appreciate each other and the world on April 22, our planet is a wonderful place to be!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spider Venom Protects Brain Cells from Stroke Damage

Who knew?  Just from reading the title of this post, you would probably be a little skeptical.  I mean, this is spider venom we are talking about, it's toxic for humans.  Yet some significant results have been achieved from this study.  But first, let's start with what goes on when a stroke occurs.

A stroke in the body happens when a clot keeps blood from reaching cells in the brain.  This causes the brain cells to switch to other metabolic pathways that don't necessarily rely on oxygen.  However, these other metabolic pathways create an acidic environment within the brain, which causes the pH to drop drastically - a condition deemed acidosis.  The brain cells - in an acidic environment and with no oxygen available - then begin to die off and cause irreparable damage to the brain.

Research in the past has linked a specific ion channel, called acid-sensitive ion channels (ASICs), that activate when the cell looses its connection to oxygen.  These ion channels pump out calcium ions which have a toxic effect in the brain when they reach abnormally high levels.  Previously, scientists had identified a specific peptide (psalmotoxin 1) in Tarantula venom that specifically blocked ASICs.  In the study conducted with the Tarantula venom, the rats that had strokes were much more protected from acidosis in the brain when administered psalmotoxin 1 for treatment.

In this current study, researchers focused on the venom of the Australian Funnel Web Spider (Hadronyche infensa) and a disulfide-rich peptide within the venom called Hi1a.  For reference, the Australian Funnel Web Spider Hadronyche infensa is an incredibly venomous spider.  Their presynaptic neurotoxins target sodium and ion channels within the body and induce spontaneous, repetitive firing of action potentials in autonomic and motor neurons, thus causing an increase in adrenaline, acetylcholine, and noreprinephrine.  The researchers discovered that Hi1a specifically targets ASICs, and does an incredibly fantastic job at doing so.  Even so, Hi1a has a faster time getting to the ASICs and inducing an effect on the channels than the peptide found in Tarantula venom.  So the researchers in this study induced rats to have strokes and gave them Hi1a to observe the effects.  In the rats tested, the Hi1a peptide protected up to 77 percent of the brain cells that were affected.  Specifically, it saved brain tissue that was hit the hardest from the lack of oxygen and severely limited peripheral damage to other parts of the brain.



The potential of this discovery is very high, for this peptide gives doctors and medical professionals a greater window to treat and prevent damage from a stroke.  As of now, the use of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to restore blood flow is the only FDA approved treatment option for strokes.  This alternative could now help more patients that suffer strokes and prevent long-term damage.  However, the medical world is still a long ways away from venom-based treatment.  It will take a lot more research and time to develop a capable drug or treatment that is based on the peptides found in venom.  More specifically, more research needs to be done to determine potential problems that may arise using this method of treatment; lethal doses, effective doses, and risk assessments all need to be completed as well as trials for clinical use.  But the study does prove that spider venom, although toxic, does contain chemicals that may benefit our lives and our health.

If you want to read more, the story written on this study can be found here:


The published research paper within the PNAS Journal can be found here:

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Some Stress is Good, According to Worm Studies

We as humans all hate stress.  Stress can be annoying, whether it lies within schooling or social environments.  Nobody wants to be stressed out, and there are numerous ways in which to relieve stress.  However, according to a study done by the Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, some stress can promote longevity.

Essentially, the study done focused on a specific process in the body called autophagy.  Autophagy, as defined by ScienceDaily, is a means of recycling cells' old, broken, or unneeded parts so that their components can be re-used to make new molecules or be burned for energy.  Granted, this has been proven before.  This isn't entirely new science that is being done here.  What this study proves is that long life and stress resistance are connected at a cellular level.  In order to prove this theory, the researchers used a different subject other than humans.  They used an animal that bears some resemblance to our own cellular level.  They, in fact, bear a stronger resemblance to us via DNA than one might think (which I may someday discuss in another topic).

It's a worm.  More specifically, Caenorhabditis elegans, which is a free living, transparent nematode.

"We used C. elegans -- tiny roundworms used to study fundamental biology -- to test the importance of autophagy in becoming stress resistant," says Caroline Kumsta, Ph.D., staff scientist in Hansen's lab and lead author of the study. "They're a great model system because they're transparent, so you can easily observe what goes on inside them, most of their genes and molecular signaling pathways have functional counterparts in humans, and they only live a few weeks, which greatly facilitate measuring their lifespans."  Granted, the worms used in this study were not presented with horrible conditions.  Simply raising the temperature to 36 degrees Celsius for one hour provided a small shock to the system.  The worms exposed went through autophagy to repair the cells damaged.  Again, they were exposed to another heat stress.  Worms that were unable to repair their cells or were deficient with completing autophagy sustained more damage than the worms who experienced autophagy successfully.

Secondly, the team set out to determine if this cellular function could help out with another issue due to old age.  By targeting these worms with heat stress, the researchers hoped to reduce aggregated proteins that build up in cells.  They used worms that were modeled after Huntington's disease, which is a fatal inherited disorder caused by neuronal proteins that start to stick together into big clumps as patients age that leads to degeneration throughout the brain.  After exposing the model worms to heat once more, the aggregated proteins were reduced in number as the body experienced autophagy again.  "Our finding that brief heat exposure helps alleviate protein aggregation is exciting because it could lead to new approaches to slow the advance of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's," says Hansen.  "The results may also be relevant to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which are similarly caused by clumping-prone proteins."

Essentially, this experiment shows that mild stress induction can improve the body's longevity by causing the body to repair cells through autophagy.  Does this mean you need to sit in the sauna or do hot yoga at all times?  No, not necessarily.  But it is important to expose your body to some levels of stress in order to improve yourself.  Take for example, a runner.  As a runner progresses, they get better and better at running longer and longer distances.  Their lungs handle the run better each time.  This same idea applies to the body and the cells within you.  By exposing them to small stresses slowly over time, they repair through autophagy and can increase your longevity because your body is trying to adapt to the environment.  So go sit in the sauna every once in awhile.  Go for that run you keep telling yourself you're going to do.  Go lift weights or do yoga.  You're helping your body out by doing so.

The link to the published story by ScienceDaily can be found here:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170215084050.htm

The link to the research paper for this topic published at Nature can be found here:

http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14337