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Good News Monday: A New Way to Heal a Broken Heart

Another fascinating story from StudyFinds.com

broken heart woman
(Credit: RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

Researchers discover drug that can mend the physical damage of a broken heart

by Chris Melore

MELBOURNE, Australia — From someone experiencing chest pain after a breakup, to a married couple dying within minutes of each other, there are many real examples of what doctors call broken heart syndrome. While the emotional scars are a separate issue, there may finally be a way to prevent lasting physical injury. Researchers in Australia say, for the first time, scientists have uncovered a drug that can literally mend a broken heart.

A team from Monash University find Suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA) can significantly improve cardiac health due to this condition. In their study, researchers used SAHA to target genes affected by a “broken heart” — or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Although many may think broken heart syndrome is just a saying, doctors know it to be a very real ailment. Patients suffer a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. Stressful emotional triggers, usually following a traumatic event like the death of a loved one, often cause this problem. Researchers add broken heart syndrome can mimic a heart attack, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.

How does SAHA heal the heart?

Suberanilohydroxamic acid is currently serving as a cancer treatment, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving its use. The drug works on the heart by protecting certain genes and the acetylation/deacetylation (Ac/Dc) index in particular. This is a vitally important process which regulates gene expression in humans.

“We show for the first time a drug that shows preventative and therapeutic benefit is important to a healthy heart. The drug not only slows cardiac injury, but also reverses, the damage caused to the stressed heart,” says study leader Professor Sam El-Osta from Monash Central Clinical School in a university release.

Mostly women suffer from this mysterious condition

The study finds, in western nations, broken heart syndrome almost exclusively affects women, especially after menopause. In fact, researchers say up to eight percent of women believed to be having a heart attack may actually be dealing with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

While the symptoms are similar, the exact cause of the physical pain of a broken heart is still a mystery. Doctors believe a surge of stress hormones flood the heart during a traumatic event. This may cause changes in the heart muscles and blood vessels which prevent the left ventricle from working properly. The result is the heavy, achy feeling people get in the chest that can be mistaken for a heart attack.

The good news is most people recover from broken heart syndrome within two months. The bad news, unfortunately, is that some patients may suffer from heart failure due to their extreme trauma. Although death from a broken heart is rare, researchers say 20 percent of patients experience some degree of heart failure. Until now, there has been no standard treatment to alleviate this condition.

“This pre-clinical study describes a new standard in preventative and therapeutic potential using a cardioprotective drug that targets genes in the heart,” Professor El-Osta concludes.

“The team is committed to the research of women’s health recognizing the uneven sex prevalence of almost 9:1 (female to male). Based on these promising results we are focused on the continued development of compounds like SAHA to improve cardiac benefit and healthier life.”

The study appears in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy.

The Road Trip That Wasn’t

For weeks, I’d been dreading this: several days in Austin to clear out our remaining belongings — we’d sold the house in late March –, sell two cars, close our safe deposit box, and then drive 3-4 days back to Oregon.

Luckily, we were able to accomplish said tasks quickly, ship the boxes instead of loading them into our Titanic-sized, impossible-to-park rental car, and fly back instead. As I’ve often remarked, there is almost no problem that can’t be solved by throwing money at it. (Though, to digress, this apparently hasn’t worked for Bill and Melinda Gates.)

This allowed us time to visit with family and friends and reflect on some of the unexpected pleasures of dining out during a pandemic.

Pandemic Travel 2.0

  • Waitstaff no longer hover over your table, telling you their life story (“Hi, I’m Bruce and I’ll be your server tonight, although I’m really an actor and I’ve written this cool sci-fi script…”).
  • Table spacing makes for a much quieter experience. You might even be able to hear your own conversation.
  • Maybe it’s an illusion, but everything just seems cleaner.
  • Silverware arrives wrapped in a napkin, rather than having been sitting out on the table.
  • Many restaurants have streamlined their menus, so the choices are better thought-out and fresher.
  • People are too far away to eavesdrop.

As for air travel,

  • Fewer travelers = speedier security. They sure want you to keep moving.
  • Nobody seems to worry about liquids anymore.
  • Better filtration = less chance of catching a cold or flu, never mind COVID.
  • Even anti-maskers have to wear one.
  • A discreet cough or two (into your mask of course) and no one will attempt to ask what you’re reading or whether you live at your destination.
  • Fewer travelers = less luggage. For the first time in recent memory, our checked bags were already at the carousel by the time we arrived at baggage claim.

Woo hoo — home sweet (temporary) home in one day, not four. So what if we’ll have to load 17 boxes into our car and lug them to a new (also temporary) storage unit; the kids can sort out our crap when we cross the rainbow bridge!

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Your Brain on Caffeine

Woman smiling as she drinks a cup of coffee or tea
(© Antonioguillem – stock.adobe.com)

It’s all in your mind… in a good way, according to this Portuguese study.

People who drink 3-5 cups of coffee a day are more alert, have better memory

by Study FindsShareTweet

BRAGA, Portugal — It’s no secret that shot of caffeine from a morning coffee can give many people a quick boost. Now, a new study finds going for that second and third cup may be good for your brain. Researchers in Portugal say people who regularly drink coffee are not only more alert, but see more activity in their brains as well.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, moderate coffee consumption is typically three to five cups per day. In the new study, researchers from the University of Minho reveal consuming this much caffeine each day can make coffee drinkers more focused while also displaying greater memory and learning abilities.

Scientists examining MRI scans discovered differences in the makeup of the brains between regular coffee drinkers and those who don’t consume the beverage at all. Coffee drinkers had a more “efficient” brain, with quicker connectivity in the cerebellum, the right precuneus, and the right insular.

Even one cup of coffee can keep you sharp

These patterns show regularly drinking coffee may give people better motor control. Participants consuming caffeine were also less likely to let their minds wander. Study authors add the effects of this brain boost can be immediate. Results show non-coffee drinkers could start seeing benefits for a short time after a single cup of java.

Researchers studied the connectivity and structure of the brain in 31 regular coffee drinkers and 24 non-coffee drinkers while at rest. The team also examined these individuals while they performed a mental task soon after consuming a cup.

“This is the first time that the effect that drinking coffee regularly has on our brain network is studied with this level of detail,” says Professor Nuno Sousa in a university release. “We were able to observe the effect of coffee on the structure and functional connectivity of our brain, as well as the differences between those who drink coffee regularly and those who do not drink coffee in real time.”

“The findings help to understand improving the effects of caffeine, highlighting improved motor control, increased levels of attention and alertness, and benefits in learning and memory,” Prof. Sousa’s team concludes.

Previous studies find the world drinks about three billion cups of coffee each day. Along with brain health, the morning drink of choice for many also has links to increased fat-burning and better heart health.

The findings appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bye-Bye Baldness

And did you know that shorter men are more likely to be prematurely bald? That seems very unfair.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Cure for baldness may be coming after discovery of a protein that fuels hair growth

by Study Finds

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A scientific discovery may make the “comb over” a thing of the past for people losing their hair. Harvard researchers say a cure for baldness is on the horizon after scientists uncovered a protein that fuels hair growth.

The breakthrough could lead to a cream that fuels an unlimited supply of locks for the follicly-challenged. In experiments, mice successfully sprouted three times as many hairs by surgically removing their adrenal glands. The small organs above each kidney release the stress hormone corticosterone, the rodent equivalent of cortisol. This stops the protein GAS6 in its tracks.

Stress reactions such as worry, anger, and anxiety have long been connected to male pattern baldness. Researchers even estimate about a quarter of COVID-19 survivors suffer hair loss due to the shock of infection.

“Stress hormones suppress growth in mice through the regulation of hair follicle stem cells,” says professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and study corresponding author Ya-Chieh Hsu in a statement to SWNS.

The study, appearing in the journal Nature, identifies the process that underpins hair loss for the first time and reveals how to reverse it.

“Chronic, sustained exposure to stressors can profoundly affect tissue homeostasis, although the mechanisms by which these changes occur are largely unknown,” researchers write in their report.

“The stress hormone corticosterone—which is derived from the adrenal gland and is the rodent equivalent of cortisol in humans—regulates hair follicle stem cell (HFSC) quiescence and hair growth in mice.”

Turning back the clock on hair’s lifespan

Study authors explain the hormone regulates dormancy and activity of hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) in mice. In the absence of systemic corticosterone, the little cavities where each hair grows enter substantially more rounds of the regeneration cycle throughout life.

“When corticosterone levels are elevated, hair follicles stay in an extended rest phase and fail to regenerate,” Prof. Hsu tells SWNS. “Conversely, if corticosterone is depleted, hair follicle stem cells become activated and new hair growth occurs.”

An analysis discovered corticosterone suppresses production of GAS6. In the absence of the hormone, it boosts proliferation of hair follicles.

“Restoring the expression of GAS6 could overcome stress-induced inhibition of hair follicle stem cells – and might encourage regeneration of growth,” Prof Hsu notes. “It might therefore be possible to exploit the ability of HFSCs to promote hair-follicle regeneration by modulating the corticosterone–GAS6 axis.”

Throughout a person’s lifespan, hair cycles through three stages, growth (or “anagen”), degeneration (“catagen”), and rest (“telogen”). During anagen, a follicle continuously pushes out a hair shaft. In catagen, growth stops and the lower portion shrinks, but the hair remains in place. During telogen, it remains dormant.

Under severe stress, many hair follicles enter this phase prematurely and the hair quickly falls out. This lifespan is much shorter in the corticosterone-free mice than controls; less than 20 days compared with two to three months.

Curing hair loss due to stress

Their follicles also engaged in hair growth roughly three times as often. However, researchers restored their normal hair cycle by feeding the subjects corticosterone. Interestingly, when they applied various mild stressors to the controls for nine weeks, corticosterone rose and hair stopped growing. These stressors included tilting their cage, isolation, crowding, damp bedding, rapid lighting changes, and restraining. Injecting GAS6 into their skin reinitiated hair growth with no side-effects.

“These exciting findings establish a foundation for exploring treatments for hair loss caused by chronic stress,” adds Prof. Rui Yi, a dermatalogist at Northwestern University and not involved in the study.

The study also reveals GAS6 increases expression of genes involved in cell division in HFSCs.

“So, the authors might have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that stimulates HFSC activation directly by promoting cell division,” Prof Yi continues. “In aging skin, most progenitor cells harbor DNA mutations – including harmful ones that are often found in skin cancers – without forming tumors.

“It will be crucial to see whether forced GAS6 expression could inadvertently unleash the growth potential of these quiescent but potentially mutation-containing HFSCs,” Yi concludes. “Modern life for humans is inevitably stressful. But perhaps, one day, it will prove possible to combat the negative impact of chronic stress on our hair, at least – by adding some GAS6.”

The Ingrate

This was a first: a Dear John letter from our landscaper, a vendor with whom we’d had a cordial, mutually respectful eight-year relationship.

To paraphrase: “Dear ___ (yes, a form letter), this has been a challenging year so we’ve decided to cut back on the number of clients we service. Unfortunately, you are among them.”

What he doesn’t bother to mention (because it’s a form letter) is that for the past 14 months we have been paying our monthly contractual fee EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVEN’T DONE ANY WORK. Sorry, am I shouting?? In what universe is it ok to accept over $1000 for services not rendered and then not even have the courtesy to acknowledge our loyalty or pick up the phone to work out a solution?

So much for trying to be supportive of a small business. You know that old adage, “No good deed ever goes unpunished”? ARRGGGHHHH.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Something Writers Always Suspected

writing paper
(Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

(From Studyfinds.org)

Writing on paper triggers more brain activity than using a tablet or smartphone

by Chris Melore

TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.

A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.

“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.

“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”

The pen is mightier than the tablet?

It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.

Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.

What happens to the brain when you write on paper?

The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.

The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.

After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”

During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.

The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.

Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.

Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity

Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.

Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.

The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.

Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.

“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.

“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”

The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Good News Monday: A Cancer Vaccine?

BERLIN (AP) — The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer.

Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.

Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort “Project Lightspeed.”

Within 11 months, Britain had authorized the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States. Tens of millions of people worldwide have received the shot since December.

“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.

Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company that had yet to get a product to market was how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.

Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” Tureci said.

Among the lessons she and her husband, BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin, learned along with their colleagues was “how important cooperation and collaboration is internationally.”

Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company, which has staff members from 60 countries, reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.

“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.

Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.

“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”

Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech vaccine themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated,” she said.

As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, providing funds the company can use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.

The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors.

“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.

Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure the vaccines governments have ordered are delivered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.

On Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded the wife and husband one of the country’s highest decorations, the Order of Merit, during a ceremony attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist herself.

“You began with a drug to treat cancer in a single individual,” Steinmeier told the couple. “And today we have a vaccine for all of humanity.”

Tureci said ahead of the ceremony that getting the award was “indeed an honor.”

But she insisted developing the vaccine was the work of many.

“It’s about the effort of many: our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” Tureci said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”

The Sun and I: A Cautionary Tale of Unrequited Love

Ah, dear sun… you were so hot. In my misspent youth, how I burned for your touch. And oh, how I am paying for this as an adult!

Those of you who are blessed with darker complexions will never know the true agony of raw, red, sunburned skin. Or the “cute” freckles that eventually become age spots. Or the ever-present threat of skin cancer lurking below the surface, waiting to pounce years later.

But who thought about this while spending long, sunsoaked days at the beach with my friends during the endless summers of my teens and early twenties?

For decades since, I have been diligent about sunblock, avoiding the sun, and wearing a hat. But I have displeased the sun by my inattention, and now I am being punished. A biopsy here, a patch of squamous carcinoma there (on my wrist a few years ago), and lately a nasty little basal cell uprising on the tip of my nose. On my damn face, for heavens sake — you couldn’t wreak your revenge somewhere else?!?!

Last Monday I trekked to a specialist an hour away for Mohs surgery. The technique was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Frederick Mohs at the University of Wisconsin, and has subsequently been refined.

Unlike other forms of treatment, Mohs is generally reserved for cosmetic areas or types of skin cancer that are at risk of recurring. It permits immediate and complete microscopic examination of affected tissue to make sure all “roots” are removed. And it is said to leave the least noticable scar.

Well.

We arrived at a very nice office and the very nice doctor (both physician and surgeon) immediately told me I looked much younger than my age, so we were off to a good start.

A little numbing, a little scraping, a little cauterizing, and then a long wait to see if he’d gotten everything. Which he hadn’t, so then it was time for Round Two, which did.

I emerged three hours later feeling ok only because the numbing hadn’t worn off yet and my nose was covered with a pressure bandage.

Naturally, I did not know what I looked like, which was a good thing. Although the cancer was fairly superficial and about the size of a pencil eraser, I have a row of stitches all the way up the side of my nose. And OMG do they itch!

The bandage came off two days later and I could assess the full effect. Luckily, I’ve had to keep the area covered with petroleum jelly and regular bandages so nobody has to see it, including me. To add to the loveliness are several areas of bruising, which are now in the process of fading from bright red to purple to yellow.

I’ll see the derm again on Tuesday to get the outer stitches removed, but I have been “assured” that the dissolving stitches will render my nose a little lumpy for months until they dissolve. Not to mention the scar. Woo hoo.

So, dear readers, be warned: If you have fair skin that is prone to burning or freckling, and especially if you are young enough, it is time to end your love affair with the sun for once and for all.

Oh, and meanwhile, ask your dermatologist about nicotinamide and HelioCare, just to improve the odds.

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Planet of the Apes

Great apes at the San Diego Zoo receive a Covid-19 vaccine for animals

By Stella Chan and Scottie Andrew, CNN

Updated 4:10 PM ET, Fri March 5, 2021Members of the San Diego Zoo's orangutan and bonobo tribes have received a Covid-19 vaccine designated for non-human use, zoo officials said. Members of the San Diego Zoo’s orangutan and bonobo tribes have received a Covid-19 vaccine designated for non-human use, zoo officials said.

(CNN) Several great apes at the San Diego Zoo have been vaccinated against Covid-19 a few weeks after the zoo’s gorillas tested positive for the virus. Members of the zoo’s bonobo and orangutan troops were vaccinated using doses from a supply intended strictly for non-human use, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) said in statement to CNN. Veterinarians identified members of the bonobo and orangutan troops most at risk who could be easily vaccinated, the organization said.

San Diego Zoo gorillas make full recovery from Covid-19

Vaccinations began in January and have continued up to this month, and the animals received their second dose after three weeks. “The animals are doing well and we have seen no adverse reactions from the vaccine. The wildlife in our care is closely monitored throughout their lives,” said Darla Davis, a SDZWA spokeswoman.

In January, eight of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorillas caught the virus, though their symptoms were mild and limited to coughing, congestion and fatigue. The troop has since fully recovered.

What We Eat Now

I’m inspired by Marty, of the witty blog snakesinthegrass2014, to revisit the infamous food pyramid.

Pre-pandemic food pyramid:

Healthy Eating Pyramid

Post-pandemic food pyramid:

As my friend D commented the other day, “Covid-19 stands for the 19 lbs we’ve gained.”