GUELPH, Ontario — Avocados are a dietary staple of millions, but a new study finds these delicious fruits may have some extra medicinal benefits to offer as well. Researchers from the University of Guelph have discovered a new avocado compound they say may open the door for better leukemia treatments.
More specifically, this compound appears to target and attack an enzyme that can be critical to cancer cell growth.
Researchers focused their attention on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which doctors call the most dangerous variety of blood cancer. Most people diagnosed with AML are over 65 years-old and only about 10 percent survive for five years post-diagnosis.
Importantly, leukemia cells house large amounts of an enzyme called VLCAD that helps with metabolic processes.
“The cell relies on that pathway to survive,” says Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Department of Food Science, in a university release. “This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer.”
Is there a cancer treatment hiding in a superfood?
“Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado,” Spagnuolo notes.
“VLCAD can be a good marker to identify patients suitable for this type of therapy. It can also be a marker to measure the activity of the drug,” he continues. “That sets the stage for eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials. There’s been a drive to find less toxic drugs that can be used.”
Right now, about half of all older AML patients enter palliative care. Others opt for chemotherapy, but that often does more harm than good.
“We completed a human study with this as an oral supplement and have been able to show that appreciable amounts are fairly well tolerated,” Spagnuolo concludes.
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.
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 title of this article intrigued me, as I wondered if there are universally annoying sounds such as “nails on a chalkboard” (does anyone still have chalkboards? Does this reference mean anything to a younger generation?) — or if it is more subjective.
My list would have to include:
A screaming child, especially in a public place or an airplane
The sound of someone chewing loudly, esp. if there’s gum involved
A dental drill
The screech of a train pulling into the station
Donald Trump’s voice (hopefully, we will not hear it much longer)
Nervous clicking, tapping, etc. of long, fake nails. Even without the chalkboard.
The common denominators being Loud/Repetitive/Incessant/Harsh.
The author posits that the pandemic has made things worse, as being cooped up for weeks/months on end is bound to lower our collective tolerance. Odds are, your neighbor banging pots and pans might be (slightly) more tolerable if you weren’t forced to hear it day in, day out.
No time for an original post today, but want to share this encouraging article from my daily New York Times email briefing:
A running start for a vaccine at Oxford
Here’s promising news in the worldwide race to develop a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus. The Jenner Institute at Oxford University has one that seems to work in lab animals and is ready to test its effectiveness in humans, if regulators approve.
The institute had a big head start, our correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick reports. Its scientists had an approach that they already knew was safe: They had proved it in trials last year for a vaccine to fight MERS, a respiratory disease caused by a closely related virus.
That has enabled the institute to skip ahead and schedule tests of its new Covid-19 vaccine on more than 6,000 people by the end of May, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana got very good results when they tried out the Oxford vaccine last month on six rhesus macaque monkeys. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the coronavirus. After more than four weeks, all six were still healthy.
“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.
Immunity in monkeys doesn’t guarantee that a vaccine will protect people, but it’s an encouraging sign. If the May trials go well and regulators grant emergency approval, the Oxford scientists say they could have a few million doses of their vaccine available by September — months ahead of other vaccine projects.
“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” said Emilio Emini of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is helping to finance a number of competing efforts.
All in the genes: The Jenner Institute isn’t following the classic approach of using a weakened version of the disease pathogen. Instead, its approach starts with another familiar virus, neutralizes it and then genetically modifies it so that it will prompt the body to produce the right antibodies for Covid-19.
Researchers originally cooked up the technology in a quest to develop a vaccine for malaria, which is caused by a parasite. No luck there yet. But when the idea was borrowed to go after MERS, it worked well.