Tag Archives: science

Good News Monday: Preventing Wrinkles AND Cancer?

Here’s another reason to take care of our complexions: New research finds that increased collagen helps fight cancer. While topical creams may or may not make much difference (dermal penetration is minimal), treatments that build collagen such as Genesis and IPL (intense pulsed light) may do more than keep that youthful glow. Schedule that derm appointment STAT!

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Anti-wrinkle cream ingredient collagen could hold the key to curing cancer

NEW YORK — A substance that the body creates naturally and is also an ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams could hold the key to stopping the spread of cancer. Researchers from The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai say cancerous tumors secrete a form of the protein collagen that keeps them quiet for years, even as they spread to other parts of the body. Their findings reveal that these tumor cells only turn malignant once their supplies of collagen run out.

Experiments involving mice and humans found increasing levels of type III collagen — the form of the protein cancer cells produce and cover themselves in — stops diseased cells from spreading. The collagen that surrounds the cells forces them to remain in a dormant state, preventing recurrence and metastasis — where they migrate to other organs.

“Our findings have potential clinical implications and may lead to a novel biomarker to predict tumor recurrences, as well as a therapeutic intervention to reduce local and distant relapses,” says senior author Professor Jose Bravo-Cordero in a media release.

Using state-of-the-art scanning techniques, the team tracked breast, head, and neck cancer cells implanted in mice. This enabled them to visualize the supporting “scaffold” as they became dormant and how this covering changed as the cells awoke.

Covering tumor cells in collagen could keep cancer asleep

In samples from cancer patients, researchers found type III collagen predicted tumor recurrence and metastasis. In the mice, infusions of collagen around cancer cells blocked their progression, forcing them back into dormancy.

“This intervention aimed at preventing the awakening of dormant cells has been suggested as a therapeutic strategy to prevent metastatic outgrowth,” Prof Bravo-Cordero says.

“As the biology of tumor dormancy gets uncovered and new specific drugs are developed, a combination of dormancy-inducing treatments with therapies that specifically target dormant cells will ultimately prevent local recurrence and metastasis and pave the way to cancer remission.”

How cancer cells remain inert for long periods before awakening to wreak havoc throughout the body has baffled experts for decades. The study, published in the journal Nature Cancer, solves a major mystery and opens the door to therapies using collagen as a cancer treatment.

From cosmetics to cancer research

Most people likely know collagen for its use in helping people look younger. However, the protein is also a natural building block for the skin, bones, and connective tissues throughout the body. It provides strength and elasticity, but women experience a dramatic drop in production after menopause.

In cosmetic products, collagen injections can improve the contours of the skin. Fillers that contain collagen remove lines and wrinkles from the face. It can also improve the appearance of scars.

Study authors note that collagen is present in the extracellular matrix, an intricate network that determines the physical properties of tissues — including tumors. Most cancer deaths are due to these harmful cells spreading throughout the body, which can still happen several years after surgical removal of the original tumor.

Previous research has shown collagen dressings heal chronic wounds that do not respond to other treatments. Encasing a tumor in collagen may have similarly dramatic success, Prof. Bravo-Cordero explains.

The study author adds that wound treatment with collagen scaffolds has displayed promising results and is a therapeutic alternative for people with complex skin wounds.

“Our studies demonstrate the potential therapeutic use of type III collagen to prevent the reawakening of cancer cells by inducing and maintaining cancer cell dormancy in the primary site,” researchers conclude in a statement to SWNS.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bloody Marvelous

Whoops, almost missed Monday this week. That’s what I get for spending hours attempting to delete all the cyber-hysteria emails that pop up like whack-a-mole: Delete twenty and another thirty-five pop up, seemingly instantaneously.

Anyway. This is seriously cool stuff.

Test tubes with blood
(© jarun011 – stock.adobe.com)

HEALTH & MEDICALSCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

3D-printed blood? New process for creating plasma could revolutionize wound healing

by Chris Melore

DUBLIN, Ireland — Blood contains all sorts of life-giving components, from red blood cells that carry oxygen to white blood cells that fight off infections. However, our blood also works hard to repair wounds. Thanks to platelet-rich plasma (PRP), blood clots around scraps and scratches, allowing our bodies to heal and limit scarring. Now, researchers in Ireland have discovered an innovative way of improving the healing process even further — 3D printing!

A team from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences say replicating more blood plasma through 3D printing technology can help scientists create a PRP implant that speeds up healing. Platelet-rich plasma is the body’s natural healing substance and it makes up about half of a person’s blood.

The new study explored the possibility of extracting PRP from a patient with severe skin wounds and creating more of this substance in a 3D printer. Scientists would then use these platelets to form an implant doctors can place on difficult-to-heal skin wounds — like a scaffold — during surgery.

No more scars for serious wounds?

Tests by the RCSI team found that applying a PRP implant speeds up the healing process by triggering the development of new blood vessels (vascularization). The implant also inhibits scarring and the thickening of tissue around wounds (fibrosis). Researchers say both of these benefits are key for wounds to heal effectively.

“Existing literature suggests that while the PRP already present in our blood helps to heal wounds, scarring can still occur. By 3D-printing PRP into a biomaterial scaffold, we can increase the formation of blood vessels while also avoiding the formation of scars, leading to more successful wound healing,” says RCSI professor of bioengineering and regenerative medicine, Fergal O’Brien, in a university release.

“As well as promising results for skin wound healing, this technology can potentially be used to regenerate different tissues, therefore dramatically influencing the ever-growing regenerative medicine, 3D printing and personalized medicine markets.”

The findings appear in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Another Sad Cautionary Tale

Wishing that those who spread misinformation and/or continue to cause harm to others by refusing to get vaccinated would be held accountable.

Bride-to-Be, 29, Who Was Fearful of Getting Vaccinated Dies of COVID: ‘Misinformation Killed Her’

Samantha Wendell’s funeral will now be held at the church where she had planned to have her wedding. By Julie Mazziotta People Magazine

Samantha Wendell

Samantha Wendell | CREDIT: BLAKE-LAMB FUNERAL HOME

A 29-year-old Kentucky woman who was fearful of getting vaccinated died of COVID-19 after missing her wedding while hospitalized with the virus.

Samantha Wendell had spent nearly the last two years planning her wedding to fiancé Austin Eskew, obsessing over every aspect of the big day, NBC News reported. The surgical technician from Grand Rivers had put off getting vaccinated, worried that her plans to have three or four kids with Eskew wouldn’t be possible after she heard false information from her co-workers that the shots led to infertility.

She “just kind of panicked,” Eskew, 29, said.

The Centers for Disease Control, OB-GYN groups and health experts have emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and are entirely safe for hopeful or expecting moms. “It is just not true that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is associated with infertility in either males or females,” Dr. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, previously told PEOPLE.

RELATED: Unvaccinated Pregnant Nurse and Her Unborn Baby Die of COVID: ‘It’s Hard to Accept’

Wendell ended up changing her mind on getting vaccinated as the delta variant spread through the U.S., and decided that she and Eskew should get inoculated before their honeymoon in Mexico. She made appointments for them for the end of July, but after her bachelorette party a week prior, she started feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19.

“She could not stop coughing,” Eskew, who got it too, said.

Neither of the couple had preexisting health conditions, and Eskew’s symptoms were mild. But Wendell continued to deteriorate and was hospitalized in August. She spent six weeks in the hospital, and five days before their planned wedding date of Aug. 21, Wendell was put on a ventilator. Just before, she asked doctors if she could get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It wasn’t going to do any good at that point, obviously,” her mother, Jeaneen Wendell, said. “It just weighs heavy on my heart that this could have easily been avoided.”

Has Delta Peaked?

This is a fascinating analysis of COVID’s two-month cycle, with the Delta variant following a similar pattern to the first outbreaks. (Apologies for formatting wonkiness — cutting and pasting NYT articles doesn’t always work well.)


A testing site in Auburndale, Fla., last month.Octavio Jones for The New York Times
Almost like clockwork

By David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu for The New York Times
Has the Delta-fueled Covid-19 surge in the U.S. finally peaked?
The number of new daily U.S. cases has risen less over the past week than at any point since June, as you can see in this chart:
The New York Times
There is obviously no guarantee that the trend will continue. But there is one big reason to think that it may and that caseloads may even soon decline.
Since the pandemic began, Covid has often followed a regular — if mysterious — cycle. In one country after another, the number of new cases has often surged for roughly two months before starting to fall. The Delta variant, despite its intense contagiousness, has followed this pattern.
After Delta took hold last winter in India, caseloads there rose sharply for slightly more than two months before plummeting at a nearly identical rate. In Britain, caseloads rose for almost exactly two months before peaking in July. In Indonesia, Thailand, France, Spain and several other countries, the Delta surge also lasted somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 months.
* Between February and July 2021, depending on the country.The New York Times
And in the U.S. states where Delta first caused caseloads to rise, the cycle already appears to be on its downside. Case numbers in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri peaked in early or mid-August and have since been falling:
The New York Times
Two possible stories
We have asked experts about these two-month cycles, and they acknowledged that they could not explain it. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.
But two broad categories of explanation seem plausible, the experts say.
One involves the virus itself. Rather than spreading until it has reached every last person, perhaps it spreads in waves that happen to follow a similar timeline. How so? Some people may be especially susceptible to a variant like Delta, and once many of them have been exposed to it, the virus starts to recede — until a new variant causes the cycle to begin again (or until a population approaches herd immunity).
The second plausible explanation involves human behavior. People don’t circulate randomly through the world. They live in social clusters, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, points out. Perhaps the virus needs about two months to circulate through a typically sized cluster, infecting the most susceptible — and a new wave starts when people break out of their clusters, such as during a holiday. Alternately, people may follow cycles of taking more and then fewer Covid precautions, depending on their level of concern.
Whatever the reasons, the two-month cycle predated Delta. It has repeated itself several times in the U.S., including both last year and early this year, with the Alpha variant, which was centered in the upper Midwest:
What now?
The New York Times
In a few countries, vaccination rates have apparently risen high enough to break Covid’s usual two-month cycle: The virus evidently cannot find enough new people to infect. In both Malta and Singapore, this summer’s surge lasted only about two weeks before receding.
We want to emphasize that cases are not guaranteed to decline in coming weeks. There have been plenty of exceptions to the two-month cycle around the world. In Brazil, caseloads have followed no evident pattern. In Britain, cases did decline about two months after the Delta peak — but only for a couple of weeks. Since early August, cases there have been rising again, with the end of behavior restrictions likely playing a role. (If you haven’t yet read this Times dispatch about Britain’s willingness to accept rising caseloads, we recommend it.)
In the U.S., the start of the school year could similarly spark outbreaks this month. The country will need to wait a few more weeks to know. In the meantime, one strategy continues to be more effective than any other in beating back the pandemic: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” as Osterholm says. Or as Nuzzo puts it, “Our top goal has to be first shots in arms.”
The vaccine is so powerful because it keeps deaths and hospitalizations rare even during surges in caseloads. In Britain, the recent death count has been less than one-tenth what it was in January.

Good News Monday: Kick the “Can”

Encouraging news from the frontiers of cancer research.

Cancer’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ discovered by scientists

by Study Finds

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Scientists may be one step closer to defeating cancer after finding what researchers at the University of British Columbia call the disease’s “Achilles’ heel.”

Their study has uncovered a protein that fuels tumors when oxygen levels are low. It enables the cancerous growths to adapt and survive and become more aggressive.

The enzyme, called CAIX (Carbonic Anhydrase IX), helps diseased cells spread to other organs. It could hold the key to new treatments for the deadliest forms of the disease, including breast, pancreatic, lungs, bowel, and prostate cancers.

Cancer cells depend on the CAIX enzyme to survive, which ultimately makes it their ‘Achilles heel.’ By inhibiting its activity, we can effectively stop the cells from growing,” says study senior author Professor Shoukat Dedhar in a university release.

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, will help researchers develop drugs that destroy solid tumors. These are the most common types that arise in the body. They rely on blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients which help tumors grow.

As the tumors advance, the blood vessels are unable to provide enough oxygen to every part. Over time, the low-oxygen environment leads to a buildup of acid inside the cells. They overcome the stress by unleashing proteins, or enzymes, that neutralize the acidic conditions.

Stopping cancer before it spreads

This process is behind the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to other organs — which is what can kill patients. Finding a way to prevent cancer from metastasizing is the “Holy Grail” of cancer research. One of the enzymes which appears to do this is CAIX.

The Canadian team previously identified a unique compound known as SLC-0111 as a powerful inhibitor. It is currently being tested in clinical trials. Experiments in mice with breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers revealed its effectiveness.

The compound suppressed tumor growth and spread, although there were side-effects, with other cellular properties diminished. Now, the researchers have demonstrated other weaknesses in CAIX using a technique called genome-wide synthetic lethal screening. The powerful tool systematically deletes one gene at a time to determine if a cancer cell can be killed by eliminating the enzyme.

Surprisingly, results pointed to an unexpected role of proteins and processes that control a form of cell death called ferroptosis. This process happens when iron builds up and weakens a tumor’s metabolism and cell membranes.

“We now know that the CAIX enzyme blocks cancer cells from dying as a result of ferroptosis,” Dr. Dedhar adds. “Combining inhibitors of CAIX, including SLC-0111, with compounds known to bring about ferroptosis results in catastrophic cell death and debilitates tumor growth.”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A large international effort is currently underway to identify drugs that induce ferroptosis. The study is a major step forward in this quest.

Good News Monday: Hobbits Were Real

Well, sort of, according to this article on StudyFinds.com:


‘Hobbit’ creature discovered in North America, rewriting history of mammals after dinosaur era

by Chris Melore

BOULDER, Colo. — Fossils of a creature which researchers compare to the character Beorn from “The Hobbit” may change how scientists look at the evolution of mammals following the extinction of the dinosaurs. The prehistoric mammal is one of three new species a team from the University of Colorado-Boulder have discovered that they say roamed North America shortly after the age of dinosaurs.

Paleontologists generally accept that the end of the dinosaurs is also the dawn of modern mammals on Earth. However, scientists have assumed that there was very little diversity in mammal species during the earliest Paleocene Epoch — a geological period roughly 56 to 66 million years ago. This new discovery suggests that mammals actually diversified much quicker after dinosaurs left the planet.

The three new species — Miniconus jeanninaeConacodon hettingeri, and Beornus honeyi — range in size from rat-sized mammals to modern house cats. At the largest end of the spectrum, these creatures would be much larger than their fellow mammals living alongside the dinosaurs at the time.

A smile made for the movies

Researchers say each of these animals have unique dental features which reveal them to be separate species. In the case of Beornus honeyi, its inflated molars (or puffy cheek teeth) give it the appearance of being like Beorn from “The Hobbit” — hence its colorful name.

All three mammals belong to a group called archaic ungulates (or condylarths), which are the primitive ancestors to today’s hoofed mammals such as horses, elephants, cows, and hippos. The findings come from an analysis of unearthed lower jaw bones and teeth. These fossils provide insight into an animal’s lifestyle and body size.

The team’s examination points to the animals being omnivores who could grind up both plants and meat. Despite this, scientists can’t rule out that these early mammals only ate plants during this period. One thing is certain though, mammal life took off roughly 66 millions ago following the mass extinction event that wiped out the final era of their reptilian neighbors.

“When the dinosaurs went extinct, access to different foods and environments enabled mammals to flourish and diversify rapidly in their tooth anatomy and evolve larger body size. They clearly took advantage of this opportunity, as we can see from the radiation of new mammal species that took place in a relatively short amount of time following the mass extinction,” explains lead author Madelaine Atteberry from the University of Colorado Geological Sciences Department, in a media release.

North America had a diverse rodent population?

Atteberry and co-author Jaelyn Eberle analyzed the jaw bone fossils of 29 condylarth species to determine the anatomical differences between each animal. Using phylogenetic techniques, they assessed how each species compared to other early Paleocene condylarths living in the present day western United States.

From those studies, the team believes they have unearthed three completely new species from those first years following the demise of dinosaur life. Results also show that Beornus honeyi appears to be the largest of the three, measuring about the size of a modern feline.

While Conacodon hettingeri and Miniconus jeanninae are similar in size to other rodent-like early mammals, they differ in the shape and form of their last molars.

“Previous studies suggest that in the first few hundred thousand years after the dinosaur extinction (what is known in North America as the early Puercan) there was relatively low mammal species diversity across the Western Interior of North America, but the discovery of three new species in the Great Divide Basin suggests rapid diversification following the extinction,” says Atteberry. “These new periptychid ‘condylarths’ make up just a small percentage of the more than 420 mammalian fossils uncovered at this site. We haven’t yet fully captured the extent of mammalian diversity in the earliest Paleocene, and predict that several more new species will be described.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Good News Monday: The Pen IS Mightier

Of course, writers intuitively know this.

Handwriting leads to faster learning than typing or watching videos

StudyFinds.com

by John Anderer

Photo by Sarah Chai on Pexels.com

BALTIMORE, Md. — Taking notes with a plain old pen and paper is becoming more antiquated by the day. However, a new study finds handwriting is actually the superior learning option, beating out both typing and watching videos when it comes to quickly picking up new information. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University report that handwriting is “surprisingly faster and significantly better” for learning certain skills.

“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” says senior author Brenda Rapp, a Johns Hopkins professor of cognitive science, in a university release. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.”

Pen and paper triples learning speed?

A group of 42 participants took part in the study. Researchers taught each person the Arabic alphabet after separating them into three learning groups: pen and paper, typing, and video watching. After all participants had been “introduced” to an Arabic letter via a short video, subjects had to attempt to absorb the new information according to their assigned learning group. The typing group had to find the letter they just saw on a keyboard. The video group saw an on-screen flash of a letter and had to answer if it was the same letter they had just seen. The handwriting group had to copy the letter with pen and paper.

By the time participants across all three groups had finished six “learning sessions,” pretty much everyone was able to recognize the letters. However, the writing group reached this level much faster than the other two groups, after an average of just two learning sessions.

Next, study authors set out to see if any of the groups could “generalize” their new knowledge. In simpler terms, while it’s great that they could identify the Arabic letters they had just learned, could they actually use them to write, spell new words, and recognize unfamiliar words? The writing group excelled in all three of those categories to a much larger degree than either the typing or watching groups.

“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there,” explains lead author Robert Wiley, a former Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Ultimately, the handwriting group showed far more of the skills necessary for expert adult-level Arabic reading and spelling.

Why do our brains react so well to paper?

As far as why handwriting is a cut above when it comes to learning, study authors believe it is because writing reinforces both visual and aural lessons. More specifically, they say that the very act of writing something down creates a “perceptual-motor experience” that fosters “richer knowledge and fuller, true learning.”

“With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting,” Wiley adds.

While these findings involved only adults, researchers are confident their work applies to children as well.

“I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time,” Wiley concludes.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Good News Monday: Promising Research on Staying Sharp

From Studyfinds.com

Memory, dementia
(© pathdoc – stock.adobe.com)

Anti-aging protein discovered in blood prevents mental decline

JUNE 20, 2021by Chris Melore

HOUSTON, Texas — Anti-aging treatments are a popular field of study these days, as more and more people are living into their 70s and 80s. However, a new study reveals the answer to preventing cognitive decline as we age may have been sitting in our blood all along. Researchers have discovered a protein in red blood cells which has the power to prevent memory loss and other age-related issues in the brain.

Tests in mice find that removing the protein adenosine receptor A2B (ADORA2B) from red blood cells triggers faster declines in memory, the ability to recognize sounds, and leads to higher levels of inflammation in the brain.

ADORA2B helps deliver oxygen to keep us young

It’s no secret that as the human body ages, people begin to slow down. With more people reaching old age in modern times, more people are developing age-related diseases like dementia. Study authors explain that the amount of oxygen in the blood also declines as people age.

They add that ADORA2B, a protein on the membrane of red blood cells, helps to release oxygen so the rest of the body can use it. With that in mind, an international team set out to see how large of a role ADORA2B plays in keeping the brain youthful and active.

Researchers engineered a group of mice which lack ADORA2B in their blood. They compared these animals to normal mice, examining their mental decline as they got older. Results reveal all of the typical signs of cognitive decline — poor memory, hearing problems, and brain inflammation — were worse in mice lacking ADORA2B protein.

Moreover, after experiencing a lack of oxygen throughout their bodies, study authors discovered that behavioral and physiological trauma to mice without the anti-aging protein was more severe than in normal mice. Due to these findings, scientists conclude that ADORA2B slows the natural aging of the brain by delivering oxygen vital to its normal functioning.

“Red blood cells have an irreplaceable function to deliver oxygen to maintain bioenergetics of every single cell within our body. However, their function in age-related cognition and hearing function remains largely unknown. Our findings reveal that the red blood cell ADORA2B signaling cascade combats early onset of age-related decline in cognition, memory and hearing by promoting oxygen delivery in mice and immediately highlight multiple new rejuvenating targets,” says study author Dr. Yang Xia from the University of Texas McGovern Medical School in a media release.

The team published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.

Good News Monday: Something In Common

In recent years, our little community has sadly become increasingly polarized, what with strongly-held opinions on such crises as “LollipopGate” (did the former head of the vegetation committee instruct landscapers to trim certain trees in unnatural shapes?),”GateGate” (did the front gate close on a neighbor’s car through malfunction, or was this an error on the part of the driver?),”PoopGate” (did a neighbor deliberately not pick up after their pet, or did the outraged complainant mistake a clump of mud for dog poop?), and “SnoopGate” (did a neighbor repairing storm-related damage to his home knowingly violate The Rules? And could the “concerned party” have asked the owner directly about his repairs? Or — gasp — maybe offered to help rather than contacting the Powers-That-Be as a first resort?) Deep breath.

There seems to be no shortage of time for people to complain, yet little interest in listening to the other side. And it’s all gotten notably worse since the last US election, with the endless repetition of bs about “stolen” votes. I swear we have grooves in our roads from everyone digging in their heels!

So it was with great interest that I read the following piece on studyfinds.org. Perhaps there’s reason to be hopeful after all.

U.S. Politics - Democrats and Republicans, donkey and elephant on flag
(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

Political polarization study finds liberal and conservative brains have one thing in common

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There seems to be no end in sight to the political divide splitting America in two right now. While political polarization is not a new phenomenon, researchers say they still know very little about what causes people to see the world through an ideological bias. Now, a team from Brown University reveals liberals and conservatives actually do share some common ground — they all hate uncertainty.

Their study finds the brains of “political partisans” on both sides of the spectrum show an inability to tolerate uncertainty. These individuals also have a need to hold onto predictable beliefs about the world they live in.

Examining a group of liberals and conservatives, researchers discovered watching politically inflammatory debates or news coverage exacerbates each person’s intolerance of the unknown. Liberals began to display more liberal thinking and conservatives moved further to the conservative side. Despite their ideological differences, the team finds the same brain mechanics are driving this behavior.

“This is the first research we know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to political polarization on both sides of the aisle,” says study co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, in a university release. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”

Political views not to blame for polarized society?

Study authors used fMRI scans to measure brain activity while participants watched three different programs. The 22 conservatives and 22 liberals viewed a neutrally-worded news report on the very polarizing topic of abortion, a fiery political debate segment, and a completely non-political nature show.

After seeing the videos, participants answered questions gauging their understanding and opinions of the different segments. They also completed political and cognitive surveys measuring their intolerance of uncertainty. According to study co-author Jeroen van Baar, the results show political polarization is less about what people think and more about how their brains cope with the world around them.

“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” says van Baar, a former Brown researcher now at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising — and potentially solvable — factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”

“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall adds.

Birds of a (political) feather flock together

The study also reveals brain activity and neural responses in partisans diverge between liberals and conservatives. Researchers say these differences reflect each side’s subjective interpretation of the content they’re viewing. People who strongly identify as liberals processed political videos in a very similar way to other liberals in the study; a trait called neural synchrony. Study authors discovered the same thing when examining the brains of conservatives.

“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall explains.

The results also show people displaying a higher level of intolerance for uncertainty are more sensitive to politically polarizing content. Surprisingly, the news report on abortion with a completely neutral tone did not exacerbate the group’s polarized perceptions.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers explain.

“This is key because it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ are not just different in some stable way, like brain structure or basic functioning, as other researchers have claimed, but instead that ideological differences in brain processes arise from exposure to very particular polarizing material,” van Baar concludes. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye — provided we find the right way to communicate.”

The study appears in the journal PNAS

Good News Monday: Long-lasting Immunity

From The New York Times:

Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find

Important immune cells survive in the bone marrow of people who were infected with the virus or were inoculated against it, new research suggests.

The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds.
The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds.Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

By Apoorva Mandavilli May 26, 2021

Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.

Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.

“The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.

The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds. But those viruses change significantly every few years, Dr. Hensley said. “The reason we get infected with common coronaviruses repetitively throughout life might have much more to do with variation of these viruses rather than immunity,” he said.

In fact, memory B cells produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and enhanced with vaccination are so potent that they thwart even variants of the virus, negating the need for boosters, according to Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who led the study on memory maturation.

“People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies,” Dr. Nussenzweig said. “I expect that they will last for a long time.”

The result may not apply to protection derived from vaccines alone, because immune memory is likely to be organized differently after immunization, compared with that following natural infection.

Upon first encountering a virus, B cells rapidly proliferate and produce antibodies in large amounts. Once the acute infection is resolved, a small number of the cells take up residence in the bone marrow, steadily pumping out modest levels of antibodies.

To look at memory B cells specific to the new coronavirus, researchers led by Ali Ellebedy of Washington University in St. Louis analyzed blood from 77 people at three-month intervals, starting about a month after their infection with the coronavirus. Only six of the 77 had been hospitalized for Covid-19; the rest had mild symptoms.

Antibody levels in these individuals dropped rapidly four months after infection and continued to decline slowly for months afterward — results that are in line with those from other studies.

Some scientists have interpreted this decrease as a sign of waning immunity, but it is exactly what’s expected, other experts said. If blood contained high quantities of antibodies to every pathogen the body had ever encountered, it would quickly transform into a thick sludge.