Scientists Discover New Human Salivary Glands

The findings may have implications for radiotherapy, a cancer treatment that can cause damage to salivary glands and leave lasting complications.

Doctors don’t regularly come across undiscovered bits of human anatomy, but a team of physicians recently reported a never-before-described set of salivary glands in patients’ necks. The first hint of this new gland emerged while Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NCI), was probing for damage to salivary glands after radiotherapy for cancer in the head, neck, or brain—injuries that can lead to issues such as problems with digestion, speech, and an increase in oral infections. While going through these scans, he found something usual.

Vogel was using a new technique for detecting cells in the salivary glands—PSMA PET/CT, a form of combined positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) that uses a radioactive tracer that binds to a prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA). This method is typically used to detect prostate cancer, but in a prior study, Vogel and his colleagues had found that it also labels salivary gland cells, where PSMA is also expressed. Humans have three major salivary glands and approximately 1,000 minor ones. “This scan is extremely sensitive for the salivary glands,” Vogel says. “So we can see more than ever before.”

What he saw was an unexpectedly high level of labeling in the upper section of the throat known as the nasopharynx, where only minor salivary glands are supposed to be found.

When Vogel first observed the unanticipated signal, he says he was confused—salivary gland cells were not thought to be abundant in this location. Immediately, he sought a second opinion from his colleague Matthijs Valstar, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the NCI. “You never believe something until you have some feedback from others,” Vogel tells The Scientist. “But we agreed that it really was an unexpected and significant signal that requires further investigation.”

To examine further, Vogel and Valstar assembled a team of more than a dozen researchers from NCI and three other medical centers in the Netherlands. Together, they went through the PSMA PET/CT scans of more than 100 patients with prostate or urethral gland cancer and found similar signals in the nasopharynx region in those individuals as well. This assessment also revealed that the glands existed as a pair and had an average length of four centimeters. The group then dissected two human cadavers to confirm that this was, indeed, salivary gland tissue. They dubbed these newly identified glands as “tubarial glands,” based on their location above the torus tubarius, the section of the nasopharynx just behind the pharynx. These findings appeared last week (October 16) in Radiotherapy & Oncology.

According to Vogel, there are likely two main reasons the tubarial glands haven’t been found before: researchers had not previously used PSMA PET/CT to look for salivary glands, and the newly discovered glands are located in a region that’s hard to access with standard surgical procedures. “With the other salivary glands, you can just feel them by either with your hand or see them during surgery,” Vogel explains. “The location we’re describing now, you can only see it with a nasal endoscopy.” Nasal endoscopy is a method in which a tube with a tiny camera and light are used to image the nose and sinuses. Based on the tubarial glands’ similarities to the volume and draining system of the sublingual gland—one of the three major salivary glands—the authors suggest that the new glands should be classified as a fourth major gland. However, they also note that some might disagree with this categorization, because the new glands share similarities with minor glands as well.

Because salivary glands are at risk of damage from radiotherapy, the team also set out to investigate whether radiotherapy exposure to the tubarial glands would affect patients. After examining data from a cohort of more than 700 head and neck cancer patients, they reported that the radiotherapy dose to the gland area was associated with dry mouth and swallowing difficulties after treatment.

Vincent Vander Poorten, an otorhinolaryngologist at University Hospital Leuven (UZ Leuven) in Belgium who was not involved in this study but has collaborated with the authors on other projects, says that while he agrees that the authors have found a new cluster of minor glands, whether the tubarial gland is truly a separate, major gland is somewhat controversial. “Of course, you could say that it’s just a cluster of minor salivary glands that are all over the place in the mucous membranes of the head and neck.”

See “New Discoveries in Human Anatomy

“I don’t think there is any doubt this is new salivary tissue that has been discovered.” Chris Nutting, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in the UK who was not involved in this study, tells The Scientist. “One of the areas that we are very keen on pursuing is trying to identify salivary tissue and avoiding it because it causes one of the main complications of radiotherapy.” The question is how much sparing this gland will actually improve patient outcomes, he adds. The authors conducted a retrospective study, which looks back at previously collected data, but Nutting says a prospective study, which enrolls participants and observes the outcomes of an exposure over time, will be important.

Vogel, too, notes that whether radiotherapy to spare the tubarial glands will actually make a difference in patient outcomes is an open question. “That is the reason that we cannot just implement this new finding into treatment today,” he adds. “We have to do prospective evaluations to see if it really helps patients. This is something that we envision [doing in] the coming years.”

M. Valstar et al., “The tubarial salivary glands: A potential new organ at risk for radiotherapy,” Radiotherapy & Oncology, doi:10.1016/j.radonc.2020.09.034, 2020. 

How the diabolical ironclad beetle is able to withstand being run over by a car

A diabolical ironclad beetle.

The diabolical ironclad beetle, in addition to having one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom, boasts one of the toughest natural exoskeletons. A team of scientists has finally figured out the secret behind this extra durable armor and how these insects can survive getting run over by a car.

As wise people often say, a reed that bends in the wind is stronger than a mighty tree that breaks during a storm. New research published today in Nature suggests the diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) is an adherent of these sage words. Their exoskeletons are extra tough, but when the pressure literally gets to be too much, their protective shells take on an elastic quality that results in a kind of stretching rather than breaking.

The scientists who made this discovery—a team from Purdue University and the University of California-Irvine—say the unique strategy employed by the diabolical ironclad beetle could inspire the creation of innovative materials, namely components capable of dissipating energy to prevent catastrophic breakage. David Kisailus, a professor of materials science and engineering at UCI, led the new research.

Found in the U.S. southwest, the diabolical ironclad beetle likes to hide under rocks and squeeze behind tree bark. These beetles cannot fly, so they’ve developed a pair of interesting defensive strategies to protect themselves against predators such as birds, rodents, and lizards. In addition to playing dead (a classic and effective strategy in its own right), these tank-like bugs are equipped with one of the toughest shells known to science. So strong is this exoskeleton that these beetles can survive getting run over by a car. More practically, this shell protects their internal organs when, say, they’re getting pecked at by birds.

To better understand these beetles and their durable exoskeletons, the researchers prodded the limits of this armor, studied it with microscopes and CT scanners, and even 3D-printed their own versions to test their theories.

Experiments showed that diabolical ironclad beetles can withstand an applied force of 150 newtons, which is 39,000 times its body weight. If we were to compare this to humans (not a great example, given the vastly different scales involved, but fun nonetheless), that would require a 200-pound person to endure the crush of 7.8 million pounds, according to a Purdue press release. A tire passing overhead would inflict 100 newtons of force, which explains how these beetles can survive run-ins with cars. The researchers say other beetle species can’t handle even half of this load.

Cross section of the medial suture, where two halves of the beetle’s elytra meet. The jigsaw puzzle-like configuration, when stressed and stretched, allows for elasticity, preventing breakage.
Cross section of the medial suture, where two halves of the beetle’s elytra meet. The jigsaw puzzle-like configuration, when stressed and stretched, allows for elasticity, preventing breakage.

Physical analysis of the exoskeleton with microscopes and CT scanners showed that the key to this durability lies in this creature’s elytra. In flying beetles, elytra serve as the protective wing-cases for their hindwings (in ladybugs, elytra are the red and black polka-dotted shells that open up when it’s time for them to fly). For the terrestrial diabolical ironclad beetle, however, its two elytra evolved a different purpose, protecting its internal organs instead of its wings. And in so doing, it has become considerably tougher than the elytra found in other beetles.

This shell confers two levels of protection, as the new research points out.

The outer layer prevents excessive motion, keeping the structure of the exoskeleton intact. This outer layer features more protein than usual—about 10% more by weight than other parts of the beetle’s body—which

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adds extra strength. At the same time, the medial suture—the line that divides the two elytra along the length of the beetle’s abdomen—features connective blades that are best described as the pieces of an interlocking jigsaw puzzle. These blades, or sutures, interlock tightly, preventing any internal motion and keeping the structure of the overarching exoskeleton intact.

But remember our reed-in-the-wind analogy? Should things start to get too intense, and the stresses too powerful, there has to be some give, lest the beetle ends up broken like the stubborn tree. In this case, the interlocking sutures go through a process called delamination, or layered fracturing, in which the connecting structures slowly pull away from each other, allowing for the dissipation of energy and elastic deformation. This interlocked configuration will collapse completely if the forces are too extreme, but the breakage process happens more slowly and more gently than a plain old snap. In a real-world scenario, this means an extended time until complete failure, which, for the beetle, could be a matter of life and death.

“When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part,” explained Kisailus in a UC-Irvine statement. “But we don’t see that sort of catastrophic split with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, providing for a more graceful failure of the structure.”

To buy the beetle even more time, the blades feature a prickly coating that acts like sandpaper, providing some but not too much resistance during slippage.

By running computer simulations and printing 3D models of these structures, the researchers were able to replicate these protective effects, further strengthening their assumptions. They also built a fastener based on the same strategy, and it proved to be just as good as conventional engineering fasteners, if not better.

“This work shows that we may be able to shift from using strong, brittle materials to ones that can be both strong and tough by dissipating energy as they break,” said Pablo Zavattieri, professor of civil engineering at Purdue, in a university statement. “That’s what nature has enabled the diabolical ironclad beetle to do.”

With this knowledge, engineers might be able to build extra-tough materials, such as improved aircraft gas turbines, which involve metals and composite materials that need to be held together with mechanical fasteners. Indeed, we don’t always need to reinvent the wheel—often, nature has already solved a problem quite elegantly.

Researchers Discover Neuroprotective Treatment for Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury

Brief pharmacologic treatment one year after traumatic brain injury in mice reverses cognitive impairment

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of cognitive impairment that affects millions of people worldwide. Despite growing awareness about the debilitating and lifelong progressive consequences of TBI, there are currently no treatments that slow the deteriorative process. TBI survivors are currently treated with extensive physical and cognitive rehabilitation, accompanied by medications that may mitigate symptoms yet do not halt or slow neurodegeneration.

Now, researchers have found for the first time that this process can be pharmacologically reversed in an animal model of this chronic health condition, offering an important proof of principle in the field and a potential path to new therapy. The findings from Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals (UH), Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine, and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) USA.

“TBI can lead to lifelong detrimental effects on multiple aspects of health,” explains Andrew A. Pieper, MD, PhD, senior author on the study and Director of the Harrington Discovery Institute at UH Neurotherapeutics Center, Morley-Mather Chair in Neuropsychiatry, Professor of Psychiatry at CWRU, and Psychiatrist at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center Geriatrics Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC). “Adverse long-term outcomes of TBI commonly include sensorimotor impairment, cognitive dysfunction, or emotional dysregulation, such as depression and anxiety, including worsened post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, TBI significantly increases the risk of later developing aging-related forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Dr. Pieper and his team set out to test whether it was possible to reverse the lifelong chronic neurodegeneration and associated cognitive deficits after TBI, which had never been demonstrated before. They utilized a mouse model that mimicked concussive impact in middle-aged people suffering a TBI decades prior, and administered an energy-elevating neuroprotective compound, known as P7C3-A20, that they had previously shown to have therapeutic value in acute TBI. The research team waited for one year after injury and then administered the compound daily to mice for one month.

Strikingly, this brief treatment with P7C3-A20 restored normal cognitive function. They continued to observe the mice for an additional four months, during which time they did not administer any more compound. Remarkably, at the end of this period the mice still showed normal cognitive function. Thus, after just one month of treatment, cognitive function remained improved four months later. 

“When we examined the brains under the microscope, we saw that chronic neurodegeneration after TBI had completely stopped in the mice that had been briefly-treated with P7C3-A20,” said Edwin Vázquez-Rosa, PhD, co-first author on the study. “Then, under electron microscopy we discovered that P7C3-A20 had also facilitated repair of the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the brain.”

“This is the first time we’ve seen that P7C3-A20 can protect endothelial cells at the interface of the cardiovascular system and the brain, known as the neurovascular unit (NVU),” explains Min-Kyoo Shin, PhD, co-first author on the study. Deterioration of the NVU occurs in almost all types of brain injury and disease, and is a well-known early and chronic feature of Alzheimer’s disease. The team also showed that P7C3-A20 directly protects human brain microvascular endothelial cells cultured in the laboratory as well.

“Except for aging and genetics, TBI is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Matasha Dhar, PhD, co-first author on the study. “We speculate that preserving the blood-brain barrier at the NVU might be a way to protect TBI patients from this increased risk.”

Robert A. Bonomo, MD, Associate Chief of Staff and Director of the Cleveland GRECC asserts, “These seminal findings have tremendous long-term impact on our veteran population that suffers from TBI.”

There are currently no medicines available to patients that directly protect the blood brain barrier. A medicine with this property, such as one derived from the P7C3 series of compounds, would have broad applicability to numerous conditions of the brain, including TBI and Alzheimer’s disease.

This study was supported by the Brockman Foundation and the AHA/Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment.

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About University Hospitals / Cleveland, Ohio Founded in 1866, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of 18 hospitals, more than 50 health centers and outpatient facilities, and 200 physician offices in 16 counties throughout northern Ohio. The system’s flagship academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, located in Cleveland’s University Circle, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The main campus also includes University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation; University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital, Ohio’s only hospital for women; University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, a high-volume national referral center for complex cardiovascular procedures; and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. UH is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research programs in the nation, including cancer, pediatrics, women’s health, orthopedics, radiology, neuroscience, cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, digestive health, transplantation and urology. UH Cleveland Medical Center is perennially among the highest performers in national ranking surveys, including “America’s Best Hospitals” from U.S. News & World Report. UH is also home to Harrington Discovery Institute–part of The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development. UH is one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio with 28,000 physicians and employees.  Advancing the Science of Health and the Art of Compassion is UH’s vision for benefitting its patients into the future, and the organization’s unwavering mission is To Heal. To Teach. To Discover. Follow UH on LinkedInFacebook @UniversityHospitals and Twitter @UHhospitals. For more information, visit UHhospitals.org.

Case Western Reserve University is one of the country’s leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 5,100 undergraduate and 6,700 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit case.edu to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.

Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center is the hub of VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, providing and coordinating primary, acute and specialty care. Focusing on treating the whole Veteran through health promotion and disease prevention, VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System delivers comprehensive, seamless health care and social services for more than 112,000 Veterans at 18 locations across Northeast Ohio. VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System contributes to the future of medicine through education, training and research programs. For more information visit www.cleveland.va.gov.

https://www.newswise.com/articles/researchers-discover-neuroprotective-treatment-for-chronic-traumatic-brain-injury2

Study finds that viewing nature on television, or through virtual reality, boosts well-being.

  • Previous studies have shown that spending time in nature can lead to a variety of mental and physical health benefits.
  • The new study involved exposing people to a high-definition nature program through one of three mediums: TV, VR and interactive VR.
  • The results suggest that nature programs may be an easy and effective way to give people a “dose” of nature, which may be especially helpful during pandemic lockdowns.

Spending time in nature can bring you well-established health benefits, from lowered anxiety and depression, to reduced blood pressure and a stronger immune system. But how nature produces these effects remains unclear. Is it the awe you feel hiking through a centuries-old forest? Time spent away from screens? The physical exercise?

Recent research adds a new dimension to scientists’ understanding of how nature impacts wellbeing. The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that people who watched high-definition nature programs on TV or in virtual reality reported lower levels of boredom and other negative emotions.

For the study, researchers at the University of Exeter asked 96 participants to watch a video of a person describing their job at an office supply company. This was done to induce boredom.

The participants then watched or interacted with a nature program about a coral reef (which includes several scenes from the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” series) under one of three randomly assigned conditions:

  • 2D video viewed on a high-definition TV screen
  • 360-degree VR, viewed via a head mounted display (HMD)
  • Interactive computer-generated VR (CG-VR), also viewed via a HMD and interacted with using a hand-held controller

The results showed that watching the nature program under all three conditions lowered negative affect, including emotions like boredom and sadness. But only the group who experienced the program in interactive VR reported a boost in mood, and feelings of being more connected to nature.

“Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s mood and combat boredom,” lead researcher Nicky Yeo told University of Exeter News. “With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 quarantines, this study suggests that nature programmes might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a ‘dose’ of digital nature.”

Helping those without access to nature

“Dose” is probably a keyword: The researchers didn’t compare the benefits of experiencing nature via TV or VR to experiencing it in person. But even beyond the pandemic, the findings suggest that experiencing nature via virtual reality could help people improve their mental wellbeing — a tool that could prove especially useful for people who don’t live near natural environments.

“Virtual reality could help us to boost the wellbeing of people who can’t readily access the natural world, such as those in hospital or in long term care,” co-author Mathew White told University of Exeter News. “But it might also help to encourage a deeper connection to nature in healthy populations, a mechanism which can foster more pro-environmental behaviours and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world.”

High-end VR headsets remain prohibitively costly for many consumers. One of the cheapest models, the Oculus Quest 2, costs $300, while more advanced headsets can run upward of $1,000. Still, you can buy barebones devices, like Google Cardboard, for about $10. These don’t enable you to engage in fully interactive VR applications, but you could use them to view 360-degree virtual reality nature videos on YouTube.

https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/health-benefits-of-nature?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

New theory of how the brain generates consciousness

consciousness

Electromagnetic energy in the brain enables brain matter to create our consciousness and our ability to be aware and think, according to a new theory developed by Professor Johnjoe McFadden from the University of Surrey.

Publishing his theory in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness, Professor McFadden posits that consciousness is in fact the brain’s energy field. This theory could pave the way toward the development of conscious AI, with robots that are aware and have the ability to think becoming a reality.

Early theories on what our consciousness is and how it has been created tended toward the supernatural, suggesting that humans and probably other animals possess an immaterial soul that confers consciousness, thought and free will—capabilities that inanimate objects lack. Most scientists today have discarded this view, known as dualism, to embrace a ‘monistic’ view of a consciousness generated by the brain itself and its network of billions of nerves. By contrast, McFadden proposes a scientific form of dualism based on the difference between matter and energy, rather than matter and soul.

The theory is based on scientific fact: when neurons in the brain and nervous system fire, they not only send the familiar electrical signal down the wire-like nerve fibres, but they also send a pulse of electromagnetic energy into the surrounding tissue. Such energy is usually disregarded, yet it carries the same information as nerve firings, but as an immaterial wave of energy, rather than a flow of atoms in and out of the nerves.

This electromagnetic field is well-known and is routinely detected by brain-scanning techniques such as electroencephalogram (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) but has previously been dismissed as irrelevant to brain function. Instead, McFadden proposes that the brain’s information-rich electromagnetic field is in fact itself the seat of consciousness, driving ‘free will’ and voluntary actions. This new theory also accounts for why, despite their immense complexity and ultra-fast operation, today’s computers have not exhibited the slightest spark of consciousness; however, with the right technical development, robots that are aware and can think for themselves could become a reality.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Director of the Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “How brain matter becomes aware and manages to think is a mystery that has been pondered by philosophers, theologians, mystics and ordinary people for millennia. I believe this mystery has now been solved, and that consciousness is the experience of nerves plugging into the brain‘s self-generated electromagnetic field to drive what we call ‘free will’ and our voluntary actions.”

More information: Johnjoe McFadden. Integrating information in the brain’s EM field: the cemi field theory of consciousness, Neuroscience of Consciousness (2020). DOI: 10.1093/nc/niaa016

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-theory-consciousness.html

New species of water bear uses fluorescent ‘shield’ to survive lethal UV radiation

By Lakshmi Supriya

Tardigrades, small aquatic creatures known as water bears, can survive extreme heat, radiation, and even the vacuum of outer space—conditions that would kill most animals. Now, scientists have discovered a new species of tardigrade that can endure ultraviolet (UV) light so lethal, it is regularly used to get rid of hard-to-kill viruses and bacteria.

The discovery was made by chance: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science scoured their campus for water bears, and then exposed them to extreme conditions. They happened to have a germicidal UV lamp in the lab, so they hit their specimens with it. The dose of 1 kilojoule per square meter, which killed bacteria and roundworms after just 5 minutes, was lethal to Hypsibius exemplaris tardigrades at 15 minutes; most died after 24 hours. But when they hit a strange, reddish brown species with the same dose, all survived. What’s more, when the researchers upped the dose four times, about 60% of the reddish brown bears lived for more than 30 days.

The researchers realized they had found a new species of tardigrade, part of the Paramacrobiotus genus. To figure out how the new species—which was found living in moss on a concrete wall in Bengaluru, India—survived, the scientists examined it with an inverted fluorescence microscope. To their surprise, under the UV light, the reddish tardigrades became blue (above). Fluorescent pigments, likely located under the tardigrades’ skin, transformed the UV light into harmless blue light, the team reports today in Biology Letters. In contrast, Paramacrobiotus with less pigment died about 20 days after exposure.

Next, the researchers extracted the fluorescent pigments and used them to coat H. exemplaris and several Caenorhabditis elegans earthworms. Animals with the jury-rigged shields survived at almost twice the rate of animals without the shields. It’s likely, scientists say, that the tardigrades evolved fluorescence as a means to tolerate the high doses of UV typical for hot summer days in southern India.

Tourist returns stolen artifacts to Pompeii after suffering ‘curse’ for 15 years

by Jack Guy and Nicola Ruotolo

A Canadian woman has returned five artifacts she took from Pompeii in 2005, saying they have plagued her with bad luck.The woman, identified only as Nicole, sent two white mosaic tiles, two pieces of amphora vase and a piece of ceramic wall to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, along with a letter explaining her decision.”I wanted to have a piece of history that couldn’t be bought,” wrote the woman, who said she was “young and dumb” at the time.

Since returning to Canada, she said, she has suffered two bouts of breast cancer, resulting in a double mastectomy, and her family has also been in financial trouble.

Pompeii is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world.

Pompeii is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world.Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket/Getty Images”We can’t ever seem to get ahead in life,” she wrote, blaming the bad luck on the tiles.

“I took a piece of history captured in a time with so much negative energy attached to it,” she wrote. “People died in such a horrible way and I took tiles related to that kind of destruction.”Nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, showering Pompeii with hot rock, volcanic ash and noxious gas and burying its residents.

The woman related how she had given another tile to a friend and told her of the decision to send her artifacts back, but she said she doesn’t know if the friend will return hers.”We are good people and I don’t want to pass this curse on to my family, my children or myself anymore,” she wrote. “Please forgive my careless act that I did years ago.”Over the years, around a hundred visitors have returned small artifacts like mosaic tiles and pieces of plaster that they stole during a visit to Pompeii, according to a spokeswoman for the park.The items were sent back along with letters from the visitors “claiming to have derived only bad luck” from taking away the artifacts, the spokeswoman told CNN.A selection of letters and returned artifacts has been put on display at the Pompeii Antiquarium, she added, noting that, while the value of the artifacts was not significant, the letters were interesting from an anthropological perspective.

Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous historical sites, and archaeologists continue to work on the remains.In February, the famed House of Lovers reopened for the first time in 40 years following a restoration project.The building, one of Pompeii’s best-known sites, was shut to visitors in 1980 after suffering damage in an earthquake, but it has now reopened as part of the Great Pompeii project, which launched in 2014 with the aim of safeguarding the ancient city.

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/pompeii-artifacts-returned-scli-intl/index.html

Fecal Transfer from Moms to Babies After C-Section

By Ruth Williams

T

he composition of gut microbes in babies born via Cesarean section tends to differ from those in babies born vaginally, prompting speculation that this may have long-term health consequences. To enrich for beneficial bugs in babies’ bellies after C-section, researchers have performed mom-to-infant microbial transplants, described today (October 1) in Cell. In a clinical trial in which seven Cesarean-delivered babies were fed tiny amounts of their mothers’ fecal material, it was found that the babies’ guts became colonized with the sorts of bacteria normally present in infants delivered vaginally. While the procedure produced no ill effects in the infants, there are no data on whether it has any benefits to the baby, and experts warn it may be dangerous for mothers to attempt such a treatment themselves.

“This is a very well-balanced, important, and clinically relevant contribution to the field, with really nice, clear-cut conclusions,” says gut microbe researcher Tine Rask Licht of the Technical University of Denmark who was not involved in the research. “They have very nice data . . . [showing that] with fecal transfer they get a pattern of microbial development which is much more similar to that of children born vaginally.”

As a baby leaves the womb and passes through the birth canal it is bathed in its mother’s microbes—an experience that Cesarean-born infants do not share. As a result, there are differences in the bacteria that colonize the guts of newborns depending on their delivery method.

Epidemiological evidence indicates there may also be later life consequences to missing out on this bacterial baptism, as some call it. A recent study showed that Cesarean-born kids have a higher likelihood of developing immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease. The growing prevalence of Cesarean deliveries makes these potential repercussions an increasing concern.

Numerous trials are therefore underway to test the safety and long-term benefits of swabbing Cesarean-born infants with microbes from their mothers’ vaginas. But, there aren’t a lot of published data to suggest that the gut microbiomes of these swabbed infants match those of vaginally born babies, says microbiologist and immunologist Willem de Vos of the University of Helsinki and Wageningen University who led the research. Furthermore, he adds, “the bacteria that you find in the baby [gut] are not found in the vagina, so it’s not so likely it’s the source,” he says. “It’s more likely that there is a fecal-oral transfer” at the time of birth, he says, because vaginal delivery is “a messy business.”

Indeed, anecdotal accounts suggest most women delivering babies vaginally do defecate during labor. “Feces is always part of the delivery process,” agrees obstetrician Bo Jacobsson of the University of Gothenburg who was not part of the research team. He says he therefore thinks that “from a scientific point of view, [the researchers] have done the right thing,” even if on first impression the procedure seems “nasty.”

A mother’s fecal microbes, unlike those from the vagina, are “geared to actually establish and colonize in the [baby’s] gut, because they come from the gut,” explains Licht. So what de Vos and colleagues have done, she says, “makes sense.”

The team recruited 17 mothers who were due to undergo elective C-sections and collected stool and blood samples from them approximately three weeks prior to delivery. This gave the team time to prepare the samples and to screen them for infectious pathogens, including HIV, hepatitis, Clostridium difficileHelicobacter pylori, norovirus, drug-resistant bacteria, group B streptococcus, and a long list of others. On the basis of these screens, only seven of the mothers were selected to continue with the procedure.

Each newly delivered baby was given a dose of the live fecal bacteria (a few million cells) in their first milk feed (via a bottle) and their health was monitored for two days in the maternity ward with follow up visits at four weeks and three months. None of the babies experienced adverse health effects.

Stool samples from the babies were collected after two days, then each week for four weeks and then again at 12 weeks. Analysis of these samples as well as of control samples collected from 29 vaginally born babies and 18 untreated Cesarean-delivered babies showed that the while the gut microbiota of the treated and vaginally born babies differed in the early days, after a week they were significantly more similar to each other, and both were distinct from the microbiotas of untreated Cesarean babies. Using previously published data on the microbiota of Cesarean infants who received vaginal swabs, the team showed that these were also distinct from those of the vaginally born or feces-fed infants.

The main differences observed between untreated Cesarean babies and those delivered vaginally or fed feces were that the control infants had a lower abundance of commensal Bacteroides and Bifidobacteria species, but a higher abundance of more pathogenic taxa, in line with previous findings.

While the study provided a proof-of-concept for the procedure, larger and longer-term studies would be necessary to confirm safety and to determine whether there are any health benefits, says Jacobsson. Because of these unknowns, both he and de Vos warn mothers undergoing Cesareans not to try this themselves.

“[There’s] a big risk that people will read about this and make the mistake of doing it themselves,” Jacobsson says, “But, you can put your baby into danger if you start to do a home-style version.”

K. Korpela et al., “Maternal fecal microbiota transplantation in cesarean-born infants rapidly restores normal gut microbial development: a proof-of-concept study,” Cell, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2020.08.047, 2020.

Researchers gave thousands of dollars to homeless people. The results defied stereotypes.

A man walking through a Vancouver tent city in March. Researchers in a new study found that homeless people who received direct cash transfers were able to find stable housing faster.

You’ve heard this refrain before — giving money to homeless people is not the best way to help them because it might be squandered, or spent on harmful habits. But a new Canadian study makes a powerful case to the contrary.The study, dubbed “The New Leaf Project,” is an initiative of Foundations for Social Change, a charitable organization based in Vancouver, in partnership with the University of British Columbia.Researchers gave 50 recently homeless people a lump sum of 7,500 Canadian dollars (nearly $5,700). They followed the cash recipients’ life over 12-18 months and compared their outcomes to that of a control group who didn’t receive the payment.The preliminary findings, which will be peer-reviewed next year, show that those who received cash were able to find stable housing faster, on average. By comparison, those who didn’t receive cash lagged about 12 months behind in securing more permanent housing.

People who received cash were able to access the food they needed to livefaster. Nearly 70% did after one month, and maintained greater food security throughout the year.The recipients spent more on food, clothing and rent, while there was a 39% decrease in spending on goods like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.”The homeless population continues to grow, and we keep applying the same old approaches,” said Claire Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Foundations for Social Change.”We really think it’s important to start testing meaningful risk-taking in the name of social change,” WIlliams added.The 115 participants in the randomized controlled trial were between the ages of 19 and 64, and they had been homeless for an average of 6 months. Participants were screened for a low risk of mental health challenges and substance abuse.Funding for the initiative came from a grant from the Canadian federal government, and from donors and foundations in the country.

“Moving forward on their own terms”

“One of the things that was most striking is that most people who received the cash knew immediately what they wanted to do with that money, and that just flies in the face of stereotypes,” Williams told CNN.For example, she explained some cash recipients knew they wanted to use the money to move into housing, or invest in transportation — getting a bike, or taking their cars to the repair shop to be able to keep their jobs. Others wanted to purchase computers. A number of them wanted to start their own small businesses.”People very much know what they need, but we often don’t equip them with the intervention or the services that really empowers them with choice and dignity to move forward on their own terms,” Williams said.

Not a ‘silver bullet,’ but a useful tool for many

Direct cash transfers are not “a silver bullet for homelessness in general,” and the program focused on “a higher functioning subset of the homeless population,” Williams said, but she believes the research shows that providing meaningful support to folks who have recently become homeless decreases the likelihood they will become entrenched in the experience.People who received the cash infusions were even able to set some money aside — about 1,000 Canadian dollars on average through 12 months.The money provided by the program also had “trickle down impacts,” according to Williams, with people investing more in their children’s well-being and needs, as well as helping out family members.”There are these hidden impacts that we just don’t anticipate and aren’t necessarily quantifying, but now we’re seeing that this is having an exponential effect on people’s lives,” Williams explained.The study shows there are advantages for the taxpayer, too.According to the research, reducing the number of nights spent in shelters by the 50 study participants who received cash saved approximately 8,100 Canadian dollars per person per year, or about 405,000 Canadian dollars over one year for all 50 participants.”There’s a common misconception that the cost of doing nothing is free or cheap and it absolutely is not,” Williams said.

Homelessness and the pandemic

The risk of homelessness looms large for many across the United States, as people deal with job losses and economic uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.”We’re hearing that from homeless providers in a lot of places, people who have never been homeless before are coming into shelters and have no idea what to do,” Steve Berg, a vice president with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an American nonprofit organization, told CNN.”It’s a brand new experience for them, and they never dreamed that when they’d be talking about homeless people they’d be talking about themselves,” said Berg, who was not involved in The New Leaf Project study.Innovative solutions to the issue are even more pressing right now. Berg thinks the research confirms what is true for many people experiencing homelessness: money can solve it.”There are certainly people who are homeless who have deeper, more severe problems,” Berg explained, “but for many people, it’s simply a matter of — they ran out of money, lost a job, fell on hard times, became homeless. Once they’re homeless, it’s very difficult to get enough money saved up in order to find a place to live.””People can be relied on, if they get the money upfront, to take care of the problem themselves,” Berg added.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/09/americas/direct-giving-homeless-people-vancouver-trnd/index.html

1,200-year-old pagan temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway

The god house (shown here in a digital reconstruction) was strongly built of beams and walls of wood; some lasted for hundreds of years. It included a central tower, patterned on Christian churches seen in lands further south.

By Tom Metcalfe

The remains of a 1,200-year-old pagan temple to the Old Norse gods such as Thor and Odin have been discovered in Norway — a rare relic of the Viking religion built a few centuries before Christianity became dominant there.

Archaeologists say the large wooden building — about 45 feet (14 meters) long, 26 feet (8 m) wide, and up to 40 feet (12 m) high — is thought to date from the end of the eighth century and was used for worship and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Old Norse culture was famous and feared by some a century later, after bands of Norse sailors and warriors known as the Vikings started trading, raiding and colonizing throughout Europe and into Iceland, Greenland and Canada.

This is the first Old Norse temple found in the country, said archaeologist Søren Diinhoff of the University Museum of Bergen.

“This is the first time we’ve found one of these very special, very beautiful buildings,” Diinhoff told Live Science. “We know them from Sweden and we know them from Denmark. … This shows that they also existed in Norway.”

The Norse began building these large “god houses,” as they’re called, in the sixth century. The god houses were much more complex than the simple sites, often outdoors, that the people previously used to worship the Old Norse gods.

“It is a stronger expression of belief than all the small cult places,” he said. “This is probably something to do with a certain class of the society, who built these as a real ideological show.”

God house

Archaeologists unearthed the foundations of the ancient building last month at Ose, a seaside village near the town of Ørsta in western Norway, ahead of preparations for a new housing development. 

Their excavations revealed traces of early agricultural settlements dating to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two longhouses that would have each been the center of a small farm for a family and their animals, Diinhoff said.

The remains of the god house at Ose, however, are from a later time when the area began to be dominated by an elite group of wealthy families — a distinction that arose as Scandinavian societies began to interact with the more stratified societies of the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.

“When the new socially differentiated society set in, in the Roman Iron Age, the leading families took control of the cult,” he said.

Norse religious worship became more ideological and organized, and god houses at Ose were patterned on Christian basilicas that travelers had seen in southern lands, he said.

As a result, Old Norse temples featured a distinctive high tower above the pitched roof, which was a copy of the towers of early Christian churches, he said.

Although the wooden building is now long-gone, the post-holes that remain show its shape, including the round central posts of its tower — a very distinctive construction that was only ever used in god houses, Diinhoff said. “It would have been very impressive.”

Ancient worship

The purpose of the site is also revealed by a concentration of cooking pits where food for religious feasts was prepared, and numerous bones — the remains of animal sacrifices.

A large white “phallus” stone, roughly representing the male genital organ, was also found nearby several years ago and was probably part of the Old Norse fertility rituals, Diinhoff said.

Ceremonies would have been held in the god house for important festivals on the religious calendar, such as the midsummer and midwinter solstices — the shortest and longest nights of the year, respectively.

Meat, drink and sometimes precious metals like gold would have been offered to wooden figurines within the building that represented the Old Norse gods — in particular the war god Odin, the storm god Thor, and the fertility god Freyr, who were commonly worshipped in the Old Norse religion and gave their names in English to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

As the gods could only partake of the festival food in spirit, the physical food and drink would be enjoyed by their worshippers. “You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking,” Diinhoff said. “I think they would have had a good time.”

The Old Norse religion was suppressed from the 11th century, when Norway’s kings forcibly imposed the Christian religion and tore down or burned buildings like the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.

So far, there’s no evidence that the god house at Ose was part of that purge, Diinhoff said. 

Further work could reveal the house was among the pagan buildings destroyed at the time. “It would be ideal if we could explain that,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

As the gods could only partake of the festival food in spirit, the physical food and drink would be enjoyed by their worshippers. “You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking,” Diinhoff said. “I think they would have had a good time.”

The Old Norse religion was suppressed from the 11th century, when Norway’s kings forcibly imposed the Christian religion and tore down or burned buildings like the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.

So far, there’s no evidence that the god house at Ose was part of that purge, Diinhoff said. 

Further work could reveal the house was among the pagan buildings destroyed at the time. “It would be ideal if we could explain that,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”