Posts Tagged ‘health’

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have achieved a major milestone toward designing a safe and effective vaccine to both treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug. Their research, published today in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, shows how a new anti-heroin formulation that is safe in animal models remains stable at room temperature for at least 30 days. As a result, the vaccine is close to being ready for human testing.

“The heroin vaccine is one step closer to clinical evaluation,” says Candy S. Hwang, PhD, first author of the study and a research associate at TSRI.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15,446 Americans died from heroin overdose between 2000 and 2016, and the mortality rates are increasing. Heroin abuse has been further fueled by a rise in prescription opioid abuse—studies show that opioid pain reliever users are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.

The first formulation of the heroin vaccine was developed in 2013 by a team led by Kim D. Janda, PhD, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI. It has been shown to be effective—and safe—in both mouse and non-human primate models.

The vaccine works by training the immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, blocking the drug from reaching the brain to cause a “high.” Researchers believe that blocking the high of heroin will help eliminate the motivation for many recovering addicts to relapse into drug use.

The heroin molecule does not naturally prompt an antibody response, so researchers attach it to a carrier protein that alerts the immune system to start making antibodies. Scientists also add an ingredient called an adjuvant to the vaccine, which boosts the immune response and makes the vaccine more effective.

Hwang says, “Our goal was to prepare a vaccine that could be advanced to clinical trials. As such, we were looking for the best combination of ‘hapten’ (the heroin molecule), carrier protein and adjuvant to keep the vaccine both stable for transport and storage but still efficacious.”

For the new study, the researchers investigated how 20 different carrier protein/adjuvant combinations worked, including shelf stability based on temperature and storage time and whether the formulation was a liquid or powder.

Their experiments in rodent models showed that the best vaccine formulation contained a carrier protein called tetanus toxoid (TT) and adjuvants called alum and CpG ODN. The discovery that alum worked best as an adjuvant was especially significant since alum is one of the few adjuvants used in vaccines already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The researchers also found that there was no difference in how well it worked between the liquid and powder versions of this formulation.

Hwang notes that the best vaccine formulation showed protection against lethal doses of heroin. This is particularly important as many heroin addicts have succumb to overdose and death during their attempts to quit the drug.

With this new study, the researchers have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective in animal models, stable under clinical conditions and reliant on an already-approved adjuvant. The next step is to find a producer to make the vaccine on a large scale.

“We believe that a heroin vaccine would be tremendously beneficial for people who have a heroin substance use disorder but have found difficulty in trying to quit,” says Hwang.

In addition to Hwang and Janda, authors of the study, “Enhancing Efficacy and Stability of an Anti-Heroin Vaccine: Examination of Antinociception, Opioid Binding Profile, and Lethality,” were Paul T. Bremer, Cody J. Wenthur, Beverly Ellis and Bin Zhou of The Scripps Research Institute; and Sam On Ho, SuMing Chiang and Gary Fujii of Molecular Express, Inc.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants UH3DA041146, F32AI126628, F32DA043323, R42DA040422 and R44AI094770).

https://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2018/20180213janda.html

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Is your child having a tough time sleeping properly? You may need to keep a check on his/her body mass index (BMI) as a new research suggests that there is a co-relation between the two and can lead to cancer in adulthood.

“Childhood obesity very often leads to adult obesity. This puts them at greater risk of developing obesity-related cancers in adulthood,” said study lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, Professor and Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

For the study, researchers enrolled 120 children, with an average age of eight, whose mothers had participated in the Newborn Epigenetic Study both pre-birth and during early childhood.

To track the sleep-wake cycle, the children wore accelerometers continuously for 24 hours a day for a period of at least five days.

They found that shorter sleep duration, measured in hours, was associated with a higher BMI z-score (body mass index adjusted for age and sex).

Each additional hour of sleep was associated with a .13 decrease in BMI z-score and with a 1.29 cm decrease in waist circumference.

More fragmented rest-activity rhythms and increased intradaily variability — a measure of the frequency and extent of transitions between sleep and activity — were also associated with greater waist circumferences.

The study results, to be presented at Obesity and Cancer: Mechanisms Underlying Etiology and Outcomes, indicate that while sleep duration is important, examining markers of sleep quality may also be useful in designing childhood obesity prevention strategies.

“Today, many children are not getting enough sleep. There are a number of distractions, such as screens in the bedroom, that contribute to interrupted, fragmented sleep. This, perpetuated over time, can be a risk factor for obesity,” Fuemmeler said.

“Because of the strong links between obesity and many types of cancer, childhood obesity prevention is cancer prevention.”

Proper sleep in children may prevent cancer later

by Katie Forster

Powerful new remedies for the flu could be created using a molecule found in frog slime after scientists discovered it destroys the virus.

Mucus from a colourful species of Indian frog contains a compound that kills influenza, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Immunity.

The frog, called hydrophylax bahuvistara, was discovered in 2015. It is a type of fungoid frog that lives in the forests of south west India and has a striking orange stripe on its upper body.

Researchers captured the frog and collected secretions from its skin after delivering a mild electric shock. They then released the amphibians back into the wild and studied the chemicals in their slime.

Joshy Jacob, a scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study, said they managed to isolate a small structure called a peptide that kills the flu virus but leaves healthy tissue intact.

“This peptide kills the viruses. It kind of blows them up,” Dr Jacob, an associate professor in microbiology, told NBC News. “There’s no collateral damage,”

Dr Jacob and his team decided to name the compound urumin – after an Indian sword called an urumi with a flexible blade that acts like a whip, used in martial arts from the southern city of Kerala.

Mice vaccinated with urumin were protected against a lethal amount of swine flu virus, also known as Influenza A of H1, which caused a pandemic in 2009.

It’s likely the frog produces the flu-fighting substance in its slime by coincidence, as one of a number of compounds that guard against harmful bacteria and fungi.

The scientists hope their discovery will lead to the development of new drugs to stop outbreaks of influenza, which is highly contagious and can be deadly, especially for the elderly and very young.

They will also continue the search for other frog slime compounds that could be used to treat other viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV and Zika.

The difficulty is finding molecules that attack flu but do not harm healthy cells as well – of the four peptides found in the hydrophylax bahuvistara mucus, only urumin did not kill red blood cells.

“In the beginning, I thought that when you do drug discovery, you have to go through thousands of drug candidates, even a million, before you get one or two hits. And here we did 32 peptides, and we had four hits,” said Dr Jacob.

Urumin is thought to target a viral surface protein called haemagluttinin – the H in H1.

“The virus needs the haemagglutinin to get inside our cells,” said Dr Jacob. “What this peptide does is it binds to the haemagglutinin and destabilises the virus. And then it kills the virus.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/frog-slime-flu-virus-compound-blows-up-kills-influenza-hydrophylax-bahuvistara-immunity-a7690141.html

by Mary Jo DiLonardo

A new study finds that lunchtime strolls can immediately improve your mood, increase relaxation, and make you more enthusiastic about your work.

This doesn’t seem like news. After all, we’ve known forever that walking — and exercise — is good for you. But as the New York Times points out, those fitness studies typically looked at the long-term effects of exercise plans. This new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, looks at changes that happen more quickly, from one day to the next or even hour to hour.

For the study, researchers gathered a group of mostly sedentary office workers in the U.K. and asked them to take 30-minute lunchtime walks, three days a week for 10 weeks. Most of the volunteers were middle-aged women, although a handful of men also agreed to take part. All were out of shape, but otherwise emotionally and physically healthy.

The volunteers installed apps on their phones that allowed them to answer questions on the mornings and afternoons that they walked. The researchers used those answers to assess how the volunteers were feeling at the time about life and work, and to measure their feelings about everything from stress and tension to motivation and fatigue.

When the researchers compared the volunteers’ responses on the afternoons when they walked to the afternoons they didn’t walk, there was quite a difference. On the days after a lunchtime amble, the volunteers said they felt less tense, more enthusiastic, more relaxed and able to cope versus on the days when they didn’t walk and even compared to the mornings before they walked.

Those positive feelings may even translate into better worker productivity.

“There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity,” lead author Cecile Thogersen-Ntoumani, professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told the New York Times. “So we would expect that people who walked at lunchtime would be more productive.”

Not surprisingly, the walkers also reaped some positive health benefits from the experiment, making gains in aerobic fitness, for example.

Unfortunately, the researchers told the Times, many of the volunteers didn’t believe they’d be able to continue walking once the study ended, primarily because they were expected to work through their lunch breaks.

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/why-you-need-walk-lunchtime

Feeling run down? Have a case of the sniffles? Maybe you should have paid more attention to your smartwatch.

No, that’s not the pitch line for a new commercial peddling wearable technology, though no doubt a few companies will be interested in the latest research published in PLOS Biology for the next advertising campaign. It turns out that some of the data logged by our personal tracking devices regarding health—heart rate, skin temperature, even oxygen saturation—appear useful for detecting the onset of illness.

“We think we can pick up the earliest stages when people get sick,” says Michael Snyder, a professor and chair of genetics at Stanford University and senior author of the study, “Digital Health: Tracking Physiomes and Activity Using Wearable Biosensors Reveals Useful Health-Related Information.”

Snyder said his team was surprised that the wearables were so effective in detecting the start of the flu, or even Lyme disease, but in hindsight the results make sense: Wearables that track different parameters such as heart rate continuously monitor each vital sign, producing a dense set of data against which aberrations stand out even in the least sensitive wearables.

“[Wearables are] pretty powerful because they’re a continuous measurement of these things,” notes Snyder during an interview with Singularity Hub.

The researchers collected data for up to 24 months on a small study group, which included Snyder himself. Known as Participant #1 in the paper, Snyder benefited from the study when the wearable devices detected marked changes in his heart rate and skin temperature from his normal baseline. A test about two weeks later confirmed he had contracted Lyme disease.

In fact, during the nearly two years while he was monitored, the wearables detected 11 periods with elevated heart rate, corresponding to each instance of illness Snyder experienced during that time. It also detected anomalies on four occasions when Snyder was not feeling ill.

An expert in genomics, Snyder said his team was interested in looking at the effectiveness of wearables technology to detect illness as part of a broader interest in personalized medicine.

“Everybody’s baseline is different, and these devices are very good at characterizing individual baselines,” Snyder says. “I think medicine is going to go from reactive—measuring people after they get sick—to proactive: predicting these risks.”

That’s essentially what genomics is all about: trying to catch disease early, he notes. “I think these devices are set up for that,” Snyder says.

The cost savings could be substantial if a better preventive strategy for healthcare can be found. A landmark report in 2012 from the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of medical researchers, analyzed 14 large trials with more than 182,000 people. The findings: Routine checkups are basically a waste of time. They did little to lower the risk of serious illness or premature death. A news story in Reuters estimated that the US spends about $8 billion a year in annual physicals.

The study also found that wearables have the potential to detect individuals at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Snyder and his co-authors argue that biosensors could be developed to detect variations in heart rate patterns, which tend to differ for those experiencing insulin resistance.

Finally, the researchers also noted that wearables capable of tracking blood oxygenation provided additional insights into physiological changes caused by flying. While a drop in blood oxygenation during flight due to changes in cabin pressure is a well-known medical fact, the wearables recorded a drop in levels during most of the flight, which was not known before. The paper also suggested that lower oxygen in the blood is associated with feelings of fatigue.

Speaking while en route to the airport for yet another fatigue-causing flight, Snyder is still tracking his vital signs today. He hopes to continue the project by improving on the software his team originally developed to detect deviations from baseline health and sense when people are becoming sick.

In addition, Snyder says his lab plans to make the software work on all smart wearable devices, and eventually develop an app for users.

“I think [wearables] will be the wave of the future for collecting a lot of health-related information. It’s a very inexpensive way to get very dense data about your health that you can’t get in other ways,” he says. “I do see a world where you go to the doctor and they’ve downloaded your data. They’ll be able to see if you’ve been exercising, for example.

“It will be very complementary to how healthcare currently works.”

https://singularityhub.com/2017/02/07/wearable-devices-can-actually-tell-when-youre-about-to-get-sick/?utm_source=Singularity+Hub+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1fcfffbc06-Hub_Daily_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f0cf60cdae-1fcfffbc06-58158129


By Lisa Rapaport

Women who have a sunny outlook on life may live longer than their peers who take a dimmer view of the world, a recent study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data collected over eight years on about 70,000 women and found that the most optimistic people were significantly less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease or infections during the study period than the least optimistic.

“Optimistic people tend to act in healthier ways (i.e., more exercise, healthier diets, higher quality sleep, etc.), which reduces one’s risk of death,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Kaitlin Hagan, a public health researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University in Boston.

“Optimism may also have a direct impact on our biological functioning,” Hagan added by email. “Other studies have shown that higher optimism is linked with lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels and higher antioxidants.”

Hagan and colleagues examined data from the Nurses Health Study, which began following female registered nurses in 1976 when they were 30 to 55 years old. The study surveyed women about their physical and mental health as well as their habits related to things like diet, exercise, smoking and drinking.

Starting in 2004, the survey added a question about optimism. Beginning that year, and continuing through 2012, researchers looked at what participants said about optimism to see how this related to their other responses and their survival odds.

Researchers divided women into four groups, from least to most optimistic.

Compared with the least optimistic women, those in the most optimistic group were 29 percent less likely to die of all causes during the study period, the researchers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology, December 7th.

Once they adjusted the data for health habits, greater optimism was still associated with lower odds of dying during the study, though the effect wasn’t as pronounced.

Still, the most optimistic women had 16 percent lower odds of dying from cancer during the study, 38 percent lower odds of death from heart disease or respiratory disease, 39 percent lower odds of dying from stroke and a 52 percent lower risk of death from an infection.

While other studies have linked optimism with reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular problems, this was the first to find a link between optimism and reduced risk from other major causes, the study authors note.

One limitation of the study is the possibility that in some cases, underlying health problems caused a lack of optimism, rather than a grim outlook on life making people sick, the authors point out.

They also didn’t include men, though previous research has found the connection between optimism and health is similar for both sexes, said the study’s other lead author, Dr. Eric Kim, also of Brigham and Women’s and Harvard.

Despite the lack of men in the study, the findings still suggest that it may be worthwhile to pursue public health efforts focused on optimism for all patients, Kim said by email.

That’s because even though some people may have a less positive outlook on life for reasons beyond their control like unemployment or a debilitating illness, some previous research suggests that optimism can be learned.

“Negative thinking isn’t the cause or the only contributor to these illnesses,” said Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio who wasn’t involved in the study. “Mindset is just one factor, but the results of the study indicate they are a significant one and can’t be ignored.”

Some people can develop optimism when it doesn’t come naturally, Albers added by email.

“It is worth tweaking your mindset as much as taking your medicine,” Albers said. “Work with a counselor, join with a friend, hang up optimistic messages, watch films and movies with a hopeful, positive message, find the silver lining in the situation.”

http://www.psychcongress.com/news/optimistic-women-may-live-longer

The mechanics of laughter

Posted: November 28, 2016 in laughter
Tags: , ,

When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed March 20 the International Day of Happiness, it was more than a frivolous feel-good holiday. The aim was to inspire 100 million to promote the universal goal of happiness and well-being around the world.

And while the U.N. admirably frames the day as way to talk about a more “inclusive, equitable and balanced approach” to the economic growth that can lead to more global happiness, we’re taking another approach. We’re talking laughter.

But there’s a funny thing about laughter: It’s so much more than an indication of happiness.

Laughing serves a social function. Some suggest that the first human laughter was a group ­gesture of relief at the passing of danger; and since laughter relaxes the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one’s company.

Likewise, many researchers think that laughter is connected to bonding.

“Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group,” says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.

Behavioral neurobiologist and expert laughter researcher (that’s a thing) Robert Provine believes that laughter serves as a social signal. And indeed, other scientists concur; studies show that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone.

The social science of laughter

Laughter is part of a universal human language. It is understood across cultures … and unlike words and syntax, which we have to learn, we are born with the capacity for giggles and tittering.

When we laugh, it happens unconsciously. We don’t think, “Hey, that’s funny, I’ll respond by laughing.” Although we can consciously be “in the moment” of our laughter, we can’t make true laughter just happen.

And while laughter isn’t always sparked by happiness, it often ends up there. Some experts believe that laughter is used to process things that are difficult to understand. Consider the nervous laughter during an intense event or the seemingly out-of-place laughter during funerals. These are the moments in life where things don’t make sense, and laughter is the behavior that evolved to respond to such times.

In these cases, maybe laughter can be best considered a defense against suffering and despair; as Psychology Today notes when addressing the topic of tittering, “If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it.”

And then, happiness ensues.

Interestingly, researchers have found that a way a person laughs is a good indicator of his or her social power. People with high status tend to laugh louder and higher in pitch with fewer inhibitions, while people with lower status have laughter that is shorter, lower in pitch and more airy. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that it observers can immediately pick up on someone’s social standing by listening to how he or she laughs.


Laughter and your brain

While we know that ce­rtain regions of the brain host certain functions, researchers have found that the production of laughter happens in various parts of our gray matter. The relationship between laughter and the brain is not fully understood, but some things are known. Although emotional responses are thought to be distinct to specific sections of the brain, laughter appears to be created by a circuit that runs through numerous areas. Furthermore, the limbic system — the complex network of nerves beneath the cerebral cortex that deals with instinct and mood — seems to be central in the process of laughing.

The average human laughs 17 times a day, and aside from stress-induced laughter, most laughter is a reaction to humor. Upon a funny scenario, more than a dozen facial muscles contract and the zygomatic major muscle becomes stimulated, resulting in a smile. The epiglottis interferes with the larynx and disrupts the respiratory system just enough so that air intake becomes irregular, making the laugher gasp.

When things really get going, the tear ducts are activated, leaving many of us laughing until we cry.

Provine did a study on the sonic structure of laughter and found that all human laughter consists of basic short notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be comprised of “ha”s or “ho”s, he says, but not both. Provine also says that we have a “detector” that reacts to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which ends up generating more laughter. This explains how sometimes when we start laughing, we can’t stop; why this seems to happen so frequently in church and lecture halls has yet to be determined.

A wonderful thing about laughing – aside from just the pure pleasure of it – are the health benefits bestowed by the act; it can actually change your body. Consider the following:

It can stimulate your heart, lungs, muscles and endorphin release by enhancing your oxygen intake.

It relieves your stress response, leading to feelings of increased pleasantness.

It can tame tension by stimulating circulation and helping muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.

It may improve your immune system. The Mayo Clinic tells us that negative thoughts “manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.” Conversely, positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help conquer stress and possibly other stress-related illness.

It potentially soothes pain by encouraging the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

And perhaps loveliest of all; laughter is infectious. The simple act of laughing can help not only you, but those around you. It’s the best kind of contagion.

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/happiness-101-the-mechanics-of-laughter