Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

‘Junk DNA’ can sense viral infection

This image shows a consensus secondary structu...

This image shows a consensus secondary structure for a ncRNA family called mascRNA-menRNA. The colouring gives an indication of the sequence conservation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Well, another thing to unlearn from biology classes in the late 70's.... the DNA that doesn't seem to be doing anything isn't junk after all!]

From the 25 April 2012 article at EurekaAlert

Promising tool in the battle between pathogen and host, Tel Aviv University research confirms

Once considered unimportant “junk DNA,” scientists have learned that non-coding RNA (ncRNA) — RNA molecules that do not translate into proteins — play a crucial role in cellular function. Mutations in ncRNA are associated with a number of conditions, such as cancer, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, through the use of “deep sequencing,” a technology used to sequence the genetic materials of the human genome, Dr. Noam Shomron of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine has discovered that when infected with a virus, ncRNA gives off biological signals that indicate the presence of an infectious agent, known as a pathogen. Not only does this finding give researchers a more complete picture of the interactions between pathogens and the body, but it provides scientists with a new avenue for fighting off infections.

His findings have been published in the journal Nucleic Acid Research.

Another battleground between pathogen and host

“If we see that the number of particular RNA molecules increases during a specific viral infection, we can develop treatments to stop or slow their proliferation,” explains Dr. Shomron.

In the lab, the researchers conducted a blind study in which some cells were infected with the HIV virus and others were left uninfected. Using the deep sequencer, which can read tens of millions of sequences per experiment, they analyzed the ncRNA to discover if the infection could be detected in non-coding DNA materials. The researchers were able to identify with 100% accuracy both infected and non-infected cells — all because the ncRNA was giving off significant signals, explains Dr. Shomron.

These signals, which can include either the increase or decrease of specific ncRNA molecules within a cell, most likely have biological significance, he says. “With the introduction of a pathogen, there is a reaction in both the coding and non-coding genes. By adding a new layer of information about pathogen and host interactions, we better understand the entire picture. And understanding the reactions of the ncRNA following infection by different viruses can open up the battle against all pathogens.”

Finding an “Achilles heel” of infections

The researchers believe that if an ncRNA molecule significantly manifests itself during infection by a particular pathogen, the pathogen has co-opted this ncRNA to help the pathogen devastate the host — such as the human body. To help the body fight off the infection, drugs that stop or slow the molecules’ proliferation could be a novel and effective strategy.

This new finding allows researchers to develop treatments that attack a virus from two different directions at once, targeting both the coding and non-coding genetic materials, says Dr. Shomron. He suggests that ncRNA could prove to be the “Achilles heel” of pathogens.

Dr. Shomron and his team of researchers developed new software, called RandA, which stands for “ncRNA Read-and-Analyze,” that performs ncRNA profiling and analysis on data generated through deep sequencing technology. It’s this software that has helped them to uncover the features that characterize virus-infected cells.

April 26, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Toxic Chemicals Suspected to Cause Autism and Learning Disabilities

Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, co-authored the editorial, entitled “A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities,” along with Luca Lambertini, PhD, MPH, MSc, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute OF Environmental Health Sciences.

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism. Both the editorial and the papers originated at a conference hosted by CEHC in December 2010.

“A large number of the chemicals in widest use have not undergone even minimal assessment of potential toxicity and this is of great concern,” says Dr. Landrigan. “Knowledge of environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders is critically important because they are potentially preventable.”……

CEHC developed the list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities to guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes. The top ten chemicals are:

1. Lead

2. Methylmercury

3. PCBs

4. Organophosphate pesticides

5. Organochlorine pesticides

6. Endocrine disruptors

7. Automotive exhaust

8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

9. Brominated flame retardants

10. Perfluorinated compounds

In addition to the editorial, the other four papers also call for increased research to identify the possible environmental causes of autism in America’s children. The first paper, written by a team at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, found preliminary evidence linking smoking during pregnancy to Asperger’s disorder and other forms of high-functioning autism. Two papers, written by researchers at the University of California — Davis, show that PCBs disrupt early brain development. The final paper, also by a team at UC — Davis, suggests further exploring the link between pesticide exposure and autism.


April 26, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health, environmental health | , , , | Leave a comment

Five Foul Things That Are Also Good for You

Microbial hotspots on and in the body. (Credit: NIH)

Five Foul Things That Are Also Good for You

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — Usually, we think of mold, feces, nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide and rat poison as rank, toxic or both. But scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health are learning more about the helpful roles these substances can play.

 From the article

Mold

If you’re a homeowner, mold is definitely a four-letter word. But to scientists, it’s a very important organism. The widely used antibiotic penicillin comes from a mold calledPenicillium. This mold’s bacteria-killing ability was discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in 1928 when it drifted in from another lab, landed on Fleming’s petri dish and killed the bacteria on it. Today,Neurospora crassa — the mold that can turn sandwich bread orange — is helping scientists answer questions about how species arise and adapt as well as how cells and tissues change their shapes in different environments. And because it produces spores on a 24-hour cycle, this bread mold is also useful for identifying the molecular timepieces that govern sleep, wakefulness and other rhythms of life.

Feces

Our guts are host to many bacteria, and researchers are analyzing the bacterial colonies in our poop to better understand what they do. Specifically, scientists involved in the NIH-led Human Microbiome Project are using genomic tools to identify these communities in the gut and other hotspots — the nose, mouth, skin and vagina — to learn how they help maintain health or set the stage for disease…

Nitric Oxide

…is a toxic pollutant that we most often smell in car exhaust fumes, but it is critical to our cardiovascular health, brain function and immune system….

Hydrogen Sulfide

We generally associate hydrogen sulfide with the smell of rotting sewage. But some of our body’s cells produce small quantities of this gas, and research indicates that this happens when their protein-making factories start churning out bad products….T

Rat Poison

… Two million Americans start taking warfarin each year to prevent dangerous blood clots that can lead to heart attacks, strokes or even death. They may also take it after major surgery to avoid other clotting problems. But prescribing the right dose is tricky because some people need stronger doses and others need weaker ones. For this reason, the drug is currently the focus of basic and clinical studies to better understand how a person’s genetic makeup can affect his or her response to medicine.


April 26, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile phones: ‘Still no evidence of harm to health’ (Major safety review)

(Aside comment, wondering how many news stories I’m not getting access to because I only know English? How many great studies are in other languages..and it takes time for them (or at least their summaries)  to get translated into English? Or are a large number of scientific studies that (at least potentially) have an impact on public health already already published in English?)

From the 26 April 2012 news item at BBC Health

By Jane HughesHealth correspondent, BBC News

Woman using mobile phone
There are 80 million mobile phones in the UK

There is still no evidence mobile phones harm human health, says a major safety review for the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Scientists looked at hundreds of studies of mobile exposure and found no conclusive links to cancer risk, brain function or infertility.

However, they said monitoring should continue because little was known about long-term effects.

The HPA said children should still avoid excessive use of mobiles.

It is the biggest ever review of the evidence surrounding the safety of mobile phones.

There are now an estimated 80 million mobiles in the UK, and because of TV and radio broadcasting, Wi-Fi, and other technological developments, the study said exposure to low-level radio frequency fields was almost universal and continuous.

A group of experts working for the HPA looked at all significant research into the effects of low-level radio frequency…

April 26, 2012 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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