Promising: Nanoparticles reverse bone loss in mice

Three osteoblast visible at 400x in developing...

Three osteoblast visible at 400x in developing bone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It started out in test tubes. Scientists introduced engineered 50?nm spherical silica nanoparticles into an artificial environment with a view to seeing whether they might help osteoblasts differentiate and promote bone building while also suppressing the re-absorption of osteoclasts. It worked well.

Next they found that could get the nanoparticles to help build bone in young living mice. Now in a new study they tried to get these nanoparticles to reverse bone loss in aged mice in a model of osteoporosis in elderly humans. Weekly injections of nanoparticles resulted in a significant increase in BMD, bone volume, and biochemical markers of bone formation.”

What’s even better, they couldn’t identify any abnormalities resulting from the treatment. Further studies will be conducted to see if this ability to halt and even repair age-associated bone loss might also work in humans.

As of now, broken hips in elderly women tend to lead to death within a year for many. Imagine being able to treat people before they develop a life-threatening broken hip–thus extending their lives with the greater independence that is the hallmark of higher quality of life. Read further evidence on that in the doctor’s treatise on end-of-life issues, Being Mortal. Highly recommended if you care or may have to care for elders or are getting there yourself.


Stem cells help more than drugs to slow MS

A bone marrow harvest.

A bone marrow harvest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A small study recently showed that multiple sclerosis patients who received injections of stem cells taken from their own bone marrow had 80% fewer areas of brain damage over the next few years than those who were given the usual immune-system-suppressing drug, mitoxantrone. Researchers feel the study indicates that stem cell treatment may actually re-set the immune system and thus may profoundly influence progress of the disease. Results of the limited study–only 21 patients–were published in a recent online issue of Neurology.

Considered the most common disabling neurologic disease of young people, MS afflicts approximately a quarter of a million Americans. The symptoms of MS result from recurrent attacks of inflammation in the central nervous system. The disease is typically characterized by progressive loss of motor control and often leads to paralysis and is considered incurable so far.

More demonstration of the incredible promise of stem cell treatments. Nature’ way.

Blueberries lower BP and raise nitric oxide levels

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic ...

English: A pack of blueberries from a organic farm co-op program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News about blueberries. A small study—48 post-menopausal women who were pre- or stage 1 hypertensive—showed that participants who took 22 grams (that’s .77 of an ounce for those of us who are gram-challenged) of freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to one cup of the fresh fruit) every day for a month lowered their blood pressure and limbered up their arteries compared to those who took a placebo. And they lost 10 pounds!

No. Just kidding on that last one.

But they did lower their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 5% and their diastolic (bottom number) BP by 6%, raised their nitric oxide (NO) levels by a whopping 68.5% and decreased arterial stiffness by 6.5%, as reported in a paper by Sarah A. Johnson and several other exercise and nutrition professors. Johnson is assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging (CAENRA) and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.

Previous studies had shown impressive benefits for blueberries, but most involved consuming huge quantities (13 cups per day in one study).

My calculations say you’d have to spend between $58.50 and $78 a month for the cup-a-day dose – and none of that would be covered by insurance.

The cost of blood pressure medication (angiotensin receptor blocker ARB) varies wildly, depending on the type prescribed and the place you buy it. One site gives ARB prices ranging from a discounted $9 to a top price of $183 for a 30-day supply.

A caveat: The study was paid for by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. The Council is industry-funded and is in the business of marketing blueberries. But at least the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service monitors their operations.

Another study done at University of California Davis states that consuming freeze-dried blueberry powder in smoothies every day can increase insulin sensitivity—and is thus very good for anyone at risk of developing type II diabetes, a risk that increases for Baby Boomers as they age. Note: Participants had to cut back 500 calories on other foods to accommodate the calories in the two smoothies each day.

So it looks like freeze-dried blueberry powder is a nutritionally equivalent substitute for the fresh fruit at a similar price—plus it keeps longer and is easier to store.And while the fruit will never replace your blood pressure meds, it still might be a worthwhile investment to get some o’ that blueberry powder.


Nanoparticle exposure linked to heart problems

Asbestos fibres - a single fibre is believed t...

Asbestos fibres – a single fibre is believed to cause mesothelioma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Asbestos was hailed, even many centuries ago, as a material that could be used to create “miraculous” solutions to multiple problems – it was fireproof, it was flexible, it had tremendous insulating properties, it was easy to manipulate, etc. But it had a powerful, long-unacknowledged dark side. It gradually disabled and then killed people who ingested or inhaled the minute fibers.

Nanoparticles are even smaller than asbestos fibers. They’re used to make things stronger, to deliver drugs directly into tumors – on and on. Yet even as the world watches with wonder and awe the exciting developments in nanoparticle research, some have been tracking its dark side. Now a team of Israeli scientists has established that exposure to nanoparticles (NPs) of silicon dioxide (SiO2) can lead directly to developing cardiovascular diseases.

Silicon dioxide powder (silica fume), 130m²/g ...

Silicon dioxide powder (silica fume), 130m²/g surface area, placed on the scanner under a blue book, scanned in at 1600dpi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The exposure must be such that the nanoparticles cross the body’s natural tissue and cellular barriers and find their way into the circulatory system. That is precisely the type of environmental exposure that happens consistently to people who work in research or production and thus use, handle or dispose of nanoparticles.

When the doctor sends a drug into your body that rides inside a nanoparticle, we just want him to make sure the cure isn’t bringing its own death threat.


How to distinguish your stem cell research

Lonza, a life sciences company located in Maryland, has created an infographic that clearly and simply illustrates a simple history of stem cell research. The graphic allows researchers to pinpoint areas their work is focused on and helps them more easily differentiate it from work being done elsewhere.

The Genetic Engineering and BioTechnology News website says the graphic illustrates a system approach that allows researchers to better control variables involved (between kits, media, cell batches). The hope is it will help them make sure data from their studies is accurate and reproducible.

Click here for the graphic itself.

Most cancers due to random mutations

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is t...

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is the process of copying a double-stranded DNA molecule. This process is paramount to all life as we know it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the headlines are shouting: “Cancer due to bad luck!” after a recent Science magazine article proclaimed that lifestyle and environmental factors may account for only about one-third of cancers. The study cited states that two-thirds of all cancers are likely caused by random mutations during DNA replication in normal, non-cancerous cells.

Does this surprise anyone, really? To me it simply reinforces the idea that science is continually demonstrating the reality of such random events – “misfortune” the name we give the hated surprise and “miracle” the name for the lucky one (e.g., spontaneous remission).

The definition of miracle that’s most apt for this situation reads: “a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”

The definition of misfortune, on the other hand, is basically “bad luck.” The events are equally random. The main difference is in how we react to them – sadness, fear and anger versus joy and relief. As science delves ever deeper into the mysteries of the universe – the impossible “miracles” of quantum physics and the impenetrable mysteries of black holes – it discovers whole new sets of seemingly inexplicable rules of order.

A favorite axiom of mine: Whereas science for a couple of centuries was all-powerful in disproving so-called naive religious beliefs, it is now the vehicle by which we continue to unearth, and be baffled by, a growing pool of phenomena that look suspiciously like some of those mysteries religion’s been talking about for centuries.


Paradox – obese heart failure patients live longer

Body mass index (BMI) values

Body mass index (BMI) values (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


They discovered a while ago that patients who were obese before they were diagnosed with heart failure tended to live significantly longer than patients who were just overweight or of normal weight. You know how many doctors automatically tell you to lose weight, no matter what condition you’re dealing with? Accordingly they’ve named this the “obesity paradox.” And now another study has solidly confirmed this apparent contradiction in regard to heart failure. The conclusion is so sure that at this point some researchers are even suggesting they ought to start considering how to identify an ideal BMI and potentially begin suggesting to patients ways to maintain that BMI.




Just imagine. Doctors telling you to gain weight and advising you what to eat to keep the weight on. Almost inconceivable. But hey, don’t most people – with many exceptions of course – start putting on significant weight when they hit a certain age? Most baby boomers will be nodding their heads vigorously at this point.




Makes me wonder if Nature doesn’t know something we don’t know about weight in older people – or something we simply haven’t been willing to consider before.




Scientists engineer new class of pluripotent stem cells

We’ve known for some time that pluripotent stem cells can become almost any type of cell in the human body. Working with these cells means scientists can experiment with drugs and study diseases on real human cells that are not attached to a real human being. They can learn so much without ever endangering or harming a person. These amazing cells are also responsible for the growing field of regenerative medicine in which researchers look for ways to restore lost or damaged organs and tissues.

Now scientists have discovered a new type of stem cell they have created in the lab from mouse cells and can engineer into any type of stem cell they want. They’re called F type (can you believe it? – they call them “F” because these cells tend to hang out in “fuzzy” colonies). It will take a lot more money and research to see what they can accomplish with  the F type, but this points the way to the potential for discovering other classes of stem cells.

Almost limitless. That’s what stem cell research begins now to look like in earnest.


A new way to guide stem cells to become what’s needed

One of the toughest challenges to meeting the many exciting goals scientists have set is getting stem cells to grow into precisely the types of cells needed for the particular illness or condition. Now a researcher has discovered a way to do just that and is waiting for a patent to be granted.

This Rutgers professor Ki-Bum Lee and colleagues at Rutgers and Kyoto University in Japan have invented a platform they call NanoScript. It represents a breakthrough  in the area of gene expression. The way genes express themselves encodes information in a gene specifically to direct how a protein molecule gets assembled. That process is integral to developing tissue through stem cell therapeutics. Stem cells divide and replenish other cells, serving as an almost unlimited internal repair system.

Anything we can do to speed human knowledge along this extraordinary and exciting pathway to better healing and health is very welcome. Let’s hope – as often happens when a patent is involved – they don’t charge too much of an arm and a leg to get to the end-products.

Sun exposure = nitric oxide = lower risk of obesity/diabetes

Well, I’m glad to read about this recent study saying sun exposure may play a role in preventing obesity and diabetes. They used mice, and those little guys are covered with fur and don’t spend a lot of time in the sun. But in many ways their bodies operate a lot like ours, so the study conclusions can reasonably be expected to apply to humans in some way. But a lot more study is needed to confirm the theory behind this experiment.

The mice were given a high-fat diet to trigger the beginnings of diabetes and obesity. One set of mice got vitamin D supplements, and the other set got a cream with nitric oxide rubbed on them. The vitamin D group did get fat and start developing diabetes, while the nitric oxide group did not.

Moderate sun exposure gives us a dose of good vitamin D, so maybe the sudden shortages of vitamin D everyone is having may be related to the no-sun policy. And vitamin D is also apparently not the only thing the sun does for us. It also gives us extra nitric oxide. By complying with the stern warnings about no sun, we might be denying ourselves – and our kids – the very real benefits of sunshine.

A little sun is good for you? Yep. Like that babies generally love sleeping on their stomachs – and aren’t meant to grow up with flat heads from sleeping on their backs all the time – this one just makes sense. I hope they’ll replicate these results soon and people can start throwing away those 35+ level sunscreens.


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