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Environment modifies RNA which modulates gene expression

I’ve had a long busy couple of weeks, but today I read this and simply had to take the time to share it.

New studies in neuroscience are proving that RNA is directly moderated by environmental influences and it, in turn, moderates the expression–or non-expression–of genetic coding in our DNA. Integrative biologist Daniela Kaufer found,

“Under stress, molecules outside the genome change the RNA in new ways, trimming and rearranging it to alter gene function.”

Neuroscientist Darlene Francis couldn’t figure out why she ended up a PhD and the kids of her friends ended up in jail. So she started experimenting. For example, she takes away puppies of mother rats bred-to-be-anxious and gives them to mom rats bred-to-be-calm, and vice versa. What happens is that the kind of nurturing care the puppies get transforms them–despite their genetic makeup. The anxious-DNA pups become calm under the care of the calm moms, and the calm-DNA pups get crazy living with the anxious moms. And what’s more, they seem to pass on their newly acquired tendency to the next generation.

She’s now collaborating with scientists in molecular biology, public health, psychology, and even moral reasoning–this work is going to close the traditional chasm between hard science and softer sciences.

“Americans, Francis contends, believe that poor people are poor because they
make poor decisions. Francis believes the experience of her rats points
to something very different.”

Got this from an Utne magazine reprint of an article in the Alumni House publication of University of Berkeley.

Nitric oxide speeds healing diabetic wounds in mice

One of our favorite multi-use substances, nitric oxide, is doing it again. This time it’s being released to work its healing magic by a new substance called iroxanadine (now being put into the works to get approved for Phase II clinical trials). A report about the study appeared recently in a financial news source online.

Given that most treatments have focused on simply preventing infection rather than effecting healing, iroxanadine could represent a whole new way to look at treating the nearly-inevitable foot sores and other problems of diabetic patients. Like stem-cell therapy, a non-invasive method that mobilizes the body’s own resources–like nitric oxide–to do the work they are fully capable of doing. The manufacturer, CytRx Corporation, says: iroxanadine promotes healing by normalizing endothelial dysfunction through the molecular chaperone amplification pathway, as well as releasing endothelial nitric oxide synthase from its negative regulator caveolin.”

Seems these days scientists are regularly experiencing breakthroughs like this. What a great time to be in the bioscience field.

A few other posts about NO: wound healing with light, stored blood helper, fighting TB…oh, there are too many. Just use the search box in the left margin.

Human stomach a Rainforest-like ecosystem

Like our hot topic nitric oxide, which behaves either favorably to the body and or not depending on circumstances, amount, etc., scientists have now discovered among the 1000 other bacteria species living in the human stomach a molecule that can both promote and protect from inflammation in the gut.

Some researchers suspect that an upset in the fine-tuned balance of the stomach’s ecosystem may be responsible for recent increases in asthma and food allergies. And I can get with that idea because the food additives, pesticides, Teflon-scrapings and so on that we’re all now regularly ingesting with our food are bound to be creating havoc down there.

But back to the molecule. Seems it (a sugar molecule called polysaccharide A – “PSA”) interacts naturally with immune cells (interleukins) to prevent inflammation–and it can actually be introduced to heal and restore immune system balance. Well, at least in mice so far. And it’s the first study to show a definitive link between beneficial molecules from the stomach and healing. And like the Rainforest, it is the next frontier for discovering new drugs and treatments.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If we have finally stumbled onto the power of stem cells, it makes perfect sense that we ought to be discovering how the rest of our body parts and systems can heal themselves. How many times have we heard–“You have all you need within you”–and dismissed it as fluff?

2nd-generation blood substitutes promise less toxicity

The first attempts at creating artificial blood were disastrous for the most part. Patients suffered high rates of heart attacks and damage to kidneys, pancreas, liver and so on. The applications for a successful substitute for human blood are endless; the path to creating one fraught with medical–and human–challenges.

In this article about 2nd generation blood substitutes, some pharma manufacturers call their products “hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers” instead of blood substitutes. That strikes me as good medical marketing, because it sounds a little less frightening–medically sound and very focused in its purpose. Whereas “blood substitute” conjures up visions of freaky humanlike robots with “blood” coursing through their plastic veins–or me in a hospital bed, gradually morphing into a pile of soulless mechanized body parts because I don’t have real blood anymore.

Okay, maybe I’m not representative of the population on that. But let’s face it; if the people who need to be involved aren’t ready to accept something (in a previous post we noted that salicylates like aspirin were known to lower blood glucose levels as early as 150 years ago–but nobody paid any attention), it’s not going to get spread around.

But yet as worrying as fake blood seems, if they succeed, think of all the Red Cross Centers and bloodmobiles we can put to more productive uses than sitting and waiting for more citizens to get the courage to give their blood. I’m glad they’re pursuing this research.

Liposome and polymer technologies target delivery of anti-cancer agents

Like leaving simple but extremely attractive food out for mice to eat and lacing it with disguised poison, the NeoPharm company’s NeoLipid┬« technology entices tumor cells to consume lots of fats (lipids) that are secretly loaded with drugs. The liposomal product–a microscopic spherical particle with an outside fat layer that encloses a compartment you can put liquids in–feeds the hungry tumor cell both the fats it craves and the anti-cancer drugs that will lead to its death.

Other researchers are studying carriers like polymer drug conjugates (pairs or other combinations) which can also be programmed to say when and where they will release their drug load. One problem is some of these polymers can’t carry as much of the desired anti-cancer agents as the liposomes. Another possibility being studied is dendrimers, which are working well in mice–without poisoning them–but these haven’t been used with humans yet. And although that story doesn’t say so, according to this site dendrimers fall into the nanotechnology category and may carry their own risks.

Always glad to read about research into methods that try to spare the rest of the patient while trying to get to the bad cells.

Anti-inflammatory drug has benefits for type 2 diabetes

An inexpensive NSAID drug called salsalate is already being used to safely and effectively treat arthritis. Now it’s been discovered this anti-inflammatory drug reduces blood sugar in addition to lowering inflammation. Type 2 diabetes patients may get big benefits from these effects. Ironically, this blood-sugar-lowering side effect of salicylates was discovered 150 years ago–and no one thought much of it.

An earlier study by the same researcher found this drug might even prevent type 2 diabetes via the same mechanisms. Several large scale clinical trials are underway, and in one test, patients also experienced a significant lowering of trigylcerides and free fatty acids, both of which can contribute to complications of type 2 diabetes.

Wow. This seems kind of like taking aspirin to cure a lifelong, debilitating disease, and having it work–and not wreck your stomach while it’s at it.

Nitric oxide signaling plays role in multiple diseases

Once again nitric oxide (NO) shows itself as a multitalented and multitasking substance. In a new study researchers have found that it’s not just how much or how little of it your cells have, but how much nitric oxide is being added or taken away from proteins by the body’s enzymes–the removal process itself (dynitrosylation) seems to trigger apoptosis (cell death) in the cells it’s being removed from.

This discovery is meaningful in many diseases that involve inflammation–including widespread conditions like heart failure, asthma, atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and cancer.

So–like those of the earth’s ecosystem–our bodies’ systems and components continue to gradually reveal themselves as intimately and profoundly connected in countless ways that we have only begun to discern.

Nanotechnology ignorance a danger?

Scientists are more worried about the potential dangers of inappropriate use of nanotechnologies than the public is. And that’s mainly because most of the public has little or no idea what nanotechnology really is and what it can do.

In their recent telephone survey of American households and nanotech scientists and engineers, two university professors who did the study say this reaction is unusual compared to controversies that surrounded discoveries of the past like nuclear power and genetically modified foods. In those cases, scientists perceived them as less risky than the public did. And scientists, of course, are the ones who have the greatest knowledge of these things.

The main problem is that there’s little research to prove or disprove dangers associated with nanotech. Manufacturers are simply plunging in and using this incredibly powerful technology to make things like stronger, more flexible materials (think tennis rackets and golf clubs) and antimicrobial food containers. Members of the public seemed more concerned about possible privacy violations when this technology can help create smaller surveillance devices and loss of US jobs when other countries would adopt the technology and “steal” business.

The good news? The public trusts scientists on this issue. So the next step is to get the government listening and sending funds to get that research done. More about nanotechnology in the Nature Nanotechnology journal.

And a reader commented to share this website that chronicles risks of nanotechnology. Thanks, Mathilde.

Tainted drugs the other side of the Chinese equation

Not having it both ways in the cost-savings game. Big Pharma goes and runs clinical trials with the Chinese poor at a fraction of the cost of running them in the US. US companies save tons of money, and Chinese medical staff appreciate the training they end up receiving during such trials.

But the other side of the coin is that saving money can introduce risks. Chinese doctors are often so overstretched they don’t have time to do clinical trials well. Inadequate drug testing can lead to importing impure drugs like the tainted heparin that recently killed 80-plus people in the US. Workloads that are too high facilitate mistakes in any country. The margin for error increases all around.

So, are we going to halt the process of globalization of the drug and clinical trial practices? Hardly. It seems it’s one of those times in history when, as in previous ages, medical science in the cities and medical centers may be discovering new approaches and solutions, but the benefits don’t filter out to the rural areas until much later. There will be cost benefits and lives saved, but there may be surprising losses as well.

Patients don't always receive all standard accepted treatments

Interesting to learn that during a certain period (1997 to 2000), many hospitals were giving at least some of the accepted treatment options for brain tumor cancers (gliomas). But according to a 2005 report on the National Cancer Institue‘s site, many of them either didn’t know about the rest or were simply not delivering them.

Communication in today’s world is so easy. But it still requires that the recipient have the time and energy to pay attention to the communication and then do what’s required. Often easier said than done. And whole countries can be guilty of missing the boat… Saw a post today on the Mesothelioma Advice blog that indicated Korea just began publicly recognizing the dangers of asbestos last year–after decades of other countries’ publicly banning its use.

At any rate, a recent clinical trial is testing a new approach for treating gliomas–injecting a drug candidate called Cintredekin Besudotox directly into the brain via catheter. Early results are promising for extending lifespan. We trust that if this new drug passes FDA testing it will be added to the standard regimen at all cancer facilities.