New antibody discovered in a patient’s blood that protects against numerous flu strains

A particular antibody that, at least in mice, acts as a barrier to various forms of flu, some of which are lethal, was discovered by a group of researchers from various American institutes. This is an important discovery, especially in regards to the potential of a universal vaccine that can protect from all or most of the influenza virus strains, especially in a pandemic way.

Influenza viruses are a problem especially because new strains are born every year. This means that researchers have to design new vaccines every year, as explained by Ali Ellebedy, assistant professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University and one of the authors of the research that appeared in Science. Precisely for this reason, having a vaccine that protects against all the flu strains would be a historic result.

The researcher discovered a particular antibody two years ago, an immune protein in the blood of a patient admitted for influenza to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The blood sample he analyzed was unusual because it contained antibodies against hemagglutinin, the main protein found in the virus, but also other antibodies whose targets seemed unknown.

With the help of Florian Krammer, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Ellebedy discovered that at least one of the three mysterious antibodies blocked the activity of neuraminidase, another important protein underlying essential influenza viruses for her replication. To find out whether these antibodies could be used to treat influenza, the researchers then tested them on mice with lethal flu viruses. All three antibodies proved to be effective against different influenza strains and one of them, named 1G01, protected mice from all 12 flu strains tested.

“All mice survived, even though they received the antibody 72 hours after infection,” explains Ellebedy. “They certainly got sick and lost weight, but we saved them anyway. It was remarkable. It made us think that it could be possible to use this antibody in an intensive care setting when you have someone with flu and it’s too late to use Tamiflu.”

Now researchers are working intensively to develop new flu vaccines based on the 1G01 antibody, an alternative approach that could be very important for developing a truly universal vaccine.

Gut bacteria can affect brain health

We have known for a long time that there is a strong connection between the intestine and the brain, so that over the last twenty years several studies have discovered, for example, links between autoimmune disorders and different psychiatric conditions. The strong suspicion is that the intestinal microbiome, ie the set of all bacteria that live in the various parts of our intestine, strongly influences the health of the brain but this relationship is fundamentally unknown.

A new study, conducted by scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College provides new insights into the molecular cellular processes that underlie communication between the same microbes in the gut and brain cells. As David Artis, director of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and professor of immunology, explains, this research represents a sort of initial path to understanding “the whole picture” about the chronic gastrointestinal conditions that affect mental health and even the behavior.

The researchers used experiments carried out on mice to understand the changes that occur in brain cells when the intestinal microbiome begins to run out. The researchers, in fact, reduced the microbial populations in the intestines of the mice through antibiotics. These mice showed very low learning abilities, for example in learning that a danger or threat was no longer present. By analyzing the microglia of the brain of mice, the researchers discovered an altered gene expression in these cells that influenced the connection between brain cells during the learning processes.

Furthermore, in mice with a lower quantity of bacteria in the intestine, changes could be noted in the concentrations of different metabolites linked to various neuropsychiatric disorders that also occur in humans, such as schizophrenia or autism. “Brain chemistry essentially determines how we feel and respond to our environment, and the evidence is showing that chemicals derived from intestinal microbes play an important role,” says Frank Schroeder, a professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute and one of the authors of the study.

This study conforms to the existence of a strong connection between the intestine and the brain and how this same connection influences our life day by day and only now we are beginning to understand how the intestine itself, or rather the bacteria inside it, can influence even diseases like autism, Parkinson’s and depression. Perhaps in the future we will be able to identify new targets for the treatment of these diseases, as Conor Liston suggests, an associate professor of neuroscience in the Feil Family Brain & Mind Research Institute and another author of the study.

Fat can also accumulate in the lungs

Already in the past, several studies have linked being overweight or obesity to respiratory problems such as asthma or wheezing and something very close to confirming this connection came from a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

The researchers examined lung tissue samples taken from 52 cadavers stored in a respiratory tissue biobank. Of the 52 people to whom the corpses belonged, 16 had died from asthma. By analyzing the structure of the lungs, the researchers quantified the adipose tissue also comparing it with the body mass index of each person when he was alive.

The researchers say they have identified, for the first time, that adipose tissue can also accumulate in the airway walls of the lungs. The researchers suggest that this increase in fat may alter the normal functioning of the lung’s airways leading to inflammation of the latter and favoring diseases such as asthma. John Elliot, one of the authors of the study and a researcher at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, says: “By observing lung samples, we identified adipose tissue that had accumulated in the airway walls. We wanted to see if this accumulation was related to body weight.”

According to the other main research author, Peter Noble, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia in Perth, being overweight or being obese in the past had been linked to an increased risk of asthma but this connection had never been fully explained. This research shows that excess fat can also occur in the lungs, especially in the airway walls.

These can, in fact, be different in thickness and this can limit the flow of air both in and out, which in turn increases the risk of asthma. This would also explain why those who are overweight or obese tend to need to breathe more when doing physical activity, which increases the ventilatory load. Now the researchers want to find out if with a slimming effect it is possible not only to lower body weight but also to counteract these respiratory diseases.

Schizophrenia: 10 new genes identified

In what is defined as one of the largest DNA sequencing studies related to schizophrenia, a group of researchers led by Tarjinder Singh has discovered 10 new genes implicated in the development of this pathology with a method called “whole-exome sequencing.” The researchers used genetic data from more than 125,000 people to obtain various information regarding the genetic basis of schizophrenia itself. The results of the research were then presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics 2019 in Houston.

One of the reasons that led researchers to use DNA sequencing to obtain information on schizophrenia is that for this disease, in the last fifty years, there has been quite limited progress regarding the development of new drugs. However, the use of new genetic techniques is proving very useful, in recent years, in many fields and the same researchers believe that useful results can also be obtained to discover mechanisms underlying schizophrenia.

The latter is one of the psychiatric disorders not yet fully understood. It is believed, however, that its development can be accelerated by disorders concerning some genes that encode certain proteins. Because these are rare genetic changes, the researchers used a very large set of people. Of the 125,000 people analyzed, 25,000 of them had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. People came from all five continents.

Following the analyzes, the researchers identified 10 genes that, once they stopped their functions, caused an increased risk of schizophrenia, as Singh himself stated in the press release. Two of these 10 genes encoded glutamate receptors, indicating that these receptors could potentially be a target for future therapies against schizophrenia.

Westernization has profoundly changed our microbiome

Lifestyle can change the intestinal microbiome, a sort of ecosystem of bacteria existing in our intestine that can have various roles and that can also be a support for our immune system. This is confirmed by a new study, which appeared in Cell Host & Microbe and was conducted by researchers from the University of Trento and Eurac of Bolzano, who made up above all the analysis of the remains of Ötzi, human remains found in 1991 in the Alps belonging to a man lived between 3300 and 3100 BC.

By examining the intestine specimens of Ötzi’s remains, the researchers confirmed that there is a connection between the microbiome bacteria and the lifestyle change that today distinguishes the Western world above all. In particular, the connection exists between the bacteria and the increase of conditions such as obesity, autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases, allergies and other complex conditions. In the press release that presents the study, they talk about a “Westernization process” that has brought about profound changes in our diet and that has meant that today foods are much richer in fat and poorer in fiber. This, combined with a more sedentary lifestyle and the development of new hygiene habits as well as medical products of various kinds, while making our lives safer has profoundly affected our microbiome.

In particular, the researchers analyzed the Prevotella copri, an intestinal bacterium. Nicola Segata, one of the main authors of the study together with Adrian Tett of the CIBio of the University of Trento, explains that they first discovered that it is not a single species. In fact, the bacterium is part of four different species. They later discovered that three of them had always been found in the microbiomes of non-westernized populations rather than in westernized ones. When the bacterium is found in the intestines of westernized populations, it is usually of a single species, which of course goes to the detriment of diversification.

The researchers, therefore, thought that the same phenomenon of “westernization” of our habits, above all food habits, caused the decrease of the diversification of this bacterium in our intestines, which probably happened also for other species of bacteria not analyzed by researchers. This same hypothesis, according to Segata, is supported by the analyzes that the same researchers carried out on ancient DNA, which was possible with a collaboration with the Institute for the study of mummies of Eurac Research. In particular, analyzing Ötzi’s intestines, the researchers noticed that three of the species of this bacterium were present in his intestine.

This multiple presence can also be identified in various fossilized stool samples dating back over a thousand years ago and found in Mexico. Now the only thing to understand is to what consequences this decrease in the diversification of our intestine bacteria and in general the changes of our intestinal biome that are taking place over the last few centuries can bring, considering also that the human body itself has never substantially changed to genetic level during the same period.

Researchers create “super mice” resistant to disease and ageing

A group of researchers from the Spanish National Center for Cancer Research (CNIO) claims to have succeeded in creating in the laboratory the first mice born with telomers much longer than the average of their species. Telomeres are regions that are located at the ends of the chromosome and have the function of protecting the latter from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Telomeres become shorter and smaller as we get older and one of the scientists’ goals is to make them stay the same length or to make them longer just to counteract the aging phenomenon.

In a new study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers found that mice with longer telomeres lived longer and with better health, free from diseases such as cancer and obesity. This research is very important, according to the authors, also because in this case the longevity of the mice was increased without resorting to genetic modifications. According to Maria Blasco, CNIO researcher and one of the authors of the study, genes are not the only alternative to consider when talking about longevity: “There is scope to prolong life without altering genes.”

And since the shortening of the telomeres themselves is considered one of the main causes of aging in mammals, it is therefore possible to work with their shortening to increase the life span and make its course better, and this is what happened with mice in the Spanish laboratory, becoming “super mice” who lived longer and in better health.

The methods used so far to alter the length of telomeres have always been based on the alteration of the expression of genes. The method used by the Spanish group is instead based on a therapy that favors the synthesis of telomerase. The researchers obtained hyper-long telomeres in 100% of mouse cells. The latter showed that they had fewer tumors and lived longer. They also showed other positive qualities: they accumulated less fat and were leaner and showed lower metabolic aging with lower levels of bad cholesterol and better tolerance to insulin and glucose.

In general, the damage done by aging to their DNA was less and the mitochondria worked better. These are unprecedented results that show that telomeres longer than normal are not only not harmful but have beneficial effects and delay metabolic age.