All posts by Tracey Johnson

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.

Osteoarthritis increases risk of social isolation according to new study

Osteoarthritis may be an important factor in increasing social isolation, especially in the elderly, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The researchers used data from 2942 adults aged 65 to 85 from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom. Half of the participants were women and 30% of the participants had arthritis.

The data mainly concerned questionnaires addressed to the participants with questions regarding their social connections and how many times they met friends or family. The researchers noted that the participants in the survey at least risk of social isolation were the younger ones, with higher incomes and higher education levels. The latter also showed greater chances of being more physically active, having a better level of walking and generally of better health.

However, they noted that of the 1585 survey participants who were not initially considered socially isolated, 13% became socially isolated from 12 to 18 months later and above all this occurred parallel to the increase in arthrosis and related pain. This led these patients to be less visually active, to have a worse walking time, to have a greater risk of depression and more problems in making decisions.

According to the researchers, arthrosis increases the risk of social isolation as well as increasing the risk of other diseases. And given that the same social isolation can worsen general health, researchers believe that older people who suffer from arthritis could benefit more than others from participating in social activities.

Oral vitamin D spray as effective as tablets according to a new study

In an attempt to understand the efficacy of oral vitamin sprays, a research group from the University of Sheffield performed a clinical study on various subjects. The study, published later in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concludes that the spray method for taking vitamin D is as effective as the ingestion of a tablet.

During the experiments, the volunteers took vitamin D for six weeks. All achieved adequate levels of vitamin D after only three weeks of using the oral spray, even those patients who were most lacking, as specified by Bernard Corfe, professor of molecular gastroenterology and lead author of the study.

“There is now a greater awareness of the need for people to integrate their vitamin D level, but only about 40% of adults in the UK have sufficient levels. So this research is an opportunity to highlight the importance of this vitamin, which is essential in supporting general health and providing a valuable alternative source for those who may have difficulty or prefer not to take tablets,” says the researcher in the press release that presents research.

Taking vitamins through an oral spray can be very useful for those people who have problems with swallowing, problems that can arise even for medical conditions, and that cannot swallow various tablets. There are also children among those who may find problems taking tablets. This study shows that oral spray is just as effective for raising levels of vitamin D.

Scientists discover that Valium does not work alone and needs the help of a gene

A group of researchers has discovered a particular gene, called Shisa7, which plays an important role with regard to the regulation of inhibitory neural circuits and the sedative effects of certain anxiolytics based on benzodiazepines.

This means that the classic Valium, for example, used to treat things like anxiety, muscle spasms or even sleep disorders, does not work alone to calm the nerves but needs the important contribution of a gene that is defined in the press release as “sticky.”

In fact, prior to this study, it was thought that the benzodiazepines essentially worked by themselves to trigger the calming responses of the A GABA type receptors (GABAA). Experiments that Ling Gang Wu, senior researcher at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and the Ictus (NINDS), and Ronald S. Petralia, of the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), showed that Shisa7 attaches directly to GABAA receptors accelerating responses and increasing their effectiveness in the presence of Valium.

“These results suggest that Shisa7 directly models inhibitory synaptic responses in a variety of conditions, including the presence of benzodiazepines,” reports Chris J. McBain, a researcher at the Enice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The researchers carried out experiments on modified mice from which the Shisa7 gene was eliminated. These mice, after undergoing Valium injections, were not affected by any calming effect compared to the control group mice.

Furthermore, in other experiments, the researchers discovered that Shisa7 could also influence sleepiness levels and the hypnotic effects of benzodiazepines. Such discoveries could help in the development of new drugs or treatments aimed at GABAA receptors.

Mushroom consumption linked to lower risk of prostate cancer

Mushroom consumption could be linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer according to a new study published in the International Journal of Cancer . The researchers used data from 36,000 Japanese men who covered several decades, ranging in age from 40 to 79 years. These men came from the Miyagi and Ohsaki areas of Japan.

The data were also collected thanks to questionnaires that included questions such as those related to the consumption of mushrooms or other particular foods, as well as questions related to physical activity and personal and family medical conditions.

Researchers discovered a link between regular mushroom consumption and a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men and this link was even more significant for men aged 50 and over and in those men where the diet was mainly made from meat and dairy products with limited consumption of vegetables and fruit.

“Although our study suggests that regular consumption of mushrooms can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, we also want to emphasize that a healthy and balanced diet is much more important than filling the trolley with mushrooms,” Shu Zhang says. Zhang is a professor of epidemiology at the Tohoku University as well as lead author of the study

Zhang adds that in the past, test-tube studies and studies on living organisms had shown that fungi can potentially prevent prostate cancer.

According to the researcher, this is to be explained by the good amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in mushrooms, in particular L-ergotionein. The latter regulates the cellular imbalance caused by unsound dietary choices and long-term exposure to environmental toxins.

Zhang himself admits that new research is needed to understand the extent of this connection also because this study was carried out only on a limited population.