Friday, April 24, 2015

Two is Better than One, Cancer Drug Could Cure HBV

A promising cure has been found which uses an anti-cancer drug along with an anti-viral drug to treat hepatitis b, and within phase 1/2a trials and has achieved 100% success. Hepatitis-B is a chronic viral disease that is currently incurable. Over two billion people worldwide are infected with hepatitis B and approximately 400 million have a chronic HBV infection, unimaginable numbers. The virus infects liver cells and can lead to complications including cirrhosis and liver cancer, resulting in more than 780,000 deaths annually.

Hepatitis B patients in Australia are the first people who will have access to the potential treatment. The scientists from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researched the combination of the anti-viral drug and the anti-cancer drug (developed by a US company-TetraLogic pharmaceuticals). Dr Marc Pellegrini and Dr Greg Ebert and their colleagues at the institute utilised their research on the behaviour of Hep-B in infected cells as a foundation to the treatment.

Combination therapy for Hepatitis B...

Their new research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Proceeding the research, Dr Pellegrini said "We were 100 per cent successful in curing HBV infection in hundreds of tests in preclinical models."

"Birinapant enabled the destruction of hepatitis B-infected liver cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. Excitingly, when birinapant was administered in combination with current antiviral drug entecavir, the infection was cleared twice as fast compared with birinapant alone. We are hopeful these promising results will be as successful in human clinical trials, which are currently underway in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide."

Birinapant (the anti-cancer drug developed by TetraLogic) targets the cell signalling pathways that the Hep-B virus uses to keep the host liver cells alive. Viruses like the Hep-B virus take over liver cells and live inside them (the liver cells are the host cells) and use the cells internal organelles which makes them able to survive within the body for many months and years. 

Dr Pellegrini adds "Normally, liver cells would respond to infection by switching on a signal that tells the cell to destroy itself 'for the greater good', preventing further infection," he said. "However our research showed that the virus commandeers the liver cells' internal communications, telling the cells to ignore the infection and stay alive. Birinapant flips the cell survival 'switch' used by the virus, causing the infected cell to die."

Treatments that help the host cell to rid itself of the virus, rather than targeting the virus itself may prevent drug-resistant strains of HBV emerging, Dr Pellegrini said. "It is relatively easy for an organism to adapt to a drug, but it is very difficult to adapt to a change in the host cell," he said. "The virus relies on the survival mechanisms of the host, so if it can't exploit them, it dies. Such a monumental change in the virus' environment may be too big a hurdle for it to adapt to."

Dr Pellegrini and his team are now going to be researching whether this same method can be applied to other chronic infectious diseases. "Pathogens that infect and reside inside host cells, including viral diseases such as HIV, herpes simplex and dengue fever, and bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, could all potentially be cured in a similar way," he said.



Kulik LM (2006). Can therapy of hepatitis C affect the development of hepatocellular carcinoma? Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network : JNCCN, 4 (8), 751-7 PMID: 16948953

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This Is How Anti-Vaxxers Sound to Normal People (video)

Even though there are thousands of studies proving the efficiency of vaccines and that there is no association found between MMR vaccine and autism, even among children at higher risk there are still people who believe in anti-vaccination and they are currently putting everyone's lives at risk. 

This humerous video shows you how anti-vaxxers sound to normal people (pro-vaxxers). 

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Scientist of the Week 5: Elsie Widdowson

This weeks #SOTW is Elsie Widdowson CBE CH FRS. The well-known British chemist and dietitian. Famous for her research on food composition tables and setting the limits of dietary intake of food, vitamins & minerals in World War 1.


Elsie was born in Surrey, United Kingdom. Her schooldays were spent in south east London where her favourite subject was Zoology. But she had a dedicated chemistry teacher how encouraged her to study chemistry at university instead. Elsie studied chemistry at Imperial College London and graduated in 1928. She was one of the first females to graduate with a Bachelors of Science from Imperial College (there were only 3 women in her year of a group of 100 students). Elsie took her final exam after only 2 years of studying however had to continue at university for another year before her degree was awarded. In her final year, she spent time in the biochemistry lab presided over by Prof. Sammy Schyver. Elsie received an offer for a PhD interview from the department of plant physiology who found out that she was looking for a job.  Elsie received a PhD in chemistry in 1931 for her thesis on the carbohydrate content of apples.  However she did not want to continue her research in plants she was more fascinated by animals and humans.

Key Research

After gaining her PhD Elsie was notified about dietetics which she took a post graduate diploma in and was the basis for her interest in nutrition.  During her work at the University of London she met Dr McCance, she was very intrigued by his research on the chemical effects of cooking and she west and spoke to him. Elsie notified him of several errors on the fructose content of fruit in the standard nutritional tables. From then on they became scientific partners and worked together for the 60 years.  

Salt content

Prof McCance with Elsie’s help wanted to study salt deficiency in humans. They persuaded healthy young men and women to eat a salt-free diet and to lie and sweat in a hot air bath for two hours a day for 14 days. The subjects lay on a red plastic sheet inside the warmed-up apparatus for two hours every afternoon, keeping their temperatures between 100 and 101 °F. The amount of salt that they lost was measured by washing both them and the sheet down with a jet of distilled water after each session, and then analyse the washings; their water loss was measured by their loss of weight. Then, when they were salt deficient, they had to submit to a variety of tests, in particular of their renal function.

This research helped us understand that maintaining fluid and chemical balance is a standard part of treatment of patients with diabetic coma, kidney disorder and heart attacks, and of those who experience episodes of severe vomiting and fever, as well as the treatment of patients after surgery.

Iron content and digestion

One female patient at Kings College Hospital in particular had polycythaemia rubra vera. This lady was iron deficient.  She was treated with acetyl phenyl hydrazine and by so doing broke down enough red blood cells to liberate 5 grams of iron in her body and Elsie and McCance were surprised to see that none of it was excreted. So the research pair injected iron into each other and found that iron was not excreted from the body at all. Therefore iron has to be regulated through the intestinal absorption only. Today we know that iron overdose can occur if too much iron is ingested.    

The strontium accident

To detect how strontium was digested and excreted from the body Elsie and McCance injected themselves with strontium, every day for 6 days, increasing the dose when they realised nothing happened by the 5th day they had used up the entire original batch and had to sterilize some more strontium lactate from the original solution. On the 6th day both started to feel ill. McCance and Widdowson had suffered a pyrogen reaction, which occurred much more commonly then than now because purification techniques were then cruder. They recovered quickly but they never gave themselves any more strontium injections. Although they fell ill and the experiment was detrimental to their health; Elsie and McCance continued their research and they found that strontium was excreted through the kidney not the bowel.


After the war, Elsie and McCance went to Germany in 1946 to continue their work and research the effect of the hostilities on the health and nutrition in communities affected by the conflict. They ended up staying 3 years in Germany; the research programmes that they commenced during this period lasted for 40 years this also resulted in the pair being elected as Fellows of the Royal Society. 

Solo Work

Elsie conducted a lot of research studies both in the UK and abroad. This included studies of the composition of the body, the differences between species and the changes in composition during development. Where she experienced working with samples ranging from humans and guinea pigs to a grey seal.


Elsie Widdowson CBE CH FRS. In 1976 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and the pinnacle of Elsie’s career was in 1993, when she became a Companion of Honour.


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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

GUEST POST: Let’s Talk Anti-Vaccination

The debate around vaccines has seen a surge in recent years, with many choosing not to vaccinate their children as a result. While anti-vaxxers might not be breaking any laws, those for vaccination have pointed out that they’re putting their own kids at risk and those around them.

Why wouldn’t you vaccinate your kids?

There’s always been a resistance to vaccines, with numerous studies being done to find a link between inoculation and debilitating conditions such as autism. Anti-vaxxers have used research such as one published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry to link vaccinations to hepatitis B, among others. As a result, a growing number of parents have taken a stance against immunization in fear of the supposed dangers the treatment presents to their children.

Although the findings of such research has been inconclusive, it hasn’t deterred anti-vaxxers from their staunch opposition to the treatment. In fact, many influential people such as Jenny McCarthy, Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain have been vocal about their opposition. As a result, these celebrities and politicians have reinforced the idea that vaccination leads to conditions such as autism.

So is there any possibility of vaccines causing autism?

Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury and is the centre of much discourse around vaccines and autism. In 1999 the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics made a request to vaccine manufacturers to stop the use of thimerosal. As a result, many anti-vaxxers took this move as a definite indication that vaccines caused autism, reinforcing the fears of vaccines.

Till this very day anti-vaxxers use the banning of thimerosal as a basis for not vaccinating their children even though the CDC clearly stated that requesting the removal of the preservative was more precautionary. Although they may have these fears, there is no scientific link between the preservative and autism. In fact, research published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2013 found that increasing exposure to antibody-stimulating proteins and polysaccharides in vaccines is not associated with the risk of autism.

This is not the only study done to try sway anti-vaxxers away from their opposition; a number of papers have been published to disprove the relationship between thimerosal, though no longer used in vaccines, and autism. In conclusion, no, there is no conclusive evidence of vaccines causing autism, and the fear is unfounded to say the least.

But if people don’t want to vaccinate their kids, it’s their right, right?

Parents aren’t required by law to inoculate their children, so it’s within their right to not do so. However, a recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland has placed major concerns around opposition. As of March the 16th 127 cases of measles were linked to the Disney Land outbreak. To make matters worse, a study by Boston Children’s Hospital highlighted a link between low vaccination rates and the epidemic.

What the Disneyland case, and others like it, shows is that not only does the act of not vaccinating children put them at risk of acquiring deadly diseases such as measles, but it also puts children who are yet to be inoculated at risk of infection. This is where it gets dangerous. Children can only get vaccinated against MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) once they turn two. So if they come into contact with an infected person (measles can survive for two hours in the open), they will easily acquire a disease that may lead to death. 

Other than increased rates of infection, the anti-vaccination movement has far-reaching implications, but none as terrifying as supposed miracle cures like bleach enemas.  Also known as Miracle Mineral Solution, bleach enemas have been touted as a cure for autism since 2010. The CDC and many other health organizations have alerted parents not to use it, with its distribution being illegal. This is because the solution includes bleach, which under no circumstances should be ingested.

So anti-vaxxers have it wrong?

Simply put, not immunizing your child is far way riskier than doing so. The fear itself has no scientific bases, and is partly the result of influential people with no scientific backgrounds, spreading misinformation. It’s essential to separate the facts from fiction.

Yes, there have been studies done to find a relationship between vaccines and autism and hepatitis; there have been calls for certain preservatives to be removed. However, these studies have come up with no concrete evidence to link any of these conditions. Most anti-vaccination sources cut and paste information of these studies to reinforce their stances, but leave out the integral parts which clarify the absence of a link.

Bio: Tendai Matsika is a writer for The Distilled Water Company. His fascination with the various applications of distilled water in the medical sector has taken him on a journey concerning various treatments and their impacts on society.   

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The scientific and medical opinions expressed within guest blog posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam). The accuracy and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam) is not liable for any errors or representations.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Hay Fever Makes Your Brain Go Out of Control; So Don't Drive When You Have An Allergic Reaction

(Image: Aldo Sperber/picturetank - from New Scientist )
Thirty per cent of the adult population experience seasonal allergies, especially hay fever. The eyes start watering and reddening and noses start running, making you looking and feeling like a big mess. But did you know that these are not the only effects of allergies? Did you know that it affects your brains reaction time to driving too?

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis can be aggravated by anything from pollen, mould, dust, fungal spores or animal dander; they aggravate the immune system inappropriately to harmless substances / allergens. 

False Alarms...

When a pollen grain lands on the damp lining of the nose and throat, its tough outer coat can burst, releasing its contents, including allergenic proteins. These come into contact with immune cells called mast cells, which are the body's first line of defence against invaders. 

In most people, these harmless proteins are ignored, but those with allergies are not so lucky. Receptors on the surface of their mast cells bind to the offending proteins, prompting an immune response. 

The body starts to produce antibodies, called IgE antibodies; that are specific to the type of allergen they will be "attacking" (such as pollen, mould, dust, fungal spores or animal dander). 

Thousands of these antibodies bind to the surface of special cells in body tissue called mast cells, which then lie in wait for your next exposure to that specific allergen. During this wait, these mast cells absorb many different chemicals from the blood that will aid in the body's defence; they then store these chemicals in minuscule granules. When you're re-exposed to the allergen, the allergen binds to the IgE antibodies on the surface of the mast cells, causing the mast cells to release the chemicals. One of the chemicals, histamine, which I’m sure everyone has heard of; is one of the biggest players in the allergic response system and is the initiator of many of the allergic symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, and itchy and watery eyes.

Anti-histamine medications block histamine from binding to its receptor. The allergic reaction can have both an early and a late phase. Typically the early phase may start within a few minutes of exposure, while the late phase may start several hours after the initial exposure. The early phase is caused by the release of those chemicals stored in the granules in the mast cells. The late phase reaction is caused by other inflammatory cells recruited into the area.

Previous studies have shown that allergic rhinitis affects cognitive function and especially in more complex tasks. This study looks at the effect of allergic rhinitis (AR) on driving performance and driving reaction times in particular.

The method they undertook...

Nineteen patients with documented AR history underwent a unique and validated 1-h on-the-road driving test outside the pollen season. In a 4-leg repeated measures design, patients underwent a nasal provocation test with either pollen or inactive control prior to the driving test. In the three conditions with pollen provocation, patients were pre-treated with either cetirizine 10 mg, fluticasone furoate 27.5 μg, or placebo to alleviate the provoked AR symptoms.

The results they found...

They found that untreated AR definitely impaired reaction times compared to the placebo condition.  When they were required to do a secondary memory task during driving, their performance deteriorated further. They found that their impairment was as if they had "a blood alcohol level of 0.05%" which is the legal limit in many countries. However they found that treating AR significantly counteracted these effects, showing that it absolutely essential to treat AR symptoms for your safety and peace of mind. 

Vuurman EF, Vuurman LL, Lutgens I, & Kremer B (2014). Allergic rhinitis is a risk factor for traffic safety. Allergy, 69 (7), 906-12 PMID: 24815889

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Stem Cells Do What They Do Because They Discriminate

Stem cells are the clean slates of the human body. They're the cells (usually found in bone marrow) that are stored till they have a significant job. Stem cells remain stem cells until they need to differentiate into a specific type of cell i.e  a heart cell, a kidney cell or even a skin cell.

New research goes into the way stem cells differentiate and what goes into the process. The study (conducted by the Institute of Biotechnology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)) suggests that asymmetric apportioning of old cellular components during cell division may represent an anti-aging mechanism utilized by stem cells.

They focus on tissue stem cells, that continuously renew our tissues which divide asymmetrically to produce 2 types of daughter cells: one a new stem cell, the second one will become the differentiating cell of a tissue. Stem cells undergo this technique to prevent cellular damage. Extra damage can cause stem cell fatigue and less tissue regeneration and aging.

To follow this method the researches devised a way to follow the different cell organelles; age-selectively during cell division.

"We found that stem cells segregate their old mitochondria to the daughter cell that will differentiate, whereas the new stem cell will receive only young mitochondria" said Pekka Katajisto, a Group leader and Academy research fellow at BI.

Since other types of cell organelles aren't age-specific and only mitochondria are age-specific, especially in stem-cells, also the inhibition of normal mitochondrial quality control pathways stops their age-selective segregation.

"There is a fitness advantage to renewing your mitochondria," says David Sabatini, Professor at MIT and Whitehead Institute. "Stem cells know this and have figured out a way to discard their older components."

Although we still don't know the exact mechanism of how stem cells recognize the age of mitochondria; the forced symmetric apportioning of aged mitochondria resulted in loss of stemness in all of the daughter cells. "This suggests that the age-selective apportioning of old and potentially damaged organelles may be a way to fight stem cell exhaustion and aging," says Katajisto.

Katajisto and his team are now researching how old and new mitochondria compare to each other and whether this phenomenon happens in other types of cells than stem-type cells.


Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of HelsinkiNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Katajisto P, Döhla J, Chaffer C, Pentinmikko N, Marjanovic N, Iqbal S, Zoncu R, Chen W, Weinberg RA, & Sabatini DM (2015). Asymmetric apportioning of aged mitochondria between daughter cells is required for stemness. Science (New York, N.Y.) PMID: 25837514

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