Spanish hospital uses stem cells to fix heart attack damage .

Reuters / Petr Josek

For the first time in medical history, a hospital in Madrid has successfully treated seven patients who recently suffered heart attacks by using stem cells from donors, according to the hospital’s statement.

“Seven patients have already been operated on and they have progressed very well despite having suffered serious damage to their heart tissue,” the statement, published by Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon Hospital, said.

The hospital plans to treat 55 patients in the framework of the ongoing clinical trial which envisages a medical breakthrough in treating heart attacks. According to hospital officials, this is the first time cells coming from a genetically different person, or allogeneic cells, have been used to treat a myocardial infarction.

The injection of the cells is carried out through a coronary artery seven days after the patient has suffered a heart attack, so he is clinically stable and the cardio-repairing will be more effective. The new method limits the damage suffered after a heart episode, activating the regenerative capacity of the heart itself to produce new tissue.

A myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle is blocked. If the heart can’t get oxygen for a sufficient period of time, the section of heart muscle without it begins to die. During recovery from a heart attack, the dead muscle is replaced by scar tissue which does not contract, reducing the heart’s ability to pump blood.

Reuters / Petr Josek

Over the past decades, doctors have been researching methods to regenerate the scarred parts of the heart. The first in-human use of bone marrow stem cells (BMCs) to treat a heart attack was back in 2001. Since then, a large number of clinical studies have demonstrated their benefit.

There are two main types of stem cell transplants which have been used by doctors. The first one is an autologous stem cell transplant, in which the patient receives his or her own stem cells. The second is allogeneic – when stem cells are donated by another person.

The autologous method has been previously used by doctors. However, this method takes four to eight weeks to process a patient’s own stem cells to be used in therapy, said the hospital’s head of cardiology, Francisco Ferandez-Avila, in a statement on Friday as quoted by AFP. Meanwhile, donor cells can be processed and stored, so they are available for immediate use, he added.

“Besides this very important advantage, this technique allows for the selection of donors whose cells show the greatest potential to repair” heart tissue, he said. “Before being processed, the allogeneic cells are exhaustively studied and only those that functioned best are selected.”

An estimated 17 million people die of cardiovascular disease, particularly heart attacks and strokes, every year, according to World Health Organization estimates. However, according to researchers, the evolution in clinical practice has substantially reduced mortality caused by heart attacks.

New painkiller found in coffee – stronger than morphine .

Coffee contains a protein that has an effect similar to morphine, specialists at the University of Brasilia and Brazilian agriculture research company Embrapa have discovered. Moreover, the new substance’s effect lasts longer.

The research was conducted by Felipe Vinecky of the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Brasilia (UnB) in cooperation with the Genetics and Biotechnology Division of state owned agriculture and livestock research company Embrapa. The research involved searching for and combining coffee genes to affect quality. In the course of study, the scientists managed to find new substances in the product.

While analyzing the coffee genome sequence and corresponding proteins, Vinecky and his research adviser Carlos Bloch Junior found some proteins similar to those typical for humans. So they decided to synthesize their structural analogues and test their properties.

The researchers “identified previously unknown fragments of protein — peptides — in coffee that have an effect similar to morphine, in other words they have an analgesic and sedative activity,” the Embrapa company press release said.

Both the University and Embrapa applied for patents to the Brazilian government for seven proteins they called “opioid peptides.”

Those peptides “have a positive differential: their effects last longer in experiments with laboratory mice,”the press release said. According to the scientists, it lasted up to four hours and no side effects were recorded.

Embrapa believes their discovery has great “biotechnological potential” for the health food industry, and could also help to minimize stress in animals at slaughterhouses.

In 2004, Embrapa succeeded in determining the sequence of coffee’s functional genome and the discovery made it possible to combine coffee genes with a view to improving the quality of coffee grains. Thanks to this achievement, the researchers managed to discover the new peptides.

Embrapa is a state-owned company affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Embrapa conducts agricultural research in many areas including livestock and crops.

Scientists create artificial human sperm, eggs from stem cells.

Reuters / Yves Herman

Scientists from Cambridge University have created artificial human eggs and sperm for the first time, using human embryonic stem cells and skin cells.

While this process was previously achieved in rats, this is the first time it has been done with humans. The findings were published in the journal ‘Cell.’

However, the end result was not working sperm and eggs, but so-called germ cells that could potentially mature to become viable for fertility.

“Germ cells are ‘immortal’ in the sense that they provide an enduring link between all generations, carrying genetic information from one generation to the next,” Azim Surani, professor of physiology and reproduction at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release.

In biology, when an egg is fertilized by sperm, it divides into a group of cells called a blastocyst, which then develops into a fetus or the placenta.

Some cells become stem cells, which can then develop into any cell in the body. Some of these will become germ cells, and will then become sperm or eggs.

The scientists identified a gene known as SOX17, which decides which cells become sperm and egg cells. They then harvested these cells by culturing human embryonic stem cells for five days.

However, this doesn’t mean that men and women can donate any cells instead of sperm and eggs when they visit a fertility clinic – but the scientists hope the experiment will shed more light on the study of human genetics.

The research also gives scientists another way to examine how the environment impacts genes, such as how behavioral factors – like smoking and what we eat – can activate or deactivate genes.

The study of how genes are affected by environmental factors is known as epigenetics, and scientists hope it will give them a better understanding of cancer and other age-related illnesses.

Canadian scientists develop trap to lure blood-sucking bed bugs .

Bed bugs (AFP Photo)

Scientists from Simon Fraser University in Canada have invented an effective bait-and-trap against bed bugs that uses chemical attractants, or pheromones. In order to test the trap, a team member had to endure up to 180,000 bites from the nasty insects.

The bait, which the scientists say will be commercially available next year, turned out to be a real ordeal to develop.
Regine Gries, one of the biologists on the team, discovered the needed pheromones after acting as a host to thousands of bedbugs during her research.

“You can feed it on the blood of chickens or guinea pigs, but that’s not their preferred blood. To get the best results, and not jeopardize their chemical profiles, it was important to feed them human blood,” Gries told National Post.


Luckily, because Gries is immune to the bites, she only developed a slight rash – as opposed to the painful itching and swelling that most people experience.

The insects were largely wiped out after the Second World War, but have made a comeback, particularly in the US and Canada.

The hardy little bugs can go for months without feeding, meaning they can lie undetected in furniture and mattresses.

“The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage. This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment’s effectiveness,”said researcher Gerhard Gries in a news release on Monday.


When the research began eight years ago, the scientists isolated a pheromone mix that attracted bedbugs in lab conditions, but not in actual areas where bed bugs were living. After two years of research, Gries and SFU chemist Robert Britton discovered the crucial chemical histamine, which literally signals safe shelter to the blood-sucking bugs.

The team is now working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the bed bug trap commercially.

Earth is headed for its sixth mass extinction.

The rapid depletion of Earth’s biodiversity indicates that the planet is in the early stages of its sixth mass extinction of life since becoming habitable 3.5 billion years ago, according to a new study published in Science.

Human activity, including a doubling of its population in the past 35 years, has driven the decline of animal life on Earth, the researchers concluded.

AFP Photo / NASA

There has been a 25 percent average decline rate of remaining terrestrial vertebrates, and a 45 percent decline rate in the abundance of invertebrates. These losses will continue to have innumerable impacts on species that depend on the delicate balance of life on Earth for their own survival.

“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” said Rodolfo Dirzo, lead author of the study and a biology professor at Stanford University.

“Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.”

The “Anthropocene defaunation,” as some researchers have dubbed this era, is hitting large animals such as elephants, polar bears, and rhinoceroses the hardest, as these megafauna are the subject of some of the highest rates of decline on Earth. This trend matches previous mass die-offs of the Big Five extinction periods.

Megafauna usually have lower population growth rates that need larger habitat areas to maintain their populations, thus they are particularly affected by human growth and desire for their meat mass. Losses among these animals often mean dire impacts for other species that depend on them within an ecosystem.

Past studies have found that the loss of larger animals means a spike in rodents, as grass and shrubs proliferate and soil compaction decreases, all while the risk of predation also declines, notes. As rodent populations increase, so do the disease-transporting ectoparasites that come with them.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” said Dirzo.

“Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle.”

About 16 to 33 percent of all vertebrate species are considered threatened or endangered, the review found.

Invertebrate loss also has far-reaching ripple effects on other species. For example, the continued disappearance of vital honeybee populations across the globe will have bleak consequences for plant pollination, and thus on the world’s food production, as RT has previously reported.

Insects pollinate about 75 percent of the world’s food crops, according to Futurity.

Overall, of the world’s more than 71,000 species, 30 percent of them are threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Based on this assessment – and without drastic economic and political measures to address the current die-off – the sixth mass extinction could be cemented by 2400 A.D., University of California, Berkeley geologist Anthony Barnosky told Harper’s magazine.

Solutions to the die-off are complicated, the study posits, as reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation of lands must come through regional and situational strategies.

“Prevention of further declines will require us to better understand what species are winning and losing in the fight for survival and from studying the winners, apply what we learn to improve conservation projects,” said Ben Collen, a lecturer at the University College of London and a co-author of the study.“We also need to develop predictive tools for modelling the impact of changes to the ecosystem so we can prioritize conservation efforts, working with governments globally to create supportive policy to reverse the worrying trends we are seeing.”

Researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara; Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in England; and University College London are coauthors of the new study.

Pentagon developing combat chewing gum .

Reuters/Andrew Burton

Maintaining good dental health may not seem like it’d be a top priority for soldiers, but the US military is hard at work developing a new kind of chewing gum that can battle cavities.

Simply dubbed “Combat Gum,” the new product is currently under development at the Army Institute of Surgical Research. Featuring a synthetic collection of anti-microbial peptide – the same naturally-occurring molecules in human saliva that kill bacteria – the gum can potentially help reduce plaque and tooth decay, as well as prevent cavities.

The gum has been in development for roughly seven years, and after that much time and up to $12 million spent, the New Yorker is reporting it’s finally entered a testing phase that will last throughout the year. Not many people have tried the gum so far, but according to Domenick Zero, the director of the Indiana University School of Dentistry’s Oral Health Research Institute, the first set of human trials has been completed and “everything is going well.”

Although Zero mentioned “this is not intended to replace tooth brushing,” he told the New Yorker that the gum could reinforce the mouth’s resistance and “prevent pathogens from colonizing our skin, or our mouths, or our defenses.”

Still, if the Combat Gum is effective, at $2 a piece it could potentially save the military a significant amount of cash. The armed forces spend more than $100 million every year on dental procedures, some of which require shouldering the burden of transporting a soldier to another continent for emergency services. According to Colonel Robert Hale, the commander of the Army’s Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, 40 percent of recruits have at least three cavities.

“Oral health is essential to warriors on the battlefield and could potentially save the military countless hours and dollars in dental health,” he told the Army Times in a January report. “[And] it would save a lifetime of dental disease for a significant population.”

Originally intended for soldiers serving in territories lacking water, the Army is now looking to give the gum to those it considers to be high-risk soldiers, who make up 15 percent of all troops. That includes those with multiple cavities and anyone with decaying teeth.

Beyond that, however, there are also preliminary plans to bring the product to the consumer market, much like nicotine gum.

“If we can develop an anti-plaque chewing gum and offer it to a company like, I don’t know, Wrigley’s, and distribute that to the general population, then those kids will come and join the Armed Forces with less dental decay issues,” Hale said.

Cloning Mice.

For the First Time, a Donor Mouse Has Been Cloned Using a Drop of Peripheral Blood from Its Tail.

From obesity to substance abuse, from anxiety to cancer, genetically modified mice are used extensively in research as models of human disease. Researchers often spend years developing a strain of mouse with the exact genetic mutations necessary to model a particular human disorder. But what if that mouse, due to the mutations themselves or a simple twist of fate, was infertile?

Currently, two methods exist for perpetuating a valuable strain of mouse. If at least one of the remaining mice is male and possesses healthy germ cells, the best option is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an in vitro fertilization procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

However, if the remaining mice cannot produce healthy germ cells, or if they are female, researchers must turn to cloning. Somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) produces cloned animals by replacing an oocyte’s nucleus with that of an adult somatic cell. An early version of this process was used to produce Dolly the sheep in 1996.

Since then, SCNT techniques have continued to advance. Earlier this year, researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, even devised a technique to avoid the diminishing returns of recloning the same cell; success rates increased from the standard three percent in first-generation clones to ten percent in first-generation and 14 percent in higher-generation clones.

The type of somatic cell used for this process is critical and depends largely on its efficiency in producing live clones, as well as its ease of access and readiness for experimental use. While cumulus cells, which surround oocytes in the ovarian follicle and after ovulation, are currently the preferred cell type, Drs. Satoshi Kamimura, Atsuo Ogura, and colleagues at the RIKEN BioResource Center in Tsukuba, Japan, questioned whether white blood cells (a.k.a., leukocytes) collected from an easily accessed site, such as a tail, would be effective donor cells. Such cells would allow for repeated sampling with minimal risk to the donor mouse.

There are five different types of white blood cells and, as expected, the researchers found that lymphocytes were the type that performed the most poorly: only 1.7 percent of embryos developed into offspring. The physically largest white blood cells, and thus the easiest to filter from the blood sample, were granulocytes and monocytes. The nuclei of these cells performed better, with 2.1 percent of the embryos surviving to term, compared to 2.7 percent for the preferred cell type, cumulus cells.

The granulocytes’ performance was poorer than expected due to a much higher rate of fragmentation in early embryos (22.6 percent): twofold higher than that of lymphocyte cloning and fivefold higher than cumulus cell cloning. The researchers were unable to determine what could be causing the fragmentation and intend to perform further studies to improve the performance of granulocyte donor cells.

Although the blood cells tested did not surpass the success rate of cumulus cells in this study, the researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that mice can be cloned using the nuclei of peripheral blood cells. These cells may be used for cloning immediately after collection with minimal risk to the donor, helping to generate genetic copies of mouse strains that cannot be preserved by other assisted reproduction techniques.

The Fastest DNA Sequencer.

DNA sequencing has revolutionized medicine and biomedical research. For example, DNA analysis can tell doctors which drug might work best against a particular cancer. But current technology usually sequences only short stretches of DNA and can take hours or days.

To sequence anything longer than a few hundred base pairs, scientists mince up thousands of copies of the target DNA, sequence all the fragments, and use software to painstakingly reconstruct the order of the DNA bases by matching overlap within fragments. A new approach, called nanopore sequencing, can handle long strands of DNA at once, eliminating the need for overlap analysis. As a result, nanopore sequencers could be cheaper, faster, and more compact than other DNA sequencers. They can also accurately sequence stretches with many repeating base pairs. The MinION from Oxford Nanopore Technologies connects to a USB port. Soon, anyone with $1,000 and a computer will be able to sequence DNA.

Fastest DNA Sequencer Diagram

1) Drop the DNA sample on a chip.
Researchers place pretreated samples—blood from a patient or purified DNA, for example—into a small port. Within the device is a silicon chip with many thin membranes studded with tiny pores.

2) Unzip the DNA.
An enzyme shuttles the DNA to the membrane’s nanopore. It then unzips the twin strands of DNA and feeds one end into the pore. The pore is a set of proteins arranged in a ring and derived from bacteria. The inner diameter of the pore is a couple of nanometers wide: 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.

3) Block the ion current.
Electrodes send an ionic current, a flow of ions, through the open nanopore. As a group of a few DNA bases—the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs—threads through the neck of the pore, it blocks the ions and interrupts the current. A sensor records the electrical disturbance.

4) Determine the sequence.
Software in an attached computer analyzes the electrical signal recorded for every group of bases. Because each combination of bases blocks the current in a distinctive fashion, the software can deduce the identity and sequence of the individual bases in the group. As the DNA strand feeds through the pore, the software stitches together the sequence of bases on the entire strand.

5) Check for errors.
The device can determine the sequence of a single strand of DNA, but for greater precision, it can also read the complementary strand. Once the first strand of the DNA ratchets through the pore, a small stretch of DNA called a hairpin structure acts as a tether to draw the matching half into the pore as well.

The Plasma Proteome Identifies Expected and Novel Proteins Correlated with Micronutrient Status in Undernourished Nepalese Children.

Micronutrient deficiencies are common in undernourished societies yet remain inadequately assessed due to the complexity and costs of existing assays. A plasma proteomics-based approach holds promise in quantifying multiple nutrient:protein associations that reflect biological function and nutritional status. To validate this concept, in plasma samples of a cohort of 500 6- to 8-y-old Nepalese children, we estimated cross-sectional correlations between vitamins A (retinol), D (25-hydroxyvitamin D), and E (α-tocopherol), copper, and selenium, measured by conventional assays, and relative abundance of their major plasma-bound proteins, measured by quantitative proteomics using 8-plex iTRAQ mass tags. The prevalence of low-to-deficient status was 8.8% (<0.70 μmol/L) for retinol, 19.2% (<50 nmol/L) for 25-hydroxyvitamin D, 17.6% (<9.3 μmol/L) for α-tocopherol, 0% (<10 μmol/L) for copper, and 13.6% (<0.6 μmol/L) for selenium. We identified 4705 proteins, 982 in >50 children. Employing a linear mixed effects model, we observed the following correlations: retinol:retinol-binding protein 4 (r= 0.88), 25-hydroxyvitamin D:vitamin D-binding protein (r = 0.58), α-tocopherol:apolipoprotein C-III (r = 0.64), copper:ceruloplasmin (r = 0.65), and selenium:selenoprotein P isoform 1 (r = 0.79) (all P < 0.0001), passing a false discovery rate threshold of 1% (based on P value-derived q values). Individual proteins explained 34–77% (R2) of variation in their respective nutrient concentration. Adding second proteins to models raised R2 to 48–79%, demonstrating a potential to explain additional variation in nutrient concentration by this strategy. Plasma proteomics can identify and quantify protein biomarkers of micronutrient status in undernourished children. Source:  American Society for Nutrition

Keratin 19: a key role player in the invasion of human hepatocellular carcinomas.


Objective Keratin (K)19, a biliary/hepatic progenitor cell (HPC) marker, is expressed in a subset of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) with poor prognosis. The underlying mechanisms driving this phenotype of K19-positive HCC remain elusive.

Design Clinicopathological value of K19 was compared with EpCAM, and α-fetoprotein, in a Caucasian cohort of 242 consecutive patients (167 surgical specimens, 75 needle biopsies) with different underlying aetiologies. Using microarrays and microRNA profiling the molecular phenotype of K19-positive HCCs was identified. Clinical primary HCC samples were submitted to in vitro invasion assays and to side population analysis. HCC cell lines were transfected with synthetic siRNAs against KRT19 and submitted to invasion and cytotoxicity assays.

Results In the cohort of surgical specimens, K19 expression showed the strongest correlation with increased tumour size (p<0.01), decreased tumour differentiation (p<0.001), metastasis (p<0.05) and microvascular invasion (p<0.001). The prognostic value of K19 was also confirmed in a set of 75 needle biopsies. Profiling showed that K19-positive HCCs highly express invasion-related/metastasis-related markers (eg, VASP, TACSTD2, LAMB1, LAMC2, PDGFRA), biliary/HPC markers (eg, CD133, GSTP1, NOTCH2, JAG1) and members of the miRNA family 200 (eg, miR-141, miR-200c). In vitro, primary human K19-positive tumour cells showed increased invasiveness, and reside in the chemoresistant side population. Functionally, K19/KRT19 knockdown results in reduced invasion, loss of invadopodia formation and decreased resistance to doxorubicin, 5-fluorouracil and sorafenib.

Conclusions Giving the distinct invasive properties, the different molecular profile and the poor prognostic outcome, K19-positive HCCs should be considered as a seperate entity of HCCs.

Source: BMJ