Post List

Health posts

(Modify Search »)

  • March 4, 2016
  • 03:00 PM

Zika virus infects human neural stem cells, but…

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex, Johns Hopkins and Florida State researchers have found. On laboratory dishes, these stem cells were found to be havens for viral reproduction, resulting in cell death and/or disruption of cell growth. While this study does not prove the direct link between Zika and microcephaly, it does pinpoint where the virus may be doing the most damage.

... Read more »

Tang, Hammack, Ogden, Wen, and Qian et al. (2016) Zika Virus Infects Human Cortical Neural Precursors and Attenuates Their Growth". Cell Stem Cell. info:/

  • March 4, 2016
  • 12:52 PM

Gas-sensing pills sniff out fiber’s effect on the gut

by Megan Cartwright in Science-Based Writing

Intestinal gases are more than just an embarrassing problem. Changes in the type of gases are linked to digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, which affects at least 15.8 million people in the United States alone. But doctors and scientists … Continue reading →... Read more »

Kalantar-Zadeh K, Yao CK, Berean KJ, Ha N, Ou JZ, Ward SA, Pillai N, Hill J, Cottrell JJ, Dunshea FR.... (2016) Intestinal Gas Capsules: A Proof-of-Concept Demonstration. Gastroenterology, 150(1), 37-9. PMID: 26518389  

  • March 4, 2016
  • 11:30 AM

Damn Statistics!

by AG McCluskey in Zongo's Cancer Diaries

How are cancer risk factors identified? And why are they like cake?... Read more »

Pérez-Hernández,A.I., Catalán, V., Gómez-Ambrosi, J., AmaiaRodríguez, A., & Frühbeck, G. (2014) Mechanisms Linking Excess Adiposity and Carcinogenesis Promotion. Frontiers in Endocrinology. DOI: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00065  

Bagnardi, V., Rota, M., Botteri, E., Tramacere, I., Islami, F., Fedirko, V., Scotti, L., Jenab, M., Turati, F., Pasquali, E.... (2012) Light alcohol drinking and cancer: a meta-analysis. Annals of Oncology, 24(2), 301-308. DOI: 10.1093/annonc/mds337  

Bouvard, V., Loomis, D., Guyton, K., Grosse, Y., Ghissassi, F., Benbrahim-Tallaa, L., Guha, N., Mattock, H., & Straif, K. (2015) Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1  

AG McCluskey. (2016) Damn Statistics. Zongo's Cancer Diaries. info:/

  • March 4, 2016
  • 09:30 AM

Refugees in Europe: A Crisis?

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

Over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. And since the conflict in Syria continues, this influx will not halt.

It is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II according to the UNHCR. The journey by sea is dangerous, the circumstances in refugee camps and asylum seeker centers are far from ideal – to say the least – and tensions between host countries make it difficult to find constructive solutions.
... Read more »

  • March 4, 2016
  • 02:36 AM

Differentiating between autism and ADHD the machine learning way

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Five of 65 behaviours measured by the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) were "sufficient to distinguish ASD [autism spectrum disorder] from ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] with high accuracy." Further: "machine learning can be used to discern between autism and ADHD."Machine learning - outside of any visions of the Matrix or the T-1000 comin' at yer - applied to autism usually means one lab based at Stanford University and a familiar name, Dennis Wall. Actually, I should alter that last sentence to include another name, Marlena Duda, who appears as first author on today's blog offering [1] following on from previously authored research in this area (see here).This time around research attention was directed towards the diagnostic combination that is autism and ADHD (see here) and the application of various machine learning algorithms to "the 65 items in the SRS as features and the diagnosis of either ASD or ADHD as the prediction class." Drawing on SRS data for almost 3000 people diagnosed with autism (n=2775) or ADHD (n=150) held by various autism research initiatives, researchers tested the various machine learning combinations to see if they could differentiate ASD and ADHD.Yes, they could and with quite a large degree of accuracy it was reported. More than that however, was the finding that most of the algorithms tested were able to do so on the basis of only five behaviours. The sorts of SRS items deemed important were: trouble with the flow of normal conversation, difficulty with changes in routine, appropriate play with peers, difficulty relating to peers, atypical or inconsistent eye contact and also 'regarded by other children as 'odd''. I know that list includes 6 items, but those were the ones "consistently identified as the top ranked features." The Duda paper does include quite a bit more about the hows and whys of the results reached and I would encourage readers to have a more detailed look.To quote further:"Behavioral diagnosis of both ASD and ADHD is a time-intensive process that can be complicated by the overlaps in symptomatology. Due to the high demand for the multi-hour clinical assessments necessary for diagnosis, many children are waitlisted for over a year, delaying their diagnosis and thereby delaying the start of behavioral and/or pharmaceutical interventions. Currently, there is no diagnostic instrument that can directly distinguish autism from ADHD, nor does there exist a screening tool that is expressly designed to distinguish risk between the two disorders with high accuracy."Within that text is everything readers need to know about why these results are potentially so important. Even if used as 'triage' (something that has been mentioned in previous publications by this group) the idea that with further investigation, so few behavioural items could be used, invites quite a bit more research scrutiny in this area. I'm sure we're going to hear more... Indeed, we have [2] (and I'll be posting about this very soon).----------[1] Duda M. et al. Use of machine learning for behavioral distinction of autism and ADHD. Transl Psychiatry. 2016 Feb 9;6:e732.[2] Duda M. et al. Clinical Evaluation of a Novel and Mobile Autism Risk Assessment. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders. 2016. 12 Feb.----------Duda M, Ma R, Haber N, & Wall DP (2016). Use of machine learning for behavioral distinction of autism and ADHD. Translational psychiatry, 6 PMID: 26859815... Read more »

  • March 3, 2016
  • 03:10 PM

Your brain and the ‘neuronal big bang’

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Our brain is home to different types of neurons, each with their own genetic signature that defines their function. These neurons are derived from progenitor cells, which are specialized stem cells that have the ability to divide to give rise to neurons. Neuroscientists have shed light on the mechanisms that allow progenitors to generate neurons.

... Read more »

Ludovic Telley, Subashika Govindan, Julien Prados, Isabelle Stevant, Serge Nef, Emmanouil Dermitzakis, Alexandre Dayer, & Denis Jabaudon. (2016) Sequential transcriptional waves direct the differentiation of newborn neurons in the mouse neocortex. Science. info:/10.1126/science.aad8361

  • March 3, 2016
  • 02:50 AM

Pregnancy vitamin D supplementation and offspring autism risk

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Although I'm pretty interested in the idea that the sunshine vitamin/hormone known as vitamin D might have quite a few more biological effects than previously appreciated (see here), I accept that the findings reported by Gene Stubbs and colleagues [1] are probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea.With the aim of testing the hypothesis of "whether or not adequate supplementation of vitamin D to pregnant women might lower the risk for ASD [autism spectrum disorder] in the offspring" based on some external findings (see here), researchers set about the task. I think I might have mentioned this trial protocol in a post not-so-long-ago (see here). They relied on a prospective study method to follow 20 mothers "who had one or more children who had been diagnosed with autism by a physician or psychologist and who were pregnant in the first, second or early third trimester." The risk of familial recurrence for autism by the way, is estimated at around about 10% (see here) with some important caveats (see here).Said mothers were initially tested for "25 hydroxy D3 levels (25 OHD) and serum calcium levels" and then prescribed "5000 IU [international units] D3/day during the pregnancy and 7000 IU D3/day while breastfeeding." Various birth outcomes were assessed, and at 18 months and 3 years of age researchers relied on a couple of screening instruments pertinent to the presentation of autism: the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and the Pervasive Developmental Disorder Behavior Inventory (PDDBI).What happened? Well, one mother and child pair withdrew from the study so the final participant number was 19. In terms of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy: "Only two [mothers] were in the deficient range of less than 20 ng/ml of 25 OHD when starting vitamin D." At the second time of vitamin D testing (2 months after the first testing occasion), none of the mums where data were available (n=18) were in that deficient range defined as less than 20ng/ml. Interestingly though, I counted at least three mothers whose second vitamin D test scores were lower than the first testing occasion. You could quibble about pregnancy effects on vitamin D levels or the reliability of the vitamin D assay, but on that last point at least, these were all measured "using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS) methodology" so the 'gold-standard' for assaying assuming accurate measurement [2]. The question about compliance to the prescribing regime is one area however, not commented on in the publication.In terms of those autism screens at 18 months and 3 years of age: "17 of 19 (89%) pass the MCHAT screening test at 18 months of age, that is, they were negative for autism." Further: "17 of 19 (89%) pass the PDDBI diagnostic questionnaire at 3 years of age. Eighteen of 19 (95%) had a final diagnosis as not having autism." The authors concluded that their findings were evidence of "a reduction in the recurrence rate of autism in newborn siblings compared to the reported recurrence rate in the literature of about 20%." A 20% recurrence rate? Well, as I've previously mentioned, I'd put it closer to 10% but am willing to accept some variation listed in the peer-reviewed literature [3].There are some other very interesting details included in the Stubbs data; dare I say even more important than the main findings. So: "The two children in our study who developed autism as diagnosed by the PDDBI, both regressed following an infection." Illness including "bilateral ear infections" is mentioned, tapping into another potentially really important area of the autism research landscape (see here) and including the issue of regression (see here). That gastrointestinal (GI) issues are also mentioned - "The symptoms of autism seemed to coincide with the severity of GI problems. As the GI symptoms got more severe, the symptoms of autism got more severe. As the GI symptoms improved, so did the autism symptoms" - is something crying out for much more detailed study beyond the subjective descriptions offered in this paper. As regular readers might know, GI issues accompanying autism are no longer the taboo subject they used to be (see here) but still require lots more study particularly with a view to the hows and whys and what options for management are available. And yes, this is on top of the Buie et al guidance (see here) already available and more recent findings [4] (blog post to follow on these soon).From a methodological point of view, the small number of participants and the lack of any 'control' group reported on, means the Stubbs study/results are not perfect and easy to pick holes in. I'm sure some people will do just that; even pointing out the publishing journal too (see here). I personally am interested to see how this area progresses further from a scientific point of view. Similar to other suggestions that pregnancy use of folic acid for example, *might* affect offspring risk of autism (see here), I don't envisage a straight-forward relationship appearing but this may not be unexpected in these times of plural autisms (see here). I'm also mindful of the implications of a potential 'screening test for autism' where vitamin D may, at some point, be potentially included (see here) and what this might mean to quite a few people on the autism spectrum and their families.Research into vitamin D and autism seemingly continues at a pace [5]...----------[1] Stubbs G. et al. Autism: Will vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and early childhood reduce the recurrence rate of autism in newborn siblings? Medical Hypotheses. 2016; 88: 74-78.[2] Yang Y. et al. High-throughput measurement of 25-hydroxyvitamin D by LC-MS/MS with separation of the C3-epimer interference for pediatric populations. Clin Chim Acta. 2016 Feb 15;454:102-6.[3] Wood CL. et al. Evidence for ASD recurrence rates and reproductive stoppage from large UK ASD research family databases. Autism Res. 2015 Feb;8(1):73-81.[4] Kushak RI. et al. Evaluation of Intestinal Function in Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016 Feb 20.[5] Shan L. et al. Research advances in the role of vitamin D in autism spectrum disorders. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 2016 Feb;18(2):183-8.----------... Read more »

  • March 2, 2016
  • 04:06 PM

Some bacterial CRISPRs can snip RNA, too

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

You’ve probably seen news stories about the highly lauded, much-discussed genome editing system CRISPR/Cas9. But did you know the system was actually derived from bacteria, which use it to fight off foreign invaders such as viruses? It allows many bacteria to snip and store segments of DNA from an invading virus, which they can then use to “remember” and destroy DNA from similar invaders if they are encountered again. Recent work from a team of researchers including Carnegie’s Devaki Bhaya demonstrates that some bacteria also use the CRISPR/Cas system to snip and recognize segments of RNA, not just DNA.

... Read more »

  • March 2, 2016
  • 02:45 AM

LEGO therapy and autism: everything is awesome?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

'Everything is awesome' (that's awesome not 'awsome') went the very catchy tune accompanying the LEGO movie not so long ago. Given the popularity of those colourful interlocking plastic bricks down the years, it was perhaps unsurprising that the film did so well and with the promise of more to come.Aside from helping to influence generations of would-be engineers and dreamers (a double-decker couch?), LEGO has also found something of a following in relation to labels like autism (see here). Perhaps also why games such as Minecraft have 'taken off' with autism in mind, is the very 'systemising-based' principles behind LEGO and how, minus sweeping generalisations, autism and systemising have some research history (see here).A recent paper by Helen Peckett and colleagues [1] adds to the small but emerging peer-reviewed research base looking at LEGO and autism, and specifically the idea that: "findings are supportive of previous Lego Therapy studies and have implications for strengths-based service provision." Peckett et al actually explored "mothers' experience of implementing Lego Therapy at home within the family" within the context of paediatric autism. Rather than assessing the intervention in a clinical trial manner (i.e. randomised, placebo-controlled, etc. study) the onus was on what mums of children with autism actually thought about the use of LEGO therapy. I know to some people this might seem like 'fluffy science' but in the context of a heterogeneous label like autism, I do think there is place for such research. More so when such intervention is designed to be carried out in the home environment with parents and siblings as intervention deliverers.Suffice to say that much of the maternal discussions about LEGO therapy were quite positive in line with previous findings [2] and not just in the short-term [3]. As per the title of the paper, family relationships were a winner following the intervention, probably as a consequence of the greater involvement between mother and child (and siblings) in line with other reported findings (see here). There were however some fairly down-to-earth comments made about the intervention during the "interpretative phenomenological analysis" not least about "the impact of the intervention in the wider context." In other words, whilst LEGO therapy (or just playing with LEGO in a more structured way) may indeed have some value in terms of social skills such as sharing and turn-taking for example, how does this translate outside of the LEGO therapy context?Similar questions could probably be asked about the use of Minecraft and related platforms too, bearing in mind how such 'gaming' probably does little to address important issues such as the promotion of physical activity for example [4] and the benefits that sports can potentially bring to some of the autism spectrum. That screen time might also have a negative side in terms of self-reported inattention in other groups [5] is something else to consider, as are other reports in the peer-reviewed literature [6].By saying all that I'm not trying to poo-poo LEGO or Minecraft; I'm just saying that outside of being recreational activities, one has to be a little guarded about turning every play and leisure activity into 'therapy'. I might also mention how addictive LEGO and/or Minecraft can be; something which I assume can be as much of an issue for parents of children on the autism spectrum as it is for everyone else when it comes to getting children on to other tasks. Oh, and LEGO certainly isn't cheap either...----------[1] Peckett H. et al. Maternal experience of Lego Therapy in families with children with autism spectrum conditions: What is the impact on family relationships? Autism. 2016 Feb 5. pii: 1362361315621054. [2] Owens G. et al. LEGO therapy and the social use of language programme: an evaluation of two social skills interventions for children with high functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Nov;38(10):1944-57.[3] Legoff DB. & Sherman M. Long-term outcome of social skills intervention based on interactive LEGO play. Autism. 2006 Jul;10(4):317-29. [4] Bremer E. et al. A systematic review of the behavioural outcomes following exercise interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2016 Jan 28. pii: 1362361315616002.[5] Montagni I. et al. Association of screen time with self-perceived attention problems and hyperactivity levels in French students: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2016; 6:e009089.[6] MacMullin JA. et al. Plugged in: Electronics use in youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2016 Jan;20(1):45-54.----------Peckett H, MacCallum F, & Knibbs J (2016). Maternal experience of Lego Therapy in families with children with autism spectrum conditions: What is the impact on family relationships? Autism : the international journal of research and practice PMID: 26851230... Read more »

  • March 1, 2016
  • 05:39 PM

This Month in Blastocystis Research (FEB 2016) - Rash Edition

by Christen Rune Stensvold in Blastocystis Parasite Blog

The February entry in the "This Month in Blastocystis Research" blog post series is all on Blastocystis and chronic urticaria (hives).... Read more »

Armentia A, Méndez J, Gómez A, Sanchís E, Fernández A, de la Fuente R, & Sánchez P. (1993) Urticaria by Blastocystis hominis. Successful treatment with paromomycin. Allergologia et immunopathologia, 21(4), 149-51. PMID: 8237719  

Lepczyńska M, Chen WC, & Dzika E. (2016) Mysterious chronic urticaria caused by Blastocystis spp.?. International journal of dermatology, 55(3), 259-66. PMID: 26469206  

Vogelberg C, Stensvold CR, Monecke S, Ditzen A, Stopsack K, Heinrich-Gräfe U, & Pöhlmann C. (2010) Blastocystis sp. subtype 2 detection during recurrence of gastrointestinal and urticarial symptoms. Parasitology international, 59(3), 469-71. PMID: 20363362  

  • March 1, 2016
  • 03:53 PM

Brain connectivity disruptions may explain cognitive deficits in people with brain injury

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Cognitive impairment following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common, often adversely affecting quality of life for those 1.7 million Americans who experience a TBI each year. Researchers have identified complex brain connectivity patterns in individuals with chronic phases of traumatic brain injury which may explain long term higher order cognitive function deficits.

... Read more »

  • March 1, 2016
  • 02:42 AM

Atopic dermatitis and autism and/or ADHD yet again...

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Having AD [atopic dermatitis] before age 2 years was associated with an increased hazard ratio (HR) for ASD [autism spectrum disorder] by 10% and that for ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] by 16%; such increases were particularly prominent among those with earlier-onset or more severe AD."So said the findings reported by Tzu-Chu Liao and colleagues [1] as yet again, the Taiwanese National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD) continues to give. Indeed, the idea of an association between conditions implicating immune function and behavioural-based diagnoses such as autism or ADHD has become something of a point-of-interest for researchers utilising the NHIRD (see here). The data - reporting on participant groups in the thousands, even hundreds of thousands - is stacking up pertinent to "a disordered immunologic response [that] may exert effects on neurodevelopment" (see here).This time around researchers "identified 387 262 children who had a diagnosis of atopic dermatitis (AD) before age 2 years, with 1:1 individualized matching to children without AD." The overall frequency of AD-exposed children who received a diagnosis of autism or ADHD don't necessarily look hugely different from non AD-exposed children (0.5% and 3.7% vs. 0.4% and 2.9% respectively). But when taking into account the numbers of participants, even small percentage differences can reveal potentially important correlations. The authors also report that: "HRs were especially higher for children with persistent AD and emerging atopic respiratory diseases in childhood." Emerging 'atopic respiratory disease' is something else that might be implicated in some autism (see here) and even more strongly, in some ADHD (see here).What does it all mean? Well, I think there is quite a strong case for more research attention to be directed to this area of investigation outside of just correlating conditions in large population numbers. That childhood atopic disease might also increase the risk of later episodes of psychotic experiences for example (see here) offers some important research directions too, onwards to the idea that immune function and psychiatry might not be unstrange bedfellows (see here). Screening for one or other condition (autism/ADHD and atopic diseases) might also be more widely implicated as a result of these and other findings and then there are the tantalising implications of what treatment of one might do for the other as per discussions about work from Harumi Jyonouchi recently (see here). Before getting too excited about these findings, I might however add that to talk about autism or ADHD and atopic disease being potentially linked does not necessarily mean that it is applicable to every single person...----------[1] Liao TC. et al. Comorbidity of Atopic Disorders with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Pediatr. 2016 Feb 1. pii: S0022-3476(15)01653-4.----------Liao TC, Lien YT, Wang S, Huang SL, & Chen CY (2016). Comorbidity of Atopic Disorders with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The Journal of pediatrics PMID: 26846570... Read more »

  • February 29, 2016
  • 11:45 PM

From Limping to Leaping

by Aurametrix team in Environmental health

"Anno bisesto, anno funesto” (leap year, gloomy year), say Italians. “Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year” agrees an old Scottish proverb. "Високосный год "Урожай" соберет" (leap year will gather the "Harvest") warns a Russian saying implying that there will be plenty of disasters - calamities, catastrophes and cataclysms. But usually there are not.​ Leap years tend to be good for stocks (with the exception of the recent crashes in 2000 and 2008), although they are not among the greatest stock market years. Obvious math considerations tell that more goods will be produced in the leap year because of the extra day. But there also could be more confusion - as the leap year oddity of 29 days might throw off old software code in both the governmental and corporate worlds.Events that disrupt usual routines are always a bit scary. Hence the precautions and the reluctance to do anything really important like starting a new business, especially on February 29th. “Nothing shall be built, planned or planted in a leap year; it does not prosper,” states the “Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult Sciences of the World.”In many countries around the world, superstitions claim that bad luck will come to couples that marry during a leap year. Yet, according to a popularized legend, St. Patrick granted to St. Bridget the right for all single women to propose marriage during leap years. And any man who refuses a woman’s proposal on February 29th has to compensate her by buying 12 pairs of gloves or a skirt.So perhaps a leap year is a good year if you think different and exceed expectations? As Steve Jobs said, "the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." REFERENCESNeumann, P. (1992). Leap-year problems Communications of the ACM, 35 (6) DOI: 10.1145/129888.129900Cohen CF, & Bachofer HJ (1980). Hospital indicators: leap year distorts February statistics. Hospitals, 54 (11), 43-6 PMID: 7372291Sue Lynn McDaniel. "Leap Year: Chance, Chase, or Curse?" The Ephemera Journal Vol. 18 Iss. 2 (2016) p. 15 - 19 ​Rob Siltanen (14 Dec 2011). "The Real Story Behind Apple's 'Think Different' Campaign". Forbes... Read more »

Neumann, P. (1992) Leap-year problems. Communications of the ACM, 35(6), 162. DOI: 10.1145/129888.129900  

  • February 29, 2016
  • 01:55 PM

New targets for reducing nerve pain identified

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

There’s no pain like nerve pain. Whether it is because of a chronic illness or related to an injury, it may be obvious, but nerve pain hurts. That may change soon though, as a specific molecule involved in maintaining pain after a nerve injury has been identified and blocked in mice by researchers. These results reveal a promising therapeutic strategy for treating neuropathic pain.

... Read more »

  • February 29, 2016
  • 12:53 PM

Need a Hand? Just Grow it Back! How Salamanders Regenerate Limbs (A Guest Post)

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

By Maranda CardielHow cool would it be if you could regenerate your own body parts? Just imagine: you are chopping up some carrots for dinner, but whoops! You accidentally cut off your thumb! No worries, it’ll grow back in a few weeks, good as new and fully functional. No need to take a trip to the hospital and pay all of those annoying medical costs. That all sounds pretty nifty, but that can’t actually happen, right? Tissue regeneration on that large of a scale is something you can only find in science fiction. …Or so you may think. Nature has actually found a way to regenerate full limbs and other body parts after they have been completely amputated. However, among animals with spines, this unique ability is only found in salamanders. But how does it work, and why can’t we do it too? A cartoon illustrating examples of the three different methods of tissue regeneration in animals. A.) An adult hydra being cut into two pieces and regenerating into two separate hydras. B.) Part of a human liver being cut off and the remaining liver regenerating via cell division. C.) A salamander’s arm being amputated and undergoing epimorphosis to regenerate an entire new arm. Source: Maranda CardielThere are actually three ways that animals can regenerate tissues. Some animals, such as hydras, can use the tissues they already have to regenerate themselves after being cut in two, resulting in two separate hydras. Mammals, including humans, have the ability to regenerate their livers by having the liver cells divide into more liver cells. This is how liver transplants work – a portion of liver from a live donor will grow into a fully-functioning liver in the recipient. The third method is called epimorphosis, which is the ability to change existing cells of specific types so that they can re-grow as different cell types, and this is what salamanders are able to do.When the limb of a salamander is cut off, only the outermost layer of skin moves to cover the wound. This single layer forms a special skin cap known as the epithelial cap, and the nerves at the amputation site shrink back from the wound. Then the cells beneath the cap dedifferentiate, losing their specific characteristics so all of the different types of cells become the same and detach from each other.A cartoon illustrating the process of a salamander regenerating its arm. A.) The limb is amputated. B.) The outermost layer of the skin begins to cover the wound. C.) This single layer of skin creates an epithelial cap and the blastema forms underneath it. D.) The cells of the blastema begin to differentiate into bone, nerves, etc. E.) The cells continue to divide and differentiate until the limb is fully formed. Source: Maranda CardielNow the amputated limb has a mass of indistinguishable cells under the cap, and this mass is called the regeneration blastema. A blastema is simply a clump of cells that is able to grow into an organ or body part. Over the course of several weeks, this blastema divides into more cells and the cells begin to differentiate - or turn into multiple types - again, forming different cell types such as bone, muscle, cartilage, nerves, and skin. Eventually, the salamander will have a brand new limb.The salamander’s body can even tell what body part it’s supposed to re-grow; if it’s amputated at the wrist it will grow a new hand, and if its entire hind leg is amputated it will grow a new hind leg. And it’s not only limbs that salamanders can regenerate – they can even grow back their tails, retinas, spinal cords, and parts of their hearts and brains! As you can see, the process of epimorphosis is much more complicated than simply having a single cell type divide a lot. It also requires certain chemicals and patterns of immune signaling to work properly. But why can’t people do this too? One of the reasons is because when our tissues are damaged, all of our skin grows to cover and heal the wound, which forms scars. In salamanders, only the outermost layer of skin does this, which prevents the scarring that would stop tissue regeneration. The salamander’s immune system is also regulated differently than our own, which allows them to regenerate whole body parts. Unfortunately we are not salamanders, so when you cut off your finger it’s not going to grow back. But researchers are continuing to study salamanders and their astounding regenerative abilities in the hopes of finding a way to apply it to people. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to grow back our own limbs too. Sources:Gilbert, Scott F. Developmental Biology 6th Edition. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2000.Godwin, J., Pinto, A., & Rosenthal, N. (2013). Macrophages are required for adult salamander limb regeneration Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (23), 9415-9420 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1300290110 ... Read more »

Godwin, J., Pinto, A., & Rosenthal, N. (2013) Macrophages are required for adult salamander limb regeneration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(23), 9415-9420. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1300290110  

  • February 29, 2016
  • 02:58 AM

“Schizophrenia” does not exist. Discuss.

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

With a title like "“Schizophrenia” does not exist", the opinion piece by Jim van Os [1] (open-access) was bound to attract some attention and comment (indeed, several). As per other examples where diagnostic labels have been questioned (see here) the response to such viewpoints typically falls into one of two categories: (a) the person or persons making the suggestion just want to make a name for themselves (and how better than to stir up a bit of controversy) or (b) the person or persons making the claim have a valid point.In the case of the viewpoint posited by van Os, and without trying to offend too many people, I'm tending towards the latter option because I think he has a point. Read onwards and I'll try and explain why.The crux of the suggestion is that in these days of increasing pluralisation of diagnostic labels (see here for another example) and realisation that individual behavioural or psychiatric labels rarely occur unaccompanied (see here) the idea that there is a discrete condition called schizophrenia is fast losing 'evidence-based' backing. His descriptions of how DSM-5 classifies schizophrenia and the various diagnostic classifications that patients may 'move in and out of', harks back to some of the reasons why the RDoC (Research Domain Criteria) initiative was first suggested and continues to gather momentum.As per other entries on this blog acknowledging the idea of the more plural 'schizophrenias' (see here) and even a 'bipolar - schizoaffective - schizophrenia spectrum' (see here), van Os suggests a more wide-ranging term to supplant schizophrenia: psychosis spectrum syndrome. This label, it is suggested, takes account of the "extreme heterogeneity, both between and within people, in psychopathology, treatment response, and outcome." van Os also suggests that the creation of such a spectrum is a way to "forget about “devastating” schizophrenia as the only category that matters and start doing justice to the broad and heterogeneous psychosis spectrum syndrome that really exists."I don't believe we're going to see a dramatic migration towards psychosis spectrum syndrome as a replacement for the singular schizophrenia term very quickly. Much like what goes on behind other conditions/labels, change is often a slow process in medicine and convincing people who might have their own reasons for sticking with the label schizophrenia (e.g. identity, management options, etc.) will prove difficult. That we already have a similarly worded term, [unspecified] schizophrenia spectrum disorder in the current manifestation of DSM is an additional point of complication to make.Still, I can see the benefits of taking a wider approach to the categorisation of symptoms in this area of psychiatry. Indeed, if one considers the data on schizophrenia spectrum disorder appearing alongside 22q11.2 deletion syndrome for example (see here) you get a flavour for how many routes there may be taking someone towards clinically significant symptoms. That 'treatment response' may also guide the appreciation of a wider spectrum definition encompassing schizophrenia (see here for example), one could foresee a time when a specific place on the psychosis spectrum is given to patients and the trial-and-error of symptom management potentially becomes a thing of the past with the right patient work-up. That is also assuming some accuracy in [some of] the management options put forward [2]...That all being said, in agreement with this article by Allen Frances on a related topic, I think we also have to be a little careful not to be too broad in our brush strokes on spectrum generalisations.Music: War and Low Rider.----------[1] Os van J. "Schizophrenia" does not exist. BMJ. 2016 Feb 2;352:i375.[2] Jauhar S. et al. Cognitive-behavioural therapy for the symptoms of schizophrenia: systematic review and meta-analysis with examination of potential bias. Br J Psychiatry. 2014 Jan;204(1):20-9.----------Os, J. (2016). “Schizophrenia” does not exist BMJ DOI: 10.1136/bmj.i375... Read more »

  • February 28, 2016
  • 09:42 PM

Use of “Smart Cup” and phone camera in diagnosis of pathogens

by Usman Paracha in SayPeople

Main Point:

A newly developed “Smart Cup” can detect disease-causing agents such as herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) with the help of smartphone camera.

Published in:

Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical

Study Further:

Many novel ways of detecting infectious diseases have been developed. Among those methods are nucleic-acid amplification-based diagnostics that are sensitive, rapid, and specific on one side, but expensive, and requiring extensive procedure and trained personnel on the other side. That is why; such procedures are not available in many of those areas where infectious diseases can easily spread.

Recently, researchers have introduced a simple and inexpensive device, a smart cup that can detect pathogens in a rapid manner. This cup uses smartphone camera and its flashlight. Actually, the cup takes help of water-triggered exothermic chemical reaction to produce heat for nucleic acid-based, isothermal amplification. The amplification temperature is maintained at 60°C -65°C with the help of a phase-change material (PCM). Flashlight on the camera is used to activate the fluorescent dye, and the smartphone camera records real-time fluorescence emission during the process of amplification. The smartphone also checks multiple amplification reactors and analyze the obtained information.

Researchers have already used the cup in the diagnosis of HSV-2, which is responsible for genital herpes. Interestingly, this cup can be used anywhere, i.e. at home, in the clinic, or in the field, and in areas where sophisticated laboratories are not available.


Liao, S., Peng, J., Mauk, M., Awasthi, S., Song, J., Friedman, H., Bau, H., & Liu, C. (2016). Smart cup: A minimally-instrumented, smartphone-based point-of-care molecular diagnostic device Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 229, 232-238 DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2016.01.073... Read more »

Liao, S., Peng, J., Mauk, M., Awasthi, S., Song, J., Friedman, H., Bau, H., & Liu, C. (2016) Smart cup: A minimally-instrumented, smartphone-based point-of-care molecular diagnostic device. Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 232-238. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2016.01.073  

  • February 28, 2016
  • 05:00 PM

Matrix Unloaded: How you can fly a plane using expert-pilot brainwave patterns

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

“I know kung fu,” movie buffs might remember the remember the quote from “The Matrix.” We can all probably agree that being able to download knowledge “on tap” would be a boon to humanity. It is a shame it is just a movie… right? While that may be the case, it is just for now. That is because researchers have discovered that low-current electrical brain stimulation can modulate the learning of complex real-world skills.

... Read more »

  • February 28, 2016
  • 08:35 AM

Week 8 In Review: Open-Access Science | 22 to 28 Feb

by TakFurTheKaffe in Tak Fur The Kaffe

Sea level rose faster in the 20th century than in any other century of the last 3,000 years, new methods for estimating future sea level rise and heat waves, consumers to blame for their carbon footprint, and new virtual forests predict future impacts of climate change. Here are five of the latest scientific studies published open-access this week.... Read more »

Kopp, R., Kemp, A., Bittermann, K., Horton, B., Donnelly, J., Gehrels, W., Hay, C., Mitrovica, J., Morrow, E., & Rahmstorf, S. (2016) Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201517056. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517056113  

Mengel, M., Levermann, A., Frieler, K., Robinson, A., Marzeion, B., & Winkelmann, R. (2016) Future sea level rise constrained by observations and long-term commitment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201500515. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1500515113  

Ivanova, D., Stadler, K., Steen-Olsen, K., Wood, R., Vita, G., Tukker, A., & Hertwich, E. (2015) Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption. Journal of Industrial Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12371  

  • February 27, 2016
  • 04:39 PM

Technology and human biology: The singularity may not be so singular

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Life literally inside the world wide web, it’s an interesting idea. One that has tantalized sci-fi fans since before the framework for the internet was even finished. While the idea of a seemingly eternal disembodied life through the unfiltered and raw computer consciousness that we all share a connection with, maybe we are shooting for a goal that isn’t really possible — maybe we are asking the wrong questions.

... Read more »

Nicolau, D., Lard, M., Korten, T., van Delft, F., Persson, M., Bengtsson, E., Månsson, A., Diez, S., Linke, H., & Nicolau, D. (2016) Parallel computation with molecular-motor-propelled agents in nanofabricated networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201510825. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1510825113  

Morsella, E., Godwin, C., Jantz, T., Krieger, S., & Gazzaley, A. (2015) Homing in on Consciousness in the Nervous System: An Action-Based Synthesis. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-106. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X15000643  

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit