Tag: Joachim Müller-Jung

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Dieter Durand and Susanne Kutter in Wirtschaftswoche feature a disputation between Alzheimer-researcher Konrad Beyreuther and author Cornelia Stolze, who has written a book claiming Alzheimer’s disease does not exist as an exactly defined disease.

While Beyreuther maintains the disease is real and can be clinically separated from other forms of dementia, he concedes that current medications are useless and that diagnosis often is inadequate. Stolze in her book “Vergiss Alzheimer” (“Forget About Alzheimer’s”) states that patients with signs of dementia often are labeled as Alzheimer’s disease patients although they are not, that they receive useless medications, that the real causes of their respective dementias, such as diabetes, depression, stroke, or dehydration, are overlooked and not treated, and that medical doctors make money with unreliable early diagnostic tests. A review of the book is to follow soon – please regularly check the akampioneer.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) comments on a proposal by several US stem cell researchers in the “Cell Stem Cell” journal. The manifesto calls for establishing a market for human donor egg cells so that scientists can use these cells for cloning experiments. While the purpose is not cloning humans but generating pluripotent human stem cells, Müller-Jung warns that the push will once again put the “cloning humans” debate on the table – a discussion he thinks is needed like a hole in the head. He states there are plenty of experiments already demonstrating that sooner or later it will be possible to generate pluripotent human stem cells for regenerative medicine by reprogramming human body cells.

Martina Lenzen-Schulte, also in FAZ, features the first attempts to use the mirror neuron concept for clinical purposes, e.g. for the rehabilitation of stroke patients to support regain of movement control.

Hildegard Kaulen in FAZ reminds her readers that a substantial part of the research crowned by nobel prizes never received third-party funds. She expresses sympathy with the proposal put forward in “Nature” by Stanford University’s John Ioannidis to either allocate research grants by lottery, by dividing up the money so that each applicant receives the same amount, or simply by handing out money to outstanding scientists with the only specification to use it for research. He criticizes that it has never been investigated which method to allocate research grants is the best and that the current practice consumes too much valuable time that should be spent more creatively on research.

Die Welt reports in a feature by dpa on material scientists of the Technical University Dresden who use wood for pipes that are as strong and resilient as pipes made from concrete. Wood is cut to rectangular blocks, which are heated to 140°C and compressed. Subsequently, all air – which amounts to up to two third of the wood’s volume –  is removed. The resulting panels are then bonded and formed by applying steam. The team led by Peer Haller of the university’s Institute for Steel and Wood Construction calculates that a post carrying 50 tons of weight needs 155 kg of steel but only 28 kg of wood treated with the new procedure.

Katrin Blawat in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reports that Umckaloabo, an alcoholic extract of Pelargonium sidoides roots, is under investigation by Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). The medication, which is sold as OTC in Germany for the treatment of acute bronchitis (with annual sales of about € 40 million), is suspected to cause inflammation of the liver, with six cases reported in 2011.

The New York Times (NYT) this week deals in-depth with the recommendation of the United States Preventive Services Task Force that men no longer should have an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Gardiner Harris interviewed the experts involved in reviewing PSA testing, citing Dr. Roger Chou, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Oregon, as saying “the idea that knowing you have a cancer isn’t always a good thing is a very difficult concept for many people.” Chou states that the vast majority of men who have prostate cancer will never be bothered by it. Urologists however view the issue differently, stating the task force chose to focus on the wrong studies and it was wrong to throw PSA testing away.

Last not least, in preparation of the coming common cold season, Ulrike Gebhard in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) explains that men suffer from the common cold more often than women. Reason is – according to researchers from Belgian Gent University – that women often carry extra portions of genes from the toll-like receptor (TLR) gene family. As a result, they produce more of the so-called miRNA molecules that support the body in fending off viral infections. The downside of women’s more powerful immune system is increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and a more violent reaction to certain vaccines.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

The human genome of newborns contains an unexpectedly low number of mutations, writes Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). Contrary to earlier estimates of 100-200 mutations generated in the germ cells of parents, the number is only about 60. Results come from sequencing the entire genomes of two families with one child each. The results have implications for understanding human evolution and genetics.

Sonja Kastilian, also in FAZ, features a preliminary report of IQWiG, Germany’s watchdog agency appraising drugs and treatments for quality and cost effectiveness, on the benefits of HPV testing of women as a screening for ovarian cancer. IQWiG set out to compare DNA tests for HPV with common pap smear tests and reported that the HPV tests leas to an earlier diagnosis and better follow-up examinations, regardlesss of whether it is applied alone or in combination with the conventional test. A final decision on whether the test is to be reimbursed by Germany’s statutory healthcare system is expected for 2012. In 2006, the Joint Federal Committee (G-BA), the body in charge, had voted against reimbursement for cost reasons. Kastilian also points out that HPV vaccination rates at present are below 30% in young women in Germany, in contrast to up to 81% in the UK, Portugal, and Australia. Reason has been an unduly discussion in German media about potential risks, high costs and lack of efficacy.

Uta Neubauer in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reports on novel approaches to use cold plasma to disinfect wounds, hands, and food. A method and device developed by the German Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has already demonstrated safety and efficacy in treating wounds and disinfecting hands. At present, it is under investigation for the treatment of foods, e.g. food additives and berries.

Sven Titz, also in NZZ, deals with latest insights into the physics of the water surface. Using vibration spectroscopy, physicists of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles found that the surface is made up basically by -OH groups of the water molecules sticking out from the liquid. The discovery will lead to better understanding solubility of molecules in water.

Forbes this week introduces two innovations in optics. Jennifer Hicks writes about the “socialization of the microscope” by a technology that allows the display of microscopic images on an extremely large multitouch screen, just like an oversized iPad. Thereby, groups of students, pathologists or researchers can focus on tiny details by touching, gesturing, and zooming in and out. A video of the microscope at work can be found here.

Californian-based start-up Lytro has unveiled a camera that can take pictures without focusing, writes Tomio Geron in Forbes. Instead, focusing on any point of interest in the photo is done once the image is loaded on a computer. The consumer camera is based on the light field technology invented by Stanford University researchers. The camera is fitted with special lenses and a sensor that captures every ray of light hitting it, regardless of whether it is from the fore- or the background, and records its individual color, intensity and direction. The camera therefore also can be used to generate 3D-pictures. Examples can be found here.

The Economist this week introduces an intelligent drug delivery approach using nanoparticles. It can be used to deliver anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drugs and makes use of the blood-clotting mechanism: first, nano-sized golden rods are injected into the blood stream. They fit into the unusual pores common in capillaries nourishing tumors and thereby mark tumor sites. Once they are in place, the tumor site is treated with laser light bursts. Their energy is absorbed by the gold and converted to heat destroying the capillaries so that the body’s coagulation system is triggered to repair the damage. This is when the second nanoparticles come into play. They carry the chemotherapeutics together with a fibrin-binding protein fragment and are designed to release the drug upon fibrin-binding only. The treatment strategy therefore delivers the drug exactly to the site the coagulation system is active, that is, at the tumor. The method developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has proven safety and efficacy in mice and will be tested in humans soon.

Researchers from the University of Rochester have come up with just another idea to release drugs on target, the New Scientist reports. They found that nanocarbon tubes containing aqueous solutions can be made to pop open by heating them from the outside with infrared lasers. Patients could be administered nanocontainers carrying drugs to deliver it to a desired target where the drug then is released by laser light.

And finally, Die Welt this week deals with wrinkles and high tech attempts to avoid or get rid of them. Clinical studies in people with an average age of 87 prove that vitamin A1 (retinol) is useful to smooth skin. Also, light from LEDs is able to remove a water film caging the skin’s elastic fibers so that they become rigid. The method is best applied by pre-treating the skin with green tee polyphenols to deactivate free radicals generated by the LEDs. Moreover, scientists from Hamburg-based Skin Investigation and Technology SIT found out that eating one bar of dark chocolate a day also leads to a 34% improvement of skin elasticity after 6 months. Further attempts to eliminate wrinkles are being made by using signaling peptides activating collagen-producing cells and by polymers carrying nanoparticles that are injected between outer and inner skin layers. The resulting films disperse the compression forces within the skin, thereby “ironing” it from inside.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports on the rapid spread of infections with enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) in Germany. In about 20-25% of cases, the disease leads to the life-threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) associated with kidney failure. Jung reports about promising treatment strategies using Soliris eculizumab. The monoclonal antibody by Alexion Pharmaceuticals has been approved in the US and the EU in 2007 for the treatment of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.

Also in FAZ, Nicola von Lutterotti features results from molecular psychiatry studies in children brought up in orphanages and adults suffering from trauma. Results demonstrate that there is a strong association between length of stay in an orphanage and factors like learning ability as well as length of telomers. Adults suffering severe trauma during childhood also have significantly shorter telomers.

In Focus, Monika Preuk reports on instant dental implants for diabetics, osteoporosis patients and smokers. These patients often cannot undergo conventional implantation procedures that need careful planning and complex steps of building bone material, placement of titanium posts and periods of long healing times. The new method involves skewed planting of very long implants into the healthy parts of the jawbones. The method stabilizes the jawbone so that implants can be planted within a day.

Matthew Herper in Forbes introduces the 25 most innovative countries in biology and medicine based on data provided by SciVal analytics, an Elsevier division. The complex analysis is based on publications output, number of citations, etc. Still the US dominates the fields, and papers by US scientists are more likely to be cited by other researchers than those in any country – except the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Andrew Pollack in the New York Times introduces Sherwood L. Gorbach, a researcher who helped to develop Dificid, a novel antibiotic against severe diarrheas. The drug by Optimer Pharmaceuticals has just been approved by FDA for the treatment of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea.

The Economist features new attempts to vaccinate people against drug abuse. The challenging task is to develop an effective vaccine against  really small and therefore very flexible molecules. A new trick applied for the design of a metamphetamine vaccine uses computer models to design haptens mimicking various metamphetamine-shapes and using these haptens to generate antibodies. Already it has been possible to generate efficacious metamphetamine-antibodies in mice with this method.

And finally, Die Zeit this week deals with the question whether mosquitos get drunk upon sucking blood from drunk people. The answer to the question is that after the blood meal, the mosquitos have about half the blood alcohol concentration of their victim. However, it is unclear whether they show behavioral deficits thereafter. 😉

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Andreas Menn in Wirtschaftswoche introduces the latest medical applications of smartphones for monitoring physical functions, ranging from the heartbeats of unborn children to blood sugar, blood pressure and pulse rates of elderly people to even pacers and other implants. According to Menn, the Mobile Health sector has a 19% market growth. In the US, patients are joining movements like The Quantified Self to collect health data for research purposes (and, as an example, to determine the ideal moment for wake-up). Contact lenses measure and report blood sugar levels, while tests strips or clothes with in-built wearable electronics control breathrate, wound swelling and urine for dangerous deviations. The field is still littered with startups, but big players like Siemens, Philips, sanofi aventis and Deutsche Telekom also have stepped in already.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports from the recent meeting of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia. The debates focused on quality control of induced stem cells and the ability to derive motor neurons from such stem cells.

In The New York Times, Nicholas Wade reports on a recently discovered bundle of genes regulating the growth of heart muscles cells. The study published in Science will be of great interest for the development of novel therapeutics. It is known today that heart muscle cells are replaced in humans – however, the growth rate is too slow to replace the loss of many cells, e.g. in a heart attack. By modulating these genes, it might one day be possible to regenerate heart muscle in a targeted manner.

In Wired, Brandon Keim features a proposal by theoretical physicists that bacteria might transmit electromagnetic signals by using their DNA chromosomes as an antenna. The proposal is likely to trigger controversy as many biologists doubt that bacteria emit electric signals. French nobelist Luc Montagnier had already claimed in 2009 that bacteria do transmit radio signals in the 1 kHz range.

In the New Scientist, Ferris Jabr introduces a super twisty beam of laser light that is able to tell left-hand molecules from right-hand ones, with potential applications in drug development. Rowan Hooper reports on successful attempts to cure certain forms of blindness by introducing genes from algae into the eyes. The genes are encoding for channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a photosensitive protein used by unicellular algae to orient towards light. The mice carrying a hereditary form of blindness were treated with subretinal injections of viruses carrying the algal gene and subsequently were able to use light beams for orientation in a maze. Trials in humans, the article states, might begin in two years. Finally, Andy Coghlan features findings that humans can be grouped by one of three gut ecosystems. These three “enterotypes” – dominated by three different species each – have been found all over the world and have a bias towards degradation of certain nutrients and production of certain vitamins.

And finally, for those of you who loved the Get a Mac ads by Apple (“I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”), please have a look at the ad campaign of Ion Torrent comparing its PGM sequencer to competitors such as MiSeq.

1 2