Tag: Volker Stollorz

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Thomas Jüngling in Die Welt introduces auxetic materials which have the unique property of becoming broader when stretched and more tight when crushed. The effect is not depending on the material used, but on the inner structure, so that auxetic materials can be designed from metals as well as plastics. Applications span from improved bulletproof vests to seals to better sofa cushions. In medicine, auxetic materials may be used as dressing, filters, e. g. for artificial lungs, or for the delivery of drugs from plasters.

Jürgen Rees in Wirtschaftswoche introduces a technology developed by car manufacturer Volkswagen which lets an electrically powered delivery van drive autonomously and by acclamation of its driver from outside. The car is designed for courier services.

The Economist this week takes a look at personal manufacturing as the potential “next big thing”. Could be, at least in areas of the world where industrial infrastructure is poor and capital rare, the paper says. Prices for 3D printers came down from more than $100,000 to $2,500; kits may amount to $500, thanks to start-ups in the field. Add costs for the thermoplastics ($1 a pound), free software and even freely available blueprints, and personal manufacturing seems to be at the same stage as the personal computer world was when Apple introduced the Apple II.

Jörg Albrecht and Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) report on a simple method to combine the deadly, but barely contagious bird flu virus with the highly infectious, but rarely lethal swine flu variant to a deadly and highly contagious novel flu virus. The new virus with an alleged mortality rate of 70% has been designed in the Netherlands and was reported by Science. Albrecht and Stollorz mention various other combination experiments to create deadly and highly contagious viruses, raising the question of whether the data should be published or not.

Valentin Frimmer in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reveals the mechanism of endoreduplication common in plants to multiply chromosomes without subsequent cell division. Endoreduplication allows for faster synthesis of enzymes and cell components and is economically and commercially very important as it contributes to about half of the global biomass growth.

In Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) Nicola von Lutterotti summarizes the biological and medical importance of nitric oxide, an important signaling molecule of the body. She explains successes and failures in developing nitric oxide-based drugs for the treatment of pain, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and others.

Ärzte Zeitung reports latests insights into the EHEC epidemic which in Germany this summer caused 3,842 infections, including 855 cases of hemolytic-uraemic syndrome and 53 deaths. Ultimately the bacteria were discovered in a 15 metric ton charge of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt; however, it was unclear why only the 75 kg of this lot delivered to an organic farm in Northern Germany and a few kilograms bought by a French farm led to outbreaks of the disease. Ärzte Zeitung writes that Martin Exner, director of the Institute for Hygiene at the University Clinic Bonn, Germany, believes that the bacteria were in a viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state in the charge.  Already it has been shown that the EHEC strain causing the outbreak can adopt the VBNC state. It is also known that under certain circumstances infectious bacteria in VBNC state can be activated, e.g. by transit of the intestine. At least at one of the farms, workers regularly ate sprouts cultivated on the site and five of the workers were identified as eliminators. Exner speculates that a well used on the farm as a water source might have spread the bacteria as the toilets are located at the well house. As a result, Exner calls for improving hygiene standards in sprout-cultivating factories similar to clinics.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) this week in a special section (not online yet) deals with prion diseases such as Kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, BSE and scrapie and the history of the discovery that some CNS disorders are caused not by pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses, but by infectious proteins. In one of the articles, Volker Stollorz deals with the implication of the discovery. It led to the notion that CNS diseases can be caused by misfolding of proteins, and meanwhile  about 2 dozen neurological disorders are classified as “proteopathies”, among them Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Stollorz features research that points to the possibility that proteopathies spread through the body by some sort of domino effect. In this case, it cannot be ruled out that they are contagious – which would have enormous consequences for medicine. To rule out the possibility that modern medicine contributes to the spread of neurodegenerative diseases, some researchers already call for sterilizing medical instruments with procedures that also deactivate proteins.

Ralph Diemann in Süddeutsche Zeitung this week introduces photovoltaic company Konarka, which is using the site and machinery of Polaroid company to manufacture sheets producing electric current. Using the old Polaroid instant film technology, the company is printing conductive molecules on extremely thin, light and flexible films that can be applied to common goods – sunshades, car bodies, window panes or even clothes. First products – daypacks and bags producing current to charge mobile phones, already have reached the market. Other companies – BASF, Thyssen-Krupp and Bischoff Glastechnik – will follow suit, Diemann writes. Disadvantages at present are a very low efficiency, a durability of a few years only and a high price.

The Economist this week reports on experiments of various research groups, which have turned mind-reading into reality. The results are still crude, but already, recording brain activity has proven to be an inroad into this area.

Belle Dumé in The New Scientist makes the case for green tea and red laser to treat Alzheimer’s disease. While epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an ingredient of green tea can reduce beta amyloid plaques in the brain, red laser light which penetrates tissue and even bone can facilitate uptake of EGCG by the brain and by brain cells. The results come from animal experiments.

Last not least, Robert McMillan in Wired reports about the symbiotic relationship between IT and manure. IT company Hewlett-Packard (HP) seriously is thinking about using cow dung to power future data centers. These centers produce a lot of heat which can be used to heat cow dung for the production of methane, which in turn can power the data center.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemein Sonntagszeitung (FAS) this week in detail reports on a paper describing the generation of pluripotent stem cells from adult human testis, which has raised suspicions because as yet no one has been able to reproduce the data or cell lines. The paper published 2008 in Nature raised high hopes about the generation of pluripotent human stem cells for research and therapy without technically or ethically debatable interventions. The research originated in the lab of Thomas Skutella, then at the University of Tuebingen, Germany; lead author was Sabine Conrad. Already, researcher Hans R. Schoeler in the same journal expressed concerns that the cells used by Conrad et al. are not pluripotent as described. The article by Stollorz is not yet available online.

Stephan Sahm in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) introduces the new medical discipline of neurogastroenterology which deals with the nerve cells lining the human digestive tract. Already it is known that impairments of these nerve cells lead to motility disturbances of the colon – often seen in diabetics – and to dysfunctions of the immune system.

In the same paper, Hildegard Kaulen describes attempts to understand and cure chronic fatigue in cancer patients. The syndrome often appears after successful tumor eradication by chemo- or radiation therapy and has been neglected by clinicians and doctors in the past.

In Die Welt, Joerg Zittlau introduces a new silicon-based coating developed by Nanopool GmbH. The liquid glass coating is non-toxic, heat- and scratch-resistant and extremely thin and flexible. It is made by extracting nano-sized silica crystals from sand which are subsequently mixed with water and alcohol and applied either manually or by spraying. Once the solvent has evaporated, the glass coating is ready. As it is extremely smooth it is not only suited as protectant but also stain-resistant and self cleaning.

Wolfgang S. Merkel, also in Die Welt, explains why certain materials such as asbestos or nanotubes are dangerous for cells. If particles have a rounded tip they are mistaken by the cells for a small spheric particle and taken up. As the process cannot be terminated for the length of the particle, the cell eventually dies and, if many cells are affected, inflammation and cancer may arise.

Christina Berndt in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) deals with the latest conspiracy theory spread by ecological fundamentalists: milk is dangerous for toddlers as it blocks the mucosa with phlegm so that it cannot ward off infections. In the same paper, Berndt reports on fundamentalist Taliban in Pakistan opposing vaccination. As a result, polio cases have risen dramatically in the areas controlled by the Taliban.

Hartmut Wewetzer in Der Tagesspiegel introduces latest findings demonstrating that neither resveratrol, the highly acclaimed ingredient of grapes, nor sirtuin proteins guarantee longer, healthier life. Previously, researchers from the US had claimed that sirtuin proteins, which are activated by resveratrol, mediate longer life. In contrast, Nicholas Wade in The New York Times reports on the same study and points out that there is a trans-atlantic rift in reporting: while British scientists say sirtuins are not involved in longevity, the US colleagues under attack say they adhere to their claim. The controversy is around the genetic uniformity or diversity of the animal strains used in the experiments.

Larry Husten in Forbes is commenting on the decline of cardiovascular procedures observed in US hospitals, speculating that four factors may contribute to it: concerns about stent overuse, the payoff of preventive drug treatments, the larger economic climate and recent investigations into implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) by the US Department of Justice. Recently, doctors and hospitals in the US were accused to implant ICDs without proper evidence base in more than 1 in 5 cases.

Also in ForbesDavid Shaywitz and Dennis Ausiello in a commentary demand that doctors translate research results into clinical progress much better than today. The authors do not focus on the “translational science” buzzword but propose simple things: improvements in measurements, a less intrusive medicine and better participation of patients, e.g. by involving Facebook- or smartphone-based information transfer for better compliance and health status surveillance.

In the New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie reports on Sanofi-Pasteur signing a contract with the University of San Diego, Calif. to develop a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of acne, a disease affecting 85% of teens. The challenge: killing the disease-causing bacterium (which is benign under normal circumstances and turns nasty only in clogged sebaceous glands in the skin) is likely to disturb the important, delicate balance of the skin’s normal bacterial community. The solution may be to use an antibody directed specifically against a protein released by the acne-causing bacteria, if  oxygen levels fall below normal in the clogged glands. This approach may neutralize the acne factors and prevent inflammation while leaving the normal bacterial community on the skin undisturbed.

Last not least, physics nerds make a laughing matter of CERN’s latest discovery that neutrinos may travel faster than light, reports Holger Dambeck in Der Spiegel. Our favorite one (true Monty Python style) is as follows: “To reach the other side. Why do neutrinos cross the road?”

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

First signs of future onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can be found already at the age of 14, reports Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS). Introducing findings by Heiko Braak and Kelly del Tredici from Ulm University, he also points out that AD seems to originate in the Nucleus coeruleus region of the brain stem from which the typical AD clots slowly spread alongside nerve tracts. Stollorz features plans to include members of families with hereditary forms of AD in future clinical trials to test preventive drugs and treatments. Researchers in Germany currently are planning to launch a website and to found a network modeled according to the US “Dominant Inherited Alzheimer Network” (DIAN). Stollorz and his colleague Thomas Liesen also are co-authors of a TV documentary which can be found here for four weeks from July 19, 2011.

Jutta Hoffritz in Die Zeit reports on novel anticoagulants, e.g. Pradaxa by Boehringer Ingelheim, which is already marketed in the US, and similar drugs developed by Bayer Schering, Pfizer and Daiichi Sankyo. The drugs are developed to replace marcumar which carries the risk of severe side effects and is difficult to dose. However, while the new drugs show better efficacy and promise better compliance, Hoffritz cites German medical doctors expressing skepticism because of unknown long term risks and the anticipated high pricing of the drug. Ulrich Schwabe, editor of Arzneiverordnungsreport, a publication known to be very critical about the pharma industry, is quoted with the calculation that treating all eligible patients in Germany with Pradaxa would amount EUR 4.9 billion per year. The calculation is based on the price of the current daily dosis as the drug is already marketed in Germany for the prevention of thrombosis prior to knee and hip replacement surgery.

Christian Heinrich also in Die Zeit features a trend among pharma companies to search for potential applications of their already approved drugs. As an example, he introduces the “Common Mechanism Research” department of Bayer Schering AG, which is systematically studying unusual effects of Bayer compounds to find clues for novel therapeutic applications. Well-known examples of dual use compounds are sildenafil, which was originally developed to treat circulatory disturbance of the heart (now a common drug to treat erectile dysfunction), and aspirin, which was known as a pain killer and only later developed as anti-coagulant.

Christina Hucklenbroich in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports on the suspicion that recently observed deaths of cattle in Germany may be caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. However, she points out the the jury is still out on whether there is a novel zoonosis called chronic botulism as presence of the toxin in minute amounts in the gut of affected animals is difficult to confirm. In addition, the source of the bacteria detected in some animals has not yet been identified.

Also in FAZ, Hildegard Kaulen reports on novel findings how smoking cigarettes suppresses appetite. Researchers from Yale University, she writes, found a hitherto neglected nicotine receptor in the brain, which influences the neuronal circuit involved in appetite regulation. Once nicotine binds to the receptor, the nerve cells start releasing the neurotransmitter POMC which in turn influences nerve cells regulating satiety feelings.

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times reports on efforts by scientists from Harvard Medical School to introduce hundreds of changes in the genome of E. coli bacteria simultaneously, an effort dubbed by a colleague as as “macho molecular biotechnology”. The alteration of 314 sites is just an intermediate step by George M. Church and Farren J. Isaacs to establish a method by which certain stretches of DNA could be changed just the way a word processor searches and replaces certain words in an entire document in one step. The researchers removed a particular stop codon (T-A-G, or “amber”) and replaced it by another (which works just as well). Now they are planning to also remove the gene recognizing the deleted stop codon and subsequently to reintroduce amber and reassign it a new function, e.g. to incorporate a novel amino acid into the bacterium’s proteins.

The Economist announces the world’s first  “World Cell Race” taking place in August. Cells sent in by various research institutions all over the world will compete against each other in the race to move towards a chemoattractant. The scientists thereby hope to identify genes involved in cell mobility which are known to be important drivers in cancer metastasis as well as wound healing and immune responses.

New Scientist recently featured a series of articles dealing with bacteria (“bugs that break all rules”): Caroline Williams introduces multicellular behavior of socializing bacteria, features bugs that hunt in packs, bacteria large enough to be visible with the naked eye and bacteria with backbones and cell compartments.

And finally, Cinthia Briseno in Der Spiegel reports on studies proving that the internet is changing the way we memorize and learn. The ability to rely on the internet seems to encourage people to make less mental notes of facts they are sure to find in the web with a few keystrokes.

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