Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts Say

Could it be that Alzheimer’s disease stems from the toxic remnants of the brain’s attempt to fight off infection?

Provocative new research by a team of investigators at Harvard leads to this startling hypothesis, which could explain the origins of plaque, the mysterious hard little balls that pockmark the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

It is still early days, but Alzheimer’s experts not associated with the work are captivated by the idea that infections, including ones that are too mild to elicit symptoms, may produce a fierce reaction that leaves debris in the brain, causing Alzheimer’s. The idea is surprising, but it makes sense, and the Harvard group’s data, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, supports it. If it holds up, the hypothesis has major implications for preventing and treating this degenerative brain disease.

The Harvard researchers report a scenario seemingly out of science fiction. A virus, fungus or bacterium gets into the brain, passing through a membrane — the blood-brain barrier — that becomes leaky as people age. The brain’s defense system rushes in to stop the invader by making a sticky cage out of proteins, called beta amyloid. The microbe, like a fly in a spider web, becomes trapped in the cage and dies. What is left behind is the cage — a plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Read at New York Times

“Unprecedented” discovery of mysterious structures created by Neanderthals

176,500 years ago, long before modern humans left Africa for the Eurasian continent, a band of Neanderthals conducted an elaborate ritual deep inside Bruniquel Cave in a region we know today as southern France. The Neanderthal group wrested hundreds of stalagmites from the floor of the cave to build elaborate circular structures, their work illuminated only by firelight. Discovered by archaeologists in the 1990s, the cave system is so large that many of its great treasures are hidden far from its entrance, which suggests it was thoroughly explored and probably inhabited for some period of time. This new part of the cave, analyzed only recently, adds to our understanding of Neanderthal social life


The Neanderthal structure was mostly undisturbed for tens of thousands of years with the exception of a few hibernating bears. Recounting their discovery in Nature, a group of archaeologists say there is no question that the structures were created deliberately by humans, especially because there is evidence that the stalagmites were wrenched from the cave floor and stacked in circular patterns.


Read at ArsTechnica

Mosquitoes carrying Zika virus could hit U.S. in the next month

WASHINGTON–Mosquitoes carrying the dangerous Zika virus are expected to begin infecting Americans within the U.S. in the next “month or so,” the government’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday, as officials race to prevent a widespread outbreak of the virus that is believed linked to birth defects.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s This Week that more than 500 Americans already have the Zika virus. But he said all those cases are travel-related, meaning the individuals were either infected while outside the U.S. or contracted it from someone who traveled.

Read at Market Watch

The MIT lab flushing out a city’s secrets

Researchers in Massachusetts are looking at ways to tackle public health issues by delving into the sewers. Luckily, a robot does all the dirty work…


Here in this small room within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, I am making the acquaintance of Luigi. As explorers go, he lacks charisma – not for him a winning smile, witty catchphrase and firm handshake. But then, Luigi isn’t your typical pioneer. He’s a robot. And it isn’t curios he collects. It’s sewage.

At first take, it seems an unlikely subject for Luigi’s creators – the Senseable City Lab – to embrace. Along twisting corridors, sleek black panels showcase the group’s off-the-wall ideas: LED-clad micro helicopters, location-tracked trash, theCopenhagen wheel – a motorised hub for bicycles that won a James Dyson prize. I am almost surprised to find the lab didn’t invent the flat white. “We usually say our top projects should be both in Nature and in MoMA [Museum of Modern Art],” admits the lab’s director, Professor Carlo Ratti, when we meet in his office, a room dominated by a vast table covered with piles of paper.


Read article at The Guardian

Bacterium Blocks Zika’s Spread

Infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia greatly reduces the insects’ abilities to transmit the virus.

A bacterium known to prevent the spread of dengue and other viruses has now been shown to block transmission of Zika. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia bacteria were highly resistant to Zika virus infection, and were unable to transmit the virus via their saliva, researchers in Brazil reported in a study published today (May 4) in Cell Host & Microbe. The findings highlight a possible mechanism for fighting the current primary viral vector in the ongoing Zika outbreak.

“It’s an exciting and encouraging study,” said Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky who studies A. aegypti biology but was not involved with the work. “To my knowledge, this is first study showing interference of Wolbachia and Zika transmission,” Dobson told The Scientist.


Read at The Scientist

Breast cancer: Scientists hail ‘milestone’ genetic find

Scientists say they now have a near-perfect picture of the genetic events that cause breast cancer.

The study, published in Nature, has been described as a “milestone” moment that could help unlock new ways of treating and preventing the disease.

The largest study of its kind unpicked practically all the errors that cause healthy breast tissue to go rogue.

Cancer Research UK said the findings were an important stepping-stone to new drugs for treating cancer.

To understand the causes of the disease, scientists have to understand what goes wrong in our DNA that makes healthy tissue turn cancerous.

The international team looked at all 3 billion letters of people’s genetic code – their entire blueprint of life – in 560 breast cancers.

They uncovered 93 sets of instructions, or genes, that if mutated, can cause tumours. Some have been discovered before, but scientists expect this to be the definitive list, barring a few rare mutations.


Read at BBC