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
Here’s how parents of kids with rare disease found what may be blockbuster drug.
Two parents’ quest to save their twin daughters’ lives from a rare, degenerative genetic disorder may end up saving and improving the lives of millions.
After digging through medical literature and fitting pieces of data together, the non-medically trained couple contacted German researchers and suggested that a chemical called cyclodextrin may be able to treat atherosclerosis—the hardening of arteries with cholesterol-rich plaques, which is a precursor to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up on the parents’ hypothesis and found that in mice, cyclodextrin indeed blocked plaque formation, melted away plaques that had already formed in arteries, reduced atherosclerosis-associated inflammation, and revved up cholesterol metabolism—even in rodents fed cholesterol-rich diets. In petri dish-based tests, the researchers found that the drug seemed to have the same effects on human cells and plaques.
The findings, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, suggest that cyclodextrin—a drug already approved for use in humans by the US Food and Drug Administration—may be highly effective at treating and preventing heart disease.
Read at ArsTechnica
Proteins never get to where they need to be to start an antiviral attack.
The Dengue virus comes in four distinct but related varieties called serotypes, and they’re all bad. Rather than inducing tolerance for each other, infection with one Dengue serotype actually makes people more sensitive to the other three. Victims infected by a second serotype can develop hemorrhagic fevers, which can be fatal. Somewhere around 400 million people are infected with Dengue annually—more than any other mosquito-borne ailment. There is no cure.
Dengue is also in the same family as Zika and is spread by the same mosquitos, so learning more about one could have broad applications for the other. This week, researchers published a paper in Nature describing how the Dengue virus avoids one arm of our immune system.
Read at Ars Technica
Modern disease theory must account for communities of commensal bacteria.
At the turn of the last century, German physician Heinrich Koch identified four critical criteria for determining whether or not a particular microbe causes a disease. The ideas behind them were crucial for advancing medicine and formalizing the germ theory of disease. Over the last century, these postulates have been updated as medicine has advanced.
In what may end up being the most recent of these updates, biologists Allyson Byrd and Julia Segre propose some adjustments to these classic medical postulates intended to bring them in line with analytic techniques based on DNA sequencing and the most current understanding of bacterial communities. Just as the previous updates to Koch’s postulates did, these proposed amendments incorporate cutting-edge scientific knowledge and add nuance to our understanding of the causes of disease.
Koch’s original postulates are that, if a microorganism causes a disease, then:
- For every single case of the disease, the microorganism will be present.
- Healthy people will not carry the microorganism—if they did, they would be sick.
- The microorganism can be isolated and cultured in a lab, then used to infect new people.
- The microorganism can be re-isolated from a person who was experimentally infected.
Link to full article at ArsTechnica
Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, others raise $100 million for tests expected by 2019.
Forget biopsies, ultrasounds, mammograms, pap smears, rectal exams, and other unpleasant cancer screenings—the race is now on for simple, affordable blood tests that can detect all sorts of cancers extremely early.
On Sunday, genetic sequencing company Illumina Inc. announced the start of a new company called Grail, which will join dozens of companies developing such blood tests. Toting big-name investors including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Illumina’s high-profile startup raised more than $100 million to get Grail going. The company hopes that Grail’s tests will be on the market by 2019 and cost around $500 a pop.
Link to article on ArsTechnica
Physical pain is a near universal problem, whether its sudden pangs or chronic aches. Yet, researchers’ efforts to quash it completely have fallen short—possibly due to a moonlighting channel in nerve cells. But that may be about to change.
The sodium ion channel, called Nav1.7, helps generate the electrical signals that surge through pain-related nerve cells. It’s known to play a key role in pain, but researchers’ past attempts to power-down its charged activities did little to soothe suffering. In a bit of a shocking twist, researchers figured out why; the channel has a second, un-channel-like function—regulating painkilling molecules called opioid peptides. That revelation, published in Nature Communications, provided researchers with the know-how to reverse painlessness in a woman with a rare condition, plus make mice completely pain free.
The link between Nav1.7 and opioid painkillers is “fascinating,” Claire Gaveriaux-Ruff, a pain researcher and professor at the University of Strasbourg, told Ars. And, she added, “this discovery brings hope to the many patients suffering from pain that are not yet adequately treated with the available pain medications.”
That source of hope has been a long time coming, John N. Wood, lead author of the study and a neuroscientist at University College London, told Ars. Researchers have been interested in Nav1.7 for years, he said. Excitement peaked in 2006 when scientists reported finding a family who lacked the channel and could feel no pain at all. After that, researchers excitedly scrambled to relieve pain with Nav1.7-blocking drugs. But the drugs inexplicably failed, Wood said. “So we thought, well maybe this channel isn’t just a channel, maybe it’s got some other activities as well.”
Link to article at ArsTechnica
Flu viruses trick immune cells into fighting seasonal battles instead of all out war.
Ditching annual flu shots for a single stick that can protect year after year may be even harder to do than scientists thought—thanks to our own bamboozled immune systems.
Influenza viruses are infamous masters of mutation, changing themselves ever so slightly to dodge detection by immune cells. That viral variation drives the need for us to roll up our sleeves each fall instead of relying on our immune system’s memory of last year’s flu—or so researchers thought. A new study finds that although our immune systems naturally have the potential to detect and fight all flavors of flu virus, they get tricked into fighting only strain-specific battles. The finding, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, suggests that making a universal vaccine may require wising up our immune cells as well as outsmarting the virus.
The study, from a group of researchers led by Patrick Wilson of the University of Chicago, examined the immune responses of 21 people after exposures to the 2009 H1N1 virus (swine flu). Researchers specifically looked at participants’ B cells, which make antibodies that help fend off the flu by seeking out the virus and marking it for an attack, as well as seeking out the antibodies themselves.
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