A new fungus discovered in the estuarine waters of Tasmania could be the unexpected answer to the world's opioid crisis, a current study suggests. Opioids — many of which are prescription painkillers, such as codeine — have created a worldwide health crisis. Many opioids are highly addictive substances that some people overuse or misuse. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 130 people die each day in the United States because of an opioid overdose. The Health Resources and Services Administration call this "an unprecedented opioid epidemic." The situation has led to the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraging countries to monitor the use of opioid drugs closely. But while monitoring the use of opioids is helpful, scientists are on the lookout for opioid alternatives. They are searching for drugs that will treat chronic pain in the same way as opioids but are less likely to harm health or lead to misuse. A novel discovery by researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia — in collaboration with colleagues from other academic institutions — may, in the future, lead to the development of one such potent alternative. The team found an unknown species of the fungus Penicillium in an estuary in the Huon Valley in Tasmania. The researchers showed that this fungus contained a set of molecules called "tetrapeptides," which are amino acids. These molecules had a unique structure that emulates the shape of endomorphins, which are natural opioid chemical messengers that help deliver pain relief. The team notes that these new fungus-derived tetrapeptides have the potential to cause fewer side effects than regular opioids, while still delivering effective pain relief. (Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)
We already have vaccines that prevent influenza, but there is a catch. Specialists have to keep creating vaccines that target specific flu strains if they want this preventive strategy to be effective. Influenza — which people commonly refer to as "the flu" — is one of the most widespread illnesses worldwide. Two virus strains — influenza virus strain A and strain B — are responsible for the flu. This disease has led to between 9.3 million and 49 million estimated cases of illness each year since 2010 in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As there are different viral strains, and each strain has many different subtypes, doctors must administer the correct vaccine each time. They need to use one that targets the specific strains and subtypes that are circulating in the population for this preventive approach to be successful. So far, there has been no "universal vaccine" that can target all influenza viruses effectively. But are researchers getting closer to developing one? A team of investigators from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY — in collaboration with colleagues from other institutions — has come up with a new approach that could change how scientists think about targeting viruses. This approach may also, in the future, provide a pathway to the universal flu vaccine, as the researchers suggest in the study paper that they recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Hackers do not always target retail stores and banks; they also target hospitals. By doing so, they can obtain a significant amount of extremely sensitive information. Recent research identifies what types of information hackers steal during a hospital data breach. Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, revealed what types of data leak from secure servers during hospital data breaches. They published their study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.This type of data breach can have severe consequences for the people whose information the hackers obtain says John (Xuefeng) Jiang, lead author and MSU professor of accounting and information systems. He adds that it is not always financial fraud or identity theft that happens as a result. It can also lead to the misuse of sensitive, medical information. The researchers say that another area of concern involves the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress. The organization has recently introduced new rules to encourage more data sharing. According to the researchers, data sharing has the unfortunate side effect of increasing the risk of data breaches. (Credit: www.medicalnewstoday.com)
New research suggests that taking estrogen as part of hormone replacement therapy may help women fight off cognitive decline. The study paper — titled "Lifetime estrogen exposure and cognition in late life: The Cache County Study" and appearing in the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) journal Menopause — details the new findings. Researchers and the medical community alike have long known that Alzheimer's disease tends to affect women far more often than it does men. According to Alzheimer's Society, in the United States, almost two-thirds of all people with Alzheimer's disease are women. Specifically, of the 5.6 million U.S. adults aged 65 and above living with Alzheimer's, 3.5 million are women. As for why this is the case, an established body of research has suggested that estrogen exposure is the answer. After menopause, women experience a drop in estrogen levels, and this could make them more susceptible to Alzheimer's, these studies have suggested. More recently, some researchers have argued that pregnancy and reproductive history may also impact a person's risk, while others have called for a reassessment of the role of hormone replacement therapy in cognitive health. Namely, scientists have recently been suggesting that hormone therapy is not always linked with cognitive harm, as many previously believed. In fact, the new research suggests that it may have the opposite effect, actually benefiting cognitive health. (Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)
A new study has shown that the relationship between aging and cancer may be more intimate and complex than previously thought. In fact, some aspects of cellular aging may hinder the development of cancer. With a vast analysis of genetic data, a group of scientists has shown that the genetic signature of aging tissue is very different from that of cancerous tissue. This is important because the activity levels of certain genes can influence how the cells within tissues behave, and ultimately, whether diseases such as cancer develop. As we age, more and more of our cells become dormant, meaning that they no longer grow, divide, and renew. This is a process called cellular senescence, and the proportion of senescent cells in our bodies increases with age. In the irreversible state of cell senescence, cell division ceases. Conversely, cancer is a disease defined by uncontrolled cell division that leads to the formation of tumors. Previously, experts assumed that aging tissues are more likely to become cancerous because of an accumulation of multiple mutations in cancer causing-genes. However, the recent study shows that, despite this accumulation, senescent cells are also likely to hinder cancer development; this is because the processes that cause cells to grow, divide, and renew are switched off during senescence. The team behind this research has published their findings in the journal Aging Cell.
The fungi that inhabit the body and their effect on human health have not received as much attention from scientists as bacteria. This situation could be about to change as a new study reveals that fungi that live in the gut appear to have a role in pancreatic cancer. In a recent Nature paper, the researchers describe how they investigated gut fungi in mice and humans with pancreatic cancer. The team found that certain species of fungus in the gut can enter the pancreatic duct, which is the tube that the pancreas uses to deliver digestive juices to the intestines. The microorganisms reach the pancreas by traveling through the duct in the opposite direction to the digestive fluids. The new study shows that when pancreatic cancer is present, the fungal populations of pancreatic tumors and the gut differ from those of healthy mice and humans. The researchers also found that giving mice with the most common form of pancreatic cancer a strong antifungal drug could reduce their tumors by up to 40%. "While past studies from our group have shown that bacteria travel from the gut to the pancreas," says co-senior study author Dr. George Miller, MD, of the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine in New York CIty, "our new study is the first to confirm that fungi, too, make that trip and that related fungal population changes promote tumor inception and growth."