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Nature knows best, 2011

Happy new 2011 year to everyone! 
May it be healthier, more successful and a lot happier than the previous one. 

For first post for this year, I chose something very positive. It's about the power of nature and its mechanisms of insuring the well-being of the living things.
I'm not going to comment, since I'm not in commenting mood, but I hope you'll enjoy the articles I picked for you. Especially the first, since it's so impressive! And I really can't understand why this kangaroo care is not used more often even in developed countries. After all, the less unneeded intervention with Nature, the better. And it looks like those babies do at least as good as those in incubators. Which means that it's safe to take them home. And if it's safe, then why not? 

The Human Incubator

Rey thought about the basics. What is the purpose of an incubator? It is to keep a baby warm, oxygenated and nourished — to simulate as closely as possible the conditions of the womb. There is another mechanism for accomplishing these goals, Rey reasoned, the same one that cared for the baby during its months of gestation. Rey also felt, something that probably all mothers feel intuitively: that one reason babies in incubators did so poorly was that they were separated from their mothers. Was there a way to avoid the incubator by employing the baby’s mother instead?
What he came up with is an idea now known as kangaroo care. Aspects of kangaroo care are now in use even in wealthy countries — most hospitals in the United States, for example, have adopted some kangaroo care practices. But its real impact has been felt in poor countries, where it has saved countless preemies’ lives and helped others to survive with fewer problems.

In Rey’s system, a mother of a preemie puts the baby on her exposed chest, dressed only in a diaper and sometimes a cap, in an upright or semi-upright position. The baby is strapped in by a scarf or other cloth sling supporting its bottom, and all but its head is covered by mom’s shirt. The mother keeps the baby like that, skin-to-skin, as much as possible, even sleeping in a reclining chair. Fathers and other relatives or friends can wear the baby as well to give the mother a break. Even very premature infants can go home with their families (with regular follow-up visits) once they are stable and their mothers are given training.
The babies stay warm, their own temperature regulated by the sympathetic biological responses that occur when mother and infant are in close physical contact. The mother’s breasts, in fact, heat up or cool down depending on what the baby needs. The upright position helps prevent reflux and apnea. Feeling the mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps the babies to stabilize their own heart and respiratory rates. They sleep more. They can breastfeed at will, and the constant contact encourages the mother to produce more milk. Babies breastfeed earlier and gain more weight.
The physical closeness encourages emotional closeness, which leads to lower rates of abandonment of premature infants. But kangaroo care also had enormous benefits for parents. Every parent, I think, can understand the importance of holding a baby instead of gazing at him in an incubator. With kangaroo care, parents and baby go through less stress. Nurses who practice kangaroo care also report that mothers also feel more confident and effective because they are the heroes in their babies’ care, instead of passive bystanders watching a mysterious process from a distance.
The hospitals were the third beneficiaries. Kangaroo care freed up incubators. Getting preemies home as soon as they were stable also lessened overcrowding and allowed nurses and doctors to concentrate on the patients who needed them most.
Kangaroo care has been widely studied. A trial in a Bogota hospital of 746 low birth weight babies randomly assigned to either kangaroo or conventional incubator care found that the kangaroo babies had shorter hospital stays, better growth of head circumference and fewer severe infections. They had slightly better rates of survival, but the difference was not statistically significant. Other studies have found fewer differences between kangaroo and conventional methods. A conservative summary of the evidence to date is that kangaroo care is at least as good as conventional treatment — and perhaps better.
In 2003, the World Health Organization put kangaroo care on its list of endorsed practices.
Kangaroo care, however, is modern medical care, by which I mean that its effectiveness is proven in randomized controlled trials — the strongest kind of evidence. And because it is powered by the human body alone, it is theoretically available to hundreds of millions of mothers who would otherwise have no hope of saving their babies.

Scientists identify pomegranate juice components that could stop cancer from spreading

December 12, 2010 
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have identified components in pomegranate juice that both inhibit the movement of cancer cells and weaken their attraction to a chemical signal that promotes the metastasis of prostate cancer to the bone. The research could lead to new therapies for preventing cancer metastasis.
The Martins-Green lab applied on laboratory-cultured that were resistant to testosterone (the more resistant a cancer cell is to , the more prone it is to metastasizing).
The researchers – Martins-Green, graduate student Lei Wang and undergraduate students Andre Alcon and Jeffrey Ho – found that the pomegranate juice-treated tumor cells that had not died with the treatment showed increased cell adhesion (meaning fewer cells breaking away) and decreased cell migration.
Next, the researchers identified the following active groups of ingredients in pomegranate juice that had a molecular impact on cell adhesion and migration in metastatic prostate cancer cells: phenylpropanoids, hydrobenzoic acids, flavones and conjugated fatty acids. source

Plant-derived scavengers prowl the body for nerve toxins

November 23, 2010 
The brain is forever chattering to itself, via electrical impulses sent along its hard-wired neuronal "Ethernet." These e-messages are translated into chemical transmissions, allowing communication across the narrow cleft separating one neuron from another or between neurons and their target cells. Of the many kinds of molecules involved in this lively chemical symposium, acetylcholine is among the most critical, performing a host of functions in the central and peripheral nervous system. This delicate cholinergic design however is highly vulnerable. It can fall victim to inadvertent or deliberate poisoning by a class of compounds known as organophosphates—chemicals found in a range of pesticides as well as weaponized nerve agents.
Now Tsafrir Mor, a biochemist in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has shown that human butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), a so-called bioscavenging molecule, can be produced synthetically—from plants. Further, Mor and his colleagues have demonstrated the effectiveness of plant-derived BChE in protecting against both pesticide and nerve agent organophosphate poisoning.
The group's research, recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), shows promise not only for protecting the nervous system from the effects of organophosphates, but also for gaining a firmer understanding of acetylcholine-linked diseases such as Alzheimer's Dementia and possibly for use against drug overdose and addiction, particularly cocaine.
Bioscavengers, Mor explains, act as sentries in the body, seeking out and binding with unwanted substances and neutralizing or destroying them. The most heavily studied bioscavengers are the two human cholinesterases—acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which is produced by in the brain and BChE, which is produced mainly by the liver and circulates in blood serum. In addition to their role in defending the body from damaging chemicals, cholinesterases perform a vital housekeeping function, mopping up molecules of , once their signaling tasks are complete.
While other neurotransmitters like serotonin are eliminated through reuptake, cholinesterases remove molecules of acetylcholine by hydrolyzing them. AChE is supremely efficient in its catalytic activity, degrading about 25,000 molecules of acetylcholine per second.The solution Mor and his group have come up with is to use transgenic tobacco plants, modified to synthesize human BChE in their leaves. In a series of experiments outlined in the new paper, Mor's group was able to demonstrate successful protection from both pesticide and nerve agent organophosphate poisoning in two animal models. The team was also able to extend the half-life of the plant-derived BChE, more closely replicating the persistence in the bloodstream of naturally occurring BChE, thereby improving its effectiveness. This was accomplished by decorating the outer portion of the enzyme with Polyethylene glycol (PEG). source

New clues uncover how 'starvation hormone' works

December 27, 2010
Dec. 26, 2010 – New findings by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers may solve a 17-year-old mystery about how the so-called "starvation hormone" affects multiple biological systems, including preventing insulin sensitivity and promoting cell survival.
The results connect multiple observations about how the hormone adiponectin functions and eventually could lead to new treatments for conditions ranging from diabetes and weight loss to heart disease and cancer.
In this study, the researchers used models of inducible cell suicide in both , which produce insulin, and cardiomyocytes, which are specific muscle cells located in a part of the heart known as the myocardium, to determine how the single hormone could exert such different influences."This paper shows that the common theme among all these different activities relies on adiponectin's interaction with a specific subset of lipids known as ceramides," said Dr. Scherer, who directs the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.
Ceramides are a family of lipid molecules known to promote cell suicide, or apoptosis. High levels of ceramides have been shown to promote diabetes by sabotaging signaling pathways induced by insulin and killing beta cells.
When the researchers introduced adiponectin into cells, they found that the hormone triggers the conversion of ceramides from a destructive force into one that helps cells survive and inhibits cell death.
"Adiponectin essentially provides a makeover of this ugly cousin," Dr. Scherer said.
Dr. William Holland, lead author and postdoctoral fellow in internal medicine, said the new findings have implications for the treatment of numerous diseases including diabetes and cancer.
Adiponectin, which Dr. Scherer discovered in 1994, not only controls sensitivity to insulin but also is known to play an integral role in metabolism and obesity.source

Newly identified self-cloning lizard found in Vietnam

November 11, 2010 by Lin Edwards
 ( -- Scientists have just discovered that a small lizard, long known as a restaurant food item in southeastern Vietnam, is an all-female species that reproduces through "cloning" itself.
The newly described species is not the only one that reproduces through cloning, since around one percent of lizard species reproduce with no contribution from males, by a process known as parthenogenesis (from the Greek for virgin birth). In this process the ovum contains a full complement of chromosomes and develops into an embryo without being fertilized. Parthenogenesis also occurs, but rarely, in fish and invertebrates, especially insects such as aphids, and has been artificially induced in mice and other species. source

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