Brian Collett brings you the latest clinical news...
HOW DIRT WORKS
The dirt toddlers eat that appears to strengthen immunity has been found to contain a protective bacterium. This produces a lipid that reduces inflammatory activity in immune cells, boosting disease protection and possibly preventing anxiety and depression.
Professor Christopher Lowry, who led the research using mice at the University of Colorado Boulder, is consequently considering a vaccine against mental problems among people in high-stress jobs.
He said: “As humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation.
“That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders. [The bacterium] is just one strain of one species of one bacterium but there are millions of strains.
“We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved.”
DANGER ON SCREEN
Over-exposure to artificial light from computer and phone screens can skew the circadian rhythm, causing insomnia and other disorders, researchers report from the Salk Institute in California.
They found constant screen-gazing disturbs light-sensitive eye cells, giving the brain inaccurate messages. They are investigating ways of influencing the protein melanopsin, which resets the internal clock.
New treatments could follow for conditions including insomnia, migraine, jet lag, cognitive dysfunction, cancer, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Dietary fats entering the brain were found by Glasgow University scientists to induce depression. The process, in which gut bacteria accumulate causing neurochemical changes and blocking connections in the hypothalamus, was shown to link fatty diets with depression.
Professor George Baillie said: “This is the first time anyone has observed the direct effects that a high-fat diet can have on the signalling of the brain related to depression.
“This research may begin to explain … how we can potentially better treat patients with these conditions. We often use fatty food to comfort ourselves as it tastes good. In the long term this is likely to affect one’s mood.”
‘VALUABLE PROTEINS’ REVEALED
Many new drugs could follow the discovery of thousands of previously unknown small proteins produced by bacteria in the human microbiome.
Scientists at Stanford University, California, are now investigating the functions of these 4,539 protein families and expect their studies to result in innovative antibiotics and other drugs. Professor Ami Bhatt called them a “valuable new area of biology to study.”
A protein called chondroitinase has been found by researchers at King’s College London to help to disperse the spinal scar tissue that forms after injury and obstructs brain signals, preventing sensation and causing paralysis.
The team, funded by the Spinal Research charity, hope new cells can be encouraged so that signals can travel, restoring some movement and feeling.
Weakened salmonella bacteria have been used to smuggle anti-cancer nanoparticles into tumours.
Natural immunity attacked the salmonella, catching cancer cells in the crossfire. Scientists at the Virginia Tech research centre found the technique worked on laboratory-grown tumours and breast cancer in mice.