Brian Collett brings you this month's research news...
MEDICINE DRESSED IN SILK
Drugs wrapped in synthetic spider silk have been shown to stimulate attacks on cancers where other methods have failed. Peptides delivered to the lymph nodes rouse T-cells to destroy tumours but, injected alone, they degrade before they can act.
Swiss and German scientists have now proved that the peptides can reach their targets enclosed in spider silk biopolymers.
The team, from Geneva, Munich, Bayreuth and Freiburg Universities and the German manufacturer AMSilk, hope the technique can be used to carry various drugs but more work is needed to determine whether the biopolymers can take larger antigens.
Mild electrical shocks to the prefrontal cortex, the brain area vital for planning and decision-making, reduce the drive to commit violent crimes, reports a team drawn from Pennsylvania University and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
The researchers believe the treatment may also reinforce moral disapproval of aggression and violence. However, they emphasise the therapy may not be suitable for all violent offenders and suggest it needs more investigation. Another reservation, says Professor Roy Hamilton, one of the report authors, is that such manipulation has “tremendous social, ethical and possibly, some day, legal implications”.
BRAIN TUMOUR WEAPON
Tiny fatty droplets have been developed to attack glioblastomas, the most aggressive brain tumours. The particles carry a common chemotherapy drug to damage cancer cell DNA and an inhibitor to stop self-repair.
They are coated with a protein called transferrin enabling them to breach the blood-brain barrier, which normally excludes unwanted substances, and to help them to bind to the cancer cells. Another polymer covering protects them from the immune system.
Researchers applying the treatment to mice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have so far shrunk glioblastomas and prevented regrowth.
LONG SLEEP WARNING
The world’s largest sleep study, involving 40,000 subjects, has concluded that more than eight hours hamper mental functions as seriously as fewer than seven hours.
The researchers, at Western University, Ontario, found regular long sleeps reduce reasoning and verbal abilities, just like too little sleep.
They suggest other factors such as depression and failing physical health could cause long sleeps and accept that long nights are associated with more intense confusion and immobility on waking, but they cannot explain why poor cognitive performance results. Future studies will concentrate on understanding the process.
DOUBLE CHARGE ON ADHD
Electrical brain stimulation combined with a video game is being investigated as a drug-free treatment for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Professor Katya Rubia, leader of the research at King’s College London, said: “Scans show that children with ADHD typically have poor activity in the right frontal cortex. Our new approach is designed to stimulate activity in this region.”
Vitamin B6 before sleep enabled volunteers to remember their dreams better in a study at Adelaide University and was thought to have the potential to help psychiatric patients.
Dr Denholm Aspy, whose project involved 100 participants, said: “It may be possible to use lucid dreaming for overcoming nightmares, treating phobias, refining motor skills and even helping with rehabilitation from physical traumas.”