Gut bacteria is linked to successful weight-loss

New medical research indicates a mix of microbes in your gut can either help or hinder weight-loss efforts. “We started with the premise that people have different microbial makeups, and this could influence how well they do with dieting,” says Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic.

Kashyap and her team tracked the progress of individuals who were participants in a weight-loss lifestyle-intervention program. They advised the participants to follow a low-calorie diet as the researchers tracked them closely for three months.

They discovered that people who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight had different gut bacteria than those who did not lose 5 percent of their body weight. According to their findings, the successful dieters had an increased amount of Phascolarctobacterium.

Another bacteria, Dialister, was associated with an inability to lose weight. Kashyap says there probably are other types of bacteria that influence dieting too.

As it turns out, we can get a large number of calories from microbes. We do not have the right enzymes to digest every bit of certain types of food, but our bacteria can.

These bacteria eat what we cannot, and during the process of eating they produce byproducts that we digest. These byproducts become another source of calories.

The new study concludes that certain bacteria may be more efficient at creating extra calories for the body to digest. And microbes in the gut could hinder or help efforts to lose weight.


New study proves that fasting increases stem cell regeneration

A new study examining the effects of fasting in mice reveals that just 24 hours of caloric restriction can boost the regeneration of cells in the gut, reports Peter Dockrill for Science Alert. “Fasting has many effects in the intestine, which include boosting regeneration as well as potential uses in any type of ailment that impinges on the intestine, such as infections or cancers,” explains MIT biologist Omer Yilmaz.

The study showed that fasting turns on a “metabolic switch” in the intestinal stem cells that increases fat burning. Intestinal stem cells typically renew intestinal lining in about five days, but once the metabolic switch is turned on, the process occurs much faster. Yilmaz’s team harvested intestinal stem cells from mice that had fasted for 24 hours, growing them in a culture to amass cells called organoids.

The team found that these cells had double the capacity to regenerate in comparison to mice that hadn’t fasted. “This was something that we saw in both the young mice and the aged mice, and we really wanted to understand the molecular mechanisms driving this,” says Maria Mihaylova, a biomedical researcher who participated in the study. The team discovered that fasting had activated transcription factors called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, which turn on genes involved in metabolizing fatty acids.

That activation induced the cells to break down fatty acids while increasing the cell’s ability to regenerate themselves. The researchers then treated the mice with a molecule that reproduced some of the beneficial effects of fasting, possibly opening avenues to replicating this effect in a pill, or other drug treatment.


Why aren’t we using Biosimilar drugs?

Biomedical drugs could be an alternative to prescription drugs, according to Health Line. It’s important to know that one of the most significant but perhaps less understood breakthroughs in healthcare in recent years has been the availability of biosimilars.

Biosimilars are drugs that are highly similar to the biologic drugs on which biosimilars are based.  When a biopharmaceutical company’s patent or exclusivity protection for its biologic drug expires in the United States, biosimilars that have actually received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval can then enter the marketplace and compete with that existing drug.

Medical expery say that biosimilars, which have to go go through a thorough and complicated  review by the FDA, provide the very same benefits for patients as the original drug and demonstrate no clinically meaningful difference from the existing biological drug in terms of safety, potency or purity of content.

In an long and thorough review of science literature evaluating patients who switched from regular prescription medicines to biosimilars, Hillel Cohen, executive director of scientific affairs at Sandoz Biopharmaceuticals (a Novartis company), and her fellow researchers looked at 90 biosimilar studies that enrolled 14,225 patients.

Thelie results showed that safety concerns and efficacy were not changed after patients made the switch.

“Biosimilars offer affordable options that increase access with no compromise in safety, efficacy, or quality,” Gillian Woollett, MA, DPhil, a senior vice president at Avalere Health and research scientist in immunology who’s worked for many years in the biotech industry says. These drugs however are not mentioned by doctors and aren’t promoted. That probably should change.

NWT_Biology Science TECH

Scientists uncover second way bacteria make methane

Researchers from various U.S. universities have discovered a new way microorganisms produce natural methane, according to recent research published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria are the main way natural nitrogen gas transforms into a form that humans and plants can both process. Of all those bacterial species, nearly 10 percent have the genetic code to create a back-up enzyme known as iron-only nitrogenase.

In the new research, scientists found that the enzyme enables bacteria to convert nitrogen gas to ammonia and carbon dioxide into methane at the same time. The ammonia is the main product of that process, and methane is simply a side effect. That means the newly discovered enzymatic pathway is a previously unknown channel for the natural biological production of methane.

“Methane is potent greenhouse gas. That is why it is important to account for all of its sources,” said study co-author Caroline Harwood, the Gerald and Lyn Grinstein Professor of Microbiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, according to

Methane is released from fossil fuels, but it is also generated from microbial activity. In fact, microorganisms form and consume at least a billion tons of methane per year. As a result, further study of the gas could have large ecological significance.

This research could also be important for the medical community because methane plays a role in the interactions between the microbes that inhabit humans and animals. For instance, scientists suspect methane in the gut contributes to certain digestive disorders.

This new finding builds on previous research that shows iron-only nitrogenase is active in microbes more often and in more conditions than previously thought. The team found it in the microorganism Rhodopseudomonas palustris, as well as three other nitrogen-fixing bacterial species that create the enzyme. They hope to expand on the study to see what else they can learn about the new pathway, as well as find what other applications it might have. 

“Our findings are significant because they give scientists a second target to chase in understanding biological methane formation and rising methane emissions,” said study co-author Lance Seefeldt, a professor in Utah State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in a statement. “In addition, the discovery could drive efforts to turn waste gasses into usable fuels.”


Drinking alcohol may foster bad mouth bacteria

Researchers from New York University found that heavy drinking may fill a person’s mouth with harmful bacteria, according to a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

In the study, scientists analyzed spit samples from more than 1,000 healthy volunteers between the ages of 55 and 84. Beyond that, they also asked the participants about their regular eating habits, including how much alcohol they consumed.

The team  then used a form of RNA sequencing to analyze the microbiome in each volunteer’s mouth. They found a strong link between drinking alcohol and a higher abundance of bacteria that often leads to gum disease. They also found drinking is correlated with lower amounts of Lactobacillales, which generate good oral health.

Regular drinkers also had higher levels of bacteria from the genus Neisseria, some of which can produce the carcinogen acetaldehyde. While no study has linked the organisms to cancer, it is another concern.

“Such changes potentially contribute to alcohol-related diseases, including periodontal disease, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers, but further research is needed to relate alcohol-related composition changes to disease phenotypes,” wrote the team in their research, according to Gizmodo.

Researchers believe there is a chance alcohol could alter the mouth biome by killing off key immune cells, damaging teeth, or significantly altering the composition of saliva. However, nobody knows to what degree these microbial changes are the result of drinking alone. 

Even so, this is the largest study to look at the way alcohol affects the human mouth microbiome. Such research could give insight into how alcohol increases the risk of certain mouth diseases and expand general knowledge of human health.

“We know that alcohol is a risk factor for many other diseases,” said study co-author Jiyoung Ahn, an epidemiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, according to TIME. “This is another scientific rationale, or justification, that heavy drinking is not recommended. We should avoid heavy drinking in terms of maintaining a healthy microbiome.”

NWT_Biology Science TECH

Plants evolve away from useless defenses, study reports

A group of scientists at the Drexel University have found that plants will stop using defense methods that do not work, instead evolving new traits as a way to better protect themselves in the future.

In the study, the team found this by analyzing different types of flowering plants known as dogbanes and milkweeds. Both species are connected in that they each use a highly toxic chemical substance — known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids — as a defensive measure against would-be predators.

The team traced the plants back to when they first began to produce the chemical and found that they stopped creating it at four different periods throughout their existence. The reason? Danainae butterflies.

Unlike mammals, the insects are not harmed by toxic alkaloids. As a result, the plants stopped producing the chemicals as soon as they became ineffective. In fact, certain milkweeds made the change as soon as the butterflies began to actively seek out the plants.

“Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are likely an ineffective defense against Danainae,” explained study leader Tatyana Livshultz, a researcher at Drexel University, according to International Business Times UK. “Furthermore, they are actually beneficial to them since they take in these chemicals for their own defense against their predators.”

This study is important because it actively supports the “defense de-escalation” hypothesis, which states that organisms will stop using defenses that no longer work. This is a prime example, and it could help scientists get a better idea of the basics behind co-evolution.

“Apocynaceae (milkweed) species of this lineage produce a number of different classes of defensive chemicals, including cardenolides and other types of alkaloids,” added Livshultz. “It has been shown that cardenolides are at least partially effective defenses against adapted herbivores, such as the monarch butterfly, the most familiar species of Danainae to Americans.”

Though researchers are not sure why some milkweeds still produce the deadly chemicals, they postulate that it could be because they want to deter other insect types that are still deterred by the toxins.

New Phytologist.


Omega-3 supplements do not prevent heart disease

Omega 3 supplements do not lower a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, or death, according to a new study in the Cochrane systematic review.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of fat that, in small doses, are essential for proper health. They exist in many common foods through substances like alphalinolenic acid (ALA)  eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

While humans eat the acids naturally, people around the world promote the increased consumption of omega 3 fatty acids because of the common belief that they protect people from heart disease.

However, researchers from Cochrane found that is not true.

The team reached that conclusion by analyzing the results of 79 randomized trials involving 112,059 people that assessed how much consuming extra omega 3 fats affected both heart disease and circulation.

All of the studies analyzed men and women — some healthy and some not — from North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. During the trial, the subjects were randomly assigned omega 3 fats to maintain their usual intake for at least a year.

That revealed increasing long-chain omega 3 intake provides little or no health benefits. The team also found that the death risk in people who increased their omega 3 intake was 8.8 percent, barely lower than the 9 percent death risk for people in the control group.

In addition, taking long-chain omega 3 fat supplements did not change the risk for stroke, heart irregularities, cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, or coronary heart disease events.

That is a strong link that shows the supplements are not as helpful as many believe.

“We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega-3 supplements protect the heart,” said study co-author Lee Hooper, a researcher from the University of East Anglia, according to Science Daily.“This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”

The team hopes that the new findings will make people think twice before taking supplements. While certain ones can be beneficial, the team states that healthy foods are a much better option for those looking to increase their heart health.

“Such supplements come with a significant cost, so my advice to anyone buying them in the hope that they reduce the risk of heart disease, I’d advise them to spend their money on vegetables instead,” said Tim Chico, a cardiologist from Sheffield University who was not involved in the study, according to BBC News.


Smart bandage is able to monitor wounds, administer medicine

Scientists from Tufts University are in development on a smart bandage that can keep track of a wound and dispense medicine to the injured area when necessary, according to a new study published in the journal Small.

The new technology does everything related to proper wound treatment. Not only does it monitor both the pH and temperature of the gash, it also has the ability to diagnose and dispense drugs if a problem occurs. That administration comes from a central processor, which a doctor can program to administer treatment if specific conditions are met.

“A stimuli‐responsive drug releasing system comprising of a hydrogel loaded with thermo‐responsive drug carriers and an electronically controlled flexible heater is also integrated into the wound dressing to release the drugs on‐demand,” wrote the team in their paper, according to Engadget.

The new bandage can also monitor treatment to see if further steps are needed once the drugs are given out. It can provide real-time status updates through Bluetooth as well.

Currently, chronic wounds are one of the leading causes of amputation around the world. A flexible and readily available bandage that can deliver real-time treatment could be instrumental in cutting back on those numbers by reducing infection and promoting healing.

While this is not the first time researchers have attempted to incorporate technology into a bandage, it is more promising than other attempts because the bandage itself can administer treatment. That has not been done before and it could help separate this model from the pack.

“What we have demonstrated is a flexible smart bandage that has your drug cocktail in it,” study co-author Sameer Sonkusale, a professor at Tufts University, told Digital Trends. “It senses how the wound is healing and delivers the drug in real time in appropriate quantity to make it heal faster.”

While there is still a long way to go before the device is ready for real world application, there is no doubt potential. The team next plans to test the technology on chronic wounds in animals to see if it is as effective as early testing suggested.


Scientists move one step closer to universal cancer tests

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have come one step closer to creating a universal blood test for cancer, according to a new report in the journal Science. 

The team developed a new method that, when trialed, detected eight common forms of the deadly disease. Their version is an annual test that is designed to catch cancer as early as possible.

Tumors release small traces of mutated DNA and proteins into the bloodstream. The new test — known as Cancer Seek — looks for such mutations across 16 genes that typically arise during cancer, as well as in eight proteins that are commonly released with the disease.

Researchers used the method on 1,005 patients with ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colon, lung, or breast cancer that had not yet spread to other tissues. It found roughly 70 percent of all the diseases.

“This field of early detection is critical, and the results are very exciting,” study co-author Cristian Tomasetti, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told BBC News. “I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality.”

Early detection is critical because the earlier the disease is found, the greater the chance of being able to properly treat it. Five of eight cancers detected in the study currently have no way to screen for early detection. For instance, pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms that four in five patients with the disease die the year they are diagnosed.

Now that Cancer Seek has proven successful in early testing, the team next plans to try it on people who have not been diagnosed with cancer. If it still works with high accuracy, it could be given the green light for widespread usage.

Scientists eventually hope to use the process as a blood test that is taken once a year. If the number of mutations and proteins being analyzed were to increase, it could also help the system detect even more types of cancer.

“This has the potential to substantially impact patients,” said study co-author Ann Marie Lennon, an associate professor of medicine, surgery and radiology, clinical director of gastroenterology and director of the Multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cyst Program, in a statement. “Earlier detection provides many ways to improve outcomes for patients. Optimally, cancers would be detected early enough that they could be cured by surgery alone, but even cancers that are not curable by surgery alone will respond better to systemic therapies when there is less advanced disease.”


Immunotherapy shows promise in combating lung cancer

Immune-based therapy could help create one of the best lung cancer treatments to date, according to new research across three studies simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Though many immunotherapy treatments have been approved to treat certain tumor types, they have not yet been used to fight lung cancer. In the new research, scientists from various U.S. universities found that immune-based technology may be able to weaken lung tumors and increase overall survivability.

Currently, more than half lung cancer survivors see it return after treatment. As a result, methods like chemotherapy only increase survival chances by about 5 percent. Scientists hope the newly researched immunotherapy could help raise that percentage without exposing patients to any toxic chemicals. 

In one of the studies, researchers mixed two checkpoint inhibitor drugs — which target proteins to help expose tumors to the body’s immune system — to see if the concoction could keep tumors from growing better than standard chemotherapy treatments in those with advanced non small cell lung cancer. After testing 300 people, they found immunotherapy to be 42 percent more effective than chemotherapy.

Scientists also found that combining chemotherapy with another immune-based checkpoint inhibitor known as pembrolizumab (Keytruda) helped patients live nearly four months longer on average than those treated with only chemotherapy.

“The magnitude of benefit was unexpected and great to see,” said co-author of one study Leena Gandhi, associate professor of medicine at New York University, according to Yahoo News.


Though lung cancer treatments typically rely on chemotherapy, doctors are steadily trending towards other solutions as time goes on. This new proposal is one such way, and it could largely increase survival rates in the coming years. They could also alter the way lung cancer is treated down the line.

“The Holy Grail is to have a relatively non-toxic therapy that could potentially use the body’s own immune system to prevent recurrence,” said co-author of one study Patrick Forde, assistant professor of oncology and associate member of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University.