Pulse 123: Dogs Keep Your Heart Happy and Healthy

14 October 2019
Giulio Prisco

Dog with Flower

Dog ownership may be associated with longer life and better cardiovascular health, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors who live alone, according to studies published by the American Heart Association.

This could be explained by increased physical activity and/or decreased depression and loneliness, both of which have been connected to dog ownership in previous studies.

The first explanation is evident. Having a dog forces one to walk outdoors more often. But I, and I think all dog owners, think the second explanation is also valid. Dogs give you more happiness, happiness is good for your health, and the heart is not only a muscle.

"As a dog owner myself," said Assistant Professor Caroline Kramer, "I can say that adopting Romeo (Kramer's miniature Schnauzer) has increased my steps and physical activity each day, and he has filled my daily routine with joy and unconditional love."

Other interesting news in medicine, health sciences, and human enhancement:

Programmable CRISPR enzyme detects and kills viruses in human cells. Researchers at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have turned a CRISPR RNA-cutting enzyme into an antiviral that can be programmed to detect and destroy RNA-based viruses in human cells. The researchers created a single system that may one day be used to both diagnose and treat a viral infection, including infections caused by new and emerging viruses. Their system, called CARVER (Cas13-Assisted Restriction of Viral Expression and Readout), is described in a paper published in Molecular Cell.

Symptoms of schizophrenia reversed in laboratory mice. Researchers at Columbia University have restored normal working memory to a mouse model of schizophrenia, eliminating a core symptom of the disorder that, in people, has proven virtually impossible to treat. A study published in Neuron reports that, within a few weeks of administering an inhibitor able to target a specific gene, the animals' memory improved dramatically, and the axons in their brains grew in patterns similar to healthy mouse brains.

Programmable engineered viruses kill resistant bacteria. Biological engineers at MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, established by the U.S. Army in 2002, have shown that they can rapidly program bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) to kill different strains of E. coli by making mutations in a viral protein that binds to host cells. The engineers created several engineered phages that could kill E. coli grown in the lab. One of the newly created phages was also able to eliminate two E. coli strains that are resistant to naturally occurring phages from a skin infection in mice. The research results, published in Cell, show that these engineered bacteriophages are also less likely to provoke resistance in bacteria.

Combination treatment cures pancreatic cancer and acts like a cancer vaccine in mice. Scientists at University of Rochester have found that combining a type of radiation therapy with immunotherapy not only cures pancreatic cancer in mice, but appears to reprogram the immune system to create an 'immune memory' in the same way that a vaccine keeps the flu away. The combination treatment, described in a study published in Cell Reports, also destroyed pancreatic cells that had spread to the liver, a common site for metastatic disease.

Blood pressure drug can protect from congestive heart failure. Researchers at UA Phoenix have shown, in preclinical studies published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, that Aliskiren, a drug that inhibits the enzyme that regulates blood pressure, can delay the progression of congestive heart failure (a chronic progressive condition that occurs when the heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should) and lengthen survival rates.

How immature cells in the developing embryo differentiate and organize into a body. Scientists at Tufts University have revealed how the electrical patterns formed within an embryo initiate a cascade of molecular changes that culminate in the development of cartilage and bone. Prior studies have shown these electrical patterns appear like blueprints of the tissues and organs that eventually take shape as the embryo matures. A new study published in PNAS demonstrates that voltage gated calcium channels 'read' the electrical pattern, setting off the expression of genes that guide differentiation to mature cells. This sheds light on how immature cells in the developing embryo differentiate and organize into a body, which is a central question in developmental biology.

Air filter based on laser-induced graphene traps and kills bacteria and other contaminants. Chemists at Rice University have found a way to transform laser-induced graphene (LIG) into an air filter that not only traps pathogens but also kills them with a small blast of electricity. LIG is a conductive foam of pure atomically-thin carbon sheets synthesized through heating the surface of a common polyimide sheet with an industrial laser cutter. The new air filter, described in a paper published in ACS Nano, captures bacteria, fungi, spores, prions, endotoxins, and other biological contaminants carried by droplets, aerosols, and particulate matter. The filter then prevents the microbes and other contaminants from proliferating by periodically heating enough to obliterate pathogens and their toxic byproducts.

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