Pulse 129: Toward Better Immunity and Longer Life

25 November 2019
Giulio Prisco

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According to Washington State University researchers, the nervous system plays an important role in the response to bacterial infections (see below). The researchers have found this in the laboratory using worms, but related mechanisms could be active in humans.

The study results indicate that proteins called collagens, found in the skin-like exterior of worms and in human skin, play an important role in defense against infection. And the researchers speculate that the neural regulation of collagens might play a role in overall longevity as well. The findings might provide a key to a longer, healthier life for humans.

"Many pathogens produce wicked proteins that try to destroy [skin-like barriers] and establish infection," said researcher Durai Sellegounder. "Our results show that the nervous system can detect these attacks and respond by remodeling or strengthening this protective structure."

Nervous System Controls Response to Bacterial Infections

Researchers at Washington State University have found that the nervous system of worms controls their cuticles in response to bacterial infections. Cuticles are a skin-like exterior barrier. The researchers were working with Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent worm found in soil.

In a study published in Science Advances, the researchers show that, during infection, the worm can change its cuticle structure. And that defense response is controlled by the nervous system.

Also, worms treated with genetic technologies to regulate collagens survived longer when exposed to the pathogens, and their cuticles remained smooth. Collagens are proteins that are the key structural components of the nematode's cuticle.

New Antibiotics for Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Researchers at Giessen University, German Center for Infection Research, and partner institutions, have discovered a new active substance effective against drug-resistant bacteria.

A paper published in Nature suggests that an organic compound, called Darobactin, presents a very promising lead substance for the development of new antibiotics.

Reprogrammable Natural Killer Cells Boost Cancer Immunotherapy

Researchers at University of Bern have discovered that the mechanism by which natural killer cells kill their targets can also be used to control the killer cells themselves. Killer cells are part of the immune system that recognizes and eliminates infected cells or cancer cells.

A protein call "TRAIL" is part of the target killing mechanism. In a study published in EMBO Reports, the researchers show that TRAIL influences the overall behavior of killer cells and could be exploited to reprogram them.

This finding may be relevant to cancer immunotherapies that aim to reactivate the immune system in order to remove tumor cells.

Malaria Studies Show Ways to Fight Other Diseases

Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Doherty Institute have suggested that a discovery about how the immune system responds to malaria infection could lead to better treatments for hepatitis C, HIV and lupus.

In a study published in Cell Reports, the researchers show that strong inflammatory signals caused by malaria infection activate molecules that trigger the production of highly potent antibodies.

The discovery could be harnessed to develop new vaccines and therapies that are better able to fight infections such as hepatitis C and HIV, and treat diseases such as lupus.

Human Tissues for Research Produced from Stem Cells

Scientists at University of Würzburg have successfully produced human tissues from stem cells.

In a research paper published in Scientific Reports, the scientists argue that the resulting tissues have a complexity similar to that of normal tissue and are far superior to previous structures.

The findings could permit building of realistic models of human organs (“organoids”) for medical research. That, in turn, would allow the number of animal experiments to be reduced.

Not All Bad Cholesterol Is Bad

The mere presence of bad cholesterol often doesn’t lead to heart attacks. Researchers at Ohio University have shown that a particular type of "bad cholesterol" is a much better predictor of potential heart attacks.

In a study published in International Journal of Nanomedicine, the researchers argue that a correlation of total bad cholesterol with a risk of heart attack is wrong three quarters of the time. It is the concentration of a particular type of bad cholesterol that should be used to diagnose atherosclerosis and the risk of heart attack.

Tiny Bots Precisely Deliver Drugs Anywhere in the Body

Scientists at Penn State have developed synthetic protocells that can be made to move toward and away from chemical signals.

The research results, published in Nature Nanotechnology, could find use in new drug-delivery systems that could target specific locations in the body.

The futuristic vision is to have drugs delivered by tiny 'bots' that can transport a drug to the specific location where it is needed.

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