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Nature Provides Weapons Against Diseases

26 June 2017
Giulio Prisco

Natural Forest and River in the Sun

Many news items below offer hopes to avoid the ravages of cognitive decline and dementia. In fact, there are more and more indications that mental training, exercise and lifestyle choices can play an important role. It also appears that plant medicines, derived from two plants found in Japan and Africa, could reduce the impact of Alzheimer disease.

More surprising, and wonderful news for lovers of the Mediterranean diet (I am one) is the finding that extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability, and reduces the formation of Alzheimer's disease markers.

This prompts philosophical reflections: Nature subjects us to cruel diseases that we aren’t yet able to cure, but also provides natural compounds that could be used in cures. It’s certainly important to study the weapons that Nature has provided for us to fight Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

But the biggest weapon against disease that Nature has given us is our intelligence. Other news continues to show the awesome potential of the emerging CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology. The next issue of Pulse will have a special focus on CRISPR/Cas9 and include review of the book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, co-authored by Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of the technique.

Lifestyle choices could prevent cognitive decline and dementia. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presents some preliminary evidence that cognitive training, blood pressure management for people with hypertension, and increased physical activity, can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Additional research is needed to further understand and gain confidence in their effectiveness, said the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report.

Extra-virgin olive oil against Alzheimer’s. Researchers at Temple University have identified a specific ingredient that protects against cognitive decline: extra-virgin olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet. In a study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, the researchers show that extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain - classic markers of Alzheimer's disease.

Anti-Alzheimer’s compound in plant medicine. Using a new method to isolate and identify active compounds in plant medicines, Japanese scientists have identified several active compounds from Drynaria Rhizome, a traditional plant medicine, which improve memory and reduce the impact of Alzheimer's disease in laboratory mice. The research work, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, shows that a compound called naringenin could be the cause of the therapeutic effects of the plant medicine.

African plant extract could protect from Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at The University of Nottingham have found that a plant extract used for centuries in traditional medicine in Nigeria could form the basis of a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. In a study published in Pharmaceutical Biology, the scientists show that an extract from the leaves, stem and roots of Carpolobia lutea, could help to protect chemical messengers in the brain which play a vital role in functions including memory and learning.

Drug shows promising effects against common mutations of acute myeloid leukemia. Scientists at the the University of Pennsylvania and Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center have found that a new drug shows promise against common and deadly mutations of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In a study published in The Lancet Oncology, the researchers show that gilteritinib, which inhibits the tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) gene mutation, was well tolerated and showed encouraging therapeutic results in AML patients with the FLT3 mutation.

Synthetic organoid model for human colon tissue. Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have developed a colon organoid - a synthetic lab-grown model of human colon tissue - that allows diseases of the colon to be studied in unprecedented detail and indicates the possibility to engineer, one day, human gastrointestinal tract tissues for transplant into patients. The study, published in Cell Stem Cell, documents how the scientists used human pluripotent stem cells to generate synthetic human embryonic colons that function like natural human tissues when transplanted into laboratory mice.

Selectively erasing traumatic memories. Scientists at the Columbia University Medical Center have found encouraging indications that it may be possible, one day, to develop drugs to delete memories that trigger anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without affecting other important memories of past events. The research work, published in Current Biology, shows that different types of memories - associative or non-associative - stored in the same neuron of the marine snail Aplysia can be selectively erased.

DNA machines for molecular computers and nanotech sensors. Biomedical engineers at Emory University and Georgia Tech have built simple DNA machines consisting of arrays whose units switch reversibly between two different shapes. The scientists are persuaded that their DNA machines could be combined to form logic gates for molecular computers, and permit developing nanotech sensors or amplifiers. The study, published in Science, shows how the researchers built rectangles and tubes of array units smaller than a HIV or influenza virion, including a cuboid with three basic conformations. The scientists are now working on larger, more complex machines with three-dimensional shapes.

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