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Homemedical research
Jul 03

Scalps Transplants for Hair Loss

scalp transplants

Research is currently underway that would one day make scalp transplants plausible. The difficulty is not in attaching a scalp from one head to another head - surgeons can already do that. The concern is one of rejection. As with all organ transplants, transplant recipients must rely on toxic and expensive medications for life. While this makes sense for life-saving procedures, it does not make sense for cosmetic reasons.

In order to make scalp transplants a reality, a safer type of immunosuppressant drug needs to exist. This is what the scientists at The Cleveland Clinic, who are working with facial transplantation expert Maria Siemionow, are trying to develop. The research team has been able to develop a treatment for lab animals that reduces the length of time the medication needs be taken to only one week. The drug has not yet been tested on humans, but it appears to be only a matter of time.

While the purpose of the current research is to make full-scalp transplants possible for victims of severe burns and trauma, many hair restoration specialists are considering the cosmetic applications of such a procedure. While a scalp transplant may seem extreme, we should remember that many other medical procedures that we take for granted today, such as heart transplants and in-vitro fertilization, were also considered extreme at one time as well.

Jun 23

Pixie Dust Regenerates Body Parts

salamander therapy

The salamander-inspired therapy of regenerative medicine is quickly moving from science fiction to reality. As part of the ongoing research into regrowing body parts, Army Sgt. Shiloh Harris underwent a history-making procedure at Brook Army Medical Center that could help him regrow a finger that he lost during a bomb attack in Iraq last year.

The experimental procedure involves placing a special powder, nicknamed “pixie dust,” onto the wounded area. The pixie dust powder, which is made from pig tissue, does not regrow the tissue itself, but researchers believe that the special properties of the powder are able to convince the body’s cells to regrow the missing body parts.

The stem cells that grow into our whole body do not go away after birth. Although they stop developing, they stay in the body. The pixie dust works on a microscopic level to attract stem cells and get them to once again develop into the tissue that used to be there.

As unbelievable as it may seem, the pixie dust treatment has already been successful in regrowing a dog uterus and human bladder. In each case, the organ was grown in the laboratory and then implanted into the body. The dog went on to have puppies and the human benefitted from a bladder that worked as it should. Let’s hope that Sgt. Harris soon has a new finger.

Jan 28

Infrared Helmet for Alzheimer's

Alzheimers Infrared Helmet

Scientists are set to test an experimental helmet which they believe can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Looking like a prop from an old science fiction movie, this odd-looking helmet is designed to safely emit low levels of infra-red light into the brain and stimulate the growth of brain cells.

Although the therapy is a potentially revolutionary treatment, scientists practically stumbled upon the application. Infra-red light was being studied as a treatment for cold sores, when scientists discovered that the light stimulated cell growth. Scientists at the University of Sunderland tested the infra-red light theory on mice and reported promising results - it improved learning ability and reversed memory loss.

The study of the effects of infra-red light therapy on people will begin this summer. Participants in the study, about 100 people with age-related memory problems, will wear the helmet for about 10 minutes a day. Scientists are hoping to see the same beneficial results in humans as they saw in mice.

If the results show that infra-red light therapy is able to reverse the memory loss and anxiety associated with dementia, it could change the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Jan 21

Human-Animal Babies

Human Animal Embryo

British regulators at the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority have approved two proposals that would allow scientists to create human-animal embryos for stem cell research. Scientists are pursuing embryonic stem cell research in order to find effective treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

These mixed cell embryos, also known as chimeras, would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal. The embryos are being created in order to harvest them for stem cells. While many scientists cite the importance of stem cell research, many others are concerned about the ethics of mixing human cells and animal cells.

The human-animal embryos created in this research would not be allowed to develop for more than two weeks. In an odd twist, however, Bishops in the Catholic Church, who believe life begins at conception, have come out and said that women who have donated eggs should be allowed to have their babies placed in-vitro rather than killed, even though they oppose creating life solely for research.

Within the scientific community, this type of research is becoming more common. Just last year, scientists at the University of Nevada created a sheep with 85% animal cells and 15% human cells, in the pursuit of creating organs for human use. At Stanford University, researchers have created mice with brains that are 1% human, in order to study brain diseases. In 2003, Chinese scientists successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. Most people already accept the use of heart valves from cows and pigs for human use, which makes the recipient a human-animal chimera. For years, scientists have added human genes to bacteria and farm animals.

While the biological creation of chimeras is no longer just another science fiction story, the United States does not yet have federal laws in place that address these issues. You can expect there to be quite a debate about how to establish a reasonable balance between research and ethics in science.

Jan 08

Sleep Replacing Nasal Spray

Sleep Replacement Spray

Scientists at DARPA, the high-tech research department of the Pentagon, may have found a cure for sleepiness. The promising nasal spray treatment works by replacing orexin A in the body, a naturally occurring brain hormone that is known to play a role in sleepiness.

The study has shown very promising results based on the testing of the drug on sleep deprived monkeys. Not only did the monkeys regain their cognitive abilities, but their brain looked wide awake in PET scans. It seems to reverse the effects of sleepiness, without any apparent negative side effects or other impacts on the brain.

This "sleep replacement" drug is not meant to replace sleep, but is meant to combat sleepiness without the side effects or addictive qualities of other stimulants currently being used, such as amphetamines and caffeine. Hopefully the drug can help in the treatment of narcolepsy, help military pilots stay awake on long flights, truckers on long hauls, and doctors working long shifts.

Although the drug has been successfully tested on monkeys, it will be quite a while before it’s offered to the public. It still needs to be tested on humans and approved by the FDA, a process which takes about 10 years to complete.

Dec 01

Graveyard Cancer Risk

Graveyard Cancer Risk

How could working at night possibly cause cancer? It doesn't seem a likely risk factor, but next month the International Agency for Research on Cancer will classify shift work as a "probable" cause of cancer. While there are plenty of skeptics, it is interesting to note that at one time it was considered heretic to suggest that smoking and lung cancer were linked.

Scientists suspect that working at night is damaging because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, which is the body's biological clock. The production of the hormone melatonin, a tumor suppressor, is normally produced at night.

The theory is based on research that shows higher rates of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men who worked during the night. The findings, however, don't yet prove that working overnight can cause cancer as there may be other common factors among night workers accounting for the increased risk.

If the direct link between working at night and cancer development is proven correct, it will affect approximately 20% of the working population worldwide.

Nov 25

Worms Discover a Fountain of Youth

Worms Antidepressant

Not quite the place we thought we would find the fountain of youth, but a worm study might help us find a way of living longer.

US researchers experimented with 88,000 different drug compounds searching for ones that extended the life of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. They found that the antidepressant drug mianserin extended the life span of the worms by about 30 percent. While it's a big step from a worm to a person, the biology of this roundworm is very similar to humans and other animals.

The research seems to show that the antidepressant extends life by tricking the brain into thinking the body is starving. The drawback to the life extending benefits of the drug is the side effects of weight gain and increased appetite. The findings are interesting to compare to previous studies which have shown that reducing food intake in certain animals by 30% can cause them to live longer.

The researchers now want to find out if the same mechanism can help people live longer as well without the misery of going hungry.

Oct 25

Addictive Drug Offers Parkinson's Relief

Nicotine Parkinsons

We've all heard about the dangers of tobacco, but recent research shows that nicotine, the main active ingredient of tobacco, may be just the treatment needed to help Parkinson's patients.

Studies completed by the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center show that intermittent nicotine treatment can reduce dyskinesias (uncontrolled movements) by up to 50 percent. Dyskinesias is a complication that arises with long-term use of Levodopa, the most common drug used to treat Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects muscle movements, walking, speech, and posture. It is caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, the chemical messenger that controls muscle movement.

The focus on nicotine was prompted by research that showed smokers were 50% less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than nonsmokers as well as by studies indicating that nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the part of the brain affected by Parkinson's. No one is advocating smoking, but the information on nicotine can be used by researchers to develop an effective treatment that can help Parkinson's patients.

Sep 11

Politics On The Brain

Liberal Conservative

We don't need neurobiologists to tell us that liberals and conservatives think differently, but it is interesting that they have discovered the reason why. According to a new report, scientists have been able to show that political orientation is related to differences in brain activity and in how a person's brain processes information.

The study demonstrated that there are indeed two very distinctive cognitive styles, liberal and conservative, which influence political orientation as well as everyday decisions. Because of how their brains work, liberals are more apt to accept new religious, social, and scientific ideas, and can tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives. Conservatives are better able to block out distracting information and commit to a single-minded purpose.

The study, conducted by scientists at NY University and UCLA, was not meant to show that one political party was better than another. The findings, however, can help explain why liberals and conservatives just can't seem to see eye to eye.

Sep 04

Tailless Dolphin Goes Bionic

Dolphin Prosthetic

As a prosthetic specialist, Kevin Carroll handles some of the toughest human amputation cases. One of his latest patients was a whole new challenge - she needed a new tail. His patient was Winter, a dolphin that lost her tail when she was 3 months old.

Although the scientist took on the case to apply his expertise from working with human amputees to help a dolphin, he also inadvertently found a way to help human amputees. For Winter the dolphin, he developed a gel sleeve that would allow the tail prosthesis to grip without irritating her sensitive skin, using suction to grip much like a rubber glove grips a human hand.

Applying what he learned from Winter to a human case, he was able to find a way to soothe the pain of walking with prosthetic legs for Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, who was injured during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004 and lost both legs and a right hand. When trying to walk with prosthetic legs, he had experienced great pain from the bony-growths in the socket that felt like daggers. That pain was eased by using a gel sleeve similar to Winter's.

Brian is just one amputee of many that will be helped by Winter.

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