10 December 2018
MONDAY, Dec. 10, 2018 (HealthDay News) — In a feat that might help pave the way to restoring hair on patients with skin wounds from burns, injuries or surgery, scientists report regrowing hair on damaged skin in mice. In their experiments with the rodents, the researchers found that activating what’s called the sonic hedgehog cell signaling pathway triggered communication between cells called fibroblasts. These cells secrete collagen, a protein that plays a major role in maintaining the shape and strength of skin and hair. The sonic hedgehog pathway is very active during the early stages of growth in the womb, when hair follicles are formed, but is not active in wounded skin in adults. This may be why hair follicles don’t grow in damaged skin, the researchers said. “Our results show that stimulating fibroblasts through the sonic hedgehog pathway can trigger hair growth not previously seen in wound healing,” said study senior investigator Mayumi Ito. She’s an associate professor in the department of dermatology at NYU Langone Health in New York City. However, animal research frequently doesn’t pan out in humans. It had been believed that as part of the healing process, scarring and collagen buildup in damaged skin prevented hair regrowth. “Now we know that it’s a signaling issue in cells that are very active as we develop in the womb, but less so in mature skin cells as we age,” Ito said in an NYU news release. The team said it will continue its research in an effort to identify possible drug targets for hair regrowth. The study was published recently in the journal Nature Communications. More information The American Academy of Dermatology offers advice on wound care.
12 September 2018
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 12, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Instead of visiting the doctor each fall, sitting in a waiting room filled with the sniffling, sneezing masses — what if you could just slap on a flu vaccine “patch” sent in the mail? That’s the vision of researchers who’ve developed and conducted early tests on an injection-free vaccine that looks like a Band-Aid you place on your arm. Their initial hope is to create such a vaccine that would allow for a rapid public health response in case of a pandemic flu. “If there’s a pandemic flu, the last thing you want is for people to be coughing on each other while they’re waiting for a flu shot,” said the study’s lead author, Darrick Carter. “The new vaccine uses a combination of three technologies, and was designed quite specifically to be used by the person receiving the vaccine. It could be sent through the mail, and you could put it on and protect yourself,” said Carter. He’s vice president of the Infectious Diseases Research Institute in Seattle. Microneedles on the patch deliver the vaccine. “Mostly, when we get injured, we scrape ourselves or get a superficial wound, and much of the immune system lays on the surface of the skin to respond,” Carter said, explaining why it isn’t necessary to have an intramuscular injection. Another component of the vaccine is a new type of antigen — the substance that causes the immune system to produce protective antibodies. Carter said another company provided this component. It uses reprogrammed plant cells to produce virus-like particles. The final component is an adjuvant — a substance to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine. The researchers tested a liquid form of the vaccine and the adjuvant on ferrets. A single vaccine fully protected the animals, they said. They also gave the liquid form of the adjuvant and vaccine to 100 humans to test the vaccine’s safety. There were no significant side effects. In addition, those given the vaccine showed a stronger immune response. However, this study wasn’t designed to test how effective the vaccine was in humans. “This is a clinical proof of concept study,” Carter said. The researchers hope to get additional funding to move forward with the next phase of human trials. If all goes well, Carter said it might be possible to have this vaccine approved in five years or so. Dr. David Davenport, director of infection prevention at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Mich., said this could be a “game-changer.” He was not involved with the study. “Egg-based vaccines are incredibly antiquated and we have to move away from that,” Davenport said. “The egg-based vaccine takes way too long [to manufacture], sometimes six months or longer. If we had a major epidemic, we need the ability to rapidly scale up, and a plant-based vaccine could take three months or less.” Plus, Davenport said, sending a vaccine through the mail for people to self-administer “could get high numbers of people vaccinated.” Currently, fewer than half of Americans get an annual flu shot, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Results of the ferret and early human trials were published Sept. 12 in the journal Science Advances. More information The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more advice on preventing the flu.
30 May 2018
WEDNESDAY, May 30, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Exposure to triclosan — a chemical in some shampoos and toothpastes — might raise the risk for colon inflammation and colon cancer, at least in mice, researchers say. New study results “suggest that triclosan could have adverse effects on gut health,” said study leader Guodong Zhang, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Triclosan is a common antibacterial agent. It’s often used in hygiene and cosmetic products. Triclosan is also found in some clothing and kitchenware, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA no longer allows triclosan in hand soaps, but it’s still present in other household products, such as dish soap. Working with laboratory mice, Zhang and his colleagues concluded that triclosan could alter gut microbiota, or the types of bacteria living in the intestines. These changes could lead to inflammation, more severe colitis symptoms and colitis-associated colon cancer cell growth in mice, the study authors said in a university news release. Colitis refers to colon inflammation. The team warned that triclosan should be monitored more closely. Study co-first author, Haixia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at UMass Amherst, said, “Because this compound is so widely used, our study suggests that there is an urgent need to further evaluate the impact of triclosan exposure on gut health.” It’s important to note, however, that the results of animal studies aren’t always applicable to humans. In several mouse models, the researchers found that triclosan triggered inflammation and tumor formation in the colon. Triclosan also increased development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the mice, suggesting that IBD patients may need to reduce exposure to this compound, the researchers said. Triclosan had no effect, however, in models involving germ-free mice or mice that were genetically engineered to lack a specific receptor that is critical for gut bacteria communications, the investigators found. According to Zhang, “This is strong evidence that gut microbiota is required for the biological effects of triclosan.” Just how common is triclosan? It’s in more than 2,000 consumer products. And the chemical was detected in roughly 75 percent of urine samples tested in a U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the study authors noted. It’s also one of the leading pollutants in rivers in the United States. The study was published May 30 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. More information The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on triclosan.
19 April 2018
THURSDAY, April 19, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Tattoos serve many purposes, perhaps expressing artistry, loyalty or love. Now, scientists working with mice say they’ve engineered a medical “tattoo” that can screen for early signs of major disease. The biomedical tattoo is made up of cells embedded with sensors that measure levels of blood calcium. It’s initially invisible when implanted under the skin. But the sensors become apparent if blood calcium levels rise. This indicates a condition called hypercalcemia, which is a marker for several cancers and other major diseases. “Forty percent of all cancers — including colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer — disrupt calcium balance (homeostasis),” said study lead author Martin Fussenegger. “The biomedical tattoo is designed to catch mild hypercalcemia,” which produces no symptoms, he said. Appearance of the tattoo may signal that some of those cancers may start to develop, said Fussenegger, of ETH Zurich’s department of biosystems science and engineering in Basel, Switzerland. When elevated blood calcium persists, the implant releases melanin, producing a telltale dark patch on the skin, he said. (Melanin is a dark pigment responsible for tanning.) But whether this is just a fun gimmick or a reliable diagnostic tool remains to be seen. Dr. Janice Dutcher is a medical oncologist with the Cancer Research Foundation in New York City. She described the innovation as a “neat gimmick.” “I guess in the context of looking for new and inventive ways to screen for disease, it’s a reasonable idea,” she said. “It’s always nice to try and conceive of a new, simple and accurate way to screen for disease.” But Dutcher cautioned that screening for high calcium levels is not always an effective way to detect cancer early. Some cancers — kidney cancer, for example — only prompt high calcium after the disease has progressed, she said. Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical advisor for the American Lung Association, seconded that point. In his experience, “the bulk” of tumor-related hypercalcemia occurs at a late stage, when cancer has spread. “It is also a late finding in kidney failure,” he added. “So this is really fun science. But I would not spend a lot to license the patent,” Edelman said. To test their design, the researchers implanted the engineered cells under the skin of mice with either cancerous tumors that cause hypercalcemia or tumors that do not alter calcium blood levels. The tattoos only surfaced on the skin of mice with elevated blood calcium levels, according to the report. In theory, said Fussenegger, a tattoo diagnosis would happen at such an early stage of disease “that over 95 percent of the above-mentioned cancer types will be cured.” He and his colleagues were “impressed by the precision and sensitivity of the tattoo,” he said. A skin patch arose only when high calcium levels persisted, he explained, adding this would reduce the likelihood of false diagnoses. Still, “animal experiments do not always translate to people,” Fussenegger acknowledged. Human trials are set to begin within five years, he said. The goal is a human tattoo “universal system” that could detect multiple health issues at once. If all goes according to plan, Fussenegger predicted it could be available within 10 to 15 years. Besides cancer, Fussenegger said the approach could be linked to other slow-developing diseases. These might include neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, he said. The findings were published April 18 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. More information There’s more on screening for cancer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.