The body contains many different highly specialized cells that all have their own function in the various organs we have. Constant renewal is necessary to keep tissues healthy: so-called progenitor cells help replenish tissues and organs by replicating themselves and forming new highly specialized cells, depending on the context they find themselves in. For example, we have progenitor cells that help form fat cells. Despite the fact that most people do not require additional formation of fat, scientists have discovered that such progenitor cells can also help restoring damaged muscles.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Monday, April 15, 2013
For most of us, beer is a convivial drink, but for some, it can be addicting. Alcoholism is an affliction in which a person has become physically dependent on an alcohol-containing drink, of which beer is an example. To understand alcoholism, one has to study the brain and its chemistry. For those that have become addicted to beer, the release of a brain chemical known as dopamine plays a large role in creating a physical dependency. Scientists from the Indiana University have studied what happens to the brain if people drink alcohol, and found that the act of drinking by itself is enough to trigger the release of dopamine.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Our immune system is tasked with guarding our body against foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. Less commonly known is that immune cells also keep a close eye on the way our body functions. Cells that go haywire are swiftly removed from the tissues and are consequently replaced by healthy cells. However, the immune system does not always recognize those cells that need to be cleared, and in such cases a tumour may arise: cancer cells have found a way to escape detection and can therefore proliferate and endanger our health. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to modify immune cells in such a way that they recognize and destroy tumours.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
A large proportion of the matter in our universe cannot be detected by conventional means. It is called dark matter because it does not reflect any light, but we can detect its presence due to gravitational influence. Dark matter is actually much more prevalent than conventional matter, and over the years several theories have been proposed about what it actually is. We already saw that astronomers are closing in on the identity of dark matter, but it has not officially been detected yet. Measurements on board of the International Space Station have revealed traces of something that could help us find dark matter.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Stem cell therapies are as controversial as they are experimental. So far, it has been proven difficult to develop treatments that are beneficial for a patients' health, although improvements have been made with the use of stem cells to repair blood vessels, liver tissue and visual impairment, for example. It will take a while before such therapies become a commodity. In Italy, a new stem cell treatment has been given the green light, and is aimed at treating terminally ill children. The sole reason for the approval is the high unmet clinical need, as this novel treatment has no proven track record.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A lot of behavioural patterns are hard to discern by simply looking at the biological level, which is why we have invented a field of science called psychology. Linking biology and psychology has proven to be hard because our knowledge of the brain is still lacking. Often exaggerated claims are made regarding the way biological parameters affect things such as behaviour, but then again, it is a discipline that has not yet received the scientific attention it deserves. A novel study by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center raises an eyebrow as it claims to have found a relationship between hormonal components in saliva and the frequency of aggressive behaviour in boys. Could aggressive behaviour be something we can detect and 'treat' before it actually occurs?
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Ever so often viruses manage to successfully infect human beings and spread throughout the population. In the past, viral outbreaks could lead to high death tolls, the influenza outbreak of 1918 being a famous example with 500 million infections and between 50 and 100 million deaths. Nowadays, viral outbreaks are less pronounced, but we have to remain cautious, as the 'swine flu' and 'bird flu' have taught us. In order to cope with future viral outbreaks, scientists have developed a model that can predict outbreaks before they occur. The method will mainly be used for viral spread in Africa.