Each week Bwog’s resident Cell Scrutinizer, Zach Kagan, takes the top science news and breaks it down for the rest of us. This week, it’s less launching rockets and cloning dinosaurs and more of the heavy stuff.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are common urban pollutants responsible for myriad health issues. Children of mothers exposed to higher levels of PAHs tend to have lower IQs and are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. In addition, Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health has found that women exposed to these pollutants during pregnancy have twice the likelihood of having obese children. The study focused on 702 non-smoking pregnant women of African American or Dominican decent in Manhattan and the Bronx who wore small backpacks that sampled the air around them. This is the first study to suggest that environmental chemicals may have a role in the increasing rates of childhood obesity in America. There is hope, however: another team of Mailman School researchers found that the US could reach its childhood obesity goals by cutting out just 64 calories a day, on average. This is because the energy gap between calories consumed and calories used by the body often very slight, but overtime can lead to significant weight gain. This means that with subtle tweaks to children’s diets and activities (less juice, more outdoor playtime), parents can overcome the gap and have a healthier child.
Glioblastoma is a brain cancer that kills thousands of patients in the US. Due to their location, these tumors can not be effectively treated with chemotherapy. In a collaborative study, which included doctors from Columbia’s Medical Center, proteins were isolated from patients and used to prepare vaccines engineered specifically for the individual. Injection of the vaccine proved to be effective, prolonging life by several months. Cancer vaccines represent a new way of treating tumors and they work similarly to regular vaccines, by provoking an immune response that trains the body to fight disease. The main difficulty previously faced by the doctors was that prototype glioblastoma vacines didn’t produce an immune response, buts where molecular bundles from the patient’s own tumors come in. This time researchers had better results, and all it took was several repeated injections over the course of a year.
An aggressive form of childhood leukemia (T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia) has proven difficult to treat because it is resistant to existing combinations of chemotherapy. Columbia Medical School researchers lead by Thomas Diacovo discovered that two crucial enzymes, phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI3K) gamma and delta, are necessary for the proliferation of cancerous T-cells. They then tested a new inhibitor that blocks action of these enzymes and found that cancerous cell number dropped in the experimental mouse system. More importantly, the inhibitor also decreased survival of human lymphoblastic T-cells in lab grown tissue cultures, giving hope for a more effective treatment of childhood T-cell leukemia.
Most dentists and physicians believe that gum disease is linked to cardiovascular problems. The current justification is that bacteria harbored by the infected gums escape into blood vessels and may start formation of blood clots which can causes strokes or cardiac infarctions (heart attacks). A statement published by a council of doctors and dentists (including Columbia’s Panos N. Papapanou) indicates that there is no existing study that rigorously examines cause and effects of gum infections as a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. That means not brushing and flossing won’t kill you, although it’s still advisable for those who plan on interacting with society.
Minty Fresh via Wikimedia Commons