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Lab Notes

Experimental Drug Repairs Damage and Memory in Alzheimer's

In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California showed they were able to stop the destructive cascade of changes in the brain that lead to dementia using an experimental drug, NitroMemantine, which combines two FDA-approved medicines. Researchers said improvements were seen within hours.Sanford-Burnham Research Institute in La Jolla has made an Alzheimer's breakthrough.

The decade-long study shows that NitroMemantine can restore synapses, representing the connections between nerve cells that have been lost during the progression of Alzheimer's in the brain. The findings are described in a paper published June 17 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

In the study, researchers focussed on changes in brain chemistry caused by an increase in amyloid beta peptides associated with Alzheimer's.  They found that amyloid beta peptides prompted the release of dangerously high amounts of the neurotransmitter glutamate. The new drug protects synapses from elevated glutamate levels.

"NitroMemantine brings the number of synapses all the way back to normal within a few months of treatment in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. In fact, the new drug really starts to work within hours," said Dr. Stuart Lipton, director of the Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research at Sanford-Burnham.



Nail Color With All the Right Stuff, And No Carcinogens

On a recent airline flight, a woman sitting nearby decided that manicures would be a great mother-daughter activity. The cabin quickly smelled like a chemical factory, and much to our dismay the flight attendant didn't feel the need to ask them to cease and desist. Well, we surely wish they'd made our latest discovery: RGB Cosmetics nail color and polish remover with no carcinogens and no detectable chemical smell.RGB's nail colors are so cool, no one will know they're healthy.

Incredibly, there seem to be no tradeoffs with this healthy, toxin-less formula. The polish--which comes in decidedly un-natural, fashionista-friendly colors--is free of all carcinogens; it has no Formaldehyde, Toulene, DPD (dibutyl pthalate), Formaldehyde Resin or Camphor. Yay! Even more incredible, the pre-moistened, travel ready, 100% cotton "Nail Color Remove Pads" contain no acetone and no acetate -- the most volatile, smelly stuff.

As far as we can tell it's healthier, green and hip. We might just carry it on our next flight in the event that some other mother decides the pursuit of vanity is an appropriate pastime.


New Study Shows Moderate Exercise on the Day of a Flu Shot Enhances its Effectiveness

In a pilot study at Iowa State University, college students who took a moderately paced 90-minute jog or bike ride 15 minutes after receiving their flu shots exhibited nearly double the antibody response of a sedentary group that sat quietly for 90 minutes after their flu shot.  The exercising group also had higher blood levels of immune system cells that help the body fight off infection, study author Marian Kohut told the New York Times. Intriguingly a 45 minute run did not have the same immune boosting impact as a 90 minute run.90 minutes on an exercise bike can increase the effectiveness of a flu shot.

In a previous study, sedentary elderly people who embarked on a routine of exercise 10 months prior to getting the flu shot had improved immune responses to the vaccine. Earlier research showed that 20 minutes of bicep curls before the flu shot also enhanced its activity. 

Researchers have not yet teased out all of the biological mechanisms of the exercise effect, but the researcher's current best guess is that the exercise "probably sped blood circulation and pumped the vaccine away from the injectin site and to other parts of the body. "The exercise probably also goosed the body's overall immune system," Dr. Kohut told The Times, "which in turn helped exaggerate the vaccine's effect."

A nice long jog or ride after a flu shot will increase its effectiveness. Other studies have established that sleep deprivation can rob a vaccine of effectiveness in the short term, although the body apparently catches up.

To optimize a vaccine, take a long moderate jog or bike ride and get a good night's sleep.  


The Dangers of Using Stem Cells for Untested Cosmetic Procedures


When cosmetic surgeon Allan Wu first heard the woman's complaint, he wondered if she was imagining things or making it up. A resident of Los Angeles in her late sixties, she explained that she could not open her right eye without considerable pain and that every time she forced it open, she heard a strange click—a sharp sound, like a tiny castanet snapping shut. After examining her in person at The Morrow Institute in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Wu could see that something was wrong: Her eyelid drooped stubbornly, and the area around her eye was somewhat swollen. Six and a half hours of surgery later, he and his colleagues had dug out small chunks of bone from the woman's eyelid and tissue surrounding her eye, which was scratched but largely intact. The clicks she heard were the bone fragments grinding against one another.

About three months earlier the woman had opted for a relatively new kind of cosmetic procedure at a different clinic in Beverly Hills—a face-lift that made use of her own adult stem cells. First, cosmetic surgeons had removed some the woman's abdominal fat with liposuction and isolated the adult stem cells within—a family of cells that can make many copies of themselves in an immature state and can develop into several different kinds of mature tissue. In this case the doctors extractedmesenchymal stem cells—which can turn into bone, cartilage or fat, among other tissues—and injected those cells back into her face, especially around her eyes. The procedure cost her more than $20,000, Wu recollects. Such face-lifts supposedly rejuvenate the skin because stem cells turn into brand-new tissue and release chemicals that help heal aging cells and stimulate nearby cells to proliferate.

During the face-lift her clinicians had also injected some dermal filler, which plastic surgeons have safely used for more than 20 years to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The principal component of such fillers is calcium hydroxylapatite, a mineral with which cell biologists encourage mesenchymal stem cells to turn into bone—a fact that escaped the woman's clinicians. Wu thinks this unanticipated interaction explains her predicament. He successfully removed the pieces of bone from her eyelid in 2009 and says she is doing well today, but some living stem cells may linger in her face. These cells could turn into bone or other out-of-place tissues once again.

Read the rest of the story at


Probiotics Reduce Serious Infection Associated With Antibiotics

A systematic review published in the gold-standard Annals of Internal Medicine confirms what many smart physicians have said for years now, that probiotics (gut-friendly bacteria available in a wide range of nutritional supplements) can prevent Clostridium difficile--a severe, even life-threatening, gastrointestinal infection associated with antibiotic use. The authors--a group of doctors from research labs in Canada, Norway and the U.S.--conducted an in-depth review and analysis of 20 trials including 3,818 participants using probiotics to guard against severe, antibiotic-induced diarrhea.

When all was said and done, probiotics reduced the incidence of a nasty infection by an impressive 66%.

Considering that C.difficile (which can occur up to 8 weeks after antibiotic therapy) attacks more than 300,000 hospitalized patients in the U.S. each year (at a cost to treat of $3.2 billion), that's a lot of suffering that could be avoided by something as simple as taking a relatively inexpensive nutritional supplement.

The probiotics currently thought to work best for preventing these infections are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (widely available as Culturelleand the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (widely available as Florastor.) Research suggests the former works better for children whereas the latter seems to be more effective for adults. In the Annals review, optimal effects were found with both types at a dosage of 10 billion units or more of bacteria or yeast per day.