Category Archives: research

Women Eat Less When On a Date

Perhaps the best dieting tool for ladies is to eat out with single men. A study by Canada’s McMaster University shows women eat less calories when dining with men than alone or with other women.
Scientists have confirmed what men have known all along, women order a salad instead of a steak when they are on a date. The study was recently published in the international journal Appetite. When women are dining out with men, either alone or in a mixed-gender group they order smaller caloric meals than when they are dining with other women. The less men in the dining picture the more hearty a meal will be ordered by a lady. When dining with men in a group the average woman’s meal was 450 calories compared to the 700 to 750 calories when dining with other women. reports:

“It seems to fit with our intuition. We always hear advice about going on a first date and only eating salad,” said Young, a PhD candidate with the university’s department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour. “Our hypothesis was that we use food to signal attractiveness: ‘We’re healthy. We’re in good shape. we’re pretty.”

Researchers observed 469 people dining alone, couples and larger groups over four weekdays during one week at three different large cafeterias in Hamilton, Ontario. The observers did scan sampling, observing the room and gathering the data that happens at that moment. The researchers recorded the food items in front of each person other than beverage choice. The teams then converted the caloric information of each meal using data from the dining management of each cafeteria. The researchers at McMaster University believe that this act is a subconscious way to attract a mate. Newslite reports:

“It is possible that small food portions signal attractiveness, and women conform, whether consciously or unconsciously, to small meals in order to be seen as more attractive,” says researcher Meredith Young.

British kids use pets to fool researchers doing exercise study

Children in east London taking part in an exercise study by Mile End Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine decided to let their pets do their walking. The clever children attached their pedometers to their dogs collars.
Researchers were surprised at the activity levels for some of the obese children that were in the study. After a week the scientists discovered why the 11 to 12-year-olds were still obese even with extremely active pedometer readings, the kids had let their dogs do their walking.
The study of about 200 east London children was compromised with the tricky kids. Still researchers were able to gather enough information to show that the kids were walking far less than what is recommended by doctors. Boys should be taking 15,000 steps a day. Most of the boys in the Whitechapel study only ran or walked 12,620 steps in a day.
The girls in the study also walked less than the recommended 12,000 steps with an average of 10,150 steps.
The borough of Tower Hamlets where the children reside have an 11 percent higher than national average of being overweight or obese.
Researchers are planning on expanding the study in the area, minus the dogs this time around.

Canadian HIV vaccine ready for human testing

A vaccine for HIV/AIDS developed in Canada is at the human testing stage after passing safety tests in animals. Researchers are now waiting for the United States to approve the human trials.
CBC reports:

“It is a very important milestone for us,” said Yong Kang, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Ontario in London who has been working on the vaccine for 20 years.

According to Yong Kang this vaccine has the potential of saving millions of lives. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and more than 40 million people are living with the virus since it was first discovered in 1981.

Canadians for Health Research reports:

“We created a genetically modified HIV and recombinant human adenoviruses to develop a vaccine which can prevent HIV infection and clear HIV-infected cells. It can produce antibodies against HIV and educate one type of white blood cells to find infected cells and kill them,” explains Kang. “We hope the vaccine will not only prevent HIV infection, but that it can be used as an immuno-therapeutic agent.”

It is expected that the FDA will allow for the testing to begin shortly. The United States trials will include toxicology tests and two phases of clinical trials.

The vaccine is being manufactured in a Maryland lab while the FDA approval is being waited on.

Within a decade the vaccine could be available to the public if the human trials are successful. Kang believes that the vaccine could be on the market in as little as three years for therapeutic use and then as a preventive vaccine within six years.

There have been several vaccines that have been developed and undergone animal testing. Few of those vaccines make it to the human test trials and of those there have yet to be a successful human vaccine produced.

A potential vaccine by Merck and Co. in 2007 had to be shut down after those in the trial contracted HIV at a higher rate than those who received the placebo.

The toxicology tests are planned for 40 to 50 HIV-positive volunteers in the United States. The test is designed to see if the vaccine is toxic in humans.

Kang has been the Dean of Science at The University of Western Ontario since 1992.

Winnipeg researcher charged with smuggling Ebola material into US

A Canadian scientist has been arrested on charges of trying to smuggle 22 vials of genetic material from the Ebola virus into the United States. The vials were stolen from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Konan Michel Yao,42, was on route to his new job with the National Institutes of Health at the Biodefense Research Laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland, when the border patrol stopped him. It is alleged that he was carrying the vials wrapped in aluminum foil, stuffed inside a glove and then packaged in a plastic bag inside his car’s trunk when he was taken into custody.

Yao reportedly admitted he stole the vials on Jan. 24, his last day of work at the Winnipeg-based lab. Testing of the vials showed that they were not hazardous.

At no time were the citizens of Canada at risk from the stolen vials Dr. Frank Plummer, the scientific director general of the lab, said. The vials contained “basic biological materials including the Ebola gene for vaccine development,” reports indicate.

The Winnipeg lab deals with infectious diseases and was in the news after Swine Flu samples from the Mexican outbreak were sent there for the first identifications.

According to authorities, Yao was never in contact with Level 3 and Level 4 pathogens. He had access to a Level 2 lab which carries samples that are often available at hospitals and universities.

Yao worked at the lab in a fellowship position. He was taking the vials, according to reports, in order to have a head start at his new position at the Bethesda lab. He reportedly said he didn’t want to start over with his research.

Officials did not notice the samples were missing for several months because regular inventories of non-infectious materials are not routine.

The National Terror Alert reports:

“This turned out not to be a terrorism-related case,” he said by telephone from North Dakota. “It appears to be exactly as he Yao said. However, he still faces possible charges for smuggling the vials into the United States.”

Yao remains in U.S. custody. He has waived his right to bail and preliminary hearings. He could face a possible grand jury indictment for smuggling.

A Public Health Agency of Canada spokeswoman is quoted by National Terror Alert:

“was working on vaccines for the Ebola virus and HIV, among other things. But he only had access to harmless and non-infectious materials, similar to what you’d find in a hospital or university lab. He did not have access to dangerous materials.”

The Globe and Mail reports that Yao would have likely been given access to the vials had he requested it prior to taking them:

“One of the ironies here is that if this individual had, through appropriate channels, made a request for these materials, it’s quite likely he would have got access to them,” Dr. Plummer said.

Yao was born in the Ivory Coast. He studied at Laval University in Quebec.

Playing The Swine Flu Prediction Game

British researchers have stated that by the time the swine flu has moved into the new year a third of the world will have been infected. It’s a reasonable prediction. The truth is predicting is all that science can do at this stage in the swine flu game.
The last flu pandemic that left millions dead was in 1957. The swine flu could spread as widely as that strain of flu but because of medical advancements the death toll should be much lower according to researchers at London’s Imperial College.

Sky News

Prof. Ferguson said: “What we’re seeing is not the same as seasonal flu and there is still cause for concern – we would expect this pandemic to at least double the burden on our healthcare systems.”

“However, this initial modelling suggests that the H1N1 virus is not as easily transmitted or as lethal as that found in the flu pandemic in 1918.”

Studies are now showing that the swine flu is fatal in around four of every 1,000 cases.

When a person becomes infected with the virus on average they pass it on to between 1.2 and 1.6 others.

This suggests that the new strain of flu is more easily spread than seasonal flu but less infectious than other strains that lead to previous flu pandemics.

The one thing that is known for sure about this pandemic is that we don’t know for sure how the game will play out. That is a becoming the overall theme when it comes to the swine flu. We just don’t know what to expect.

“I think the right answer is we don’t have all the information yet, and anyone who is predicting what we’ll see from this day forward is hoping to get lucky,” said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks of Potomac.

Walks is part of a six-member Swine Flu Medical Advisory Board, holding conference calls with O’Malley (D) at least once a day to discuss new developments in the illness, also known as the H1N1 virus.

That’s what has been tossed about with the CDC and WHO. There is no denying that the swine flu will touch most people’s lives in the Northern Hemisphere by the end of the fall but hopefully because of medical advancements it will not be as deadly as other pandemics.

The reason that the strain will be considered milder is that we have advancements in the medical sector and much better pandemic planning than in the past. Global communications allow for rapid staging before the illness is in the lead.

Of course it’s all a roll of the dice in the end. The models, patterns and predictions may be right on the mark or they may be out to lunch.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Disease outbreaks are fundamentally unpredictable in detail,” argues public-health academic Philip Alcabes, author of “Dread.” Instead of looking to physicians to predict epidemics, “we should leave the job of seeing the future to the mystics, prophets and fortunetellers.”

This is a time period for the scientists, researchers and doctors to deal with what will come hoping that they are prepared enough to deal with it. Having reasonable markers as predictions help the science community prepare for the worse scenarios. If the worse case does not pan out it could well be that it was because of the preparation time given to the science community.

KYW Newsradio 1060 Philadelphia reports:

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Pennsylvania’s acting physician general, said last week that a lot of what’s been learned about swine flu, so far, has been somewhat reassuring, however:

“I always look to the great philosopher Yogi Berra, who once said that predictions are always difficult, especially about the future. And one of the things that we’ve always learned about influenza is that it’s very unpredictable.”

Because of the disease being relatively mild much of Europe has played down the concern. Experts have been warning though not to let down guard until the flu season hits in the fall. That will be the true marker of the swine flu as it battles it out with seasonal flu.

Stem Cells And What They Mean To You

On May 9, Cafe Scientifique hosted a discussion titled “Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine and Personalized Medicine: Where are we now and where can we get to?” at York University in Toronto.

The event was part of the city’s Science Rendezvous. Stem cells are in the news a lot these days, from the ethics of their use to the rapid advancements that they have brought to medicine and drugs.

The CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research) hosts several Cafe Scientifique’s around the nation each month. The Cafe’s are a way for the public to get a better understanding of different health issues by discussing topics with the real experts.

The latest for Toronto, “Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine and Personalized Medicine: Where are we now and where can we get to?” had a smaller than average turnout due to the rain that kept many inside today.

Three experts discussed their work with stem cells in a clinical setting and in a broader setting, the ethics of use and what they can help or not help with.

Dr. Andras Nagy is part of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto. He started off the lecture with a background on stem cells.

In 1960 Dr. Gordon Keller discovered the human embryonic stem cell while working in Toronto. Dr. Keller was working on cancer research at the time and had no idea where that discovery would lead. Canada has been on the front lines from that beginning and remains so in the field of stem cell research.

In 1981 pre-floating embryonic stem cells in the uterus were discovered in mice. Research from that discovery showed that from one embryo every type of stem cell in the body could be grown in a petri dish.

What have we learned from the humble beginnings? That the human body is made up of 30,000 genes. That apart from bacterias and viruses almost all diseases that face humans are a mutation of one or more of those genes.We also have had to deal with the ethics questions as researchers have found that from just a few embryonic stem cells new life can be created. In 1993 Dr. Nagy knew that mice could be made from stem cells from a mere 10 cells.. Sheep have followed. the news has gone wild this spring when a researcher attempted again to clone a human baby.

Ethics has been a big part of stem cell research, mostly because of where human embryonic stem cells come from, fetuses. Today though most of the human embryonic stem cells that researchers work with come from IVF labs where the ‘parents’ have donated their cells. In Canada and many other countries only a small number of human embryonic stem cells are allowed to be used with each IVF procedure but the ‘harvesting’ process makes between 10 to 15 embryos. Parents can use the additional embryos in future IVF treatments, donate them to other infertile couples, have them destroyed or donate them to science. Nagy believes that by donating these cells to science the couples are rescuing human embryos in a real sense.

There are some drawbacks to stem cells being used in medicine. One is, like organ donation stem cells have to be compatible to the person that they are helping. If they are not then the body will reject them causing even greater problems.

One powerful breakthrough for researchers came in 2006 when it was discovered that it was possible to generate stem cells from skin cells. Using the HIV virus researchers were able to find the genes that had to be removed that left a clean cell. By removing four genes from the skin turned stem cells researchers are able to work with a fresh cell that can be turned into any type of cell.

Researchers have been able to stop type 2 diabetic sufferers from having to use insulin by transplanting pancreatic cells into diabetics. There is a limitation though. Within two years the body goes back to the diabetic state and the mean for insulin comes back. That has told researchers that we are still not at the stage that we can repair genes completely. But in the future that could happen.

When asked about the ‘evils’ about science Nagy compared those in science for the wrong reason with a kitchen knife.

“It’s a big dilemma. Take a kitchen knife. It is useful in the kitchen but can also be used as a deadly weapon. We don’t blame the knife.Stem cell research is the same. The benefit is worth more than the harm.”Dr. Ron Pearlman, Professor of Dept. of Biology, York University was the next to speak. His field focus with stem cells is very personal; the structure, organization and expression of genetic information as it deals with personalized medicine. He and his colleagues are working on ways to analyze a person’s DNA and then sequence it rapidly to identify health risks.

This field has come leaps and bounds within a fairly short time. At the beginning of this decade it cost a person $100 million to know their personal DNA genome. Today that cost is a mere $1,000.

A large spectrum of diseases stem from one single base change in a cell. By learning more about these changes researchers are now able to pinpoint risk factors when studying a person’s DNA. Associate studies of stem cells and DNA have added to a database that helps in the process of going from looking at the population as a whole to each individual person.

At this time many companies like 23 & Me and KnowMe are jumping on the DNA database wagon. Even IBM and National Geographic are teamed up. That team can give people a little information about their ancestors just by looking at a sample of their DNA.

In a more medical sense what these databases in the pharmaceutical genome tell us is that medicine is not a one size fits all. Years ago doctors thought that adult medicine just needed dosage changes when giving it to a child. That science research has uncovered does not work. Children, women and men all have different risk factors that affect medicine. That’s important. Every year 12 to 15 per cent of hospital admissions are a result of adverse drug reactions.

One example of these drug reactions took place in Toronto. An infant died from morphine overdose at Sick Kids Hospital. How could that happen? Why on earth would doctors give an infant to much morphine. The answer is simple, they didn’t. What they did do though was give the right dosage to an infant that was nursing. That infant’s mother was also taking a medicine with codeine in it. In breast milk codeine breaks down and becomes, you guessed it, morphine.

‘Many in the science community fear that they are being held back. We’re in danger of losing the pipeline of information and of innovative ideas. We have to build the building up from the ground instead of from the roof.We, in the science community need for the government to step up and push for more funding.”

As we move into more personalized medicine there are questions about ethics and privacy that will have to be addressed. Will insurance companies be allowed to use the information of risk factors that DNA reveal to deny coverage?

“Science is way ahead of ethics. Ethics has to catch up to science instead of the other way around. We can not hold back research. It’s too important for the society.”

Stem cell research makes medicine safer for the population. We are past the time for using mice on medicine trials. Mice prolong the trials. Things do take time but let’s do what we can to speed up the process.David Brener, PhD. from Pfizer Canada Inc. was the final guest to speak Saturday.

Dr. Brener started off with a question, “What doesn’t personalized medicine do? We can’t cure everyone. We can though start picking patients who will respond the best to medicines.”

By using genetics Pfizer is able to help reduce adverse effects of medications. Genetics allows the company to enhance safety while researching conditions and diseases that medication is used for. It is enabling us to make ‘designer drugs’ at a more rapid pace. In the end stem cells and genetics reduces the time that it takes to develop new drugs at much less the cost than in the past.

In Toronto and Canada we have a wealth of research ongoing. Research is unlocking the academic teaching hospitals making us a leading center of the world for stem cell research.

“Nothing in life is 100% sure. The net benefit vs. net losses shows the miracle of the pharmaceutical industry, by in large we are the breeding ground of the future.”

The health of humans is changing. We are reaching a point where we may be able to reduce the onset of diseases as we learn more about stem cells and the genetics of conditions. This is of great value not only to the individual but to the economy and society as a whole.

We, as researchers will make mistakes and pick bad markers. We won’t always be on point like we have been with Huntington’s Disease, which we now can say 100% if a person has the markers unless they are hit by a car or die in some other manner will come down with the disease. While there are the times researchers think they have gotten something down and then find that they were wrong, it’s those mistakes that are learning processes. The best researchers learn from their mistakes.

When I asked the doctors on the panel about the swine flu vaccine they were hopeful. Asked if Canada will be the one to come up with the final product I was told that it’s possible but what was most important is that it is found, not who finds it. As for Canada, we have the infrastructure in place to be in the lead.

As for where stem cell research is going there is no telling. We can’t predict the future but there is a future. There’s no telling when or where the next big breakthrough will be but we do know it will be exciting. That’s how research is, just a step away from the next big step and it’s always an amazing adventure.

Study Suggests Lithium Added To Water Supply Will Lower Suicide

A Japanese study suggests that putting the drug lithium into water supplies could reduce suicide. The researchers have called on other countries to study the effects.

The study looked at the lithium levels in drinking water in Oita. The city have a population of more than one million people. In areas where the lithium was highest there was a positive marked difference in suicide deaths. High doses of lithium is used in the treatment of mood disorders.

The team of researchers from universities in Oita and Hiroshima found that even low levels of water with lithium had lower rates of suicide.

Researchers believe that the lower rates may have a cumulative protective effect on the brain after drinking the water for years.

There have been past research on the same subject in the 1980’s. Those results showed the same lower levels of suicide.

Researchers in Japan have asked other countries to research the issue. They have stopped short of suggesting that lithium be added to drinking water elsewhere.

BBC quotes Professor Allan Young of Vancouver’s Institute for Mental Health:

“Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable.”

Sophie Corlett, external relations director at mental health charity Mind, agrees that the study deserves more investigation but cautions that adding even trace amounts of the drug needs to be researched throughly because of side effects.

Sick Kids Hospital researchers turning stem cells green

Turning stem cells green is helping researchers be able to identify human stem cells. Scientists recently have been able to turn skin cells into stem cells but these stem cells are not easy to see.
A research team at The Hospital for Sick Kids is helping other researchers be able to pinpoint skin turn stem cells by making them fluorescent green. The findings are in the advance online edition of Nature Methods.

Sick Kids reports:

“This new technique is simple and reliable and allows us to isolate the best stem cells quickly,” says Dr. James Ellis, principal investigator of the study, SickKids Senior Scientist and Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. “This has exciting implications for studying disease and for future cell therapies.”

The new stem cells are being used to form a study on Rett syndrome, a form of autism.

The recent discovery that human skin cells can be reprogrammed into becoming stem cells can take up to four weeks to grow. By using the Green Fluorescent Protein the cluster of cells are easy to find.

Not only does the green protein help scientists find the cells but when the samples are inserted at the same time with a drug-resistance gene only the strongest and best stem cells survive.

[quote”We designed the green gene to be off in skin cells, but to turn on when they are reprogrammed to become stem cells,” says Dr. Akitsu Hotta, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral Fellow from Japan (funded by SickKids Restracomp Award). “We can then pick the best stem cell colonies that glow green under the microscope and expand them to study human disease.”

Rett syndrone is caused by a mutation in the MECP2 gene and affects nerve cell maturation in the brain. The ailment only targets girls. Researchers are using nerve cells from the patient stem cells. The hope is that one day the research being done now will enable a drug to be made that can correct the defects.

“We noticed that tumours did not form if we transferred pure populations of mature cells into mice, but if green stem cells were also present, tumours were quickly established,” says Ellis, Co-Director of The Ontario Human iPS Cell Facility located at SickKids, where researchers have used this new technique to isolate iPS cells from 10 patients with diseases such as cystic fibrosis. “The green gene effectively signals the presence of tumour-forming stem cells, and these could be removed before transplantation is performed.”

Future use of the green gene will also come with the suicide gene enabling the strongest cells to survive.

The research was supported by Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Stem Cell Network, SickKids Foundation and the International Rett Syndrome Foundation and SickKids Restracomp Award.

Sick Kid’s Hospital Researchers Find Gene That Causes XMEA

Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) Research Institute have found the gene that causes X-linked myopathy with excessive autophagy (XMEA).
Scientists studied the component in the cell called an autophagosome. This component breaks down the materials within a cell that are to be recycled. An enzyme called V-ATPase is in charge of making the acid that is needed. There are a total of 14 components that fit together in order to function. A protein called VMA21 puts all the parts together. The researchers have found the gene that encodes VMA21.

Humans have to have VMA21 to survive. Some people have mutations in the gene that codes for VMA21 that reduce the levels of the protein without eliminating it completely. While people with the mutations can make the acid-making device it’s not made in qualities that are sufficient.

Because there are fewer acid-making devices there is less acid in the autophagosomes. When this happens the cells go on a major fast. The patient with the mutations start to live in near-starvation mode to survive.

While most organs are able to survive this loss the muscles cannot cope. This results in muscles that waste away and muscular dystrophy.

Sick Kids reports:

“To cure XMEA, we are looking for ways to increase the acidity of the autophagosomes,” says Dr. Berge Minassian, SickKids neurologist and Scientist, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Pediatric Neurogenetics. “As well, we hope to uncover the precise mechanisms in other vacuolar diseases – diseases whose cause is currently unknown and are characterized by expanded debris-containing structures.”

“This is a groundbreaking discovery that we hope will lead to finding a cure for XMEA and other forms of muscular dystrophy,” says Dr. Berge Minassian.

At this time there are 24 authors and 10 institutions in six countries, France, Japan, Finland, Italy, United States and Canada, working on this research.

Dr. Anthony Phillips Appointed Scientific Director of CIHR-INMHA

As of April 1 the Canadian Institute of Health Research has a new Scientific Director. The CIHR has appointed Dr. Anthony Phillips as incoming Scientific Director (SD) of CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (CIHR-INMHA).
Currently Dr. Phillips is a Professor of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC); the Founding Director of the UBC Institute of Mental Health; and a senior investigator with the UBC/Vancouver Coastal Health Brain Research Centre. He is also the former member of the board of directors and scientific advisory board of Neuroscience Canada and the scientific advisory board of the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research. He is also a Councillor of the Society for Neuroscience and the former Chair of the CIHR-INMHA Institute Advisory Board (2001-2007).

CIHR quotes Dr. Phillips on his appointment.

“I am honoured and excited to have responsibility, in partnership with a dedicated community of health research professionals nation-wide, for ensuring the continued success of CIHR-INMHA in the application of new knowledge about the brain and mind to the health of Canadians,” said Dr. Phillips. “Innovation will remain a watchword for our activities, as will the continued commitment to partnership with all who seek improvement in the diagnosis and treatment of mental ill health, addiction and the many other challenges arising from disorders of the nervous system.”

Each of the 13 Institutes that comprise the CIHR are led by it’s own Scientific Director. The directors are responsible for campaigning their causes in the areas of research. They are also in charge of promoting their fields in regards to education and public awareness.

CIHR-INMHA supports research to enhance mental health, neurological health, vision, hearing, and cognitive functioning and to reduce the burden of related disorders through prevention strategies, screening, diagnosis, treatment, support systems, and palliation.