Testosterone may protect men from autoimmune diseases

Testosterone. Source of prostates and testes, muscles and machismo, chest hair, and according to some, even math skills. Its levels are only one of the biological differences between males and females, but they may help to explain another: the discrepancies in the incidence of autoimmune diseases.

Women are three to nine times more likely than men to suffer from autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), Grave’s disease, celiac disease, systemic lupus erythematous, and rheumatoid arthritis. Not only do women get these diseases at higher rates, they usually get them at younger ages.

Men’s higher testosterone levels—about seven to eight times higher than women’s—have been shown to be protective for MS in both mice and men. But it was not clear exactly how this worked. Recent work in a mouse model of MS has filled in the downstream effectors that mediate testosterone’s protective effects. These effectors might be useful as therapeutics, whereas testosterone use really isn’t, especially for women, who are the ones who need it most.

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This small robotic stingray could be the future of biological bots

 What do you get when you smush a bunch off live heart cells, specialized biomaterials, and electrodes into a tiny, stingray-shaped package? If you said “lunch” than you’re wrong. Instead, you get the first example of bioinspired robotic systems that can imitate nature using both electrical and organic components. The resulting project – a 10mm long robot that can swim… Read More

Beware a bottled booger blast—they can blow up your throat, doctors warn

Ah… AHHH… Choose wisely when it comes to handling that impending sneeze. Holding one in can lead to some serious damage, British doctors report Monday in BMJ Case Reports.

In their rare-disease case report, they relay the tale of an otherwise healthy 34-year-old male who managed to tear a hole the back of his throat trying to extinguish a snot explosion.

The man showed up in an emergency room with an alarming popping sensation and swelling in his throat. He was also in terrible pain and could barely talk. Subsequent X-rays and CT scans revealed that he had bubbles of air throughout his neck, including along his spine. The doctors also noted a crackling, grating sound coming from both sides of his throat down to his chest, which is a sign of gas trapped inside tissue.

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Small study suggests ibuprofen alters testosterone metabolism

A new study is hinting that a common over-the-counter painkiller, ibuprofen, may be linked to a male reproductive disorder. While the study uses a pretty small sample of male subjects, it’s backed up by a set of consistent experiments from isolated cells, and earlier studies had hinted there might be something strange here.

The good news is that the problems required multiple weeks of constant ibuprofen use, so there’s no indication that handling the odd muscle ache or hangover with ibuprofen will cause problems. The bad news is that ibuprofen is one of a large class of related drugs that includes aspirin, and the likelihood that other drugs will have similar effects is high.


Ibuprofen belongs to a group of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDs. This group includes aspirin, and it generally works by blocking the production of hormone-like signaling molecules called prostaglandins, thereby cutting down on pain and inflammation.

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Simple visual processing exercise is the first intervention to limit dementia

Dementia strikes many people as they age, and there’s currently not much we can do about it. It would be nice to think that there could be a fix to stave it off, like a computer game or something that could do more than help you improve at that computer game. Well now, for the first time, it seems like there may be.

The Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study was a randomized controlled trial in which thousands of healthy seniors got different kinds of cognitive training and had their cognition monitored over ten years. Importantly, the trial was registered at its outset at ClinicalTrials.gov, so even if all of the results were negative (and therefore not likely to be published in an academic journal) they would still be on record and accessible.

After five years, all of the results were in fact negative. But after ten years, one of the interventions reduced dementia risk by about 30 percent.

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Swiss lab develops genetic tool kit to turn any cell into a tumor killer

We’ve made some impressive advances toward inducing the immune system to attack cancers. One of these techniques, using CAR-T cells, is amazing. CAR-T cells are made by inserting receptors that recognize cancerous cells into a leukemia patient’s own T cells. This induces those T cells to recognize the patient’s tumor as the threat that it is and destroy it.

But, that T cells mount such an effective immune response is their therapeutic weakness as well as their strength. Engineered immune cells like these can completely disrupt normal immune function, causing unpleasant conditions with names like macrophage activating syndrome, cytokine storms, and even neurotoxicity, all of which can be life-threatening. So a group of Swiss researchers has decided to engineer a killing system into non-immune cells to avoid all these side effects.

T cells target their tumor-killing immune response through cell-to-cell contact. This is a distinctive feature of how the T cell receptor works. It hangs out on the T cell’s surface membrane, with some parts on the outside and some parts on the inside. When its external part contacts a particular feature on the surface of a cell, its intracellular part sends a signal through a cascade of molecules that eventually results in collection genes getting expressed. These genes include the ones needed to kill the target cell.

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The future is here: Genetically engineered stem cells save a patient

The genetic disorder epidermolysis bullosa is the stuff of nightmares. The epidermis contains the cells that form our body’s boundary with the outside world; in epidermolysis bullosa, they lose their ability to hold on to the cells underneath them. Small scratches that healthy people wouldn’t notice cause the skin to blister off, leaving these patients prone to infection. The constant inflammation makes cancer more likely. More than 40 percent of those afflicted don’t even survive to adolescence.

Now, for the first time ever, researchers have restored functioning skin to a young epidermolysis bullosa patient. Their method? His lost skin was entirely replaced using stem cells that had been genetically engineered to replace the inherited defect. The basic outline of the work, published today in Nature, would have sounded like a work of science-fiction less than two decades ago.

The patient

The work was possible because of years of basic research and technology development. To begin with, we have a good handle on the genes involved in epidermolysis bullosa and how the proteins they encode work. The junction between the cells of the epidermis and underlying dermis contains a bed of proteins called the extracellular matrix. The cells on either side have specialized proteins that allow them to latch on to the extracellular matrix. Epidermolysis bullosa is caused by mutations that damage any of a number of genes that encode components of the extracellular matrix or the protein that latches on to them. Because we knew all of this, it’s relatively easy to identify the damaged gene when doctors encounter a patient with epidermolysis bullosa.

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Elderly doctor: I lost my license because I don’t know how to use a computer

An 84-year-old doctor in New London, New Hampshire, appeared in state court Friday in an effort to regain her medical license, less than a week after closing her office on October 28.

State authorities claim that—because Dr. Anna Konopka doesn’t have a computer, much less know how to use one—her organizational skills are lacking, according to the Associated Press.

“The problem now is that I am not doing certain things on a computer,” she told the news service. “I have to learn that. It is time consuming. I have no time.”

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