Life & Health

Medical marijuana may reduce frequency of migraines

frequency of migraines
Medical marijuana might help migraine sufferers reduce the frequency of their headaches, a new study suggests.

In the study of 121 people with migraines, 103 said they had fewer migraines after they began using marijuana, the researchers found. Another 15 people said the frequency of their headaches remained the same during the treatment, and three said the frequency of their headaches increased.

Among the people who noticed improvement, the frequency of their migraine headaches decreased from 10.4 headaches per month to 4.6 headaches per month, on average, the researchers found.


Squeezing cells into stem cells

medicago truncatula
Scientists have wondered for years how legumes such as soybeans, whose roots host nitrogen-fixing bacteria that produce essential plant nutrients out of thin air, are able to recognize these bacteria as both friendly and distinct from their own cells, and how the host plant's specialized proteins find the bacteria and use the nutritional windfall.

Now a team of molecular biologists led by Dong Wang at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, working with the alfalfa-clover Medicago truncatula, has found how a gene in the host plant encodes a protein that recognizes the cell membrane surrounding the symbiotic bacteria, then directs other proteins to harvest the nutrients.

As Wang explains, plants often recruit microbes to help them satisfy their nutritional needs, offering the products of photosynthesis as a reward. A process used by most land plants depends on a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. These form structures known as arbuscules that help plants capture phosphorus, sulfur, nitrogen and other micronutrients from the soil. This method is akin to scavenging, Wang says, because the amount of nitrogen available in soil is quite limited.


Squeezing cells into stem cells

stem cells
EFPL scientists have developed a new method that turns cells into stem cells by "squeezing" them. The method paves the way for large-scale production of stem cells for medical purposes.

Stem cells are now at the cutting edge of modern medicine. They can transform into a cells of different organs, offering new ways to treat a range of injuries and diseases from Parkinson's to diabetes. But producing the right type of stem cells in a standardized manner is still a serious challenge. EPFL scientists have now developed a gel that boosts the ability of normal cells to revert into stem cells by simply "squeezing" them into shape. Published in Nature Materials, the new technique can also be easily scaled up to produce stem cells for various applications on an industrial scale.


Scent of a woman's tears lowers men's desire

What a downer! Men who smell a woman's tears experience a dip in both sexual arousal and testosterone, a new study finds.
woman's tears

The libido-dampening effect occurred even when the men never saw the women cry and didn't know they were sniffing tears, researchers report online today .

The results are the first to suggest that humans can chemically communicate with tears.

"We conclude that there is a chemosignal in human tears, and at least one of the things the chemosignal does is reduce sexual arousal," study researcher Noam Sobel, a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.


Sexual Pheromones - myth or Reality?

Half a century after the discovery of pheromones in animals, scientists have yet to conclusively identify a single such chemical in humans. Yet the term is bandied about regularly in reference to people and the supposedly silent means by which they communicate.
Sexual Pheromones

Pheromones will improve your sex life, a common sales pitch goes.

For certain, animals use pheromones to communicate nonverbally, transmitting the chemical signals often through air. The purpose is often related to mating or defense of territory.

Peter Karlson and Martin Luscher first proposed the word "pheromone" in 1959, referring to a chemical cocktail emitted by an animal and detected and responded to by other creatures of the same species. That same year, researchers reported the identification of the first pheromone (called bombykol) in silk moths.


A fascinating act of cellular cannibalism

After a century of observing strange acts of cellular cannibalism, Jo Durgan and Oliver Florey tell us how close we are to understanding entosis, and what it may mean for cancer biology.

Our research explores the relationship between entosis, a recently described form of live cell engulfment, and human cancer. During entosis, one live and perfectly viable epithelial cell is engulfed, killed and digested by another, in a fascinating act of cellular cannibalism. Although cannibalised cells have been observed in tumour samples for more than a century, many questions remain about the molecular and cellular events that drive entosis, and the effect that this process has on tumour progression. The main objectives of our work are to investigate the mechanisms underlying cell cannibalism and to explore its significance in the context of cancer biology.

For more than one hundred years, pathologists have recorded the appearance of cannibalised cells, referred to as 'cell-in-cell' structures, within human tumour specimens (Figure 1). However, little research had been undertaken on this topic until 2007, when Michael Overholtzer and Joan Brugge 'rediscovered' this process through studies of cultured human cell lines at Harvard. Recognising the potential significance of this unexpected observation, Dr Overholtzer undertook a comprehensive investigation of tumour cell cannibalism. His studies uncovered the basic mechanics of homotypic, epithelial 'cell-in-cell' formation and characterised the novel form of cell death that ensues. The process was named 'entosis' after the Greek word 'entos', meaning inside, into or within.


Neuropathy: What a pain

What a pain

No one wishes to experience pain. But fortunately when those everyday aches and pains arise, we have over-the-counter medications readily available to help us out. (For a recent review on what the evidence has to say about over-the-counter pain medications, check out the Ask Julie column at Vox with Canada's own Julia Belluz:

But what if you are experiencing pain that isn't likely to get better with these over-the-counter medications? Patients with neuropathic pain find themselves in this category. Neuropathic pain - or as it is sometimes called, neuropathy - is a type of chronic pain that results from damage to the nervous system. Neuropathic pain can be peripheral, resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves (nerves in your arms, legs, hands, and feet for example) or central, resulting from damage to the brain or spinal cord. Common causes of peripheral neuropathy include diabetes and postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain following shingles). Causes of central neuropathy can include spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis.


Your guts play host to bacterial hunger games

Trillions of bacteria are fighting it out for survival, and the scene of the battle is your gut. But fortunately, say researchers at Oxford University, it’s good for you.

Scientists have known for some time that the human gut contains large communities of microorganisms, many of which contribute to healthy digestion and immune system function. But a study published recently in Science found that, far from cooperating with each other as previously thought, the bacteria in these communities are perpetually at war. The results may help to explain how the communities maintain relatively constant sizes and compositions over time, and in doing so, contribute to human health.

“The assumption has always been that because these bacteria are doing us good, the communities must be cooperating with one another,” said Kevin Foster, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Oxford University. “What our work suggests, based on a wide-ranging mathematical analysis, is that competition may be key to a healthy gut.”


The case for testing drugs on pregnant women

Traditionally, expectant mothers have been excluded from clinical trials, but could this practice be doing more harm than good? Emily Anthes investigates.
pregnant women

When the heart stops beating, minutes matter. With every minute that passes before a rhythm is restored, a patient's odds of survival plummet. Which is why Anne Lyerly was surprised when, one night 20 years ago, she got a phone call from a doctor who had paused in the middle of treating a patient in cardiac arrest. Lyerly was a newly minted obstetrician; the caller was an internal medicine resident who was desperately trying to resuscitate a dying patient. A pregnant dying patient. He had called because his supervisor wanted to know whether a critical cardiac drug would be safe for the woman's fetus.

Lyerly was stunned. Most medications are never tested in pregnant women and, although she knew that there was a chance the compound might harm the fetus, her response was unequivocal. "You need to tell him he needs to save her life," she told the resident. "It doesn't matter what drug he's using. She's dying."