We are on a short break from our audio podcast; however, we are still delivering our science round ups in written form here on our blog.

Our Science Round Up is brought to you by Bio-techne.  Bio-techne brings together the prestigious life science research brands of R&D Systems, Novus Biologicals, Tocris Bioscience, and Protein Simple to provide stem cell researchers with high quality reagents that will optimize and standardize their workflow.

This Science Round Up includes several research paper and article summaries including papers covering: the science of blowing bubbles, effective ways to quit smoking, efficacy of the female viagra, mutation of head lice, sperm made from stem cells, cancer killing stem cells derived from skin, how stem cells can help treat an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and culturing stem cells too close together may render them genomically instable.   Enjoy.


The Science Behind Blowing Bubbles

Ahh bubbles, who doesn’t love bubbles floating through the air.  I’ve actually said that if bubbles were floating around everywhere the world would be a happier place.  But what’s the secret to blowing good bubbles?  A french group looked through centuries of data regarding blowing bubbles but could not come up with a good explanation.  So, they took it upon themselves to figure it out. And the best part is how they did it.  A team of French scientists built this machine that basically blew bubbles at different speeds through a fixed size opening.  What did they find?  That its the speed of the blowing gust of air the generates the perfect bubble, not the thickness of the soapy film.  Geez.  I think I could have told them that and spared them the time and effort.  Cool and fun nonetheless.  

How Effective are Smoking Cessation Methods?

I’ve often wondered how effective those methods to stop smoking are.  I remember in college my roommate smoked a lot and tried quitting using the patch.  I’ll never forget one night I was inside and smelled a cigarette, I went out on the balcony and there he was with a lit cigarette and the patch stuck to the wall.  I said, “Hey John, shouldn’t that patch be on your arm?” He shook is head.  A study recently came out in JAMA, or as we say it on the show- JAMA JAMA! reporting the results from over 1,000 cigarette smokers broken into 3 smoking cessation methods:  the nicotine patch, drugs that reduce cravings, and a combo of the nicotine patch and nicotine lozenge.  They followed the subjects for 12 weeks.  The results were interesting.  Regardless of methods, there was a 25% quit rate, meaning, by either of these methods, 1 out of 4 people will actually stop smoking over the course of 6 months.  I don’t know but the scientist in me wants to know what happens when they put on a fake patch?  Would it still be 25%?

Update on the Female Viagra

We talked about this on a previous podcast when it came out, the “little pink” pill that supposedly increases a woman’s sex drive.  So, now that it’s been on the market, what are woman saying about this drug?  Does it really work?  A new review published in, JAMA JAMA reported that out of 6000 woman, the number of additional sexual events  on average increased about 0.5 per month.   At first, I thought I read that wrong, I thought they meant 0.5 per week.  But no, it was correct, 0.5 per month.  Now maybe that is a significant increase, but to me I don’t see it.  They also said this drug has some significant side effects including dizziness, sleepiness, and nausea.  Maybe it’s just me, but an increase in sexual events  by 0.5 per month in exchange for vomiting and dizziness doesn’t sound like something I’d sign up for, let alone pay for.  And speaking of paying for this, it is covered under insurance?

Head Lice May Be Mutating

I don’t know why but head lice always freaked me out.  The thought of bugs living under my hair attached to my scalp and eating away is enough to keep me up at night. And that’s exactly what they do, they itch and keep you awake at night.  Head lice affects up to 6-12 million people each year in the US, and an article published on CNN talks about how some of the traditionally most effective over the counter remedies are not working as well anymore due to genetic resistance in the lice.  There are of course newer generation lice-fighting chemicals available if the traditional does not work, but they are often more expensive.  And then there is this, which I never know. Apparently there are these people called “nitpickers,” who manually remove the lice from the hair using combs and sometimes just their fingers. A number of parents are taking their children to these people and paying a good chunk of money to do so.  Who knew.  But now when someone says to me stop nit picking, I’m going to think of head lice and people picking them out.

The Cure to Snacking and Eating Junk Food May Be Sleep

Over the years I have really put a stop to my junk food binges.  As I’ve gotten older I have adopted a much more strict, healthy diet, and really have done a great job at eliminating junk food.  My strategy though has been to eliminate it from my kitchen pantry.  If it’s not there, I can’t eat it.  However, every time I go to the gas station or supermarket, I find myself staring at a bag of Doritos or Oreos and have to take a second before moving on.  So what is it that really drives us to eat this junk food and is there something we can do to stop it?  Well, a new study claims to have some answers.  A study published by a research group in the journal Sleep reports that a lack of sleep may lead to an increased appetite and a proclivity for unhealthy foods.  Interestingly, 1 out 3 Americans do not sleep enough and coincidentally 1 out 3 Americans are obese.  Well, as the authors point out, this may be no coincidence.  The study was kind of cool, and I really want to be apart of a study like this one day.  They took 14 “healthy” adults and split them into two categories, one that received nights of normal sleep (about 8 hours) and the other has restricted sleep nights (about 4 hours).  They did this for four nights, and during those days they carefully prepared meals.  After the 4 days the participants were given a normal, healthy meal and then given access to a snack bar where they could take and eat whatever they want.  The snack bar had cookies, candy, chips, etc…  The group with less sleep tended to pig out more on the bad stuff then those that had decent sleep.  The researchers went on to show that the people with less sleep had affected levels of endocannabinoids, chemicals in the brain that are involved in regulating appetite and  bind to the same receptors as marijuana.  Yes, we have all heard of the “munchies” marijuana can cause, and endocannabinoids are the culprit.  It seems that when we are sleep deprived, we are more likely to get the munchies.   Get your sleep everyone!


Making Sperm from Stem Cells

Ok, this paper is probably one of the most significant findings I have come across in a while.  As you may know, stem cells hold so much promise because of their ability to create all the cells in our body.  Now for most cells there have been reports out there for “recipes” to create them.  However, no studies to date have reported the creation of reproductive cells such as sperm or egg.  Until now.  Published in Cell Stem Cell, a group in China reported the production of sperm like cells from mouse embryonic stem cells.  What made this story so wild was that these stem cell derived sperm cells, when injected into female mice eggs, were able to produce normal, healthy offspring.  Wow.  This could be a game changer.  We know the range of fertility problems that exists and the authors here state if this is proven to be safe and effective in humans, their platform potentially generate fully functional sperm for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization techniques thus substantially improving success rates for male infertility.

Normal Stem Cells and Their Link to Prostate Cancer

I did notice that Prostate cancer is very serious but I did not know that a subset of prostate cancer, less than 5%, are super aggressive and refractory to current therapies.  Before we get into the findings, a little background.  The prostate gland contains basal and luminal cells, that give rise to the cells of the prostate gland. One would assume that the origin of these cells would be stem cells,  however, this assumption and where the stem cells were present in the human prostate has been a mystery, until now.  A report published in Nature Communications shows how a research team used genome wide analyses of human prostate basal and luminal cells and found different gene signatures and that some of the basal cells had characteristics of adult stem cells.  When they overlayed the gene signature of those super aggressive prostate cancer cells with the “stem like” basal cells there was a significant overlap suggesting  stem cells may represent the originating cells for these prostate cancers cells.  The authors go on to report some upregulated genes that could be used as new potential therapeutics to specifically treat this subset of prostate cancer.

Cancer Killing Stem Cells Derived From Skin

Glioblastomas are a highly aggressive brain cancer with a high rate of mortality. Even if a surgeon can remove most of the tumor, it’s almost impossible to get the invasive, remnants that spread deeper into the brain which will inevitably cause the tumor to regrow. Most patients will die within a year and a half of their diagnosis.  In a new report published in  Nature Communications, a team of researchers use regpraming technology to turn skin cells into neural stem cells.  Interestingly this group found that these cells can move throughout the brain and home in on glioblastomas cells and destroy them.  Pretty cool huh.  They also show that they can engineer these neural stem cells to express a protein that kills cells to make the blow more severe.

Culturing Your Stem Cells Too Close Together May be No Good

For the many reasons we have talked about on the show, human embryonic stem cells (hESC) show tremendous promise for new treatments.  However, as cells that constantly divide, they are prone to becoming genomically unstable and this a viable concern for their potential to not be realized.   In a study reported in Stem Cell Reports, a team of researchers show that the acidification of the culture medium is the main cause of DNA damage and genomic alterations in hESC grown on feeder layers.  They’ve even shown this for times as short as  a single passage. That was very surprising to me.   Now it should be mentioned that acid build up is proportional to the amount of cells in the culture dish.  The higher the density of cells, the more quickly acid will accumulate.  The authors  show that increasing the frequency of the medium changes minimizes the levels of DNA damage and genetic instability. Interestingly the authors show that cells cultured on laminin-521 do not present this increase in DNA damage when grown at high density.  These  results explain the high levels of genome instability observed over the years by many laboratories worldwide, and highlight the importance of  the development of optimal culture conditions.

Stem Cell Treatment Restores Sight to Blind Patient

This story was in a bunch of news outlets so I thought I’d include it.  A woman named Vanna Belton from Baltimore has been blind for more than five years.  After going blind she underwent surgery where stem cells were extracted from her bone marrow were injected into her right eye’s retina and left eye’s optic nerve.  This procedure is not FDA approved and can cost up to $20,000.   Vanna has now claimed to have regained some sight saying she can see license plates and read a menu and get around without a cane.  In no way is she cured as she is still legally blind, but it is pretty remarkable.  The catch, however, is that no one knows how.  Even the doctor who put the stem cells into her eye.  Sounds a little like magic to me, and maybe magic works a few times, but I would have my doubts about this as a viable strategy to fix blindness.

We hope you enjoyed this Science Round Up, brought to you by Biotechne.  Please leave comments or questions you might have below.

The Stem Cell Podcast Team
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