Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stem cell-based therapy for type 2 diabetes shows promise

In a new study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, researchers reveal how a combination of stem cell transplantation and antidiabetic medication successfully treated mice with type 2 diabetes.

Pancreatic beta cells in mice
This image shows the transplanted pancreatic beta cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.
Image credit: Jennifer Bruin, University of British Columbia
Senior study author Timothy Kieffer, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues say the findings could lead the way for the first ever stem cell-based insulin replacement therapy being tested in humans with type 2 diabetes.
It is estimated that more than 29 million people in the US have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for around 90-95% of these cases. The condition occurs as a result of the body being unable to produce enough of the hormone insulin or use it effectively. This leads to high blood glucose levels.
In order to manage blood glucose levels, patients with type 2 diabetes are often treated with oral medication - such as metformin - insulin injections, or a combination of both. Kieffer and colleagues note, however, that such treatments can cause gastrointestinal problems, weight gain and low blood glucose levels, and some patients may not even respond to them.
With these factors in mind, the team tested a potential alternative treatment approach for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Improved glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity with beta cell transplantation

The team created a mouse model of type 2 diabetes by inducing some markers of the disease in the animals - obesity, low response to insulin and high blood glucose levels - by feeding them a high-fat diet.
Next, the team transplanted mice with encapsulated pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. These cells developed into fully-functioning beta cells - a type of cell in the pancreas that produces insulin - causing the mice to experience better glucose metabolism and an improvement in responsiveness to insulin.
What is more, mice that received stem cell transplantation in combination with antidiabetic medication experienced rapid weight loss, and - compared with either treatment alone - saw greater improvements in glucose metabolism.
Kieffer and colleagues now plan to test whether transplanting more mature beta cells into mouse models of type 2 diabetes - rather than pancreatic progenitor cells - could lead to faster alleviation of symptoms at a lower dose.
The researchers believe their approach could reach clinical trials in humans, particularly since a similar technique has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada for testing in patients with type 1 diabetes. Kieffer comments:
"Success in these clinical trials could pave the way for testing in patients with type 2 diabetes. Our hope is that a stem cell-based approach to insulin replacement will ultimately improve glucose control in patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, resulting in healthier, longer lives."
Earlier this week, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK, in which they analyzed the global economic burden of type 2 diabetes.
The research reveals that patients with type 2 diabetes in the US have the highest lifetime health care costs related to the disease - at $283,000 - compared with countries that have similar average income levels.
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A short daytime nap could improve memory by fivefold, study finds

We have all been there; whether in class at school or a meeting at work, sometimes it feels as if our brain just gives up and leaves the building. But according to a new study by researchers from Saarland University in Germany, a short daytime nap could significantly boost brain power.

A student asleep on books
A daytime nap of around 45-60 minutes could improve learning and memory by fivefold, researchers suggest.
Publishing their findings in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the team reveals that a sleep of around 45-60 minutes could improve learning and memory by fivefold.
This is not the first study to associate daytime napping with improved memory performance. In January, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK, who found that a 30-minute nap within 4 hours of a learning task significantly improved infants' memory.
But this latest study reveals that power naps may also benefit memory for adults, with the team revealing how a short sleep may affect the brain to produce this outcome.
To reach their findings, study leader Alex Mecklinger, of the Experimental Neuropsychology Unit at Saarland, and his team enrolled 41 participants to take part in a learning task.
Participants were shown a list of 90 single words and 120 unrelated word pairs and were asked to learn them. The researchers explain that unrelated word pairs were used in order to eliminate the possibility that participants may have remembered the words as a result of familiarity.
"A word pair might, for example, be 'milk-taxi.' Familiarity is of no use here when participants try to remember this word pair," explains Mecklinger, "because they have never heard this particular word combination before and it is essentially without meaning. They therefore need to access the specific memory of the corresponding episode in the hippocampus."
After the learning task, participants were immediately required to complete a memory recall test. Half of the participants were then asked to take a nap of up to 90 minutes, while the remaining subjects were asked to watch a DVD.
The brain activity of the napping participants was measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) while they slept, with the team specifically focusing on "sleep spindles" - a burst of activity in the hippocampus region that plays a key role in memory consolidation.
"We suspect that certain types of memory content, particularly information that was previously tagged, is preferentially consolidated during this type of brain activity," says Mecklinger.
Next, all participants were asked to retake the memory recall test, requiring them to once again remember the words and word pairs shown to them prior to napping or watching a DVD.

Better learning, memory linked to greater number of sleep spindles during nap

The researchers found that, compared with participants who watched the DVD, those who napped for around 45-60 minutes following the learning task performed approximately five times better when it came to remembering the word pairs.
In fact, the researchers note that word pair recall of the napping participants was just as good as it was on the memory tests completed immediately after learning.
Short naps were not associated with improvement in item memory - the ability to remember phone numbers, for example, or a friend's name - the team says.
According to the researchers, these findings suggest that a short nap can significantly boost associative memory - the ability to remember a link between items that are unrelated, such as the name of a person we have just met.
What is more, the team found that better learning and memory recall was associated with a greater number of sleep spindles in the EEG, supporting their theory that sleep spindles play a role in specific forms of memory; in this case - associative memory.
Commenting on their findings, Mecklinger says:
"A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success. Wherever people are in a learning environment, we should think seriously about the positive effects of sleep."
Earlier this month, MNT reported on a study published in Nature Neuroscience, in which researchers found our head-direction cells - the "internal compass" that tells us which direction we should face - continue to be active during sleep.
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An extra hour of sleep 'boosts women's likelihood of sex'

For women, each additional hour of sleep increases the likelihood of sex by 14%. This is according to a new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

man and woman asleep in bed
"Sleep disturbance may contribute to sexual complaints and reduced sexual activity," the study concludes.
Although previous studies have looked closely at medical illness, psychological disorders and relationship dissatisfaction as factors that can lead to sex problems for women - such as a lack of sexual fantasies or diminished arousal - sleep problems have been largely overlooked as risk factors for sexual dysfunction.
"As a step toward addressing this gap, we examined the influence of nightly sleep on sexual response and activity in young women," write the authors of the new study.
The researchers say they were interested in exploring the hypothesis that poor sleep duration and quality lead to increased difficulties with sexual function, as no previous studies have explored this. Some studies have found a link between sexual response and untreated sleep-related breathing disorders, but were unable to determine if the poorer sexual response was directly caused by the sleep problems.
For the new study, the researchers recruited 171 healthy women. More than half of the sample reported having at least one sexual partner at the start of the study.
To avoid confounding the results, the study did not include any participants that had recently used antidepressants, which are known to reduce sexual response.

Sleep quality and sexual activity were tracked on daily basis

Every day for 2 weeks, participants were asked questions relating to sexual activity, such as "Did you have sex (oral, anal, hand, vaginal, etc.) with another person within the past 24 hours?" and "Did you masturbate within the past 24 hours?" Regarding sleep quality, they were asked after waking each morning, "How many hours of sleep did you get last night?" and "How long did it take you to fall asleep last night?" and they were also asked to rate their quality of sleep.
The researchers found that each additional hour of sleep increased the likelihood of sex with a partner by 14%, and that vaginal arousal was also improved among women who slept longer on average.
In the conclusion to the study, the authors say their findings prove that good sleep is important for maintaining healthy sexual functioning. Levels of desire, genital response and likelihood of sexual activity are all predicted by both nightly and habitual sleep duration. The researchers explain that these effects were independent of age, sexual distress, daytime fatigue or menstruation.
"These findings suggest that acute sleep disturbance may contribute to sexual complaints and reduced sexual activity," the authors write. They make the following recommendations for clinicians and future researchers:
"Future research may benefit from taking a more comprehensive approach to examining sleep parameters by using both subjective and objective measures. Additionally, the relationship between insomnia and sexual dysfunction may prove to be an overlooked and important area of interest for clinical research. Clinicians may consider assessing patients' sleep habits and insomnia symptoms as potential factors influencing sexual difficulties."
In 2013, the journal Sleep published a study that suggested one night of sleep deprivation causes an increase in men's perceptions of women's sexual interest and their intent to have sex.
The researchers behind the Sleep study found that, when well-rested, both men and women rated the sexual intent of women as being significantly lower than that of men. Following a night of deprived sleep, however, men's rating of women's sexual intent increased to the extent that women were no longer perceived as having lower sexual intent than men.
Sleep deprivation is known to cause frontal lobe impairment, explained the authors, which has a negative effect on "risk-taking sensitivity, moral reasoning and inhibition."
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Father inspired after child's autism improved by course of antibiotic

A parent has been prompted to investigate the connections between gut bacteria and autism following surprising improvements in his son's autism while taking an antibiotic for strep throat.

Amoxicillin capsules.
Amoxicillin is a form of penicillin and is frequently used to treat bacterial infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia and tonsillitis.
John Rodakis' son was prescribed a 10-day course of amoxicillin, one of the most frequently used antibiotics in the US, and within just 4 days of commencing the treatment, changes were observed in his autism symptoms.
"[He] began making eye contact, which he had previously avoided; his speech, which was severely delayed, began to improve markedly; he became less 'rigid' in his insistence for sameness and routine; and he also displayed an uncharacteristic level of energy, which he had historically lacked," explains Rodakis.
In an article published in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, Rodakis describes this unexpected turn of events and the journey of discovery he has since embarked upon, as he attempts to understand what caused his son's symptoms to change.
It became apparent to him early in his investigation that many other parents had experienced similar changes following courses of antibiotics, with some even routinely giving their autistic children antibiotics in order to improve their symptoms.
As well as these positive experiences, Rodakis also notes that some parents found their children's symptoms worsened under the influence of the medicine. "In my view, these stories are not contradictory but rather reinforce the notion that an antibiotic can create an effect in autism," writes Rodakis.
Rodakis' investigation brought him into contact with Dr. Richard Frye, head of the Autism Research Program at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute. Together, in collaboration with other researchers from across the world, they decided a research trial was required, and a scientific conference was warranted.

Could research into the 'gut-brain' connection reveal the core biology of autism?

"Careful parental observations can be crucial," Dr. Frye explains. "In science we take these observations, put them through the scientific method, and see what we find. This is what can lead to ground-breaking scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in the field."
The First International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism was held in June and it has led to a special edition of Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease being published, focusing on autism and the microbiome.
In recent years, evidence associating the microbiome - the collection of micro-organisms living on and in the human body - with autism has grown sharply.
Ellen Bolte, another parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, had a hypothesis in 1999 that some cases of autism were affected by gut bacteria. From this hypothesis, a small clinical trial was conducted and since then, a significant body of research has been compiled.
One of the speakers at the conference, Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, led a team of researchers at Arizona State University for a study in which children with autism were found to have less diversity in their gut bacteria than typically developing children. This link between the microbiome and autism is referred to as the "gut brain" connection.
Rodakis believes that antibiotics may be useful as a research tool and could lead to the development of future treatment methods for his son. "I was determined to better understand this phenomenon because I believed that if we could understand the biological basis of his improvements, we might gain insight into how autism works and be able to help him," he explains, adding:
"Current research is demonstrating that gut bacteria play previously undiscovered roles in health and disease throughout medicine. The evidence is very strong that they also play a role in autism. It's my hope that by studying these antibiotic-responding children, we can learn more about the core biology of autism."

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Satisfying thirst and the kidneys: the importance of drinking water

Many people may take drinking water for granted, but keeping hydrated can have a huge impact on overall health. Despite how crucial it is that people drink enough water, a significant amount of people may be failing to drink recommended levels of fluids each day.

Woman drinking water.
The Institute of Medicine recommend that men achieve a daily fluid intake of around 3 liters and that women take in 2.2 liters.
Around of 70% of the body is comprised of water, and around of 71% of the planet's surface is covered by water. Perhaps it is the ubiquitous nature of water that means that drinking enough of it each day is not at the top of many people's lists of healthy priorities?
One part of the body that relies on adequate water intake is the kidneys. The kidneys are organs that might not get as much attention as the heart or lungs, but they are responsible for many functions that help keep the body as healthy as possible.
But what happens to the kidneys when we do not drink enough water? And what can be done to improve our levels of hydration? On World Kidney Day, we take a look at the role of drinking enough water for two of the most important organs in the body.

Why do we need to drink water?

Water is needed by all the cells and organs in the body in order for them to function properly. It is also used to lubricate the joints, protect the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, regulate body temperature and assist the passage of food through the intestines.
Although some of the water required by the body is obtained through foods with a high water content - soups, tomatoes, oranges - the majority is gained through drinking water and other beverages.
During normal everyday functioning, water is lost by the body, and this needs to be replaced. It is noticeable that we lose water through activities such as sweating and urination, but water is even lost when breathing.
Drinking water, be it from the tap or a bottle, is the best source of fluid for the body. Beverages such as milk and juices are also decent sources of water, but beverages containing alcohol and caffeine, such as soft drinks, coffee and beer, are less than ideal due to having diuretic properties, meaning that they cause the body to release water.
The recommended amount of water that should be drunk per day varies from person to person depending on factors such as how active they are and how much they sweat. There is no universally agreed upon threshold of water consumption that must be reached, but there is a general level of consensus as to what a healthy amount is.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an adequate intake for men is approximately 13 cups (3 liters) a day. For women, an adequate intake is around 9 cups (2.2 liters).
Many people may have heard the phrase, "Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day," which works out at around 1.9 liters and is close to the IOM's recommendation for women. Drinking "8 by 8" is an easy-to-remember amount that can put people on the right track in terms of water consumption.
Water also helps dissolve minerals and nutrients so that they are more accessible to the body, as well as helping transport waste products out of the body. It is these two functions that make water so vital to the kidneys.

What do the kidneys do?

The kidneys are two small fist-sized organs that are shaped like beans. They are located in the middle of the back, on either side of the spine and situated just below the rib cage.
Despite their importance, the kidneys can sometimes receive less attention than other organs in the body. "The role of the kidneys is often underrated when we think about our health," state Kidney Health Australia.
Cross-section of the kidneys.
The role of the kidneys in keeping the body healthy may be underrated in relation to the heart and the lungs.
"In fact, the kidneys play an important role in the daily workings of our body. They are so important to health that nature gave us two kidneys to cover the possibility that one might be lost to an injury. They are so important that with no kidney function, death occurs within a few days."
A crucial function of the kidneys is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body via urine. The kidneys also regulate the levels of salt, potassium and acid in the body and produce hormones that influence the performance of other organs.
When we eat and drink, nutrients and minerals enter the bloodstream in order to be transported around the body and used for energy, growth, maintenance or repair. The blood also passes through the kidneys where it is filtered, and any waste products and excess nutrients and water are removed and sent to the bladder for expulsion.
Every day, the kidneys filter around 200 quarts of fluid. Of these, approximately 2 quarts are removed from the body in the form of urine, and 198 are recovered by the bloodstream.
If the kidneys do not function properly through kidney disease, waste products and excess fluid can build up inside the body. Untreated, chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure, whereby the organs stop working, and either dialysis or kidney transplantation is required.
Water is important for the workings of the kidneys, not only for helping to initially dissolve the nutrients, but for ensuring that waste products, bacteria and proteins do not build up in the kidneys and the bladder. These can lead to dangerous infections and painful kidney stones.

How does not drinking enough affect the kidneys?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the second most common type of infection in the body and account for around 8.1 million visits to health care providers in the US every year. If infections spread to the upper urinary tract, including the kidneys, permanent damage can be caused. Sudden kidney infections (acute) can be life-threatening, particularly if septicemia occurs.
Drinking plenty of water is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of developing a UTI and is also advised for people that have developed an infection.
The presence of kidney stones can complicate UTIs as they can compromise how the kidneys work. Complicated UTIs tend to require longer periods of antibiotics to treat them, typically lasting between 7 and 14 days.
The leading cause of kidney stones is a lack of water, and they are commonly reported in people that have been found not drinking the recommended daily amount of water. As well as complicating UTIs, research has suggested that kidney stones also increase the risk of chronic kidney disease developing.
In November 2014, the American College of Physicians issued new guidelines for people who have previously developed kidney stones, stating that increasing fluid intake to enable 2 liters of urination a day could decrease the risk of stone recurrence by at least half with no side effects.
Dehydration - using and losing more water than the body takes in - can also lead to an imbalance in the body's electrolytes. Electrolytes, such as potassium, phosphate and sodium, help carry electrical signals between cells. The levels of electrolytes in the body are kept stable by properly functioning kidneys.
When the kidneys are unable to maintain a balance in the levels of electrolytes, these electrical signals become mixed up, which can lead to seizures, involving involuntary muscle movements and loss of consciousness.
In severe cases, dehydration can also lead to kidney failure, a potentially life-threatening outcome. Possible complications of chronic kidney failure include anemia, damage to the central nervous system, heart failure and a compromised immune system.
There are a considerable number of health problems that can occur simply through not drinking enough water, and yet researchers have found that a significant number of Americans may be failing to obtain the recommended levels of fluid intake every day.

Does the US not drink enough water?

A study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013 analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute's 2007 Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, in order to assess the characteristics of people who have a low intake of drinking water.
Person filling a glass from the tap.
A recent study conducted by the CDC suggested that many people in the US may not be drinking enough water.
Out of a sample of 3,397 adults, the researchers found the following:
  • 7% of adults reported no daily consumption of drinking water
  • 36% of adults reported drinking 1-3 cups of drinking water a day
  • 35% of adults reported drinking 4-7 cups of drinking water a day
  • 22% of adults reported drinking 8 cups or more a day.
People were more likely to drink less than 4 cups of drinking water daily if they consumed 1 cup or less of fruits or vegetables a day. The study indicates that among this sample, a large number of people may well have not been drinking the suggested 8 cups of fluid a day.
Although the study only measured the intake of drinking water and fluid can be gained from other beverages, water is the ideal source of fluid due to it being readily available, calorie-free, caffeine-free and alcohol-free.
The fact that 7% of respondents reported drinking no water at all daily, and that respondents who drank low volumes of water were associated with low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, would suggest there is a certain number of people who are risking their health by not getting enough fluid.
Even if the respondents reporting low levels of water intake were obtaining enough fluid, it is likely that they would be obtaining it from sources that could potentially compromise their health in other ways.
"The biologic requirement for water may be met with plain water or via foods and other beverages," write the study authors. "Results from previous epidemiologic studies indicate that water intake may be inversely related to volume of calorically sweetened beverages and other fluid intake."

Thirst-quenching tips

The CDC make a number of suggestions that could help people increase the amount of water they normally drink:
  • Carrying a water bottle with you means that fluid can be accessed when out and about, at work or running errands
  • This water can be frozen in freezer-safe water bottles to provide a supply of ice-cold water all day long, which can be more satisfying than other beverages in certain situations
  • Adding a wedge of lime or lemon to water can give it a different edge that may improve its taste without affecting its nutritional value.
Drinking enough should be an easily achievable health goal. "Under normal conditions, most people can drink enough fluids to meet their water needs," state the CDC. Although it is a relatively simple step to take, it can easily get overlooked as part of increasingly hectic lifestyles.
On National Kidney Day, it is worth remembering the risks that can come from not getting enough fluids, and to raise a glass - ideally filled with water - to those underrated organs that do so much for the health of the body.
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Beauty in the beasties: how some of the world's creepiest critters may benefit your health

Though a well-known hymn tells us we should love "all creatures great and small," loving some of the smaller creatures on Earth - particularly the creepy-crawly kind - can prove a little challenging. So many of us have a fear of spiders, for example, that it sits in the top 10 list of phobias worldwide. But maybe this Spotlight will evoke a little warmth toward the beasts; we look at the surprising ways in which spiders and some other creepy critters may benefit human health.

The Common housefly
Researchers have identified genes in houseflies that make them immune to the pathogens they carry - a finding that could open the door to treatments for human illnesses.
Mary Astell - a 17th century English philosopher - once said: "None of God's creatures absolutely consider'd are in their own nature contemptible; the meanest fly, the poorest insect has its use and vertue." And it seems this may be true in relation to the medical world.
Take the common housefly. They feed on decaying organic matter - such as garbage and feces - and as a result, carry over 100 potentially life-threatening pathogens that can be transmitted to humans. Based on this information, it is no wonder many of us take the opportunity to swat the little pests when they come into close range.
But you may be surprised to learn that the common housefly could actually help scientists learn more about human illnesses. In a study published in the journal Genome Biology in October 2014, Dr. Jeff Scott and colleagues from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, revealed how they sequenced the genome of the housefly using DNA from six female flies.
Comparing the DNA of the housefly with that of the fruit fly - which shares almost 60% of human genes - the team identified genes that make houseflies immune to the pathogens they carry, potentially bringing us closer to new treatments for human illnesses.
"The housefly genome provides a rich resource for enabling work on innovative methods of insect control, for understanding the mechanisms of insecticide resistance, genetic adaptation to high pathogen loads, host parasitoid interactions, and for exploring the basic biology of this important pest," the authors explained.
And this discovery is only the tip of the iceberg; there are many more equally as unpleasant critters that may offer benefits for human health.

Spiders: relieving pain and repairing nerve damage

Many of you are likely to be cringing at the sight of the word "spider." Millions of us hate the eight-legged monstrosities, running away at the speed of light when one randomly appears from under the sofa. But whatever your thoughts about these arachnids, there is no doubt they are amazing creatures.
There are believed to be at least 40,000 species of spiders worldwide, residing on every continent except Antarctica.
Though all spiders have the ability to bite, only around a dozen can cause harm to humans with their toxic venom. Black Widows, Brown Recluse spiders and Hobo spiders are some of the venomous spiders found in the US. A bite from one of these can cause symptoms such as fever, itching or rash, nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure and breathing difficulties. Only very rarely can a spider bite lead to death.
Researchers have identified compounds in spider venom that could help treat chronic pain.
But while spider venom can cause human harm, it may also aid human health. Earlier this month, Medical News Todayreported on a study conducted by researchers from The University of Queensland in Australia, who claimed to have identified compounds in spider venom that could help treat chronic pain in humans.
From screening the venoms of 205 species of spider, they discovered that 40% of venoms contained at least one compound that has the ability to block a pathway involved in chronic pain in humans, called Nav1.7. One particular compound that showed promise - called Hd1a - was identified in a species of spider calledHaplopelma doriae - a member of the tarantula family.
Study leader Prof. Glenn King believes the findings may lead to more effective treatments for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from chronic pain. "Untapping this natural source of new medicines brings a distinct hope of accelerating the development of a new class of painkillers that can help people who suffer from chronic pain that cannot be treated with current treatment options," he adds.
And it is not only spiders' venom that could aid progress in human medicine. Spider silk - the protein fiber that the creatures use to make their webs - may be useful for treating nerve damage in humans, according to a 2011 study by researchers from Hannover Medical School in Germany.
Spider silk is an extremely durable fiber, with one study claiming it is five times stronger than steel. The Hannover researchers believe its high durability makes spider silk a promising candidate for reconstructive nerve surgery, with the technique already proving successful in animal models.

Bees: helping to fight antibiotic resistance and treat HIV

Compared with spiders, we tend to have a higher tolerance for bees. Though they seem incapable of finding their way back out of an open window they just flew through - making us do a lot of curtain-flapping and arm-waving - they are responsible for producing one of the nation's most-loved foods: honey.
But according to scientists, these insects are capable of so much more. In 2013, MNT reported on a study published in Antiviral Therapy, in which researchers revealed how a toxin found in bee venom - melittin - has the potential to destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The investigators, from the Washington University School of Medicine, explained that melittin is able to make holes in the protective, double-layered membrane that surrounds the HIV virus. Delivering high levels of the toxin to the virus via nanoparticles could be an effective way to kill it.
Study author Dr. Joshua L. Hood believes these findings could lead to the creation of a vaginal gel to halt HIV transmission. "Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection," he explained.
A more recent study published in September 2014 claims bees may also be useful for creating a new class of antibiotics. Researchers from the Lund University in Sweden discovered lactic acid bacteria in fresh honey found in the stomachs of bees that has antimicrobial properties.
The team found that the bacteria is effective against a number of drug-resistant pathogens responsible for potentially life-threatening infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus(VRE).
At a time when existing antibiotics are increasingly failing to work against such infections, the researchers say their findings suggest a viable alternative.

Scorpions: helping to treat heart problems

Like spiders, scorpions are creepy but fascinating. There are around 90 species of scorpions living in the US, most likely to be found in rocky and sandy areas.
A scorpion
While a scorpion's venom can cause heart problems, researchers have found it could also treat them.
All scorpions are venomous, though only 25-30 species possess a venom that is toxic enough to cause severe illness in humans.
A person who is unlucky enough to be stung by one of these more deadly species may experience difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, high blood pressure, a rise or reduction in heart rate and irregular heartbeat. But while their venom can cause heart problems, you may be surprised to learn that it could also treat them.
2011 study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health found that compounds in the venom of the African Emperor scorpion, or Pandinus imperator, may be effective for the treatment of heart failure.
The researchers found that the compounds, called calcins, activate the release of calcium in human heart cells, allowing better heart muscle contraction - something that is limited in patients with heart failure.
Another study published in 2010 identified a compound in the venom of the Central American bark scorpion - a species commonly kept as a pet - that could stop heart bypasses from failing.
The study researchers - from the University of Leeds in the UK - explain that the compound, called margatoxin, could prevent neointimal hyperplasia following heart bypass surgery - a common complication that causes blood vessel blockage. Margatoxin works by blocking a potassium ion channel called Kv1.3, which is involved in neointimal hyperplasia.
"These results look promising, but we won't know if this approach will benefit patients undergoing bypass surgery until more research is undertaken in patients to establish its long-term efficacy and safety," commented Prof. Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, adding:
"This is a good example of a substance that is dangerous in its natural form - a scorpion sting, having potential medicinal benefits if used appropriately."

Frogs: aiding the fight against cancer

Of all the creatures featured in this Spotlight, frogs are probably one of the least feared, but they are certainly one of the most interesting. They have the ability to jump more than 20 times their body length, and some species - such as the Budgett's frog - have camouflage capabilities.
There are more than 6,000 species of frogs worldwide, of which 90 reside in the US. While many species of frog are venomous, very few cause harm to humans. In fact, some species of frog could aid humans in the fight against cancer.
In 2011 a study by researchers from Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland that revealed thediscovery of two proteins in the skin of the Waxy Monkey Frog and the Giant Firebellied Toad that can disrupt angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth.
The researchers explain that cancer tumors develop their own blood supply, fueling themselves with oxygen and nutrients to help them grow. A protein that can switch off blood vessel growth means tumors would be unable to fuel themselves, meaning they would stop growing. "Stopping the blood vessels from growing will make the tumor less likely to spread and may eventually kill it. This has the potential to transform cancer from a terminal illness into a chronic condition," says study author Prof. Chris Shaw.
On the other hand, Prof. Shaw says such a protein could be used to activate blood vessel growth, which could treat a number of conditions in which rapid blood vessel repair is required, such as blood vessel damage following stroke.

Reptiles: helping to manage and treat diabetes

Some of you may not have heard of the Gila monster. Found in southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, it is the only venomous lizard in the US, and one of only a few venomous lizards worldwide. Rest easy, though; a bite from this beast is not fatal to healthy adults. But its saliva could be a lifesaver.
In 2007, a study by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine revealed how exenatide - a synthetic form of a compound found in the saliva of the Gila monster, called exendin-4 - may help people with diabetes control their condition and lose weight.
A Gila monster
A synthetic form of a compound found in the saliva of the Gila monster - called exendin-4 - may help people with diabetes control their condition and lose weight.
The compound works by causing the pancreas to produce more insulin when blood sugar is too high. In the study, 46% of patients who were given exenatide in combination with diabetes drug metformin had good control of their blood sugar, compared with only 13% of control participants.
"The Gila monster only eats three or four times a year, and a compound produced in its salivary glands called exendin-4 may help them digest these meals very slowly over time. That is an advantageous quality when translated into controlling diabetes," commented Dr. Michael Trautmann of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly - who helped develop the drug.
The Gila monster is not the only reptile that could help treat diabetes. A 2012 study published in Nature Communications found toxins in snake venom that could be beneficial for the condition, and they could even help treat high blood pressure and cancer.
The team analyzed gene sequences from the Burmese python and garter snake to reach their findings. They found that - although the venoms of these snakes can be harmful to humans - the toxins in them can be changed into harmless molecules that could make effective drugs.
"The venom gland of snakes appears to be a melting pot for evolving new functions for molecules, some of which are retained in venom for killing prey, while others go on to serve new functions in other tissues in the body," said lead author Dr. Nicholas Casewell, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK.
It seems that what Mary Astell said is not far from the truth; even "the meanest fly" or "the poorest insect" has its uses.
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