Category Archives: the human body

Leukaemia and Diabetes Drugs?

Today, an interesting news story caught my eye regarding Leukaemia. Leukaemia is a cancer which usually originates from bone marrow, and leads to the production of abnormal white blood cells [1]. It is a disease categorised by the type of white blood cell it affects, which are the myeloid cells of lymphatic cells [1].

This poses an issue when it comes to treatment options, as targeting unhealthy, harmful mutated cells in the bone marrow, can also damage healthy cells – both white and red blood cells. There are several treatment options, including chemotherapy, biological therapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplants [2]. Biological therapy helps a patients’ immune system recognise leukaemia cells, and targeted therapy uses drugs which specifically target certain weaknesses within cancer cells [2]. While these options have a, rightfully, strong emphasis on target leukaemia cells, they can also often damage red blood cells – causing fatigue, dizziness, anaemia, and a wide range of side affects [3].

A recent study, published in ‘Nature Cell Biology’ takes a different approach, considering the ‘entire bone marrow as an ecosystem’ [3] and not just targeting diseased cells. It was found that Leukaemia suppresses the cells which store fat in the body, causing the maturation of red blood cells to stop, as their stem cells dysfunction [3].

What is particularly interesting, is that a drug, commonly used to treat type-2 diabetes, was shown to have positive effects. PPAR-gamma, helps to restore the fat cells in the bone marrow – thus, restoring healthy red blood cell development and minimising the leukaemia’s growth [3]. By changing the environment that the cancer ‘lives’ in, it allowed healthy cells to thrive and, if you will, ’outcompete’ the cancerous cells, suppressing their growth.

I think this has very exiting prospects for cancer treatment in the future, and is an approach which can be applied to many different therapies and treatment options. Looking at a broader image, organ or system could raise treatment options, which have no previously been considered.

Organ Donation

This week, an uplifting story on the news regarding organ donation caught my eye. A young 13 year old girl’s organs have been transplanted into eight different people, 5 of which were children.

As an organ donor myself, I understand the importance of the process and how many lives can be saved via donation, however the UK still has an ‘opt-in’ system. Thus, unless you register, your organs will not be donated after your death. 24 other European countries have an ‘opt-out’ system, [2] meaning everyone is on the organ donor register unless they choose to remove themselves from this list. In our modern day healthcare system I think this is a much more beneficial scheme, due to organ demand and the sheer number of people who are indifferent to the process.

Jemima Layzell died suddenly due to a brain aneurysm, and after her death donated her heart, small bowel, pancreas, kidneys, liver and lungs [1]. 8 is a remarkable number of organs for one person to donate, with the average only being around 2/3. Something many people don’t realise is how many people die waiting for a transplant, last year a staggering 457, as families said no to organ donation.

So why this blog post? Not only is Jemima Layzell’s story an incredible one, it also brings with it a few key messages. The first, opt in. The UK does not automatically register everyone on the organ donor register, so please take the time to. For me, it came through when I applied for my provisional driving licence. The second, inform your family. If you want to be a donor, tell them. Let them know of your wishes as they have the opportunity to dispute them after your death. It is an incredibly important process which can save thousands of lives each year.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41187008

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_donation

Aspirin and Cancer

When talking to a friend today, she mentioned her idea for an EPQ – investigating the link between aspirin and cancer. Aspirin is taken by many to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke [1], although I had not heard of its link to cancer before. I thought this was a really interesting topic, and have heard many stories of doctors themselves taking aspirin daily to improve their health. Therefore I would like to share the research I have done into possible uses for aspirin.

In doing this, I found that the most potential has been found regarding colorectal cancer. A hereditary condition called Lynch increases the risk of the development of cancers such as bowel cancer, womb cancer and colorectal cancer [2]. As it causes no symptoms itself, many with the condition often do not know they have the faulty gene which causes it [2]. In a trial of those with Lynch syndrome, those given aspirin had a 63% less chance (relatively) of developing colorectal cancer, in comparison to those who didn’t take aspirin and merely had a placebo [1]. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a huge decrease, and could potentially save lives and money for the NHS. While the cost of prescribing a daily dose of aspirin for a vast amount of the population would be high, the true question is whether this outweighs the cost of treating patients with colorectal cancer. Most importantly however, doing this is likely to save lives and provide a much better quality of life (cancer free).

Although, aspirin has not only been found to affect those with increased risk of colorectal cancer. In a similar study published in 2016, the long term use of aspirin was investigated. After 6 years of taking aspirin, there was a reduction of 19% in the risk of colorectal cancer, and 15% reduction in the risk of nay type of gastrointestinal cancer [1]. Colorectal cancer however, is not the only cancer that aspirin can effect. A systematic review also found an 11% decrease in the risk of death from prostate cancer [3]. This shows taking one small tablet each day could have huge benefits on health, especially when coupled with the reduction of heart attacks and strokes.

Undoubtedly, aspirin in low doses benefits human health. However, before everyone starts popping aspirin pills, the long term effects of the drug need to be investigated and known, alongside costs being totalled up. Aspirin may have negative effects on other areas of the body yet the evidence for the apparent use of aspirin in preventing cancer, heart attacks and strokes is abundant.

[1] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/research/aspirin-cancer-risk

[2] http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/diagnosing/causes-and-risk-factors/genetic-testing-and-counselling/lynch-syndrome.html

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/news/2016/04April/Pages/Daily-low-dose-aspirin-may-help-combat-cancer.aspx

Exams and Revision

After months of preparation, my AS exams finally finished yesterday and it’s safe to say a feel a little more free! In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the resources I made when revising, as they could be of use for others! For guidance I am studying OCR A chemistry and AQA biology, so any notes are based on the textbook and specification for these courses, though I’m sure much of it applies to others too.

Chemistry Summary sheets:

Atoms:ions PDF

Halogens and G2 Metals PDF

PHYSICAL CHEM NOTES PDF

quantitative analysis PDF

Reactions 1 PDF

Reactions 2 PDF

Biology Summary Sheets 

Cell structure summary PDF I

MMUNITY SUMMARY PDF

PLANT TRANSPORT PDF

Exam season is a long and stressful one, but I am glad that I kept up my volunteering right up until we went on study leave (3 days before my first exam) as this gave me a good break, doing something I really enjoy. I know many people are not sitting AS exams this year, so this is a tip I would take forward onto next year – having some time away from revision is (in small doses) a good idea – for me it was my volunteering, and then once on study leave going to the gym. While I didn’t feel any of my exams went overly well, I know that I worked hard for them and so the grades I get will be the best I can, and if I’m honest I’m excited to forget about them until August!

While this post didn’t have much purpose, I just wanted to keep you in the loop with what I’m doing, as throughout the year priorities definitely change. Good luck to anyone still sitting exams! You’ll do great 🙂

Oestrogen and PTSD

The role of oestrogen in the maturation of the female body alongside reproduction and pregnancy is well known. However, oestrogen has the potential for further physiological effects.

Existing research suggests that women are more prone to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men, despite the fact that women experience fewer traumatic events than males, on average. A new study indicates that oestrogen may place a crucial role in the development of  PTSD. This is a subject I am particularly interested in due to my interest in the military, and a topic I have begun loosely researching for my EPQ.

Different levels of oestrogen have been associated with the brains response to stress, via the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. However, a key piece of information from other studies is that women who experience trauma seem to have more trauma related flashback episodes in a particular phase of their menstrual cycle.

PTSDbrain1

 

This phase occurs around a week after ovulation, where the female body produces more progesterone and less oestrogen. Blood samples from 278 females were examined, and they participated in the Grady Trauma Project. [1] This is a large scale study that investigates the role of genetic and environmental factors in the development of PTSD among African-American females. [1]

At childbearing age, women’s levels of oestrogen go up and down depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle, whereas menopausal and postmenopausal women have lower levels of oestrogen. [2] Those involved in the study then assessed DNA methylation of blood, which is an epigenetic mechanism. It modifies the DNA in a way that suggests that some genes are “turned off.” It was found that a form of oestrogen, serum estradiol, is associated with DNA methylation across the genome.

This is potentially a single gene that is associated with the brain’s fear response, found to be affected by oestrogen levels. Researchers also examined brain functionality using brain imaging techniques.

Research has also been performed with experiments in mice to see if their findings would replicate in rodents. The mice experiments suggest that oestrogen can protect against the formation of PTSD. The authors add that in addition to its role in modulating the fear response, previous studies have also suggested that oestrogen alters pain perception. Scientists have also noted that their findings suggest that oestrogen could be used as a preventive treatment for PTSD. [2]

While this hypothesis still has a long way to go in terms of the evidence to provide oestrogen as a treatment for PTSD. I thought it was an interesting set of research. While the sample size was small and those who participated had very little variation, alongside the fact that side affects of the treatment have not been considered, I hope that the evidence for the use of oestrogen in the treatment of PTSD prevails.

Sources:

[1]  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315383.php 

[2] https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/01/20/estrogen-levels-influence-susceptibility-to-ptsd/115390.html

Breast Cancer – Know Your Lemons

what_breast_cancer_looks_like-2Cancer. A word which can ignite fear in anyone. Recently as I’ve been scrolling through my social media I have come across an ingenious image, which presents what the symptoms of breast cancer can look and feel like. Surveys by the charity, ‘Breast Cancer Care’ found that 1/3 women don’t check regularly for signs of breast cancer, and thus he ‘Know Your Lemons’ campaign has enormous potential to save lives. It is an example of how public platforms can be used to raise awareness across the world, a clear and colourful campaign which portrays vital information in very little words.

Breast Cancer currently has a 78% survival rate in the UK with 27% of cases being preventable [1]. This means, that educating people about the signs of cancer can help it be caught early, making a persons life much easier to save. However, it is clear that many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their bodies, even with a doctor which makes this a much harder feat to overcome.

However, the ‘Know Your Lemons’ campaign initiated by Corrine Beaumont, uses lemons as a metaphor for breasts, and draws attention to breast cancer in a memorable way – lemons in an egg carton. I find this an incredible way of increasing people’s cancer of survival, purely through helping the symptoms of the cancer be recognised.

Aside from this, since ‘Know your Lemons’ began in 2003, it has actually helped people gain the confidence and knowledge to see their doctor about breast cancer. For example, Erin Smith Chieze, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer after recognising and indentation in her breast, following a similar image. She has said that without seeing the picture, she ‘wouldn’t have known what to look for’.

This campaign has opened up the potential of social media and the internet in raising awareness about health issues. While the NHS has an extensive website and there are online GP’s and the likes available, this really stuck with me. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all platforms millions of people use every day, and this campaign brings information to people, without them having to look for it. People can become increasingly aware of symptoms without searching for them, and this campaign shows clear advances in how internet is used to educate people about health issues.

 Sources 

[1] http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer

 

Dietary Zinc can help mend our DNA?

Today I came across an article on ‘medical news today’, which talked about the benefits of a modest increase of dietary zinc. I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt with you, as I was surprised to find out how many benefits it could reap.

 What are the benefits of zinc?

Zinc is well known to have a role in aspects of cellular metabolism and division, alongside supporting human development and growth. Limiting inflammation and reducing oxidative stress are also benefits of zinc, with the potential to protect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Alongside helping to maintain the health of the human immune system and having a role in DNA and protein synthesis.

It is also known that our DNA deteriorates, although we can regenerate it until late adulthood. What is the role of zinc in this? It aids DNA and protiensyntheis, and thus insufficient zinc compromised the ability of the human body to repair everyday damage to DNA.

 The research 

What is really interesting is that research published in the ‘American Journal of Clinical nutrition’ suggests that a small additional intake (around 4 milligrams) can have a positive impact on the health of cells, and aid the human body to fight infection – certainly a benefit at this time of year!

It was researches from the Benioff Children’s Hospital, Oakland Research Institute who set out to show the benefits of an increase in dietary zinc on metabolic functions, and the effect of the equivalent amount provided by biofortified crops in nutrient-deficient regions was tested. Food fortification slightly increases the zinc content of cereals (e.g. wheat and rice) and some studies have shown a positive effect on the functional indicators of zinc within the human body.

A randomised 6 week controlled study was devised by researchers, and 18 men consumed a low- zinc, rice based diet.The diet consisted of 6 milligrams per day for 2 weeks and continued with 10 milligrams daily for the remaining 4 weeks.Before and after the diet, the researchers measured zinc homeostasis indicators and other metabolic indicators, including oxidative stress, DNA damage and DNA inflammation.

 The results 

It revealed significant changes in the zinc homeostasis indicators, and an increase in the levels of total absorbed zinc, while plasma zinc concentrations remained the same. Something I found both intriguing and promising was that Leukocyte DNA strand breaks were also reduced with increased dietary zinc, which suggests that a modest increase in zinc reduces the everyday “wear and tear” of the DNA.

The potential benefits of an increase in dietary zinc are therefore tremendous, however to what extent is yet to be shown, and more research is underway to investigate if this is a permanent improvement. Zinc rich foods include pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, chicken and cashews – so make sure you’re eating plenty of these, to help your body function and help to mend your DNA!

The article mentioned is linked here http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315070.php

The Mesentery – The Newly Discovered Organ

Recently, the news has been jam packed with headlines about the ‘mesentery’ – essentially the discovery of a new organ, which was hiding in plain sight. What was previously thought to be a few fragmented structures in the digestive system, has been discovered to be one continuous organ. The double fold of the lining of the abdominal cavity, holding the intestine to the wall of the abdomen. I thought I’d do a bit of research, as what really interested me is what function can the mesentery have? As scientists we have thought we understood the human body, and the roles of each of its organs, however the discovery of a new organ comes with new questions. What does it do? What is its impact on the functions of other organs?

The mesentery has been rigorously investigated by professor J Calvin Coffey since 2012, where electron microscope examinations were used to analyse the structure. This led to the discovery oimage_4479-Mesenteryf one continuous organ, and not just tissue fragments in the digestive system. Understanding the function of this organ is essential in the field of medicine, when the functionis understood, abnormal function can be understood and the differences observed and investigated. Enabling scientists to consequently find the diseases related to that organ, and how to treat them.

The mesentery can be seen as a folded flap around the intestines, from the base of the stomach and pancreas, closing the small intestine and colon, to the rectum. While what appears to be its most obvious purpose is to maintain the positioning of our intestines, there have been suggestions of other roles of the organs. One of which, from J Calvin Coffey and D Peter O’Leary (University of Limerick) is that is may be responsible for the movementof white blood cells around the intestines.

The classification of the mesentery as an organ does not change the structure which has been inside our bodies for millions of years, however it does present a new field of medical science and the possibility of improving health outcomes, such as those for abdominal and digestive diseases. For instance, when the tissue of the mesentery becomes inflamed, it can disturb the intestines, causing stomach pains and discomfort. Why is not yet known, as the function of this new organ is not yet understood. The anatomy and structure of the mesentery has been established and scientists are now working towards establishing the function of mesentery and thus what role in could play in disease, alongside the possibility of new and revolutionary treatments.

This was a discovery I found truly shocking,  as it is one which causes us to question what it is we already know about the human body, and the possibilities of the vast amounts we do not know. However, science is an ever advancing field, and as our investigative techniques improve and advance, I am hopeful that we will continue to discover more about the human body and how it works, enabling us to to improve treatment methods.

sources 

http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/langas/PIIS2468-1253(16)30026-7.pdf

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/04/health/new-organ-mesentery/ 

https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/mesentery

http://arstechnica.com/science/2017/01/a-ruffled-intestinal-support-called-the-mesentery-may-be-our-79th-organ/

 

Why are babies born with blue eyes? The ins and outs of melanin

 

There is no doubt that eye colour is due to genetics, inherited from the parents of a child, however it is also well known that most babies are born with blue eyes. Why?

Ultimately, it is because the melanin within they eyes of a baby has not been fully deposited in their irises or fully developed yet. Melanin is the protein, a brown pigment, responsible for the colouring of your hair, eyes and skin. It darkens due to exposure to ultraviolet light. The amount of melaninthat a baby will develop is coded for in their genes, resulting in different eye colours due to different amounts of melanin being coded for. A high concentration of melanin in your irises result in eyes appearing brown/black, less melanin produces green/grey/light brown eyes, and irises containing very small amounts of melanin appear blue/light grey.

 How does eye colour develop? 

The production of melanin usually increases during the first year of a babies life, resulting in a deepening of eye colour. The time taken to reach a stable colour varies from around six months to two years, and is affected by several factors, many of which environmental. This means that some people have eyes of two colours, and some people experience a change in their eye colour throughout their lives.

 But, not all babies?

The likelihood of an African, Asian or Hispanic baby being born with brown eyes is common, and blue eyes less so. Why? Darker skinned individuals tend to have more melanin in their eyes, resulting in a darker colour. Although, this may still change or deepen over time.

sources: http://chemistry.about.com/cs/howthingswork/f/eyecolor.htm and https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Eye-Color.aspx