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Chilli compound shows pain relief promise

Researchers at Aberdeen University are using the compound that gives chillies their kick in the fight against chronic pain.

They have identified how genes are ‘turned on’ to make humans feel pain. Capsaicin, the compound in chillies, can also turn on the switch. Their study could herald the development of new painkilling drugs.

The team looked at the mechanics of the pain gene known as substance-P which was first associated with chronic inflammatory pain more than 30 years ago.

Genes need ‘switches’, known as promoters and enhancers, to turn them on in the right place, at the right time and at the right level.

One of the major findings of the study was that the switches do not act in isolation and need other switches to ‘speak to’ in order to activate the gene.

“Finding the switch was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Dr Lynne Shanley. “However, by comparing the genetic sequences of humans, mice and chickens, we were able to find a short stretch of DNA that had remained unchanged since before the age of dinosaurs.”

“We were delighted when this little bit of DNA turned out to be a genetic switch, or enhancer sequence, which could turn on the substance-P gene in sensory neurons,” Shanley added.

Whole grains may cut risk of cardiovascular diseases

People who consume whole grains while limiting daily intake of refined grains appear to have less of a type of fat tissue thought to play a key role in triggering cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers at the Tufts University observed lower volumes of Visceral Adipose Tissue (VAT) in people who chose to eat mostly whole grains instead of refined grains.

“VAT volume was approximately 10 per cent lower in adults who reported eating three or more daily servings of whole grains and who limited their intake of refined grains to less than one serving per day,” first author Nicola McKeown said. “For example, a slice of 100 per cent whole wheat bread or a half cup of oatmeal constituted one serving of whole grains and a slice of white bread or a half cup of white rice represented a serving of refined grains.”

McKeown and colleagues, including senior author Caroline S Fox, medical officer at The Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, examined diet questionnaires submitted by 2,834 men and women enrolled in The Framingham Heart Offspring and Third Generation study cohorts. The participants, ages 32 to 83, underwent multidetector-computed tomography scans, to determine VAT and subcutaneous adipose tissue volumes. Visceral fat surrounds the intra-abdominal organs while subcutaneous fat is found just beneath the skin.

Pills found in shipwreck give clues to ancient medicine

Scientists had discovered pills in a 2,000-year-old shipwreck around 21 years ago.
Now they are trying to unravel the mystery of whether the pills were, in fact, created and used as effective plant-based medicines.

Around 130 BC, a ship, identified as the Relitto del Pozzino, sank off Tuscany, Italy. Among the artifacts found on board in 1989 were glass cups, a pitcher and ceramics.

Its cargo also included a chest that contained various items related to the medical profession: a copper bleeding cup and 136 boxwood vials and tin containers. Inside one of the tin vessels, archaeologists found several circular tablets, many still completely dry.

Using DNA sequencing, Robert Fleischer has identified some of the plant components in the tablets — carrot, radish, parsley, celery, wild onion, cabbage, alfalfa, oak and hibiscus.

This is similar to the recent archaeological discovery in China of a 2,400-year-old pot of soup in which the broth was found inside a sealed cauldron.

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