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New hope for people battling depression

Researchers have discovered a small molecule that predicts treatment response for depressed patients.

According to researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Institute, levels of a small molecule found only in humans and in other primates are lower in the brains of depressed individuals.

This discovery may hold a key to improving treatment options for those who suffer from depression.

Dr Gustavo Turecki, a psychiatrist at the Douglas and professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry at McGill, together with his team, discovered that the levels of a tiny molecule, miR-1202, may provide a marker for depression and help detect individuals who are likely to respond to antidepressant treatment.

Turecki, who is also Director of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, said that they identified this molecule, a microRNA known as miR-1202, only found in humans and primates and discovered that it regulates an important receptor of the neurotransmitter glutamate.

The team conducted a number of experiments that showed that antidepressants change the levels of this microRNA.

“In our clinical trials with living depressed individuals treated with citalopram, a commonly prescribed antidepressant, we found lower levels in depressed individuals compared to the non-depressed individuals before treatment,” says Turecki.

He said “clearly, microRNA miR-1202 increased as the treatment worked and individuals no longer felt depressed.”

An infection that can prevent malaria

Ever heard of an “infected” mosquito? Yes, mosquitoes do get infected, new research reveals.

What is more interesting is that mosquitoes' infection can be used to tackle the spread of malaria. |

Researchers have found the first evidence of an intercellular bacterial infection in natural populations of two species of Anopheles mosquitoes, the major vectors of malaria.

The infection, called Wolbachia, has been shown in labs to reduce the incidence of pathogen infections in mosquitoes and has the potential to be used in controlling malaria-transmitting mosquito populations.

“Wolbachia is an interesting bacterium that seems perfectly suited for mosquito control. However, there were strong doubts that it could ever be used against field Anopheles populations,” said Flaminia Catteruccia of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

“We were thrilled when we identified infections in natural mosquito populations, as we knew this finding could generate novel opportunities for stopping the spread of malaria,” Catteruccia added.

Anopheles mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on the planet. They are responsible for transmitting malaria, which causes more than 600,000 deaths each year and puts half of the world's population at risk for diseases.

Better tissue healing with dissolving’ hydrogels

Regenerating bone tissue through stem cells can now be easier and more precise.
Researchers at University of Rochester, New York, have developed a technique to keep the stem cells from moving away, resulting in faster and better tissue regeneration.

When stem cells are used to regenerate bone tissue, a number of them move away from the repair site that disrupts the healing process.

The new technique is encasing the stem cells in polymers that attract water and disappear when their work is done.

The technique is similar to what has already been used to repair other types of tissue, including cartilage, but had never been tried on bone.

"Our success opens the door for many and more complicated types of bone repair," said Danielle Benoit, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at University of Rochester.

The polymers used by Benoit and her teams are called hydrogels because they hold water which is necessary to keep the stem cells alive.

The hydrogels, which mimic the natural tissues of the body, are specially designed to have an additional feature that's vital to the repair process.

They degrade and disappear before the body interprets them as foreign bodies and begins a defence response that could compromise the healing process.

“Some types of tissue repair take more time to heal than do others,” said Benoit.
What we needed was a way to control how long the hydrogels remained at the site, she added.

Benoit believes degradable hydrogels show promise in many research areas.

For example, it may be possible to initiate tissue regeneration after heart attacks without having a patient undergo difficult, invasive surgery, but a great deal of additional research is required.

Bio sensor to make drugmonitoring quick, cheap

Patients may soon monitor drug concentration on their own as researchers have developed a novel light-emitting sensor proteins that can quickly and simply show how much drug is in their bloodstream by changing the colour of the light.

“This system is a cheap, effective solution for customising drug dosage in patients across a whole array of diseases,” said Rudolf Griss from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Monitoring the drug concentration in patients is critical for effective treatment, especially in cases of cancer, heart disease, epilepsy and immunosuppression after organ transplants.
However, current methods are expensive, time-consuming and require dedicated personnel and infrastructure away from the patient.

The new bio sensor molecule can quickly and accurately measure drug concentration in a patient's system without requiring anything more complicated than a regular digital camera.

The molecule is the result of innovative protein engineering and organic chemistry, and has been shown to work on a range of common drugs for cancer, epilepsy and immunosuppression.

The sensor molecule works by binding the drug circulating in the patient's bloodstream and changing colour accordingly.

The doctor or the patient can record the signal very easily by putting a drop of sample like blood onto a piece of paper, placing it in a dark box and photographing it with a conventional camera.

The photograph can then be analysed by colour-measuring software to generate an average measurement.

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