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New hope for restoring vision in the blind

Scientists have successfully translated retinal cone cells, vital for colour vision, into blind mice. Four years ago, the same research team transplanted rod cells, used in night vision.

The hope for restoring vision in the blind is that transplantable cells which mature into rods or cones can be derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), which can grow into any of the body’s tissues.

“Ultimately, all blindness results from loss of cones,” said Jane Sowden of University College London, as saying. Sowden’s team extracted cells for transplant from the eyes of fetal or newborn mice.

They selected cells with activity in a gene called cone rod homeobox which commits cells to becoming rods or cones.

Treatment was given to mice engineered to mimic a form of childhood blindness called Leber’s congenital amaurosis.

The team injected 2,00,000 isolated cells into each eye, in a space between the layer of light-sensitive cells — engineered to be damaged in the recipient mice — at the rear of the retina and a supporting epithelial cell layer above.

Within 21 days, the new cells settled into the photoreceptor layer and grew into rods and cones.

New therapy for lung and skin cancer found

Scientists have developed a new therapy for the treatment of skin and lung cancer.
This therapy, developed by at the University of Granada researchers, involves the use of a suicide coliphage-gene (gene E) that can induce death to cells transfected with it.
Their studies have demonstrated that this technique is not only effective in vitro (using tumour cell cultures), but also in vivo through the use of experimental animals in which tumours were induced.

Although further research is required, the results revealed gene E's intensive antitumour activity, which means that it could be used in new treatments for this type of pathology.
This study was carried out by Raúl Ortiz Quesada, from the Department of Human Anatomy and Embriology, at the University of Granada, and led by professors Antonia Aránega Jiménez, José Carlos Prados Salazar y Consolación Melguizo Alonso.

In this study, gene E and gene gef — which are bacterial lysis genes — were employed. This is the first time that this type of genes is used in eukaryotic cells in the treatment of tumours.

Deep brain stimulation for smoking cessation

A new case report revealed that electrical stimulation of the brain in a patient with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) led to some unanticipated benefits — ‘effortless’ smoking cessation and weight loss.

The patient was a 47-year-old woman who had extremely severe OCD related to fear of dirt and excessive cleaning. In addition to OCD, the patient was a heavy smoker, nearly two packs per day; and was severely obese, with a weight of 235 pounds (body mass index 37).

When medications did not improve the patient’s disabling OCD symptoms, an alternative treatment was recommended: deep brain stimulation.

The patient underwent placement of electrodes in a brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which has been found to be involved in OCD and other addictive disorders.
The electrodes were then connected to a small generator, which was programmed to deliver electrical stimulation to the brain.

Now commonly used in conditions like Parkinson’s disease, deep brain stimulation has emerged as a new option for patients with severe OCD that do not respond to other treatments.

With electrical stimulation therapy, the patient’s OCD symptoms gradually improved. Improvement peaked after ten months — the time she spent on her compulsions and obsessions decreased from 20 hours to 1 hour per day, and the patient no longer felt she was impaired by OCD in her daily life.

City dwelling’s role in gaining resistance to disease

Living in a crowded city may not seem to be the right way to stay healthy, but it did help our ancestors protect their descendants from disease. Some people carry a genetic sequence, or allele, that provides immunity to leprosy and tuberculosis.

Mark Thomas of the University College London, and Ian Barnes of the University of London, wondered whether this genetic immunity could have been gained when people began living in close proximity.

Poor sanitation would have meant that disease was rife in ancient cities, but exposure to the pathogens would have led to resistance developing, which the inhabitants would have passed onto their descendants.

To test this idea, Thomas and colleagues analysed the DNA of people living in 12 regions in Europe, Asia and Africa.

For each area, they combed the historical and anthropological records to work out when people first started living in close-knit groups. They found that the longer cities in the region had been established, the more likely it was that the current inhabitants carried the immunity allele.

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