Approximately 3,600 years ago, the last of the woolly mammoths took their final steps on the frosty soil of Wrangel Island, 140 km off the Russian coast. A small group of around 500 or so stragglers somehow managed to find their way to that isolated island, subsequently outliving their mainland counterparts by roughly 6,000 years.
Neurodegeneration in different forms has been an increasing health concern worldwide as the population ages and hence it has been attracting the attention of many researchers. Examples of neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), etc. along with retinal neurodegenerations like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. AD is irreversible brain disorder occurring due to amyloid plaque formation that is characterized by gradual loss of memory and thinking ability, while PD is a motor system affecting disease involving neuronal death due to Lewy bodies’ formation. AMD involves gradual loss of central vision due to death of macular cells of the retina while glaucoma the infamous ‘Silent thief of vision’, involves increase in the intra-ocular pressure leading to slowly progressing, permanent blindness that begins from the peripheral vision loss. The underlying causes of all these diseases are quite similar like age, oxidative stress, genetic predisposition etc. They all seem quite related to each other with common mechanism of pathogenesis, however, complete understanding of these diseases is still under research. For instance, it is quite well known fact that AD involves β-Amyloid aggregates (plaques) which is the main causative protein in its pathology but role of this protein in ocular disorders like glaucoma is still elusive. β-Amyloid has however, been suggested to be playing an important role in pathogenesis of this ocular disorder by many scientific groups.
Research discoveries at Baylor College of Medicine can potentially reach the point where they evolve into practical applications that improve the quality of life. After more than 20 years of research, discoveries of Dr. Mary Estes’ lab have reached that point; they successfully resulted in a vaccine against rotavirus, triggered the interest of an industry partner, ImmuCell, and were ultimately developed into a final product that has been approved and is available for use in the U.S.
Envision the following possible future clinical scenario: a patient in a hospital develops an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection that is untreatable or only treatable with the most toxic of antibiotics. During the 48 hours it takes to identify the bacterial species and strain, physicians and scientists also screen a library of bacterium-killing viruses at hand, select those that are effective against this antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain and mix a personalized cocktail of phages to successfully treat the patient.
The increased awareness of consumers about the link between health and nutrition has driven research (and food industry) to explore the beneficial effects of functional foods (which promote health or prevent diseases). Although it can be affirmed that food contains “functional nutrients”, nevertheless, for some of them, dietary indications have changed a lot in the last years. This is the case of milk fat consumption that has been associated, for a long time, with increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, dyslipidemia or obesity. However, in some recent studies, it was evidenced that milk and cheese intake reduced the cardiovascular risk, diseased mortality and the strongest protective effects were observed in consumers of whole dairy products (Dehghan, M.et al., Lancet. 2018). Among the beneficial components of milk fats, conjugated linoleic acid, owing to its prevailing healthy effects for humans, has been considered a functional ingredient (Kim, J.H. et al., Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2016). Although its beneficial effects have been first demonstrated more than thirty years ago, there is still much interest in investigating its protective efficacy and in understanding the mechanisms underlying its biological activities.
With the rapid increase in our understanding of disease biology, it is quite evident that treatment outcomes are dependent on patient molecular profiles. The focus is now to get the right treatment to the right patient allowing for greater safety and efficacy. The authors have shed light on a molecular biomarker that could potentially be used in this new treatment paradigm.
Bilirubin, a major pigment in bile with specific antioxidant properties, is a standard serum biomarker of liver function, which has particular toxicity due to irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system. Inexplicably, it is inversely correlated with cardiovascular disease risk. Our group found that unconjugated bilirubin (UCB) decreases macrophage cholesterol efflux and reduces the expression of ATP binding cassette A1 (ABCA1). These novel data underscore the complex bioactivity of bilirubin in the context of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and may encourage further exploration of bilirubin’s effect on cholesterol metabolism and transport.
The recent talk of Prof. Karin Michels on coconut oil titled “Coconut oil and other nutritional errors” ignited a global concern and a significant hype in all major media newsrooms of the globe. The Harvard Professor of epidemiology declared coconut oil as a “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods you can eat.”. Her statement was based on the presence of saturated fats in coconut oil which are associated with cardiovascular diseases. However, there are reliable reports of epidemiologists which contradict these statements. A meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine led by the University of Cambridge analyzed the intake of fatty acids and coronary risk, and their study did not support a restriction of the consumption of saturated fats to prevent heart diseases .
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading causes of disability and mortality worldwide. So, it is very interesting to develop novel treatment strategies as well as drugs against CVDs. Many natural products have been proven to be safe for human consumption throughout the world, and still represent an enormous pool for the discovery and development of new drugs. In recent decades, multiple research teams investigated the possible benefits of natural products and their active components against CVDs. Our group mainly focused on screening of natural products (including ginger ), among others) to prevent or treat cardiovascular diseases. Recently we published results linking ginger and macrophage cholesterol efflux, which is an important event in CVDs . In this blog contribution, we will briefly present some highlights and major findings in our study.
Every year, malaria continues to cause severe morbidity and mortality. Therefore, scientists are actively collaborating with the World Health Organization towards an eradication of the disease. One of the main pillars of the eradication agenda involves killing the transmissible forms of the parasite that causes malaria, using drugs. This will, in turn, curtail the spread of the disease. However, there is a lack of compounds that can kill the transmissible form of the parasite. This blog post underlines that natural products might hold the key towards discovering the needed transmission-blocking compounds and calls for their joint exploration. Indeed, the historical link between natural compounds and the battle against malaria supports this argument.
Figure 1: Stopping the spread of Plasmodium from infected humans to mosquitoes will eradicate malaria.