What's Happening in Healthcare...

Parkinson's Linked to Gut Bacteria...


For the first time, researchers have found a functional link between the bacteria in the gut and the onset of Parkinson's disease, one of the world's most common debilitating brain disorders.

A team of scientists from several institutions in the United States and Europe showed how changing the bacteria in the guts of mice affected the manifestation of Parkinson's symptoms — even including bacteria taken from the guts of humans with the disease.

The findings suggest a new way of treating the disease: The best target for treatment may be the gut, rather than the brain. The researchers hope the new information can be used to develop "next generation" probiotics, more sophisticated than the sort of probiotics found on the shelves of health food stores today.

"One can imagine one day, maybe in our lifetimes, patients will be prescribed drugs, and in the pills will be the bacteria that protect them from disease or even maybe treat their disease symptoms," said Sarkis Mazmanian, one of the researchers on the team and professor of microbiology at the California Institute of Technology.

The scientists published their findings Thursday in the journal Cell. 

A Year in Review: The most popular medical research of 2016


This year's findings include the discovery that reading books is linked to a longer lifespan. Also, scientists finally proved that, even if you pick up dropped food within 5 seconds, it is still not safe. According to the researchers, "bacteria can contaminate instantaneously."

Marijuana's state of legal flux has seen it appear increasingly in the scientific literature. In total, 23 states (and the District of Columbia) have passed laws allowing some level of medicinal use.

A number of MNT articles covering the most recent findings in cannabis research sparked both interest and discussion.

The active ingredient in cannabis - THC - creates the associated "high" by interacting with the CB1 receptor. In October, a study published in the journal Cell added to scientific understanding of how cannabis produces its mind-altering effects by creating a 3-D model of the CB1 receptor.

One of the primary goals of the endeavor was to understand how synthetic cannabinoids work. These drugs, such as K2 and Spice, were responsible for around 8,000 calls to poison centers in the United States in 2015. Understanding their mechanism of action in more detail could save lives.

Because cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in America, studies investigating associated health consequences often gain a great deal of attention. For instance, a study published this year in the American Journal of Medicine linked heavy cannabis use to reduced bone density and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Another study revealed details of how marijuana increases memory loss by activating CB1 receptors in mitochondria.

On a more positive note, Alzheimer's researchers published a study in the Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, backing up findings about cannabis' neuroprotective properties. They found that THC reduced beta-amyloid levels and prevented the death of nerve cells.

Sadly, Zika was big news in 2016, and not just within medical research; it is a global concern. Caused by a virus and transmitted primarily by mosquitoes, the disease has relatively vague, flu-like symptoms, such as a low-level fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, and headache.

This year, the Zika virus' ability to interfere with the growing fetus was proven.

However, it has now been linked to microcephaly (a condition where a baby's head is smaller than normal) and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a serious and rare condition affecting the peripheral nervous system).

MNT covered researchers' claims that "up to 1.65 million childbearing women could become infected."

We also wrote about the groundbreaking work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that described how the Zika virus attacked fetal brains and the confirmation that Zika did indeed cause a range of birth defects.

WHO have now downgraded Zika from a Public Health Emergency, but the troubles are far from over; many scientists are concerned that this change in status will reduce the amount of funding available to researchers delving into the details of this poorly understood disease.

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