This week's news includes a possible stem cell fix for liver damage, the discovery of lung stem cells, a link between acetaminophen and blood cancer, a survey showing that gay men may be at higher risk of getting cancer, and a new laser that mimics the structure of brightly colored bird feathers.
Stem cells may mend liver damage
Researchers have found a way to reprogram cells from mouse tails to behave like mature liver cells, which appear to be able to repair damaged livers, according to a linkurl:study published this week in Nature
.;http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10116.html The paper is proof of the concept that reprogrammed cells can skip the pluripotency stage and still hold therapeutic value. Cell biologist Lijian Hui of the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences in China and his colleagues expressed three proteins, and suppressed one, to reprogram fibroblasts from mouse tails into liver-like cells, which they then transplanted into mutant mice that were unable to detoxify certain metabolic intermediates. Five of the 12 animals that received the engineered cells survived, while all control animals died.
"It's really exciting," Paul Gadue, a stem-cell biologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study, linkurl:told Nature
.;http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110511/full/news.2011.283.html "If this work could be translated to humans, it could be very powerful."
Lung stem cells -- for real?
|Image: Wikimedia commons, Patrick J. Lynch|
There's good, stem cell-related news for another organ this week -- the lung. Researchers say they have found lung stem cells, which may hold therapeutic value for repairing damaged respiratory tissue, according to a linkurl:study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
.;http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1101324?query=featured_home The team identified the lung stem cells from human lungs in a tissue bank using specific genetic markers, and demonstrated their stem-cell-ness by confirming that they could self-renew and differentiate into several different types of lung tissue. When injected into injured mouse lungs, the cells replaced the damaged tissue.
The finding is likely to generate debate and skepticism within the field, however, linkurl:The Boston Globe
reports,;http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2011/05/12/study_finds_lung_stem_cells_likely_to_generate_debate/?rss_id=Boston.com+%2F+Boston+Globe+--+National+News because many scientists did not expect such a dynamic lung stem cell to exist. Indeed, "several cells [of the lung] have been claimed to possess the properties of stem cells, but don't have the biological characteristics," Piero Anversa, a professor of medicine at the Brigham and coauthor of the study, told The Globe
. The experiments will likely have to be repeated and expanded before everyone is convinced. But if confirmed, "these new findings should energize the field," Harold Chapman, a professor in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an editorial accompanying the paper in NEJM
Tylenol tied to blood cancer
|Image: Wikimedia commons, Katy Warner|
Chronic users of acetaminophen (Tylenol) have a higher risk of developing blood cancer, according to a linkurl:study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology
.;http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2011/05/06/JCO.2011.34.6346.abstract The increased risk is small, but the finding adds to a growing body of literature that links cancer and painkillers (see linkurl:last month's feature;http://www.the-scientist.com/2011/4/1/38/1/ on the topic for more information). Previous work, for example, suggested that aspirin increases the chances of colon cancer survival, while also increasing the risk of bleeding ulcers, linkurl:according to Reuters
.;http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/09/us-acetaminophen-cancer-idUSTRE7486CC20110509 It's still unclear, however, whether acetaminophen causes cancer, said study coauthor Emily White of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Gays have higher cancer risk?
Gay men are nearly twice as likely to report that they've had cancer as heterosexual men, according to a US health linkurl:survey published in Cancer
.;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.25950/abstract Lesbians and bisexual female cancer survivors also report more health problems than heterosexual women in remission. Why such statistics would vary with sexual orientation, however, remains unclear, says study author Ulrike Boehmer of the Boston University School of Public Health. It could be that more gay men are diagnosed with cancer, for example, or that more gay men are surviving to tell about it. (linkurl:Hat tip to FierceBiotech
Lasers of a feather light better
|Image: Flickr, papegaai|
Researchers have developed a new kind of laser that mimics some of the world's most beautiful birds, copying the nanoscale structure of their brightly colored feathers to capture light. Many lasers are created using holes or pockets of air can trap light, giving it time to build up a sufficient number of photons to emit extremely high-intensity light. Birds like kingfishers or parrots achieve their brilliant colors in a similar way -- trapping wavelengths of light so that they build up before being emitted. Unlike the highly ordered or completely random patterns traditionally used in lasers, the air pockets of bird feathers are neither ordered nor random, and mimicking these patterns may be a more efficient way to produce laser light, according to linkurl:research published last week in Physical Review Letters
.;http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v106/i18/e183901 The researchers also determined that by altering the spacing between the holes, they could adjust the wavelength of the laser light, linkurl:Wired
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:An Aspirin for your Cancer?;http://www.the-scientist.com/2011/4/1/38/1/
[April 2011]*linkurl:Eyes grown from stem cells;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/58105/
[6th April 2011]*linkurl:Pluripotency not required;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57120/
[27th January 2010]