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Health News

November 21, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Universal gene speeds wound healing in animals

In animal experiments, federal genetics researchers have now found that a gene known as heat shock protein 60 (Hsp60) speeds up wound healing—and researchers have reason to believe it may one day work on humans.

In separate tests on zebrafish and on diabetic mice, the animals’ cuts and wounds completely healed far faster when they were injected or smeared with Hsp60-containing shots or gels.

The gene is believed to speed wound healing by boosting the immune system’s local inflammatory response—the body’s first step in regenerating cells to heal cuts or wounds.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers are particularly excited about Hsp60’s potential to speed wound closure in diabetic patients.  Diabetes inhibits wound healing, and approximately 15 percent of diabetic patients develop foot ulcers, which too often do not heal.  Researchers now hope that better understanding of wound healing might lead to better diabetes treatments.

“We hope that topical treatment with Hsp60 will act the same way in humans,” said lead researcher Shawn Burgess, Ph.D.  The research was published in Regenerative Medicine.

New clue from zebrafish for regenerating severed spinal cords

In related news, NIH-funded researchers at Duke University have figured out how zebrafish are able to completely regenerate severed spinal cords—research that they likewise hope to one day apply to humans.

In zebrafish with severed spinal cords, molecules called connective tissue growth factor a (CTGFa) produce cells called glial cells.  The glial cells form a bridge at the site of a severed spinal cord.  New nerve cells then fill the gap, restoring normal spinal cord function.

The promising news is that humans also produce CTGFa.  Researchers are now looking into why CTGFa does not trigger the same regeneration process in human spinal-cord injuries as it does in zebrafish.

Patient spells out letters with brain interface system

An experimental computer-brain interface system developed by Dutch doctors is currently helping a paralysis patient spell out words on a computer screen using only her brain.

The patient, a 58-year-old woman in the late stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cannot speak or move any body part except her eyes and eyelids.

Such patients typically communicate with the world via eye-tracking technology that allows them to spell out letters on a computer screen by looking at them one at a time.

However, the new system uses four sensor strips implanted over the part of the patient’s brain that controls hand movement.  When the patient imagines herself using a computer mouse to select an on-screen letter, the sensors pick up brain signals and passes them to a computer.

Working very slowly over the past year to fine-tune both the signal-reading software and the patient’s skill, the patient and team now can hit a maximum of clicking four letters a minute with thought power alone.

More social workplaces, better mental health

An Australian study published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Review finds that workers with better social links to co-workers have better mental health.  While the study does not claim any cause-and-effect link, it did find an association between how strongly people identified with their work colleagues or organization and better health and lower risk of burnout.

Researchers looked at 58 existing studies covering 19,000 workers in 15 countries, finding that social relationships in the workplace, especially the social groups people form at work, can play a major role in health at work. 

The researchers also suggested that the mental health benefits may come from the support provided by the work group, but also from the meaning and purpose that people derive from membership in social groups.

Strongest Zika-Guillain-Barre link found

Johns Hopkins University researchers found that 17 of 68 patients with the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome also had the Zika virus in their bodies.

A link between Zika, which can seriously harm babies but is usually harmless for adults, and Guillain-Barre had long been suspected. 

Rates of the neurological disorder, which causes mild tingling to temporary full-body paralysis, spiked in Zika-affected regions in the past.  Guillain-Barre is rare, normally afflicting about one person in 100,000.  But when Zika struck French Polynesia several years ago, about one in 4,000 people infected with the virus also developed Guillain-Barre.

With a strong Zika presence now in South America, the researchers recently tested Guillain-Barre patients in six hospitals in Colombia. Their research was published Oct. 5 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

How Zika may be causing Guillain-Barre—or if it actually causes it at all—is something the scientists are still not sure about.  But the new findings are the strongest indication to date of a direct link between the virus and the syndrome.