Circulating fats and acids drop in people and rats that aren’t getting enough sleep.

sleep

Certain compounds involved in metabolism are measurably depleted in the blood of people and rats that are sleep deprived, according study published in PNAS this week (February 9).  Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and their colleagues detected changes in several metabolites in the blood of rats and humans that slept only four hours a night for five nights, with two of these metabolites—oxalic acid, which is a byproduct of normal metabolism, and diacylglycerol 36:3, which plays a role in energy storage—dropping precipitously in both species.

Newly tenured biological engineer Ernest Fraenkel goes where the numbers lead. 

MIT Ernest Fraenkel 01

Cells are incredibly complicated machines with thousands of interacting parts — and disruptions to any of those interactions can cause disease.

Tracing those connections to seek the root cause of disease is a daunting task, but it is one that MIT biological engineer Ernest Fraenkel relishes. His lab takes a systematic approach to the problem: By comparing datasets that include thousands of events inside healthy and diseased cells, they can try to figure out what has gone awry in cells that are not functioning properly.

“The central challenge of this field is how you take all those different kinds of data to get a coherent picture of what’s going on in a cell, what is wrong in a diseased cell, and how you might fix it,” says Fraenkel, an associate professor of biological engineering.

Caption: Left: High levels of the toxic ataxin-1 protein have destroyed nerve cells in the cerebellum of a mouse, causing a severe disease. Right: Here researchers have genetically blocked the genes that normally produce high levels of ataxin-1. This prevents the disease from developing and keeps the brain healthy.

Credit: Harry Orr, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Minnesota

With our aging population, more people are developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. We currently don’t know how to prevent or cure these conditions, and their increasing prevalence not only represents a tragedy for affected individuals and their families, but also a looming public health and economic crisis.

Even though neurodegenerative diseases have varied roots—and affect distinct cell types in different brain regions—they do share something in common. In most of these disorders, we see some type of toxic protein accumulating in the brain. It’s as if the brain’s garbage disposal system is blocked, letting the waste pile up. In Huntington’s disease, huntingtin is the disease-causing protein. In spinocerebellar ataxia, it’s the ataxins. In Alzheimer’s, it’s beta-amyloid; in Parkinson’s, it’s α-synuclein. When garbage builds up in your kitchen, it’s a bad situation. When it’s in your brain, the consequences are deadly.

earimplant.jpgCornell bioengineers and physicians have created an artificial ear that looks and acts like a natural ear, giving new hope to thousands of children born with a congenital deformity called microtia.

In a study published online Feb. 20 in PLOS One, Cornell biomedical engineers and Weill Cornell Medical College physicians described how 3-D printing and injectable gels made of living cells can fashion ears that are practically identical to a human ear. Over a three-month period, these flexible ears grew cartilage to replace the collagen that was used to mold them.

PureMadi1.jpgPureMadi, a nonprofit University of Virginia organization, will introduce a new invention – a simple ceramic water purification tablet – during its one-year celebration event Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Alumni Hall.

Called MadiDrop, the tablet – developed and extensively tested at U.Va. – is a small ceramic disk impregnated with silver or copper nanoparticles. It can repeatedly disinfect water for up to six months simply by resting in a vessel where water is poured. It is being developed for use in communities in South Africa that have little or no access to clean water.

“Madi” is the Tshivenda South African word for water. PureMadi brings together U.Va. professors and students to improve water quality, human health, local enterprise and quality of life in the developing world. The organization includes students and faculty members from engineering, architecture, medicine, nursing, business, commerce, economics, anthropology and foreign affairs.

During the past year, PureMadi has established a water filter factory in Limpopo province, South Africa, employing local workers. The factory produced several hundred flowerpot-like water filters, according to James Smith, a U.Va. civil and environmental engineer who co-leads the project with Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of U.Va.’s Center for Global Health.

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This news service is provided by Good Samaritan Institute, located in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

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