What We’re Reading
AI could target autism before it even emerges—but it’s no cure-all
By Anna Vlasits
Artificial intelligence claims to identify autistic infants long before they present behavioural symptoms, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina and Washington University. It’s a thrilling opportunity: Early detection gives autism neuroscience a big leg up. But now clinicians and researchers have to figure out what they’ll do with that information—is it just a research tool, or will they one day begin diagnosing and treating autism before symptoms start?
Bacteria harnessed to provide oxygen to the heart during a heart attack
By Catherine Curuso
Photosynthetic bacteria injected into the heart during a heart attack could keep heart cells alive by providing an essential source of oxygen, a new study in rats finds. Yale cardiac surgeon Dr. Arnar Geirsson, who wasn’t involved with the study, was enthusiastic about the technique, which he said could lead to “a paradigm shift in how you potentially treat any type of disease that involves a lack of oxygen and nutrients.”
“They’re really thinking outside the box,” he said. “The concept of using this mechanism to potentially treat conditions or diseases is very, very unique.” He pointed out, however, that because bacteria can cause an immune response in animals, in-depth research is needed before moving to human patients.
The delivery of oxygen-producing bacteria to a site of blocked blood flow is a promising new approach for preventing tissue death, if researchers can clear some important hurdles.
Tsimané of the Bolivian Amazon have world’s healthiest hearts
By Sarah Boseley
Heart attacks and strokes are almost unknown amongst the Tsimané, thanks to a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet and active lifestyle, say researchers.
The Tsimané live in thatched huts with no electricity or modern conveniences. Their lives are spent on hunts that can last for over eight hours covering 18 km for wild deer, monkeys or tapir and clearing large areas of primal forest with an axe, as well as the gentler pastime of gathering berries.
But as a result of this pre-industrial lifestyle, the Tsimané have hardly any hardening of the arteries. Heart attacks and strokes, the biggest killers in North America and Europe, are almost unknown.
A study published in the Lancet medical journal and being presented at the American College of Cardiology conference shows that an 80-year-old Tsimané man has the vascular age of an American in his mid-50s.
Dreams might be warning us about our brain health
By Peter Hess
What are your dreams trying to tell you? Research suggests they could be warning you about disease risk factors. According to Dr. John Peever, a neuroscience researcher at University of Toronto, your dreams could actually be warning you about potential neurological disease. This researcher has identified the specific parts of the brain associated with dreaming, and has found some surprising connections between them and neurological disease. Peever presented his findings at the 2017 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting.
Could lack of vitamin A be a cause of diabetes?
By Honor Whiteman
Researchers have found that vitamin A may be crucial to the insulin-secreting function of beta cells, a discovery that could open the door to new treatments for diabetes. In a new study, researchers from the United Kingdom and Sweden discovered that there are large quantities of vitamin A receptors on the surface of beta cells, called GPRC5C.
The researchers partially blocked GPRC5C in these beta cells. When sugar was applied to these cells, the team found that their insulin-secreting ability decreased by almost 30 per cent.
Since impaired insulin secretion is a major cause of type 2 diabetes, the researchers believe that this finding indicates that a lack of vitamin A — found in liver, fish oils, and various fruits and vegetables – may play a role in the disease. What is more, the team discovered that a lack of vitamin A led to a reduction in beta cells’ ability to stave off inflammation, while a complete deficiency of vitamin A caused beta cells to die.