This just in – Marijuana holds promise as antibacterial drug! Not only can we use pot as a drug for cancer pain-relief, multiple sclerosis treatments, and glaucoma; but it may soon be used to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections. Ok, so it’s not quite that simple, but the following NY times article reveals new research from Italy and Britain implicating the active ingredient in marijuana, cannabinoids, may be the next line of defense in combating microbes that are becoming resistant to current antibiotics.

Observatory – Marijuana Ingredient May Fight Bacteria –





Finally, paralyzed people may be able to walk among us. According to an article I found on Rueters online, a new robotic suit may help keep the paralyzed wearer upright and propel them forward.

The device, called ReWalk, is the brainchild of engineer Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, a small Israeli high-tech company.

Something of a mix between the exoskeleton of a crustacean and the suit worn by comic hero Iron Man, ReWalk helps paraplegics — people paralyzed below the waist — to stand, walk and climb stairs.

This new device may be a godsend in helping paraplegics boost their overall health – both physically and mentally. Physically, it helps use muscles that normally require intensive physical therapy to prevent atrophy. Mentally, it give the user a chance to be on eye level with everyone else and become less dependent on others to help them navigate through a world built for walking upright. To see more of the challenges facing people in wheel chairs, you should watch the FX series 30 Days with Morgan Spurlock where former NFL player Ray Crockett is confined to a wheelchair for 30 days! It is a great episode and really makes you think.


An Astrocyte

A Koosh Ball

When a brain is injured, cells called astrocytes change their shape (and probably their function too). An astrocyte is a cell in the brain that has many processes (think of a Koosh Ball) and these “arms” may help repair damage to your brain. In a “normal” injury, such as trauma or stroke, these astrocytes become enlarged and their arms grow in size and number. However, in an article published by PLosOne today Dr. Lowenstein, from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA, and his collaborators demonstrate a new reaction by astrocytes to immunological insults in the brain (they looked at what happens during your body’s response to viral infections and autoimmunity in the brain).

This group of researchers demonstrates that when our own body’s cells attack astrocytes, instead of getting bigger, astrocytes, pull in all of their arms and form one large protrusion to interact with the attacking cell, called a T cell which is part of your immune system. This is a dramatic change in the shape of an astrocyte and may indicate a dramatic change in function as well. In the paper, the authors suggest that this change in shape may help fend off the attacking cell, either by blocking its way or even by engulfing the cell.

 Although there is only speculation at this point as to what this finding means, astrocytes have many functions in your brain; including protecting the barrier to your brain, helping transmit signals through your brain, promoting myelinating activity (health of your brain), as well as possibly regulating stem cells in your brain. All of these functions play a major role in your brain activity and, thus, your overall health. Understanding the interactions between immune cells and brain cells is an important part of treating immune responses in the brain, such as with Multiple Sclerosis, brain tumors, or viral infections in the brain (like West Nile Virus or HIV).

I know that this wasn’t a big-ticket news items today, but I work on the mechanisms of T cell activation during Multiple Sclerosis (an autoimmune disorder that attacks the myelin sheath protecting the nerves in your brain and spinal cord). So, I thought that this was pretty interesting and has many implications!

Just to update you on the new and exciting “exercise pill”….

Frank Booth, a University of Missouri expert on the science of inactivity, says in a news release that the “exercise pill” study did not test all of the commonly known benefits of exercise and taking the pill cannot be considered a replacement for exercise. In fact, he lists a number of benefits derived from exercise that were not tested after use of the “exercise pill” that I talked about in my previous post. This list includes:

• Decreased resting and submaximal exercise heart rate
• Increased heart stroke volume at all exercise work loads
• Increased maximal exercise cardiac output
• Lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness
• Increased aerobic capacity
• Increased strength and cross-sectional area of skeletal muscle
• Delayed loss of muscle mass and strength with aging and physical frailty
• Improved balance and coordination
• Improved flexibility
• Reduced osteoporosis
• Reduced joint stress and back pain
• Decreased gallstone disease
• Improved endothelial function
• Decreased incidence of myocardial ischemia
• Less myocardial damage from ischemia
• Decreased oxidative stress
• Decreased inflammation
• Improved immune function
• Decreased liver steatosis and fatty liver disease
• Improved insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
• Less likelihood of depression, anxiety, stress and poor psychological well-being
• Ameliorating hyperlipidemia: lower total cholesterol, higher HDL, and decreased blood triglycerides
• Improved cognitive function in the elderly
• Increased blood flow and neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hypothalamus
• Prevention of the loss of brain volume in the elderly
• Delay in decline of physiological reserve in organ systems with aging

I’m glad someone has stepped up and highlighted some of the benefits of exercise not gained from a pill. However, I am still waiting to see what side-effects (if any, and I bet there are some) these pills carry with them.

According to an article in, researchers have discovered the miracle pill everyone is looking for. Exercise in a Pill. No more running, no more lifting weights, no more yoga needed. Two compounds have been found to mimic the effects of exercise…

The drugs reproduce many of the biological benefits of exercise, helping cells burn fat better and boosting endurance, said Ronald Evans, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.

One of the pills may some day help people enhance their exercise or training, while the other might be more suited for couch potatoes who need to kick-start themselves, Evans and colleagues reported on Thursday in the journal Cell.

“This is a drug that is like pharmacological exercise,” Evans says. “After four weeks of receiving the drug, the mice were behaving as if they’d been exercised.”

This sounds great and all, but how does that warning go? What sounds too good to be true usually is….

It sounds as if these drugs are already available on an ‘experimental basis’ but none of the testing has been finished to determine the safety of these products. Although this drug may be useful to people who have legitimate health problems preventing them from being physically able to exercise properly, I see this leading to many problems in the general population.

When will people realize that once you mess with something in your body, other things get screwed up too?  Why not just do some things the old fashioned way and get the results you want without unintended (harmful) side effects…


After the big blow up, which is still being discussed, between Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields in 2005, many people wondered whether postpartum depression is ‘real’ or not. A news release from the NIH claims that researchers Istvan Mody and Jamie Maguire may have found a mechanism behind this disease (published in Neuron).



Researchers have pinpointed a mechanism in the brains of mice that could explain why some human mothers become depressed following childbirth. The discovery could lead to improved treatment for postpartum depression. Supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, of the National Institutes of Health, the study used genetically engineered mice lacking a protein critical for adapting to the sex hormone fluctuations of pregnancy and the postpartum period. – NIH News Release

Although it was first thought that this depression related to fluctuations in hormone levels, this theory was mostly disproved. Now, it seems that the hormones actually change the levels of a receptor in the brain. A mutation in this receptor in women suffering from postpartum depression may be the cause of this disorder (if women are anything like the mice used here).

The question now is, will this research have Tom eating his words? Probably not, but we have to keep trying…

Honey Bee image:

There has been much talk in the last few years about the rapid decline of honeybees and what that decline means for farmers. Honeybees are not only used for making honey, but actually pollinate many of the food supply crops we consume. Although a ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ has occurred before, this time it seems as though it is due to the varroa mite. Unfortunately, this clever little bug is becoming resistant to the pesticides previously used to control their numbers.

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2008 ) — One of the biggest world wide threats to honey bees, the varroa mite, could soon be about to meet its nemesis. Researchers at the University of Warwick are examining naturally occurring fungi that kill the varroa mite. They are also exploring a range of ways to deliver the killer fungus throughout the hives from bee fungal foot baths to powder sprays.

Although this new breakthrough seems encouraging and eco-friendly (no use of pesticides), whenever I hear plans to introduce a new species to control a pest problem I always wonder if the new species will cause more of a problem than the initial menace. In this case, introducing a new fungus to control the varroa mites may have implications for other insects or plants in the area. Hopefully, we learn from past experiences (like introducing the cane toad in Australia to ward off sugar-cane pests) and are more prudent about introducing a new species to places where they do not belong.