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Cholesterol, Brain-computer interface, Metabolomic profiles

What has caught my attention in Pharma, Biotech, Biomedicine and Science in the last two weeks? Here is a selection of the news, articles, papers, findings, risings, falls as I have read, heard, discussed, been involved in. Very subjective, not pretending to be comprehensive or representative. Just my selection.

My MedScan in cw 3/4
Winter is still not over, cross-country skiing is fantastic and warm drink with some power in will definitely increase heating from inside:-)

Here we go:

Cholesterol as a signalling agent

We all know a bad reputation of cholesterol and efforts to decrease it in order to beat cardiovascular diseases. Also, we know that without cholesterol, steroid hormones and cell walls could not be built. It is also known that cholesterol has regulatory functions in cell proliferation and development and its increase by high fat diet leads to increase of cancer incidence.

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago by using a path-breaking optical imaging technique have shown where is cholesterol exactly located in the bilayer cell membrane and how it is moving within this area. They found by measuring in living cells that the outer membrane layer consists of 40% of cholesterol and the inner layer consists of just about 3% of cholesterol. “In response to a specific cell stimulus, the amount in the inner layer more than doubles, and the level in the outer layer drops by the same amount.”

Interestingly, they also found in more cancer cell lines that the percentage of cholesterol in the inner membrane layer is higher than in normal cells. This high presence in the inner membrane layer of cancer cells has been significantly decreased by statins, which to certain extent might contribute to the observed effect of statins on lowering of cancer incidence.

In the lab of Dr. Cho they developed some years ago an optical method that allows to quantify lipids in living cells. “They tagged a lipid-binding protein molecule with a fluorescent sensor that changes colour when it binds lipid. The colour-change indicates the ratio of bound to free lipid, letting them determine how much of the lipid is at a given location in the cell membrane.”

Brain-computer interface helped  paralysed people to communicate

Imagine that you are completely locked in your paralysed body, without possibility to move even with your eyes or without eye blinking. And your brain is still fully working. How to express your wishes, thoughts, needs, love? Such state is known as a completely lock-in syndrome and it means exactly how it sounds.

International team of researchers from Germany, Switzerland, China and USA managed by using a non-invasive brain-computer interface to get meaningful answers from completely locked-in people. And answers where obtained by thinking. It sounds like a sci-fi, does not it? It is not. And patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis could express even that they are happy despite extreme conditions. Somebody could at last listen to them.

What was the brain-computer interface used in this small study? It was near-infrared spectroscopy combined with electroencephalography, and blood oxygenation and electrical activity in brain were measured. The method of course needs to be used on higher number of people in order to conclude its effectiveness, these first results, thought, are very promising and bring hope for those who cannot communicate via other tools.

Metabolomic profiles as biomarkers of dietary composition

What we exactly eat is detectable by determination of certain metabolites in our blood. Researchers have created a metabolomic profile of obese people exposed to different diets and from this profile they correctly identified the test diet with more than 95% accuracy. Not only the adherence to certain dietary intervention in clinical trials can be thus checked, it can also bring more light on pathways linking diet to chronic diseases risk.

Clinical trials assessing certain dietary interventions usually suffer from relying on participant information and notes. But it is possible to figure out from blood what food groups were eaten. Using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, American and Estonian researchers analysed 333 metabolites in a clinical trial and 152 identified to have different concentrations in different diets. Not surprising examples are diacylglycerols, triacylglycerols but also other metabolites were present such as branched-chain amino acids and markers reflecting metabolic status. “Analysis also suggest differential effects by diet on numerous cardiometabolic diseases risk factors”.

Metabolomics is one of the exciting and very informative scientific area. In connection to dietary intervention, there is not so many scientific articles, rising gradually in the recent 7 years. It will be interesting to have a look on findings here. Definitely, metabolomics has its stable seat in a biomarker area but of course also in drug development and basic understanding of physiology and cell biology.