Category Archives: New and innovative science

Grabbing hold of Alzheimer’s disease: A new treatment

By: David Sawatzky, Paula Samper, Moh Mehrabi, and Daniel Passaseo

There is a new drug that can target and block harmful metal ions in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This drug developed by Dr. Chris Orvig from the University of British Columbia, is known as a chelating drug, which means it grabs hold of its target and makes it unable to do more damage. This is a massive breakthrough for treating Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no cure.

This research is very important because you can only treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and the leading treatments do a very poor job and targeting the affected brain cells. Dr. Orvig’s model drug has a sugar molecule to help deliver it to the brain. It is a very innovative idea, and there have been no previous Alzheimer’s drugs that are effective at getting the drug into the brain.

One of the effects of Alzheimer’s is neurodegeneration, which means the brain cells die. As these brain cells die, the patients lose their memory and motor skills, making it hard for them to live on their own. These patients then require family members and or caregivers to help with daily activities like preparing food and bathing. This takes a large emotional and financial toll on the patient’s family.

Photo from Google images

The actual causes of the disease are not known very well, because there may be many factors that contribute to this disease. But it is known that Alzheimer’s is not genetically inherited, although some genes may contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For more information about what causes Alzheimer’s disease listen to our podcast!

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The following video does a great job summarizing Dr. Orvig’s research and what Alzheimer’s disease is all about.

There is hope that research like Dr. Orvig’s will eventually lead to a better understanding of this disease and eventually a cure.

A Breakthrough in Prostate Cancer Detection

UBC researchers have developed a new test that promises to overcome current issues and increase the reliability of screening.

By Amanda Au, Navi Dasanjh, Kushani Jayasundera and Martha Talbot

Dr. Eric Lagally, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of British Columbia, believes he has discovered a new method of detecting prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men, yet the two current tests for prostate cancer are inadequate and often give false positives and negatives. Being able to correctly identify prostate cancer cells could reduce the rates of misdiagnosis and over treatment.

Dr. Lagally’s new detection method looks at an enzyme called telomerase, which helps prevent premature cell death. He uses this molecule to help differentiate between cancerous cells and normal cells more precisely using a technology known as microfluidics.

Learn more about telomerase by listening to this UBC Mastermind Productions’ Podcast.

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Microfluidics allows researchers to analyze small fluid samples using a chip the size of a postage stamp etched with miniscule channels and chambers. The width of these channels and chambers is similar to the width of a human hair. The small scale allows researchers to precisely test small samples.

Microfluidic chips like the ones that Dr. Lagally uses in his lab.

Currently, microfluidics is being used for many biomedical applications, such as DNA analysis. This new technology boasts many advantages, including the ability to analyze very small fluid samples at a minimal cost and with little power. This may also be quite beneficial to the new prostate cancer screening method Dr. Lagally hopes to implement. As he points out, the use of microfluidic chips will enable doctors, nurses, and other health practitioners to analyze test results at the bedside, eliminating the need to transfer samples to a testing facility.
As of today, Dr. Lagally’s microfluidic test is a long way from human applications. Alterations need to be made to the chip, which will then face gaining the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a process that could take up to ten years.

As Dr. Lagally works on the process of transferring this technology from the lab to the clinic, he is also educating the public about microfluidics. He speaks about microfluidics and has developed a method of teaching students microfluidics by fabricating their own large-scale chip out of Jello. Try it yourself!

By educating the public, as well as other researchers, the hope is that this technology will be able to make a smooth transfer so that microfluidics can begin to positively affect people who are in desperate need of this technology.

Protected: The Unsustainable Truth behind Small-scale Fisheries

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Beetle feet inspire extra sticky glue

Source: robault.co.uk

Like many insects, beetles can walk upside down without falling due to the extremely sticky structures of their foot pads.  Scientists James Bullock and Walter Federle from the University of Cambridge recently published a study in the journal Naturwissenschaften (The Nature of Science) that found different hair structures have different levels of stickiness.  Their study is the first to measure the adhesive strength of a single seta, the adhesive hairs that are responsible for the “stickiness” of the beetle’s feet.

The researchers found there were three different structures of setae on the foot pads: pointed, flat (spatula-tipped) and disk-like.  The three structures have different functions depending on the specific pattern they are arranged in.  Each of these structures is made up of thousands of microscopic hairs and prior to this study there was no way to determine the adhesiveness of one individual hair due simply to their microscopic size.

By using an extremely fine glass cantilever and measuring the deflection of the cantilever with a microscope, the exact force needed to detach each hair was calculated.  By use of this novel technique the researchers were able to calculate the exact stickiness of each hair, which are only 5 micrometers across.

Source: sophiewasadog.wordpress.com

Of the three different seta structures the disk like hairs had the greatest level of stickiness, followed by the spatula shaped hairs, with the pointed hairs coming in least sticky.  The most sticky hairs were also the most stiff, most likely providing stability to the foot-pad.  The researchers hypothesize it is these disk-like hairs that are particularly responsible for the strong adhesion the beetles have to smooth surfaces, such as the underside of a leaf.

This adhesion is also important during mating so that males can attach themselves to a female’s back.  The other hair structures which aren’t as sticky are probably used for adhesion while running because they are quicker and easier to unstick.

This new understanding of the beetle’s sticky feet may one day lead to the creation of bio-inspired synthetic adhesives, such as extra sticky super glue.