Canadian Team Grows Human Body Parts in Quebec Lab

‘In 50 to 100 years … it won’t be science fiction. We’ll be able to regrow a hand’,, February 8, 2010, by Marianne White  —  Researchers at one of the country’s leading tissue engineering laboratories are crafting tomorrow’s medicine so doctors can replace worn-out body parts with lab-grown organs.

Dr. Francois Auger and his team are growing human skin — it’s their specialty. They have several other body parts under construction, including blood vessels, corneas, ligaments, lungs and bladders.

“This is the medicine of the 21st century,” Auger said in an interview at his new laboratory next to the Enfant-Jesus hospital in Quebec City.

He compares his $25-million “body shop” to a Formula One car. “With this, we’ll have the means of our ambitions,” said Auger, director of the laboratory known as LOEX.

These ambitions include eventually regrowing parts of the brain. “We’re gearing up for that. The brain is the next frontier,” Auger said.

By using stem cells from a patient’s brain, Auger hopes his laboratory would be able to reconstruct some damaged parts.

“For instance, we could do something for Parkinson’s disease because it’s located in one part of the brain,” he said.

Although this sounds like science fiction, Auger asserts that, in a few decades, it will be a reality to repair organs or to reconstruct new ones on demand.

“In 50 to 100 years from now, it won’t be science fiction. We’ll be able to regrow a hand. It’s going to be very demanding, very expensive and maybe take a few weeks. But wow, think about it.”

The Quebec government has invested $14 million to build the new Quebec City laboratory.

“This approach could be the answer to a series of delicate issues, such as the lack of organs to transplant, the rejection phenomenon or risks of infections related to the transplant,” said provincial Health Minister Yves Bolduc.

Auger said his laboratory has received some federal money over the years but lamented Canada is lagging other countries’ investment in the field.

“I am a survivor — normally I shouldn’t be around, still doing that research,” he said, noting he has been at it for 25 years.

Auger recalled that his laboratory published a study in 1998 on their work to build a completely biological in vitro human blood vessel. Despite being among the first to achieve that, his grant application to the Canadian Medical Research Council was turned down.

He was able to continue his research at the time, thanks to a small grant awarded by the Canadian Heart Foundation.

“We need money to work; this is not a whim. If you want to build something big, to be in the major league, you need major money,” Auger said.

Still, Auger said Canada manages to be a strong player in regenerative medicine.

“We’re doing good, but if he we lose speed or are forced stop at the pit, it’s hard to get back in the pole position,” he said, noting the competition is strong, especially from China, Europe and the United States.

In Canada, there are several research centers dedicated to regenerative medicine, notably in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Several Canadians researchers have left for the U.S., where major investments are made, Auger added. He hopes the move to the new state of the art building will help to keep his staff of 90 working in his lab.

Regenerative medicine has a potential market of $35 billion in North America, Auger said. That is if most of tissue engineers’ ideas become reality in the coming decades.

But Auger stressed that even if only a few organs can be built from scratch, it would transform medicine.

“It would be fantastic to offer patients the possibility to regenerate an organ in a few weeks. That’s what keeps me going everyday. It’s a dream, yes, but a lofty one.”

Five Ways to Fight Dry, Irritated Eyes

February 8, 2010, by Mehmet Oz MD and Michael Roizen MD — Do you suffer from itchy, burning, or scratchy eyes? As you age, normal tear production tends to decrease, which can lead to dry eyes.

You don’t have to let dry, irritated eyes interfere with your vision and drive you crazy. Paying attention to simple things, such as the food you eat, the medications you take, and the environment you are in, may help you discover how you can eliminate the irritation altogether.

Is Your Tear Function Interrupted?

Even though you’re not crying all the time, you need to continuously produce tears to protect your eyes and help keep them comfortable. A decrease in normal tear production or an interruption in the distribution of your tears can lead to dry eyes.

A decrease in tear production may occur as a natural part of aging and is particularly common among postmenopausal women. Or it could be due to other reasons, such as allergies, dry weather, cosmetics, or contact lenses. Eyes can also feel dry when tears are not distributed well, such as when you stare at a computer screen for long hours without blinking often.

The result is eyes that burn, sting, or feel scratchy, tired, or strained. Whatever the cause of your dry eyes, there are self-care methods you can try in order to help your peepers feel comfortable and keep your vision clear.

What Can You Do About Dry Eyes?

To give tired, scratchy eyes soothing relief, try these preventive steps:

  • Make your world more humid. If your dry eyes are due to dry air, running a portable humidifier in your home may alleviate symptoms by adding moisture to dry indoor environments, especially during the winter. And wearing a wet gauze eye mask while sleeping can keep eyes moist and prevent tear evaporation.
  • Tip: If possible, try to use lubricant eye drops before you engage in activities that are visually demanding, such as staring at a computer screen, driving, and reading.
  • Eat more eye-friendly foods. Although it’s rare in developed countries, dry eyes can be caused by a lack of vitamin A. Either way, ensuring that you get the optimal amount of vitamin A can boost your overall eye health. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and mango. Other nutrients that may be good for your eyes include lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Take note of medication side effects. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, diuretics, sleeping pills, beta blockers, and pain relievers, can reduce your body’s ability to create lubricating tears. If you experience dry eyes as a medication side effect, ask your healthcare provider about alternatives, or find out if you are a candidate for lubricant eye drops that you can use while taking your medication.
  • Wear sunglasses. Protecting your eyes when you are outdoors on bright or windy days not only shields your eyes from harsh UV light but also helps keep eyes moist by preventing tear evaporation. Wraparound sunglasses may help minimize the wind’s drying effect.
  • Rest your eyes often. If you spend several hours in front of the computer, give your eyes a break now and then. Look away from the screen, focus your attention on an object that is more than 8 feet away, and concentrate on it for about 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise a few times every hour. Also, blink frequently to help evenly distribute lubricating tears.

See Your Doctor If . . .

If self-care methods do not improve your eyes after a few days, see your doctor, especially if your dry eyes are red and painful or are accompanied by swollen, stiff, and/or painful joints; dry mouth; or discharge on your eye or eyelid.

For many people, a bit more awareness about the habits and environments that can cause problems is enough to help keep their eyes clear and comfortable.

More Than a Nuisance?

If dry eye symptoms do not improve with self-care methods, see your doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions that can cause dry eyes, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, or dry eye syndrome.

Read more from the Blog of Mehmet Oz MD, and Michael Roizen MD,………………

Laugh Your Way to Better Blood Vessel Function by Watching a Funny Flick

Laughter relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow — the exact opposite of what your blood vessels do when you are stressed. In a small study of healthy men and women with normal blood pressure, watching a funny movie increased blood flow by about 22 percent. If funny movies aren’t your style, spend time with the people who tickle your funny bone.

Blood vessels are lined with a layer of cells called endothelium; they regulate blood flow by helping blood vessels expand and contract. In a small study, healthy men and women watched either a funny movie or an intense, violent one while researchers measured blood flow through an artery in their upper arm. Watching the funny movie caused blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow by about 22 percent. The action movie caused mental stress and blood vessel constriction, decreasing blood flow by about 35 percent. Having relaxed blood vessels decreases strain on the heart. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how mood states affect blood vessels. Different mood states may alter levels of hormones, such as cortisol, that affect blood vessel function or nitric oxide function. Nitric oxide is a chemical messenger that promotes blood vessel relaxation. Proper diet and regular exercise are the mainstays of improving blood vessel health, but laughing often is a great adjunct.

Read more from Drs Oz and Roizen………………….

Supercharge Your Peanuts with This Trick

Here’s an easy trick for cranking up the disease-fighting power of your peanuts: Roast them.

Peanuts already pack a solid protein, fiber, and fatty-acid punch. But a new study suggests that dark roasting your peanuts will release more disease-fighting phenolic compounds from the nuts’ cellular structures.

Fire Up Those Antioxidants
Phenolic compounds are antioxidants that have a reputation for quelling inflammatory processes that can open the door to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Peanuts are already packed with a wide variety of antioxidants. And with the exception of vitamin E, the capacity of peanut antioxidants increased dramatically in a study when the nuts were roasted at about 330 degrees Fahrenheit for 21 minutes..)

Keep the Skins
Roasting amped up the antioxidants in the peanut skins even more than in the peanut flesh, so shop for ones with the skins on. Some debate continues regarding the health benefits of raw versus roasted nuts, but in any form, they’re still packed with good-for-you nutrition. Just limit yourself to a handful or two a day, because they’re also high in calories. Not a peanut lover? Check out what these nuts can do for your health:

Three More Healthy Nuts

Walnuts: Eat to help keep your arteries flexible. They’re even better than olive oil.

Almonds: Eat to improve your cholesterol profile. They make “bad” (LDL) cholesterol less bad.

Cashews: Eat to help your eyes stay sharp

How long do you chew that mouthful of nuts? Answer – Forty chews

Add a Bag of Peanuts to Your Heart-Smart Grocery List

Saving your own life doesn’t get much easier than this: Eat a handful of peanuts twice a week. Or almonds, walnuts, or Brazil nuts, if you prefer. Men who do this slash their risk of suddenly dying from a heart attack by almost half. Why? It’s all about the good fats.

What makes nuts so heart-healthy? Monounsaturated fats — those good-for-you fats that lower bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL, which helps keep your arteries clean and clog-free. Nuts are full of good fats, as are olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and flaxseed. In a study, men who nibbled on nuts at least twice a week had a 46 percent lower chance of dying from an out-of-the-blue heart attack than men who rarely or never ate nuts.

The only caveat: Nuts are high in calories — although other studies have found that, thanks to a happy quirk of digestive chemistry, the body doesn’t absorb all the calories in nuts. Still, if weight loss is a goal, substitute nuts for other snacks rather than just adding them to your daily diet. A little goes a long way: It only takes a small handful, the rough equivalent of a 1-ounce serving, to protect your ticker.

Make Peanuts Even Healthier…………….

Straight out of the can, peanuts are one amazing health food. But you may get more antioxidants if you buy them in the shell and boil them.

In a recent study, peanuts boiled in their shells had a significantly higher concentration of disease-fighting phytochemicals — more than their raw, roasted, or oiled counterparts.

Nutrition in a Nutshell
The hulls of peanuts are loaded with polyphenols, and the skins are packed with flavonoids. Researchers suspect that boiling peanuts in their shells releases these heart-healthy antioxidant compounds into the water, and the amped-up water is in turn absorbed by the nuts. The result? One powerfully healthy peanut..)

How to Do It
This isn’t a newfangled food idea. In the South, boiled peanuts are part of the culinary heritage, though raw or not-quite-mature peanuts are traditionally used. Cover the peanuts with salted water in a large stockpot. Simmer until the peanuts inside the shell are soft — anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.


Published on 02/08/2010

Roast effects on the hydrophilic and lipophilic antioxidant capacities of peanut flours, blanched peanut seed and peanut skins. Davis, J. P. et al., Food Chemistry 2010 March 15;119(2):539-547.

Read more by Gabe Mirkin MD……………

Your Liver Does Not Need to be Detoxified

February 8. 2010, by Gabe Mirkin MD — Your liver is the organ that picks up breakdown products of your own metabolism and removes them from your body. The promoters of liver-detoxifying supplements tell you that their products “support healthy liver function” and help it do its job better. These products contain amino acids, which help the liver reduce levels of acetaldehyde from drinking alcohol; but you get the same amino acids from the protein in your food. They may also contain antioxidant vitamins, B12 and niacin, that have been shown to protect the liver from damage from certain poisons, but these vitamins are also found in your food. So you gain nothing from liver-detoxifying supplements that is not found in an ordinary, reasonably varied diet. Food is cheaper than supplements and provides other nutrients also.

If we had anything that would truly detoxify the liver, people would not die from hepatitis C and B and other liver diseases. The National Institutes of Health are sponsoring research in Vietnam and China to see if herbal remedies can help to treat liver disease. We have no results yet. Most scientists feel that there are no over-the-counter preparations that detoxify the liver. If you have signs of liver disease, such as fatigue, aches and pains, yellow skin and eyes, dark urine or light stools, check with your doctor. You may have a serious disease involving liver damage and you should not be trying to treat yourself with any over-the-counter product.

Checked 2/3/10

Read more from Dr Gabe Mirkin…………

Can I Increase the Number of Good Bacteria in My Intestines?

Normal intestinal bacteria are so numerous that they make up approximately 95 percent of the total number of cells in the human body. They help prevent bad bacteria from infecting you, and may help prevent intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and cancer.

When you eat, enzymes from your intestines, stomach, liver and pancreas break down your food into its building blocks that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars; proteins into amino acids; and fats into glycerol, fatty acids and monoglycerides. However, many foods contain undigestible starches that cannot be broken down into sugars, so they cannot be absorbed in the upper intestinal tract. When they reach the colon, the “good” bacteria ferment these undigestible starches to form other chemicals including short chain fatty acids that protect your intestinal lining from irritation and cancer, and are absorbed into your bloodstream to lower cholesterol and prevent heart tacks. These same “good” bacteria, such a lactobacillus, are used to ferment and preserve some foods made from milk or plants. So eating yogurt may help you maintain or increase the number of good bacteria you have in your gut. Not all yogurt contains live bacteria; read the label to make sure yours is “active.”

Checked 2/1/10

More about good bacteria…………………………

Probiotics and Prebiotics

By Gabe Mirkin MD — There are two absorption systems in your body. Food that is easily broken down is absorbed into your upper intestinal tract. If you cannot absorb a particular food, it goes to the lower intestinal tract (colon), where bacteria in your colon ferment it to smaller products that can be absorbed.

Your colon is loaded with good and bad bacteria. Bad bacteria such as clostridia that are kept in check by good bacteria. If you take an antibiotic that knocks off the good bacteria, the clostridia can overgrow and cause diarrhea.

The good bacteria break down soluble fiber to form chemicals such as short chain fatty acids that are absorbed into your bloodstream and travel to your liver where they block the liver from making cholesterol and help to prevent heart attacks. These short chain fatty acids also reduce inflammation, so they help to control the bloody diarrhea and ulcers caused by Crohn’s disease. They also reduce swelling and pain of arthritis, diabetes and psoriasis, and some studies show they may even improve your immunity to help you to kill germs.

If you wish to encourage the growth of good bacteria in your colon, you have two choices: probiotics or prebiotics. Probiotics are living microorganisms, the good bacteria, that live in the colon and reduce inflammation and help prevent and treat Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, arthritis, and perhaps even certain types of cancers. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that cannot be absorbed in the upper intestinal tract and travel to the colon where they serve as a medium to encourage the growth of the good bacteria.

Live-culture yogurt is a readily available source of good bacteria. However, the lactobacilli that are in live cultures of yogurt will not colonize in your intestines, so they disappear if you stop eating yogurt every day. Most yogurt products do not contain live cultures; read the labels carefully.

One strain of good bacteria that has been studied extensively and has been shown in controlled scientific studies to have the ability to colonize in the intestines is called lactobacillus GG. It was isolated from intestines of humans by two professors at Tufts Medical School named Sheldon Gorbash and his colleague named Golden, hence the name lactobacillus GG. They have patented their product and make a lot of money from it.

Several studies show that Lactobacillus GG can help control the frequency and severity of infectious diarrhea in children. Diarrhea that is often caused by taking antibiotics can be prevented by taking either Lactobacillus GG or Saccharomyces boulardii with the antibiotics. A probiotic preparation (VSL=3 – 6 g/day) that uses a combination of three species of Bifidobacterium, four strains of Lactobacillus and one strain of Streptocccus has been shown to maintain remission in ulcerative colitis as well as in preventing the postoperative recurrence of Crohn’s disease. Taking probiotic compounds is well tolerated and safe.

Prebiotics are found in certain foods that are not completely absorbed in your upper intestinal tract pass to your colon and form the food that encourages growth of the good bacteria. Soluble fiber is the part of these foods that is most likely to encourage the growth of good bacteria. Prebiotic supplements are available, but it is easier and cheaper just to eat plenty of the foods that provide this benefit. Good sources of soluble fiber are whole grains, beans, seeds, vegetables and nuts.

Bacteria Make Diesel from Biomass

Bacteria power: The E. coli bacteria in this microscopic image are excreting droplets of diesel fuel. The bacteria are the small dark rods clustered in the top corners and at the bottom of the image.  Credit: Keasling lab

Newly engineered E. coli streamline the conversion of cellulose into fuel

MIT Technology Review, February 3, 2010, by Katherine Bourzac  —  Engineered bacteria have been rewired with the genetic machinery necessary to convert cellulose into a range of chemicals, including diesel fuel. The bacteria, developed by South San Francisco company LS9 in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, make the necessary enzymes for every step along the synthesis pathway and can convert biomass into fuel without the need for additional processing. LS9 has demonstrated the bacteria in pilot-scale reactors and plans to scale the process to a commercial level later this year.

Jay Keasling, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley and one of LS9’s founders, and scientists at LS9 report engineering E. coli bacteria to synthesize and excrete the enzyme hemicellulase, which breaks down cellulose into sugars. The bacteria can then convert those sugars into a variety of chemicals–diesel fuel among them. The final products are excreted by the bacteria and then float to the top of the fermentation vat before being siphoned off.

Using these methods, it’s possible to create a range of fuels from biomass, but LS9 is focusing on diesel rather than fuels similar to gasoline for the time being, says Stephen del Cardayre, the company’s vice president of research and development. Diesel specifications are easier to meet and the market for diesel is growing by 2 to 4 percent a year, while that for gasoline is flat. Last May, LS9 partnered with Procter & Gamble to develop fuels as well as commodity chemicals.

The effort by LS9 is part of an increasing push by bioengineers to bring down the cost of biofuels by developing microbes that can turn biomass, such as switchgrass and agricultural waste, into fuels without any additional processing that would require expensive catalysts and high temperatures. Microbes can typically complete only part of the conversion, requiring post-processing to convert the chemical precursors made by the microbes. The newly engineered E. coli “are a singular vehicle that can accomplish all this at once, providing a very efficient process to make products already on the market,” says David Berry, a partner at Flagship Ventures, which cofounded LS9.

LS9’s process is built on E. coli bacteria’s metabolic machinery for converting sugars into fatty acids, which they then use to make other molecules. The advantage of working with E. coli is that the organism, a workhorse of molecular biology, is well known and easy to grow, says Keasling. And the bacterium’s fatty acid pathway is more efficient at turning feedstocks into fuel than metabolic pathways used by other synthetic biology companies.

Fatty acids are a large class of molecules that can form the basis of many commodity chemicals and fuels that are conventionally derived from petroleum. These metabolic pathways are complex networks, and taking advantage of them required changing several of the bacterium’s existing genes as well as adding new ones. After years of engineering, says Keasling, “we can get the molecule we want specifically.”

Del Cardayre says LS9 has tested the diesel-production process at its 1,000-liter pilot-scale plant in South San Francisco using sugarcane as a feedstock. The company will scale the process to a commercial level at a 75,000-liter plant this year.

LS9 isn’t the only company turning sugarcane into diesel: last year, another synthetic biology company founded by Keasling, Amyris Biotechnologies of Emeryville, CA, opened a demonstration plant in Campinis, Brazil. Amyris’s process is based around yeast engineered to convert sugars into hydrocarbon-fuel precursors. Del Cardayre says LS9 may open a plant in Brazil as well, but because the new bacteria can convert cellulose, not just sugar, the company isn’t tied to sugarcane or any other feedstock.

Jim Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, says the question now is whether LS9’s process will be cost-effective on a large scale. “As you go from 10 gallons to thousands of gallons, the biology changes, and analyses that worked well in the lab no longer work,” notes Collins, because the microbes’ environment changes. “The interesting question in the next few years is, which company can get their yields high enough, and get their processes up to scale to keep costs down,” says Collins.