July 6 Research Roundup: Morphine Dependency, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Migraine and More

Published: Jul 06, 2018 By

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There are plenty of great scientific research stories out this week. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

Study Suggests Kratom Alkaloids Could Be Beneficial in Reducing Morphine Dependency

Kratom is a psychoactive drug that comes from the leaves of an Asian plant in the coffee family called Mitragyna speciosa. Users swear by it, saying it helps with opioid addiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, calls it a dangerous opioid with no medical use. Scott Hemby, a professor of pharmaceutical science at High Point University in North Carolina, published a study in the journal Addiction Biology that concludes that the primary alkyloid in Kratom could have therapeutic benefits for treating opioid addiction. The two psychoactive ingredients are mitragynine (MG) and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG). In rats given the option of self-administering either of the drugs, they quickly did for HMG, but not MG. This suggests that HMG is addictive, but MG is not, but it still affects the same receptors in the brain as opioids.

Researchers Find Compounds in Green Tea and Red Wine May Block Toxic Metabolites Found in Alzheimer’s and Other Diseases

Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel published research in the journal Communications Chemistry that evaluated two compounds, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea, and tannic acid, found in red wine. Many individuals with inherited metabolic disorders have a defective gene that that results in a critical enzyme deficiency. EGCG has gained the interest of researchers because of potential health benefits, and tannic acid prevents the formation of amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Shira Shaham-Niv, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Ehud Gazit, authors of the study, said in a statement, “In our new study, we examined whether the molecules identified in past studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other amyloid diseases, which are known to inhibit the formation of amyloid aggregates, could also help counteract the amyloid process of metabolites in metabolic diseases.”

They tested the two metabolites in test tubes and cell cultures on three metabolites linked to three innate metabolic diseases, adenine, cumulative tyrosine and phenylalanine. Tannic acid and EGCG were effective in blocking the formation of amyloid structures.

Air Pollution Increases Risk of Diabetes

Researchers in the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System published research in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health finding that outdoor air pollution plays a role in developing diabetes. Although the primary drivers of increased diabetes are an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity, the research suggests air pollution is also involved. “Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally,” stated Ziyad Al-Aly, assistant professor of medicine at WU, and senior author of the study. “We found an increased risk, even at low levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is important because many industry lobbying groups argue that current levels are too stringent and should be relaxed. Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened.”

The pollution is thought to reduce insulin production and trigger inflammation.

Ornamental Plant Montbretia Might Fight Diabetes

Scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Glycomics Network published research in The Plant Cell that identified a compound found in the ornamental plant montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmilflora), also called Coppertips or Falling Stars, that might be an effective diabetes drug. The compound is called montbretin A (MbA). It was first identified 10 years ago, but is difficult to synthesize because of plant metabolic pathway complexity. The researchers analyzed the pathway and identified the first three intermediate metabolites in the MbA biosynthesis pathway, including one called mini-MbA, which strongly inhibits HPA (hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal) activity. When they cloned the genes for the various enzymes and then used them to genetically transform wild tobacco, they were able to obtain mini-MbA. Joerg Bohlmann of UBC stated, “This is a fascinating example of the largely undiscovered potential of plant specialized metabolism that may lead to new treatments for the improvement of human health.”

Researchers Identify the Electrical Brain Activity Related to Migraine

A migraine aura, involving patients seeing squiggly lines, light flashes and blind spots, is a precursor to a migraine. Now an international group of scientists have identified the electrical activity related to the start of migraines and showed a way to stop it in animal experiments. Researchers with Pennsylvania State University, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and School of Medicine, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China published their research in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Seizures and migraines are two very different states of the brain,” said Steven Schiff, Brush Chair Professor of Engineering in the Departments of Neurosurgery, Engineering Science and Mechanics, and Physics at Penn State, in a statement. “We found that the spreading depolarization, also called spreading depression, seen in migraines is a fundamental biophysical phenomenon and you can stop it with electrical current. Strangely, it is the opposite direction of electrical current used to turn off seizures.”

Although they won’t say they’ve found a way to prevent or cure migraines, their research does provide a fundamental understanding of what is going on just prior to the onset of a migraine.

Using Stem Cells to Restore Primate Heart Function

Researchers at the University of Washington Medicine in Seattle used human stem cells to restore heart function in monkeys with heart failure. They published their research in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Charles Murry, professor of pathology at the UW School of Medicine stated, “The cells form new muscle that integrates into the heart so that it pumps vigorously again. In some animals, the cells returned the hearts’ functioning to better than 90 percent of normal.”

Heart failure is usually caused by the death of heart muscle during heart attacks. Heart muscle does not regenerate, so the damaged areas become scarred, which does not contract. This causes the heart to be weaker, and at some point, it can’t pump enough blood to supply the body with the necessary oxygen. Murry and his team induced experimental heart attacks in macaque monkeys. Two weeks later they took heart cells they had grown from embryonic human embryonic stem cells and injected them into and around the newly formed scar tissue. After four weeks of treatment, the group receiving the injection compared to the control group had increased heart function, about 49.7 percent compared to the control group’s 40 percent, what they say is about halfway back to normal.

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