Research Roundup: COVID-19 Pneumonia and Dementia Risk, Prostate Cancer Advances - and Oreos

Cancer Research

In many ways, COVID-19 may be one of the most-studied diseases of all time, given all the resources put toward analyzing it in such a short period of time. And it continues to generate surprises, such as a possible link between dementia and severe COVID-19. Continue reading for that and more research stories.

COVID-19 Pneumonia Increases Dementia Risk

Research by the University of Missouri School of Medicine and  MU Health Care found that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia had a higher risk of developing dementia than patients with other types of pneumonia. They evaluated 1.4 billion medical encounters from Cerner Real World Data prior to July 31, 2021, and picked patients hospitalized with pneumonia for more than 24 hours. Of the 10,403 with COVID-19 pneumonia, 312 (3%) developed new-onset dementia after recovering compared to 263 (2.5%) of the 10,403 with other forms of pneumonia diagnosed with dementia. The research was published in the Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

“The risk of new onset dementia was more common in COVID-19 pneumonia patients over the age of 70 in our study,” said Dr. Adnan I. Qureshi, M.D., lead researcher, a professor of clinical neurology at the MU School of Medicine. “The type of dementia seen in survivors of COVID-19 infection mainly affects memory, ability to perform everyday tasks and self-regulation. Language and awareness of time and location remained relatively preserved.”

The median interval between infection and diagnosis of dementia was 182 days for COVID-19 patients. The research only included new onset dementia linked with hospital admission during a short follow-up period. The researchers say more studies over longer periods would be required for a more complete picture and might help explain why COVID-19 pneumonia seems associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Qureshi did say, “The findings suggest a role for screening for cognitive deficits among COVID-19 survivors. If there is evidence of impairment during screening and if the patient continues to report cognitive symptoms, a referral for comprehensive assessment may be necessary.”

New Approach to Prostate Cancer?

Researchers with University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany worked with novel cyclin-dependent kinase 19 (CDK19) and homologous cyclin-dependent kinase 8 (CDK8) inhibitors in prostate cancer. They found they appeared to prevent and treat metastatic disease. Earlier research had shown that CDK19 was involved in the growth, progression and metastases of prostate cancer in addition to the development of castration resistance. They evaluated several novel CDK8/CDK19 inhibitors in in vitro models and identified molecular changes in cancer after treatment. The treatment with both the inhibitors and antihormonal therapeutics significantly reduced the viability of the cancer cells after long-term treatment. CDK19 inhibition decreases the phosphorylation of several signaling molecules responsible for tumor growth and metastasis. The next steps would include animal models and human studies.

In Mouse Model, Type I Interferon Drives Cognitive Impairment in Alzheimer’s

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, working on a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, found that type I interferon (IFN) is a major driver of memory and loss of cognition. They also found that blocking IFN reversed the memory and cognitive deficits. IFN is an inflammation-eliciting molecule abnormally produced in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. 

In the study, the mice with Alzheimer’s were treated with drugs that block IFN, which reduced the memory and cognitive deficits even though beta-amyloid plaques persisted. Increasingly, neuroinflammation is found to be a big factor in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and this research supports that hypothesis. It’s not that beta-amyloid and another abnormal protein, tau, aren’t factors, but the inflammation associated with them, as well as other factors, such as immune degeneration, are also major factors.

Newly ID’ed tsRNA May Help with Liver Cancer Diagnosis

tsRNAs are small RNA fragments with specific lengths generated by particular ribonucleases. Researchers with Nanjing University identified a new tsRNA, tRF-Gln-TTG-006, in liver cancer patients that may be a good biomarker to detective liver cancer in the earliest stages. 

The new tsRNA is a fragment of its parent tRNA. They utilized high-throughput sequencing specialized for tsRNAs. This identified hundreds of new tsRNAs, which help create a serum tRNA profile in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). They then compared this new tsRNA to a known biomarker used in HCC, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), and tRF-Gln-TTG-006 demonstrated a significantly better diagnostic accuracy in patients for early-stage HCC.

Link Between 5 Types of Bacteria and Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Investigators with the University of East Anglia identified five types of bacteria common in urine and tissue samples from men with aggressive prostate cancer. Two of the bacteria found were new species, now named Porphyromonas bobii and Varibaculum prostatecancerukia. Others included Anaerococcus, Peptoniphilus, Porphyromonas, Fenollaria and Fusobacterium. All of these are anaerobic. They noted that when these specific anaerobic bacteria were detected, it was associated with the presence of higher grades of prostate cancer and faster progression to aggressive disease. They don’t know if the bacteria are causing cancer or if poor immune response permits the growth of the bacteria. They believe there is a clear association between the bacteria and how cancer behaves.

MIT Engineers Invent Oreometer

It’s a scientific puzzle that has intrigued scientists the world over — why does the creamy center of an Oreo cookie stick to one side when the cookie parts are twisted apart? And yes, mechanical engineering students at MIT developed an Oreometer to examine this weighty yet delicious problem. The group of undergrads subjected Oreos to standard rheology tests and found that no matter the flavor or amount of stuffing — double stuff, anyone? — the cream always stuck to one side when twisted open. Sometimes it was spread out in older boxes of cookies. The torque required to twist open an Oreo was similar to that needed to turn a doorknob (and about a tenth of what’s required to open a bottlecap). Oreo cookie cream’s “failure stress,” or the force per area needed to get the cream to deform, is twice that of cream cheese and peanut butter but about the same as for mozzarella cheese.

“Videos of the manufacturing process show that they put the first wafer down, then dispense a ball of cream onto that wafer before putting the second wafer on top,” said Crystal Owens, an MIT mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate who studies the properties of complex fluids. “Apparently that little time delay may make the cream stick better to the first wafer.”

And now that’s something you know.

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