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Immune System

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Can the Nervous System Be Hacked?

By |June 4, 2015|Research|

Source NY Times

Vagus nerve stimulation that affects the immune system has wide implications for non-drug therapy in conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.


One morning in May 1998, Kevin Tracey converted a room in his lab at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., into a makeshift operating theater and then prepped his patient — a rat — for surgery. A neurosurgeon, and also Feinstein Institute’s president, Tracey had spent more than a decade searching for a link between nerves and the immune system. His work led him to hypothesize that stimulating the vagus nerve with electricity would alleviate harmful inflammation. “The vagus nerve is behind the artery where you feel your pulse,” he told me recently, pressing his right index finger to his neck.

The vagus nerve and its branches conduct nerve impulses — called action potentials — to every major organ. But communication between nerves and the immune system was considered impossible, according to the scientific consensus in 1998. Textbooks from the era taught, he said, “that the immune system was just cells floating around. Nerves don’t float anywhere. Nerves are fixed in tissues.” It would have been “inconceivable,” he added, to propose that nerves were directly interacting with immune cells.

Nonetheless, Tracey was certain that an interface existed, and that his rat would prove it. After anesthetizing the animal, Tracey cut an incision in its neck, using a surgical microscope to find his way around his patient’s anatomy. With a hand-held nerve stimulator, he delivered several one-second electrical pulses to the rat’s exposed vagus nerve. He stitched the cut closed and gave the rat a bacterial toxin known to promote the production of tumor necrosis factor, or T.N.F., a protein that triggers inflammation in animals, including humans.

“We let it sleep for an hour, then took blood tests,” he said. The bacterial toxin should have triggered rampant inflammation, but instead the production of tumor necrosis factor was blocked by 75 percent. “For me, it was a life-changing moment,” Tracey said. What he had demonstrated was that the nervous system was like a computer terminal through which you could deliver commands to stop a problem, like acute inflammation, before it starts, or repair a body after it gets sick. “All the information is coming and going as electrical signals,” Tracey said. For months, he’d been arguing with his staff, whose members considered this rat project of his harebrained. “Half of them were in the hallway betting against me,” Tracey said.

Inflammatory afflictions like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease are currently treated with drugs — painkillers, steroids and what are known as biologics, or genetically engineered proteins. But such medicines, Tracey pointed out, are often expensive, hard to administer, variable in their efficacy and sometimes accompanied by lethal side effects. His work seemed to indicate that electricity delivered to the vagus nerve in just the right intensity and at precise intervals could reproduce a drug’s therapeutic — in this case, anti-inflammatory — reaction. His subsequent research would also show that it could do so more effectively and with minimal health risks.

Tracey’s efforts have helped establish what is now the growing field of bioelectronics. He has grand hopes for it. “I think this is the industry that will replace the drug industry,” he told me. Today researchers are creating implants that can communicate directly with the nervous system in order to try to fight everything from cancer to the common cold. “Our idea would be manipulating neural input to delay the progression of cancer,” says Paul Frenette, a stem-cell researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx who discovered a link between the nervous system and prostate tumors.

Read more…

Children from middle class families more likely to suffer peanut allergy

By |November 13, 2012|Food Sensitivity|

Suggests that  oversanitization might suppress the natural development of the immune system

Source The Telegraph

Children who have a peanut allergy tend to come from wealthier families, researchers have suggested.

Scientists say that this backs up the hygiene hypothesis that cleaner homes tend to increase the risk of childhood allergies.

They found that high income and hygiene habits could be increasing susceptibility as they discovered a link between peanut allergy in children and their families socio-economic status.

With the number of peanut allergies among children increasing the team from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) believe that one reason might be due to the wealth of their families.

The theory suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to germs increases the chance for allergic diseases, that over sanitisation might suppress the natural development of the immune system.

Peanut allergy can be life-threatening with sufferers going into anaphylactic shock, but more commonly it causes itching in the mouth, a rash and swelling of the face, lips, eyes and tongue.

Study author Dr Sandy Yip said: “Overall household income is only associated with peanut sensitization in children aged one to nine years.

“This may indicate that development of peanut sensitization at a young age is related to affluence, but those developed later in life are not.”

Her team looked at 8,306 patients, 776 of which had an elevated antibody level to peanuts.

Peanut allergy was generally higher in men and racial minorities across all age groups. The researchers also found that peanut specific antibody levels peaked between the ages of 10 and 19, but tapered off after middle age.

ACAAI president Doctor Stanley Fineman said: “While many children can develop a tolerance to food allergens as they age, only 20 per cent will outgrow a peanut allergy.

A New Treatment for Bowel Problems: Eating 1,000 Parasitic Worm Eggs

By |December 3, 2010|Unusual|

Source Discover Online

Intestinal parasites might turn most people’s stomachs, but for some people suffering from ulcerative colitis, the creepy crawlies might actually reverse intestinal discomfort and symptoms. A new study found that infestation with whipworms, aka Trichuris trichiura, can ease the symptoms of an inflammatory bowel disorder, possibly by stimulating mucus production in the intestines.

Ulcerative colitis is an intestinal auto-immune disease causing inflammation and ulcers, which can bleed. Patients can either take immune-suppressing steroids (with lots of side effects), or have parts of their intestines and bowel removed to reduce symptoms. (more…)

Flu Vacine and Asthma

By |May 21, 2009|Research, Uncategorized|

Here’s an except from with the original presentation information;

Children Who Get Flu Vaccine Have Three Times Risk Of Hospitalization For Flu, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (2009-05-20) — The inactivated flu vaccine does not appear to be effective in preventing influenza-related hospitalizations in children, especially the ones with asthma. In fact, children who get the flu vaccine are more at risk for hospitalization than their peers who do not get the vaccine, according to new research. While these findings do raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccine, they do not in fact implicate it as a cause of hospitalizations, according to researchers.

Original presentation made at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference in San Diego, CA (May 15-20, 2009):

Flu Vaccination in Asthmatics: Does It Work?
Am J Respir Crit Care Med 179;2009:A5118

Viruses Can Survive For Centuries or Millenium

By |May 21, 2009|Prevention, Research|

Interesting and timely post on Wired Science yesterday. Virii have been found to remain virulent for centuries, and could potentially for millenium, in the frozen lakes of Siberia. This is likely due to the configuration or “anatomy” of a virus particle. You can read more of the report about a presentation made at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Philadelphia.

Flu Pandemics May Lurk in Frozen Lakes