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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Science Scene

Dreaming may boost memory

Dreaming about newly learned information increases one’s recollection of it upon awakening, suggests new research from Harvard Medical School.

But those who dream about something other than the new information or daydream about it while still awake, don’t reap the respite’s reward, the authors report in a paper published online Apr. 22 in Current Biology.

The findings could help improve memory and learning, researchers say.

For instance, students might perform better by studying before bedtime, or taking a nap after a period of study, according to coauthor Erin Wamsley, a research fellow at the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The findings suggest that the unconscious parts of the brain are working diligently to process information.

“I was startled by this finding,” said coauthor Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School. “Task-related dreams may get triggered by the sleeping brain’s attempt to consolidate challenging new information and to figure out how to use it.”

Source: BBC News

Scientists discover new painkiller

A substance comparable to capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their “kick,” is found within sites of pain in the human body.

And scientists at the University of Texas have now discovered how to block those molecules to create a new class of non-addictive painkillers.

“Nearly everyone will experience persistent pain at some point in their lifetime,” said Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves, senior investigator and professor of endodontics with the University of Texas Dental School.

“Our findings are truly exciting because they will offer physicians, dentists and patients more options in prescription pain medications. In addition, they may help circumvent the problem of addiction and dependency to pain medications, and will have the potential to benefit millions of people who suffer from chronic pain every day.”

The capsaicin receptor, TRPV1, is like the master lock in pain neurons.

“We started out seeking the answer to the question, ‘why is TRPV1 consistently activated in the body upon injury or painful heat?'” he said. “We wanted to know how skin cells talk to pain neurons.”

But what they found was much more surprising and exciting, Hargreaves and colleagues wrote in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“We have discovered a family of endogenous capsaicin-like molecules that are naturally released during injury, and now we understand how to block these mechanisms with a new class of non-addictive therapies,” he said.

Source: Reuters Science

Nanoparticles could make body radiation-resistant

Melanin-coated nanoparticles may be able to protect bone marrow from damage commonly sustained during radiation therapy, which is commonly used to shrink cancerous tumors, according to scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University who successfully tested the strategy in mouse models.

The technique may be promising for humans in the future as doctors could someday use those particles to manage higher doses of radiation to cancerous cells without compromising the healthy ones.

“A technique for shielding normal cells from radiation damage would allow doctors to administer higher doses of radiation to tumors, making the treatment more effective,” said Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology at Einstein, as well as senior author of the study.

The research is described in the current issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics.

Melanin, a pigment responsible for skin color, reduces the formation of DNA damaging particles, and also gets rid of those that form anyway.

“We wanted to devise a way to provide protective melanin to the bone marrow,” Dadachova said. “That’s where blood is formed, and the bone-marrow stem cells that produce blood cells are extremely susceptible to the damaging effects of radiation.”

Clinical trials using melanized nanoparticles in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy could begin in two to three years, she said.

Source: Popular Science

– Compiled by David Lavine


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