Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Author: shannon

Are bacteria the new heroes?

Bacteria have recently wiggled their way into health and nutrition. Normally perceived as hallmarks of illness, people have started to look for ways to introduce them into the human body through everyday products such as yogurt. Researchers from University College Cork followed 22 men for 4 weeks looking at the effects of a pill packed with bacteria that was ingested daily. When interviewed, these men reported that their stress levels decreased and that they had improved memory.

Bacteria may do more than just synthesize needed nutrients; they may also impact our minds. In a different study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri, mice were treated with microbes from people with a history of depression; these mice eventually developed symptoms of the illness. Although this research is preliminary, these results suggest that the right microbes when consumed can help produce chemicals responsible for happiness.

The drawback of both of these studies is the lack of a control. Even though gut microbiome research seems promising, if there is no normalization factor, then the results of the study can only be taken with a grain of salt.


Move Over Biopsies…Make Way for the Spit Test!

With surprising accuracy saliva can point to head and neck cancer. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine identified tumor DNA in the saliva. The DNA contains distinctive mutations associated with cancer and makes it easy to identify. As a tumor sheds parts of its genetic code into its surroundings, some of the DNA will be incorporated into the saliva allowing for detecting. Currently, there are no screenings for head and neck cancer because it does not improve the mortality rate of those types of cancer patients; so the saliva test could possibly increase survival chance through earlier treatments.

However, this study has one major flaw. The results obtained were not compared to healthy individuals, so the effectiveness of the spit test is still unclear. More research needs to be conducted to determine if this test is worthwhile, but at its current stage, it seems to be very promising.


No more animal testing: a better way to develop drugs?

For the longest time, animals have been used as a model for humans in drug testing. Many medications do not make it to market because the models fail to correctly reflect how the human body reacts to drugs. Even those that become commercially available take anywhere from 10 to 15 years and cost billions of dollars before they reach that phase.

However, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering invented a better method for drug development: organs-on-chips (OCs). These OCs aim to imitate the way human organs respond to drugs and are lined with human cells on a clear flexible synthetic plastic the size of an adult’s thumb. The OCs will cut the amount of time and money it costs to develop new drugs as it presents an alternative to the more expensive and lower quality animal models.  

Despite the positive outlook on this technology, scientists are still unsure of whether the OCs fully and accurately represent a human organ’s response. Thus, more research needs to be conducted, but these organ-on-chips are the new future to drug testing.


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