Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Fatty acids may fight prostate cancer
Researchers have found a mechanism by which omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells, paving the way for more effective anti-cancer drugs.
 
Scientists have long known that omega-3s reduce inflammation and have anti-diabetic effects and some recently discovered how this happens.
 
"But we are the first to show that they work this way in cancer," said Kathryn Meier, professor of pharmacy at Washington State University Spokane in a paper published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
 
"We were the first to show this mechanism in any cancer cell at all. And we are using prostate cancer, which is the most controversial subject in omega-3s," she added.
 
A 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute had found that men with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
 
It was not clear if the fatty acids came from food - certain fish, seeds and nuts are high in omega-3s - or supplements like fish oil.
 
Working with prostate cell cultures, Meier and his team found the fatty acids bind to a receptor called FFA4 (free fatty acid receptor 4).
 
Rather than stimulating cancer cells, the receptor acts as a signal to inhibit growth factors, suppressing proliferation of cancer cells.
 
"This kind of knowledge could lead us to better treat or prevent cancer because now we know how it works," Meier said.
 
The study also found that a drug mimicking the action of omega-3s can work as well or better than fatty acids in suppressing cancer cells.
 
According to Meier, it is still unclear if the effect can be obtained by taking dietary supplements like fish oil.
 
Some people do not tolerate fish oil very well.
 
Moreover, the effect of fish oil could fade as it is digested while data from this study suggests that an omega-3 drug needs to be in a cancer cell all the time to have an effect.

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IIT team develops affordable dialysis technology
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur have engineered an indigenous, cost-effective kidney dialysis technology. The innovative technology was recently recognised with the National Award, a statement said on Wednesday.
 
Haemodialysis is administered to patients suffering from various stages of kidney failure. Commonly referred to as "artificial kidney", it is a machine that uses dialysis to remove impurities and waste products from the bloodstream before returning the blood to the patient's body.
 
"Administering haemodialysis is a very expensive affair for an average Indian. Haemodialysis cartridges are not manufactured in India and are imported from Germany, Korea or Japan," said Anirban Roy, a research scholar at the IIT's department of chemical engineering and co-inventor of the technology.
 
The cartridges are formed of 7,000 to 15,000 hollow fibres of 180-220 microns inner diameter and 15-40 micron thickness, and the challenge lies in spinning these clinical grade hollow fibre membranes to the specific dimensions, said Roy.
 
"The present innovation is about a technology (using disposable syringe assemblies) that has been designed to spin such clinical grade fibres in India since the country does not possess the technology to spin hollow fibre membranes of such specifications."
 
"This technology does not use the conventional expensive spinnerets which are employed by the companies abroad," said Roy, adding only four to five companies worldwide enjoy the monopoly in this business and all have their own patented technology.
 
"Due to this, each dialyser costs Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,500 and ideally three such dialysers are needed per week for each patient," he said.
 
The estimated manufacturing cost of such a dialyser developed by the IIT-Kharagpur team is expected to be around Rs.200-300, he said.
 
This is a project of national importance and was funded by the Department of Science and Technology, with two Bengaluru-based companies as industrial partners of the technology, said Roy.
 
Animal and clinical trials of the product are awaited, although in-vitro (laboratory) tests have been completed.
 
The product won the runners-up prize at the fifth National Award for Technology Innovation in the category of polymers in public health care on February 21, said Sirshendu De, who is the principal investigator and co-inventor of the technology. He is a Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar awardee.
 
"This is a flagship project which perfectly fits in with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan of 'Make in India'," said De, professor at the IIT's department of chemical engineering, in a statement.
 
The developed process has been filed for an Indian patent and also for a US patent. The fibres match the clinical specifications of the market leaders, the researchers said.
 
This product, once commercialized, can equip India with the technology not only to sustain itself in the field of dialysis, but also to project itself as a major exporter of such haemodialysers to south-east Asian countries, Africa and South America, said the researchers.
 

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How the brain learns the way things work
When we learn a new technical concept, something happens in our brain. But exactly what? That has been a mystery until now.
 
For the first time, scientists have traced the brain processes that occur during the learning of technical concepts.
 
Published in NeuroImage, the findings reveal how new technical knowledge is built up in the brain.
 
"After you learn a force applied to an enclosed fluid is involved in the workings of a car's brakes, and you also learn how a force applied to an enclosed fluid is involved in the workings of a fire extinguisher, the brain representations of these two very different systems increase in their similarity to each other," said lead author Robert Mason.
 
"This provides evidence that appropriate instruction can bring out the fundamental understanding of how things work at a deep level," he added.
 
"This study yields an initial theory of learning of mechanical systems that can be related to the instructional methods and resulting cognitive processes that underlie science learning," said professor Marcel Just from the Carnegie Mellon University.
 
Just and Mason scanned the brains of 16 healthy adults as they learned for the first time how four common mechanical systems work.
 
While inside the brain scanner, the participants were shown a series of pictures, diagrams and text that described the internal workings of a bathroom scale, fire extinguisher, automobile braking system and trumpet.
 
Just and Mason were able to use the fMRI images to follow how each new concept made its way from the words and pictures to neural representations over many regions of the brain.
 
Interestingly, they found that the neural representations progressed through several stages, with each stage involving different parts of the brain that played different roles.
 
"This will enable instructors to 'teach to the brain' instead of 'teaching to the test'," Just said.

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