Tag Archives: liver

Radio-wave treatment shows some promise against liver cancer

New research from the Wake Forest School of Medicine has shown that targeted radio wave treatments are safe to use against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, and shows benefits for the patient’s overall survival rates.

Image credits Qasim Zafar / Flickr.

The researchers used a hand-held device called TheraBionic P1, produced by TheraBionic GmbH in Ettlingen that works by delivering specific, amplitude-modulated radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (AM RF EMF), meant specifically for use against HCC.

Radio treatment

“HCC accounts for nearly 90% of all liver cancers, and current survival rates are between six and 20 months,” said Boris Pasche, M.D., Ph.D., chair of cancer biology and director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Currently, there are limited treatment options for patients with this advanced liver cancer.”

“Our findings show an improvement in overall survival of more than 30% in patients with well-preserved liver function and also in those with more severe disease”.

This device emits radio waves that are spread through the patient’s body in an attempt to inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells without damaging healthy ones. A spoon-shaped antenna is placed under each patient’s tongue during the treatment, which is administered in three one-hour sessions per day. According to the paper, the low-level radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by the antenna spread through the patient’s body.

Previously, the device was proven to be effective at blocking the growth of liver cancer cells, and it received breakthrough designation from the FDA in 2019.

The current study worked with 18 patients with advanced HCC, all of whom were enrolled for this type of treatment. Data from another 41 patients from a previous phase II study, as well as data from control participants from earlier clinical trials, was also factored into the study. 

Although the authors also kept an eye out for side effects, no patients stopped the treatment due to adverse reactions. The team reports that participants’ overall survival showed an improvement, although how much depended on their baseline health conditions at the start of the trial. Those who still maintained high levels of liver functionality showed a roughly 30% improvement in survival odds.

While the results are quite exciting, especially in conjunction with previous research on the subject, there is still a long way to go. The current study is limited by the small sample size used and “selection bias inherent in the use of historical control data”, according to Pasche.

The paper “Safety and Efficacy of amplitude-modulated radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma” has been published in the journal 4open.

Exercise can also help shed your liver fat

By now, you must have heard it all when it comes to the benefits of exercising. From controlling weight and preventing diseases to boosting your mood and improving your sex life, regular physical activity is one of the single most important things to keep your body healthy — along with a healthy diet. But even so, here’s another reason to stay in shape: exercising has positive effects on the liver, according to researchers at the University of Tsukuba.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition where excess fat builds up in the liver, is the most common liver disorder worldwide, affecting as much as a quarter of the world’s population. The disease is typically associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices such as overeating and sedentarism.

The primary objective of managing NAFLD is controlling weight to a healthy level. When it comes to weight loss, your two best friends are exercise and diet. However, exercising is considered more difficult to main over time consistently, especially without a personal trainer to help, so the focus is generally on cutting fat through calorie restriction.

But according to Japanese researchers, both exercise and diet are important. Forgoing exercise would be a mistake since it provides important benefits such as reducing hepatic steatosis.

In their new study, the researchers compared data from obese Japanese men with NAFLD on a 3-month exercise regimen with those on a dietary restriction meant for weight loss. Researchers tracked hepatic parameters, reduction in adipose tissue, increase in muscle strength, reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress, and expression of target genes of Nrf2, an oxidative stress sensor.

Compared to dieting, the exercise program reduced liver steatosis by an additional 9.5%, liver stiffness by an additional 6.8%, and the FibroScan-AST Score (a measure of liver fibrosis) by an additional 16.4%, ultrasound elastography revealed.

What’s more, the exercise regimen also enhanced the circulating concentration of organokines, which are pleiotropic molecules that regulate inflammation, oxidative stress, glucose and lipid metabolism, and fat distribution. This led to improved anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative stress responses.

“Our research shows how exercise prevents liver steatosis and fibrosis in NAFLD and clarifies that this benefit is compounded by the preservation of muscle mass and is independent of weight changes. Patients on exercise regimens may become demotivated and drop out if they do not experience significant weight loss. Therefore, moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise should be integrated into all NAFLD therapeutic regimens, and patients at risk for NASH should be encouraged to persevere with moderate to high-intensity exercise regardless of whether or not they lose weight,” senior author Professor Junichi Shoda explained.

Previously, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Hepatology found moderate to vigorous exercise is beneficial in decreasing risk of development of new fatty liver or improving resolution of existing fatty liver.

Besides keep your liver in tip-top shape, exercise improves mood, boosts energy, and promotes better sleep, among many other benefits. For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

The findings appeared in the journal JHEP Reports.

Human mini-livers set the stage for an organ donor free future

Researchers grew a miniature liver from human skin cells, and then they transplanted it into rats. The study could be a small step in developing a revolutionary technology that could help thousands of people who are waiting for a liver transplant.

Credit University of Pittsburgh

This technology could help reduce organ shortage and it could also potentially lower the cost of a transplant. In the US alone, about 17,000 people are waiting for a liver transplant, according to Columbia University – a number that largely exceeds the amount available. At the same time, organ transplants are usually very expensive, especially in the US. In 2017, a patient receiving a liver transplant was billed over $800,000.

This development would also be very significant for the estimated 30 million people in the U.S. who have a liver disorder, according to the Health Resources and Services Administrator. The researchers are indeed optimistic.

“I believe it’s a very important step because we know it can be done,” co-author Alejandro Soto-Gutiérrez, a regenerative medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, told Inverse. “You can make a whole organ that can be functional from one cell of the skin.”

Soto-Gutiérrez and his team of researchers collected skin cell samples from a group of human participants. Then they reprogrammed the skin cells into stem cells. After that, the cells were coaxed into various types of cells found in the human liver.

According to the paper, the scientists removed cells from rat livers so it could serve as a scaffolding for the stem cells they created. The human liver cells were seeded into this scaffolding, and finally, the livers were transplanted into the rats. It took under a month to grow the livers in bioreactors, while liver maturation usually takes up to two years.

Four days after the transplant, the researchers dissected the animals and discovered that the mini-livers had successfully worked. They saw that the rats had human liver proteins in their blood serum, and that with the mini-livers had secreted bile acids and urea just like a normal liver.

“Seeing that little human organ there inside the animal — brown, looking like a liver — that was pretty cool,” Soto-Gutiérrez told Inverse. “This thing that looks like a liver and functions like a liver came from somebody’s skin cells.”

Nevertheless, there were some unwanted side-effects. The researchers found problems with blood flow around the site of the graft (where the liver was transplanted). They argued that the following steps should address safety issues.

Soto-Gutiérrez and his team are working to create technology to enable widespread and access on-demand of human liver grafts that are functional.

“The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donation, but in the near future, I see this as a bridge to transplant,” said Soto-Gutierrez. “For instance, in acute liver failure, you might just need a hepatic boost for a while instead of a whole new liver.”

The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

Newborn in Japan receives first treatment with liver STEM cells

A team of doctors in Japan have successfully transplanted stem liver cells into a newborn baby who required transplant, marking a world first.

Stock image via Pxfuel.

This approach could be used in the future for other infants who require organ transplants but are still too young or frail to bear such an intervention, the team explains. The patient suffered from urea cycle disorder, a condition where the liver is not able to break down ammonia, a toxic compound, in the blood, but was considered too small to survive a surgical intervention.

Infant cells to treat infants

“The success of this trial demonstrates safety in the world’s first clinical trial using human ES (embryonic stem) cells for patients with liver disease,” said a press release of Japan’s National Center for Child Health and Development (NCCHD) following the procedure according to todayonline.

At only six days old, the infant (whose sex has hot been disclosed) was too small to undergo a liver transplant, which is not considered safe for patients under 6 kilograms (13 pounds), according to the NCCHD, which usually means they have to be around three to five months old.

However, the baby’s condition would have been fatal until then, so the doctors had to find an alternative way of treatment.

They settled on a “bridge treatment” meant to manage the condition until the baby was big enough for transplant. This procedure involved injecting 190 million liver cells derived from embryonic stem cells into the blood vessels of the liver. And it worked.

They report that the baby “did not see an increase in blood ammonia concentrations” after the procedure and grew up to “successfully complete the next treatment”, namely a liver transplant from its father. The patient was discharged from the hospital six months after birth.

This course of treatment can be used for infant (and perhaps adult) patients who are also waiting for a transplant in other parts of the world. Doctors at the NCCHD note that Europe and the US have a relatively stable supply of liver cells from brain-dead donors, while Japan only has a limited quantity to work with. So they had to use ES cells, which are harvested from fertilized eggs, which has caused some controversy regarding how ethical their use is.

The NCCHD is one of only two organisations in Japan allowed to work with ES cells to develop new medical treatments. It works with fertilised eggs whose use has been approved by both donors having already completed fertility treatment, according to the institute.

The treatment so far isn’t meant to replace transplants, but that’s definitely an exciting possibility for the future. Transplants save lives, but they rely on donors (whose numbers are limited) and require highly specialized equipment, doctors, and medicine to be successful. We can, however, hope that in the future a simple injection may replace the transplants of today.

Scientists place human livers in suspended animation that triples survivability

After organs are harvested following a donor’s death, there’s a very short time window in which the transplant can be made. Some organs can be preserved for longer than others, and livers are some of the most short-lived ones. In groundbreaking research, scientists demonstrated a new method that supercools livers, preserving them for 27 hours — that’s nearly a day longer than livers typically survive outside the body.

Scientists use a combination of an antifreeze solution and transfusions to keep livers viable for transplant possibly for days. Credit: Jeffrey Andree, Reinier de Vries, Korkut Uygun.

On average, 20 people die each day waiting for an organ in the United States and a new name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. Part of the problem lies in an insufficient supply of compatible organs, something which scientists hope to one day solve by growing organs in the lab from a patient’s own cells. This kind of technology, however, could be decades away from widescale adoption.

In the meantime, doctors are scrambling to improve the availability of organs they now have access to in order to make up for this shortage.

With the expansion of transplantation as a clinical therapy from the 1980s onwards, methods of multiple organ procurement and preservation were required. Since then, researchers have developed all sorts of techniques and strategies to prepare organs before transplant.

Typically organs are preserved in a cold solution. Cooling is necessary to reduce cellular metabolism and the requirements for oxygen to prevent tissue injury. One can’t simply freeze an organ because that would form ice crystals that destroy cells.

In a new study, Korkut Uygun and colleagues at the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, used a technique called supercooling which lowers the temperature of water to -6°C (21°F) without freezing it.

Previously, the team demonstrated that this method works on rat livers. Human livers, however, are an entirely different affair since they can be 200 times larger.

Credit: Jeffrey Andree, Reinier de Vries, Korkut Uygun.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the researchers explain how they used a solution of protective agents, including an ingredient present in antifreeze, that prevented human liver cells from freezing despite subzero temperatures.

Experiments on discarded human livers showed they could be kept for 27 hours, rather than the typical nine hours when the organs are stored on ice — this means the procedure could triple the survivability of livers awaiting a transplant. Healthier organs could be preserved even longer — in the order of days, the researchers say.

“We show that human livers can be stored at –4 °C with supercooling followed by subnormothermic machine perfusion, effectively extending the ex vivo life of the organ by 27 h. We show that viability of livers before and after supercooling is unchanged, and that after supercooling livers can withstand the stress of simulated transplantation by ex vivo normothermic reperfusion with blood,” the researchers wrote.

Subsequent tests showed that oxygen use, bile production, and lactate metabolism functioned as expected after the cooled livers were brought up to normal temperature.

Although the researchers have yet to implant a liver preserved in this way into a human patient, they are confident that the process will not affect the organ’s health.

About 30% of all US deaths could be forestalled by an organ transplant. The new study could thus save countless lives by keeping livers viable long enough for them to reach those most in need.

Mini liver.

First lab-grown mini livers will allow researchers to study the organ, its diseases, and treatments

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) School of Medicine have successfully grown miniature human livers in the lab.

Mini liver.

Photograph of rat liver, stripped of rat-specific cells and re-seeded with engineered human liver cells.
Image credits UPMC.

The genetically-modified diminutive organs are meant to be a test platform for scientists to simulate human liver disease progression and test therapies on. As a proof of concept, the Pitt team created one such miniliver that mimics non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

DeLivering on demand

“This is the first time we can create genetically engineered human mini livers with a disease using stem cells in the lab,” said senior author Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez, Ph.D. and associate professor of pathology at Pitt’s School of Medicine.

The team creates their tiny livers by genetically-engineering human skin cells. These cells are programmed to simulate a certain disease, are then reverted back to their stem state, and then made to mature into fully-functional liver cells.

For the current paper, the team modified the cells to express a chemically activated switch that could clamp down the on SIRT1 gene (SIRT1 proteins are commonly associated with NAFLD). After turning these cells into liver cells, the researchers seeded them into rat livers (which were previously stripped of their own cells). The implanted cells matured into functional 3-D mini livers, with the blood vessels and other structural features of a normal organ.

The organ mimics non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition which can lead to cirrhosis or even liver failure. NAFLD is quickly becoming the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the United States due to its association with obesity.

The team says that their mini livers offer researchers a unique platform to understand not just a disease and how it progresses, but also for the testing of therapeutics. It’s common for drugs to fail in clinical trials despite promising results in mice, they explain, citing the drug Resveratrol. Resveratrol acts on SIRT1, and it was effective in mouse models for the treatment of NAFLD but failed in human clinical trials.

“Mice aren’t humans,” Soto-Gutierrez said. “We are born with certain mutations, polymorphisms, that will predispose us to certain diseases, but you can’t study polymorphisms in mice, so making a mini customized human liver is advantageous.”

What sets the mini livers apart from ‘organoid‘ cultures — bundles of cells that self-assemble into simple versions of organs — is the presence of those structural features such as blood vessels, the team explains. However, they caution that the mini livers “lack the distinct zones of metabolic function” that normal livers have.

Once they fully matured, the team flipped the genetic switch they programmed into the cells (to suppress the SIRT1 gene) and the mini livers started to mimic the metabolic dysfunction observed in tissues NAFLD patients. Just like in the clinical trials, Resveratrol wasn’t effective on these livers, either.

However, the mini livers did allow the team to figure out what went wrong. Resveratrol boosts the activity of SIRT1 proteins not SIRT1 genes. When SIRT1 gene expression is suppressed, such as is the case with the micro livers and perhaps also NAFLD patients, there isn’t any protein to act on. The drug doesn’t work because it’s targeting the wrong step.

“That’s an insight that could only come from studying functional human tissue,” Soto-Gutierrez said.

“I imagine in the future we can make human livers where you can order what kind of function you want, or even enhance function.”

However, we’re a long way away from that point. These mini livers won’t be ready for clinical applications like transplantation anytime soon, Soto-Gutierrez adds.

The paper “Generation of Human Fatty Livers Using Custom-Engineered Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells with Modifiable SIRT1 Metabolism” has been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.


Why ‘detox’ doesn’t work — a diet fad and marketing ploy exposed by science


Credit: Pixabay.

Many people use so-called detox diets to cleanse their bodies of toxins — or so they think.

Let’s get something straight: there’s only one real type of detox, which is the kind performed in hospitals in order to treat a person suffering from dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or poisons. In any other context, ‘detox’ refers to unproven alternative medicine hacks like diets, supplements, or even colon irrigation meant to flush toxins out of your system.

Spoiler alert: these detox fads not only do nothing to remove toxins, but some are also extremely risky and may seriously backfire on you.

The pseudoscience of detoxing

The goal of a detox or body cleanse is to supposedly remove ‘toxic’ things that have accumulated in the body.

However, these supposed toxins are never named specifically by those who peddle detoxing. Instead, they’re generally referred to as “poisons”, “pollutants”, and “toxins”.

Not surprisingly, there is no consistent or specific definition of what a detox or body cleanse entails. These programs may involve a variety of approaches, such as:

  • Fasting;
  • Exclusively consuming juice or some other liquid for days at a time;
  • Eating a very restricted selection of foods;
  • Using various dietary supplements or other commercial products;
  • Cleansing the colon (lower intestinal tract) with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (also called “colonic irrigation” or “colonics”);
  • Combining some of these or other approaches.

If you go online, you’ll find thousands of articles listing all sorts of detoxes. Some are relatively benign, such as the “carrot juice cleanse”, but others are downright esoteric; for instance, the Master Cleanse detox permits no food, which it replaces with tea and lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Here’s an excerpt from the highly popular 1976 book The Master Cleanseauthored by the Stanley Burroughs, the original developer of the diet.

“The cleanse starts with a herbal laxative tea both morning and evening. If this is not sufficient to clean out the intestinal tract, he advises a salt-water wash. These stops are necessary to remove the toxins loosened by the lemon juice cleanse.”

“I was then to drink between six and twelve glasses of lemonade, which consisted of lemon and maple syrup in proper proportions, with a small amount of cayenne added to wash out the mucus loosened by the cleanse.”

The book promises readers that it will help them correct all sorts of disorders — in fact, just about any disease!

“For the novice and the advanced student alike, cleansing is basis for elimination of every kind of disease. The purpose of this book is to simplify the cause and the correction of all disorders, regardless of the name or names. As we eliminate and correct one disease, we correct them all, for every disease is corrected by the same process of cleansing and building positive good health,” an introductory chapter from Burroughs’ book reads.

There is no scientific evidence that the diet removes any toxins. The only thing that it achieves is weight loss but that’s, of course, to be expected when a person stops eating food. In fact, using this diet can harm you in the long run because it robs the body of important nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. According to the Harvard Medical School, the laxative component of the diet can lead to dehydration and electrolyte loss as well as impaired bowel function. Other side effects may include fatigue, nausea, and dizziness over the short-term, and loss of muscle mass and a heightened risk of heart attack in the long-run.

Most other popular body cleanses make similar promises and follow more or less the same low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets.

Why detoxing doesn’t work

If you’re looking to lose weight, a detox diet can help you with this goal in the immediate future. The problem is that most people gain all of that lost weight back after returning to their usual dietary routine. On the other hand, if your goal is to detox your body, save yourself the money and effort — it doesn’t work!

Your body is an expert at getting rid of toxins and there are no foods or gimmicks that will speed up this process, which is working perfectly fine already. A lot of people fall for detoxing because they live unhealthy lifestyles, eating a lot of processed foods and not exercising. They see detoxing is a quick fix that will wash away all the unhealthy dirtiness lurking inside them — a much-needed reset so that we might feel refreshed and anew.

But the truth is that toxins don’t build up in your liver, kidneys, or any other part of your body, and you’re not going to get rid of them with the latest detox wonder. If you understand basic biology, it’s very clear that diets that promise ‘cleansing the liver of toxins’ are simply ludicrous.

The liver is an essential organ which is responsible for producing bile for digesting food, storing glucose for energy, metabolizing proteins and fats, and breaking down toxins you might ingest.

Out of the hundreds of functions your liver performs, ensuring toxins are safely removed from your blood is one of its most critical jobs. Your body is exposed to potentially toxic chemicals (they’re only toxic if their concentration in the blood passes a certain threshold) when coming into contact with certain environmental pollutants such as pesticides, but also as a result of normal digestion. For instance, when we digest protein, ammonia is released as a byproduct, which is quickly converted with urea, then eliminated through urine. Any wastes your liver cannot use are converted and either carried out by bile into your small intestine or carried by the blood to your kidneys.

The liver detoxifies harmful substances in two main steps. First, it uses enzymes and oxygen to burn substances so they are more water soluble, making it easier for the body to eliminate them. In the second step, particularly processed toxins are combined with sulfur or amino acids in order to remove them through bile or urine. No detox ingredient can do this job.

Detox helps you lose fluids, not fat

Even the weight loss bit that detoxes are famous for is a smokescreen. Take the Lemon Detox Diet, for instance, which makes some amazing claims ranging from glowing skin to increased vitality. But it’s the promise that it will provide 3-6kg of weight loss in 10 days that gets most people sucked into lemon detox. That may be true — but you won’t be losing fat.

Like any crash diet, a detox diet will cause a person to initially lose a lot of weight. Diets containing minimal to no carbohydrates deplete liver and muscle tissue stores of glycogen — and with it, a person’s water weight. Muscle tissue can store 400 grams of glycogen whilst the liver stores 100 grams. What’s more, glycogen is stored with 3-4 parts water content. So, an extremely low or no carbohydrate diet can produce an immediate 2.5kg weight loss by depleting the 500 grams of available glycogen and the subsequent water stored with it.

Secondly, energy restrictions will cause the body to break down muscle into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. So a severe dieter’s weight loss will be muscle tissue — not fat, which is often the goal.

A study published in 1976 followed participants who used one of three diets in a 10-day weight loss program. One diet consisted of no food whatsoever (akin to many detox diets), the second diet involved only 3,200kJ of energy (765 calories) with no carbohydrates allowed, and the third 3,200kJ of energy but carbs were allowed.

People who were part of the no food group lost a staggering 7.5kgs in only 10 days. The catch is that they lost only 2.4kg of fat — 61% of that hefty weight loss was actually water lost due to muscle and glycogen depletion. Once these people started eating (you know, so they don’t die), they rapidly put that water-weight back on. The no carbs group lost 4.7kg, while the carbs-allowed group lost 2.8kg. Both of these two groups, however, lost 1.7kgs of fat on average — the difference is represented by the water loss of the no-carbs group due to muscle and glycogen breakdown.

So liver cleanses don’t actually lead to weight loss — it’s just fluid loss.

Credit: Journal of Clinical Investigation, Yang et al.

Credit: Journal of Clinical Investigation, Yang et al.

If your body really built up toxins, you would have been dead a long time ago…

In 2009, a group of young British scientists — part of the pro-science charity Sense About Science — compiled the “Detox Dossier”, which is an investigation into “some of the many products, special diets, tonics and supplements which are widely promoted as being able to ‘detox’ you after the festive season.” The authors of the report felt the public was being duped by dodgy science claims such as detox so they contacted the manufacturers of 15 detox products. What did these producers mean by detox? None had any clue!

“Some products fell by the wayside as it became clear that the sellers were as confused as we were and unable to draw on anything but the marketing blurb, for example, Nicky Clarke cited confidentiality for
their Detox Salon Straighteners and referred us to “information on nano silver and its properties in the public domain,” the authors wrote in the introduction of the Detox Dossier.

The products analyzed by the Sense about Science ranged from smoothies to crystals but not one was able to actually prove any detox properties.

“In fact, no one we contacted was able to provide any evidence for their claims, or give a comprehensive definition of what they meant by ‘detox’. We concluded that ‘detox’ as used in product marketing is a myth. Many of the claims about how the body works were wrong and some were even dangerous.”

The dossier concluded that ‘detox’, as used in product marketing, is a myth. Worse of all, many of the claims marketed by these manufacturers were not only wrong but potentially dangerous to follow. In one particular example, Dawn Page, at the time a 52-year-old woman, suffered damage to her brain’s left hemisphere after she tried a detox in 2008.

“Appreciating and learning new things is difficult for her,” the woman’s husband told BBC News. “Her life is quite structured and to a large degree written down for her.”

People who use detox products face various risks that they should be aware of, such as:

  • Ingesting potentially harmful ingredients for unapproved use;
  • Exposure to harmful bacterial byproducts from unpasteurized juices;
  • Health complications if the dieter has diabetes;
  • Potential side effects following colon cleansing. These effects are most likely in people with a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, kidney disease, or heart disease;
  • Headaches, fainting, weakness, dehydration, and hunger pangs due to fasting.

There is not one credible scientific paper that endorses a detox product, diet, or remedy. These often expensive fads are basically a waste of people’s time and money.

A review recently published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics sums it up nicely:

“To the best of our knowledge, no rigorous clinical investigations of detox diets have been conducted. The handful of studies that have been published suffer from significant methodological limitations including small sample sizes, sampling bias, lack of control groups, reliance on self-report and qualitative rather than quantitative measurements.”

That being said, there seems to be evidence that some types of foods can improve liver health and function. A study that investigated Milk thistle’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found that the plant can help reduce liver inflammation. Turmeric may also decrease certain pro-inflammatory molecules that contribute to the initiation, development, or worsening of liver diseases. These kinds of ingredients, however, do not detox — that’s the liver’s job; they just improve the liver’s functions if it is under stress.

There are over 100 different forms of liver disease but there is no evidence that any body cleanse protects the organ. The two biggest risk factors for liver disease are drinking alcohol excessively and having a family history of liver disease.

Ultimately, the best ‘detox’ is not smoking, exercising regularly and enjoying a healthy balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet.

Bottom line: ‘Detox’ has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning. Detox products are nothing more than a marketing ploy — another unregulated scam that’s out of control. Unless you have liver disease, your body is perfectly able to detox itself. 

Recents studies show how coffee is good for your health

Steaming hot, iced, blended, black, creamy. Coffee! It comes in many forms, and it’s part of my daily routine. It’s part of many others’ too. Last week several established publications’ websites were running coffee-related articles, touting this beverage’s health benefits. Scientists have remarked on this drink’s healthful qualities in the past. The idea that coffee is good for you is not a new one.

The Relationship with Diabetes

The delightful drink seems to help in warding off type 2 diabetes. The sex hormone-binding globulin, or SHBG for short, is a protein which controls the sex hormones in the human body: testosterone and estrogen. It has also been considered to have a key role in the evolution of this specific type of diabetes.

It has been observed that drinking coffee will increase the amount of plasma of SHBG. A few years ago, a study showed that women who ingested a minimum of four cups each day were slightly less likely to develop diabetes as opposed to those who didn’t drink it at all.

Help in Other Areas

The Best Way to Start the Day Right. Source: Pixabay.

Coffee, primarily the caffeinated kind, has been known to prevent as well as alleviate Parkinson’s disease. The consumption of caffeine has been found to significantly decrease the number of Parkinson’s cases. In fact, it may even aid in simple movement in individuals afflicted with the disease.

It provides some benefits for those who are concerned about their heart. Small daily doses can assist in preventing heart failure. In one study, it was shown that the risk of heart failure in people drinking four European cups of coffee per day was reduced by 11%.

Newer studies show that the regular intake of a relatively small amount of coffee can bring down the chances of premature death by 10%. Additional benefits could possibly include preventing cirrhosis, decrease the likelihood of multiple sclerosis (MS), and prevent the onslaught of colon cancer. However, to be certain whether these benefits are actually present in coffee more tests are needed. It is also one of the very best sources of antioxidants which protect the human body against destructive molecules called free radicals. This is good since free radicals are believed by many scientists to bring about cancer, blood vessel disease, and other serious ailments.

The Biggie: Coffee and Liver Health

From Pot to Cup. Source: Pixabay.

Perhaps the biggest health factor it basks in being associated with is liver health. Marc Gunter, head of a recent large-scale European study noted by National Geographic, has stated coffee drinking is linked to good health in the liver and circulatory systems. He also says it can account for lower inflammation levels in those who drink it as opposed to those who don’t.

The discoveries this study has led to supply the strongest defense to date for the healthful qualities of coffee. Gunter informed the scientific community and the public that he plans to examine the beverage’s chemical compounds in an attempt to know what makes it healthful.

We have actually seen how it can aid in liver conditions for several years. For instance, it was found that consuming three cups of coffee on a daily basis reduced the chances of getting liver cancer by 50%! Decaf also decreases the number of enzymes located in the liver. Thus, it is seen that caffeine is not always the prime healthy aspect provided in coffee. Drinking the beverage frequently has been associated with decreasing the risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) which is a rare disease infecting the liver’s bile ducts.

As we’ve seen, coffee has quite a few benefits when drunk regularly and moderately. The important thing to recognize now is that many specific studies need to done on coffee itself and how it relates to treating various illnesses.

New enzyme could be used as an insulin alternative, to treat diabetes and obesity

University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) scientists have identified a new enzyme that could protect the body from toxic levels of intra-cell sugar. When there is too much sugar in the body it gets processed into glycerol-3-phosphate, a buildup of which can damage internal organs. The team behind the study proved that G3PP is able to extract excess sugar from cells.

Their discovery should lead to the development of therapeutics for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Image via pixlr

“When glucose is abnormally elevated in the body, glucose-derived glycerol-3 phosphate reaches excessive levels in cells, and exaggerated glycerol 3 phosphate metabolism can damage various tissues,” said Marc Prentki, principal investigator at the CRCHUM and professor at the University of Montreal.

“We found that G3PP is able to breakdown a great proportion of this excess glycerol phosphate to glycerol and divert it outside the cell, thus protecting the insulin producing beta cells of pancreas and various organs from toxic effects of high glucose levels.”

Mammalian cells derive the bulk of their energy from oxidizing glucose and fatty acids. These substances govern many physiological processes, from insulin and glucose production, all the way to fat accumulation and nutrient metabolization. But a too large intake of glucose disrupts these processes and can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Beta cells in the pancreas respond to changes in blood sugar levels, cracking up or toning down on insulin — a hormone that controls glucose and fat utilization. Usually this keeps blood sugar levels stable and cells happy and well supplied with fuel. As glucose is being used in cells, glycerol-3-phosphate is formed, a molecule central to metabolism since it is needed for both energy production and fat formation.

But when these nutrients are found in excess, they can actually damage beta cells, inhibiting their function. Blood sugar levels remain unchecked, skyrocket, and damage the beta cells even further. This leads to a vicious circle, shutting down the body’s system of managing its fuel. G3PP however isn’t produced by beta cells, and the team hopes it can be used to regulate formation and storage of fat as well as production of glucose in the liver.

“By diverting glucose as glycerol, G3PP prevents excessive formation and storage of fat” says Dr Murthy Madiraju, a scientist at CRCHUM.

Dr Prentki added: ‘It is extremely rare since the 1960s that a novel enzyme is discovered at the heart of metabolism of nutrients in all mammalian tissues, and likely this enzyme will be incorporated in biochemistry textbooks.’

The research team is currently in the process of discovering ‘small molecule activators of G3PP’ to treat cardio-metabolic disorders. These drugs will form a new class of drugs, being unique in the way they operate inside the body.

The treatment will first have to be confirmed in several animal trials before drugs for human use can be developed.

“This is an interesting paper and to some extent unusual as new enzymes involved in metabolic control are rare,” said Professor Iain Broom, Director of the Centre for Obesity Research & Epidemiology, Robert Gordon University.

But we should take great care as we develop this class of drugs, he adds”

“Care should be taken, however, in reading too much into the possibilities for treatment of disease by focusing on such individual enzymes, especially as the evidence for this control mechanism comes from isolated cells.”

“This paper does have an important finding, however, and should not be dismissed lightly – but I would draw the line at statements of ‘guilt-free sugary treats’,” he said, referring to the media’s take on the story. ”

This is not an accurate by-line for this interesting piece of science.”

The paper can be found online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Photo: UCSD

3D Bioprinted liver-inspired device traps toxins and detoxifies blood

Photo: UCSD

Photo: UCSD

Inspired by the healing properties of the human liver, researchers at University of California, San Diego created a 3D-printed biodevice which mimics the liver and removes dangerous toxins from the blood.

Used outside the body, like a dialysis machine, the device employs nanoparticles to trap pore-forming toxins that can damage cellular membranes. These toxins often result from animal bites and stings, and bacterial infections, and can cause serious illnesses.

Previous research showed that indeed nanoparticles are great for neutralizing pore-forming toxins in the blood, however at the same time these nanoparticles can not be designed in such manner that they may be effectively digested. Consequently, the capsules can act like a second poison – a time bomb – especially among patients already at risk of liver failure.

Professor Shaochen Chen solved this problem by making a 3D-printed hydrogel matrix to house nanoparticles, forming a device that mimics the function of the liver by sensing, attracting and capturing toxins routed from the blood. Chen and colleagues used a novel technique developed in-house alled dynamic optical projection stereolithography (DOPsL), which can produce the micro- and nanoscale resolution required to print tissues that mimic nature’s fine-grained details, including blood vessels, which are essential for distributing nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.

Bio-inspired 3D detoxification device: polydiacetylene (PDA)PDA nanoparticles (green) are installed in poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) hydrogel matrix (gray) with liver-mimetic 3D structure fabricated by 3D printing. The nanoparticles attract, capture and sense toxins (red), while the 3D matrix with modified liver lobule structure allows toxins to be trapped efficiently. This biomimetic 3D detoxifier has promising clinical application for detoxification by collecting and removing toxins. (Credit: Maling Gou et al., Nature Communications)

Bio-inspired 3D detoxification device: polydiacetylene (PDA)PDA nanoparticles (green) are installed in poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) hydrogel matrix (gray) with liver-mimetic 3D structure fabricated by 3D printing. The nanoparticles attract, capture and sense toxins (red), while the 3D matrix with modified liver lobule structure allows toxins to be trapped efficiently. This biomimetic 3D detoxifier has promising clinical application for detoxification by collecting and removing toxins. (Credit: Maling Gou et al., Nature Communications)

The device, mimics the structure of the liver, with all its intricate details, only it has a large surface area. This allows the device to attract and trap more toxins. Experiments in the lab so far proved the device can completely neutralize pore-forming toxins.

“One unique feature of this device is that it turns red when the toxins are captured,” said the co-first author, Xin Qu, who is a postdoctoral researcher working in Chen’s laboratory. “The concept of using 3D printing to encapsulate functional nanoparticles in a biocompatible hydrogel is novel,” said Chen. “This will inspire many new designs for detoxification techniques since 3D printing allows user-specific or site-specific manufacturing of highly functional products,” Chen said.

The findings were published May 8 in the journal Nature Communications.

Decellularized Mouse Heart: Lu et. al

Scientists engineer heart in the lab that beats on its own

Regenerative medicine has come a long way, and while important strides forward have been made, scientists are still toiling with ways to completely grow organs in labs. There are millions of people worldwide suffering from afflictions to organs like the liver, lungs or heart – for many of them a transplant is they’re only chance at living a normal life again and even survive. Less than 1% of those on the waiting list actually receive a transplant, however, because of the sheer disproportion between donors and patients. Elaborating means of growing new organs in the lab ready for transplant and save lives is thus imperious. Work is though and slow, but signs are we’re getting there.

The latest breakthrough comes from researchers at University of Pittsburgh who recently report they’ve cultured a heart that can beat on its own. Unlike other cultured organs like the lungs or liver (still primitive, somewhat working, but not ready for transplant), the heart is the most difficult organ to build. Why? The heart beats, and building a heart in the lab that beats isn’t enough. It needs to beat at a certain rate, something controlled by the cardiovascular system, which needs to be reproduced. So you need to build a whole new system, not just the organ itself. Onto the scientists’ work, however.

Decellularized Mouse Heart:  Lu et. al

Decellularized Mouse Heart: Lu et. al

Like other regenerative efforts, the researchers used induced pluripotent stem cells to culture their heart. These cells are very similar to stem cells, only they’re collected from adult cells and forced to express certain genes. Using cells collected from blood, skin, stomach, even urine (we reported earlier how a group of researchers grew teeth-like structures using such cells), scientists can turn these into iPSCs and then morph them into whatever they like. So, basically, most of the features of stem cells (the differences between iPSCs and stem cells are still not fully understood), without the drawbacks – controversial embryonic collection, hard to come by etc. Most importantly, however, because the pluripotent stem cells are collected from mature cells – i.e. from the patient who needs the transplant – an organ grown from these will have a much slighter chance at being rejected by the host body.

“Scientists have been looking to regenerative medicine and tissue engineering approaches to find new solutions for this important problem. The ability to replace a piece of tissue damaged by a heart attack, or perhaps an entire organ, could be very helpful for these patients,” said Lei Yang, the lead researcher.

The approach Lei and his team used, however, is different in one key aspect from other iPSC-centered heart regeneration efforts. They first let the stem cells begin to develop for six days, such that some of them may differentiate into  cardiovascular progenitor cells.

The heart of mouse was subsequently collected and had all its cells removed besides the underling structure – leaving a sort of scaffold. Onto this scaffold the cardiovascular cells developed from human induced stem cells were laid. So, contrary to previous methods where the risk of some stem cells developing into liver cells for instance is present, the Pittsburgh team’s approach rendered more functioning heart cells – the denser the heart cells are in the organ the better the chance it has of working closer to the natural thing.

“This process makes MCPs, which are precursor cells that can further differentiate into three kinds of cells the heart uses, including cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells,” Dr. Yang explained. “Nobody has tried using these MCPs for heart regeneration before. It turns out that the heart’s extracellular matrix – the material that is the substrate of heart scaffold – can send signals to guide the MCPs into becoming the specialized cells that are needed for proper heart function.”

Finally, the heart had enough cells to power itself and beat on its own (check the embedded video in this article) – a breakthrough moment in science. It still needs a tremendous amount of refining though. For one, as states earlier, it needs to beat a certain rate, and besides the cardiovascular system which needs to be finely regenerated, you need to have a precise density of cardiovascular cells. For human transplants, there’s another challenge. You need to have scaffolds made from other human hearts.  The next move for Yang and his colleagues will be to use as a scaffolding a stripped-down heart from a human cadaver available for research.

“One of our next goals is to see if it’s feasible to make a patch of human heart muscle,” he added. “We could use patches to replace a region damaged by a heart attack. That might be easier to achieve because it won’t require as many cells as a whole human-sized organ would.”

Findings appeared in the journal Nature Communications. source: Pitts Uni


Genetically engineered virus kills liver cancer and significantly prolongs life

Researchers have developed a gene engineered vaccinia virus JX-594 – one of the pox viruses – that selectively kills cancer cells and increases immune system response. In a clinical trial of 30 terminally-ill liver cancer participants, where doses were randomized, the researchers found that the median life expectancy significantly prolonged.

“For the first time in medical history we have shown that a genetically-engineered virus can improve survival of cancer patients,” study co-author David Kirn told AFP.

“Despite advances in cancer treatment over the past 30 years with chemotherapy and biologics, the majority of solid tumours remain incurable once they are metastatic (have spread to other organs),” the authors wrote.

jx-594-anti-cancer-virusThe vaccine called  Pexa-Vec or JX-594 was used for four weeks during a clinical trial in which two doses for the vaccine were used – high and low – in order to the test the body response. During this test phase it was found that the drug was safe with no significant side effects, other from one high dosing participant who experienced severe nausea and vomiting. All of the study participants suffered from suffered from flu-like symptoms for 24 hours after the injection, however no intense complications were observed.

MRI scans were performed on the liver of each of the participants by an independent group that was oblivious to the scope of the study, and thus the dosage of the vaccine. Results showed that no matter the dosage, tumors were killed off, with more anti-tumor activity signaled in high dosage patients. Subjects also developed an immune response to the B-gal, which is what was added to the JX-594 to produce an immune response.

On the actual numbers on survival, though. Sixteen patients given a high dose of the therapy survived for 14.1 months on average, compared to 6.7 months for the 14 who got the low dose. What’s impressive to note, however, is that some of these patients didn’t respond to any kind of treatment before, and as such their median life expectancy was of 2-4 months. For all six high dosage subjects who had previously failed systemic therapy of some form the median survival rate was of 13.6 months, and two of them survived more than 2 years. This is a dramatic improvement!

“The results demonstrated that Pexa-Vec treatment at both doses resulted in a reduction of tumour size and decreased blood flow to tumours,” said a Jennerex statement. “The data further demonstrates that Pexa-Vec treatment induced an immune response against the tumour.”

Next the researchers plan to extend their clinical trial to 120 participants to better assess the effectiveness of the JX-594 vaccine and the potential side effects associated with the vaccine. What’s important to note, however, is that while this drug might significantly prolong the lives of terminally ill cancer patients, it won’t cure them.

Findings were reported in the journal Nature Medicine.

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

Scientists grow rudimentary human liver in a dish

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

In an extraordinary feat of science, Japanese scientists have used induced stem cells to grow into a liver-like tissue in a dish. The researchers have a long way ahead of them before they can grow livers safe for human transplants, which is the main goal, however even at its current stage, the tissue grown by the researchers can satisfy rudimentary metabolic functions and marks a breakthrough in the field.

“It blew my mind,” said George Daley, director of the stem-cell transplantation programme at the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, who chaired the session. “It sounds like a genuine advance,” says Stuart Forbes, who studies liver regeneration at the University of Edinburgh, UK

In the US alone, there are 17,000 people currently on the official national waiting list for a liver transplant. Many patients are in a critical situation and are in dire need of a transplant; considering the median waiting period if of one year, for most it’s too late. Lab grown organs, which are stable and compatible with the patient, would save thousands of lives each year.

The work was presented by Takanori Takebe, a stem-cell biologist at Yokohama City University in Japan, at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama last week.

Takebe and his team re-programmed human skin cells to an embryo-like state to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). These human pluripotent stem cells are crucial for the development of regenerative medicine, which can basically allow for growing a whole new heart or liver, since they can be converted into any cell type in the body. The stem cells were then placed in a dish and after nine days, analysis showed that they contained a biochemical marker of maturing liver cells, called hepatocytes.

Next, Takebe added two more types of cell known to help to recreate organ-like function in animals: endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, taken from an umbilical cord; and mesenchymal cells, which can differentiate into bone, cartilage or fat, taken from bone marrow. In a mere 5 days,  the cells assembled into a 5-millimetre-long, three-dimensional tissue that the researchers labelled a liver bud — a extremely rudimentary liver tissue, of the organ’s early development stage.

The tissue has blood vessels that proved functional when it was transplanted under the skin of a mouse. Genetic tests show that the tissue expresses many of the genes expressed in real liver, and tests on mice which had the tissue transplanted showed that it was able to metabolize some drugs that human livers metabolize but mouse livers normally cannot.

The team claims that its work is “the first report demonstrating the creation of a human functional organ with vascular networks from pluripotent stem cells”.

Takebe and his team’s work is definitely groundbreaking in their findings, however there is still much more that awaits to be studied and experimented before a fully functional stem cell liver can be grown. For this extremely rudimentary liver tissue, the scientists needed over a year and hundreds of trials to properly time the addition of the other two cell types. In the meantime,  the scientists hope that his liver bud could be useful for toxicity testing in drug screening, for which bile ducts are not needed.

The findings, so far, are expected to be published in the journal Nature soon.



Source: http://teethmagic.com/

How bad breath can save lives

Source: http://teethmagic.com/

Source: http://teethmagic.com/

An interesting conversation can instantly make a turn for the worst when bad breath hops into the scene. We’ve all had our share of bad experiences whether we were more or less forced to tolerate the repulsive stench of bad breath or we had a case of bad breath ourselves. Scientists at Nippon Dental University, however, have found that the gaseous compound responsible for bad breath has an active role in differentiating stem cells that may grow into liver cells. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are in dire need of a liver transplant, and growing new livers out of stem cells is far more lucrative than relaying on donors.

The hydrogen sulfide compound (H2S) has a smell that can’t be better described like the one given off by rotten eggs and is toxic. In high doses it can even kill a man. We all produce hydrogen sulfide inside our body and have a natural limited resistance to the compound. Some people produce more of the substance, increasing the concentration, and thus leading to the repulsive bad breath we all loath. Don’t worry, hydrogen sulfide even in the worst of bad breaths can’t literary kill you, though I’m willing to bet there had been some people faced with dire suicidal thoughts amidst all the anguish.

Here’s where it can save lives though. Scientists have known for a while that dental pulp, a substance which can be found in every human tooth, contains stem cells. Differentiating stem cells to turn into any desired cell is extremely difficult will high failure rates, however the Japanese researchers have found that by exposing the dental pulp stem cells to a small dose of hydrogen sulfide, the stem cells turned into liver cells at a higher rate. Stem cells think differently of rotten eggs, apparently.

In the U.S. alone, the fatality rates due to hepatitis C than AIDS has significantly increased during the past years, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Over the years, the disease damages the liver, and can eventually cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. Liver transplants are indispensable for mid to late stage patients, and a successful large scale stem cell metamorphosis into the much needed, life saving new livers would come as godsend more thousands in suffering.

Here’s to stinky breath!

The researchers’ findings were published in Journal of Breath Research.

source: Science Friday