Mom/Dad sucking kiddy’s pacifier may lower allergy risk

❝ Some moms or dads would think nothing of “cleaning” their baby’s pacifier after it has fallen on the floor by popping it into their own mouths, while others would be horrified by the idea. But the grossed out parents just might be missing an opportunity to help protect their baby from developing allergies later in childhood, according to researchers here.

Parental pacifier sucking was associated with lower early-life total IgE production, suggestive of increased protection from allergy and allergic asthma, reported Edward Zoratti, MD, of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, and colleagues at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology annual scientific meeting…

Co-author Elaine Abou-Jaoude, MD, also of Henry Ford, said it is known that exposure to certain microorganisms early in life stimulates development of the immune system, and may protect against allergic diseases later.

Especially if you don’t eat enough dirt when you’re a kid. Worked in my family.

I’m a Doctor. If I Drop Food on the Kitchen Floor, I Still Eat It

❝ You may have read or heard about the study debunking the five-second rule. It said that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it.

Our continued focus on this threat has long baffled me. Why are we so worried about the floor? So many other things are more dangerous than that.

❝ There’s no magic period of time that prevents transmission. But even though I know bacteria can accumulate in less than five seconds, I will still eat food that has fallen on my kitchen floor. Why? Because my kitchen floor isn’t really that dirty.

❝ Our metric shouldn’t be whether there are more than zero bacteria on the floor. It should be how many bacteria are on the floor compared with other household surfaces. And in that respect, there are so many places in your house that pose more of a concern than the floor.

❝ Perhaps no one in the United States has spent more time investigating the occurrence of bacteria on public surfaces than Charles Gerba. He’s a professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona, and he has published many papers on the subject.

In 1998, he and his colleagues investigated how well cleaning products could reduce coliform bacteria counts on household surfaces. As part of that research, they measured various locations in the house before any cleaning.

They found that the kitchen floor was likely to harbor, on average, about three colonies per square inch of coliform bacteria (2.75 to be exact). So there are some. But here’s the thing — that’s cleaner than both the refrigerator handle (5.37 colonies per square inch) and the kitchen counter (5.75 colonies per square inch).

We spend so much time worrying about what food might have picked up from the floor, but we don’t worry about touching the refrigerator. We also don’t seem as worried about food that touches the counter. But the counter is just as dirty, if not dirtier.

Educational, informative, often humorous, RTFA. Reason prevails. That alone makes this a standout.

NYC subway cultures drug resistant bacteria, DNA from Anthrax, Plague

Click to enlargeHeatmap of the Pseudomonas genus

The study, published in Cell Systems, demonstrates that it is possible and useful to develop a “pathogen map” — dubbed a “PathoMap” — of a city, with the heavily traveled subway a proxy for New York’s population. It is a baseline assessment, and repeated sampling could be used for long-term, accurate disease surveillance, bioterrorism threat mitigation, and large scale health management for New York, says the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Christopher E. Mason…

The PathoMap findings are generally reassuring, indicating no need to avoid the subway system or use protective gloves, Dr. Mason says. The majority of the 637 known bacterial, viral, fungal and animal species he and his co-authors detected were non-pathogenic and represent normal bacteria present on human skin and human body. Culture experiments revealed that all subway sites tested possess live bacteria.

Strikingly, about half of the sequences of DNA they collected could not be identified — they did not match any organism known to the National Center for Biotechnology Information or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These represent organisms that New Yorkers touch every day, but were uncharacterized and undiscovered until this study. The findings underscore the vast potential for scientific exploration that is still largely untapped and yet right under scientists’ fingertips.

WTF? They’re under everyone’s fingertips.

“Our data show evidence that most bacteria in these densely populated, highly trafficked transit areas are neutral to human health, and much of it is commonly found on the skin or in the gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Mason says. “These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria.”

But the researchers also say that 12 percent of the bacteria species they sampled showed some association with disease. For example, live, antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present in 27 percent of the samples they collected. And they detected two samples with DNA fragments of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and three samples with a plasmid associated with Yersinia pestis (Bubonic plague) — both at very low levels. Notably, the presence of these DNA fragments do not indicate that they are alive, and culture experiments showed no evidence of them being alive.

RTFA to see why the researcher say we shouldn’t worry. Certainly, the diversity of microorganisms is a positive activator for our immune systems.

Interesting how they went about the research – and what this presents as a baseline for future evaluations. And an added plus is the unique – and still closed – station shuttered since Superstorm Sandy. Marine species still alive and stable in what should be an abnormal environment for them.

Thanks, Helen

Stem cell treatment for MS in five years?

Scientists hope to show that stem cell replacement can slow, stop, or even reverse damage caused by the disease of the central nervous system.

Some 100,000 people in Britain suffer from MS, with symptoms that can include dizziness and lack of balance, muscle spasms and blurred vision. It tends to get worse over time and there is no cure. However, later this year an international £10 million trial of up to 200 volunteers will begin looking at the effects of stem cell transplantation.

The participants, including 13 in Britain, will have stem cells harvested from their own bone marrow and grown in a laboratory before being re-injected into the bloodstream.

MS is caused by the immune system attacking a protective substance around nerve fibres called myelin. Where this happens scars, called lesions, are left behind. The hypothesis is that the stem cells will target these lesions and repair the damage…

Paolo Muraro, lead researcher on the study, based at Imperial College, London, said: “This is the first time that researchers from around the world have come together to test stem cell therapies in MS in such a large-scale clinical trial…

Just another positive avenue of experimentation now that most of the superstitious interruptions to such research have been set aside. The Brits have had less interference than physicians in the United States and we can only hope American voters won’t return us to the darkness of faith-based “science” again in the next few years.

Should peanuts on planes be banned?

For most travelers, peanuts are a favorite snack: tasty, easily portable, and nutritious to boot. But for a growing portion of the population suffering from nut allergies, peanuts represent a potentially deadly threat – especially within the confines of an airplane. For some sufferers with a particularly strong allergy, even inhaling peanut particles in the air can trigger a mild allergic reaction.

Should peanuts be banned from airlines altogether? That’s the center of this ongoing debate, which came to a head last summer when the Department of Transportation proposed a series of measures to protect allergic sufferers from peanuts on planes. While the DOT stated that it would not take any action until a comprehensive, peer-reviewed study on the dangers of peanuts on planes was released, the proposed measures include a complete peanut ban or a “peanut-free” buffer zone around any allergic travelers…

The suggestions came as a surprise to the peanut industry, says Patrick Archer, President of the American Peanut Council. According to Archer, only two carriers still distribute peanuts to passengers, and those that do already have policies in place to make sure that allergic passengers can notify the airline ahead of time.

In addition, Archer said, peanuts were the only food targeted by the DOT. “If they are going to put out regulations on food allergens, we think it should be comprehensive, taking into account all food allergens,” Archer pointed out…

“We have smaller families, do not live on farms, use many treatments to prevent or treat infection,” pediatrician Scott Schirer said. “The thought is that our immune system is ‘looking for something to attack,’ and may erroneously attack harmless foods, pollens, animal danders and the like…”

“If you want to ban peanuts on airplanes, you still would not be able to effectively enforce that regulation, since people often bring their own snacks on board,” Archer said. “A ban might create a false sense of security for allergy sufferers.” According to Archer, the existing policies aimed towards educating passengers about the risk of peanuts for allergic sufferers suffice without any further legislation.

The only folks I know offhand with dangerous allergies are the two classic: bee stings and shellfish. Those folks are bright enough to examine their surroundings, what food they get near and, in the case of bee stings, carry an injectable remedy.

The rest of us probably should continue to have access to peanuts. It’s part of the Southwest Airlines mystique.

What’s in your gut – besides breakfast, lunch and supper?

Similar to the classification of blood types, the bacteria in our guts appear to fit into one of three categories that have no relation to our nationality, age, sex and other characteristics, new research indicates. The study combined genetic information from about three dozen people in six countries, revealing that everyone falls into one of three categories they dub enterotypes, which they believe are spread around the globe just like blood types.

Humans’ guts are home to swarms of bacteria. Members of this internal ecosystem help us with all sorts of important tasks, such as digesting food, assisting our immune systems and producing nutrients such as vitamin K. And research indicates there is a connection between these micro-organisms and some health problems, including obesity and inflammatory bowel disease.

Using an approach called metagenomics, researchers sequenced genetic material collected from fecal samples from 22 people in Denmark, France, Italy and Spain, and combined that with existing data from residents of Japan and the United States.

Their analysis revealed three enterotypes determined by the relative abundance of different networks of species, according to study researcher Peer Bork, a unit head at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany…

While the type of bacteria present in the gut showed no connection to the host’s characteristics, this was not the case for the bacteria’s function. For instance, the presence of bacteria capable of breaking down starch appears to increase with someone’s age. And men seem to carry more bacteria with the machinery to synthesize aspartate, an amino acid.

The findings, detailed in the most recent issue of the journal Nature, have implications for personalized medicine, in which treatments can be tailored to an individual’s needs

Knowledge of enterotypes may also help with the development of techniques to restore healthy gut communities, rather than killing off all of the bugs living there with antibiotics…

I imagine we’ll have about as much cooperation with political systems and corporations with a vested interest in profitable processed foods in educating folks about enterotypes – as we do with anything else found to aid in healthful living.

That doesn’t even begin to count the ideologues whose “liberty” might be limited by science or reason.

OTOH, this study is miniscule – and expansive work is needed to corroborate anything more than an educated guess at this stage.

TeloVac pancreatic cancer vaccine trial launched

A trial has begun on a vaccine treating pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. More than 1,000 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer have joined the TeloVac trial at 53 UK hospitals.

Vaccines are usually associated with preventing infections, but this is part of a new approach to try to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

The trial involves regular doses of vaccine together with chemotherapy and compares this with chemotherapy alone.

The vaccine contains small sections of a protein, telomerase, which is over-produced by cancer cells. The aim is to stimulate the immune system to recognise the telomerase which sits on the surface of the cancer cells and to target the tumour…

Professor John Neoptolemos from Royal Liverpool University Hospital, who is helping to co-ordinate the trial, said: “The problem is tumours are clever and are able to turn the immune cells into traitors which help to guard the tumour.

“The vaccine takes away the masking effect of the tumour…”

There is rarely positive news about pancreatic cancer. It has the worst survival rate of all common cancers – worse even than lung cancer”…

Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson said: “One of big problems with cancer treatment is you are almost always left with a few malignant cells and it is from those few cells that the cancer can regrow.

“If you can programme the immune system to recognise those cells and get rid of them altogether or keep them in check then you can effectively stop the cancer from growing back lifelong.”

The South Korean manufacturer of the vaccine, KAEL-GemVax, is planning a lung cancer trial later this year using the same technology.

All I can say is Good Luck. The few folks I’ve known who developed pancreatic cancer measured their remaining life span in weeks. Scary stuff.

China’s supermarkets will carry “human” milk from cows

Genetically modified dairy products that are similar to human milk will appear on the Chinese market in two years, an expert in biotechnology has predicted.

Li Ning, a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University, said progress in the field is well under way.

Li said Chinese scientists have successfully created a herd of more than 200 cows that is capable of producing milk that contains the characteristics of human milk.

He said the technology is at the cutting edge worldwide and will ensure “healthy protein contained in human milk is affordable for ordinary consumers”…

Human milk contains two kinds of nutrition that can help improve the immune systems and the central nervous systems of children. The components are not available in milk produced by goats or cows.

Li said the scientific world had not previously found a way to mass-produce those ingredients. The GM milk will be as safe to drink as that of the ordinary cows, he added.

The Ministry of Agriculture issued bio-safety examination certificates for the GM herd in March 2010, giving the scientific team a 22-month period during which the technology can be tested in laboratories.

The ministry will then evaluate the results of the tests before deciding whether to allow the milk to be sold.

Interesting. I’d find it more interesting if I drank milk.

I wonder if those of us who are lactose intolerant might not have a problem with the modified stuff.

Grayheads should eat more cheese!

Scientists in Finland have discovered that cheese can help preserve and enhance the immune system of the elderly by acting as a carrier for probiotic bacteria. The research, published in FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, reveals that daily consumption of probiotic cheese helps to tackle age-related changes in the immune system.

“The increase in the proportion of aged individuals in modern society makes finding innovative ways to thwart the deterioration of the immune system a priority,” said lead author Dr Fandi Ibrahim… “The intake of probiotic bacteria has been reported to enhance the immune response through other products and now we have discovered that cheese can be a carrier of the same bacteria.”

Dr Ibrahim’s team believe that the daily intake of probiotic cheese can tackle the age-related deterioration of the immune system known as immunosenescene. This deterioration means the body is unable to kill tumour cells and reduces the immune response to vaccinations and infections. Infectious diseases, chronic inflammation disorders and cancer are hallmarks of immunosenescene…

The results revealed a clear enhancement of natural and acquired immunity

I’m really going to piss off my wife with yet another justification for keeping a slab of nice stinky Morbier in the fridge.

Grubby children get a head start on health

LIFE Magazine

For parents too stretched to make sure their offspring are perfectly turned out at all times, it may just be the scientific cover they’ve been waiting for.

They will now be able to answer the disapproving tuts of their more fastidious friends by pointing to research which gives biological backing to the old adage that the more germs a child is exposed to during early childhood, the better their immune system in later life

Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California found that being too clean could impair the skin’s ability to heal. The San Diego-based team discovered that normal bacteria that live on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt. These bugs dampen down overactive immune responses which can cause cuts and grazes to swell, or lead to rashes, according to research published in the online edition of Nature Medicine…

The pressure group Parents Outloud, which campaigns to stop children being “mollycoddled” and “oversanitised” by health and safety regulations, welcomed the research. “Hopefully research like this will help parents realise that it’s natural and healthy for children to get outdoors and get mucky and that it doesn’t do their health any harm,” said a spokeswoman, Margaret Morrissey.

At last, I realize why I came down with Mono in my high school years. It was after we moved into a home which actually had a hot water heater and all-over bathing wasn’t limited to Saturday night and heating endless buckets of water on the stovetop.