This year in science has been filled with innovation, perseverance and ground-breaking advancements, despite the growing challenges faced by our planet. At Technology Networks, we’ve delighted in bringing you breaking science news throughout 2022. As the year ends, it’s time to reflect on the stories that you enjoyed the most. Here’s our roundup of this year’s most popular headlines, including new findings on how we humans age, the impact of diet on the microbiome and a revelation on the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Clinicians used continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to analyze the seizure activity of a patient and prescribe the appropriate treatment. When the patient suffered a heart attack mid-recording and passed away, the scientists were able to record activity in a dying brain for the first time in history. The study of this patient, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, suggests that the brain might remain active during – and even after – death. In fact, it might be programmed to coordinate the entire process.
MS is a demyelinating neurodegenerative disease that, for many years, has been considered an autoimmune disease of unknown etiology. A large study using data collected over two decades of studying military personnel suggests that MS is a complication of infection by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpesvirus that causes the childhood disease infectious mononucleosis. In the study of 10 million people, 800 of 801 MS cases in the sample group occurred in individuals who had previously tested positive for EBV. The research, by Harvard Medical School, was published in Science.
The COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials conducted in 2020 did not explore whether the vaccines have any side effects on the menstrual cycle. This is not rare – clinical research has been called out for a lack of inclusivity and consideration of wider populations. In 2021, reports of menstrual cycle changes post-COVID-19 vaccination emerged across formal and informal channels, such as social media. A large-scale survey found that 42.1% of menstruating individuals had experienced a heavier menstrual flow after vaccination. In contrast, 43.6% of respondents reported that they did not experience any changes to their menstrual flow. The data was published in Science Advances.
The microbiome is the community of microbes, including bacteria, viruses and phage that live in a specific habitat. Microbiomes are found all over and inside our bodies. How the gut microbiome affects our metabolism of food and interacts with other body systems is of particular interest to researchers. A team working in mouse microbiome models explored how 10 different diets affect the secretion of a type of antibody, called IgA, by mucosal cells in the gut. The researchers found that a high-protein diet stimulated extra IgA secretion via a microbiome-mediated mechanism. The research was published in Nature Communications.
In many Western countries, the population is rapidly aging. Making sure that people can live longer in good health is a key focus of biomedical research. A research team studying mice found that disabling a system in the brain called the cystine/glutamate antiporter system xc− can eliminate memory loss during the aging process. The xc− system exports a molecule called glutamate out of cells in exchange for cystine. It is thought to be a regulator of both neurotransmission and neuroinflammation. However, excessive glutamate release from cells is thought to be neurotoxic. Mice genetically modified to have no xc− system lived longer and showed signs of retained memory function. The research was published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Artificial sweeteners have become an incredibly popular way to reduce calorie intake and protect against tooth decay for millions of people. Sweeteners can now be found in a staggering number of foodstuffs, from beverages, desserts to ready meals. But a study of more than 100,000 French adults suggests that these sweeteners may be associated with a heightened cancer risk. In the majority female cohort, increased sweetener intake was associated with small increased risks of ovarian, breast and obesity-related cancers. The design of the study means that the causality cannot be established, but the researchers have called for the abundance of artificial sweeteners to be re-examined by global health agencies. The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Forget beauty and the beast – a new study suggests that the most successful pairings are between individuals who are seen as equally desirable. The research was conducted among the Himba people of northwest Namibia. The trial cohort was asked to rate other members of the community, generating “mate values” for each individual. The team found that people with similar values were not only more likely to enter into a relationship with each other, but to have better relationship outcomes as well. The research was published in the journal Science Advances.
Previous studies have established that children of depressed mothers are around three times more likely to develop depression themselves. Now, researchers have delved deeper into the neural mechanisms behind these observations. They show via functional MRI scans that the children of mothers who had a history of depression were more likely to have dampened reward-related activity in their brain, but only when their mothers also reported having less enthusiastic responses to their child’s positive emotions. The researchers hope that coaching parents to encourage positive emotions in their children could support their reward-related development, particularly for families with a history of depression. The study was published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging.
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat conditions such as anxiety and sleep disorders. However, for reasons not well understood, long-term use of benzodiazepines can cause physical dependence and even cognitive impairment. A study in mice demonstrated that sleep-inducing doses of diazepam administered over several weeks degraded the connections (synapses) between nerve cells in their brains, leading to cognitive impairment. These effects were eventually reversible, despite persisting for some time after diazepam treatment was stopped. The researchers believe these findings could have implications for the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders in people at risk of dementia. The research was published in Nature Neuroscience.
Chemotherapy has been a major cancer treatment for decades, but these “one-size-fits-all” drugs are unable to differentiate healthy cells from cancer cells, potentially causing unpleasant and dangerous side effects for patients. Now, personalized therapies like chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy are ushering in a new era of cancer treatment, re-engineering the patient’s own immune cells to fight their specific cancer. Instead of delivering these CAR T cells back to patients intravenously (IV), Stanford scientists developed and tested a water-filled hydrogel that could be injected around the tumor to surround it with CAR T cells. This method cured 70% of the mice of their cancers, also curing them faster than the IV treatment. The study was published in Science Advances.
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