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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Three Drunk Mice 
Alcohol consumption seems to be the topic on every scientist’s minds these past few weeks and who am I to stop the momentum? 

Alcoholic mice have been undergoing rehabilitation at the University of California, Los Angeles under the extended care of a team looking to not only sober them up, but decrease their liver damage.

The UCLA team has discovered an enzyme complex that can be used to sober up drunken mice as discussed in an article released online by Nature Nanotechnology this past Sunday. Not only is this a trailblazing idea for drinkers and alcoholics alike, but also there is an application to future use of these techniques with other diseases.

The enzymes that break down alcohol in the body can only break down the ethanol for so long. When these enzymes cannot keep up with the shots lined up at the bar, that is when you start to feel drunk. Such enzymes are alcohol dehydrogenase, cytochrome P450, and catalase.

In the context of this study, a super enzyme (nanocomplex) of catalase and alcohol oxidase was made by using the characteristics known of these enzymes to string them together. This known characteristic is called an “inhibitor DNA complex” and it has been created to have an inhibitor DNA complex per each enzyme on it. What this inhibitor DNA complex does, is bind the desired enzymes to where they normally would in the body so that they stick to the strand of DNA. Then these bound enzymes and inhibitor DNA complexes are wrapped in a polymer coating to keep them stable and safe. To complete this production of a nanocomplex, the inhibitor DNA complexes are removed from the enzymes. Now, we have an active, ready-to-go nanocomplex to be introduced into the body for whichever purpose it was intended. 

An illustration of the enzyme nanocomplex synthesis.
Regardless of the complicated process required to make these nanocomplexes, the ones developed in this research project were proven to lower the BAC and ALT (alanine transaminase) levels in intoxicated mice. Although the increased breakdown of alcohol in the body is important for individuals trying to sober up, the decreased amount of ALT present in the body is what is particularly interesting. ALT is an enzyme biomarker for liver disease. By “enzyme biomarker”, I mean a clue for scientists to determine whether or not there is damage in the liver occurring. When taken with alcohol, this nanocomplex lowers the amount of ALT present after alcohol consumption, which means it can help prevent liver disease.

Now that scientists have proven they can sober up mice, they are moving on to show it works identically in humans and, more importantly, apply this nanocomplex technology to other diseases. Yunfeng Lu, one of the leading professors for this research project, has begun investigating whether or not male pattern baldness can be cured with a special tailored enzyme nanocomplex.

Cancer, type-1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s? The possibilities are endless with this new science and I cannot wait to see how far nanocomplexes are taken in the field of medicine.

Once again science, you rock.

Kayte Bataille 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finally, science has figured out how to incorporate drinking into our health! Werner Kaminsky, a research associate professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, has reportedly stumbled upon a new finding relating some characteristics of beer to potential pharmaceutical uses, as published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition this January.

Humulones, the component of hops that distinguishes the taste of different beers, undergo molecular rearrangements during the brewing process to yield a five-carbon ring with two side chains. The side chains can be placed in four different positions around the ring, which affects the molecule’s ability to interact with surrounding compounds. In December, humulones were shown to be possible protectors against certain infections. 

Humulones have a potential in leading production of pharmaceuticals to treat diabetes, certain types of cancer, and other ailments. The way these humulones interact with their surroundings, as well as each other, explains the mechanisms behind specific treatments in the medical field as well as disastrous results that pharmaceuticals can have to the human body.

Beer, by itself, does not have the same potential
medical benefits as mentioned in the article.
Some of you might recall the drug thalidomide (those of you who took Drug Discovery and Development). This substance was sold in Europe from 1957 to 1962 to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. While the drug did stop morning sickness, thalidomide caused severe birth defects in women who used the drug and was banned soon after. The isotope of thalidomide that harmed unborn children was different than the one that just cured morning sickness. The same goes for humulones; certain isotopes of humulones are toxic while others are beneficial.  Kaminsky compares the catastrophic effects of certain strains of thalidomide to what he has observed in humulones.

In order to determine which isotopes were created during specific brewing processes, Kaminsky received samples of acids that were collected and purified by coauthors Jan Urban, Clinton Dahlberg, and Brian Carroll from KinDex Theraputics. The humulones in those acids were crystallized and observed by X-ray crystallography to define their molecular structure.

“Some of the compounds have been shown to affect specific illnesses”, Kaminsky said, “while some with a slight difference in the arrangement of carbon atoms have been ineffective.”

Maybe one day we will see a set of pharmaceutical drugs that are derived from this process Kaminsky is researching. I don’t know about you, but I would love to tell people that beer is the cure to my sickness.

Once again science, you rule.

-Kayte Bataille