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Catarina AmorimRSS Feed of this column.

After many years as a scientist (immunology) at Oxford University I moved into scientific journalism and public understanding of science. I am still at Oxford Uni but now I write about any bio... Read More »

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Researchers from the University of Minho in Portugal have discovered that rats exposed before birth to glucocorticoids (GC) not only show several brain abnormalities similar to those found in addicts, but become themselves susceptible to addiction (the glucorticoids, which are stress hormones, were used to mimic pre-natal stress).  But even more remarkable, Ana João Rodrigues, Nuno Sousa and colleagues were able to reverse all the abnormalities  (including the addictive behavior) by giving the animals dopamine (a neurotransmitter/ brain chemical). 

A study out tomorrow in Nature by researchers from the Institute of Healthy Ageing at the University College of London and colleagues is questioning the anti-aging effects of sirtuin – which is “just”the most important anti-aging gene of the decade - claiming that its capacity to increase longevity was nothing more than an experimental error, and showing that,once the flaws are corrected, sirtuin has no effect on lifespan.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) already account for one third of all global deaths and raising, with effective heart regeneration therapies yet to be developed despite worldwide research efforts. But a new study by scientists from Oxford University and the University of Coimbra in Portugal might have put us a step closer with the discovery of the key molecule regulating the development of several heart and blood vessels’ tissues in the zebrafish embryo. 
Scientists have identified a biochemical abnormality behind the potentially fatal neurodegenerative Machado-Joseph disease (MJD) and, using several models of the disease, were able to reverse the problem in what may be a crucial step towards a cure for humans.  Currently, the disease is incurable and the patients’ increasing neurodegeneration cannot be stopped. 
Mitochondria are better known as the power factories of the cell but in fact they are much more interesting than that. Contrary to the old image in textbooks of round static structures, mitochondria are now known to be incredibly dynamic, shape changing, fusing and dividing according to the multitude of functions they perform in the cell. And now, in a study to be published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, scientists in Italy and Portugal show that mitochondria can also be crucial for the survival of cells during stress. 
Portuguese researchers have discovered a "broad spectrum" cancer suppressor gene called LRP1B which acts by removing proteins crucial for cancer development from the tumor environment.

The fact that LRP1B does not act on the tumor itself (in this study thyroid tumors) but, instead, on molecules which are known to be important to many different cancers is what makes it so interesting. Because this means that LRP1B, and also therapies capable of inducing it (or mimicking its effect), could in theory be used to treat a variety of cancers.