Exercist Therapy: A Natural Anti-Depressant

By Abby Larson

Have you ever felt sad or stressed, laced up your running shoes and went on a run to find yourself feeling happier once you got back?  Anti-depressants might not be the best treatment for depression and anxiety, conditions that many Americans take drugs for.  Psychology Professors Smits and Otto from Southern Methodist and Boston Universities have shown that Exercise Therapy is a successful treatment of many mental health problems.
Presenting their findings at the Anxiety Disorder Association of America’s annual conference in March to researchers and mental health care providers, Smits and Otto have found that people who exercise show fewer signs of depression and stress.  Much like an anti-depressant, exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that help relieve stress and depression and allow patients to perform daily tasks more efficiently.  Additionally, as one exercises more, resting heart rate lowers, causing patients to feel less anxiety.
Smits believes that patients should exercise at least 150 minutes a week at a moderate-intensity or 75 minutes at high-intensity.  Exercise therapy is about the immediate benefits of exercise on mood, not just the long-term health benefits.
As the list of learned health benefits of exercise grows, psychiatrists should be encouraged to prescribe schedules and goals to exercise instead of anti-depressants for a less costly and more beneficial therapy for mood disorders.  So, next time you’re stressed about work or academics or have a loss of confidence, get outside and exercise.  It’s what the doctor ordered.

For more information, see links at SMU research

Walking source of Biodiesel

By Amy Woolf

Biodiesel is no longer just made from plant resources. Scientists in Nevada have found a new way to make biodiesel out of chicken feather meal. This advancement could take some of the resource competition out of the biodiesel industry. Currently, most biodiesel is made from soy and vegetable oil, which is also a human food source. Chicken feather meal is not used as a human food source; it is used as a fertilizer and as a component of animal feed because of the high protein content.

With current amounts of chicken feather meal that is being created in the US, 153 million gallons of biodiesel could be synthesized annually. 593 million gallons could be created worldwide out of chicken feather meal. Also, in the process for synthesizing biodiesel out of feather meal only uses the fat content that can be extracted from the meal, and that turns the remainder of the chicken feather meal that is unused into a higher grade animal feed and a better fertilizer.

Chicken feather meal is made from processed chicken feathers, blood, and innards. All of these ingredients are a waste byproduct of the poultry industry. They are processed under pressure at high temperatures.

Press Release

Journal Article

Our immune systems to blame for unsuccessful HIV vaccines?

By Johnathan Nieves ’11

Cells known as regulator T cells are being implicated in limiting the effectiveness of therapeutic vaccines for HIV by suppressing the immune system. This new knowledge may help researchers when developing future HIV vaccines.

Our immune system may be a little dumber than we thought. Cells involved in the body’s immune system are being implicated in limiting the effectiveness of therapeutic vaccines for HIV. A recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE on March 24th, demonstrated that regulatory T cells are involved in reducing the effectiveness of HIV vaccines by suppressing the immune system. The findings of the study may help researchers improve the effectiveness future therapeutic HIV vaccines.

Regulatory T cells (Treg) are important because they prevent the body’s immune system from attacking itself. When the immune system attacks itself, it is the result of it mistaking a non-harmful entity, like a liver cell, for a harmful one. The non-harmful entity is then tagged for destruction and the body’s immune system would destroy it and anything similar to it. This is known as an auto-immune response. Without Treg, autoimmune diseases could flourish.

So what if Treg cells are suppressing the immune system so that novel therapeutic HIV vaccines cannot be recognized and targeted for destruction?  University of Pittsburgh health science researchers sought to answer this question as a follow-up to an HIV vaccine they developed and tested in 17 HIV positive patients in 2008 that produced unsatisfying results. In the study the researchers removed Treg cells from the patients’ blood samples to see what effect the HIV vaccine would have on the sample in the absence of Treg. To their surprise they found that Treg reduced the patients’ immune system’s ability to recognize the HIV vaccine and begin to target the actual HIV virus in the patients blood.

“When we removed Treg from blood cells, we found a much stronger immune response to the vaccine, giving us insight into how we can develop more effective HIV vaccines,” said Charles R. Rinaldo, Jr., Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Treg normally shuts down [the immune response] once the infection has been controlled, but in this case it appears to be [suppressing the immune response] early and possibly limiting the vaccine’s ability to do its job effectively.”

One theory is that the HIV infection itself is responsible for increasing Treg levels in the blood which in turn results in the immune systems inability to recognize the HIV virus.

“We know how to treat HIV, but are still learning how to use immunotherapy strategies to completely flush it out of the body,” added Bernard J.C. Macatangay, M.D., co-author of the study. “Our findings show Treg plays an important role, but we need to figure out how to maintain the right balance by getting around these cells without blocking them completely.”

To view the press release pertaining to this article, click here

The journal article pertaining to this article may be obtained here.

CO2 Into Fuel?

Dan Conant

Scientists from the University of Bath will be working on capturing CO2 and recycling it into usable materials such as fuel thanks to funding provided by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  This is a massive undertaking of a project, but if all goes well then these scientists may end up helping to reduce the world’s leading greenhouse gas.  This project has only begun, but the scientists already have a good idea of how they might go about capturing this CO2.


The scientsits are going to try to develop a porus material that would be in the chimneys of factories to help capture CO2.  Porus materials are ideal because they absorb gas from the air easily.  Once captured, the scientists  will be experimenting with solar power to convert the CO2 into fuels and other products.  Dr. David Fermin from Bristol College (a collaborator in this endeavor) helped to provide the science behind this project’s vision;“Currently, there are no large-scale technologies available for capturing and processing CO2 from air. The facts are that CO2 is rather diluted in the atmosphere and its chemical reactivity is very low. By combining clever material design with heterogeneous catalysis, electrocatalysis and biocatalysis, we aim at developing an effective carbon neutral technology.”

This project has a lot of potential for helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as it could be applied to factories and other large scale CO2 emission contributors.  There is even hope that eventually this technology might be able to be applied to automobiles, but that is in the distant future. 

Information was collected from here.

Biodiesel beats petroleum yet again

By Amy Woolf

A late 2009 study found that biodiesel gives more energy back to the earth than it takes in its synthesis. The study, done by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Idaho, found that for every unit of energy that it takes to produce biodiesel, 4.5 units is returned to the earth. When conducting this study, the researchers took into account all aspects of biodiesel synthesis and mathematically compared it to the process that yields petroleum.

The study was based on biodiesel synthesized from soybean oil, which is the resource used most commonly to make biodiesel. Energy is saved because the main source of energy used to grow soybeans is solar. The modern soybean also needs fewer pesticides than in the past and it also has the ability to grow in fields that are not as thoroughly tilled as previously needed, which saves energy. Biodiesel can also be synthesized from recycled resources, like used cooking oil, which would raise the positive energy outcome even more.

There was a similar study done by the USDA in 1998 that also showed a positive energy balance for biodiesel – 3.2 units as opposed to the 0.84 units from petroleum diesel. The energy efficiency of biodiesel has improved while the efficiency of petroleum diesel remains about the same.


Press Release

Dehydrins may quench the thirst of plants affected by drought

The last time you were thirsty, you probably opened your fridge for an ice cold Pepsi or even filled up your water glass from the sink.  This seems like a simple task, but to a plant this can be a life or death situation.  Drought affects areas in our own country as well as countries abroad.  Southern China is currently experiencing their worst drought in almost 100 years.  One rural farmer comments that in years past he has sold his wheat crop for $585 and this year it is only worth $30.

In a collaborative effort between Villanova and Drexel universities, researchers are beginning to discover a new way to combat this problem. Published in the American Journal of Botany in March 2010, their research began with a plant called the “resurrection fern” (Polypodium polypodioides) which can lose 95% of its water content without experiencing cell death.  One of the main scientists from Villanova explains that this is truly a miraculous property.  He says, “Imagine this happening to a human.  Most of us wouldn’t make it past 10% or 20%.”  Similarly, most common agricultural crops cannot survive water loss of 20-30%.

They used research techniques such as western blotting, immunolocalization, and atomic force microscopy to identify proteins that help the resurrection fern survive in extreme drought condition.

A class of proteins called dehydrin has been previously identified to participate in this miraculous drought resistance.  However, this study was able to identify the location of dehydrin proteins during the process of dehydration.  They found that the proteins were “prevalent” in the plant’s cell wall.  This is an important discovery that may lead to new findings about the mechanism of this reaction.

Information about this protein class has positive implications for common agricultural plants that currently don’t have protection against drought.  Dehydrins, and the mechanism of their role in drought resistance, could be the answer for thirsty plants worldwide as research continues.

Want to learn more? Check out the resources I used for this blog:



Blood + Guts + Feathers = Biodiesel?

Dan Conant

As environmentalists continue to follow the model of ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ scientists continue to find ways of recycling waste products.  One of the newest developments in the recycling aspect of the slogan involves turning chicken feather meal into biodiesel fuel.  It is estimated that there is 11 billion pounds of poultry waste that is produced annually and just accumulates.  This is because chicken feathers are not able to be stuffed into pillows, so the feathers as well as the other waste products (the innards and blood) are turned into a low-grade animal feed.

The potential fuel source pre-dinner

Scientists in Nevada paid attention to the fact that chicken meal has a fat content of 12%.  To remove the fat from the chicken meal the meal is put in boiling water and then the fat is processed into biodiesel fuel.  This process is advantageous for the obvious environmental reason of providing another source of alternative fuel,  but by removing the fat from the chicken meal it actually makes the animal feed remains a higher grade and it also turns the chicken meal into being a better fertilizer. 

Based on the scientists production methods and the annual amount of chicken meal produced on a yearly basis it is estimated that within the U.S. 153 million gallons of biodiesel fuel could be made.  On a global scale there would be potential for creating 593 million gallons of biodiesel.  Although this is an outstanding number, it is relatively small compared to the amount of fuel consumed on a yearly basis which stands around 4 billion gallons.  Nonetheless, it is important for developments to continue in areas of recycling waste products.  If more developments are made, the millions of gallons will slowly add up and present themselves as a viable fuel alternative.


The Gift of Sight: Treating Blindness with Gene Therapy

By Johnathan Nieves

Findings from a new study show that gene therapy may be effective in treating a rare disease that progresses to total blindness by adulthood.


Imagine how difficult daily activities would be without being able to see. For 1.3 million Americans today, that is the reality they face.  For a subset of individuals, though, gene therapy may be the answer to curing their debilitating disease. Findings from a study published March 3rd in Science Translational Medicine showed that gene therapy may be effective in treating Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic disease that progresses to total blindness by adulthood.

Gene therapy for LCA, which produced dramatic improvements last year in 12 children and young adults who received the treatment in a clinical trial, has cleared another hurdle.  In the human trial for LCA reported last year, researchers at PENN Medicine and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia treated only one eye in each of their 12 patients. Because the treatment was experimental, researchers left one eye untreated in the event of unexpected complications. After the patients experienced partially restored eyesight in their treated eyes, many were eager to receive the same treatment in the other eye.

The same research team that conducted the human trial now reports that a study in animals has shown that a second injection of genes into the opposite, previously untreated eye is safe and effective. The study suggests that patients with LCA who benefited from gene therapy in one eye may experience similar benefits from treatment in the other eye.

“We designed this study to investigate the immunological consequences of administering the

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

gene therapy injection to the second eye after treating the first one,” said corresponding author Jean Bennett, M.D., Ph.D., F.M. Kirby professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “The good news is that in animals, the second injection, like the first, is benign.”

 As in the human trials of this gene therapy, the researchers packaged a normal version of the missing gene that causes LCA into a vector. The vector, a viral messenger that is used to incorporate a gene into a cell’s DNA, was used to deliver the gene therapy to cells of the retina, the light sensing region of the eye. Once in the retina cells, the vector is able to incorporate the gene into the cell’s DNA. Once incorporated into the DNA, the cell’s DNA reading machinery can translate the gene and produce an enzyme that restores retinal function, effectively reversing blindness (to view an animation of this processess click on the image above).

 Although the virus used in the study does not cause human disease, it previously set off an immune response that cut short the initial benefits of gene therapy. In the current study, the team found no evidence of toxic side effects in the 10 animals that received treatment. All the animals, which had been specially bred to have inherited blindness, had improved vision, and showed no toxic effects from the treatment.

The study “provides encouraging indications that immune responses will not interfere with human gene therapy in both eyes,” said co-author Katherine A. High, M.D.  Additionally, the results may set the stage for gene therapy in LCA patients who were excluded from the previous trial. At present, the research team is planning another clinical trial of LCA gene therapy, which may include some of the patients from the first human trial.

 To view the original press release pertaining to this article, click here.

Biodiesel improves health in school buses AND students

By Amy Woolf

School buses in one school district in Michigan have been running on B20 (20% biodiesel) since 2002, and since that time, the bus maintenance team has noticed a major improvement in the health of the buses’ moving parts. Recently a St. John’s district school bus completed its 300,000th mile, a feat never before achieved in a Michigan school district.

Engines that are fueled by biodiesel are able to go longer between oil changes. The mechanics in St. John have been able to go from changing the oil every 6,000 miles to 12,000-18,000 miles. This saves the school district money on oil and filters. These savings are due to the biodiesel lubricating the moving parts in an engine better than average diesel fuel.

Using biodiesel not only improves the health of the school buses, the students and the drivers of the buses also stand to benefit from vehicles running on biodiesel. Using biodiesel has been proven to have fewer harmful emissions than regular diesel. Its health benefits have been recorded from its use in mines across the United States, miners’ respiratory health has improved with the use of biodiesel.  In fact, school districts using biodiesel have reported fewer students complaining of headaches and fewer missed school days. Students that are riding in a school bus running average diesel are exposed to exhaust levels that are higher than the level considered to pose a cancer risk. The diesel exhaust levels recorded inside a running school bus are 23 – 46 times higher then the level identified to pose a cancer risk.

Overall using biodiesel in school buses has a positive environmental impact, a positive health impact, and a positive financial impact. It stands to reason that more school systems should consider the switch to biodiesel.

Press Release