Discovered: Caffeine helps Parkinson's sufferers; cancer stem cells drive tumor growth; the features of super intelligent brains; some Peruvians have developed rabies resistance.
Another point for caffeine. It's too soon to say with certainty that coffee is "good for you," but lots of research about caffeine's substantial health benefits has been pouring in lately. And now caffeine fiends can add another reason to defend the world's most popular psychoactive substance. McGill University researchers have demonstrated that caffeine helps people suffering from Parkinson's disease control movement. It may give most people the jitters, but caffeine actually stabilizes motion for Parkinson's sufferers. "Research has already shown that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease," says Ronald Postuma. "But until now no study had looked at the immediate clinical implications of this finding." [McGill University Health Centre]
Understanding cancer stem cells could be key to killing tumors. Chemotherapy can shrink tumors, and sometimes it puts cancer's growth into remission. But it can't eradicate tumors entirely. Now, new research on how cancer grows suggests that it might be possibile to one day eradicate tumors completely. Three new studies on different forms of cancers all show that cancer stem cells drive tumor growth. Kill the stem cells, and you'll kill the tumor. Luis F. Parada, a molecular geneticist at the University of Texas, tells the Los Angeles Times that by better understanding these crucial cells, scientists may be able to develop treatments to eradicate tumors entirely. "Everything has a soft underbelly once you understand it well. With all the modern molecular techniques and modern approaches we have, we should be able to find their soft underbelly." [Los Angeles Times]
What do super intelligent brains look like? When it comes to the physical properties of the brain, what do MENSA members have that C-students don't? Bigger brains, for one: overall brain size is an important factor in intelligence levels. But the lateral prefrontal cortex, a region near the temple that processes high-level mental activity, also plays a large role. And now, thanks to new brain imaging research from Washington University in St. Louis led by Michael W. Cole, we know that the neural pathways connecting this zone to the rest of the brain are just as crucial in differentiating hyper intelligent people from average thinkers. "Our research shows that connectivity with a particular part of the prefrontal cortex can predict how intelligent someone is," Cole says. He believes that 10 percent of intelligence variation in individuals can be attributed to the strength of the neural pathways shown in the image below. [Washington University in St. Louis]
Natural rabies resistance detected in some Peruvians. Rabies kills over 55,000 people each year, burrowing into victims' brains, causing intense fevers, paralysis and convulsions. But a small group of people living in the Peruvian Amazon won't have to worry about the nasty infection. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and the Peruvian Ministry of Health have discovered that some people in the bat-infested region have developed a natural resistance to the rabies virus. "Why these individuals don’t die is very intriguing," says the CDC's Amy Gilbert. Studying two Peruvian communities, the researchers detected anti-rabies antibodies in the blood of 14 percent of individuals tested. Only one of them had been vaccinated against rabies, meaning that all the others must have developed resistance on their own. [Science News]