ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: October 04, 2006

News Items in This Edition

Journalists’ Resources

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News Items in this Edition

Marijuana’s active ingredient may slow progression of Alzheimer's disease

Scientists are reporting discovery in laboratory experiments of a previously unknown molecular mechanism in which the active ingredient in marijuana may slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Scripps Research Institute’s Kim D. Janda and colleagues used laboratory experiments to show that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) preserves brain levels of the key neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Existing medications for AD, including donepezil and tacrine, also relieve AD symptoms by inhibiting the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down acetylcholine. THC does so by inhibiting an alternative site on acetylchlolinesterase and at lower concentrations, Janda's group reports in an article in the current (Oct. 2) issue of the ACS bimonthly journal, Molecular Pharmaceutics. Their experiments show that THC also prevents formation of the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of AD and its damage to the brain.

"Our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer's disease pathology," they state. They also note that THC may provide a "drug lead" — a model for developing new and more effective medications with more targeted effects on AD.

The researchers explain that such compounds "may provide an improved therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease, augmenting acetylcholine levels by preventing neurotransmitter degradation and reeducating amyloid beta aggregation, thereby simultaneously treating both the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer's disease."

Devoting more research to “webicillin”

Could a dose of webicillin beat that stubborn infection? Could a cobweb bandage help soldiers and accident victims with bleeding wounds? Is a wrapping of spider silk the key to preventing the body from rejecting implants?

A review of research on spider silk concludes that scientists have largely overlooked such possible medical applications of this extraordinary natural material, which is stronger than steel. In a report in the current (Sept. 13) issue of the ACS monthly journal Chemical Reviews, Randolph V. Lewis, of the University of Wyoming, describes other scientific research on spider silk during the last 15 years.

“Very few studies of biological testing of spider silk have been done in a rigorous manner,” Lewis states. “There is a large body of folklore concerning the antibiotic, wound-healing, and clot-inducing activity of spider silk. However, much of that lore has not been seriously tested.” The lore dates to the first century A.D. when spider webs were prized as wound dressings. They even found a place in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb,” the character “Bottom” said. “If I cut my finger, I shall make bold of you.”

The scanty scientific evidence is tantalizing, Lewis notes. He cites, for instance, animal studies concluding that spider silks do not induce an immune response — which causes rejection of implants.

New insights into healthful compounds in Native American diets

California’s role as a national “health food” trendsetter goes back farther than most people suspect — way back, in fact, when it comes to consumption of a food especially rich in healthy phytochemicals. In an advance toward understanding the early California Native American diet, food scientists have identified the full range of phytochemicals in tanoak acorns.

Acorns were a staple in the diet of early Native Americans in California, comprising up to 50 percent of total food intake, Alyson E. Mitchell and colleagues note in a report in the current (Oct. 4) issue of the ACS biweekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Acorns are still used by Californian Native Americans — special processing is needed to make the nuts edible — to make acorn flour and soup.

Past research has indicated that acorns have higher levels of healthful tannin compounds than other nuts, so Mitchell’s group set out to identify the specific hydrolyzable and condensed tannins in acorns. These same compounds are found in wine, cocoa and other foods with health benefits. Researchers identified more than two dozen specific compounds, in what they termed a first step toward understanding the role of those compounds in Native American diets.

New wound dressing may lead to maggot therapy without the maggots

Scientists in the United Kingdom have developed a new wound dressing that could bring the benefits of maggot therapy to patients without putting live Greenbottle fly (blowfly) larvae into non-healing wounds. The joint research project of Stephen Britland from Bradford University and David Pritchard of Nottingham University included colleagues from the Bradford-based biotechnology company AGT Sciences Ltd. It describes development and preliminary testing in laboratory cell cultures of the new hydrogel dressing in a report scheduled for publication in the Oct. 6 issue of the ACS bimonthly journal Biotechnology Progress.

The researchers note resurgence in medical use of larval biotherapy — intentionally introducing blowfly maggots into non-healing wounds to clean away dead tissue. Medical use of the technique led to observations suggesting that maggots' excretions and secretions (ESs) also may encourage regeneration of tissue and wound healing. Realizing that the ESs would have to be delivered in a controlled fashion, Britland's group developed the hydrogel dressing, which slowly releases maggot ESs.

"The present prototype hydrogel wound dressing could potentially be deployed as a device to deliver insect-derived active products to skin wounds in vivo to encourage tissue regeneration."

Champagne helps unlock the secrets of bubble formation

“I am drinking the stars,” Dom Perignon, the monk credited with inventing champagne supposedly proclaimed upon taking his first sip of the bubbly wine. Scientists in France now report one of the most comprehensive explanations for those stars ― the bubble trains that rise with that graceful sensuality from each fluted glass, which led poet Lord Byron to muse, “Champagne with foaming whirls, as white as Cleopatra’s melted pearls.”

The new study, conducted by the University of Reims’ Gerard Liger-Belair and colleagues, explains that the bubbles begin with minute cylindrical fibers deposited on champagne glasses from the air or towels used to dry the glasses. (For an extra bubbly experience, wipe the glass vigorously with a towel before pouring, the scientists advise. For fewer bubbles, avoid towel drying and keep the glass turned upside down.)

The report, in the current (Oct. 4) issue of the biweekly ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, describes how interactions between tiny gas pockets near the fibers influence the bubble trains. The scientists state that their observations in a champagne glass could have broader applications in food processing, medicine and other fields where undesired bubbles form.

A Nobel Prize 10 years ago sparked one of today’s hottest scientific fields

“With the latest batch of Nobel Prize winners still basking in the limelight, an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) explores how one Nobel laureate used his new-found influence to lay the foundations for a whole new field of science that quickly grew into one of science’s hottest disciplines.

The scientist was the late Richard E. Smalley, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry ten years ago today (October 9). The new discipline was nanotechnology. In the article, Bethany Halford, an associate editor of C&EN — the American Chemical Society’s weekly newsmagazine — describes how Smalley used the prize’s prestige to garner funding and other support for nanotechnology research.

“As 2006’s newly minted Laureates will soon discover, the same opportunity is granted to all Nobel Prize winners,” the article notes. “A few squander it. Many further their own enterprise with it. Some follow their passions and try to change the world with it. Few use it as deftly as Smalley did.”

With Nobel Prize in hand, Halford explains, Smalley began knocking on doors at the highest levels of government, explaining the potential of nanotechnology and urging increased funding. Since then, the Federal Government has poured more than $6.5 billion into nanoscience research.

Journalists’ Resources

Audio of ACS Press Conferences
These audio files of key press conferences at the ACS National Meeting (Sept. 10-14) in Chicago can be a valuable source for quotations and background.

  • Progress on fighting bacterial infections; biohazards | Conference Date: Sept. 11, 2006
  • Nanotubes show help with range of illnesses | Conference Date: Sept. 11, 2006
  • Low cost, super-efficient solar cells developed | Conference Date: Sept. 12, 2006
  • Promising therapies with adult stem cells | Conference Date: Sept. 13, 2006
  • ACS News Service Weblog | Science, September & San Francisco

Visit the ACS News Service’s newest weblog for reports from scientific sessions and other events at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.

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