Health Flash

Health Flash: 10.18.17

fight the flu
Gut microbes do more than just help digest food; they also can have a big impact on the immune system. Researchers at Washington University of Medicine have found that a particular gut microbe can prevent severe flu infections in mice. The microbes likely do so by breaking down flavonoids—naturally occurring compounds found in foods such as black tea, red wine and blueberries. The study identified one bacterium, Clostridium orbiscindens, that degrades flavonoids to produce a metabolite that boosts interferon, a signaling molecule that aids the immune response. The metabolite produced is called desominotryosine (DAT), and when it was given to mice that were then infected with influenza, the mice experienced less lung damage than those not treated with DAT. This is good news because lung damage often can cause significant complications like pneumonia in people with the flu. It’s important to note that the microbe and DAT do not prevent infection, they only lower damage to the lungs by boosting the immune response. The study is published in the journal Science.

lower surgical risks
Saint Louis University surgeons are studying the use of conscious sedation, also called ‘awake brain surgery,’ during aneurysm surgery. Surgeons generally use a technique called ‘clipping’ to limit the damage of brain aneurysms, but there is a significant risk of ischemia—inadequate blood supply to parts of the body. In a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, the surgeons report that during surgery, conscious sedation allows them to make adjustments with lower risks. Patients are able to communicate with doctors during the surgery, which allows the surgeons to note the nature of any neurological symptoms and make adjustments to eliminate symptoms caused by lack of blood flow.

zika and brain cancer
Zika virus is known to have devastating effects on the brains of developing fetuses. Researchers at Washington University and the University of California San Diego, however, may have discovered that the virus can be redirected to destroy brain cancer stem cells. Directing Zika when diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer. When glioblastoma is treated, some of the cancer cells, known as glioblastoma stem cells, often survive and continue to produce new tumor cells. They behave similarly to the cells in growing brains targeted by Zika. To test if Zika could effectively treat cancer, the researchers injected the virus into mice with brain tumors. Those treated with Zika had significantly smaller tumors two weeks after the injection and lived longer than mice that received a placebo. To be effective for humans, Zika would have to be injected directly into the brain. Research has shown that the virus does not infect noncancerous brain cells in adults, and as an additional safety precaution, researchers are working on mutating the virus to weaken its ability to combat noncancerous cells’ defenses against infection. The findings are published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.