In brief

September / October 2017   Comments

New insights into vision maturation

The visual cortex, the human brain’s vision-processing centre, was previously thought to mature and stabilize in the first few years of a person’s life, but a McMaster University neuroscientist and her colleagues have found that it actually continues to develop well into adulthood.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers used post-mortem samples of brain tissue from 30 people (ages 20 days to 80 years) to analyze proteins that drive the actions of neurons in the visual cortex. The prevailing scientific and medical belief had been that the visual cortex reaches its mature stage by the time the person is five or six. This new study extends the timeline to maturity to about age 36, plus or minus 4.5 years.

Treatments for conditions such as amblyopia, or lazy eye, have been based on the idea that only children can benefit from corrective therapies, because young adults have passed the age when their brains can respond. These findings suggest that this view may need to be reconsidered.

Young at heart, happy in the bedroom

The closer you feel to your actual age, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your sex life, researchers from the University of Waterloo study have found. Their study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, looked at the attitudes about sex and aging of 1,170 adults who were in their mid-40s to their mid-70s. The researchers drew upon data collected in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study between 1995 and 2005.

The research team reported that the closer people felt to their chronological age, the lower the quality of their sex life and the less interested they were in sex. “It’s important to consider all of the different psychosocial and biological factors that might influence a person’s sexuality,” said Amy Estill, who led the research while completing her master’s degree at Waterloo. “While feeling younger didn’t have an impact on how much sex people were having, it was quite clear that feeling older does impact the quality of the sex you’re having.”

Not all onions are created equal

The next time you walk down the produce aisle of your grocery store, you may want to reach for red onions if you are looking to fight off cancer. Ruby Ring onions contain one of the highest concentrations of quercetin, a flavonoid that may have anti-cancer properties. A University of Guelph study has revealed that these red onions also contain high amounts of anthocyanin, which enriches the scavenging properties of quercetin molecules.

Published in Food Research International, the study involved placing colon cancer cells in direct contact with quercetin extracted from five onion varieties grown in Ontario. The Ruby Ring variety was particularly effective in killing cancer cells. The lead researcher pointed out that anthocyanin is instrumental in providing colour to fruits and vegetables, so it makes sense that red onions would have the most cancer-fighting power. While consumers may already add red onions to their salads and burgers as a preventive measure, the researchers expect onion extract will eventually be added to food products such as juice or baked goods and be sold in pill form as a type of natural cancer treatment.

Washing away old goals to focus on new ones

Antiseptic wipes aren’t just for germs anymore. A pair of University of Toronto researchers has found that cleaning one’s hands can help shift goal pursuit, making prior goals seem less important and subsequent goals more important. They published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The researchers began by drawing participants’ attention to particular goals through word games or a short survey, in a process called priming. Participants who were then asked to use a hand wipe became less likely to think of the previously primed goal, less likely to make behavioural choices consistent with it and less likely to find it important than those who were not asked to use a wipe. In addition, the focus of participants who used a wipe was more easily reoriented toward a subsequently primed goal.

It may be premature to suggest that people who are intent on achieving goals should significantly alter their personal hygiene routines. But these study findings indicate that when it comes to wanting to redirect one’s thinking away from old fruitless pursuits toward new and better ones, an antiseptic wipe may come in handy.

Healing personalized down to the cell

An experimental treatment in mice allows the reprogramming of blood cells to promote the healing process of cutaneous wounds. This new approach could prove to be beneficial in healing challenging wounds for people with diabetes and major burns.

“We discovered a way to modify specific white blood cells — the macrophages — and make them capable of accelerating cutaneous healing,” explained nephrologist Jean-François Cailhier, a CRCHUM researcher and professor at the University of Montreal.

It has long been known that macrophages play a key role in the normal wound healing process. These white cells specialize in major cellular clean-up processes and are essential for tissue repair; they accelerate healing while maintaining a balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory reactions.

Adoptive cell transfer consists of treating patients with their own cells, which are harvested, treated and then re-injected. While this immunotherapeutic strategy is usually used to treat various types of cancer, this is the first time it has been shown to also be useful in reprogramming cells to facilitate healing of the skin.

What remains to be done now is to test this personalized treatment using human cells. The research team published their findings in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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