Dental pulp taken from the centre of extracted teeth is being tested as a way to treat depression in a new trial.
The theory is that stem cells — master cells that can grow into different kinds of specialised cells — in the pulp may help to encourage the formation of new nerve cells in the brain.
The researchers behind the trial believe that the more nerve cells there are, the better the communication between these cells and between brain areas responsible for our emotions. Stem cells are also anti-inflammatory and it is thought that depression may be linked to inflammation in the brain.
The theory is that stem cells — master cells that can grow into different kinds of specialised cells — in the pulp may help to encourage the formation of new nerve cells in the brain
The trial follows the breakthrough finding that antidepressants may trigger stem cells in the brain into making more nerve cells.
Around one in ten people suffers from depression at some time during their lives, according to NHS figures. The exact cause is not fully understood.
Levels in the brain of mood chemicals such as serotonin are thought to be involved — most antidepressants are designed to work by increasing serotonin levels — but this chemical imbalance theory is unproven.
There are many other factors too, including genetic susceptibility and stressful life events.
However, researchers now believe that nerve cell growth, and the connections between nerve cells, play an important part.
Previous studies have found that the hippocampus area of the brain, which is involved in memory and emotion in response to those memories, is smaller in patients with chronic depression.
This, suggest some experts, may explain why antidepressants take time to work. They boost brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, but it can be a few weeks before they take effect. It may be that mood only improves when new nerve cells grow and form new connections, a process that takes weeks.
Around one in ten people suffers from depression at some time during their lives, according to NHS figures. The exact cause is not fully understood
Ongoing research at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. has shown that antidepressants can trigger the growth of stem cells in the brain. They found exercise has a similar effect. In the new trial, 48 people diagnosed with depression will be given stem cells taken from the pulp of other people’s extracted teeth, plus the antidepressant fluoxetine.
The cells will be processed and cleaned before being injected into patients’ arms in four sessions, each two weeks apart. A comparison group will have only fluoxetine daily.
Commenting on the approach, Carmine Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at King’s College London, says: ‘In the short-term, stress increases the production of chemicals in the body that are helpful in the fight-or-flight response.
‘For example, stress increases inflammation, which protects us from infection.
‘However, psychosocial stressors that trigger depression — such as unemployment, marital difficulties or bereavement — are typically long-lasting, and in the long-term the increased inflammation reduces the birth of new brain cells and the connection between brain cells, leading to depression.’
Stem cells are also ‘anti-inflammatory’, he says, ‘so in addition to creating new brain cells, they can reduce the inflammatory effects of stress on the brain.’
‘We know that stem cells reach areas where there is inflammation. This is how they will find their way from the blood to the brain.’
Living close to a park may lower depression — and not just because of the greener environment.
Researchers monitored 50,000 adults for six years and found that those living in areas where there was a greater proportion of green, open space around their homes had a 15 per cent lower risk of depression.
Previous studies have found that green space can improve mood, but the researchers, writing in the journal Science of the Total Environment, say pollution may be at least partly responsible.
‘The benefits of healthy vegetation on mental health may come from lowering air pollutants,’ say the doctors from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China.
Previous research has suggested that air pollutants induce inflammation in the brain that can lead to depression.
A powder made from a freshwater sponge found in rivers and lakes is being tested for acne. It is thought to be anti-inflammatory and promote growth of collagen — the tissue that keeps skin firm and healthy. In a U.S. trial, 120 patients will use the powder, made by Dermata Therapeutics, in a gel once a week.
What to eat to cut the risk of suffering a hip fracture
Eating more fruit and veg reduces the risk of a hip fracture by about 8 per cent, a review by scientists at Leeds University, published in the journal PLoS One, found.
Using data from 16 separate studies, they found a higher fruit and veg intake provided some of the strongest protection by making the bones more alkaline, helping them to retain the bone- strengthening calcium.
In contrast, dairy foods — currently recommended for fracture risk reduction — offered limited protection, while excess alcohol, which can lower bone density, raised the odds of a fracture.
How heat saves muscles if you can’t exercise
People who cannot exercise because of long-term injury may benefit from heat treatment on their muscles, according to research from Brigham Young University in the U.S.
In the study, 21 healthy volunteers were asked to wear a tight-fitting knee brace restricting movement for ten days. Half had their leg muscles warmed daily using a machine that fired radiowaves into the skin; the rest were given a dummy treatment.
The results, published in the journal Physiology, showed that blood vessels in the placebo group shrunk and withered (increasing heart disease risk) while in the heat-treated group they stayed healthy. Researchers will now see if saunas have the same effect.
Electric patch that can repair hearts
Scientists have developed an injectable plaster to treat people recovering from heart attacks and help prevent heart failure.
One current treatment for this is surgically inserting an electric patch into the heart, which sends signals to help a healthier pumping pattern. But the procedure is risky.
Now, engineers from the University of Western Ontario have made a patch that can be compressed and injected, before expanding on the heart. The 2cm plaster is made from a pliable protein called elastin, gelatin and a type of mouldable carbon, the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering reports.
The patch acts as a conductor, carrying the heart’s natural electric signals, improving the pumping, studies show.
Insulin pill instead of injections for diabetes
A new smart pill could deliver insulin to people with diabetes, the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering reports.
Type 1 and 2 diabetes patients who require the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels have to inject it. Scientists have struggled to come up with a pill alternative, as stomach acid would break it down before it is absorbed into the blood.
Now researchers at Yale University in the U.S. have developed a pill shell, made from a solidified bile acid, to protect it. When the shell does break down, in the pancreas, it can also help to fight inflammation linked to the disease.
New treatment for glue ear in children
Can a wireless headset help children with glue ear avoid surgery? Glue ear, where its middle part fills with fluid, is caused by infection and can lead to temporary hearing loss. It often clears by itself. Some children need surgery to have tiny grommets inserted to clear the fluid — but these often fall out.
The new kit, which consists of bone-conduction headphones (transmitting sound through vibrations) and a microphone connected to an app allows families to monitor hearing.
Scientists from institutions in Cambridge asked 26 children with glue ear to try the kit at home. All the families — a majority of the local waiting list for grommet surgery — decided to continue with the tech instead, journal BMJ Innovations reports.
Get a grip
The conditions linked to the strength in your hand. This week: Cognitive decline.
PEOPLE with poor grip strength are at nearly twice the risk of cognitive decline than those with a strong grip, suggests an analysis of 15 studies published in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience in February. Their risk of Alzheimer’s disease was also 40 per cent higher.
It’s thought low grip strength is a marker for a lack of physical activity — being sedentary is linked to higher incidence of cognitive decline. But Adam Taylor, a professor of anatomy from Lancaster University, says there may also be a neuromuscular connection.
‘The nervous system declines with age and this affects the speed at which the nervous impulses from your brain reach your hand muscles, making the signal to move less efficient.
‘This will naturally lower grip strength with age but it’s possible that the effects of degenerative changes in the brain speed up this process, accelerating normal wasting.’
A runny nose puts men at twice the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), say U.S. researchers at Harvard University. They compared data from 17,000 men diagnosed with ED with a control group, looking for rates of chronic rhinosinusitis — inflammation of the nose and sinuses.
The study, published in the journal Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery in October, suggests the inflammation may lead to atherosclerosis or furring up of the arteries, including those that supply blood to the penis.
Old drugs, new tricks
This week: Amantadine
This drug was developed in the mid-1960s to treat flu — it was shown to inhibit the ability of flu viruses to penetrate healthy cells and cause infection.
But the drug eventually failed because virtually every flu strain became resistant to its effects. It was withdrawn globally as a flu treatment in 2011.
However, during its early years as a flu treatment, some patients with Parkinson’s disease noticed their symptoms improved with it — most notably, there was a marked reduction in involuntary muscle movements.
In 2017, the drug was officially repurposed as a treatment for Parkinson’s and is available on the NHS.