Are vitamins and supplements really helpful?

This article is written by Edward Alain Pajarillo, MSc, Ph.D. Research Associate @ Florida A&M University.

Recently, I saw a post on social media about a friend of mine buying so many supplements from this well-known company (that I was also subscribing to). Then to my question, are vitamins and supplements really that helpful?

vitamins_clockHealth supplements have been in industry for many decades and there is no stopping to it. Currently, in PUBMED, there are more than 170,000 studies conducted on the topic of vitamin alone. From Vitamin A, B, C… and so on, biotin, collagen, garlic extracts and so much more. But this (confusion) and gigantic industry do not only exist for scientific studies, I, myself, as well, had my own personal experience. Last night, I went to the biggest shopping mall here in Tallahassee, Florida. Going to Walmart to do my grocery and at my last stop, I grabbed a bottle of a probiotic supplement. It was an overwhelming experience when I got to that section. There’s just a ton of supplements in one aisle, that I don’t even know what to pick. I always ask myself: Is this legit (legitimate)? Health supplements are helpful, indeed, but they are helpful when you need them. The purpose of supplements is to supplement. Not to replace. By definition, a supplement is something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. They are not meant to replace food or the nutrients you should get from it.

Simply ask these 2 qualifying questions before grabbing the next bottle of your favorite multivitamin or buying that expensive supplement that the company spent so much on marketing so it could appeal to people like you:

  1. What nutrients in my current diet am I lacking?

  2. How long should I take it?

Then check for reviews online and be keen on searching for companies that make vitamins legitimately. Don’t just fall for that catchy advertisement you see on Youtube or your favorite TV channel.

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Various brain cells. Various gene expression profiles. (Laboratory meeting)

This article is written by Edward Alain Pajarillo, MSc, Ph.D. Research Associate @ Florida A&M University.

I have chosen 3 interesting articles to present in our laboratory meeting today. As I jump from one science to another, I am continuously learning new concepts and techniques that will be valuable for my future independent research.

Brain cell types.PNGIf there’s one take home message that I want to tell my readers, it is this: “Understanding brain development, function, and disease at the molecular level are reflected differently by which cell type you are looking at.” The brain is comprised of numerous cell types. In the central nervous system alone, we have the major types: (1) neurons and (2) glia. Neuron’s primary role is for the transmission of electrical signals back and forth, to and fro the stimuli (receiving and responding), whereas glial cells act as its general support system. Kind of like, our charging cables; the copper wire conducts the electricity (neurons) and then insulator wraps around the wire (glia). And also, to make things more complicated, there are glial cell subtypes too, which will not be the focus of this short article.

Come to my focus, analyzing and studying the gene expression profile in the brain. Just a brief introduction, gene expression is necessary for normal biological activity and body function. Period. Our body is comprised of DNA sequences (genome) that will be transcribed to RNA (transcriptome) then translated to its proper functional molecule, the protein (proteome). Thus, studying genes and their expression is vital, especially if we want to understand how the brain and other organs respond to certain stimuli, condition or disease.

Genomes Transcriptomes ProteomesStudying gene expression (RNA transcripts) is quite tedious, but we can understand function better and determine new markers for diseases. We study the whole collection of RNA – transcriptome using various technologies such as quantitative PCR, microarray or next generation sequencing (NGS) – for RNA-seq analysis. Each technology has its own purpose, advantage, and disadvantage. And we have come a long way in research when it comes to sequencing. I have studied genomes and proteomes during my Ph.D. Although I personally want to use proteomes because of the reason that it reflects (more of) the actual function in comparison to genomes and transcriptomes. Right now, I want to learn, understand and gain novel insights with NGS and studying whole transcriptomes for two reasons:

  1. They acquire high-throughput data – more data means more insights.
  2. Discover biomarkers or target genes, as well as cellular pathways in different conditions.

PublicationsThe number of publications and interest in RNA-seq and transcriptome studies has grown in the past ten years (see figure) for the brain research. Transcriptome studies have been done for many years using different technologies, and the microarray technology is a big chunk of those studies, but RNA-seq technology has been very promising and has displayed continuous growth over the years. The workflow of RNA-seq is relatively simpler and more straightforward than microarray. Simple and more output.RNA-seq workflowHowever, when we go back to the initial problem: various brain cell types or “heterogeneity” comes into play, this is so much burden for neuroscientists. This is a problem that has been under consideration for many years even in other diseases like cancer. Regardless of the sequencing technology being used. BGocke cell reportsut since we have developed separation techniques including cell sorting devices or single cell isolators, this problem could be minimized (or eliminated) and may become the standard in both in vivo and ex vivo studies in the following years. Although only a few laboratories are able to perform these experiments right now, we hope for the “best-is-yet-to-come” when we see cell sorters become more advanced and cheaper. But the question is if heterogeneity comes into play, should we consider the validity of the results acquired and interpreted in previous studies affected by it (heterogeneity)? As we can see in a recent study by Gocke, RNA-seq profiles of various brain cell types are undeniable. Earlier reports by Cahoy et al. using microarray has reported it too.cahoy top 40 genes.PNGFinally, I go back to my take home message: “Understanding brain development, function, and disease at the molecular level are reflected differently by which cell type you are looking at.” That is why there is no simple explanation to neurodegenerative diseases and even cancer because of the different cell types. However, recent quantifying technologies and cell separating devices have been helping researchers to overcome these limitations. We should be able to determine the genetic cause of neurological disorders in a few years, and hopefully, discover specific drug targets and develop the cure for these diseases, and not just manage their symptoms.

References:

 John D. Cahoy, Ben Emery, Amit Kaushal, Lynette C. Foo, Jennifer L. Zamanian, Karen S. Christopherson, Yi Xing, Jane L. Lubischer, Paul A. Krieg, Sergey A. Krupenko, Wesley J. Thompson and Ben A. Barres. 2008. A Transcriptome Database for Astrocytes, Neurons, and Oligodendrocytes: A New Resource for Understanding Brain Development and Function. Journal of Neuroscience. 28(1):264-78.

Karpagam Srinivasan, Brad A. Friedman, Jessica L. Larson, Benjamin E. Lauffer, Leonard D. Goldstein, Laurie L. Appling, Jovencio Borneo, Chungkee Poon, Terence Ho, Fang Cai, Pascal Steiner, Marcel P. van der Brug, Zora Modrusan, Joshua S. Kaminker & David V. Hansen. 2016. Untangling the brain’s neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative transcriptional responses. Nature Communications. 7: 11295.

Ozgun Gokce, Geoffrey M. Stanley, Barbara Treutlein8, Norma F. Neff, J. Gray Camp, Robert C. Malenka, Patrick E. Rothwell, Marc V. Fuccillo, Thomas C. Südhof. 2016. Cellular Taxonomy of the Mouse Striatum as Revealed by Single-Cell RNA-Seq. Cell reports. 16(4):1126–1137.

Intestinal bacteria linked to psoriasis

This article is written by Edward Alain Pajarillo, MSc, Ph.D. Research Associate @ Florida A&M University.

Recently, a friend of mine consulted about a condition known as psoriasis. And since no medical doctor could help her in her long-lasting condition (at least at the moment), I tried to help her through my expertise. As a gut microbiologist, I am interested in the link of various diseases with what is inside us. Personally, I believe in the saying that says “What you eat is what you are” or “Garbage In, Garbage Out“.

psoriasis-neckPsoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by red, itchy and scaly patches. Although psoriasis is relatively less damaging, long-term effects could lead and be associated with other serious diseases. The cause of psoriasis is not fully understood, several theories suggest it could be genetic, lifestyle, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, microbiota- or drug-induced. What if the doctor could not determine the cause or the cure for your psoriasis? That is why it is important to explore other possibilities that could be linked to such ailments. Now, let’s look into an unconventional cause for psoriasis – the gut microbiome.

In a study published last year, scientists investigated the composition of the gastrointestinal tract of experimental mice in association with psoriasis and immune response. Zákostelská and colleagues analyzed this link by inducing psoriasis to mice using imiquimod. Experimental set-up includes antibiotic-free and antibiotic-treated psoriatic (imiquimod-induced) mice.  The antibiotic treatment contains a mixture of metronidazol, colistin and streptomycin. Analysis for bacterial composition and T helper 17 (Th17) cell were performed. According to their results, antibiotic treatment increased Lactobacillus and reduced Coriobacteria and Clostridia after antibiotic treatment. In addition, Th17 cell, a marker for inflammation, was lower when given the antibiotic. Overall, antibiotic-treated mice had a lower incidence of psoriasis compared with antibiotic-free mice.

Findings suggest that increasing Lactobacillus and decreasing Coribacteria/Clostridia could be associated with decreased inflammation leading to the control of psoriasis. It is interesting to look for which particular species of Lactobacillus, a generally safe and probiotic bacteria. Another direction of this study is which particular harmful bacteria induces psoriasis, and what functional activities are being induced or hindered by these bacteria. Lastly, something to take note, imiquimod-induced psoriasis may not reflect the condition of psoriasis patients, it will only mimic the symptoms of this disease as a model for this experiment.

This article is published by Zákostelská et al., 2016 in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) One “Intestinal microbiota promotes psoriasis-like skin inflammation by enhancing Th17 response”. (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159539)

 

Running 30 min a day helps your brain

This article is written by Edward Alain Pajarillo, MSc, Ph.D. Research Associate @ Florida A&M University. 

This is my first summary of an article on the topic of neurodegenerative disorders and treatment, in order to expand my knowledge as I pursue a very exciting science and share it with others in a concise way.

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Photo from Standford Medicine

Parkinson disease (PD) is a serious neurodegenerative disorder associated with the loss of dopaminergic neurons. Though the question of “what causes PD?” is still controversial, the indicators remain to be uniform in almost all cases, particularly damage and death of dopaminergic neurons, which are important for motor function and reward systems.

In an experiment published earlier this year, Shin and colleagues investigated the effects of (treadmill) running against PD-induced disorder. Briefly, PD was induced by injecting rotenone into rats once a day for 14 consecutive days, while treadmill exercise was performed 30 min once during the same period.

Several tests were conducted to measure balance and coordination. Followed by biomarker analysis of dopaminergic neuron. Results of the study showed that treadmill exercise improved motor performance, alleviate the loss of dopaminergic neurons and suppressed the expression of PD marker, α-synuclein.

The importance of exercise for improving motor function by inducing dopaminergic neuron repair or regeneration and suppression of Lewy bodies in PD patients is promising. Additional studies are necessary to determine the exact mechanism on how exercise contribute to the dual mechanism of neuroregeneration and PD suppression.

This article is published by Shin et al., 2017 in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation entitled “Treadmill exercise alleviates nigrostriatal dopaminergic loss of neurons and fibers in rotenone-induced Parkinson rats”. (https;//doi.org/10.12965/jer.1734906.453)

A beginner’s guide to probiotics

In many of my readings from blogs, newsletters, journal articles and reviews, I noticed that there are two things that had been the focus of microbiology research for the past 3 decades (I might be biased, hopefully not). The battle between (1) good [probiotic] and (2) bad [pathogenic] bacteria. Most of the research done in the West (particularly the US) focused more on the pathogenic mode of action from Clostridium difficile and everything in between to Salmonella causing enteritidis. On the other hand, in Asia, particularly in Japan, South Korea and many countries in South East Asia, probiotic mechanism has been one of the hot research topics for many years. Both are good topics, but today I want to focus on probiotics.

What are probiotics?large The World Health Organization define “probiotics” as live microorganisms with beneficial or health-promoting effects to its host. When a fellow scientist asked me, “What does probiotics really do? I’ve taken an over-the-counter probiotic capsule but I actually feel weird.” Many people (especially lay people) might have some difficulty understanding what are the “benefits” probiotics entail?

Let’s talk about specific health-promoting effects and the kind of live microorganisms that might have these effects. The most common effects of probiotics are:
1. for good bowel movement.

2. for increasing resistance against pathogenic bacteria.

3. for increasing the “chemicals” in the body for good immune response

4. for breaking down hard-to-break food particles (i.e. vegetables) and convert it to energy or vitamins and minerals

However, not all probiotics have an all-inclusive effect. It is difficult and a great challenge to get all the answers and cure from one bacterium after all.

The names (genus level classification) of the most common probiotic bacteria are:

  1. Bifidobacterium (found in human and animal gut, and some food products)
  2. Lactococcus (found in cheese and other related foods)
  3. Lactobacillus (found in human and animal gut, fermented vegetables and meat)

These bacteria have been the focus of many probiotic research, however, not every member in each “genera” have beneficial effect, so don’t just be fooled by someone telling you it contains “Bifidobacterium… and Lactobacillus…” because some might not just work for you. And ever since the gut microbiota has been quantified and identified, researchers are redefining the concept of probiotics. Now it can be any natural resident of the gastrointestinal tract or food products that have beneficial effects to its host. Recently, there are non-bifidobacteria, non-lactobacilli, non-lactococci “probiotic” bacteria that might have weight-loss effects, cancer-treating properties, radioactive substance-decreasing abilities, and even inducing reproductive fertility to the one taking it. And like I said, you need to know the “specific” ailment or problem you want to address before you take a pill from your local drugstore.

KnowDanersOfPillsBut the research keeps going, because actually there are people that would take a probiotic pill from their local drugstore that says “good for bowel movement”, however, after taking the pill for several days, no effect has been realized. It might be that the response to the “probiotic” might not be the same from everyone due to some unknown genetic factor. This is a major challenge to many researchers today. But as a beginner to probiotic treatment, you should also do your own research and ask the probiotic-loving experts and even your health-conscious friends and relatives. So before taking that blue or red pill in front of you, ask professional help or assistance. Have a great day!

CRISPR: the crunchy science meal.

 

What’s up with the title? Well, It’s been months since I’ve publish a blog about science and what has caught up my attention for the past few months I want to share today. As I study different articles, papers and research, this “crunchy” title, CRISPRs, in its expanded for the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats has been a hot topic these past few years. Forget about what you are studying now, this technology will change the future of health, medicine, agriculture and science in general. The first time I heard this term was back in 2008 during my 3rd year in the university (University of the Philippines Manila). And honestly, I didn’t understand, nor was I, at that time, interested with such complicated topic.

First, let me define CRISPRs in “English” and how I understood it.

Clustered = They are grouped.

Regular = There is a certain pattern.

Interspaced = There is a spacing or a gap.

Short = Less than 30 letters? or much lesser.

Palindromic = The letters can be read backwards. Like “Level” when reversed is “leveL”. Even people can be palindromic. Try look yourself in a mirror.

Repeats = Occurring again and again… and again.680px-T7rsr_graph_1

So these are MIRROR-LIKE sequences that are GROUPED with CONSTANT GAPS, and less than 30 characters that occurs again and again. It sounds very simple, but when I was in the university, it drove me so crazy. Anyway, now I understood it better. So what? Well, more than 15 years ago, these CRISPRs are just sequences. How were they discovered is actually further in the past. They were first observed in Escherichia coli K12 back in 1987 (I wasn’t even born that time). Bacteriophage also have CRISPRs, surprisingly, scientist have found that CRISPRs are also in the genome of many bacteria, not just E. coli. However, at that time, no one really knows what they can do or what is the significance of these regularly occurring patterns. In minute organisms, it is has been observed in more than 50% of the bacteria and archaea group (That’s a lot!). So there is definitely something important about these CRISPRs.

11219903715_ed15cf0b3f_zHowever, researchers speculated that if viruses and bacteria have identical sequences, it might be a way for the bacteria to protect itself from viral infection. It’s like bacteria have their own vaccine against viruses. Sorry viruses, you got owned! Pretty cool, eh? It started from that hypothesis. Then a group of scientists, from University of California, Berkeley (and a collaborating European laboratory), MIT and Harvard University, discovered the potential use of these sequences to make “guided” editing of genomic sequences. However, it seems like it’s not really “editing” at this point, because what researchers can do now is to “delete” certain regions of the genome with high accuracy and specificity, not replace them. At least not yet. But I also believe it’s just a matter of time when researchers can exploit the best utility for this genetic tool. I hope I can be part of it someday.

For many years, researchers, including me, we have been struggling to increase the accuracy as well as the specificity of genome editing. Random mutagenesis, RNAi, homologous recombination. They are good tools but not as good as the developed tool from CRISPRs, which I want to talk more later. Dr. Jennifer Duodna and her team at University of California, Berkeley made an astounding work on CRISPR technology. Now, researchers from Harvard can delete genes from pig to make it a suitable organ donor for human transplantation. Thanks to Prof. George Church! Dr. Feng Zhang from Broad Institute actually made the first in vivo experiment in mammalian hosts. And the surge in research has been tremendous over the past 3 years alone! More than 100% increase in CRISPR research, also thanks to Addgene, a repository for plasmid DNAs, bacteriophages and other gene editing tools that are within the reach for many researchers worldwide. I think it’s just cool to live in this period where all the amazing science and technology is just within our reach.image

Biotics: Choose your weapon (Anti, Pro, Pre and Syn)

good-health-thumb-400x258-124775When was your last visit to the hospital? When has it been since your last check-up at a clinic? Each one of us has probably caught a disease a simple cold once in our lives. Minor or major, it doesn’t matter. We have been compromised many times in the past and probably at this moment. People have been using millions and millions of pills every single day just to cure this headache, that stomach ache, this joint pain, that muscle pain. In this era of over-the-counter medicines, we wonder how much of our lives changed for the better? Really?download

Early this century, the vaccine was discovered by an accident and it has changed the health science sector down to its core. And now, in the western world, it has been an escalating issue in health care: should we or should we not mandate vaccines in the society? That is debatable! As we go through the age of high-level computing and computer processing, we can observe and even simulate the possible effects of different drugs and chemicals in our body. Take for example, antibiotics! Antibiotics simply means “against living things“. It comes from two Greek words: ANTI – and biōtikosfit for life‘, which literally means ‘doubting the possibility of life in a particular environment‘. So let me give you visual representation, now imagine your beautiful city (i.e. New York City, LA, Tokyo etc.) with millions of residents and citizens as the living organisms and then try to imagine someone dropping an atomic bomb in that city, that’s your antibiotic! And try doing it three times a day for 3 days (haha). In the past, antibiotics were believed as the miracle pill, cause it just killmost‘ of our health problems, even petty headaches or muscle pain.easy_buster_cropped But in fact, they are harmful to the residents of our body – the microorganisms. Just like the example above, we want to kill the bad guys in NYC but we forgot that there are ‘good‘ people there too, by dropping not just one, not just two atomic bombs! Not only that, but antibiotics pose greater threat to our health by developing resistance of pathogens to that antibiotics (which we will talk about in another post).

So today we are actually looking for better alternatives to antibiotics. I am not saying antibiotics are harmful to us humans. What I am saying is that we risk altering the normal status of our health. Our immune system can actually handle most of our problems and diseases, because that’s how the body and the rest of the systems were designed. We don’t need antibiotics but we gotta do something else. We need to augment that system so that when something unexpected happen it is ready to fight those bad and toxic elements invading our body. How do we do that? By being careful in our food choices, sleeping patterns, exercise and daily habits. We also have probiotic bacteria that has beneficial effects in managing cholesterol levels, immune response and proper chemical balance and even combat foreign pathogens. mechanismNon-digestible carbohydrates (prebiotics) that can actually promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as the combination of both. Those little things really do matter! The sad thing is we are too lazy to think and plan ahead. Only if we apply the overused word “Health is wealth“, then we will be able to realize that there’s nothing more important than improving our health! At the end of the day, that’s what really remain with us, right?

I will always believe in that saying… “Prevention is better than cure” or in other words “Pre-, pro- and synbiotics are better than antibiotics“. Choose your weapon!fige07