Health & Spirit

The Pain of Psoriasis

Scott LaFee on

Psoriasis is a painful, persistent, puzzling skin condition. It typically occurs on knees, elbows and scalp, but can appear almost anywhere. There are a variety of causal factors: stress, bacterial infections, immune system dysfunction, genetics. It's complicated to treat -- the most frequent therapy are topical steroids, but they can have serious side effects -- and it can become a chronic condition.

Researchers at Emory University are investigating a potential new remedy: fire ant venom. In mouse tests, the venom reduced skin thickening and inflammation. The reason seems to be the presence of solenopsins -- the main toxin in the venom. Solenopsins are chemically similar to ceramides, which are lipid-like molecules essential to maintaining the barrier function of skin.

But under certain circumstances, ceramides breakdown into inflammatory molecules. Solenopsins don't, and when applied to mice, they prevented inflammatory cells from infiltrating the skin and causing psoriasis.

Water Weight

Adding or removing water from a stem cell can direct it toward becoming either bone or fat, say researchers at the University of Buffalo. Scientists have long known that stem cells pick up cues about their eventual fate based upon cells around them, but these results indicate nature also plays a role.

Altering the liquid volume of a stem cell changes its internal dynamics. Removing water, the researchers said, condenses the cell and influences it to become stiff pre-bone cells. Adding water causes the cells to swell and form soft pre-fat cells.

Aside from its value to understanding the basic biology of stem cells, the findings may be useful in further developing regenerative medical treatments in which stem cells become replacement cells.

Body of Knowledge

The average speed of human sperm is 8 inches per hour.

Get Me That, Stat!


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