The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include a breakthrough in treating neurodegeneration, how fasting keeps your stomach young, and further insight in to how those beers and burgers  might be making us fat. 

By Grace Chan

Stop the macrophages from eating me!

With a rapidly aging population, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease have become a major risk to society. Neurodegeneration is often caused by the breakdown of nerve cells that connect the brain and the body, resulting in muscle weakness and mobility problems. As there are currently no effective therapies targeting neurodegenerative diseases, there has been immense interest from researchers in understanding the reasons behind such breakdown of nerve cells.


A team of scientists has started dissecting the causes of neurodegeneration in the elderly and have focused specifically in a subset of neurons in the lower limb. They have seen age-related damage in the structure of the neurons in both aging mice and human. They also observed that there were three times as many macrophages, a type of white blood cell, in aging than adult mice. Macrophages are normally the first responder to infection and often kill pathogens by injecting them.  By treating mice with a specific drug that kills those macrophages, the structures of those nerves were preserved and the mice showed increased muscle strength. These findings will hopefully help in treating weakness and reduced mobility in the elderly.

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Stop eating and save your stem cells?!

During infections or injuries such as gastrointestinal infection, intestinal stem cells can regenerate to repair the lining of the intestine. However, as we age, those cells begin to lose their regenerative abilities and it takes longer for the intestinal lining to heal. In the past, it has been suggested that fasting has beneficial effects on many age-related issues. A new study has looked into how fasting affects intestinal stem cells in mice.

In the study, after mice were fasting for 24 hours, their intestinal stem cells were isolated to see whether those cells can then go on to form “mini-intestines”, which acted as a readout for their regenerative abilities. It was shown that fasting significantly increases the regenerative capabilities in both young and old intestinal stem cells. When researchers looked further in the mechanism involved, they found that fasting switched the cells from burning carbohydrates, such as sugars, to fat, such as fatty acids. And if they blocked this metabolic switch, fasting could no longer enhance regeneration in those cells. Now, they plan to study in more detail how this switch enhances the stem cells’ regenerative abilities.

So, if you want to power up your intestinal stem cells, maybe you should start fasting!

Starving fat cells!  (Source

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Skinny mice

Our bodies are extremely efficient at storing fat from food, and this has been proven to be extremely beneficial for storing energy during our evolution. In a study at the University of Copenhagen, researchers have managed to inhibit the ability of fat cells to store fat in mice. They deleted the gene for NAMPT, an enzyme in the fat tissue of mice. After that, they compared the weight of those mice to normal control mice when they were given a high fat diet, similar to pizzas and burgers. The normal mice became very obese, whereas the mice lacking in the enzyme retained a weight consistent with a healthy diet.

burger mouse

It seemed that without NAMPT, fat cells can no longer expand as normal, consistent with results obtained in humans where an increased NAMPT level has been linked to high likelihoods of obesity. This is the first time that scientists have shown that lack of NAMPT in fat tissue fully protects mice from obesity. Whilst it is impossible for us to remove NAMPT in our bodies it would give rise to other undesirable effects, more research can now be done to see how NAMPT is connected to storing fat from the food we eat and maybe one day a treatment for obesity could be found.

 Read the full article here