The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include a new link between cancer and gut inflammation, anti-anxiety drug abuse and a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

By Andrea Paquola

Gut Dysbiosis: a link between cancer and chronic inflammation

All animals are characterized by a specific microbial community composed mainly of bacteria but also archaea, viruses, fungi and protozoa. The largest reservoir of microbes in the body is the gastrointestinal tract. Several studies have focused on examining the role of the microbiota during human disease and its beneficial influence on human health.

Microbes colonize our body from birth interfering with physiological and immunological development. The oral antibiotic misuse and the lifestyle can lead to dysbiosis, a pathological imbalance in gut microbiota. Gut dysbiosis is involved in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this condition contributes to augment host proinflammatory immune responses. It was recently reported that age-associated changes in gut microbiota were associated with a higher risk to develop cancer. This was a consequence of the increase in chronic inflammation. Studies in animal models suggested that this condition is reversible. The suggested that the treatment of the imbalance in commensal microbes could potentially provide an anticancer benefit.

Click here to read more about this fascinating link.

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Overprescription of anti-anxiety medications

A new class of drugs has been associated with over-prescription, benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, have anti-anxiety and sedative effect. They were introduced in the market as safer alternatives to barbiturates. This was motivated by the fact that its effect can be neutralized by the use of flumazenil and was associated with the underestimation of its addictive effect.

Particularly, when it is used in combination with alcohol and opioids its sedative effect increases. This can lead to the overdose of the patient. In a recent study, it was shown how the rising number of deaths hasn’t stopped the flow of prescriptions. The continuative use is associated with down-regulation of the GABA receptors, responsible for the sedative effect. As a consequence, the drug becomes less effective and the patient has to take a higher dose to have the same effect. Therefore, benzodiazepine represents a useful treatment for a short duration. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are preferable to treat anxiety for long periods.

To read more on this interesting finding, click here!

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Parkinson’s disease may start in the gut

In 1817, James Parkinson reported that some patients with a condition he defined ‘shaking palsy’ had constipation. This was the first observation of a correlation between gut and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Since then, researchers have studied more in detail the gastrointestinal tract and have become aware that this neurodegenerative disease is correlated not only with the progressive loss of midbrain dopaminergic neurons but also with dysfunctions of enteric neurons.

PD was recently associated with the accumulation of alpha-synuclein, a protein abundant in the brain. In post-mortem analysis of Parkinson’s patients, they have observed Lewy bodies, aggregates of alpha-synuclein, in both the brain and the enteric nervous system. Researchers have also observed aggregation of this protein in the appendix, a vestigial organ. Interestingly, it was reported that patients whose appendix had been removed were less likely to develop this neurodegenerative disease. The study published in Science Translational Medicine, showed a reduction of 20% in the risk to develop the disease. This has opened new horizons for the treatment of PD.

Click here to read more about this study!

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