Breakthrough in Making Much Less Addictive Opioids

Important research this is, for it shows that the powerful pain relief opioids provide doesn’t have to be such a dangerous double-edged sword.

In the US, more than one-third of the population experiences some form of acute or chronic pain; in older adults this number rises to 40 percent.

The most common condition linked to chronic pain is chronic depression, which is a major cause of suicide.

To relieve severe pain, people go to their physician for powerful prescription painkillers, opioid drugs such as morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Almost all the currently marketed opioid drugs exert their analgesic effects through a protein called the “mu opioid receptor” (MOR).

MORs are embedded in the surface membrane of brain cells, or neurons, and block pain signals when activated by a drug.

However, many of the current opioids stimulate portions of the brain that lead to additional sensations of “rewarding” pleasure, or disrupt certain physiological activities. The former may lead to addiction, or the latter, death.

Which part of the brain is activated plays a vital role in controlling pain. For example, MORs are also present in the brain stem, a region that controls breathing.

Activating these mu receptors not only dulls pain but also slows breathing. Large doses stop breathing, causing death.

Activating MORs in other parts of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens, block pain and trigger pleasure or reward, which makes them addictive. But so far there is no efficient way to turn these receptors “on” and “off” in specific areas.

But there is another approach because not all opioids are created equal. Some, such as morphine, bind to the receptor and activate two signaling pathways: one mediating pain cessation and the other producing side effects like respiratory depression.

Other drugs favor one pathway more than the other, like only blocking pain – this is the one we want.

“Biased opioids” to kill pain

But MOR isn’t the only opioid receptor. There are two other closely related proteins called kappa and delta, or KOR and DOR respectively, that also alter pain perception but in slightly different ways.

Yet, currently there are only a few opioid medications that target KOR, and none that target DOR. One reason is that the function of these receptors in the brain neurons remains unclear.

Recently KOR has been getting attention as extensive studies from different academic labs show that it blocks pain without triggering euphoria, which means it isn’t addictive.

Another benefit is that it doesn’t slow respiration, which means that it isn’t lethal. But although it isn’t as dangerous as MOR, activating KOR does promote dysphoria, or unease, and sleepiness.

This work suggests it is possible to design a drug that only targets the pain pathway, without side effects. These kind of drugs are called “biased” opioids.

[…]

The exciting news is that researchers in the Roth lab have discovered several promising compounds based on the KOR structure that selectively binds and activates KOR, without cavorting with the more than 330 other related protein receptors.

Now our challenge is to transform these molecules into safer drugs.

The Amazing Treatment for Drug Addiction (Medication-Assisted Treatment) Too Rarely Used

Drug addictions need to be treated as health problems instead of as crimes, and in any case, it’d be valuable to direct more resources towards helping people with addictions. That could be rather than using the resources on a senseless or harmful pursuit such as building even more nuclear weapons systems that threaten to cause disasters.

The death toll from the opioids epidemic continues to soar – nearly 64,000 people died in 2016 alone.

Scientists are working to find creative tools to fight it, and President Donald Trump has called the overdose crisis a public health emergency. But he has not yet outlined any targeted solutions aside from calling for drug dealers to be given the death penalty.

A growing cadre of health professionals say we already have a science-backed treatment that works. It’s called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, and it involves administering FDA-approved medications that help curb cravings and reduce the excruciating symptoms of withdrawal.

“Medications are an effective treatment for opioid addiction,” Kelly J. Clark, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, told Business Insider.

The problem is that very few people can get those medications.

Only about half of private-sector treatment programs for opioid use disorder currently offer access to MAT, and of those that offer it, only one third of patients actually receive the medication, according to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

There are many reasons for this lack of access to medication. Some stem from a misconception about how the treatments – which can include buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone – work.

The stigma surrounding drug use and addiction plays a role, too. Still other issues include federal and state laws that restrict the availability of the medications.

“It’s more of an implementation problem than a basic science problem,” Clark said, “because we know what works.”

Medications do not ‘substitute one drug for another’

In someone with opioid use disorder, using the drugs is often not a pleasurable experience, but rather a practice that has become a necessary fact of life. Being without the drugs leads to painful symptoms that can include severe nausea, shaking, diarrhoea, and depression.

The need to use is simultaneously a physical and emotional compulsion – the lines between those kinds of pain are blurred.

One of the main misconceptions about medication-assisted treatment is that medications simply replace the drugs that hooked users – leading to more highs and fuelling a pattern of repeated use.

But that view is outdated and ill-informed, experts say. Instead, the drugs work by staunching cravings and reducing or preventing withdrawal and relapse.

Buprenorphine and methadone help suppress cravings, while naltrexone blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids so users don’t experience a high.

“People ask me all the time, ‘well, aren’t they just substituting one drug for another?’ The answer is no. These are evidence-based treatments and they work,” Patrice A. Harris, the former president of the American Medical Association and a board certified psychiatrist, told Business Insider.

Several large studies suggest that as access to MAT rises, drug overdose deaths fall.

A study of heroin overdose deaths in Baltimore between 1995 and 2009 published in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, found a link between the increasing availability of methadone and buprenorphine and a roughly 50 percent decrease in the number of fatal overdoses.

“These treatments are life saving and they work,” Sarah Wakeman, the medical director of the substance use disorder initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard, told Business Insider.

From jail to court to rehab, medication-assisted treatment is hard to find

Despite the evidence demonstrating MAT’s effectiveness, it is surprisingly difficult to obtain.

One of the hardest-to-access forms of medication for recovery is methadone. In the US, the medication can only be accessed in specialised clinics; because of the way the treatment works, people on MAT must come to a facility to be injected daily.

But those facilities typically have negative reputations because of policies that restrict them to locations considered seedy or run-down.

And patients who come for treatment often have to push past active drug users – a big trigger for someone with substance use disorder – on their way to and from the clinic.

“You can access heroin pretty easily, yet we make it really hard to get a treatment that’s life-saving and allows you to live healthily,” Wakeman said.

On Friday, the US Food and Drug Adminstration issued a new set of guidelines aimed at underlining the important role MAT should play treating opioid use disorder.

“Unfortunately, far too few people who suffer from opioid use disorder are offered an adequate chance for treatment that uses safe and effective medications,”commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

Other countries take a very different approach to medication-assisted treatment that makes the treatments easier to obtain. In Canada, for example, methadone is distributed in pharmacies.

Rehabilitation facilities and courts in the US often don’t offer medication-assisted treatment either. Instead, most operate on an abstinence-based model, in which patients must detox and then are offered counseling.

They’re encouraged to attend 12-step meetings like Narcotics Anonymous, which remains opposed to MAT despite the growing body of evidence behind it.

Research: Mono Virus Increases Risks of 7 Other Diseases for Some People

The relevance seems to be that the kissing disease is more notable than once thought and thus perhaps should be targeted more in future treatments, along with the other associations found in the study.

A far-reaching study conducted by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s reports that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) — best known for causing mononucleosis — also increases the risks for some people of developing seven other major diseases.

[…]

Overall, the study sheds new light on how environmental factors, such as viral or bacterial infections, poor diet, pollution or other hazardous exposures, can interact with the human genetic blueprint and have disease-influencing consequences.

“Now, using genomic methods that were not available 10 years ago, it appears that components made by the virus interact with human DNA in the places where the genetic risk of disease is increased,” Harley says.

[…]

While the EBV-related findings involved more than 60 human proteins linked to seven diseases, the Cincinnati Children’s research team already has taken a huge next step. They applied the same analytic techniques to tease out connections between all 1,600 known transcription factors and the known gene variants associated with more than 200 diseases.

The results of that massive cross-analysis also appear in today’s study. Intriguing associations were documented involving 94 conditions.

“Our study has uncovered potential leads for many other diseases, including breast cancer,” Harley says. “We cannot possibly follow up on all of these, but we are hoping that other scientists will.”

In related news, scientists have also now confirmed a new DNA structure that’s inside human cells.

Quality of Audio Recordings is Possibly Important for Assessing Scientific Information

Kind of daunting if significantly true, but truth tellers should be aware of this as they face well-funded corporate propaganda machines. From what I know about sound quality, the rooms that are recorded in can actually make a substantial difference based on the texture of the floors and walls. That’s probably why rooms specifically designed for audio recording can easily cost thousands of dollars, but I do also think that a lot of people have a better BS detector than this study would suggest.

Separating fact from fiction in the age of alternate facts is becoming increasingly difficult, and now a new study has helped reveal why. Research by Dr Eryn Newman of The Australian National University (ANU) has found that when people listen to recordings of a scientist presenting their work, the quality of audio had a significant impact on whether people believed what they were hearing, regardless of who the researcher was or what they were talking about.

Dr Newman, of the ANU Research School of Psychology, said the results showed when it comes to communicating science, style can triumph over substance.

“When people are assessing the credibility of information, most of the time people are making a judgement based on how something feels,” Dr Newman said. “Our results showed that when the sound quality was poor, the participants thought the researcher wasn’t as intelligent, they didn’t like them as much and found their research less important.”

The study used experiments where people viewed video clips of scientists speaking at conferences. One group of participants heard the recordings in clear high-quality audio, while the other group heard the same recordings with poor-quality audio.

Participants were then asked to evaluate the researchers and their work. Those who listened to the poorer quality audio consistently evaluated the scientists as less intelligent and their research as less important.

In a second experiment, researchers upped the ante and conducted the same experiment using renowned scientists discussing their work on the well-known US Science Friday radio program. This time the recordings included audio of the scientists being introduced with their qualifications and institutional affiliations.”It made no difference,” she said. “As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden the scientists and their research lost credibility.”

As with the first experiments, participants thought the research was worse, the scientists were less competent and they also reported finding their work less interesting.

Dr Newman said in a time when genuine science is struggling to be heard above fake news and alternate facts, researchers need to consider not only the content of their messages, but features of the delivery.

“Another recent study showed false information travels six times faster than real information on Twitter,” she said.”Our results show that it’s not just about who you are and what you are saying, it’s about how your work is presented.”

Research Into Optimal Sleep Positions

Apparently sleeping on one’s back is supposedly most beneficial to health, according to this research.

Sometimes we wake up groggy even though we’ve gone to bed on time and had a solid eight hours of sleep.

Experts say it could be down to your sleeping position – sleeping on your back is supposedly the best position, but ultimately, comfort is key.

There’s no longer any doubt that sleep is incredibly important. But it’s not just about getting enough sleep, it’s also about trying to stick to a sleep schedule that is in tune with your body clock, or circadian rhythm.

If people are out of sync, they can wake up feeling groggy, and find it difficult to focus the next day. But even when you think you’ve done everything right – you went to bed on time and got a good eight hours of sleep – you may still wake up tired and irritable.

According to sleep experts, this could be because of the way you’re sleeping.

Shelby Harris, a sleep medicine expert and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Popular Science that if your sleeping position isn’t working for you, there are things you can do to change it.

Most people sleep on their sides, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but this position can cause shoulder and hip pain. Also, sleeping on your right side may even aggravate heartburn, some research found.

The theory is that a muscle in your esophagus that keeps acid in your stomach and out of your throat is loosened by the position, so some acid creeps up and causes a burning sensation. If you sleep on your left side, this muscle keeps the gap shut.

Harris said you should try sleeping on your left side if you get heartburn. Also, you should buy pillows that are thick enough to support your head, and tuck a pillow under your knees to support your lower back.

The absolute worst sleeping position, Harris said, is lying on your stomach. Only 7 percent of people do this, but it puts pressure on your entire body. You’re likely to wake up with numbness and tingling, and it can increase the chance of muscle and joint pain.

To make it easier on your body, Harris said you can use a flatter pillow to reduce neck strain.

The best position is sleeping on your back, which only 8 percent of people do. It’s the best position for reducing aches and pain, and it doesn’t cause heartburn because your head is elevated above your chest.

Of course, lying on your back increases the risk of snoring. If you’re prone to sleep apnea, it might not be the position for you, although there are exercises you can try to reduce snoring.

If you’d like to change your style, Harris said you can put pillows on both sides of your body, and one under your knees. This should stop you moving around too much.

If this doesn’t work, you can sew a tennis ball into the lining of your shirt, so the discomfort makes you flip back over if you try and turn.

“Although it is commonly recommended that sleeping on your back is the best position to sleep in, comfort is key,” Harris said. “If you’re in pain or uncomfortable from your sleep position, it can definitely impact your sleep quality.”

So if you find you’re often waking up groggy, and you’re not sure why, try changing your sleeping position.

Improved Process for Making Clean Drinking Water Out of Salt Water Developed

It would be helpful in creating much more safe drinking water if it actually becomes mass produced.

Using an innovative combination of sunshine and hydrogels, a new device just unveiled by scientists is able to produce clean drinking water from virtually any source – even the salty waters of the Dead Sea.

This new technique could prevent tens of thousands of death every year, since access to safe drinking water is at a premium in many developing nations, not to even mention the wake of a natural disaster or emergency anywhere in the world.

The technology is compact, inexpensive, and uses ambient solar energy in order to evaporate water and remove impurities, making it a substantial upgrade over similar processes that have been used in the past.

“Water desalination through distillation is a common method for mass production of freshwater,” says one of the researchers, Fei Zhao from the University of Texas at Austin.

“However, current distillation technologies, such as multi-stage flash and multi-effect distillation, require significant infrastructures and are quite energy-intensive.”

“Solar energy, as the most sustainable heat source to potentially power distillation, is widely considered to be a great alternative for water desalination.”

The new filtering device works by combining several gel-polymer hybrid materials that mix both hydrophilic (water-attracting) and semiconducting (solar-adsorbing) properties.

The nanostructure of the gels enables more water vapour to be produced from less solar energy, and without the complicated series of optical instruments that existing devices use to concentrate sunlight. Here, that concentration isn’t needed.

When a jar of contaminated water is placed in direct sunlight with the hydrogel evaporator on top, vapour is released that’s then trapped and stored by a condenser.

“We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,” says lead researcher Guihua Yu, from the University of Texas at Austin.

To give their new contraption a thorough testing, the researchers tried it out at the Dead Sea, which borders Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. With a salinity of around 34 percent, it’s about ten times as salty as your standard ocean water.

The hydrogel filtering device passed its test with flying colours, producing drinking water from the Dead Sea that met the accepted drinking water standards put down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

CDC Warning About Resistant “Nightmare Bacteria” Appearing in the U.S.

Antimicrobial resistance is among the most important issues facing society today, and it’s somewhat unnerving that there’s such a lack of focus on it. There needs to be a massive new funding effort to develop new ways to fight this threat.

You’ve probably read about antibiotic resistance at some point, but sometimes it’s hard to stress just how important this issue is, especially when it feels like a far off problem.

So how about this – each year, over 23,000 Americans die because of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year, nationwide tests discovered 221 instances of ‘unusual’ germs – bugs resistant to all, or most antibiotics tested on it.

This is no longer a far-off problem – it’s something hospitals are fighting right now.

“Unusual resistance germs, which are resistant to all or most antibiotics tested and are uncommon or carry special resistance genes, are constantly developing and spreading,” the CDC team writes for their in-house journal, Vital Signs.

“Lab tests uncovered unusual resistance more than 200 times in 2017 in “nightmare bacteria” alone.”

Nightmare bacteria are bacteria that are either nearly, or fully untreatable.

The study found that one in four samples sent into the lab for testing had bacteria with special genes that allowed them to spread resistance to other bacteria.

Not only that, but in facilities that had these bacteria with unusual genes, about 1 in 10 symptomless people who were screened had at least one resistant bug.

These people can pass on the resistant bacteria, effectively becoming a silent carrier of an illness.

“CDC’s study found several dangerous pathogens, hiding in plain sight, that can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat.

So, what can we do? Many researchers are working on developing more antibiotics, or ways of stopping bacteria without antibiotics, but the CDC is urging hospitals and healthcare providers to stay on top of the problem as well.

“As fast as we have run to slow [antibiotic] resistance, some germs have outpaced us,” Schuchat said to Kaiser Health News.

“We need to do more and we need to do it faster and earlier.”

The paper recommends rapid identification of bacteria to check for resistance, completing infection control assessments, and testing those without symptoms who may also carry and spread the germs.

This is on top of the advice already provided by the CDC to do with correct use to antibiotics, both in prescribing, and taking them – for example, not using antibiotics when you have a viral infection like the common cold or the flu.

But there is some good news as well – the CDC lab network “is working at an absolutely high level of effectiveness,” said William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to Kaiser Health News.