Science

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Courtesy of the Murry Lab / University of Washignton

Seattle researchers have taken a key step toward beating back the world’s leading cause of death by regrowing damaged heart tissue in monkeys.

Scientists had long thought getting heart tissue to regenerate was impossible. But stem cell research began to raise hopes in the 1990s, and over the years, researchers like Chuck Murry of University of Washington Medicine’s cardiology division started to get some traction.

First came successes with rats, then with guinea pigs. Now Murry’s team has managed to repair heart tissue in an animal more closely related to humans: monkeys called pigtail macaques.

Washington State University

Horses have been used therapeutically for years, but new research from Washington State University provides some of the first scientific evidence that it works to reduce stress.

Under stress, the body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is supposed to rise and fall in a particular way over the course of a day.

Virgil Beck / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

It turns out the Washington state fish is a piece of evolutionary wonder. An international group of scientists sequenced the genome of the rainbow trout and found some surprises. 

About 100 million years ago, something odd happened to the ancestor of salmon and rainbow trout. Instead of inheriting two copies of chromosome sets — one from mom and one from dad, they managed to inherit four copies. In evolutionary terms, this was a recent and dramatic event.

Florian Muijres / University of Washington

New research out of the University of Washington shows that an insect with a brain smaller than a salt grain can take complex evasive action in flight. The findings could have value for engineers.

Consider the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. It’s — actually, wait. You really should click this soundtrack before you read any further.

Right. So, drosophila. You see them buzzing around your wine glass or your compost bin. Maybe you wave it away with your hand, and it seems to dart around to avoid the swat.

Fred Espenak / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Puget Sound region won’t be the best place to take in the lunar eclipse in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. High clouds are likely to obscure the so-called “blood moon,” which flushes reddish in the shadow of the Earth.

University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass says the northwest Washington coast might fare better. And cloud breaks might give even Seattle-area moon-gazers a glimpse — if they keep looking.  

University of Washington

A University of Washington research team has developed technology that could let people control devices with hand gestures. And the sensor doesn’t use battery power; it pulls electricity out of thin air.

Technology to read hand gestures already exists in devices like Microsoft’s Kinect. But most of it uses cameras or beams, which make it expensive and hungry for electricity.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

It's hard to imagine a more devastating diagnosis than ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. For most people, it means their nervous system is going to deteriorate until their body is completely immobile. That also means they'll lose their ability to speak.

So Carl Moore of Kent worked with a speech pathologist to record his own voice to use later, when he can no longer talk on his own.

Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.

vissago / Flickr

Two nutrient supplements once thought to protect against cancer may actually increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a study led by researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at 4,856 men taking large doses of vitamin E and selenium, either alone or together, or a placebo.

ADMX Collaboration

Think of the immense amount of stuff in the cosmos: stars, planets, interstellar dust and clusters of galaxies. Now consider this: all that stuff is probably only about one-sixth of the matter in the universe.

The rest is thought to be a mysterious invisible substance called dark matter — something scientists have been hunting for decades. Now an unexpected turn of events has put a low-key research team in Seattle right at the center of the dark matter search.

istockphoto.com

Scientists have long known that brain training can help older adults stay sharp, but a new study co-authored by a Seattle scientist shows those benefits also have remarkable staying power.

The advantages from just a little bit of training — about 10 total hours — can last at least a full decade, according to a large national study called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE study. 

Matthew Purdy / Flickr

The National Football League is paying for a Seattle scientist to study head injuries in student athletes, testing a solution to the problem of how to diagnose and measure concussions.

With all the focus on sports and head trauma lately, it may come as a surprise that medicine actually doesn’t have great ways to measure common brain injuries. They don’t usually show up on brain scans, even though we know they can cause serious and lasting neurological problems.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series. Learn how scorpion vemon led local researchers to the brink of discovery of a new class of drugs in Part 1.

Consider the chemical elegance of a potato. Or a petunia. Or a horseshoe crab.

Somewhere in each of those organisms is a special little protein uniquely equipped to do what medicines do: barge in on biological processes and mess with them. With a little tweaking, it’s possible they could be trained to, say, keep cancer cells from spreading.

A few years ago, Dr. Jim Olson and his team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had figured out how to make those proteins by the thousands, but they hadn’t yet figured out how to pay for it.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

The Deathstalker scorpion is about the size of your palm. It’s yellow and surly, its venom a seething cocktail of neurotoxins.

And somewhere in that poison soup is a very special little molecule, called chlorotoxin, designed to penetrate a prey animal’s brain. That effect happens to come in very handy: while it’s in there, it sticks to cancer cells while slipping right by healthy ones.

Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, put that toxin to work.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

People fighting hunger in the developing world have noticed a troubling mystery: malnourished children sometimes fail to get healthier even when given a lot of extra nutrients.

The key to helping them may be to focus not on the kids, but on their cows, according to a team led by a University of Washington professor.

The researchers from UW, Washington State University and CDC-Kenya just received a Gates Foundation grant to examine the values of a holistic approach—one that focuses on the intersection of human, animal and environmental health.

adstream / Flickr

Organic dairy products may have a major nutritional advantage over conventional milk, Washington researchers have found in a study that could affect the ongoing debate about the health benefits of organics.

A Washington State University-led team studied about 400 samples of whole milk, both traditionally-produced and organic, and found a key difference in the balance of fatty acids. Organic milk seems to have a much higher proportion of omega-3s compared with omega-6s.

Gerry Broome / AP Photo

Seattle researchers and investors are making a massive bet on a new cancer-fighting technology.

The new startup, called Juno Therapeutics, is working on ways to take T-cells out of a patient’s body and genetically engineer them to attack his or her specific tumor.

NASA

A University of Washington researcher may have helped solve a Martian mystery by explaining how the chilly surface of Mars could have once flowed with water.

Pictures of Mars clearly show features that look like valleys and old lakebeds, suggesting liquid water once churned on the planet's surface. And yet that surface is really cold, at -80 degrees Fahrenheit, on average.

Kael Martin / University of Washington

Quick quiz: In springtime, does snow melt faster out in the open or in the shade? 

You might figure it melts faster in the sunshine, and that seems to be the case for cold climates. But in places with temperate winters, like the Pacific Northwest, it might be just the opposite.

Washington State University

An accidental breakthrough by Washington State University researchers might someday lead to much more powerful computers.

It began when graduate student Marianne Tarun was working with a particular kind of crystal, strontium titanate, in a WSU physics lab. The crystal has strange electrical properties, which interests engineers and computer scientists.

One day she discovered, to her surprise, that something had changed.

Associated Press

Before December, 2012: 

It's a crime to drive under the influence of marijuana if the intoxicant impairs your driving "to an appreciable degree." Prosecutors can use blood analysis, along with other evidence, to prove a person is impaired. But even though marijuana itself is illegal, there's no agreement on what level of THC in the blood constitutes a crime. 

As of December, 2012: 

Steven Hurd / Flickr

Health officials officials across the Northwest are trying to figure out why they’re seeing a big upswing in the number of people with gonorrhea this year. Washington announced Thursday five counties are in the midst of an outbreak of the infection.

The Washington outbreaks are in Spokane, Benton, Yakima, Kitsap, and Thurston counties. Overall, the state has seen a 34 percent increase in gonorrhea cases over this time last year.

While the brain sleeps, it clears out harmful toxins, a process that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, researchers say.

During sleep, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain increases dramatically, washing away harmful waste proteins that build up between brain cells during waking hours, a study of mice found.

National Institutes of Health

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a way for some deaf people to enjoy music. The findings could help people with cochlear implants, a bionic inner ear that allows deaf or hearing-impaired people to hear speech, albeit in kind of a robot voice.

Cochlear implants can be a lifesaver for people without hearing, but when it comes to music, this very practical device can’t carry a tune to save its life.

The implants simply aren’t sensitive to pitch and what’s called timbre—the qualities of a sound that make, say, a guitar sound different from a harp.

Telemedicine is rising to new levels of accessibility thanks to the increasing prevalence of smartphones, tablets and webcam equipped computers.

jbrandner / Wikimedia Commons

A promising but preliminary new study based on a Seattle scientist's discovery has shown dramatic increases in survival for people with brain cancer.

Charles Cobbs, now head of the Ben and Cathy Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, figured out a key feature of the most common kind of brain tumor, glioblastoma.

The tumor appears to be connected to a virus that most of us carry, called CVM. It’s harmless in most people, but for some, it seems to promote tumor growth.

University of Washington

Two researchers at the University of Washington have managed to pull off something right out of a sci-fi story: one used his brain to control the body of another.

The setup involved two labs on different ends of campus. In one lab sat the receiver, Andrea Stocco, with a device on his head that beams a focused magnetic field into his brain. Across campus, in another lab sat the sender, Rajesh Rao, wearing a cap outfitted with electrodes.

Courtesy of University of Washington / Nature Chemistry

Even the tiniest misprint in a person’s genetic code can cause big health problems, but they can be hard to find. Now members of a team at University of Washington say they’ve designed a better way to track down those mutations.

If you think of DNA as a twisted ladder, each rung is made of two little structures called bases, stuck together. If even one of the billions of these rungs gets copied wrong it can have serious consequences, such as which kind of tuberculosis you get.

Max Kaufman / Alaska Volcano Observatory/University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute

Most volcanoes rumble before they erupt, but Washington and Alaska researchers say a big recent eruption was preceded not by a rumble, but a scream.

Alaska’s Mount Redoubt blew its top several times in 2009. Leading up to many of the explosions were a series of little earthquakes—not uncommon for an active volcano. But these quakes began to accelerate, one after another, like a drumbeat building to a climax.

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

There’s some truth to Washington’s image as a mecca for the physically active. When it comes to exercise, several counties in the state rank in the top 50 out of more than 3,000 counties in the country. But that ranking hides a less flattering trend.

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