Coffee Can Curb Diabetes Risks

UCLA — Researchers at UCLA have discovered that coffee’s protective effects against Type 2 diabetes may be attributed to a protein that regulates sex hormones.

Sex hormone-binding globulin, or SHBG, regulates and biologically activates male and female sex hormones, which are commonly thought to play a crucial role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. By increasing coffee consumption, SHBG levels increase, lowering the subject’s risk of developing diabetes.

In a press release, UCLA professor of epidemiology Simon Liu and doctoral student Atsushi Goto reported that women who consumed four cups of coffee each day were 56 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes compared to nondrinkers. The coffee-drinkers were found to have higher concentrations of SHBG in their blood than those who abstained from the caffeinated beverage.

According to Goto, the study’s findings are not correlated to decaffeinated coffee.

“Consumption of decaffeinated coffee was not significantly associated with SHBG levels, nor diabetes risk, so you probably have to go for the octane!” Goto said in a press release.

Old Drug Helps Alcohol Addicts

UC San Francisco — A group of scientists at UC San Francisco recently published a study of an FDA-approved drug that could potentially treat alcoholism.

Chlorzoxazone, commonly prescribed as a muscle relaxant, has been confirmed to decrease alcohol consumption in heavy-drinking rats. According to lead author Woody Hopf, an assistant adjunct professor of neurology at UCSF, the drug could reduce neuronal excitability in a region of the brain’s reward system known as the nucleus accumbens, which perpetuates cravings for alcohol or other addictive substances.

In their current study, Hopf and his colleagues discovered that rats that drink heavily have fewer SK channels — ion channels that allow potassium to pass across a cell membrane — in their neurons than rats that do not drink heavily. Chlorzoxazone was found to activate those SK channels, resulting in a loss of excitability of the nucleus accumbens, which plays a large part in addiction and pleasure as well as the suppression of alcohol consumption in heavy-drinking rats.

“Chlorzoxazone might be exactly the kind of drug to take the edge off that craving, without side effects.” Hopf said in a press release.

According to Hopf, the next step is clinical trials, which he said can be expected to begin immediately, as the drug has already been approved by the FDA.

Geneticists Gaze Into Gut Genome

UC Berkeley — Scientists at UC Berkeley have sequenced the genomes of microbes that exist within the gut of prematurely born infants in order to achieve a better understanding of the intestinal problems that commonly plague the population.

Researchers are still unsure if the diseases, including deadly necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, are caused by bacterial pathogens or imbalances within the population of organisms that live within the gut of premature infants.

As infants mature, the populations of organisms that reside in their gut change dynamically as various microbes compete for biological dominance. Babies born prematurely may have eccentricities in their cycle that lead to the proliferation of disease-causing bacteria, possibly resulting in illness.

According to assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Michael J. Morowitz, in order to gain a better understanding of the microbe populations, an analysis of normal, healthy microbial population dynamics is needed before disease-causing factors can be found.

“It’s become very apparent that there are some fundamental unanswered questions just about the colonization process under normal circumstances,” Morowitz said in a press release. “It’s really important to get a handle on what the normal process is first, and then, eventually, we can look closely at babies with NEC and see if they deviate from what appears to be the normal colonization process.”

Jill Banfield, a professor of earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, said in a press release that a full genome sequence is needed due to the possibility of even a few genes having strong implications for the character of the bacteria.

“We already know that just a few genes can make one strain a pathogen and one beneficial or commensal,” Banfield said. “We expect that a lot of the issues with the colonization process in the gut that leads to disease may be tracked to subtle differences in strains.”