Aspirin, cannabis, and sensors you can swallow

Medical Minutes

Aspirin use may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

An aspirin a day may help keep Alzheimer’s away. A regimen of low-dose aspirin potentially may reduce plaques in the brain, which will reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk and protect memory, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center. They have just published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience suggesting that regular aspirin use may have significant brain benefits.

“The results of our study identifies a possible new role for one of the most widely used, common, over-the-counter medications in the world,” said study senior author Kalipada Pahan, PhD, who is a professor of neurological sciences, biochemistry and pharmacology in Rush Medical College, Chicago, Illinois.

Alzheimer’s disease affects up to 1 in 10 Americans age 65 or older. To date, the FDA has approved very few treatments of Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia and the medications that exist only provide limited symptomatic relief. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease progression is unknown. However, poor disposal of the toxic protein amyloid beta in the brain is a leading mechanism in dementia and memory loss. Activating the cellular machinery responsible for removing waste from the brain has emerged as a promising strategy for slowing Alzheimer’s disease.

Amyloid beta forms clumps called amyloid plaques, which harm connections between nerve cells and are one of the major signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Pahan and his colleagues were able to show that aspirin decreases amyloid plaque formation in mice by stimulating lysosomes, which are components that help clear cellular debris. “Understanding how plaques are cleared is important to developing effective drugs that stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Pahan.

A protein called TFEB is considered the master regulator of waste removal. The researchers gave aspirin orally for a month to genetically modified mice with Alzheimer’s pathology, then evaluated the amount of amyloid plaque in the parts of the brain affected most by Alzheimer’s disease. They found that the aspirin medications augmented TFEB, stimulated lysosomes and decreased amyloid plaque pathology in the mice.

“This research study adds another potential benefit to aspirin’s already established uses for pain relief and for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases,” said Pahan. “More research needs to be completed, but the findings of our study has major potential implications for the therapeutic use of aspirin in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses.”

Swallowed sensor can tell if you are sick

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created an ingestible sensor to non-invasively monitor indicators of disease in the stomach and intestines. The capsule carries genetically engineered bacteria that sense specific substances in the gut. The other components

built into the one-and-a-half-inch capsule include phototransistors, a custom integrated circuit, a small battery, and a radio transmitter.

This is the first demonstration of the technology, and it uses bacteria that were genetically engineered to sense blood in the gut. If there is blood present, the bacteria will glow. The phototransistor detects the glow, triggering the radio transmitter to send a signal to a computer or smartphone, reporting that blood has been detected.

The test was done in pigs, which were first fed a dilute solution containing traces of blood. The sensor successfully sensed and reported by radio signal that there was blood in the stomach of the pig.

“This first test for sensing bleeding from an ulcer shows the potential for this type of device to be used to avoid invasive procedures, such as endoscopy,” said senor author Dr. Timothy K. Lu, who is an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. “Following ingestion of the capsule, physicians would know within minutes if there was bleeding and could initiate treatment.”

One goal of the research is to reduce the size of the device, so it is easier to swallow. In addition, the research team is expanding this platform to use bacteria that have been genetically engineered to sense a sulfur compound, an indicator of Crohn’s disease. The researchers also are investigating a molecule called AHL, which would indicate the presence of gastrointestinal infections.

Adult cannabis usage continues to increase

Refined growing techniques are leading to more customized forms of cannabis that are being used to treat a host of medical conditions. Some older adults are using it to reduce anxiety and others are using it as a sleep aid. A new study shows that older adults in growing numbers are using cannabis on a daily basis. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have found that American adults have increasingly used cannabis daily since 2007.

The legal status of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use rapidly evolved between 2007 and 2014, with the number of states with medical cannabis laws doubling from 12 to 24. Today, that number is even higher.

“Increases in daily and nondaily cannabis use among adults after 2007 could be due to increasingly permissive cannabis legislation, attitudes, and lower risk perception,” said study investigator Pia M. Mauro, PhD, who is an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, New York, New York.

Using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a survey of individuals ages 12 and older, the researchers examined trends in cannabis use among six age categories between 2002 and 2014. They compared change over time to identify ages that may have disproportionately increased use of cannabis. Daily use was defined as 300 days or more in the past year.

“We saw a steady increase in more frequent use among people who reported cannabis use” said Mauro. “We found significant increases in daily cannabis use across adult age categories after 2007 that contrasted with stable prevalence before 2007.”

Middle-age adults ages 50 to 64 were the only group with increases in nondaily cannabis use both before and after 2007. If trends continue, prevalence estimates of cannabis use among ages 50 to 64 could surpass those of adults ages 35 to 49.

“Research about the patterns and consequences of cannabis use in baby boomers in particular is needed, since use is high in this birth cohort and is expected to continue to increase,” said Martins. “Moreover, significant increases in nondaily cannabis use among adults 65 and older defy perceptions that older adults do not use cannabis.”

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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