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National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Scientists Find a Virus That Can Cause Celiac Disease

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National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A virus previously considered harmless may trigger celiac disease in people predisposed to the condition. A report on the virus’s effects was published online today in the journal Science.

Experts estimate that celiac disease affects 1 in 133 people in the United States, although many of those people remain undiagnosed. (It's not the same thing as non-celiac wheat sensitivity.) When these people swallow something that contains gluten, their immune systems go haywire and begin attacking their own guts. This can cause not only abdominal pain, nausea, and bowel issues, but also difficulty absorbing nutrients. In kids, this could lead to stunted growth, weight loss, and delayed puberty.

Previous research found that celiac disease is genetic, in that a person is either genetically predisposed to get it or they aren’t. But most people with celiac-associated gene mutations don’t get celiac disease, and scientists didn’t know why.

One possibility is that the disease needs a jump-start—some sort of zap to the immune system. Ordinarily, reovirus would not be a candidate. It’s a common-enough pathogen, and doctors have long considered a reovirus infection to be harmless.

Researchers studying the virus began to suspect otherwise during a series of recent experiments on mice. The scientists had infected mice with two different strains of the virus. The mice given the first strain were fine, as was expected. Their immune systems switched on, but nothing went wrong.

The second strain was different. Mice who had been infected with this reovirus—one that commonly infects people, too—began getting sick when they consumed gluten. Their immune systems had switched on, then freaked out.

Senior author Bana Jabri of the University of Chicago said her team’s findings highlight the interconnectedness of pathogens, food triggers, and immunity.

“During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long-term consequences," Jabri said in a statement. "That's why we believe that once we have more studies, we may want to think about whether children at high risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated."

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
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There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

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