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"Ordering In," "Tough Nut," and "An App for Cancer Care"

Photo Credit: LubosHouska / Pixabay

Tough Nut

Everyone knows that nuts are a good source of protein and that they’re a heart-healthy choice for snacking. But, according to findings compiled by the U of M’s School of Public Health, one nut is better than the rest: walnuts. 

Researchers reviewed data from CARDIA—a long-term study that tracks cardiovascular disease beginning in early adulthood—including 20 years of diet history and 30 years of physical and clinical measurements. They discovered that people who ate walnuts when they were younger were more likely to be physically active, have a high-quality diet, and have better heart health as they aged. 

Why? Walnuts are the only tree nut to contain Omega-3 alpha linolenic acid, which researchers say may be good for both your heart and your brain. A serving of walnuts also contains other important nutrients, including fiber, protein, magnesium, and several antioxidants. 

"Nut consumers showed an advantage in relation to diet quality, but walnut consumers appear to have a better heart disease risk factor profile than the other groups, even after accounting for overall diet quality,” says Lyn Steffen, an associate professor in SPH and author of the study. 

Researchers note that while these results are encouraging, they should be confirmed through additional randomized and controlled clinical trials. 

This work first appeared in the July 30, 2022 issue of Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases

Ordering In 

Food delivery services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub have grown into a global business sector with annual revenues that are expected to surge to over $466 billion by 2026. Today, U of M researchers at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences are looking into the consequences and policy implications that may arise from this monumental lifestyle shift. 

“Covid-19 shifted much of the demand for food consumed away from home to food prepared away from home,” says Marc Bellemare, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics. “With lockdowns and other COVID-19 measures being lifted in many countries, this trend is reversing somewhat, but we have good reason to believe that newly acquired food habits are here to stay.” 

While this revolution in food delivery has created new jobs, they are often dangerous, with poor safety standards and high rates of traffic accidents. Researchers also point to the implications for migrant workers, especially in developing nations, as something that needs further study. They also earmarked environmental consequences of single-use packaging as an issue. 

There are nutritional challenges as well, from healthy diets to the amounts of food people eat when they order from restaurants. Among the questions that need to be addressed: Do people eat more or choose different foods when they order in instead of eating in a restaurant? 

While several countries have implemented new policies in response to the challenges in the new food delivery system, researchers say there is still work to be done to evaluate their effectiveness. 

This paper was originally published in the August 18, 2022 issue of Science.

 An App for Cancer Care

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a public primer on the ways diseases can mutate into new strains and variants. Now, a team led by U of M biomedical engineers has created an app that can simulate these complex molecular interactions so researchers can design more effectively targeted treatments for diseases that include not just Covid, but also cancer. 

Called MVsim, the app predicts the strength, speed, and selectivity of multivalent interactions, which involve molecules that have multiple binding sites. This information can be used to optimize the specificity of multivalent interactions so researchers can develop medicines that specifically target the cells in a tumor while not impacting non-cancerous cells— thereby lessening the side effects patients experience from treatment. 

MVsim technology also allows researchers to determine how the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s spike protein switches between a cell-infecting state and an immune-evading state. Researchers have identified ways to limit the infectivity of future variants, which they will be testing in the near future. 

“Multivalent drugs can target specific cells in a way that’s not possible with standard, monovalent drugs, but there are many variables to consider in their design, and much of the work in the field to date has been done through experimental trial and error,” says Casim Sarkar, senior author of the paper and a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

Originally published in the September 6, 2022 edition of Nature Communications

Huge thanks to the team at the University’s News Service for their help with these briefs.

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