ASPARTAME , the final verdict? By Sara Ibrahim

To many this is already a topic that has had enough exposure. Some of you are with and some are against.

Personally, if you asked me a couple months ago, I would have disregarded the topic, stating the obvious, that I wouldn’t mind since its zero calories.

A WIN situation, right? Well maybe.

I was intrigued to look further and deeper into it after one of my biochemistry lectures, that stated that Aspartame is actually nothing but a combination of two amino acids (protein building blocks), Aspartate and Phenylalanine. When I first heard this, I approached the professor with the generic question “but why then do they say that its harmful?”, with him saying that he doesn’t know, given form a biochemical point of view, it is harmless, this intrigued me more.

Let me break it down for you. Upon so much reading there are generally two point of views.

One group that defends Aspartame states that:

– It is nothing but natural 2 amino acids, thus the body treats it like any other protein component

– FDA , WHO (World Health Organization), ADA (American Dietetic Association), and AHA (American Heart Association) approved

– Research about it being associated with cancer is old, and have been set to question due to lack of sufficient scientific details

– Old research about it being associated with an increase in lung cancer, was wrongly dated, and wrongly associated, since only people above the age of 70 have shown an increase risk, yet back then, Aspartame have had barely been out in the market, and thus could not have been the reason

– Research done in labs, administering 100 times the allowed dosage, still showed no increased risk of cancer

The other group states however:

– It has been linked to eye problems including eye pain, blurred vision, dry eyes as well as a connection between aspartame and decreased eye vision

– Been linked to migraines and headaches. Some studies showed that people who consumed aspartame more often, had higher risk of migraines, and those who had migraines, have reported being free of pain after cutting artificial sweeteners, including aspartame

– Linked to stomach cramps and increased hunger. *

– Linked to increase in body weight. Studies have shown that since aspartame targets the same receptors as normal sugar, the brain doesn’t get the sufficient amount of energy (in Kcal) as per the sensation of sweeteners, which might in turn cause rewiring, which leads the brain to burn less calories (produce less ATP) with that particular threshold. In turn, affecting the catabolism of real sugar (real energy), causing weight gain

– Serious controversy among diabetics’ specialists. Since some studies showed that aspartame effects insulin sensitivity, causing the physicians to advice their patients to stay away from aspartame.

– some studies linked it to increase in mood disorders

– increased risk in seizures were also observed

– there were also a number of cases where hearing problems were reported.

*increased spurges of hunger could be related to the fact that was mentioned earlier regarding the taste receptors. As when the brain prepared the body for a certain amount of energy to be burned, and utilized, yet it gets non, this might cause the body to crave more in order to adjust for the misinterpretation of the message (the signals from the receptors)

From my personal experience, I have, after a long time, been able to pin down my sudden excruciating headache with the consumption of Diet sodas. However, I did think it has something to do with whatever is in the soda, yet, reading further on Aspartame, it might have been the case.

I my opinion, and this is from someone who have used sugar and artificial sweeteners alternatively, it depends on the body, but I say, better safe than sorry. To share with you what I thought were the strongest points on both arguments are; one is that Aspartame is nothing but a combination of amino acids, and as a Biochemist myself, I understand how OK this is. Yet, as someone who is also interested in the system/body as a whole, the point where the same receptors are triggered and, yet the energy is insufficient makes sense to me.

How I thought about it, is, we know that the body adapts to whatever you set it to. Your brain rewires. Your system adjusts. However, given our diverse intake form carbohydrates, to sugars, to sweeteners, to proteins and fats, the adapt might be detrimental in some respects. For example, continuous exposure to all the “sugar free”, “zero calories” food substitutes, which are usually high in artificial sweeteners, and specifically aspartame (widely used) along with continuous exposure to generic food in general; a combination of carbs to fats and proteins, then maybe this could be the reason why so many of us have problems losing weight and digesting real sugars, or even suffer from digestion problems, or etc.

I am leaving this to you to decide. Be your own judge. Stay objective.

As for me, I am taking major turns. I reduced my “artificial sweeteners” intake to the minimum, and trying to utilize other natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, or just plain sugar.


By Sara Ibrahim

Our Proteins are remarkable, but are even more so when we knew that they can conduct electricity, By Sara Ibrahim

When you think proteins, you think helices and sheets, or activation/ suppression, or even enzymatic activity. But have you ever thought Conduction/insulation? 

Back in April 2015, Kauffman and his group claimed that the electronic properties of the biomolecules are “precisely tuned to the transition point between a metal and an insulator”. 

To look at this closer, another group used a technique called the Huckel Hamiltonian method to the NMR spectra they selected from the protein Data Bank to calculate the HOMO/LUMO orbitals for proteins. Full study is in the link provided, though they did not address the amount of protein or biomolecules would be expected to be in the quantum critical state, they did mention however, that some essential steroids do fall into that category. 

Now, what’s interesting is that, in Oct 27, 2017, a paper was published saying that they caught a protein conducting electricity. 

Lindsay and his team are known to work with a technology called Recognition tunnelling which “threads single molecules down a nanopore like a thread through the eye of a needle”. It was 4 years ago when a graduate student decided to up the voltage, and that’s when the unbelievable happened. The protein started acting like a metal, with “remarkably high electronic conductance.” 

Ever since then, the lab team have been testing different phenomena, and trying to prove and disprove every route of hypothesis this finding can take, it was until Lindsay came across Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary biophysicist Gabor Vattay’s work. He had put forth the idea that proteins are “poised” at a special state between conduction and insulation based on Quantum mechanics. He had also proposed that an electrical fluctuation can kickstart a protein into being a conductor or an insulator. 

Lindsay’s finding supported his, he stated “Below a certain bias, it’s just an insulator, but when the fluctuations start kicking in, they are huge.”  

“In our experiments, we were seeing this weird behaviour in this huge protein conducting electricity, but it is not static. It’s a dynamic thing,” 

Refining the setup in further experimentations, the team was able to make a device that is able to switch the protein conductance on and off. 

So far however, Lindsay’s lab has been working with one protein, but we are hoping that this could ignite further research, and further finding which would enhance our understanding of proteins.  

Maybe with that, we get a step closer to treating neurological issues, and some diseases that have long persisted. 

By Sara Ibrahim

Mechanism Discovered that Allows Tumor Evasion from Immunotherapies, By Sara Ibrahim

Mechanism discovered that allows tumor evasion from immunotherapies

In a study made at Ludwig Cancer Research, Eynde’s lab were working on proving that though cancer immunotherapies were at time successful, the cancer immunotherapy that is based on checkpoint blockade in cancer is still ineffective. In their paper that was published on November 10th of 2017, they explained that they used autochthonous TiRP melanoma , model , which repeats the tumoral resistance observed in humans.

Immunotherapy is “treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response” . immune cells that are recruited to the tumor usually induce apoptosis (cell death) using the Killer T cells ; Regulatory or cytotoxic cells that originate in the bone marrow as part of the immune system.

In the paper they identify the specific molecular interaction; the interaction between FAS ( a protein on T cells) and its ligand, and how this binding “could be disrupted to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies.”

Van den Eynde suggests that “If you just inject a million tumor cells in a mouse to create a tumor, you do not recapitulate this process–the interplay between the host and the tumor, the immune response that starts but then gets dampened by the tumor, or the tumor’s ultimate escape from that response.” He also states that this is what happens in clinical situations, there is no time given for the tumor to develop mechanisms to avoid the immune attack.

The research team engineered a mouse that is able to express a known antigen called P1A and a cancer-causing gene when triggered with a specific drug to be able to recreate the process. After inducing the engineered mouse with the melanoma tumor, the researchers studied the effects of cancer vaccines against the antigen P1A, and various checkpoint blockade therapies that was essentially an attack on the cancer cells via the T cells. they followed that by adoptive T Cell therapy (ACT); where T cells directed to the tumor is infused to the subject (mouse).

The results were shocking, when the ACT was translated into mice to generate tumors, the cell therapy managed to clear the transplanted tumor, however it did not affect the tumor growth in the model Eynde and his colleagues were working on. He said “To my great surprise, even injecting 10 million activated T cells specific to the P1A antigen did not affect tumor growth in this induced tumor model…We found that in the induced tumors, about half of the T cells were already apoptotic four days after ACT… This explained why they did not persist: The induced tumor behaves like a sink for these T cells. That does not happen in the transplanted tumors.”

Due to the results, and given that the cancer cells in both induced and transplanted tumors were the same, they tested for differences. The researchers found out that there is the polymorphonuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cell (PMN-MDSC) was only present in the induced tumors.

“MDSCs are a family of immune cells that are known to support the immune invasion in variety of ways.”

The PMN_MDSCs in the induced tumors shows high levels of FAS-ligand; a surface protein which induced T cell death when it binds its receptors on T cells. The study shows that “depleting the OMN- MDSC or blocking the FAS-ligand binding to its receptor restored the ability to kill induced tumors

Knowing this would aid in developing and improving the drugs that are already under process, meanwhile Eynde and his team continue to work hard to try and discover more mechanisms.

BY: Sara Ibrahim AJ

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