LAB Notes

“Bath salt” psychosis

The use of psychoactive “bath salts” — illegal synthetic drugs not related to the colored crystalline compounds for softening bathwater — can induce a condition in the brain similar to that of patients suffering from psychosis, UF Health researchers have found. Use of the drugs, which contain derivatives of manmade cathinone — a stimulant found naturally in leaves of the khat shrub in Africa and the Middle East — has increased in the last decade, as some users falsely believe the substances are safe, non-addictive alternatives to drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Now, a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology shows that the synthetic bath-salt compound severely disrupts neural communications between brain regions. “It produced an effect very similar to psychosis that happens in schizophrenia and other disorders,” said lead researcher Marcelo Febo, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UF departments of psychiatry and neuroscience in the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida. . — Michelle Koidin Jaffee

Using chemistry to kill biofilms

Just as a piano tuner adjusts the tension of the strings for optimal sound, medicinal chemists at the UF College of Pharmacy are fine-tuning the structural positions of chemical compounds to find the most promising drug options for killing dangerous bacterial biofilms. An estimated 17 million Americans are affected by biofilm-associated bacterial infections annually. The biofilm-growing cells are largely resistant to conventional antibiotic treatments and can linger for months or even years. UF scientists recently discovered that a series of organic compounds called halogenated quinolines, or HQs, can kill dangerous bacterial biofilms present in recurring and chronic bacterial infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. In addition, researchers identified a way for chemists to better control the structural elements of HQ compounds, which improves the likelihood of developing them into biofilm-attacking drug molecules. — Matt Splett

New microscope, better diagnostics

UF Health is the first academic health center in Florida to receive a new electron microscope that will help pathologists more easily and effectively diagnose kidney diseases and certain types of cancer, among many other disorders. UF Health Pathology Laboratories, a full-service pathology resource for physicians throughout the southeastern United States, recently purchased and installed the electron microscope, called the JEOL JEM – 1400Plus, to further expand its on-site diagnostic capabilities. Electron microscopy plays an essential role in the diagnosis of kidney diseases, muscle and nerve disorders, specific types of cancer, cilia abnormalities, platelet disorders, lysosomal storage diseases and occupational and environmental diseases, as well as in many research applications. Electron microscopy can also identify microbial organisms, such as viruses, that are hard to identify by other means.  —Angelo Biondini