Levitating cells, gender and pain, the high price of living longer and our gut response to antibiotics. This week in Abstract Science.

The Sex Divide in Pain

(Nature, 6/29/2015, Moheb Costandi)

A surprising biological divide discovered in mice could explain why so many of those experimental pain compounds fail in clinical trials. The study, conducted by the University of Alabama and McGill University, found that the microglia—central nervous system cells that function as macrophages—operate differently in males and females. The findings appeared this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience. In research models designed to induce pain, three different drugs that inhibit microglia function reversed pain sensitization in male mice but not in female mice. Whether the murine results apply to humans is not known, but the study does stress the importance of including equal numbers of men and women in such studies, pain experts noted.

Cellular Uprising

(Science, 6/29/2015, Kelly Servick)

Bioengineers and geneticists have designed a device that could be a game changer in the study of cell behavior. The Stanford University team devised a magnetic field capable of suspending a single living cell between magnets and measuring its density based on how high it floats. Findings describing the levitating cells appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and immediately created a buzz. Scientists say the work could help to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy ones or measure how cells change when exposed to drugs.

Guttural Reaction to Antibiotics

(The Scientist, 6/30/2015, Anna Azolinsky)

Scientists had already shown that it was possible to fatten baby male mice by simply giving their pregnant and nursing mothers low doses of penicillin. Now, new findings appearing this week in Nature Communications suggest that even short pulses of widely used antibiotics can lead to long-term development changes in mouse pups, including increased body mass and bone growth and changes to the gut microbiota. To reach this conclusion, researchers alternated doses of amoxicillin, the number one prescribed pediatric antibiotic and tylosin, then fed mice a high-fat diet several days after treatment. The tylosin resulted in changes to gut microbes that lasted for several months, while amoxicillin treatment led to shorter-term changes that only lasted a week.

The Price of Living Longer

(The Washington Post, 6/30/2015, Ana Swanson)

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare represented a major victory for advocates of the Affordable Care Act, but much more needs to be done to make sure patients can afford the treatment they need, advocates say. A Washington Post article notes, for instance, that even those with good health insurance are facing financial hardship. Citing a drug pricing research firm, the article noted that the combined prices for brand, generic and specialty drugs rose 10.9% in 2014 compared to 2013, and that the number of Americans taking expensive prescription drugs for life-threatening diseases like lupus, HIV, cancer and hepatitis C has been rising quickly. Last year, 576,000 Americans took at least $50,000 worth of prescription drugs, up from only 352,000 the year before, according Express Scripts.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery