innovation

Nov 182017
 

This is an artist’s rendition of bipolar-membrane design for ionic electricity generation.
CREDIT
William White

Modern solar cells, which use energy from light to generate electrons and holes that are then transported out of semiconducting materials and into external circuits for human use, have existed in one form or another for over 60 years. Little attention has been paid, however, to the promise of using light to drive another electricity-generating process — the transport of oppositely charged protons and hydroxides obtained by dissociating water molecules. Researchers in America report such a design, which has promising application in producing electricity to turn brackish water drinkable, on November 15 in the journal Joule.

The researchers, led by senior author Shane Ardo, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Materials Science at the University of California, Irvine, write that they have crafted an “ionic analog to the electronic pn-junction solar cell,” harnessing light to exploit the semiconductor-like behavior of water and generate ionic electricity. They hope to use such a mechanism to manufacture a device that would directly desalinate saltwater upon exposure to sunlight.

“There had been other experiments dating back to the 1980s that photoexcited materials so as to pass an ionic current through them, and theoretical studies said that those currents should be able to reach the same levels as their electronic analogs, but none of them worked all that well,” says first author William White, a graduate student in Ardo’s research group.

In this case, the researchers attained more success by allowing water to permeate through two ion-exchange membranes, one that mostly transported positively charged ions (cations) like protons and one that mostly transported negatively charged ions (anions) like hydroxides, functioning as a pair of chemical gates to attain charge separation. Shining a laser on the system prompted light-sensitive organic dye molecules bound to the membrane to liberate protons, which then transported to the more acidic side of the membrane and produced a measurable ionic current and voltages of over 100 mV in some instances (60 mV on average).

Despite crossing the 100 mV photovoltage threshold at times, the level of electric current that the double-membrane system can achieve remains its chief limitation. The photovoltage would need to be magnified by more than another factor of two to reach the ~200 mV mark necessary to desalinate seawater, a target that the researchers are optimistic about hitting.

“It all comes down to the fundamental physics of how long the charge-carriers persist before recombining to form water,” Ardo says. “Knowing the properties of water, we are able to more intelligently design one of these bipolar-membrane interfaces so that we can maximize the voltage and the current.”

In the long run, desalination is just one possible application of the synthetic light-driven proton pump developed by the researchers. It could also have potential for interfacing with electronic devices, or even for powering signaling in brain-machine interfaces and other “cyborg cells” that combine living tissue and artificial circuity, a role that cannot be filled by traditional solar cells, which are unstable in biological systems.

“We have had a lot of ideas about what this technology could be used for; it’s just a question of learning enough to cross between fields and make the device work for those intended applications,” says Ardo. “I think this is just another example of what you can do when you have scientists who are trained across many disciplines and think outside the box.”

Learn more: Ionic ‘solar cell’ could provide on-demand water desalination

 

The Latest on: Ionic solar cell

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Nov 182017
 

via YouTube

Researchers repurpose pain meds to kill cancer cells

Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have developed a computer program to find new indications for old drugs. The computer program, called DrugPredict, matches existing data about FDA-approved drugs to diseases, and predicts potential drug efficacy. In a recent study published in Oncogene, the researchers successfully translated DrugPredict results into the laboratory, and showed common pain medications—like aspirin—can kill patient-derived epithelial ovarian cancer cells.

In the new study, DrugPredict suggested non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, could have applications for epithelial ovarian cancer. The researchers exposed patient-derived epithelial ovarian cancer cells growing in their laboratory to a specific NSAID, indomethacin, and confirmed the DrugPredict finding. Indomethacin killed both drug-resistant and drug-sensitive epithelial ovarian cancer cells. Interestingly, cisplatin-resistant epithelial ovarian cancer cells were most sensitive to indomethacin. When the researchers added chemotherapy drugs to the experiments, the cancer cells died even faster. The findings could represent the first step toward a new therapy regimen for epithelial ovarian cancer.

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women, killing approximately 14,000 women annually in the United States. Available therapies are only moderately successful, with more than 70 percent of women dying within five years of diagnosis. According to the authors, part of the challenge in developing new ovarian cancer drugs lies in escalating clinical trial costs and lengthy drug development timelines. Programs like DrugPredict could “reposition” FDA-approved medications for new indications—a more efficient strategy.

“Traditional drug discovery process takes an average of 14 years and billions of dollars of investment for a lead anti-cancer drug to make the transition from lab to clinic,” said study first author Anil Belur Nagaraj, PhD, research associate at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “Drug re-positioning significantly shortens the long lag-phase in drug discovery and also reduces the associated cost.”

DrugPredict was developed by co-first author QuanQiu Wang of ThinTek, LLC, and co-senior author Rong Xu, PhD, associate professor of biomedical informatics in the department of population and quantitative health sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The program works by connecting computer-generated drug profiles—including mechanisms of action, clinical efficacy, and side effects— with information about how a molecule may interact with human proteins in specific diseases, such as ovarian cancer.

DrugPredict searches databases of FDA-approved drugs, chemicals, and other naturally occurring compounds. It finds compounds with characteristics related to a disease-fighting mechanism. These include observable characteristics—phenotypes—and genetic factors that may influence drug efficacy. Researchers can collaborate with Xu to input a disease into DrugPredict and receive an output list of drugs—or potential drugs—with molecular features that correlate with strategies to fight the disease.

“For any given disease, DrugPredict simultaneously performs both a target-based, and phenotypic screening of over half a million chemicals, all in just a few minutes,” Xu said.

In the Oncogene study, DrugPredict produced a prioritized list of 6,996 chemicals with potential to treat epithelial ovarian cancer. At the top of the list were 15 drugs already FDA-approved to treat the cancer, helping to validate the DrugPredict approach. Of other FDA-approved medications on the list, NSAIDs ranked significantly higher than other drug classes. The researchers combined the DrugPredict results with anecdotal evidence about NSAIDs and cancer before confirming DrugPredict results in their laboratory experiments.

The program could help identify safe alternatives for diseases—like epithelial ovarian cancer—that desperately require new treatment options. “The primary advantage of drug re-positioning over traditional drug development is that it starts from compounds with well-characterized pharmacology and safety profiles. This significantly reduces the risk of adverse effects and attrition in clinical trials,” Xu said.

“By combining my laboratory’s expertise in ovarian cancer biology and Dr. Xu’s expertise in bioinformatics, we were able to uncover a potentially novel drug approach to treat ovarian cancer,” said co-senior author Analisa DiFeo, PhD, the Norma C. and Albert I. Geller Designated Professor of Ovarian Cancer Research and assistant professor in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Said Nagaraj, “Currently there are no drugs targeting cancer stem cells being evaluated in ovarian cancer clinical trials. Our results provide a rationale to test NSAIDs like Indomethacin as a novel drug in ovarian cancer clinical trials.”

DiFeo is planning to test indomethacin’s ability to specifically target ovarian cancer stem cells in patient tumors in a phase 1 clinical trial. She will conduct the trial in collaboration with Steven Waggoner, MD, division chief of gynecologic oncology at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Learn more: Computer Program Finds New Uses for Old Drugs

 

The Latest on: Predictive computer program
  • 10 ways we’ll move beyond the keyboard
    on November 17, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    Since the very first days of the computer age we’ve been tinkering with how ... The basic approach is similar to predictive functions in email or text apps. Combined with improved microphone technology, these algorithms have made efficient and accurate ... […]

  • From the clay tablet to predictive text: how tech shapes literature
    on November 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    “Type ‘I was born’”, suggested the Twitter account @therealbradg this month, “and then let your predictive write your autobiography ... of Thrones books on WordStar, a program he runs on a DOS-era computer with no internet connection ... […]

  • Client insights drive predictive power
    on November 14, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Cookies are a feature of your web browser software that allows servers to recognise the computer used to access a website. This information is collected on an aggregate basis. None of this information is associated with you as an individual. If you ... […]

  • No, Users Shouldn't Write Their Own Software
    on November 14, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Salesforce last week announced “myEinstein” self-service artificial intelligence features to let non-technical users build predictive models and ... But soon they realized that you can run a computer using software someone else wrote!* […]

  • With CAPTCHA toppled, it’s time to rethink artificial intelligence
    on November 9, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Now, every heralded improvement to a computer program is some kind of overall ... In the late 1980s, my company introduced a predictive maintenance module for our maintenance management program that used what is now called “narrow” AI. […]

  • ICE Wants to Use Predictive Policing Technology for Its “Extreme Vetting” Program
    on August 8, 2017 at 10:54 am

    If this sounds familiar, that’s because it basically describes predictive policing software, which typically uses algorithms ... he looked like he practiced Islam and was looking at his computer. Another report detailed how a known photographer was ... […]

  • Predictive computer models have helped Chicago curb shootings by up to 39 percent
    on August 7, 2017 at 7:59 pm

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  • Chicago Police Claim Success Capping Crime in Violent Neighborhoods Using New Predictive Software
    on August 7, 2017 at 1:25 am

    and for some time technologists have been attempting to create computer programs to help police predict and interdict crime. And now, as far as some District Commanders for the Chicago Police are concerned, such predictive software is an important new ... […]

  • Sending the Police Before There’s a Crime
    on September 10, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    They were directed to the parking structure by a computer program that had predicted that car burglaries were especially likely there that day. The program is part of an unusual experiment by the Santa Cruz Police Department in predictive policing ... […]

  • Is predictive coding better than lawyers at document review?
    on January 22, 2013 at 3:30 am

    A lawyer who pushed for and obtained a judge’s order mandating predictive coding in a civil dispute ... The information was then used to develop algorithms for a computer search of the remaining documents. The program turned up about 173,000 documents ... […]

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Nov 182017
 

NUS Engineering researchers developed a novel microfibre sensor for real-time healthcare monitoring and diagnosis. The sensor can be woven into a glove to monitor heart rate and blood pressure.

Wide-ranging applications include monitoring of vital signs and bandage pressure sensing

A research team from National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a soft, flexible and stretchable microfibre sensor for real-time healthcare monitoring and diagnosis. The novel sensor is highly sensitive and ultra-thin with a diameter of a strand of human hair. It is also simple and cost-effective to mass produce.

Wearable and flexible technology has gained significant interest in recent years, leading to tremendous progress in soft and wearable sensors. In tandem with this trend, microfluidic devices using conductive liquid metals have been increasingly employed as wearable pressure and strain sensors. However, current devices have various limitations – for instance, they may not fit well on the skin or are uncomfortable to wear.

“Our novel microfibre sensor can hardly be felt on the skin and conforms extremely well to skin curvatures. Despite being soft and tiny, the sensor is highly sensitive and it also has excellent electrical conductivity and mechanical deformability. We have applied the sensor for real-time monitoring of pulse waveform and bandage pressure. The results are very promising,” said Professor Lim Chwee Teck from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering, who is the leader of the research team.

Real-time monitoring of pulse waveform

The smart microfibre sensor developed by the NUS Engineering team comprises a liquid metallic alloy, which serves as the sensing element, encapsulated within a soft silicone microtube. The sensor measures an individual’s pulse waveform in real-time, and the information can be used to determine one’s heart rate, blood pressure and stiffness in blood vessels.

“Currently, doctors will monitor vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure when patients visit clinics. This requires multiple equipment such as heart rate and blood pressure monitors, which are often bulky and may not provide instantaneous feedback. As our sensor functions like a conductive thread, it can be easily woven into a glove which can be worn by doctors to track vital signs of patients in real-time. This approach offers convenience and saves time for healthcare workers, while patients can enjoy greater comfort,” added Prof Lim.

The microfibre sensor could also be beneficial for patients suffering from atherosclerosis, which is the thickening and stiffening of the arteries caused by the accumulation of fatty streaks. Over time, these streaks accumulate into plaques which may completely block off blood flow or break apart, resulting in organ failure or may trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Existing methods of detecting plaque in blood vessels – such as computerised tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging – would require expensive and bulky equipment. Such tests need to be done in hospitals by trained medical professionals.

As plaque will change the stiffness of the blood vessel and hence the pulse waveform, the novel sensor developed by the NUS Engineering team could be easily used to detect plaque before it accumulates to a size big enough to block or rupture the blood vessel.

Earlier this year, the NUS team published the development of the microfibre sensor and its application for pulse monitoring in scientific journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Advanced Materials Technologies, respectively.

Bandage pressure monitoring

Another clinical application of the smart microfibre sensor is for the management of venous ulcers, which are caused by poor blood circulation. They occur when the veins in the legs could not push blood back to the heart as well as they should. As blood pools in the veins, there is increased pressure in the veins, causing progressive skin damage over time.

Compression therapy is a common treatment for venous ulcer. Depending on the severity of the ulcers, bandages with varying amount of pressure have to be applied on the legs of patients for months to even a year. If the bandage is too tight, it could result in tissue damage, but if the bandage is too loose, the healing could be ineffective. Currently, healthcare workers tend to estimate the pressure in the bandage at the point of application, based on training and experience.

As the pressure provided by the bandage could change over time due to movements by the patient, accurate and continuous measurement of the bandage pressure in real-time is therefore important to ensure that healing takes place effectively.

Being ultra-thin and highly flexible, the NUS Engineering team’s microfibre sensor can be easily woven into bandages to monitor the pressure that is being delivered and maintained. This could potentially improve the effectiveness of the treatment and reduce the time required for healing. In future, patients could also track the bandage pressure using an app, and the information could be shared with doctors who could remotely monitor the progress of the treatment.

The team is currently collaborating with the Singapore General Hospital to test the application of the microfibre sensor for bandage pressure monitoring.

Commercialisation and further research

“Our microfibre sensor is highly versatile, and could potentially be used for a wide range of applications, including healthcare monitoring, smart medical prosthetic devices and artificial skins. Uniquely designed to be durable and washable, our novel invention is highly attractive for promising applications in the emerging field of wearable electronics,” said Prof Lim.

The team has filed a patent for its smart microfibre sensor. Researchers are currently refining the sensor design and reducing the size of its accessories to improve the user-friendliness of the device. The NUS team had recently won the Most Innovative Award at the Engineering Medical Innovation Global Competition held in Taipei in September 2017.

While the NUS researchers continue to explore new applications of the microfibre sensor, they are also keen to work with commercial partners to bring their novel sensor to market.

Learn more: NUS researchers develop smart, ultra-thin microfibre sensor for real-time healthcare monitoring and diagnosis

 

The Latest on: Microfibre sensor

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Nov 182017
 

via Boston Dynamics

From Boston Dynamics:

Atlas is the latest in a line of advanced humanoid robots we are developing.  Atlas’ control system coordinates motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace.  Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint.

The Atlas hardware takes advantage of 3D printing to save weight and space, resulting in a remarkable compact robot with high strength-to-weight ratio and a dramatically large workspace.  Stereo vision, range sensing and other sensors give Atlas the ability to manipulate objects in its environment and to travel on rough terrain.  Atlas keeps its balance when jostled or pushed and can get up if it tips over.

The Latest on: Atlas robot
  • Watch: Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot is now so agile it can do backflips
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    Boston Dynamics' robots often cause those concerned about a Terminator-style future to sweat slightly. But despite several new iterations of its Atlas robot over the years, the machine still stumbled around like it had knocked back one too many vodka shots. […]

  • Watch Boston Robotics' Atlas robot nail a backflip
    on November 18, 2017 at 2:03 am

    If you're the sort of person who worries that robots are about to take over the world, you won't get much reassurance from a new YouTube video. It shows Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot deftly performing a series of box jumps before pausing briefly and ... […]

  • Atlas Robot Becomes a Gymnast
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    If robots eventually plan to take control of Earth, they not only need to surpass human intelligence, they also need to move just like, if not better than we do. Otherwise, how else are they going to hunt us, right? Boston Dynamics, which was sold by ... […]

  • Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Can Do Backflips Now
    on November 17, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Boston Dynamics‘ Atlas humanoid robot can now perform backflips and is able to jump over blocks. The pioneering robotics company, which was recently sold to SoftBank from Google’s parent company Alphabet, released a new video on Thursday of Atlas ... […]

  • Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot can backflip now
    on November 17, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Boston Dynamics released a video of its humanoid robot Atlas hopping and doing backflips. It's the second time this week the company has teased an updated robot. […]

  • This Atlas robot can do CrossFit better than you
    on November 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

    They're going to take over our gym membership now too? Just in time for the holidays, the researchers at Boston Dynamics published a new video showing that robots won't just be taking over our jobs. It turns out the team's Atlas "humanoid" robot, which ... […]

  • WATCH: Breakthrough as Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot does backflips
    on November 17, 2017 at 6:13 am

    Scientists have released footage showing a new robot jumping and even doing a backflip as it performs a gymnastics routine. In the video, the latest version of Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot jumps between platforms and turns in midair before sticking the ... […]

  • Watch Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot nail a backflip
    on November 17, 2017 at 5:02 am

    We've grown accustomed to seeing Boston Dynamics' impressive line-up of robots strutting about in periodic video updates, each more terrifying than the last. But, every once in a while, the company unleashes a clip so awesome you can't help but watch. […]

  • Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Does Backflips Now and It's Full-Tilt Insane
    on November 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Atlas, the hulking humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, now does backflips. I’ll repeat that. It’s a hulking humanoid that does backflips. Check out the video below, because it shows a hulking humanoid doing a backflip. And that’s after it leaps from ... […]

  • Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS Robot Is Now a Backflipping Cyborg Supersoldier
    on November 16, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    10 minutes ago, I was cautiously optimistic that one day we’d live and work side-by-side with robots in perfect harmony. Then Boston Dynamics posted a video of its ATLAS humanoid robot performing incredible jumps and backflips, and now I’m ready to go ... […]

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Nov 172017
 

University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre

Experiments conducted on worms, zebrafish, mice and, finally, on human subjects in a limited clinical trial conclude that pimozide may be effective in treating what’s known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

Researchers from the University of Montréal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) and the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary have discovered a medication that could make it possible to treat individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

An article published today in JCI Insight concludes that pimozide was found to be safe and over the short term, preliminary data shows that it could stabilize the progression of ALS. This neurodegenerative disease normally leads to a progressive paralysis of the skeletal muscles and, on average, three years after the onset of symptoms, to death.

“This medication alleviates the symptoms of ALS in animal models,” said Alex Parker, a CRCHUM researcher and professor at Université de Montréal. “Riluzole and edaravone, the drugs currently used, have modest effects. Other studies must be conducted to confirm our results, but we believe that we’ve found a medication that may prove to be more effective in improving patients’ quality of life.”

FROM WORM TO MAN

The story behind the discovery began six years ago with a little millimeter-long nematode worm called C. elegans. In his laboratory, Parker genetically modified the worms so that they would exhibit aspects of the human form of ALS. Simultaneously, his colleague Pierre Drapeau did the same thing to another animal, the zebrafish, a tiny tropical fish only 5 centimetres long.

The two scientists obtained funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to test medications on these worms and fish born with ALS. “We sifted through a library of 3,850 molecules approved for the treatment of other diseases, and found a class of antipsychotic drugs that stabilize mobility in worms and fish,” said Drapeau, a CRCHUM researcher, professor at Université de Montréal and principal investigator on the study. “Pimozide works especially well in preventing paralysis in fish by preserving the neuromuscular junction.”

Subsequently, Université de Montréal Professor Richard Robitaille performed electrophysiological tests on mice in his laboratory and reached the same conclusion. Thus, pimozide was shown to maintain neuromuscular function in three different animal models: worms, fish and mice.

At the annual ALS Canada Research Forum in 2012, the researchers met Dr. Lawrence Korngut, an Associate Professor at the CSM, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and Director of the Calgary ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Clinic. “Pimozide is a drug that has been well-known for 50 years,” the neurologist said. “It was approved for treating certain types of psychiatric conditions, like schizophrenia, and costs only 9 cents per pill. Other recent studies have shown genetic links between schizophrenia and ALS. The next logical step was to test it on human volunteers with ALS.”

In 2015, the first preclinical trial for ALS was launched in Canada with a small group of 25 patients who had ALS. Funding was provided by the Quirk family of Calgary, by the HBI, and the Clinical Research Unit at UCalgary.

“We found the highest dose most likely to be tolerated in individuals with ALS – a lower dose than that used in other conditions – and we have preliminary proof showing that pimozide may be useful,” said Korngut.

The initial clinical trial was modest in scope. But after only six weeks, the researchers had a first indication of the drug’s efficacy. Loss of control of the thenar muscles, located in the palm of the hand between thumb and index finger, is usually one of the first signs of ALS. For patients who took pimozide, this function remained stable. This observation is tempered by the very limited size and length of the clinical trial.

“For us, this is an indication that we found the right therapeutic target,” said Drapeau. “Pimozide acts directly on the neuromuscular junction, as shown in our animal models. We don’t yet know whether pimozide has a curative effect, or whether it only preserves normal neuromuscular function to at least stabilize the disease. This is also the first time that a potential drug for human patients was discovered based on basic research on small organisms such as worms and fish.”

Now comes the next step: a phase II clinical trial on 100 volunteers, funded by the “The Ice Bucket Challenge” through a partnership between ALS Canada and Brain Canada to begin in the next few weeks. Headed by Korngut in Calgary and conducted in nine hospital centres across Canada, the study aims to confirm that pimozide is safe and to measure, over a six-month period, its effect on the progression of the disease and its symptoms and on patients’ quality of life.

Daniel Rompré, 47, father of two teenage girls, hopes to participate in the new study. He was diagnosed with ALS in March 2016. The muscles of his upper body are getting weaker, he is beginning to have trouble speaking, and he can no longer use his left arm. “It is hard to maintain a positive outlook,” Rompré said. “You ask yourself: ‘Why me?’ But at least it’s encouraging to see that research is advancing. There has been more progress in the last five years than in 100 years of research on the disease.”

It is too soon to draw firm conclusions about the safety and efficacy of pimozide. “At this stage, people with ALS should not use this medication,” Korngut emphasized. “We must first confirm that it is really useful and safe in the longer term. It is also important to be aware that pimozide is associated with significant side effects. Therefore, it should only be prescribed in the context of a research study.”

Learn more: DISCOVERY OF A PROMISING MEDICATION FOR AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS (ALS)

 

The Latest on: Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Ballet La Crosse dancers step up for 'A Little Princess'
    on November 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

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  • Joe Medley: Apparent CTE breakthrough raises important questions
    on November 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    It’s been 40 or so years since they played, but nope. That’s how it felt in 2015, when I heard that former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeil died of ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He, Jeff Siemon and Matt Blair were the Vikings ... […]

  • Remembering Chris Rosati
    on November 17, 2017 at 5:24 am

    Rosati, who suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), inspired countless others with his passion to perform random acts of kindness. Steve Hartman remembers Rosati, who died this past week at age 46. […]

  • Acting Out for ALS staging classic
    on November 17, 2017 at 3:18 am

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  • Famous People Who Have or Had ALS or Lou Gehrigs Disease
    on November 16, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's Disease, or Maladie de Charcot) is a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that ... […]

  • The Top 6 Social Media Campaigns That Changed Advertising
    on November 16, 2017 at 11:50 am

    So, what is the Ice Bucket Challenge and the ALS Association all about? Well, ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (known more colloquially as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a condition that affects the body’s ability to move and function, and can ... […]

  • CTE breakthrough: Researchers found disease in living ex-NFL player
    on November 16, 2017 at 6:55 am

    But by age 59, and after losing several jobs due to poor performance, he showed signs of the disease, including memory loss, depression and a lack of impulse control. He was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s ... […]

  • Discovery of a Promising Medication for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
    on November 16, 2017 at 6:20 am

    at the University of Calgary have discovered a medication that could make it possible to treat individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. An article published today in JCI Insight concludes that pimozide was found to ... […]

  • Yes, Lou Gehrig Had Lou Gehrig's Disease
    on November 18, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Catherine Wolf's feet used to point and flex in modern dance class. Now they rest motionless on the footrest of her wheelchair in jeweled ballerina flats. A matching beaded necklace swoops under a tube that pumps air into her lungs through a hole in her neck. […]

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Nov 172017
 

via Pinterest

The vast majority of children and adolescents who receive cognitive behavioural therapy treatment for OCD thrive and live without symptoms a year after the end of treatment. This is shown by new research from Aarhus University’s Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Risskov.

Some children and adolescents think that they will have an accident if they do not count all the lampposts on their way to school. Or cannot leave the house unless they have washed their hands precisely twenty-five times. They suffer from OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is an extremely stressful psychiatric disorder that affects between 0.25 and 4 per cent of all children. Fortunately, the treatment method – cognitive behavioural therapy – is both effective and well-documented. The hitherto largest research study of OCD treatment for children and adolescents aged 7-17 now shows that cognitive behavioural therapy also has a long-lasting effect. The Nordic research project, which involves researchers from Aarhus University and child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden, has shown that children and adolescents who benefited from the therapy were also free of patterns of compulsive behaviour and compulsive thoughts one year after the treatment ended.

“The study makes clear that cognitive behavioural therapy reaches beyond the treatment period. This knowledge is important, both for the practitioners, but not least for the affected children and their families,” says Per Hove Thomsen, one of the researchers behind the study and professor at Aarhus University and consultant at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Risskov. He is also the final author of the results, which have just been published in the scientific journal Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Normal development difficult with OCD

“OCD is a very difficult disorder which demands a colossal amount of the child in question. It is almost impossible to live a normal life as a child and teenager with a normal level of development, if you need to wash your hands a hundred times a day in a particular way in order not to be killed, which is something that compulsive thinking can dictate. For the same reason, early intervention is necessary before the disorder has disabling consequences in adulthood,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

The children from the study were treated with cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a behavioural psychological treatment. Fundamentally it involves getting help to refrain from acting on compulsive thoughts and instead incorporating new thought patterns. The method also involves the whole family, as the effect is strengthened by the mother and father supporting the methods that the child is given to overcome the OCD.

Furthermore, according to Psychologist and PhD David R.M.A Højgaard, who is the lead author of the scientific article, once the treatment is completed a watchful eye should still be kept on the child or teenager.

“The results of the study indicate that to maintain the effect in the longer term you need to remain aware and detect OCD symptoms so you can nip them in the bud before they develop and become worse. This is done by offering booster sessions to refresh the treatment principles and thereby prevent OCD from getting a foothold again,” says David R.M.A Højgaard.

Not enough therapists

The collaboration with the Norwegian and Swedish child and adolescent psychiatry clinics has added knowledge that can be significant for the organisation of OCD treatment.

“The biggest challenge facing OCD treatment is that there are not enough specially trained therapists and treatment facilities to meet needs. The study shows that if the level of training of therapists is consolidated and if supervision is provided, then it is possible to provide treatment in an isolated corner of Norway that is just as effective as the treatment provided at a university clinic,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

The study is part of The Nordic Long Term OCD Treatment Study (NordLOTS) and comprises 269 children and adolescents with OCD from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The results showed that 92 per cent of the 177 children and teenagers who immediately benefited from the treatment were still healthy and free of symptoms one year after the treatment ended. Of these, 78 per cent had no clinical symptoms of OCD.

Learn more: COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WITH OCD WORKS IN THE LONG RUN

 

The Latest on: Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Why Online Therapy For Postpartum Depression Is Gaining Momentum
    on November 17, 2017 at 9:44 am

    The best form of treatment is a combination of medication and therapy, in particular cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) but women in Canada often have a hard time gaining access to a therapist due to a number of factors including therapist shortages ... […]

  • Could Dance Psychotherapy Have A Positive Influence On Your Wellbeing?
    on November 17, 2017 at 8:07 am

    “CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for instance, is very structured," she continues. "It can work for some people but sometimes it’s masking underlying difficulties and the triggers that cause that mental health decline.” For me, using my body ... […]

  • Take control of your hormones with simple lifestyle changes
    on November 17, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Last year, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists updated their advice for medical professionals on helping women cope with PMS, emphasising the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The guidelines also advise supplementation with ... […]

  • Ieso Digital Health Wins Prestigious Deloitte Fast 50 Awards 2017
    on November 17, 2017 at 3:03 am

    Ieso Digital Health, the UK's leading provider of online, evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy (IECBT) has today been named by Deloitte as one of the fifty fastest growing technology companies in the UK. Ieso's technology is transforming mental ... […]

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat OCD Has Long Lasting Effects
    on November 14, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Fortunately, the treatment method - cognitive behavioural therapy - is both effective and well-documented. The hitherto largest research study of OCD treatment for children and adolescents aged 7-17 now shows that cognitive behavioural therapy also has a ... […]

  • Traditional approaches, mind therapy can help achieve better mental health
    on November 5, 2017 at 4:50 am

    Dr Nimesh Desai, Director, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences ... "Traditional approach to mental healthcare involves combining therapy and medication. There is need to forge collaborative relationships between healthcare providers for ... […]

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Nov 172017
 

A piece of ordinary cloth (left) can become liquid repellent (right) simply with a layer of porous surface material (middle).

The dream of research and development on liquid-repellents is a structure that has robust liquid repellency, strong mechanical stability, and is inexpensive to produce on a commercial scale.

On liquid-repellent surfaces, liquid droplets bounce away instead of being stuck. These surfaces are important in many fields, such as water-repellent clothes and anti-fouling kitchenware. Used as drag-reduction coatings for water vehicles, these surfaces can even help with speeding up cargo ships and military equipment so as to save energy. The dream of research and development on liquid-repellents is a structure that has robust liquid repellency, strong mechanical stability, and is inexpensive to produce on a commercial scale. However, the functional outcomes of existing liquid-repellent surfaces have not been satisfactory, because of inadequacies of conventional structural design and fabrication approaches in engineering microstructures and properties of such surfaces.

The challenge was recently overcome by breakthrough research led by Professor Wang Liqiu at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) through the development of a robust liquid-repellent structure and the fabrication of porous surfaces by an innovative microfluidic-droplet-based technique. Materials such as textiles, metals, and glasses covered by a layer of this robust porous surface can then become liquid-repellent. The paper was recently published in academic journal Nature Communications (Zhu P. A., Kong T. T., Tang X. and Wang L. Q. 2017. Well-defined porous membranes for robust omniphobic surfaces via microfluidic emulsion templating, Nature Communications 8, 15823). With the new technology developed by the team, clothes would never get wet on rainy days in the future.

The team resolves effectively the conflict between liquid-repellency and mechanical stability by the springtail-cuticle-inspired design of liquid-repellent structures. Springtails are soil-dwelling arthropods whose habitats often experience rain and flooding. As a consequence, springtails evolve their cuticles with strong mechanical durability and robust liquid repellency to resist friction from soil particles and to survive in watery environments, respectively. Inspired by springtail cuticles, the research team designed porous surfaces composed of interconnected honeycomb-like micro-cavities with a re-entrant profile: interconnectivity ensures mechanical stability and re-entrant structure yields robust liquid-repellency.

Figure 1 Soil-dwelling springtails with dew (body length: ~2.5 mm).

Figure 1 Soil-dwelling springtails with dew (body length: ~2.5 mm).
(Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/302831402/in/album-72157594371411831/).
*For the press using this photo, please credit Brian Valentine.

Figure 2 Bio-inspired design of liquid-repellent structures with robust liquid-repellency. Schematic (a) and image (b) of the designed porous surface. (c) Photo of a water drop suspended on top of the porous surface. (d) repellency of 10 different liquids by the porous surface.

Figure 2 Bio-inspired design of liquid-repellent structures with robust liquid-repellency.
Schematic (a) and image (b) of the designed porous surface. (c) Photo of a water drop suspended on top of the porous surface. (d) repellency of 10 different liquids by the porous surface.

Robust liquid-repellent structure shows a 21-fold enhancement in mechanical stability
The robust liquid-repellent surfaces repel at least 10 types of liquid, including water, surfactant solutions, oils, and organic solvents (Figure 2d) and show an astounding over 21-fold enhancement in mechanical stability compared with discrete structures (Figure 3). The porous surfaces are capable of recovering their non-wetting state as well even if micro-cavities are partially wetted by water. The flexible surfaces can also be readily coated onto various objects for liquid-repellency.

Figure 3 Bio-inspired design of liquid-repellent structures with enhanced mechanical stability. (a) Intact structure of interconnected porous surface. (b) Intact discrete structure. (c-d) Damaged interconnected structures at (c) 8.6 kPa (kilopascal, the unit of pressure) and (d)11.5 kPa respectively. (e-f) Damaged discrete structures at (e) 0.4 kPa and (f)2.9 kPa respectively.

Figure 3 Bio-inspired design of liquid-repellent structures with enhanced mechanical stability.
(a) Intact structure of interconnected porous surface.
(b) Intact discrete structure.
(c-d) Damaged interconnected structures at (c) 8.6 kPa (kilopascal, the unit of pressure) and (d)11.5 kPa respectively.
(e-f) Damaged discrete structures at (e) 0.4 kPa and (f)2.9 kPa respectively.

Porous surface material just costs about HKD1 per square metre
The research team also developed an innovative microfluidic-droplet-based technique for the fabrication of porous surfaces
 which is very much similar to shaped-cookies made by baking molds. Here the molds are uniform micron-sized droplets that are produced by microfluidics technology with precise control over their size, structure, and composition. Molded by microfluidic droplets, commercial-scale uniform microstructures are produced at low cost. The material cost is in a range of HKD 0.7 to 1.3 per square metre, only one thousandth of that in purchasing commercialized products such as PTFE water-repellent film. This technique has high accuracy and effectiveness in engineering surface structures, ensured by the precision and controllability of microfluidic-droplet generation that is low in cost and readily scaled up as well.

Figure 4 Fabrication of bioinspired liquids-repellent surfaces by microfluidic method. (a) Process of microfluidic fabrication method, involving emulsion deposition, solvent evaporation, and template removal. (b) Droplet assemblies after emulsion deposition. (c) Dry film after solvent evaporation. (d) Porous surface after template removal. (e-f) Images of porous surfaces with different pore sizes. (g) Transparency of porous surfaces. (h) Wafer-scale fabrication of the porous surface.

Figure 4 Fabrication of bioinspired liquids-repellent surfaces by microfluidic method.
(a) Process of microfluidic fabrication method, involving emulsion deposition, solvent evaporation, and template removal.
(b) Droplet assemblies after emulsion deposition. (c) Dry film after solvent evaporation.
(d) Porous surface after template removal. (e-f) Images of porous surfaces with different pore sizes.
(g) Transparency of porous surfaces. (h) Wafer-scale fabrication of the porous surface.

The breakthrough will change the way liquid-repellent surfaces are fabricated for robust liquid-repellency, strong mechanical stability, and economical production at a commercial scale. It has also paved the way for further progress in creating surface structures by design, and in tailoring their morphology, repellency and mechanical stability to suit a desired application in various fields, including energy, buildings, automobiles, chemical engineering, electronics, environments, bio-medical industry, advanced manufacturing, water vehicle and military equipment.

Learn more:  No more laundry? Innovative and ideal liquid-repellent surfaces developed by HKU scientists could make the dream come true!

 

The Latest on: Liquid-repellent surfaces
  • No more laundry: how a bug inspired Hong Kong engineers to invent clothes you never have to wash
    on November 15, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Wang said at least one German kitchenware company had expressed interest in the technology. “Right now, we are calling it ‘liquid-repellent surface’. Hopefully we’ll have a sexier name for it soon,” he joked. […]

  • Soon, Liquid-Repellent Clothes May Spell End For Laundry
    on November 15, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Beijing, China: Scientists have developed liquid-repellent surfaces, that could be used in clothes which not only keep you dry on rainy days, but also stay free of dirt and oil - putting an end to our laundry woes. On liquid-repellent surfaces, liquid ... […]

  • Team develops innovative, ideal liquid-repellent surfaces
    on November 14, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Professor Wang Liqui (left) and Dr Zhu Pingan from HKU Mechanical Engineering Department showcase the liquid repellent material they innovated. Credit: The University of Hong Kong On liquid-repellent surfaces, liquid droplets bounce away instead of being ... […]

  • Uni team in full flow with cheap liquid-repellent material
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    The team, led by Wang Liqiu, of the department of mechanical engineering, worked on the project for about a year, and subsequently created a low-cost liquid-repellent surface that can repel at least 10 types of liquid, including water and oil. The team was ... […]

  • An Engineered Surface Unsticks Sticky Water Droplets
    on August 28, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Now, researchers at Penn State have developed the first nano/micro-textured highly slippery surfaces able to outperform lotus leaf-inspired liquid repellent coatings, particularly in situations where the water is in the form of vapor or tiny droplets. […]

  • New 'super-repellent' material could protect medical implants
    on November 28, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Scientists have created the most non-stick surfaces yet, using microscopic liquid-repellent structures instead of plastic coatings such as Teflon. These new surfaces could help protect medical implants from gunk that can build up on and ruin the devices ... […]

  • The microscopic 'umbrellas' that make ANY material waterproof: Scientists develop new method to stop surfaces absorbing liquids
    on November 27, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    ... stick surface that can repel liquids has been developed using tiny 'umbrellas' to increase the surface area of a structure. Previously, liquid-repellent waterproof surfaces relied on plastic coatings such as Teflon, which degrade at higher temperatures. […]

  • Nano-coating provides watertight solution
    on January 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

    British-based firm P2i has developed a "liquid repellent nano-coating" technology -- branded Aridion™ -- that can be sprayed onto a solid surface and, they claim, repel nearly all forms of liquid. The polymer coating in question is a patented chemical ... […]

  • Pitcher plant inspires slippery surface
    on September 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Wong and colleagues found the plant's surface is slippery because its microstructure locks in place a lubricant so it can form a continuous overlying film. The researchers created synthetic versions of this liquid-repellent surface, which they call SLIPS ... […]

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Nov 172017
 

CRISPR/Cas9-mediated disruption of genes associated with eye pigment caused eye color to change from Black to white.
MICHELLE BUI, UC RIVERSIDE.

UCR researchers are generating genetically engineered insects to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed transgenic mosquitoes that stably express the Cas9 enzyme in their germline. The addition of Cas9 will enable the use of the CRISPR gene editing tool to make efficient, targeted changes to the mosquitoes’ DNA.

As proof of concept, the researchers used the system to disrupt cuticle, wing, and eye development, producing completely yellow, three-eyed and wingless mosquitoes. Their long-term goal is to use Cas9-expressing mosquitoes together with another technology—called gene drives—to insert and spread genes that suppress the insects while avoiding the resistance that evolution would typically favor. Aedes aegypti are major carriers of dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and zika viruses, and are rapidly becoming resistant to commonly used pesticides.

headshot of Omar Akbari

Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology.

Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study was led by Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology in UCR’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and a member of the university’s Institute for Integrative Genome Biology.

Previous efforts to use genome editing to prevent mosquitoes from spreading pathogens have been hampered by low mutation rates, poor survival of edited mosquitoes, and inefficient transmission of disrupted genes to offspring. Akbari and colleagues developed transgenic mosquitoes that stably express a bacterial Cas9 enzyme in the germline, enabling highly efficient genome editing using the CRISPR system. CRISPR works like a pair of molecular scissors, cutting out and replacing specific DNA sequences based on a ribonucleic acid (RNA) guide. In the paper, the team used the system to disrupt genes that control vision, flight and feeding, resulting in mosquitoes with an extra eye, malformed wings, and defects in eye and cuticle color, among other changes.

Akbari said these strains represent the first step toward using gene drive systems to control mosquito populations and reduce the diseases they spread.

“These Cas9 strains can be used to develop split-gene drives which are a form of gene-drive by which the Cas9 and the guide RNA’s are inserted at separate genomic loci and depend on each other for spread. This is the safest way to develop and test gene drives in the laboratory to ensure no spread into the wild,” Akbari said.

An image of CRISPR/Cas9 medidated gene disruption of cuticle pigment and eye color in a mosquito.

CRISPR/Cas9-mediated disruption of genes associated with cuticle pigment caused mosquitoes to turn from black to yellow, and disruption of genes associated with eye pigment caused eye color to change from black to white.

Gene drives greatly increase the odds that a gene or set of genes will be passed on to offspring—from 50 percent to 99 percent. This number can potentially increase to 100 percent when a target gene is disrupted in multiple sites, a technique called multiplexing that has recently been mathematically modeled by Akbari and colleagues at UC Berkley.

Gene drives can be used to bias genetic inheritance in favor of rapidly spreading, self-destructive genes—such as those that disrupt fertility—and could be an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to suppress populations of disease-spreading insects.

“Next steps should be undertaken to identify the regulatory sequences that can be used to express the guide RNAs from the genome, and once these sequences are identified developing gene drives in the species should be turnkey,” Akbari said.

Learn more: Making Mosquitoes Self-Destruct

 

The Latest on: Genetically engineered insects
  • What is GM technology?
    on November 17, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms ... crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides. Resistance against insects ... […]

  • Why Stakeholders Insist Genetically Modified Foods Are Unsafe
    on November 15, 2017 at 8:41 am

    The DG had said “GMOs are not new crops invented by scientists but the same conventional crops that are improved on to tackle persistent issues such as shortage of food and insect infestation on crops.” He added that “genetically modified organisms ... […]

  • Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Can Help Prevent Spread of Diseases
    on November 15, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Their long-term goal is to use Cas9-expressing mosquitoes together with another technology called gene drives to insert and spread genes that suppress the insects while avoiding the resistance that evolution would typically favor. Aedes aegypti are major ... […]

  • Genetically Modified Beetles Grow Working Third Eye
    on November 14, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Credit: Eduardo Zattara When scientists deactivated the gene responsible in part for developing and shaping the heads of scarab beetles, the insects hatched with an extra set of compound eyes in the middle of their heads, sometimes forming together into ... […]

  • The EPA Just Approved the Release of Mosquito-Killing Insects Grown in the Lab
    on November 9, 2017 at 12:00 am

    aegypti that have been genetically modified to contain a gene that kills their progeny ... potential ecological consequences of messing with the spread of these biting insects. However, with mosquitoes causing an estimated 725,000 deaths per year, such ... […]

  • EPA approves bacteria-infected insects to kill mosquitoes
    on November 8, 2017 at 1:54 am

    MosquitoMates plans to release its insects this summer in 20 US states and Washington ... creating a faster more efficient way of separating the sexes. Lab-grown genetically modified mosquitoes that kill pests have already been successfully tested ... […]

  • Current FDA approach to genetically engineered animals is flawed
    on November 6, 2017 at 4:56 am

    It uses a genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquito with a genetic ... The FDA would have found itself tied up in legal knots if its ultimate approval of the insect were challenged in court by environmentalists and anti-genetic-engineering ... […]

  • When Is a Mosquito Not an Insect? When It's a Pesticide
    on October 17, 2017 at 5:00 am

    If that’s true, and the agency is satisfied, the company could open the door to other applications of genetic sterile insect technologies. Scientists who work on genetically modified insects to combat other human and animal diseases welcome the change. […]

  • Genetically modified insects could disrupt international food trade
    on January 31, 2017 at 5:06 am

    "There's a fly in my soup." This statement conjures up the image of a dead fly in a bowl of soup rather than a genetically modified insect being served up with organic vegetables. However, this is not a totally unrealistic scenario as experimental releases ... […]

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Nov 172017
 

A Cornell CALS study finds that fungicides – particularly chlorothalonil, a general-use fungicide often found in bumblebee and honeybee hives – may negatively affect bee health, according to Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology. McArt, center, and other members of Cornell’s New York State Beekeeper Tech Team, inspect a hive at the Dyce Lab. Photo by Sasha Israel.

When a Cornell-led team of scientists analyzed two dozen environmental factors to understand bumblebee population declines and range contractions, they expected to find stressors like changes in land use, geography or insecticides.

Instead, they found a shocker: fungicides, commonly thought to have no impact.

“Insecticides work; they kill insects. Fungicides have been largely overlooked because they are not targeted for insects, but fungicides may not be quite as benign – toward bumblebees – as we once thought. This surprised us,” said Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology and the lead author on a new study published Nov. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

While science has studied insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, that attack bugs’ central nervous systems, this new work shows how fungicides – particularly chlorothalonil, a general-use fungicide often found in bumblebee and honeybee hives – may negatively affect bee health, said McArt, a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Building on a large data set collected by Sydney Cameron, professor of entomology at the University of Illinois, the scientists discovered what they call “landscape-scale” connections between fungicide usage, pathogen prevalence and declines of endangered United States bumblebees. (Landscape scale refers to the area in which foraging bumblebees live, about 2 kilometers in diameter.)

While fungicides control plant pathogens in crops, the bees pick up their residue when foraging for pollen and nectar. As farms use both insecticides and fungicides, the scientists worry about synergy. “While most fungicides are relatively nontoxic to bees, many are known to interact synergistically with insecticides, greatly increasing their toxicity to the bees,” McArt said.

Chlorothalonil has been linked to stunted colony growth in bumblebees and an increased vulnerability to Nosema, a fatal gut infection in bumblebees and honeybees.

“Nosema can be devastating to bumblebees and honeybees,” said McArt. “Since fungicide exposure can increase susceptibility of bees to Nosema, this may be the reason we’re seeing links between fungicide exposure, Nosema prevalence and bumblebee declines across the United States in this data set.”

Bee at a flower
Bombus pensylvanicus, one of the declining bumblebee species, visits a flower. Photo by Scott McArt. 

For domestic and global agriculture, bumblebees are a key component due to their ability to use “buzz pollination” that vibrates and shakes pollen loose from flowers. In the United States, bees contribute more than $15 billion to the economy and $170 billion to global agribusiness, according to global economic research and a 2012 Cornell study. While half of crop pollination work is done by commercially managed honeybees in the U.S., the other half is done by bumblebees and wild bees. In New York, pollination services contribute $500 million to the state’s agricultural economy.

McArt and his Cornell colleagues will continue to investigate fungicide-insecticide synergisms and fungicide-pathogen interactions under the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan and a new grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Learn more: In bee decline, fungicides emerge as improbable villain

 

The Latest on: Bee decline
  • Puerto Rico's 'Gentle Killer Bees' Could Prevent the Bee Apocalypse
    on November 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    As such, they’re less susceptible to the parasites and pathogens that have decimated European honey bees, which have low genetic diversity, and can continue the crucial agricultural process of pollination as those populations continue to decline. […]

  • Trump to host NCAA champs, So Carolina women decline invite
    on November 17, 2017 at 5:28 am

    President Donald Trump will host college sports championship teams at the White House on Friday, although the South Carolina women's basketball team declined the invitation. The White House says 18 NCAA teams will attend a reception at the executive ... […]

  • Student suspensions and expulsions decline
    on November 16, 2017 at 9:25 am

    For example, the new data shows that the suspension and expulsion rate for African American and foster youth face disciplinary action at higher rates than other student groups, even though both groups have experienced significant decline. The suspension ... […]

  • Wisconsin communities make efforts to address local pollinator, honeybee decline
    on November 14, 2017 at 7:58 am

    A 2013 report by the US Department of Agriculture found native bee populations fell 23 percent between 2008 and 2013 across the US. Wisconsin was also one of the few states to experience a honeybee decline of over 60 percent in the 2014-15 winter season ... […]

  • In bee decline, fungicides emerge as improbable villain
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

    When a Cornell-led team of scientists analyzed two dozen environmental factors to understand bumblebee population declines and range contractions, they expected to find stressors like changes in land use, geography or insecticides. Instead, they found a ... […]

  • What's all the buzz about? Honey bee decline slows, but demand remains high
    on November 13, 2017 at 12:00 am

    While the loss of honey bee colonies has slowed in recent times, the honey bee crisis is far from over, according to an apiary inspector with the Texas Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS) administered by Texas A&M University. "There is a high demand for honey ... […]

  • Tiny bees make huge treks as tree ‘matchmakers’
    on November 12, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    it’s helpful to know their potential as pollen dispersers in the face of other bees’ decline. Postdoctoral researcher Antonio Castilla is the paper’s first author. Coauthors are graduate students Nathaniel Pope and Megan O’Connell, undergraduate ... […]

  • Tiny Bees Loom Large In Tree Reproduction, Texas Scientists Say
    on November 7, 2017 at 10:10 am

    it's helpful to know their potential as pollen dispersers in the face of other bees' decline, she added. Postdoctoral researcher Antonio Castilla was first author on the paper with Jha. The study's co-authors were UT Austin graduate students Nathaniel Pope ... […]

  • Study of Secret Sex Lives of Trees Finds Tiny Bees Play Big Part
    on November 6, 2017 at 12:00 am

    it's helpful to know their potential as pollen dispersers in the face of other bees' decline. Postdoctoral researcher Antonio Castilla was first author on the paper with Jha. The study's co-authors were UT Austin graduate students Nathaniel Pope and Megan ... […]

  • Can Tiny Drones Help Bees Pollinate Plants?
    on November 6, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Concerned about declining bee populations, technologists are devising artificial pollination solutions using tiny drones. A tiny drone buzzes across a garden. It briefly pauses on a flower to collect its pollen before continuing on to the next plant. […]

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Nov 162017
 

Model of the TP53 sensor. The Sensor is symbolized as a “thermometer” that displays the TP53 status in the cell.
via TUD / Frank Buchholz

If it burns in a house smoke detectors alert us hence protecting life. A molecular smoke alert has now been developed by Dresden researchers for the TP53 gene, the most important human cancer gene. The alert goes on if the TP53 gene is mutated in cells. The molecular smoke detector works like a TP53 sensor, which monitors the correct function of the gene. A non-functional TP53 gene is going to activate the sensor, which initiates cell death. 

Results from this study from the research team of Prof. Frank Buchholz are now published in the journal Nature Communications.

Cancer is caused by changes in the human genome. Mutations in oncogenes and in tumor suppressor genes accumulate unrecognized over time and lead to uncontrolled cell proliferation eventually. In 50% of all human tumors the tumor suppressor gene TP53 is no longer functional being the most frequently mutated cancer gene. TU Dresden-Scientists from the University Cancer Center UCC at the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, the National Center for Tumor Diseases NCT Dresden and the German Cancer Consortium DKTK Dresden concluded that the formation of a TP53 sensor could suppress tumor formation at a very early stage.

To achieve this they designed a genetic element that makes cell function dependent on normal TP53. If the TP53 function is interrupted, the sensor gets activated and initiates cell death. “We treat cancer cells long after they have gone through the transformation process,” says Prof. Dr. Frank Buchholz describing the current situation. As a result, therapy is often too late to be able to eliminate all cancer cells in the body. Furthermore, due to additional mutations, therapy-resistant clones quickly emerge from some cancer cells.

“The TP53 sensor enables an active precocious intervention for the first time. Our results show that cells with TP53 mutations can be selectively detected and eliminated at an early stage. Hence, the transformation process is prevented.” The researchers plan to use their initial findings to develop new cancer diagnostics and to establish a protection system against cancer mutations in the long-term.

Learn more: Dresden scientists develop a sensor for the most important human cancer gene

 

The Latest on: TP53 sensor
  • Sensor for important human cancer gene developed
    on November 14, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    The alert goes on if the TP53 gene is mutated in cells. The molecular smoke detector works like a TP53 sensor, which monitors the correct function of the gene. A non-functional TP53 gene is going to activate the sensor, which initiates cell death. […]

  • DNA chip offers big possibilities in cell studies
    on August 25, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Multiple DNA strands are anchored to gold electrodes inside the black square areas on this chip’s surface. The chip connects to other components in a device UT Dallas researchers designed to mimic aspects of a human cell. This allows them to study the ... […]

  • Unique volatolomic signatures of TP53 and KRAS in lung cells
    on March 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    knockdown of TP53 or both with parental HBEC cells. VOC from headspace above cultured cells were collected by passive sampling and analysed by thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry (TD-GC–MS) or sensor array with discriminant factor ... […]

  • In Vivo Activation of the p53 Pathway by Small-Molecule Antagonists of MDM2
    on February 5, 2004 at 4:00 pm

    1 Department of Discovery Oncology, Roche Research Center, Hoffmann–La Roche, Inc., Nutley, NJ 07110, USA. 2 Department of Chemistry, Roche Research Center, Hoffmann–La Roche, Inc., Nutley, NJ 07110, USA. […]

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Nov 162017
 

The new nonreciprocal device acts as a roundabout for photons.
Here, arrows show the direction of photons propagation.
Credit: IST Austria/Birgit Rieger

Researchers at IST Austria have built compact photon directional devices. Their micrometer-scale, nonmagnetic devices route microwave photons and can shield qubits from harmful noise.

Qubits, or quantum bits, are the key building blocks that lie at the heart of every quantum computer. In order to perform a computation, signals need to be directed to and from qubits. At the same time, these qubits are extremely sensitive to interference from their environment, and need to be shielded from unwanted signals, in particular from magnetic fields. It is thus a serious problem that the devices built to shield qubits from unwanted signals, known as nonreciprocal devices, are themselves producing magnetic fields. Moreover, they are several centimeters in size, which is problematic, given that a large number of such elements is required in each quantum processor. Now, scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), simultaneously with competing groups in Switzerland and the United States, have decreased the size of nonreciprocal devices by two orders of magnitude. Their device, whose function they compare to that of a traffic roundabout for photons, is only about a tenth of a millimeter in size, and—maybe even more importantly—it is not magnetic. Their study was published in the open access journal Nature Communications. (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01304-x)

When researchers want to receive a signal, for instance a microwave photon, from a qubit, but also prevent noise and other spurious signals from traveling back the same way towards the qubit, they use nonreciprocal devices, such as isolators or circulators. These devices control the signal traffic, similar to the way traffic is regulated in everyday life. But in the case of a quantum computer, it is not cars that cause the traffic but photons in transmission lines. “Imagine a roundabout in which you can only drive counterclockwise”, explains first author Dr. Shabir Barzanjeh, who is a postdoc in Professor Johannes Fink’s group at IST Austria. “At exit number one, at the bottom, there is our qubit. Its faint signal can go to exit number two at the top. But a signal coming in from exit number two cannot travel the same path back to the qubit. It is forced to travel in a counterclockwise manner, and before it reaches exit one, it encounters exit three. There, we block it and keep it from harming the qubit.”

The ‘roundabouts’ the group has designed consist of aluminum circuits on a silicon chip and they are the first to be based on micromechanical oscillators: Two small silicon beams oscillate on the chip like the strings of a guitar and interact with the electrical circuit. These devices are tiny in size—only about a tenth of a millimeter in diameter—, one of the major advantages the new component has over its traditional predecessors, which were a few centimeters wide.

Currently, only a few qubits have been used to test the principles of quantum computers, but in the future, thousands or even millions of qubits will be connected together, and many of these qubits will require their own circulator. “Imagine building a processor that has millions of such centimeter-size components. It would be enormous and impractical,” says Shabir Barzanjeh. “Using our nonmagnetic and very compact on-chip circulators instead makes life a lot easier.” Yet some hurdles need to be overcome before the devices will be used for this specific application. For example, the available signal bandwidth is currently still quite small, and the required drive powers might harm the qubits. However, the researchers are confident that these problems will turn out to be solvable.

Learn more: Essential quantum computer component downsized by two orders of magnitude

 

The Latest on: Quantum computing
  • What Happens When Quantum Computing and AI Merge?
    on November 17, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    There's a global arms race among companies and nations to achieve supremacy in both quantum computing and AI, Woody Preucil at 13D Research recently explained to Financial Sense Newshour listeners. Though many are still unaware of the events taking place ... […]

  • X-Rays from Accretion Disks around Rotating Black Holes Can Act as Carriers of Quantum Information
    on November 17, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Each of these can encode a qubit (quantum bit) of information, the standard information unit in quantum computing. “Lab-based researchers already use beam splitters and prisms to entangle these properties in X-ray photons and process quantum information ... […]

  • ORNL Research Teams Receive $10.5M to Advance Quantum Computing
    on November 17, 2017 at 6:04 am

    Nov 2017 OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 17, 2017 — The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science has awarded two research teams, each headed by a member of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) Quantum Information Science Group, $10.5 million over five ... […]

  • VW, Google partner for quantum computing
    on November 17, 2017 at 2:17 am

    Volkswagen is moving into the future quickly. Its electrification and automation strategies have been pushed to the forefront as its diesel scandal grabs fewer front-page headlines. The cars of the future, though, are more than simple mechanical machines. […]

  • Could Quantum Networking Be The Next Big (IT) Thing?
    on November 16, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Before diving into the concept of quantum networking, it’s worthwhile to look at the underpinnings of quantum computing. Traditional computational systems today use binary language that employ “bits” that are represented by an “on” state of 1 or ... […]

  • Why Rigetti Computing Could Beat Google and Intel to the Quantum Computer
    on November 16, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Rigetti Computing wants to create a whole new type of computer that uses quantum physics to supercharge artificial intelligence. The startup, based out of Berkeley, California, is facing off against Google, IBM and Intel, all of which are aiming to build a ... […]

  • Researcher sketches a path toward quantum computing
    on November 16, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Professor Margaret Martonosi answers questions about her recent article in Nature in which she and colleagues sketch the future of quantum computing. Credit: David Kelly Crow As new devices move quantum computing closer to practical use, the journal ... […]

  • IBM’s 50 Qubits Breakthrough Marks the Dawn of the Quantum Computing Era
    on November 16, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    IBM’s recent breakthrough announcement on the building of an operational quantum computer prototype capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits), puts the New York-based tech giant on the cutting edge of quantum computing research as the newly built ... […]

  • 15 Things Everyone Should Know About Quantum Computing
    on November 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Any discussion of quantum computing feels like a quantum leap into a sci-fi realm. Make no mistake. We are on the cusp of computer technology that defies logic. Today, the transistors in computers are as small as we can make them with existing technology. […]

  • Yale Professors Race Google and IBM to the First Quantum Computer
    on November 15, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    SAN FRANCISCO — Robert Schoelkopf is at the forefront of a worldwide effort to build the world’s first quantum computer. Such a machine, if it can be built, would use the seemingly magical principles of quantum mechanics to solve problems today’s ... […]

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Nov 162017
 

The new study suggests that geoengineering in the northern hemisphere would reduce tropical cyclone activity, but also lead to increased likelihood for drought in the Sahel.

Proposals to reduce the effects of global warming by imitating volcanic eruptions could have a devastating effect on global regions prone to either tumultuous storms or prolonged drought, new research has shown.

Geoengineering – the intentional manipulation of the climate to counter the effect of global warming by injecting aerosols artificially into the atmosphere – has been mooted as a potential way to deal with climate change.

However new research led by climate experts from the University of Exeter suggests that targeting geoengineering in one hemisphere could have a severely detrimental impact for the other.

They suggest that while injections of aerosols in the northern hemisphere would reduce tropical cyclone activity  – responsible for such recent phenomena including Hurricane Katrina – it would at the same time lead to increased likelihood for drought in the Sahel , the area of sub-Saharan Africa just south of the Sahara desert.

In response, the team of researchers have called on policymakers worldwide to strictly regulate any large scale unilateral geoengineering programmes in the future to prevent inducing natural disasters in different parts of the world.

The study is published in leading scientific journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, November 14 2017.

Dr Anthony Jones, A climate science expert from the University of Exeter and lead author on the paper said: “Our results confirm that regional solar geoengineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another. It is vital that policymakers take solar geoengineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation.”

The innovative research centres on the impact solar geoengineering methods that inject aerosols into the atmosphere may have on the frequency of tropical cyclones.

The controversial approach, known as stratospheric aerosol injection, is designed to effectively cool the Earth’s surface by reflecting some sunlight before it reaches the surface.  The proposals mimic the aftermath of volcanic eruptions, when aerosols are naturally injected into the atmosphere.

In the study, the researchers use sophisticated simulations with a fully coupled atmosphere–ocean model to investigate the effect of hemispheric stratospheric aerosol injection on North Atlantic tropical cyclone frequency.

They find injections of aerosols in the northern hemisphere would decrease North Atlantic tropical cyclone frequency, while injections contained to the southern hemisphere may potentially enhance it.

Crucially, the team warn however that while tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic could be suppressed by northern hemisphere injections, this would, at the same time, induce droughts in the Sahel.

These results suggest the uncertain effects of solar geoengineering — a proposed approach to counteract global warming — which should be considered by policymakers.

Learn more: Artificially cooling planet “risky strategy”, new research shows

 

The Latest on: Geoengineering
  • Who's right about this radical plan to cool the planet?
    on November 18, 2017 at 12:44 am

    Image: Primary school children play outside their classroom as Mount Sinabung, active since 2010, erupts in the distance in Naman Teran Village, KaroAlbert Damanik / Reuters In brief: Some have suggested solar geoengineering — the injection of aerosols ... […]

  • Why we probably shouldn't geoengineer the planet
    on November 17, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Solar geoengineering may be looked at by some as the radical solution for cooling a polluted Earth whose temperatures rise and rise, but there are scientists who don’t think it’s so cool. It sounds like a sci-fi movie at first. Aerosols would be ... […]

  • The geoengineering debate: Can imitating volcanic eruptions combat climate change?
    on November 17, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    One of the key geoengineering strategies floated by scientists is inspired by the effects of volcanic eruptions. When a volcano erupts it launches particles into the stratosphere that reflect sunlight and temporarily cool the planet before falling back to ... […]

  • Solar Geoengineering Could Prevent Massive Storms. It Could Also Backfire.
    on November 17, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    This story was originally published by Wired and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Every country on Earth, save for cough one, has banded together to cut emissions and stop the runaway heating of our only home. That’s nearly 200 ... […]

  • Could Tweaking The Atmosphere Help Us Fight Climate Change?
    on November 17, 2017 at 7:45 am

    It’s called geoengineering and it involves manipulating the atmosphere to cool down the earth. Geoengineering techniques can be broadly classified into two categories: removing excess carbon from the atmosphere and reflecting sunlight back into space. […]

  • Should we try to fix global warming with fake volcanic eruptions? TBD.
    on November 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    After years of watching volcanos go through the motions, some researchers are looking into whether they can use that same method to help cool down the planet—an idea known as solar geoengineering. But a set of studies published this month show just how ... […]

  • Science Says Geoengineering Could Create New Climate Catastrophes
    on November 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Humans have arguably been unintentionally “geoengineering” the planet for at least the past several decades or longer by pumping tons of methane, carbon dioxide and other climate-altering molecules into the atmosphere. But new research finds that ... […]

  • The Earth in Our Hands: Geoengineering’s World-Changing Prospects
    on November 13, 2017 at 12:00 am

    No, it is not the NSA, but rather the upcoming science-fiction film Geostorm. The film’s plot revolves around a network of satellites designed to control the earth’s weather, which (spoiler alert) does not exactly work as planned. While this technology ... […]

  • New Computer Modeling Helps Scientists Analyze The Effects Of Geoengineering
    on November 9, 2017 at 10:17 am

    On June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted, spewing millions of tons of volcanic ash and gases such as sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. For years afterward, parts of the Earth experienced cooler than normal temperatures, partly because ... […]

  • GOP Embraces Geoengineering ... Which Terrifies Geoengineers
    on November 9, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Congressman Lamar Smith, who has relentlessly disputed the science behind climate change, now argues there may be ways to avoid the dangers of rising temperatures without overhauling America’s energy system. “As the climate continues to change ... […]

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Nov 162017
 

via European Pharmaceutical Review

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system.

Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) has an ingestible sensor embedded in the pill that records that the medication was taken. The product is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults.

The system works by sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch. The patch transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone. Patients can also permit their caregivers and physician to access the information through a web-based portal.

“Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

It is important to note that Abilify MyCite’s prescribing information (labeling) notes that the ability of the product to improve patient compliance with their treatment regimen has not been shown. Abilify MyCite should not be used to track drug ingestion in “real-time” or during an emergency because detection may be delayed or may not occur.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder. About 1 percent of Americans have this illness. Typically, symptoms are first seen in adults younger than 30 years of age. Symptoms of those with schizophrenia include hearing voices, believing other people are reading their minds or controlling their thoughts, and being suspicious or withdrawn. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is another brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The symptoms of bipolar disorder include alternating periods of depression and high or irritable mood, increased activity and restlessness, racing thoughts, talking fast, impulsive behavior and a decreased need for sleep.

Abilify MyCite contains a Boxed Warning alerting health care professionals that elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. Abilify MyCite is not approved to treat patients with dementia-related psychosis. The Boxed Warning also warns about an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults taking antidepressants. The safety and effectiveness of Abilify MyCite have not been established in pediatric patients. Patients should be monitored for worsening and emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Abilify MyCite must be dispensed with a patient Medication Guide that describes important information about the drug’s uses and risks.

In the clinical trials for Abilify, the most common side effects reported by adults taking Abilify were nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, dizziness, uncontrollable limb and body movements (akathisia), anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. Skin irritation at the site of the MyCite patch placement may occur in some patients.

Prior to initial patient use of the product, the patient’s health care professional should facilitate use of the drug, patch and app to ensure the patient is capable and willing to use the system.

Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat schizophrenia. The ingestible sensor used in Abilify MyCite was first permitted for marketing by the FDA in 2012.

Learn more: FDA approves pill with sensor that digitally tracks if patients have ingested their medication

 

The Latest on: Digital ingestion tracking system
  • FDA approves first digital ingestion tracking system med
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:28 am

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them. […]

  • FDA approves first digital ingestion tracking system med
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:25 am

    The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them. The drug Abilify MyCite ... […]

  • FDA approves first digital ingestion tracking system med
    on November 13, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them. […]

  • FDA approves first drug in U.S. with digital ingestion tracking
    on November 13, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Monday that it had approved Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co Ltd’s Abilify MyCite, the first drug with a digital ingestion tracking system to be approved in the United States. The product, which uses ... […]

  • FDA approves first digital ingestion tracking system med
    on November 13, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them. The drug Abilify MyCite ... […]

  • FDA gives greenlight to first digital ingestion tracking system
    on November 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a joint application by Proteus Digital Health and Otsuka Pharmaceutical for a medication monitoring tool for patients taking Otsuka’s drug Abilify. The drug is geared for people with schizophrenia, bipolar ... […]

  • FDA Approves First Drug In U.S. With Digital Ingestion Tracking System
    on November 13, 2017 at 4:21 am

    (RTTNews.com) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite, aripiprazole tablets with sensor, has an ingestible sensor embedded in the pill that records that the ... […]

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Nov 152017
 

via Florida Atlantic University

The sense of touch is often taken for granted. For someone without a limb or hand, losing that sense of touch can be devastating. While highly sophisticated prostheses with complex moving fingers and joints are available to mimic almost every hand motion, they remain frustratingly difficult and unnatural for the user. This is largely because they lack the tactile experience that guides every movement. This void in sensation results in limited use or abandonment of these very expensive artificial devices. So why not make a prosthesis that can actually “feel” its environment?

That is exactly what an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Utah School of Medicine aims to do. They are developing a first-of-its-kind bioengineered robotic hand that will grow and adapt to its environment. This “living” robot will have its own peripheral nervous system directly linking robotic sensors and actuators. FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science is leading the multidisciplinary team that has received a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health for a project titled “Virtual Neuroprosthesis: Restoring Autonomy to People Suffering from Neurotrauma.”

With expertise in robotics, bioengineering, behavioral science, nerve regeneration, electrophysiology, microfluidic devices, and orthopedic surgery, the research team is creating a living pathway from the robot’s touch sensation to the user’s brain to help amputees control the robotic hand. A neuroprosthesis platform will enable them to explore how neurons and behavior can work together to regenerate the sensation of touch in an artificial limb.

At the core of this project is a cutting-edge robotic hand and arm developed in the BioRobotics Laboratory in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. Just like human fingertips, the robotic hand is equipped with numerous sensory receptors that respond to changes in the environment. Controlled by a human, it can sense pressure changes, interpret the information it is receiving and interact with various objects. It adjusts its grip based on an object’s weight or fragility. But the real challenge is figuring out how to send that information back to the brain using living residual neural pathways to replace those that have been damaged or destroyed by trauma.

“When the peripheral nerve is cut or damaged, it uses the rich electrical activity that tactile receptors create to restore itself. We want to examine how the fingertip sensors can help damaged or severed nerves regenerate,” said Erik Engeberg, Ph.D., principal investigator, an associate professor in FAU’s Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering, and director of FAU’s BioRobotics Laboratory. “To accomplish this, we are going to directly connect these living nerves in vitro and then electrically stimulate them on a daily basis with sensors from the robotic hand to see how the nerves grow and regenerate while the hand is operated by limb-absent people.”

For the study, the neurons will not be kept in conventional petri dishes. Instead, they will be placed in  biocompatible microfluidic chambers that provide a nurturing environment mimicking the basic function of living cells. Sarah E. Du, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, an assistant professor in FAU’s Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering, and an expert in the emerging field of microfluidics, has developed these tiny customized artificial chambers with embedded micro-electrodes. The research team will be able to stimulate the neurons with electrical impulses from the robot’s hand to help regrowth after injury. They will morphologically and electrically measure in real-time how much neural tissue has been restored.

Jianning Wei, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, an associate professor of biomedical science in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, and an expert in neural damage and regeneration, will prepare the neurons in vitro, observe them grow and see how they fare and regenerate in the aftermath of injury. This “virtual” method will give the research team multiple opportunities to test and retest the nerves without any harm to subjects.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to detect electrical activity in the brain, Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, associate research professor in FAU’s Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and an expert in electrophysiology and neural, behavioral, and cognitive sciences, will examine how the tactile information from the robotic sensors is passed onto the brain to distinguish scenarios with successful or unsuccessful functional restoration of the sense of touch. Her objective: to understand how behavior helps nerve regeneration and how this nerve regeneration helps the behavior.

Once the nerve impulses from the robot’s tactile sensors have gone through the microfluidic chamber, they are sent back to the human user manipulating the robotic hand. This is done with a special device that converts the signals coming from the microfluidic chambers into a controllable pressure at a cuff placed on the remaining portion of the amputated person’s arm. Users will know if they are squeezing the object too hard or if they are losing their grip.

Engeberg also is working with Douglas T. Hutchinson, M.D., co-principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Orthopedics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, who specializes in hand and orthopedic surgery. They are developing a set of tasks and behavioral neural indicators of performance that will ultimately reveal how to promote a healthy sensation of touch in amputees and limb-absent people using robotic devices. The research team also is seeking a post-doctoral researcher with multi-disciplinary experience to work on this breakthrough project.

“This National Institutes of Health grant will help our interdisciplinary team of scientists address an important challenge that impacts millions of people worldwide,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean and professor of FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. “By providing a better understanding of how to repair nerve injuries and trauma we will be able to help patients recover motor functionality after an amputation. This research also has broad applications for people who suffer from other forms of neurotrauma such as stroke and spinal cord injuries.”

Learn more: FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND BIOENGINEERED ROBOTIC HAND TO SENSE TOUCH

 

The Latest on: Bioengineered robotic hand
  • Researchers aim to create touch-sensitive, nerve-connected robotic prosthetic hand
    on November 16, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Researchers at two academic facilities are aiming to create a first-of-its-kind bioengineered robotic hand that can grow and adapt to its environment, equipped with a living pathway to translate the robots touch sensation to the user’s brain. Teams from ... […]

  • FAU, Utah seek to restore touch with robotic hand
    on November 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and the University of Utah School of Medicine have teamed for an NIH-backed project to create a bioengineered robotic hand with a sense of touch. The "living" robotic hand is anticipated to have a functioning nervous ... […]

  • New Bioengineered Robotic Hand Regenerates the Sensation of Touch
    on November 15, 2017 at 8:38 am

    The sense of touch is frequently taken for granted. Losing that sense of touch can be devastating for someone without a hand or limb. While greatly sophisticated prostheses with complex moving joints and fingers are available to mimic almost every hand ... […]

  • Finding a Key to Unlock Blocked Differentiation in microRNA-deficient ESCs
    on November 15, 2017 at 3:58 am

    A team of scientists from Florida Atlantic University are developing a first-of-its-kind bioengineered robotic hand that will grow and adapt to its environment. It takes less than one-tenth of a second — a fraction of the time previously thought — for ... […]

  • Living Robot Will Sense Touch (image)
    on November 14, 2017 at 6:35 am

    A first-of-its-kind bioengineered robotic hand will grow and adapt to its environment. This "living" robot will have its own peripheral nervous system directly linking robotic sensors and actuators. The research team is creating a living pathway from the ... […]

  • Bioengineered robotic hand with its own nervous system will sense touch
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

    A first-of-its-kind bioengineered robotic hand will grow and adapt to its environment. This "living" robot will have its own peripheral nervous system directly linking robotic sensors and actuators. The research team is creating a living pathway from the ... […]

  • Bioengineering of nerve-muscle connection could improve hand use for wounded soldiers
    on October 14, 2009 at 5:35 am

    "This effort is to make a prosthesis that moves like a normal hand." U-M researchers may help overcome some of the shortcomings of existing robotic prosthetics ... the brain to control muscle movement. That bioengineered scaffold was placed over the ... […]

  • Bioengineered Nerve-muscle Interface Could Improve Prosthetic Use for Wounded Soldiers
    on October 6, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Newswise — Clinical investigators at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, have used modern tissue engineering to develop an interface that could improve the function of prosthetic ... the brain to control muscle movement. That bioengineered scaffold ... […]

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Nov 152017
 

In a new study, MIT researchers have developed nanoparticles that can deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system and specifically modify genes, eliminating the need to use viruses for delivery.
Image: MIT News

New delivery system developed by MIT team deletes disease-causing genes and reduces cholesterol.

In a new study, MIT researchers have developed nanoparticles that can deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system and specifically modify genes in mice. The team used nanoparticles to carry the CRISPR components, eliminating the need to use viruses for delivery.

Using the new delivery technique, the researchers were able to cut out certain genes in about 80 percent of liver cells, the best success rate ever achieved with CRISPR in adult animals.

“What’s really exciting here is that we’ve shown you can make a nanoparticle that can be used to permanently and specifically edit the DNA in the liver of an adult animal,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES).

One of the genes targeted in this study, known as Pcsk9, regulates cholesterol levels. Mutations in the human version of the gene are associated with a rare disorder called dominant familial hypercholesterolemia, and the FDA recently approved two antibody drugs that inhibit Pcsk9. However these antibodies need to be taken regularly, and for the rest of the patient’s life, to provide therapy. The new nanoparticles permanently edit the gene following a single treatment, and the technique also offers promise for treating other liver disorders, according to the MIT team.

Anderson is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Nov. 13 issue of Nature Biotechnology. The paper’s lead author is Koch Institute research scientist Hao Yin. Other authors include David H. Koch Institute Professor Robert Langer of MIT, professors Victor Koteliansky and Timofei Zatsepin of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, and Professor Wen Xue of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Targeting disease

Many scientists are trying to develop safe and efficient ways to deliver the components needed for CRISPR, which consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a short RNA that guides the enzyme to a specific area of the genome, directing Cas9 where to make its cut.

In most cases, researchers rely on viruses to carry the gene for Cas9, as well as the RNA guide strand. In 2014, Anderson, Yin, and their colleagues developed a nonviral delivery system in the first-ever demonstration of curing a disease (the liver disorder tyrosinemia) with CRISPR in an adult animal. However, this type of delivery requires a high-pressure injection, a method that can also cause some damage to the liver.

Later, the researchers showed they could deliver the components without the high-pressure injection by packaging messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding Cas9 into a nanoparticle instead of a virus. Using this approach, in which the guide RNA was still delivered by a virus, the researchers were able to edit the target gene in about 6 percent of hepatocytes, which is enough to treat tyrosinemia.

While that delivery technique holds promise, in some situations it would be better to have a completely nonviral delivery system, Anderson says. One consideration is that once a particular virus is used, the patient will develop antibodies to it, so it couldn’t be used again. Also, some patients have pre-existing antibodies to the viruses being tested as CRISPR delivery vehicles.

In the new Nature Biotechnology paper, the researchers came up with a system that delivers both Cas9 and the RNA guide using nanoparticles, with no need for viruses. To deliver the guide RNAs, they first had to chemically modify the RNA to protect it from enzymes in the body that would normally break it down before it could reach its destination.

The researchers analyzed the structure of the complex formed by Cas9 and the RNA guide, or sgRNA, to figure out which sections of the guide RNA strand could be chemically modified without interfering with the binding of the two molecules. Based on this analysis, they created and tested many possible combinations of modifications.

“We used the structure of the Cas9 and sgRNA complex as a guide and did tests to figure out we can modify as much as 70 percent of the guide RNA,” Yin says. “We could heavily modify it and not affect the binding of sgRNA and Cas9, and this enhanced modification really enhances activity.”

Reprogramming the liver

The researchers packaged these modified RNA guides (which they call enhanced sgRNA) into lipid nanoparticles, which they had previously used to deliver other types of RNA to the liver, and injected them into mice along with nanoparticles containing mRNA that encodes Cas9.

They experimented with knocking out a few different genes expressed by hepatocytes, but focused most of their attention on the cholesterol-regulating Pcsk9 gene. The researchers were able to eliminate this gene in more than 80 percent of liver cells, and the Pcsk9 protein was undetectable in these mice. They also found a 35 percent drop in the total cholesterol levels of the treated mice.

The researchers are now working on identifying other liver diseases that might benefit from this approach, and advancing these approaches toward use in patients.

“I think having a fully synthetic nanoparticle that can specifically turn genes off could be a powerful tool not just for Pcsk9 but for other diseases as well,” Anderson says. “The liver is a really important organ and also is a source of disease for many people. If you can reprogram the DNA of your liver while you’re still using it, we think there are many diseases that could be addressed.”

“We are very excited to see this new application of nanotechnology open new avenues for gene editing,” Langer adds.

Learn more: CRISPR-carrying nanoparticles edit the genome

 

The Latest on: CRISPR-carrying nanoparticles
  • CRISPR Can Now Edit Genes Using Nanoparticles Instead of Viruses
    on November 17, 2017 at 6:29 am

    “We reasoned that it may be possible to permanently inactivate this gene using a nanoparticle and that might provide a lifetime of therapy for patients.” When Anderson and Yin injected these CRISPR-carrying nanoparticles into the livers of ... […]

  • Researchers Use CRISPR-Carrying Nanoparticles To Edit Genomes
    on November 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Using a new delivery system, researchers from MIT have developed nanoparticles that can deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system and specifically modify genes, eliminating the need to use viruses for delivery. With the new technique, the researchers were ... […]

  • CRISPR-carrying nanoparticles edit the genome
    on November 13, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    In a new study, MIT researchers have developed nanoparticles that can deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system and specifically modify genes, eliminating the need to use viruses for delivery. Credit: MIT In a new study, MIT researchers have developed ... […]

  • Adaptation in bacterial CRISPR-Cas immunity can be driven by defective phages
    on May 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    The widely applicable nature of ultraviolet inactivation for other phages may allow the detection of adaptation in CRISPR-carrying organisms not yet shown to acquire new spacers. This will serve not only to increase the scope of CRISPR research ... […]

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