New research is finally addressing a pressing question about the full scope of the disease and its progression. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology have completed a study which suggests that “autoimmunity” does play a deleterious role in the progression of the disease. Even more, employing drugs to mitigate that immune response could help quell the disease’s progression.
Another cause of the progression of the disease is the accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. One theory is that since the immune system recognizes these proteins as invaders and therefore attacks the brain to eradicate them. Unfortunately, this response comes at the expense of other brain cells that are destroyed in the process.
A new report from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) predicts that almost 50 percent of Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer, and half of these (25 percent of Canadians overall) will die from the disease. This makes cancer the leading cause of death in the country. The diagnosis rate for men is 49 percent, while for women it is 45 percent.
More than half of these cases are accounted for by prostate, breast, colorectal, and lung cancers. Lung cancer specifically was noted to kill more than the other three combined, and 85 percent of its cases were caused by smoking. However, pancreatic cancer is the most deadly form in terms of percentage of people killed post-prognosis, with 5,500 Canadians to be diagnosed and 4,800 of these dying.
The CCS stated that “the rise in cancer cases is primarily being driven by an aging and growing population. According to today’s report, an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and almost 90 percent of these cases will be among Canadians 50 years of age and older.” While this news is shocking, it has not bucked the upward trajectory of cancer treatment in Canada: the five-year cancer death rate has decreased from 75 percent in the 1940s to 40 percent today.
Changing lifestyle choices is the key to decreasing your likelihood of cancer, said Leah Smith, CCS epidemiologist and one of the report’s authors. She said in an interview for a CCS press release, “Actions like quitting smoking, eating well, being physically active and practicing sun safety, along with appropriate cancer screening tests, can go a long way to reducing your risk of getting cancer.”
What We Can Learn
The research was a collaborative effort between the CCS, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada, and provincial and territorial cancer registries. This collaboration is crucial because it gives an objective viewpoint and provides new statistics that, according to the CCS, “are a better reflection of the risk of being diagnosed with cancer at some point in life.” Without cooperation between different branches of the civil sector, such objectivity would be impossible.
The news, while tragic, serves to highlight the benefits of open information because Canadians — along with the rest of the world — can make changes to their lifestyles to lower their risk of adding to these cancer cases. It may also encourage more individuals to make appointments with doctors for possible cancer symptoms, which is vital, as early detection is one of the most powerful weapons against cancer.
There are promising pieces of research worldwide that focus on cancer detection and treatment — although there could be more of these as the CCS claim that 60 percent of high-priority research goes unfunded. Pivotal work includes a new blood test, backed by Bill Gates, that can detect cancer; a possible new cancer treating drug called Pembrolizumab that has been fast-tracked by the FDA for its potential; and the development of a cancer vaccine that could inhibit cancer development in the first place.
Ever since many scientists started to consider aging as a disease that could — and should — be cured, a number of efforts working towards this goal have begun. Researchers’ approaches differ, of course. Some work to develop medicines, others try blood transfusions, while others are figuring out the genetic factors involved in aging. Of the latter, a team of geneticists recently made a discovery that could prolong the life of men.
In a study published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers discussed how they found a genetic mutation that has effects specific to men. Apparently, a deletion of a few base pairs from a growth hormone receptor (d3-GHR) could add an average of 10 more years to a man’s lifespan. In studying the genes of 841 people from four different populations that exhibited longevity, the researchers discovered that two copies of d3-GHR become more prevalent with the age of men, but not women.
Researcher Gil Atzmon from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of Haifa in Israel found it amazing that with the d3-GHR deletion “you still have a functional protein that now makes people live longer,” he told Gizmodo. “I think this is phenomenal.”
Effects Remain Unclear
Although the exact biological effects of d3-GHR remain unclear, Atzmon and his colleagues are almost certain about its life-extending effects in males. They saw the same pattern in each of the populations they studied, and this “makes our result more accurate and globally translated,” Atzmon said.
Furthermore, they also discovered that those with two copies of the deletion tended to grow an inch taller than other men. The researchers’ theory is that d3-GHR deletion increased the response of the receptor to growth hormone surges, particularly during puberty, causing the increased height. At the same time, however, the mutation could limit these growth spurts in adulthood. This would make the cells divide at a slower rate, causing aging to slow down.
Further studies are needed to better understand how this mutation works and why its longevity effects are only present in men. Although, there are also anti-aging treatments that work only for women, so this is not the first evidence that aging pathways can be gender specific. For now, the researchers urge caution in growth hormone treatments to keep a youthful body, as these may trigger the opposite effect.
Treating cancer can be tricky: for one, cancer cells tend to spread quickly, known as metastasis — a behavior which sometimes goes undetected. As such, cancer remains a global problem, causing nearly 1 in every 6 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. 90 percent of those deaths occur when the cancer has metastasized. But what if the spread of cancer cells could be prevented? That’s the idea behind a study a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University published in a recent issue of the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers realized the key is understanding what triggers metastatic behavior. “We found that it was not the overall size of a primary tumor that caused cancer cells to spread, but how tightly those cells are jammed together when they break away from the tumor,” lead author Hasini Jayatilaka said in a press release. The same kind of cellular behavior is also found in bacteria.
“At a fundamental level, we found that cell density is very important in triggering metastasis. It’s like waiting for a table in a severely overcrowded restaurant and then getting a message that says you need to take your appetite elsewhere.”
Improving Patient Outcomes
Prior to this study, the common notion about metastasis was that it occurred as a result of tumor growth. The team studied tumor cells in a three-dimensional environment mimicking human tissue and found that crowded conditions in cancer cells — not necessarily the tumor’s growth — is what triggers metastasis. They also identified the proteins — Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Interleukin 8 (IL-8) — that cause cancer cells to spread.
“By doing this, we were able to develop a unique therapeutic that directly targets metastasis, not the growth of the primary tumor,” senior author Denis Wirtz explained in the press release. “This treatment has the potential to inhibit metastasis and thus improve cancer patient outcomes.”
Boston University professor Muhammad Zaman found this to be what’s so “exciting” about the findings of this study. “This paper gives you a very specific target to design drugs against,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “That’s really quite spectacular from the point of view of drug design and creating therapies.” The researchers note, however, that one drug or one therapy alone won’t do the trick. It’ll take drug cocktails, or a combination of various treatments that target metastatic behavior together with the body’s immune system, to win the battle against cancer once and for all.
Researchers have explored 150 papers, written since the 1960’s, that have reported links between the composition of bacteria in the gut and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) — triggering a call for new, large-scale studies into possibly treating ASD by focusing on gut microbiota. This link is strengthened by diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence being a “common comorbidity (a co-occurring disease) in patients with autism spectrum disorder,” with 85 percent of cases complaining of constipation.
The findings in multiple papers support the idea of a brain/gut axis in early infancy. The bacteria in the gut influences the permeability of the stomach lining as well as what is ultimately assimilated into the bloodstream. Therefore, it has an impact on whether toxins, by-products, or even undigested food reach the brain.
This bacterial imbalance could be caused by environmental as well as genetic factors. According to Dr Qinrui Li of Peking University, the environmental factors could “include the overuse of antibiotics in babies, maternal obesity and diabetes during pregnancy, how a baby is delivered and how long it is breastfed.”
What Does This Mean for ASD Sufferers?
Should these suggested large-scale trials support the link, this could be a major breakthrough for individuals and families struggling with ASD because currently, “there are no effective therapies for ASD.” This could ultimately lead to a way to, at the very least, treat some of what is causing ASD rather than just dealing with its consequences.
When compared to past and present ASD treatment, which consists of medication, special education programs, and behavioral intervention, treatments focusing on the gut —such as changing diet, and taking antibiotics as well as pro and prebiotics — are less invasive and, if future research supports it, have the potential to be life-altering.
This is the second (recent) promising body of ASD research that has been shaped by compiling the findings of previous studies: the first being a learning AI that was taught to look for ASD symptoms, which proved to be 96% successful in testing.
We’ve become accustomed to having many services personalized: information can be delivered to us through our smartphone, even according to our specific preferences. Our daily commute to work has become personalized thanks to ride-hailing services like Uber. And in terms of our online social lives, even dating apps can provide more personalized options than ever before. All of this catering to our preference for preference has been made possible through technology. Now, engineers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick want to extend this kind of personalized service to medicine.
The Rutgers engineers have invented a new kind of “lab-on-a-chip,” a biosensor that fits multiple functions that have traditionally required the use of a laboratory into one electrical chip. Their device, which the engineers described in detail in the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze sweat or blood in order to detect multiple biomarkers linked to several diseases.
“One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disease,” researcher Mehdi Javanmard said in a press release. “To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time.”
A Wearable Lab
Lab-on-a chip devices are innovative because they compress a number of functions typically tasked to larger, bulkier instruments into much smaller technology. The invention by engineers at Rutgers took the capabilities of current state-of-the-art lab technology and transplanted them onto a chip that can be affixed to wearable devices.
The device electronically barcodes microparticles to identify them, and the first time this barcoding technique is fully electronic — which is what allowed researchers to shrink the biosensors to fit on microchips. “This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” Javanmard said. “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit.”
Javanmard and his colleagues are also working on a version that can be placed in portable devices and detect microparticles in other objects. This tool, the team said, could be commercially available within the next two years, and the wearable medical biosensor could be out within the next five years. Currently, the lab-on-a-chip was shown to be more than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers. That’s certainly impressive, but the team isn’t done yet: they’re fine-tuning the instrument to reach 100 percent accuracy.
Sergio Canavero, a man who has made the goal of his life’s work to transplant a human head onto a donor body, is claiming a success. He and his team have reported seemingly positive results from a technique called the Gemini Protocol. They used the protocol to repair severed spinal cords in rats, and their findings indicate that their methodology works “across the board.”
The researchers severed the spinal cords of 15 rats. Nine then received the actual Gemini Protocol, while the remaining six served as controls.
After the team severed the spinal cords, they applied adrenaline and a cooled saline to reduce bleeding. The rats treated with the experimental process received a polyethylene glycol (PEG) substance Canavero simply refers to as “glue,” which he says repairs and seals nerve cells in damaged spinal cords. The wounds were closed and the rats received antibiotics for three days.
Fourteen of the 15 rats survived for a month following the operation. According to the researchers, the experimental rats treated with PEG mixture recovered motor function “steadily” and were about to walk again by day 28. In fact, two of them were “basically normal” by that time.
However, most in the scientific community — joined by most in the gaming community for totally different reasons — are as highly skeptical about these alleged outcomes as they have been all along.
Scientists are doubtful for several reasons. First, the team didn’t describe their methods well enough for other researchers to be sure about them. Case Western Reserve University Professor of Neurosciences Jerry Silver said in an interview with Newsweek that it’s not clear whether they severed only the dorsal spinal chord or the entire spinal chord.
“[This is] unbelievable. Too good to be true in my opinion, which mandates that these results will have be independently verified.” -Jerry Silver
He also points out an overall lack of evidence: “they show no evidence for regeneration. There is no histology [the microscopic study of tissue structure], which is the only way to assess what is really going on here,” Silver added.
Moreover, the characterization and scoring of motor function in the experimental rats is, according to Silver, unrealistic. The study reported that two of the treated animals recovered nearly normal locomotor skills (scoring of 19 and 20 points out of a possible 21 total) and that the treated rats had average a score of 12, which means that, on average, they could take multiple weight-bearing steps.
“[This is] unbelievable,” Silver said in the interview. “Too good to be true in my opinion, which mandates that these results will have be independently verified and properly analyzed before this work can be accepted as scientifically valid.”
Gamers are also skeptical because this appears to many to be a viral marketing scheme for Metal Gear Solid. The game’s creator and Canavero both deny this.
The team is now moving on to experimentation on dogs — apparently horrifying many potential consumers is not a concern for them. They hope this next stage will provide indisputable proof that the technique works “across the board.” The first human head transplant remains scheduled in December of this year; the patient will be a Chinese national.
A U.S. physician named John Zhang has created a fertility startup based on the technology used to create three parent babies. The technique, “spindle nuclear transfer,” is primarily geared towards older women who hope to get pregnant by transferring their DNA into a younger, healthier donor egg.
Originally, this technique was developed to prevent rare diseases caused by mitochondrial mutations passed down from parents to children. Replacing the mother’s egg with a healthy donor egg, then simply injecting her nucleus into that egg, eliminates most of her mitochondria. Zhang says the technique is just as feasible to “rejuvenated” eggs for women who would be considered too old to conceive naturally. Zhang’s company, Darwin Life, plans to offer the “infertility cure” to women ages 42 to 47, including those outside the U.S. where the procedure remains illegal.
Zhang is already confident the method works: in 2016, one of his patients successfully gave birth to a healthy baby after conceiving with this technique. The birth took place in Mexico.
Designer Babies, Older Parents
Not everyone sees Darwin Life’s formation as a positive, citing the novelty of the technique and the many as yet unknowns inherent to the process. “This is a biologically extreme and risky procedure,” the executive director of Center for Genetics and Society, Marcy Darnovsky, told MIT Technology Review. “If you’re talking about using these techniques for age-related infertility, that’s really moving the human experimentation to a very large scale.”
Francis Crick Institute developmental biologist Robin Lovell-Badge calls Zhang’s move to commercialize the technology — which carries possible risks — “concerning.” Defective mitochondria can remain in the embryo due to unintentional transfer. In fact, that’s what happened in Zhang’s case that ended in the healthy (thus far) birth in April 2016. “I understand the desire of women to have children and to have genetically related children,” Lovell-Badge tells MIT Technology Review. “But the risk-benefit ratio is different. It’s a question of having no children or having a child that is suffering from a terrible disease. It’s not quite the same.”
Congressional concerns about “designer babies” have fueled the ban on even the consideration of research applications involving any type of genetically modified embryos by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even so, the research is obviously still taking place, and techniques like Zhang’s are being developed. Darwin Life will charge women $80,000 to $120,000 for the procedure; women who have a less than 4 percent chance of getting pregnant using IVF.
Zhang says in the future, the technique could be used to edit genes, allowing parents to select for (or against) hair or eye color — or even improve their children’s IQ. “Everything we do is a step toward designer babies,” Zhang said of Darwin Life in MIT Technology Review. “With nuclear transfer and gene editing together, you can really do anything you want.”
Depression is becoming an epidemic that is damaging individuals, society, and the economy. Its has become the leading source of disability and of ill health in the U.S. It affects more than 15 million adults in total, including 1.5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18 in a given year. Depression is especially on the rise in young people, with its rates in teenage girls jumping by 37 percent over the last decade.
Currently, the main form of treatment is medication, but drugs can be ineffective and have undesirable side effects. Some form of consistently effective and less invasive treatment needs to be developed in order to spare millions of people the pain and loneliness the disease causes.
Scientists have recently discovered the physical seat of depression in the brain, as well as finding particular genesthat cause it. This establishes depression as a largely physical disease, which has led to a number of treatments that seek to treat depression not as a chemical issue, but a physiological one.
For the treatment, patients sit back in a chair while a technician positions a magnetic stimulator at a specific location on their head which is determined by brain calibrations. Patients undergo the procedure a few days a week over the course of six weeks.
Andrew Leuchter, director of the Semel Institute’s TMS clinical and research service, said in the press release “TMS is a revolutionary kind of treatment” — this is because it interacts with the brain as an electrical organ instead of as a chemical one. While medication aims to re-balance neurological chemicals, TMS targets the electrical formation of the brain.
TMS has only been clinically applied to depression, but the treatment could potentially be applied to a number of other mental disorders, including schizophrenia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic pain by changing how the neural network functions.
A new, affordable, 3D printed bionic hand that could transform the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has begun its first clinical trial in England. BBC’s coverage focuses on a girl called Tilly Lockey who is one of the 10 children taking part in the trial.
The arm is built by Open Bionics, based near Bristol, with the goal to create “low-cost bionic hands” to help the estimated two million hand amputees worldwide. Their hands can be created in just over 42 hours and cost around £3,000 ($3,360).
The hands can also be modified to the wearer’s preference. Most endearingly, the company has shown child-specific styles, which them look like Star Wars or Iron Man hands. As Tilly says in the video, when people see it “They’re like ‘oh my gosh that’s a cool hand!’”
These cheap, functional, and quick-to-produce bionic arms have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of those missing arms in Britain. If the clinical trial is successful, they will be rolled out as part of the free NHS service, improving thousands of lives.
The future of bionics looks bright as we see more limb replacements that are miles ahead of the crude hooks of the past. At the most advanced end of the spectrum, there are even arms that can translate thoughts into prosthetic movements, and prosthetics that come equipped with a full technological arsenal — including a drone, interactive screen, and USB port.
New Zealand biotech company Living Cell Technologies has developed a treatment for Parkinson’s disease using choroid plexus cells from pigs. These cells are found in the area of the brain that manufactures a mix of signaling molecules and growth factors that maintain nerve health, so the researchers transplanted the healthy cells from pig donors into four human subjects. 18 months post surgery, the results are still promising, so researchers began a placebo-controlled trial in 18 additional patients in May.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the progressive loss of dopamine-making brain cells. Dopamine itself helps the brain control movement in the body. The aim of this treatment is to nourish existing healthy brain cells in recipients to slow or prevent further loss. Thus far, the technique has proven successful in the treatment of rats with a species-specific corollary of Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s putting in a little neurochemical factory to promote new nerve cell growth and repair,” Ken Taylor of Living Cell Technologies told New Scientist.
The researchers need the placebo-controlled results to ensure that they’re not observing the placebo effect; this is a particular concern in this case since the four patients reported immediate improvements and nerve cells cannot physically respond and regrow that quickly. Other studies have shown that symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear to respond to the placebo effect at a high rate. However, because the results have been maintained for 18 months, it is also possible that the results are legitimate. Only the placebo-controlled data will reveal the truth.
Disclaimer: Futurism only supports products that we trust and use. This post is in partnership with BetterHelp, and Futurism may get a small percentage of sales. Get private, affordable online counseling here.
We Have A Problem Here
Over 42 million American adults suffer from some type of mental illness. That amounts to over 18 percent of the adult population in the country. And yet, despite the prevalence of mental health issues in society, a social stigma attached to therapy still lingers.
Of the people affected by mental illness, only half seek treatment. According to the CDC, the reason for this hesitation is clear: Only 25 percent of American’s suffering with mental illness have experienced sympathy and support from their communities.
Ultimately, individuals are ostracized and seen as being “weak” when they experience a mental health crisis, and this affects their decision to seek therapy. Or rather, their decision to not seek therapy.
Fortunately, the virtual couch is helping to close a gap between those that seek help for mental illness and those that do not. Cost efficient, accessible, flexible, and (most importantly) private, more and more people are turning to remote doctors for mental health support.
The combination of the privacy of web counseling mixed with contemporary attitudes about web-based services is altering perceptions about therapy. And thanks to online therapy platforms like BetterHelp — a leader in the field — more and more people are experiencing the advantages of therapy without the traditional obstacles that come with it.
According to the APA, people suffering from mild to moderate depression, and who are not suicidal, are ideal candidates for online therapy. BetterHelp offers a variety of different web-based services that are perfect for the patient who is seeking this kind of support, or who is seeking support with major life changes, career or relationship issues, or who is just looking for new coping skills.
A study done by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute indicated that over 78 percent of patients who reported depressive symptoms before completing treatment with BetterHelp no longer reported the same issues after completing treatment. In a time when most people feel like they don’t have the time or resources to nurture their emotional health, there’s finally an answer.
Head to BetterHelp.com and try it for yourself. After answering a few survey questions, BetterHelp professionals will be able to match you with a mental health provider that’s best suited for you. And with over 1500 therapists in their network, you’re bound to find a good fit.
One new drug has doctors and pharmaceutical companies in a tizzy. Pembrolizumab (branded Keytruda) has recently been approved, in a hurry, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat multiple tumors that arise from cancer in individuals with the same genetic abnormality.
During a clinical trail, the drug was tested in 86 patients. Of those who took part in the study, 66 patients had their tumors both significantly shrink and stabilize — meaning the tumors did not start to grow again. In 18 of these 66 patients — which is 21 percent of all patients — the tumors actually completely disappeared and not grown back whatsoever.
Now, this drug wouldn’t work for patients suffering from any type of cancer. For now, it is only approved to treat patients battling select varieties of advanced lung, melanoma, and bladder tumors.
Pros and Cons
While this is exciting progress, the treatment doesn’t come cheap. Just to test whether or not you might be a genetic match for the specific mutations that the drug targets costs between $300 and $600. The treatment itself currently costs $156,000 per year.
However, there is great hope that the drug itself and others that will follow in its footsteps will eventually come down in price, because this drug is truly the first of its kind. So what makes this drug so special? Well, it is the first approved drug in history that targets tumors from a specific, shared genetic profile, regardless of where the tumor is located.
Targeting tumors based off of genetic traits could help researchers and clinicians to more accurately target and treat cancers. Instead of just targeting the physical location of the tumor, treatments could be further tailored to the unique genetic profile of the individual patient. While this specific drug would only be effective for about four percent of cancer patients (though this would still help tens of thousands of patients), it could lead to a future where tumors are better targeted with genetic testing.
A study published in Science Transitional Medicine has found that doctors can predict which babies will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by the age of two with an astonishing 96 percent success rate. The test uses a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and machine-learning algorithms.
The study took brain scans of 59 “sibs” (the younger siblings of children with ASD), who’s chances of getting the disease are 20 times higher than average. They captured the activity in 230 brain regions of the six-month-old infants, amounting to 26,335 neural connections. When the children were two, the scientists conducted a behavioral analysis which indicated that 11 of the children had developed autistic symptoms.
Using this data, the researchers taught a machine-learning algorithm to search for unique patterns in the six-month-old brains of the autistic children. They then had the algorithm analyze the six-month-old scans again, and it correctly identified nine of the 11 children who went on to develop autism.
Prevention as a Cure
The method has been applauded for its non-intrusive nature, ability to identify autism from only one scan, and potential to increase “the feasibility of developing early preventative interventions for ASD.” Kevin Pelphrey, Director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at George Washington University, told Scientific American, “this is a game-changer for the field.”
AI and machine learning have the potential to revolutionize healthcare by identifying diseases earlier and with more accuracy, allowing doctors to perform cheaper and less intrusive preventative treatments. This would be especially useful in parts of the world where there are fewer healthcare professionals, or when a doctor’s time is under pressure.
Woebot, pioneered by Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist at Stanford, is a conversational agent — a chatbot — that uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) principles to treat depression. Darcy developed it to combat the poor adherence people usually have with web-based apps for depression and also as a way mitigate the cost and inconvenience of mental health treatment.
CBT is a newer approach to therapy that focuses on depression’s impact of the present rather than the trauma of the past — the focus of the traditional Freudian Model. Darcy explained in an interview with Business Insider “A premise of CBT is it’s not the things that happen to us — it’s how we react to them.”
Woebot combats depression mainly by identifying negative self-talk and all-or-nothing thinking as it exchanges messages with you via your smartphone. For example, if a a patient typed, “I’m useless at everything,” Woebot would counter by replying that this may be just a single instance of failure and then help the patient identify self-loathing patterns.
The trial for the project took 70 individuals between 18- and 28-years-old who were randomized to receive Woebot treatment or the National Institute of Mental Health ebook, which served as a control. The results were definitive.
Woebot “significantly reduced their symptoms of depression over the study period.” This study provides a medical precedent for conversational agents being a “feasible, engaging, and effective way to deliver CBT.”
“The data blew us away,” Darcy said in the interview. “We were like, this is it.”
Woebot and Depression
While Woebot is not designed to replace traditional therapeutic methods, it adds an instrument to our toolbox for fighting depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression effects 18 percent of the population over 18-years-old, making it one of the leading causes of disability in the country. Tools such as Woebot can improve these people’s lives, and help ease a little strain from the psychology industry’s finite resources.
Woebot is an example of the promising intersection between technology and psychology that can help treat depression — other examples include virtual reality. Recently, there have also been promising developments in diagnosing depression, with scientists finding its physical source in the brain and using artificial intelligence to identify it through speech patterns.
It is also emblematic of the increasing integration of chatbots into our society for humanitarian ends. Chatbots have also been used, with promising results, to improve the lives of thousands by providing legal help to refugeesand helping doctors with diagnoses in the medical sector.
Researchers have discovered that the unique microbiomes of healthy people cause their bodies to metabolize certain drugs in different ways. In fact, the bacteria living inside your body may very well control whether or not a drug works for you or not. Specifically, researchers in this recent study found that irinotecan, a chemotherapy drug, causes diarrhea in some patients because their bodies produce β-glucuronidases.
Normally, the body can modify irinotecan’s chemical structure and those of other drugs with a chemical called glucuronidate, allowing the liver to take over and detoxify them. However, these bacterial enzymes remove glucuronidates, rendering the drug a toxic compound. Bacteria are mostly flexible in their diets and can eat whichever nutrients the body presents them with, including drugs. However, this flexibility, which is overall a good thing and helps the body, as well as the bacteria, to survive, can become harmful when it triggers the body to produce toxic compounds, as it is shown in this case.
Specifically, the research involved using phytocannabinoids — the naturally-occurring cannabinoids in the cannabis plant — in tandem with chemotherapy. “Phytocannabinoids possess anticancer activity when used alone, and a number have also been shown to combine favorably with each other in vitro in leukaemia cells to generate improved activity,” according to a study published in the International Journal of Oncology.
Though the tests were done in the laboratory, the researchers are confident that combining phytocannabinoids with chemotherapy for leukemia patients could mean lower doses for the latter — effectively lessening its side-effects.
In Concentrated Doses
As with most studies involving cannabis, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not possible to achieve the effects claimed by the study by recreational use of the drug. “These extracts are highly concentrated and purified, so smoking marijuana will not have a similar effect,” lead researcher Wai Liu said in a press release. “But cannabinoids are a very exciting prospect in oncology, and studies such as ours serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximize a therapeutic effect.”
Cancer research is one of the busiest fields in medical technology, and understandably so, as cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While there are existing treatments available for cancer, these usually cause a terrible amount of strain on the body and aren’t always effective. But what if much of that could be avoided by early detection using a simple, non-invasive test? Researchers from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and genomics company Grail are close to developing such a procedure.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncologyand presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a technology to test for cancer years before its symptoms manifest just delivered promising results in an early-stage feasibility study. This technology, referred to as liquid biopsy, scans the blood for traces of DNA shed by tumors — or circulating tumor DNA.
“Our findings show that high-intensity circulating tumor DNA sequencing is possible and may provide invaluable information for clinical decision-making, potentially without any need for tumor tissue samples,” lead researcher Pedram Razavi told Medical Xpress.
For the test, however, the researchers had to rely on samples of 124 metastatic lung, breast, and advanced prostate cancer cells taken from blood and tissues of patients. Scanning for 508 different gene mutations, they detected 864 genetic changes in the tissue samples and 73 percent of these were found in the blood as well.
At least one mutation was spotted in both the cancer tissue and blood samples in 89 percent of the patients, with breast cancer detection succeeding 97 percent of the time.
“Our combined analysis of cell-free DNA and white blood cell DNA allows for identification of tumor DNA with much higher sensitivity, and deep sequencing also helps us find those rare tumor DNA fragments,” Razavi explained in the interview with Medical Xpress.
Scientists from the University of Queensland have used gene therapy to turn off the immune response responsible for asthma. The team believes their technique may also be able to permanently silence severe allergy responses to common allergens such as bee venom, peanuts, and shellfish. Thus far, the research has been successful in animal trials, and if it can be replicated in human trials, it may provide a one-time treatment for asthma and allergy patients.
The technique erases the memory of the cells which cause allergic reactions using genetically modified stem cells that are resistant to allergens. “We have now been able ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitizing the immune system so that it tolerates the [allergen] protein,” lead researcher Ray Steptoe said in a press release. “We take blood stem cells, insert a gene which regulates the allergen protein and we put that into the recipient. Those engineered cells produce new blood cells programmed to express the protein and target specific immune cells, which ‘turn off’ the allergic response.”
Road To Recovery
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 12 people (25 million) in the U.S. have asthma, and these numbers are increasing annually. As of 2007, the last year for which the CDC has data, asthma cost the U.S. approximately $56 billion in costs for medical bills, lost work and school days, and early deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 235 million people worldwide have asthma, which is the most common chronic childhood disease, occurring in all countries regardless of level of development.
The researcher’s findings must now be subjected to further pre-clinical investigation, with the aim of replicating the results in the laboratory using human cells. The longer term goal will be a one-time gene therapy injection that would replace short-term allergy treatments, which vary in their effectiveness. “We haven’t quite got it to the point where it’s as simple as getting a flu jab so we are working on making it simpler and safer so it could be used across a wide cross-section of affected individuals,” Dr. Steptoe said in the press release.
Hugh Herr, head of the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab — and who was called “Leader of the Bionic Age” by TIME in 2011 — has helped author a study on a new form of amputation called agonist-antagonist myoneural interface (AMI). The process takes its inspiration from the way the body already works. Our muscles control limbs using agonist-antagonist pairs: one flexes while the opposite muscle stretches, sending electrical signals to your brain so it knows where the limb is.
Current amputation techniques, which haven’t changed much since the Civil War, disrupt this relationship by slicing through nerves and muscles, and then wrap some additional muscle around the end of the limb for cushioning. This causes nerve pain because the nerves do not have anything to control, and the subsequent nerve weakening makes it harder to control any prostheses using the body’s natural circuitry.
The study argues that prostheses should use this muscle relationship by grafting pieces of muscle from other parts of the body onto the amputation site; Herr says, “using the body’s natural sensors to create these sensations.” Implanted muscle electrodes would then moderate the communication between the grafted muscles and external limb. The process proved successful when it was tested on rats.
Shriya Srinivasan, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and lead author on the paper, said in the MIT release, “We can harvest these muscle grafts from almost anywhere in the body, making this applicable to a large number of cases ranging from trauma to chronic pain.”
A More Biological Prosthetic
There are two elements to a successful prosthetic: the quality of the prosthetic itself, and how it is attached to the body. The quality of prostheses has been advancing rapidly in recent years, with prostheses utilizing brain-computer interfaces and 3D printing to make them more comfortable for the user.
However, changing the amputation side of the equation could offer, as the abstract of the study states, “the potential for enhanced prosthetic controllability and sensation,” leading to better control, sensory feedback, and proprioception (knowing what your arm is doing without looking at it). This proprioception is what most modern prostheses are missing — meaning that if this idea proves successful in humans, it could give people with missing limbs a key property of natural limbs back.
As the process can work on almost any form of prosthetic attachment, and is classed as low-risk medically because it just involves rearranging tissues, it has the potential to be integrated into standard medical practice with relative ease — and make prostheses more comfortable and functional for anyone requiring them.
The National Institute of Health recently lifted a moratorium on the creation of human/animal hybrids, which are known as chimeras. While meddling human and animal DNA could have the capacity to help with things like organ transplants and disease research, many people seem to be taking issue with the nebulous ethics surrounding chimera creation.
Surgeons in Zhengzhou, China, will soon begin the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in the world as they open the skulls of Parkinson’s patients and inject the ESCs into their brains. The goal for the 4 million or so immature embryonic neuron cells to treat the debilitating symptoms of the Parkinson’s disease. After the injections, the patients’ skulls will be closed up, and they will return home to wait and see if the treatment pans out.
A second medical team, also in Zhengzhou, will target age-related blindness caused by macular degeneration using ESCs. In that trial, the ESCs will hopefully replace lost retinal cells.
Both trials signal a new era in stem cell treatments and their regulation in China. Before 2015, China lacked a clear regulatory framework in this area, and this led to various unproven treatments making use of stem cells popping up on the market. The country’s researchers hope to solve this problem through these new regulations and groundbreaking clinical trials like these two.
“It will be a major new direction for China,” Beijing Institute of Transfusion Medicine stem-cell scientist Pei Xuetao told Nature. Xuetao’s position is no surprise, since he is on the central-government committee that approved the trials.
However, the scientific community isn’t entirely unified in its support of the trials, and not everyone is convinced that they will be successful. Scripps Research Institute stem cell biologist Jeanne Loring said she thinks the choice of cell in the Parkinson’s disease trial is not specialized enough to achieve the intended results. “Not knowing what the cells will become is troubling,” Loring told Nature.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stem-cell biologist Lorenz Studer, who has years of experience characterizing these kinds of neurons in advance to prepare for clinical trials of his own, told Nature that “support is not very strong” for the use of precursor cells. “I am somewhat surprised and concerned, as I have not seen any peer-reviewed preclinical data on this approach,” he said.
However, the Chinese research team is confident about their plans. Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology stem cell specialist Qi Zhou, who is leading both ESC trials, said that the animal trials conducted thus far have been promising. “We have all the imaging data, behavioral data, and molecular data to support efficacy,” Zhou told Nature.
If Zhou and the rest of the team is correct, this will represent a major step forward for the entire world and usher in a new era of stem cell research.
This trial was originally intended to go forward in 2016 in India, but regulators shut it down. Assuming this plan will be substantially similar, it will enroll 20 patients who will undergo various treatments. The stem cell injection will come first, with the stem cells isolated from that patient’s own blood or fat. Next, the protein blend gets injected directly into the spinal cord, which is intended to foster growth of new neurons. The laser therapy and nerve stimulation follow for 15 days, with the aim of prompting the neurons to make connections. Meanwhile, the researchers will monitor both behavior and EEGs for any signs of the treatment causing any changes.
While there is some basis in science for each step in the process, the entire regimen is under major scrutiny. The electrical stimulation of the median nerve has been tested, but most evidence exists in the form of case studies. Dr. Ed Cooper has described dozens of these cases, and indicates that the technique can have some limited success in some patients in comas. However, comas and brain death are very different, and Bioquark’s process raises more questions for most researchers than it answers.
One issue researchers are raising about this study is informed consent. How can participants in the trial consent, and how should researchers complete their trial paperwork – given that the participants are legally dead —and how can brain death be conclusively confirmed, anyway? What would happen if any brain activity did return, and what would the patient’s mental state be? Could anything beyond extreme brain damage even be possible?
As reported by Stat News, In 2016, neurologist Dr. Ariane Lewis and bioethicist Arthur Caplan wrote in Critical Care that the trial is “dubious,” “has no scientific foundation,” and suffers from an “at best, ethically questionable, and at worst, outright unethical nature.” According to Stat News, despite his earlier work with electrical stimulation of the median nerve, Dr. Cooper also doubts Bioquark’s method, and feels “there is no way this technique could work on someone who is brain-dead. The technique, he said, relies on there being a functional brain stem — one of the structures that most motor neurons go through before connecting with the cortex proper. If there’s no functional brain stem, then it can’t work.”
Pediatric surgeon Charles Cox, who is not involved in Bioquark’s work, agrees with Cooper, commenting to Stat News on Bioquark’s full protocol, “it’s not the absolute craziest thing I’ve ever heard, but I think the probability of that working is next to zero. I think [someone reviving] would technically be a miracle.”
Pastor remains optimistic about Bioquark’s protocol. “I give us a pretty good chance,” he said. “I just think it’s a matter of putting it all together and getting the right people and the right minds on it.”
A new CRISPR trial, which hopes to eliminate the human papillomavirus (HPV), is set to be the first to attempt to use the technique inside the human body. In the non-invasive treatment, scientists will apply a gel that carries the necessary DNA coding for the CRISPR machinery to the cervixes of 60 women between the ages of 18 and 50. The team aims to disable the tumor growth mechanism in HPV cells.
The trial stands in contradistinction to the usual CRISPR method of extracting cells and re-injecting them into the affected area; although it will still use the Cas9 enzyme (which acts as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’) and guiding RNA that is typical of the process.
20 trials are set to begin in the rest of 2017 and early 2018. Most of the research will occur in China, and will focus on disabling cancer’s PD-1 gene that fools the human immune system into not attacking the cells. Different trials are focusing on different types of cancer including breast, bladder, esophageal, kidney, and prostate cancers.
Modifying Our World
The study, if it succeeds, will be promising for sufferers of HPV and act as a milestone in the CRISPR process. Although HPV is not necessarily cancerous, it can cause cervical cancer. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 3 million new infections every year. Although there is a vaccine for the virus, currently, once you have it you can never get rid of it.
More generally, the CRISPR process could be nothing short of a miracle: if it passes all medical tests it wouldn’t just make medicine a whole new kettle of fish, it would reinvent the kettle…and the fish, for almost any field. It is cheaper than other gene editing therapies, and could potentially save millions of lives by curing diseases we can only deal with therapeutically like cancer, diabetes and cystic-fibrosis. Crops could be altered more effectively using the process. Drugs and materials that were never possible before could be pioneered.
However, it is still extremely nascent technology, and many fear that there could also be a host of unexpected consequences. Recently, it has been found that it causes hundreds of unexpected mutations in DNA. While these concerns are valid, more research is necessary. Which is why the upcoming studies over the next few years are so vital to the future of our health.
An experiment involving dermatological health, an immune cell, and a shaved mouse may have just accidentally led to a new theory about hair loss. Michael Rosenblum, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, has discovered that regulatory T cells (tregs) serve a much more important function in recovery than we previously believed.
Scientists thought that the cells only served an immune function, informing other cells what to attack. Rosenblum made the discovery when he removed the tregs from an area of a mouse to see the effect it had on the skin — but when he shaved the mouse to observe the effects of his experiment he realized the hair didn’t grow back.
When the team researched more they discovered that tregs in the skin — as opposed to their usual location in lymph nodes — contain unusually high levels of Jagged 1 (Jag1), which is responsible for calling in the stem cells. This is called ‘notch signaling’. When these tregs were removed, notch signaling was severely reduced, and when they added microscopic beads covered in Jag1, restoring the notch signaling chain, stem cells were called which successfully activated follicle regeneration.
So. Much. Hair.
As this discovery is at the intersection of hair loss and the immune system, it is particularly good news for one type of hair loss sufferer in particular: individuals with alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease that impedes hair follicle regeneration). Alopecia is one of the most common autoimmune deficiencies in humans: it impacts 1.7 percent of the population in the U.S, which amounts to 4.6 Million people. Until now, scientists have had little idea of what causes hair loss as a symptom, but this discovery gives doctors and scientists a causal explanation and a potential cure.
The effects of the discovery, though, extend beyond hair regeneration: it also makes us more aware of the recovery process of other skin-related damage, such as wound repair. While, traditionally, the model has been that immune cells fight infection while stem cells repair damage, Rosenblum told The Telegraph “what we found here is that stem cells and immune cells have to work together to make regeneration possible.”
Our hair is, obviously, very important to us. It can represent our style, our heritage, even our profession. Hair loss can be unbelievably devastating, altering self esteem and identity: therefore it is extremely important that research like this — and recent discoveries in enzyme therapy and Sea Anemone proteins — continue.
A small clinical trial from the University of California, San Diego, has just yielded some promising results for those living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The results indicate that suramin, a 100-year-old drug used to treat African sleeping sickness, can measurably, albeit transiently, improve ASD symptoms in children.
This has led the research team to conclude that ASD in many children may be caused by a treatable metabolic syndrome and that, for some people with ASD, the right treatment can improve symptoms since they are not necessarily permanent.
ASD is just that — a spectrum, and many children fall somewhere on that spectrum. According to the World Health Organization, about one in 160 children worldwide have ASD, although the CDC estimates that number to be one in 68. While it is not entirely clear whether the incidence of ASD is increasing, or detection of ASD is changing, or some other mechanism is at work making the numbers grow, there is no doubt that many people are affected.
The UCSD team is now focusing on metabolism — the shared language of the brain, immune system, and gut which allows the three linked systems to communicate. In people with ASD, each of these systems works differently, and the communication between them is altered.
The researchers chose to test suramin because it inhibits purinergic signaling, a cell communications process that takes place in metabolism. Within seven days, all five of the children treated with suramin showed a steady improvement of symptoms, with no change at all shown in the placebo group.
New Approaches To ASD
These results mark the first time any drug has shown the potential to actually alter symptoms of ASD. Of course this is a small first trail, and the treatment may never be available depending on further research outcomes. Even so, these results are likely to prompt a major shift in the way we think about autism.
If the researchers are right, abnormally persistent cell danger response (CDR) is what’s producing the metabolic syndrome causing ASD. Both environment and genes are factors in the CDR, so it’s possible that genetic causes alone might produce the metabolic syndrome and ASD. However, if a metabolic syndrome is what’s behind ASD symptoms, it can be treated, even though the genes can’t be.
This research also provides the first real unifying theory for the root cause of ASD. The lack of such a theory has been a huge factor in pharmacologic failures in treating aspects ASD. Treatments weren’t targeting the aspect of autism that could lower people’s quality of life and were sometimes worse than symptoms.
However, if this unifying theory is right that CDR and problems in purinergic signaling play an important role in some forms of ASD, then doctors should be able to treat some symptoms of ASD — such as difficulties with verbal communication, fear of changes in routine, and social anxiety — without suppressing the traits that sometimes make people with ASD exceptional.
Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh have found that it’s possible that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to develop hepatocellular cancer (HCC) — the most prolific form of liver cancer. Analyzing data from 26 studies, which involved more than 2.25 million participants in total, they concluded that people who drink 1 cup of coffee per day have a 20% reduced risk, 2 cups per day reduces risk by 35%, and 3 cups per day decreased risk by 50%. These findings showed that decaffeinated coffee also affects your risk, but the team could not deduce the precise amount.
Lead author Dr. Oliver Kennedy, a member of the Primary Care and Population Sciences Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton, told The Guardian: “Coffee is widely believed to possess a range of health benefits, and these latest findings suggest it could have a significant effect on liver cancer risk.” Coffee has also been said to have painkilling capabilities and the potential to prevent heart attacks.
Decaf Drinkers Win Too
The main consequence of this study is that doctors may be able to use coffee to help in the prevention of liver cancer. It’s a step that is both inexpensive and easy for people to incorporate into their daily lives, if they haven’t already. These benefits are also present in decaffeinated coffee, meaning that this means of prevention would also be accessible to those who can’t or do not drink caffeinated coffee.
The study authors wrote “It may be important for developing coffee as a lifestyle intervention in chronic liver disease, as decaffeinated coffee might be more acceptable to those who do not drink coffee or who limit their coffee consumption because of caffeine-related symptoms.”
Now, this development is not necessarily an encouragement to drown yourself in Starbucks. There are dangers in consuming too much caffeine, and much more research still needs to be done before coffee can be used medically with certainty. There is not enough existing research into the possible repercussions of consuming large quantities of caffeine over time, especially as a preventative medical measure. Hopefully in the future, preventing liver cancer will be cheap, easy, and delicious.
Neuroplasticity is the idea that you can alter your brain in a physical and mental way by changing its stimuli — which can include environment, behavior, thought patterns or other parts of the body that have an impact on it. While this is a fairly old idea — the term and concept that the brain was not fixed post-puberty was first used in 1890 by William James in The Principles of Psychology — it is only due to the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that we can accurately quantify the effects of different stimuli. So, what are some of the ways we can mould our minds?
Combating mental illnesses as much as anti-depressants: a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tested the effect of meditation on a variety of mental health issues and found that after eight weeks, it improved anxiety by 0.38, depression by 0.3, and pain by 0.33. While this is not a huge margin, it is as effective as anti-depressant drugs or exercise, which means that doctors have another tool in their arsenal, and can recommend an alternative treatment for those who cannot exercise and/or do not want to take drugs.
Increasing grey matter and combating aging: a study in Frontiers of Psychologyshows that meditation can increase the volume of grey matter in the brain significantly. Florian Kurth, a University of California Postdoctoral Scholar in Neurology, one of the authors of the study, said, “We expected rather small and distinct effects […] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” This was enforced by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who found that “in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds.” In a world that researchers estimate will see 115 million people suffering from dementia by 2050, meditation could be a non-drug dependent treatment for those experiencing the disease.
Decreasing selfishness: a study carried out at Yale showed that activity in the Default Mode Network was decreased by meditation. The Default Mode Network is the part of the brain associated with mind-wandering and often leads to self-referential thoughts. It was “relatively deactivated” in experienced meditators, increasing their level of concentration, loving-kindness, and choiceless awareness through specific meditation methods. In a world that sometimes seems to be driven by selfishness, meditation may provide a way to remind ourselves of others.
Overcoming smoking addiction: a study by the Psychology Department at the University of Texas has found that “among smokers, 2 wk of meditation training (5 h in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%” and that it also had a positive impact on self-control. Millions of deaths a year are caused by smoking, and hundreds of dollars are spent on various treatments; meditation provides a free method that could save both lives and money.
What Does Exercise Do for You?
Regular aerobic exercise (the exercise that gets you sweaty with an elevated heart rate) has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus — the area of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. While it has been known that exercise has positive mental effects, a study at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is one of the first that has shown that “regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a practicing neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and neurology instructor at Harvard Medical School. Not all exercise will work though — the study specifies that “resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.”
Exercise benefits the brain in many ways. It stimulates growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that are connected to brain cells’ health, growing new blood vessels, and creating new brain cells It improves mood and sleep patterns along with helping with anxiety and stress reduction (all these areas affect your cognitive power). The best part of the UBC study is that it focused on one of the easiest methods of exercise: walking. Those who participated in the study saw results from going for a brisk, hour-long walk twice a week. It’s recommended that you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which is less daunting if you consider that’s only 21 minutes a day.
Exercising your body will exercise your brain too — it’s a win-win.
Currently, on the cutting edge of heart surgery is a small implant called the transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), one version of which is made of bovine pericardium (a tough membrane that surrounds the heart of a cow) encased in a collapsible metal stent. It is designed to clear impaired aortas by being inflated like a miniature expanding doughnut, after reaching it desired position using a previously inserted guide-wire.
While, in most countries, the most common procedure used to treat heart conditions like aortic stenosis (a narrowed valve) is open-heart surgery, the £20,000 (around $25,000) cost of TAVI means that only patients with severe complications that make surgery impossible are treated with the device. Remarkably, doctor’s are now even capable of implanting TAVI in unborn babies. The procedure was first performed on Angela and Jay VanDerwerken’s unborn baby girl at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2005 by Wayne Tworetzky, the director of fetal cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The fetus had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), which causes the left side to develop improperly — doctors have to create and retain a hole between the left and right ventricles in order to oxygenate the blood sufficiently. This improvement could reduce the rates of miscarriage and infant deaths.
Many think, however, that the future of treatment for heart-related conditions is the artificial heart, which scientists are trying to develop in three main ways:
First, a robotic heart could be created, which would contain tiny rotary motors suspended magnetically so as to assuage the damage caused by friction. And, while several companies are trying to develop them, most notable is Carmat which has been working with world-renowned heart surgeon Alain Carpentier. So far, no models have been tested in animals.
Second, this could be achieved by appropriating a heart. This process involves decellularizing (isolating the extracellular matrix by ridding the target of cells) a heart, modifying it to human specifications, and then encouraging human heart cells to grow around the skeleton heart. In a 2008 experiment overseen by Doris Taylor, now Director of the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology at the Texas Heart Institute, scientists were successful in generating electrical electricity but no contraction or pumping motions.
Third, an artificial heart could be created by using 3D printing. This process works almost identically as the one above, but uses a heart printed with amenable materials.
Donors And Antidotes
Due to the TAVI, the rate of heart complication survival is increasing, and surgery is becoming easier to overcome. Thomas Morris reported in The Guardian that, “Just minutes after being given a new heart valve, the patient raised an arm from under the drapes and shook the cardiologist’s hand warmly.” However, due to their high cost and the shortage of donors — the waiting list has doubled in the last 5 years in the U.K alone. Artificial hearts could eliminate the issue of a lack of donors, saving countless lives in the process.
Despite these incredible developments, the most cost-effective and life ensuring way to combat heart disease is to detect it early. Fortunately, major advances are being made in preventive heart treatments, including a silicon sleeve that can help your heart beat and an artificial intelligence (AI) that can predict heart attacks.
A study has found that cannabidiol (CBD) — a substance that’s found in cannabis but that does not produce the high for which the plant is known — can reduce the number of seizures for sufferers of Dravet Syndrome.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial — considered the pinnacle of medical drug testing — CBD was shown to decrease seizure symptoms by 23 percent more than the placebo group. This result was consistent across the sample, which included participants ranging in age from two to 18 years old.
Although 93 percent of children who received the drug had negative side effects — including diarrhea, fatigue, some liver issues, and vomiting — 75 percent of those who received the placebo did as well.
A Less Controversial Treatment
Despite the side effects, this is an extremely promising avenue for the children who are sufferers of Dravet Syndrome. No other epilepsy medication is known to combat Dravet Syndrome, and up to one-fifth of children who develop it die by the age of 20, so any breakthroughs in treatment are huge.
However, Dr. Orrin Devinsky, lead author of the study and director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, was sure to manage expectations regarding his research, telling CNN, “CBD is an effective drug for this type of rare epilepsy but was not a panacea (or cure-all) for these children.”
This research is significant beyond its potential to help treat epilepsy. CBD has been a big player in the medicinal marijuana debate as it can be independently extracted and does not produce a high.
Previous opposition to the use of marijuana in a medicinal context has centered around an abuse of the system due to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the drug getting users high. Any proof that CBD is effective on its own eliminates that concern and could help treatments overcome current legislative hurdles, speeding up the process of getting the medications to the patients who need them.
This week the FDA granted approval to the cancer drug Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug. This is a milestone — the first time a cancer drug has received approval for targeting a particular biomarker rather than a location in the body.
In other words, this development marks a new way of approaching cancer treatments. Now, drug developers are validated in developing new medications focused on the genetics of both patient and tumor, rather than the harsher, scorched-earth tactics of the past that kill healthy and sick cells alike, such as chemotherapies.
Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is designed for patients who have mutations and other genetic flaws in their “mismatch repair” genes that prevent their cells from being able to fix DNA errors. This particular genetic difference can mean higher susceptibility to cancer, but it also means receptivity to Keytruda. The drug can be used to excite the immune system of anyone with the genetic biomarker to attack solid tumors.
This kind of treatment was first approved for use against advanced skin cancer in 2014, and none too soon. This was the type of checkpoint inhibitor drug that saved former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s life.
Finding the Right Treatment
Unfortunately, immunotherapy appears not to benefit all patients, and experts are not sure why. So far, only about one in 12 seem to benefit from immunotherapy. Clinical trials are ongoing, but not all researchers are sure that they are able to select the right patients to show the effectiveness of the drugs. Nevertheless, as more is understood about how checkpoints and biomarkers work, researchers hope to incrementally improve the effectiveness of immunotherapies.
But immunotherapy isn’t the only front for battling cancer. Early detection is another critical priority, and a recent breakthrough in the form of a simple blood test has made lung cancer detectable with 92 percent accuracy. Researchers have also developed a way to detect esophageal cancer using a sponge on a string.
Prevention is also on the medical agenda. Researchers have also discovered how to use CRISPR to target the “command center” of cancer in mice; this technique has been proven to shrink aggressive tumors in mice, who survived at an astonishing rate of 100 percent. Scientists have also been working to create a personalized cancer vaccine.
While there’s not yet any one best way to prevent, detect, or treat cancer, it’s safe to say that genomics will continue to play a role in the best practices for fighting the disease. The change in focus away from the location of tumors and toward underlying genetics is absolutely essential to success.
Clinical epidemiologist Dr. Jeremy Howick recently published a review of five research studies covering 260 patients that showed how “open-label” placebos can be an effective treatment for a number of health issues. Placebos are treatments that have no active medications in them (often they’re just “sugar pills”). So called “open-label” placebos are just like normal placebo pills except patients know they don’t contain any medication. While the belief that placebos only work when patients believe they are real medication is a commonly held one, this open-label study proves that this isn’t necessarily always the case.
In fact, this isn’t even a new phenomenon: In 2009, Wired reported an ongoing problem in the pharmaceutical industry where placebo effects in drug studies that were too strong were “ruining” the chances of drugs making it onto the market. In essence, patients were experiencing too much relief from too little actual medicine. The initial response was to search for new medicines, but researchers like Howick see a different answer: learning to use open-label placebos in new ways.
One of the studies Howick reviewed was led by Harvard Medical School’s Professor Ted Kaptchuk. Kaptchuk treated patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with either nothing or open-label placebos. To the surprise of most who read the results, many of the patients who knowingly took placebos experienced significant relief of their symptoms — including reduced pain. In fact, at least one patient who experienced a near total recovery became sick again once the study ended her access to the placebos.
Howick also reviewed studies in which patients were treated for depression, ADHD, and lower back pain — all with open-label placebos. In each case, the placebos were fairly successful.
Why Do Placebos Work?
In the open-label trials, participants clearly understood that they were either not receiving any treatment at all, or receiving placebos. And while they knew what they were getting wasn’t really medicine, previous research has shown that even placebos can cause real physiological changes. For example, they can increase both the levels of dopamine in the brain and the circulation of endorphins in the body, two occurrences associated with feeling less pain.
However, placebos aren’t always effective. Research indicates that they are more likely to be effective when patients are suffering from symptoms such as fatigue, itching, and pain—sensations that the brain can modulate and perceive differently depending on the situation. An individual person’s genetics also play a role in how effective placebos are. Specifically, research shows variants of genes that affect dopamine levels are likely to be connected to sensitivity to placebos.
Beyond the physical process, there are several hypotheses explaining why open-label placebos in particular appear to work as well as they do. One possibility is that patients might be conditioned to feel better once they are treated by doctors — regardless of what the treatment consists of — and that an accompanying boost to the neurotransmitters and endorphins are what produce the feeling of well-being associated with open-label placebos. This is, as reported in the Guardian, the same reason that Pavlov was able to train dogs to drool for a bell rather than actual food.
Another possibility is that patients know that placebos are working for others with their condition, and therefore expect that their symptoms will be relieved, too. This could cause their body and mind to release chemicals that make them feel better.
New Approaches To Healing
For researchers like Howick and Kaptchuk, these findings should be showing doctors a new way of dealing with illness. “I’m not advocating doctors handing them out like Smarties,” Howick said to the Guardian. “I do think, however, that this research is telling us we should start to recognize the benefits of doctors being realistically positive when they talk to patients.”
Kaptchuk is eager to see open-label placebos used in patient care, and commented to the Guardian, “If enough of these studies have positive results in different conditions, I hope we can convince the medical community that there’s something useful here.”
In a paper published last week in PNAS, researchers at UC Berkley have revealed a new possibility for male contraception: disabling the sperm cell from developing sufficient energy to puncture the wall of the egg. This is done by obstructing CatSper, the ion channels that allows calcium to flow into sperm and give it a ‘power kick’. CatSper open when the sperm enters a cloud of progesterone close to the ovum, which triggers the sperm tail to change their movement from waggling (for swimming to the egg) to drilling (to penetrate it).
The two candidates for clogging these ionic channels are Lupeol and Pristimerin. Both have been used in therapeutic capacities before. Lupeol, found in strawberries and olives, has been studied for its benefits as an anti-inflammatory, and Pristimerin has been used in traditional Chinese remedies to treat arthritis.
Polina Lishko, study leader and biophysicist, told Wired “This method is not only 10 times more effective than anything currently on the market, but it clearly prevents fertilisation” and “This could be used immediately to make a better and more efficient emergency contraceptive.”
Since the first production of the rubber condom by Charles Goodyear in 1855, and the first reported Vasectomy in 1897 by A. J. Ochsner, there have been no major new male contraceptives released to the public. Over the last couple of years, however, some exciting new possibilities have been suggested and explored. These include a one-time Vasalgel injection which can lower sperm counts, and a “switch” that can supposedly turn fertility on and off.
The search for male contraception is crucial in preventing unwanted pregnancies, as current female contraception can cause a variety of extreme side effects, and there is no alternative for men. As overpopulation becomes an increasingly difficult issue, more, and more effective, contraception options available for more people will make a serious impact. To have options and opportunities available for all will be a drastic improvement in both health and progress.
A new Ebola vaccine is on the horizon. Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) recently took a sample of 349 antibodies from an Ebola survivor and were able to isolate 2 of these that have been shown to effectively neutralize the deadly virus. This incredible breakthrough will likely lead to a highly effective vaccine that could be widely accessible in the near future.
No matter how modern the world has become, there are certain ailments that continue to persist. One of these is diabetes, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are now over 422 million people in the world suffering from it. Generally characterized as a problem in blood sugar levels, diabetes has two variants — an insulin-dependent one, known as type 1 diabetes (T1D), and type 2 diabetes that’s non-insulin-dependent.
In the United States, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reports that about 1.25 million people have T1D. The cause of this particular diabetes variant still remains unknown, and treatments generally involve pumping insulin daily into the patient’s body. As such, there’s still no known cure for T1D. However, researchers from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in Florida may have just made it possible to develop one.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers described how clinical trials involving pancreatic islet cell implants to the omentum — the tissue covering organs in the abdomen — shows promise in treating T1D. “Islet transplantation can restore euglycemia and eliminate severe hypoglycemia in patients with [T1D],” the researchers wrote. “The omentum has a dense vascularized surface for islet implantation, drains into the portal system, and is easily accessible.”
Pancreatic islets are endocrine cell clusters found throughout the organ, which is normally involved with insulin and glucagon production in healthy individuals. The researchers found that using donor islets combined with a T1D patient’s own blood plasma makes for effective islet implants into the omentum. This works better than previous attempts to implant islets in the liver, which could cause inflammation. The omentum then becomes sort of a mini-pancreas that could produce insulin for T1D patients. “The results thus far have shown that the omentum appears to be a viable site for islet implantation using this new platform technique,” lead author David Baidal told Endgadget.
The patients involved in the clinical trials were weaned off from their usual dose of insulin 17 days after the transplant. Their glucose levels subsequently showed improvements. “At 12 months, in response to a 5-hour mixed-meal tolerance test, the 90-minute glucose level was 266 mg per deciliter (14.6 mmol per liter); this level decreased to 130 mg per deciliter (7.1 mmol per liter) at 300 minutes,” according to the study.
It would still take some time, however, before the actual feasibility of this treatment is determined. “Data from our study and long-term follow up of additional omental islet transplants will determine the safety and feasibility of this strategy of islet transplantation, but we are quite excited about what we are seeing now,” Baidal said.
For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.
The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. An estimated 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people per year by 2050.
I am part of the Ancientbiotics team, a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists, and data scientists from multiple universities and countries. We believe that answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history. With the aid of modern technologies, we hope to unravel how premodern physicians treated infection and whether their cures really worked.
To that end, we are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes. By revealing patterns in medieval medical practice, our database could inform future laboratory research into the materials used to treat infection in the past. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a medieval medicines database in this manner and for this purpose.
In 2015, our team published a pilot study on a 1,000-year old recipe called Bald’s eyesalve from “Bald’s Leechbook,” an Old English medical text. The eyesalve was to be used against a “wen,” which may be translated as a sty, or an infection of the eyelash follicle.
Bald’s eyesalve contains wine, garlic, an Allium species (such as leek or onion) and oxgall. The recipe states that, after the ingredients have been mixed together, they must stand in a brass vessel for nine nights before use.
In our study, this recipe turned out to be a potent antistaphylococcal agent, which repeatedly killed established S. aureusbiofilms – a sticky matrix of bacteria adhered to a surface — in an in vitro infection model. It also killed MRSA in mouse chronic wound models.
Premodern European medicine has been poorly studied for its clinical potential, compared with traditional pharmacopeias of other parts of the world. Our research also raises questions about medieval medical practitioners. Today, the word “medieval” is used as a derogatory term, indicating cruel behavior, ignorance, or backwards thinking. This perpetuates the myth that the period is unworthy of study.
During our eyesalve study, chemist Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a new therapy for malaria after searching over 2,000 recipes from ancient Chinese literature on herbal medicine. Is another “silver bullet” for microbial infection hidden within medieval European medical literature?
Certainly, there are medieval superstitions and treatments that we would not replicate today, such as purging a patient’s body of pathogenic humors. However, our work suggests that there could be a methodology behind the medicines of medieval practitioners, informed by a long tradition of observation and experimentation.
One key finding was that following the steps exactly as specified by the Bald’s eyesalve recipe — including waiting nine days before use — was crucial for its efficacy. Are the results of this medieval recipe representative of others that treat infection? Were practitioners selecting and combining materials following some “scientific” methodology for producing biologically active cocktails?
Further research may show that some medieval medicines were more than placebos or palliative aids, but actual “ancientbiotics” used long before the modern science of infection control. This idea underlies our current study on the medieval medical text, “Lylye of Medicynes.”
A Medieval Medicines Database
The “Lylye of Medicynes” is a 15th-century Middle English translation of the Latin “Lilium medicinae,” first completed in 1305. It is a translation of the major work of a significant medieval physician, Bernard of Gordon. His “Lilium medicinae” was translated and printed continuously over many centuries, until at least the late 17th century.
The text contains a wealth of medical recipes. In the Middle English translation, there are 360 recipes — clearly indicated with Rx in the text — and many thousands more ingredient names.
As a doctoral student, I prepared the first-ever edition of the “Lylye of Medicynes” and compared the recipes against four extant Latin copies of the “Lilium medicinae.” This involved faithfully copying the Middle English text from the medieval manuscript, then editing that text for a modern reader, such as adding modern punctuation and correcting scribal errors. The “Lylye of Medicynes” is 245 folios, which equates to 600 pages of word-processed text.
I loaded the Middle English names of ingredients into a database, along with translations into modern equivalents, juxtaposed with relationships to recipe and disease. It is very time-consuming to format medieval data for processing with modern technologies. It also takes time to translate medieval medical ingredients into modern equivalents, due in part to multiple synonyms as well as variations in modern scientific nomenclature for plants. This information has to be verified across many sources.
With our database, we aim to find combinations of ingredients that occur repeatedly and are specifically used to treat infectious diseases. To achieve this, we are employing some common tools of data science, such as network analysis, a mathematical method to examine the relationships between entries. Our team will then examine how these patterns may help us to use medieval texts as inspiration for lab tests of candidate “ancientbiotic” recipes.
In March, we tested a small portion of the database to ensure that the method we developed was appropriate for this data set. At present, the database contains only the 360 recipes indicated with Rx. Now that the proof-of-concept stage is complete, I will expand the database to contain other ingredients which are clearly in recipe format, but may not be marked with Rx.
We are specifically interested in recipes associated with recognizable signs of infection. With Bald’s eyesalve, the combination of ingredients proved to be crucial. By examining the strength of ingredient relationships, we hope to find out whether medieval medical recipes are driven by certain combinations of antimicrobial ingredients.
The database could direct us to new recipes to test in the lab in our search for novel antibiotics, as well as inform new research into the antimicrobial agents contained in these ingredients on the molecular level. It could also deepen our understanding of how medieval practitioners “designed” recipes. Our research is in the beginning stages, but it holds exciting potential for the future.
According to a report by CNBC, CEO Tim Cook was seen around the Apple campus wearing a version of the smartwatch with a glucose or blood sugar monitor attached to it. This prototype could be incorporated into the Apple Watch itself, potentially becoming a non-invasive way for checking blood sugar. Cook himself mentioned during a ceremony at the University of Glasgow last February that he’s “been wearing a continuous glucose monitor for a few weeks.”
Diabetes is one of the world’s most common diseases, with 422 million people diagnosed with it. As such, a smartwatch that can monitor glucose levels would truly be an improvement over more conventional, invasive, and prickly glucose-monitoring methods.
They say you don’t fight fire with fire. However, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland have found that sometimes a virus may be the best weapon against a disease. Their study has been published in The Lancet
The researchers were looking for ways to treat a particular type of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) known as a wet AMD. It’s a rare and more severe form of the disease, affecting just 10 percent of all AMD patients, and it causes new blood vessels to grow under the retina, which then leak blood and fluid into the eye, leading to vision problems.
The researchers knew they could halt and even reverse the condition by suppressing an overactive protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Other researchers had been able to do it with monthly eye injections, but this team was hoping to do it with just one injection.
The best way they found to do this was by using a common cold-like virus called AAV2 as a carrier of gene that activates the production of a different protein, sFLT01, to counter VEGF.
In a preliminary trial involving 19 men and women 50 years old and above, the researchers injected the patients with a form of AAV2 that was genetically engineered to penetrate retinal cells and deposit the gene. “After the virus deposited the gene, the cells began secreting sFLT01 which bound to VEGF and prevented it from stimulating leakage and growth of abnormal blood vessels,” explained a Johns Hopkins press release.
Promising but Still Limited
The clinical trial showed promising results, with the condition of four of the patients improving dramatically after just one viral injection. Two others saw some reduction in the fluid build up, and the treatment didn’t produce any side effects in any patients. “Even at the highest dose, the treatment was quite safe. We found there were almost no adverse reactions in our patients,” said researcher Peter Campochiaro.
Of the patients that didn’t respond, the researchers discovered that five naturally produced antibodies that would attack the AAV2 virus, rendering it unable to complete its gene depositing mission. They think these antibodies could be prevalent throughout the population, making it difficult to determine how effecting the treatment would actually be.
Nevertheless, this research is a step in the right direction, especially with AMD expected to affect almost 5.44 million people in the U.S. by 2050. “This preliminary study is a small but promising step towards a new approach that will not only reduce doctor visits and the anxiety and discomfort associated with repeated injections in the eye, but may improve long-term outcomes,” Campochiaro said.
A new 3D printed prosthetic could be a huge boon to infertility treatment. Researchers from Northwestern University have created an artificial, 3D printed ovary which, when implanted, allowed previously infertile mice to give birth to healthy offspring.
The bioprosthesis is constructed by 3D printing a scaffold using specially formulated gelatin layered on a glass slide. Holes were then cut into the scaffold to accommodate the hormone-secreting cells or follicles. Within a week, the prosthesis had connected with the mice’s circulatory system which allowed the synthetic organ to release eggs as if it were a natural organ.
The mice implanted with the synthetic ovaries were allowed to mate, and three out of the seven ended up giving birth to healthy mice pups, according to a study the researchers recently published in Nature Communications. Another metric that shows the success of the transplant is that the mothers lactated normally, signaling that the implanted follicles were producing appropriate levels of hormones.
This development is cause for great hope in the field of infertility. Still, there is a long road ahead before this treatment will be available for human infertility. Not only are human ovaries larger and more complex than those in mice, but getting adequate blood supply to the implanted organ would also be more difficult. Much more testing and development must occur before trials can begin in humans.
Even so, the researchers are focused on a specific goal with this treatment. Teresa Woodruff, an author of the study, told The Guardian, “The goal of the project is to be able to restore fertility and endocrine health to young cancer patients who have been sterilized by their cancer treatment.” Implanting the 3D printed organ in these patients can allow them to undergo puberty like other children and develop regularly operating reproductive systems. Additionally, the implant could improve some patients’ heart and bone health.
As for next steps, the researchers are planning to move from mice to mini-pigs. These animals could help narrow the gap between pre-clinical and clinical research, as the humans’ menstrual cycles are closer to pigs’ than those of mice. The capabilities of 3D printing are ever expanding and are quickly revolutionizing what’s possible for us to achieve.
Science and innovation have come a long way in aiding people with physical disabilities, including those suffering from total or partial paralysis. A lot of these assistive technologies come in the form of prostheses or exoskeletons, which can work well enough to even allow those suffering from severe physical disabilities to participate in a bionic olympics. There is still room for improvement, however, especially when it comes to exoskeletons that help paralyzed individuals.
This is where a team of researchers led by Thomas Oxley from the University of Melbourne comes in. They’ve developed a device capable of controlling exoskeletons using the human mind. Yes, you got that right, mind control. “The end goal is that the person will be able to think about moving and an exoskeleton will obey,” said David Grayden, who oversaw the engineering of the device.
The device is a metallic stent covered with electrodes — hence its name, “stentrode” — that is inserted into the jugular vein in the neck via a small incision. It’s then sent up to a blood vessel in the brain where it can measure electrical signals from brain cells nearby on the outside of the blood vessel wall.
Non-Invasive and Effective
A study published in 2016 in the journal Nature Biotechnology proved that this technique could work in sheep. The six-month long trial didn’t produce scarring or inflammation as the device didn’t touch brain tissue. The stentrode isn’t as invasive as electrode implants which the brain often wraps in scar tissue, rendering them ineffective. Nor do its signals get muffled like electrodes attached to the scalp. “The recordings are not quite as detailed as those from directly implanted electrodes, but they’re close,” Grayden explained.
Now, the researchers are preparing for human clinical trials set hopefully for some time in 2018, where up to five patients — suffering from paralysis due to spinal cord injuries, stroke, motor neuron disease, or muscular dystrophy — from the Royal Melbourne Hospital will be involved. These could either prove or disprove how much of human brain signaling the stentrode could effectively detect.
“The stentrode research is worth doing, but I would not dismiss the technologies that are already much further ahead,” said Nick Ramsey of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. So, while this technology is extremely exciting and promising, it is important to remember that, with the knowledge that we currently have, it’s still unclear whether or not the stentrode will be able to pick up meaningful signals in the brains of humans.
In two separate studies, researchers have successfully created blood stem cells in a laboratory setting for the first time. These types of cells are found in bone marrow and can be depleted by diseases like leukemia and even by the treatments for those diseases, such as chemotherapy.
George Daley, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard, and his team started with pluripotent stem cells, which can give rise to just about any type cell in our anatomy. By looking at what proteins controlled the genes in bone marrow cells, they were able to isolate several that were essential to cell differentiation (the process by which stem cells become a specific kind of cell). They then applied them to the pluripotent cells in order to encourage them to turn into the cells found in bone marrow.
Another team lead by Raphael Lis, Instructor in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, took cells from the lungs of animals, and found four factors that encourage the lung stem cells to make blood stem cells. In their report they “demonstrate a tractable approach for fully reprogramming adult mouse endothelial cells to haematopoietic stem cells.” The next steps for Lis are to streamline the “conceived […] reproducible approach to manufacture engraftable durable blood cells”, so they can be produced on a larger scale.
No Donors Required
Carolina Guibentif of the University of Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (who was not part of either study) told New Scientist that “If you can develop [these cells] in the lab in a safe way and in high enough numbers, you wouldn’t be dependent on donors.” That is, after the cells are tested on human subjects; thus far, they’ve only been tested on mice. Because the cells are engineered, they aren’t as good at making blood as their natural counterparts. There’s also always the risk of mutation, which could lead to cancer. The researchers are well aware of this potential, though, and with the additional research required to work out these quirks and kinks, their breakthrough is certainly a hopeful one.
Dr. Joseph Scandura, a senior co-author of the Weill Cornell study, said the engineered cells could one day “fix [a patient’s] disease be it leukemia or sickle cell anemia or HIV.” Recent findings by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles have discovered that stem cells can also be a valid form of treatment for many neurological conditions.
In terms of bone marrow, though, there is great need for donors in the United States. In 2016, the American Red Cross issued multiple appeals, which culminated by the end of the year, when statistics indicated that the supply was 37,000 donors less than it needed to be. Bone marrow transplants are also lacking, in part because of how difficult it is to find a match. The chance of a bone marrow transplant from a sibling working is 1 in 4. Between total strangers, the chance of a match is 1 in a million. For patients whose lives depend on a match, the findings of these studies could make those odds look a lot more favorable.
After experiencing a severe brain injury, people can slip into a coma. Some of these people begin to show signs of intermittent awareness, but are still not able to communicate. This state is called “minimal consciousness,” and it can leave friends and loved ones of those who are trapped in it feeling helpless and heartbroken.
But now, researchers have found that minimally conscious people responded remarkably well to a treatment of daily 20-minute sessions of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for five consecutive days. These patients, who had been minimally conscience for at least three months, were able to respond to commands, recognize items, and, in a few cases, even communicate.
tCDS stimulates neurons with low-level electricity. In this study, recently published in Brain Injury, the tCDS treatment was applied to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in high-level cognitive functions including consciousness. The prefrontal cortex is also connected to other important hubs in the brain, allowing it to send electrical signals outward.
Waves of electrical activity moving outward from the prefrontal cortex into other areas of the brain is the hallmark of consciousness. This study’s success in prompting some of these patterns with stimulation suggests that scientists may be able to help people with consciousness disorders to “awaken” partially. Further, the development of a device to facilitate communication between people with consciousness disorders and others may be possible.
Approximately 315,000 Americans suffer from disorders of consciousness. Of those, about 280,000 are minimally conscious. Disorders of consciousness are most often caused by traumatic brain injuries, but can also be caused by overdoses or poisoning, suffocation, strokes, or severe infections of the brain such as meningitis or encephalitis.
Typically, those who survive the coma state for more than two to four weeks evolve into either a vegetative or higher state of consciousness, whether it be a minimally conscious state or sometimes regaining normal consciousness. These states are sometimes difficult to distinguish, because it is not possible to communicate with the patients; should this research pan out, this may improve the prognoses for many patients by making better diagnostic work possible.
The work is encouraging, but remains incomplete. While the longer periods of stimulation in this latest research led to more significantly improved consciousness, it isn’t clear whether patients can sustain these improvements. If not, and ongoing treatments are necessary, a longer study will be required to ensure there are no long-term side effects.
Still, the device itself is cheap to produce and easy to use, so it’s possible that long-term trialing will happen in part as volunteer patients and their families begin to use it. This medical advancement could give many families the hope of communicating and connecting to their loved ones once more.
The human body is a melding of different systems designed to function well together. In some cases, however, a mechanism that protects the body can also cause it harm, like with the specialized shield of endothelial cells — called the blood-brain barrier — that keeps toxins in the blood from entering the brain.
Due to a genetic defect, the blood-brain barrier could prevent essential biomolecules needed for normal brain development from passing through. An example is the Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome (AHDS), which is a psychomotor disease resulting from a defective gene that controls the influx of thyroid hormones to the brain. This rare but severe disorder is also unique to humans, making it very difficult to develop treatments that could be lab tested on animals.
So, to study this unique disorder, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles used the cells of AHDS patients to recreate the patients’ blood-brain barriers via induced pluripotent steam (iPS) cells technology. What they learned using the model gave the researchers some leads on potential therapies for the disease. They published their study in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Eliminating Barriers, So to Speak
The researchers managed to make a laboratory model for AHDS. “This is the first demonstration of using a patient’s cells to model a blood-brain barrier defect,” senior author, Eric Shusta, explained in a press release. “If we had just the (compromised) neural cells available, we wouldn’t have been able to identify this key characteristic of AHDS.”
Thanks so their innovation, there’s now a framework to develop new treatments that could prevent or mitigate the debilitating effects of AHDS, according to senior author Clive Svendsen from Cedars-Sinai.
Furthermore, the research could also apply to other neurological disorders that may also have roots in a dysfunctional blood-brain barrier, like Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. “The significance of this study expands beyond the limits of AHDS research, to the possibility of stem cell modeling the blood-brain barrier component in many other neurological diseases,” said Gad Vatine, lead author for the study, in the press release.
Even the most exciting breakthrough medical treatment can be rendered obsolete by a particularly insurmountable obstacle: time. If a treatment only works temporarily, it has little chance of making a significant difference in the lives of patients, which is why the latest news from the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute is so exciting.
A year after transplanting insulin-producing islet cells into the omentum of a woman with a particularly unwieldy form of type 1 diabetes, the cells continue to operate as hoped. She no longer needs to receive insulin via injections or an insulin pump and is in good health.
By using the omentum, a fatty membrane in the belly, as the transplant site, the researchers were able to avoid complications associated with the traditionally used site, the liver. The longterm goal of the research is to identify a suitable location for a pancreas-mimicking mini-organ called the BioHub. Based on this patient’s response, the omentum is looking like it just may be the ideal spot.
A Better Life
Prior to this transplant, the patient’s entire life revolved around her diabetes. “Her quality of life was severely impacted. She had to move in with her parents. And, if she traveled, she had to travel with her father,” the study’s lead author, Dr. David Baidal, told HealthDay.
Unfortunately, she’s not alone in having diabetes control her life. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 9.3 percent of the United States population has diabetes, and 28.7 percent of those people have to inject insulin to manage their disease. If improperly treated, diabetes can lead to a range of ailments, from blindness and high blood pressure to nerve damage or even death.
This patient’s positive reaction to her islet cells transplant could be the first step to helping those millions of people live normal, healthy lives free from the burden of constantly managing their disease. “We’re exploring a way to optimize islet cell therapy to a larger population,” said Baidal. “This study gives us hope for a different transplant approach.”
Around 1960, tens of thousands of babies were born with improperly developed limbs, and, in some cases, malfunctioning eyes, ears, or other organs. It was a tragedy like never seen before, striking families from Germany, Japan, England, and more than 40 other countries — but not the United States.
The cause of these birth defects was a new sedative called thalidomide, which had been approved in these countries to treat pregnant women for morning sickness. The studies done on this drug before it was approved were limited in scope and did not reveal its devastating side effects. It was quickly taken off the market, but for the many babies who were hurt or even prematurely died, the damage was done.
So why was thalidomide not approved in the U.S.? It was largely because of one woman — a new drug reviewer named Frances Oldham Kelsey. Kelsey was assigned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review applications from pharmaceutical companies for drug approval. By that time, she had already proven herself to be masterful detective. While she was earning her PhD in Pharmacology, she helped the FDA pinpoint the toxic ingredient in another drug called drug called Elixir Sulfanilamide.
The Elixir was marketed as something of a cure-all, with claims that it could treat anything from gonorrhea to a sore throat. However, the drug was very bitter, and its makers had to find a sweet-tasting solvent to make it more palatable. The sweetener they settled on, Kelsey discovered, was antifreeze. The drug had already killed more than 100 people by the time the FDA was able to take it off the market.
A High Standard
Kelsey’s critical eye saw the holes in the data “proving” that thalidomide was safe and effective, and she rejected the application. In the aftermath of thalidomide’s European release, Kelsey was recognized as a hero and played an instrumental role in shaping the FDA’s Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendment in 1962, which greatly raised the standards drugs had to meet in order to be released to market.
These tragedies of modern medicine are some of the events that birthed the FDA we have today; an administration that is famously strict, some would even say to a fault. The agency continues to grapple with its responsibility to protect patients from dangerous or ineffective drugs, and its obligation to allow people to make their own healthcare decisions.
While cases can be made for either side of this issue, we continue discover flaws in the current drug-approval process. One recent study found that new safety risks were discovered for one third of drugs after the FDA approved them. This highlights the importance of the monitoring the FDA conducts after a drug is released to market, but also suggests that more testing could be done during the approval process.
Ultimately, the speed, accuracy, and cost-efficiency of our drug-testing procedures could be improved by better tools for modeling what drugs do in our bodies. Up until recently, we relied heavily on animal testing — which not only raises ethical concerns, but has been shown to not always accurately predict how drugs will work in humans. Now the FDA is trying “organs-on-chips” as a way to replace some animal tests, and may expand the use of such technology, should it produce good data.
While there are times people are frustrated by how slowly the FDA approves of new drugs, on the whole, the FDA is able to keep the pace of other drug-regulation agencies while ensuring new medications are safe and effective. There is always room for improvement, but we should all be thankful for early pioneers like Kelsey who advocated for the patients and saved lives in the process.
The latest version of the vaginal contraceptive ring joins a host of approaches in fighting HIV/AIDS, with its specific focus on younger women in developing nations. The ring has been improved to not only prevent pregnancy but also prevent HIV, combining two essential preventative medical efforts. HIV is under attack from researchers exploring better treatments, preventative tactics, and cures all over the world. Researchers eliminated the HIV gene from infected animals in 2016, and discovered that natural immune defenses developed in about 10 percent of children infected with HIV. An HIV vaccine is being tested this year, and in January 2017, the Gates Foundation invested $140 million in an implant that delivers anti-HIV drugs inside the body.
Meanwhile, better online access to information about anti-HIV meds has contributed to a major drop in HIV infection rates in the U.K., and Thailand has become the first nation in the world to eliminate HIV transmission to newborns. Just this month, researchers discovered that the amazing recovery of the “Berlin Patient” may have been caused by complications from a transplant — which is offering new hope for fighting HIV where it hides inside cells. However, as the world waits for a permanent solution for HIV/AIDS, this vaginal ring and its preventative combination may make a huge difference in the lives of women around the world.
A new retinal surgery, guided by human surgeons but performed by robots, has just passed clinical trials. Robots bring much more control to delicate surgeries than can be achieved by humans alone. Soon, surgical robots will enable surgeons to perform entirely new operations which the human hand, until now, has been too clumsy to accomplish.
From combat to everyday injuries, wound care is a vital part of healthcare. Patients in nursing homes, those recovering from amputations and diabetes complications, and so many more battle ongoing wounds. In fact, chronic wounds often take enormous amounts of time to heal, some never fully healing at all. However, in almost all of these cases, patients are left with scars, visible reminders of their trauma and pain. However, thanks to one new development, scar care might be getting a strange, but incredible, makeover.
Scars are formed as a result of “broken” collagen. When collagen fibers regrow it is in a different pattern that creates the visible scars that we’re familiar with.
But scientists may have found a way to circumvent this process. Goop secreted by mussels, yes, those bivalve mollusks, has been shown to be a crucial ingredient in a glue that could revolutionize wound care, according to a new study published in Biomaterials. Allison Cowin from the University of South Australia, who wasn’t involved in the study, said in an interview with New Scientist, “If this can be replicated in humans, it might be the next big thing for scar therapy.”
The impact of this discovery could be huge because scars can interfere with personal image, self-esteem, and long-term happiness. Previously, doctors used the skin protein decorin to reduce scars, but it is difficult to synthesize and produce.
Other researchers have developed alternative means of dealing with scars, like developing new compounds to restore skin to its natural structure, but Hyung Joon Cha and his colleagues at Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea decided, instead, to create a simpler version of decorin. Their “glue” uses the mussel gloop, a piece of the decorin protein, and a molecule that binds collagen.
The team tested their glue with rats and, according to New Scientist, “By day 11, 99 percent of the wound was closed in the treated rats compared with 78 percent in the control group. By day 28, treated rats had fully recovered and had virtually no visible scarring. In comparison, control rats had thick, purple scars.”
This glue could completely change how we heal and move on from injuries. So many people have surgeries, stitches, or cuts of some kind. If this glue is as effective as it promises to be, large visible scars could be a thing of the past.
A lack of sufficient sleep can wreak havoc on a person’s mind and body. It’s been linked to everything from diabetes to depression. In fact, research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that poor sleep and sleep disorders double a person’s risk of having a heart attack and quadruple their risk of a stroke, putting it on par with smoking, a poor diet, and lack of exercise, according to Dr. Valery Gafarov, a member of the WHO’s research team.
The dangers aren’t limited to just those not getting enough sleep, either. An estimated 100,000 car crashes are caused by drowsy driving every year, resulting in roughly 40,000 injuries and more than 1,500 deaths. Yet, despite its clear importance, more than a quarter of us don’t get enough sleep, and even more than that don’t get good sleep.
Thankfully, science is at the ready to help. The four devices below were designed to help you get the shut eye you need to have a healthy, productive day.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand, more and more devices are getting the “smart” distinction: smart bikes, smart bandages, smart clothes. While those devices are all designed to make our lives better, none are as potentially life-changing as Neuroon, the world’s first smart sleep mask.
The device comprises two parts: the mask itself and the app that goes along with it. While you sleep, the mask uses sensors to gather data such as your pulse, temperature, and muscle movement. This information is fed to the app, which can track your sleep patterns, determine the best time for you to take a nap, and give you tips on how to improve your sleep.
The mask also incorporates LEDs to harness the power of light to improve your sleep. The Light Boost feature acts like a shot of caffeine to energize you naturally in just 20 minutes, while the Neuroon Sunrise option mimics the dawn to wake you up naturally no matter what time of day. These features are particularly useful for anyone whose sleep schedule doesn’t exactly follow the norm, such as those who travel internationally or work atypical or frequently changing shifts.
Lully Sleep Guardian 2
As important as sleep is to adults, it’s even more vital for children. Unfortunately, the American Sleep Association (ASA) reports that as many as 15 percent of children have their sleep disturbed by night terrors, episodic outbursts brought on by an intense feeling of fear. These episodes can last up to 20 minutes and can be even more frightening and disruptive for parents than the children themselves, as the latter often fall back asleep with no recollection of the event.
The Lully Sleep Guardian 2 can help stop these terrors before they start. The Bluetooth-enabled device is placed under the child’s mattress and programmed via an app to vibrate just before a night terror is expected to start (usually 2 to 3 hours after a child falls asleep).
In a study at Stanford University, the device was able to prevent disturbed sleep from escalating into a night terror 80 percent of the time after just four weeks of use. In some cases, it ended the child’s sleep terrors altogether, ensuring that both they and their parents are able to get a good night’s sleep every night.
Even if you have no trouble falling and staying asleep, you could still be subjected to a less-then-restful night due to a partner’s snoring. The ASA reports that almost half of all adults snore, and even if they don’t wake up, the sleepers themselves are affected by the noise. “Unfortunately, whеn snore sounds occurs, іt arouses thе brаіn of еvеrуоnе who саn hear it, including thе snorer,” the ASA asserts.
Smart Nora is designed to help both snorers and the people who love/hate them get better sleep. When the smart device detects the initial sounds of snoring, it triggers a pump that inflates a pillow insert. This inflation raises the snorer’s head just enough to prompt the airway to assume its natural, non-snore-inducing position, but not so much as to disturb the snorer’s sleep. The result is a quieter, more restful night for everyone.
While several of the above focus on one aspect of sleep or another, Hello’s voice-activated Sense system aims to cover it all using two hardware devices and a companion app.
The first device, the Sleep Pill, is roughly the size of a quarter, and it attaches to your pillow to monitor your movement at night. The other, Sense, is a small globe that you place near your bed. It is equipped with sensors that monitor the room’s temperature, light, humidity, and more.
Together with the app, the system can analyze how well you sleep, advise you on ways to improve your sleep, and even start to wake you up at the right time in your sleep cycle for optimum alertness throughout the day. As a bonus, the device can be synced up with other smart devices, such as a Nest thermostat or smart lights, to help you create your ideal sleep environment every night of the week.
One of the downsides of international travel is the jet lag that comes with long flights that cross many time zones. Aside from staying hydrated and sleeping during flight, there’s not a whole lot the world traveler can do to combat jet lag. But, researchers at a Scottish university believe they may have found a cure — eye drops.
Scientists found a class of cells in the eye that are sensitive to light and help to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, also known as the body’s biological clock. The cellular group, known as retinal ganglion cells, send information to the brain about light’s changing intensity, which controls sleep-related impulses. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe they can use this discovery to manipulate the body’s internal clock.
While still quite a way off, researchers believe eye drops could be used to alter signaling to the brain which could help reduce the effects of jet lag after traveling across the world. This may not help you on your next long-haul flight, but it’s encouraging to see scientists working towards a solution that could finally alleviate symptoms of jet lag that so many travelers currently can’t evade.
Pacemakers and other implantable medical devices have saved many lives, but they don’t come without their own inherent risks. Implanting them requires major surgery and a recovery period longer than the norm as the body both bounces back from surgery and adjusts to a foreign object inside of it.
Traditionally, these devices are also powered by batteries, which eventually die. This poses a risk for devices that aren’t replaced on time, naturally, but even when they are, replacement of those batteries means another surgery and recovery, plus the risks of infection that come with them. Furthermore, batteries house toxic materials, which always have the potential to leach out of the battery’s casing and into the body.
UCLA and University of Connecticut researchers have designed a new kind of biofriendly power source for medical implantable devices that may make most of these risks a thing of the past. The energy storage system design is called a “biological supercapacitor,” and alongside an energy harvester, a device that turns motion and heat from the human body into energy, it uses the natural chemistry of the human body to generate power.
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Fluids in the human body contain ions, which are charged particles that the energy harvester can harness as a power source. The biological supercapacitor then stores the energy for use running the device — all without causing any harm to the body.
The biological supercapacitor itself is made up of graphene layered with human proteins that have been modified to act as electrodes. This design allows for much smaller implantable devices; for example, about half of the current pacemaker is taken up by the battery, whereas the biological supercapacitor is only 1 micrometer thick — less than the thickness of a human hair. The researchers revealed this game-changing technology in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.
The researchers also think that this design might be applied in other ways inside of the body, to stimulate the brain or grow new bone, for example. This novel design may prompt a new era in medical devices that are more comfortable, less risky, and last for life.
If humans can’t yet achieve immortality, the next best thing would be finding a way to slow down or even reverse the process of aging. While there’s an entire industry devoted to so-called “anti-aging,” the biological truth is that our fate is written in our DNA. Specifically, the end bits which are called telomeres.
These “caps” don’t hold the codes for proteins like genes do, so when the telomere gets a bit shorter each time the DNA replicates, no important information is lost. In humans, those telomeres will eventually get too short and coding DNA will start to be lost in the replication process, throwing a major hitch into cell regeneration. If our cells are no longer replicating at the rate they once did, the impact is felt throughout our body — in short, we start getting older and slowing down.
In one of their YouTube videos, MinuteEarth explains the role telomeres play in aging across multiple species — and why some animals, such as the naked mole rat, don’t seem to age at all. Despite their wrinkly appearance, naked mole rats produce a special enzyme that rebuilds the telomeres that keeps them young. Or, at the very least somewhat indefinitely middle-aged.
Forever Young (Or, Middle-Aged At Least)
They aren’t truly putting a stop to aging, however: the naked mole rat may be able to live longer at a younger age, and they may have the unique ability to evade cancer, but they aren’t immortal. In fact, the longer the critters live, the higher their chance of being gobbled up by a predator.
If humans could extend their lives in a similar capacity to the naked mole rat, we may not have to worry about being eaten by something bigger than us — but unlike our perpetually middle-aged, hairless, wrinkly pals, we can and do fall prey to cancer.
Coffee is full of surprises, and one more was uncovered this week by researchers from the Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). They found that coffee’s secret weapon, caffeine, and another stimulating chemical helped sleep-deprived mice deal with pain. They concluded that if we want to help people with chronic pain, we must first address with the fatigue that so many endure.
BCH neurologists and neurobiologists induced chronic sleep deprivation in mice by entertaining them with toys when they would normally be sleeping. Then, they introduced mice to different forms of pain, and measured how long it took the mice to remove themselves from the source of the negative stimulus. As the mice became more exhausted, they became more sensitive to pain and reacted more quickly.
Then the scientists treated the mice with drugs to help them deal with the pain. Instead of responding to normal pain relievers like ibuprofen or even morphine, the researchers found that mice responded best to wakefulness drugs, namely caffeine and modafinil. However, the two drugs did not have an analgesic effect in well-rested mice, confirming that they were targeting the mice’s fatigue rather than the pain itself. They wrote their result in a paper, published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Ending the Cycle
“This represents a new kind of analgesic that hadn’t been considered before, one that depends on the biological state of the animal,” said Clifford Woolf, director of the Kirby Center at BCH, in an interview for a press release. “Such drugs could help disrupt the chronic pain cycle, in which pain disrupts sleep, which then promotes pain, which further disrupts sleep.”
While these results have not been demonstrated in humans yet, the researchers believe that the study underscores the importance of helping people who suffer from chronic pain get the rest they need, said BCH sleep specialist Kiran Maski.
“Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities,” Maski, who did not participate in the study, said in the press release. “This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care.”
Bone marrow transplants are incredible, even life-saving, medical procedures. They are often used used to treat individuals dealing with blood and immune disorders. Unfortunately, in order for this transplant to work, patients have to have their own bone marrow cells eliminated using radiation and drugs — many of which have significant negative side effects.
However, a new implant may completely remove the need for these drugs when treating some of those disorders. The implant is made of two sections: an outer layer which functions as bone, and an inner mesh that facilitates the growth of donor bone marrow. The outer layer interacts with the host’s cells to help build bone, integrating the implant with the body’s natural structure. “It’s an additional accessory for the host,” says Shyni Varghese at the University of California, San Diego. “They have their own bone tissue and now an additional one that can be used if needed. It’s like having more batteries for the bone.”
Space to Grow
The implant has been tested, and found to be successful, in mice. When a host’s blood was tested after 24 weeks, the researchers saw a mixture of the host’s blood cells and the cells created by the implant. Even after six months, the researchers still found the donor cells alive and producing new blood cells for the host.
As with any medical development tested in mice, there is no guarantee that it will be as effective in humans. Much more study will be needed to prove its effectiveness before it can be approved by the FDA as a valid treatment. This method is also only effective on non-malignant bone marrow disorders — the implant can’t do anything to stop cancerous mutation or its spread.
Still, this is an exciting development for patients suffering from these blood disorders. Each year, 20,000 patients could benefit from a transplant — and this treatment could help a number of them get the best care available. Not only will it ease their suffering by effectively treating their disease, but also eliminate the harmful side effects of traditional treatments.
Meditation, in its most basic sense, is clearing your mind of all thought—or at least, trying to. The practice is used in cultures around the globe for both religious and secular purposes. While it may be best known for its spiritual uses, it is this latter purpose that has recently ignited a firestorm of interest, as scientific research seems to indicate that meditation changes your brain on a fundamental, biological level.
Dr. Robert Puff, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes in Psychology Todaythat descriptions of meditation techniques date back at least some 3,000 years, to Indian scriptures written in approximately 1000 BCE. However, the practice itself appears to be far, far older. Some evidence suggests that individuals were describing the practice as long as 5,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the exact date of its inception is lost to the annals of time, but we do know that it wasn’t until the 6th century BCE that it truly started its global spread. And it wasn’t until the 20th century that mainstream scientists started researching the impact that it has on the human body—specifically, the impact it has on the human brain.
“Our data shows changes in the brain after just eight weeks.”
To date, a host of medical uses have been found for meditation. The most obvious use is, perhaps, stress management and reduction, which is supported by a plethora of scientific evidence. In a study published in Clinical Psychology Review, researchers at Boston University and Harvard Medical School found that the technique helps alleviate anxiety and allows individuals to better cope with stressful situations.
Along these same lines, a 2011 study by Dr. Fadel Zeidan, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, found that meditation helps individuals cope with, and better tolerate, physical pain. This work was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. But this is just the start of the research that has been conducted in relation to meditation.
Transforming the Human Brain
In a 2015 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers from UCLA found that individuals who meditate over extended periods have more gray matter volume in their brains than those that do not. The work looked at individuals who been meditating for an average of 20 years, and the impact was pronounced. As study author Florian Kurth notes:
We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.
Other studies support these findings. A 2011 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which was conducted by Yale University, discovered that meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN) in the brain. In the paper, the team noted that this reveals the actual biological impact of meditation and helps bring to light “a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.”
And still, the evidence does not end.
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recently conducted work which found that individuals who meditate ultimately have more gray matter in the frontal cortex and, most notably, that this gray matter is preserved in spite of aging. The significance is overwhelming. As Lazar asserts in an interview with the Washington Post, “It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.”
In other words, as a result of transformations in the brain, individual who meditate have a better chance of retaining their memory function in old age. And it doesn’t take much for individuals to reap the benefits. Lazar states that, in her study, the average meditation time was just 27 minutes a day and results were obtained just 8 weeks after the individuals started the practice. So, how can you reap the benefits?
Scientists assert that using proprioceptive input (also know as deep touch pressure (DTP)) to ground your body is helpful when attempting to reach a meditative state. Research has shown that this kind of pressure results in a reduction in cortisol levels and an increase in serotonin production, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
As Amber Martin, an occupational therapist from Utica College, notes, “peroprioceptive input is good for pretty much everyone and anyone. It can be very calming and organizing.” By helping you reach a state of peaceful relaxation more quickly, Gravity Blanket makes it easier for you to take advantage of every valuable moment of meditation before you have to return to the busy world outside your mind.
There’s little debate in the science regarding the benefits of meditation. According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, meditation has been linked to reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, and physical pain.
“After learning about the use of edaravone to treat ALS in Japan, we rapidly engaged with the drug developer about filing a marketing application in the United States,” explained the FDA’s Eric Bastings in a press release. “This is the first new treatment approved by the FDA for ALS in many years, and we are pleased that people with ALS will now have an additional option.”
Patients diagnosed with ALS have varying life expectancies. At its worst, an ALS patient succumbs to respiratory failure around three to five years after the first signs of symptoms. As such, finding a way to cure ALS is crucial. Of course, Radicava isn’t a cure, but it could slow the progression of ALS.
However, it’s not going to be cheap. According to a Reuters report, Radicava is going to cost $1,086 per infusion — and we’re talking about 12 to 13 cycles, which puts the total cost to $145,524 without government discount. The pharmaceutical company that would sell Radicava, according to the New York Times, is working on a co-payment plan.
Nevertheless, Radicava is expected to be well received. “It’s exciting. I expect many, if not all, of our patients will be lining up to try to get the medication,” Nathan Staff, Mayo Clinic’s ALS Clinic director, told Forbes.
One of aging’s most obvious signs is a decrease in cognitive function and learning ability. Usually, these issues express themselves in the form of memory deficiency. While this decrease in memory retention and recall is considered normal, it is often associated with more serious disorders, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Now, a team of scientists from the University of Bonn and their colleagues from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered a potential treatment to reverse aging in the brain.
In their research, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, the team showed how that a cannabis-based treatment successfully reversed the biological state of the brains of mice 12 months and 18 months old. This is notable, as mice age remarkably fast and serve as a viable animal model when research potential treatments in humans.
“The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals.”
The team used two-month-old mice as a control group. The older mice were given an active ingredient in hemp called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for a period of four weeks in non-intoxicating doses. Their tests revealed that mice who received THC displayed cognitive abilities as good as the control group mice.
Meanwhile, those older mice who received a placebo displayed the usual learning capacity and memory performance appropriate to older mice. The findings that stem from this are simply remarkable. “The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals,” said researcher Andreas Zimmer, from the University of Bonn’s Institute of Molecular Psychiatry [emphasis added].
Resetting the Clock
This age-reversing effects of cannabis occur as THC imitates the effect of naturally produced cannabinoids in the body, which are crucial for some of the brain’s important functions. “With increasing age, the quantity of the cannabinoids naturally formed in the brain reduces,” Zimmer explained. “When the activity of the cannabinoid system declines, we find rapid aging in the brain.”
Furthermore, the researchers realized that cannabis reverses aging by making the brain cells in the mice younger. To this end, they saw that links between nerve cells increased and their molecular signature resembled those of young animals. “It looked as though the THC treatment turned back the molecular clock,” Zimmer added.
The treatment, once tested and proven to be effective in humans, could help improve the conditions of people suffering from dementia. This disease, which affects more than 47 million people worldwide, often leads to cognitive disabilities — memory loss and behavioral disorders — that hinder a patient from performing day-to-day tasks.
Svenja Schulze, science minister of North Rhine-Westphalia,outlines exactly how helpful this study could be for future treatment in the elderly. “The promotion of knowledge-led research is indispensable, as it is the breeding ground for all matters relating to application,” he stated in the press release. “Although there is a long path from mice to humans, I feel extremely positive about the prospect that THC could be used to treat dementia, for instance.” To that end, Zimmer and his team are now preparing for human clinical trials.
This March, child with severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) became the second commercial gene therapy patient ever. The patient started receiving a drug called Strimvelis from GlaxoSmithKline — a drug that appears to be able to cure the rare, inherited immune disorder SCID. The drug was approved for use in commercial gene therapy in May of 2016, but delays beset the process. Most of the delays — according to MIT Technology Review‘s report of comments from the Strimvelis project leader — were the result of difficulties traversing national borders and arranging for reimbursement.
Gene therapies, which revise the genetic makeup of patients in an attempt to cure them, are far more complex and costly than traditional treatments. This is in part because they target rare diseases which, by nature, affect few people. Strimvelis, for example, has a list price of 594,000 euros ($648,000) and very few people have SCID — the disease it treats. Somewhere between 40 to 100 are diagnosed with SCID each year in the U.S., and 15 in the EU. That being said, untreated children with the disease rarely live past the age of two.
The first gene therapy patient received the therapy called Glybera, which was subsequently pulled from the market after that single treatment for lack of demand and impracticality of commercialization. Panned as the world’s most expensive medicine, Glybera cost $1 million. For this reason, many have been watching to see how Strimvelis fares commercially at market, hoping for more success than Glybera enjoyed. They’re also waiting to see signs of failure which might be portents for other therapies.
Future Of Gene Therapy
According to GlaxoSmithKline’s comments to MIT Technology Review, one of the reasons the delay was so significant in this first case had to do with the complexity of the treatment. Strimvelis is an ex vivo gene therapy, meaning that the bone marrow cells of the patient are repaired outside their bodies and then replaced. This complex process demands a specialized environment; the therapy is only available in Milan at present. Each country of the EU is responsible for making up for the costs of accessing the treatment under the EU’s provisions for cross-border healthcare.
Moving forward, the real question is whether the next patients will be able to move faster; in other words, how much of the delay was due to instituting the process — and how much was inevitable? The company is also working on being able to freeze patients’ cells, which would render travel unnecessary. Until then, if the delays remain as significant, the company may not be able to profit.
Gene therapy is here to stay, slow start or not. Last week Vivet Therapeutics, a gene therapy startup, was funded by Novartis, Roche, and others. It will soon begin its pursuit of gene therapy treatment of rare diseases. Likewise, Spark Therapeutics is on track to release its gene therapy treatment for blindness later this year. The goal for most biotech companies working in gene therapy has always been to move from rare diseases to more common ones, and as each step forward is taken, the industry gets a little closer to that goal. While more progress and speed with Strimvelis treatments will help gene therapy progress as a whole, failure for this treatment won’t stop the rest of the industry.
Though the medical community has made remarkable strides in recent years, a number of neurological diseases remain incurable. Because many of those are debilitating or even lethal, there has been no shortage of research into potential treatment options, and sometimes, that research can take a rather unusual direction.
The researchers first genetically engineered mice to lack a gene that affects the mitochondria and that is mutated in some people suffering from a neurological disorder known as Leigh syndrome. They then exposed some of those mice to air with about half the oxygen levels typically found at sea level. They found that the mice breathing the hypoxic air didn’t develop brain lesions and lived a median age of 270 days. The group breathing “normal” air did develop lesions and lived a median age of only 58 days.
Even more exciting was what happened when mice who already had brain lesions were exposed to hypoxic air — after just one month, MRI scans revealed that the brain lesions in those mice disappeared. “We found, much to our surprise and delight, that we could actually reverse advanced disease,” said lead HHMI investigator Vamsi Mootha, a mitochondrial biologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in a press release. “I don’t think anybody thought that these types of neurological diseases could be reversible.”
Beyond the Mitochondria
Mootha and his colleagues conducted the research as a follow up to an initial study they had published in the journal Science back in 2016. They wanted to find out just how long mice treated with low oxygen levels could live and if such therapeutical hypoxia must be administrated continuously.
The results of the study seem to suggest that only a continuous exposure to 11 percent oxygen would work. Though tolerable, that oxygen level wouldn’t be terribly comfortable for a healthy individual, so while this research is both “profound and striking,” according to Mootha, developing similar hypoxia therapy for humans is still some ways off. “We are not ready yet to go into the clinic,” he said.
The potential of such a treatment isn’t lost on Mootha and his colleagues, however. “As all of us age, our mitochondrial activity declines,” Mootha explained. If hypoxia can cure mitochondria-related brain disorders, could it also be used to treat neurodegenerative disorders associated with aging? At a time when experts are beginning to see aging as a disease, Mootha’s low-oxygen therapy is promising — after all, aging has been linked to a decrease in mitochondrial activity.
Could a world without neurological disorders, or without aging itself, be one that’s low in oxygen? Significantly more work has to be done for us to find out, but Mootha is optimistic: “At a high level, this is exploring the remarkable potential and also the limitations of hypoxia.”
Despite intensified searches for the genetic roots of a range of neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, scientists have, as yet, identified few risk factors — and no direct causal genes. Risk factor genes that have been discovered often link back only to subgroups of affected people, not to every person with the disorder in question.
And scientists have know that if a mutation was the origin of a neurological disorder, that mutation would likely be difficult to track. Major mutations that are inheritable and cause disease directly are less likely to be transmitted from generation to generation. This has led researchers to wonder: where are the risk factors for neurological disorders hiding?
Scientists have now discovered that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that all neurons within a single brain are genetically identical, every person’s brain is actually home to many different genomes. This is called somatic mosaicism, and it happens because somatic cells, such as neurons, are hosts of several sources of spontaneous mutation. This realization prompted the founding of The Brain Somatic Mosaicism Network (BSMN), a group whose goal is to explore this diversity with the aim of connecting various mutations within neurons to associated neurological disorders.
Treating Mental Illness
At this point researchers know that mosaicism is common, and that there may be thousands of changes to the genetic code within human neurons. Errors during DNA replication are the main factor causing somatic mutations, and the original neurons that eventually divide into a mature human brain divide billions of times, so there are ample opportunities for tiny errors in replication — any of which may be a factor in a neurological disorder.
Mature neurons live much longer than other cells in the body, so the somatic mutations in the neurons are much more likely to affect health. Researchers may not have found the genetic source of psychiatric diseases in the past because they were looking in the wrong place — the germ cells. Instead, it’s possible that the DNA responsible for these neurological disorders is inside only the neurons, unseen by sequencing and undetectable before now.
Researchers believe that learning more about somatic mosaicism might be the answer to understanding not only neural diversity, but human diversity more generally. The next important milestone for the BSMN will be the genome sequencing of individual neurons. The group expects to have data from at least 10,000 sequences by 2020.
This project could lead to new treatment options — and perhaps even cures — for neurological disorders, which are the causes for an estimated 12 percent of deaths globally. University of California, San Diego neuroscientist Alysson Muotri, who is not a BSNM member, commented to Scientific American, “I’m very excited — this is the beginning of something completely new in biology and neuroscience.”
Brain surgery is precision business, and one slip can spell doom for affected patients. Even in one of the most skilled jobs in the world, human error can still be a factor. Researchers from the University of Utah are looking to provide less opportunity for those errors to occur. A robot that the team is developing is able to reduce the time it takes to complete a complicated procedure by 50 times. According to CNN, the robot can reduce the time it takes to drill into the skull from two hours to two-and-a-half minutes.
The research was published in the journal Neurosurgical Focus and the team says it is a “proof of principle” that the robot is capable of performing complex surgeries. The robot is guided around vulnerable areas of the skull by data gleaned from CT scans and entered into the robot’s programming. The CT scans show the programmer the location of nerves or veins that the bot will have to avoid.
The team’s lead neurosurgeon William Couldwell told CNN, “We can program [it] to drill the bone out safely just by using the patient’s CT criteria,” he said. “It basically machines out the bone.”
A Savings Machine
Aside from the obvious life-saving capabilities that such a machine would have, it also could potentially save money in the long run. Shorter surgery times will allow for lower costs per surgery as well. There’s also the added benefit of lowering the time a patient is under anesthesia, which can cause its own complications.
Robotics and automation are slowly transforming the way doctors are performing surgery. Some patients may initially balk at the thought of some machine cutting into them and messing with their insides, but these robots can perform with a precision that may be impossible for humans to achieve.
Nanomaterials are engineered devices so small that they can only be measured on a molecular scale. These microscopic machines come in many shapes and can be made out of many different kinds of material, from gold to synthetic polymers, depending on their designed functions — which are numerous and varied.
The benefits of using nanomaterials in medicine are many, especially when it comes to cancer therapies. Right now, these machines are being used to selectively deliver toxic chemotherapy to cancer tumors, reducing the doses required to kill the tumors and the risks of serious side effects for the patient. In the future, nanotherapeutics may be engineered to kill cancer cells themselves, possibly activated near-infrared light.
These life-saving technologies have sparked a surge of research that has grown since the early 2000s. And while many researchers have been eager to test their nanomaterials for anti-cancer activity, they have had few tools for doing so.
A Novel Platform
To put this in perspective, let’s take a look at the pharmaceutical industry. Conventional drug developers have streamlined their process of drug discovery and development, but even so, 90 percent of potential drugs that pass all of their cellular and animal tests fail in clinical trials when tested in humans. This represents billions of dollars wasted that might have been spent on drugs that could actually help people. And this is the reality for an industry that already has a myriad of tools for testing their drug candidates. Just imagine the hurdles faced by an entirely new class of therapeutics that has precious few of these tools. Such is — or was — the case for nanomaterials.
“This is an important step forward for the field,” principal investigator, Alexander Stegh, said in an interview for a Northwestern press release. “The very thorough optimization that we see in conventional drug development had been missing in the nanotech space, and we felt very strongly about changing this. The system that we developed here really allows us to support those efforts.”
Stegh’s team used the platform to test the therapeutic nanomaterials they were developing — spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), which may be able to kill a currently incurable type of brain cancer by targeting a particular gene. Their system allowed them to see that the nanoparticles had the greatest effect between 24 and 48 hours after administration, giving them an idea for the best time frame to administer additional chemotherapy.
While this study demonstrates some potential for SNAs to one day help patients with brain cancer, the platform itself may have the greatest impact on our treatment options, said researcher Timothy Sita.
“It’s a platform to help optimize the drugs in mice before they go to human trials and make something that will translate better to the clinic,” Sita said in the press release. “Now we can tweak these particles — play with the shape of the nanoparticle, or how much RNA we load onto the particle, for example — and then assess very quickly whether those changes are more effective or not.”
We’re often asked by doctors to rate our pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Maybe if you had a headache that wasn’t too bad — more annoying than anything — you’d say a 2 or 3. If you’d shattered your leg in a car accident, it might hurt so much that you couldn’t even think or speak clearly enough to communicate the level of pain.
When presented with any kind of measurement scale, most of us will fall somewhere in between — but what happens when you find yourself stuck at one end of the spectrum? As scientists have set out to understand and treatment pain, they’ve given a lot of consideration to two conditions that, while rare, are the best examples we have for those extremes.
The first, congenital insensitivity to pain, is when a person feels no pain, even if they are terribly injured or ill, even if their life is threatened. They may, at times, feel discomfort, or like something is a bit “off,” but they don’t experience the sensation of pain like the rest of us do.
On the other end of the spectrum are disorders of chronic — even constant — pain, one of which is called erythromelalgia. That disease causes a person to feel a near-constant, burning, hot pain in their arms and legs. Their skin can even be discolored and warm to the touch.
After decades of research, scientists finally have a lead on what could cause the body to turn the “volume knob” on pain up or down in such a way: the SCN9A gene.
The Door to Pain
In people with no mutations of this gene, stimuli is detected by nociceptors, receptors that run from our spinal cord to our skin. A message is then sent through our central nervous system to our brain, and our brain decides if that stimuli is painful. Pain is a way to warn our body of danger — potential injury from a hot fire, for example — so if our brain determines that something is painful, it sends a message to another part of the body, like the muscles of the arm, for instance. That message tells our muscles to flee from whatever the stimuli is — in this example, maybe our hand jerks away from the open flame of a campfire when we get too close.
In the middle of all that signal swapping are sodium ion channels that allow (or don’t allow) those messages to get through. One of those channels, NAv1.7, is encoded by the SCN9A gene. The pervading theory is that mutations in that gene can warp the sodium ion channel’s function. In one mutation, the “gates” don’t open, the signals can’t pass through, and the person can’t feel pain. In another, those gates open and allow signals to go through when they don’t have to, making any stimulus, not just something that would normally cause pain, feel painful.
Knowing this, researchers are now hoping that they can tap into what is — or isn’t — happening in NAv1.7 to develop treatments or even cures not just for the “extremes” of pain, but other conditions that cause chronic pain, such as diabetes, nerve damage, or arthritis.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 25 million Americans are living with some form of chronic pain every single day, and that pain has led many to develop addictions to prescription painkillers — 2 million people, in fact. When those don’t provide enough relief, some sufferers even turn to illegal drugs like heroin to manage their pain. In that respect, this research on SCN9A and NAv1.7 could not only change the lives of those living with chronic pain, it could go a long way toward ending the opioid epidemic currently plaguing the nation and improving society as a whole.
University of Nottingham researchers created an AI system that scanned routine medical data to predict which patients would have strokes or heart attacks within 10 years. The AI system beat the standard method of prediction, correctly making calls in 355 more cases than traditional means. Predicting cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks is a notoriously challenging task. In fact, the researchers note in their recent paper that around half of all strokes and heart attacks occur in patients who were never identified as being “at risk.”
The records included a decade of health outcomes, lab data, drug information, hospital records, and demographic information. The team identified the distinguishing characteristics of patients who experienced strokes and heart attacks using 75 percent of the records. They then tested their models against the standard guidelines using the remaining 25 percent of the records. The standard guidelines scored 0.728 out of 1.0, with the latter signifying 100 percent accuracy. The machine models scored between 0.745 to 0.764, with the neural network making 355 more accurate predictions than the standard guidelines, therefore earning the best score. Had those predictions been made in real time, the patients could have been provided with preventative care.
AI Changing Medicine
According to lead researcher researcher Stephen Weng, within five years the AI medical tools they are testing in labs will be improving the accuracy of clinicians’ diagnoses and the prognoses of patients. In practice, Weng envisions busy doctors making the most of their time with AI tools that are essentially masters of pattern recognition. “[T]he algorithm can look through the entire patient list, flag this up, and bring this to the attention of the doctor,” he said to IEEE Spectrum. “This could be done with the patient sitting in front of them during a routine appointment, or in a systematic screen of the entire list.” Although there is already clinical decision support software available, none of it uses AI pattern recognition — which is at the crux of these more accurate results.
Major regulatory hurdles remain before you’ll be seeing Dr. AI, however: “The key barrier to implementation will be managing privacy and patient confidentiality issues, with computer algorithms trawling through vast amounts of patient data which contain confidential and sensitive medical information,” Weng told IEEE Spectrum. Wariness of decision-making capabilities in medical machines on the part of regulators will also be a hurdle for AI technology to clear. For all of these reasons, when, exactly, the tech will be put into practice remains uncertain.
From the depth of what should be — by all accounts — a pit of despair, a new hope in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs is emerging.
The Berkeley Pit, located in southwestern Montana, is an abandoned open pit copper mine that contains a lake filled with toxic water. The water is acidic and laced with deadly arsenic as well as other metals. Most living creatures cannot survive in these waters, yet researchers are finding a host of organisms that can treat a variety of conditions.
The team has discovered a cancer-killing fungus — along with organisms with anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties — living in the toxic waters. In the lab, the researchers combined two species of Penicillium fungus and were delighted to find that the compounds produced by the bugs had the ability to destroy strains of antibiotic resistant MRSA, as well as the pathogens that cause anthrax, strep throat, and others.
Down With The Resistance
Researchers are still unclear about exactly how the compounds go about killing the pathogens — though they do know it’s unlike how any other antibiotic does. Even so, these findings are still preliminary, and there is no guarantee that they can be effectively turned into medication. Still, the discovery does inspire hope for the future of battling superbugs.
As the dangers of antibiotic resistance are becoming more apparent, researchers are searching for novel ways to fight superbugs. Some scientists are studying species of ants to see if the compounds they create to protect themselves against fungi, bacteria, and microbes could be applied to humans. Other researchers are creating artificial compounds that can weaken superbugs so that conventional medications could once again become effective.
Whichever way we end up battling them, it is a fight that we cannot afford to lose. Humanity will not be long for this world if these killer bugs continue to proliferate unchecked. Each possibility needs to be vetted with the greatest of scientific scrutiny.
There’s a glimmer of hope, though: scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) and the University of Pittsburgh published a study in the journal Molecular Therapyshowing it’s possible to surgically remove HIV DNA from a living animal genome. This is the first time that such a method was demonstrated to be possible, and it could increase the chances of eliminating HIV infection.
The secret is in CRISPR/Cas9, the world’s most efficient and effective gene editing tool, which made it possible to delete targeted HIV-1 fragments from the infected animal tissue genome. “CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9)-mediated genome editing provides a promising cure for HIV-1/AIDS,” the study’s abstract notes. This research built on a proof-of-concept study that the same team of researchers conducted last year.
“Our new study is more comprehensive,” LKSOM’s Wenhui Hu explained. “We confirmed the data from our previous work and have improved the efficiency of our gene editing strategy. We also show that the strategy is effective in two additional mouse models, one representing acute infection in mouse cells and the other representing chronic, or latent, infection in human cells.”
Search and Destroy
The researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 to shut down HIV on three sets of animal models: one performed on transgenic mice with HIV-1, another with mice acutely infected with the mouse equivalent of human HIV (ecoHIV), and a third group of mice that had human immune cells with latent HIV-1 embedded into their tissues and organs.
In all three animal models, the researchers were able to successfully render HIV inactive via gene editing, reducing the RNA expression of viral genes by up to 95 percent in the first model, and up to 96 percent in the second. For the third model, they were able to remove viral fragments from the latently infected human cells in the mouse organs after only a single CRISPR/Cas9 treatment.
Now, researchers need to make the treatment more viable for humans: “The next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, a more suitable animal model where HIV infection induces disease, in order to further demonstrate elimination of HIV-1 DNA in latently infected T cells and other sanctuary sites for HIV-1, including brain cells,” said researcher Kamel Khalili. “Our eventual goal is a clinical trial in human patients.”
As this is the first time gene editing was demonstrated to work on HIV in animals, this method could prove to be a game changer in treating the elusive virus: it’s a crucial step in, eventually, creating a cure.
A compound in the mucus found on the oozy backs of a South Indian frog — known locally as a germ killer — can cause flu virus particles to explode. Researchers at Emory University have discovered that the compound, a peptide they’ve called urumin, is potent, yet precise, and capable of destroying an entire class of flu viruses while other cells and even other viruses emerge unscathed. Unlike other frog-based compounds, urumin is uniquely nontoxic, another unusual feature that makes it more promising from a therapeutic standpoint.
One of the greatest challenges researchers face when they fight the flu is the need to respond to shifting strains which are sometimes drug-resistant. New vaccines are made each year merely hoping to target the most common strains. Urumin may be the source for the next new anti-viral, and potentially the best one yet, for killing off flu virus.
In experiments, urumin was able to destroy flu in mice by targeting the lollypop-shaped protein (hemagglutinin (HA)) that sticks out of the surface of the virus particle. HA is like the glue that allows the virus to latch onto human cells and invade, so without HA, the flu can’t survive. In the experiments, urumin targeted HA1 in particular, which is why it knocked out some strains of flu but not others. However, urumin also seemed to attack the HA stalks, which are home to the conserved regions that all HAs share. Therefore, if researchers could adjust the urumin’s actions and create a vaccine that works on that stalk, they might be able to create a universal flu vaccine.
According to CDC estimates, the overall incidence of flu across all age groups during the 2014-2015 flu season was 40 million flu illnesses, 19 million flu-associated medical visits, and 970,000 flu-associated hospitalizations. There is no certain way to get an exact number of flu-associated deaths for a variety of reasons, but the CDC estimates that from the 2010-2011 flu season to the 2013-2014 flu season, deaths associated with flu in the U.S. ranged from a low of 12,000 (during 2011-2012) to a high of 56,000 (during 2012-2013). Furthermore, according to the CDC Foundation, the flu costs the U.S. more than $87 billion each year.
It’s easy to see why the researchers will be following up on urumin; a universal flu vaccine would save tens of thousands of lives, improve millions of others, and save billions of dollars. And so, if this path does lead to a universal vaccine, we will owe it all to the mucus of the Hydrophylax bahuvistara, the antimicrobial frog.
The past several months have been no less than astounding ones for the CRISPR gene-editing tool. In September, 2016, researchers in Germany discovered a way to use CRISPR to edit out cancer mutations. In November, Chinese researchers used CRISPR technology on a person for the first time. Then, in January if this year, researchers uncovered two distinct anti-CRISPR proteins that could lead to a CRISPR “off switch” and greater control over the gene editing tool in human subjects.
Now, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have used CRISPR to target cancer’s “command center,” increasing survival rates and shrinking aggressive tumors without harming healthy cells in mice. The method targets fusion genes, mutations that develop when two distinct genes combine into a single, hybrid gene — one that often leads to cancer. They published their results in Nature Biotechnology earlier this week.
The team transplanted human liver and prostate cancer cells into mice, and then used the CRISPR fusion gene targeting tool to treat them. The control group’s treatment targeted fusion genes that weren’t present in their bodies — making it ineffective. Their tumors grew nearly 40 times larger, and spread to other parts of the body in most cases. None of the control group survived the test period.
The treatment for the experimental group targeted fusion genes that were present in their tumors, and the tumors shrunk by up to 30 percent and didn’t spread. Most impressively, all of the animals that received the experimental treatment survived to the end of the test — representing an increase in survival rate from 0 to 100 percent.
Remission — Or Elimination?
The fact that these fusion genes are genetically unique makes them an easy target for CRISPR, which can target them and replace them with something else. In this case, researchers replace them with genes that kill cancer, ensuring healthy cells stay well — something chemotherapy can’t do.
While these dramatic results are exciting, they do not necessarily mean that the treatment will be effective in people, and no plans for clinical trials have been announced as of yet. Before the treatment is tested in humans, the researchers hope to improve it. Although the current research demonstrates that the technique can force the cancer cells into remission, the scientists want to test whether it could entirely wipe the cancer out instead.
“This is the first time that gene editing has been used to specifically target cancer fusion genes,” Jian-Hua Luo, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “It is really exciting because it lays the groundwork for what could become a totally new approach to treating cancer. Other types of cancer treatments target the foot soldiers of the army. Our approach is to target the command center, so there is no chance for the enemy’s soldiers to regroup in the battlefield for a comeback.”
Having your heart race as you watch a horror movie is a totally normal physiological response. So is having trouble sleeping the night before delivering an important presentation. Not so normal is experiencing those same feelings on a near-constant basis, regardless of the circumstances.
For the 18 percent of the U.S. population with an anxiety disorder, it is oftentimes difficult for sufferers to live a normal life. In an interview with The Guardian, one young woman who was forced to drop out of college due to her panic disorder explained what her day-to-day reality was like: “I don’t enjoy sitting at home all day long,” she said, “but I physically can’t do anything else at the moment. It’s as though a pause button has been pressed on my life. I’m just…waiting.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic attacks are just one symptom of anxiety disorders. Others can include a feeling of impending doom, restlessness, nausea, and difficulty falling and staying asleep. Those sleep-related symptoms of anxiety can create a vicious cycle, with the lack of sleep making it harder and harder for a person to cope with their anxiety, which then makes it even harder for them to sleep—it’s a neverending cycle.
It is important to note that chronic anxiety is not a problem with one single solution. It’s a continuous presence that must often be attacked on multiple fronts.
Medications help, but at the present time, they cannot cure anxiety disorders, only treat their symptoms. For some people, the process of finding a drug that works with their body’s unique chemistry can be a source of stress all its own. According to the NAMI, some medications can take weeks to begin working and cause unwanted side effects.
As if that’s not troubling enough, getting off some anti-anxiety medications can cause withdrawal symptoms worse than those experienced prior to their usage, including seizures and even death, leaving the patient with little choice but to continue taking the medication.
And as investigative journalist Robert Whitaker notes in his book “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” in the end, the adverse effects of psychiatric medications may lend to the growing mental health epidemic. After analyzing the scientific literature that has been produced in peer review articles over the course of the last half century, Whitaker found that some psychiatric medications appear to be effective over the short term, but that these drugs ultimately increase the probability that a person will become chronically ill over the long term.
This does not mean that medication doesn’t work (it does work, and for a lot of people). Rather, what it means is that our current treatments have a number of issues and don’t work (or don’t work well) for all people. In this respect, we are making progress, but we have a lot of work that still needs to be done.
And we’re still just getting started with the issues our society faces when addressing, or trying to address, mental health issues.
Accepting the Truth: We Have A Problem
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is believed that only about half of those affected receive treatment. Part of the problem is the stigmas that are attached to mental health issues. Most people see mental issues as “weakness,” as something that people just need to “get over.”
Ultimately, such responses lead to a number of individuals who go without necessary treatment. This, in turn, has a significant impact on individuals’ health and livelihood. It impacts friends and loved ones. As the author of Robot Hugs notes:
Mental health is a global issue. Mental illness affects people of every race, class, and nationality. Access to mental health resources is a global crisis, and that access is affected and compromised (or facilitated) by factors from all levels of society: legislative, medical, community, employment, interpersonal, individual.
The stigma that mental illness is not real illness, or that it only affects the weak, or that it is shameful, those stigmas permeate each of those levels. This includes governments defunding mental health care, medical professionals dismissing or avoiding issues of mental illness in their patients, communities who turn their backs on their most at-risk members, and families who hide behinds walls of secrecy.
The Mayo Clinic has some helpful advice regarding how we can help solve our mental health crisis. First, get treatment from where ever you are comfortable and able (be that a friend, a book, or a professional), and realize that doing so is a great, good thing. As the Clinic notes, “Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking psychological counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others with mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.”
The next important thing to do is to avoid isolation, as this often exacerbates the issue. This could start with something simple, such as regularly going out for a walk or joining a community club, or involve some more dedicated work, such as joining a support group.
And of course, something that we can all do is speak out against stigma. The Clinic continues, “Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the Internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.”
For those individuals who don’t yet feel comfortable seeking treatment from a professional, there are other solutions. A report by Harvard Health Publications notes that treating the sleep disorder associated with mental health issues can actually alleviate some of the symptoms of the problem, and one way to do that is through using proprioceptive input (also know as deep touch pressure (DTP)) to ground your body with a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets use DTP to ease feelings of anxiety. The blankets are filled with poly pellets to match 10 percent of a person’s body weight. Research has shown that this kind of pressure results in a reduction in cortisol levels and an increase in serotonin production, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure by stimulating pressure points—which causes the release of the aforementioned chemicals.
A New Battle
Thus, weighted blankets cause these chemical changes to naturally bring about a sense of calm and relaxation that can ease anxiety and bring on a restful slumber. What this translates to is a feeling of comfort that can help even the most over-active mind start to slow down.
Unfortunately, society at large hasn’t had access to the benefits of deep pressure stimulation. To that end, the Gravity Blanket recently launched on Kickstarter in order to give access to all individuals.
While the symptoms of anxiety disorders vary greatly depending on the person and the type of disorder from which they suffer, the one unifying symptom of all anxiety disorders, according to NAMI, is that persistent feeling of excessive fear or worry in non-threatening situations. This makes restful sleep exceedingly difficult and exacerbates the issue.
Thankfully, for some individuals, a weighted blanket provide an immediate, side-effect-free way to help alleviate that symptom under any circumstances, whether it’s caused by a big life event or a chronic disorder that makes every day feel like a horror movie.
It is not a “cure-all,” but it is a way that individuals can begin to feel relief. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here. If you, or someone that you know, is struggling (or seems to need assistance), know that you—and they— are not alone. There are many support services and treatment options that may help. You can learn more about how to seek help here.
Futurism partnered with Gravity Products LLC to bring the Gravity Blanket to life.
There’s little debate in the science regarding the benefits of meditation. According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, meditation has been linked to reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, and physical pain.
Studies by other scientists reveal that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills.
And this is just the beginning. As Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, notes, meditation literally transforms your brain: “We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions…in the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions. Studies by other scientists have shown that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills.”
But there’s a problem. At its core, meditation sounds like the easiest thing in the world: Clear your mind and think about nothing at all. However, meditating can be far more difficult than simply breathing in and out for a few minutes. Reaching a meditative state actually takes a lot of work, and truly clearing your mind is far from easy.
However, scientists assert that using proprioceptive input (also know as deep touch pressure (DTP)) to ground your body is helpful when attempting to reach a meditative state. Research has shown that this kind of pressure results in a reduction in cortisol levels and an increase in serotonin production, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
The gravity blanket is filled with poly pellets in an evenly distributed grid pattern that is engineered to be roughly 10 percent of your body weight. This added weight allows the gravity blanket to apply specifically targeted pressure to various points throughout your body in order to reduce the aforementioned cortisol levels and increase your serotonin production.
As Amber Martin, an occupational therapist from Utica College, notes, “peroprioceptive input is good for pretty much everyone and anyone. It can be very calming and organizing.” By helping you reach a state of peaceful relaxation more quickly, Gravity Blanket makes it easier for you to take advantage of every valuable moment of meditation before you have to return to the busy world outside your mind.
Though researchers estimate that it has been around for more than 5,000 years, meditation has recently found itself the subject of intense scientific focus. Scientists have used all the tools in their arsenal, from fMRIs to EEGs, to uncover the science behind this practice and determine how productive it really is in relation to the human body.
They’ve reached some interesting conclusions about the positive benefits that it provides. Gravity Blanket can help you get there, and significantly help your mind and body as a result. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here.
Futurism has partnered with Gravity Products LLC to bring you this exclusive product.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is now one step closer to achieving their goal of eliminating malaria by 2040. Last week, WHO announced that one of several potential malaria vaccines in development has made it through a crucial phase in trials and is now ready to be field tested.
In Phase 3 trials, the vaccine decreased mortality rates in 11,000 children in Sub-Sahara Africa by 50 percent, according to WHO data. The vaccine aims to protect against the most virulent form of malaria, caused by Plasmodium falciparum. It’s technically named RTS,S but will be more commonly referred to as Mosquirix. Starting next year, the vaccine will be administered to over 120,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 months living in three African nations: Kenya, Ghana, and Malwai.
Thanks to worldwide educational efforts, in conjunction with advances and improvements in mosquito control and preventative medicine, the rate of deaths from malaria worldwide decreased by 60 percent from 2000-2015. The WHO intends on testing the vaccine alongside the preexisting preventative measures, like mosquito nets.
While the vaccine is promising, there are still many challenges that must be addressed if the disease is to be fully eliminated in the coming decades. Access is still a major barrier in many parts of the world, where the availability of mosquito nets may be limited, clean water is scarce, and children may not be able to travel to clinics for vaccine administration. The latter is of particular interest to researchers, as Mosquirix currently requires multiple doses (or “boosters”). Earlier results indicated that the vaccine may not effectively prevent malaria, but rather, delays its onset. Due to that revelation, researchers added a fourth dose to the dosing schedule. But, until the field testing begins next year, the world will have to wait to know if we really are getting close to eradicating malaria once and for all.
The $1 million TED Prize is awarded each year to someone with a creative idea for sparking global change. The idea behind the TED Prize is to accelerate progress toward solving some of the most challenging of the world’s problems by investing millions in potential solutions. The 2017 winner is Dr. Raj Panjabi, whose “Community Health Academy” could have the power to stop pandemics before they start.
Panjabi is a Harvard Medical School physician and CEO and co-founder of Last Mile Health, an organization that hires professional community health workers in remote areas to expand access to healthcare. Panjabi, describing his aim to Business Insider, says his goal is to “recruit and train the largest army of community health workers that’s ever been known.” Epidemics — such as the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014 — start small. If adequate healthcare resources are in place, they can be stopped early on. “I want to help countries where they’re already working on this to do it at a higher quality and lower cost, to create and curate the best in digital education resources, and to [use] self-learning and online courses to recognize the next outbreak,” Panjabi told Business Insider.
Epidemiology And Eradicating Disease
Panjabi’s project isn’t the only one with a goal of eradicating disease: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — a $3 billion dollar plan to invest in basic scientific research, education, and access to technology — in September of 2016. The audacious goal of their initiative? Curing, eliminating, or preventing all disease by the close of the 21st century. The process will include open collaboration and sharing of information and resources — something that can be lacking in healthcare and clinical research. The first 47 researchers received grants from the initiative in February 2017.
Both the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Dr. Panjabi’s Community Health Academy are banking on an inclusive, preventative approach to health. They also represent the growing importance of access to technology in the fight against disease.
Major strides are being made in the field of regenerative medicine. Developments have been made growing tissue and even organs in labs to help restore normal functionality in patients. Many of these regenerative therapies take advantage of the advancements made in stem cell research. There have already been breakthroughs that could potentially give us the ability to repair nerve damage or even grow entire organs and limbs.
A new initiative is seeking to speed up innovation in this area of medicine. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is leading the $20 million initiative to, according to a release from the hospital, “apply advanced manufacturing to regenerative medicine. The goal is to speed up the availability of replacement tissues and organs to patients.”
“We are excited to be at the forefront of this next frontier in regenerative medicine,” says Anthony Atala, M.D., director of WFIRM, who is looking forward to revolutionizing and invigorating this field of medicine. “Just like the invention of the moving assembly line reduced the cost of cars and made them commonplace, the field of regenerative medicine must develop standardized manufacturing processes to successfully make replacement tissues and organs more widely available.”
According to the release, the initiative is focused on two main projects. The first aims to create standardized “bioinks” that can be used in the process of printing tissue and organs. The second project will focus on developing standardized liquids on which the printed cells can grow.
Standardizing materials and practices will lead to better treatments being developed at a quicker pace. On the regulatory side, it will also speed up the approval process so these lifesaving treatments can be used expediently.
Regenerative medicine will open up new possibilities in the medical field. There will be new options for patients in treatment that would have, until very recently, been thought of as only possible in science-fiction.
Cancer is terrifying since the disease manifests within a person’s own malfunctioning cells. From the moment when the cell cycle goes amuck and cells begin to divide aberrantly with no end, every second counts. That’s why one vital factor in tackling cancer is early detection. Patients whose cancer is detected sooner often have an increased chance at recovery. This is especially true with lung cancer patients, whose chances of survival increases by 200 percent when cancer is detected early.
The technique seems pretty simple in that scientists collect DNA fragments from dying cells in your blood. In theory, a patient with cancer in the earliest stages should have some population of dying cancer cells that shed fragments into the bloodstream. A quick, affordable, and noninvasive blood test can analyze the blood for any cancerous DNA.
The test is so good that it can determine that cancer is growing before tumors are even detectable on traditional CT scans and far before patients first feel symptoms. The new technique was tested in a trial with 100 lung cancer patients who were followed from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy.
Results following the trial of the Liquid Biopsy technique are published in Nature. Patients who had residual amounts of tumourous DNA detected in their blood would go on to relapse in months or even a year after their cancer was removed. With the technique, doctors were able to predict a relapse in a patient within a 350-day window with a startling 92 percent accuracy.
This technique shows real promise in diagnosing cancer early at an affordable cost. Once the system is thoroughly developed, scientists like Lo suggest that routine blood tests may provide the ultimate cancer screen. Advances like the Liquid Biopsy display the power that lies in personalized medicine, a health care strategy aiming to provide each patient with care customized to their body.
Self Reflected is a series of art pieces that depict human consciousness. They were created by Dr. Greg Dunn and Dr. Brian Edwards and are meant to allow the mind a revealing look at its own inner workings. After an astonishing amount of research the artists were able to invent a technique called microetching that allowed them to create neuron animations in metallic surfaces via reflected light. The resulting effect is as beautiful as it is uncanny.
However, the most remarkable news to come out of Canavero’s interview doesn’t have anything to do with the head transplant at all, but what he plans to do afterwards: “As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e., no later than in 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head.”
Life After Death?
Canavero plans to remove the brain from a head that has been frozen at -196 degrees Celsius (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) and submerged in liquid nitrogen. He’ll then place the brain in a donor body in an attempt to effectively bring the patient back from the dead and, in the process, clear up humanity’s questions about the afterlife.
“If we bring this person back to life, we will receive the first real account of what actually happens after death,” said Canavero. “The head transplant gives us the first insight into whether there is an afterlife, a heaven, a hereafter, or whatever you may want to call it or whether death is simply a flicking off of the light switch and that’s it.”
Clearly, this is the stuff of science fiction, and the medical community — and society at large — has every reason to be very skeptical of its potential for success.
“The advocates of cryogenics are unable to cite any study in which a whole mammalian brain … has been resuscitated after storage in liquid nitrogen,” Clive Coen, Professor of Neuroscience at King’s College London, told The Telegraph, adding, “Irreversible damage is caused during the process of taking the mammalian brain into sub-zero temperatures.”
Even if it did work and the frozen brain did “wake up,” there’s no telling what kinds of complications the patient could experience, from decreased mental faculties to unimaginable mental trauma. Though we do now live in a world in which the seemingly impossible is becoming possible, some experiments might be better suited for works of sci-fi than modern hospitals.
For people with diabetes, insulin injections are often an inevitable part of life. However, a new device created by Chinese researchers and tested in mice may make needles a thing of the past. The team implanted insulin-producing cells into diabetic mice and then used a smartphone app to “switch” those cells on. Within two hours, the blood sugar levels of the mice were stabilized by the device, which its creators are calling HydrogeLED.
To date, the device in its most advanced form — a hydrogel capsule the size of a coin — can be implanted under a mouse’s skin. The capsule contains the insulin-producing cells and LED lights. The cells are engineered release insulin only when those lights turn on.
The mouse’s blood sugar levels can be monitored with a separate Bluetooth-enabled glucometer that alerts the app when levels climb too high. The app will then switch on the LEDs, triggering the release of insulin. The user can also manually control how bright the LEDs are and how long they shine, thus controlling how much insulin the cells make.
A Promising Start
There is no doubt that this is an amazing development, but it remains limited for now. The mice are confined within an electromagnetic field coil that acts much like a smart home hub; this is how the app can communicate with the server. The LEDs are powered by the electromagnetic field itself, which means that the entire system would stop working outside the coil.
In human terms, for the app to work reliably at this point, the patient would need to stay on permanent house arrest. Furthermore, the device in its current form still tests blood sugar with a needle.
Future versions of the HydrogeLED will ideally solve both of these issues. According to Popular Science, study author Haifeng Ye plans for 24-hour monitoring of blood sugar with a built-in glucometer that automatically triggers LEDs when insulin is needed. Also, incorporating batteries would allow patients to be totally mobile.
The HydrogeLED is not yet ready for human trials. Ye and his team have tested it over the course of 15 days in several animals, but will need to test it in more varieties of larger animals for longer periods of time. In addition, to ensure that the device won’t trigger an immune response or rejection in users, the team must ensure that all the materials in each component are safe for implantation.
Counting sheep may work for some people, but for others, falling (and staying) asleep is a problem with seemingly no solution. The Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reports that more than 10 percent of the population is affected by a sleep disorder, while the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that as many as 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems—adding a whopping $15.9 billion to the national healthcare bill.
Effective treatments for sleep disorders have proven elusive. From trying prescription medications to attending therapy to undergoing alternative treatments like hypnosis, suffers have spent innumerable waking hours in pursuit of a good night’s sleep.
However, those solutions bring with them their own problems.
“Drugs are often addictive or have side effects, and psychological/behavioral methods require long treatment sessions and it may take time to achieve satisfactory results,” according to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. “Hence, there is a need for additional, simpler methods to promote and maintain better sleep.”
Weighted blankets work by applying an even amount of pressure over a person’s body while they sleep. Pellets evenly distributed within the blanket give it a weight that is roughly 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and gravity causes the blanket to mold to the shape of their body while they sleep.
The resulting pressure acts like a form of deep touch therapy, increasing the body’s serotonin levels, which, in turn, creates melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. It’s kind of the same concept behind swaddling a baby to help them sleep.
Unfortunately, society at large hasn’t had access to the benefits of deep pressure stimulation. To that end, the Gravity Blanket recently launched on Kickstarter in order to give access to all individuals.
The Science of Sleep
In a study of otherwise healthy adults complaining of chronic insomnia, researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, noted that “when the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep, with a decrease in movements. Subjectively, they believed that using the blanket provided them with a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.”
In fact, this improved sleep can literally be the difference (in some instances) between life and death. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have show that sleep deficiency impairs driving ability as much as, or even more than, being drunk. In fact, driver sleepiness is a factor in an estimated 100,000 car accidents annually, resulting in approximately 1,500 deaths.
Even if you never get behind the wheel, not getting enough good sleep can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Sleep problems have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity, as well as mood swings, depression, and suicide.
Conversely, getting the right amount of good sleep can help your body heal and repair heart and blood vessels, regulate hormone levels, and battle illnesses. It also leads to improved problem solving, creativity, and memory.
With so much riding on your ability to get a good night’s rest, a Gravity Blanket could be worth its weight in gold. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here.
Futurism has partnered with Gravity Products LLC to bring you this exclusive product.
Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) is a debilitating disorder. The fatigue and other symptoms it causes result in an inability to participate in the daily activities of life for many sufferers. Although more than one million Americans have ME/CFS — more than lupus, multiple sclerosis, and some types of cancer — there is not yet any treatment, or meaningful diagnostic tool. Four times as many women suffer from ME/CFS, and it lasts for years in some patients.
Although the disease was previously thought of as some kind of imaginary ailment, ME/CFS is now being taken seriously by researchers. This week, new research published in Microbiome reveals that people who have ME/CFS also have abnormal levels of specific gut bacteria — and the levels of bacteria vary with symptom severity.
“By identifying the specific bacteria involved, we are one step closer to more accurate diagnosis and targeted therapies,” head researcher Ian Lipkin said in a press release from the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) and the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.
The team carefully matched, and then followed, 50 ME/CFS patients and 50 healthy controls. They took fecal and blood samples from all participants, and tested the fecal samples for bacterial species and the blood for immune molecules. Seven distinct species of intestinal bacteria were so strongly associated with ME/CFS that an accurate diagnosis could be predicted based on the elevated presence of all of them.
Although this study included a small sample, subject to further verification, this research could be the first step toward targeted diagnostic tools and treatments for the disease.
One form, esophageal cancer, is diagnosed in 16,940 people each year. This type has a five-year-survival rate of only 18 percent. A major reason for this is timeliness of diagnosis: esophageal cancer is difficult to detect, and screening methods are quite invasive — ranging from esophagoscopy, biopsy, balloon cytology, chromoendoscopy, and fluorescence spectroscopy.
Even if screenings are done in a timely manner, the tests do come with their own risks and side effects, and can sometimes detect false positives — or even false negatives. With more intense methods like esophagoscopy and biopsy, there are serious side effects including a puncture of the esophagus, trouble breathing, the passage of food in the airway, or even an increase in heart attack risk.
Down The Hatch
That being said, the challenge for researchers and clinicians has long been devising less invasive tests that are lower risk and ideally, cost efficient, too. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed something known as the Cytosponge to detect Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that increases one’s chance of developing esophageal cancer.
Unlike more traditionally invasive tests, the Cytopsponge has a patient swallow a capsule attached to a string. The capsule contains the sponge, which then expands in the stomach when the capsule is dissolved. A nurse then pulls the sponge out, allowing the surface of the sponge to collect cells from the esophageal lining on its way up, which can be then be tested.
The new screening method is still undergoing clinical trials. Presently, the research team is searching for 9,000 patients over the age of 50 who are on long-term acid-suppressant medication. This is the final step before the promising innovation could be adopted in mainstream practice.
Testing with the Cytosponge takes just five minutes, and is far more affordable for patients to undergo than a traditional endoscopy screening. Using the Cytosponge as a regular test for esophageal cancer, could potentially increase the early detection of malignancies and, hopefully, save more lives.
Although it seems like a problem of the past, women are still dying in childbirth across all areas of the world. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 830 women die in childbirth each day. Many of the causes are preventable, and of these, blood loss is the biggest contributor, killing roughly 100,000 women after they give birth every year.
The thing is, it needn’t be the case. In the 1960s, a Japanese doctor named Utako Okamoto developed a powerful drug, tranexamic acid, that prevents hemorrhage after childbirth. “It was Okamoto’s dream to save women,” Haleema Shakur told NPR. “But she couldn’t convince doctors to test the drug on postpartum hemorrhaging.”
That is, until now.
Shakur headed up clinical trials at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene for the tranexamic acid that Okamoto developed. The trials involved 20,000 women from about 200 hospitals across 21 countries. After each woman was diagnosed with postpartum hemorrhaging (heavy bleeding after childbirth), she was given either the drug or a placebo.
Roughly 1.2 percent of the women who received tranexamic acid within three hours of hemorrhaging died, according to the study, which was published in the journal The Lancet. Meanwhile, 1.7 percent died after receiving just a placebo.
“I think the study is exciting,” said Felicia Lester, an OB-GYN at the University of California, San Francisco, who does work in Uganda and Kenya. “I’m usually cautious in saying that. But it looks like tranexamic acid has the potential to save lives.”
According to the WHO, 99 percent of all maternal deaths take place in developing countries, and women in rural areas or poorer communities are more likely to fall victim than those in cities or wealthier areas. Because tranexamic isn’t costly to produce —only about $3 in the U.K. and just a quarter of that in places like Pakistan—its potential could easily extend to these remote areas and poorer communities.
“If you can save a life for approximately $3, then I believe that’s worth doing,” said Shakur. Now, we just need to make sure the drug actually gets to the women who need it the most.
Aspirin has long been considered something of a wonder drug, able to do everything from treat headaches to stave off heart attacks. Now, scientists believe it may also be able to prevent cancer cells from spreading after a tumor has already formed in the body.
For a tumor to spread, its cells must travel through the bloodstream to a new location where they then settle and grow, all without being detected by the immune system. Helping them during this process are cells called platelets. These cells do everything from cloak the cancer cells during their trip to help them receive nutrients and oxygen once they reach their new location.
In tests with mice, Elisabeth Battinelli, a hematologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that aspirin actually prevented platelets from assisting malignant cells on their journey to a new home, thus making it more difficult for the cancer to spread.
Not for Everybody
Each year, 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. alone, and nearly 600,000 die as a result of their disease. Unfortunately, aspirin won’t be able to help all of those people – in fact, it could actually worsen the health of some by causing side effects like bleeding.
Right now, knowing who will benefit from aspirin and who won’t is something of a crapshoot.
“It’s challenging to develop a single molecular test that will tell you if someone will respond [to aspirin] or not because it’s become clear that there is no single pathway by which aspirin works,” Andrew Chan, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told Scientific American.
Researchers are already looking into the genes involved in aspirin’s affect on platelets, and they hope to develop a genetic test to tell whether aspirin would be an effective treatment for an individual. Until then, studies of larger, more varied groups of people should provide insight into the cancer-fighting prowess of this common yet extraordinary medication.
The key difference between the two is that iPS cells are made from skin cells (called fibroblasts) and EPS cells are made from a combination of skin cells and embryonic stem cells. iPS cells are the hallmark of stem cell research and can be programmed to become any cell in the human body — hence the “pluripotent” part of their name. EPS cells, too, can give rise to any type of cell in the human body, but they can also do something very different — something unprecedented, actually: they can create the tissues needed to nourish and grow an embryo.
“The discovery of EPS cells provides a potential opportunity for developing a universal method to establish stem cells that have extended developmental potency in mammals,” says Jun Wu, one of the study’s authors and senior scientist at the Salk Institute, in the organization’s news release.
Chemicals and Chimeras
When a human — or any mammalian — egg gets fertilized, the cells divide up into two task forces: one set is responsible for creating the embryo, and the other set creates the placenta and other supportive tissues needed for the embryo to survive (called “extra-embryonic tissues”). This happens very early in the reproductive process — so early, in fact, that researchers have had a very hard time recreating it in a lab setting.
By culturing and studying both types of cells in action, researchers would not only be able to understand the mechanism that drives it, but hopefully could shed some light on what happens when things go wrong, like in the case of miscarriage.
The researchers at the Salk Institute managed to form a “chemical cocktail” of four chemicals and a type of growth factor that created a stable environment in which they could culture both types of cells in an immature state. They could then harness the two types of cells for their respective abilities.
What they discovered was that not only were these cells extremely useful for creating chimeras (where two types of animal cells — or human and animal cells — are mixed to form something new), but were also technically capable of creating and sustaining an entire embryo. At least in theory: while they were able to sustain both human and mouse cells, the ethical considerations of creating a human embryo this way have prevented them from attempting it.
That being said, there’s no shortage of applications for this type of stem cell: researchers will be able to use them to model diseases, regenerate tissue, create and trial drug therapies, and study in depth early reproductive processes like implantation. Human-animal chimeras may also help engineer organs for transplant — or, you know, give rise to the next superhero.
Creating an artificial womb would be a feat of monumental proportions, as premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborns. And this week, Philadelphia physicians made significant strides towards a world where synthetic wombs are a reality. While the new development isn’t exactly an artificial womb tank, physicians have created a uterus-like “biobag” that is capable of sustaining premature fetal lambs very soon after they begin development.
Before too long, the same technologies could be used on humans.
Ultimately, the lambs were placed in the transparent biobags just 105 days after they started development, which is equivalent to about 22 weeks of human development. At that point in their development, neither lambs nor human babies can survive outside the womb on their own.
The lambs were kept in the biobags for four weeks. During this time, they grew hair; their lungs developed; and they reached the point where they could survive on their own.
Remarkably, the eight lambs in the trial developed normally in the artificial womb and each survived, proving that the biobag successfully mimicked the natural conditions found in the uterus—and paving the way for a new life-saving device for humans.
Ultimately, an infant is considered premature when they are born before 37 weeks of development. Globally, millions of babies are born prematurely each year. This exposes them to a host of chronic health conditions, as their lungs and brains are still in very early stages of development.
While current therapies incubate preterm children, this new device could do them one better by allowing them to complete development in natural conditions.
Although the fluid-filled plastic enclosure can’t develop a child for an entire nine-month term, it can allow us to incubate them remarkably soon after conception. The team of physicians is already in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and clinical trials are slated to begin in the next 3 to 5 years.
In light of this progress, experts assert that artificial wombs may be a reality in the next few decades.
Fortunately, there is a solution that you can use today while scientists continue to work on the cures of tomorrow.
It’s called proprioceptive input (also known as “deep touch pressure stimulation”). It works by activating pressure points across your body. This relaxes the nervous system by increasing serotonin and melatonin levels while decreasing cortisol levels. In this respect, research into proprioceptive input shows that deep pressure stimulation produces a calming influence—one that decreases stress, improves sleep, and boosts mental health.
For decades, weighted blankets have been used by individuals in the medical community in order to reduce stress and anxiety (and to assist individuals with ailments such as autism, MS, and PTSD). In fact, in an interview with Futurism, Amber Martin, an occupational therapist with a M.S. degree from Utica College, noted that deep pressure stimulation is the most effective method of assisting individuals in her therapy sessions, adding that deep pressure stimulation isn’t useful in just therapy sessions. As Martin notes, “proprioceptive input is good for pretty much everyone and anyone. It can be very calming and organizing.”
Ultimately, the weighted blankets use crafted poly pellets to target pressure points throughout your body that induce the release of serotonin, which assists with stress reduction and improves sleep and relaxation. The blankets can also be custom tailored to each individual, so you can select a blanket that is designed specifically for your body type.
The brain is one of the most vital organs in the human body, so damage to the brain from injury or aging can have major impacts on people’s quality of life. Neurological disorders represent some of today’s most devastating medical conditions that are also difficult to treat. Among these is Alzheimer’s disease.
Usually, research involving Alzheimer’s rely on brain cells from mice. Now, neurobiologists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have developed a method that could allow the use of human cells instead of animal ones to help understand neurological diseases better.
In their study, which was published in the journal Neuron, the researchers found a way to transform human skin cells into stem cells and program them into microglial cells. The latter make up about 10 to 15 percent of the brain and are involved in the removing dead cells and debris, as well as managing inflammation. Micgrolia are instramental in neural network development and maintenance, explained researcher Mathew Blurton Jones, from UCI’s Department of Neurobiology & Behavior.
“Microglia play an important role in Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the central nervous system. Recent research has revealed that newly discovered Alzheimer’s-risk genes influence microglia behavior,” Jones said in an interview for a UCI press release. “Using these cells, we can understand the biology of these genes and test potential new therapies.”
A Renewable Method
The skin cells had been donated by patients from UCI’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. These were first subjected to a genetic process to convert them into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells — adult cells modified to behave as an embryonic stem cell, allowing them to become other kinds of cells. These iPS cells were then exposed to differentiation factors designed to imitate the environment of developing microglia, which transformed them into the brain cells.
“This discovery provides a powerful new approach to better model human disease and develop new therapies,” said UCI MIND associate researcher Wayne Poon in the press release. The researchers, in effect, have developed “a renewable and high-throughput method for understanding the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease using human cells,” according to researcher Edsel Abud in the same source.
In other words, by using human microglia instead of those from mice, the researchers have developed a more accurate tool to study neurological diseases and to develop more targeted treatment approaches. In the case of Alzheimer’s, they studied the genetic and physical interactions between the disease’s pathology and the induced microglia cells. “These translational studies will better inform disease-modulating therapeutic strategies,” Abud added in the press release.
Furthermore, they are now using these induced microglia cells in three-dimensional brain models. The goal is to understand the interaction between microglia and other brain cells, and how these influence the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
Neurodegenerative diseases produce the symptoms of dementia by causing cells in the spinal cord and brain to die. Loss of these cells and their functions mean a reduced ability to control movement, make decisions effectively, and recall memories. Neurodegeneration is devastating because there is no simple way to regenerate these kinds of cells.
Neurodegenerative diseases include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. In 2015, 46.8 million people around the world suffered from dementia. If current trends continue, by 2030 that number will be 74.7 million, and by 2050 it will reach 131.5 million. In other words, the problem is massive, and it is set to get even bigger.
Now, scientists may have found two drugs that can make all neurodegenerative brain diseases, including dementia, part of humanity’s past.
An End To Dementia?
Dementia can be caused by a natural defense mechanism that brain cells have against against viruses and their proteins: a shutdown response that stops protein protection and keeps the virus from spreading. Many neurodegenerative diseases cause neurons to produce faulty proteins, so that shutdown response is observed in brain cells. However, the diseased brain cells stay in shutdown mode too long, and they starve themselves until they die.
In 2013, researchers found a compound that stopped brain cells in animals from dying by halting the protein shutdown mode, but later discovered that it caused organ damage in people. Now, in their search for other drugs that produce the same effects, they have found two drugs already used by people that have the same protective effect on brain cells. The researchers’ published their results in the journal Brain.
The more widely known drug is trazodone, which is commonly taken for depression. The lesser known drug is dibenzoylmethane, which is being tested in cancer patients. Since trazodone is already know to be safe for human use, if the team is successful in showing it works for this new application, the time it takes to reach the market should be relatively short.
They are hoping to begin clinical trials soon and have confirmation of their theory within two or three years. The study’s lead, Giovanna Mallucci of the UK Medical Research Council, told the BBC that the two drugs have so far been shown to be “very highly protective and prevented memory deficits, paralysis, and dysfunction of brain cells.”
Mallucci commented in the interview that these drugs had the potential to help many people with neurodegenerative diseases. “We’re very unlikely to cure them completely, but if you arrest the progression you change Alzheimer’s disease into something completely different so it becomes livable,” Mallucci said.
Injury-prone people, rejoice! A new technology could make it so you never need to redo your bandages again. The tech will use real-time 5G technology that can monitor treatment and track patient activity levels.
The work comes from Swansea University’s Institute of Life Science. The university has made a £1.3 billion-dollar deal to create a 5G test hub for digital innovation. The new bandages will allow for customized treatment due to their nano-technology sensors. 5G wireless data will be used to instantly transmit information about your health to your doctor, thereby allowing physicians to provide customized health care recommendations.
The constant flow of information to health care providers would allow patients to understand their own condition better. Since many people heal at different speeds, the 5G will provide, as the school’s professor Marc Clement told Engadget, “a resilient, robust bandwidth” that can notify patients immediately if they are due for health care changes from their physicians.
The university expects to hold trials within the next 12 months, but the 5G test hub and nanotech sensors still have some time until completion — meaning potential delays on testing.
If proved successful, the smart bandage could take the guesswork out of medicine, leaving doctors with more accurate data to work with rather than only relying on self-reported patient data. This could mean a health care regimen that is tailored to your location, activity, and overall lifestyle. As healthcare innovates other aspects of bandages, including design and rehabilitative time, we may see a new age of health.
Daria Hazuda, Merck’s vice president of infectious disease discovery and chief scientific officer of MRL Cambridge Exploratory Science Center, is a 25-year industry veteran.
That means the researcher has been in drug discovery — the earliest stage of the drug development process — long enough to see her fair share of successes, like the development of treatments for HIV, as well as failures.
But of all the years of innovation and cutting-edge ideas she’s experienced, she told Business Insider that right now is the best time to be in the field.
“Today is the most exciting time to be in the biological sciences,” she told Business Insider.
That’s for a few reasons, she said.
There’s been an explosion of new research on the microbiome, or the microorganisms that live in and on our bodies that play a role in our overall health, compared to five years ago when there was just a trickle of new developments.
Then there’s CRISPR, the groundbreaking gene-editing tool that could one day manipulate cells to create new therapies.
There’s also been better research on the immune system, which in turn is helping build a better understanding of infectious diseases, Hazuda said.
Research into infectious disease biology, the research Hazuda works on, is now expanding beyond pathogens (the bacteria, viruses or other organisms that cause disease). Now, Hazuda and other researchers are learning more about entire “constellations of organisms,” such as mosquitoes or zebra fish. These external creatures could be an important piece of human health, even if they’re not inside the body, she said.
But even with these developments, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the biological sciences, Hazuda said. It’s why her employer Merck set up a video in which the company asked people what inventions they can’t wait for. Very few mentioned new ways to treat diseases.
“It’s important for people to understand that there are still amazing discoveries that are yet to be made,” she said. “What looks crazy today will become routine in the future.”
Researchers from Stanford University in California may have stumbled upon a potential elixir of youth. The team, led by Joseph Castellano, found that blood from babies’ blood contains anti-aging and memory-enhancing potential. While it might sound like the premise of a horror movie, there’s no need to worry: no infants were harmed in the research, as the blood was collected from their umbilical cords.
The rejuvenating effects of infants’ blood is the subject of a study the researchers published in the journal Nature. Similar to a previous study linking memory and cognitive enhancing effects to teenager’s blood, Castellano and his team believe that umbilical blood may have the ability to rejuvenate memory.
“Here we show that human cord plasma treatment revitalizes the hippocampus and improves cognitive function in aged mice,” the researchers wrote. They gave three groups of mice, each about 50 years old in human years, human blood injections. The mice were split into three groups, each receiving plasma from different sources. One group received the umbilical cord plasma, the second got plasma from young people roughly aged 22, while the third got plasma from people about 66 years old.
The mice infused with plasma from cord blood showed the greatest improvements, demonstrating faster learning sense and better maze navigation. This indicated enhanced activity in the mice’s hippocampi, the memory and learning center of the brain.
The Fight Against Aging
Castellano and his colleagues believe that the effects come from a protein found in plasma. Umbilical cord blood is rich in a protein called TIMP2, which consequently declines as people age. This explains why the plasma from young people also demonstrated some rejuvenating ability, but plasma from older adults did not.
TIMP2 has also been known to limit the growth of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases, believed to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s. How TIMP2 works is still not clear; that being said, researchers are very interested in studying its potential for treating age-related cognitive disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s. It’ll take time before any such treatment could be developed from this, however.
“If and when TIMP2 looks promising as a possible therapy, I’d imagine there would be a great deal of interest,” Castellano said. “As the aging population grows each year, I think we’ll increasingly need to look for ways to limit the harmful effects of aging.”
Neurological disorders can be difficult to treat, and among these epilepsy is one of the most common worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that about 50 million people suffer from this chronic disorder around the world. Epileptic patients suffer from recurring seizures and brief moments of involuntary movement.
One type of epilepsy known as the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) is particularly difficult to manage. LGS is characterized by multiple types of seizures, including stiffening and drop seizures. The latter is an involuntary loss of muscle tone which causes patients to suddenly go limp and fall down. While that’s already tough, LGS is also known to affect children. Plus, intellectual and behavioral problems make management of this syndrome even more challenging.
While there isn’t any cure yet to LGS or epilepsy in general, there are available treatments. One particular form of treatment uses cannabidiol, which is a molecule from marijuana devoid of properties that induce a “high.” On Tuesday, researchers from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) released the results of a clinical study showing how cannabidol may be effective in reducing seizures in children and adult patients suffering from LGS.
Mitigating Drop Seizures
The clinical study involved 225 people whose average age was 16 years, with a monthly average of 85 drop seizures. They were observed for 14 weeks after being split into three groups: one received a higher daily dose of cannabidiol (20 mg/kg), another a daily lower dose (10 mg/kg), while a third received a placebo added to their current medication.
The first group showed a 42 percent reduction in drop seizures, while the second showed a 37 percent decrease. Those who took a placebo showed only a 17 percent reduction. However, mild to moderate side effects including decreased appetite and sleepiness were observed in all three groups.
“Our results suggest that cannabidiol may be effective for those with [LGS] in treating drop seizures,” said study author Anup Patel in an interview for an American Academy of Neurology press release. “This is important because this kind of epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat. While there were more side effects for those taking cannabidiol, they were mostly well-tolerated. I believe that it may become an important new treatment option for these patients.”
The details of the study, which adds to the potential treatment benefits of cannabis-based medication, will be presented at the AAN’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston on April 22 to 28, 2017. The AAN researchers also have plans to submit a New Drug Application to the FDA later this year.
Cancer is when an aberrant mutation in a cell leads it to prolifically divide, causing abnormal cell growth that can potentially spread to other parts of the body if untreated. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, with one in every six deaths caused by a type of cancer in 2015, leading to 8.8 million deaths.
Because different mutations can cause cancer, and cancerous cells can develop in many different parts of the body, doctors are continually coming up with different strategies for treating the disease. With each passing year, research on the topic continues to progress. From personalized vaccines to mecha-suit sperm, we’ve been looking in every possible nook and cranny in hopes of finding an effective therapy that can work better than what we have today.
Currently, we use a host of methods to treat cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, stem cell transplant, and precision medicine. While some cancer patients receive only one treatment, these treatments are normally used in conjunction to increase the rate of success.
Since the 1960s, our efforts in tackling cancer have progressed significantly. Patients back in the day had a five-year survival rate of around 50 percent. With the advent of these new therapies, some the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. have 5-year-survival rates at around 75 percent.
The next step in cancer therapies might be quietly waiting for its time in the limelight in Seattle, Washington, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where scientists have constructed biodegradable nanoparticles that can genetically program immune cells while inside the body to target cancer cells. The study was published on April 17 in Nature Nanotechnology and focused on the effect that nanoparticle-programmed immune T cells had on leukemia in mouse models.
The nanoparticles carried genes that code for chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which are proteins designed by scientists to help immune cells target and destroy cancer. Once the immune cells undergo this molecular modification, they turn into an army of cancer serial killers.
This new method can eliminate expensive and time-consuming steps that lag previous T cell cancer therapies. The current protocol is that the T cells are removed from the patient, genetically altered, regrown, and infused back into the patient. The biodegradable nanoparticles will eliminate the removal, regrowth, and infusion steps by accomplishing the reprogramming step over a time span of 24 to 48 hours while the T cells are in the body.
When the researchers compared the nanoparticle-based method to current immunotherapy methods that require the T cells to be removed, researchers noticed that leukemia-induced mice lived an additional 58 days on average when compared to the mice that received the current treatment.
While these results are exciting, the researchers are looking to make the process safer before they move into human trials. But if this new technique is approved for humans, it could have many more applications. Scientists are looking to adapt the method for diseases like hepatitis, HIV, or even solid tumors.
By quickly arming patients’ immune cells to fed off disease, this new treatment could lower healthcare costs and improve the quality of patients’ lives.