Another year, another round of approvals, mixed reviews and high-profile failures. We look back on which medicines made the headlines.
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A new study focused on the interior of Saturn's icy moon Mimas suggests its cratered surface hides one of two intriguing possibilities: Either the moon's frozen core is shaped something like a football, or the satellite contains a liquid water ocean. Researchers used numerous images of Mimas taken by NASA's Cassini mission to determine how much the moon wobbles as it orbits Saturn. They then evaluated several possible models for how its interior might be arranged, finding two possibilities that fit their data.The study is published in the Oct. 17 issue of the journal Science.
"The data suggest that something is not right, so to speak, inside Mimas," said Radwan Tajeddine, a Cassini research associate at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and lead author on the paper. "The amount of wobble we measured is double what was predicted."
Either possiblity for the interior of Mimas would be interesting, according to Tajeddine, as the moon's heavily cratered outward appearance does not suggest anything unusual lies beneath its surface. Because Mimas formed more than four billion years ago, scientists would expect its core to have relaxed into a more or less spherical shape by now. So if Mimas' core is oblong in shape, it likely represents a record of the moon's formation, frozen in time.
If Mimas possesses an ocean, it would join an exclusive club of "ocean worlds" that includes several moons of Jupiter and two other Saturn moons, Enceladus and Titan. A global ocean would be surprising, said Tajeddine, as the surface of Mimas does not display signs of geologic activity.
Like a lot of moons in the solar system, including our own, Mimas always shows essentially the same face to its parent planet. This is called a spin-orbit resonance, meaning the moon's rotation, or spin, is in sync with its orbit around Saturn. Like Earth's moon, Mimas takes the same amount of time to spin completely around on its axis as it takes to orbit its planet.
The orbit of Mimas is very slightly stretched out, forming an ellipse rather than a perfect circle. This slight deviation causes the point on Mimas' surface that faces Saturn to vary a bit over the course of an orbit -- an observer on Saturn would see Mimas wobble slightly during its orbit, causing small amounts of terrain over the limb to become visible. This effect is called libration, and Earth's moon does it as well.
"Observing libration can provide useful insights about what is going on inside a body," said Tajeddine. "In this case, it is telling us that this cratered little moon may be more complex than we thought."
Computer chips with superconducting circuits—circuits with zero electrical resistance—would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today's chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption of the massive data centers that power the Internet's most popular sites.
Superconducting chips also promise greater processing power: Superconducting circuits that use so-called Josephson junctions have been clocked at 770 gigahertz, or 500 times the speed of the chip in the iPhone 6.
But Josephson-junction chips are big and hard to make; most problematic of all, they use such minute currents that the results of their computations are difficult to detect. For the most part, they've been relegated to a few custom-engineered signal-detection applications.
In the latest issue of the journal Nano Letters, MIT researchers present a new circuit design that could make simple superconducting devices much cheaper to manufacture. And while the circuits' speed probably wouldn't top that of today's chips, they could solve the problem of reading out the results of calculations performed with Josephson junctions.
The team has additionally applied it both as a digital logic element in a half-adder circuit, and as a digital amplifier for superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors pulses. The nanocryotron has immediate applications in classical and quantum communications, photon sensing, and astronomy, and its input characteristics are suitable for integration with existing superconducting technologies.
Deep within the bone marrow resides a type of cells known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These immature cells can differentiate into cells that produce bone, cartilage, fat, or muscle — a trait that scientists have tried to exploit for tissue repair.
In a new study that should make it easier to develop such stem-cell-based therapies, a team of researchers from MIT and the Singapore-MIT Alliance in Research and Technology (SMART) has identified three physical characteristics of MSCs that can distinguish them from other immature cells found in the bone marrow. Based on this information, they plan to create devices that could rapidly isolate MSCs, making it easier to generate enough stem cells to treat patients.
Until now, there has been no good way to separate MSCs from bone marrow cells that have already begun to differentiate into other cell types, but share the same molecules on the cell surface. This may be one reason why research results vary among labs, and why stem-cell treatments now in clinical trials are not as effective as they could be, says Krystyn Van Vliet, an MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering and a senior author of the paper, which appears in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
“Some of the cells that you’re putting in and calling stem cells are producing a beneficial therapeutic outcome, but many of the cells that you’re putting in are not,” Van Vliet says. “Our approach provides a way to purify or highly enrich for the stem cells in that population. You can now find the needles in the haystack and use them for human therapy.”
Research engineers at MIT have developed a novel solar material in the form of a 2D metallic, dielectric photonic crystal. The material has remarkable properties of broadband absorption of sunlight, from visible to near infrared portions of the spectrum, with little dependence on the angle of the incident light. Efficiencies in these bands were measured to be 85% absorption of photons.
The material also withstands temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius, making it suitable to act as the material for a collector of concentrated sunlight. Experiments show that the absorption is governed by the nanocavities. Tuning the absorption bands is accomplished simply by varying the radii and depths of the cavities.
The new material works as a part of the solar-thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device in which incident solar radiation is converted to infrared, heat energy, causing the material to emit light that is in turn converted to electrical energy. Earlier STPV devices contained nanocavities but were hollow and not filled with a dielectric. According to the primary author, “They were empty, there was air inside. No one had tried putting a dielectric material inside, so we tried that and saw some interesting properties.” A dielectric is a material which responds to electric fields by shielding or attenuating it via non-mobile charges, in contrast to a conductor which shields by rearrangement of electrons.
The cavities are sized in the right way such that there is a rich and complex absorption mode structure perfect for relevant wavelengths. “You can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” said Dr. Chou.
Importantly, the new material is compatible with many kinds of existing manufacturing technologies. The lead author Dr. Chou said “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales.”
Prior work on similar materials were restricted in size to making devices that span only a few inches. The new cavity material is both cheaper and easier to process.
NASA’s extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014.
Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.
Siding Spring’s nucleus will come closest to Mars around 2:27 p.m. EDT, hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere.
“This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency’s diverse science missions will be in full receive mode,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days.”
Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.
Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
The first-ever photos of water ice near Mercury's north pole have come down to Earth, and they have quite a story to tell.
The images, taken by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), suggest that the ice lurking within Mercury's polar craters was delivered recently, and may even be topped up by processes that continue today, researchers said.
More than 20 years ago, Earth-based radar imaging first spotted signs of water ice near Mercury's north and south poles — a surprise, perhaps, given that temperatures on the solar system's innermost planet can top 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius). [Water Ice On Mercury: How It Was Found (Video)]
Solar cells are built using two different types of semiconductors ("p-type" and "n-type"), each with a slightly different composition; when the two come in close contact, they form a so-called "PN junction." This junction is a critical component of any solar cell because it generates an electric field that causes charge inside the cell to flow in a set direction, creating a voltage. Voltage times current equals (solar) power.
After decades of trial and error, scientists now believe that the ideal geometry for a PN junction would consist of a series of vertical nanoscale pillars made from one type of semiconductor (either p- or n-type) and surrounded by a semiconductor of the opposite type. This shape is extremely effective at trapping light without reflecting it, resulting in a greater amount of charge being collected, while also allowing the use of cheaper, lower-grade materials in smaller volumes, which decreases the overall cost of the cell.
This "Holy Grail" structure has already been achieved in inorganic solar cells, but has been elusive for their organic counterpart due to some of the unique challenges they present. Now, however, a team led by Prof. Alejandro Briseno at UMass Amherst has developed a new simple and highly adaptable technique that can produce "nanograss" for use in organic solar cells, which could lead to a significant boost in their efficiency.
New research published in an article in Lancet provides the first evidence of the medium- to long-term safety and tolerability of transplanting human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in humans. Schwartz and colleagues report the outcomes of hESCs for the treatment of macular degeneration and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, the leading causes of adult and juvenile blindness in the developed world. Much work remains to be done before hESC and induced pluripotent stem cell therapies go beyond regulatory trials, but the path is now set in motion.
This is the first time that clinical benefits have been demonstrated in the medium to long term in patients with any disese treated with hESC-derived cells, and is a major milestone in the development of the field of regenerative medicine. The trial focused on 18 patients with two different types of macular degeneration, Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and nine with dry atrophic age-related macular degeneration, that are common causes of blindness in adults and children and for which no effective treatments are currently available.
Nine patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and nine with dry atrophic age-related macular degeneration received injections of 50,000 to 150,000 RPE cells behind the retina of their worst-affected eye. Robert Lanza, adjunct Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology who funded the trial, describes the results:
Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.
Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.
Yet the idea of nuclear fusion, in which atoms combine into more stable forms and release excess energy in the process, is not new. Ever since the 1920s, when it was postulated that fusion powers the stars, scientists have struggled to develop a truly practical means of harnessing this form of energy. Other research institutions, laboratories and companies around the world are also pursuing ideas for fusion power, but none have gone beyond the experimental stage. With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers.
Although the company released limited information on the CFR in 2013, Lockheed is now providing new details of its invention. Aviation Week was given exclusive access to view the Skunk Works experiment, dubbed “T4,” first hand. Led by Thomas McGuire, an aeronautical engineer in the Skunk Work’s aptly named Revolutionary Technology Programs unit, the current experiments are focused on a containment vessel roughly the size of a business-jet engine. Connected to sensors, injectors, a turbopump to generate an internal vacuum and a huge array of batteries, the stainless steel container seems an unlikely first step toward solving a conundrum that has defeated generations of nuclear physicists—namely finding an effective way to control the fusion reaction.
“I studied this in graduate school where, under a NASA study, I was charged with how we could get to Mars quickly,” says McGuire, who earned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scanning the literature for fusion-based space propulsion concepts proved disappointing. “That started me on the road and [in the early 2000s], I started looking at all the ideas that had been published. I basically took those ideas and melded them into something new by taking the problems in one and trying to replace them with the benefits of others. So we have evolved it here at Lockheed into something totally new, and that’s what we are testing,” he adds.
People have wanted to understand our motivations, thoughts and behaviors since the ancient Greeks inscribed “know thyself” on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. And understanding the brain’s place in health and disease is one of this century’s greatest challenges – take Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression for example.
There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. Three neuroscientists have just been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for their discoveries of cells that act as a positioning system in the brain – in other words, the mechanism that allows us to navigate spaces using spatial information and memory at a cellular level.
There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. For example, the neural basis of how we make fast and slow decisions and decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. There is also an understanding how the brain is affected by stress and how these stresses might switch our brains into habit mode, for example operating on “automatic pilot” and forgetting to carry out planned tasks, or the opposite goal-directed system, which would see you going out of your usual routine, for example, popping into a different supermarket to get special ingredients for a recipe.
Disruption in the balance between the two is evident in neuro-psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and recent evidence suggests that lower grey matter volumes in the brain can bias towards habit formation. Neuroscience is also demonstrating commonalities in disorders of compulsivity, methamphetamine abuse and obese subjects with eating disorders.
Neuroscience can challenge previously accepted views. For example, major abnormalities in dopamine function were thought the main cause of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, recent work suggests that the main cause of the disorder may instead be associated with structural differences in grey matter in the brain.
What neuroscience has made evidently clear is that changes in the brain cause changes in your thinking and actions, but the relationship is two-way. Environmental stressors, including psychological and substance abuse, can also change the brain. We also now know our brains continue developing into late adolescence or early young adulthood, it is not surprising that these environmental influences are particularly potent in a number of disorders during childhood and adolescence including autism.
The global average temperature in September was the warmest in a record dating back to 1880, according to an update from NASA’sGoddard Institute for Space Studies. That makes it two months in a row: August was also the hottest on record by NASA’s reckoning. Later this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its own, independent calculation of how September 2014 stacked up. Sometimes NOAA’s calculation differs.
Unless something really weird happens, 2014 is on track to be the warmest in the instrumental record.
The map above shows how temperatures around the globe varied from the long-term average in September. Two things catch my eye:
Two research teams working in the same laboratories at UNSW Australia have found distinct solutions to a critical challenge that has held back the realization of super powerful quantum computers.
The teams created two types of quantum bits, or "qubits" – the building blocks for quantum computers – that each process quantum data with an accuracy above 99%. The two findings have been published simultaneously today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
"For quantum computing to become a reality we need to operate the bits with very low error rates," says Scientia Professor Andrew Dzurak, who is Director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at UNSW, where the devices were made.
"We've now come up with two parallel pathways for building a quantum computer in silicon, each of which shows this super accuracy," adds Associate Professor Andrea Morello from UNSW's School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.
The UNSW teams, which are also affiliated with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, were first in the world to demonstrate single-atom spin qubits in silicon, reported in Nature in 2012 and 2013.
Now the team led by Dzurak has discovered a way to create an "artificial atom" qubit with a device remarkably similar to the silicon transistors used in consumer electronics, known as MOSFETs. Post-doctoral researcher Menno Veldhorst, lead author on the paper reporting the artificial atom qubit, says, "It is really amazing that we can make such an accurate qubit using pretty much the same devices as we have in our laptops and phones".
Meanwhile, Morello's team has been pushing the "natural" phosphorus atom qubit to the extremes of performance. Dr Juha Muhonen, a post-doctoral researcher and lead author on the natural atom qubit paper, notes: "The phosphorus atom contains in fact two qubits: the electron, and the nucleus. With the nucleus in particular, we have achieved accuracy close to 99.99%. That means only one error for every 10,000 quantum operations."
Dzurak explains that, "even though methods to correct errors do exist, their effectiveness is only guaranteed if the errors occur less than 1% of the time. Our experiments are among the first in solid-state, and the first-ever in silicon, to fulfill this requirement."
The high-accuracy operations for both natural and artificial atom qubits is achieved by placing each inside a thin layer of specially purified silicon, containing only the silicon-28 isotope. This isotope is perfectly non-magnetic and, unlike those in naturally occurring silicon, does not disturb the quantum bit. The purified silicon was provided through collaboration with Professor Kohei Itoh from Keio University in Japan.
The web of the Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini), can span some square feet (2.8 square meters) and is attached to each riverbank by anchor threads as long as 82 feet (25 meters).
Scientists have found the toughest material made by life yet — the silk of a spider whose giant webs span rivers, streams and even lakes. Spider silks were already the toughest known biomaterials, able to absorb massive amounts of energy before breaking. However, researchers have now revealed the Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) has the toughest silk ever seen — more than twice as tough as any previously described silk, and more than 10 times stronger than Kevlar.
Although scientists have investigated silks from 20-to-30 species of spiders before, most of these were chosen haphazardly — for instance, from researchers' backyards. There are over 40,000 species of spiders and each spider can produce up to seven different kinds of silk. Thus, more than 99.99 percent of spider silks are yet to be explored.
While most of the recent coverage of the ongoing Ebola outbreak has focused on rising death tolls and a few infected U.S. citizens, other segments of the population have passed mostly unnoticed from the harsh glare of the media spotlight: Survivors, and those who are seemingly immune to Ebola.
People who survive Ebola can lead normal lives post-recovery, though occasionally they can suffer inflammatory conditions of the joints afterwards, according to CBS. Recovery times can vary, and so can the amount of time it takes for the virus to clear out of the system.
The World Health Organization found that the virus can reside in semen for up to seven weeks after recovery. Survivors are generally assumed to be immune to the particular strain they are infected by, and are able to help tend to others infected with the same strain. What isn't clear is whether or not a person is immune to other strains of Ebola, or if their immunity will last.
As with most viral infections, patients who recover from Ebola end up with Ebola-fighting antibodies in their blood, making their blood a valuable (if controversial) treatment option for others who catch the infection. Kent Brantly, one of the most recognizable Ebola survivors, has donated more than a gallon of his blood to other patients. The plasma of his blood, which contains the antibodies, is separated out from the red blood cells, creating what’s known as a convalescent serum, which can then be given to a patient as a transfusion. The hope is that the antibodies in the serum will boost the patient’s immune response, attacking the virus, and allowing the body to recover.
But this treatment method, like all Ebola treatment methods, is far from ideal. To start with, scientists aren't even sure if it works. In addition, the serum can only be donated to people with a compatible blood type to the donor, and it’s unclear how long the immunity would last. Adding to the confusion, there are several different strains of Ebola, and there’s no guarantee that once someone has recovered from one strain of Ebola they are immune to others.
When Nancy Writebol, one of the survivors of Ebola who was whisked back to Atlanta soon after contracting the virus, was asked by Science Magazine if she would consider going back, she said: “I’ve done some reading on that and talked to doctors at Emory about that. My doctors at Emory are not sure how long immunity would last. It’s not been studied. I’ve read that even if a survivor was willing and able to help with the care for Ebola patients, because there are so many strains of Ebola, it would still be very wise and necessary to operate in PPEs and not just assume you’re immune.”
People who survived the disease are of particular interest to researchers, such as those working on the ZMapp drug, who hope that they can synthesize antibodies in the hopes of creating a cure.
But even less understood than the survivors are the people who were infected with Ebola but never developed any symptoms. After outbreaks in Uganda in the late 1990’s, scientists tested the blood of several people who were in close contact with Ebola patients, and found a number of them had markers in their blood indicating they carried the disease, but they were totally asymptomatic—they managed to completely avoid the horrifying symptoms of the disease.
In a letter in the Lancet this week, researchers look into the existence of these asymptomatic patients, and hope that identifying people who are naturally immune could help contain the outbreak as scientists work on developing a treatment. A 2010 study published by the French research organization IRD found that as much as 15.3 percent of Gabon's population could be immune to Ebola.
The first detailed view of a poorly understood region of the Sun reveals plasma 'bombs', powerful tornadoes, and supersonic jets that may be the start of the solar wind. These observations, reported in five papers in the journalScience, will help scientists determine how massive amounts of energy generated by the Sun are transported from its surface to its outer atmosphere.
The features were detected by NASA's new IRIS space telescope, which studies the mysterious interface region that sits between the Sun's surface (photosphere) and the outer atmosphere (corona).
"IRIS's findings tell us the interface region of the Sun is far more complicated than we imagined," says Dr Hui Tian of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, who is an author on four of the papers. The interface region is composed of the chromosphere and a transition layer between the chromospheres and corona.
"It's not the thin static layer predicted in solar atmospheric models. There's a sharp temperature change from the 6000-degree photosphere to the corona where temperatures reach over a million degrees, and the interface region is where this change occurs," says Tian. The region emits mostly ultraviolet light, which can be best studied in high resolution detail from space.
Using imaging and spectrometry, IRIS traces temperature differences within the chromosphere, as well as the speed, density and turbulence of dynamic plasma particles.
Tian and colleagues used IRIS to observe activity inside coronal holes where they discovered high-speed jets that may contribute plasma to the solar wind, the stream of particles constantly flowing from the Sun, which generates space weather on Earth.
University of California San Diego researchers have imagined and realized a low cost, innovative solution to next-generation nanofabrication that could be applied to advanced computer chip creation using tiny nanomotors inspired by biology. The researchers showed that it is possible to carve out well-defined, nanoscale features such as ridges and trenches in a substrate, basic components of the modern computer chip, by exploiting a clever yet simple suite of technologies to control the nanomotor and etch out nanoscale features.
The Digital Revolution, sometimes called the Third Industrial Revolution, continues unabated today, powered in no small part by the constant, ongoing improvements in computer processor technology. A key aspect of the technology, at least until the last few years, has been use of photolithography, to generate microscale semiconductor structures that are at the heart of the millions of transistors on each processing chip. Photolithography relies on a “mask”, a light-sensitive “photo resist” material, and intense light, which together gives rise to controlled, systematic removal of substrate and creation of desired structures on the photo resist.
The production strategy however has run into increasing problems as the scale of the features shrink, due to the engineers’ desire to cram ever more complex features onto one chip. When the structures of the mask become smaller than the wavelength of the light, diffractive effects become stronger and it is necessary to correct with mathematics. One solution is to move to shorter wavelengths of light, or to use electrons directly to etch features, but both of these solutions necessitate use of expensive beam sources to generate the requisite high energies.
For these reasons, the results of the nanomotor is highly relevant and exciting. The nanomotor, in its most basic form, is a gold-platinum rod about the size of a bacterium, 2 microns long by 350 nanometers wide, immersed in a solution of hydrogen peroxide that serves as its “fuel”. The platinum on the nanomotor naturally catabolizes the hydrogen peroxide and produces excess protons (along with diatomic molecular oxygen) in an asymmetric fashion, with more protons on one end compared to the other. The proton imbalance propels the nanometer by a constant force motion (there is no gliding due to the low Reynolds number condition in liquid at nanoscales), up to speeds of 15 micrometers per second.
Ferromagnetic nickel is embedded in the nanomotor with North-South orientation directed along its width (the shorter dimension, and therefore parallel to the plane of motion). A constant field applied perpendicular to the plane over the entire environment breaks isotropic symmetry leading to orientation of the nanomotor. Since the nanomotor is always moving, repeated reorientation of the magnetic field direction over time leads to well-defined nanomotor paths.
The new research could help doctors quickly identify patients who are aware despite appearing unresponsive and unable to communicate.
Researchers from University of Cambridge in the UK have identified hidden networks in vegetative patients that could support consciousness, even when a patient appears to be unresponsive. There’s been a lot of interest lately into how much patients in vegetative states, such as comas, are aware of their surroundings. Recently, research involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning has shown that even patients who are unable to respond or move are able to carry out mental tasks, such as imagining playing a game of tennis.
Now the team of scientists have used high-density electroencephalographs (EEG) and mathematics known as “graph theory” to study the networks of activity in the brains of 32 patients who have been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.
They also compared these EEG scans to the scans of health adults. Their fundings reveal that the interconnected networks that support awareness in the healthy brain are usually - but, importantly, not always - impaired in patients in a vegetative state.
Amazingly, the research showed that some of these “vegetative patients” have well-preseved consciousness networks that look similar to those of healthy adults - and these are the same patients who had been able to imagine playing tennis in the previous study.
"Understanding how consciousness arises from the interactions between networks of brain regions is an elusive but fascinating scientific question,” said Srivas Chennu from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge in a press release.
“But for patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious, and their families, this is far more than just an academic question – it takes on a very real significance. Our research could improve clinical assessment and help identify patients who might be covertly aware despite being uncommunicative," he added.
This is a huge breakthrough, as it will help scientists develop a relatively simple way of identifying “vegetative” patients who might still be aware.
And unlike the tennis test, which was quite a difficult task that required expensive and often unavailable fMRI scanners, this new technique uses simple EEG technology and could be administered at a patient’s bedside.
Even as the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics has enshrined light emitting diodes (LEDs) as the single most significant and disruptive energy-efficient lighting solution of today, scientists around the world continue unabated to search for the even-better-bulbs of tomorrow.
Enter carbon electronics. Electronics based on carbon, especially carbon nanotubes (CNTs), are emerging as successors to silicon for making semiconductor materials. And they may enable a new generation of brighter, low-power, low-cost lighting devices that could challenge the dominance of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the future and help meet society's ever-escalating demand for greener bulbs.
Scientists from Tohoku University in Japan have developed a new type of energy-efficient flat light source based on carbon nanotubes with very low power consumption of around 0.1 Watt for every hour's operation—about a hundred times lower than that of an LED.
In the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, from AIP publishing, the researchers detail the fabrication and optimization of the device, which is based on a phosphor screen and single-walled carbon nanotubes as electrodes in a diode structure. You can think of it as a field of tungsten filaments shrunk to microscopic proportions.
They assembled the device from a mixture liquid containing highly crystalline single-walled carbon nanotubes dispersed in an organic solvent mixed with a soap-like chemical known as a surfactant. Then, they "painted" the mixture onto the positive electrode or cathode, and scratched the surface with sandpaper to form a light panel capable of producing a large, stable and homogenous emission current with low energy consumption.
"Our simple 'diode' panel could obtain high brightness efficiency of 60 Lumen per Watt, which holds excellent potential for a lighting device with low power consumption," said Norihiro Shimoi, the lead researcher and an associate professor of environmental studies at the Tohoku University.
Google Inc is preparing to test new technology that may provide the foundation for a wireless version of its high-speed "Fiber" Internet service, according to telecommunication experts who scrutinized the company's regulatory filings.
In a public but little-noticed application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Monday, Google asked the agency for permission to conduct tests in California across different wireless spectrums, including a rarely-used millimeter-wave frequency capable of transmitting large amounts of data.
It is unclear from the heavily redacted filing what exactly Google intends to do, but it does signal the Internet giant's broader ambition of controlling Internet connectivity. The technology it seeks to test could form the basis of a wireless connection that can be broadcast to homes, obviating the need for an actual ground cable or fiber connection, experts say.
By beaming Internet services directly into homes, Google would open a new path now thoroughly dominated by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and other entrenched cable and broadband providers. It could potentially offer a quicker and cheaper way to deliver high-speed Internet service, a potential threat to the cable-telecoms oligopoly, experts said.
“From a radio standpoint it’s the closest thing to fiber there is,” said Stephen Crowley, a wireless engineer and consultant who monitors FCC filings, noting that millimeter frequencies can transmit data over short distances at speeds of several gigabits per second.
“You could look at it as a possible wireless extension of their Google Fiber wireless network, as a way to more economically serve homes. Put up a pole in a neighborhood, instead of having to run fiber to each home,” said Crowley.
Craig Barratt, the head of the Google Access and Energy division leading the effort to offer high-speed fiber networks in Kansas City and other locations, signed off as the authorized person submitting Google's FCC application.
The world’s No.1 Internet search engine has expanded into providing consumers with services such as Internet access. The company said it wants to roll out its high-speed Internet service to more than 30 U.S. cities, and in 2013 it struck a deal to provide free wireless Internet access to 7,000 Starbucks cafes across America.
There are two main forces that can drive sea levels higher. One is something called thermal expansion, which involves the expansion of ocean water as it warms. The other is an influx of additional water, ushered into the sea by melting ice sheets and glaciers. Scientists have long concluded that sea levels are rising. Just look at Miami. Or the Maldives. They’ve also discerned that major ice sheets are melting at a faster clip than previously understood.
What has been less clear, however, is whether the development is recent or not. Over the last several thousands of years, has the ocean risen and fallen and risen again? A new study, just published in PNAS, suggests that the ocean has been surprisingly static since 4,000 B.C..
But that changed 150 years ago. Reconstructing 35,000 years of sea fluctuations, the study, which researchers say is the most comprehensive of its kind, found that the oceans are experiencing greater sea rise than at any time over the last 6,000 years. “What we see in the tide gauges, we don’t see in the past record, so there’s something going on today that’s wasn’t going on before,” lead author Kurt Lambeck, a professor at Australian National University, told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. “I think that is clearly the impact of rising temperatures.”
How much has the sea risen over the past century and a half? A lot. And it’s surging faster than ever. “There is robust evidence that sea levels have risen as a result of climate change,” Australian government research has found. “Over the last century, global average sea level rose by 1.7 mm [0.067 inches] per year, in recent years (between 1993 and 2010), this rate has increased to 3.2 mm [0.126 inches] per year.” In all, the sea has risen roughly 20 centimeters since the start of the 20th century. “The rate of sea level rise over the last century is unusually high in the context of the last 2,000 years,” the Australian report added.
A Nordic study has shown that one in three Northern Europeans were born with a genetic variation that protects them from the potentially fatal viral disease hepatitis C.
Scientists from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have studied the genes of nearly 400 individuals who were treated for hepatitis C They were aware that a third of the Nordic population carries a defect in the gene called ITPA. Now they know that people with this variant benefit more from hepatitis C treatment than those without. Thus, the variant in the gene makes it more likely that these people will full regain their health. Even when medications kill the virus, the infection turns up again in about one-fifth of all hepatitis C patients. But patients with th variation had five times less risk of a relapse after treatment.
The ITPA variation causes the enzyme known as ITPase to malfunction. This enzyme “clears away” genetic building blocks which our cells are not using. The defective version of the enzyme is not fully up to its clean-up task. This allows more unstable building blocks to circulate and be requisitioned by the hepatitis C virus.
The virus is “tricked” into using these faulty building blocks in its own gene sequences. The scientists think this weakens the virus, causing instability and making it more susceptible to antiviral medications. The researchers hope this knowledge will contribute in the development of new drugs that impair the ITPase enzyme.
Rats: some people enjoy their company as pets, to many others, they are virulent pests that helped the spread of the bubonic plague ("black death") in Medieval Europe. For New Yorkers, they are just one of many interesting local daily sights on the subway tracks and platforms. I can tell you from experience (source: I live in New York City) that they often seem healthier and in better spirits than many of the humans that call this fair city home. Yet it turns out some of them are carrying a surprising number of previously undocumented viruses, according to the results of a study of the Big Apple's rodents published today in the journal mBio and reported by The New York Times.
Specifically, scientists captured 133 rats from traps set in five locations around New York City, euthanized them, then took genetic samples of the bacteria and viral specimens found in their tissues and excretions (saliva, feces, etc). The scientists found lots of viruses, not surprisingly. But while many of the bacteria detected were expected — including e. coli and salmonella — the scientists also found at 18 completely new viruses. None of these new viruses have been found in humans, at least not yet, but two of them are structurally similar to Hepatitis C, which does occur in people and raises the risk of liver scarring and cancer. While there's no immediate cause for alarm, the scientists note that that the spread of these new viruses from rats to humans could theoretically already be occurring and is possible in the future, and are advocating for more comprehensive disease monitoring in humans. Something to think about the next time you're waiting for the downtown F train.
Cord blood cells are valued for their therapeutic potential for many blood-related diseases including leukemia, and their superiority over bone marrow transplants for higher tolerance by a foreign immune system. Cord blood is the remaining blood in the placenta and umbilical cord. Its use is uncontroversial unlike embryonic stem cells obtained from discarded embryos, and is valued for being “stem-like” in having potential to regenerate many cells types. It is has been used to treat more than 80 different diseases though the most dominant recipient group is patients with leukemia. While bone marrow donors must match their recipients in 8 different “human leukocyte antigens” (HLAs), cord blood donors can be mismatched.
The most recent study by Canadian and American researchers, is a major advance in treatment of these blood disorders by significantly enhancing the usability of cord blood. Using a high-throughput method known as a chemical screen, the researchers sifted through more than 5,000 chemical compounds and found one that pushed the cord blood cells into overdrive, expanding their numbers while in the dish.
The treated samples were also examined for LT-HSCs, cells that have the capacity to indefinitely regenerate all blood cells. In the pre-treated culture LT-HSCs were rare at 1 in 850. But post-treatment, the LT-HSC proportion was boosted 13-fold, meaning that not only does the small molecule UM171 expand cord blood cells in general, but it also leads to expansion of the important LT-HSC subpopulation.
Importantly, the expanded cells from the laboratory could be transplanted into living tissue and were also shown to continue growing and developing. Mice were chosen to prove that the cells would take to living tissue. The researchers made one further check by taking expanded cells from the mice and re-transplanting them again, showing once more that there was no diminished potential.
In leukemia, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation is used first to wipe out a patient’s natural bone marrow which contains the source of diseased cells. The bone marrow, essentially for producing white and red blood cells, is replaced either by a “matching” donor, or in some cases, cord blood collected from delivery rooms which does not have to match as well. While cord blood seemingly is superior for the reduced match requirement, the number of cells in one or even two combined donations is quite low which increases the time for graft to take hold, thereby increasing the chances of severe infections during this vulnerable phase when the immune system is severely compromised.
An organization in Poland has announced that it has a new kind of screen display for sale, all part of what it calls the Leia Display System. In practice, it's like an empty picture frame that has mist pushed from above or below (to where the picture should be) and upon which video imagery is projected. The systems also have sensors that allow the images that are displayed to be manipulated like a touch screen. The result is an interactive 2D hologram that in some respects, allows for displaying video in ways not seen before—mostly because hands and other body parts can pass right through it.
In spite of its dangerous reputation, cholesterol is in fact an essential component of human cells. Manufactured by the cells themselves, it serves to stiffen the cell’s membrane, helping to shape the cell and protect it. By mapping the structure of a key enzyme involved in cholesterol production, Rockefeller University researchers and a colleague in Italy have gained new insight into this complex molecular process.
“This is the first report to pinpoint the location of every atom — in this case nearly 3,000 of them — in one of the membrane-embedded enzymes cells use to make cholesterol. With the structure of this enzyme, we can better understand how the body synthesizes it,” says Günter Blobel, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor, head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. “This accomplishment offers new insight on genetic disorders as well as the possibility of new approaches to lowering blood cholesterol when it becomes dangerously high.” The findings were published today (October 12) in Nature.
The cholesterol-making process in cells requires about 30 chemical reactions and 20 enzymes, seven of which are embedded in the cellular membrane. The mapping project focused on one of these, known as a sterol reductase, which helps two electrons travel from a molecule known as NADPH to another molecule that will eventually become cholesterol. This type of reaction is known as a reduction.
“Our images revealed two pockets within the enzyme’s architecture. One contains the NADPH, and the other provides access to the cholesterol precursor. When in place, these molecules are close enough to spark this important step in the synthesis of cholesterol,” says first author Xiaochun Li, a postdoc.