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New ultrasound therapy targets brain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease

New ultrasound therapy targets brain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

From imaging babies to blasting apart kidney stones, ultrasound has proved to be a versatile tool for physicians. Now, several research teams aim to unleash the technology on some of the most feared brain diseases.


The blood-brain barrier, a tightly packed layer of cells that lines the brain's blood vessels, protects it from infections, toxins, and other threats but makes the organ frustratingly hard to treat. A strategy that combines ultrasound with microscopic blood-borne bubbles can briefly open the barrier, in theory giving drugs or the immune system access to the brain. In the clinic and the lab, that promise is being evaluated.


This month, in one of the first clinical tests, Todd Mainprize, a neurosurgeon at the University of Toronto in Canada, hopes to use ultrasound to deliver a dose of chemotherapy to a malignant brain tumor. And in some of the most dramatic evidence of the technique's potential, a research team reports this week in Science Translational Medicine that they used it to rid mice of abnormal brain clumps similar to those in Alzheimer's disease, restoring lost memory and cognitive functions. If such findings can be translated from mice to humans, “it will revolutionize the way we treat brain disease,” says biophysicist Kullervo Hynynen of the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, who originated the ultrasound method.


Some scientists stress that rodent findings can be hard to translate to humans and caution that there are safety concerns about zapping the brain with even the low-intensity ultrasound used in the new study, which is similar to that used in diagnostic scans. Opening up the blood-brain barrier just enough to get a beneficial effect without scorching tissue, triggering an excessive immune reaction, or causing hemorrhage is the “crux,” says Brian Bacskai, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who studies Alzheimer's disease and used to work with Hynynen.


Safely and temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier is a long-sought goal in medicine. About a decade ago, Hynynen began exploring a strategy combining ultrasound and microbubbles. The premise is that ultrasound causes such bubbles to expand and contract, jostling the cells forming the blood-brain barrier and making it slightly leaky.


That could help cancer physicians such as Mainprize deliver chemotherapy drugs into the brain. Hynynen also hypothesized that the brief leakage would rev up the brain's inflammatory response against β amyloid—the toxic protein that clumps outside neurons in Alzheimer's and may be responsible for killing them. Disposing of such debris is normally the role of the microglia, a type of brain cell. But previous studies have shown that when β amyloid forms clumps in the brain, it “seems to overwhelm microglia,” Bacskai says. Exposing the cells to anti bodies that leak in when the blood-brain barrier is breached could spur them to “wake up and do their jobs,” he says. Some antibodies in blood may also bind directly to the β-amyloid protein and flag the clumps for destruction.


Hynynen and others have recently tested the ultrasound strategy in a mouse model of Alzheimer's. In December 2014, for example, he and colleagues reported in Radiology that the method reduces amyloid plaques in a strain of mice engineered to develop the deposits, leading to improvements in cognition and spatial learning. Microglia consumed more β amyloid after the treatment, suggesting the cells do play a role in the effect, says neuroscientist Isabelle Aubert, who collaborates with Hynynen at Sunnybrook.

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How blood group O protects against malaria

How blood group O protects against malaria | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Malaria is a serious disease that is estimated by the WHO to infect 200 million people a year, 600,000 of whom, primarily children under five, fatally. Malaria, which is most endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, is caused by different kinds of parasites from the plasmodium family, and effectively all cases of severe or fatal malaria come from the species known as Plasmodium falciparum. In severe cases of the disease, the infected red blood cells adhere excessively in the microvasculature and block the blood flow, causing oxygen deficiency and tissue damage that can lead to coma, brain damage and, eventually death. Scientists have therefore been keen to learn more about how this species of parasite makes the infected red blood cells so sticky.

It has long been known that people with blood type O are protected against severe malaria, while those with other types, such as A, often fall into a coma and die. Unpacking the mechanisms behind this has been one of the main goals of malaria research.

A team of scientists led from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have now identified a new and important piece of the puzzle by describing the key part played by the RIFIN protein. Using data from different kinds of experiment on cell cultures and animals, they show how the Plasmodium falciparum parasite secretes RIFIN, and how the protein makes its way to the surface of the blood cell, where it acts like glue. The team also demonstrates how it bonds strongly with the surface of type A blood cells, but only weakly to type O.

Principal investigator Mats Wahlgren, a Professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology, describes the finding as "conceptually simple". However, since RIFIN is found in many different variants, it has taken the research team a lot of time to isolate exactly which variant is responsible for this mechanism.

"Our study ties together previous findings", said Professor Wahlgren. "We can explain the mechanism behind the protection that blood group O provides against severe malaria, which can, in turn, explain why the blood type is so common in the areas where malaria is common. In Nigeria, for instance, more than half of the population belongs to blood group O, which protects against malaria."
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New nanodevice defeats drug resistance and releases cancer drugs

New nanodevice defeats drug resistance and releases cancer drugs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Chemotherapy often shrinks tumors at first, but as cancer cells become resistant to drug treatment, tumors can grow back. A new nanodevice developed by MIT researchers can help overcome that by first blocking the gene that confers drug resistance, then launching a new chemotherapy attack against the disarmed tumors. The device, which consists of gold nanoparticles embedded in a hydrogel that can be injected or implanted at a tumor site, could also be used more broadly to disrupt any gene involved in cancer.


“You can target any genetic marker and deliver a drug, including those that don’t necessarily involve drug-resistance pathways. It’s a universal platform for dual therapy,” says Natalie Artzi, a research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of a paper describing the device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 2, 2015.


To demonstrate the effectiveness of the new approach, Artzi and colleagues tested it in mice implanted with a type of human breast tumor known as a triple negative tumor. Such tumors, which lack any of the three most common breast cancer markers — estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and Her2 — are usually very difficult to treat. Using the new device to block the gene for multidrug resistant protein 1 (MRP1) and then deliver the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil, the researchers were able to shrink tumors by 90 percent in two weeks.


MRP1 is one of many genes that can help tumor cells become resistant to chemotherapy. MRP1 codes for a protein that acts as a pump, eliminating cancer drugs from tumor cells and rendering them ineffective. This pump acts on several drugs other than 5-fluorouracil, including the commonly used cancer drug doxorubicin. “Drug resistance is a huge hurdle in cancer therapy and the reason why chemotherapy, in many cases, is not very effective”, says João Conde, an IMES postdoc and lead author of the PNAS paper. To overcome this, the researchers created gold nanoparticles coated with strands of DNA complementary to the sequence of MRP1 messenger RNA — the snippet of genetic material that carries DNA’s instructions to the rest of the cell.


These strands of DNA, which the researchers call “nanobeacons,” fold back on themselves to form a closed hairpin structure. However, when the DNA encounters the correct mRNA sequence inside a cancer cell, it unfolds and binds to the mRNA, preventing it from generating more molecules of the MRP1 protein. As the DNA unfolds, it also releases molecules of 5-fluorouracil that were embedded in the strand. This drug then attacks the tumor cell’s DNA, since MRP1 is no longer around to pump it out of the cell. “When we silence the gene, the cell is no longer resistant to that drug, so we can deliver the drug that now regains its efficacy,” Conde says.

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Potential Ebola Vaccination Even After Potentially High-Risk Exposure

Potential Ebola Vaccination Even After Potentially High-Risk Exposure | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

 Safe and effective vaccines and drugs are needed for the prevention and treatment of Ebola virus disease, including following a potentially high-risk exposure such as a needlestick. To assess response to postexposure vaccination in a health care worker who was exposed to the Ebola virus.


Case report of a physician who experienced a needlestick while working in an Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone on September 26, 2014. Medical evacuation to the United States was rapidly initiated. Given the concern about potentially lethal Ebola virus disease, the patient was offered, and provided his consent for, postexposure vaccination with an experimental vaccine available through an emergency Investigational New Drug application. He was vaccinated on September 28, 2014. The vaccine used was VSVΔG-ZEBOV, a replicating, attenuated, recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (serotype Indiana) whose surface glycoprotein gene was replaced by the Zaire Ebola virus glycoprotein gene. This vaccine has entered a clinical trial for the prevention of Ebola in West Africa.


The vaccine was administered 43 hours after the needlestick occurred. Fever and moderate to severe symptoms developed 12 hours after vaccination and diminished over 3 to 4 days. The real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction results were transiently positive for vesicular stomatitis virus nucleoprotein gene and Ebola virus glycoprotein gene (both included in the vaccine) but consistently negative for Ebola virus nucleoprotein gene (not in the vaccine). Early postvaccination cytokine secretion and T lymphocyte and plasmablast activation were detected. Subsequently, Ebola virus glycoprotein-specific antibodies and T cells became detectable, but antibodies against Ebola viral matrix protein 40 (not in the vaccine) were not detected.


It is currently unknown if VSVΔG-ZEBOV is safe or effective for post-exposure vaccination in humans who have experienced a high-risk occupational exposure to the Ebola virus, such as a needlestick. In this patient, postexposure vaccination with VSVΔG-ZEBOV induced a self-limited febrile syndrome that was associated with transient detection of the recombinant vesicular stomatitis vaccine virus in blood. Strong innate and Ebola-specific adaptive immune responses were detected after vaccination. The clinical syndrome and laboratory evidence were consistent with vaccination response, and no evidence of Ebola virus infection was detected.

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A paralyzed woman flew an F-35 fighter jet in a simulator — using only her mind

A paralyzed woman flew an F-35 fighter jet in a simulator — using only her mind | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Over at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known as DARPA, there are some pretty amazing (and often top-secret) things going on. But one notable component of a DARPA project was revealed by a Defense Department official at a recent forum, and it is the stuff of science fiction movies. According to DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar, a paralyzed woman was successfully able use her thoughts to control an F-35 and a single-engine Cessna in a flight simulator.


It's just the latest advance for one woman, 55-year-old Jan Scheuermann, who has been the subject of two years of groundbreaking neurosignaling research.  First, Scheuermann began by controlling a robotic arm and accomplishing tasks such as feeding herself a bar of chocolate and giving high fives and thumbs ups. Then, researchers learned that -- surprisingly -- Scheuermann was able to control both right-hand and left-hand prosthetic arms with just the left motor cortex, which is typically responsible for controlling the right-hand side. After that, Scheuermann decided she was up for a new challenge, according to Prabhakar.


"Jan decided that she wanted to try flying a Joint Strike Fighter simulator," Prabhakar said, prompting laughter from the crowd at the New America Foundation's Future of War forum. "So Jan got to fly in the simulator."


Unlike pilots who use the simulator technology for training, Scheuermann wasn't thinking about controlling the plane with a joystick. She thought about flying the plane itself -- and it worked. "In fact," Prabhakar noted, "for someone who's never flown -- she's not a pilot in real life -- she's in there flying a simulator directly from neurosignaling."


Scheuermann has been paralyzed since 2003 because of a neurodegenerative condition. In 2012, she agreed to be fitted with two probes on the surface of her brain in the motor cortex area responsible for right hand and arm movements. In the last two years, she has tolerated those probes better than expected; as a result, she's been the subject of increasingly sophisticated experiments in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, to determine just how much she can do simply by thinking about it.

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Cigarettes kill 2 out of 3 of its users, large study finds

Cigarettes kill 2 out of 3 of its users, large study finds | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

“Smoking Kills” is more than just a catchy PSA or smoking cessation campaign slogan—it’s verifiable fact. Since the mid-1900s, study after study has generated compelling evidence linking smoking to increased mortality rates. Arguably, the most influential of these is the 1956 publication of smoking data on the “British Doctors Study,” which presented compelling evidence that over half of smokers would eventually die due to smoking-related complications. A new study published in BMC Medicine asserts that this mortality rate may even be as high as 66 percent, meaning that two out of three smokers will eventually die from conditions associated with their smoking.


This study, put together by investigators from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, followed 204,953 men and women over 45 years old from New South Wales, Australia. These participants were categorized into groups of smokers, past smokers, and never smokers.


Person-years are a measure of time used in epidemiological studies, in which the years studied for all participants in a study are added together. For example, if three people were studied for 10 years each, 30 total person years would be reported in the study. In the study published in BMC Medicine, a total of 874,120 person-years were examined, and during those person-years, 5,593 deaths occurred among the study population.


Epidemiological outcomes are typically reported in terms of “Relative Risk”, which describes the proportion of the risk of an outcome that can be attributed to a specific factor. In this study, the relative risk of death (known as mortality) for male and female smokers showed that they were approximately 2.76 and 2.95 times more likely to die than never smokers. Quitting helps; male and female past smokers were 1.27 and 1.39 times more likely to die than never smokers. These numbers, while not surprising given the large body of data on the risks of smoking, are nonetheless a staggering reminder of the quantifiable risks of smoking.

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Age-related leukemia almost inevitable: 70% of people over 90 have genetic mutations that could lead to leukemia

Age-related leukemia almost inevitable: 70% of people over 90 have genetic mutations that could lead to leukemia | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It is "almost inevitable" that your blood will take the first steps towards leukemia as you age, researchers show. The cancer is often associated with children, but some types become more common with age. The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed 70% of healthy people in their 90s had genetic errors that could lead to leukemia. The researchers warn that the number of cases could soar as life expectancy increases.


The team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, outside Cambridge, analysed the blood of 4,219 people. They focused on accurately testing for errors in the DNA that are linked to the blood cancers. If one blood cell in a hundred carried such a mutation they would pick it up.


The results were a surprise. They suggest 20% of people in their 50s have potentially cancerous mutations rising to 70% in people in their 90s. One of the researchers, Dr George Vassiliou, told the BBC News website: "We had suspected people had these mutations, but didn't expect they would be an almost inevitable consequence of aging. "What it is saying is that a lot more people than expected are starting on the path to leukemia, but thankfully only a few make it to the end."

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Vincenza Rose Grilletto's curator insight, May 28, 2015 10:39 PM

This was good to me because it told me what peopleare likely to get leukemia

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Seasonal flu vaccine could also protect against H7N9 avian flu

Seasonal flu vaccine could also protect against H7N9 avian flu | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new research has found that antibodies that protect against H7N9 avian flu have been isolated in individuals who received seasonal flu vaccinations. The research conducted by University Of Chicago Medical Centre explained that antibodies protection, which emerged in China account for a small percentage of the total immune response, but appear to neutralise H7 viruses and represent promising new targets for therapeutic development against a wide range of influenza strains.


Patrick Wilson, co-senior author said that the normal immune response to flu vaccination offers protection against dangerous and highly unique strains of influenza such as H7N9, so they will now develop ways of amplifying this response. Carole Henry, author of the study said that they observed that antibodies induced by flu vaccination offer cross-protection against H7N9, although they are not always protective, H7-reactive antibodies can be found in almost everyone that's been vaccinated. Wilson concluded that they will exploit this response on a larger scale to make vaccines or therapeutics that offer broad protection against influenza strains.


The study is published in the journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Simple paper strip can diagnose Ebola and other fevers within 10 minutes

Simple paper strip can diagnose Ebola and other fevers within 10 minutes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When diagnosing a case of Ebola, time is of the essence. However, existing diagnostic tests take at least a day or two to yield results, preventing health care workers from quickly determining whether a patient needs immediate treatment and isolation.


A new test from MIT researchers could change that: The device, a simple paper strip similar to a pregnancy test, can rapidly diagnose Ebola, as well as other viral hemorrhagic fevers such as yellow fever and dengue fever.


“As we saw with the recent Ebola outbreak, sometimes people present with symptoms and it’s not clear what they have,” says Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, a visiting scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the technical staff at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. “We wanted to come up with a rapid diagnostic that could differentiate between different diseases.”


Hamad-Schifferli and Lee Gehrke, the Hermann L.F. von Helmholtz Professor in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), are the senior authors of a paper describing the new device in the journal Lab on a Chip. The paper’s lead author is IMES postdoc Chun-Wan Yen, and other authors are graduate student Helena de Puig, IMES postdoc Justina Tam, IMES instructor Jose Gomez-Marquez, and visiting scientist Irene Bosch.


Currently, the only way to diagnose Ebola is to send patient blood samples to a lab that can perform advanced techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can detect genetic material from the Ebola virus. This is very accurate but time-consuming, and some areas of Africa where Ebola and other fevers are endemic have limited access to this kind of technology.


The new device relies on lateral flow technology, which is used in pregnancy tests and has recently been exploited for diagnosing strep throat and other bacterial infections. Until now, however, no one has applied a multiplexing approach, using multicolored nanoparticles, to simultaneously screen for multiple pathogens. 

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Rabenstein, Frank's curator insight, February 26, 2015 10:30 AM

God idea to combine several strips to make multiple tests from one test sample.

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New HPV vaccine is effective against 9 strains of the virus

New HPV vaccine is effective against 9 strains of the virus | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In a world obsessed with curing cancer, prevention is less headline-grabbing, but it's also generally less painful and cheaper. Vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) are a formidable weapon in the arsenal against multiple kinds of cancer, yet the uptake of the vaccine in the US is low, especially when compared to other high-income countries.


According to the President’s Cancer Panel Annual Report 2012-2013, only 33.4 percent of girls in the US complete the course of three HPV vaccines, compared to 60.4 percent in the UK and 71.2 percent in Australia. The vaccination rate for boys is even lower, at less than seven percent—unsurprising given that many public health campaigns specifically target girls.


This is a problem given how common HPV is, and how dangerous it can be. At any given time, one in four Americans is infected with at least one strain of the virus. Almost all sexually active people will be infected with it at some point in their lives. Most infections will be cleared by the immune system, but the remaining cases may lead to cervical, anal, or oral cancer, with approximately 26,000 cases in the US every year.



Two vaccines against HPV have been available for some time. Cervarix is "bivalent", protecting against the two most common cancer-causing strains, HPV-16 and 18. Quadrivalent Gardasil protects against four strains: 6, 11, 16 and 18. However, these aren’t the only HPV strains associated with cancer. A recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that a new vaccine, Gardasil 9, offers protection against the original four strains, as well as against HPV-31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. The randomized, double-blind clinical trial, conducted in 14,215 women, showed that the new 9-valent Gardasil offered increased protection against genital cancers in women between the ages of 16 and 26.


For diseases where medical treatment is already available and recommended, like the quadrivalent Gardasil vaccine, it's considered unethical to compare a new treatment to placebo. This is because the control group receiving the placebo would be missing out on recommended treatment, putting them at risk. So, in this trial, Gardasil-9 was compared to Gardasil.


The results showed that Gardasil-9 provided the same protection against HPV-6, 11, 16 and 18 as Gardasil, and increased protection against the five additional strains. Overall, the researchers report, the 9-valent vaccine could prevent approximately 90 percent of cervical cancers, compared to Gardasil's 70 percent protection.


There is some evidence that the bivalent and quadrivalent vaccines already provide some protection against additional strains of HPV. A recent paper in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology reporting on the clinical trial for Cervarix reported that the vaccine is more than 96 percent effective against disease associated with strains 16 and 18, and more than 50 percent effective against diseases associated with any HPV strain.

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Drug-resistant malaria 'huge threat'

Drug-resistant malaria 'huge threat' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Resistance to the drug that has saved millions of lives from malaria has been detected over a wider area than previously thought. Drug-resistant malaria is spreading in South East Asia, and has now reached the Cambodia-Thailand border, according to a study. "Radical action" is needed to prevent further spread of malaria parasites resistant to key drugs, say scientists. The ability of the malaria parasite to shrug off the effects of artemisinin has been spreading since it emerged in South East Asia.


Tests, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, now show this resistance on the verge of entering India. Experts said the development was "alarming" and an "enormous threat". Deaths from malaria have nearly halved since 2000, and the infection now kills about 584,000 people each year. Blood samples from 940 people with malaria from 55 sites across Myanmar showed this resistance was widespread across the country.


Chloroquine probably saved hundreds of millions of lives, but resistance was discovered in 1957 around the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Resistance spread around the world and reached Africa 17 years later. There is no evidence of artemisinin resistance in Africa yet, although there is concern that history is about to repeat itself with deadly consequences.


South East Asia has been implicated in the rise of resistance to both chloroquine and artemisinin. The main explanation is that lower levels of natural malaria immunity exist in the region than in Africa. With no background resistance, the drugs have to do all the work in infected patients in South East Asia. But there are far more cases of malaria in Africa, and repeat infection is common so people there develop some immunity. It means the natural immune system and the drug share the load of fighting off malaria. This makes South East Asia a riper region for the parasite to develop resistance.


Prof Philippe Guerin, the director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network, said: "This study highlights that the pace at which artemisinin resistance is spreading or emerging is alarming. "We need a more vigorous international effort to address this issue in border regions."


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New self-healing nanogel for drug delivery

New self-healing nanogel for drug delivery | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Self-healing gel can be injected into the body and act as a long-term drug depot.


Scientists are interested in using gels to deliver drugs because they can be molded into specific shapes and designed to release their payload over a specified time period. However, current versions aren’t always practical because must be implanted surgically.


To help overcome that obstacle, MIT chemical engineers have designed a new type of self-healing hydrogel that could be injected through a syringe. Such gels, which can carry one or two drugs at a time, could be useful for treating cancer, macular degeneration, or heart disease, among other diseases, the researchers say.


The new gel consists of a mesh network made of two components: nanoparticles made of polymers entwined within strands of another polymer, such as cellulose. “Now you have a gel that can change shape when you apply stress to it, and then, importantly, it can re-heal when you relax those forces. That allows you to squeeze it through a syringe or a needle and get it into the body without surgery,” says Mark Tibbitt, a postdoc at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and one of the lead authors of a paper describing the gel in Nature Communications on Feb. 19.


Scientists have previously constructed hydrogels for biomedical uses by forming irreversible chemical linkages between polymers. These gels, used to make soft contact lenses, among other applications, are tough and sturdy, but once they are formed their shape cannot easily be altered. The MIT team set out to create a gel that could survive strong mechanical forces, known as shear forces, and then reform itself. Other researchers have created such gels by engineering proteins that self-assemble into hydrogels, but this approach requires complex biochemical processes. The MIT team wanted to design something simpler. “We’re working with really simple materials,” Tibbitt says. “They don’t require any advanced chemical functionalization.”


The MIT approach relies on a combination of two readily available components. One is a type of nanoparticle formed of PEG-PLA copolymers, first developed in Langer’s lab decades ago and now commonly used to package and deliver drugs. To form a hydrogel, the researchers mixed these particles with a polymer — in this case, cellulose.


Each polymer chain forms weak bonds with many nanoparticles, producing a loosely woven lattice of polymers and nanoparticles. Because each attachment point is fairly weak, the bonds break apart under mechanical stress, such as when injected through a syringe. When the shear forces are over, the polymers and nanoparticles form new attachments with different partners, healing the gel.


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Antibiotics that target mitochondria effectively eradicate cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Treating cancer like an infectious disease

Antibiotics that target mitochondria effectively eradicate cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Treating cancer like an infectious disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Antibiotics that target mitochondria effectively eradicate cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Treating cancer like an infectious disease.


A group of scientists has proposed a new strategy for the treatment of early cancerous lesions and advanced metastatic disease, via the selective targeting of cancer stem cells (CSCs), a.k.a., tumor-initiating cells (TICs). They searched for a global phenotypic characteristic that was highly conserved among cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types, to provide a mutation-independent approach to cancer therapy. This would allow doctors to target cancer stem cells specifically, effectively treating cancer as a single disease of “stemness”, independently of the tumor tissue type. 

Using this approach, the researchers identified a conserved phenotypic weak point – a strict dependence on mitochondrial biogenesis for the clonal expansion and survival of cancer stem cells. Interestingly, several classes of FDA-approved antibiotics inhibit mitochondrial biogenesis as a known “side-effect”, which could be harnessed instead as a “therapeutic effect”. 

Based on this analysis, they were able to show that 4-to-5 different classes of FDA-approved drugs can be used to eradicate cancer stem cells, in 12 different cancer cell lines, across 8 different tumor types (breast, DCIS, ovarian, prostate, lung, pancreatic, melanoma, and glioblastoma (brain)). These five classes of mitochondrially-targeted antibiotics include: erythromycins, tetracyclines,  glycylcyclines, an anti-parasitic drug, and chloramphenicol. Within their work, functional data are presented for one antibiotic in each drug class: azithromycin, doxycycline, tigecycline, pyrvinium pamoate, as well as chloramphenicol, as proof-of-concept. Importantly, many of these drugs are non-toxic for normal cells, likely reducing the side effects of anti-cancer therapy. 

Based on these results, the researchers propose to treat cancer like an infectious disease, by repurposing FDA-approved antibiotics for anti-cancer therapy, across multiple tumor types. These drug classes should also be considered for prevention studies, specifically focused on the prevention of tumor recurrence and distant metastasis. 

Recent clinical trials with doxycycline and azithromycin (intended to target cancer-associated infections, but not cancer cells) have already shown positive therapeutic effects in cancer patients, although their ability to eradicate cancer stem cells was not yet evaluated and fully appreciated.

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GLG Pharma's curator insight, February 16, 2015 4:58 PM

Complicated scenarios...Cancer...but this is an interesting approach.

Josh Oj's curator insight, March 27, 2015 5:54 AM

Soon it may be possible to cure cancers through the use of a more powerful antibiotic unlike anything the world has ever seen by targeting mitochondria.

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Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian study finds

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian study finds | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Report by top medical research body says ‘people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments’


Homeopathy is not effective for treating any health condition, Australia’s top body for medical research has concluded, after undertaking an extensive review of existing studies. Homeopaths believe that illness-causing substances can, in minute doses, treat people who are unwell.


By diluting these substances in water or alcohol, homeopaths claim the resulting mixture retains a “memory” of the original substance that triggers a healing response in the body. These claims have been widely disproven by multiple studies, but the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has for the first time thoroughly reviewed 225 research papers on homeopathy to come up with its position statement, released on Wednesday. “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” the report concluded.


“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.” While some studies reported homeopathy was effective, the quality of those studies was poor and suffered serious flaws in their design, and did not have enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy worked any better than a sugar pill, the report found.


In making its findings the NHMRC also analysed 57 systematic reviews, a high-quality type of study that assesses all existing, quality research on a particular topic and synthesises it to make a number of strong, overall findings.

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Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses

Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Herpes simplex virus infections are an enormous global health problem and there is currently no viable vaccine. For nearly three decades, immunologists’ efforts to develop a herpes vaccine have centered on exploiting a single protein found on the virus’s outer surface that is known to elicit robust production of antibodies. Breaking from this approach, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have created a genetic mutant lacking that protein. The result is a powerfully effective vaccine against herpes viruses.


“We have a very promising new candidate for herpes,” says William Jacobs, an HHMI investigator at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “but this might also be a good candidate as a vaccine vector for other mucosal diseases, particularly HIV and tuberculosis.”


The new vaccine was found to be effective against the two most common forms of herpes that cause cold sores (HSV-1) and genital ulcers (HSV-2). Both are known to infect the body’s nerve cells, where the virus can lay dormant for years before symptoms reappear. The new vaccine is the first to prevent this type of latent infection. “With herpes sores you continually get them,” Jacobs says. “If our vaccine works in humans as it does in mice, administering it early in life could completely eliminate herpes latency.” Jacobs and his colleagues reported their findings on March 10, 2015, in the journal eLife.


HSV-2 is a lifelong, incurable infection that causes recurrent and painful genital sores and increases susceptibility to HIV. Also, babies born to mothers with active genital herpes have a more than 80 percent mortality rate. Current estimates suggest that 500 million people worldwide are infected with HSV-2, with approximately 20 million new cases occurring annually. While infection rates in the U.S. hover around 15 to 20 percent, HSV-2 is highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly three in four women have contracted the virus, contributing significantly to the region’s HIV epidemic.


The related virus, HSV-1 is primarily associated with oral lesions, but is a major cause of corneal blindness and infects around 60 percent of the world’s population. Notably, HSV-1 has been increasingly recognized as a cause of genital herpes in the United States and other developed countries.

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Genome Editing Keeps HIV at Bay Long with Artificially Created CCR5-delta32 mutation

Genome Editing Keeps HIV at Bay Long with Artificially Created CCR5-delta32 mutation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Geneticists have been able to modify the immune system to confer resistance to HIV infection. The technique involves harvesting a patient's T-cells, using genome-editing techniques to disrupt the gene that controls the receptor used by HIV to infect those cells, and returning the modified cells to the patient, Fyodor Urnov, PhD, from Sangamo BioSciences in Richmond, California, explained here at the Future of Genomic Medicine VIII. The hope is that the edited cells will establish a permanent reservoir of HIV-resistant immune cells, he said.


In effect, the therapy mimics the natural mutation that confers HIV resistance in some people. The mutation came to light when a man named Timothy Brown, known as "the Berlin patient," wasapparently cured of HIV infection after a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had the mutation.


"You start with a naturally occurring variation, and then you aim to recapitulate it to create a disease-protective genotype and then a phenotype in a clinical setting," Dr Urnov said. He presented updated data from a phase 2 trial, the early results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine(2014;370:901-910). In the study, the researchers edited T-cells to modify the gene that encodes for CCR5, the coreceptor exploited by HIV to infect immune system cells.


With an established genome-editing technique, the team used DNA-snipping enzymes — called zinc-finger nucleases — to mimic the naturally occurring CCR5-delta32 mutation, which causes the expression of a truncated and nonfunctioning form of the CCR5 protein. The targeted section of DNA cleaved by the zinc-finger nucleases then undergoes a self-repair process, or nonhomologous end joining, leaving behind a T-cell with a nonfunctioning but otherwise healthy form of CCR5. The modified autologous cells are then reinfused into the patient.


"I'm thrilled to report that we have done this in more than 70 individuals, and the treatment has been well tolerated so far. I'm also delighted to report that the genome-edited cells persist over time," Dr Urnov said. "We have observed persistence of the cells in our subjects out to 4 years."


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Study indicates e-cigarette vapor "not significant" in terms of airborne pollutants

Study indicates e-cigarette vapor "not significant" in terms of airborne pollutants | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Leading commercial electronic cigarettes were tested to determine bulk composition. The e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were evaluated using machine-puffing to compare nicotine delivery and relative yields of chemical constituents. The e-liquids tested were found to contain humectants, glycerin and/or propylene glycol, (⩾75% content); water (<20%); nicotine (approximately 2%); and flavor (<10%). The aerosol collected mass (ACM) of the e-cigarette samples was similar in composition to the e-liquids. Aerosol nicotine for the e-cigarette samples was 85% lower than nicotine yield for the conventional cigarettes.


Analysis of the smoke from conventional cigarettes showed that the mainstream cigarette smoke delivered approximately 1,500 times more harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) tested when compared to e-cigarette aerosol or to puffing room air. The deliveries of HPHCs tested for these e-cigarette products were similar to the study air blanks rather than to deliveries from conventional cigarettes; no significant contribution of cigarette smoke HPHCs from any of the compound classes tested was found for the e-cigarettes. Thus, the results of this study support previous researchers’ discussion of e-cigarette products’ potential for reduced exposure compared to cigarette smoke.

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A Pair of Sunglasses Promises a Miracle: A Cure for Colorblindess

A Pair of Sunglasses Promises a Miracle: A Cure for Colorblindess | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The California company EnChroma is creating lenses that allow some to see colors for the first time. Colorblindness is just the latest problem that scientists have tried to solve with a technical fix. They’ve modified the DNA of plants such as corn to resist pests and fight disease, and now are building electronic bees to pollinate them. Drugs let antsy children concentrate in class and help depressed adults feel balanced. Cochlear implants help the deaf hear, and mechanical limbs help athletes win Olympic medals.


It is no surprise, then, that scientists have made breakthroughs with colorblindness, which is the most common congenital disorder in humans: More than 15 million people in the U.S. and over 300 million worldwide don’t see normal colors. Most are men who inherit it from their mothers’ fathers.


Despite how common this condition is, most people don’t understand it. The colorblind are almost all actually red-green colorblind, but that doesn’t mean they can’t see red and green. The colorblind can see the colors when they’re vivid, but make mistakes when they’re faint. And because so many colors such as pink or purple contain just a little bit of red or green, mistakes are common.


It’s treated as a joke, even among the celebrity colorblind. Didn’t you know Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook blue because it’s the easiest color for him to see? If Van Gogh had normal color vision, would his paintings have looked more or less intense? Is defective vision the reason why Bill Clinton has trouble seeing stains? Colorblind men clash ties when they dress, buy unripe bananas for breakfast, and mix up subway lines on their way to work. They get confused by line graphs during meetings, and try to push through the red “occupied” signs on bathroom doors. To a colorblind man, the red lipstick you’re wearing might not be that impressive, but neither will your blemishes.


Based in Berkeley, California, McPherson, who has a PhD in glass science from Alfred University, originally specialized in creating eyewear for doctors to use as protection during laser surgery. Rare earth iron embedded in the glasses absorbed a significant amount of light, enabling surgeons to not only stay safe, but also clearly differentiate between blood and tissue during procedures.


In fact, surgeons loved the glasses so much, they began disappearing from operating rooms. This was the first indication that they could be used outside the hospital. McPherson, too, began casually wearing them, as sunglasses. “Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated,” he says. “It makes the world look really bright.”


It wasn’t until Angell borrowed his sunglasses at the Frisbee game, however, that McPherson realized they could serve a broader purpose and help those who are colorblind. After making this discovery, he spent time researching colorblindness, a condition he knew very little about, and ultimately applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin conducting clinical trials.


Since then, McPherson and two colleagues, Tony Dykes and Andrew Schmeder, founded EnChroma Labs, a company dedicated to developing everyday sunglasses for the 300 million people in the world with color vision deficiency. They've been selling glasses, with sporty and trendy, Ray-Ban-like frames, since December 2012, at a price point ranging from $325 to $450. The EnChroma team has refined the product significantly, most recently changing the lenses from glass to a much more consumer-friendly polycarbonate in December 2014. 


The company’s eyewear is able to treat up to 80 percent of the customers who come to them. The remaining 20 percent, including the writer of this recent Atlantic article, who tested the glasses, are missing an entire class of photopigments, either green or red—a condition EnChroma is not currently able to address.

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Dr. Google joins Mayo Clinic

Dr. Google joins Mayo Clinic | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The deal to produce clinical summaries under the Mayo Clinic name for Google searches symbolizes the medical priesthood's acceptance that information technology has reshaped the doctor-patient relationship. More disruptions are already on the way.


If information is power, digitized information is distributed power. While “patient-centered care” has been directed by professionals towards patients, collaborative health – what some call “participatory medicine” or “person-centric care” ­– shifts the perspective from the patient outwards.


Collaboration means sharing. At places like Mayo and Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, the doctor’s detailed notes, long seen only by other clinicians, are available through a mobile app for patients to see when they choose and share how they wish. mHealth makes the process mundane, while the content makes it an utterly radical act.


About 5 million patients nationwide currently have electronic access to open notes. Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a few other institutions are planning to allow patients to make additions and corrections to what they call “OurNotes.” Not surprisingly, many doctors remain mortified by this medical sacrilege.


Even more threatening is an imminent deluge of patient-generated health data churned out by a growing list of products from major consumer companies. Sensors are being incorporated into wearables, watches, smartphones and (in a Ford prototype) even a “car that cares” with biometric sensors in the seat and steering wheel. Sitting in your suddenly becomes telemedicine.


To be sure, traditional information channels remain. For example, a doctor-prescribed, Food and Drug Administration-approved app uses sensors and personalized analytics to prevent severe asthma attacks. Increasingly common, though, is digitized data that doesn’t need a doctor at all. For example, a Microsoft fitness band not only provides constant heart rate monitoring, according to a New York Times review, but is part of a health “platform” employing algorithms to deliver “actionable information” and contextual analysis. By comparison, “Dr. Google” belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting.

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Yale researchers reverse type 2 diabetes and associated fatty liver disease in rats

Yale researchers reverse type 2 diabetes and associated fatty liver disease in rats | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Yale researchers developed a controlled-release oral therapy that reversed type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease in rats, according to a study published on Feb. 26 by Science.


Existing therapies for type 2 diabetes, and the closely associated conditions of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), have had limited success at treating the root causes of these diseases. Building on earlier research, the Yale team — led by Dr. Gerald I. Shulman, the George R. Cowgill Professor of Physiological Chemistry, and professor of medicine and cellular & molecular physiology at Yale School of Medicine — decided to investigate whether an agent that had originally been used for weight loss more than 70 years ago could be reformulated to safely treat NAFLD/NASH and type 2 diabetes in rodent models of these diseases.


Based on their earlier studies, the researchers determined that toxicity associated with the agent — mitochondrial protonophore 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) — was related to its peak plasma concentrations. They discovered that DNP’s efficacy in reducing liver fat and liver inflammation could be achieved with plasma concentrations that were more than a 100-fold less than the toxic levels.


“Besides reversing fatty liver disease in a rodent model of NALFD, a low-dose intragastric infusion of DNP that was 100-fold lower than toxic levels also significantly reduced blood glucose, triglyceride, and insulin concentrations in a rodent model of NAFLD and type 2 diabetes”, said Shulman, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


In the next phase of the study, Shulman and his team developed a new oral, controlled-release form of DNP, known as CRMP, which maintained the drug at concentrations that were more than a 100-fold lower than the toxic threshold. Administered once daily, CRMP delivered similar positive results, reversing fatty liver, insulin resistance, and hyperglycemia in rat models of NAFLD and type 2 diabetes, as well as liver inflammation and liver fibrosis in a rodent model of NASH, with no adverse effects.


“Given these promising results in animal models of NAFLD/NASH and type 2 diabetes we are pursuing additional preclinical safety studies to take this mitochondrial protonophore approach to the clinic” said Shulman.

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First human head transplant could happen within two years

First human head transplant could happen within two years | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The world's first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.


The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body's immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.


Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June. Is society ready for such momentous surgery? And does the science even stand up?


The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn't attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn't move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. "I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible," says Canavero.


This month, he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International,doi.org/2c7). It involves cooling the recipient's head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero.


The recipient's head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.


Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.


When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.

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Three Men have their hands amputated and replaced with bionic ones

Three Men have their hands amputated and replaced with bionic ones | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Bionic hands are go. Three men with serious nerve damage had their hands amputated and replaced by prosthetic ones that they can control with their minds.


The procedure, dubbed "bionic reconstruction", was carried out by Oskar Aszmann at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.

The men had all suffered accidents which damaged the brachial plexus – the bundle of nerve fibers that runs from the spine to the hand. Despite attempted repairs to those nerves, the arm and hand remained paralyzed.

"But still there are some nerve fibers present," says Aszmann. "The injury is so massive that there are only a few. This is just not enough to make the hand alive. They will never drive a hand, but they might drive a prosthetic hand."


This approach works because the prosthetic hands come with their own power source. Aszmann's patients plug their hands in to charge every night. Relying on electricity from the grid to power the hand means all the muscles and nerves need do is send the right signals to a prosthetic.


First they practized activating the muscle using an armband of sensors that picked up on the electrical activity. Then they moved on to controlling a virtual arm. Finally, Aszmann amputated their hands, and replaced them with a standard prosthesis under the control of the muscle and sensors.


"I was impressed and first struck with the surgical innovation," says Dustin Tyler of the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. "There's something very personal about having a hand; most people will go to great lengths to recover one, even if it's not very functional. It's interesting that people are opting for this."


While Aszmann's approach uses a grafted muscle to relay signals from the brain to a prosthesis, others are taking a more direct route, reading brain waves directly and using them to control the hand. A team at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has used a brain implant to allow a paralysed woman to control a robotic arm using her thoughts alone.

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FDA permits marketing of first direct-to-consumer genetic carrier test for Bloom syndrome

FDA permits marketing of first direct-to-consumer genetic carrier test for Bloom syndrome | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today authorized for marketing 23andMe’s Bloom Syndrome carrier test, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test to determine whether a healthy person has a variant in a gene that could lead to their offspring inheriting the serious disorder.


Along with this authorization, the FDA is also classifying carrier screening tests as class II. In addition, the FDA intends to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review. The agency plans to issue a notice that announces the intent to exempt these tests and that provides a 30-day period for public comment. This action creates the least burdensome regulatory path for autosomal recessive carrier screening tests with similar uses to enter the market.


“The FDA believes that in many circumstances it is not necessary for consumers to go through a licensed practitioner to have direct access to their personal genetic information. Today’s authorization and accompanying classification, along with FDA’s intent to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review, supports innovation and will ultimately benefit consumers,” said Alberto Gutierrez, Ph.D., director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “These tests have the potential to provide people with information about possible mutations in their genes that could be passed on to their children.”


In general, carrier testing is a type of genetic testing performed on people who display no symptoms for a genetic disorder but may be at risk for passing it on to their children. A carrier for a genetic disorder has inherited one normal and one abnormal allele for a gene associated with the disorder. A child must inherit two abnormal alleles, one copy from each parent, in order for symptoms to appear.

No test is perfect. Given the probability of erroneous results and the rarity of these mutations, professional societies typically recommend that only prospective parents with a family history of a genetic disorder undergo carrier screening. For example, when a gene mutation is expected to be very rare, a positive result for the mutation may have a high probability of being wrong.


Like other home-use tests for medical purposes, the FDA requires the results to be conveyed in a way that consumers can understand and use. This is the same approach the FDA has taken with other over-the-counter consumer products such as pregnancy, cholesterol and HIV tests for home use


While the FDA is not limiting who should or should not use these tests, it is requiring that the company explain to the consumer in the product labeling what the results might mean for prospective parents interested in seeing if they carry a genetic disorder.  


If sold over the counter, the FDA is also requiring 23andMe to provide information to consumers about how to obtain access to a board-certified clinical molecular geneticist or equivalent to assist in pre- and post-test counseling. 23andMe performed two separate studies to demonstrate that their test is accurate in detecting Bloom syndrome carrier status. One study conducted at two laboratories tested a total of 123 samples, including samples from known carriers of the disease. An additional study evaluated 105 samples at two additional laboratories. Both studies showed equivalent results in detecting carrier status of Bloom syndrome when the same samples were tested.


The company also conducted a usability study with 295 people not familiar with the 23andMe saliva collection device to demonstrate consumers could understand the test instructions and collect an adequate saliva sample.


Finally, the company conducted a user study of 302 randomly recruited participants representing the U.S. general population in age, gender, race and education level to show the test instructions and results were easy to follow and understand.

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3-D engineered bone marrow makes functioning platelets

3-D engineered bone marrow makes functioning platelets | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team led by researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering and the University of Pavia has reported development of the first three-dimensional tissue system that reproduces the complex structure and physiology of human bone marrow and successfully generates functional human platelets. Using a biomaterial matrix of porous silk, the new system is capable of producing platelets for future clinical use and also provides a laboratory tissue system to advance study of blood platelet diseases."


There are many diseases where platelet production or function is impaired," says Alessandra Balduini, M.D., research associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts, associate professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Pavia and co-corresponding author on the paper. "New insight into the formation of platelets would have a major impact on patients and healthcare. In this tissue system, we can culture patient-derived megakaryocytes -- the bone marrow cells that make platelets -- and also endothelial cells, which are found in bone marrow and promote platelet production, to design patient-specific drug administration regimes."


The new system can also provide an in vitro laboratory tissue system with which to study mechanisms of blood disease and to predict efficacy of new drugs--providing a more precise and less costly alternative to in vivo animal models.


"The need for platelet production systems to treat patients with related diseases is significant. This patient-specific system could provide new insight and options for clinical treatments," says David Kaplan, Ph.D., chair of biomedical engineering and Stern Family professor at Tufts and co-corresponding author. "Further the platelets can be generated on demand, avoiding the complications of storage problems, and in greater quantities and with better quality and control in terms of morphology and function."


The work is pre-published online in the journal Blood prior to print publication ("Programmable 3D silk bone marrow niche for platelet generation ex vivo and modeling of megakaryopoiesis pathologies").

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Data Scientist on a Quest to Turn Computers Into Doctors

Data Scientist on a Quest to Turn Computers Into Doctors | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Some of the world’s most brilliant minds are working as data scientists at places like Google, Facebook, and Twitter—analyzing the enormous troves of online information generated by these tech giants—and for hacker and entrepreneur Jeremy Howard, that’s a bit depressing. Howard, a data scientist himself, spent a few years as the president of the Kaggle, a kind of online data scientist community that sought to feed the growing thirst for information analysis. He came to realize that while many of Kaggle’s online data analysis competitions helped scientists make new breakthroughs, the potential of these new techniques wasn’t being fully realized. “Data science is a very sexy job at the moment,” he says. “But when I look at what a lot of data scientists are actually doing, the vast majority of work out there is on product recommendations and advertising technology and so forth.”


So, after leaving Kaggle last year, Howard decided he would find a better use for data science. Eventually, he settled on medicine. And he even did a kind of end run around the data scientists, leveraging not so much the power of the human brain but the rapidly evolving talents of artificial brains. His new company is called Enlitic, and it wants to use state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms—what’s known as “deep learning”—to diagnosis illness and disease.


Publicly revealed for the first time today, the project is only just getting off the ground—“the big opportunities are going to take years to develop,” Howard says—but it’s yet another step forward for deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence that more closely mimics the way our brains work. Facebook is exploring deep learning as a way of recognizing faces in photos. Google uses it for image tagging and voice recognition. Microsoft does real-time translation in Skype. And the list goes on.


But Howard hopes to use deep learning for something more meaningful. His basic idea is to create a system akin to the Star Trek Tricorder, though perhaps not as portable. Enlitic will gather data about a particular patient—from medical images to lab test results to doctors’ notes—and its deep learning algorithms will analyze this data in an effort to reach a diagnosis and suggest treatments. The point, Howard says, isn’t to replace doctors, but to give them the tools they need to work more effectively. With this in mind, the company will share its algorithms with clinics, hospitals, and other medical outfits, hoping they can help refine its techniques. Howard says that the health care industry has been slow to pick-up on the deep-learning trend because it was rather expensive to build the computing clusters needed to run deep learning algorithms. But that’s changing.


The real challenge, Howard says, isn’t writing algorithms but getting enough data to train those algorithms. He says Enlitic is working with a number of organizations that specialize in gathering anonymized medical data for this type of research, but he declines to reveal the names of the organizations he’s working with. And while he’s tight-lipped about the company’s technique now, he says that much of the work the company does will eventually be published in research papers.

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Mike Dele's curator insight, March 20, 2015 10:00 PM

why don't we look at the possibility of creating and manufacturing human spare parts just like for cars to replace any form of problem?

Benjamin Mzhari's curator insight, March 27, 2015 8:37 AM

i fore see this type of profession becoming dynamic in the sense that it will not only look at business data but other statistics figures that will aid businesses.