Stanford Bioengineer Christina Smolke has been on a decade-long quest to genetically alter yeast so they can brew opioid medicines in stainless steel vats,
Stanford bioengineers have hacked the DNA of yeast, reprograming these simple cells to make opioid-based medicines* via a sophisticated extension of the basic brewing process that makes beer.
Led by Associate Professor of Bioengineering Christina Smolke, the Stanford team has already spent a decade genetically engineering yeast cells to reproduce the biochemistry of poppies, with the ultimate goal of producing opium-based medicines, from start to finish, in fermentation vats.
“We are now very close to replicating the entire opioid production process in a way that eliminates the need to grow poppies, allowing us to reliably manufacture essential medicines while mitigating the potential for diversion to illegal use,” said Smolke, who outlines her work in the August 24 edition of Nature Chemical Biology.
Smolke added five genes from two different organisms to yeast cells. Three of these genes came from the poppy itself, and the others from a bacterium that lives on poppy plant stalks.
Scientists can now monitor and record the activity of hundreds of neurons concurrently in the brain, and ongoing technology developments promise to increase this number manyfold. However, simply recording the neural activity does not automatically lead to a clearer understanding of how the brain works.
5,000 patients died last year from healthcare-associated infections (HAI) in the United States. The culprit is usually unwashed hands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 75,000 patients died last year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the United States. It’s consistently ranked as one of ten leading causes of death. HAIs are defined as infections that patients contract after they’ve been admitted—that is, the patient arrives at the hospital with one ailment, and then picks up a new infection during his stay. Those preventable infections cost hospitals around $30 billion in added costs a year.
The culprit is usually unwashed hands. Studies vary, but show that on average hospital workers only wash their hands between 10 and 50 percent of the time they enter or exit a patient room. That number, of course, is supposed to be 100 percent. When harried hospital workers forget to wash their hands and move from, say, a sick patient to a surgery, bacteria can travel with them. Unfortunately, “the problem is invisible,” says Brent Nibarger, chief client officer at Biovigil Hygiene Technologies. “The bacteria and things that get transported, you can’t see it. We often say if the bugs glowed orange or green or yellow you could solve this more powerfully.”
Bacteria might not emit flashes of color, but a gadget can. This summer, Biovigil rolled out their first product: a sensor-laden electronic badge that uses traffic-light language—red, yellow, and green flashing lights—to hold doctors accountable for hand-hygiene.
Although there's presently no cure for cluster headaches, a new neurostimulator is claimed to help control them. While they may not be quite as well-known as migraines, cluster headaches are even more painful, and can occur several times a day. There's presently no cure, although a new "neurostimulator" is claimed to help control them. A US clinical trial of the device has just begun, with a test subject recently having had one implanted beneath his cheekbone.
Developed by San Francisco-based Autonomic Technologies Inc (ATI), the "almond-sized" device was inserted through a 2-cm (0.8-in) incision in the recipient's gum, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Anchored to the skull under the cheekbone, on the side of the face affected by the headaches, the implant works by stimulating the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG). This is a nerve bundle located behind the nose, and it's associated with the transmission of the headache pain. Past approaches have included permanently cutting or chemically burning the SPG.
When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place a separate handheld controller against their cheek. It wirelessly activates the neurostimulator, which in turn blocks the pain signals sent via the SPG. The controller is preprogrammed by the patient's physician, to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition.
There are numerous research efforts underway to develop new treatments and improve the lives of people suffering type 2 diabetes, whose ranks have increased dramatically in recent decades due in large part to the so-called obesity epidemic. A new generation of safer and more effective diabetes drugs could be in the offing with researchers at the Salk Institute discovering that when mice with diet-induced diabetes were given a single injection of a protein, their blood sugar levels were restored to a healthy range for more than two days.
Although type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed through a healthy diet and regular exercise in the initial stages, tablets that boost the body's production of insulin are generally prescribed as the disease progresses. Such tablets can have side effects, including nausea and diarrhea, and aren't suitable for everyone, such as pregnant women and those with severe liver, kidney or heart disease. They can also cause blood glucose levels to drop too low, potentially resulting in hypoglycemia.
Now Salk researchers have found that injecting obese mice with the equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans with a single dose of protein FGF1 quickly restored their blood glucose levels to normal levels where they remained for more than two days. Importantly, even when given high doses, the mice suffered none of the side effects common to most current diabetes treatments, such as weight gain or heart and liver problems.
Mice lacking a specific protein (TRAP-1) live longer lives with fewer age-related illnesses, such as tissue degeneration, obesity, and spontaneous tumor formation, when compared with normal mice, researchers at The Wistar Institute have...
Study with Duke and Stanford Universities aims to revolutionise treatment of disease through the study of healthy people. By Samuel Gibbs
Google’s latest project from its Google X “moonshot” division is every bit as ambitious as some of its robotics and communications projects like Glass.
Google wants to map how the human body behaves when it’s healthy, which could dramatically improve modern medicine.
What are they doing?
The Baseline study is a scientific investigation into what it means to be healthy. It will collect data from healthy individuals, crunch the numbers and define a healthy state for a human being from real-world people.
Why study the healthy?
Why study someone who isn’t sick? Modern medicine is good at treating diseases with obvious symptoms. But at the point at which a disease is showing symptoms severe enough to send someone to the doctor, the disease has been running wild within that person’s body for a good while.
By defining a baseline of what it means to be healthy, it is a lot easier to detect changes and pick up serious, life-threatening diseases before they become dangerous. Catching illness much earlier can either diminish the impact or neutralise the disease before symptoms appear.
Who's being studied?
Google’s study will initially take 175 volunteers from various groups of ethnicity, habit and area and conduct testing of methods and practices to inform a much larger study later on. That small select group of people is expected to expand to around 400 or so by the end of the year.
Scientists have already successfully coaxed stem cells into becoming red blood cells, which could be used to create "man-made" blood for transfusion. Red blood cells, however, aren't the only component of human blood. Now, researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital have also created functional human platelets, using a bioreactor that simulates the medium in which blood cells are naturally produced – bone marrow.
The main role of platelets (also known as thrombocytes) is to stop wounds from bleeding, by essentially "plugging the hole" in the skin with a clot. Without sufficient numbers of them in the blood, spontaneous and excessive bleeding can occur. Such shortages can be caused by diseases, as a result of undergoing chemotherapy, or by other factors. In these situations, transfusions of platelets harvested from donated blood are often necessary.
In previous studies, scientists have successfully gotten induced pluripotent stem cells to change into megakaryocytes – these are the cells that ordinarily sit in the bone marrow and release platelets into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, it's proven difficult to get those lab-grown megakaryocytes to produce platelets outside of the body.
That's where Brigham and Women’s new "bioreactor-on-a-chip" comes into the picture. By mimicking bone marrow's extracellular matrix composition, stiffness, micro-channel size and shear forces, it persuades the megakaryocytes to produce anywhere from 10 to 90 percent more platelets than was previously possible.
When a soldier is wounded on an extremity such as an arm or leg, applying a bandage and/or tourniquet to stop the bleeding is typically a fairly straight-ahead process. However, in cases where an injury is received right at the junction between an extremity and the torso – places such as the neck, shoulder or groin – things get a lot trickier. Gauze pads treated with clotting agents are often packed into the wound, although they're not always sufficient for staunching the flow. A group of students from Johns Hopkins University are working on a better alternative, in the form of a hardening foam that's injected into the wound.
The treatment system is based around a syringe-style device that contains two liquids, namely polyol and a diisocyanatein, that are kept in separate compartments – it's not unlike one of those two-part epoxy applicators.
The idea is that when a medic is treating an injured soldier on the battlefield, they use a single plunger on the device to simultaneously inject the two liquids into the wound. As the liquids mix, a chemical reaction occurs. This causes them to transform into a polyurethane foam that expands to fill the wound cavity, and then hardens.
When a soldier is wounded right at the junction between an extremity and the torso, it can be difficult to treat. A group of students from Johns Hopkins Un...
A new study has addressed the relationship between personality and heart attacks. Distressed (type D) personality (TDP), characterized by high negative affectivity (NA) and social inhibition (SI), along with depression, anxiety and other negative affects (such as demoralization, hopelessness, pessimism and rumination) have been implicated as potential risk factors for coronary artery disease. While some evidence suggests that the NA dimension of TDP overlaps at least partially with depression, other studies underline how ‘TDP refers to a chronic, more covert form of distress that is distinct from depression'.
Scientists have developed a new technique to regrow human corneas.
Using key tracer molecules, researchers have been able to hunt down elusive cells in the eye capable of regeneration and repair.
They transplanted these regenerative stem cells into mice - creating fully functioning corneas.
Writing in the journal Nature, they say this method may one day help restore the sight of victims of burns and chemical injuries.
Limbal stem cells (LSC) are crucial for healthy eyesight - these cells work to maintain, repair and completely renew our corneas every few weeks.
Without them the cornea - the transparent outermost layer of the eye - would become cloudy and our vision disrupted.
A deficiency of these cells due to disease or damage through injury to the eye are among the commonest reasons behind blindness worldwide.
But the cells have so far been extremely difficult to identify, buried in a matrix of other structures in the limbal part of the eye - the junction between the cornea and the white of the eye (the sclera).
Over the past few decades, cardiac pacemaker technology has improved to the point that pacemakers have become a commonplace medical implant that have helped improve or save the lives of many millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, the battery technology used to power these devices has not kept pace and the batteries need to be replaced on average every seven years, which requires further surgery. To address this problem, a group of researchers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a cardiac pacemaker that is powered semi-permanently by harnessing energy from the body's own muscles.
The research team, headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee of KAIST and Professor Boyoung Joung, M.D. at Severance Hospital of Yonsei University, has created a flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator that has been used to directly stimulate the heart of a live rat using electrical energy produced from small body movements of the animal.
In January of this year, the first subject checked into the metabolic ward at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, to participate in one of the most rigorous dietary studies ever devised. For eight weeks, he was forbidden to leave. He spent two days of each week inside tiny airtight rooms known as metabolic chambers, where scientists determined precisely how many calories he was burning by measuring changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air. He received meals through vacuum-sealed portholes so that the researchers' breath wouldn't interfere with their measurements. The food itself had been chemically analyzed to ensure an exact number of carbohydrate, protein, and fat calories.
The two-day stays in the chambers were only a small part of the testing, which was also being carried out on subjects at three other institutions around the US. Twice a month, the subjects were required to lie down for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scans, an accurate way to measure body fat. They offered up their veins again and again so that scientists could measure their lipids and hormone levels. They provided samples of their stools so the researchers could record the different colonies of bacteria residing in their guts.
And yet for all the poking, prodding, measuring, and testing, the most remarkable thing about the $5 million undertaking may be that it's designed to answer a question you'd think we'd have answered long ago: Do we get fat because we overeat or because of the types of food we eat? The Energy Balance Consortium Study, as it's called, is one of the first to be backed by the Nutrition Science Initiative, a nonprofit that prides itself on funding fanatically careful tests of previously overlooked hypotheses. NuSI (pronounced new-see) was launched in September 2012 by crusading science journalist Gary Taubes and former physician and medical researcher Peter Attia. The three NuSI studies now under way, which focus on establishing the root causes of obesity and its related diseases, provide just a glimpse of Taubes and Attia's sweeping ambition. NuSI has already raised more than $40 million in pledges and is in the midst of a $190 million, three-year campaign to fund a new round of studies that will build off the findings in the initial research. Together, the studies are intended as steps toward an audacious goal: cutting the prevalence of obesity in the US by more than half—and the prevalence of diabetes by 75 percent—in less than 15 years.
Inside the weird and hopeful world of cryonics surgery
In 1972 Max More saw a children’s science fiction television show called Time Slip that featured characters being frozen in ice. He didn’t think much about it until years later, when he started hanging out with friends who held meetings about futurism. “They were getting Cryonics magazine,” he says, “and they asked me about it to see how futuristic I was. It just made sense to me right away.”
More is now the president and chief executive officer of Alcor, one of the world’s largest cryonics companies. More himself has been a member since 1986, and has decided to opt for neuropreservation—just deep freezing the brain—over whole body preservation. “I figure the future is a pretty decent place to be, so I want to be there,” he says. “I want to keep living and enjoying and producing.”
Cryopreservation is a darling of the futurist community. The general premise is simple: Medicine is continually getting better. Those who die today could be cured tomorrow. Cryonics is a way to bridge the gap between today’s medicine and tomorrow’s. “We see it as an extension of emergency medicine,” More says. “We’re just taking over when today’s medicine gives up on a patient. Think of it this way: Fifty years ago if you were walking along the street and someone keeled over in front of you and stopped breathing you would have checked them out and said they were dead and disposed of them. Today we don’t do that, instead we do CPR and all kinds of things. People we thought were dead 50 years ago we now know were not. Cryonics is the same thing, we just have to stop them from getting worse and let a more advanced technology in the future fix that problem.”
The combination of nanojuice and photoacoustic tomography illuminates the intestine of a mouse (credit: Jonathan Lovell) University at Buffalo researchers
University at Buffalo researchers are developing a new imaging technique using nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form “nanojuice” that patients would drink to help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal illnesses.
Doctors would strike the nanoparticles, once they reach the small intestine, with a harmless laser light, providing an unparalleled, non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.
Described July 6 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the advancement could help doctors better identify, understand, and treat gastrointestinal ailments.
Researchers have linked eating baked or broiled fish with brain health later in life—but say it's not about the omega-3 fatty acids.
The findings, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, add to growing evidence that lifestyle factors contribute to brain health later in life.
Scientists estimate that more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, which could become a substantial burden to families and drive up health care costs, according to senior investigator James T. Becker, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Some studies have predicted that lifestyle changes such as a reduction in rates of physical inactivity, smoking, and obesity could lead to fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of cognitive impairment in the elderly.
The antioxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high amounts in fish, seeds, and nuts, and certain oils, also have been associated with improved health, particularly brain health.
A universal blood test screening for cancer is the goal of a lab at the University of Bradford, reducing unneeded and expensive biopsies.
Although many dread the prick of a blood test, most would find it a preferable testing method to invasive and expensive biopsies. That's why a blood test for cancer is the goal of many research efforts, including one at the University of Bradford in the UK, where researchers are claiming to have devised a simple universal blood test for the disease that relies on the fact that white blood cells in cancer patients are already damaged from battling cancerous cells.
"White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system," says Professor Diana Anderson, who led the research. "We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light."
To put her theory to the test, the University of Bradford team used a comet assay, which involves exposing DNA to UV light and applying an electric field to induce it to travel through an agar medium. The more damaged the DNA, the more elongated its comet-like tail, as the structure is no longer as tightly compressed together.
"We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people," says Anderson. "So the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA – the genome – in a cell."
For people who don't already know, here's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes: the body produces little or no insulin in the case of type 1, and isn't able to utilize the insulin that it does produce in type 2. It's a significant difference, so it's important that patients are diagnosed correctly. Thanks to a new microchip developed by a team at Stanford University led by Dr. Brian Feldman, doing so could soon be quicker, cheaper and easier than ever before.
In order to determine that a patient has type 1 diabetes as opposed to type 2, tests must be performed to confirm the presence of tell-tale antibodies in a sample of their blood. These tests must be performed by extensively-trained personnel in a lab, they involve the use of radioactive materials, take days to get results, and cost hundreds of dollars per test.
Because of these factors, the tests are sometimes not even performed, as it's generally assumed that children will get type 1 and adults will get type 2. In recent years, however, childhood obesity has caused a rise in the number of kids getting type 2, plus there's also a puzzling increase in adults with type 1.
That's where the Stanford chip comes in.
It can be incorporated into a hand-held device that could be used in the field with minimal training, delivering results in minutes. The chip doesn't require any radioactive material, is worth about $20, and can be used for about 15 tests before needing to be replaced. Additionally, it only requires a drop of blood, as opposed to the larger amount needed in the traditional system.
Similar memories overlap physically in the brain and this produces less confusion if the brain area responsible is larger, according to new research.
Scientists scanned the brains of 15 people recalling four similar scenes, in a study published in PNAS.
They spotted overlapping memory traces in a specific corner of the hippocampus called "CA3", a known memory area.
If their CA3 was bigger, the subjects were less confused and there was less overlap in the traces.
Most of us store many similar memories, relating to the places we spend most time and the people we know best. Normally we can tell them apart, though some of us may be better at it than others.
The CA3 region was thought to process each memory using distinct sets of brain cells. These findings suggest, however, that when two episodes incorporate similar content, they may in fact be "remembered" by physically overlapping networks - and more space could be beneficial.
"Our results may help to explain why we sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between similar past memories, and why some people are better at doing this than others," said Prof Eleanor Maguire, the study's senior author, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London (UCL).
The 15 subjects watched four short movies, showing two different actions happening in each of two different places. They were then prompted to remember each one, 20 times over, inside a brain scanner.
Scans revealed distinguishable memory activity in the CA3 region, but not three other compartments of the hippocampus. Importantly, the four different memory traces showed significant overlap.
Furthermore, that overlap was more apparent in people who said they were more confused by the similarities between the four memories.
Some obese people may be able to remain metabolically healthy despite their size because their bodies produce low levels of a certain molecule, according to a study published today in the journal Cell.
High levels of the molecule, called heme oxygenase-1 or HO-1, are linked to metabolic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, which lead to these diseases.
Early tests in mice show that blocking HO-1 can improve metabolic healthiness. This suggests a potential new strategy for treating obesity-related disease.
Past research has estimated 25-30% of obese people have no metabolic illnesses or risk factors. But the reasons were unknown.
So the research team from the Medical University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany, set out to investigate whether HO-1 was responsible.
In studies of human tissue, they found higher levels of HO-1 in liver and fat biopsies from people who were obese and insulin-resistant compared with obese people who were metabolically healthy.
Using mouse models, the researchers then deleted the HO-1 gene in immune cells called macrophages. This left the mice with better liver function and an increase in insulin sensitivity, indicating improved metabolic health.
As one of the strongest predictors of unhealthy obesity, the researchers said the HO-1 molecule was now a candidate biomarker for identifying metabolically unhealthy obese people to detect the onset of disease.
“This could allow clinicians to use targeted interventions to prevent disease progression specifically in obese individuals who show early signs of type 2 diabetes,“ senior study author J. Andrew Pospisilik, from the Max Planck Institute, told Cell.