And you thought that regular pill bottles were hard to open ... a new overdose-proof medication dispenser developed by a team of mechanical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University can't be opened even with the help of a hammer or drill. It does, however, deliver the proper dosage at the proper time, as long as the patient uses its built-in fingerprint scanner.
The prototype device was designed mainly with painkillers in mind. Many people exceed the recommended dosage of such pharmaceuticals, risking both their immediate health and the chance of developing a long-term addiction. Additionally, narcotic painkillers like OxyContin are frequently acquired by prescription, but then sold for recreational use.
In the case of the Johns Hopkins dispenser, medication is added by the pharmacist via a lockable opening in the bottom – the pharmacist has a key to that opening, but the patient doesn't. At the same time that the container is filled, the patient's fingerprint is also scanned and matched to the device.
When they're subsequently supposed to take a pill, the patient holds their finger pad to the dispenser's scanner. As long as the print matches and the proper amount of time has elapsed since their previous dose, this causes a disc to rotate within the device, picking up a pill from a loaded cartridge and dropping it into an exit channel.
Recent research has reignited concerns that exposure to chemicals from plastics might be to blame for low sperm counts in young men. I share the concerns about the high prevalence of low sperm counts (one in six young men), and my research is directed at trying to identify what causes it. But whether plastics are to blame isn’t a simple matter.
Plastics are part of the fabric of our everyday lives and perform many essential functions. Without their thousands of uses, many of which are not obvious to us, our modern world could not function as it is. Plastics bring everyday benefits whether through children’s toys, the insulation around electrical wiring, their utility in food containers/wraps or their widespread use in medical products from blood bags, gloves and syringes, to the coating of some tablets and capsules.
Maybe Alice in Wonderland was on to something, nibbling on a mushroom to make herself shrink. New research has shown that a liquid extract made from a mushroom used in traditional Asian medicine for more than 2,000 years protects against weight gain and reverses obesity-related inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in overfed mice.
The mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (known in China as lingzhi, and in Japan as reishi or mannentake), appears to work by correcting an unhealthy mix of microorganisms that colonized the guts of mice made obese by a diet of high-fat chow.
Published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the findings of researchers in Taiwan lend credence to the woody mushroom's ancient reputation as a promoter of longevity and digestive health. But they also illuminate the powerful role that gut microbes appear to play in obesity and several of the ills associated with it.
Scientists remain uncertain as to which comes first - obesity or a community of gut microbes that is out of whack. But researchers are growing increasingly confident that prebiotics or probiotics - food or supplements that jump-start the growth of protective bacteria in the gut - may help protect against the health effects of overconsumption.
The latest research offers further confirmation of a relatively new theory among researchers: that the insulin resistance and high levels of systemic inflammation often seen in the obese stem in part from a decline in populations of gut bacteria that line the intestines.
The world’s first full head transplant could take place as soon as 2017 if the controversial plans by Italian neuroscientist Dr Sergio Canavero come to pass. Wheelchair-bound Valery Spiridonov, who has the muscle-wasting Werdnig Hoffman disease, has volunteered to have his head transplanted onto a healthy body in a day-long operation.
The proposed surgery is highly controversial and its feasibility has been questioned by experts. But Dr Canavero’s plans also raise complex philosophical and ethical issues. A natural question is whether a living person with Spridinov’s head and someone else’s body would be the same person as Spridinov. In interviews, Spridinov has made it clear that he sees the proposed procedure as a way for him to live on with a new and healthy body. A different perspective would be that Spridinov is a head-donor rather than the recipient of a new body. He is donating his head to someone else who will live the rest of his life with Spridinov’s head but won’t be the same person as Spridinov. On this account, Spridinov is signing his own death warrant by volunteering for the surgery.
Musicians don’t just hear in tune, they also see in tune, according to new research.
Researchers designed a scientific experiment to puzzle out how the brain creates an apparently seamless view of the external world based on the information it receives from the eyes.
“Our brain is remarkably efficient at putting us in touch with objects and events in our visual environment, indeed so good that the process seems automatic and effortless,” says Randolph Blake, professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, who directed the study.
“In fact, the brain is continually operating like a clever detective, using clues to figure out what in the world we are looking at. And those clues come not only from what we see but also from other sources.”
Doctors and scientists want drug regulators and research funding agencies to consider medicines that delay ageing-related disease as legitimate drugs. Such treatments have a physiological basis, researchers say, and could extend a person’s healthy years by slowing down the processes that underlie common diseases of ageing — making them worthy of government approval. On 24 June, researchers will meet with regulators from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make the case for a clinical trial designed to show the validity of the approach.
Current treatments for diseases related to ageing “just exchange one disease for another”, says physician Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. That is because people treated for one age-related disease often go on to die from another relatively soon thereafter. “What we want to show is that if we delay ageing, that’s the best way to delay disease.
Scientists have created bespoke diets using a computer algorithm that learns how individual bodies respond to different foods.
Researchers believe the tailored diets could help stem the rising tide of diabetes, heart disease and obesity, by personalising people’s daily meals and so helping them to adopt healthy eating habits.
The first results from the Personalised Nutrition Project, run by leading researchers in Israel, are due to be unveiled on Friday at the Human Microbiome conference in Heidelberg, Germany.
The project challenges the idea that general recommendations about healthy foods are suitable for everyone, and instead aims to produce optimised diets based on people’s unique biological make-up.
“We are all different,” said Eran Segal, a computational biologist who runs the project with Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. “We see tremendous variability in people’s responses to foods, so if you want to prescribe diets, they have to be personally tailored.”
US researchers claim to have developed a single test that is able to identify past exposure to every known human virus infection, using a drop of blood.
The technique decodes the infection history imprinted in our immune response.
The scientists hope that the test will eventually provide important insight into how viruses contribute to development of a range of diseases.
The work was published in the journal Science.
During a virus infection, your immune system generates antibodies designed to fight the virus. Each antibody recognises a tiny fragment of the virus and their interaction is very specific - they fit like a lock and key.
Virus-specific antibodies can be long-lived; often persisting many years after an infection has disappeared. So, your antibody repertoire represents a historical record of all of the viruses that have infected you.
This immunological catalogue has been used for years to identify past virus exposure, but the diagnostic tests routinely used have been limited to one, or at most a few, different virus strains.
The scientific idea that is most ready for retirement is the scientific method itself. More precisely it is the idea that there would be only one scientific method, one exclusive way of obtaining scientific results. The problem is that the traditional scientific method as an exclusive approach is not adequate to the new situations of contemporary science like big data, crowdsourcing, and synthetic biology.
Hypothesis-testing through observation, measurement, and experimentation made sense in the past when obtaining information was scarce and costly, but this is no longer the case. In recent decades, we have already been adapting to a new era of information abundance that has facilitated experimental design and iteration. One result is that there is now a field of computational science alongside nearly every discipline, for example computational biology and digital manuscript archiving. Information abundance and computational advance has promulgated the evolution of a scientific model that is distinct from the traditional scientific method, and three emerging areas are advancing it even more.
Big data, the creation and use of large and complex cloud-based data sets, is one pervasive trend that is reshaping the conduct of science. The scale is immense: organizations routinely process millions of transactions per hour into hundred-petabyte databases. Worldwide annual data creation is currently doubling and estimated to reach 8 zettabytes in 2015.
University of Houston researchers have developed a concept for MRI-powered millimeter-size “millirobots” that could one day perform unprecedented minimally invasive medical treatments.
This technology could be used to treat hydrocephalus, for example. Current treatments require drilling through the skull to implant pressure-relieving shunts, said Aaron T. Becker, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston.
But MRI scanners alone don’t produce enough force to pierce tissues (or insert needles). So the researchers drew upon the principle of the “Gauss gun.”
A team from China grabbed the headlines last month when it announced it had edited DNA in the nucleus of human embryos. Whatever the ethics of such research, the breakthrough raises the question of just how far we will take tampering with our genetic make-up?
The Chinese team’s work was done using a gene-editing technique called CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) and the results were not spectacular – only four of the 86 eggs injected were successfully modified.
Nonetheless, Harvard Professor George Church believes that within five to seven years it will be possible to snip out and replace stretches of DNA to genetically engineer babies.
But should this kind of research be done at all? And as parents look to guarantee a better future for their children, what should we consider acceptable?
Treating gum disease can reduce symptoms of prostate inflammation, called prostatitis, report researchers.
Previous studies have found a link between gum disease and prostatitis, a disease that inflames the gland that produces semen. Inflammation can make urination difficult.
“This study shows that if we treat the gum disease, it can improve the symptoms of prostatitis and the quality of life for those who have the disease,” says Nabil Bissada, chair of Case Western Reserve’s periodontics department and the new study’s corresponding author.
Bissada explains that gum disease affects the mouth, but is also a system-wide condition that can cause inflammation in various parts of the body. The dental school has previously found a link between gum disease and fetal deaths, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease.
Researchers studied 27 men, 21 years old and older. Each had a needle biopsy within the past year that confirmed inflammation of the prostate gland, and a blood test that showed elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels—possible signs of inflammation and cancer.
Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex.Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.
The old adage goes that the human body is a machine. And in many ways that isn’t far from the truth. Like any machine, the human body is made up of many individual parts moving together in a highly coordinated fashion. Parts slide by other parts with every blink and step. And to keep everything running smoothly and undamaged, the machine needs to be well oiled.
Chances are, you have not given much thought to your body’s lubrication. And in many ways, this is testament to just how effective it is at protecting against damage and wear. One reason that the sliding surfaces of the body are so resilient is because of a little known protein called lubricin which is nature’s most effective “grease”.
Lubricin was discovered coating the surfaces of joint cartilage, and is perhaps the body’s most effective boundary lubricant. The lubricin molecule consists of two adhesive “feet” flanking either end of a long flexible and non-adhesive “string”. It is this dichotomy that is the secret to its effectiveness. These adhesive feet attach themselves to virtually any surface, forming a loop in the central non-adhesive string. As more and more lubricin attaches to a surface, it self-assembles to form a dense, carpet-like layer of lubricating loops. This layer is known as a “polymer brush”, and it cushions surfaces where they contact, reducing friction as they slide.
A global task force of 174 scientists from leading research centers in 28 countries has studied the link between mixtures of commonly encountered chemicals and the development of cancer. The open-access study selected 85 chemicals not considered carcinogenic to humans and found 50 of them actually supported key cancer-related mechanisms at exposures found in the environment today.
According to co-author cancer Biologist Hemad Yasaei from Brunel University London, “This research backs up the idea that chemicals not considered harmful by themselves are combining and accumulating in our bodies to trigger cancer and might lie behind the global cancer epidemic we are witnessing. We urgently need to focus more resources to research the effect of low dose exposure to mixtures of chemicals in the food we eat, air we breathe, and water we drink.”
Professor Andrew Ward from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath, who contributed in the area of cancer epigenetics and the environment, said: “A review on this scale, looking at environmental chemicals from the perspective of all the major hallmarks of cancer, is unprecedented”.
Professor Francis Martin from Lancaster University who contributed to an examination of how such typical environmental exposures influence dysfunctional metabolism, pointed out that despite a rising incidence of many cancers, “far too little research has been invested into examining the pivotal role of environmental causative agents. This worldwide team of researchers refocuses our attention on this under-researched area.”
In light of the compelling evidence, the taskforce is calling for an increased emphasis on and support for research into low dose exposures to mixtures of environmental chemicals. Current research estimates chemicals could be responsible for as many as one in five cancers. With the human population routinely exposed to thousands of chemicals, the effects need to be better understood to reduce the incidence of cancer globally, the scientist say.
The research was published in Oxford University Publishing’s Carcinogenesis journal today (June 23).
We all know that listening to music can soothe emotional pain, but Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys can also ease physical pain, according to a study of children and teenagers who had major surgery.
The analgesic effects of music are well known, but most of the studies have been done with adults and most of the music has been classical. Now a recent study finds that children who choose their own music or audiobook to listen to after major surgery experience less pain.
The catalyst for the research was a very personal experience. Sunitha Suresh was a college student when her grandmother had major surgery and was put in intensive care with three other patients. This meant her family couldn't always be with her. So they decided to put her favorite south Indian classical Carnatic music on an iPod, so she could listen around the clock.
It was very calming, Sunitha says. "She knew that someone who loved her had left that music for her and she was in a familiar place."
Nanorobots hold great potential in the field of medicine. This is largely due to the possibility of highly-targeted delivery of medical payloads, an outcome that could lessen side effects and negate the need for invasive procedures. But how these microscopic particles can best navigate the body's fluids is a huge area of focus for scientists. Researchers are now reporting a new technique whereby nanorobots are made to swim swiftly through the fluids like blood to reach their destination.
Though still an emerging field of science, nanoparticles are gaining something of a reputation as potential multitools for combating things like infections, cancer, type 1 diabetes and even prising open the blood-brain barrier. But they generally can't be simply inserted into the body and left to their own devices, which is why we're seeing the development of techniques aimed at getting them to where they need to go.
German and U.S. researchers have decoded natural continuously spoken speech from brain waves and transformed it into text — a step toward communication with computers or humans by thought alone.
Their “Brain-to-Text” system recorded signals from an electrocorticographic (ECoG)* electrode array located on relevant surfaces of the frontal and temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex of seven epileptic patients, who participated voluntarily in the study during their clinical treatment.
The patients read sample text (from a limited set of words) aloud during the study. Machine learning algorithms were then used to extract the most likely word sequence from the signals, and automatic speech-to-text methods created the text output. The system achieved word error rates as low as 25% and phone (instances of phonemes in utterances) error rates below 50%.
The researchers suggest that the Brain-to-Text system might lead to a speech-communication method for locked-in (unable to communicate) patients in the future.
Cornell University engineers have created a functional, synthetic immune organoid (a lab-grown ball of cells with some of the features of a normal organ) that produces antibodies. The engineered organ has implications for everything from rapid production of immune therapies to new frontiers in cancer or infectious disease research.
The first-of-its-kind immune organoid was created in the lab of Ankur Singh, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who applies engineering principles to the study and manipulation of the human immune system.
Allergies are on the rise across the developed world and hay fever and eczema have trebled in the last 30 years. Yet allergies are an area of much confusion and concern. Although 40% of people report having a food allergy, in fact only 1-5% do, and allergists commonly report spending most of their consultations refuting firmly held beliefs that have no scientific foundation.
Theories about allergy – some from medical research and some from lifestyle “gurus” – have led to conflicting information, making it hard to know what to believe. Because of this, Sense About Science worked with me and a number of allergists, immunologists, respiratory scientists and pharmacists to produce Making Sense of Allergies, a guide tackling the many myths and misconceptions about allergies. One common myth – something that I work on – is the link between allergies and exposure to microbes.
So here is a hygiene and allergy reality fact check:
The first skull and scalp transplant has been performed in a 15-hour operation, say doctors in the US.
James Boysen, who is 55 and from Texas, was missing the whole of the crown of his head after treatment for a rare type of cancer.
He was also given a new kidney and pancreas during the procedure.
The software developer said he was "amazed" at how he feels after the surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital and the Anderson Cancer Center. Cancer
Mr Boysen was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in 2006.
The cancer of the muscle on the scalp was treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but it permanently damaged the surrounding tissue.
The scalp and skull were destroyed by the treatment, leaving his brain vulnerable.
Normally doctors would use a combination of skin grafts and metal plates or 3D-printing to reconstruct his skull.
But he was already on immune suppressing drugs after earlier kidney and pancreas transplants which were now failing.
His struggling organs, and the medicine, were stopping doctors performing the reconstruction and the hole in the skull prevented an organ transplant.
Dr Jesse Selber, who led the team at Anderson, said the hole was 10 by 10 inches (25 cm by 25 cm) covering "the entire top half of the head".
He added: "When I first met Jim, I made the connection between him needing a new kidney and pancreas and the ongoing anti-rejection medication to support them, and receiving a full scalp and skull transplant at the same time that would be protected by those same medications.
"This was a truly unique clinical situation that created the opportunity to perform this complex transplant."
A group of drugs being tested for cancer could also be used to treat spinal cord injuries, a study in mice suggests.
Mice treated with cancer drugs called nutlins recovered much more movement than those left untreated.
The Imperial College London researchers said the drugs should now be tested in rats and could be tested in human patients within 10 years.
There are currently no proven effective treatments for spinal cord injuries.
Such injuries can affect patients' ability to feel or move parts of their body below the injury.
The damage is often permanent because it is very difficult to make spinal cord nerves regrow. The study, published in the journal Brain, used drugs which have been found to be safe in early cancer trials.
MIT researchers have found they were able to reactivate memories in mice that could not otherwise be retrieved, using optogenetics — in which proteins are added to neurons to allow them to be activated with light.
The breakthrough finding, in a paper published Thursday (May 28) in the journal Science, appears to answer a longstanding question in neuroscience regarding amnesia.
Damaged or blocked memory?
Neuroscience researchers have for many years debated whether retrograde amnesia — which follows traumatic injury, stress, or diseases such as Alzheimer’s — is caused by damage to specific brain cells, meaning a memory cannot be stored, or if access to that memory is somehow blocked, preventing its recall.
The answer, according to Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor in MIT’s Department of Biology and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory: “Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment.”
Memory researchers have previously speculated that somewhere in the brain network is a population of neurons that are activated during the process of acquiring a memory, causing enduring physical or chemical changes.
If these groups of neurons are subsequently reactivated by a trigger such as a particular sight or smell, for example, the entire memory is recalled. These neurons are known as “memory engram cells.”
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