Brain networks in two behaviorally similar vegetative patients (left and middle), but one of whom imagined playing tennis (middle panel), alongside a healthy Scientists in Cambridge, England have found hidden signatures in the brains of people in a vegetative state that point to networks that could support consciousness — even when a patient appears to be unconscious and unresponsive. The study could help doctors identify patients who are aware despite being unable to communicate. Although unable to move and respond, some patients in a vegetative state are able to carry out tasks such as imagining playing a game of tennis, the scientists note. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, researchers have previously been able to record activity in the pre-motor cortex, the part of the brain that deals with movement, in apparently unconscious patients asked to imagine playing tennis. Now, a team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, have used high-density electroencephalographs (EEG) and graph theory to study networks of activity in the brains of 32 patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious and compare them to healthy adults. The researchers showed that the connectome — the rich and diversely connected networks that support awareness in the healthy brain — are typically impaired in patients in a vegetative state. But they also found that some vegetative patients had well-preserved brain networks that look similar to those of healthy adults — these patients were those who had shown signs of hidden awareness by following commands such as imagining playing tennis. Identifying patients who are aware The findings could help researchers develop a relatively simple way of identifying which patients might be aware while in a vegetative state. The “tennis test” can be a difficult task for patients and requires expensive and often unavailable fMRI scanners. The new technique uses EEG, so it could be administered at a patient’s bedside. However, the tennis test is stronger evidence that the patient is indeed conscious, to the extent that they can follow commands using their thoughts. The researchers believe that a combination of such tests could help improve accuracy in the prognosis for a patient. The research findings were published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology (open access). The study was funded mainly by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute of Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
In today's installment of "How 3D Printing is Changing Healthcare Forever," a Massachusetts-based medical device company is forging new ground in knee replacement surgery. A combination of CT imaging, modeling software and 3D printing technology is enabling ConforMIS to offer implants tailored specifically to each patient. The development could help avoid complications that often follow the procedure, such as pain arising from instability of the joint. One of the most promising applications of 3D printing in medical fields is its ability to produce patient-specific devices. We have recently seen 3D-printed implants enable a teenager to walk again, substitute cancerous vertebra in the neck, enable customized spinal fusion surgery and replace upper and lower jaws. Knee replacement surgery is a procedure undertaken by around 700,000 people annually, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Issues that can arise range from minor blood loss and infections, to the threat of deep venous thrombosis. But the team at ComforMIS believes it can improve on traditional methods by steering away from generic, "off-the-shelf" implants to a more customizable solution. The company's approach is much like others used in the production of 3D-printed implants. A CT scan is taken of the patient's hip, knee and ankle, with the company's specialized software converting the scan into an exact 3D model of the patient's deteriorating knee. Using this model, personalized implants and instruments are made as one-off devices, produced, in part, by 3D printers.
Many of us drink green tea for its wonderful health benefits, including proven antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. Now, researchers in Singapore have taken its cancer-fighting properties to the next level, developing a green tea-based nanocarrier that encapsulates cancer-killing drugs. It is the first time green tea has been used to deliver drugs to cancer cells, with promising results. Animal studies show far more effective tumor reduction than use of the drug alone while significantly reducing the accumulation of drugs in other organs.
The new drug delivery system, developed at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR, uses epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant and catechin found in green tea and used therapeutically to treat cancer and other disorders.
"We have developed a green tea-based carrier in which the carrier itself displayed anti-cancer effect and can boost cancer treatment when used together with the protein drug," says Dr Motoichi Kurisawa, IBN Principal Research Scientist and Team Leader.
One of the main drawbacks of chemotherapy is that it also kills healthy cells in surrounding tissues and organs. Carriers allow more accurate treatment, acting like homing missiles that target diseased cells and release cancer-destroying drugs. However, the amount of the drug they can deliver is limited so more carriers need to be administered for treatment to be effective. Current carriers are made of materials that at best offer no therapeutic value and at worst may have adverse effects when used in large quantities, so the green tea-based carrier is an exciting development.
Drug derived from the fruit of the blushwood tree kills cancerous tumours long-term in animals in 70% of cases.
Scientists have managed to destroy cancerous tumours by using an experimental drug derived from the seeds of a fruit found in north Queensland rainforests.
The drug, called EBC-46, was produced by extracting a compound from the berry of the blushwood tree, a plant only found in specific areas of the Atherton Tablelands.
A single injection of the drug directly into melanoma models in the laboratory, as well as into cancers of the head, neck and colon in animals, destroyed the tumours long-term in more than 70% of cases, the study’s lead author, Dr Glen Boyle, said.
“In preclinical trials we injected it into our models and within five minutes, you see a purpling of the area that looks like a bruise,” Boyle, from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute said.
“About 24 hours later, the tumour area goes black, a couple of days later you see a scab, and at around the 1.5 week mark, the scab falls off, leaving clean skin with no tumour there. The speed certainly surprised me.”
Researchers believe the drug triggers a cellular response which cuts off the blood supply to the tumour by opening it up.
“That’s why we see a bruise-like situation forming in the tumour,” Boyle said. “This seems to lead to an activation of the body’s own immune system which then comes in and cleans up the mess.”
It has been used by veterinarians in about 300 cases of cancer in companion animals including dogs, cats and horses.
There was no evidence EBC-46 would be effective to treat cancers that had spread to other parts of the body, known as metastatic cancers, Boyle said.
The drug is being developed as a human and veterinary pharmaceutical through QBiotics, a subsidiary of the company which discovered the drug, called EcoBiotics. The company is also examining the potential for a blushwood plantation.
After decades of research, scientists are bioengineering penises in the lab, writes Dara Mohammadi
Gathered around an enclosure at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina in 2008, Anthony Atala and his colleagues watched anxiously to see if two rabbits would have sex. The suspense was short-lived: within a minute of being put together, the male mounted the female and successfully mated.
While it’s not clear what the rabbits made of the moment, for Atala it was definitely special. It was proof that a concept he’d been working on since 1992 – that penises could be grown in a laboratory and transplanted to humans – was theoretically possible. The male rabbit was one of 12 for which he had bioengineered a penis; all tried to mate; in eight there was proof of ejaculation; four went on to produce offspring.
The media’s coverage of Atala’s announcement a year later was understandably excited. Not just because of the novelty of a man growing penises in a laboratory, but because his work would fulfil a real need for men who have lost their penis through genital defects, traumatic injury, surgery for aggressive penile cancer, or even jilted lovers exacting revenge.
At present, the only treatment option for these men is to have a penis constructed with skin and muscle from their thigh or forearm. Sexual function can be restored with a penile prosthetic placed inside. The prosthetics can be either malleable rods, with the penis left in a permanently semi-rigid state and thus difficult to conceal, or inflatable rods, which have a saline pump housed in the scrotum. Both technologies have been around since the 1970s. The aesthetics are crude and penetration is awkward.
Another option is a penis transplant from another individual, but this carries a risk of immunological rejection. The chance of organ death can be lessened with anti-rejection drugs, but these drugs have serious side-effects. Transplants can also have a psychological impact, especially with an organ as intimate as the penis. In 2006, a Chinese man was the first to receive a donor penis; two weeks after the 15-hour operation, surgeons removed the transplanted organ on the request of both the patient and his partner.
A transition from solid to liquid may explain how the usually rigid DNA packaged inside a virus flows from the virus to infect the cell.
Many double-stranded DNA viruses infect cells by ejecting their genetic information into a host cell. But how does the usually rigid DNA packaged inside a virus’ shell flow from the virus to the cell?
In two separate studies, Carnegie Mellon University biophysicist Alex Evilevitch has shown that in viruses that infect both bacteria and humans, a phase transition at the temperature of infection allows the DNA to change from a rigid crystalline structure into a fluid-like structure that facilitates infection.
The findings, published in Nature Chemical Biology and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), provide a promising new target for antiviral therapies.
Most antiviral drugs work by deactivating viral proteins, but viruses often evolve and become drug resistant. Evilevitch believes that researchers now have a possible new way to prevent infection—blocking the phase transition.
Such a therapy could be generalizable across all types of Herpes viruses, and wouldn’t be prone to developing resistance.
“The exciting part of this is that the physical properties of packaged DNA play a very important role in the spread of a viral infection, and those properties are universal,” says Evilevitch, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon’s physics department. “This could lead to a therapy that isn’t linked to the virus’ gene sequence or protein structure, which would make developing resistance to the therapy highly unlikely.”
A couple of engineering students at the University of Toronto have created the PrintAlive, a 3D printer that produces skin grafts for burn victims on demand...
While most are familiar with the potential for 3D printers to pump out plastic odds and ends for around the home, the technology also has far-reaching applications in the medical field. Research is already underway to develop 3D bioprinters able to create things as complex as human organs, and now engineering students in Canada have created a 3D printer that produces skin grafts for burn victims.
Called PrintAlive, the new machine was developed by University of Toronto engineering students Arianna McAllister and Lian Leng, who worked in collaboration with Professor Axel Guenther, Boyang Zhang and Dr. Marc Jeschke, the head of Sunnybrook Hospital's Ross Tilley Burn Centre.
While the traditional treatment for serious burns involves removing healthy skin from another part of the body so it can be grafted onto the affected area, the PrintAlive machine could put an end to such painful harvesting by printing large, continuous layers of tissue – including hair follicles, sweat glands and other human skin complexities – onto a hydrogel. Importantly, the device uses the patient's own cells, thereby eliminating the problem of the tissue being rejected by their immune system.
The U.S. liver organ wait list has grown rapidly, while the number of organ donors has stagnated --- but the true need is almost 10x larger than the official
Organ-a collective initiative for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine — announced today (Oct. 16) the initial six teams competing for the $1 million New Organ Liver Prize, a global prize competition launched in December 2013 and sponsored by the Methuselah Foundation, a biomedical charity.
The award will go to “the first team that creates a regenerative or bioengineered solution that keeps a large animal alive for 90 days without native liver function,” with a deadline of the end of 2018. Future challenge prizes will cover additional whole organs.
The six teams represent scientists* from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, University College of London, University of Florida, University of Oxford, University of Pittsburgh, and Yokohama City University. More teams will be announced in the future.
“We need to make people as valuable as cars,” New Organ Founder and Methuselah CEO David Gobel told KurzweilAI. “Right now, there are no parts for people except from ‘junk yards’ from crash victims.” He said the choice of the liver makes sense because it’s “most likely to regenerate itself; it’s relatively homogenous; and it’s a key item in toxicity studies, extremely well characterized.
“This is an engineering problem. The more people who try, the more solutions.” Gobel mentioned vascularization (forming and maintaining blood vessels while preventing clotting) as a key problem (a solution for kidneys was mentioned on KurzweilAI last week).
Gizmag recently caught up with Team Aezon members Krzysztof Sitko and Neil Rens for an in-depth discussion of their finalist entry to the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. The competition aims to stimulate advances in the field of diagnostic equipment, with the incentive of a US$10 million prize purse. Such technology has the potential to revolutionize the speed and accuracy with which a diagnosis can be made outside of a hospital environment.
Earlier this month, 10 of the most promising teams were chosen to advance to the November 2015 final of the Tricorder XPRIZE. Criteria for the competition requires that the team's tricorder be capable of monitoring key health metrics such as blood pressure and respiratory rate, and have the ability to accurately diagnose 15 core conditions. Just to make this a little tougher on the competitors, the winning tricorder must be simple enough to be used unaided by the average consumer. Team Aezon's tricorder is comprised of three key elements: the Arc, the Lab Box and a smartphone app through which the information captured by the diagnostic equipment is presented.
Team Aezon intends to collect the health metrics needed for the competition through an unobtrusive piece of wearable tech known as the Arc.
"We were experimenting with different places to measure vital signs because we thought that people wouldn't want to have multiple devices," explains Sitko, co-founder of Aegle, the startup responsible for designing the sleek vitals-monitoring device. "We found ourselves gravitating towards the neck as the best compromise of the different requirements."
I wrote a story recently about a cool technique called optogenetics, developed by bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. He won the Keio Prize in Medicine, and I thought it might be interesting to talk with some other neuroscientists at Stanford to get their take on the importance of the technology. You know something is truly groundbreaking when each and every person you interview uses the word “revolutionary” to describe it.
Optogenetics is a technique that allows scientists to use light to turn particular nerves on or off. In the process, they’re learning new things about how the brain works and about diseases and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, addiction and depression.
In describing the award, the Keio Prize committee wrote:
By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain functions in health and disease.
One of the things I found most interesting when writing the story came from a piece Deisseroth wrote several years ago in Scientific American in which he stressed the importance of basic research. Optogenetics would not have been a reality without discoveries made in the lowly algae that makes up pond scum.
“The more directed and targeted research becomes, the more likely we are to slow our progress, and the more certain it is that the distant and untraveled realms, where truly disruptive ideas can arise, will be utterly cut off from our common scientific journey,” Deisseroth wrote.
Deisseroth told me that we need to be funding basic, curiosity-driven research along with efforts to make those discoveries relevant. He said that kind of translation is part of the value of programs like Stanford Bio-X – an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1998 – which puts diverse faculty members side by side to enable that translation from basic science to medical discovery.
While the idea of cruising around in a 3D-printed car and munching on 3D-printed chocolate before returning to a 3D-printed home sure is nice, no industry is poised to benefit from this burgeoning technology in quite the way that medicine is. Replacing cancerous vertebra, delivering cancer-fighting drugs and assisting in spinal fusion surgery are just some of the examples we've covered here at Gizmag. The latest groundbreaking treatment involves an Indian cancer patient, who has had his upper jaw replaced with the help of 3D printing..
A crop of books by disillusioned physicians reveals a corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our health-care crisis
..Ours is a technologically proficient but emotionally deficient and inconsistent medical system that is best at treating acute, not chronic, problems: for every instance of expert treatment, skilled surgery, or innovative problem-solving, there are countless cases of substandard care, overlooked diagnoses, bureaucratic bungling, and even outright antagonism between doctor and patient. For a system that invokes “patient-centered care” as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive—at times actively indifferent—to patients’ needs.
To my surprise, I’ve now learned that patients aren’t alone in feeling that doctors are failing them. Behind the scenes, many doctors feel the same way. And now some of them are telling their side of the story. A recent crop of books offers a fascinating and disturbing ethnography of the opaque land of medicine, told by participant-observers wearing lab coats. What’s going on is more dysfunctional than I imagined in my worst moments. Although we’re all aware of pervasive health-care problems and the coming shortage of general practitioners, few of us have a clear idea of how truly disillusioned many doctors are with a system that has shifted profoundly over the past four decades. These inside accounts should be compulsory reading for doctors, patients, and legislators alike. They reveal a crisis rooted not just in rising costs but in the very meaning and structure of care. Even the most frustrated patient will come away with respect for how difficult doctors’ work is. She may also emerge, as I did, pledging (in vain) that she will never again go to a doctor or a hospital.
One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain. This discovery has led to a surge of interest in potential gut-based treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and a new class of studies investigating how the gut and its microbiome affect both healthy and diseased brains.
The microbiome consists of a startlingly massive number of organisms. Nobody knows exactly how many or what type of microbes there might be in and on our bodies, but estimates suggest there may be anywhere from three to 100 times more bacteria in the gut than cells in the human body. The Human Microbiome Project, co-ordinated by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), seeks to create a comprehensive database of the bacteria residing throughout the gastrointestinal tract and to catalogue their properties.
The lives of the bacteria in our gut are intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. The relationship goes both ways: the microbiome influences the function of these systems, which in turn alter the activity and composition of the bacterial community. We are starting to unravel this complexity and gain insight into how gut bacteria interface with the rest of the body and, in particular, how they affect the brain.
With the recent and highly publicized death of actor Robin Williams, depression is once again making national headlines. And for good reason
With the recent and highly publicized death of actor Robin Williams, depression is once again making national headlines. And for good reason. Usually, the conversation about depression turns to the search for effective treatments, which currently include cognitive behavioral therapy and drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
However, an equally important issue is the timely and proper diagnosis of depression.
Currently, depression is diagnosed by a physical and psychological examination, but it mostly depends on self-reporting of subjective symptoms like depressed mood, lack of motivation, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Many people who might want to avoid a depression diagnosis for various reasons can fake their way through this self-reporting, making it likely that depression is actually under-diagnosed.
Therefore, an objective test could be an important development in properly diagnosing and treating depression. Scientists at Northwestern University may have developed such a diagnostic tool, one that requires no more than a simple test tube of blood.
MIT, working together with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), has pioneered a method of drug distribution with the potential to dispense with traditional subcutaneous injections. The system uses a small capsule coated with microneedles in order to administer medicines directly into the lining of the intestine.
Ordinarily there is a challenge to orally administering drugs, in that rarely do they survive the acidic contents of the digestive tract long enough to effectively deploy their pharmaceutical payload. This problem becomes even more pronounced when working with drugs created from large proteins. Therefore, modern medicine has been forced to employ the frankly distasteful method of stabbing patients with tiny metal pipes and pushing medicine through the resultant wound. I think I speak for all of humanity when I say there has to be a better way.
The capsule measures 2 cm (0.8 in) in length and 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter. It's designed with a central reservoir to house the drug, which is then injected into the intestinal tract lining via a series of 5 mm (0.2 in)-long mirconeedles that coat the outside of the pill. To aide with ingestion, as the capsule makes its way through the digestive system, the needles are protected by a Ph-responsive coating that dissolves upon reaching the intestine.
Crucially, the capsule's acrylic coating allows the drug to survive the inhospitable journey through the stomach with no degradation to the effectiveness of the pharmaceuticals contained inside. Furthermore, the design of the pill will allow it to be used for a multitude of different pharmaceuticals with no redesigning required, and the lack of any pain receptors in the lining of the GI tract means that patients would not even be aware of the needles delivering the medicine.
If you've ever tried to warn teenagers of the consequences of risky behavior - only to have them sigh and roll their eyes - don't blame them. Blame their brain anatomy.
Sociologists and psychologists have long known that teen brains are predisposed to downplay risk, act impulsively and be undaunted by the threat of punishment. But now scientists are beginning to understand why.
"I think teenage behavior is probably the most misunderstood of any age group - not only by parents but by teenagers themselves," says Pradeep Bhide, a Florida State University College of Medicine neuroscientist and director of the Center for Brain Repair.
"It's a critical time in life, and a very stressful one, when they are going through so many changes at the same time that their brains are changing. The teen years are actually a very busy time for brain development."
During the past year, Bhide brought together some of the world's foremost brain researchers in a quest to explain why teenagers - and male teens in particular - often behave erratically. He and two Cornell University colleagues examined 20 of the leading research projects from brain experts around the world and recently published their findings in a special volume of the scientific journal Developmental Neuroscience.
What they found surprised them - not so much because of the behavior uncovered, but because of how much of it was explained by brain development, or lack thereof.
Unlike children or adults, for instance, teenage boys show enhanced activity in the part of the brain responsible for emotions when confronted with a threat, making the threat more difficult to ignore. In one study, even when the teens were specifically told not to respond to a threat, many could not stop themselves. Magnetic-resonance-scanner readings revealed their brain activity was strikingly different from that in adult men.
Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a toggle switch for aging cells. By controlling the growth of telomeres, it may eventually be possible to coax healthy cells to keep dividing and generating even in old age.
The activity of a "sleep node" in the mammalian brain appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep, say researchers.
Scientists have identified a second “sleep node” in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep. The sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem reveals how we fall into deep sleep. Published online in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. “The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says study coauthor Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, remains the oldest person on record. One might assume that she led a faultless, healthy lifestyle. Not at all. Every year on her birthday, as her celebrity grew, journalists flocked to her house in the south of France to ask her for the secret to a long life. One year she reportedly replied that it was because she stopped smoking when she turned 100.
In addition to smoking for most of her life, Madame Calment was also fond of Port wine and chocolate (more than two pounds of chocolate a week). She’s not the only one. Studies have failed to find healthy lifestyle choices to be the common thing between centenarians. As Nir Barzilai, who studies healthy Jewish centenarians, put it: “It’s not the yogurt.”
Instead, scientists have discovered that longevity is prevalent in certain families and the focus is now on discovering the genes, or the DNA instructions, that favour a long, healthy life.
In animals like mice, flies and roundworms, scientists have discovered a remarkable impact of genes on the ageing process. Hundreds of tiny instructions in the genome have been found to regulate longevity. In nematode worms, a mutation on the daf-2 gene can lead to a doubled, but still healthy lifespan. In tiny roundworms, the current record is a subtle change in the age-1 gene that extends lifespan ten-fold. If this could be applied to humans, it would mean people living more than 1,000 years.
Life-extension effects from genetic engineering, however, tend to be more modest in mammals, though there is still evidence of health benefits. In mice, mutating the growth hormone receptor gene, which is crucial for regulating growth and cell proliferation, results in dwarf animals that not only live 40% longer than normal but are protected from age-related diseases, like cancer, and exhibit a later onset of degenerative changes. In this example, it’s like the whole mammalian ageing process is retarded by changing a single gene.