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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Technology news, June, 2010


  1. Scientists develop personalized blood tests for cancer using whole genome sequencing
  2. Chemical snapshot: Murchison meteorite reveals diversity of early Solar System
  3. Blind people use both visual and auditory cortices to hear
  4. Auto exhaust linked to thickening of arteries, possible increased risk of heart attack
  5. Millimeter-scale, energy-harvesting sensor system developed
  6. Inhibiting serotonin in gut could cure osteoporosis

Scientists develop personalized blood tests for cancer using whole genome sequencing

February 18, 2010
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have used data from the whole genome sequencing of cancer patients to develop individualized blood tests they believe can help physicians tailor patients' treatments. The genome-based blood tests, believed to be the first of their kind, may be used to monitor tumor levels after therapy and determine cancer recurrence.
In a report on the work, published in the February 24 issue of Science Translational Medicine, the scientists scanned patients' genomes for alterations that, they say, most researchers have not been looking for - rearrangements of large chunks of DNA rather than changes in a single DNA letter among billions of others. They call their new approach Personalized Analysis of Rearranged Ends (PARE).
Such DNA rearrangements are widely known to occur exclusively in cancer cells, not normal ones, making them ideal biomarkers for cancer.
Results from such blood tests, they say, could help clinicians detect cancer or its recurrence and inform them on how a patient is responding to cancer therapies.
The technology used to examine the patients' genomes will become inexpensive, predicts Velculescu. He says the genome scan cost them about $5,000 per patient, but that sequencing costs continue to drop. CT scans currently cost $1,500 per scan and are limited in their ability to detect microscopic cancers. source
My comment: Finally a result on personalized therapy. I know there already are such therapies for some types of cancers, but I think this number is rather insufficient. Since we know very well that most therapies work only in some (small) percentage of the patients, it's very important to be able to tell when something is not working and change it on time. 

Chemical snapshot: Murchison meteorite reveals diversity of early Solar System

February 17, 2010 by Lin Edwards
( -- New studies of a meteorite that crashed to Earth four decades ago have found it probably contains millions of organic compounds. The findings shed light on the molecular complexity that existed at or just after the birth of the Solar System.

The Murchison , a carbonaceous chondrite, fell near Murchison in Victoria in Australia in 1969, and is thought to be extremely ancient, possibly even older than the Sun, at 4.65 billion years old. It probably passed through the primordial clouds in the , where it would have collected organic compounds. It was retrieved soon after it landed, which meant there was minimal chance of contamination, and it has been studied by scientists hoping the meteorite would yield clues about the possible on Earth.
The current study is the first non-targeted examination of the meteorite, and used high resolution technology such as NMR and ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry. The technique attempts to find as many metabolites as possible, and they used the same system on the meteorite. Specifically, the new technique is known as the Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance/ (FTICR/MS), which enables the scientists to weigh ionized molecules with the accuracy of the mass of an electron.
The results of the analysis identified about 14,000 different molecules in the meteorite, which can be combined in millions of different organic compounds. Their findings show the nascent Solar System probably had more molecular diversity than present-day Earth. source
My comment: Interesting, but not exactly unexpected! It's nice to have it on paper, though.

Blind people use both visual and auditory cortices to hear

February 16, 2010
( -- Blind people have brains that are rewired to allow their visual cortex to improve hearing abilities. Yet they continue to access specialized areas to recognize human voices, according to a study published in Neuropsychologia by Frédéric Gougoux and Franco Lepore of the Université de Montréal Department of Psychology.

“By using their visual cortex, the blind are better than the sighted at recognizing notes, octaves and the origin of sounds,” says Dr. Lepore, of the Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC).
The superior temporal sulcus (STS) is a part of the brain specialized in recognizing the . With just one spoken word the STS can infer the sex, age, emotional state and social standing of the speaker. Gougoux wanted to know if the blind use their STS as much as the sighted or if they outsourced this function to part of their . Gougoux surprisingly discovered the blind still use the STS to decipher human voices and use it more than the sighted. source
My comment: What I find interesting here is that they don't have better abilities because their brain has rewired - they use the same region to recognize voices, they simply use it better and more. You can read more on the same subject here.

Auto exhaust linked to thickening of arteries, possible increased risk of heart attack

February 9, 2010
( -- A team of researchers from Switzerland, California, and Spain have found that particulates from auto exhaust can lead to the thickening of artery walls. 
Swiss, California and Spanish researchers have found that particulates from auto exhaust can lead to the thickening of , possibly increasing chances of a heart attack and stroke.
In a study reported this week in the journal , the researchers used ultrasound to measure the wall thickness of 1,483 people who lived near freeways in the Los Angeles area. The researchers took these measurements every six months for approximately three years, and correlated them with estimates of outdoor particulate levels at the study participants' homes.
They found that the artery wall thickness among those living within 100 meters (328 feet) of a highway increased by 5.5 micrometers - one-twentieth the thickness of a human hair - per year, or more than twice the average progression observed in study participants.source
My comment: Wow, that study is actually very useful. Because the group is large enough not to be able to blame the different lifestyle of people. And of course it's absolutely expected that the air pollution will lead to that. So I guess this one is for the non-believers.

Millimeter-scale, energy-harvesting sensor system developed

February 8, 2010

( -- A 9-cubic millimeter solar-powered sensor system developed at the University of Michigan is the smallest that can harvest energy from its surroundings to operate nearly perpetually.

The U-M system’s , solar cells, and battery are all contained in its tiny frame, which measures 2.5 by 3.5 by 1 millimeters. It is 1,000 times smaller than comparable commercial counterparts.
The system could enable new biomedical implants as well as home-, building- and bridge-monitoring devices. It could vastly improve the efficiency and cost of current environmental sensor networks designed to detect movement or track air and water quality.
With an industry-standard ARM Cortex-M3 processor, the system contains the lowest-powered commercial-class microcontroller. It uses about 2,000 times less power in sleep mode than its most energy-efficient counterpart on the market today.
The engineers say successful use of an ARM processor— the industry’s most popular 32-bit processor architecture—is an important step toward commercial adoption of this technology.
The processor only needs about half of a volt to operate, but its low-voltage, thin-film Cymbet battery puts out close to 4 volts. The voltage, which is essentially the pressure of the electric current, must be reduced for the system to function most efficiently.
The designers are working with doctors on potential medical applications.  source
My comment: Another step towards global observation :) Ok, that's on the dark side. On the bright side, this can lead to very cool sensors for all kind of stuff. 

Inhibiting serotonin in gut could cure osteoporosis

February 7, 2010
An investigational drug that inhibits serotonin synthesis in the gut, administered orally once daily, effectively cured osteoporosis in mice and rats reports an international team led by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, in the Feb. 7 issue of Nature Medicine. Serotonin in the gut has been shown in recent research to stall bone formation. The finding could lead to new therapies that build new bone; most current drugs for osteoporosis can only prevent the breakdown of old bone.
Prior to this discovery, serotonin was primarily known as a acting in the brain. Yet, 95 percent of the body's serotonin is found in the gut, where its major function is to inhibit bone formation (the remaining five percent is in the brain, where it regulates mood, among other critical functions). By turning off the intestine's release of serotonin, the team was able, in this new study, to cure osteoporosis in mice that had undergone .
Based on their findings reported in the Cell paper, Dr. Karsenty and his team postulated that an inhibitor of serotonin synthesis should be an effective treatment for osteoporosis. Shortly thereafter, they read about an investigational drug, known as LP533401, which is able to inhibit serotonin in the gut.
Dr. Karsenty and his team developed a research protocol to test their theory, where they administered the compound orally, once daily, at a small dose, for up to six weeks to rodents experiencing post-menopausal osteoporosis. Results demonstrated that osteoporosis was prevented from developing, or when already present, could be fully cured. Of critical importance, levels of serotonin were normal in the brain, which indicated that the compound did not enter the general circulation and was unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, thereby avoiding many potential side effects.
My comment: Because I know a person with osteoporosis, I hope this drug hits the market soon enough. Especially if it really does not effect the serotonin in the brain, which clearly is important. It's good to be happy after all :)