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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Age-reversal and other cool medical innovations, 2011

Today: 

  1. Partial reversal of aging achieved in mice
  2. Liver tissue grown in lab cuts reliance on donors
  3. Artificial pancreas" shows promise in pregnancy
  4. What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes
  5. Scientists grow blood vessels for human surgery
  6. Swine flu vaccine likely causes child narcolepsy: study
  7. Debut of the first practical 'artificial leaf'
  8. Water waves exhibit negative gravity near a periodic array of buoys
First some cool short news:
8 Beautiful Bioluminescent Creatures From the See -
Solar sails pick up speed -  
Two trials of spacecraft have successfully unfurled their solar sails, and demonstrated that radiation from sunlight can power them through interplanetary space.
Solar sails use photons from the sun to propel spacecraft at high speeds. On January 20, the small lightweight spacecraft NanoSail-D deployed a 10-square-meter gleaming sail in low-Earth orbit.
Shortly after, on January 26, engineers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the extension of their solar-sail mission IKAROS. Launched in May 2010, IKAROS flew past Venus in December last year, and the mission will continue until March 2012. - I'm looking forward how this will go, because it offers a cheap way to propel stuff in space. True, it's quite slow, but if we're talking about commercial transport of ore, then time is not so important once the cycle starts working.

Did China Just Invent the 21st Century's Coolest Technology? - Scientists in China say they have successfully produced a model Maglev train that can travel as fast as a plane, according to a report in a Chinese newspaper.
Shuai Bin said the vacuum magnetic suspension train model reached speeds of between 600 and 1,200 kilometers per hour.
If the claim is true, that would mean the Chinese have topped the speed record set by the highest recorded speed of a Maglev train - 581 kilometers per hour - in Japan. - WOW! I so wish this news to be true. Because let's face it, flying is infrastructurely cool, because you need to build only two airports for it to work. But every plane can be used like a weapon. A train can only blow itself. And if the train is as fast as the plane, then planes can be used only for intercontinental flights. Which should decrease their emission as well.
Solar powered cell phone film - Bye, bye big batteries and so long outlets - Wysips, a French company, has developed a technology to charge your phone without an outlet, or a power mat. It is a . Of course, solar chargers aren't new, but most of them are clunky and external. This one can be built right into the phone. The charger is basically a few layers of a thin and transparent photovoltaic film that can be put on top of a phone's display to let it charge wherever there is light. You may be wondering how thin this film is? The current version is less than 100 microns. - Check out the cool video! I so want one of those. Forget about dead battery. You can charge anywhere!

Fluorescent peptides help nerves glow in surgery - Accidental damage to thin or buried nerves during surgery can have severe consequences, from chronic pain to permanent paralysis. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine may have found a remedy: injectable fluorescent peptides that cause hard-to-see peripheral nerves to glow, alerting surgeons to their location even before the nerves are encountered.

New solar energy conversion process could revamp solar power production -Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil. Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels - which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises - the new process excels at higher temperatures. Called 'photon enhanced thermionic emission,' or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies. - I feel little bit skeptic, not because of the technology which sounds great and sound, but because I wonder how much time it will take for this cool new method to be used in actual solar panel.
 


Partial reversal of aging achieved in mice

November 29, 2010 By Richard Saltus
(PhysOrg.com) -- Harvard scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they have for the first time partially reversed age-related degeneration in mice, resulting in new growth of the brain and testes, improved fertility, and the return of a lost cognitive function. In a report posted online by the journal Nature in advance of print publication, researchers led by Ronald A. DePinho, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) professor of genetics, said they achieved the milestone in aging science by engineering mice with a controllable telomerase gene. The telomerase enzyme maintains the protective caps called telomeres that shield the ends of chromosomes.

As humans age, low levels of telomerase are associated with progressive erosion of telomeres, which may then contribute to tissue degeneration and functional decline in the elderly. By creating mice with a telomerase switch, the researchers were able to generate prematurely aged mice. The switch allowed the scientists to find out whether reactivating telomerase in the animals would restore telomeres and mitigate the signs and symptoms of aging. The work showed a dramatic reversal of many aspects of aging, including reversal of brain disease and infertility.

Importantly, the animals showed no signs of developing cancer. This remains a concern because cancer cells turn on telomerase to make themselves virtually immortal. DePinho said the risk can be minimized by switching on telomerase only for a matter of days or weeks — which may be brief enough to avoid fueling hidden cancers or cause new ones to develop.

The experiments used mice that had been engineered to develop severe DNA and tissue damage as a result of abnormal, premature aging. These animals had short, dysfunctional telomeres and suffered a variety of age-related afflictions that progressed in successive generations of mice. Among the conditions were testes reduced in size and depleted of sperm, atrophied spleens, damage to the intestines, and shrinkage of the brain along with an inability to grow new brain cells.
Rather than supply the rodents with supplemental telomerase, the scientists devised a way to switch on the animals’ own dormant telomerase gene, known as TERT. They engineered the endogenous TERT gene to encode a fusion protein of TERT and the estrogen receptor. This fusion protein would only become activated with a special form of estrogen. With this setup, scientists could give the mice an estrogen-like drug at any time to stimulate the TERT-estrogen receptor fusion protein and make it active to maintain telomeres.

Against this backdrop, the researchers administered the estrogen drug to some of the mice via a time-release pellet inserted under the skin. Other animals, the controls, were given a pellet containing no active drug.

After four weeks, the scientists observed remarkable signs of rejuvenation in the treated mice. Overall, the mice exhibited increased levels of telomerase and lengthened telomeres, biological changes indicative of cells returning to a growth state with reversal of tissue degeneration, and increase in size of the spleen, testes, and brain.

The telomerase boost also lengthened the rodents’ life spans compared to their untreated counterparts — but they did not live longer than normal mice, said the researchers. source
My comment: WOW. If you think about it, there's very serious wow-factor in this news. True, the mice didn't live longer, so it's not a key to immortality. But just imagine living 70-80 years, feeling like you're in your 30s for the last 40 of them! That's very serious change of the lifestyle, of the life-time experience, of everything. And all that, by restoring the natural way the cell regenerates. It's amazing. If it can be done, that will be a revolution! And I'm sure it can be done. Let's hope we will be among those who will witness and enjoy the effect.


Liver tissue grown in lab cuts reliance on donors

Jan 22, 2011
WASHINGTON: Scientists have attained success in growing human liver cells on resorbable scaffolds made from materialsimilar tosurgicalsutures .
This liver tissue could be used in place of donor organs during liver transplantation or during the bridge period until a suitable donor is available for patients with acute liver failure , say researchers .
In applying their tissue engineering approach , the German researchers were able to successfully create new liver tissue providing a potential solution to the obstacles challenging liver cell transplantation . The team isolated liver cellsfrom 12human liver specimens with a viability of 82%. After a two-dayculture period , liver cells formed tightly packed cellular aggregates , called spheroids , and took on a liver-like appearance .
Human liver cells were distributed across a three-dimensional porous structure of the polymer scaffolding . From day two to four ,the average number of spheroids more than doubled from 18 to 41 per visual field. ANI source
My comment: Another amazing news. Especially if you consider that the liver is the biggest organ in our body and the one for which you last find out that there are problems. So, it will be amazing to have a way to produce livers. But, I think it could be even more amazing, if we learn how to make organs regenerate while inside us! Because every surgery has innate risks, so keeping any intervention to minimal is essential for good health.

Artificial pancreas" shows promise in pregnancy

Jan 30, LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have shown how an "artificial pancreas" can help pregnant women with type 1 diabetes and say their finding could significantly reduce cases of stillbirth and death among diabetic expectant mothers.
British researchers used a so-called "closed-loop insulin delivery system" or artificial pancreas, in 10 pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes and found it provided the right amount of insulin at the right time, maintained near normal blood sugar, and prevented dangerous drops in blood sugar levels at night.
The experimental artificial pancreas was created by combining a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, with an insulin pump, both of which are already used separately by many people with type 1 diabetes.
Pregnancy can be particularly risky for women with diabetes as hormonal changes make it very difficult to keep blood glucose levels within a safe range, especially at night.
As a result of high blood glucose levels, babies of women with diabetes are five times as likely to be stillborn, three times as likely to die in their first months of life and twice as likely to have a major deformity, the researchers said.
Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, which part-funded the study, said that although it was a small and early stage trial, the results were encouraging.sourceMy comment: I didn't know there is so big risk for women with that kind of diabetes. It is good that something so simple, can decrease the risk.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes

Generally speaking, the goal of gene-based mosquito-control projects is either to kill the insects or make them benign. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, for example, are studying mosquitoes that were made malaria-resistant through the activation of a gene responsible for a protein that blocks the infection. And the British company Oxitec has engineered a strain of mosquito that cannot survive without regular doses of tetracycline; in the wild, these mosquitoes would survive just long enough to mate and pass on their tetracycline-junkie genes to their doomed offspring. In a trial in the Cayman Islands last year, Oxitec-modified mosquitoes were able to cut the overall population by 80 percent in just six months.But the problem is that we don’t fully understand how mosquitoes and the diseases they carry would adapt in response to such experiments. New strains of malaria and other diseases could emerge. Three percent of the offspring from Oxitec’s tetracycline-dependent mosquitoes survive—what happens if those bugs breed with wild mosquitoes?
It’s even possible that the changes we induce in mosquitoes could move into other animals. Horizontal gene transfer could result in midges, gnats and black flies developing the same mutations, including the unfortunate characteristic of dying shortly after hatching—and a mass die-off of insects that provide sustenance to birds, bats, frogs and fish would be a food-chain disaster.
Joe Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, favors using a variety of techniques all at once—dispersing larvicide, which is less environmentally harmful than pesticides that kill adults; planting Ovitraps, which attract egg-laying females; and, where possible, getting rid of the water impoundments where the insects breed. source
My comment: See also:( Biology Controversy Erupts in French Classrooms over Permitting Teens to Genetically Modify Bacteria ) Ok, I must say I'm very opposed to genetic battles with any species. After all, we can very well fight mosquito-induced diseases, if we have the political will. But we don't have the right to kill of entire species, just like that, because we don't like the economical burden it represents for us. Furthermore, we have barely scratched the surface of horizontal and vertical gene-transfer. The biggest genetic madness we did are GM crops. But crops don't fly, right? Crops don't bite humans and a variety of animals, sucking their blood. If crops can be dangerous, what's left for mosquitoes or other insects. Insects are like a genetic lab, if we are to mess with them and let them loose in the wild, we must be very very sure what we do. Because, people already observed unexpected results from GM crops, like new wild crops which have acquired the genes of not one, but two different GM crops. Scientists have already observed the same happening for the mosquitoes. This is clearly a problem, and sooner or later, we'll find out that Nature and evolution should always remain our friends, because like enemies, they are way way out of our league.

Scientists grow blood vessels for human surgery

February 2, 2011 
Scientists can grow blood vessels in a lab for use in coronary bypass or dialysis, a promising alternative to harvesting from the patient, said a study published on Wednesday.
The process involves taking smooth muscle cells from a human cadaver and grafting them onto tubes made of the material used in making dissolvable stitches, called polyglycolic acid.
Within eight to 10 weeks, the tubes degrade and a "fully formed vascular graft" remains, said the research by scientists from Duke University, East Carolina University and Yale University.
The veins have been tested in baboons and dogs. They were not rejected by the animals' bodies and functioned well for six months, said the study, published in the journal .
The bio-engineered vessels could also be stored in saline solution for up to a year, suggesting that one day surgeons could pluck a vein "off the shelf" for use in a sick patient, the study said.
Clinical trials in humans are expected to begin soon, according to a spokeswoman from Humacyte, a company based in North Carolina that also contributed to the study and funded the research.
Shannon Dahl, senior director of Scientific Operations at Humacyte, said veins can be made in a variety of sizes for use in different operations.
 sourceMy comment: Another wow-news. Seriously, can you imagine having blood vessels "off the shelf"?! It sounds kind of arrogant, but from the other side, that what science is. And those veins are badly needed. Not to mention that once you have abundance of cheap blood vessels, I'm sure medicine will come up with fancy and hopefully good for the population ways to use them. Good luck on their human trials.

Swine flu vaccine likely causes child narcolepsy: study

February 1, 2011 

 Children injected with the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine were nine times more likely to contract narcolepsy than those who were not vaccinated, a preliminary study by Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, showed Tuesday.
The institute stressed in its preliminary study that more investigation was needed, but said young people aged four to 19 had a "manifold increased risk of falling ill with narcolepsy" if they had been inoculated against swine flu with Pandemrix.Finland launched an aggressive inoculation programme against the H1N1 virus in 2009, but last August THL recommended discontinuing the use of Pandemrix until it could study whether it was connected to a sharp rise in the instance of narcolepsy cases in the country, especially among children.
The European Medicines Agency also launched a probe into the suspected connection.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder which causes extreme fatigue and often results in the patient falling soundly asleep without warning, even in the middle of an activity.
Doctors in Finland reported a more than trippling of narcolepsy cases during the swine flue pandemic, and THL said "the risk of falling ill with narcolepsy among those vaccinated in the 4-19 years age group was nine-fold in comparison to those unvaccinated in the same age group."
Hospital data shows that new child narcolepsy cases in Finland jumped from seven in 2007 to 16 in 2008 to 60 during the swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010.
Fifty-two of the latest cases, or 90 percent, occured in youths who had received the Pandemrix vaccine, THL said, adding most of the patients developed narcolepsy symptoms between two and 10 weeks after being vaccinated.
No changes in the number of cases were observed in children under four or youth over 19 years of age.
 source
My comment: As much as I like to defend science, vaccines are totally different story. Because they are not pure science, they are profitable science. And where there is profit, there can be also abuse. This case, makes a very good example why one should avoid vaccines for stuff that can be handled in other ways. This doesn't apply for all the vaccines since some of them are really important. But flu-vaccines - come on. Sure, there is a risk from complications. But probably the risk from getting injured in road-incident is bigger.  

Debut of the first practical 'artificial leaf'

March 27, 2011
Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.
About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.
Nocera, who is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that the "artificial leaf" is not a new concept. The first artificial leaf was developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.
Nocera's new leaf is made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable. In laboratory studies, he showed that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity.
Right now, Nocera's leaf is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. However, he is optimistic that he can boost the efficiency of the artificial leaf much higher in the future. source
My comment: So, let's repeat - this isn't a new concept, the nice guys from the named US agency had the technology for a decade, but they didn't do a thing about it. Why? Because they have oil. And they don't care particularly about giving light to the poor Africans. After all, why would they need light, if they can't read. Anyway, I'm quite impressed by the efficiency of the process and I wish a lot of luck to the inventors. Because they did something really good, something that can make a difference on large-scale. Actually, I would love to have one of those devices. For when the electricity goes down.

Water waves exhibit negative gravity near a periodic array of buoys

 (PhysOrg.com) -- Ocean waves can be incredibly strong and very difficult to block completely. When a wave moving across the ocean interacts with a buoy, the wave can be slightly dampened, but will still pass by if its wavelength is long enough compared to the size of the buoy. But in a new study, scientists have calculated that a periodic array of resonators (such as vertical bottom-mounted split tubes or damping buoys) resonating at a low frequency can completely block water waves. The effect arises from the water having negative effective gravity.
 Through and , the researchers have shown that, when a periodic array of vertical bottom-mounted split tubes resonates near a certain low frequency, the array strongly reflects approaching water waves. They found that such a strong reflection can dramatically modify the efficiency of the waves. source
My comment: That is also quite cool and it has obvious application for tsunami cases. True the energy required will be probably much bigger, but since tsunamis are not so often, it can be supplied when needed.