Tag: Der Spiegel

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Ulrike von Leszczynski in Die Welt introduces a novel submersible which can dive up to 6 kilometers deep but weighs only 500 kg. The 3,5 meter long “autonomous underwater vehicle” named DNS Pegel does not need a pressure chamber as it is being flooded when diving. Instruments and electronics have been developed to withstand the conditions and most are protected by silicone.

In Der Spiegel, Steve Ayan, editor-in-chief of Gehirn & Geist, interviews Florian Holsboer, director of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry who explains how and why psychiatry will be revolutionized by tailor-made, personalized medicine to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and others. Holsboer explains that psychiatric diseases are caused by a complex interplay between genes and environment in which the environment also influences the pattern of genes involved in a certain condition at a certain point in time. In the future, he predicts, “we will be able to generate biochemical snapshots using genetic tests and biomarkers.”

Marc-Denis Weitze in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) introduces efforts by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute (NMI) at the University of Tuebingen and the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering of ETH Zurich in Basle to record the activity of neurons in neuronal networks – a challenging task as chips and electronics elements need to withstand salty solutions for months. The latest innovation is a chip providing 32,000 contact points on a 2.6 square millimeter area. Nicola von Lutterotti, also in NZZ, reports on US and Swiss studies looking into the causes of hospitalizations. In Switzerland, up to 7% were due to overdosing of medications (either by doctors or accidentally by patients) or prescriptions of medications without observing warnings on potential interactions given on the label.

In the New York Times (NYT), Nicholas Wade reports on the successful genetic therapy of six patients with hemophilia B. The disease was corrected by transferring a working version of the factor IX gene via the adeno-associated virus-8 (AAV-8). The article points out that the therapy did not work or ceased to work in some of the patients. In other patients, the factor IX is produced in sufficient quantities for up to 22 months so that they can live without medications.

The New Scientist this week features a study by researchers from the University of Freiburg, Germany, in which symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) have been reverted in mice by injecting RNA oligonucleotides that stimulate the expression of interferon-B (IFNb). IFNb is known to be efficacious in humans with MS. However, 80% of people treated with IFNb injections develop antibodies against IFNb. If produced by the body itself the problem might be avoided.

And finally, “self-hacking” can be dangerous to your health, reports Klaus Vogt in Die Welt. Self hackers are promoting the “Quantified Self” movement and are recording, rating and sharing a wealth of body functions – from weight and blood pressure to feelings and data on sex and meditation – on a daily or even more frequent basis. While the movement already finds interest among medtech companies and data providers, medical professionals now warn that the underlying condition can become addictive. The akampioneer recommends software developers should program a meta app analyzing the quantified self data so that an addiction value can be posted on top.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Solar cells can become cheap bulk ware, even for developing countries, writes Manfred Lindinger in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). He introduces a technology for printing a sheet of zinc oxide, a polymer containing fullerenes and an electrode made from polymers on paper. The technology developed at Technical University Chemnitz can use ordinary printing machines and paper, and the resulting solar paper can be bended and folded. However, the efficiency is still very poor (1.3% at 5 V compared to 10 or more with conventional ones). Life span will amount to a few months. For other approaches to make cheaper solar cells, see this post.

Martina Lenzen-Schulte, also in FAZ, explains how measle viruses leave cells to enter the airway. Today it is known that they do not proliferate in the outer epithelium cells but in lymph nodes. The way back is facilitated by the membrane protein nectin-4, which acts as a transporter carrying the virus through epithelial cells. Lenzen-Schulte also reports that the effect may explain why cancer cells, which often overexpress nectin-4, are vulnerable to measle and other viruses. This might pave a way to develop new oncolytic viruses.

Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, the nestor of the German biotechnology industry, makes the case for green biotechnology in the weekly Die Zeit. Winnacker criticizes the concept of coexistence that tries to avoid a blending of genetically modified and conventionally bred plants by defining a minimum distance between cultivated areas. In Germany, a farmer cultivating GMOs is liable for every case of cross-breeding, a provision that effectively prohibits GMO cultivation as there is a zero threshold for “contamination”. Winnacker also criticizes the strategy of patenting genetically modified plants instead of protecting them with the traditional plant variety rights that allow for exemptions for the further use of GMOs by breeders and farmers. Green biotechnology, he writes, has – at least in Europe – become the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with modern agriculture, from monoculture to declining biodiversity to the death of bees, although Europe is almost free from GM plants. As 25 years of research into the risk of green biotechnology have not been able to reveal any real danger, Winnacker proposes to amend the German law on genetic engineering and to simply omit the measures restricting the cultivation of GMOs.

Diabetics may soon be able to measure blood sugar without pricking, reports Der Spiegel. A new technology developed by researchers of John’s Hopkins University enables measuring of blood sugar in tear fluid.

In Wirtschaftswoche, Matthias Hohensee introduces US-based 23andme company which offers genetic testing at a rate of $99 plus a flat fee of $9 per month for access to the data. The company, which was criticized for exaggerating the benefits of personal genetic testing, also changed its business model and is now offering its records comprising the data of 125,000 people for research purposes, e.g. to find out why certain hereditary diseases display incomplete penetrance in different carriers of the respective genes.

Theres Lüthi in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reports on clinical studies by Roche and Novartis in people suffering from Down’s or fragile X syndrome in an attempt to improve cognitive abilities.

Alyson Krueger in Forbes reports on a talk on synthetic biology given by Andrew Hessel of Singularity University during the Technonomy 2011 conference. Hessel describes synthetic biology as computer-assisted genetic design that goes from an idea to printing DNA to ultimately booting DNA and forecasts it will render the task of engineering life as straightforward as programming software, or creating a vaccine as simple as Tweeting.

Alex Knapp, also in Forbes, describes a “cyborg yeast” designed by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and ETH Zurich, Switzerland. In the yeast, the expression of a certain gene can be switched on and off by different shades of red light. The technique may lead to advances in the production of proteins by yeast cultures.

The Economist reports on the first computational pathologist which can can distinguish between grades of breast-cancer cells to provide a more accurate prognosis than a human pathologist can manage.

And finally, scientists found a single gene which can make you appear kinder, reports Catherine de Lange in New Scientist. In experiments conducted at the University of Toronto, people with the so-called GG version of the oxytocin receptor gene were judged to be kinder than those with GA or AA versions. Those with GG variations used significantly more non-verbal empathetic gestures in their storytelling such as smiling and nodding which made them appear kinder.


Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Volker Stollorz in Frankfurter Allgemein Sonntagszeitung (FAS) this week in detail reports on a paper describing the generation of pluripotent stem cells from adult human testis, which has raised suspicions because as yet no one has been able to reproduce the data or cell lines. The paper published 2008 in Nature raised high hopes about the generation of pluripotent human stem cells for research and therapy without technically or ethically debatable interventions. The research originated in the lab of Thomas Skutella, then at the University of Tuebingen, Germany; lead author was Sabine Conrad. Already, researcher Hans R. Schoeler in the same journal expressed concerns that the cells used by Conrad et al. are not pluripotent as described. The article by Stollorz is not yet available online.

Stephan Sahm in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) introduces the new medical discipline of neurogastroenterology which deals with the nerve cells lining the human digestive tract. Already it is known that impairments of these nerve cells lead to motility disturbances of the colon – often seen in diabetics – and to dysfunctions of the immune system.

In the same paper, Hildegard Kaulen describes attempts to understand and cure chronic fatigue in cancer patients. The syndrome often appears after successful tumor eradication by chemo- or radiation therapy and has been neglected by clinicians and doctors in the past.

In Die Welt, Joerg Zittlau introduces a new silicon-based coating developed by Nanopool GmbH. The liquid glass coating is non-toxic, heat- and scratch-resistant and extremely thin and flexible. It is made by extracting nano-sized silica crystals from sand which are subsequently mixed with water and alcohol and applied either manually or by spraying. Once the solvent has evaporated, the glass coating is ready. As it is extremely smooth it is not only suited as protectant but also stain-resistant and self cleaning.

Wolfgang S. Merkel, also in Die Welt, explains why certain materials such as asbestos or nanotubes are dangerous for cells. If particles have a rounded tip they are mistaken by the cells for a small spheric particle and taken up. As the process cannot be terminated for the length of the particle, the cell eventually dies and, if many cells are affected, inflammation and cancer may arise.

Christina Berndt in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) deals with the latest conspiracy theory spread by ecological fundamentalists: milk is dangerous for toddlers as it blocks the mucosa with phlegm so that it cannot ward off infections. In the same paper, Berndt reports on fundamentalist Taliban in Pakistan opposing vaccination. As a result, polio cases have risen dramatically in the areas controlled by the Taliban.

Hartmut Wewetzer in Der Tagesspiegel introduces latest findings demonstrating that neither resveratrol, the highly acclaimed ingredient of grapes, nor sirtuin proteins guarantee longer, healthier life. Previously, researchers from the US had claimed that sirtuin proteins, which are activated by resveratrol, mediate longer life. In contrast, Nicholas Wade in The New York Times reports on the same study and points out that there is a trans-atlantic rift in reporting: while British scientists say sirtuins are not involved in longevity, the US colleagues under attack say they adhere to their claim. The controversy is around the genetic uniformity or diversity of the animal strains used in the experiments.

Larry Husten in Forbes is commenting on the decline of cardiovascular procedures observed in US hospitals, speculating that four factors may contribute to it: concerns about stent overuse, the payoff of preventive drug treatments, the larger economic climate and recent investigations into implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) by the US Department of Justice. Recently, doctors and hospitals in the US were accused to implant ICDs without proper evidence base in more than 1 in 5 cases.

Also in ForbesDavid Shaywitz and Dennis Ausiello in a commentary demand that doctors translate research results into clinical progress much better than today. The authors do not focus on the “translational science” buzzword but propose simple things: improvements in measurements, a less intrusive medicine and better participation of patients, e.g. by involving Facebook- or smartphone-based information transfer for better compliance and health status surveillance.

In the New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie reports on Sanofi-Pasteur signing a contract with the University of San Diego, Calif. to develop a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of acne, a disease affecting 85% of teens. The challenge: killing the disease-causing bacterium (which is benign under normal circumstances and turns nasty only in clogged sebaceous glands in the skin) is likely to disturb the important, delicate balance of the skin’s normal bacterial community. The solution may be to use an antibody directed specifically against a protein released by the acne-causing bacteria, if  oxygen levels fall below normal in the clogged glands. This approach may neutralize the acne factors and prevent inflammation while leaving the normal bacterial community on the skin undisturbed.

Last not least, physics nerds make a laughing matter of CERN’s latest discovery that neutrinos may travel faster than light, reports Holger Dambeck in Der Spiegel. Our favorite one (true Monty Python style) is as follows: “To reach the other side. Why do neutrinos cross the road?”

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Joining the recent denunciation of personalized medicine in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Der Spiegel this week follows suit. Markus Grill and Veronika Hackenbroch cite Dr. Baerbel Huesing, Coordinator of Business Unit Biotechnology and Life Sciences of Fraunhofer ISI, as saying that the concept of personalized medicine is a “battle cry” of public relations: “Whoever invented it needs to be congratulated.” She added: “It is not a paradigm change. There is not that much in it. However, it is very well suited to justify to Jane Doe the enormous investments made in genomics – similar to the teflon-coated frying pan which was used as an excuse for manned space research.” As an example, Grill and Hackenbroch cite a study from 2009 in colon cancer patients, stating that adding Erbitux to the treatment scheme of patients selected by a concomitant Qiagen test resulted in a survival improvement of 4 months: “Is this a medical breakthrough? Is this what  progress looks like, bought by spending billions?” Instead, Grill and Hackenbroch recommend spending money on better care at home and better palliative treatment. The article ends with a quote from Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, head of the clinic for hematology, oncology and tumor immunology at Robert-Roessle-Klinik in Berlin: “Up to date, the concept of personalized medicine is an empty promise in the first place.”

Harro Albrecht and Sven Stockrahm in Die Zeit feature the suspicion expressed by medical doctors and competent authorities in the EU that the flu vaccine Pandemrix might cause narcolepsy, in particular in children and young adults. Already, EMEA issued a recommendation to use Pandemrix in children and adults under 20 in exceptional cases only. While there were only two reported cases of narcolepsy among children in the US, there were more than 300 in the EU, with 70% of those cases coming from Scandinavia. Narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, predominantly in humans with a certain genetic modification, and the authors feature the theory that the adjuvant used in the vaccine might have induced the disease in these patients. However, the genetic variant known does not have a bigger frequency in Scandinavia.

Sven Stockrahm, also in Die Zeit, features miniature, flexible electronic devices that stick to the skin by physical means. They can be hid by a tattoo motif and are able to measure and transmit physiological data for medical purposes. One company developing these devices is mc10 Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Martina Lenzen-Schulte in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) gives an overview on the arrival of maggot therapy as a means to clean wounds, stating it has become standard therapy in many German clinics already. Maggots not only remove dead tissue and eschar, they also kill bacteria. Therefore, they are increasingly being used in infections with bacteria carrying multiple resistance to antibiotics. However, maggot therapy is not yet approved in Germany (in contrast to the US).

Sebastian Matthes in Wirtschaftswoche interviews Jackie Fenn, analyst at Gartner and co-author of Gartner’s Hype Cycle Report. Fenn forecasts computers with the ability to understand spoken questions and to put out spoken answers as well as printing of organs and arteries.

Roland Fischer in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) looks back at 50 years of the influential Science Citation Index SCI. Originally founded to make the identification of relevant scientific papers easier, it soon became a tool for sociologists of science and led to the birth of scientometry as a new discipline. However, SCI also was used to take quantity for quality, measuring quality of science as number of citations, and it is a well-known episode that in the UK funding of clinical research was cut because preclinical research generates more citations. While this controversy is still ongoing, the taking of quantity for quality is already spilling over into search engines, Fischer describes.

Alex Knapp in Forbes describes a novel approach to broad spectrum antivirals. It is based on a bi-specific drug: one arm binds to double-stranded RNA which is specific for viruses. Once bound, a second arm triggers a mechanism that leads to the destruction of the cell it is in. The experimental drug named DRACO has been successful at eliminating cells infected by 15 different viruses from the common cold to polio in vitro and in vivo (mice).

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