Tag: Ferris Jabr

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) Martina Lenzen-Schulte this week reports about an oncology symposion in Wiesbaden/Germany that dealt with oncology patients increasingly turning towards alternative medicines – 40 to 70% according to recent estimates. Oncologists now start to notice they cannot ignore patents’ needs and hopes, and therefore a number of clinicians have turned to looking at available studies on complementary medicine to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, it turns out that many of these studies – on mistletoe therapy as well as on dietary recommendations – are insufficient to provide sound evidence.

Werner Bartens in Sueddeutsche Zeitung features a 3,700 patients study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrating that contrary to common wisdom low salt diets increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

In Wirtschaftswoche, Susanne Kutter introduces the Diapat diagnostic test developed by German biotech company Mosaiques DiaPat GmbH that analyses more than 6,000 different peptide and protein molecules in human urine in one run. The test can be used to diagnose and even predict the onset of diseases. It has just been approved by FDA for the diagnosis of renal diseases. Already, the company markets a prostate cancer urine test in Germany. Mosaique’s test, Kutter claims, is but one of the many achievements to come from proteomics. She adds that the tests will have the potential to save the healthcare system billions of Euros.

Haydn Shaughnessy in Forbes states the record of cancer treatment still looks poor, with cancer mortality not improving a lot – as for example compared to heart diseases. Likewise, many preventive measures such as exercise and low fat diets don’t work. Shaughnessy therefore makes the case to support crowdsourcing approaches to develop a cancer cure like Pink Army and Cancer Commons (see akampioneer’s earlier entry on Open Source Principles – a Concept for the Life Sciences?). Also in Forbes, Matthew Herper forecasts that Pfizer will break itself up and spin out companies soon.

Eric Pfanner in New York Times looks at new European ventures to fill a void in world news after so many news organizations are laying off journalists or closing shop. As examples, he introduces Worldcrunch, a web-based start-up translating newspaper articles from around the world into English and Presseurop which translates into other languages, too.

In the New Scientist Jessica Hamzelou writes that people easily distracted might have more grey matter in their brains than focused people. In a separate article, she also features a pacemaker-like, implantable device that can deliver timed doses of medications for a year. Boonsri Dickinson, also in New Scientist, interviews nobelist Eizabeth Blackburn, the co-discoverer of the telomerase enzyme and its role in aging. Blackburn co-founded biotech company Telome Health, which is now starting to sell a test for telomere length. While at present it is sold for research purposes, e.g. to know more about telomer length as markers of aging, the test will be offered to the public through physicians for $200 later this year. Ferris Jabr in New Scientist introduces an approach fastening nanocapsules filled with interleukins to T cells as a way to cure cancer. So far, it seems to work in mice.

And here our favorite quote from Matthew Herper’s blog, who recently mused about whether entrepreneurs share some genetic characteristics, and if so, whether one could invent an antibody to turn someone into an entrepreneur: “‘Entrepreneur Antibody:’ Serious Side Effects Might Include Visual Hallucinations of Venture Capital.”

And finally, Norbert Lossau in Die Welt features a study by LinkedIn into the most common given names of CEOs, finding that in Germany they are Wolfgang, Christoph and Michael. In France, Gilles is number one, while it is Charles in the UK, Ray in Canada, Guido in Italy and Howard in the US. Marketing people often have short names like Chip, Todd or Trey, while engineers seem to have much longer give names. So think twice before naming your next newborn!

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Andreas Menn in Wirtschaftswoche introduces the latest medical applications of smartphones for monitoring physical functions, ranging from the heartbeats of unborn children to blood sugar, blood pressure and pulse rates of elderly people to even pacers and other implants. According to Menn, the Mobile Health sector has a 19% market growth. In the US, patients are joining movements like The Quantified Self to collect health data for research purposes (and, as an example, to determine the ideal moment for wake-up). Contact lenses measure and report blood sugar levels, while tests strips or clothes with in-built wearable electronics control breathrate, wound swelling and urine for dangerous deviations. The field is still littered with startups, but big players like Siemens, Philips, sanofi aventis and Deutsche Telekom also have stepped in already.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports from the recent meeting of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia. The debates focused on quality control of induced stem cells and the ability to derive motor neurons from such stem cells.

In The New York Times, Nicholas Wade reports on a recently discovered bundle of genes regulating the growth of heart muscles cells. The study published in Science will be of great interest for the development of novel therapeutics. It is known today that heart muscle cells are replaced in humans – however, the growth rate is too slow to replace the loss of many cells, e.g. in a heart attack. By modulating these genes, it might one day be possible to regenerate heart muscle in a targeted manner.

In Wired, Brandon Keim features a proposal by theoretical physicists that bacteria might transmit electromagnetic signals by using their DNA chromosomes as an antenna. The proposal is likely to trigger controversy as many biologists doubt that bacteria emit electric signals. French nobelist Luc Montagnier had already claimed in 2009 that bacteria do transmit radio signals in the 1 kHz range.

In the New Scientist, Ferris Jabr introduces a super twisty beam of laser light that is able to tell left-hand molecules from right-hand ones, with potential applications in drug development. Rowan Hooper reports on successful attempts to cure certain forms of blindness by introducing genes from algae into the eyes. The genes are encoding for channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a photosensitive protein used by unicellular algae to orient towards light. The mice carrying a hereditary form of blindness were treated with subretinal injections of viruses carrying the algal gene and subsequently were able to use light beams for orientation in a maze. Trials in humans, the article states, might begin in two years. Finally, Andy Coghlan features findings that humans can be grouped by one of three gut ecosystems. These three “enterotypes” – dominated by three different species each – have been found all over the world and have a bias towards degradation of certain nutrients and production of certain vitamins.

And finally, for those of you who loved the Get a Mac ads by Apple (“I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”), please have a look at the ad campaign of Ion Torrent comparing its PGM sequencer to competitors such as MiSeq.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

In Germany, science pages were dominated by Japan’s nuclear disaster. Apart from topics such as radioactivity as a threat to human health and the environment, Christiane Hucklenbroich in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) deals with an upcoming new definition of autism. Instead of seeing autism as a defined disease category, physicians have come to the conclusion that one should rather use the term “autism spectrum”, comprising several aspects of autism. The medical community also has started focusing on co-morbidity aspects as well as autism-like symptoms in other psychiatric diseases.

Susanne Kutter in Wirtschaftswoche summarizes latest advances in stem cell medicine. Among others, she features a clinical trial conducted at the University of Rostock in which the heart muscle of patients suffering from an infarction is injected with adult stem cells to initiate regeneration of muscle. The trial includes more than 150 patients and will be finished end of 2012. A method already successful has been established in India, where more than 700 people with blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency regained eyesight after injection of stem cells into the cornea.

Roni Caryn Rabin in The New York Times reports on a Lancet study that pooled data from 58 studies involving more than 220,000 people with a mean age of 58 to find out whether the idea that obese people with an apple shape (carrying the overweight predominantly in the belly) are more at risk for heart disease than overweight people with a pear shape. The answer is: they are not. Overweight matters, but shape does not.

Ferris Jabr in New Scientist introduces a small implantable device developed by researchers from the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that can track tumor growth in the body of cancer patients. The device contains magnetic nanoparticles covered with monoclonal antibodies able to bind cancer-related molecules, e.g. human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), a hormone released by testicular and ovarian cancers. The first generation had read-out by MRI scans that detect formation of clusters within the device due to binding of the molecules. However, the researchers now improved detection so that readout can now be done by a hand-held device. The principle can also be adapted to monitor other changes in the body, e.g. silent heart attacks.

For blood transfusion, medical doctors need to carefully choose the right blood group from 29 possible combinations of the AB0, Rhesus, the MNS and other systems. This challenge sometimes needs to complications and logistic problems. The Economist reports on a successful approach by researchers from the University of Montreal to disguise the antigenic proteins from red blood cells. The trick is done by first dressing the fatty surface membrane of the cells and then attaching another cover so that the immune system does not pay attention to the cells. The cover is fully permeable by oxygen and carbon dioxide.

David Whelan in Forbes calls for a psychological study of people investing in biotech stocks, in particular those writing rude comments on articles featuring the ups and downs of stocks. He claims the phenomenon is only seen with articles on biotech stocks.

And finally, David M. Ewalt in Forbes reports about errors in Craig Venter’s first synthetic life form in which Venter inserted DNA composed on a computer. The DNA included quotes from James Joyce and Richard Feynman, however Craig used the Joyce quote without written permission from Joyce’s estate and misquoted Feynman by obtaining the quote from the internet. Craig said he was now going back to the organism to correct the error.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung deals with the importance of high quality tissue for the development of personalized cancer therapies. He quotes Catheryn Compton, Director of the NCI’s Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research (OBBR), as saying that billions of dollars have been wasted in the past because researchers developing biomarkers supposed to be predicitive of cancer and responses to therapies relied on tissue samples that were utterly useless:  tissue had been subject to careless handling and storage, and patient histories, data on origin and sampling procedure were missing, so that results were not reproducible. Müller-Jung features Hamburg-based Indivumed as the first and only ISO9001:2008 certified biobank in the world which offers cancer patient tissue and related technical and medical data derived in a standardized procedure accompanied by a detailed protocol.

Jef Akst in The Scientist reports on a new biomarker that can tell at early stages of liver and rare endocrine cancer whether a patient is likely to develop metastases. The biomarker, a protein called CPE-delta N, was able to predict the occurrence of metastases with greater than 90% accuracy, and using the associated RNA as a biomarker, the accuracy was even greater. Preliminary findings suggest it may also be applied to other cancer types.

In the same magazine, Megan Scudellari reports on findings that human cells reprogrammed into multipoint stem cells (so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS) have hotspots in their genome that are not completely re-programmed. The article raises the question whether iPS are really suited to replace embryonic stem cells.

Detecting volatile substances is the topic of several papers. In New Scientist, Jessica Hamzelou reports on attempts by various research groups to accelerate diagnosis in the operation theater by combining electrosurgery with NMR spectroscopy. The smoke emanating from the cut tissue is directed to a NMR spectrometer which analyses on the spot whether the surgeon is cutting healthy or cancer tissue.

Also in New ScientistArlene Weintraub reports on the Israeli start-up BioExplorers which claims that trained mice are better at detecting explosives than currently used devices and methods. As soon as the mice sniff traces of any of 8 explosives, they flee to a side chamber of their cage as if they are smelling a cat. Scientists from Colorado State University have taught tobacco and mouse-ear cress plants a similar trick – exposed to vapors from TNT, the plants change color. The trick is done by reengineering a certain receptor, reports Ferris Jabr. German Spiegel features a publication by Japanese scientists from Kyushu University who trained a dog to sniff out early-stage colon cancer with a success rate of 90%. The researchers now try to find out which chemicals the dog reacts to.

Ben Coxworth in Gizmag reports on blood clots made visible by nanoparticles. Each particle, developed by Dr. Dipanjan Pan at the Washington University School of Medicine  in St. Louis, Missouri, contains a million atoms of bismuth  and molecules binding to fibrin, a key component of blood clots, at the outside. Bismuth is a toxic heavy metal, which can be detected by a spectral CT scanner. In contrast to regular CT scanners, this new type of scanner is capable of displaying detailed objects or metal in color. Coxworth concludes that “not only could the technology be used to locate blood clots, but it could possibly even treat their cause – ruptures in artery walls. If the nanoparticles contained some sort of healing agent, then once they attached to the fibrin in a blood clot, they could set about sealing any weak spots.”

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