Tag: Forbes

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).

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

The EHEC epidemic in Germany with 4,300 patients and 50 deaths has changed the way public health institutions will deal with future epidemics, writes Christina Hucklenbroich in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). She cites microbiologists involved in the rapid sequencing of the EHEC strain who think that the epidemic gave birth to the new discipline of “prospective genomic epidemiology”. To date, sequencing has been performed retrospectively only. However, using the novel Ion Torrent PGM HGS platform, scientists from the University of Münster were able to sequence the EHEC strain responsible for the outbreak within 62 hours. The scientists now think of a software generating a plain language report interpreting the genome and analyzing for toxins and antibiotics resistances of the germ in question so that immediate therapeutic and prophylactic consequences are possible.

Gas, electricity and hydrogen from algae are in the focus of a story by Susanne Kutter in Wirtschaftswoche. She features Sven Kerzenmacher and Johannes Gescher from the University of Freiburg and their efforts to produce electrical current directly from bacteria. The technology is based on the Shewanella bacterium which can transfer electrons generated by breakdown of sugar or other nutrients from the cell surface to conductive materials. Shewanella lives in fresh-, brack- and seawater and thrives on organic waste. The researchers are now trying to design a Shewanella-based mini-powerplant the size of a refrigerator which is able to produce 5-10 Watts of electricity per day – sufficient to meet the demand of a four-person household. Among others, Kutter also features a dual-chamber solar module developed by researchers from Leipzig, Karlsruhe and Bremen. In the first chamber, algae are forced by an excess of oxygen to produce hydrocarbons (“photorespiration”). The hydrocarbons enter the second chamber via a membrane and are used by bacteria to produce methane under anaerobic conditions. Readers interested in learning more about Shewanella may find regular updates on Shewanella Blogger.

While algae seem to be an ideal biofuel replacement for gasoline in the first place, it has turned out that the economics is a problem, writes Erica Gies in Forbes. Gies revisits former biofuel-from-algae startups that are now turning to more profitable products, using “green” chemistry to replace petrochemicals or unsustainable bio-based oils.

Also in Forbes, Matthew Herper deals with an op-ed in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery by John L. LaMattina, ex-CEO of Pfizer, Inc. LaMattina writes the pharma’s M&A activities have had a “devastating” effect of research and development efforts which will impact the industry over the next decade. The comment is all the more telling as LaMattina was pivotal in Pfizer’s acquisitions of Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia, Wyeth and many other companies. LaMattina summarizes that the consolidation by M&A led to fewer companies pursuing novel ideas and disruptions in research processes. Friction is caused, among others, by the need to streamline computer systems, procedures to track side-effects and others. Usually, a merger delays the start of any new research project by nine months. LaMattina’s comment can be accessed here.

Brandon Keim in Wired explains that most genetic differences in people are not caused by mutations but by variations in the genome’s architecture. At present, sequencing is designed to identify SNPs and as every sequencing method is breaking down the DNA in smaller pieces most genomic studies a blind to larger variations. First sequencing studies looking at larger DNA pieces now revealed that individuals seem to be distinguished less by their SNPs than by their structural variations, i.e. wholesale duplications and reversals, or unexpected additions and omissions of long DNA sequences.

Finally, Catherine de Lange in the New Scientist features the first car plugging into the driver’s brain to cut response times in case the car needs to stop suddenly. The invention of Stefan Haufe from the Berlin Institute of Technology uses an EEG headset and sensors on the leg to detect neuronal patterns and muscle tension to find out that the driver intends to apply the brakes. The system improves response times by 130 milliseconds which translates into the length of a small car when stopping from a speed of 100 km/h.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

There is hope for hepatitis C patients, writes Nicola von Lutterotti in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). She reports on four studies looking into the efficacy of Boceprevir (by Merck & Co). and Telaprevir (by Vertex Pharmaceuticals), which received approval recently in the US. Both drugs inhibit the NS3 serine protease, an enzyme necessary for the multiplication of the virus. When used in addition to standard therapy the new medications improved response from 40% to 70% in previously untreated patients an from 25% to 88% in relapsing patients. Moreover, 33% of patients not or only poorly responding to standard treatment responded to the new combination.

Thomas Jüngling in Die Welt reports on “sollectors”, a revolutionary lighting system developed by Siemens subsidiary Osram. The devices affixed at the outside of buildings bundle sunlight by a lens system and route it through fiber optic polymers directly into the interior of the building. If sunlight is not sufficient, the system adds light from LEDs which can be modulated to provide a greater portion of red in the morning and evening and more blue during the day. Jüngling also introduces other systems to direct sunlight into buildings developed by Interferenz Daylight from Bingen, Germany, and Swiss Heliobus.

Die Welt also reports on the identification of one of the key genes involved in anxiety. The gene spotted by a team of scientists from the German universities of Münster (Universitätsklinikum UKM), Hamburg and Würzburg encodes for the neuropeptide S receptor. If the gene is switched off, mice become very anxious. If the scientists administered neuropeptide S, the animals lost anxiety. The researchers are now looking for mutations of the gene in families with members treated for phobias, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.

Daniel Lingenhöhl in Handelsblatt reports on the discovery of a microbe expressing a cellulase enzyme able to catalyze breakdown of cellulose even at 109°C. The enzyme variant codenamed EBI-244 may be useful for the industrial-scale production of biofuel.

Michael Odenwald in Focus reports on biofuel produced from algae in a pilot plant of Bio Fuel Systems in Spain. The company is cultivating sea algae, which are fed with CO2 from flue gas of a cement plant and produce oil (“blue petroleum”). According to the article, the daily average output is 5 barrels of 159 liters each per hectare which amounts to more than 290,000 liter of algal oil per hectare and year. The output can be used to produce benzine, diesel, kerosine, and plastics.

Is the global clean energy industry set for a major crash? Devon Swezey in Forbes thinks it is – for a simple reason: clean energy, he writes, is still much more expensive and much less reliable than fossil, and subsidies to make clean energy artificially cheaper will have to be cut down dramatically by the governments because of budget problems.

The Economist introduces zoobotics, a new field creating animal-like robots that climb, crawl, swim and even fly like their natural counterparts. The field is getting more and more sophisticated,  thanks to recent advantages in electronics, miniaturization, new materials and zoology. It is hoped that these artificial animals will be able to perform tasks in dangerous environments.

In Wired, Maryn McKenna gives a stunning account of Germany’s EHEC epidemic that now has been traced back to originate from a single shipment of fenugreek seeds that left the Egyptian port of Damietta on November 24, 2009. As this shipment was 15,000 kg and has been broken up to distributers across Europe, which in turn also split it into multiple lots, McKenna forecasts that the the epidemic will be far from over – even if it turns out that the Egyptian source of the outbreak had a one-time, and not an ongoing contamination problem.

Andy Coghlan in New Scientist this week features a breakthrough achieved at Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital where surgeons successfully transplanted the world’s first synthetic windpipe into a cancer patient whose own windpipe had to be removed. The transplant is made from novel polymeric nanocomposite material developed at the University College London which has millions of tiny holes so that living cells can grow in it. The windpipe was coated prior to the operation with mesenchymal stem cells derived from the patient’s bone marrow. The operation may mark the beginning of a new era of “off-the-shelf” organs for transplantation, Coghlan writes.

And finally, Der Spiegel reports on recent findings that the taste of fatty food triggers the production of endocannabinoids in the gut. As a result, it triggers ravenous appetite for this food. The reason: fat is a rare, but necessary food source in nature, so consuming fat has been decisive for survival. Scientist now hope to discover a way of blocking the specific endocannabinoid receptors in the gut as a means to block adephagia.

1 2 3 6