Tag: Lancet

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Clemens Gleich in Die Welt reports on the development of super batteries able to power a smart phone or notebook for days without re-charging. While some researchers try to improve conventional lithium-ion batteries by modifying the carbon-based anode with silicon, others design lithium-oxygen or fluorine-oxygen batteries. Main challenges are safety, prevention of swelling and maintaining a high capacity.

Britta Verlinden in Die Zeit reports on the discovery that dimethyl fumarate, a standard drug used for the treatment of psoriasis since 1994, may also be used as a pill to treat multiple sclerosis. Preliminary results of a Phase III trial demonstrate its ability to significantly reduce the number of attacks. The drug candidate codenamed BG-12 is being developed by Biogen Idec. The paper raises the concern that BG-12 may be sold as MS medication at €15,000 a year – while based on the price of the same compound for psoriasis, costs would amount to €4,400 per year, which already “is clearly more costly than what might be expected based on the cheap basic material”.

The Economist this week features the discovery of Oxford University scientists that a small marine organism produces a water-resistant, flexible material which has the adhesive characteristics of barnacle glue and the structural properties of spider-silk fibres. Already, spider silk is being used for novel materials. A salt water tolerant silk might open up medical uses for silk where it would come in contact with salty body liquids. The paper also looks into the prospects of stem cell therapies. While Geron’s pulling out of the stem cell business is viewed as bad news for the field, the paper highlights good news coming from a Lancet paper describing how stem cells can be used to repair hearts. The injection of autologous heart stem cells into damaged heart muscles of patients which underwent coronary bypass surgery led to “remarkable” results, improving pumping volume and other parameters.

Linda Geddes in The New Scientist raises hopes that partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy some day may be used to screen the general population for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease or autoimmune diseases. PWS microscopy can detect changes in the chromatin density of cells, and researchers already have shown that cancer patients even in apparently healthy cells have unusual chromatin densities not seen in cancer-free people.

Finally, Alex Knapp in Forbes proclaims the end is in sight: we may be approaching the day where coffee is both rare and expensive. For one, the demand is growing all over the world at an enormous rate, and second, at the same time yields are diminishing because of pests, climate changes and political instabilities. So enjoy your coffee while it lasts!

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.