Tag: New York Times

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

Andreas Sentker in Die ZEIT takes up the issue of rising eco-terrorism in Germany directed against field trials of genetically modified plants. These plants are an easy target as trial sites have to be disclosed to the public in registers following legislation initiated by the former red-green coalition in Germany. While in the past years opponents of genetically modified plants only targeted the plants they dub as “Gen-Dreck”, violence is now also directed against security firms and guards watching the fields. Last week, a masked gang assaulted security guards, looted their mobile phones and destroyed different plants of research projects from the University of Rostock. The plants were carrying genes for the production of biopolymers and for a vaccine against viral diseases.

In Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Hanno Charisius introduces efforts to create artificial leaves mimicking photosynthesis to create hydrogen which can be used as fuel or energy source. Daniel Nocera from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is just using the principle: water molecules are split using electrical current produced by solar cells – an ages-old principle. Noceras new twist, however, is the use of a mix of cobalt and phosphate as a catalyst. The mix is accumulating at the electrodes, but after a while it is crumbling and thereby regenerating. The reaction is not the most effective one, but prototypes are already running for months without efficiency drop. First machines will now be installed in India for tests in realistic  conditions; the goal is to meet the daily power demand of an Indian family by using just 4 liters of water and sunlight. Nocera is now trying to combine his catalyst with solar cells to a single device.

Katrin Blawat, also in SZ, in a somewhat pessimistic article deals with the many failures to develop a drug to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Given that there are neither cures nor effective therapies to prevent or delay the onset of AD, she cautions against tests for early diagnosis.

Another negative outlook is given by Werner Bartens in the same paper. Bartens deals with personalized medicine, calling the concept a “set phrase” invented to disguise that personalized medicine is a mere “PR strategy by the pharma industry and stakeholders from academia” invented to lay a smoke screen on the failure to develop new blockbuster drugs. For Bartens, the “niche buster concept” is “science fiction” allowing the pharma industry to obtain approval without any proof of patient benefit. As an example, Bartens interestingly mentions the introduction of personalized cancer drugs of which only a fraction of the patients is benefitting.

In contrast, Ronald D. Gerste in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) writes about how cancer patients have profited from targeted therapies, e.g. in terms of decreasing cancer mortality and improved survival. Gerste features a trial by the MD Anderson Center in Houston/Texas in which 460 cancer patients underwent detailed molecular genetic analysis. Subsequently, they were treated by a matching therapy addressing the most promising molecular mechanism. Without applying any experimental drugs, this procedure increased survival from 9 to 13.4 months on average.

Also in NZZ, Stefan Betschon makes the case for better science communication, introducing an article by Dirk Helbing and Stefano Bialetti on “how to create an innovation accelerator“. They propose to improve the academic publication system by publishing articles ahead of peer review finalization and call for review by crowd sourcing. Rejected publications should also be made public, alongside with comments.

The Economist this week casts doubt on whether the goal to eradicate polio by the end of 2012 can be met. The disease is still endemic in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria), however re-emerged in African and Asian countries in recent years. Reasons are political (war, refugees, etc.), socioeconomic (poor sanitation) and medical (vaccines needs cold chain, virus can hide in asymptomatic carriers) factors.

Another article in The Economist deals with epigenetics findings by a German research group from the University of Konstanz. The team found that stress during pregnancy (abuse, violence, famine, death of a relative etc.) can lead to a change in the DNA methylation patterns of the unborn child, e.g. of the gene coding for glucocorticoid receptors which relay signals from stress hormones in the blood to cells of the brain regions controlling behavior. The findings may explain why children of stressed mothers show higher-than-normal rates of psychological and behavioral disorders and may lead to insights about how and when interventions are possible and promising.

Andrew Pollack in the New York Times features discussions on changing the rules for research in human subjects. The US government claims that changes are needed in the light of genomics studies using patients’ DNA samples, the use of the Internet and a growing reliance on studies that take place at many sites at once. Among the proposed changes are adding informed consent rules to donors of blood, DNA or tissue samples and allowing a single institutional review board for multiple-site clinical studies.

And finally, for all of us struggling daily with the touchscreen keyboards of our iPads and iPhones, IBM comes with a solution: a keyboard that morphs to fit an individual’s finger anatomy and typing style. Paul Marks in Wired dug out an IBM patent describing keyboards in which buttons are automatically resized, reshaped and repositioned according to the users typing style.


Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Sascha Karberg in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) features the latests attempts of biologists to understand and replicate the endosymbiosis of cyanobacteria and cells of eucaryotes that led to the chloroplasts found in all green plants. Already in the 1970s, biologists successfully incorporated cyanobacteria into an amoeba and meanwhile, several animals carrying endosymbionts providing them with extra energy from the sun have been discovered. This is now replicated in the lab. Using genetically engineered cyanobacteria, scientist recently created zebrafish larvae as well as mice and hamster cells with endosymbionts that not only survive but replicate. Karberg also explains why this will not lead to green cows living on sunlight.

Silvia von der Weiden in Die Welt introduces novel findings about the role of water molecules in protecting and maintaining the DNA geometry. Reducing or expanding the size of the water sheath covering the DNA changes the conformation of the molecule as if activating a switch. The findings may be used to create novel DNA-based nanotools or develop DNA-binding drugs to influence gene activation.

In Forbes, Mattew Herper features a graph proving Moore’s law wrong – at least in the decline of cost of DNA sequencing: the cost of getting DNA data (i.e. cost per genome as well as per megabyte of DNA sequence) is dropping way faster than the cost of processing data on computers. In a separate article, Herper endorses Wall Street’s forecast, that Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 vaccine against pneumococcus infections will be the company’s biggest seller in five years.

The Economist features an Italian engineering firm developing a system to collect oil spills in the sea that is based on wool. Already the company has been granted a patent of its containerized, ship-based kit. After absorbing the oil, the wool is pressed to recover the oil and the reused.

Andrew Pollack in the New York Times reports about setbacks in the development of treatments based on stem cells. Experiments recently  showed that induced pluripotent stem cells – which are thought to be superior both ethically and technically to embryonic stem cells – are rejected by the immune system. However, it is not yet clear whether the results obtained in mice hold true for humans, too.


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!

1 2 3