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Biotech

SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug (businessinsider.com.au) 52

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into orbit...to live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station.

"We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel.

That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."
Medicine

Genetically Modified Salmonella Destroys Cancer By Provoking An Immune Response, Study Finds (sandiegouniontribune.com) 78

schwit1 quotes a report from San Diego Union-Tribune: A genetically modified bacterium destroys tumors by provoking an immune response, according to a study published Wednesday. Using mice and cultures of human cancer cells, a South Korean-led scientific team demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium engineered to make a foreign protein caused immune cells called macrophages and neutralizes to mobilize against the cancer. The bacterium came from an attenuated strain that has little infectious potential. Such strains have been tested as vaccines. The protein, called FlaB, is made by a gene in the estuarine bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Tumors shrank below detectable levels in 11 out of 20 mice injected with the modified Salmonella, said the study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The engineered Salmonella provoke a sustained immune response, in addition to preventing the spread of a human colon cancer implanted in a mouse. The bacterium also were found to be nontoxic, multiplying almost exclusively inside tumors.
Medicine

Studies Link Some Stomach Drugs To Alzheimer's Disease and Kidney Problems (scientificamerican.com) 102

While the recommended dosage for Nexium, Prevacid and Prilose is just two weeks, doctors often advise patients to continue taking them for years. But now Scientific American reports that "Chronic use of popular heartburn medicines may be riskier than was thought," citing two papers linking the drugs to an increase risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and a greater risk of kidney problems. schwit1 quotes their report: The papers did not prove that PPIs cause the problems. But some researchers have nonetheless suggested possible mechanisms by which long-term use of the drugs could trigger dementia or kidney problems. A reduction in vitamin B12, for example, might leave the brain more vulnerable to damage, says Britta Haenisch, an author of the JAMA Neurology study and a neuropharmacologist at the Bonn campus of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Last spring clinicians at the Houston Methodist Research Institute reported another plausible explanation for how PPIs might lead to these unexpected health issues: they picked up signs that the drugs act not only in the stomach but elsewhere in the body, too.
The article ends on an ambiguous note. "Without conclusive data, physicians and patients have to balance the need to prevent the ill effects of excess stomach acid and reflux with the desire to avoid potentially serious -- if theoretical -- side effects from long-term use of PPIs."
Printer

Scientists Create 3D Bioprinter Capable of Printing Living Human Skin (ibtimes.co.uk) 54

New submitter drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: Spanish scientists say they have developed a prototype 3D printer that is capable of printing "functional" human skin that can be used for transplant patients, as well as an ethical alternative to animal testing. The so-called bioprinter uses special "ink" consisting of human cells and other biological components to reproduce the natural structure of the skin, including the external epidermis and the deeper dermis layer. These "bio inks" are deposited from special injectors onto a print bed to produce skin that is bioactive and capable of producing its own human collagen, the researchers claim. This means that the 3D-printed skin is, in essence, living tissue, making it suitable for treating burn patients and for testing cosmetic, chemical and pharmaceutical products. According to UC3M, the technology could be used to print other human tissues, although first it needs to be approved by regulators in order to ensure the skin it produces is fit for use on human patients.
Desktops (Apple)

Malwarebytes Discovers 'First Mac Malware of 2017' (securityweek.com) 60

wiredmikey writes: Security researchers have a uncovered a Mac OS based espionage malware they have named "Quimitchin." The malware is what they consider to be "the first Mac malware of 2017," which appears to be a classic espionage tool. While it has some old code and appears to have existed undetected for some time, it works. It was discovered when an IT admin noticed unusual traffic coming from a particular Mac, and has been seen infecting Macs at biomedical facilities. From SecurityWeek.com: "Quimitchin comprises just two files: a .plist file that simply keeps the .client running at all times, and the .client file containing the payload. The latter is a 'minified and obfuscated' perl script that is more novel in design. It combines three components, Thomas Reed, director of Mac offerings at Malwarebytes and author of the blog post told SecurityWeek: 'a Mac binary, another perl script and a Java class tacked on at the end in the __DATA__ section of the main perl script. The script extracts these, writes them to /tmp/ and executes them.' Its primary purpose seems to be screen captures and webcam access, making it a classic espionage tool. Somewhat surprisingly the code uses antique system calls. 'These are some truly ancient functions, as far as the tech world is concerned, dating back to pre-OS X days,' he wrote in the blog post. 'In addition, the binary also includes the open source libjpeg code, which was last updated in 1998.' The script also contains Linux shell commands. Running the malware on a Linux machine, Malwarebytes 'found that -- with the exception of the Mach-O binary -- everything ran just fine.' It is possible that there is a specific Linux variant of the malware in existence -- but the researchers have not been able to find one. It did find two Windows executable files, courtesy of VirusTotal, that communicated with the same CC server. One of them even used the same libjpeg library, which hasn't been updated since 1998, as that used by Quimitchin."
Medicine

'Superbug' Resistant To 26 Antibiotics Kills A Patient In Nevada (upi.com) 296

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: A Nevada woman in her 70s who'd recently returned from India died in September from a "superbug" infection that resisted all antibiotics, according to a report released Friday... The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "basically reported that there was nothing in our medicine cabinet to treat this lady," report co-author Dr. Randall Todd told the Reno Gazette-Journal. He's director of epidemiology and public health preparedness for the Washoe County Health District, in Reno... CDC testing subsequently revealed the germ was New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase -- a highly resistant form of CRE typically found outside the United States.
The Military

US Military Seeks Biodegradable Bullets That Sprout Plants (newatlas.com) 285

The Department of Defense is looking at ways to clean up the hundreds of thousands of training rounds used by the U.S. army. It is putting out the call for the development of biodegradable ammunition loaded with seeds that sprout plans after being discharged. New Atlas reports: At military facilities across the U.S. and indeed around the world, a huge number of rounds are fired for training purposes, ranging from low-velocity 40 mm grenades, to mortars, to 155 mm artillery rounds. All of these feature components that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and falling onto the ground in such great numbers means that finding and cleaning them up is no small task. But left behind, they can corrode and pollute the soil and water supplies. So the Department of Defense has put out a call for proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research agency that solve the problem. The DoD describes the solution as a naturally occurring biodegradable material that can replace those used in current training rounds. It imagines that the biodegradable composites will be capable of holding bioengineered seeds inside (a technology it says has been demonstrated previously), that won't germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. Then plants will sprout from the discharged ammunition that actively remove soil contaminants and consume the other biodegradable components. Also imperative is that animals are able to safely consume the plants.
Biotech

Theranos Is Laying Off 155 People, About 41 Percent Of Its Workforce (cnbc.com) 52

The embattled blood-testing company Theranos is laying off 155 people, about 41 percent of its workforce, as it struggles to recover from the backlash generated when the company failed to provide accurate results to patients using its proprietary blood test technology. The job cuts announced today are similar to the cuts announced last year in October, when the company said it would shut down its blood-testing facilities and shrink its workforce by more than 40%. CNBC reports: The start-up will let go of its workers after months of regulatory setbacks as well as lawsuits and scrutiny. That would leave 220 workers to focus on its business plans, primarily its blood testing product called the miniLab. "These are always the most difficult decisions; however, this move allows Theranos to marshal its resources most efficiently and effectively," Theranos said in a statement.
Biotech

A Squishy Clockwork BioBot Releases Doses of Drugs Inside the Body (ieee.org) 15

the_newsbeagle writes: Making micro-machines that work inside the body is tricky, because hard silicon and metal devices can cause problems. So bioengineers are working on soft and squishy gadgets that can be implanted and do useful work. Here's a soft biobot that's modeled on a Swiss watch mechanism called a Geneva drive. With every tick forward, the tiny gizmo releases a dose of drugs. Getting the material properties just right was a challenge. "If your material is collapsing like jello, it's hard to make robots out of it," says inventor Samuel Sia.
Medicine

Baby's Skull Rebuilt With Help From A 3D Printer (newsday.com) 41

schwit1 writes: A team at Stony Brook Children's Hospital was able to use a 3-D printer to produce a replica of baby Vincent's skull, which, in turn, allowed the medical team to fully rehearse the surgery long before they stepped into the operating room. Through a collaboration with Medical Modeling in Colorado, known now as 3D Systems, Egnor and Duboys were able to virtually plan the entire surgery in advance. Duboys said images from a CT scan of baby Vincent's head were sent to the company, which then manufactured a model skull using the CT information as a template. The company also created a model of what Vincent's skull should look like after surgery.
Biotech

You're An Adult, But Your Brain Might Not Be, Researchers Say (cnn.com) 261

"The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons that make it up continue to change for years after that," reports the New York Times, citing a new paper by neuroscience researchers that questions when "adulthood" really begins. An anonymous reader writes: One of the paper's authors -- an associate psychology professor at Harvard -- tells CNN that "There is no agreed-on benchmark that, when reached, would allow a neuroscientist to say 'Aha! This brain is fully developed'. However, it is safe to say that by almost any metric, the brain is continuing to develop actively well past the age of 18..."

"Some children, researchers have found, have neural networks that look as if they belong to an adult..." adds the Times, noting that adolescents also "do about as well as adults on cognition tests, for instance. But if they're feeling strong emotions, those scores can plummet. The problem seems to be that teenagers have not yet developed a strong brain system that keeps emotions under control."

And this cuts both ways, according to a psychologist at Temple University who wants the voting age lowered to 16. ("Sixteen-year-olds are just as good at logical reasoning as older people are," he tells the Times) But he also believes judges should consider the lack of emotional control when sentencing defendants -- even if they're in their early 20s. "Most crime situations that young people are involved in are emotionally arousing situations -- they're scared, or they're angry, intoxicated or whatever."
Medicine

Flickering Lights May Illuminate A Path To Alzheimer's Treatment (latimes.com) 30

Slashdot reader rpavlicek writes, "Research done by MIT late this year has shown that light signals can improve the brain's neuron gamma frequency which can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease (by removing brain plaque). Beneficial effects were found in both intercranial and optical stimuli." The Los Angeles Times reports: New research demonstrates that, in mice whose brains are under attack by Alzheimer's dementia, exposure to lights that flicker at a precise frequency can right the brain's faulty signaling and energize its immune cells to fight off the disease... In mice, these effects were limited to the visual cortex. In humans with Alzheimer's, that's not one of the brain regions that gets gummed up early or significantly by amyloid plaques. But the authors of the new research held out hope that the light therapy might induce gamma oscillations, or their immune-boosting effect, more broadly in human brains, or that some change in delivery of the light might extend its effects to brain regions, such as the hippocampus, that are profoundly affected by Alzheimer's.
A startup has already approached the FDA seeking clinical trials, and the L.A. Times adds that "Even if the new research does not yield a treatment for Alzheimer's, it is expected to deepen understanding of a key player in the disease -- the brain's dedicated immune system -- and point to ways it can be used to fight the disease."
Biotech

Human Cells Naturally 'Eat' Silicon Nanowires (ieee.org) 42

the_newsbeagle writes: By showing that human cells naturally engulf minuscule silicon nanowires, a material scientist from the University of Chicago has opened the way to intracellular electronics. Applications could include very specialized drug delivery, electrically stimulating the organelles inside the cell, or recording the signals that pass between those internal structures. From IEEE Spectrum: "Using both an electron microscope and a specialized optical imaging tool designed by the team, the group recorded the eating of the nanowires in detail. It appears that the cell's outer membrane folds itself like a pocket, grabs the nanowire, and envelops it in a membrane-lined bubble. The process is called phagocytosis; it's the same method used by immune cells to grab a bit of bacteria and swallow it up. Once the nanowire is inside, the cell's machinery then shuttles it through its system with sudden bursts of speed -- up to 99.4 nanometers per second -- and deposits it just outside the cell's nucleus. Tian's group made a video of the process (complete with melodramatic accompaniment)."
Medicine

Human Zika Antibodies Prevent Infection in Mice (voanews.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes VOA News: Chinese researchers have identified broadly neutralizing human antibodies from a Zika patient that protected mice against infection with the mosquito-borne illness. The substances are part of a growing arsenal of antibody-related treatments to fight the disease, which causes severe birth defects in babies... Unlike other Zika-neutralizing antibodies that have been isolated from human patients, the newly-discovered antibodies only target the virus.
AI

IBM's Watson Used In Life-Saving Medical Diagnosis (businessinsider.co.id) 83

"Supercomputing has another use," writes Slashdot reader rmdingler, sharing a story that quotes David Kenny, the General Manager of IBM Watson: "There's a 60-year-old woman in Tokyo. She was at the University of Tokyo. She had been diagnosed with leukemia six years ago. She was living, but not healthy. So the University of Tokyo ran her genomic sequence through Watson and it was able to ascertain that they were off by one thing. Actually, she had two strains of leukemia. They did treat her and she is healthy."

"That's one example. Statistically, we're seeing that about one third of the time, Watson is proposing an additional diagnosis."

Medicine

Researchers Successfully Fight Colon Cancer Using Immunotherapy (nytimes.com) 40

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the New York Times: The remarkable recovery of a woman with advanced colon cancer, after treatment with cells from her own immune system, may lead to new options for thousands of other patients with colon or pancreatic cancer, researchers are reporting. (Shorter non-paywalled version of the article here). Her treatment was the first to successfully target a common cancer mutation that scientists have tried to attack for decades... so resistant to every attempt at treatment that scientists have described it as "undruggable"... The researchers analyze tumors for mutations -- genetic flaws that set the cancer cells apart from normal ones. They also study tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, looking for immune cells that can recognize mutations and therefore attack cancerous cells but leave healthy ones alone.
The patient, a 50-year-old database programmer in Michigan, is now cancer-free, according to the article. "Researchers twice denied her request to enter the clinical trial, saying her tumors were not large enough, she said. But she refused to give up and was finally let in."

The treatment ultimately eliminated six of her seven tumors, and because it targeted a cell mutation that's common in colon cancer patients, "Researchers say they now have a blueprint that may enable them to develop cell treatments for other patients as well."
Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 69

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
Medicine

Sugar-Free Products Might Actually Stop Us From Getting Slimmer (dw.com) 172

Nutritionists suspected that artificial sweeteners weren't really helping people lose weight, according to a new article submitted by schwit1. Now there's hints of proof in a new aspartame study by the Massachusetts General Hospital. "We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase," explains Professor Hodin. IAP is produced in the small intestine. "We previously showed [this enzyme] can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome [a disease characterized by a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, a metabolic disorder and insulin resistance]. So, we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP...."

The researchers confirmed their suspicions via a variety of tests on mice. In one case, they fed IAP directly to mice, who were also on a high-fat diet. It turned out that the IAP could effectively prevent the emergence of the metabolic syndrome. It also helped relieve symptoms in animals that were already suffering from the obesity-related illness.

Medicine

Researchers Successfully Achieve Suspended Animation With Mouse Embryos (engadget.com) 28

"It was completely surprising. We were standing around in the tissue culture room, scratching our heads, and saying 'Wow, what do we make of this?'" An anonymous reader quotes Engadget's report on new research with "huge implications": A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco only wanted to slow down mice embryos' cell growth in the lab. Instead, they managed to completely pause their development, putting the blastocysts (very early embryos) in suspended animation for a month. What's more, they found that the process can put stem cells derived from the blastocysts in suspended animation as well, [and] the researchers were able to prove that the embryos can develop normally even after a pause in their growth. Team member Ramalho-Santos from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research said... "To put it in perspective, mouse pregnancies only last about 20 days, so the 30-day-old 'paused' embryos we were seeing would have been pups approaching weaning already if they'd been allowed to develop normally."
The new research could lead to better treatments for damaged organs and even aging, according to the article. (Besides, of course, its science fiction-y implications for long-distance space travel...)
Biotech

Brain Cancer Patients Live Longer By Sending Electric Fields Through Their Heads (ieee.org) 74

IEEE Spectrum reports on a "radical new weapon" against brain tumors -- only available since 2015. They profile a typical patient who "wears electrodes on her head all day and night to send an electric field through her brain, trying to prevent any leftover tumor cells from multiplying [and] goes about her business with a shaved head plastered with electrodes, which are connected by wires to a bulky generator she carries in a shoulder bag." the_newsbeagle writes: The Optune system, which bathes the brain tumor in an AC electric field, is the first new treatment to come along that seems to extend some patients' lives. New data on survival rates from a major clinical trial showed that 43% of patients who used Optune were still alive at the 2-year mark, compared to 30% of patients on the standard treatment regimen. At the 4-year mark, the survival rates were 17% for Optune patients and 10% for the others.
Patients have to re-shave their heads every few days and re-apply all the electrodes, but that's never been a problem, according to one patient. "If you have a condition which has no cure, it's a great motivator."

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