Monthly Archives: June 2020
Honeywell, a company best known for making control systems for homes, businesses and planes, claims to have built the most powerful quantum computer ever. Other researchers are sceptical about its power, but for the company, it is a step towards integrating quantum computing into its everyday operations. Honeywell measured its computer’s capabilities using a metric invented by IBM called quantum volume. It takes into account the number of quantum bits – or qubits – the computer has, their error rate, how long the system can spend calculating before the qubits stop working and a few other key properties.
“Measuring quantum volume involves running about 220 different algorithms on the computer”, says Tony Uttley, the president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions. Honeywell’s quantum computer has a volume of 64, twice as high as the next highest quantum volume to be recorded, which was measured in an IBM quantum computer.
Like other quantum computers, this one may eventually be useful for calculations that deal with huge amounts of data. “There are three classes of problems that we are focused on right now: optimization, machine learning, and chemistry and material science,” says Uttley. “We can do those problems shrunk down to a size that fits our quantum computer today and then, as we increase the quantum volume, we’ll be able to do those problems on bigger scales.” However, this quantum computer isn’t yet able to perform calculations that would give a classical computer trouble, a feat called quantum supremacy, which was first claimed by Google in October. “While it’s cool that the company that made my thermostat is now building quantum computers, claiming it’s the most powerful one isn’t really substantiated,” says Ciarán Gilligan-Lee at University College London.
“Google’s Sycamore quantum computer used 53 qubits to achieve quantum supremacy, while Honeywell’s machine only has six qubits so far. “We know that anything less than around 50 or 60 qubits can be simulated on a classical computer relatively easily,” says Gilligan-Lee. “A six-qubit quantum computer can probably be simulated by your laptop, and a supercomputer could definitely do it.” Having the highest quantum volume may mean that Honeywell’s qubits are remarkably accurate and can calculate for a long time, but it doesn’t necessarily make it the most powerful quantum computer out there, he says.
Scott Aaronson at the University of Texas at Austin agrees. “Quantum volume is not the worst measure, but what I personally care about, much more than that or any other invented measure, is what you can actually do with the device that’s hard for a classical computer to simulate,” he says. “By the latter measure, the Honeywell device is not even close to the best out there.”
Chinese researchers have developed biodegradable tumor-targeting nanoparticles, which provides a promising therapy for tumor treatment, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
A joint research team with scientists from the CAS developed the tumor-targeting nanoparticles as a combination of tumor-infarction therapy and chemotherapy, said the CAS.
It has long been a challenge for researchers to find a safe and effective therapy for vascular thrombosis. Drugs that induce thrombosis in the tumor vasculature have not resulted in long-term tumor eradication.
The CAS research team developed the nanoparticle, a type of DNA nanorobot that can precisely send the thrombin to the tumor-vessel walls and the tumor stroma, leaving the tumor to “starve to death.”
Study results showed that the co-administration of a cytotoxic payload and a protease to elicit vascular infarction in tumors with biodegradable tumor-targeting nanoparticles represented a promising strategy for improving the therapeutic index of coagulation-based tumor therapy.
The study has been published online by the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
China National Biotec Group (CNBG) has won approval to run a large-scale “Phase 3” clinical trial of its novel coronavirus vaccine candidate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the company said on Tuesday. China is seeking to trial potential vaccines overseas because of a lack of new patients at home.
Over a dozen experimental vaccines are being trialled around the world. None of them has yet successfully completed a late-stage “Phase 3” test to determine efficacy in shielding healthy people from the virus, which has killed over 470,000 people around the world. Such trials involve thousands of participants and normally take place in countries where the virus is widespread, so that the vaccine can be observed in a real-life environment.
However, China, the origin of the global pandemic, reported fewer than 10 new local cases a day on average last month, and its researchers are now looking abroad. CNBG announced the move in a Weibo social media post, without naming the vaccine to be tested in the UAE. Units of CNBG, an affiliate of the state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), have developed two potential vaccines, which have together been given to over 2,000 people in previous tests in China.
Other Chinese companies seeking to trial vaccines overseas include Clover Biopharmaceuticals, whose shots have been given to participants in Australia in an early study, and Sinovac Biotech (SVA.O), which is expected to begin a Phase 3 trial in Brazil with 9,000 volunteers.
Researchers reported a startling discovery: In 11 national parks and protected areas in the western US, 1,000 metric tons of microfibers and microplastic particles fall from the sky each year, equivalent to over 120 million plastic water bottles—and that’s in just 6 percent of the country’s land area. Last month, another group described how the ocean is burping up microplastics, which then blow onshore via sea breezes. And last year, still more scientists reported that 7 trillion microplastic particles flow into the San Francisco Bay annually.
Scientists have known about microplastic pollution (technically, bits less than 5 millimeters long) for decades, but the almost unbelievable pervasiveness of the stuff in the environment has really become clear in just the last few years. Its ubiquity has coincided with the rise of fast fashion—cheap synthetic clothes that during each wash shed perhaps 100,000 microfibers, which then flow out to rivers and oceans through wastewater. (Consider that 70 years ago, the textile and clothing industries used 2 million tons of synthetic materials; that figure had skyrocketed to almost 50 million tons by 2010.) Everywhere scientists look, these microfibers turn up; they’re blowing into the Arctic and to the tops of (formerly) pristine mountaintops. In that study of US protected areas, 70 percent of the synthetic particles researchers trapped in their samples were microfibers.
There’s simply no putting the plastic back in the bottle; once it’s out in the environment, it just breaks into smaller and smaller bits, infiltrating ever more nooks and crannies. But a growing number of environmentalists and scientists want to hold those responsible for microfiber pollution—largely the fashion industry and makers of washing machines—to account, and to stem the flow of tiny plastics into Earth’s systems.
“Nearly 13,000 tons of microfibers may be entering the marine environment just from Europe’s countries alone,” says Nicholas Mallos, senior director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program. “Scaled globally, other estimates say maybe 250,000 tons of plastics via microfibers are entering our waterways and oceans. So those are not insignificant numbers, even though we’re talking about a very, very small vector of pollution.”
When therapeutics battle HIV, they tend to miss pockets of resistance where HIV can hunker down until it stages a comeback. HIV, then, cannot be defeated until its remnants are roused to action, and its hiding places exposed and eliminated. This two-step strategy is called “shock and kill.” It sounds promising, but shock and kill hasn’t quite worked yet. It still needs the right shock.
Encouragingly, a better shock has been proposed by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. These scientists, led by Sumit Chanda, PhD, director and professor and Nicholas Cosford, PhD, deputy director of the NCI-designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys and co-senior author of the study, have identified a drug that reawakens the virus without activating the immune system. That is, the drug makes it possible to save the immune system without having to destroy it.
“What scientists have found with other ‘shock’ approaches is that they can be too hot and overactivate the immune system, or too cold and don’t wake up the virus,” said Chanda. “Our research identifies a drug that works in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone.”
The drug is a Smac mimetic called Ciapavir (SBI-0953294). Smac mimetics are a class of small-molecule peptidomimetics derived from a conserved binding motif of Smac (second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases), an endogenous protein inhibitor of apoptosis. Originally developed as cancer drugs, Smac mimetics are being evaluated for other purposes, such as fighting HIV.
Repurposed Smac mimetics have had modest success in reversing HIV latency. In hopes of building on this success, Chanda, Cosford, and colleagues decided to experiment with a Smac mimetic optimized to reverse HIV latency. The results of this work appeared June 23 in Cell Reports Medicine, in an article titled, “Pharmacological Activation of Non-canonical NF-κB Signaling Activates Latent HIV-1 Reservoirs In Vivo.” According to this article, Ciapavir is more efficacious as a latency-reversing agent than other drugs of its class.
“Ciapavir induced activation of HIV-1 reservoirs in vivo in a bone marrow, liver, thymus (BLT) humanized mouse model without mediating systemic T cell activation,” the article’s authors wrote. “This study provides proof of concept for the in vivo efficacy and safety of Ciapavir and indicates that Smac mimetics can constitute a critical component of a safe and efficacious treatment strategy to eliminate the latent HIV-1 reservoir.”
A drug that could stop cancer cells repairing themselves has shown early signs of working. More than half of the 40 patients given berzosertib had the growth of their tumours halted. Berzosertib was even more effective when given alongside chemotherapy, the trial run by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Trust in UK suggested. The trial was designed to test the safety of the drug. The drug is the first to be trialled of a new family of treatments, which block a protein involved in DNA repair. Blocking this protein prevents cancers from mending damage to their cells. It’s part of a branch of treatment known as “precision medicine“, which targets specific genes or genetic changes.
The study involved patients with very advanced tumours, for whom no other treatment had worked. This was what is known as a “phase one” trial, which is only designed to test the safety of a treatment. But the ICR said the researchers did find some early indications that berzosertib could stop tumours growing. One of the study’s authors, Prof Chris Lord, a professor of cancer genomics at the ICR, said these early signs were “very promising”, adding that it was unusual in phase one trials to see a clinical response. Further trials will be needed to demonstrate the drug’s effectiveness, though.
“This study involved only small numbers of patients…Therefore, it is too early to consider berzosertib a game changer in cancer treatment,” said Dr Darius Widera at the University of Reading. “Nevertheless, the unusually strong effects of berzosertib, especially in combination with conventional chemotherapy, give reasons to be optimistic regarding the outcomes of follow-up studies.”
One patient in the trial, with advanced bowel cancer, had his tumours completely disappear after treatment with berzosertib, and has remained cancer-free for two years. Another, whose ovarian cancer returned following a different course of treatment, saw her tumours shrink after combination treatment with the drug and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy works by damaging cancer cells’ DNA, so using it in conjunction with this new treatment, which stops the cells from repairing themselves, appears to give an even greater benefit. And berzosertib is able to target tumour cells without affecting other healthy cells, Prof Lord said.
“Our new clinical trial is the first to test the safety of a brand-new family of targeted cancer drugs in people, and it’s encouraging to see some clinical responses even in at this early stage,” said Professor Johann de Bono, head of drug development at the ICR and the Royal Marsden.
People often say that eyes are windows to the soul. Now it appears they may also be windows to human aging. All people age, but individuals do so at different rates, some faster and others slower. While this observation is common knowledge, there is no universally accepted measure of biological aging. Numerous aging-related metrics have been proposed and tested, but no marker to date has been identified or noninvasive method developed that can accurately measure and track biological aging in individuals. In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have discovered that a specialized eye scanner that accurately measures spectroscopic signals from proteins in lens of the eye can detect and track biological aging in living humans.
According to the researchers, chronological age does not adequately measure individual variation in the rate of biological aging.
“The absence of clinical tools and metrics to quantitatively evaluate how each person is aging at the molecular level represents a major impediment to understanding aging and maximizing health throughout life,” explains corresponding author Lee E. Goldstein, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at BUSM.
“The lens contains proteins that accumulate aging-related changes throughout life. These lens proteins provide a permanent record of each person’s life history of aging. Our eye scanner can decode this record of how a person is aging at the molecular level.”
The researchers believe these results pave the way for a potentially transformative clinical tool for objective assessment and tracking of molecular aging in humans. “The framework for clinical implementation of this technology to measure molecular aging is similar to other recently adopted clinical biomarkers, including PET brain imaging for Alzheimer’s disease, bone densitometry for osteoporosis and serum blood tests for diabetes mellitus,” adds Dr. Goldstein, who also holds an appointment at Boston University College of Engineering.
While large test batteries incorporating composite metrics have been developed to track human aging, these are far removed from underlying molecular mechanisms of aging and are ill-suited for personalized longitudinal medical care. “By contrast, eye scanning technology that probes lens protein affords a rapid, noninvasive, objective technique for direct measurement of molecular aging that can be easily, quickly, and safely implemented at the point of care. Such a metric affords potential for precision medical care across the lifespan.”
The research team included investigators at Boston University College of Engineering and School of Public Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, Seattle.
The findings appear online in Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences.
New research on the two-dimensional (2D) material graphene has allowed researchers to create smart adaptive clothing which can lower the body temperature of the wearer in hot climates.
A team of scientists from The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute have created a prototype garment to demonstrate dynamic thermal radiation control within a piece of clothing by utilising the remarkable thermal properties and flexibility of graphene. The development also opens the door to new applications such as, interactive infrared displays and covert infrared communication on textiles.
The human body radiates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves in the infrared spectrum (known as blackbody radiation). In a hot climate it is desirable to make use the full extent of the infrared radiation to lower the body temperature which can be achieved by using infrared-transparent textiles. As for the opposite case, infrared-blocking covers are ideal to minimise the energy loss from the body. Emergency blankets are a common example used to deal with treating extreme cases of body temperature fluctuation.
The collaborative team of scientists demonstrated the dynamic transition between two opposite states by electrically tuning the infrared emissivity (the ability to radiate energy) of graphene layers integrated onto textiles.
The new research published today in journal Nano Letters, demonstrates that the smart optical textile technology can change its thermal visibility.
“Ability to control the thermal radiation is a key necessity for several critical applications such as temperature management of the body in excessive temperature climates. Thermal blankets are a common example used for this purpose. However, maintaining these functionalities as the surroundings heats up or cools down has been an outstanding challenge”, explained Professor Coskun Kocabas, who led the research.
“The successful demonstration of the modulation of optical properties on different forms of textile can leverage the ubiquitous use of fibrous architectures and enable new technologies operating in the infrared and other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum for applications including textile displays, communication, adaptive space suits, and fashion“, he added.
The steroid dexamethasone has been found to reduce the risk of death in seriously illpatients by about a third, according to clinical trial results hailed on Tuesday as a “major breakthrough.” The drug did not appear to help less severely ill patients.
Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the inexpensive, widely available drug to more than 2,000 severely ill COVID-19 patients. Among those who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, dexamethasone reduced deaths by 35%. It reduced deaths by about 20% among patients who were receiving oxygen only, according to preliminary results.
Dexamethasone is an anti-inflammatory drug normally used to treat a range of allergic reactions as well as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.