Monthly Archives: November 2020

Human Brain Cells Gene-edited To reduce The Risk Of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Cells in the human brain could one day be edited by scientists to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests. The causes of Alzheimer’s are still not well understood, but a leading theory is that it is triggered by the build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid outside the brain cells. Researchers from Laval University in Canada have been investigating how a key gene in human nerve cells could reduce the formation of this protein. Many variants of this gene increases beta-amyloid production, but one variant, called A673T, instead reduces it.

A673T was first discovered in 2012, and is only active in one in 150 people in Scandinavia, but those that have it are four times less likely to get Alzheimer’s. The researchers believe that switching on this gene variant in brain cells could reduce the production of beta-amyloid and thereby reduce Alzheimer’s risk. As the A673T variant doesn’t become relevant until later in life, it isn’t selected for by evolution, according to the study authors. It differs from other variants of the gene by a single DNA letter. Researchers showed that, by editing this one DNA letter, they were able to activate the A673T variant in brain cells growing in a culture dish. Jacques Tremblay and colleagues say this is the first step to proving that engineering the variant into brains could have the same benefits as inheriting it.

The team are still refining the technique before they try it on animals. The researchers initially used a CRISPR technique called base editing, which allows the direct, irreversible conversion of a DNA base into another, targeted base. However, they have now switched to a relatively new method called prime editing – a ‘search and replace‘ technique for editing genomes that directly writes new genetic information into a targeted DNA site using a fusion protein.  Working with cells in a dish they managed to edit about 40 per cent of the cells, but they think a higher proportion might be needed for it to work in a human brain.

The researchers  worked with a process known as base editing, a relatively new method that allows the direct, irreversible conversion of a DNA base into another, targeted base
Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/

How To Lure Stem Cells To A Specific Location Without Causing Inflammation

Transplanted stem cells instigate healing only after they reach a repair site, or “pathologic niche.” To help transplanted stem cells find their way, scientists have considered exploiting a natural inflammo-attraction system. It guides stem cells to inflammatory signals emitted by damaged tissue. The system, however, has usually been deemed too hot, that is, too apt to worsen inflammation and harm the body.

If only it were possible to shed the “inflammo” part of inflammo-attraction. Then, therapeutic stem cells could be deployed like smart bombs—except that they’d provide more balm than blam.

Neural stem cells maturing into astrocytes (yellow). [Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute]

The possibility has been investigated by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP). In a recent study, they reported that they modified an inflammatory “homing” molecule to create a drug that enhances stem cell binding and minimizes inflammatory signaling. They assert that this drug, which is called SDV1a, can be injected anywhere to lure stem cells to a specific location without causing inflammation.

Details appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Source: https://www.genengnews.com/

World’s Smallest Atom-Memory Unit Created

Faster, smaller, smarter and more energy-efficient chips for everything from consumer electronics to big data to brain-inspired computing could soon be on the way after engineers at The University of Texas at Austin created the smallest memory device yet. And in the process, they figured out the physics dynamic that unlocks dense memory storage capabilities for these tiny devices.

The research published recently in Nature Nanotechnology builds on a discovery from two years ago, when the researchers created what was then the thinnest memory storage device. In this new work, the researchers reduced the size even further, shrinking the cross section area down to just a single square nanometer. Getting a handle on the physics that pack dense memory storage capability into these devices enabled the ability to make them much smaller. Defects, or holes in the material, provide the key to unlocking the high-density memory storage capability.

When a single additional metal atom goes into that nanoscale hole and fills it, it confers some of its conductivity into the material, and this leads to a change or memory effect,” said Deji Akinwande, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Though they used molybdenum disulfide – also known as MoS2 – as the primary nanomaterial in their study, the researchers think the discovery could apply to hundreds of related atomically thin materials.

The race to make smaller chips and components is all about power and convenience. With smaller processors, you can make more compact computers and phones. But shrinking down chips also decreases their energy demands and increases capacity, which means faster, smarter devices that take less power to operate.

The results obtained in this work pave the way for developing future generation applications that are of interest to the Department of Defense, such as ultra-dense storage, neuromorphic computing systems, radio-frequency communication systems and more,” said Pani Varanasi, program manager for the U.S. Army Research Office, which funded the research.

The original device – dubbed “atomristor” by the research team – was at the time the thinnest memory storage device ever recorded, with a single atomic layer of thickness. But shrinking a memory device is not just about making it thinner but also building it with a smaller cross-sectional area. “The scientific holy grail for scaling is going down to a level where a single atom controls the memory function, and this is what we accomplished in the new study,” Akinwande said.

Source: https://news.utexas.edu/

Russia’s Sputnik V Coronavirus Vaccine 92% Effective

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 92% effective, its developers said as the global race heats up over mass vaccination to slow the spread of the pandemic that has killed nearly 1.3 million people and battered economies worldwide.

Interim results showed that 20 of the 16,000 volunteers who received both Sputnik V doses have contracted Covid-19, the Russian Health Ministry, state-run Gamaleya research center and Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a statement.

As a result of a statistical analysis of 20 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the case split between vaccinated individuals and those who received the placebo indicates that the Sputnik V vaccine had an efficacy rate of 92% after the second dose,” the statement said.

More than 20,000 volunteers have received the first dose of Sputnik V as of Wednesday, according to Gamaleya, the Health Ministry and RDIF.

The developers said that “some” of the volunteers experienced short-term “pain at the injection site [and] flu-like syndrome including fever, weakness, fatigue and headache.” They noted that these adverse effects were expected. Sputnik V’s final, or Phase 3, trials involve a total of 40,000 volunteers at around two dozen Moscow clinics.

Separate Sputnik V injections being administered to medics and other at-risk groups outside Moscow demonstrated the vaccine’s efficacy rate of over 90%, the developers said. Officials in the Altai region of Siberia reported earlier that three out of the 42 medics who received the adenovirus vector-based vaccine there ended up contracting Covid-19.

Source: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/

New Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Coronavirus Vaccine To Cost Just £2 Per Dose

Britain could have 19million doses of Oxford and AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year after clinical trials showed it is up to 90 per cent effective at preventing infection and can be stored cheaply in a fridge. President of AstraZeneca, Tom Keith-Roach said today that, on top of the four million doses on standby for the UK, a further 15million could be ready to roll out by the end of next month. They will be given to healthcare workers and the elderly first, subject to approval by regulators.

The vaccine is expected to cost just £2 per dose and can be stored in ordinary equipment, unlike other jabs made by Pfizer and Moderna that showed similarly promising results last week but need to be kept in ultra-cold temperatures using expensive equipment.  It’s also a fraction of the price, with Pfizer‘s costing around £15 per dose and Moderna‘s priced at about £26 a shot.

Oxford‘s trials found the jab has a nine in ten chance of working when administered as a half dose first and then a full dose a month later. Efficacy drops to 62 per cent when someone is given two full doses a month apart.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/

CRISPR Treatment Destroys Cancer Cells

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have demonstrated that the CRISPR/Cas9 system is very effective in treating metastatic cancers, a significant step on the way to finding a cure for cancer. The researchers developed a novel lipid nanoparticle-based delivery system that specifically targets cancer cells and destroys them by genetic manipulation. The system, called CRISPR-LNPs, carries a genetic messenger (messenger RNA), which encodes for the CRISPR enzyme Cas9 that acts as molecular scissors that cut the cells’ DNA.

The revolutionary work was conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Dan Peer at TAU. Dr. Daniel Rosenblum led the research together with Ph.D. student Anna Gutkin and colleagues.

To examine the feasibility of using the technology to treat cancer, Prof. Peer and his team chose two of the deadliest cancers: glioblastoma and metastatic ovarian cancer. Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of brain cancer, with a life expectancy of 15 months after diagnosis and a five-year survival rate of only 3%. The researchers demonstrated that a single treatment with CRISPR-LNPs doubled the average life expectancy of mice with glioblastoma tumors, improving their overall survival rate by about 30%. Ovarian cancer is a major cause of death among women and the most lethal cancer of the female reproductive system. Most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease when metastases have already spread throughout the body. Despite progress in recent years, only a third of the patients survive this disease. Treatment with CRISPR-LNPs in a metastatic ovarian cancer mice model increased their overall survival rate by 80%.

The CRISPR genome editing technology, capable of identifying and altering any genetic segment, has revolutionized our ability to disrupt, repair or even replace genes in a personalized manner,” said Prof. Peer. “Despite its extensive use in research, clinical implementation is still in its infancy because an effective delivery system is needed to safely and accurately deliver the CRISPR to its target cells. The delivery system we developed targets the DNA responsible for the cancer cells’ survival. This is an innovative treatment for aggressive cancers that have no effective treatments today.

This is the first study in the world to prove that the CRISPR genome editing system can be used to treat cancer effectively in a living animal,” explained Prof. Peer. “It must be emphasized that this is not chemotherapy. There are no side effects, and a cancer cell treated in this way will never become active again. The molecular scissors of Cas9 cut the cancer cell’s DNA, thereby neutralizing it and permanently preventing replication.”

The results of the groundbreaking study were published in November 2020 in Science Advances.

Source: https://english.tau.ac.il/
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 https://www.eurekalert.org/

AI Detects In Your Language Early Sign Of Alzheimer’s Disease

An artificial intelligence program analyzing language predicted whether people with no memory or thinking problems would develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life, researchers said. The study by IBM, funded by drug giant Pfizer, found a computerized model analyzing language patterns accurately predicted up to 74% of participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in lifeEarly detection of Alzheimer’s disease is crucial, as the memory-robbing disease  afflicts about 5.8 million Americans.

Many researchers are working to develop blood tests to detect Alzheimer’s before memory and thinking problems occur. Blood tests can potentially be more precise than memory and cognitive tests now used to diagnose the disease. The tests also could be a less expensive way to conduct clinical studies.

IBM officials say their study of language patterns show another possible tool for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Ajay Royyuru, IBM’s vice president of health care and life sciences research, said IBM‘s research efforts to track language shows the potential for a noninvasive test that “presents a better window for targeted interventions.”

The research analyzed more than 700 written samples from 270 participants in the decades-old Framingham Heart Study, which has collected detailed medical histories, physical exams and lab tests from thousands of participants. Participants were shown a cookie-theft picture and asked to write a description of the image. The samples were collected when participants showed no signs of memory loss. The datas predicted Alzheimer’s disease an average of 7.6 years before participants were diagnosed.

The findings are reported in the journal EClinicalMedicine.

Source: https://www.ibm.com/
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https://eu.usatoday.com/

 

Artificial Intelligence Detects 100% Of Asymptomatic COVID-19 Coughs

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed an artificial intelligence model that could distinguish between a healthy cough and one that comes from an asymptomatic coronavirus patient. The differences are nonexistent to the naked human ear, but the AI was able to accurately identify nearly 99% of coughs from people with COVID-19, including all of the coughs from individuals without symptoms. The model was trained by listening to more than 200,000 recordings of coughs and spoken words, the “largest cough dataset that we know of.”  The team said it’s working on incorporating the model into apps, and eventually smart speakers and other listening devices, so that people can consistently and conveniently be screened for coronavirus infection. This, researchers say, can help prevent asymptomatic individuals from unknowingly spreading the virus to others. What’s more, the method would be free and save you from having a cotton swab poked up your nose.

The effective implementation of this group diagnostic tool could diminish the spread of the pandemic if everyone uses it before going to a classroom, a factory, or a restaurant,” study co-author Brian Subirana, a research scientist in MIT’s Auto-ID Laboratory, said in the release. “We think this shows that the way you produce sound changes when you have COVID, even if you’re asymptomatic,” Subirana added.
When the pandemic began, the MIT scientists thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if an AI model they invented to detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease could also work to detect COVID-19. The team felt confident the model could work because there’s growing evidence that coronavirus patients experience similar symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s such as neuromuscular impairment that affects the vocal cords.

The sounds of talking and coughing are both influenced by the vocal cords and surrounding organs. This means that when you talk, part of your talking is like coughing, and vice versa,” Subirana said in the release. “It also means that things we easily derive from fluent speech, AI can pick up simply from coughs, including things like the person’s gender, mother tongue, or even emotional state. There’s in fact sentiment embedded in how you cough.”

In April, the team collected 70,000 recordings of people forcibly coughing into their cell phones or laptops, which amounted to about 200,000 cough audio samples. About 2,500 of those were submitted by people with COVID-19. Participants also had to answer surveys about symptoms they were experiencing, their COVID-19 diagnosis, gender, geographical location and native language. After using a couple thousand recordings to “train” the AI, 1,000 audio samples were used to officially test if the model can discern between a healthy and sick cough, even if the person is asymptomatic.

By listening for “vocal cord strength, sentiment, lung and respiratory performance, and muscular degradation” specific to COVID-19, the AI model identified 98.5% of coughs from coronavirus patients, and 100% of asymptomatic coughs.

Pfizer Says Its COVID-19 Vaccine Is 95% Effective

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that a final data analysis found their coronavirus vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 and, in addition, appeared to fend off severe disease.

Vaccine, called BNT162b2, was highly effective against the virus 28 days after the first dose, and its effectiveness was consistent across all ages, races and ethnicities, the drugmakers said. Additionally, the elderly, who are seen as at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, saw vaccine effectiveness of more than 94%, they added.

The final analysis underlines the results of the positive interim efficacy analysis announced on November 9,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement. “The data indicates that our vaccine … is able to induce a high rate of protection against COVID-19 only 29 days after the first dose. In addition, the vaccine was observed to be well-tolerated in all age groups with mostly mild to moderate side effects, which may be due in part to the relatively low dose.”

The vaccine also appeared to prevent severe disease in volunteers. There were 10 cases of severe cases of COVID-19 observed in the phase three trial, with nine of the cases occurring in the placebo group, the companies said. There were also no “serious” safety concerns, they said, with most adverse events resolving shortly after vaccination. The company’s shares jumped 3% in premarket trading.

The final analysis evaluated 170 confirmed COVID-19 infections among the late-stage trial’s more than 43,000 participants. The companies said 162 cases of COVID-19 were observed in the placebo group versus eight cases observed in the group that received its two-dose vaccine. That resulted in an estimated vaccine efficacy of 95%, they said.

The news comes more than a week after the companies announced that their vaccine was more than 90% effective and two days after Moderna said preliminary phase three trial data showed its vaccine was 94.5%. Both vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. It’s a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response.

A safe and effective vaccine is seen by investors and policymakers as a solution to get the global economy back on track after the pandemic wreaked havoc on nearly every country across the globe and upended businesses. The virus continues to spread rapidly, with more than 55.6 million cases worldwide and at least 1.33 million deaths as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Pfizer and BioNTech‘s initial results on Nov. 9 were based on the first interim efficacy analysis conducted by an external and independent Data Monitoring Committee from the phase three clinical trial. The independent group of experts oversees U.S. clinical trials to ensure the safety of participants. Medical experts note it remains unclear how long the vaccines will provide immunity and whether or how often people may need periodic booster shots.

These vaccines are going to be approved and then rolled out with basically a few months’ worth of data. You’re not going to do a two-year study to see whether it’s effective for two years with more than 200,000 people dying this year” in the U.S., Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a recent interview.

Pfizer said it plans to submit an application for emergency use authorization to the Food and Drug Administrationwithin days.” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said at Tuesday’s New York Times Dealbook conference that the company had accumulated enough safety data needed to submit the vaccine for review.

The companies reiterated that they expect to produce up to 50 million doses this year and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. They also said they are “confident” in their ability to distribute the vaccine, which requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, Moderna‘s vaccine can be stored for up to six months at negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Source: https://www.nbcdfw.com/

Virgin Hyperloop pod transport tests first passenger journey

The futuristic transport concept involves pods inside vacuum tubes carrying passengers at high speeds.In the trial, two passengers – both company staff – travelled the length of a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 107mph (172km/h).However, this is a fraction of Virgin’s ambitions for travel speeds of more than 1,000km/h.

Virgin Hyperloop is not the only firm developing the concept but nobody has carried passengers before.

Sara Luchian and Josh Giegel inside their pod

Sara Luchian, director of customer experience, was one of the two on board and described the experience as “exhilarating both psychologically and physically” to the BBC shortly after the event.

She and chief technology officer Josh Giegel wore simple fleeces and jeans rather than flights suits for the event, which took place on Sunday afternoon outside of Las Vegas. Ms Luchian said the journey was smooth and “not at all like a rollercoaster” although the acceleration was “zippier” than it would be with a longer track. Neither of them felt sick, she added.She said that their speed was hampered by the length of the track and acceleration required.