Articles from May 2022



Are Contact Lenses the Ultimate Computer Screen?

Imagine you have to make a speech, but instead of looking down at your notes, the words scroll in front of your eyes, whichever direction you look in. That’s just one of many features the makers of smart contact lenses promise will be available in the future.

Imagine… you’re a musician with your lyrics, or your chords, in front of your eyes. Or you’re an athlete and you have your biometrics and your distance and other information that you need,” says Steve Sinclair, from Mojo, which is developing smart contact lenses.
His company is about to embark on comprehensive testing of smart contact lens on humans, that will give the wearer a heads-up display that appears to float in front of their eyes.

The product’s scleral lens (a larger lens that extends to the whites of the eye) corrects the user’s vision, but also incorporates a tiny microLED display, smart sensors and solid-state batteries. “We’ve built what we call a feature-complete prototype that actually works and can be worn – we’re soon going to be testing that [out] internally,” says Mr Sinclair. “Now comes the interesting part, where we start to make optimisations for performance and power, and wear it for longer periods of time to prove that we can wear it all day.”

Other smart lenses are being developed to collect health data. Lenses could “include the ability to self-monitor and track intra-ocular pressure, or glucose,” says Rebecca Rojas, instructor of optometric science at Columbia University. Glucose levels for example, need to be closely monitored by people with diabetes. “They can also provide extended-release drug-delivery options, which is beneficial in diagnosis and treatment plans. It’s exciting to see how far technology has come, and the potential it offers to improve patients’ lives.

Research is underway to build lenses that can diagnose and treat medical conditions from eye conditions, to diabetes, or even cancer by tracking certain biomarkers such as light levels, cancer-related molecules or the amount of glucose in tears. A team at the University of Surrey, for example, has created a smart contact lens that contains a photo-detector for receiving optical information, a temperature sensor for diagnosing potential corneal disease and a glucose sensor monitoring the glucose levels in tear fluid.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/

CO2-Capturing Aprons at Stockholm Restaurant

A Stockholm restaurant crew is wearing cotton aprons that capture greenhouse gas from the air, in a pilot of a technique developed by H&M-backed researchers as the fashion industry struggles to lower its climate impact.

The textile industry has a large carbon footprint, something fashion giants are under increasing pressure to address as shoppers become more aware of the environmental impact of clothes and as global temperatures rise. The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) has developed an amine-containing solution with which to treat cotton – fibre, yarn or fabric – making the cotton pull carbon dioxide gas towards it and capture it, to thereafter stabilise and store it on the surface of the textile.

HKRITA CEO Edwin Keh said in an interview his team had been inspired by techniques used in chimneys of coal-fired power plants to limit emissions.

Many power plants have to scrub as much carbon dioxide as they can out of the air before the exhaust is released,” Keh told Reuters. “We thought ‘why don’t we try to replicate that chemical process on a cotton fibre”.

A T-shirt is able to absorb about a third of what a tree absorbs per day, Keh said. “The (capturing) capacity isn’t super high but this is quite inexpensive to produce and quite easy, and we think there are a lot of potential applications.The aprons in the pilot were produced at a H&M supplier in Indonesia, using the factory’s existing equipment for the treatment, Keh said. “It is a fairly simple chemical process.

In the pilot the aprons are after use heated to 30-40 degrees Celsius at which temperature they release the CO2 – into a greenhouse where the gas is taken up by plants.

H&M Foundation said the innovation could potentially be a game changer in the reduction of global CO2 emissions. Projects to develop CO2 absorbing textiles are however at an early stage, and their potential contribution to lessening the environmental impact of the textile industry remains to seen.

Keh said the institute would now develop its technology further, and try to find other uses for it, as well as other ways to use or dispose of the captured CO2.

HKRITA, which is part-financed by the philanthropic arm of Swedish fashion retailer H&M (HMb.ST), has developed a number of innovations aimed at making fashion more sustainable. One that has reached industrial scale use is a technique to separate cotton and polyester fibres in blend-textile

Source: https://www.reuters.com/

Lasers and Ultrasound Combine to Pulverize Arterial Plaque

Lasers are one of the tools physicians can lean on to tackle plaque buildup on arterial walls, but current approaches carry a risk of complications and can be limited in their effectiveness. By bringing ultrasound into the mix, scientists at the University of Kansas have demonstrated a new take on this treatment that relies on exploding microbubbles to destroy plaque with greater safety and efficiency, while hinting at some unique long-term advantages.

Scientists have demonstrated a new technique to take out arterial plaque, using low-power lasers and ultrasound to break it apart with tiny bubbles

The novel ultrasound-assisted laser technique builds off what’s known as laser angioplasty, an existing treatment designed to improve blood flow in patients suffering from plaque buildup that narrows the arteries. Where more conventional treatments such as stents and balloon angioplasty expand the artery and compress the plaque, laser angioplasty destroys it to eliminate the blockage.

The laser is inserted into the artery with a catheter, and the thermal energy it generates turns water in the artery into a vapor bubble that expands, collapses and breaks up the plaque. Because this technique calls for high-power lasers, it has the potential to perforate or dissect the artery, something the scientists are looking to avoid by using low-power lasers instead.

They were able to do so in pork belly samples and ex vivo samples of artery plaque with the help of ultrasound. The method uses a low-power nanosecond pulsed laser to generate microbubbles, and applying ultrasound to the artery then causes these microbubbles to expand, collapse and disrupt the plaque.

In conventional laser angioplasty, a high laser power is required for the entire cavitation process, whereas in our technology, a lower laser power is only required for initiating the cavitation process,” said team member Rohit Singh. “Overall, the combination of ultrasound and laser reduces the need for laser power and improves the efficiency of atherosclerotic plaque removal.

The mix of lasers and ultrasound has shown potential in other areas of medicine, with Singh and his colleagues pursuing similar therapies to tackle abnormal microvessels in the eye that cause blindness and blood clots in the veins. We’ve also seen ultrasound used to explode tiny bubbles in cancer research, providing a way of wiping out cancerous cells within a tumor.

Source: https://newatlas.com/

Making Computer Chips With Human Cells

In 2030 the smartphones could contain a super powerful processor that perform a quintillon operations per second, a thousand times faster than smartphone biologicalmodels in 2020. This huge performance gains is possible because a new biological chip using lab-grown human neurons,  better than silicon chips, can change their internal structure, adapting to a user’s usage pattern and leading to huge gains in efficiency.

In December 2021, Melbourne-based Cortical Labs grew groups of neurons (brain cells) that were incorporated into a computer chip. The resulting hybrid chip works because both brains and neurons share a common language: electricity.

In silicon computers, electrical signals travel along metal wires that link different components together. In brains, neurons communicate with each other using electric signals across synapses (junctions between nerve cells). In Cortical LabsDishbrain system, neurons are grown on silicon chips. These neurons act like the wires in the system, connecting different components. The major advantage of this approach is that the neurons can change their shape, grow, replicate, or die in response to the demands of the system.

Dishbrain could learn to play the arcade game Pong faster than conventional AI systems. The developers of Dishbrain said: “Nothing like this has ever existed before … It is an entirely new mode of being. A fusion of silicon and neuron.”

Cortical Labs believes its hybrid chips could be the key to the kinds of complex reasoning that today’s computers and AI cannot produce. Another start-up making computers from lab-grown neuronsKoniku, believes their technology will revolutionise several industries including agriculture, healthcare, military technology and airport security. Other types of organic computers are also in the early stages of development.

While silicon computers transformed society, they are still outmatched by the brains of most animals. For example, a  more data storage than an average iPad and can use this information a million times faster. The human brain, with its trillion neural connections, is capable of making 15 quintillion operations per second.

Source: https://theconversation.com/

Revolutionary Cancer-Killing Virus Tested

Scientists have injected the first human patient with a new ‘cancer-killing virus‘ that has been shown to shrink solid tumours in animals. The virus, known as Vaxinia, has been genetically engineered to infect, replicate in and kill cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells. Tests on animals have shown it is able to reduce the size of colon, lung, breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer tumours.

While other immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors have been effective in certain cancers, patients often relapse and eventually stop responding to or develop resistance to this type of treatment, according to the researchers. In contrast, Vaxinia can prime the patient’s immune system and increase the level of a protein called PD-L1 in tumours, making immunotherapy more effective against cancerVaxinia, (full name CF33-hNIS VAXINIA), is a type of ‘oncolytic virus‘ – a virus found in nature that has been genetically modified specifically to fight cancer. It is being developed by Imugene Limited, a company specialising in novel therapies that activate the immune system against cancer.

Our previous research demonstrated that oncolytic viruses can stimulate the immune system to respond to and kill cancer, as well as stimulate the immune system to be more responsive to other immunotherapies, including checkpoint inhibitors,‘ said Daneng Li MD, principal investigator and assistant professor of City of Hope‘s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. ‘Now is the time to further enhance the power of immunotherapy, and we believe CF33-hNIS has the potential to improve outcomes for our patients in their battle with cancer.’

The Phase 1 clinical trial aims to recruit 100 cancer patients with metastatic or advanced solid tumours across approximately 10 trial sites in the United States and Australia. It is anticipated to run for approximately 24 months. Patients will begin by receiving a low dose of Vaxinia, either as an injection directly into tumours or intravenously. Once the safety of Vaxina has been demonstrated, some participants will also receive an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab, which improves the immune system’s ability to fight cancer-causing cells.

Interestingly, the same characteristics that eventually make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy or radiation treatment actually enhance the success of oncolytic viruses, such as CF33-hNIS,’ said Yuman Fong MD, the Sangiacomo Family Chair in Surgical Oncology at City of Hope and the key developer of the genetically modified virus.

Source: https://www.cityofhope.org/
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https://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Drug Prevents Breast Cancer Recurrence and Metastasis

Even when detected early, some cancers are more aggressive and more fatal than others. This is the case, for example, with triple negative breast cancer which accounts for 10 to 15% of all breast cancers. This cancer affects 1,000 patients per year in Belgium, while the figure worldwide is 225,000. Around half of the patients will develop local recurrences and metastases, regardless of the treatment they receive. No specific treatment is currently capable of preventing these two events. Patients suffering from pervasive triple negative breast cancer have only a one-in-ten chance of a cure. In 2014, Pierre Sonveaux, a researcher at the University of Louvain (UCLouvain) Institute for experimental and clinical research, succeeded in demonstrating the principle that it was possible to prevent the appearance of melanoma tumour metastases in mice. However, the experimental molecules used at the time were far from being drugs.

Since then, the UCLouvain researcher and his team, including post-doctoral researcher Tania Capeloa, have continued their work thanks in particular to sponsorship obtained by the UCLouvain Foundation. They have now succeeded in establishing that a drug developed for diseases other than cancer, MitoQ, avoids the appearance of metastases in 80% and local recurrences of human breast cancer in 75% of cases in mice. Conversely, most of the mice not treated suffered a recurrence of their cancer, which spread.

To do this, the researchers treated mice affected by human breast cancer. They treated them as hospital patients are treated, i.e. by combining surgery with a carefully dosed cocktail of standard chemotherapies. However, the UCLouvain researchers supplemented this standard treatment with the new molecule, MitoQ. They not only demonstrated that the administration of MitoQ is compatible with standard chemotherapies, but also that this innovative treatment prevents both relapses and metastases of breast cancer in mice. “We expected to be able to block the metastases, says Pierre Sonveaux enthusiastically. But preventing the recurrence of the cancer was totally unexpected. Getting this type of result is a huge motivation for us to carry on.” In short, this is a giant step given that the three main causes of cancer mortality are recurrences, the spread of the cancer caused by metastasis and resistance to treatment. And that there is currently no other known molecule capable of acting like MitoQ.

How does it work? Cancers consist of two types of cancerous cells: those that proliferate and are sensitive to clinical treatments and those that are dormant and that bide their time. Such cells are more harmful. The problem? These cancerous stem cells are resistant to clinical treatments. They result in metastases and if, unfortunately, cancer surgery fails to remove them all, they cause recurrences. These relapses are currently treated using chemotherapy. However, this tends to be relatively ineffective owing to the resistance to treatment developed by the tumorous cells . This is where the important discovery of the UCLouvain scientists comes in: the molecule MitoQ stops cancerous stem cells from awakening.

What next? MitoQ has already come through the first clinical phase successfully. It has been tested on healthy patients, both men and women, and proves to be only slightly toxic (nausea, vomiting). In addition, its behaviour is known. What next? The discovery made by the UCLouvain scientists opens wide the path for the clinical 2 phase, intended to demonstrate the efficacy of the new treatment in cancer patients.

Source: https://uclouvain.be/
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https://www.thebrighterside.news

Robots Do Better Than Surgeons

Robot-assisted surgery used to perform bladder cancer removal enables patients to recover far more quickly and spend significantly (20 per cent) less time in hospital, concludes a first-of-its kind clinical trial led by scientists at UCL and the University of Sheffield. The study, published in JAMA  also found robotic surgery reduced the chance of readmission by half (52 per cent), and revealed a “striking” four-fold (77 per cent) reduction in prevalence of blood clots (deep vein thrombus & pulmonary emboli) – a significant cause of health decline and morbidity – when compared to patients who had open surgery.  Patients’ physical activity – assessed by daily steps tracked on a wearable smart sensorstamina and quality of life also increased.

Unlike open surgery, where a surgeon works directly on a patient and involves large incisions in the skin and muscle, robot-assisted surgery allows surgeons to guide minimally invasive instruments remotely using a console and aided by 3D view. It is currently only available in a small number of UK hospitals. esearchers say the findings provide the strongest evidence so far of the patient benefit of robot-assisted surgery and are now urging National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to make it available as a clinical option across the UK for all major abdominal surgeries including colorectal, gastro-intestinal, and gynaecological.

Co-Chief Investigator, Professor John Kelly, Professor of Uro-Oncology at UCL’s Division of Surgery & Interventional Science and consultant surgeon at University College London Hospitals, said: “Despite robot-assisted surgery becoming more widely available, there has been no significant clinical evaluation of its overall benefit to patients’ recovery. In this study we wanted to establish if robot-assisted surgery, when compared to open surgery, reduced time spent in hospital, reduced readmissions, and led to better levels of fitness and quality of life; on all counts this was shown. “An unexpected finding was the striking reduction in blood clots in patients receiving robotic surgery; this indicates a safe surgery with patients benefiting from far fewer complications, early mobilisation and a quicker return to normal life”, explained Co-Chief Investigator, Professor John Kelly, Professor of Uro-Oncology at UCL.

Co-Chief Investigator Professor James Catto, Professor of Urological Surgery at the University of Sheffield, added: “This is an important finding. Time in hospital is reduced and recovery is faster when using this advanced surgery. “Ultimately, this will reduce bed pressures on the NHS and allow patients to return home more quickly. We see fewer complications from the improved mobility and less time spent in bed. “The study also points to future trends in healthcare. Soon, we may be able to monitor recovery after discharge, to find those developing problems. It is possible that tracking walking levels would highlight those who need a district nurse visit or perhaps a check-up sooner in the hospital.”“Previous trials of robotic surgery have focused on longer term outcomes. They have shown similar cancer cure rates and similar levels of long term recovery after surgery. None have looked at differences in the immediate days and weeks after surgery.”

Source: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Human-level Artificial Intelligence

Human-level artificial intelligence is close to finally being achieved, according to a lead researcher at Google’s DeepMind AI division.

Dr Nando de Freitas said “the game is over” in the decades-long quest to realise artificial general intelligence (AGI) after DeepMind unveiled an AI system capable of completing a wide range of complex tasks, from stacking blocks to writing poetry. Described as a “generalist agent”, DeepMind’s new Gato AI needs to just be scaled up in order to create an AI capable of rivalling human intelligence, Dr de Freitas said. Responding to an opinion piece written in The Next Web that claimed “humans will never achieve AGI”, DeepMind’s research director wrote that it was his opinion that such an outcome is an inevitability.

“It’s all about scale now! The Game is Over!” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s all about making these models bigger, safer, compute efficient, faster at sampling, smarter memory, more modalities, innovative data, on/offline… Solving these challenges is what will deliver AGI.”

When asked by machine learning researcher Alex Dimikas how far he believed the Gato AI was from passing a real Turing test – a measure of computer intelligence that requires a human to be unable to distinguish a machine from another human – Dr de Freitas replied: “Far still.”

Leading AI researchers have warned that the advent of AGI could result in an existential catastrophe for humanity, with Oxford University Professor Nick Bostrom speculating that a “superintelligentsystem that surpasses biological intelligence could see humans replaced as the dominant life form on Earth.

Source: https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/

How to Keep Buildings Cooler With a Wood-based Foam

Summertime is almost here, a time when many people try to beat the heat. But running air conditioners constantly can be expensive and wasteful. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Nano Letters have designed a lightweight foam made from wood-based cellulose nanocrystals that reflects sunlight, emits absorbed heat and is thermally insulating. They suggest that the material could reduce buildings’ cooling energy needs by more than a third.

Although scientists have developed cooling materials, they have disadvantages. Some materials that passively release absorbed heat let a lot of heat through to buildings under the direct, midday sun of the summer months. And other materials that reflect sunlight don’t work well in hot, humid or cloudy weather. So, Yu Fu, Kai Zhang and colleagues wanted to develop a robust material that could reflect sunlight, passively release heat and keep wayward heat from passing through.

The team calculated that placing the foam on the roof and exterior walls of a building could reduce its cooling energy needs by an average of 35.4%. Because the wood-based cellulose foam‘s performance can be tuned depending on weather conditions, the researcher say that the technology could be applied in a wide range of environments.

Source: https://pubs.acs.org/
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https://www.sciencedaily.com/

Smart Contact Lens to Treat Glaucoma

A flexible contact lens that senses eye pressure and releases a drug on-demand could help treat glaucoma, the second leading global cause of blindness worldwide. The compact wireless device, which has been developed by a team of Chinese researchers and tested in pig and rabbit eyes so far, appears to detect and reduce rising eye pressure, one of the usual causes of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an umbrella term for a group of eye diseases where damage to the optic nerve, which relays visual information to the brain, causes irreversible vision loss and blindness in millions of people worldwide. Where this new research makes ground is in developing a device capable of detecting changes in eye pressure and delivering therapeutic drugs as needed. Recent efforts to develop smart contact lenses as wearable devices for treating eye conditions have either focused on sensing pressure changes in the eye or delivering a drug – but not both – and glaucoma treatment usually involves eye drops, laser therapy, or surgery to reduce eye pressure. While it sounds exciting, keep in mind that as scientists continue experimenting with all sorts of nifty devices for treating eye diseases, early detection of glaucoma and timely treatment remains vital.

Once detected, therapy for glaucoma can arrest or slow its deterioration in the majority of cases,” Jaimie Steinmetz, a research scientist at the Washington-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and collaborators wrote in 2020 when analyzing the global burden of eye diseases, including glaucoma. But glaucoma is typically hard to catch because peripheral vision is the first to go, and devices used to diagnose the condition only provide snapshot measurements of intraocular pressure, which fluctuates with activity and sleep-wake cycles.

Hence the importance of improving systems of surveillance, highlighting risk among family members of cases, and effectiveness of care once treatment is initiated,” Steinmetz and co-authors stressThat said, contact lenses which sit snug against the eye hold great appeal for delivering therapies for eye conditions. But incorporating electrical circuits and sensors into small, flexible, curved, and ultra-thin contact lenses presents a serious engineering challenge. For something like this to work, it needs to be sensitive enough to detect pressure changes and release precise amounts of drug on demand – all without blocking vision and irritating the eye. “It is highly challenging to install an intricate theranostic system composited by multi-modules on a contact lens,” electrical engineer Cheng Yang of Sun Yat-Sen University and colleagues write in their paper.