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World’s First COVID-19 DNA Vaccine

 India‘s drug regulator has granted emergency use approval for Zydus Cadila‘s COVID-19 vaccine, the world’s first DNA shot against the coronavirus, in adults and children aged 12 years and above. The approval gives a boost to India’s vaccination programme, which aims to inoculate all eligible adults by December, and will provide the first shot for those under 18, as the country still struggles to contain the virus spread in some states. The vaccine, ZyCoV-D, uses a section of genetic material from the virus that gives instructions as either DNA or RNA to make the specific protein that the immune system recognises and responds to. Unlike most COVID-19 vaccines, which need two doses or even a single dose, ZyCoV-D is administered in three doses.

The generic drugmaker, listed as Cadila Healthcare Ltd, aims to make 100 million to 120 million doses of ZyCoV-D annually and has already begun stockpiling the vaccineZydus Cadila‘s vaccine, developed in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology, is the second home-grown shot to get emergency authorization in India after Bharat Biotech‘s Covaxin. The drugmaker said in July its COVID-19 vaccine was effective against the new coronavirus mutants, especially the Delta variant, and that the shot is administered using a needle-free applicator as opposed to traditional syringes. The regulatory nod makes ZyCoV-D the sixth vaccine authorized for use in the country where only about 9.18% of the entire population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The firm had applied for the authorization of ZyCoV-D on July 1, based on an efficacy rate of 66.6% in a late-stage trial of over 28,000 volunteers nationwide.

https://www.reuters.com/

Solar Cells with 30-year Lifetimes

A new transparency-friendly solar cell design could marry high efficiencies with 30-year estimated lifetimes, research led by the University of Michigan has shown. It may pave the way for windows that also provide solar power.

Solar energy is about the cheapest form of energy that mankind has ever produced since the industrial revolution,” said Stephen Forrest, Professor of Electrical Engineering, who led the research. “With these devices used on windows, your building becomes a power plant.”

While silicon remains king for solar panel efficiency, it isn’t transparent. For window-friendly solar panels, researchers have been exploring organic—or carbon-basedmaterials. The challenge for Forrest’s team was how to prevent very efficient organic light-converting materials from degrading quickly during use.

The strength and the weakness of these materials lie in the molecules that transfer the photogenerated electrons to the electrodes, the entrance points to the circuit that either uses or stores the solar power. These materials are known generally as “non-fullerene acceptors” to set them apart from the more robust but less efficient “fullerene acceptors” made of nanoscale carbon mesh. Solar cells made with non-fullerene acceptors that incorporate sulfur can achieve silicon-rivaling efficiencies of 18%, but they do not last as long.

The team, including researchers at North Carolina State University and Tianjin University and Zhejiang University in China, set out to change that. In their experiments, they showed that without protecting the sunlight-converting material, the efficiency fell to less than 40% of its initial value within 12 weeks under the equivalent of 1 sun’s illumination.

Non-fullerene acceptors cause very high efficiency, but contain weak bonds that easily dissociate under high energy photons, especially the UV [ultraviolet] photons common in sunlight,” said Yongxi Li, U-M assistant research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science and first author of the paper in Nature Communications.

Source: https://news.umich.edu/

How to Boost Cancer Immunotherapy

A synthetic molecular code shows promise towards improving the response of some cancer patients to immunotherapy treatments. The approach involves using a molecule that can provide energy to anti-cancer immune cells, increasing their numbers and improving their longevity. The findings were published by Kyoto University scientists, led by Hiroshi Sugiyama, in the journal Cell Chemical Biology. Cancer cells express molecules that can target a receptor to inactivate tumor-fighting T cells.

Therapeutics that block the immunosuppressive molecule, called PD-L1, from binding to the T cell surface receptor, called PD-1, have revolutionized cancer treatment. However, more than half of cancer patients don’t respond well to this immunotherapy,” explains Madhu Malinee, the study’s first author.
“One of the major reasons for this unresponsiveness is that these patients have an insufficient number of T cells that also become exhausted because they don’t have enough active energy-providing mitochondria,” adds Ganesh Namasivayam Pandian of Kyoto University’s Institute of Integrated Cell Material Sciences (iCeMS).

The team wanted to find a way to increase the mitochondria in T cells to improve cancer patient response to PD-1 blockade monotherapy. Their aim was to activate a molecule, called PGC-1, which regulates the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism. A major roadblock to achieving this, however, has been finding a way to selectively target PGC-1. To do this, Sugiyama and colleagues used a compound, called pyrrole-imidazole polyamide (PIP), that can be programmed to target a specific DNA sequence. They assembled it as a molecular code, called EnPGC-1, that can activate PGC-1.
The team found that EnPGC-1 activated the mitochondria of mouse T cells in the laboratory, which led to an increase in T cell numbers and their longevity.
They then gave tumor-bearing mice a combination of EnPGC-1 with PD-1 blockade immunotherapy and found the strategy enhanced anti-tumor immunity in the mice and improved their survival.

Since PGC-1 signaling is known to be essential for energy metabolism, EnPGC-1 also has potential for being developed as a drug to treat other diseases, like type 2 diabetes and hyperlipidemia,” says Madhu.
Further improvements are needed before the approach can be tested for clinical use”, adds Ganesh. For example, the team aims to find ways to deliver EnPGC-1 specifically to T cells to reduce its off-target effects.

Source: https://www.icems.kyoto-u.ac.jp/

New DNA-Based Chip Programmed to Solve Complex Math Problems

The field of DNA computing has evolved by leaps and bounds since it was first proposed nearly 30 years ago. But most DNA computing processes are still performed manually, with reactants being added step-by-step to the reaction by hand. Now, finally, scientists at Incheon National University, Korea have found a way to automate DNA calculations by developing a unique chip that can be controlled by a personal computer. DNA computing, such as the calculations performed by the novel DNA-based microchip, has the potential to execute complex mathematical functions more easily than conventional electronic computers can.

The term ‘DNA’ immediately calls to mind the double-stranded helix that contains all our genetic information. But the individual units of its two strands are pairs of molecules bonded with each other in a selective, complementary fashion. Turns out, one can take advantage of this pairing property to perform complex mathematical calculations, and this forms the basis of DNA computing.

Since DNA has only two strands, performing even a simple calculation requires multiple chemical reactions using different sets of DNA. In most existing research, the DNA for each reaction are added manually, one by one, into a single reaction tube, which makes the process very cumbersome. Microfluidic chips, which consist of narrow channels etched onto a material like plastic, offer a way to automate the process. But despite their promise, the use of microfluidic chips for DNA computing remains underexplored.

In a recent article-made available online in ACS Nano a team of scientists from Incheon National University (INU), Korea, present a programmable DNA-based microfluidic chip that can be controlled by a personal computer to perform DNA calculations.

Our hope is that DNA-based CPUs will replace electronic CPUs in the future because they consume less power, which will help with global warming. DNA-based CPUs also provide a platform for complex calculations like deep learning solutions and mathematical modelling,” says Dr. Youngjun Song from INU, who led the study.

Dr. Song and team used 3D printing to fabricate their microfluidic chip, which can execute Boolean logic, one of the fundamental logics of computer programming. Boolean logic is a type of true-or-false logic that compares inputs and returns a value of ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on the type of operation, or ‘logic gate,’ used. The logic gate in this experiment consisted of a single-stranded DNA template. Different single-stranded DNA were then used as inputs. If part of an input DNA had a complementary Watson-Crick sequence to the template DNA, it paired to form double-stranded DNA. The output was considered true or false based on the size of the final DNA.

Source: http://www.inu.ac.kr

Higher Risk of Dementia for Millions with Eye Conditions

Millions of people with eye conditions including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease have an increased risk of developing dementia, new research shows. Vision impairment can be one of the first signs of the disease, which is predicted to affect more than 130 million people worldwide by 2050.

Previous research has suggested there could be a link between eye conditions that cause vision impairment, and cognitive impairment. However, the incidence of these conditions increases with age, as do systemic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and stroke, which are all accepted risk factors for dementia. That meant it was unclear whether eye conditions were linked with a higher incidence of dementia independently of systemic conditions.

Now researchers have found that age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease are independently associated with increased risk of dementia, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The research examined data from 12,364 British adults aged 55 to 73, who were taking part in the UK Biobank study. They were assessed in 2006 and again in 2010 with their health information tracked until early 2021. More than 2,300 cases of dementia were documented, according to the international team of experts led by academics from the Guangdong Eye Institute in China. After assessing health data, researchers found those with age-related macular degeneration had a 26% increased risk of developing dementia. Those with cataracts had an 11% increased risk and people with diabetes-related eye disease had a 61% heightened risk. Glaucoma was not linked to a significant increase in risk.

Researchers also found that people with conditions including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Risk was highest among people with one of these conditions who also had some form of eye condition, they said.

Age-related macular degeneration, cataract and diabetes-related eye disease but not glaucoma are associated with an increased risk of dementia,” the authors concluded.

Individuals with both ophthalmic and systemic conditions are at higher risk of dementia compared with those with an ophthalmic or systemic condition only.”

The study comes as Alzheimer’s Research UK says public willingness to get involved with medical research is at an “all-time high”. The charity said 29% of adults were more likely to consider getting involved in medical research because of the pandemic, according to a poll of 1,000 adults across England, Scotland and Wales.

The survey found that 69% said they would be willing to get involved with dementia research, compared with 50% of a sample of people from a year ago.

This is positive news for the thousands of studies waiting to get under way to help understand and tackle health conditions like dementia, cancer, and heart disease,” said Hilary Evans, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/

NeuroInflammation Critical in the Developement of Alzheimer’s

Doctors regard amyloid plaque lodged between the brain’s nerve cells and tangled tau protein fibers forming within the cells as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. However, amyloid plaque — consisting of broken pieces of protein that clump together — is also present in the brains of older adults who do not develop Alzheimer’s, suggesting another factor is triggering the disease.

A new study finds that inflammation in the brain drives the progression from the presence of amyloid plaque and tau tangles to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Tharick Pascoal, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, PA, explains:

Many [older adults] have amyloid plaques in their brains but never progress to developing Alzheimer’s disease. We know that amyloid accumulation on its own is not enough to cause dementia — our results suggest that it is the interaction between neuroinflammation and amyloid pathology that unleashes tau propagation and eventually leads to widespread brain damage and cognitive impairment.”

While scientists have observed neuroinflammation in people with Alzheimer’s before, the new study reveals for the first time its critical role in the development of the disease. The research finds that activating the brain’s immune cells — its microglial cellspromotes the spread of tangled tau proteins that comprise amyloid plaque.

Heather M. Snyder, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association vice president of medical and scientific relations, who was not involved in the study, explained the purpose of neuroinflammation to Medical News Today. The Alzheimer’s Association contributed funding to the research.

Inflammation has an important role in fighting off infection and other pathogens in the body, including in the brain and central nervous system,” said Snyder. Microglia “help clear debris (damaged neurons, infections) from the brain.” “However,” adds Dr. Snyder, “a sustained inflammatory response, or a change from acute to chronic neuroinflammation, may contribute to the underlying biology of several neurodegenerative disorders.

Inflammation is not by itself associated with cognitive impairment, daid Dr. Pascoal. “However when neuroinflammation converges with amyloid pathology, the interaction potentiates tau pathology. As a consequence, the coexistence of these three processes in the brain — amyloid, neuroinflammation, and tau pathology — determines cognitive deterioration.”

Results suggest that the combination of anti-amyloid with anti-inflammatory therapies in the early stages of the disease, when the pathology of tau is still confined to the temporal cortex, would maximize the efficacy of these drugs.”

The study appears in Nature Medicine.

Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

Facebook’s Smart Glasses Can Take Calls and Photos

Facebook announced its long-awaited foray into the smart glasses space Thursday morning, launching the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses in partnership with eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica.

The svelte frames are some of the most low-profile yet available to consumers and will allow users to snap photos and videos with the two onboard 5 MP cameras, listen to music with in-frame speakers and take phone calls. The glasses need to be connected to an iOS or Android device for full functionality, though users can take and store hundreds of photos or dozens of videos on the glasses before transferring media to their phones via Facebook’s new View app. The twin cameras will allow users to add 3D effects to their photos and videos once they upload them to the app.

The lightweight glasses weigh less than 50 grams and come with a leather hardshell charging case. The battery lift is advertised as “all-day“.

https://techcrunch.com/

How to Use mRNA Technology in Vaccines to Fight Cancer

Until recently, most of the world had never heard of mRNA vaccines. To combat COVID-19, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization in December 2020 for mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. While the pandemic brought mRNA vaccines into the limelight, melanoma patient Bobby Fentress had experience with mRNA technology nearly a year prior. mRNA vaccines hold promise for fighting infectious diseases beyond the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including fighting cancer. At age 68, Bobby was an early participant in a clinical trial intended to see whether a vaccine made with mRNA could destroy his cancer cells and prevent recurrence.

Bobby’s story began in 2019. He found an odd bump on his middle finger and assumed it was a wart. After his wife urged him to be seen by a dermatologist, he received a call that he would need a biopsy – which ultimately revealed that he had stage 2c melanoma. Several months later, Bobby had most of his middle finger amputated and was told that there was a 50% possibility that the cancer would reoccur.  That’s when Bobby decided to enroll in a clinical trial with HCA Healthcare’s Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his first shots of a personalized mRNA vaccine created by Moderna in April 2020. These vaccines are developed from a patient’s specific tumor DNA. The DNA of the tumor is analyzed to determine the differences between the tumor and a patient’s own cells and which proteins might elicit the best immune response. The mRNA vaccine is then developed to instruct the body to make these proteins and stimulate an immune response. Patients such as Bobby then receive a series of these vaccine treatments.

Bobby finished his year of treatment earlier this spring. While it is too early to know if the therapy will work, Bobby’s oncologist, Dr. Meredith McKean, is optimistic.  Immunotherapy has been a game changer for melanoma. With mRNA, the hope is that personalized therapy would offer additional treatment benefit above our standard treatments that we offer for patients broadly. Even for patients like Bobby that had surgery, ten years ago we wouldn’t be able to give him anything but highly toxic therapy options. It’s refreshing to offer a clinical trial like this. While the trial is not yet complete, we have enough data to be hopeful. It’s a very encouraging area that I’m excited about as a provider,” says Dr McKean, associate director of the melanoma and skin cancer research program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.

https://hcahealthcaretoday.com/

New Algorithm Predicts Alzheimer’s with 99% accuracy

Researchers from Kaunas universities in Lithuania developed a deep learning-based method that can predict the possible onset of Alzheimer’s disease from brain images with an accuracy of over 99 per cent. The method was developed while analysing functional MRI images obtained from 138 subjects and performed better in terms of accuracy, sensitivity and specificity than previously developed methods.

According to World Health Organisation, Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent cause of dementia, contributing to up to 70 per cent of dementia cases. Worldwide, approximately 24 million people are affected, and this number is expected to double every 20 years. Owing to societal ageing, the disease will become a costly public health burden in the years to come.

Medical professionals all over the world attempt to raise awareness of an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which provides the affected with a better chance of benefiting from treatment. This was one of the most important issues for choosing a topic for Modupe Odusami, a PhD student from Nigeria”, says Rytis Maskeliūnas, a researcher at the Department of Multimedia Engineering, Faculty of Informatics, Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Odusami’s PhD supervisor. One of the possible Alzheimer’s first signs is mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal ageing and dementia. Based on the previous research, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to identify the regions in the brain which can be associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Maskeliūnas. The earliest stages of MCI often have almost no clear symptoms, but in quite a few cases can be detected by neuroimaging.

However, although theoretically possible, manual analysing of fMRI images attempting to identify the changes associated with Alzheimer’s not only requires specific knowledge but is also time-consuming – application of Deep learning and other AI methods can speed this up by a significant time margin. Finding MCI features does not necessarily mean the presence of illness, as it can also be a symptom of other related diseases, but it is more of an indicator and possible helper to steer toward an evaluation by a medical professional.

Modern signal processing allows delegating the image processing to the machine, which can complete it faster and accurately enough. Of course, we don’t dare to suggest that a medical professional should ever rely on any algorithm one-hundred-per cent. Think of a machine as a robot capable of doing the most tedious task of sorting the data and searching for features. In this scenario, after the computer algorithm selects potentially affected cases, the specialist can look into them more closely, and at the end, everybody benefits as the diagnosis and the treatment reaches the patient much faster”, says Maskeliūnas, who supervised the team working on the model.

Source: https://en.ktu.edu/

Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner fund anti-aging start-up

Billionaires Jeff Bezos an Yuri Milner are reportedly funding a startup biotechnology firm with the aim of discovering a way to reverse aging.  Altos Labs was incorporated in the US and the UK earlier this year, and has raised at least $270million to look into the potential of cell reprogramming technology to turn back the clock in animals, and potentially, humans.

While little is known so far about Altos, early hires give an indication of the kinds of anti-aging techniques the lab might be looking into. They include Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who pioneered researched into cell reprogramming, earning him the 2012 Nobel Prize for the research. He discovered that by adding just four specific proteins to cells, they can be instructed to revert back into an earlier state with the properties of embryonic stem cells that make up building blocks of new animal life.

He will serve as an unpaid advisor on Altosscientific advisory board, according to MIT Technology Review, which reported on Altos’ formation.

Source:  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/