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More than a year after Covid-19 touched off the worst pandemic in more than a century, scientists have yet to determine its origins. The closest related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 were found in bats over 1,000 miles from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease erupted in late 2019. Initially, cases were tied to a fresh food market and possibly the wildlife sold there. An investigation in early 2021 has highlighted the possibility that they acted as a vector, transferring the virus from bats to humans. More politically charged theories allege the virus accidentally escaped from a nearby research laboratory, or entered China from another country via imported frozen food. Amid all the posturing, governments and scientists agree that deciphering the creation story.
Three closely related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 that had been collected during the previous 15 years. The closest, about 96% identical, was isolated from a species of horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus affinis, in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan in 2013. Some researchers have linked that particular virus to a mineshaft in Mojiang county there, where six men contracted a pneumonia-like disease in 2012 that killed three of them. Although they may share a common ancestor, the two are not similar enough to indicate SARS-CoV-2 was derived from the Yunnan virus. Sampling of bats in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, haven’t found any positive for the pandemic strain. Coronaviruses sharing genetic features with SARS-CoV-2 have been found in other bat species and pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal, elsewhere in Asia, highlighting the broad distribution that may have contributed to its evolution.
Sanofi and GSK announced positive results from a Phase 2 clinical trial of their joint Covid-19 vaccine, saying it generated strong levels of neutralizing antibodies in recipients across all ages studied. The partners said a large international Phase 3 trial will begin in coming weeks.
The duo, two of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, is far behind in the effort to produce a Covid vaccine and lock down markets for their product, having suffered a setback in an earlier Phase 1/2 trial last year. But with vaccine supplies expected to trail global need into the foreseeable future, the companies believe there is still a place for their vaccine.
“Our Phase 2 data confirm the potential of this vaccine to play a role in addressing this ongoing global public health crisis, as we know multiple vaccines will be needed, especially as variants continue to emerge and the need for effective and, which can be stored at normal temperatures increases,” Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and head of the vaccines division at Sanofi Pasteur, said in a statement.
The companies said they will begin producing the vaccine “at risk” — meaning before they are certain it will work. While there is financial uncertainty in that approach, if the vaccine does prove to be efficacious, they will have product ready to distribute as soon as the vaccine is authorized for use. The companies are projecting a possible regulatory approval in the fourth quarter of 2021.
The companies released limited information about the results of the trial, saying they will publish the data shortly in a peer-reviewed journal. But they reported the vaccine induced strong rates of neutralizing antibodies, in line with what is seen in people who have recovered from Covid-19. The favorable response was seen across all adult age groups, though there were higher levels observed in people 18 to 59 years old. There were no safety or tolerability concerns arising from the trial.
High neutralizing antibody levels were generated after a single dose in participants with evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, which the companies said suggests the vaccine could be given as a booster used after an initial vaccination series.
“We believe that this vaccine candidate can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against Covid-19 and will move to Phase 3 as soon as possible to meet our goal of making it available before the end of the year,” said Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines, said in a statement.
Columbia Engineers develop the smallest single-chip system that is a complete functioning electronic circuit; implantable chips visible only in a microscope point the way to developing chips that can be injected into the body with a hypodermic needle to monitor medical conditions.
Widely used to monitor and map biological signals, to support and enhance physiological functions, and to treat diseases, implantable medical devices are transforming healthcare and improving the quality of life for millions of people. Researchers are increasingly interested in designing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices for in vivo and in situ physiological monitoring. These devices could be used to monitor physiological conditions, such as temperature, blood pressure, glucose, and respiration for both diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.
To date, conventional implanted electronics have been highly volume-inefficient—they generally require multiple chips, packaging, wires, and external transducers, and batteries are often needed for energy storage. A constant trend in electronics has been tighter integration of electronic components, often moving more and more functions onto the integrated circuit itself.
Researchers at Columbia Engineering report that they have built what they say is the world’s smallest single-chip system, consuming a total volume of less than 0.1 mm3. The system is as small as a dust mite and visible only under a microscope. In order to achieve this, the team used ultrasound to both power and communicate with the device wirelessly.
Chips shown in the tip of a hypodermic needle
“We wanted to see how far we could push the limits on how small a functioning chip we could make,” said the study’s leader Ken Shepard, Lau Family professor of electrical engineering and professor of biomedical engineering. “This is a new idea of ‘chip as system’—this is a chip that alone, with nothing else, is a complete functioning electronic system. This should be revolutionary for developing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices that can sense different things, be used in clinical applications, and eventually approved for human use.”
Biopharmaceutical company CRISPR Therapeutics has entered into a strategic research, development and commercialization partnership with cancer-focused Nkarta. The new collaboration will be geared toward advancing CRISPR/Cas9 gene-edited cell therapies for certain cancers.
In a statement on the collaboration, the companies state “their complementary cell therapy engineering and manufacturing capabilities” will join forces to advance “the development of a novel NK+T product candidate harnessing the synergies of the adaptive and innate immune systems.” Financial details of the agreement were not publicly disclosed.
According to terms of the agreement, both CRISPR Therapeutics and Nkarta plan to jointly develop and commercialize up to two CAR NK cell product candidates. One candidate will target the CD70 tumor antigen, while no specific target has been set for the additional product. Nkarta has obtained a license to CRISPR gene-editing technology under the agreement. This license will allow Nkarta to edit up to five gene targets using “an unlimited number” of the company’s own NK cell therapy products.
Additionally, the two companies will share equally the research and development costs as well as global profits related to the products born from the collaboration. While Nkarta will retain global rights to a product candidate using a CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene editing target but not developed through the collaboration, Nkarta will provide CRISPR Therapeutics milestone payments as well as royalties on all net sales of the non-collaboration product.
There is a three-year exclusivity on the new agreement, according to the announcement of the collaboration. Overall, the exclusivity agreement covers the research, development as well as commercialization of allogeneic, gene-edited, and donor-derived NK cells and NK+T cells. “This collaboration broadens the scope of our efforts in oncology cell therapy, and expands our efforts to discover and develop novel cancer therapies for patients,” according to a statement made by CRISPR Therapeutics’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Samarth Kulkarni, Ph.D.
“Uniting the best-in-class gene editing solution and allogeneic T cell therapy expertise of CRISPR with Nkarta’s best-in-class CAR NK cell therapy platform will be a major advantage to advancing the next wave of transformative cancer cell therapies,” said Nkarta’s CEO, Paul J. Hastings, in a statement. Hastings added that the partnership will enable the company to harness CRISPR’s deep knowledge of CD70 biology as well as experience in the clinical development of allogeneic T cell candidates, which may ultimately “deliver innovative treatments to patients that much faster.”
University of Central Florida (UCF) researchers are building on their technology that could pave the way for hypersonic flight, such as travel from New York to Los Angeles in under 30 minutes.
In their latest research published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers discovered a way to stabilize the detonation needed for hypersonic propulsion by creating a special hypersonic reaction chamber for jet engines.
“There is an intensifying international effort to develop robust propulsion systems for hypersonic and supersonic flight that would allow flight through our atmosphere at very high speeds and also allow efficient entry and exit from planetary atmospheres,” says study co-author Kareem Ahmed, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “The discovery of stabilizing a detonation — the most powerful form of intense reaction and energy release — has the potential to revolutionize hypersonic propulsion and energy systems.”
The system could allow for air travel at speeds of Mach 6 to 17, which is more than 4,600 to 13,000 miles per hour. The technology harnesses the power of an oblique detonation wave, which they formed by using an angled ramp inside the reaction chamber to create a detonation-inducing shock wave for propulsion. Unlike rotating detonation waves that spin, oblique detonation waves are stationary and stabilized. The technology improves jet propulsion engine efficiency so that more power is generated while using less fuel than traditional propulsion engines, thus lightening the fuel load and reducing costs and emissions.
In addition to faster air travel, the technology could also be used in rockets for space missions to make them lighter by requiring less fuel, travel farther and burn more cleanly.
The researchers from CSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and CHI at Temple Street (Ireland), had previously discovered a molecule called JNK3, which is a key driver of children’s stem cells being more sensitive to their environment and regenerating better than adults’. This explains, at least partially, why children’s bones are able to heal more quickly. Building on this knowledge, they created a biomaterial that mimics the structure of bone tissue and incorporates nanoparticles that activate JNK3.
When tested in a pre-clinical model, the biomaterial quickly repaired large bone defects and reduced inflammation after a month of use. The biomaterial also proved to be safer and as effective as other drug-loaded biomaterials for bone repair whose use has been controversially associated with dangerous side-effects, including cancer, infection or off-site bone formation.
“While more testing is needed before we can begin clinical trials, these results are very promising,” said Professor Fergal O’Brien, the study’s principal investigator and RCSI’s Director of Research and Innovation.
“This study has shown that understanding stem cell mechanobiology can help identify alternative therapeutic molecules for repairing large defects in bone, and potentially other body tissues. In a broader sense, this project is a great example of how growing our understanding of mechanobiology can identify new treatments that directly benefit patients – a key goal of what we do here at RCSI.”
The work was carried out by researchers from the Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) and SFI AMBER Centre based at RCSI in collaboration with a team from Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) at Temple Street Hospital. The CHI at Temple Street team was led by Mr Dylan Murray, a lead consultant craniofacial, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the National Paediatric Craniofacial Centre (NPCC), who has collaborated with the RCSI team for a number of years.
“It is very exciting to be part of this translational project in which the participation and consent of the patients of the NPCC at Temple Street –whom donated harvested bone cells- have contributed immensely to this success,” said Mr Murray.
The study, led by researchers from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and CHI at Temple Street (Ireland), is published in Biomaterials.
Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. So, in order to treat or cure almost any disease or condition – including cancer – you first need to have a fundamental understanding of cell biology. While researchers have a pretty good understanding of what each component of a cell does, there are still things we don’t know about them – including the role that some RNAs molecules play in a cell.
Finding the answer to this may be key in developing further cancer treatments, which is what our research has sought to uncover. Three types of molecules carry information in a cell, and each of these molecules performs its own important function. The first is DNA, which contains hard-wired genetic information (like a book of instructions). . The second, RNA, is a temporary copy of one particular instruction that is derived from DNA. Last are the proteins produced thanks to the information provided by the RNA. These proteins are the “workhorses” of the cells, which perform specific functions, such as helping cells move, reproduce, and generate energy.
In line with this model, RNA has long been seen as nothing more than an intermediary between DNA and proteins. But researchers are starting to discover that RNA is much more than an intermediary. In fact, this overlooked molecule may hold the secret to cancer progression. The scientists group recently discovered a new type of RNA that drives cancer progression without producing any protein. We think that this type of discovery may pave the way for an entirely new way of targeting cancer cells. But to understand how this is possible, it’s first important to know the different types of RNA we have in our body. Only about 1% of DNA is copied into RNAs that make proteins. Other RNAs help the production of proteins. The rest (known as non-coding RNAs) were long assumed to serve no function in the human body. But recent studies are challenging these assumptions, showing these “useless” RNAs actually perform a very specific purpose. In fact, these “non-coding” RNAs regulate the functions of many genes, thereby controlling key aspects of the cells’ lives (such as their ability to move around).
The most abundant type of non-coding RNAs are long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). These are long molecules which interact with many different molecules in the cell. And, as researchers have now discovered, these complex structures allow many different functions to take place between cells.
For example, some lncRNAs “grab” different proteins and gather them to work in a specific cellular space – such as the same gene segment. This function is essential for controlling the inactivation of some genes during development.
The most elegant interpretation of quantum mechanics is the universe is constantly splitting. I learned quantum mechanics the traditional ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ way. We can use the Schrödinger equation to solve for and evolve wave functions.
Then we invoke wave-particle duality, in essence things we detect as particles can behave as waves when they aren’t interacting with anything. But when there is a measurement, the wave function collapses leaving us with a definite particle detection.
If we repeat the experiment many times, we find the statistics of these results mirror the amplitude of the wave function squared. Hence the Born rule came into being, saying the wave function should be interpreted statistically, that our universe at the most fundamental scale is probabilistic rather than deterministic. This did not sit well with scientists like Einstein and Schrödinger who believed there must be more going on, perhaps ‘hidden variables’.
In the 1950’s Hugh Everett proposed the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It is so logical in hindsight but with a bias towards the classical world, experiments and measurements to guide their thinking, it’s understandable why the founders of quantum theory didn’t come up with it. Rather than proposing different dynamics for measurement, Everett suggests that measurement is something that happens naturally in the course of quantum particles interacting with each other.
The conclusion is inescapable. There is nothing special about measurement, it is just the observer becoming entangled with a wave function in a superposition. Since one observer can experience only their own branch, it appears as if the other possibilities have disappeared but in reality there is no reason why they could not still exist and just fail to interact with the other branches. This is caused by environmental decoherence.