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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“.

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.

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.


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.


Revolutionary Cancer Vaccine Trials Inspired by COVID Jab Begin

The team behind the OxfordAstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have used the same techniques to create a vaccine that could potentially ‘revolutionise’ cancer treatment.The researchers have designed a two-dose cancer vaccine using the same viral vector technology used in the Oxford COVID vaccine to increase the levels of anti-tumour T cells and shrink tumours in mice. The vaccine targets specific structures, known as MAGE proteins, found on the surface of many cancers.

We knew from our previous research that MAGE-type proteins act like red flags on the surface of cancer cells to attract immune cells that destroy tumours. MAGE proteins have an advantage over other cancer antigens as vaccine targets since they are present on a wide range of tumour types,” said Benoit Van den Eynde, Professor of Tumour Immunology at the University of Oxford.

This broadens the potential benefit of this approach to people with many different types of cancer. “Importantly for target specificity, MAGE-type antigens are not present on the surface of normal tissues, which reduces the risk of side-effects caused by the immune system attacking healthy cells.”

When combined with existing anti-PD-1 immunotherapy treatments, the vaccine showed a greater reduction in tumour size and improved the survival of the mice. Anti-PD-1 immunotherapy is a promising method of cancer treatment that works by ‘taking the brakesoff anti-tumour T cells and inciting them to kill cancer cells. However, it has so far proven to be largely ineffective thanks in part to the low levels of T cells in the majority of cancer patients.

This is where the tech borrowed from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine comes in – a two-dose treatment can help to boost the levels of cancer-fighting CD8+ T cells. “Our cancer vaccines elicit strong CD8+ T cell responses that infiltrate tumours and show great potential in enhancing the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade therapy and improving outcomes for patients with cancer,” said Prof Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford.”

The team now plan to begin their first human clinical trial of the vaccine used in combination with anti-PD-1 immunotherapy in 80 patients with non-small cell lung cancer later this year as part of a collaboration between Vaccitech Oncology Limited (VOLT) and Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development. “This new vaccine platform has the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment. The forthcoming trial in non-small cell lung cancer follows a Phase 2a trial of a similar cancer vaccine in prostate cancer undertaken by the University of Oxford that is showing promising results,” said Hill.


New Disinfectant Protects Against Covid for Up 7 Days

An alum and several researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have used nanotechnology to develop the cleaning agent, which protects against seven viruses for up to seven days.

UCF researchers have developed a nanoparticle-based disinfectant that can continuously kill viruses on a surface for up to seven days – a discovery that could be a powerful weapon against COVID-19 and other emerging pathogenic viruses. The findings, by a multidisciplinary team of the university’s virus and engineering experts and the leader of an Orlando technology firm, were published this week in  ACS Nano, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

Christina Drake ’07PhD, founder of Kismet Technologies, was inspired to develop the disinfectant after making a trip to the grocery store in the early days of the pandemic. There she saw a worker spraying disinfectant on a refrigerator handle, then wiping off the spray immediately.

Initially my thought was to develop a fast-acting disinfectant,” she says, “but we spoke to consumers, such as doctors and dentists, to find out what they really wanted from a disinfectant. What mattered the most to them was something long-lasting that would continue to disinfect high-touch areas like doorhandles and floors long after application.”

Drake partnered with Sudipta Seal, a UCF materials engineer and nanoscience expert, and Griff Parks, a College of Medicine virologist who is also associate dean of research and director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Kismet Tech and the Florida High Tech Corridor, the researchers created a nanoparticle-engineered disinfectant.

Its active ingredient is an engineered nanostructure called cerium oxide, which is known for its regenerative antioxidant properties. The cerium oxide nanoparticles are modified with small amounts of silver to make them more potent against pathogens.

It works both chemically and mechanically,” says Seal, who has been studying nanotechnology for more than 20 years. “The nanoparticles emit electrons that oxidize the virus, rendering it inactive. Mechanically, they also attach themselves to the virus and rupture the surface, almost like popping a balloon.”

Most disinfecting wipes or sprays will disinfect a surface within three to six minutes of application but have no residual effects. This means surfaces need to be wiped down repeatedly to stay clean from a number of viruses, like COVID-19. The nanoparticle formulation maintains its ability to inactivate microbes and continues to disinfect a surface for up to seven days after a single application.

The disinfectant has shown tremendous antiviral activity against seven different viruses,” says Parks, whose lab was responsible for testing the formulation against “a dictionary” of viruses. “Not only did it show antiviral properties toward coronavirus and rhinovirus, but it also proved effective against a wide range of other viruses with different structures and complexities. We are hopeful that with this amazing range of killing capacity, this disinfectant will also be a highly effective tool against other new emerging viruses.

The scientists are confident the solution will have a major impact in health care settings in particular, reducing the rate of hospital acquired infections, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Clostridium difficile – which affect more than one in 30 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals. And unlike many commercial disinfectants, the formulation has no harmful chemicals, which indicates it will be safe to use on any surface. Regulatory testing for irritancy on skin and eye cells, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, showed no harmful effects.

Many household disinfectants currently available contain chemicals that can be harmful to the body with repeated exposure,” Drake says. “Our nanoparticle-based product will have a high safety rating will play a major role in reducing overall chemical exposure for humans.”


How to Confine Artificial Suns

Stellarators, twisty magnetic devices that aim to harness on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars, have long played second fiddle to more widely used doughnut-shaped facilities known as tokamaks. The complex twisted stellarator magnets have been difficult to design and have previously allowed greater leakage of the superhigh heat from fusion reactions.

Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Germany, working in collaboration with researchers that include the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), have shown that the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) device in Greifswald, Germany, the largest and most advanced stellarator in the world, is capable of confining heat that reaches temperatures twice as great as the core of the sun.

PPPL physicist Novimir Pablant with computer simulation of W7-X magnetic coils and plasma.

A diagnostic instrument called the XICS, chiefly designed, built and operated by PPPL physicist Novimir Pablant in collaboration with IPP physicist Andreas Langenberg, is a key indicator of a sharp reduction of a type of heat loss called “neoclassical transport” that has historically been greater in classical stellarators than in tokamaks. Causing the troublesome transport are frequent collisions that knock heated particles out of their orbits as they swirl around the magnetic field lines that confine them. Contributing to the transport are drifts in the particle orbits.

A recent report on W7-X findings in Nature magazine confirms the success of the efforts of designers to shape the intricately twisted stellarator magnets to reduce neoclassical transport. First author of the paper was physicist Craig Beidler of the IPP Theory Division. “It’s really exciting news for fusion that this design has been successful,” said Pablant, a coauthor along with Langenberg of the paper. “It clearly shows that this kind of optimization can be done.”

David Gates, head of the Advanced Projects Department at PPPL that oversees the laboratory’s stellarator work, was also highly enthused. “It’s been very exciting for us, at PPPL and all the other U.S. collaborating institutions, to be part of this really exciting experiment,” Gates said. “Novi’s work has been right at the center of this amazing experimental team’s effort. I am very grateful to our German colleagues for so graciously enabling our participation.


How To Reverse Cell Aging

A team of scientists has found why elderly people are more susceptible to COVID-19 and are working to reverse the aging process of the body’s immune system.

Scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology say they have found a way to rejuvenate the aging process of the body’s immune system. Prof. Doron Melamed and doctoral student Reem Dowery sought to understand why the elderly population is more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 and why the vaccines seem to be less effective and wane faster among this population. The results of their work were published this month in the peer-reviewed, online medical journal Blood.
The secret begins with B cells, also known as B lymphocytes. These are the cells that produce antibodies against any pathogen that enters the body. They play a key role in protecting people from viruses and diseases.
B cells do not just disappear. They turn into “memoryB cells so that if the body is exposed to a previous pathogen, the individual will not get sick. That is because the immune response will be fast and robust, and it will eliminate the pathogen, often without the individual knowing he or she had been exposed to it.

Imagine you are growing into adulthood, and you become an adult and then an older person,” Melamed said. “You accumulate in your body many memory cells. You are exposed all the time to pathogens, and hence you make more and more memory cells. Because these are so long-lived, there is no room left for new B cells.
What happens when a new pathogen, such as the coronavirus, comes along? There are no young B cells that can recognize it. That is one of the reasons why older people are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 and many other diseases. As noted, this happens because of the body’s need for homeostasis, something that Melamed’s lab discovered a decade ago. But this year, they took the discovery another step and figured out a mechanism to override the system.
We found specific hormonal signals produced by the old B cells, the memory cells, that inhibit the bone marrow from producing new B cells,” Melamed said. “This is a huge discovery. It is like finding a needle in a haystack.”

It also means that, over time, specific drugs or treatments can be found to inhibit one of the hormones in the signaling pathway and get the bone marrow to produce new B cells.


Smart Clothing

There’s no need to don uncomfortable smartwatches or chest straps to monitor your heart if your comfy shirt can do a better job. That’s the idea behind “smart clothing” developed by a Rice University lab, which employed its conductive nanotube thread to weave functionality into regular apparel.

The Brown School of Engineering lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali reported in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters that it sewed nanotube fibers into athletic wear to monitor the heart rate and take a continual electrocardiogram (EKG) of the wearer. The fibers are just as conductive as metal wires, but washable, comfortable and far less likely to break when a body is in motion, according to the researchers. On the whole, the shirt they enhanced was better at gathering data than a standard chest-strap monitor taking live measurements during experiments. When matched with commercial medical electrode monitors, the carbon nanotube shirt gave slightly better EKGs.

Rice University graduate student Lauren Taylor shows a shirt with carbon nanotube thread that provides constant monitoring of the wearer’s heart

The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” said Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.”


Glue Seals Bleeding Organs in Seconds

Inspired by the sticky substance that barnacles use to cling to rocks, MIT engineers have designed a strong, biocompatible glue that can seal injured tissues and stop bleeding. The new paste can adhere to surfaces even when they are covered with blood, and can form a tight seal within about 15 seconds of application. Such a glue could offer a much more effective way to treat traumatic injuries and to help control bleeding during surgery, the researchers say.

We are solving an adhesion problem in a challenging environment, which is this wet, dynamic environment of human tissues. At the same time, we are trying to translate this fundamental knowledge into real products that can save lives,” says Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT and one of the senior authors of the study. Finding ways to stop bleeding is a longstanding problem that has not been adequately solved, Zhao says. Sutures are commonly used to seal wounds, but putting stitches in place is a time-consuming process that usually isn’t possible for first responders to perform during an emergency situation. Among members of the military, blood loss is the leading cause of death following a traumatic injury, and among the general population, it is the second leading cause of death following a traumatic injury.

In recent years, some materials that can halt bleeding, also called hemostatic agents, have become commercially available. Many of these consist of patches that contain clotting factors, which help blood to clot on its own. However, these require several minutes to form a seal and don’t always work on wounds that are bleeding profusely. Zhao’s lab has been working to address this problem for several years

For their new tissue glue, the researchers once again drew inspiration from the natural world. This time, they focused their attention on the barnacle, a small crustacean that attaches itself to rocks, ship hulls, and even other animals such as whales. These surfaces are wet and often dirty — conditions that make adhesion difficult. “This caught our eye,” Yuk says. “It’s very interesting because to seal bleeding tissues, you have to fight with not only wetness but also the contamination from this outcoming blood. We found that this creature living in a marine environment is doing exactly the same thing that we have to do to deal with complicated bleeding issues.” The researchers’ analysis of barnacle glue revealed that it has a unique composition. The sticky protein molecules that help barnacles attach to surfaces are suspended in an oil that repels water and any contaminants found on the surface, allowing the adhesive proteins to attach firmly to the surface.

The MIT team decided to try to mimic this glue by adapting an adhesive they had previously developed. This sticky material consists of a polymer called poly(acrylic acid) embedded with an organic compound called an NHS ester, which provides adhesion, and chitosan, a sugar that strengthens the material. The researchers froze sheets of this material, ground it into microparticles, and then suspended those particles in medical grade silicone oil.

Christoph Nabzdyk, a cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is also a senior author of the paper, which appears today in Nature Biomedical Engineering. MIT Research Scientist Hyunwoo Yuk and postdoc Jingjing Wu are the lead authors of the study.