Stretchy Brain-mimicking AI BioSensor Tracks Continuously Your Health

It’s a brainy Band-Aid, a smart watch without the watch, and a leap forward for wearable health technologies. Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have developed a flexible, stretchable computing chip that processes information by mimicking the human brain. The device, described in the journal Matter, aims to change the way health data is processed.

With this work we’ve bridged wearable technology with artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a powerful device which can analyze health data right on our own bodies,” said Sihong Wang, a materials scientist and Assistant Professor of Molecular Engineering.

Today, getting an in-depth profile about your health requires a visit to a hospital or clinic. In the future, Wang said, people’s health could be tracked continuously by wearable electronics that can detect disease even before symptoms appear. Unobtrusive, wearable computing devices are one step toward making this vision a reality.

The future of healthcare that Wang—and many others—envision includes wearable biosensors to track complex indicators of health including levels of oxygen, sugar, metabolites and immune molecules in people’s blood. One of the keys to making these sensors feasible is their ability to conform to the skin. As such skin-like wearable biosensors emerge and begin collecting more and more information in real-time, the analysis becomes exponentially more complex. A single piece of data must be put into the broader perspective of a patient’s history and other health parameters.


Molecular ‘Switch’ Reverses Chronic Inflammation And Aging

Chronic inflammation, which results when old age, stress or environmental toxins keep the body’s immune system in overdrive, can contribute to a variety of devastating diseases, from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to diabetes and cancer.

Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a molecularswitch” that controls the immune machinery responsible for chronic inflammation in the body. The finding, which appears online  in the journal Cell Metabolism, could lead to new ways to halt or even reverse many of these age-related conditions.

My lab is very interested in understanding the reversibility of aging,” said senior author Danica Chen, associate professor of metabolic biology, nutritional sciences and toxicology at UC Berkeley. “In the past, we showed that aged stem cells can be rejuvenated. Now, we are asking: to what extent can aging be reversed? And we are doing that by looking at physiological conditions, like inflammation and insulin resistance, that have been associated with aging-related degeneration and diseases.”

In the study, Chen and her team show that a bulky collection of immune proteins called the NLRP3 inflammasome — responsible for sensing potential threats to the body and launching an inflammation response — can be essentially switched off by removing a small bit of molecular matter in a process called deacetylation.

Overactivation of the NLRP3 inflammasome has been linked to a variety of chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes and dementia. Chen’s results suggest that drugs targeted toward deacetylating, or switching off, this NLRP3 inflammasome might help prevent or treat these conditions and possibly age-related degeneration in general.

This acetylation can serve as a switch,” Chen said. “So, when it is acetylated, this inflammasome is on. When it is deacetylated, the inflammasome is off.”


Nanoparticles Act As Immunotherapy Agents

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have developed nanoparticles that, in the lab, can activate immune responses to cancer cells. If they are shown to work as well in the body as they do in the lab, the nanoparticles might provide an effective and more affordable way to fight cancer.

They are cheaper to produce and easier to engineer than the antibodies that underlie current immunotherapies, which as drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars a month.

The nanoparticles were made of sections of the T cell protein PD-1 (in blue) attached to a branched core called a dendrimer (in gray). The branches in the core of the nanoparticle allowed many chunks of the PD-1 protein to bind to the nanoparticle, increasing its effectiveness.

Immunotherapy basically boosts the patient’s own immune system to fight against cancer cells better,” says Seungpyo Hong, a professor in the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy. “The antibodies that are used right now are large, they’re expensive, they’re hard to engineer, and they don’t always show the highest level of efficacy either. So we wanted to explore other ways to activate the immune system.

Hong and postdoctoral associate Woo-jin Jeong led the study, published online Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, with collaborators at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It’s the first demonstration that nanoparticles can act as immunotherapy agents.

More research is needed to understand their effectiveness in the body, but Hong has applied for a patent on the new nanoparticles and is now testing them in animal models.

In tests against lab-grown strains of cancer, the nanoparticles boosted production of the immune stimulating protein interleukin-2 by T cells, one kind of immune cell in the body, by about 50 percent compared to no treatment. They were just as effective as antibodies. The nanoparticles were also able to improve the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin in similar tests.

Normally, T cells produce a protein named PD-1 that acts like an off switch for immune responses. This “checkpoint” helps keep T cells from improperly attacking healthy cells.


Measles Virus Resets Immune System To ‘Baby-like’ State

Two newly published studies have found that measles is a bigger deal than many people realize: it leaves them more susceptible to a variety of other health conditions. The issue is caused by eliminating many of the protective antibodies one develops over time, opening the door for illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses to which the patient was previously immune.

Measles vaccination rates have decreased, particularly among select populations motivated by skepticism of the science behind vaccinations in general or by ideologies that forbid their use. There’s a general belief among many that measles, a highly contagious disease most commonly acquired in childhood, is “no big deal” for most people. That’s not true, however.

Researchers with multiple institutions, including the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Harvard Medical School, found that the measles virus can essentially wipe the patient’s immune system record, eliminating the protective antibodies that make them immune to various viruses and other pathogens. This effect was observed in both humans and ferrets

According to the study, the immune system of someone who was infected with measles is partially reset to ‘an immature baby-like state,’ one that is able to respond to viruses and bacteria in a limited fashion. As a result of this, kids who contract measles are more likely to contract other illnesses they were previously immune to, such as the flu

The measles is highly preventable with the administration of a vaccine that led to the elimination of the disease in the US and, until recently, the UK. The condition itself causes a red rash and fever; there’s the potential for severe complications leading to death. Despite this, vaccination rates have decreased, particularly among certain religious collectives and anti-vaxers.


Blood Test Predicts Breast Cancer Relapse

Using data from a person’s immune response, researchers have devised a blood test that may accurately predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Despite scientific advancements in breast cancer research, this type continues to be the leading cancer among women in the United States and the second deadliest after lung cancer. Many breast cancer survivors live with a continual worry that the condition will reemerge, while researchers are hard at work, trying to discern patterns of breast cancer recurrence. For instance, studies of breast cancer receptors show that estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancers are more likely to recur in the first 5 years after diagnosis, while ER-positive breast cancers are associated with a higher risk of recurrence in the following 10 years.

New research looks at the body’s antitumor inflammatory response to devise a blood test that may soon predict a person’s chances of experiencing breast cancer recurrence. Dr. Peter P. Lee, chair of the Department of Immuno-Oncology at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Duarte, CA, is the senior author of the new study, which appears in the journal Nature ImmunologyThe balance between the immune system’s pro- and anti-inflammatory signaling in response to cytokines can determine a person’s antitumor immune reaction, explain Dr. Lee and colleagues in their paper.

For the study, the researchers recruited 40 breast cancer survivors and clinically followed them for a median period of 4 years. The researchers also used an additional sample of 38 breast cancer survivors to attempt to replicate their findings from the previous group. A person with cancer tends to have peripheral blood regulatory T cells (T-reg cells, for short) with less active pro-inflammatory cytokine signaling pathways and more active immune suppressive cytokine signaling pathways, explain the researchers.

Using this signaling data, the scientists created an index. The hope is that, eventually, healthcare professionals will be able to run data of a blood sample from a breast cancer survivor through an algorithm based on Lee and the team’s cytokine signaling index. The goal is for physicians and breast cancer patients to know the risk of the disease recurring within the next 3–5 years.

Knowing the chance of cancer relapse will inform doctors how aggressive a particular patient’s cancer treatment should be,” Dr. Lee explains. “The [cytokine signaling index] is an overall reflection of a patient’s immune system at diagnosis, which we now know is a major determinant of future relapse.


Have China’s CRISPR Twins Enhanced Brains?

New research suggests that a controversial gene-editing experiment to make children resistant to HIV may also have enhanced their ability to learn and form memories. The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections.

“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and “that is why it should not be done.”

The Chinese team, led by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed it used CRISPR to delete CCR5 from human embryos, some of which were later used to create pregnanciesHIV requires the CCR5 gene to enter human blood cells.

The experiment has been widely condemned as irresponsible, and He is under investigation in China. News of the first gene-edited babies also inflamed speculation about whether CRISPR technology could one day be used to create super-intelligent humans, perhaps as part of a biotechnology race between the US and China.

There is no evidence that He actually set out to modify the twins’ intelligence. MIT Technology Review contacted scientists studying the effects of CCR5 on cognition, and they say the Chinese scientist never reached out to them, as he did to others from whom he hoped to get scientific advice or support.
As far as I know, we never heard from him,” says Miou Zhou, a professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California.

Although He never consulted the brain researchers, the Chinese scientist was certainly aware of the link between CCR5 and cognition.  It was first shown in 2016 by Zhou and Silva, who found that removing the gene from mice significantly improved their memory. The team had looked at more than 140 different genetic alterations to find which made mice smarter.