Monday, April 20, 2015

Smartphone Diagnosis? Biosensing Platform Quickly and Accurately Diagnoses Disease and Monitors Treatment Remotely

News Brief by Fred Lu

Your smartphone just got smarter. Researchers have discovered a way to screen for infectious diseases using a sample as small as a drop of blood without the need for extensive laboratory infrastructure. Waseem Asghar, Ph.D.,of Florida Atlantic University, Hadi Shafiee, Ph.D of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Biomedical Engineering, Fatih Inci, Ph.D, and Utkan Demirci, Ph.D of the Stanford School of Medicine combined paper and other types of flexible material to build an electrical and optical biosensor that can be linked to a smartphone app, allowing for rapid diagnosis and identification of microbes. In contrast with existing biosensors that require signals to be amplified before use, are expensive to manufacture, and require expensive equipment to deploy, these sensors can be constructed at a low cost and are simpler to use. Asghar hopes that this development can speed up the diagnosis of infectious disease and clinical research in developing areas.

Florida Atlantic University. "Smart phone diagnosis? Biosensing platform quickly and accurately diagnoses disease and monitors treatment remotely." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2015. .

Cardiac Tissue Grown on 'Spider Silk' Substrate

News Brief by Kathryn Gibb
            Researchers at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology have made a discovery that could transform the transplant world.  A research team led by Professor Konstantin Agladze worked on cardiac tissue engineering and recently found a new way to cultivate heart tissue cells.  The researchers have used a spidroin substrate, also known as cobweb protein, to grow the tissue cells.  These protein strands are known to be strong, flexible, and durable.  Oftentimes it is difficult to find a substrate to grow cells on, but this cobweb protein has allowed the researchers to develop cells within three to five days that act just as living heart tissue would. The spidroin fiber has been used in the past to grow implants like tendons and bones, but this is the first time that they have been used to grow cells.

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. "Cardiac tissue grown on 'spider silk' substrate." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2015. .

60 Years After a Vaccine, New Technology May Finally Eradicate Polio

News Brief by Lushna Mehra      
      New technologies have allowed for the creation of an easily accessible and usable vaccine to get rid of polio.  Polio became extremely prevalent in the 1940s and 50s when 35,000 people were said to have been disabled annually because of it.  Two major vaccinations were used around that time: the Salk and the Sabin.  The former injected the recipient with a “dead” virus, while the latter was an oral vaccine with a weakened version of live polio.  The Sabin vaccine was especially helpful in increasing people’s immunity, though presently the U.S. uses a vaccine similar to the Salk.
            In typical cases of polio, people have few to minor symptoms like limb pain, fatigue, and nausea in 4 to 8% of cases.  Additionally, less than 1% of the cases lead to permanent paralysis, which often occurs in the legs but sometimes may occur in the respiratory system as well.  The major way in which polio spreads is from person-to-person contact, including coughing, sneezing, or fecal contamination.  The virus can last for seconds in the air, hours on a surface, and weeks in fecal matter.  Though polio was declared decimated in the U.S. in 1979, researchers want to protect the entire human population.  Smallpox is a similar virus and it is the only infectious disease that humans have gotten rid of, and many hope to do the same to polio.
            The newly created vaccine for polio involves a patch similar to an adhesive bandage.  This patch contains microneedles with the vaccine in it, and the vaccine is delivered to the body when the patch is put on the skin and pressed on.  This combats the challenge of limited resources and ability to transport them since the microneedle patch does not require professionals to administer it and is easily transportable to those in need of it.  Microneedle patches may therefore be the future to restrict and to potentially eradicate polio.    

Strickland, Ashley. "60 Years after a Vaccine, New Technology May Finally Eradicate Polio." CNN. N.p., 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. .

In first human study, new antibody therapy shows promise in suppressing HIV infection

News Brief by Kanika Kamal

Scientists at Rockefeller University have discovered a new strategy for combating HIV.  HIV is very difficult to fight because it constantly mutates and evolves to become drug resistant. The body has trouble producing new antibodies to keep up with the ever-changing virus. Additionally, scientists and doctors must stay several steps ahead of the virus in order to fight this virus. This new research, however, has discovered a possibly potent antibody, 3BNC117, which is able to get a headstart and catch HIV efficiently. 
            After testing this antibody on mice and primates, scientists conducted a study where the antibody was injected into the bloodstream of uninfected and HIV-positive humans. This experimental design on its own was revolutionary as it was the first time that “new generation” HIV antibodies were tested on humans. After 56 days, all of the infected participants showed a 300-fold decrease in the amount of HIV in the blood. Additionally, the antibodies remained active in individuals for quite some time. Naturally, the results deviated depending on the amount of virus originally present and the sensitivity of the strain they had. Lastly, scientists believe that the antibody can also enhance the patient’s immune system, which can further confer protection against the virus. Nonetheless, these results were promising.

            Much like other HIV-treatments, this antibody will have to be used in conjunction with other drugs for best results, as the virus is constantly evolving. Overall, 3BNC117 has had remarkable success in the participants for the study and thus proves to be a promising new weapon in the fight against HIV.

Rockefeller University. "In first human study, new antibody therapy shows promise in suppressing HIV infection." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2015. .

Two New Ebola Vaccines Pass Important Early Test, Researchers Say

News Brief by Samantha Fine

Researchers confirmed that two new Ebola vaccines have been proven to protect monkeys from the strain of the deadly virus without any side effects. However, the vaccines have not been tested on humans yet. Older vaccines have traditionally caused side effects such as fever and joint and muscle pain. Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas in Galveston, stated that human trials of the new vaccines will begin in the summer. These recent vaccines were made by the company Profectus BioSciences, which received $55 million to conduct research on Ebola vaccines. The vaccines are made from the vesicular stomatitis virus (V.S.V), which causes an oral disease in cattle but rarely infects humans. In the Ebola vaccines, V.S.V is engineered to make a protein from the surface of the Ebola virus; this protein communicates with the immune system and assists it in recognizing and fighting off the Ebola infection. Future studies will soon show the effectiveness of these new vaccines.

Grady, Denise. "2 New Ebola Vaccines Pass Important Early Test, Researchers Say." The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ebola virus diagnostic tool developed by physician who worked in Liberia

News Brief by Catherine Donlon

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) affected 24,000 people in West Africa in the recent epidemic; over 10,000 people died from the disease, making it the largest EVD epidemic in history. With such a high mortality rate, it is very important for physicians and healthcare providers to be able to diagnosis EVD in patients. Correct diagnoses help save lives because infected individuals can be isolated, and unaffected individuals can leave hospitals, where they are more likely to contract the disease from sick patients. Unfortunately the presence of EVD is difficult to determine in patients due to the fact that its symptoms resemble many other illnesses like a cold, fever, or the flu.

Adam C. Levine, an emergency medicine physician who volunteered in Liberia to treat infected individuals and set up an Ebola Treatment Unit, created a model to help determine which patients needed to be isolated before lab result confirmations were available. He created an Ebola Prediction Score that called for patients to be isolated if they showed six specific symptoms: “sick contact, diarrhea, loss of appetite, muscle pain, difficulty swallowing, absence of abdominal pain.” Of the patients isolated at the Ebola Treatment Unit after this six-symptom model was put into place, 42% of the people were confirmed to have EVD by laboratory tests. Although this model helped in early treatment and diagnosis of EVD in Liberia, there is still a lot of research that needs to be done in order for diagnosis to be more efficient and timely. Advances in EVD diagnosis could save hundreds of lives.

Lifespan. "Ebola virus diagnostic tool developed by physician who worked in Liberia." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2015. .

Connecticut Teen Can't Return Home as Forced Chemo Ends

News Brief by Prachi Sharma

            A 17-year-old, documented as Cassandra C., -her true name has not been revealed due to her status as a juvenile)- was forced to undergo six months of chemotherapy against her will to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.  Recently she has been denied a motion to return to her mother's home or hold visitation rights. Cassandra was initially diagnosed with the cancer in September 2014, and was told that she had an 85% chance of survival if treated with chemotherapy; without it, doctors asserted she would die within two years. After undergoing treatment for two days in November, Cassandra ran away and was consequently placed under the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. In spite of an intense legal battle, doctors surgically implanted a port in her chest to administer the medication in December, and Cassandra has been in good health since then.      Ultimately, her lawyers failed to prove that Cassandra was mature enough to make her own medical decisions. A judge has ruled that Cassandra will remain in temporary custody of the state until the end of April when her last round of chemotherapy is complete, and will then be free to return home, even though her lawyers assert that she is currently no longer in jeopardy from her disease and should be free to leave now. This case illustrates the ongoing debate between patient autonomy and beneficence, the physician's duty to act in the patient's best interests.

Goldschmidt, Debra. "Connecticut Teen Can't Return Home as Forced Chemo Ends." CNN. Cable News Network, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Common bacteria on verge of becoming antibiotic-resistant superbugs

News Brief by Jessica Newfield

The Washington University School of Medicine recently published an article conveying that antibiotic resistance is spreading much more easily and rapidly through two common genes that are the most responsible for hospital-related infections. The infections that most commonly result from antibiotic resistance in hospital settings are respiratory and urinary infections. The causes of these infections are believed to be linked to contaminated scopes with bacteria that resist carbapenems, which are antibiotics used by gravely ill patients. Author Gautam Dantas, PhD, suggests that we may even be past the times of using antibiotics, as they are becoming less and less effective, and may even cause more harm than good. Carbapenem-resistant bacteria are now considered one of the three most urgent threats among antibiotic resistant bacteria. The two genes responsible for carbapenem-resistant diseases are KPC and NDM-1, both found on contaminated medical equipment. After sequencing the genome of these two resistance genes, researchers have determined that it is only going to get easier for antibiotic resistance to spread.

Washington University School of Medicine. (2015, March 25). Common bacteria on verge of becoming antibiotic-resistant superbugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 4, 2015 from

College Kids Make Robotic Arms for Children Without Real Ones

News Brief by Catie Donlon 
In the United States itself, there are about 1,500 children who are born with upper limb deformities every year. Through the use of 3-D printers and with the expertise of several nonprofit organizations, these children can receive significant help by means of both mechanical and electronic arms.
The mechanical limbs allow the hand to open and close when the elbow bends. E-Nable is an online organization started by Jon Schull at the Rochester Institute of Technology that connects children with 3-D printers that create these mechanical arms. It also allows for designs for bionic arms to be shared across the Internet. However these mechanical arms do not function for children without elbows. 
 Limbitless Solutions, started by Albert Manero at the University of Central Florida (UCF), is the only organization that currently creates electronic hands and arms. These electronic arms function differently than a normal arm, by using a muscle sensor that causes the hand to open and close when the bicep is flexed. Each arm costs about $350 and requires 30-50 hours to make. College students and graduate students at UCF have already created electronic arms for five children, and are currently in the process of helping three more. These arms are also customizable such that the children can choose different colors and patterns. This huge advance in robotics and science has the ability to make a difference in children's lives around the world!

Sashin, Daphne. "College Kids Make Robotic Arms for Children without Real Ones." CNN. Cable News Network, 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. .

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