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Tech News

Wearable gauges fitness through stress hormones in your sweat

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Cortisol (best known as the stress hormone) is handy for tracking your athletic performance and even spotting signs of disease, since it reflects how well your adrenal or pituitary glands are working. But there’s a problem: measuring that often takes several days of lab work, by which point the info is no longer relevant. Scientists might have a much better option. They’ve developed a flexible, wearable sweat sensor (not shown here) that tracks cortisol levels with results in seconds — that is, while it’s at its most useful. It sounds straightforward, but the team had to overcome a major obstacle common to most biological sensors.

A typical sensor looks for the positive or negative charge in molecules, but that’s not really an option with a chargeless substance like cortisol. The researchers tackled this with a membrane that binds only to cortisol and lets regular charged molecules pass through. The sensor then measures the cortisol-carrying molecules trapped by the membrane, rather than the cortisol itself. All you need to do is visibly sweat and apply the patch.

The technology isn’t perfect in its current incarnation. It can work multiple times, but it struggles if bogged down in sweat. They also want to improve the overall reliability and try using it on your saliva, saving you from having to work out to gather data. Nonetheless, the potential is clear. This could help sports stars and fitness mavens quantify their abilities mere moments after finishing a sweaty workout, and it might provide clues to otherwise imperceptible illnesses.

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IBM extends deal using Watson to support veterans with cancer

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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IBM is making further use of Watson in the fight against cancer. The tech giant has extended a team-up with the US Department of Veterans Affairs that taps Watson for help treating soldiers with cancer, particularly stage 4 patients who have few other options. The new alliance runs through “at least” June 2019 and will continue the partnership’s existing strategy. Oncologists and pathologists first sequence tumor DNA, and then use Watson’s AI to interpret the data and spot mutations that might open up therapeutic choices.

The pact could do more to help health care in the US than you might think. IBM noted that Veterans Affairs treats about 3.5 percent of all American cancer patients, the largest in any one cancer group. If even a fraction of them can find viable cancer treatments through Watson, that could help a significant portion of the population.

The company also points out that “more than one-third” of VA patients in this oncology program (about 2,700 have received support so far) are rural residents who have a harder time getting access to cutting-edge treatments. To some extent, this could make specialized cancer therapy more accessible, not just more commonplace.

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Study links ADHD symptoms in teens to frequent gadget use

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Many people will tell you that teens’ constant device use leaves them unable to focus, but is that actually the case? The answer is a giant “maybe.” A newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms in teens to frequent device use. Out of 2,587 high school students studied over a two-year period, those who used multiple digital media types several times a day were about twice as likely to report strong ADHD-like symptoms (such as a lack of impulse control and patience) as their peers. The more digital media they used, the more likely it was that symptoms would surface.

It’s tempting to make teens swear off non-essential use of digital devices after that, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as it seems at first blush. To start, the researchers noted that this doesn’t establish a causal link between device use and ADHD. It’s hard to tell how many already had ADHD-like symptoms and simply funneled that into device use. And when the symptoms were self-reported, it’s possible that some withheld the truth about their habits to avoid feelings of guilt and shame. The scientists themselves also took care to contextualize the results — that twice-as-likely figure was “statistically significant,” but the connection was ultimately “modest.”

Still, the study suggests that parents may want to discuss curbs on device use. That doesn’t necessarily mean imposing hard limits, but it may mean encouraging healthier habits (such as ignoring notifications or reducing their frequency) and discovering any underlying issues that might spur non-stop activity. It also suggests that screen time management tools from Apple, Google and others could be helpful. Whether or not gadgets play a role in fostering ADHD, they can also keep the associated behavior at bay.

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CRISPR might cause more unintended DNA damage than we thought

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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A new study published today in Nature Biotechnology warns that CRISPR may not be the ultra-specific gene editor we’ve believed it to be. With CRISPR-Cas9, researchers can find particular sequences in a cell’s DNA and cut them at a specified spot. The cell can then repair the DNA where it was cut and scientists have been attempting to use this technique to treat all sorts of diseases and disorders including ALS, Huntington’s disease, HIV and sickle cell disease. The method has been thought to be rather specific, allowing scientists to target and remove only certain sequences while leaving surrounding DNA intact. But this new study says that CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing might be causing more damage than previously reported.

The researchers tested three types of cells — mouse embryonic stem cells, mouse bone marrow cells and human retinal cells — and observed that the CRISPR system resulted in DNA rearrangements and DNA deletions that were sometimes hundreds or even thousands of DNA letters long. And the problem appears to arise in the repair portion of the procedure. “The cell will try to stitch things back together,” Allan Bradley, a professor at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK and lead author of the study, told Nature News. “But it doesn’t really know what bits of DNA lie adjacent to each other.”

How have these deletions and rearrangements slipped under the radar so far? It’s likely a combination of chosen technique and search area. Certain methods may not pick up on these larger types of DNA changes and studies will typically look for them in more narrow regions of DNA. With this new study, the research team used a different method to hunt down deletions and looked over a much larger area. “You find what you look for,” Bradley told New Scientist.

These findings don’t necessarily mean CRISPR-Cas9 is unsafe, and for certain applications it may prove to be just fine. But when you begin dealing with billions of cells inside of a human body, there could be repercussions. “There’s a risk of causing cancer sometime in a patient’s lifetime,” said Bradley. “We need to understand more before rushing into human clinical trials.”

Other types of CRISPR systems — and there are a few variations — work differently, and they may not be quite as prone to these types of mistakes. Further, CRISPR-Cas9 may not have these same results in different types of cells. But ultimately these findings highlight the need to make sure we’re looking for these accidental alterations everywhere they might be. “It means that when people use it, they need to do a more thorough analysis,” Brandeis Professor James Haber, who was not affiliated with the study, told Nature News. “It’s generally important to know whether your mutations are as you think they are.”

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Scientists develop the world's first 3D color X-rays

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

CERN

A New Zealand company has generated the first 3D color X-Ray images of the human body by using an advanced medical scanner. The scanner utilizes CERN’s Medipix3 technology and has been in development for a decade. It’s able to produce high resolution images thanks to particle tracking technology.

Medipix chips work like a camera — they identify individual sub-atomic particles that make contact with pixels while the electronic shutter is open. According to Professor Phil Butler, one of two MARS Bioimaging Ltd scientists who built the scanner, the Medipix3 chip is what could give them an advantage in medical diagnosis: “Its small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean that this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve”.

By combining the chip’s spectroscopic information with algorithms, the MARS scientists were able to create 3D color images that can distinguish clearly between fat, water and disease markers. A smaller version of the 3D scanner that’s been used for studying cancer and vascular diseases is already yielding promising results, and thanks to the licensing agreement between CERN and MARS, the technology will be commercialized.

The scanner will be used in world first clinical trials involving Rheumatology and orthopedic patients in forthcoming months.

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HPE supercomputer will help simulate mammalian brains

July 11, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

HPE

Scientists are about to get a serious assist in their quest to simulate brains. HPE has deployed Blue Brain 5, a supercomputer dedicated to simulations and reconstructions of mammalian brains as part of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Blue Brain Project. The system is based on HPE’s existing SGI 8600 (above) and packs a hefty 372 compute nodes between its Xeon Gold, Xeon Phi and Tesla V100 processors, not to mention a whopping 94TB of memory. More importantly, it’s flexible — Blue Brain 5 has four configurations to prioritize different computing tasks, and it can host subsystems geared toward relevant tasks (including deep learning and visualization) while operating as a cohesive whole.

This kind of power is necessary, even if simulating a complete brain is still a long ways off. Blue Brain co-director Felix Schürmann noted that modelling a single brain region can require solving 100 billion simultaneous equations — Blue Brain 5’s highly parallel 1.06 petaflops can theoretically handle that quickly.

The system has been installed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Lugano, although it’ll be a while before you see the results of what it can do. It could easily prove crucial, though. EPFL hopes the supercomputer will help fulfill the school’s goal of modelling entire regions of a mouse’s brain by 2020. The data it generates should advance humanity’s understanding of the brain and may lead to new disease treatments that weren’t even plausible before.

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Popular 'PUBG' streamer faces ban for playing with cheater

July 10, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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There’s no question that PUBG‘s creators want to crack down on cheating, but some players have wondered: is it really willing to go after superstar players if they play dirty? Apparently, the answer is yes. PUBG Corp has issued a one-month ban to Shroud (aka Michael Grzesiek), one of PUBG‘s best-known streamers, after a session where he initially complained about and then played with a cheater. The hacker both took Shroud around in a flying car and helped him spot rival players that were otherwise invisible. And did we mention that the hacker wasn’t part of Shroud’s squad, which is a bannable offense by itself?

Shroud has since apologized for the session, acknowledging that he knew what he was doing and that it “wasn’t a great idea.” At the same time, he was also critical of PUBG Corp for taking its time to ban the cheater. “That guy should have been banned immediately,” he said, noting that the hacker had killed him twice in dodgy ways. Shroud decided to ride with the hacker to see how long it would last.

PUBG Corp hasn’t weighed in on the ban, but it’s unlikely to give Shroud a reprieve. While it has drawn criticism for its problems banning cheaters in a timely fashion, it’s not about to backtrack here. It has a degree of history for taking action against well-known offenders, such as a ban against Dr DisRespect when he killed teammates during a stream. And that could have serious consequences for Shroud’s bottom line. He was supposed to play in a PUBG Squad Showdown tournament on July 13th, but that seems unlikely when he can’t use his usual account. Whatever the motivations for his actions, this is a reminder that he and other big-time streamers still have to face punishment for reckless behavior.

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Smart bandage can monitor chronic wounds and dispense drugs

July 9, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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gilaxia via Getty Images

Chronic or slow-healing wounds are an increasing problem around the world. That’s why a team of researchers at Tufts University is working on a smart bandage that can keep track of what is going on with a wound and release treatments as necessary.

According to a recent article in the journal Small, researchers led by Pooria Mostafalu sought to increase the healing rate of chronic wounds by creating a smart bandage. “The wound environment is dynamic, but their healing rate can be enhanced by administration of therapies at the right time,” the article says.

The smart bandage can monitor both temperature and pH of the wound. If it detects a change, it can diagnose the problem and dispense drugs as necessary, thanks to a central processor, which a doctor can program to administer treatment if certain conditions are detected. “A stimuli‐responsive drug releasing system comprising of a hydrogel loaded with thermo‐responsive drug carriers and an electronically controlled flexible heater is also integrated into the wound dressing to release the drugs on‐demand,” the paper says. The bandage will also monitor treatment to determine if further steps are necessary. It can also provide real-time status updates via Bluetooth.

“Chronic wounds are one of the leading causes of amputations outside of war settings,” author Sameer Sonkusale told Digital Trends. Flexible and responsive bandages that can monitor a wound and deliver real-time treatment could be key in reducing the number of these amputations because they can treat a chronic wound quickly to prevent infection and promote healing.

Introducing tech into bandages isn’t a new concept; there are quite a few of these smart wound dressings floating around. This idea does have a lot of promise though, especially because the bandage itself can dispense treatment rather than waiting for a doctor’s response. It will be awhile before it is available for real-world application (and it’s quite possible that it never will be.) According to the article, the next step for the smart bandage is to test the technology on chronic wounds in animals to see if it is as effective as it was in the experiments.

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HIV vaccine delivers promising results in human tests

July 7, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Penchan Pumila / Alamy

A Harvard-led team of scientists has made important progress in the quest to prevent HIV infections. They’ve had early success testing a multi-strain vaccine in humans — everyone who received the drug produced at least some kind of anti-HIV immune response, with at least 80 percent producing more advanced responses. The researchers also found that the same vaccine protected 67 percent of rhesus monkeys against simian-human immunodeficiency virus, which suggests it might be effective against HIV.

This doesn’t mean that the group has found an effective vaccine. While the monkey test is encouraging, there need to be more tests to show that the drug could effectively fend off infections in humans. The next step is to test the vaccine with 2,600 women in southern Africa who are at risk of contracting HIV. It’s one of just five vaccines to ever make it that far in testing, but those that have weren’t effective enough to go further.

However, there’s a strong incentive for this vaccine to succeed. Unlike past efforts, which only focused on specific HIV strains, this vaccine is a “mosaic” that includes pieces of multiple strains in a bid to create a more universal drug. Should it prove effective, doctors could administer vaccine on a broad scale where past vaccines would have only worked for small populations even if they’d worked well. This is unlikely to represent a catch-all solution, but it might just land a significant blow against HIV if everything goes well.

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MIT researchers automate drug design with machine learning

July 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Jin et al.

Developing and improving medications is typically a long and very involved process. Chemists build and tweak molecules, sometimes aiming to create a new treatment for a specific disease or symptom, other times working to improve a drug that already exists. But it takes a lot of time and a lot of expert knowledge, and attempts often end with a drug that doesn’t work as hoped. But researchers at MIT are using machine learning to automate this process. “The motivation behind this was to replace the inefficient human modification process of designing molecules with automated iteration and assure the validity of the molecules we generate,” Wengong Jin, a PhD student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said in a statement.

The research team trained their machine learning model on 250,000 molecular graphs, which are basically detailed images of a molecule’s structure. The researchers then had the model generate molecules, find the best base molecules to build off of and design new molecules with improved properties. The researchers found that their model was able to complete these tasks more effectively than other systems designed to automate the drug design process.

When tasked with generating new, valid molecules, each one the model created turned out to be valid. And that’s particularly important since producing invalid molecules is a major shortcoming of other automation systems — of the others the researchers compared their model to, the best only had a 43.5 percent validity rate. Secondly, when the model was told to find the best base molecule — known as a lead molecule — that is both highly soluble and easily synthesized, it again outperformed other systems. The best candidate molecule generated by their model scored 30 percent higher on those two desired properties than the best option produced by more traditional systems. Lastly, when the model was told to modify 800 molecules to improve them for those properties but keep them similar in structure to the lead molecule, around 80 percent of the time, it created new, similarly structured molecules that scored higher for those two properties than did the original molecules.

Going forward, the research team will test the model on other pharmaceutical properties and work to make a model that can function with limited amounts of training data. The research will be presented next week at the International Conference on Machine Learning.