Tag: medicine

Researchers create prosthetic hand that offers more lifelike dexterity

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a prosthetic hand inspired by the bionic one given to Star Wars' Luke Skywalker. What sets this one apart from other prosthetics is the amount of dexterity it offers, allowing users to move individual fingers at will. With it, Jason Barnes, the amputee working with the researchers, was able to play piano for the first time since losing part of his arm in 2012.

Most available prosthetics use electromyogram (EMG) sensors to translate muscle movement where the limb was removed to hand and finger motions. But those types of sensors are pretty limited in what they can do. "EMG sensors aren't very accurate," Gil Weinberg, the professor leading the project, said in a statement. "They can detect a muscle movement, but the signal is too noisy to infer which finger the person wants to move." So the team took their prosthetic one step further and attached an ultrasound probe. Just as physicians can use ultrasound machines to take a look at a fetus inside of a womb, the probe can see which muscles are moving in an amputee's arm. Algorithms can then translate that into individual finger movements. "By using this new technology, the arm can detect which fingers an amputee wants to move, even if they don't have fingers," said Weinberg.

There are a number of groups working on improving prosthetics and trying to make them more lifelike. Some of those efforts include introducing tactile feedback to let users know where their prosthetic is without having to look and giving prosthetics the ability to see what they need to grasp. DARPA even has an advanced prosthetic named LUKE, also inspired by Skywalker.

This isn't the first prosthetic built for Barnes by the Georgia Tech team. In 2014, they gave him an arm that let him play drums. It even had a second drumstick that moved based on the music being played and could play faster than any human drummer. About his second, dexterous prosthetic, Barnes said, "It's completely mind-blowing. This new arm allows me to do whatever grip I want, on the fly, without changing modes or pressing a button. I never thought we'd be able to do this."

Source: Georgia Tech

Gene therapy gives ‘bubble babies’ immune systems

Initial results from a new gene therapy technique suggest it could open the doors to a cure for "bubble baby" disease. Lacking the ability to ward off even the most common infections, infants born with the genetic disorder -- known as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) -- usually die before their second birthday. And, those untreated must be kept in isolation from the outside world, hence the term "bubble baby." Even with the best available treatment (a stem cell transplant), around 30 percent of children end up dying by the age of 10.

Roughly four months after the genetic modifications, six out of seven babies are out of protective isolation and leading healthy lives, according to doctors at St Jude Children's Research Hospital. The remaining infant's immune system is still in the process of constructing itself.

The patients in the study were all born with the inherited X-linked SCID, which is limited to boys as it's triggered by a genetic defect in the male X chromosome. The treatment they received uses an inactivated form of HIV to apply genetic modifications to bone marrow -- which is prepped using low doses of chemotherapy -- in order to kickstart it to produce all three major immune cell types. "The initial results also suggest our approach is fundamentally safer than previous attempts," said lead study author Dr. Ewelina Mamcarz.

At first glance, the treatment is being viewed as a possible cure. But, more work is needed -- specifically, the babies need to be monitored to ensure they remain stable with no side effects. Their response to vaccination will also need to be tracked.

Source: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

The best DNA ancestry test

By Amadou Diallo

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After more than 80 hours of research and reporting, and evaluating results from a panel of testers representing every major population group, we think AncestryDNA is the best DNA testing service for most people who are curious about their ethnic roots or are searching for contemporary relatives. All five DNA services we tested involve compromises, and you should keep in mind that the TV ads for these companies suggest a level of certainty that is well beyond the science upon which current tests are based. But AncestryDNA presents your data in a way that is easier to understand than many of its rivals, makes use of the largest database of DNA participants we've seen, and is among the lowest-priced services we tested.

Who this is for

Submitting your DNA sample requires either swabbing the inside of your cheeks or, even less elegantly, spitting into a tube, depending on the company you're testing with. Photo: Caroline Enos

DNA testing can have a wide range of use cases, from paternity disputes to informing if you're predisposed to genetic-based diseases. For this guide, however, we focus exclusively on services offering ancestral DNA testing: tests that comb through your DNA to help find where in the world you came from, unknown contemporary relatives, or both.

Although these tests can make accurate continent predictions, information about your genetic makeup at the country level is often dubious. You should also be prepared for the unexpected: you could find relatives that you've never met, or find out someone in your family isn't actually genealogically related to you.

How we picked and tested

We tested kits from five companies that offer ancestral DNA testing for under $400. Photo: Caroline Enos

Because the major companies now offer DNA testing for as little as $100, we eliminated prohibitively expensive options. We further limited our contenders to those with large databases of existing customer DNA. The experts we consulted told us that large databases of customers increase the accuracy when estimating ethnicity and the likelihood of finding relatives.

Eventually, we settled on five companies to test. After recruiting a panel of seven testers (three men and four women) with ancestries from all over the world, we had each tester sign up for the programs. We then mailed their physical DNA samples back to the companies, and waited for the results. Once they arrived, we asked each tester to complete a survey comparing the quality and usability of each company's reports.

Privacy concerns

Testing for something as personal as your DNA sequence highlights obvious privacy and security issues. We commissioned a legal analysis of the terms of service and privacy policies of our picks by Brian J. McGinnis, a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a founder of the firm's data security and privacy practice group. After a comparative analysis of each company's policies, McGinnis found them to be in line with common industry practices, but he did see some room for improvement.

Our pick

Photo: Caroline Enos

AncestryDNA is the service we recommend for most people who want to learn about their ethnic heritage and/or connect with unknown relatives. It's one of the most affordable services we evaluated and our testers ranked it among the top in offering useful information in an easy-to-understand presentation. The company also has the largest reported database of DNA customers we've seen, providing significantly higher odds of a successful search for contemporary relatives than its competitors. Three of our testers matched with first or second cousins.

Once the results are ready, you'll receive an email with a link to your user page. From there, a single click takes you to an overview of your ethnicity estimates as well as potential relatives the site has flagged among its user base due to their similarity to your DNA makeup. Until you join AncestryDNA's subscription service, the information you can glean from these family matches is limited to only their username and profile picture.

For data-savvy genealogists

Family Tree DNA may not have the fancy packaging of its rivals, but it provides a more comprehensive range of testing options than any service we tested. Photo: Caroline Enos

Family Tree DNA offers an affordably priced autosomal test that gave our panel of testers results that were broadly similar to those from our top pick. But their services extend beyond just ethnicity estimates, with à la carte options for both Y-DNA and mitochondrial testing at various levels of precision. Family Tree DNA's most detailed tests can set you back more than three times what you'd spend using our main pick, but they provide extremely huge (even overwhelming) amounts of information. As one of our testers put it, "Family Tree DNA had the most complete info ... even if you can't really understand some of it."

With 1.5 million users, Family Tree DNA's database is not as large as that of our top pick, but still offers a reasonable chance of connecting with relatives. Family Tree DNA provides separate family matches for each test you order. If you pay for both an autosomal and mitochondrial test, for example, you'll have access to two sets of matches. You'll see users who share your autosomal DNA and could be related on either your mother or father's side going back five generations. You'll also see users who share DNA only from your maternal side of the family going back many centuries.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

Researchers use electric currents to detect cancer in human tissue

In a study published recently in Angewandte Chemie, researchers demonstrated that an imaging technique called scanning electrochemical microscopy could become a very useful medical tool. Rather than having to use additional chemicals like dyes or fluorescent markers to get a good look at tissue, this method uses electrochemical probes to detect natural biomolecules around the tissue.

In this study, the researchers used soft microelectrodes that were brushed gently across tissue samples. While it moved across them, it measured the electrical current produced by certain chemicals in the tissues to get an idea of the physical structure of that tissue as well as its composition. The team provided three separate demonstrations of this technique's use. In the first, it scanned mouse livers to show that a certain type of nanoribbon that's being studied as a potential drug delivery mechanism can be distributed throughout the liver. In the second, the probes measured hemoglobin proteins to get a full image of a mouse heart (the right side of the image above). And in another experiment, the researchers used the technique to show that it can accurately differentiate healthy human tissue from cancerous tissue.

In the future, the researchers would like to use this method to not only detect cancerous cells but also destroy them. "We are perfectly capable of using electrochemistry to kill cancer cells on microscope slides and in petri dishes," Hubert Girault, an author of the study, said in a statement, "but doing so in thick tissue is another story."

Via: Phys.org

Source: Angewandte Chemie

This is why you don’t look directly at a solar eclipse

Remember all that talk about eclipse glasses ahead of the full solar eclipse in August? Remember NASA repeatedly letting everyone know how important those glasses were for eye safety? Do you remember how many times you heard someone say to not under any circumstances look directly at the sun during the eclipse? Well despite all of those persistent warnings, some people still did just that and a new paper published today in JAMA Ophthalmology shows that just six seconds of unprotected viewing can cause permanent damage.

The paper focuses on a woman in her 20s who looked directly at the sun without eye protection for around six seconds during the eclipse. She said her vision became blurry and distorted just a few hours later and that she started seeing a black spot when looking out of her left eye. Three days after the eclipse, she went to an ophthalmologist in New York and subsequent eye exams showed she had permanently damaged photoreceptors in both eyes and a lesion in her left. "It remains to be seen whether the patient can recover any visual function from this region of disturbed photoreceptors in the future," the authors note in the case study.

There's no treatment for this type of damage but getting a good look at what exactly is affected in the eye after staring at the sun could help ophthalmologists better understand this condition. The US will see another total solar eclipse in 2024, so let this serve as a warning -- the sun is no joke and you need eye protection if you're going to look at it, eclipse or no.

Via: The Verge

Source: JAMA Ophthalmology

The world’s smallest Mona Lisa is made from DNA

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting isn't actually that big (30 inches tall), but Caltech researchers have found a way to make that seem downright gargantuan. They've used DNA to construct the smallest known Mona Lisa. At several hundred nanometers across, they're roughly as large as a lone E. coli bacterium -- the iconic smile is just 100nm wide. The trick was an adaptation of a DNA "origami" method that got the gene strands to fold and assemble into the right shape.

The Mona Lisa is divided into squares, each of which is folded by using one long DNA strand manipulated by "staples" (short, custom-designed strands) that bind to and pull on it. After that, it's a matter of attaching the squares to a DNA canvas. You do that by isolating each square into a test tube and combining them in progressively larger squares (2x2, 4x4 and finally 8x8) until Mona Lisa shows her mysterious face. Each square has edges designed only to join in a specific way, so the wrong pieces can't attach to each other by mistake.

As you can use a combination of software and automatic liquid handling to make these mini paintings, you're really just limited by your creativity -- the team also 'drew' portraits of bacteria and a rooster to show what was possible. And that, in turn, could lead to more practical uses. DNA-based nanostructures like this could help build extremely dense circuits, exotic organic materials or just tests for chemical and molecular interactions. This might not be the smallest piece of art you've ever seen, but the technology behind it could be incredibly useful beyond recreating masterpieces.

Source: Caltech

MIT researchers made a living ink that responds to its surroundings

Researchers at MIT have developed a 3D printable hydrogel that can sense and respond to stimuli. The hydrogel is loaded with bacteria that can be genetically programmed to light-up when they come in contact with certain chemicals and, therefore, could be used as living sensors.

To demonstrate the living ink's abilities, the researchers printed the hydrogel in a tree pattern with different sections of the tree's branches containing bacteria sensitive to different types of chemicals. They then smeared those chemicals on a person's skin and put the 3D-printed tree-shaped "living tattoo" on top. When the branches came in contact with those chemicals, the bacteria were triggered to fluoresce.

"This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable," researcher Hyunwoo Yuk said in a statement. Some examples of possible future applications of this type of technology could be living sensors programmed to monitor inflammatory biomarkers or ingestible versions that can affect gut microbiota. Bacteria-loaded materials like this could also be used to sense pollutants in the environment or changes in temperature, for example.

The research was published today in Advanced Materials and you can check out the video below for more information on the project.

Image: Liu et al.

Via: MIT

Source: Advanced Materials

Lyft expands its non-emergency medical transportation services

Lyft has teamed up with Circulation to provide on-demand non-emergency medical transportation to over 1,000 healthcare facilities across the country. Circulation launched last year and it allows hospitals and other medical facilities to schedule one-time or recurring non-emergency transportation for their patients. It lets healthcare providers and patients request rides with options like wheelchair assistance, help getting into or out of the vehicle and whether a caregiver will need a ride as well. And depending when, where and what kind of ride is needed, Circulation matches patients with the best transportation option, which will now include Lyft.

Circulation says that around 3.6 million patients miss medical appointments every year in the US due to lack of adequate transportation but that with its service, appointment no-shows are reduced from 20-25 percent down to eight percent. Uber is also one of the transport options available through Circulation and at launch, Circulation was Uber's preferred healthcare platform partner. The new partnership with Lyft will give patients even more ride options going forward.

Lyft has previously partnered with CareMore Health System and American Medical Response to provide non-emergency medical transportation. "Circulation seamlessly connects to Lyft's API, making it easy for health facilities to request a Lyft ride when they need one," Lyft Business VP Gyre Renwick said in a statement. "Together, we're working to remove transportation barriers that previously stood in the way of getting people the care they need."

Image: Circulation

Source: Circulation (1), (2)

Google search quiz can help diagnose PTSD

Google is continuing its efforts to help you improve your mental health. Search for "posttraumatic stress disorder" or related keywords on your phone and you'll now have the option of taking a clinically validated questionnaire that can screen for signs of PTSD. This won't provide a definitive answer (Google stresses the importance of an in-person diagnosis), but it can give you useful knowledge to take to your doctor.

The support comes as Facebook is expanding the availability of its own mental health tools. In both cases, the internet giants are acknowledging that they can play a role the welfare of their users. They know that misinformation and a lack of help can cause serious problems, and even subtle encouragement can provide valuable support.

Source: Google

CVS buys health insurer Aetna to counter Amazon

Amazon is considering diving into the pharmacy business, and that's making incumbents nervous... so nervous, in fact, that it just sparked one of the larger acquisitions in recent memory. CVS Health is acquiring the insurance giant Aetna for the equivalent of $69 billion in a bid to create a highly integrated health care provider. You could get care right from your nearby CVS locations, and you'd have a one-stop shop for health that (theoretically) lowers costs, albeit by giving up choice. If regulators don't object to the deal, it should close in the second half of 2018.

Neither CVS nor Aetna has explicitly mentioned Amazon. However, it's no secret that Amazon looms large over the proposed merger. The New York Times reports that CVS and Aetna met "several times" for talks with Amazon's potential competition in mind. Also, CVS is in a prime position to change its strategy. It makes the most money from its pharmacy benefits business (which serves companies and insurers), not its stores, so it could continue to thrive even if Amazon swoops in and destroys its retail sales.

Aetna isn't under the gun in the same way. It was recently blocked from buying a key competitor, Humana, and has been looking for a way to expand without invoking the wrath of antitrust regulators. CVS makes sense in that regard -- the two firms operate in related areas, but they wouldn't be shrinking the markets for health insurance or pharmacies. There is a concern that they might hurt choices for Medicare, since both are key to offering prescriptions to Medicare recipients.

If the buyout does move forward, it could create an uphill battle for Amazon. It's not about to enter the insurance space, so it might miss out on sales if Aetna customers don't even have the option of purchasing some medications beyond CVS. Not every other pharmacy can afford to snap up an insurer, though, so Amazon could easily claim a sizable chunk of the market.

Via: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Gizmodo

Source: CVS Health