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We’re One Step Closer To Identifying Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have devised a diagnostic tool for identifying Parkinson’s disease (PD) in patients who may not yet display any motor symptoms. The importance of such a tool lies in the fact that by the time motor symptoms appear, there is usually already irreversible damage to brain tissues. Dinesh Kumar, PhD, the chief investigator on the study, says “many treatment options for Parkinson’s only prove effective when the disease was diagnosed early.“ The team at RMIT built custom software that analyzes a patient’s spiral-drawing style via pen, paper, and a digital drawing tablet. Although the team admits to some limitations within their initial studies, the 93% accuracy rate of early PD diagnosis is spurring additional research and hope for achieving a reliable diagnostic method for identifying PD early. We’ve come a long way to identifying Parkinson’s disease. Earlier this year, researchers have developed an instrument that can identify seventeen diseases, including Parkinson’s. A new instrument has recently been developed to diagnose disease in a non-invasive, cost effective manner. Based on the idea of the breathalyzers used to identify and quantify alcohol consumption, this device would allow for specific programmable disease detection in still healthy individuals. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are expressed by the body when pathologic processes occur. Currently, seventeen diseases can be identified with breath analysis with an accuracy of eighty-six percent. Researchers were able to...

Cows Might Be The Future For HIV Vaccines

Until recently, no one has identified an immunogen capable of eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (Bnabs) for HIV vaccines in either human or animal models. However, a 2017 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) research initiative has immunized four cows with the soluble cleaved trimer BG505 SOSIP in an attempt to produce these Bnabs – and has succeeded. Since antibodies in cows are approximately 4 to 5 times longer than typical human antibodies, the cows antibodies have a greater chance of penetrating the sugars surrounding the HIV virus and neutralizing it. There is not yet a clear path to achieving the same results in humans, but according to the director of vaccine research at the NIAID, John Mascola, MD, while the study “doesn’t tell us how to make a vaccine for HIV in human patients […] it does tell us how the virus evades the human immune response.” How far have we come from HIV Vaccinations? It has been a long road in the battle against HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began in the early 1980s. However, in 2013, the virus hit what was widely referred to as a tipping point when, for the first time, more people were newly being treated with antiretroviral drugs than became newly infected with HIV. Despite this milestone, there are still 35 million people estimated to be living with HIV today — 19 million who are estimated to be unaware of their HIV-positive status — and 2 million more people are being infected each year....

Portable MPM Will Change How Doctors Diagnose Breast Cancer

Michael Giacomelli, PhD, Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his laboratory team have developed a portable system for multiphoton imaging (portable MPM) of large tissue samples within an operating surgical suite. “The system enables true 10x/20x/40x imaging at video rates using VH&E rendering to produce virtual histology images in real-time.” The technology is currently being tested in breast cancer surgeries, since many lumpectomies result in second surgeries to remove more tissue after histology from the first surgery is complete. With imaging taking place during surgery, these subsequent reoperations may be reduced significantly. Currently, doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering are considering the tool and/or technique for skin cancer and prostate cancer as well. Read more about this imaging experiment by clicking here. Complete removal of cancerous tissue during surgery for breast cancer is essential.  Unfortunately, about 1 in 3 women undergoing lumpectomy for breast cancer will require more than one surgery due to inadequate surgical resection.   Multiphoton microscopy (MPM) can be used to perform video-rate imaging of tissue during surgery to evaluate pathology, ensuring complete removal of cancerous tissue.  I have developed MPM systems enabling very wide area imaging of tissue specimens with real-time rendering using H&E-like appearance (“virtual H&E”). For more on X-Rays, make sure to check out our article on how medical students utilize them: No one expects a radiology expert at the level of...

What Is TNT Research and What Can It Do for Future Clinical Applications?

As a follow-up to a previous Video of the Week (that can be revisited by clicking here), this week’s video provides additional information regarding ongoing research in tissue nano-transfection technology (TNT). The TNT system consists of two components: a hardware chip, and a cargo load containing a combination of cell reprogramming factors specific to the cell type attempting to be induced/produced. The chip is the size of a cufflink, and according to it’s developers, only needs to be present on the skin’s surface for a few minutes. More impressively, the actual activation time required for the chip to initiate its long-lasting cellular reprogramming effects is less than 1 second. In mice-based ischemic limb injury models, the researchers noticed positive changes in revascularization just 7 days after treatment. More astonishingly, they report that by week 3 the injured legs of the treated mice were actually saved (all achieved without implementing any other forms of treatment). The researchers also indicate the utility of TNT is not limited to just cutaneous use. In fact, they also tested its ability to transform skin cells into neuronal cells and then injected those new cells into the brains of mice-based stroke models to help restore neural function. Click here to read more about this research from Ohio State University in the journal Nature: Here, we report a novel yet simple-to-implement non-viral approach to topically reprogram tissues through a nanochannelled device validated with well-established and newly developed reprogramming models of induced neurons and endothelium, respectively. We demonstrate the simplicity and...

What Are the Effects of CTE in Football Players?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a progressive degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma. Currently, CTE can only be confirmed post-mortem. In a new study from JAMA, researchers examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players — more than half of them from the NFL — and talked to their family members to identify pathological and clinical features of CTE. CTE has affected football players of all ages, including a player student athlete that committed suicide because he had known about the condition: Whilst perusing Instagram in the days following Madison’s incident, I came across a powerful statement written by another female athlete whom I had known in college: After experiencing two suicides in the athletic community at Penn within four years, my stance on the matter remains clear: universities need to do a better job at providing supports for student athletes and educating them on mental health. We have strength coaches, nutritionists, tutors, etc. But we continue to neglect mental health as a society, and regard it as a ‘touchy’ subject. Athletes, coaches, and administrators should feel safe to discuss these pressing matters that often affect too many of us student athletes. Keeping Penn athletics, friends and family in my thoughts. The other suicide to which she is referring is that of Owen Thomas who, within weeks of being made captain of UPenn’s football team,...

DNA Bacteria Will Be Your New Hard Drives

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to encode five frames of a vintage motion picture into the DNA Bacteria of E. coli bacteria. By reducing each frame into a series of single-color pixels and matching each color to a DNA code, the scientists were able to string together DNA strands that represented the video frames. Non-biological information has been encoded into DNA before, going back as far as 2003. However, this is the first time living organisms have been used as the message’s vessel. Living organisms are in a constant state of movement and flux, making them less stable and less predictable than the synthetic DNA material used in previous encoding experiments. Even though this technology is in its infancy, the research team was able to retrieve approximately 90% of the original message from the E. coli cells, effectively marking a new milestone in the advancement of our information storage methods. According to the research from Methods and applications, edited by Y.E. Khudyakov and W.A. Fields. 2003, for the US National Library of Medicine: Despite the broadness of the biochemical and medical applicability of artificial DNA presented in this book, some important aspects from a more chemical point of view are missing. These include new synthetic DNA constructs, such as locked DNA (LNA), metal-mediated base pairing (M-DNA), artificial DNA bases with or without hydrogen-bonding capabilities, new DNA base pairs for the extension of the...

Reprogramming Cells to Fight Leukemia

The FDA may soon approve a new cancer therapy that genetically alters a patient’s own existing T-cells to fight leukemia. This new, investigational treatment is known as CTL019 and is a type of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy. CTL019 utilizes a process in which T-cells are carefully harvested from each individual leukemia patient. These patient-specific T-cells are then genetically reprogrammed to express a chimeric CD19 antigen receptor and subsequently transfused back into the specific patient from whom they were originally collected. Once back inside the patient, these reprogrammed T-cells multiply, hunt down, and attack CD19-positive leukemia cells. Click here to read about this FDA update in the NY Times. A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market in the United States. Others are expected: Researchers and drug companies have been engaged in intense competition for decades to reach this milestone. Novartis is now poised to be the first. Its treatment is for a type of leukemia, and it is working on similar types of treatments in hundreds of patients for another form...