Explosion at Russian lab that holds smallpox samples

There's been an explosion and fire at the Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology (Vector), a facility near Novosibirsk in Siberia that happens to hold live samples of smallpox. Vector officials say there's currently no risk of contamination. Vector and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the only two approved labs known to hold live samples of smallpox. The World Health Organization certified the eradication of smallpox in 1980 thanks to a global immunization effort. However, concern remains that the deadly virus could still be used as a bioweapon. From CNN:

In its statement, Vector said that no biohazard material was being stored in the room where the explosion took place. The city's mayor also insisted that the incident does not pose any biological or any other threat to the local population, according to TASS...

Dr. Joseph Kam, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (CEID) told CNN that rules for storing viruses are very strict and highly dangerous diseases such as Ebola and smallpox would be stored in the highest "Level 4" laboratory.

Access to the samples would be limited, special containers are used and the storage mechanism is different from other laboratories, Kam said.

He added that while fire would be hot enough to destroy viruses, an explosion could risk spreading the virus and there would be a danger of infecting those in the room or contaminating the immediate area.

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Woman who had dramatic dream of swallowing her engagement ring actually did it

Jenna Evans had a dream that she and her fiancé were on a train when bad guys appeared. To protect her new 2.4 carat engagement ring, she swallowed it. In the dream. And in reality.

"I popped that sucker off, put it in my mouth and swallowed it with a glass of water," she wrote on Facebook.

From NBC:

"When I woke up in the morning, there was no ring on my finger," Evans told "Today." "I couldn't help but laugh at it, and then I had to wake my fiance up and tell him that I had swallowed my engagement ring."

Evans went to an urgent care clinic where doctors decided against letting the ring pass naturally through the 29-year-old's system, and instead referred her to a gastroenterologist...

Doctors found the engagement ring in Evans' intestines, just beyond her stomach. Evans said her fiancé returned the ring to her on Thursday.

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Rooster kills woman

A domestic rooster killed a 76-year-old woman on her rural property in Australia. The rooster pecked the woman, twice puncturing her skin, and she died. Unfortunately, she had preexisting conditions that caused her to bleed out very quickly. The physicians published the unusual case in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology. From the abstract:

The decedent’s past medical history included treated hypertension, hyperlipidemia, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and varicose veins... Two small bleeding lacerations were present, one of which was located immediately over a perforated large varix. Death was therefore due to exsanguination from bleeding varicose veins following an attack by a rooster. This case demonstrates that even relatively small domestic animals may be able to inflict lethal injuries in individuals if there are specific vascular vulnerabilities present.

image: Dgrady3 (CC BY-SA 4.0) Read the rest

Scientists develop eye-on-a-chip to improve treatment of diseases

Approximately 14 percent of the world's population suffer from dry eye disease (DED) but treatments are limited because it's difficult to model the complex human eye for drug development. Now though, University of Pennsylvania bioengineers developed an "eye-on-a-chip" complete with a motorized blinking eyelid. The hope is that the artificial eye will lead to a deeper understanding of dry eye disease, enable drug screening, and even become a testbed for contact lens technology and eye surgery. Their technology also received the 2018 Lush Prize awarded for innovations that could help eliminate animal testing for shampoos and other beauty product. From Eurekalert:

In this study, (Dan) Huh and (Jeongyun) Seo focused on engineering an eye model that could imitate a healthy eye and an eye with DED, allowing them to test an experimental drug without risk of human harm.

To construct their eye-on-a-chip, Huh's team starts with a porous scaffold engineered with 3D printing, about the size of a dime and the shape of a contact lens, on which they grow human eye cells. The cells of the cornea grow on the inner circle of scaffolding, dyed yellow, and the cells of the conjunctiva, the specialized tissue covering the white part of human eyes, grow on the surrounding red circle. A slab of gelatin acts as the eyelid, mechanically sliding over the eye at the same rate as human blinking. Fed by a tear duct, dyed blue, the eyelid spreads artificial tear secretions over the eye to form what is called a tear film.

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Incredible ultra-high resolution 3D brain scan from 100 hour MRI

More than 100 hours of MIR scanning has generated an image of a whole human brain with unprecedented level of detail. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and their colleagues used a 7 Tesla MRI machine, recently approved by the FDA, to scan the donated brain from a 58-year-old-woman. The image shows detail down to .1 millimeter. From Science News:

Before the scan began, researchers built a custom spheroid case of urethane that held the brain still and allowed interfering air bubbles to escape. Sturdily encased, the brain then went into a powerful MRI machine called a 7 Tesla, or 7T, and stayed there for almost five days of scanning...

Researchers can’t get the same kind of resolution on brains of living people. For starters, people couldn’t tolerate a 100-hour scan. And even tiny movements, such as those that come from breathing and blood flow, would blur the images...

These (new kinds of) detailed brain images could hold clues for researchers trying to pinpoint hard-to-see brain abnormalities involved in disorders such as comas and psychiatric conditions such as depression.

"7 Tesla MRI of the ex vivo human brain at 100 micron resolution" (bioRxiv.org) Read the rest

Short animations about how clicky health-claim headlines are often misleading

In these two excellent short animations, data science professor Jeffrey Leek of the Simply Statistics blog and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and his university colleague, postdoctoral research Lucy McGowan, explain how "in medicine, there’s often a disconnect between news headlines and the scientific research they cover."

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Microscopic robots carry stem cells through a mouse's body

The 1990s nanotechnology dream of tiny robots swimming through our blood stream to treat disease is moving (verrrry) slowly but surely toward reality. In a new milestone, researchers used an external magnetic field to steer microbots through a live mouse's body carrying therapeutic stem cells. From IEEE Spectrum:

..Delivering stem cells typically requires an injection with a needle, which lowers the survival rate of the stem cells, and limits their reach in the body. Microrobots, however, have the potential to deliver stem cells to precise, hard-to-reach areas, with less damage to surrounding tissue, and better survival rates, says Jin-young Kim, a principle investigator at DGIST-ETH Microrobotics Research Center, and an author on the paper.... The team fabricated the robots with 3D laser lithography, and designed them in two shapes: spherical and helical. Using a rotating magnetic field, the scientists navigated the spherical-shaped bots with a rolling motion, and the helical bots with a corkscrew motion. These styles of locomotion proved more efficient than that from a simple pulling force, and were more suitable for use in biological fluids, the scientists reported....

Kim says he and his colleagues are developing imaging systems that will enable them to view in real time the locomotion of their microrobots in live animals.

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Porcupine quills are sharp AF and inspiring a new kind of surgical staple

From Deep Look:

The quills of North American porcupines have microscopic backward-facing barbs on the tips. Those barbs make the quills slide in easy but very difficult to remove.

Researchers at Harvard are looking to porcupine quills for inspiration in designing a new type of surgical staple that would also use tiny barbs to keep itself lodged into the patient’s skin. This helps because traditional staples curve in under the skin to keep the staple in place. This creates more damage and can provide a place for bacteria to infect the wound.

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Do you suffer from latchkey incontinence?

In a recent scientific study on overactive urinary bladder syndrome, researchers used the term "latchkey incontinence" to describe "the loss of urine that occurs when one arrives home and puts the key in the lock of one’s front door." From MEL Magazine:

According to Jamin Brahmbhatt, a urologist in Florida, peeing is a much more complex dance between the mind and body than you might think. “The ability to control how you urinate requires a balance between the muscles and your nerves around your bladder and your urethra working in synch,” he explains. “Some of these functions happen automatically, and some require manual control by the muscles that you naturally control. So when urine is filling up inside your bladder, your bladder naturally expands. When you go to the bathroom, your sphincter around your urethra will relax and your bladder will start to squeeze. This process sounds simple, but it does require the muscles around your urethra, which we call your pelvic floor, to all work and synch.”

He continues, “To keep your bladder healthy, I recommend my patients empty their bladder before they start having extreme ‘got-to-go’ feelings. There’s only so much the bladder can tolerate, and this process gets more complicated with the presence of a prostate, which naturally grows as men get older. All these processes can also be affected by diabetes, strokes, infections and many other medical problems.”

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Curious robotic syringe-in-a-pill completes successful human trial

The RaniPill is another syringe that you can swallow to deliver drugs to the bloodstream from the inside. It's triggered by an interesting and complex mechanism involving a chemical reaction that inflates a tiny polymer balloon to push the needle into the intestinal wall. Rani Therapeutics just completed a successful 20-person trial using a pill that shoots blanks. From IEEE Spectrum:

Working from the outside in, the RaniPill consists of a special coating that protects the pill from the stomach’s acidic juices. Then, as the pill is pushed into the intestines and pH levels rise to about 6.5, the coating dissolves to reveal a deflated biocompatible polymer balloon.

Upon exposure to the intestinal environment, a tiny pinch point made of sugar inside the balloon dissolves, causing two chemicals trapped on either side of the pinch point to mix and produce carbon dioxide. That gas inflates the balloon, and the pressure of the inflating balloon pushes a dissolvable microneedle filled with a drug of choice into the wall of the intestines. Human intestines lack sharp pain receptors, so the micro-shot is painless.

The intestinal wall does, however, have lots and lots of blood vessels, so the drug is quickly taken up into the bloodstream, according to the company’s animal studies. The needle itself dissolves...

Participants passed the remnants of the balloon within 1-4 days.

(Founder Mir) Imran calls the device a robot though it has no electrical parts and no metal. “Even though it has no brains and no electronics, it [works through] an interplay between material science and the chemistry of the body,” says Imran.

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Incredibly rare pair of semi-identical twins

Semi-identical twins -- a boy and girl who are identical on their mother's side but share only 78% of their father's genome -- have been identified in Brisbane, Australia. This is only the second known case, ever. From the BBC:

"The mother's ultrasound at six weeks showed a single placenta and positioning of amniotic sacs that indicated she was expecting identical twins," (said Prof Nicholas Fisk whose team at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospita cared for the children when they were born in 2014).

"However, an ultrasound at 14 weeks showed the twins were male and female, which is not possible for identical twins."

If one egg is fertilised by two sperm, it results in three sets of chromosomes, rather than the standard two - one from the mother and two from the father.

And, according to researchers, three sets of chromosomes are "typically incompatible with life and embryos do not usually survive".

The identity of the twins has not been revealed.

A scientific paper about these rare humans was published the New England Journal of Medicine: "Molecular Support for Heterogonesis Resulting in Sesquizygotic Twinning"

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Syringe-pill injects you on the inside

Biomedical engineers prototyped a pill that integrates a syringe to inject insulin into the floor of the stomach. From Science News:

The shape is designed to guide the device to rest, cap down, on the floor of the stomach. There, it sticks a needle tip composed almost entirely of insulin a few millimeters into the mucus membrane lining the stomach. Once the insulin needle tip dissolves, the device passes through the rest of the digestive system.

Thanks to the dearth of sharp pain receptors inside the stomach, the tiny injection “is unlikely to cause any discomfort,” says study coauthor Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and MIT.

"An ingestible self-orienting system for oral delivery of macromolecules" (Science) Read the rest

This toilet seat checks your heart health

Smart toilets that analyze urine and poop in the bowl have been demonstrated for years, but now Rochester Institute of Technology engineers have integrated multiple kinds of biosensors into the toilet's seat. The WiFi-enable systems tracks EEG, blood oxygen levels, and the heart's pumping force. From IEEE Spectrum:

If the monitoring system works as expected, the device could help catch early signs of heart decline and decrease the number of hospitalizations for heart patients.

To test their seat, the team gathered blood pressure and blood oxygenation measurements from 18 volunteers in a laboratory who were instructed to sit on the seat but not urinate, defecate, or talk. Urination and defecation can shift readings since they put minor stress on the body, says Conn. While the system currently operates with algorithms that analyze signal quality, in the future Conn also plans to incorporate algorithms to identify and reject those inevitable bathroom moments from the data set. But even if a person is fidgety on the toilet and the system fails to record a clean signal, there is always the next time. “If you’re not going to pick it up in the morning, you might pick it up at night. People are going to continuously use this seat,” says (researcher Nicholas) Conn.

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Smart jock strap: testicle sensor device helps improve sperm count

Fertility doctors often advise men that wearing boxers instead of briefs lowers scrotal temperature and possibly increase sperm count. The CoolMen device takes that idea to the extreme, instrumenting the wearer's testicles with temperature, pulse, and motion sensors while also cupping them in a specific position conducive to coolness. From the Polish start-up CoolTec:

CoolMen is an innovative device that stabilizes the temperature of the testicles in the optimum range. In a short time, CoolMen significantly improves semen parameters, contributing to increased fertility of the pair.

CoolMen can record data about temperature and time of use as well as types of activity (sleep, sitting, physical activity) by wirelessly transferring it to the mobile application on the smartphone. These data can then be analyzed by the andrologist to improve the treatment process...

CoolMen has been designed to be completely invisible under clothing, providing full discretion during use.

CoolMen (CoolTec)

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Sealing up wounds with a laser beam

OK, it's not quite Dr. Crusher's dermal regenerator (seen above), but Arizona State University researchers have demonstrated a laser system for sealing wounds. The system involves a sealing paste -- made from silk protein mixed with gold nanorods -- that bonds with skin when heated with a laser. From IEEE Spectrum:

To use a laser to seal skin, one must focus the heat of the light using some sort of photoconverter. (Chemical engineer Caushal) Rege’s lab opted for gold nanorods and embedded them in a silk protein matrix purified from silkworm cocoons. A silk protein called fibroin binds to collagen, the structural protein that holds together human skin cells. When near-infrared light hits the gold nanorods, they produce heat and activate the silk and skin to create bonds, forming a sturdy seal...

They are currently watching how the laser-activated seals hold up in living rats. If that goes well, they’ll move to pigs, and perhaps eventually, humans.

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New 3D printed corneas could save millions of people's vision

Researchers have spent decades exploring methods to 3D print organs for transplant but progress is slow due to the complex structure of, say, a kidney or pancreas. Precise Bio, a startup founded by scientists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, claim that the first real success will come from 3D-printed corneas. They've already conducted animal studies and are building a roadmap toward human trials. From IEEE Spectrum:

Corneas could be the first mainstream application of bioprinting, (Precise Bio CEO Aryeh) Batt says, in part because they have a layered structure that’s a good match for the technology. Each layer consists of different types of cells and fibers, which the printer could lay down in sequence, and these layers don’t contain blood vessels or nerves. What’s more, putting a new kind of transplant in the eye is inherently safer than implanting one deep in the body, since physicians could easily check for signs of trouble and could remove the tissue if anything seemed wrong.

There’s certainly a need for more corneas in the world, says Kevin Corcoran, president and CEO of the Eye Bank Association of America. In 2017, his members supplied nearly 51,000 transplantable corneas to patients in the United States, and also sent more than 26,000 abroad. Internationally, “there is a tremendous amount of unmet demand,” he says. “It’s estimated that 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness globally, primarily because they lack access to effective and affordable treatment.”

Part of Precise Bio’s proprietary approach is its printer, which uses a technique called laser-induced forward transfer to propel droplets of bioinks onto a surface.

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Swallow this vibrator to relieve constipation

Currently undergoing clinical trials, the Vibrant capsule is a tiny vibrator inside a capsule that you swallow to relieve constipation. Don't worry though because according to the web site, "the capsule is controlled by an algorithm." Whew. From Vibrant Ltd:

Constipation relief is achieved by the capsule’s vibrations on the large intestinal wall, consequently inducing natural peristaltic activity, generating additional spontaneous bowel movements.

The capsule is activated by a base unit that transfers the data to the capsule.

The capsule operates inside the large intestine and is washed out of the body with the bowel movement. It meets the highest safety standards, using biocompatible materials.

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