Researchers create less invasive method for placing brain electrodes

Our neurons are firing all the time, receiving signals from other neurons and sending signals of their own. To get a better understanding of how the brain works, scientists often listen in to those signals to see what kind of messages certain neurons…
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Apple claims its data-gathering method doesn’t invade your privacy — much

Apple today published a paper on its Machine Learning Journal which addressed the topic of differential privacy, and how it can be used to protect user privacy in a time when every business needs to gather increasing amounts of data. This method addressed the fundamental quandary Apple and companies like it face: how to improve user experience, which involves collecting data, without sacrificing privacy. The company proposes the use of local differential privacy, instead of central — in other words, the individual user’s device uses noise to mix up any data before it’s received by a central server. According to the…

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Scientists Cured a Deadly Neurological Disease Using a Revolutionary Method

Oral Therapy for Neurological Disease

Sleeping sickness sounds like something from a fairy tale, except it isn’t, especially when you know how much pain and suffering this disease causes. Also known as human African trypanosomiasis, sleeping sickness is a parasitic disease that comes from the bite of a tsetse fly, which infects the central nervous system. It’s symptoms include fever, headache, joint pains, and itching. It gets worse after weeks or months, when a patient starts manifesting neurological symptoms, such as sleeping problems, confusion, poor coordination, and numbness.

Currently, treatment is effective only when sleeping sickness is detected early — i.e., before the onset of the neurological symptoms. The usual method involves a combination of pills and intravenous infusions. That might soon change, however, as researchers from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit based in Geneva, Switzerland, developed a method that relies only on pills. Clinical trial results presented on October 17 at the European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health in Antwerp, Belgium, suggest this oral method to be effective, and could potentially eliminate the deadly neurological disease within a decade.

sleeping sickness fexinidazole neurological diseases pills
Image credit: CDC

The pill called fexinidazole was able to cure 91 percent of patients suffering from a severe sleeping sickness. Although the usual combo therapy of infusions and pills cured 98 percent, fexinidazole was able to treat 99 percent of the patients who were still in an early stage of the disease. Usually, these would have to undergo a spinal tap before to determine the viability of infusions, but the revolutionary method makes it simpler. If approved, the researchers are convinced that the relative ease with which fexinidazole is given could save more lives than current methods.

Simple and Cost-Effective

Prior to the combined therapy, the only treatment for sleeping sickness was a toxic arsenic-based drug that ended up nearly as fatal as the disease itself, killing one in 20 patients. Sleeping sickness incidence, according to the World Health Organization, has dropped to around 2,200. However, the combined treatment method still doesn’t come easy. It’s tedious, costly, and requires materials difficult to come by, especially in the African areas where sleeping sickness remains prevalent.

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
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“It’s not just the person with sleeping sickness, it’s the family that takes care of them during years of this neurological, very serious disease,” Philippe Büscher, a sleeping-sickness expert at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium and was not part of the study, told Nature. “Whatever money they have, they’ll spend on this instead of anything else.”

The DNDi continued to search for a better alternative, and in 2007 they stumbled upon fexinidazole, a drug that was previously shelved by Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The clinical trials were conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, areas with high number of sleeping sickness cases. The researchers estimate that, once approved by the European Medicines Agency, developing the new therapy would only cost around $ 50 million. That might seem a lot, but it’s only a fraction of what pharmaceutical companies usually spend on new drugs.

“This is a success,” Büscher said, “but it is not the end.” Indeed, the DNDi researchers are currently working on an even better option, one that could treat sleeping sickness with just one dose.

The post Scientists Cured a Deadly Neurological Disease Using a Revolutionary Method appeared first on Futurism.


A New Gene Engineering Method Could Allow Us to Grow Organs for Transplants

A Chemical Approach

Making an organism’s genome — its entire genetic structure, from scratch — is already possible, but so far it’s only been successful in tiny bacterial genomes and in a portion of a yeast genome. Several researchers are working on synthesizing the entire human genome, but our current methods are limited because of their dependence on enzymes.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K., working with colleagues from the University of Oxford and DNA synthesis firm ATDBio (based in Southampton and Oxford), propose a new method that could surpass these limitations.

In a study published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the researchers showcased a purely chemical technique for gene assembly. It uses an efficient and rapid-acting chemical reaction called click chemistry that puts together multiple modified DNA fragments into a gene — a process called click DNA ligation.

Image Credit: US Department of Energy

“Our approach is a significant breakthrough in gene synthesis,” University of Southampton Chemical Biology Professor and Lead Researcher Ali Tavassoli said in a press release. “Not only have we demonstrated assembly of a gene using click-chemistry, we have also shown that the resulting strand of DNA is fully functional in bacteria, despite the scars formed by joining fragments.”

Human Genome Synthesis

Although plans to synthesize the human genome from scratch have been received with mixed feelings and ethical considerations, its appeal comes from the possibilities it has to offer. According to GP-write, an international effort working on engineering large genomes, applications of DNA synthesis include growing transplantable human organs from scratch, engineering viral immunity and cancer resistance, and even allowing for more efficient and cost-effective drug development and testing.

Ethical quandaries notwithstanding, synthetic DNA is promising. With it, we could be looking at better ways to treat DNA-based diseases, or edit them out altogether — ultimately, extending human life or even potentially creating it from scratch, so to speak. “Genome synthesis will play an increasingly important role in scientific research,” Tavassoli explained. He believes their approach will make it more possible.

A shortcoming of current methods involves the extensive use of enzymes, which can’t be incorporated into certain sites that control the expression (i.e., the switching “on” or “off”) of genes. This so-called epigenetic information can be crucial to better understand biological processes, e.g., cancer, which couldn’t be cured too soon.

“The synthesis of chemically modified genes, which we have achieved by a radical new approach, will become ever more important as the effects of epigenetically modified DNA on gene expression become clear,” study co-author Tom Brown said in the press release.

Furthermore, the chemical method could also greatly accelerate the synthesis of larger DNA strands, producing larger quantities of a single gene. “We believe our purely chemical approach has the potential to significantly accelerate efforts in this vitally important area, and ultimately lead to a better understanding of biological systems,” Tavassoli added.

The post A New Gene Engineering Method Could Allow Us to Grow Organs for Transplants appeared first on Futurism.


Scientists Have Developed a New Method to 3D-Print Living Tissue

Cell by Cell

3D-printing technology has made significant strides over the past several years. What started as a tool for producing small objects can now be used to craft food, build houses, and even construct “space fabric.”

One of the tech’s most impressive applications, however, is the creation of artificial tissues and organs, a process known as 3D bioprinting, and now, a team of researchers from the University of Oxford has developed a new method that takes 3D bioprinting to the next level. They published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
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A major challenge faced by researchers when 3D printing artificial tissues is getting them to maintain their shape. The cells are apt to move around in the printed structure and collapse in on themselves.

To avoid this, the Oxford team, led by 3D-bioprinting scientist Alexander Graham from Oxford Synthetic Biology (OxSyBio), contained their cells within nanolitre droplets that were wrapped in a lipid coating. These droplets could then be placed one layer at a time into living structures. Thanks to the structural support provided by the container, the tissues would maintain their shape, and the individual cells could survive longer as well.

Better Tissues

Because this new method allows tissues to be built one drop at a time, researchers can use it to more accurately mimic natural tissues.

“We were aiming to fabricate three-dimensional living tissues that could display the basic behaviors and physiology found in natural organisms,” Graham said in a press release.

“To date, there are limited examples of printed tissues, which have the complex cellular architecture of native tissue. Hence, we focused on designing a high-resolution cell printing platform, from relatively inexpensive components, that could be used to reproducibly produce artificial tissues with appropriate complexity from a range of cells including stem cells,” he explained.

Researchers across the globe have already made considerable advances in 3D bioprinting and how it can be applied to regenerative medicine. We can now create 3D-printed organs and body parts that resemble and function like their natural counterparts, such as those realistic-looking ears. By enabling the production of complex tissues, the Oxford team’s method could revolutionize regenerative medicine even more, allowing for the repair or replacement of more intricate diseased and damaged body parts.

“There are many potential applications for bioprinting, and we believe it will be possible to create personalized treatments by using cells sourced from patients to mimic or enhance natural tissue function,” OxSyBio CTO Sam Olof said in the press release. “In the future, 3D bio-printed tissues maybe also be used for diagnostic applications — for example, for drug or toxin screening.”

The next step, according to Graham, is to develop complementary printing techniques that will allow for the use of additional kinds of living and hybrid materials. At the same time, they’re exploring the production of their current artificial tissues on an industrial scale.

The post Scientists Have Developed a New Method to 3D-Print Living Tissue appeared first on Futurism.