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… Engadget RSS Feed
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.