A team of international scientists has isolated a very close relative of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) from horseshoe bats in China, confirming them as the origin of the virus responsible for the 2002-3 pandemic.
The SARS-CoV pandemic killed 774 people of the 8094 people infected, a case fatality ratio of almost 10 per cent. With cases diagnosed across the world, the pandemic had an impact on international travel and trade.
The research team, led by Professor Shi Zhengli from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and including CSIRO and Duke-NUS scientist Professor Linfa Wang, have just had their breakthrough results published in the prestigious journal Nature.
The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.
While researchers globally have previously used genetic sequencing to demonstrate that bats are the natural reservoirs of SARS-like CoVs, this is the first time that live virus has been successfully isolated from bats to definitively confirm them as the origin of the virus.
The team successfully isolated a SARS-like CoV, named SL-CoV WIV1, directly from faecal samples of Chinese Horseshoe bats using the world renowned bat virus isolation methodology developed by scientists at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.
The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.
Horseshoe bats are found around the world, including Australia and play an important ecological role. Their role in SARS-CoV transmission highlights the importance of protecting the bat’s natural environment so they are not forced into highly populated urban areas in search of food.
This work is part of CSIRO’s ongoing commitment to protect Australia from biosecurity threats posed by new and emerging infectious diseases.
Chemist Emmanuel Delamarche held a thin slice of human thyroid tissue on a glass slide between his fingers. The tissue poses a mystery: does it contain a tumor or not? Delamarche, who works at IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, turned the slide around in his hand as he explained that the normal method of diagnosing a tumor involves splashing a chemical reagent, some of which are expensive, onto the uneven surface of the tissue and watching for it to react with disease markers. A pathologist “looks at them under a microscope, and he’s using his expertise, his judgment, and looks at what chemical he used, what type of color he can see and what part and he has to come up with a diagnosis,” Delamarche says, “he has a very, very hard job, OK?”
IBM is already good at precise application of materials to flat surfaces such as computer chips. Human tissue, sliced thin enough, turns out to receptive to the company’s bag of tricks too. Delamarche, turning to one of three machines on lab benches, explained that a few years ago his team began trying to deliver reagents with more precision. University Hospital Zurich will be testing the results over the next few months.
The idea was that instead of a sprawling blot occupying most of a tissue sample, a tiny tube something like an inkjet printer could deliver many droplets onto the tissue. Pathologists might put multiple reagents on a single fingernail-sized tissue sample, saving them the need for more samples and surgery. They might make better-informed diagnoses because the printer-like machine would allow them to control how much reagent to place on the tissue and where it goes. Pathologists could also compare the effects of well-measured doses on suspected cancerous parts. “We are interested in maybe thinking about technology to go from qualitative info to more quantitative information,” Delamarche says.
But that precise delivery of the reagents proved elusive. Some of it spilled outside the target area. In 2011 Delamarche and colleagues announced a vertical microfluidic probe, that unlike previous microfluidic probes was not parallel to the target surface. It consisted of a glass and silicon wafer about one square centimeter with one channel about a micrometer across that shot liquid to the target and another channel that vacuumed up any excess. “The trick, or the invention actually, that we had was to put a second aperture that continuously re-aspirates what we inject,” Delamarche says. Today the team can create spots just 50 micrometers across, though he says the sweet spot for diagnoses may be more like a few hundred micrometers.
The microfluidic machine is part of a trend toward keeping samples put and moving the thing that analyzes them, according to a recent review in Lab on a Chip.
The technology is attractive both to pathologists, such as those at University Hospital Zurich, and to basic researchers, with whom Delamarche and mechanical engineer Govind Kaigala can share a larger, more customizable version in their lab.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Development of a vaccine against Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has taken a step forward with the Canadian discovery of how EBV infection evades detection by the immune system.
EBV causes infectious mononucleosis and cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which is the most common cancer in China, as well as opportunistic cancers in people with weakened immune systems. A member of the herpes virus family that remains in the body for life, the virus infects epithelial cells in the throat and immune cells called B cells.
The researchers discovered that the virus triggers molecular events that turn off key proteins, making infected cells invisible to the natural killer T (NKT) immune cells that seek and destroy EBV-infected cells.
“If you can force these invisible proteins to be expressed, then you can render infected cells visible to NKT cells, and defeat the virus. This could be key to making a vaccine that would provide immunity from ever being infected with EBV,” says Dr. Rusung Tan, the study’s principal investigator. Dr. Tan is a scientist and director of the Immunity in Health & Disease research group at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital, and a professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of British Columbia.
The findings were published this week in the print edition of the scientific journal Blood.
For this study, the researchers looked at cells from infected tonsils that had been removed from patients at BC Children’s Hospital by Dr. Frederick Kozak. The researchers infected the tonsillar B cells with EBV, and then combined some of these cells with NKT cells. They found that more NKT cells led to fewer EBV-infected cells, while an absence of NKT cells was associated with an increase in EBV-infected cells.
Source: Science Daily
There’s a problem with the drugs used in mental health care: You have to be on them for them to work. Even then, they can be expensive and have detrimental side effects.
Ville Tapio had an idea to do it better. He runs a private psychiatry center in Helsinki, and psychiatrists had told him they were reluctant in particular to hand out drugs for patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD drugs are psychostimulants, they are frequently abused, and kids can be prescribed them young and kept on a regimen for years.
Tapio’s alternative? Getting people with mental health concerns to play video games. They’re special video games, of course—ones that can change how your brain works, with a technique loosely termed gameified neuroplasticity therapy.
The idea isn’t totally out of the blue. The University of Helsinki is well known for its neuroscience, with researchers already investigating how brain activity changes when people do different things. Scientists there have already tinkered around with game play, checking out local Helsinki production Angry Birds to test why the game was so addictive, and it’s all part of a push by Finnish developers to build games that do good.
But using games to change people’s brains for health reasons is an ambitious and relatively new concept. Still, Helsinki has the scientists and the gaming companies—Angry Birds developer Rovio is just one—to give the idea a proper look. Now, researchers also have cash: Tapio’s company Mental Capital Care received 790,000 euro in funding from Finnish investment board Tekes last year to test out a game designed to cure the symptoms of ADHD.
The new interest in gaming in treatment is fueled partly because brain wave scanning headsets have come down in cost, making it a more realistic option outside the lab. Neurogames work with EEG headsets, which place small electrodes directly on your scalp to measure brain waves. While EEG technology has been around in medicine for ages, only recently have cheaper commercial versions of EEG caps come on the market.
One such EEG cap is the Emotiv, which has become popular with researchers looking to move beyond the restrictions of fMRI brain studies. For one, it’s hard to study the brain’s reactions to natural stimuli when a person is inside an MRI machine. A brain cap, on the other hand, is mobile enough for users to utilize in their daily lives, an advantage researchers hope will help users hack their brains.
Emotiv’s brain-controlled headset was originally designed for regular gaming, but has since found fans in neuro researchers.
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As the death toll from China’s bird flu outbreak rose to 22 with news of another victim in eastern Zhejiang Province, the World Health Organization warned the H7N9 virus was one of the most lethal that doctors and medical investigators had faced in recent years.
“This is an unusually dangerous virus for humans,” Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health, security and the environment told a news conference in Beijing Wednesday.
“We think this virus is more easily transmitted from poultry to humans than H5N1,” he added, referring to the bird flu outbreak between 2004 and 2007 that claimed 332 lives.
“This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses that we have seen so far.”
As investigations continue into the possible sources of infection, Fukuda warned that authorities were still struggling to understand the virus. The WHO said China must brace for continued infections.
“I want to give you a caveat, or give you a little bit of context. We really are at the beginning of our understanding of this virus,” Fukuda said. “(The situation remains) complex, difficult and it is evolving.”
So far there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, the authorities say.
“We do want to note, however, that if limited person-to-person transmission is demonstrated in the future, this really will not be surprising,” Fukuda warned, adding that it was critical to remain vigilant, monitoring the virus’s spread and mutation.
“We are not sure that the clusters were caused by common exposure to a source of the virus or were due to limited person-to-person transmission,” he said. “Moreover we have not seen sustained person-to-person transmission.”
While some elements of the outbreak have baffled investigators — specifically why the virus tends to target an elderly demographic and the fact that it is asymptomatic or mild in some cases and lethal in others — authorities have claimed some significant victories in the fight against a pandemic.
Anne Kelso, the director of a WHO-collaborating research center, said researchers had seen a “dramatic slowdown” in human cases in Shanghai after the city’s live poultry market was shut on April 6. Describing the finding as “very encouraging,” she said evidence suggests the closure of live poultry markets is an effective way to stop the spread of the virus.
The joint inspection team from China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission and the World Health Organization also found that, so far, no migratory birds have tested positive for the virus, taking another worrying route of transmission out of the equation.
It said the H7N9 virus is only being found in chickens, ducks and pigeons at live poultry markets.
WHO officials said there are already efforts underway in other countries to develop a vaccine after Chinese officials admitted international help would be needed with this.
Meanwhile, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said in its daily update on H7N9 cases that a total of 108 H7N9 cases have been reported in China, including 22 deaths. Most cases have been confined to Shanghai and neighboring provinces in eastern China.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new class of tiny, injectable LEDs is illuminating the deep mysteries of the brain.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis developed ultrathin, flexible optoelectronic devices – including LEDs the size of individual neurons – that are lighting the way for neuroscientists in the field of optogenetics and beyond.
Led by John A. Rogers, the Swanlund professor of materials science and engineering at the U. of I., and Michael R. Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology at Washington University, the researchers will publish their work in the April 12 issue of the journal Science.
“These materials and device structures open up new ways to integrate semiconductor components directly into the brain,”
said Rogers, who directs the Frederick Seitz Research Laboratory at the U. of I.
“More generally, the ideas establish a paradigm for delivering sophisticated forms of electronics into the body: ultra-miniaturized devices that are injected into and provide direct interaction with the depths of the tissue.”
The researchers demonstrated the first application of their devices in optogenetics, a new area of neuroscience that uses light to stimulate targeted neural pathways in the brain. The procedure involves genetically programming specific neurons to respond to light. Optogenetics allows researchers to study precise brain functions in isolation in ways that are impossible with electrical stimulation, which affects neurons throughout a broad area, or with drugs, which saturate the whole brain.
Optogenetics experiments with mice illustrate the ability to train complex behaviors without physical reward, and to alleviate certain anxiety responses. Yet fundamental insights into the structure and function of the brain that emerge from such studies could have implications for treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety and other neurological disorders.
While a number of important neural pathways now can be studied by optogenetics, researchers continue to struggle with the engineering challenge of delivering light to precise regions deep within the brain. The most widely used methods tether the animals to lasers with fiber-optic cables embedded in the skull and brain – an invasive procedure that also limits movements, affects natural behaviors and prevents study of social interactions.
The newly developed technologies bypass these limitations with specially designed powerful LEDs – among the world’s smallest, with sizes comparable to single cells – that are injected into the brain to provide direct illumination and precise control. The devices are printed onto the tip end of a thin, flexible plastic ribbon – thinner than a human hair and narrower than the eye of a needle – that can insert deep into the brain with very little stress to tissue.
“One of the big issues with implanting something into the brain is the potential damage it can cause,”
“These devices are specifically designed to minimize those problems, and they are much more effective than traditional approaches.”
The active devices include not only LEDs but also various sensors and electrodes that are delivered into the brain with a thin, releasable micro-injection needle. The ribbon connects the devices to a wireless antenna and a rectifier circuit that harvests radio frequency energy to power the devices. This module mounts on top of the head and can be unplugged from the ribbon when not in use.
“Study of complex behaviors, social interactions and natural responses demands technologies that impose minimal constraints,”
“The systems we have developed allow the animals to move freely and to interact with one another in a natural way, but at the same time provide full, precise control over the delivery of light into the depth of the brain.”
The complete device platform includes LEDs, temperature and light sensors, microscale heaters and electrodes that can both stimulate and record electrical activity. These components enable many other important functions – for example, researchers can measure the electrical activity that results from light stimulation, giving additional insight into complex neural circuits and interactions within the brain.
The breadth of device options suggests that this wireless, injectable platform could be used for other types of neuroscience studies – or even applied to other organs. For example, Rogers’ team has developed related devices for stimulating peripheral nerves in the leg as a potential route to pain management. They also have built devices with LEDs of multiple colors, so that several neural circuits can be studied with a single injected system.
“These cellular-scale, injectable devices represent frontier technologies with potentially broad implications,”
Rogers said. His group is known for its success in the development of soft sheets of sophisticated electronics that wrap the brain or the heart or that adhere directly to the skin.
“But none of those devices penetrates into the depth of tissue,”
“That’s the challenge that we’re trying to address with this new approach. Many cases, ranging from fundamental studies to clinical interventions, demand access directly into the depth. This is just the first of many examples of injectable semiconductor microdevices that will follow.”
The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy supported this work. Rogers is also affiliated with the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory; the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology; and the departments of bioengineering, chemistry, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois.
Source: University of Illinois
Being able to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease years before debilitating symptoms appear is now a step closer to reality. Researchers behind Neurotrack, the technology startup that took the first health prize at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) startup accelerator in Austin, says their new technology can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease up to six years before symptoms appear with 100 percent accuracy.
“It’s a computer-based visual cognitive test that is able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease six years before symptoms appear,” Elli Kaplan, chief executive officer of the Richmond, Virginia-based startup, told AFP.
Around 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. However, Kaplan said, today most Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed at late stage, which leaves them with limited treatment options.
“It’s the same thing as what happened with breast cancer before they had the mammogram,” Kaplan said, according to gigaom.com. “They’re diagnosing at the equivalent of stage 4, when there’s already irreparable damage.”
Kaplan, who graduated from Harvard Business School and is a mother-of-two who lost two grandparents to Alzheimer’s disease, said Neurotrack was developed in collaboration with neuroscientists now at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
The computer-based program comes in two versions: one using an infrared camera and the other using a simple computer mouse. The program is connected to an eye-tracking device that monitors patients’ eye movements as they compare new and old images that appear briefly on a screen.
The program analyzes patients’ eye movements and time spent looking at familiar and new images and then generates a score. Kaplan said 100 percent of subjects who scored below 50 percent on the test have gone to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis within six years, while none of those who scored above 67 have developed Alzheimer’s.
“By monitoring the way a person moves their eyes, and watching how they view novel images versus familiar images, we’re able to detect perturbations that exist on the hippocampus,” Kaplan said, referring to the brain region responsible for memory. Past research has shown that the hippocampus is also the first part of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s “Every human being has an instinctive preference for novelty and that’s one of the things that we are testing,” she said, according to AFP.
Kaplan said that the initial users of Neurotrack will be pharmaceutical companies to help them develop new drugs to prevent, or at least slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease. She added that down the line, Neurotrack would then be rolled out to doctor’s offices and research hospitals. She added that the technology could also be developed into a smartphone and tablet app that consumers can use at home.
“We’re actually working on this,” Kaplan explained to AFP. “We are not very far away from a technology that will work on your (mobile) phone or on your tablet.”
“In 10 years, our hope is that there will be a pill that you can take (to combat Alzheimer’s). You’d simply go in for an annual screening test-and if you get the news that you are on a trajectory for Alzheimer’s, you’d be able to do something about it,” she added.
Other health startups that competed at the SXSW accelerator include Docphin, a web-based platform for healthcare professionals to access and share medical research and Careport Health, which helps hospitals find appropriate after-care treatment for their patients.
Source: Counsel & Heal
An eye-implanted chip from Retina Implant has restored patients’ ability to discern light during its latest trial, according to German researchers.
The device works in a similar fashion to the newly FDA approved Argus II retinal prosthesis to return limited vision in patients with photoreceptor cell diseases like retinitis pigmentosa.
Unlike that system, however, light is picked up via 1,500 pixels on a retinal implant instead of an eyeglass-mounted camera. The signal is boosted by a coil implanted in skin behind the ear and sent back to so-called bipolar cells still active on the retina, which in turn send an image to the brain through regular neural circuits. A small battery mounted behind the ear — the only external sign of the device — contains controls for brightness and contrast.
The recent trial let 8 out of 9 patients see in varying degrees, with three in the study even able to read letters and see the faces of family members. Given that the Argus II finally crossed the FDA’s bionic eye barrier, hopefully we won’t have to wait nearly as long for research like this to become a product.
Could supercomputers like IBM’s Watson one day replace human physicians? It’s a question that’s been swirling for years, and one that receives more thorough treatment from Jonathan Cohn, in a recent essay for the Atlantic.
As Cohn explains, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are currently using Watson to help train physicians, in the hopes of one day deploying it in hospitals to help doctors make diagnoses — something that could potentially mitigate costly human errors.
IBM says Watson is still a few years away from wide deployment, but its ability to learn and process information has already sparked dreams of a doctor-less future, with some enthusiasts saying artificial intelligence may disrupt healthcare in the same way that the internet revolutionized the media.
“Specifically, they imagine the application of data as a ‘disruptive’ force, upending health care in the same way it has upended almost every other part of the economy—changing not just how medicine is practiced but who is practicing it,” Cohn writes. “In Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation, investors and engineers talk casually about machines’ taking the place of doctors, serving as diagnosticians and even surgeons—doing the same work, with better results, for a lot less money.”
Source: The Verge
While the word prosthesis usually evokes images of artificial legs, arms, and these days even sophisticated thought-controlled hands, an entirely new class of replacement body part has now become a reality – the bionic eye. One of the pioneers in this field is California-based Second Sight and the company has now announced that its Argus II System has received U.S. market approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The system is designed to treat near blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa – a degenerative disease said to affect approximately 100,000 Americans. It consists of a tiny video camera mounted in glasses that is wirelessly linked to a receiver and microelectrode array implanted onto the patient’s retina. This microelectrode array, which spans 20 degrees of the visual field, then stimulates the remaining cells in the retina with electrical pulses that travel down the optic nerve to the brain. While it does not restore normal sight, patients can learn to interpret these signals and gain a significant increase in visual capabilities to the point where they can perceive colors, recognize large letters and locate objects.
“It is incredibly exciting to have FDA approval to begin implanting the Argus II and provide some restoration of vision to patients blinded from RP. In the patients that have been implanted to date, the improvement in the quality of life has been invaluable,” said Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, Cornelius Ping’s Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Neurobiology, Doheny Eye Institute at University of Southern California. “The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects, and more, has been beyond our wildest dreams, yet the promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time.”
The Argus II is expected to become available later this year. “With this approval, we look forward to building a strong surgical network in the United States and recruiting new hospitals that will offer the Argus II retinal implant,” said Robert Greenberg, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Second Sight.
The Second Sight video below runs us through how the Argus II system works.