The human race may be divided along racial, religious, ethnic, economic, political and any other arbitrary lines you care to choose, but we all share one enemy: the common cold.
Bringing with it blinding headaches, stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing, the common cold causes days of utter misery for millions of people across the globe every year.
And so far, there’s no cure.
Wouldn’t you jump for sheer joy if you knew that you’ll never see a pale face with a swollen red nose in the bathroom mirror again?
Well, here’s some news that may interest you.
That happy sight might be closer than you think.
Scientists at Edinburgh Napier University have uncovered exciting new possibilities for treating the common cold based on “antimicrobial peptides” that occur naturally in humans and animals, and which increase in response to infection.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are important components of the innate immune system.
The five-year study into peptides from different mammals found that the peptides had properties that can combat rhinovirus, the main virus responsible for the common cold.
The common cold is a viral infection that attacks the upper respiratory tract, and has long vexed scientists in their attempts to find a cure. Caused by viruses that mutate quickly, colds are difficult to treat because by the time a vaccine has been developed, the virus has mutated again.
Dr Peter Barlow, Associate Professor of Immunology & Infection at Edinburgh Napier described the research results as “an exciting development”.
He said: “There is no cure and no vaccine so the development of effective therapies for human rhinovirus, the main causal agent of the common cold, and one of the most common causes of viral respiratory tract infections, is an urgent requirement. This study represents a major step towards finding a treatment.”
Earlier research by Dr Barlow suggested that treatments that increased the level of antimicrobial peptides in a person infected with the flu virus could be successful in beating the disease.
In this study, researchers Filipa Henderson Sousa and Dr Victor Casanova used peptides “synthesized” in the laboratory to assess the impact of the different peptides on lung cells infected with human rhinovirus.
The peptides successfully attacked the virus. In future treatments for colds could be based on peptides found in nature.
The plan is to modify the peptide to make it even better at killing the rhinovirus. These research findings may be the beginning of the end of an old, nagging foe that nobody would be sorry to see for the last time.
A single touch, a single chip and you can be healed of anything.
This is the implication of a breakthrough device developed by Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s College of Engineering.
The device heals organs with a single touch by delivering new DNA or RNA into living skin cells to change their function.
The breakthrough in regenerative medicine has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology and explains a new technology called Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT).
Here is the key point: the technology can generate any cell type in a patient’s own body.
The implications are enormous, as explained in the video below.
“By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced. We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining,” said Dr. Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies, who co-led the study with L. James Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with Ohio State’s College of Engineering in collaboration with Ohio State’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.
In their study the researchers were able to reprogram skin cells of pigs and mice to become vascular cells in badly injure legs that had no blood flow. Within one week the blood flow returned and after two weeks the leg healed completely and was saved.
Dr. Sen says the technology isn’t only applicable to skin cells. It can be used on other tissues within the body. In lab tests skin cells were also reprogramed to become nerve cells which were injected into the brains of mice that had suffered stroke.
The scientist says the technology has been successful 98 percent of the time.
It seems impossible.
Just one touch, a process that takes less than a second and is non-invasive. And off you go, all better soon.
The procedure involves one touch of the skin with the device and the “biological cargo” is delivered by zapping the device with a small electrical charge that’s barely felt by the patient. The chip isn’t implanted and the reprogramming starts immediately.
The press release explains that TNT technology has two major components: First is a nanotechnology-based chip designed to deliver cargo to adult cells in the live body. Second is the design of specific biological cargo for cell conversion. This cargo, when delivered using the chip, converts an adult cell from one type to another.
That’s not all.
The technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary. Think what this can mean for organ regeneration and, restoring of any aging tissue, including blood vessels and nerve cells.
Sen said they plan to start clinical trials next year to test this technology in humans.
For millions of people who live with debilitating inherited disease and who don’t want to pass it on to the next generation, scientists have found hope through gene-editing.
Scientist have for the first time corrected a disease-causing mutation in early stage human embryos with gene editing. The gene-editing success holds promise for preventing inherited diseases
US teams at Oregon Health and Science University and the Salk Institute worked with the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea. They focused their work on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects one in 500 people. It is the most common cause of sudden death in otherwise healthy young athletes.
Here’s the key point:
This work paves the way for eventual cures for thousands of diseases caused by mutations in single genes.
This means the potential end of devastating debilitating diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, muscular dystrophy, or Huntington’s disease.
The embryos, minus the piece of faulty DNA, if allowed to develop fully, would result in babies that would not have the deadly heart disease and would not pass the disease onto their descendants.
What was the scientific breakthrough?
Gene-editing hold risks – it can lead to unintended mutations which can lead to unpredictable consequences. The researchers found a safe method that avoids these dangers.
Science News explains how the researchers avoided mutations and genome instability by editing genes during fertilization instead of after. Previously, scientists fertilized eggs and then added the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editor. Sometimes eggs had already copied DNA, and a mutant gene escaped editing. That led to a patchwork, or mosaic, embryo with edited and unedited cells.
“Gene editing is still in its infancy so even though this preliminary effort was found to be safe and effective, it is crucial that we continue to proceed with the utmost caution, paying the highest attention to ethical considerations,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory and a corresponding author of the paper.
The researchers stressed that their results are very preliminary and more research will be needed to ensure no unintended effects.
Altering human heredity to fight genetic diseases is a noble pursuit but one with many ethical implications. Many people, academics and the public alike, have expressed concern about human gene editing, fearing that the same techniques could also be used to enhance intelligence or other physical attributes.
Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, stripped the issue down to the fundamentals in an interview with the BBC:
“Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all.”
“This is not a straightforward question… equally, the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play.”
What is your take on this? Are we wrong to meddle with genetics or would it be wrong not to use gene-editing techniques if it could prevent unnecessary suffering?
It’s not often that one has cause to use ‘nuclear physics’, ‘mobile app’ and ‘menstrual cycle’ in one sentence. The three concepts seem wildly disparate. Let’s see what they have to do with each other.
The woman responsible for bringing these concepts together is Elina Berglund, co-founder and chief technical officer of mobile fertility app Natural Cycles. Berlund is a Swedish nuclear physicist who was a member of the team that discovered the Higgs boson at Cern. Berglund co-founded the company with her husband, physicist Raoul Scherwitzl and Natural Cycle’s CEO.
Natural Cycles is the world’s only app that has been certified for use as a contraceptive. The app makes use of a sensitive thermometer and an algorithm that accurately detects and predicts ovulation and fertility. The two founders used their knowledge in advanced mathematics and data analysis to develop the app.
Natural Cycles works by detecting a woman’s ovulation and calculating her fertile days by taking a number of factors into account. All a woman has to do is to take her temperature every morning when she wakes up and enter the reading into the app. An algorithm that accurately detects and predicts ovulation and fertility then tells her via color coding where she is in her menstruation cycle. On red days: be careful or abstain all together, because you can get pregnant. On green days: you’re not fertile, go for it!
The good news is that this digital version of birth control is highly effective. As can be expected of highly qualified scientists, Natural Cycles has completed two clinical trials and more are on the way.
The first study looked at whether Natural Cycles accurately predicts the day of ovulation. The result is a very comforting one for anyone deciding to rely on the app to avoid pregnancy or trying to fall pregnant. The rate at which the algorithm mistakenly marked a day as ‘green’ was less than 0.1%.
The second study analysed the effectiveness of Natural Cycles as a contraceptive. The study showed that the effectiveness of Natural Cycles, when used correctly, is on a par with the pill. Around 4,000 women participated in the clinical trial and only seven out of 100 women who wanted to prevent pregnancy, got pregnant using the app.
Many women around the world want to move away from birth control thatis invasive or messes with their hormones. Natural Cycles is a welcome alternative that has been clinically verified and certified. Tüv Süd, the European inspection and certiﬁcation organisation, certiﬁed Natural Cycles as a class IIb medical device intended for use as a contraception. This puts the app in the same category as the condom, incubators for babies and dialysis devices.
Natural Cycles has over 150,000 users in 161 countries. Of course, the app is only as good as the person using it – for it to be a reliable predictor of ovulation, the user must use it correctly: take temperature every day and avoid unprotected sex on red days.
What is a Chinese research lab doing in Ngari, Tibet at an altitude of over 4,000 meters?
It’s a strategically chosen spot, no doubt.
This is where researchers from China teleported an object to a satellite orbiting more than 500 kilometers above the earth, according to MIT Technology Review.
A miniscule object over a long distance. That object was a photon.
But we must not think in terms of the kind of teleportation on Star Trek, Prof Sandu Popescu, from Bristol University told the BBC. We are not likely to beam ourselves to the other side of the world anytime soon.
The satellite, called Micius after an ancient Chinese philosopher who died in 391 B.C. was placed in a Sun-synchronous orbit last year so that it passes over the same point on Earth at the same time each day. Micius is a highly sensitive photon receiver that can detect the quantum states of single photons fired from the ground.
The team created a satellite-to-ground quantum network and used it to teleport the first object from the ground to orbit. That’s important because it should allow scientists to test the technological building blocks for various quantum feats such as entanglement, cryptography, and teleportation, according to MIT Technology Review.
“This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum Internet,” the team said in a statement, according to MIT Technology Review.
Teleportation relies on a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.
What is quantum entanglement? Quantum entanglement arises when two particles are created at the same time and place and so effectively have the same existence. This entanglement continues even when the photons are then separated. It means that if one of the photons changes, the other photon in the other location changes too, writes Tom Spender for the BBC.
Teleportation can be described as transmitting the state of a thing rather than sending the thing itself, writes Spender.
“Some physicists give the example of a fax machine – it sends information about the marks on a piece of paper rather than the paper itself. The receiving fax machine gets the information and applies it to raw material in the form of paper that is already there.”
According to MIT Technology Review the interesting thing about entanglement is that the shared state continues even when the photons are separated by vast distances. So a measurement on one immediately influences the state of the other, regardless of the distance between them. This phenomenon has important implications for the secure transfer of information.
The Chinese team’s accomplishment was to dramatically increase the distance of possible teleportation by establishing a base in Tibet and teleporting photons from there to a satellite. The photons have to travel through a vacuum to get to the satellite and by setting up a ground station in Tibet at an altitude of 4,000 meters, atmospheric interference was minimized.
“Previous teleportation experiments between distant locations were limited to a distance on the order of 100 kilometers, due to photon loss in optical fibers or terrestrial free-space channels,” states the team.
Why is all this important?
Quantum teleportation can ensure completely secure communication networks.
“The laws of nature offer protection,” Prof Popescu told the BBC. “If someone was to intercept the information you could detect it because whenever you try to observe a quantum system you disturb it.”
Do you remember 2012? The heady days leading to the final count down and the end of life as we know it?
Apart from the Mayan predictions, it turns out there was a very real reason for panic in that year. 2012 was the year of Earth’s lucky escape. We had a close shave with a super solar storm – the most powerful on the sun in 150 years. We were lucky then. Had that solar storm occurred a week earlier, earth would have been in the line of fire.
Let’s hope our luck holds, because at this moment we are facing the same peril.
NASA has found a massive 75,000-mile hole in the sun. The video below by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory with footage taken from July 5 to July 11 shows an active region — an area of intense and complex magnetic fields — that has come into view on the sun. According to NASA it seems to be growing rather fast.
Labeled AR2665, the sunspot could potentially cause havoc here on earth.
Sunspots are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun, caused by interactions with the sun’s magnetic field. They tend to appear in regions of intense magnetic activity, and when that energy is released, solar flares and huge storms erupt from sunspots.
The more intense the interaction with the magnetic field, the more likely it is for sunspots to appear. The problem is that when all that energy is released, solar flares erupt that send out giant bursts of light and radiation called coronal mass ejections (CME) out into space.
These huge sun flares could cause radio blackouts and electricity shortages in some areas, disable communication satellites and disrupt GPS systems.
Such sunspots are a common occurrence on the sun, but are less frequent as we head toward solar minimum, which is the period of low solar activity during its regular approximately 11-year cycle. This sunspot is the first to appear after the sun was spotless for two days, and it is the only sunspot group at this moment, according to NASA.
“The spots are like freckles on the face of the sun, they appear to be small features, but size is relative: The dark core of this sunspot is actually larger than Earth.”
A really large one can send us back to the dark ages if it knocked out all power on earth.
One recent study predicted solar storms could cause massive blackouts across America and cost the country up to $41.5 billion a day.
What are the chances of that happening? Should we worry?
Physicist Pete Riley who published the paper On the probability of the occurrence of extreme weather events, has calculated that the odds of a solar storm strong enough to disrupt our lives in the next ten year is about 12%.
In January this year NASA announced a breakthrough in predicting solar storms, which will help give Earth an early warning. That should put our minds at rest. Or not.