Can We Diagnose Malaria Using Magnets?

Despite the recent Ebola virus outbreak which has claimed over one and a half thousand lives as of August 26th, Malaria still remains Africa’s biggest killer.

Diagnosing Malaria has changed very little over the past seven decades – after taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and looks under a microscope for the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease. This approach gives an accurate count of how many parasites are in the blood — an important measure of disease severity — but is not ideal because there is potential for human error.

A research team from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology (SMART) have now developed a novel way to diagnose malaria using magnetic fields. This affordable and quick technique can detect parasitic waste products in the blood of infected patients.

Jongyoon Han, a professor of electrical and biological engineering at MIT, said: “There is a real potential to make this into a field-deployable system, especially since you don’t need any kind of labels or dye. It’s based on a naturally occurring biomarker that does not require any biochemical processing of samples.”

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite. The parasite can be spread to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

British Scientists Grow Organ INSIDE Living Animal

British scientists have built a complete and functional organ from transplanted laboratory-created cells in a living animal for the very first time. The researchers have created a thymus — an organ next to the heart that produces immune cells known as T cells that are vital for guarding against disease.

Although so far only tested on mice, the technique could be used to provide replacement organs for people with weakened immune systems and eventually lead on the production of more complex organs for transplant. The technique could be used in humans in as little as ten years.

Scientists created a working thymus with connective tissue cells from a mouse embryo which were converted into a completely different cell strain by flipping a genetic “switch” in their DNA. The resulting cells grew spontaneously into the whole organ when injected into the mouse with other similar cells.

Professor Clare Blackburn, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who led the team of scientists, said: “The ability to grow replacement organs from cells in the lab is one of the ‘holy grails’ in regenerative medicine. But the size and complexity of lab-grown organs has so far been limited.

By directly reprogramming cells we’ve managed to produce an artificial cell type that, when transplanted, can form a fully organised and functional organ. This is an important first step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab.”

The new research, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, raises the possibility of creating a whole new functioning thymus using cells manufactured in the laboratory.

While fragments of organs, including hearts, livers and even brains, have been grown from stem cells, no one before has succeeded in producing a fully intact organ from cells created outside the body.

The DEADLIEST Outbreak Of Ebola In History?

The ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus in Western Africa is now by far the biggest in the 38-year history of the disease, with 1,145 deaths and 2,127 suspected cases recorded as a virulent strain of the disease spreads across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. This outbreak, which has been growing since March, concerns the deadliest form of the Ebola virus, Zaire Ebolavirus.

Zaire strain kills on average 78% of those who contract it and is mainly found in tropical Central and West Africa. Early symptoms are similar to those of flu but are followed by severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and eventually internal and external bleeding.

It is introduced into the human population through close contact with the sweat, blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines.

While the rapid spread of EVD has set off international alarm bells, it’s another disease, malaria, that’s by far the number one killer in West Africa, accounting for 33,205 deaths in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in 2011 alone.

Can This Machine Detect Heart Attacks BEFORE They Occur?

If someone shouts ‘Code Blue’ in a hospital it usually means that a patient needs immediate help. Code Blue events can include cardiac or respiratory arrests and can be hard to anticipate. However, an algorithm may be able to make that call 4 hours earlier to head off dangerous situations, and researchers have developed exactly that.

Doctors use a scorecard, known as the Modified Early Warning Score, to estimate the severity of a patient’s status by looking at vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Knowing that certain patients are at high risk helps hospitals to lower rates of arrest and shorten hospital stays.

Sriram Somanchi of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues wanted to see if a computer could predict when emergencies were imminent. “We had to understand what happens in Code Blue patients before they enter Code Blue,” Somanchi says.

The researchers have trained a machine-learning algorithm on data from 133,000 patients who visited the NorthShore University HealthSystem, a partnership of four Chicago hospitals, between 2006 and 2011. Doctors called a Code Blue 815 times. By looking at 72 parameters in patients’ medical history including vital signs, age, blood glucose and platelet counts, the system was able to tell, sometimes from data from 4 hours before an event, whether a patient would have gone into arrest. It guessed correctly about two-thirds of the time, while a scorecard flagged just 30 per cent of events.

Peter Donnan at the University of Dundee, UK, says it may be difficult for the system to work in hospitals that don’t collect such detailed patient data. The advantage of the scorecard, he says, is that it relies on a small number of parameters. “When we look at it from a statistical point of view, a small model is better.”

Image credit: tacade.com

American Ebola Patients Receive New Experimental Treatment

West Africa is currently experiencing the largest Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in history. As of August 1, there have been 1603 cases and 887 deaths. Treatment options for EVD are fairly limited, and centered around palliative care of the patient.

Maintaining hydration and reducing fever are two of the biggest challenges for patients, but can be lifesaving. No vaccination options are currently available and antiviral medications have been slow to develop. However, a pair of Americans who had been providing healthcare to EVD patients in Liberia have exclusively received an experimental treatment after they also fell ill. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are being brought to Atlanta to receive treatment.

The experimental medication is called ZMapp and is created from monoclonal antibodies, which are the proteins created by the immune system of an organism that has previously been infected with the virus. The serum has been through rodent and primate testing, but is not ready for human trials. Animal models were given the medication 24 or 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, while the two Americans received treatment much later. 

The Cortex Cast – the Future of Plaster Casts?

The Cortex Cast is a water-proof, light weight arm cast said to provide customisable support to the body as an alternative to traditional plaster casts.

Jake Evill, a recent university graduate in New Zealand, is the creator behind a revolutionary 3D printed arm cast whose provocative design is beyond eye-catching but lightweight, water-proof and inexpensive.

Called the Cortex Cast, his unique design uses a honeycomb structure similar to natural bone tissue to durably support and protect the body as an alternative to the bulk, weight and suffocation from ordinary plaster casts, according to Evill.

More importantly, he says, each cast is entirely custom-made to each user’s body to ensure the greatest support in areas most needed for healing, while comfortably following the contours of the hand and arm.

The unique prototype is the result of Evill’s senior design project at Victoria University in Wellington. Using a home-made 3-D scanner, crafted from an adapted X-Box Kinect system, he was able to produce a clear scan of his own arm, one recently broken and confined to a cast inspiring his design.

Today the Cortex Cast has peaked interest from orthopaedic surgeons in Europe and the U.S.

The Single Injection Reversing the Effects of Diabetes…

Currently, there is no cure for type 2 diabetes. However, researchers say they’re onto a potential treatment that can restore normal insulin activity, normalising blood sugar levels with just one injection.

In mice with diet-induced diabetes – the equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans – a single injection of the protein FGF1 is enough to restore blood sugar levels to a healthy range for more than two days. The discovery could lead to a new generation of safer, more effective diabetes drugs.

The team found that sustained treatment with the protein doesn’t merely keep blood sugar under control, but also reverses insulin insensitivity – the underlying physiological cause of diabetes. Equally exciting, the newly developed treatment did not cause any detrimental side effects or cause glucose levels to drop precipitously, unlike most current diabetes treatments.

The Eyes were FIRMLY on the Prize!

Those who visited us at our stand at the Lab Innovations Exhibition back in November last year may remember the excitement surrounding our BATAK wall challenge.

The very clear winner of the challenge was Frank Barker, with an exceptional score of 96 points!

Frank received two tickets to the Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix, which was held on Sunday 6th of July.

And here he is! Enjoying the sunshine on the track with his Dad.

Congratulations on winning the tickets Frank, we hope you had an amazing day!

New Hope for Detecting Alzheimer’s

Researchers have identified a set of proteins present in the blood which can be used to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s with almost 90% accuracy. The team believes that this discovery could not only be used to improve clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs, but it may also eventually lead to a blood test for Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, usually affecting people over the age of 65. Currently, 44 million people worldwide have dementia; this is predicted to rise to 135 million in 2050. Unfortunately, there are no effective drug treatments for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers wanted to find a way to identify patients presenting mild cognitive impairment that will likely develop Alzheimer’s in order to enroll them into clinical trials. It is hoped that this will speed up the discovery of drugs that can prevent or treat the condition.

For the study, researchers from Oxford University and King’s College London analyzed the blood of over 1,000 individuals; 476 had Alzheimer’s, 220 had mild cognitive impairment and 452 were elderly controls without dementia. The team was interested in the levels of 26 proteins that were previously found to be associated with Alzheimer’s.

They discovered that of these proteins, 10 were strongly associated with disease severity and progression. Furthermore, these proteins in combination could be used to predict whether individuals with mild cognitive decline would develop Alzheimer’s within one year with a high level of accuracy (87%).

“A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease,” said lead researcher Simon Lovestone in a news-release. “The next step will be to validate our findings in further sample sets, to see if we can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and to develop a reliable test suitable to be used by doctors.”

Image credit: Cardinal Senior Care

‘Supercooling’ – Keeping Organs Fresher, for Longer

A healthy organ suffers tissue death after removal from the body and can last around 12 hours prior to transplantation. It is using a new ‘supercooling’ technique, which US researchers claim they can preserve organs for DAYS after they are removed from the body.

Supercooling combines chilling the organ and pumping nutrients and oxygen through its blood vessels. This new technique could extend the amount of time to a couple of days by supercooling the organ without freezing it.

The researchers took rat livers and treated them with oxygen and cooled chemicals that act as an anti-freeze, and slowly brought the livers down to 4 °C (39 °F) without completely freezing them. They were then stored at -6 °C (21.2 °F) for three days. The livers were slowly rewarmed and transplanted into recipient rats. The rats that received livers that had been supercooled were all alive three months after the transplant. A control group of rats were given livers that had been stored for three days using conventional methods, though none of those animals lived for three months after the surgery.

Though the technique was done with livers, the researchers believe this could eventually be done using any transplant organ. If this technique eliminates the strict 12 hour available window, there could be up to 5,000 additional organs available for transplant every year.