Obama Announces $46 Million BRAIN Funding

The U.S. has announced the allocation of $46 million to develop new technologies for exploring the brain.

Wearable brain scanners and lasers that can turn hundreds of cells on and off were among 58 projects awarded the figure in federal grants as part of President Obama’s $100 million initiative to unlock the secrets of the human brain.

Most of the projects focus on developing new tools to help answer basic questions about the brain, including classifying the myriad cell types in the brain and developing new methods to record brain activity and integrate that into fundamental theories of the brain.

Launched in 2013, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is designed to give scientists greater insight into how the healthy brain works and a better understanding of what systems go awry in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.

“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar,” said Obama, referring to the decades-long Human Genome Project, a groundbreaking international effort to map our DNA, which this new project is being silhouetted against. “Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”

An App Better than Doctors at Detecting Jaundice?

Researchers have reported data from a trial with 100 newborns for an app that can detect jaundice.

It was found that the app had greater accuracy in detecting jaundice than visual exams performed by doctors. It also matched the accuracy of blood tests for bilirubin. High levels of bilirubin can indicate that that the liver isn’t functioning properly and signifies jaundice.

The app works by using a smartphone with a camera and flash to take pictures of the newborn’s chest with a colour calibrator – a sheet about the size of a business card with eight different colours. The software processes the images and creates a report.

The University of Seattle team working on the app, dubbed BiliCam, believe it will someday be useful in calming parent anxiety and reducing healthcare costs

The BiliCam research was funded in part by Coulter Foundation and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The smartphone application is still in development but may someday help parents and healthcare providers screen for jaundice in newborns.

The Blood Test Diagnosing Depression

The first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults has been developed, providing the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression.

The test measures the levels of nine genetic indicators (known as “RNA markers”) in the blood and can also predict who will benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy, offering the opportunity for more effective, individualised therapy for depression-sufferers. The test also showed the biological effects of the therapy, the first measurable, blood-based evidence of the therapy’s success and showed who is vulnerable to recurring episodes of depression, Northwestern University researchers report.

“The longer this delay is, the harder it is on the patient, their family and environment,” said lead researcher Eva Redei, a professor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences and physiology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Additionally, if a patient is not able or willing to communicate with the doctor, the diagnosis is difficult to make,” she said. “If the blood test is positive, that would alert the doctor.”

The test works by measuring the blood concentration of the RNA markers. A cell’s RNA molecules are what interpret its genetic code and then carry out those instructions from DNA. After blood is drawn, the RNA is isolated, measured and compared to RNA levels expected in a non-depressed person’s blood.

The blood test’s accuracy in diagnosing depression is similar to those of standard psychiatric diagnostic interviews, which are about 72 – 80% effective.

Blackberry’s Medtech Smartphone…

Disregard the excitement of the launch of Apple’s iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch, as Blackberry is taking a bold step into healthcare!

After losing ground in the smartphone race, Canadian phone maker Blackberry Limited has decided to venture into a new field by launching a healthcare service platform that will integrate thousands of medical devices to enable early detection of illnesses in India.

Blackberry has allied with NantHealth, which makes medical device interoperability systems, to develop a service platform designed to aggregate data from thousands of devices in order to generate insight into the spread of disease.

The companies plan to offer a smartphone designed to tap into the medical device network to integrate data from a variety of devices, including ECG machines, scanners and other systems. Blackberry’s platform will also provide analytics and decision support.

“Work has started on it but we haven’t finalized an official launch date,” said Sunil Lalvani, managing director of BlackBerry India. “We are running trials with multiple hospitals in India. It includes integration with different hospital information systems as well as various medical equipment.”

Image credit: Silicon Angle

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.