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.

Image credit: Jake Evill

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.

Does the Salamander Hold the Key for Human Limb Regeneration?

Scientists at University College London are unravelling the secret of how salamanders successfully regrow body parts, with an aim to apply it to humans.

It has been discovered that for a salamander’s cells to contribute to the regeneration of body parts, a chain of proteins called the ERK pathway must be constantly active within the cell. This chain of proteins sends signals from a receptor on the surface to the DNA in the nucleus. The DNA in the nucleus then expresses a protein and produces a change within the cells.

The study demonstrates that the ERK pathway is not fully active in mammalian cells, but when forced, the cells are given more potential for reprogramming and regeneration. This could help researchers better understand diseases and design new therapies.

The axolotl, also known as the Mexican salamander (Ambystoma Mexicanum).

One Blood Type to Suit ALL?

Researchers at the University of Essex are making progress in developing a universal artificial blood substitute.

Should this be successful, the synthetic biology project, dubbed HaemO2, could potentially enable for artificial blood to be given to any patient in need of it, regardless of their blood type.

The introduction of a universal blood substitute would mean that those with rarer blood types would no longer struggle to find suitable donors. The requirement of screening donor blood for viral infections would be eradicated, and, with the number of blood donors decreasing on a worldwide scale, hospitals would no longer run the risk of having a short supply of blood for use during surgery or after trauma.

HaemO2 has been awarded a £1.5 million of funding which the team hopes will push the product one step further towards commercialisation. Although some blood substitutes are available in other countries, such as Russia, they are not licensed in the UK or the US.

If you reside in the UK and would like to donate blood, follow the following link, here.

The Goggles Helping Surgeons to ‘See’ Cancer

Cancer is commonly treated with drugs and radiotherapy, or by cutting the infected cells out. The latter option is not always successful as it’s often impossible to tell where the tumour ends and healthy tissue begins. To try and combat this, surgeons often remove tissue surrounding the tumour, but cancerous cells often remain, necessitating further surgery.

Now, a new goggle technology is under development in the US, which is allowing surgeons to differentiate cancerous and healthy cells in the human body – leading to cancerous cells being fully removed in one operation.

Patients are being injected with a dye before surgery. This dye has a peptide attached to it that allows it to seek out and bind specifically to cancer cells.

The dyed cancer cells emit light at a wavelength that cannot be seen by the human eye, but can be detected by a sensor in the goggles worn by the surgeons.

So far this new goggle technology has only been trialled on patients suffering from skin and breast cancer. However, the dye has been shown to bind to breast, prostate, lung and colon pancreatic cancers, and has even been shown to detect pre-cancerous cells.

Dr Samuel Achilefu of Washington University School of Medicine - who has developed both the dye & goggle technology.

Why IS The Mouse a Scientist’s Best Friend?

Sources claim that scientific research on animals has been practiced since at least 500 BC, with the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) stating that around 95% of all lab animals are mice and rats.

Mice and humans share about 97.5% of their DNA, and have been responsible for many of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine, advancing our understanding of breast cancer, brain injury, childhood leukaemia, cystic fibrosis, malaria, multiple sclerosis and tuberculosis.

The mouse was the first non-human mammal to have its genome sequenced, which revealed that there are only 21 genes in human DNA that do not have a direct counterpart in mouse DNA, and only 14 genes unique to mice that are not found in humans.

A 2013 article in The Conversation on the role of the mouse in 21st Century science defined three main purposes:

  • To aid understanding of the functional parts of the genome
  • To act as models for the study of human disease
  • To aid development of genomic-based therapies for human disease

Laboratory mice also live for only 2 or 3 years, giving researchers the opportunity to study the effects of treatments or genetic manipulation across a whole lifespan or even over several generations, which is not feasible in human subjects. Mice adapt well to new surroundings, can be easily houses and handled and are relatively inexpensive to buy and keep.

Red Wine & Chocolate – ‘No Health Benefits’

A new study has cast doubt upon the health benefits of the antioxidant, resveratrol, found in dark chocolate and red wine.

Resveratrol has no significant impact on life-span, heart disease or cancer, say scientists. It cannot explain the “French Paradox” – the low incidence of heart disease suffered by people in France despite a diet laden with cholesterol and saturated fat, they believe.

The lead researcher of the study, Professor Richard Semba, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, said ‘the story of resveratrol turns out to be another case where you get a lot of hype about health benefits that doesn’t stand the test of time’.

However, some animal studies have suggested that in high doses the compound may have benefits like reducing inflammation.

A belief of the health benefits of resveratrol has led to a plethora of supplements containing the compound.