CategoriesHealth News

Using a smartphone to detect a highly contagious virus

A new device uses a smartphone and a paper microfluidic chip to detect extremely low levels of norovirus.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus responsible for around 19–21 million yearly cases of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.

In fact, norovirus is “the leading cause of foodborne illness” in the U.S.

Norovirus is also responsible for up to 1.9 million hospital visits and another 400,000 visits to the emergency department. This costs the U.S. around $2 billion in healthcare expenses and loss of job productivity.

The virus can be contagious at very low levels, with just 10 virus particles being enough to cause an infection.

So, researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson set out to create an efficient way to detect even the smallest levels of the virus.

Three researchers co-led the project: Jeong-Yeol Yoon, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UA; Soo Chung, a doctoral researcher in Yoon’s laboratory; and Kelly A. Reynolds, chair of the Department of Community, Environment, and Policy in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at UA.

Yoon presented the research at the American Chemical Society Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, CA, and the paper now appears in the journal ACS Omega.

How the cheap and quick device works

The virus can spread very quickly through water. Existing devices for detecting norovirus require a laboratory and a range of microscopes, lasers, and costly spectrometers. These are instruments that measure types of radiation and wavelength.

With the new method, the researchers used simple materials including paper and a smartphone. Chung explains how it is possible for paper to transform into microfluidic chips.

“Paper substrate is very cheap and easy to store, and we can fabricate these chips easily,” he says. “The fibrous structure of paper also allows liquid to flow spontaneously without using the pumping systems other chips, such as silicon chips, usually require.”

CategoriesHealth News

New evidence challenges ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism

A new study has challenged suggestions that the male sex hormone testosterone reduces cognitive empathy, or the ability to read other people’s emotional states. Lower cognitive empathy is a feature of autism, a condition that predominantly affects males.

he new research takes the form of two large-scale randomized controlled trials that included a total of 643 adult males. It is the largest work of its kind.

The investigators, who hail from institutions in the United States and Canada, report their findings in a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences paper.

They explain that earlier studies that have found links between testosterone and lower cognitive empathy had relied on very small samples and so had insufficient statistical power to establish a direct link.

“Our results unequivocally show that there is not a linear causal relation between testosterone exposure and cognitive empathy,” states first study author Amos Nadler, Ph.D., who worked on the study while at Western University, in Canada.

Cognitive empathy and ASD

In the United States, around 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and males are four times more likely to have it than females, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although it has been clear for some time that ASD affects more males than females, scientists do not understand why.

CategoriesHealth News

World first: Doctors use ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells to repair cornea

Scientists in Japan have, for the first time, treated a damaged cornea using induced pluripotent stem cells. According to the surgeon, the person’s vision has improved since the procedure.

Scientists create induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by reprogramming adult cells.

This process converts the cells into embryonic-like cells, which means that they can develop into any other type of human cell, including nerve, pancreatic, liver, and corneal cells.

Although iPS cells have great potential to treat a range of conditions, they have been slow to make it from the laboratory to the clinic.

In carrying out a new groundbreaking procedure, ophthalmologist Kohji Nishida from Osaka University in Japan has taken the next step.

Corneal repair

The cornea is the transparent front section of the eye, which covers the iris and pupil. Stem cells in the cornea ensure that it becomes refreshed and repaired when necessary, keeping it clear so that light can enter.

However, if these stem cells sustain damage due to disease or injury, maintenance of the cornea is no longer possible, and this can lead to corneal blindness.

Individuals with damaged corneas must wait for donor tissue to become available, and — as with any organ transplant — this can be a lengthy process.

The person who underwent the recent surgery has a genetic condition that affects the stem cells of the cornea. Her vision was blurry, and she would eventually have lost her sight.

The researchers implanted thin sheets of iPS cells into the patient’s eye, hoping that they would take root and fill in the gaps that her missing corneal stem cells had left.

More procedures to come

Following successful research in an animal model, the Japanese health ministry gave Nishida permission to carry out the corneal repair procedure in four people.

So far, the first treatment appears to be a success. According to Nishida, the person’s cornea is still clear, and their vision has improved in the month since the operation.

Nishida plans to carry out the second procedure later this year, and he is hopeful that the surgery will be available to more people within 5 years.

The authors of a recent global survey of corneal transplantation concluded that there is “only one cornea available for 70 needed.” Hopefully, this groundbreaking technology will, eventually, go some way toward closing that gap.

CategoriesHealth News

A simple text could help keep diabetes under control

Providing people with a safe way to manage their own care could be an effective solution to the healthcare burden of long term conditions. According to researchers in China, this could come in the form of text messages.

Researchers have found that a series of simple motivational texts can improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Not only is this an affordable and scalable solution, it is also one that researchers can apply to almost any population across the globe.

The researchers chose people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease for the trial because they need to pay particular attention to their bodies.

Over time, high blood sugar levels can lead to a number of serious complications, including kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Managing these conditions can often require sticking to several lifestyle recommendations, so researchers studied whether texts could help.

In the past, trials of text based systems were limited for failing to take into account the fact that some people may have more than one condition.

By including people with both diabetes and coronary heart disease, the scientists hoped that the findings would better apply to real life settings.


Controlling vital levels

Published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, the study enlisted 502 people from 34 hospitals in China.

They all received typical care, but the scientists split the participants into two groups. One group received six autogenerated texts per week (the motivational text group).

These messages focused on a variety of factors, including controlling glucose and blood pressure levels, lifestyle advice, and the importance of adhering to medication rules.

CategoriesHealth News

Antibiotic resistance can spread in the absence of drugs

Restricting the use of antibiotics may not be enough to curb the spread of resistant bacteria, suggests new research in mice. Efforts will also have to focus on preventing infections by the superbugs in the first place.

These were the conclusions that scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland came to after identifying a previously unknown mechanism of antibiotic resistance spread in bacteria that inhabit the gut.

A recent Nature paper describes how, using mice, the team discovered the mechanism in persisters — persistent bacteria that can survive treatment with antibiotics by going into a dormant state.

“If you want to control the spread of resistance genes,” says co-senior study author Médéric Diard, “you have to start with the resistant microorganisms themselves and prevent these from spreading through, say, more effective hygiene measures or vaccinations.”

Until recently, Diard was working at ETH Zurich. He is now a professor at the University of Basel, also in Switzerland.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is a public health concern in every country.

In the United States, at least 2 million people develop antibiotic resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die from them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Another mechanism of resistance spread

However, the findings of the new study suggest that restricting the use of antibiotics may not be enough to fight resistance because, thanks to persisters, it can spread without antibiotic use.

Persisters are bacteria that can wind down their metabolism to such an extent that they are barely still alive.

Scientists have known for some time that persisters exist and that antibiotics cannot kill these bacteria when they are in their dormant state.

Salmonella is a bacterium that can become a persister when it invades body tissues from the intestines.

This bacterium can lie dormant and escape detection for many months. When conditions become favorable, the germ can wake up and trigger infection.

However, even if the microbe does not cause infection to flare up, it can still pose a threat, according to the new findings.

Prof. Diard and his colleagues found that Salmonella has the ability not only to persist but also to carry resistance genes in the form of small pieces of DNA called plasmids.

In experiments in mice, the team showed that when the plasmid-carrying Salmonella persisters emerge from dormancy, they can readily share their resistance genes.


CategoriesHealth News

Study confirms low fat diets benefit women’s health

New research spanning over almost 2 decades finds that a low fat diet benefits women’s health.

Older studies in rats and mice have found that rodents on a high fat diet develop more tumors than those on a low fat diet.

Some of these studies referred to colorectal cancer in particular, while others showed that high fat diets boosted tumor growth in mouse models of breast cancer.

More recently, studies in humans have suggested that following a low fat dietary plan could improve the health and lifespan of women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Spurred by this existing research, Ross Prentice, Ph.D. — a member of the Cancer Prevention and Biostatistics programs at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, WA — and colleagues at the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) set out to further examine the benefits of a low fat diet for postmenopausal women.

Specifically, the scientists followed almost 50,000 postmenopausal women over 2 decades, in an effort to determine the effects of a low fat diet on breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and heart disease risk.

Prentice and the team have published their findings in The Journal of Nutrition.


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