The Bionic Eye Using the latest technologies, researchers are constructing novel prosthetic devices to restore vision in the blind.

In 1755, French physician and scientist Charles Leroy discharged the static electricity from a Leyden jar—a precursor of modern-day capacitors—into a blind patient’s  body using two wires, one tightened around the head just above the eyes and the other around the leg. The patient, who had been blind for three months as a result of a high fever, described the experience like a flame passing downwards in front of his eyes. This was the first time an electrical device—serving as a rudimentary prosthesis—successfully restored even a flicker of visual perception.

More than 250 years later, blindness is still one of the most debilitating sensory impairments, affecting close to 40 million people worldwide. Many of these patients can be efficiently treated with surgery or medication, but some pathologies cannot be corrected with existing treatments. In particular, when light-receiving photoreceptor cells degenerate, as is the case in retinitis pigmentosa, or when the optic nerve is damaged as a result of glaucoma or head trauma, no surgery or medicine can restore the lost vision. In such cases, a visual prosthesis may be the only option. Similar to cochlear implants, which stimulate auditory nerve fibers downstream of damaged sensory hair cells to restore hearing, visual prostheses aim to provide patients with visual information by stimulating neurons in the retina, in the optic nerve, or in the brain’s visual areas.


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Brain repair ‘may be boosted by curry spice’

Brain repair ‘may be boosted by curry spice’

Picture of the spice turmeric
Previous studies have suggested turmeric may have cancer-fighting properties

A spice commonly found in curries may boost the brain’s ability to heal itself, according to a report in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy.

The German study suggests a compound found in turmeric could encourage the growth of nerve cells thought to be part of the brain’s repair kit.

Scientists say this work, based in rats, may pave the way for future drugs for strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.

But they say more trials are needed to see whether this applies to humans.


Full story on BBC

Wearable artificial kidney hopes to gain FDA approval soon

As neat as your smartwatch is, there are other existing wearables which, you know, can actually make the world a world a better place — though that’s not to say whatever you have on your wrist now is useless and for pure vanity purposes. Aptly named the Wearable Artificial Kidney, a projected started back in 2008, this medical gadget hopes to make the dialysis process better for patients, thanks in particular to its portability features. As opposed to the more traditional, stationary machines found at hospitals or in homes, which tend to be extremely heavy, the current version of WAK weighs a mere 10 lbs (around 4.5 kg.) and can be attached around a person’s waist.


Full story at Engadget

Intensive Loss of Gut Bacteria Diversity Lengthy stints in intensive care units pare down patients’ gut microflora, a study shows.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a frequent source of blood-disseminated septic infections, which are an increasing problem and common cause of death among already severely ill patients who spend time in intensive care units (ICUs). Sequence analyses of stool samples from ICU patients at University of Chicago hospitals revealed profound disruptions of gut microflora compared to healthy patients. In a study published today (September 23) in mBio, researchers also fed ICU patients’ “ultra-low-diversity” gut microbes to C. elegans roundworms. These experiments yielded insights into the origins of the microbes’ pathogenic behavior and potential paths to mitigate it.

Although a well-functioning human intestine teems with a variety of microbial life, serious illness, long-term intravenous feeding, and multiple rounds of antibiotics wipe out much of this diversity. Inspection of 16S rRNA sequences from stool samples showed that the guts of five healthy volunteers harbored at least 40 bacterial genera. In contrast, in five of the 14 ICU patients in the study, 90 percent of the bacterial sequences were from just one taxon—typically a known pathogen, such as Enterococcus or Staphylococcus.


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Breath test for TB developed

Researchers have developed the first breath test for TB in the laboratory.

It provides rapid information on drug resistance that takes up to six weeks using standard methods, US scientists report in the journal, Nature Communications.

The bacteria emit a unique gas signature within 10 minutes of exposure to an inhaled antibiotic in rabbits.

TB infects 8.6m people each year worldwide and kills 1.3m, second only to HIV.

Early diagnosis and treatment are a priority in the global fight against TB, according to the World Health Organization.


Full story on BBC News

Six-Legged Syringes Researchers whose work requires that they draw blood from wild animals are finding unlikely collaborators in biting insects.

Peter Becker, who studies the ecology of seabirds in northwest Germany, traps birds to measure, tag, and sample them. Like generations of naturalists and ornithologists before him, Becker, whose home base is the Institute of Avian Research in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, works with animals that can weigh just ounces and have delicate bones that can break under very slight pressure. So the less he disturbs them, the better for their health and that of his data. Sensitive to this problem, Becker found inspiration in a 2004 seminar on bats and bloodsucking insects by wildlife biologist Christian Voigt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Biologists, both in the field and in the lab, often draw blood samples from animals to study their physiology, ecology, and reaction to drugs or other therapies. Analyzing these samples can provide abundant data, including cell counts, hormone levels, pathogen and toxin loads, and antibody titers.

In order to collect blood, researchers typically capture, restrain, and anesthetize the animals, especially wild ones. But the stress of this manipulation can dramatically alter the characteristics of blood and its components. “Stress-sensitive parameters like the hormone corticosterone rise quickly” in stressed birds, says Christina Bauch, an ornithologist and Becker’s former PhD student. “If one is not able to bleed them within three minutes, one cannot measure baseline levels [of hormones].”


Full story at The Scientist

What is a cohort study in medical research?

Cohort studies are a type of medical research used to investigate the causes of disease, establishing links between risk factors and health outcomes.

Cohort studies are usually forward-looking – that is, they are ‘prospective’ studies, or planned in advance and carried out over a future period of time.

A research question is raised – a hypothesis is formed about the potential causes of a disease – and the researchers then observe a group of people, the cohort, over a period, often a very long one, to detect any changes in health in relation to predetermined risk factors.

For example, the scientists may ask participants to record their lifestyle factors over the course of time, and then analyze the way these correlate with disease.

  • Cohort studies are used by epidemiologists looking into the factors that affect the health and illness of populations.
  • Other terms for cohort studies include: incidence, longitudinal, forward-looking, follow-up, concurrent, and prospective.

‘Etiology’ is the term doctors use for studying the causes of disease. When doctors talk about the etiology of a condition they mean the cause, and they may describe the mechanism by which a cause leads to a disease effect.


Full Article on MNT

White House orders plan for antibiotic resistance

WASHINGTON (AP) — Signaling the seriousness of the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant germs, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the government to create a national plan to fight them by early 2015.

“This is an urgent health threat and a threat to our economic stability as well,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as he joined two of Obama’s scientific advisers to announce the steps.

Already the world is facing a situation where once-treatable germs can kill. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drug so that it is no longer effective in treating a particular illness.


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Sit Less, Live Longer?

People need motivation to get up from their office chairs or couches and become less sedentary, two useful new studies could provide the impetus. One found that sitting less can slow the aging process within cells, and the other helpfully underscores that standing up — even if you are standing still — can be good for you as well.

For most of us nowadays, sitting is our most common waking activity, with many of us sitting for eight hours or more every day. Even people who exercise for an hour or so tend to spend most of the remaining hours of the day in a chair.

Full story at NYT

Anatomy of a Virus A mass spectrometry-based analysis of influenza virions provides a detailed view of their composition.

A cross-section of an influenza virion, showing the locations and relative abundance of viral proteins (brightly colored) and host membrane and proteins (brown).EDWARD HUTCHINSON

A spherical influenza virion is an orderly hodgepodge comprised of hundreds of proteins that originate from both the virus and its host. A new mass spectrometry analysis, published today (September 16) in Nature Communications, has yielded the most complete picture to date of the identities, arrangements, and ratios of proteins in influenza virions.

Previously, only the most common and conspicuous influenza virion proteins were well characterized. Compared to the perfect icosahedrons of adenovirus, for example, irregular influenza particles are difficult to crystallize and to study structurally, according to the lead author of this latest work, Edward Hutchinson, a postdoctoral research assistant working with virologist Ervin Fodor at the University of Oxford. “When you look at influenza, you get things that look kind of like moldy kidney beans,” said Hutchinson. “Round shapes of varying morphologies with a fringe of glycoproteins around the edge.”


Full story on TheScientist