Tagged: research

Apple’s ResearchKit offers scientists access to millions of volunteers


Jeff Williams introduces Apple’s medical research kitReuters/Robert Galbraith

Apple just released ResearchKit, an open-source software tool designed to give scientists a new way to gather information on patients by using their iPhones.

Several top research institutions have already developed applications to work on the ResearchKit platform, including those pursuing clinical studies on asthma, breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. They include Stanford University School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College.

The format will allow users to decide if they want to participate in a study and decide how their data is to be shared with researchers…

The ResearchKit platform is designed to work hand in hand with Apple’s HealthKit software, which allows iPhones to work with health and fitness apps that gather information on weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use.

The ResearchKit also allows researchers access to accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in the iPhone to gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory.

The software is also designed to help researchers build more diverse study populations, which traditionally have been limited by physical proximity to large academic medical centres.

My wife teases me – calls me her personal emoticon. And I admit I cried a little when Tim Cook and Jeff Williams were introducing ResearchKit.

The primary cause of my mom’s death was Parkinson’s. She devoted a lot of her life to the American Heart Association. I’ve done some similar things; but, the best was being able to volunteer as a human test subject for one ailment that, right now, still affects millions of people. Shingles. My mom suffered through some painful episodes and it pleased me much to be in the final test cycle of the Shingles vaccine before it was approved.

That was a big deal because it included several thousand volunteers nationwide. With ResearchKit, computational analysis of everything from day-by-day, minute-by-minute tracking of symptoms, response, exercise, a great deal of information previously only available from small groups, narrow demographics – can now be collated from millions of volunteers.

Doctors, researchers, universities worldwide can develop apps to fit their particular needs. And you decide what you wish to participate in – if at all.

You decide whether or not you are anonymous. You decide the boundaries for your participation. Apple sees none of the information. It’s all up to you.

Tim Cook and the designers at Apple feel the potential for this concept is so important — they’re making the SDK open source and developers can proceed on any platform they wish. You won’t have to own Apple products to participate.

Reprogramming plants for drought tolerance


Transgenic Arabidopsis on the right survived drought vs non-transgenic on the left

Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually.

Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting plant growth and development. When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and reduces water consumption. Specifically, the hormone turns on a receptor (special protein) in plants when it binds to the receptor like a hand fitting into a glove, resulting in beneficial changes — such as the closing of guard cells on leaves, called stomata, to reduce water loss — that help the plants survive.

While it is true that crops could be sprayed with ABA to assist their survival during drought, ABA is costly to make, rapidly inactivated inside plant cells and light-sensitive, and has therefore failed to find much direct use in agriculture. Several research groups are working to develop synthetic ABA mimics to modulate drought tolerance, but once discovered these mimics are expected to face lengthy and costly development processes.

The agrochemical mandipropamid, however, is already widely used in agricultural production to control late blight of fruit and vegetable crops. Could drought-threatened crops be engineered to respond to mandipropamid as if it were ABA, and thus enhance their survival during drought?

Yes, according to a team of scientists, led by Sean Cutler at the University of California, Riverside.

The researchers worked with Arabidopsis, a model plant used widely in plant biology labs, and the tomato plant. In the lab, they used synthetic biological methods to develop a new version of these plants’ abscisic acid receptors, engineered to be activated by mandipropamid instead of ABA. The researchers showed that when the reprogrammed plants were sprayed with mandipropamid, the plants effectively survived drought conditions by turning on the abscisic acid pathway, which closed the stomata on their leaves to prevent water loss.

The finding illustrates the power of synthetic biological approaches for manipulating crops and opens new doors for crop improvement that could benefit a growing world population.

One of the growing areas of research wherein scientists work to adapt plants to conditions not otherwise considered arable or useful for cropping. Drought-tolerance is only one of the areas. There are folks working to encourage food crops in both high-salt and high-alkaline environments.

Farmers have historically followed the roads that lead to simplest and easiest profits – once agriculture evolved beyond sustenance family farming. That generally put the focus on the most arable land, good water access, etc.. Opening up new lands, new climates, broader soil chemistry and temperature permits growing food for more.

Hopefully, common sense prevails over religion, culture and dirt-poor economics while family size continues to diminish – along with demand.

Women of National Geographic

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Meave and Louise Leakey

We’re celebrating women in science and the major impacts they’re making in a variety of fields.

Meet some of the female scientists National Geographic has had the honor of supporting through the years. Hear from “Her Deepness,” Sylvia Earle, about the role of women in science—and find out who recently named her as a “Woman of the Year”.

Discover the incredible solar power breakthrough National Geographic Emerging Explorer Xiaoling Zheng is working on.

See how Big Cats Initiative Grantee Amy Dickman is transforming lives—human and feline—in Tanzania. Then learn why it’s crucial that more women get into science, and how we can help remove the barriers to their success.

Lots more at NatGeo. Click the link above and enjoy and learn.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Study confirms that Fox News makes you stupid

fox-truth

Yet another study has been released that proves that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation.

So the more you watch, the less you know. Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false…

In eight of the nine questions below, Fox News placed first in the percentage of those who were misinformed (they placed second in the question on TARP). That’s a pretty high batting average for journalistic fraud:

91% believe that the stimulus legislation lost jobs.

72% believe that the health reform law will increase the deficit.

72% believe that the economy is getting worse.

60% believe that climate change is not occurring.

49% believe that income taxes have gone up.

63% believe that the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.

56% believe that Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout.

38% believe that most Republicans opposed TARP.

63% believe that Obama was not born in the US (or that it is unclear)…

This is not an isolated review of Fox’s performance. It has been corroborated time and time again. The fact that Fox News is so blatantly dishonest, and the effects of that dishonesty have become ingrained in an electorate that has been been purposefully deceived, needs to be made known to every American. Our democracy cannot function if voters are making choices based on lies

Madison Avenue hucksters have proved for decades that Americans are conditioned to believe almost anything presented to them as fact, as desirable, as having qualities of holy goodness. You can start with Chesterfield cigarettes having “Not a cough in a carload!” — and top it off with The Bush/Cheney campaign against weapons of mass destruction requiring our invasion of Iraq and the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of American Homeland Security.

Infrastructure advances worldwide — US politicians stick with crumbling bridges

While our politicians debate whether torture is really torture, is affordable access to basic health care necessary for people who work for a living, is climate change important [if it exists] – the rest of the world is simply advancing national and regional infrastructure beyond anything in the richest nation in the world.

In Switzerland, the world’s longest rail tunnel — straight through the Alps — is about to open.

At 57 kilometres, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will travel through the Alps between the northern portal of Erstfeld and Bodio in the south, will become the longest rail tunnel in the world once complete, stripping the title from Japan’s 53.85 kilometre Seikan Tunnel…

Italy now boasts Europe’s fastest high-speed train — capable of speeds up to 400 km/h (249 mph) — that will cut travel times between Rome and Milan — about the distance between Washington, D.C. and Providence — to two hours and some change…

Even as Americans are stuck traveling on the MegaBus, China has agreed to finance construction of a new high-speed line — through the formerly war-torn Balkan states — from Belgrade to Budapest — by 2017.

China has signed an agreement with the governments of Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia for the construction of a new high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the railway would be complete within the next two years. Feasibility studies are expected to to be carried out by June next year and the project completed by June 2017.

The new 200km/h line will reduce travel times from eight to around two-and-a-half hours between the two capital cities…

Continue reading

Corneas regrown using adult stem cells


Shutterstock

Medical researchers working with human stem cells have discovered a way to improve regrowth of corneal tissue in the human eye. Using a molecule known as ABCB5 to act as an identifying marker for rare limbal stem cells, the researchers were able to use antibodies to detect ABCB5 on stem cells in tissue from donated human eyes and use them to regrow anatomically correct, fully functional human corneas in mice…

Up until now, the use of tissue or cell transplants to help the cornea regenerate have been used, but as it was both unknown whether there were actual limbal stem cells in the grafts, or how many, the outcomes were generally inconsistent.

As a result of this recent research, transplants have now been made in mice using human ABCB5-positive limbal stem cells that resulted in the restoration and long-term maintenance of normal, transparent corneas. Control mice that received either no cells or ABCB5-negative cells failed to have their cornea restored.

“Limbal stem cells are very rare, and successful transplants are dependent on these rare cells,” said Bruce Ksander, Ph.D., of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, co-lead author on the research. “This finding will now make it much easier to restore the corneal surface. It’s a very good example of basic research moving quickly to a translational application.”…one of the first known examples of constructing tissue from an adult-derived human stem cell.

Not only a potential boon for folks with diseases of the cornea – preventing blindness or restoring sight – I imagine this should aid folks with injury-damaged corneas.

Of course, the first question from an old fart like me is – when will this be covered by my medicare insurance? Don’t need it, yet – but, cataracts are pretty much inevitable. Only a question of how many, how fast are they growing? :)

Heinz and Ford research turning tomato scraps into car parts

It might seem that tomatoes and cars have nothing in common. But researchers at Ford Motor Company and H.J. Heinz Company see the possibility of an innovative union.

Researchers at Ford and Heinz are investigating the use of tomato fibers in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. Specifically, dried tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle or the storage bin a Ford customer uses to hold coins and other small objects…

Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100 percent plant-based plastic to be used to make everything from fabric to packaging and with a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based packaging materials currently in use.

At Heinz, researchers were looking for innovative ways to recycle and repurpose peels, stems and seeds from the more than two million tons of tomatoes the company uses annually to produce its best-selling product: Heinz Ketchup. Leaders at Heinz turned to Ford…

…In recent years, Ford has increased its use of recycled nonmetal and bio-based materials. With cellulose fiber-reinforced console components and rice hull-filled electrical cowl brackets introduced in the last year, Ford’s bio-based portfolio now includes eight materials in production. Other examples are coconut-based composite materials, recycled cotton material for carpeting and seat fabrics, and soy foam seat cushions and head restraints.

Someday we may be able to scrounge our way through a junkyard – and make pizza.

Now, what part of a car can we make from anchovies?

US medical-industrial complex always knows how to make a profit

Millions of Americans see the doctor each year with worries about a persistent or severe headache or migraine…And according to a new University of Michigan Medical School study, 12 percent of those visits end in a brain scan being ordered for the patient. Those brain scans add up to a total cost of roughly $1 billion a year.

Health experts say it’s a waste of resources, given the extremely low probability of a scan finding a serious issue, such as a malignant brain tumor…

A number of national guidelines have been issued in the last decade advising doctors to refrain from ordering scans for those who complain of headaches. But the frequency of brain scans continues to go up, suggesting patients are advocating for them — an expensive way to get reassurance that a brain tumor or aneurysm isn’t lurking inside the cerebrum.

The answer might be better educating the public about the costs verses the risk, says Callaghan. On top of the fact that statistics show a scan is unlikely to find anything serious, it also exposes the brain to radiation.

And monetarily speaking, the true costs of all these unnecessary scans could be higher. The research doesn’t factor in additional costs, such as follow-up tests or treatment for minor issues discovered as a result of the scans.

Callaghan says the bottom line is this: trust your doctor. If he or she doesn’t think a scan is necessary, then you don’t need one.

Any journalist who avoids the question of greedy physicians/medical facilities operating their radiology department as a juicy little profit center hasn’t the foggiest idea what American healthcare is all about.

London coppers have a problem with criminal clowns

Police in London have dealt with over a hundred incidents involving ‘clowns’ in the past year – and crime statistics show it is no laughing matter.

The Metropolitan Police responded to 117 incidents featuring the word ‘clown’, a Freedom of Information request by regular contributor to the Independent on Sunday Richard Osley has revealed.

The incidents include once case of assault where the suspect had “clown like” shoes on, another assault where the suspect was dressed as a clown with a painted face and a burglary where the suspect’s hair is described “like Krusty’ the Clown.”

A “malicious communication” incident saw someone be threatened with a visit from henchmen in ‘clown’ masks…

And in 39 incidents the victim was called a clown as an insult. In one instance the victim was wearing a Pierrot suit when he was robbed, according to the FoI…

In November last year, police in Norfolk vowed to track down pranksters dressing up as clowns and offer them “strong words of advice” after two “alarming” reports of people being chased – but added that dressing up as a clown is not actually illegal.

How did they ever manage to keep Parliament off the clown-crime roster?

Sugary drinks tied to cancer risk

A new study has found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk for endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women.

Previous research has found an association between sugary drinks and Type 2 diabetes, but this is the first to find the same association with a specific type of endometrial cancer…

The study, published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that all sugars increased the risk for Type 1 endometrial cancer, but sugar-sweetened drinks had the greatest effect. After controlling for other factors, those in the highest one-fifth for sweet drink consumption had a 74 percent higher risk than those in the lowest one-fifth.

“I don’t want anyone to change their behavior based on these findings,” said the lead author, Maki Inoue-Choi, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. “We need to do more study to confirm this association. But I would advise people to follow dietary guidelines and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.”

The researchers go on to speculate about the mechanism which may be causing the relationship with cancer. The predictable scientist’s conservative voice offers the opinion that they aren’t certain enough about cause-and-effect relationships to aggressively suggest you knock off the sugary drinks.

I ain’t that conservative. Do it.

The worst that can happen is that ongoing studies don’t confirm a link and, in fact, researchers may then reverse their findings. In the meantime, you lost a couple pounds and reduced all the other negatives that can result from excess consumption of sugar.