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Lasers and virtual reality to revolutionize watch-crystal engraving

EPFL engineers teamed up with luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin to develop an innovative system that uses lasers to create 3D sculptures within sapphire watch crystals. Image courtesy: © 2021 EPFL Alain Herzog, Art engraving on watch.

LAUSANNE.- Can crafts as old as watch-crystal engraving still be modernized, especially at traditional watchmakers like Vacheron Constantin, founded all the way back in 1755? That’s the challenge engineers at EPFL’s Galatea Laboratory decided to tackle. They wondered how they could bring the craft into the 21st century, enabling artisans to use lasers – rather than engravers, scissors or cutters – to sculpt watch crystals. Lasers can draw fine lines within the very core of a crystal, but they have to be guided using a virtual reality headset. The engineers at Galatea, located at Microcity in Neuchâtel, worked with Vacheron Constantin for two years to develop a high-tech approach to the age-old craft. “We wanted to use new technology to broaden the range of possibilities that craftsmen can explore, without losing their traditional know-how or the finesse of their movements,” says Prof. Yves Bellouard, who holds the ... More

Changes to tongue, hands or feet may flag virus: study   Scientists use novel ink to 3D-print 'bone' with living cells   Why scientists think UK variant could be more deadly

An elderly woman wearing an FFP2 protective face mask takes a package with such masks while shopping in a supermarket in Vienna on January 25, 2021. Alex Halada / AFP.

MADRID (AFP).- Changes to the tongue, the hands or the soles of the feet could give an early indication of Covid-19 infection, Spanish researchers found in a study presented Tuesday. The conclusions emerged from research carried out among 666 patients with Covid-19 at Madrid's IFEMA field hospital set up during the first wave of the pandemic, the regional government said. One in four patients said they had noticed changes to their tongue, while four out of 10 spotted unusual signs on the palms of their hands or soles of their feet. The study was carried out in April by healthcare professionals from Madrid's La Paz hospital and primary care services, with the findings published in the British Journal of Dermatology in the form of a "research letter" in September. Some patients reported a swelling of the tongue and the appearance of patches, in what has been dubbed 'Covid tongue', which on many occasions was associated with a loss of taste. Another symptom was a burning sensation and redness on the pal ... More

Scientists have worked out how to print bone-like structures using a 3D-printer and a gelatinous 'bath' containing living cells. Image courtesy: UNSW.

SYDNEY.- Scientists from UNSW Sydney have developed a ceramic-based ink that may allow surgeons in the future to 3D-print bone parts complete with living cells that could be used to repair damaged bone tissue. Using a 3D-printer that deploys a special ink made up of calcium phosphate, the scientists developed a new technique, known as ceramic omnidirectional bioprinting in cell-suspensions (COBICS), enabling them to print bone-like structures that harden in a matter of minutes when placed in water. While the idea of 3D-printing bone-mimicking structures is not new, this is the first time such material can be created at room temperature – complete with living cells – and without harsh chemicals or radiation, says Dr Iman Roohani from UNSW’s School of Chemistry. “This is a unique technology that can produce structures that closely mimic bone tissue,” he says. “It could be used in clinical applications where there ... More

A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks across Westminster Bridge, near the houses of Parliament in central London on January 25, 2021. Hollie Adams / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- The announcement that the coronavirus strain sweeping Britain could be more deadly as well as more transmissible has raised fresh concerns about the variant that has spread to dozens of countries. Initially British experts said that their evidence suggested the new strain circulating in the UK -- one of several to have emerged internationally in recent months -- was between 50 percent and 70 percent more transmissible. On Friday, however, the government said the new variant could also be 30-40 percent more deadly, although it stressed the assessment relied on sparse data. In mid-January, two separate studies by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London were presented to Britain's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG). They linked data from people who tested positive for the virus in the community -- rather than in hospital -- with death data and found a roughly 30 percent increase in the risk of death associated with the ne ... More

Positive results for Lilly and Regeneron Covid antibodies   NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission plans for may asteroid departure   Unknown if vaccinated people can spread Covid-19: EMA

A scientist uses a microscope as he works on samples at a laboratory in Athens, on January 18, 2021. Aris Messinis / AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly's combination of two synthetic antibodies against Covid-19 reduced hospitalizations and deaths by 70 percent in high-risk patients with recent positive tests, the company said Tuesday. The results were called "very encouraging" by Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "They are the first anti-viral drugs that demonstrably work in the first phase of the disease just after the virus has infected someone but before it has had time to cause a lot of damage," he said. The phase 3 trial involving 1,035 people achieved its main goal, and the study also met its secondary goals of reducing patients' viral load and their time to recover from the disease. Patients were assigned either a placebo or the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab, the two antibodies, at 2.8 grams each. There were 11 hospitalizations in the patients who received the therapy, or 2.1 percent of that group. In the place ... More

This illustration shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing asteroid Bennu to begin its two-year journey back to Earth. Image courtesy: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

WASHINGTON, DC.- On May 10, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will say farewell to asteroid Bennu and begin its journey back to Earth. During its Oct. 20, 2020, sample collection event, the spacecraft collected a substantial amount of material from Bennu’s surface, likely exceeding the mission’s requirement of 2 ounces (60 grams). The spacecraft is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023. “Leaving Bennu’s vicinity in May puts us in the ‘sweet spot,’ when the departure maneuver will consume the least amount of the spacecraft’s onboard fuel,” said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Nevertheless, with over 593 miles per hour (265 meters per second) of velocity change, this will be the largest propulsive maneuver conducted b ... More

A staff member of a quarantine centre receives the first dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine made in India, at Victoria Hospital in Quatre Bornes, Mauritius, on January 26, 2021.

BRUSSELS (AFP).- It is still not known whether people vaccinated against Covid-19 can still transmit the coronavirus, the head of the EU's medicine regulator told MEPs on Tuesday. There are also concerns about whether vaccines developed last year will be effective against new mutations of the coronavirus strain now circulating the globe. But preliminary indications are that the vaccines in use so far in the European Union -- by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna -- "will continue to be effective against at least the UK variant", said Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency. "I think the South African variant is more complicated, and we need additional work to determine the efficacy," she added. On possible post-vaccine immunity, she said clinical trial data did not look at transmission "but it is something that we're asking the companies to look at". The comments, provided via videolink to the European Parliament, came as member countries begin to restrict travel to curb the variants' ... More

Newly discovered molecule disrupts virus infections through protein quality control pathways   Intercontinental study sheds light on the microbial life of sourdough   Helmet design protects dentists, doctors from COVID-19

A chemical probe molecule—a “first gen” molecule that can be used for drug development—that targets a host cell’s protein quality control pathways can dramatically reduce infection by Dengue and Zika viruses. Image: Unsplash.

NASHVILLE, TN.- A chemical probe molecule—a “first gen” molecule that can be used for drug development—that targets a host cell’s protein quality control pathways can dramatically reduce infection by Dengue and Zika viruses. The research led by Lars Plate, assistant professor of chemistry and biological sciences, is a significant step toward host-directed antiviral therapeutics that act on host cells and not the virus itself. The article, “Small molecule endoplasmic reticulum proteostasis regulator acts as a broad-spectrum inhibitor of Dengue and Zika virus infections,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 13. One-third of all proteins—a major biomolecule in cells and viruses—are folded into three-dimensional, origami-like structures, and they replicate within an organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum. Plate’s current interest is in the host cell’s protein pathways, with the goal of keeping virus ... More

A jar of sourdough starter. The researchers performed DNA sequencing on all 500 samples. Image courtesy: Lauren Nichols.

RALEIGH, NC.- In a study of 500 sourdough starters spanning four continents, scientists have garnered new insights into the environmental factors that contribute to each sourdough starter’s microbial ecosystem, and how different types of microbes influence both a sourdough’s aroma and how quickly the sourdough rises. The results may surprise sourdough enthusiasts. “We didn’t just look at which microbes were growing in each starter,” says Erin McKenney, co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University. “We looked at what those microbes are doing, and how those microbes coexist with each other.” “There have been quite a few small studies on microbial ecosystems in sourdough,” says Benjamin Wolfe, co-author of the study and an associate professor of biology at Tufts University. “We think this is the first large-scale study, building on all of that ... More

Visualization of a helmet designed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by pumping air from the mouth to the helmet's vacuum port. Image courtesy: Esmaily Lab.

ITHACA, NY.- Visiting the dentist or an ear, nose and throat doctor can already make patients feel uneasy, and for those who can’t wear a mask due to the nature of their procedures, the transmission of COVID-19 has become an additional concern. Researchers from Cornell have proposed a solution in the form of a transparent helmet that prevents 99.6% of virus-containing droplets exhaled by patients from reaching the environment. The helmet provides practitioners access to the patient’s nose and mouth and is connected to a filtration pump that reverses the flow of air to prevent droplets from leaving, avoiding contamination of the clinical environment. Led by Mahdi Esmaily, assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the design was published Jan. 12 in the journal Physics of Fluids. The idea was developed during the beginning of the pandemic, when clinicians from Weill Cornell Medicine were having di ... More

A patient-powered registry boosts the study of a rare disease   Continuous monitoring of proteins a game-changer for patients with rapidly deteriorating conditions   Long-term study reveals harm in regular cannabis use

A medical staff tends to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) at the AP-HP Tenon hospital on January 26, 2021 in Paris. Alain Jocard / AFP.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The study of a disease is inherently challenging when patients are few and far between, but doctors at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have reported a new “patient-powered” approach that may help to revolutionize the study of rare diseases. The Penn Medicine researchers, in a paper in Cell Reports Medicine, described a new type of patient registry they recently developed for Castleman disease, a rare disorder involving flu-like symptoms, enlarged lymph nodes, and sometimes life-threatening vital organ dysfunction. The registry, called ACCELERATE, includes an approach in which Castleman disease patients can enroll directly. The researchers found that this patient-powered approach greatly boosted enrollment and the overall availability of data, compared to the traditional approach in which doctors at a few designated sites can enroll their patients. Another innovative component is that the st ... More

Graphical abstract. A world-first discovery by Australian researchers could become a game-changer for patients at risk of rapid health deterioration, such as heart complications, stroke, sepsis and cancer. ACS,

MELBOURNE.- The research team, led by Dr Simon Corrie from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology, took an antibody that binds EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) proteins and engineered it to monitor the concentration of EGFR proteins in serum solutions over time. Co-authors of the paper, published in ACS Sensors, are Dr Christian Fercher, Dr Martina Jones and Professor Stephen Mahler from The University of Queensland and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. An inability to detect the growth of EGFR proteins in humans can be associated with the development of a number of tumours, including cancer, as well as the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Using an independent detection mechanism developed by the research team, involving fluorescent dyes, researchers created a biosensor from a well-known antibody that ... More

Regular cannabis use has harmful effects regardless of the age a person starts using, a University of Queensland-led study has found. Image: Chase Fade, Unsplash.

BRISBANE.- Regular cannabis use has harmful effects regardless of the age a person starts using, a University of Queensland-led study has found. The study examined people who began regular cannabis use in high school or in their early 20s, and compared both with non-users. Lead author Dr Gary Chan from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said the results linked regular cannabis use with negative life outcomes by age 35. “Compared to non-users, regular cannabis users were more likely to engage in high-risk alcohol consumption, smoke tobacco, use other illicit drugs and not be in a relationship at age 35,” Dr Chan said. “These outcomes were more common among those who started using cannabis regularly in adolescence. “They were also at higher risk of depression and less likely to have a paid job. “Overall, regular use of cannabis – more than weekly and especially daily use – was found to ha ... More

More News
'Tri-active' contraceptive gel combines spermicidal, anti-viral, libido-enhancing agents
RALEIGH, NC.- Researchers from North Carolina State University have created a trifunctional contraceptive gel that contains spermicidal, anti-viral and libido-enhancing agents in one formulation. When tested in a rat model, the gel both enhanced male libido and prevented pregnancy in 100% of cases, as compared to an average 87% effective rate with a commercially available contraceptive gel. “We are using three pharmacological agents in a new formulation,” says Ke Cheng, Randall B. Terry, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Regenerative Medicine at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, professor in the NC State/UNC Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and corresponding author of a paper describing the work. “Our hope is that this trifunctional contraceptive gel could further ... More

Global demand for cancer surgery set to surge
SYDNEY.- Public health researchers, led by UNSW Sydney, have estimated the number of cancer cases requiring surgery globally each year, predicting the number will rise from 9.1 million to 13.8 million from 2018 to 2040 – an increase of 52 per cent or 4.7 million cases. Their research shows the greatest relative increase will occur in 34 low-income countries, where the number of cases requiring surgery is expected to more than double by 2040 (314,355 cases to 650,164, or 107 per cent). The modelling study, published in The Lancet Oncology on Friday, analysed global demand for cancer surgery and estimated surgical and anaesthesia workforce requirements between 2018 and 2040. Lead author Dr Sathira Perera, a UNSW Scientia PhD scholar, said an absence of evidence-based estimates of future dema ... More

Physics challenges the optimal size of parliaments
LAUSANNE.- What is the best size of a parliament? That is a question at the center of many countries today, including the 2020 referendum in Italy where almost 70% of voters selected to slash the number of members of parliament by about a third. Among others, the complex issue involves matters of governing efficiency, logistics, and financial costs. But one thing many people might not realize is that there is a science behind all this. In 1972, political scientist Rein Taagepera published a seminal paper proposing that the ideal size of a parliament corresponds to the cube root of the country’s population: A=αPo1/3, where A is the parliament size, Po is the population size, and α is a constant. In general terms, the bigger a country’s population, the bigger its parliament ought to be. Taagepera’s famous “cube-root ... More

Medicaid expansion helps uncover undiagnosed HIV infections
CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- The Medicaid expansion facilitated by the Affordable Care Act led to increases in the identification of undiagnosed HIV infections and in the use of HIV prevention services such as preexposure prophylaxis drugs, says new research co-written by a team of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign experts who study the intersection of health care and public policy. The research by Dolores Albarracín, a professor of psychology and of business administration at Illinois, and Bita Fayaz Farkhad, an economist and a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Illinois, found that expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low-income individuals, was associated with a 13.9% increase in HIV diagnoses. The newly discovered infections were concentrated among those likely ... More

Air pollution linked to irreversible sight loss: study
PARIS (AFP).- Air pollution is likely to increase the risk of irreversible sight loss, according to the results of a long-term study published Tuesday. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among over-50s in richer nations, with roughly 300 million people predicted to be affected by 2040. Known risk factors include age, smoking and genetic make-up. Now researchers have drawn a link between AMD and air pollution, which is already known to carry a host of health risks including heart and lung disease. Writing in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, researchers analysed data from more than 115,000 participants who reported no eye problems at the start of the study period in 2006. Official data on traffic and levels of nitrous oxide and small particulate matter was used to c ... More

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Lasers and virtual reality to revolutionize watch-crystal engraving

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate John Eccles was born
January 27, 1903. Sir John Carew Eccles (27 January 1903 - 2 May 1997) was an Australian neurophysiologist and philosopher who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the synapse. He shared the prize with Andrew Huxley and Alan Lloyd Hodgkin. In the early 1950s, Eccles and his colleagues performed the research that would lead to his receiving the Nobel Prize. To study synapses in the peripheral nervous system, Eccles and colleagues used the stretch reflex as a model, which is easily studied because it consists of only two neurons: a sensory neuron (the muscle spindle fibre) and the motor neuron. The sensory neuron synapses onto the motor neuron in the spinal cord. When a current is passed into the sensory neuron in the quadriceps, the motor neuron innervating the quadriceps produced a small excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP). When a similar current is passed through the hamstring, the opposing muscle to the quadriceps, an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP) is produced in the quadriceps motor neuron.


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