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New nanotechology design provides hope for personalized 'vaccination' to treat cancer

UChicago scientists have demonstrated a new method to generate X-rays that kill cancer cells directly, while also boosting the body’s immune system to recognize the tumor cells. Image courtesy: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

CHICAGO, IL.- One of the key challenges in developing effective cancer treatments is how different cancer cells are. This variation makes it difficult for the immune system to recognize and actively fight against tumors. Now, however, new advances in nanotechnology are making it possible to deliver targeted, personalized “vaccines” to treat cancer. Published in Science Advances, a new study by University of Chicago scientists demonstrates a new approach that delivers a one-two punch against cancer cells: using tiny metal-organic frameworks to generate X-rays that kill cancer cells directly, while also boosting the body’s immune system to recognize the tumor cells. By combining these two approaches into one easily administered “vaccine,” this new technology may provide the key to better local and systemic treatment of difficult-to-treat cancers. In a collaboration between the Lin Group in the University of Chicago Depart ... More





Leaf-cutter ant first insect found with biomineral body armour   Charles Darwin notebooks 'stolen' from Cambridge University   Study: Gut hormones' regulation of fat production abnormal in obesity, fatty liver disease


Leafcutter ant in Costa Rica. Image courtesy: Benjamint444.

by Kelly Macnamara


PARIS (AFP).- A well-known leaf-cutting ant grows its own body armour using biominerals, a protective power previously unknown in the insect world, scientists have discovered in research published Tuesday showing this makes the ants almost unbeatable in battle. Biomineral armour is seen in the natural world in crustaceans like lobsters as well as in other marine animals -- sea urchin spines contain calcium carbonate for example -- but it has not previously been found in insects. Researchers stumbled across the discovery while investigating the relationship between the fungus-growing ant species Acromyrmex echinatior and antibiotic-producing bacteria that helps them protect their crops. They noticed that the larger worker ants, known as majors, have a "whitish, granular coating" over the surface of their bodies, according to co-author Cameron Currie, professor of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said Hongjie Li, the lead author of the report published in Nature Communications, ... More
 

Tree of Life sketch. Photo: Cambridge University Library.

LONDON (AFP).- Two of Charles Darwin's notebooks containing his pioneering ideas on evolution and his famous "Tree of Life" sketch are missing, believed stolen, the Cambridge University Library said on Tuesday. The British scientist filled the leather notebooks in 1837 after returning from his voyage on the HMS Beagle. The library said they were worth millions of pounds. In one book, he drew a diagram showing several possibilities for the evolution of a species and later published a more developed illustration in his 1859 book "On the Origin of Species". The University of Cambridge's vast library first listed the notebooks as missing in 2001 after they were moved out of the Special Collections Strong Rooms for photography to be carried out there. They were long believed to have been incorrectly filed within the building, which contains around 10 million books, maps and manuscripts and has one of the world's most significant Darwin archives. However a major search this year -- the largest in the libra ... More
 

The gut releases hormones hours after eating that prompt the liver to stop storing fat, but the process is dysregulated in obesity and fatty liver disease, a study led by Illinois professor Jongsook Kim Kemper found. Image courtesy: L. Brian Stauffer.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- Gut hormones play an important role in regulating fat production in the body. One key hormone, released a few hours after eating, turns off fat production by regulating gene expression in the liver, but this regulation is abnormal in obesity, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found in a new study. The study, led by molecular and integrative physiology professor Jongsook Kim Kemper and research scientist Young-Chae Kim, was published in the journal Nature Communications. After eating, the pancreas produces insulin, which triggers the liver to convert digested foods into fat for storage in a process known as lipogenesis. A few hours later, when the body begins the transition to fasting mode, the liver slows fat production. While the insulin pathway has been thoroughly studied, the pathway by which lipogenesis is turned off has largely remained unknown, Kemper said. In the new study, Kemper’s team found that ... More



Miniscule robots of metal and plastic   China's 'space dream': A Long March to the Moon   Researchers reveal switch used in plant defense against animal attack


Microscopic image of the two-​component microvehicle. Image courtesy: Alcântara et al. Nature Communications 2020.

ZURICH.- Robots so tiny that they can manoeuvre through our blood vessels and deliver medications to certain points in the body – researchers have been pursuing this goal for years. Now, scientists at ETH Zurich have succeeded for the first time in building such “micromachines” out of metal and plastic, in which these two materials are interlocked as closely as links in a chain. This is possible thanks to a new manufacturing technique they have devised. “Metals and polymers have different properties, and both materials offer certain advantages in building micromachines. Our goal was to benefit from all these properties simultaneously by combining the two,” explains Carlos Alcântara, formerly a doctoral student in Salvador Pané’s group at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems and one of the two lead authors of the paper. As a rule, micromachines are powered from outside the body using magnetic fields, ... More
 

A Long March 5 rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe launches from the Wenchang Space Center on China's southern Hainan Island on November 24, 2020. STR / AFP.

BEIJING (AFP).- China's launch this week of an unmanned spacecraft aimed at bringing back lunar rocks -- the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the Moon in four decades -- underlines just how far the country has come in achieving its "space dream". Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon. China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have had decades of experience in space exploration. Beijing sees its military-run space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might. Here is a look at China's space programme through the decades, and where it is headed: Soon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced "we too will make satellites." It took more than a decade, but in 1970, China's first satellite lifted into space on the b ... More
 

Researchers have identified the first key biological switch that sounds an alarm in plants when plant-eating animals such as caterpillars attack. Image courtesy: University of California San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- For decades, scientists have known that plants protect themselves from the devastation of hungry caterpillars and other plant-munching animals through sophisticated response systems, the product of millions of years of evolution. The biological mechanisms underlying this attack-counter defense paradigm have been vigorously pursued by plant biologists given that such details will help unlock a trove of new strategies for improved plant health. From countering crop pest damage to engineering more robust global food webs, such information is valuable for ensuring sustainable and reliable yields. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego and their colleagues have identified the first key biological switch, or receptor, that sounds an alarm in plants specifically when herbivores attack. The discovery is described in the online publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Animals such as humans, cows and ... More



Antimicrobial soap additive worsens fatty liver disease in mice   Study: COVID-19 infection combined with blood clots worsen patient outcomes   Researchers identify genetics behind deadly oat blight


Triclosan, an antimicrobial found in many soaps and other household items, worsens fatty liver disease in mice fed a high-fat diet. Image: National Cancer Institute, Unsplash.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers found evidence that triclosan — an antimicrobial found in many soaps and other household items — worsens fatty liver disease in mice fed a high-fat diet. The study, published November 23, 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also details the molecular mechanisms by which triclosan disrupts metabolism and the gut microbiome, while also stripping away liver cells’ natural protections. “Triclosan’s increasingly broad use in consumer products presents a risk of liver toxicity for humans,” said Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Our study shows that common factors that we encounter in every-day life — the ubiquitous presence of triclosan, together with the prevalence of high consumption of dietary fat —constitute a good ... More
 

Micrograph showing a thrombus (center of image) within a blood vessel of the placenta. H&E stain. Image courtesy: Nephron.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- While respiratory issues continue to be the most common symptom of a COVID-19 infection, new research indicates the disease could also be associated with hypercoagulability, or increased tendency of the blood to clot. In a new study published November 20, 2020 in the journal EClinical Medicine by The Lancet, researchers from UC San Diego Health found that blood clots led to an increased risk of death by 74 percent. Led by Mahmoud Malas, MD, division chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at UC San Diego Health, researchers reviewed 42 different studies involving more than 8,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Using random models, the team produced summary rates and odds ratios of mortality in COVID-19 patients with thromboembolism, blood clots — and compared them to patients without these conditions to determine what effect blood clots may have on risk of death. “We began to notice a really unusual ... More
 

Oat seed under a microscope. Victoria blight is caused by the fungus Cochliobolus victoriae, which produces the Victorin toxin, but until now no one has uncovered the genes and mechanisms involved. Image courtesy: Alexander Klepnev.

ITHACA, NY.- A multi-institution team co-led by a Cornell researcher has identified the genetic mechanisms that enable the production of a deadly toxin called Victorin – the causal agent for Victoria blight of oats, a disease that wiped out oat crops in the U.S. in the 1940s. The study, “Victorin, the Host-Selective Cyclic Peptide Toxin from the Oat Pathogen Cochliobolus victoriae, is Ribosomally Encoded,” was published Sept. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Victoria blight is caused by the fungus Cochliobolus victoriae, which produces the Victorin toxin, but until now no one has uncovered the genes and mechanisms involved. “The oat varieties favored by farmers in the 1940s were resistant to Crown Rust disease, but scientists later discovered this was the very trait that made those oat varieties susceptible to Victoria blight because the Victorin toxin was targeting that specific plant prote ... More



Tesla to build 'world's largest' battery plant near Berlin   Stanford scientists find water can transform into hydrogen peroxide when condensing on cold surfaces   AI helps scientists understand brain activity behind thoughts


A customer prepares to charge his Tesla electric vehicle (EV) after parking in a bay for electric vehicles at a supermarket in north London on November 18, 2020. Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP).- Tesla boss Elon Musk said Tuesday that he plans to build the world's largest battery-cell factory at the group's electric car plant near Berlin. Tesla has already started construction on a huge "gigafactory" in a forested area in Gruenheide, south of the German capital, due to open next year. The factory is Tesla's first in Europe and is expected to churn out 500,000 Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs per year. Speaking at a European Battery Conference organised by the German economy ministry, Musk said battery cell production at the same German site would start with a capacity of around 100 gigawatt hours a year, before ramping up to 250 GWh per year. At that point, the South African entrepreneur said he was "pretty confident it'd be the largest battery-cell plant in the world". Production of electric vehicle batteries is currently dominated by Chinese, Japanese and South Korean firms, with Europe accounting for just a fraction of the market. Musk announced his ambitious target on the sa ... More
 

Image of water microdroplets formed on a polished silicon surface (right). Image courtesy: Jae Kyoo Lee and Hyun Soo Han.

STANFORD, CA.- In its bulk liquid form, whether in a bathtub or an ocean, water is a relatively benign substance with little chemical activity. But down at the scale of tiny droplets, water can turn surprisingly reactive, Stanford researchers have discovered. In microdroplets of water, just millionths of a meter wide, a portion of the H2O molecules present can convert into a close chemical cousin, hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, a harsh chemical commonly used as a disinfectant and hair bleaching agent. Stanford scientists first reported this unexpected behavior in forcibly sprayed microdroplets of water last year. Now in a new study, the research team has shown the same Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation happens when microdroplets simply condense from the air onto cold surfaces. The new results suggest that water’s hydrogen peroxide transformation is a general phenomenon, occurring in fogs, mists, raindrops and wherever else microdroplets form natural ... More
 

Xaq Pitkow, assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor and of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. Image courtesy: Baylor College of Medicine.

HOUSTON, TX.- A team led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University has developed artificial intelligence models that help them better understand the brain computations that underlie thoughts. This is new, because until now there has been no method to measure thoughts. The researchers first developed a new model that can estimate thoughts by evaluating behavior, and then tested their model on a trained artificial brain where they found neural activity associated with those estimates of thoughts. The theoretical study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “For centuries, neuroscientists have studied how the brain works by relating brain activity to inputs and outputs,” said corresponding author Xaq Pitkow, assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor and of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. “For instance, when studying the neuroscience of movement, scientists measure muscle m ... More



More News
Team uses copper to image Alzheimer's aggregates in the brain
CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- A proof-of-concept study conducted in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease offers new evidence that copper isotopes can be used to detect the amyloid-beta protein deposits that form in the brains of people living with – or at risk of developing – Alzheimer’s. Several types of isotopes give off positively charged particles called positrons that are detectable by positron emission tomography scanners. The copper isotope used in the study, Cu-64, lasts much longer than the carbon or fluorine isotopes currently approved for use in human subjects, researchers report. Having access to longer-lasting diagnostic agents would make the process of diagnosing Alzheimer’s more accessible to people who live far from major medical centers. Any clinic with a PET scanner could have the ... More

Dimming Sun's rays could ease climate impacts in Africa
PARIS (AFP).- Dialling down the Sun's heat a notch by injecting billions of shiny sulphur dioxide particles into the stratosphere could curtail devastating drought across parts of Africa, new peer-reviewed research has reported. This form of solar radiation management would slash the risk of another "Day Zero" drought in Cape Town, South Africa -- a city of 3.7 million which ran out of water in 2017 -- by as much as 90 percent, according to a study published last week in Environmental Research Letters. Global warming to date -- just over one degree Celsius since the mid-19th century -- enhances the likelihood of such droughts by a factor of three, earlier research has shown. Allowing temperatures to increase another degree to 2C above preindustrial levels would triple the risk again. The 2015 Paris climate ... More

Cocoa flavanols boost brain oxygenation, cognition in healthy adults
CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- The brains of healthy adults recovered faster from a mild vascular challenge and performed better on complex tests if the participants consumed cocoa flavanols beforehand, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports. In the study, 14 of 18 participants saw these improvements after ingesting the flavanols. Previous studies have shown that eating foods rich in flavanols can benefit vascular function, but this is the first to find a positive effect on brain vascular function and cognitive performance in young healthy adults, said Catarina Rendeiro, a researcher and lecturer in nutritional sciences at the University of Birmingham who led the research with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychology professors Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton. “Flavanols are small molec ... More

'Mouse model' helps decipher how we make decisions
NEW HAVEN, CT.- When people make choices, they must assess a host of variables. What is the risk? What is the payoff or cost? What disruption will the choice cause? What is the probable outcome? Researchers have employed a host of techniques, from brain scans to personal surveys, to try to measure the inherent conflicts involved in making these choices. In a new study, Yale researchers used a simple tool usually available at the tip of our fingers — the computer mouse. They found that when subjects are presented choices on a computer screen, how they move their mouse when making their choice can not only show how conflicted people are about a making a decision, but actually predict both their underlying preferences and future choices. The results were published Nov. 23 in the ... More

Most popular American movies depict an unhealthy diet, Stanford researchers find
STANFORD, CA.- It’s no surprise that most people in the U.S. don’t follow a healthy diet. But Stanford psychologists wanted to go deeper to find out why people don’t eat healthier even when they know it’s better for them. So they looked at an influential force in American popular culture – movies – to see how they depict foods and beverages on-screen to the public. It turns out: not very well. In a new study, the Stanford researchers looked at the 250 top-grossing Hollywood movies between 1994 and 2018 – including “Black Panther,” “Avatar” and “Titanic” – to quantify the foods and beverages shown on-screen and see how well they align with what the government recommends people eat and what Americans are actually eating. “Movies portray the types of foods and beverages that are normativ ... More



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Flashback
On a day like today, Austrian-German physicist and astronaut Reinhard Furrer was born
November 25, 1940. Prof. Dr. Reinhard Alfred Furrer (25 November 1940 - 9 September 1995) was a German physicist and astronaut. In 1977 Furrer applied for selection as an astronaut for the first Spacelab mission. He made it into the final round of candidates, although Ulf Merbold was finally selected. In 1982, the astronauts for the first German Spacelab mission were selected from the finalists for the first mission, and Furrer was one of the two chosen. He was a payload specialist on STS-61-A (D1), which was launched on 30 October 1985. The other payload specialists on the flight were Ernst Messerschmid and Wubbo Ockels (Netherlands). After his spaceflight he became a professor in 1987 as well as the Director of the Institute of Space Sciences at the Free University of Berlin. Furrer was an avid pilot. He earned his pilot license in 1974, doing several long-distance trips with one engine planes - including a flight over the inland ice of Greenland in 1979 and a solo flight from Germany to Quito, Ecuador in 1981.



 


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