Animal study shows flavored e-cigarettes may worsen asthma

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney, University of Vermont and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research conducted an animal study in mice to determine the effect of flavored e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, on allergic airways disease. Results of the study showed that some flavored e-cigarettes may alter asthma pathophysiology even when used without nicotine.

In this study the flavour Black Licorice exaggerated airway inflammation whereas Cinnacide had the opposite effect, suppressing airway inflammation. Additionally, Cinnacide increased airway sensitivity and Banana Pudding flavour exaggerated the level of tissue scarring. All e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine suppressed airway inflammation, consistent with the known anti-inflammatory properties of nicotine.

Results of the study are published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Contaminated tap water and cancer

Researchers from Environmental Working Group conducted a cumulative assessment of cancer risk due to carcinogenic compounds found in drinking water. They used a novel analytical framework that calculated their combined health impacts. Results of the study showed that these substances would result in more than 100,000 cancer cases nationwide. Findings of the study are published in journal Heliyon.

In this study they utilized comprehensive nationwide dataset for contaminant occurrence in community water systems in the United States. This dataset contains water quality profiles for 48,363 community water systems. The dataset does not include water quality information on private wells .

Most of the increased cancer risk is due to contamination with arsenic, disinfection byproducts and radioactive elements such as uranium and radium. Water systems with the highest risk tend to serve smaller communities and rely on groundwater. These communities often need improved infrastructure and resources to provide safe drinking water to their residents. However, large surface water systems contribute a significant share of the overall risk due to the greater population served and the consistent presence of disinfection byproducts.

This research highlights importance of much needed improvement in infrastructure to provide clean and safe drinking water.

Animal tests show promise for needle free flu vaccine patch

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center published a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology about a technology that could replace needle-based vaccination methods.

In this study, researchers utilized a synthetic peptide to bind and inhibit the claudin-1 protein. Claudin-1 protein is essential for skin barrier strength and decreases the permeability of the skin. It is noted that eczema patients have significantly reduced claudin-1 and therefore has leaky skin barrier.

Researchers utilized synthetic peptide to inhibit claudin-1 along with recombinant flu vaccine to create a patch. Testing on mice researchers found that in previously immunized mice it elicited a significant immune reaction. Further testing showed no lasting damage to the skin at the site of the patch.

Although it is still in the early stages of development, this study shows potential for needle-free vaccine patch development. Needle-free vaccines have great potential as they reduce the burden on health care professionals, reduces biowaste hazard and generally appealing for people as there is no injection involved.

New retinal biomarker for identifying early Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) have identified changes in retinal layer thickness, inflammation or thinning in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. These changes are identified with non invasive assessment using optical coherence tomography may be an important biomarker for early diagnosis.

Researchers observed that in some patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the retinal layers presented neurodegeneration, whereas in others they presented neuroinflammation, the stage prior to neurodegeneration, a finding which can be used to diagnose the disease before other tests.

The study was conducted with a group of 19 patients selected from 2124 clinical histories at the San Carlos Hospital Clinic Geriatric Service in Madrid. These patients had very early stage Alzheimer’s disease and did not present any other disease that affected the retina. The study also included a control group comprising 24 volunteers similar in age and other characteristics but without any relevant disease. The results of this investigation has been published in Scientific Reports.

Use of mobile phone games to assess cognitive decline

Researchers from University of Kent shown that mobile phone games could be used as new tool for identifying early signs of cognitive decline and thus identify a possibility of developing dementia.

Investigating the link between patterns of tap, swipe and rotational gestures during mobile game play and the users’ cognitive performance, the research shows that the speed, length and intensity of these motions correlates with brain function. In particular, the performance of these gestures reveals key information about players’ visual search abilities, mental flexibility and inhibition of their responses. They all offer clues about the individuals’ overall brain health.

The results of the study, ‘Exploring the Touch and Motion Features in Game-Based Cognitive Assessments’, will be presented at ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp). 21 participants were included in this study. All participants had standard paper-based cognitive assessment tests, followed by 10-minute sessions of playing Tetris, Candy Crush Saga and Fruit Ninja over two separate periods, two weeks apart.

Using the sensors built into the mobile phones to collect data, the team showed how users interacted with the games and illustrated a clear link between the subjects’ touch gestures, or taps and swipes, their rotational gestures and their levels of cognitive performance. The study revealed the participants’ ability to perform visuo-spatial and visual search tasks, as well as testing their memory, mental flexibility and attention span.

The research team concluded that off-the-shelf, popular mobile games can provide an effective measure of brain function to spot changes in motor abilities which are commonly seen in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive-disorder. Early detection of the signs of cognitive decline is crucial to effective treatment and prevention, as well as identification of individuals at risk of brain disease.

Macrophage protein shown to have major role in fracture healing

Duke Health researchers previously showed that introducing bone marrow stem cells to a bone injury can expedite healing, but the exact process was unclear. Now researchers found that macrophage and the proteins it secretes called low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (Lrp1) can have a rejuvenating effect on tissue. These findings are published in journal Nature Communications.

After tissue injury, the body dispatches macrophages to areas of trauma, where they undergo functional changes to coordinate tissue repair. During fracture healing, macrophages are found at the fracture site. But when they’re depleted, fractures will not heal effectively. Macrophage populations and characteristics can change with aging. And in this research scientists found that a protein called low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (Lrp1) mostly found in young macrophages possibly responsible for bone healing effects.

Finding ways to speed bone repair is a public health priority that could save both lives and health care costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of fall injuries, including broken hips, and these hospitalizations cost an average of $30,000.

Citation: Linda Vi, Gurpreet S. Baht, Erik J. Soderblom, Heather Whetstone, Qingxia Wei, Bridgette Furman, Vijitha Puviindran, Puviindran Nadesan, Matthew Foster, Raymond Poon, James P. White, Yasuhito Yahara, Adeline Ng, Tomasa Barrientos, Marc Grynpas, M. Arthur Mosely, and Benjamin A. Alman. “Macrophage Cells Secrete Factors including LRP1 That Orchestrate the Rejuvenation of Bone Repair in Mice.” Nature Communications 9, no. 1 (2018). doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07666-0.

Scientists identify neural pathways behind visual perceptual decision-making

Scientists at the National Eye Institute (NEI) have found that neurons in the superior colliculus are key players in allowing us to detect visual objects and events. This structure doesn’t help us recognize what the specific object or event is; instead, it’s the part of the brain that decides something is there at all. 
In this study researchers used an “accumulator threshold model” to study how neuronal activity in the superior colliculus relates to behavior. By comparing brain activity recorded from the right and left superior colliculi at the same time, the researchers were able to predict whether an animal was seeing an event. The findings were published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
This new study shows that process of deciding that an object is present or that an event has occurred in the visual field – is handled by the superior colliculus. The process of deciding to take an action (a behavior, like avoiding a chair) based on information received from the senses (like visual information) is known as “perceptual decision-making”. Most research into perceptual decision-making – in humans, non-human primates, or in other animals – uses mathematical models to describe a relationship between a stimulus shown to an animal (like moving dots, changes in color, or appearance of objects) and the animal’s behavior. But because visual information processing in the brain is highly complex, scientists have struggled to demonstrate that these mathematical models accurately mimic a biological process happening in the brain during decision-making.
Citation: James P. Herman, Leor N. Katz, and Richard J. Krauzlis. “Midbrain Activity Can Explain Perceptual Decisions during an Attention Task.” Nature Neuroscience 21, no. 12 (2018): 1651-655. doi:10.1038/s41593-018-0271-5.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease using artificial intelligence

According to a study published in the journal of radiology, research shows that artificial intelligence (AI) technology predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease early.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is important as treatments and interventions are more effective early in the course of the disease. However, early diagnosis has proven to be challenging. Research has linked the disease process to changes in metabolism, as shown by glucose uptake in certain regions of the brain, but these changes can be difficult to recognize.

Credit: Radiological Society of North America

“Differences in the pattern of glucose uptake in the brain are very subtle and diffuse,” said study co-author Jae Ho Sohn, M.D., from the Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Department at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). “People are good at finding specific biomarkers of disease, but metabolic changes represent a more global and subtle process.”

The researchers trained the deep learning algorithm on a special imaging technology known as 18-F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). In an FDG-PET scan, FDG, a radioactive glucose compound, is injected into the blood. PET scans can then measure the uptake of FDG in brain cells, an indicator of metabolic activity.

The researchers had access to data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a major multi-site study focused on clinical trials to improve the prevention and treatment of this disease. The ADNI dataset included more than 2,100 FDG-PET brain images from 1,002 patients. Researchers trained the deep learning algorithm on 90 percent of the dataset and then tested it on the remaining 10 percent of the dataset. Through deep learning, the algorithm was able to teach itself metabolic patterns that corresponded to Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the researchers tested the algorithm on an independent set of 40 imaging exams from 40 patients that it had never studied. The algorithm achieved 100 percent sensitivity at detecting the disease an average of more than six years prior to the final diagnosis.

“We were very pleased with the algorithm’s performance,” Dr. Sohn said. “It was able to predict every single case that advanced to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although he cautioned that their independent test set was small and needs further validation with a larger multi-institutional prospective study, Dr. Sohn said that the algorithm could be a useful tool to complement the work of radiologists especially in conjunction with other biochemical and imaging tests–in providing an opportunity for early therapeutic intervention.

Future research directions include training the deep learning algorithm to look for patterns associated with the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins, abnormal protein clumps and tangles in the brain that are markers specific to Alzheimer’s disease, according to UCSF’s Youngho Seo, Ph.D., who served as one of the faculty advisors of the study.

Citation: Yiming Ding, Jae Ho Sohn, Michael G. Kawczynski, Hari Trivedi, Roy Harnish, Nathaniel W. Jenkins, Dmytro Lituiev, Timothy P. Copeland, Mariam S. Aboian, Carina Mari Aparici, Spencer C. Behr, Robert R. Flavell, Shih-Ying Huang, Kelly A. Zalocusky, Lorenzo Nardo, Youngho Seo, Randall A. Hawkins, Miguel Hernandez Pampaloni, Dexter Hadley, and Benjamin L. Franc. “A Deep Learning Model to Predict a Diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease by Using 18F-FDG PET of the Brain.” Radiology, 2018, 180958.
doi:10.1148/radiol.2018180958.

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Keep up with your weight loss goals with daily weighing

According to research presented in the American Heart Association’s 2018 scientific meeting, daily weighing may help with weight loss goals. People who don’t weigh themselves at all or rarely were less likely to lose weight than those who weighed themselves often,

Researchers examined the self-weighing patterns of 1,042 adults (78 percent male, 90 percent white, average age 47) and whether there were differences in weight change by these self-weighing patterns over 12 months. They analyzed remotely transmitted self-weighing data from Health eHeart, an ongoing prospective e-cohort study. The participants weighed themselves at home as they normally would, without interventions, guidance or weight-loss incentives from researchers.

Researchers identified several categories of self-weighing adults, from those that weighed themselves daily or almost daily to adults who never used at-home scales.

They found that people who never weighed themselves or only weighed once a week did not lose weight in the following year. Those that weighed themselves six to seven times a week had a significant weight loss (1.7 percent) in 12 months.

Citation: Daily weighing may be key to losing weight
American Heart Association Meeting  Poster Presentation Sa2394 – Session: NR.APS.01
Yaguang Zheng, Ph.D., M.S.N., R.N., University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, PA

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Quantum dot technology to advance molecular cell imaging

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign bioengineering team and Mayo Clinic have engineered a new type of molecular probe that can measure and count RNA in cells and tissue without organic dyes. The probe is based on the conventional fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) technique, but it relies on compact quantum dots to illuminate molecules and diseased cells rather than fluorescent dyes. This research is published in Nature Communications.

Quantum dots illuminate the locations of individual mRNA as red dots in the cytoplasm of a single HeLa cell. The blue region is the nucleus.  Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Bioengineering

Over the last 50 years, fluorescence in situ hybridization technique has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry because it effectively images and counts DNA and RNA in single cells. However, fluorescence in situ hybridization technique has its limitations due to the delicate nature of the dyes. For example, the dyes rapidly deteriorate and are not very good at imaging in three dimensions. In addition, conventional fluorescence in situ hybridization technique can only read out a couple of RNA or DNA sequences at a time. Using quantum dots, however, can illuminate the locations of individual mRNA as red dots in the cytoplasm of a single HeLa cell.

The team created unique quantum dots that are made of a zinc, selenium, cadmium, and mercury alloy and are coated with polymers. “The core of the dot dictates the wavelength of emission, and the shell dictates how much light will be given off,” said Smith, who is also affiliated with the Micro + Nanotechnology Lab, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois.

These dots can emit color independent of the size of the particle, which is not the case for conventional quantum dots. The dots are also small enough (7 nanometers) to fit on a probe that can maneuver between proteins and DNA in a cell, making them more comparable in size to the dyes used in conventional FISH probes.

In experiments with HeLa cells and prostate cancer cells, the researchers found that dye-based FISH cell counts declined rapidly in minutes. The quantum dot-based FISH method provided long-term luminescence to allow counting of RNA for more than 10 minutes, making it possible to acquire 3D cell imaging.

Citation: Liu, Yang, Phuong Le, Sung Jun Lim, Liang Ma, Suresh Sarkar, Zhiyuan Han, Stephen J. Murphy, Farhad Kosari, George Vasmatzis, John C. Cheville, and Andrew M. Smith. “Enhanced mRNA FISH with Compact Quantum Dots.” Nature Communications 9, no. 1 (2018). doi:10.1038/s41467-018-06740-x.