Scientists develop ‘electronic nose’ for rapid detection of C. diff infection

A fast-sensitive “electronic-nose” for sniffing the highly infectious bacteria C. diff, that causes diarrhoea, temperature and stomach cramps, has been developed by a team at the University of Leicester.

Using a mass spectrometer, the research team has demonstrated that it is possible to identify the unique ‘smell’ of C. diff which would lead to rapid diagnosis of the condition.

What is more, the Leicester team say it could be possible to identify different of the disease simply from their smell – a chemical fingerprint – helping medics to target the particular condition.

The research is published on-line in the journal Metabolomics.

Professor Paul Monks, from the Department of Chemistry, said: “The and identification of the bug Clostridium difficile (often known as C. diff) is a primary concern in healthcare facilities. Rapid and accurate diagnoses are important to reduce Clostridum difficile infections, as well as to provide the right treatment to infected patients.

“Delayed treatment and inappropriate antibiotics not only cause high morbidity and mortality, but also add costs to the healthcare system through lost bed days.

Different strains of C. difficile can cause different symptoms and may need to be treated differently so a test that could determine not only an infection, but what type of infection could lead to new treatment options.”

The new published research from the University of Leicester has shown that is possible to ‘sniff’ the infection for rapid detection of Clostridium difficile. The team have measured the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) given out by different of strains of Clostridium difficile and have shown that many of them have a unique “smell”. In particular, different strains show different chemical fingerprints which are detected by a .

The work was a collaboration between University chemists who developed the “electronic-nose” for sniffing volatiles and a colleague in microbiology who has a large collection of well characterised strains of Clostridium difficile.

The work suggests that the detection of the chemical fingerprint may allow for a rapid means of identifying C. difficile infection, as well as providing markers for the way the different strains grow.

Professor Monks added: “Our approach may lead to a rapid clinical diagnostic test based on the VOCs released from faecal samples of patients infected with C. difficile. We do not underestimate the challenges in sampling and attributing C. difficile VOCs from faecal samples.”

Dr Martha Clokie, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, added: “Current tests for C. difficile don’t generally give strain information – this test could allow doctors to see what strain was causing the illness and allow doctors to tailor their treatment.”

Professor Andy Ellis, from the Department of Chemistry, said: “This work shows great promise. The different strains of C. diff have significantly different chemical fingerprints and with further research we would hope to be able to develop a reliable and almost instantaneous tool for detecting a specific strain, even if present in very small quantities.

A new synthetic amino acid for an emerging class of drugs

Swiss scientists have developed a new amino acid that can be used to modify the 3-D structure of therapeutic peptides. Insertion of the amino acid into bioactive peptides enhanced their binding affinity up to 40-fold. Peptides with the new amino acid could potentially become a new class of therapeutics.

One of the greatest challenges in modern medicine is developing drugs that are highly effective against a target, but with minimal toxicity and side-effects to the patient. Such properties are directly related to the 3D of the drug molecule. Ideally, the drug should have a shape that is perfectly complementary to a disease-causing target, so that it binds it with high specificity. Publishing in Nature Chemistry, EPFL scientists have developed a synthetic amino acid that can impact the 3D structure of bioactive and enhance their potency.

Peptides and proteins as drugs

Many of the drugs we use today are essentially naturally-occurring peptides (small) and proteins (large), both of which are made up with the found in all living organisms. Despite the enormous variety of peptides and proteins, there are only twenty natural amino acids, each with a different structure and chemical properties. When strung together in a sequence, amino acids create peptides and proteins with different 3D structures and, consequently, different biological functions.

Until recently, the vast majority of amino acid-based drugs were the kinds occurring in nature: hormones such as insulin, antibiotics such as vancomycin, immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine etc. But the mounting burden of diseases means that newer and more effective medications must be developed; for example, bacterial resistance is growing globally, pushing our need for novel antibiotics. One way to address this need is the cutting-edge field of directed evolution, which mimics natural selection in the lab to evolve and develop new peptides and proteins.

A new amino acid for new peptides

The team of Christian Heinis at EPFL has developed a synthetic amino acid whose unique structure can considerably increase the effectiveness of therapeutic peptides and proteins. The synthetic amino acid has a very similar structure to a natural amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine is unique among the twenty natural amino acids because it contains a sulfur group. This allows it to form a bridge with another cysteine, and thereby influence the overall 3D structure – and function – of a peptide or protein.

The EPFL researchers initially designed five cysteine-like amino acids, all with one crucial change: each one could form two bridges instead of just one. The team achieved this by replacing cysteine’s single sulfur group with a branch containing two sulfur groups. After synthesizing the five new amino acids, the team integrated them into the structure of two bioactive peptides, one that inhibits an enzyme implicated in cancer, and one blocking a receptor found in neurons.

Testing only a handful of cyclic peptides with the synthetic amino acid, Heinis’ team was able to identify several peptides that showed enhanced activities. The best inhibitor of the neuron receptor was 8-fold improved and the best protease inhibitor had even a 40-fold higher activity.

“This was unexpected”, says Christian Heinis. “Usually when you tamper with a natural molecule, you end up making it worse. In this case, we found the exact opposite, which is very exciting.”

The emerging class of bicyclic peptides

The team focuses on therapeutics, where they have a strong background in developing “bicyclic” peptides – peptides that contain two rings in their structure. Bicyclic peptides have grown into a new class of therapeutic peptides that can be used on disease target that conventional small molecules or large antibodies cannot reach. Heinis’ group has generated bicyclic peptides against a range of disease targets using directed evolution. “In our work with bicyclic peptides, we learned that wide structural diversity in peptide libraries is key for achieving good binding. With this new amino acid, it is possible to produce highly diverse peptide structures.”

Heinis aims now to use the new amino acid in directed evolution experiments. Its structural features and its ability to efficiently make makes the synthetic amino acid a promising candidate for developing new, effective polycyclic peptides for targeted therapy.

Cannabis-Based Batteries Could Change the Way We Store Energy Forever.

From the desk of Zedie.

Tomatoes linked with fighting cancer

Tomatoes are rich in the anti-oxidant lycopene

Tomatoes are rich in the anti-oxidant lycopene

Eating tomatoes may lower the risk of prostate cancer, research suggests.

Men who consume more than 10 portions of tomatoes each week reduce their risk by about 20%, according to a UK study.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, with 35,000 new cases and around 10,000 deaths in the UK every year.

Cancer experts recommend eating a balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables and low in red and processed meat, fat and salt.

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Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active”

Vanessa ErBristol University

The Bristol team analysed the diets and lifestyles of around 20,000 British men aged between 50 and 69.

They found men who consumed more than 10 portions of tomatoes each week – such as fresh tomatoes, tomato juice and baked beans – saw an 18% reduction in prostate cancer risk.

Eating the recommended five servings of fruit or vegetables or more a day was also found to decrease risk by 24%, compared with men who ate two-and-a-half servings or less.

“Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention,” said Vanessa Er, from the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University.

“However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human [clinical] trials.

“Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.”

Dietary index

The cancer-fighting properties of tomatoes are thought to be due to lycopene, an antioxidant which can protect against DNA and cell damage.

The researchers also looked at two other dietary components linked with prostate cancer risk – selenium, found in flour-based foods such as bread and pasta, and calcium, found in dairy products such as milk and cheese.

Experts advise eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables
Experts advise eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables

Men who had optimal intake of these three dietary components had a lower risk of prostate cancer, they said.

Commenting on the study, Dr Iain Frame of Prostate Cancer UK said there was not yet enough evidence to make concrete recommendations on which specific foods men should eat to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.

“What we do know is that men shouldn’t rely too heavily on one type of food, such as tomatoes,” he said.

“A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, together with regular exercise is by far the best option.”

Tom Stansfeld of Cancer Research UK added: “While eating foods rich in lycopene – such as tomatoes – or selenium may be associated with a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer, this has not been proven, and this study can’t confirm whether there is a link between diet and prostate cancer risk.

“Diet and cancer prevention is a complex issue with few black and white answers; we encourage everyone to eat a balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables and low in red and processed meat, fat and salt.”

The research, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, was carried out in collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

‘Urgent’ call for obesity taskforce

An overweight child can't do up his trousers

Health leaders are calling for an emergency taskforce to be set up to tackle childhood obesity in England.

In an open letter to the chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, they say “an entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks”.

They want an action group, made up of doctors, nurses, dieticians, dentists and schools, to be set up urgently.

Currently, around one in three children under 15 are overweight or obese.

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Many parents don’t recognise their children are obese because many of them are obese themselves.”

Dr Nigel MathersSheffield GP

The Royal College of General Practitioners and 11 other organisations signed the letter, which has been timed to coincide with the start of the new school year.

In it, health leaders call for better co-ordination of obesity treatment services so that all children can be encouraged to eat healthily from a young age.

They also call for a raft of other measures, including:

  • increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme
  • improved investment in IT programmes for weight management
  • more training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals
  • outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity

The letter’s signatories recommend setting up a national Child Obesity Action Group to tackle the problem.

‘Lifetime of sickness’

Dr Rachel Pryke, clinical lead for nutrition at the RCGP, said a consistent national approach to treating obesity was needed.

“The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child’s health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems.

“As parents and health professionals, we need to take responsibility and ensure that every child has a healthy and varied diet and regular exercise.”

She added: “Many schools are rising to the challenge and doing what they can in terms of education and outreach.

“Public Health England are already carrying out children measurement schemes and weight-prevention initiatives are widespread – but child obesity treatment provision is a postcode lottery with many areas having limited or no child obesity treatment services at all.”

Fast food

Dr Pryke said simply collating those figures was not enough and that a consistent response to these statistics was needed, right across the country.

Doctors leaders have also previously suggested banning adverts for fast food and introducing a tax on sugary drinks.

Generation in denial

Dr Nigel Mathers, a GP in Sheffield and a member of the RCGP, said there was a culture of denial among many of his patients.

“Many parents don’t recognise their children are obese because many of them are obese themselves.

“Obesity is the new normal and we need a unified approach to manage it.”

GPs say they are dealing with a generation of patients who may die before their parents.

Also, because few people associate weight with cancer, children are growing up with a range of health problems that could develop into serious lifelong illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard from the Royal College of GPs said: “These kids are going to turn into larger and larger adults, which means they are at much higher risk of serious heart disease, cancers, strokes, as they get older.

“But even more worrying is some of these children, children as young as seven, are developing diabetes – and the sort of diabetes associated with increased weight in middle age.”

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We need action now. We’ve got to start by doing proper monitoring of children’s weight from birth and then every year of their lives.”

Tam FryNational Obesity Forum

Tam Fry, chair of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, says the emphasis should be on stopping children getting fat in the first place.

He is sceptical that “another committee sitting around” will do much good.

“We need action now. We’ve got to start by doing proper monitoring of children’s weight from birth and then every year of their lives – and this has to happen through the GP.

“Then GPs should be talking to them about their weight and acting on it.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Tackling obesity is one of our major priorities, but there is no magic bullet to solve the problem, and everyone has a role to play. We know that childhood obesity is at its lowest since 1998 but more should be done. The government is not considering a sugar tax.”

The Department of Health added that the Chief medical officer would formally respond to the letter in due course.

Obesity in numbers

The latest figures, from the 2012 Health Survey for England, show that 14% of children aged two to 15 were obese and 28% were classed as overweight or obese.

Those aged 11 to 15 were more likely to be obese with one in five children placed in that category.

In children aged two to 10, 10% of both boys and girls were obese.

So with nearly one-third of children aged two to 15 classed as overweight or obese, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimates that the problem is costing the NHS around £5.1bn a year.

It also says children living in the poorest areas of the country are almost twice as likely to be obese compared to those in the most affluent areas when they are at primary school.

Genetic clues to spread of Ebola


Augustine Goba, laboratory director at Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever laboratory
Experts at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone have been monitoring the outbreak
Scientists have tracked the spread of Ebola in West Africa, revealing genetic clues to the course of the outbreak.

Genetic analysis of patient samples suggests the virus spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone at a single funeral.

The virus is mutating and must be contained rapidly, warn African and US experts. But they say there is no evidence the virus is changing its behaviour.

The current outbreak is the largest ever, with more than 3,000 cases.

The number of cases could exceed 20,000 before the outbreak is stemmed, according to the World Health Organization.

“We’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks,” said Stephen Gire from the Broad Institute and Harvard University in the US.

A picture of the isolation ward at Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra LeoneThe isolation ward at Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone

“Although we don’t know whether these differences are related to the severity of the current outbreak, by sharing these data with the research community, we hope to speed up our understanding of this epidemic and support global efforts to contain it.”

The data, published in Science, suggests the virus made the leap from animals to humans only once in the current outbreak.

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Clearly this virus is evolving, but what’s not clear is whether or not the mutations it’s accumulating affect the way it behaves.”

Prof Jonathan BallNottingham University

The strain emerged in Central Africa in the past 10 years, probably carried by animals such as fruit bats or primates.

The first human cases appeared in Guinea, then the disease spread to Sierra Leone, reportedly at the funeral of a traditional healer.

There is evidence the virus is mutating, “underscoring the need for rapid containment”, the team writes in Science.

“The longer the outbreak happens, the more opportunity the virus has to accumulate mutations,” Dr Gire told the BBC.

But he said there was no evidence at present that the virus was changing its behaviour and becoming better adapted to humans.

Commenting on the research, Prof Jonathan Ball, a virus expert at Nottingham University, said: “Clearly this virus is evolving, but what’s not clear is whether or not the mutations it’s accumulating affect the way it behaves.”

The genetic samples came from 78 patients at a hospital in Sierra Leone who were infected in May and June.

These were compared with existing virus samples from Guinea.

Five of the 58 experts named on the paper died from Ebola in Sierra Leone during the study.

Robot printer ‘comes to your desk’

Robot printer ‘comes to your desk’

From the desk of Zedie.

Phthalates in plastic products decrease testosterone levels in men, women and children .

Testosterone is the driving force in men, determining physical structure, brain function, and reproductive health. This hormone is declining in virtually all populations today, giving rise to health conditions including infertility, reduced semen quality and genital malformations in newborns. A certain, balanced amount is even needed for proper development of female anatomy.

For those who struggle internally with conflicting sexual urges, they may wonder if they were born that way. During these times of questioning sexual identity, it’s more important to ask, “What is affecting my balance of hormones?” “What am I eating and drinking, or eating and drinking from, that is causing a shift in my hormones?”


Phthalates affect hormone levels, changing the sexual anatomy of the human body

Hormone production and regulation can be suppressed or altered by certain chemicals like phthalates which are now linked to lower testosterone levels. This testosterone reduction could theoretically cause sexual urges to change, spurring thoughts that conflict with gender identity. Not understanding the changes, one might be confused into thinking that they were made a different way from what their sexual organs indicate.

Some may even take the urges and thoughts and label their entire being around them, creating an alternative sexual identity for themselves. How might gender identities and various sexual fetishes actually be rooted in the health of the human endocrine system and the spectrum of hormones being produced and regulated?

Popular culture is quick to project that, by having different sexual urges, one must have been born that way. These messages urge people to “come out of the closet,” but this closed-minded way of thinking fails to examine an individual’s hormone levels, thought influences and what may be causing a shift in their hormone balance. This stereotyping, black-white mentality fails to recognize the science of the complex endocrine system of the human body and the 84,000 or more EPA-recognized chemicals bombarding it on a daily basis.

Phthalates lower testosterone levels across the board

Some of the chemicals bombarding the endocrine system today are phthalates. Often found in plastic water bottles, PVC plastics and personal care products, phthalates leach into the water and are taken up in the body. Millions of people worldwide drink from plastic bottles, consuming phthalate chemicals that stress hormone production.

A revealing, cross-sectional study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism delved into the issue of hormones and reproductive health. Between 2011 and 2012, 2,208 people participating in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey had their urine tested for phthalates. Afterward, their blood was tested for testosterone levels.

Across the board, from men and women to children, researchers discovered that phthalate exposure decreases testosterone levels in an inverse relationship. The loss of testosterone was even more apparent at specific life stages. Women experienced the greatest drop between ages 40 and 60 when their testosterone levels dropped 10.8 to 24 percent. For boys between the ages of 6 and 12, exposure to di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate was linked to a 24 to 34.1 percent drop in testosterone levels.

“While the study’s cross-sectional design limit the conclusions we can draw, our results support the hypothesis that environmental exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates could be contributing to the trend of declining testosterone and related disorders,” said study author John D. Meeker, MS, ScD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, MI. “With mounting evidence for adverse health effects, individuals and policymakers alike may want to take steps to limit human exposure to the degree possible.”

Strive for good endocrine system health; avoid phthalates and other plasticizer chemicals

Sexuality doesn’t have to be a polarizing issue, and people don’t have to be labeled according to their sexuality. What a person might feel or think should not define who they are, how they are labeled or how they are treated.

People are people, regardless of their sexuality, and all have a tedious system of hormone regulation and production that must be taken care of. For those dealing with various sexual urges, these either can be encouraged or can be dealt with by balancing and maintaining proper endocrine system health.

If more people recognized that chemicals like phthalates are bombarding their hormone levels, then there might be a better understanding as to why people develop differently, including physically, mentally and sexually.

Sources for this article include:

Ebola victim who received experimental ZMapp drug dies of Ebola

An experimental drug for Ebola known as ZMapp has failed, according to new reports, after a top Liberian doctor who was given the untested medication recently died. According to Lewis Brown, Liberia’s Information Minister, Dr. Abraham Borbor seemed to be improving after being given ZMapp but suddenly “took a turn for the worse,” calling into question the effectiveness of the experimental drug.

Borbor was among three Liberian doctors who were given ZMapp, which initially appeared to be working as intended. But the deputy chief medical doctor at the largest hospital in the country, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, suddenly reversed course, passing just days after it appeared as though he would likely experience full recovery.

“He was walking around yesterday and the doctors were hopeful that he would make a full recovery,” stated Minister Brown to The Associated Press (AP). “He was a classmate in high school, so this hits close to home.”

Two other medical workers who also took ZMapp, American doctor Kent Brantly and aid worker Nancy Writebol, reportedly survived, sparking claims that ZMapp might be the Ebola cure for which everyone has been waiting. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was quick to denounce this, urging caution on the matter.

Besides Dr. Borbor, a Spanish priest reportedly also died after taking ZMapp, further suggesting that the drug may not actually have any beneficial effect. This was reinforced after Dr. Phillip Zokonis Ireland, another doctor with Ebola who was admitted to the same ward as Dr. Borbor, survived after not taking ZMapp.

“What this means for the drugs, I don’t know,” added Minister Brown, as quoted by BBC News.

Japan green-lights untested Ebola drug T-705, which was originally developed for influenza

Despite its repeated failures, ZMapp is still being touted as a potential treatment option for Ebola, should the virus continue to spread globally in the coming months. And other experimental drugs such as T-705, also known as Avigan, are also being pushed, even though they have never been tested on either animals or humans.

According to BBC News, Japan is considering allowing shipments of T-705 for Ebola within its borders, even though the drug has never been proven safe or effective. Developed by Japan’s Toyama Chemicals company, T-705 was originally intended for treating influenza, but officials plan to take a shot in the dark by giving it to Ebola victims.

“I am informed that medical professionals could make a request for T-705 in an emergency even before a decision by the WHO [World Health Organization],” stated Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, during a recent news conference. “In that case, we would like to respond under certain criteria.”

Meanwhile, one of the hardest-hit countries in Africa, Sierra Leone, recently made it a criminal offense to hide patients determined to be infected with Ebola. The country’s parliament passed a law mandating that, if caught, offenders will be subject to a prison term of up to two years.

So far, there have been at least 2,615 confirmed cases of Ebola throughout West Africa.

Sources for this article include:

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Robot printer ‘comes to your desk’

'Robot Printer' Autonomously Moves Around Lounge

When the robot printer receives a print job, it will begin to move towards the person who ordered the printout

Fuji Xerox has developed a new robotic printer that can move around a lounge or office to bring documents to the person who printed them.

The printer is designed to be used primarily in public places as a way to keep sensitive documents secure.

Sensors on the machine prevent it from bumping into people on the way.

However, some analysts argued that the idea was not cost effective when compared with other secure printing methods.

Describing use of the printer in, for example, an airport business lounge, IDC analyst Maggie Tan told the BBC there are better methods already available.

“The majority of these business lounges would have higher printing demand, especially from business travellers who always need to print urgently using a secured method.

“There are several mobile printing solutions available today that users can submit the print job online through their mobile devices or laptops and they are given a secured password to collect their printouts.”

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One might even argue that it seems more like technology for technology’s sake”

Bryan MaAnalyst, IDC

Tokyo test

Bryan Ma, also from IDC, complimented the ingenuity, if not the practicality of the device.

“Sounds like something very unique to Japan.

“One might even argue that it seems more like technology for technology’s sake.”

Fuji Xerox – a joint venture between the two firms – has been testing the printer this month at a business lounge in Tokyo.

Each desk in the lounge is given a unique web address from which to print. Users access the address and upload documents to be printed.

Once the printer receives the job, it moves to the intended recipient who then has to display a smart card to activate printing.

The battery in the printer lasts for up to a day.