Intel contest prize goes to wearable camera that can fly

A wristband that can be set free to become a selfie-taking, camera-equipped drone has won $500,000 in Intel’s Make It Wearable competition. The prize money is intended to help the competition winners bring their prototype to market.

The Nixie team founder is Christoph Kohstall, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. The team engineered a tiny drone with built-in camera, designed as a wearable with bands that attach it to the wrist. When the user gestures, the Nixie flies off, snaps a photo from the air, and returns—in boomerang mode—to the wrist and syncs with the owner’s smartphone. Nixie is also designed for a for 360-degree arcs, a follow mode for the owner in motion, and hover mode. Jelena Jovanoic, COO and project manager, Team Nixie, said Kohstall, who has a PhD in experimental physics, told her at the outset that he wanted to make a quadcopter wearable, a flying wristband. He said, “You should be able to tell, with a gesture, the quadcopter to unfold and take off…It knows where you are, turns around, takes a picture of you, comes back. You can catch it from the air, and put it back on your wrist.”

He noted the prototype was prepared with an Intel chip. All of the entries in the competition used Intel’s Edison platform, reported Damon Poeter of PCMag. Edison refers to the tiny chip for wearabledevices.

Second place in this competition went to Open Bionics, a low-cost robotic prosthetic hand. They use low-cost, high efficiency 3-D printing and scanning to bring customized products to amputees. Third place went to ProGlove, a “production tool” so that the user can work faster and easier.

Intel said that concepts were reviewed and judged in five waves on the basis of inventiveness and on the potential to positively impact the world.

The Nixie is still in development. Jovanoic said in a Fox Business interview that “We are going fast.” Katie Collins of said, The was “aimed primarily at rock climbers and otheradventure sport enthusiasts.” Prize money, she said, will go toward improving propellers, navigation and miniaturization.

Reuters quoted CEO Brian Krzanich at the award event earlier this week. “This was an experiment to see what we could do in this space,” he said, “and see what kind of creativity we could spawn.”

The science of Interstellar: astrophysics, but not as we know it .

While the latest sci-fi blockbuster sports a veneer of scientific accuracy, its plot requires fantasies of science fiction to work out, says Dr Roberto Trotta, senior lecturer in astrophysics at Imperial College London

  • Interstellar astronauts explore new planet
Astronauts explore a new planet in Interstellar. 

Perhaps it’s the hype, but I was expecting more science in Interstellar, as opposed to science fiction. I was a little disappointed, I must admit, that the core science of the movie, the plot devices that made the movie work, seemed to be a little fragile in terms of physics and the science that goes through them. There was much that was accurate: the representations of space travel, zero gravity, the surfaces of other planets – they were all fantastic. Alongside this, though, were many classical devices of science fiction: time travel, warping of space-time, travelling vast distances in extremely short time. Interstellar had a veneer of science, but at its core was not as sound as I thought it might be.

Interstellar's spaceship, Endurance
The good ship Endurance. Photograph: Paramount/Everett/Rex

Space travel

The main vehicle, Endurance, was well conceived. The idea of it spinning around to generate gravity for the long journey, that’s fine. The position of its windows in relation to the rotation of light patterns; that was really well done. The one thing I would criticise: you don’t see any fuel tanks. For interplanetary space travel, you need a lot of fuel and so a large percentage of the spacecraft mass is fuel. You can’t imagine what sort of propulsion Endurance is using. It becomes obvious when they reach Saturn: how do they slow down? You need a big rocket in the front of your spacecraft, the same size as the one you used to accelerate up to speed to begin with. It’s as simple as that – otherwise you will just miss the planet and fly past. The little retro rockets we see in the film are much too small.

Added to which, two years for a journey to Saturn seems on the short side to me. If you use the most fuel-efficient way of getting there, it would take about 4.7 years, and would only work in certain time windows when the planets are aligned correctly. The New Horizons spaceship did get there in two years and four months, but that’s because it was on its way to Pluto and did not slow down at Saturn. If you want to stop there, it would take much longer because you have to brake to get into orbit.


There’s a nice veneer of mathematics in the film – for example, the equations on the board are textbook general relativity equations, which is nice for a science geek. Later on, the script suggests the equations don’t work because scientists don’t understand how gravity and quantum mechanics work together, and that’s fair enough. But the film resolves this by sending a robot down into a black hole to send back “quantum data” – that doesn’t really make any sense. It sounds like something they just made up as a plot device with no physics behind it.

Jessica Chastain mathematics Interstellar
Jessica Chastain sorts out the theory in Interstellar. 


In terms of its visual representation, the wormhole has been thought through. The crew discover a kind of sphere, with a distorted pattern of light, which is plausible. When you have this strong concentration of mass, you have distortion of distant objects – this is akin to what you would imagine this might look like.


One of the big plot devices revolves around the first planet they visit, the water planet: one hour on its surface corresponds to seven years on earth. Scienticifically, this is fine; it’s well known that time flows more slowly in the presence of a gravitational field – but the question is: is this extreme time dilation plausible on a planet like the one they land on? At one point, we are told that the gravity on this planet is 130% of that of Earth’s – and we see the actors panting, a little bit under duress because of the extra gravity. But is it enough for this time dilation? Not even close. If you visited the surface of our sun, which is not a supermassive body but still much more massive than Earth, you would gain about 66 seconds per year. To get to an extreme dilation, where one hour corresponds to seven years, you would need such a strong gravitational field that you need to be close to what is called the Schwarzschild radius of the object – essentially the event horizon of a black hole. There is simply no planet that can have this kind of gravity and if you tried to land on the surface, it would be so strong it would crush you. The numbers simply do not work.

Interstellar Anne Hathaway water planet
Anne Hathaway takes a dip on a watery planet. 

Black holes

They encounter a planet near a black hole, and decide to go around it to avoid the “time shift zone” – they talk about time shift as if it has a distinct boundary but it just doesn’t work like that – it’s gradual, progressive, and is the same in all directions. Also, if there’s such a strong gravitational field, then the planet itself would be destroyed by the difference in gravity between its opposite sides. Finding a stable planet within such a strong gravitational field is a stretch of the imagination. It just wouldn’t happen.

The visual presentation of the black hole – a big disc of luminous matter rotating around it being eaten up by the gravitational pull – is certainly plausible. But if you were to find yourself in this region, you are as likely to die from the radiation from the disc, which is very hot and emitting gamma rays, as much as from the gravitational pull. When you are close to a black hole, the gravity at your feet will be much stronger than the gravty at your head, so you get spaghettified, stretched out, like a piece of spaghetti, into a filament of matter. We see no evidence of that happening.


We don’t really know what interstellar travel looks like, so all bets are off. If you compare Interstellar to Gravity, it is a much harder film to make. We know what it is like to be in earth orbit, the mechanics are pretty simple, so Gravity could get the physics right with the correct advice. Interstellar wants to examine bigger issues, much of the science is unknown and if you stretch it beyond plausibility – as you always do in a movie like this, you are bound to end up with things not supported by current scientific knowledge. It’s just a hard job!

Physicists hit milestone in accelerating particles with plasma

Scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of California, Los Angeles have shown that a promising technique for accelerating electrons on waves of plasma is efficient enough to power a new generation of shorter, more economical accelerators. This could greatly expand their use in areas such as medicine, national security, industry and high-energy physics research.

This achievement is a milestone in demonstrating the practicality of wakefield acceleration, a technique in which gain energy by essentially surfing on a wave of electrons within an ionized gas.

Using SLAC’s Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, the researchers boosted bunches of electrons to energies 400 to 500 times higher than they could reach traveling the same distance in a conventional accelerator. Just as important, energy was transferred to the electrons much more efficiently than in previous experiments. This crucial combination of energy and efficiency had never been reached before. The results are described in a paper published today in the journal Nature.

“Many of the practical aspects of an accelerator are determined by how quickly the particles can be accelerated,” said SLAC accelerator physicist Mike Litos, lead author of the paper. “To put these results in context, we have now shown that we could use this technique to accelerate an electron beam to the same energies achieved in the 2-mile-long SLAC linear accelerator in less than 20 feet.”

Plasma wakefields have been of interest to accelerator physicists for 35 years as one of the more promising ways to drive the smaller, cheaper accelerators of the future. The UCLA and SLAC groups have been at the forefront of research on plasma wakefield acceleration for more than a decade. In a 2007 paper, researchers announced they’d accelerated electrons in the tail end of a long electron bunch from 42 billion electronvolts to 85 billion electronvolts, causing a great deal of excitement in the scientific community. However, fewer than 1 billion of the 18 billion electrons in the pulse actually gained energy and they had a wide spread of energies, making them unsuitable for experiments.

In this experiment, researchers sent pairs of electron bunches containing 5 billion to 6 billion electrons each into a laser-generated column of plasma inside an oven of hot lithium gas. The first bunch in each pair was the drive bunch; it blasted all the away from the lithium atoms, leaving the positively charged lithium nuclei behind – a configuration known as the “blowout regime.” The blasted electrons then fell back in behind the second bunch of electrons, known as the trailing bunch, forming a “plasma wake” that propelled the trailing bunch to higher energy.

SLAC researchers Michael Litos, left, and Sebastien Corde use a laser table at the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET) to create a plasma used for accelerating electrons to high energies in a very short distance. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Previous experiments had demonstrated multi-bunch acceleration, but the team at SLAC was the first to reach the high energies of the blowout regime, where maximum energy gains at maximum efficiencies can be found. Of equal importance, the accelerated electrons wound up with a relatively small energy spread.

“These results have an additional significance beyond a successful experiment,” said Mark Hogan, SLAC physicist and one of the principal investigators of the experiment. “Reaching the blowout regime with a two-bunch configuration has enabled us to increase the acceleration efficiency to a maximum of 50 percent – high enough to really show that plasma wakefield acceleration is a viable technology for future accelerators.”

The plasma source used in the experiment was developed by a team of scientists led by Chandrashekhar Joshi, director of the Neptune Facility for Advanced Accelerator Research at UCLA. He is the UCLA principal investigator for this research, a faculty member with the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and a long-time collaborator with the SLAC group.

“It is gratifying to see that the UCLA-SLAC collaboration on plasma wakefield acceleration continues to solve seemingly intractable problems one by one through systematic experimental work,” Joshi said. “It is this kind of transformative research that attracts the best and the brightest students to this field, and it is imperative that they have facilities such as FACET to carry it out.”

SLAC researchers Spencer Gessner, left, and Sebastien Corde monitor pairs of electron bunches sent into a plasma inside an oven of hot lithium gas at the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET). They are part of a team whose findings show that this electron acceleration technique, known as plasma wakefield acceleration, is powerful enough and efficient enough to drive a new generation of compact particle accelerators. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

There are more milestones ahead. Before plasma wakefield acceleration can be put to use, Hogan said, the trailing bunches must be shaped and spaced just right so all the electrons in a bunch receive exactly the same boost in energy, while maintaining the high overall quality of the electron beam.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Hogan said. “But you don’t get many chances to conduct research that you know in advance has the potential to be immensely rewarding, both scientifically and practically.”

Oral, Capsulized, Frozen Fecal Microbiota Transplantation for Relapsing Clostridium difficile Infection.

Importance  Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has been shown to be effective in treating relapsing or refractory Clostridium difficile infection, but practical barriers and safety concerns have prevented its widespread use.

Objective  To evaluate the safety and rate of resolution of diarrhea following administration of frozen FMT capsules from prescreened unrelated donors to patients with recurrent C difficileinfection.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Open-label, single-group, preliminary feasibility study conducted from August 2013 through June 2014 at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Twenty patients (median age, 64.5 years; range, 11-89 years) with at least 3 episodes of mild to moderate C difficile infection and failure of a 6- to 8-week taper with vancomycin or at least 2 episodes of severe C difficile infection requiring hospitalization were enrolled.

Interventions  Healthy volunteers were screened as potential donors and FMT capsules were generated and stored at −80°C (−112°F). Patients received 15 capsules on 2 consecutive days and were followed up for symptom resolution and adverse events for up to 6 months.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary end points were safety, assessed by adverse events of grade 2 or above, and clinical resolution of diarrhea with no relapse at 8 weeks. Secondary end points included improvement in subjective well-being per standardized questionnaires and daily number of bowel movements.

Results  No serious adverse events attributed to FMT were observed. Resolution of diarrhea was achieved in 14 patients (70%; 95% CI, 47%-85%) after a single capsule-based FMT. All 6 nonresponders were re-treated; 4 had resolution of diarrhea, resulting in an overall 90% (95% CI, 68%-98%) rate of clinical resolution of diarrhea (18/20). Daily number of bowel movements decreased from a median of 5 (interquartile range [IQR], 3-6) the day prior to administration to 2 (IQR, 1-3) at day 3 (P = .001) and 1 (IQR, 1-2) at 8 weeks (P < .001). Self-ranked health scores improved significantly on a scale of 1 to 10 from a median of 5 (IQR, 5-7) for overall health and 4.5 (IQR, 3-7) for gastrointestinal-specific health on the day prior to FMT to 8 (IQR, 7-9) after FMT administration for both overall and gastrointestinal health (P = .001). Patients needing a second treatment to obtain resolution of diarrhea had lower pretreatment health scores (median, 6.5 [IQR, 5-7.3] vs 5 [IQR, 2.8-5]; P = .02).

Conclusions and Relevance  This preliminary study among patients with relapsing C difficileinfection provides data on adverse events and rates of resolution of diarrhea following administration of FMT using frozen encapsulated inoculum from unrelated donors. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results and to evaluate long-term safety and effectiveness.

Mercury fillings – Health issues and how to heal from dental amalgams.

Mercury is one of the most toxic substances known to man and yet many of us have mercury fillings in our teeth that are slowing poisoning our bodies. Each time we eat, brush our teeth, drink, or in any way stimulate a filling, mercury vapor is released. We inhale or ingest this toxic substance all day, every day.


Mercury is a neurotoxin that, upon contact, will melt the myelin sheath that coats a nerve, causing the nerve to immediately shrivel and die.? Mercury is extremely harmful to the neurological system and also adversely affects the immune system, cardiovascular system and the reproductive system. ?In fact, it is extremely toxic to any living tissue.

It is accumulative in our bodies. Our bodies do not recognize heavy metals like mercury as a pathogen. Due to their molecular similarities to minerals we need for health, our bodies respond to heavy metals the same way, incorporating them into our cells. Low levels of mercury continuously released into our bodies cause a number of problems from mental acuity and fatigue to chronic illnesses. ?

Removing mercury fillings

Your amalgam fillings can be removed and replaced with safe fillings, but it is imperative that you find a highly qualified professional with experience who takes every precaution to minimize your mercury exposure throughout the process.

As mercury fillings are removed they release mercury vapor and particles. For this reason there are specific protocols you want to be sure your chosen dentist follows to ensure your safety (and the safety of the dental staff).

Safe protocol to remove amalgam (mercury) fillings

  • Eye Protection–Your eyes should be covered with goggles to prevent contact with both vapors and particles.
  • Airway Protection–Your air should be supplied through a breathing apparatus with forced air (like the one used to deliver gas)
  • Extra Suction – Extra suction is used to continually draw away vapors and particles
  • Skin Protection – your entire face should be covered with draping to prevent contact with vapors and particles.
  • Rubber dam – A rubber dam should be used within the mouth to catch particles and prevent you from swallowing them or inhaling vapors.

It is important that you thoroughly rinse your mouth and gargle after the extraction of the filling.

If your dentist does not truly understand the risks involved and wear protective gear and use airway protection, do not trust this person to take care of you.

How to find a dentist to remove your fillings safely

You want to find a biological dentist. They are holistic practitioners that treat the mouth as a part of the entire body and understand the cause and effect of mercury on the entire system.

International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine has a database of practitioners. [1] You might also try the Mercury Safe Dentist Directory. [2] See the first source for a homemade toothpaste recipe to heal teeth and gums. It should also be noted for those with amalgam fillings that Candida mercury is a precursor to Candida. [3] Eat lots of garlic! [4] If removing mercury fillings is not something you can do right now, or if you have had it done and need to detoxify, check out Bullet Proof Your Immune System and Mercury Fillings, Root Canals, and Cavitations.






Learn more:

New device gives unprecedented, real-time view of how cancer cells spread.

This new device allows scientists to watch in unprecedented detail how cancer cells break free from a tumour, infiltrate the bloodstream and form new tumours elsewhere in the body. It’s now being used to test out and improve a range of cancer-fighting drugs.

A new device developed by a team from Johns Hopkins University in the US has allowed them to watch and record the behaviour of human breast cancer cells as they burrow through biological tissue, infiltrate blood vessels, and enter the blood stream to travel quickly and easily through the body.

This migration process is known as metastasis, and it allows cancer cells to spread from the organ they originated in, such as the breast, to an entirely different organ, such as the lungs. More than 90 percent of cancer-related deaths are caused by metastatic cancer cells spreading around the body, but until now, scientists haven’t been able to get a good, clear look at this incredibly efficient and complex process.

“There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how tumour cells migrate through the body, partly because, even using our best imaging technology, we haven’t been able to see precisely how these individual cells move into blood vessels,” said lead researcher and bioengineer, Andrew D. Wong, in a press release. “Our new tool gives us a clearer, close-up look at this process.”

Publishing in the journal Cancer Research, the researchers describe how they arranged artificial biological tissue and artificial blood cells on a small transparent chip to test out their device. A special nutrient-rich solution was injected into the chip and made to flow through the artificial blood vessel just like a real bloodstream would. When they were ready to observe the process of metastasis, the researchers inserted individual and clustered human breast cancer cells into the artificial tissue to see what they did. The breast cancer cells were labelled with fluorescent tags so they could be easily tracked and recorded.

In their tests, the artificial tissue acted just like human tissue does in an actual cancer patient – it actively surrounded the tumour in an effort to contain it. The team watched as a number of cancer cells broke free from the tumour, and somehow managed to push their way through the surrounding tissue and move towards the artificial blood vessel.

Human blood vessels are contained by a barrier of endothelial cells, which are supposed to keep any nasties out, but cancer cells are often able to force their way in. Single cancer cells operating in the Johns Hopkins device were able to push their way through the endothelial layer and into an artificial blood vessel, effectively infiltrating the hypothetical bloodstream. In a real-life scenario, these cancer cells would now be free to hitch a ride to other places in the body and form new tumours.

“Cancer cells would have a tough time leaving the original tumour site if it weren’t for their ability to enter our bloodstream and gain access to distant sites,” said Wong. “So it’s actually the entry of cancer cells into the bloodstream that allows the cancer to spread very quickly.”

The device offered such a detailed view, Wong’s team was able to observe a single cancer cell as it located a weak spot in the lining of the blood vessel, exerted enough pressure on it to break through, and then squeezed itself in far enough to be taken up by the bloodstream. According to the researchers, until now, it’s been virtually impossible to see these crucial steps in cancer migration with such clarity.

Other than the incredibly detailed view this device offers, another advantage is that the cancer migration process can be viewed countless times without invasive procedures being carried out on actual cancer patients. The team now plans to test a number of cancer-fighting drugs out on the device to see how they affect the movement of cancer cells, and how they can be improved.

“This device allows us to look at the major steps of metastasis as well as to test different treatment strategies at a relatively fast pace,” said Wong. “If we can find a way to stop one of these steps in the metastatic cascade, we may be able to find a new strategy to slow down or even stop the spread of cancer.”

Click here to watch some captured footage of a cancer cell approach the team’s artificial blood vessel and force its way through into the hypothetical bloodstream.

Genetic markers for alcoholism recovery discovered .

Researchers have identified genetic markers that may help in identifying individuals who could benefit from the alcoholism treatment drug acamprosate. The findings show that patients carrying these genetic variants have longer periods of abstinence during the first three months of acamprosate treatment.
The findings of this study show that patients carrying certain genetic variants have longer periods of abstinence during the first three months of acamprosate treatment.

In an international study, Mayo Clinic researchers and collaborators have identified genetic markers that may help in identifying individuals who could benefit from the alcoholism treatment drug acamprosate. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, show that patients carrying these genetic variants have longer periods of abstinence during the first three months of acamprosate treatment.

Acamprosate is a commonly prescribed drug used to aid patients in recovery from alcoholism. Mayo researchers studied the association between variation in candidate genes and the length of sobriety in alcohol-dependent patients treated with acamprosate in community-based programs. They found that, when other environmental and physiological factors were considered, patients with the common allele of the genetic variant rs2058878 located in the GRIN2B gene, stayed sober more days than those with a variant allele of the same polymorphism. This finding was replicated in a sample of alcohol-dependent patients treated with acamprosate in a study conducted by collaborators from Germany.

“This association finding is a first step towards development of a pharmacogenetic test allowing physicians to choose appropriate treatment for specific subgroups of alcohol-dependent patients,” says Victor Karpyak, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and lead author of the article. “We believe that individualized treatment selection will eliminate the need for trial-and-error approaches and improve treatment efficacy in patients with alcohol use disorders.”

The Mayo findings support evidence implicating an important role of the N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the treatment effects of acamprosate. The researchers say more studies are needed to determine potential importance of identified genetic variants in the longer-term effects of acamprosate, as well as the molecular and physiological mechanisms behind the drug’s action.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Mayo Clinic. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. V M Karpyak, J M Biernacka, J R Geske, G D Jenkins, J M Cunningham, J Rüegg, O Kononenko, A A Leontovich, O A Abulseoud, D K Hall-Flavin, L L Loukianova, T D Schneekloth, M K Skime, J Frank, M M Nöthen, M Rietschel, F Kiefer, K F Mann, R M Weinshilboum, M A Frye, D S Choi. Genetic markers associated with abstinence length in alcohol-dependent subjects treated with acamprosate. Translational Psychiatry, 2014; 4 (10): e453 DOI:10.1038/tp.2014.103

Should Cancer Patients Get the Flu Shot?

The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and those around you. But will cancer patients benefit from the flu shot given their immunity and treatment status?

Flu shot clinic 2014. Raphael Ceccaldi, Ph.D. getting his flu shot.









It is safe for patients who have not had a stem cell transplant to get the flu shot, and are highly encouraged to ask their providers about their vaccination options. However, those who have had, or who are currently undergoing a stem cell transplant, should take extra precautions. During a transplant, a patient’s immune system is extremely weak. Therefore, each patient has a specific timeframe for when it is best to get a flu shot, depending on where they are in the transplant process.

Unlike many providers, such as local pharmacies, Dana-Farber uses an inactivated virus, which is safer for patients.  Patients are encouraged receive their flu shot at the Institute. If you are currently a patient and have been vaccinated in the past by Dana-Farber, you can easily make plans to be revaccinated.

Candace Hsieh, RN, says all patients should ask their health care team about their options, regardless of their status. “Every patient, and their treatment plan, is different, but any immunity is better than no immunity,” she says.

Proper hand-washing is a simple, but essential, way to prevent contracting and spreading the flu virus. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill germs. Antibacterial hand sanitizing stations are conveniently placed all around the Institute. It is also a good idea to stay home if you are ill, and always sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue. Throw it away afterwards, and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth, as germs spread easily that way.

Vaccine-resistant polio strain discovered .

The global initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis through routine vaccination has helped reduce the number of cases by more than 99% in 30 years. However, major epidemics are still occurring today. Researchers have identified the virus responsible for deadly and recent outbreaks, and have sequenced its genetic material. The genetic sequence shows two mutations, unknown until now, of the proteins that form the “shell” (capsid) of the virus. On the face of it, this evolution complicates the task for the antibodies produced by the immune system of the vaccinated patient as they can no longer recognize the viral strain.

The global initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis through routine vaccination has helped reduce the number of cases by more than 99% in 30 years, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 650 reported cases in 2011. However, major epidemics are still occurring today, such as the ones in the Republic of the Congo in 2010, Tajikistan in 2010, and China in 2011. The epidemic outbreak in 2010 in the Republic of the Congo differed from the others in its exceptionally high mortality rate of 47%: out of the 445 confirmed cases, nearly 210 died. The researchers first attributed the seriousness of the epidemic to low vaccine coverage.

Newly identified mutations of the virus

In reality, the cause was something completely different. An international team including IRD researchers has just identified the virus responsible and sequenced its genetic material. The genetic sequence shows two mutations, unknown until now, of the proteins that form the “shell” (capsid) of the virus. On the face of it, this evolution complicates the task for the antibodies produced by the immune system of the vaccinated patient as they can no longer recognize the viral strain.

The researchers then tested the resistance of this variant of poliovirus on blood samples from more than 60 vaccinated people, including volunteers living in neighbouring Gabon, where part of the research team was based, and German medical students. Their antibodies were shown to be less effective against the Congo strain than against the other strains of poliovirus. The researchers estimate that 15%-30% of these people would not have been protected during the 2010 epidemic.

At a time when the global campaign to eradicate poliomyelitis is entering its final phase, researchers fear that other variants of the virus may emerge among populations immunised with the vaccine. Undoubtedly, these strains are circulating in nature. While quite rare, they could lead to fatal epidemics such as the one in 2010 in the Republic of the Congo if they reach areas where the more common strains have been eradicated, but where vaccine coverage is insufficient. The researchers are calling for better clinical and environmental monitoring to completely wipe out the scourge of polio.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. J. F. Drexler, G. Grard, A. N. Lukashev, L. I. Kozlovskaya, S. Bottcher, G. Uslu, J. Reimerink, A. P. Gmyl, R. Taty-Taty, S. E. Lekana-Douki, D. Nkoghe, A. M. Eis-Hubinger, S. Diedrich, M. Koopmans, E. M. Leroy, C. Drosten. Robustness against serum neutralization of a poliovirus type 1 from a lethal epidemic of poliomyelitis in the Republic of Congo in 2010. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 111 (35): 12889 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1323502111

Japanese Mushroom Extract Could Help Treat HPV Infections

A Japanese mushroom extract, active hexose correlated compound (AHCC), appears to be effective in eradicating persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, according to results of a small pilot study.

Ten women with persistent HPV infection received a once-daily oral dose (3 g) of AHCC for up to 6 months, and half of the participants achieved a negative result for HPV infection.

Three of these women with a confirmed eradication have stopped using AHCC, and the remaining two responders are continuing on the study.

The results were presented at the 11th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology.

Lead investigator Judith A. Smith, PharmD, pointed out that the five women who didn’t respond did not receive a full 6 months of treatment.

“We were initially optimistic that we were going to clear the infection in a month, and at first we were testing the women weekly,” said Dr Smith, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston Medical School. “When our first patient didn’t respond at 5 weeks, we assumed that it wasn’t effective and we took her off treatment.”

The researchers then realized that more time was needed, so after waiting 8 weeks, another nonresponder was removed from therapy. Two more participants were also taken off treatment at 3 months, after they did not clear the virus. “Now we know that we need to give it at least 6 months to realize the full effect,” she told Medscape Medical News. “These patients will be eligible to go back on treatment.”

While most HPV infections are self-limiting and resolve without causing any symptoms, there is currently no effective treatment for those that persist and that the body’s innate immune system cannot clear.

“That is why this is so encouraging,” said Dr Smith. “We test women for HPV, and if they have a persistent infection, there is nothing we can do for them except watch and wait.”

Phase 2 in the Works

AHCC is an extract prepared from co-cultured mycelia of several species of Basidiomycete mushrooms. Preclinical studies have shown it to have anticancer properties, and both in vitro and in vivo studies have confirmed that it can eradicate HPV. Its ability to eradicate oncogenic HPV types 16/18 is attributed to modulation of the expression and signaling of interferon-α, β, and γ.

“We’ve been evaluating the efficacy of AHCC with chemotherapy for over a decade,” said Dr Smith. “It is a nutritional supplement with no known side effects, and it modulated the immune system to fight off infections and inhibit tumor growth.”

It is commercially available over the counter, and no adverse effects were associated with its use, Dr Smith noted. “This study confirms our preclinical findings, that it can eradicate HPV.”

Dr Smith emphasized that these are preliminary data, and the pilot study’s purpose was to define the appropriate dose and duration of therapy. A phase 2 randomized, double-blind trial is getting underway, and they will begin enrollment in about 2 weeks. “We would also like to investigate at some point if AHCC can actually prevent infection, or prevent re-infection,” she explained. “We’d like to see if it can help build up the immune system to the point of resisting infection with HPV.”

Treating Warts?

Anecdotally, she has had inquiries from both men and women about using AHCC to treat genital warts caused by HPV. “Since it’s a commercially available product sold without a prescription, and AHCC has had no reported side effects when taken appropriately, I told them they could try it,” she said, “Even though we have no information on that.”

Several people have reported that their lesions cleared up after using AHCC and have not returned. “One woman told me that a plantar wart disappeared, which was very interesting,” Dr Smith continued. “We don’t have any details on these cases with warts, but I have told them to keep me in the loop, because this may be something we can study later on in future trials.”

Because about 75% of adults in the United States have been exposed to HPV, the researchers were very careful to make sure that the study participants had a persistent infection, one that was not likely to clear on its own.

To minimize potential confounders, all of the participants were older than age 30 years and had a positive HPV test result within 3 months of entry into the study. To establish persistent infection, they had to have another positive test result no less than 6 months and no more than 18 months before enrollment.

“While a provocative study outcome, it must be emphasized that this is a very small sample size, and it is quite unclear if these infections would have resolved without any treatment,” said Maurie Markman, MD, from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. “Alternatively, there may have been issues with the HPV testing itself.”

“The plans for a well-designed randomized study are appropriate,” said Dr. Markman, who was not involved in the study. “The results of this larger trial will be awaited with keen interest.”