In the United States alone, 1.25 million people suffer from type 1 diabetes. A vaccine used over 100 years ago for tuberculosis (bacillus Calmette-Guerin ) has shown promise in reversing this disease. This vaccine is now commonly used for treating bladder cancer and is considered to be safe.
An announcement made yesterday at the 75th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association said that the FDA will test the vaccine on 150 people who are in an advanced stage of type one diabetes.
The body of a person with type 1 diabetes does not produce insulin due to the immune system destroying the cells that create insulin. T cells are produced, and these cells create problems in the pancreatic islets, where insulin is produced. The vaccine works by eliminating these T cells.
Patients with diabetes injected with the vaccine saw an increase in the levels of a substance called tumor necrosis factor. The increased level of TNF in the system destroys the T cells that are hindering the production of insulin.
In a previous trial, patients were injected with the tuberculosis vaccine twice within a four-week time frame. The results showed that the dangerous T cells were gone, and some people even began to secrete insulin on their own.
Dr. Denise Faustman, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Immunobiology Laboratory in Boston, is very excited about the results the BCG vaccine has been showing.
“In the phase I (preliminary) trial we demonstrated a statistically significant response to BCG, but our goal in (this trial) is to create a lasting therapeutic response. We will be working again with people who have had type 1 diabetes for many years. This is not a prevention trial; instead, we are trying to create a regimen that will treat even advanced disease” explained Dr. Denise.
There’s a new trial coming which will use the same format as the previous one, on people at the age between 18 and 60. The subjects will be injected with the vaccine twice in a period of 4 weeks, and then once a year for a 4-year time span.
The Diabetes Care journal has published the results of a past study which analyzed the effects of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) on kids with diabetes at the age between 5 and 18. The results showed that the BCG vaccine doesn’t keep the beta-cell function or raise the remission rate in kids.
Using a special engineered protein called a ‘zinc finger’, a team from Imperial College London, UK have successfully slowed down the progression of Huntington disease in mice trials for up to 6 months.
A RAY OF HOPE
Scientists from Imperial College London, UK started testing a new treatment for Huntington’s disease on mice. Researchers are seeing an effectiveness even up to six months after the initial treatment.
Huntington’s disease is a hereditary, progressive brain disorder that affects movement, speech, and cognition, among other symptoms. As for now, the disease is incurable and patients usually only live 15-20 years after the first symptoms appear.
Huntington’s occurs when a mutation produces a longer than normal Huntingtin gene. The gene is toxic to some cell types causing the brain damage which then causes the symptoms.
Scientists aren’t sure how the disease damages the brain, but the Imperial team has a brilliant plan. “We don’t know exactly how the mutant Huntington gene causes the disease, so the idea is that targeting the gene expression cuts off the problem at its source – preventing it from ever having the potential to act,” says Mark Isalan, the lead researcher on the project. The research team came up with a new treatment using a modified protein called a ‘zinc finger.’ The proteins cling to the faulty Huntington genes and prevents them from releasing proteins that are harmful to the brain.
TRIALS SEEING SUCCESS
In their most recent trials, the team injected 12 mice with the blocking protein. After three weeks, 77% of Huntington was repressed. Percentage of repression declined in the next weeks, but even after 6 months, gene expression was still being curbed. “In this study we weren’t looking at how repressing the gene activity affected the symptoms of the disease, and this is obviously a critical question as well. However, we have reason to be confident from our previous studies that repressing the gene does in fact significantly reduce symptoms,” explains Isalan. The results were published in Molecular Neurodegeneration.
As with any animal trials of human treatments, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to ScienceAlert, there is no way to ensure the treatment will also translate to humans. Also, there is no concrete proof that protein build-up from the mutation is to blame. Finally, while these trials show that the gene expression can be blocked, there hasn’t been any testing if this also stops symptoms.
If results continue to be promising, human trials can begin within the next 5 years.
A team of astronomers might’ve just witnessed a black hole being born, with recently reviewed data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The amazing phenomenon might be what we need to confirm previously assumed theories about the death of stars.
THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING STAR
New data from the Hubble Space Telescope might just confirm last few moments of a star. In a study recently submitted for peer review, a group of astronomers from Ohio State University believe that they have stumbled upon the first actual sighting of a star becoming a black hole.
The star in question is N6946-BH1, a supergiant 25 times more massive than our sun, about 20 million light-years away from the Earth. Using previously collected data from Hubble, Christopher Kochanek and his team noticed the changes in N6946-BH1’s behavior.
First spotted in 2004, the star was observed to have grown brighter in 2009 — about a million times more than the sun — and then slowly faded away. No visible wavelength has been seen from N6946-BH1 since.
The researchers suspect that it has become a black hole.
PLUGGING THE HOLES ABOUT BLACK HOLES
In theory, a dying star goes into a year-long bright flare. It produces a huge amount of particles called neutrinos which causes it to lose its mass. Lacking the necessary gravity to hold on to the hydrogen ion cloud loosely bound around it, detached electrons reattach themselves to the hydrogen. The star cools down and only a black hole remains.
“This may be the first direct clue to how the collapse of a star can lead to the formation of a black hole,” says Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb, referring to the Kochanek’s findings.
Although further study is warranted to confirm the findings, the researchers are optimistic.Kochanek stated, “I’m not quite at ‘I’d bet my life on it’ yet, but I’m willing to go for your life.” They plan to spot X-rays of a particular spectrum suspected to come from materials falling into black holes, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, where N6946-BH1 was. This would remove the possibility that N6946-BH1 was either swallowed up by another star or was just covered with some space dust.
All this comes with some important caveats. First, the findings have yet to be peer reviewed, so these claims should be taken with a grain of that space dust.
More data should be available within the next two months.
A team of Australian researchers have successfully performed a procedure injecting stem cells into the brain of a Parkinson’s Disease patient. The researchers are hopeful that this could be the future of Parkinson’s treatment.
Doctors from the Royal Melbourne Hospital successfully injected stem cells onto the brain of a 64-year old Parkinson’s Disease patient. This operation, the first of its kind, marks a positive step towards developing better Parkinson’s treatment.
Researcher Garish Nair, a neurosurgeon at Royal Melbourne, led the procedure. He and his team injected millions of stem cells at 14 sites in the patient’s brain. “The challenge was to do it in a way that you minimize the number of times that you pass your instrument through the brain, to minimize the damage,” explains Dr Nair. To do so, they had to perform around 4 dummy rounds on a 3D model before the actual procedure.
NOT A QUESTION OF ETHICS
The stem cell injection, the researchers hope, would boost the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s is known to exhibit symptoms of “tremor, rigidity, and being unable to express emotions, affecting walking. All of those functions are mediated by dopamine,” Dr. Nair explains. If successful, patient would display improvement in these areas.
The use of stem cells in medical treatment is largely controversial because of ethical concerns, particularly with embryonic stem cells. The procedure, however, does not present an ethical problem. The stem cells used were created using neural cells in a lab of a biotech company in California.
“So the beauty of this technique is that this is an unfertilized egg activated in a lab, so there are no ethical issues surrounding this to be used as mainstream treatment down the line,” says an optimistic Dr. Nair.
Ethical concerns aside, there is also concern that its too soon for clinical trials of stem cell treatments. Earlier this year, Dr. Patrik Brundin, Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI, warned against the dangers of clinical trials being done too soon. “Acting prematurely has the potential not only to tarnish many years of scientific work, but can threaten to derail and damage this exciting field of regenerative medicine.”
The researchers understand these concerns but feel they have received the proper approvals and adequate animal testing has been done to warrant a clinical trial.
At present, statics show that more than 10 million people are affected by Parkinson’s, with about 60,000 in the US and 80,000 in Australia.
The University of Rochester’s new quantum enigma machine is taking data encryption to a whole new level. This means shorter encryption keys and more difficult message interception.
Need a way to prevent the enemy from intercepting and deciphering your message?
American mathematician Claude Shannon, AKA the “father of information theory” had a way to do it. He came up with a binary system that could transmit messages under three conditions: the key is random, used only once, and is at least as long as the message itself. A long key, though, sounds like a pain.
Several recent studies in cryptography and encryption have led scientists to theorize that we could send an unbreakable encrypted message with a key that is much shorter than the message itself. Now, the theory is seeing a promising future as researchers from the University of Rochester, led by Daniel Lum, have developed a quantum enigma machine.
Quantum data locking is a method of encryption advanced by Seth Lloyd, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He discussed a theoretical machine that could actually encrypt the messages we send over the internet through the use of photons, light’s smallest particles. These particles would carry encrypted messages online that use photon’s different variables to generate a key. This encryption method is called quantum data locking.
Unlike the binary method, quantum data locking makes use of light waves’ features– such as angle of tilt, wavelengths, and amplitude– to generate keys that could encrypt messages. Because these features are a lot more than 1s and 0s, the keys that can be generated can actually be shorter than the message itself.
A QUANTUM ENIGMA
The party sending the message will use the machine to generate photons that go through a spatial light modulator (SLM) that will transform the message into an encrypted form. This means that the features like amplitude and tilt have been changed and the encrypted photon may now appear to be a scrambled form that only the receiving end could understand with the use of their own SLMs that could actually flatten, refocus and translate the message back to it’s original form.
“While our device is not 100 percent secure, due to photon loss,” said Lum, “it does show that data locking in message encryption is far more than a theory.”
Although this has been a great breakthrough in the study of quantum physics and cryptography, there is still a lot of work to be done. The team is currently looking at optic fiber as the most practical means to implement this machine.
Scientists can now detect magnetic behavior at the atomic level with a new electron microscopy technique. The researchers took advantage of optical distortions that they typically try to eliminate.
A new, somewhat counterintuitive, approach to using the electron microscope can detect magnetic signals by introducing aberrations. The aberrated probe results in imaging and spectra with lower spatial resolution than a traditional probe but it can pick up a magnetic behavior.
Scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Uppsala University in Sweden developed the technique by taking advantage of the optical distortions that they usually eliminate when using an electron microscope.
Previously, scientists were keen on removing aberrations that cause images to become blurry. This time, the team from ORNL-Uppsala decided to add an aberration called “four-fold-astigmatism” to collect magnetic signals from a lanthanum arsenic oxide material.
The researchers are planning on refining the technique to collect signals from even smaller atoms. This development would allow researchers to get more information about an atom’s behavior.
Th technique could be used alongside existing techniques such as x-ray spectroscopy and neutron scattering in studying magnetism.
Scientists around the world have been running experiments to verify if DNA could be a possible alternative to silicon-computing, the medium that we utilize today. They have uncovered methods that could one day allow for the fine-tuning of DNA-based nanotechnologies.
THE MANY FACES OF DNA
DNA has been the star of more science fiction films than I can remember— but who can really blame Hollywood? It is after all the molecule that makes you, you, and me, me. It’s a symbol of what we’ve come to know, and what we have yet to discover: science that mesmerizes everyone.
The next big thing may be having this 3.8 billion-year-old molecule in the circuitry of our newest electronics.
DNA:THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF TECHNOLOGY?
As our devices become smaller, engineers are hard pressed to complement the physical limitations of nature. Today’s silicon-based computer chips house 14 nm wide transistors that can obstruct neighboring transistors while failing to account for quantum tunneling, making it difficult to reduce size while optimizing efficiency. That is why DNA, 2 nm wide, may be a possible solution for its stability, size, and programmable structure.
In fact, just this past April, scientists have made the world’s smallest diode with a molecule of DNA that is 11 base pairs long and a layer of coralyne, confirming the plausibilities. While another team, going further in depth, was able to verify that an alternating cascade of guanine (G) bases would better conduct electrons in DNA over longer distances due to DNA’s ability to complement the electron’s wave-like behavior. What’s even more interesting is that their experiment suggests that “highways” of electrons can be fine tuned based upon how the DNA is assembled—opening up the possibility of fine-tuned DNA nanotechnologies.
While much of this is really in theory and won’t have a commercial application any time soon, it is thought-provoking to imagine how powerful DNA truly can be—and by extension how powerful we can be.
A video of Dr.Michio Kaku discussing the post-silicon era and molecular computing:
First proposed as an idea in 2012, space-time crystals are believed to exist in ways that break a fundamental symmetry of physics. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara may have found a way to put the theory into reality.
STRETCHING PHYSICAL EQUILIBRIUM
A time crystal is, essentially, an object that appears to have movement while remaining at its lowest energy state (ground state). When theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek introduced the idea in 2012, most physicists believed that was impossible.
A time crystal, according to Wilczek’s theory, was supposed to be an object that reaches everlasting movement by constant motion and returning to its original state, over and over again — all done in its ground state, where movement was supposed to be impossible. Can a quantum space object that violates the time-translation symmetry (essentially, that the laws of physics apply the same way everywhere and at all times) exist?
Researchers from the University of Califronia, Santa Barbara (UCSB) think so. In their proposed concept, published in Physical Review Letters, they believe that the key is to understand how time crystals do not break symmetry explicitly but, rather, spontaneously.
“If a symmetry is broken explicitly, then the laws of nature do not have the symmetry anymore; spontaneous symmetry breaking means that the laws of nature have a symmetry, but nature chooses a state that doesn’t,” coauthor Dominic Else says, speaking to Phys.org.
FLOQUET TIME CRYSTALS
Their proposed solution was to build a simulation demonstrating how spontaneously broken time-translation symmetry was possible, through a quantum system called “Floquet-many-body-localize drive systems”.
The results showed that (1) the despite the constant motions, the crystal remained far from thermal equilibrium and did not heat up — this means that the object respects the second law of thermodynamics; and (2) time-translation symmetry could be broken indefinitely within the crystal system, as it grows and moves from a symmetry-breaking state to a symmetry-respecting state, over and over.
Speaking to Phys.org, researcher Bela Bauer explains that their work confirmed their assumption about spontaneously broken time-translation symmetry. “On the other hand, it deepens our understanding that non-equilibrium systems can host many interesting states of matter that cannot exist in equilibrium systems.”
A time crystal can, therefore, exists within the laws of physics. The next step now is to actually build one.
Deep learning has been making it possible for powerful machines to approximate and imitate abilities and techniques once thought to be uniquely human. Mathematicians have struggled to explain how they work so well and may now get some answers by looking outside mathematics and into the nature of the universe.
NATURE’S SIMPLE COMPLEXITY
Deep learning can be understood as modeling high-level abstractions using data and a set of algorithms, with a deep graph and multiple processing layers of linear and non-linear equations. While it is largely a mathematical tool, the things that deep neural networks can do have surprised mathematicians. How can networks arranged in layers be quick to perform human tasks like face and object recognition if it has to go through layers of computations? This has perplexed mathematicians for sometime.
However, what mathematics cannot makes sense of, physics explains simply.
Mathematically, object recognition goes through multiple possibilities. As explained by MIT Technology Review, to determine whether a megabit greyscale image shows a cat or a dog, it has to go through 2561000000 possible images. Not only that, it has to compute whether each shows a cat or a dog. Neural networks do this, however, with ease.
Neural networks approximate complex mathematical functions with simpler ones. In theory, this mean that neural networks have to go through a magnitude of mathematical functions more than what is possible for them to approximate. Lin and Tegmark believe that it doesn’t have to go through all the probability of mathematical functions but just a tiny subset of them.
And this is because the universe, in all its complexity, is governed by a tiny subset of all possible functions. Mathematically, the laws of physics can be described using functions with a set of simple properties. Neural networks approximate how nature works.
TAPPING INTO NATURE’S LAWS
“For reasons that are still not fully understood, our universe can be accurately described by polynomial Hamiltonians of low order,” Lin and Tegmark observe.
Furthermore, the laws of physics are usually symmetrical when rotated or translated, which simplifies approximating the process of object recognition.
Neural networks tap into another property of the universe in simplifying its tasks. Lin and Tegmark explain: “Elementary particles form atoms which in turn form molecules, cells, organisms, planets, solar systems, galaxies, etc.” Complex structures are but a sequence of simpler steps. And because neural networks are composed of layers of code, these can approximate the steps in the sequence of causes in nature. The higher the layer, the more data is contained.
So Lin and Tegmark conclude: “We have shown that the success of deep and cheap learning depends not only on mathematics but also on physics, which favors certain classes of exceptionally simple probability distributions that deep learning is uniquely suited to model.”
With this, deep learning is geared to advance even more, with the help of mathematicians, of course.
Researchers from Lancaster University have determined that magnetite particles created by air pollution are entering our brains via our nose, which might increase the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
NATURAL V. UNNATURAL
Air pollution is a massive problem that affects all countries. It can lay waste to Mother Earth, cause acid rain, and do a whole host of nasty, unpredictable stuff to the ecosystem. Now, it looks like we may have to add “causes brain disease”to that list.
Our bodies actually have a natural supply of these particles. They come as a by-product of the iron in our brain. However, these magnetite particles pose a health risk. They create free radicals, which can cause brain disease. Luckily, as evidenced by the fact that not all of us currently have brain damage, the body can manage this natural amount. The problem starts when magnetite caused by air pollution enters the body.
IT COMES IN ALL SHAPES
Just how did the researchers determine that the magnetite they saw in the brain was caused by air pollution? Well, it all came down to shapes. The magnetite produced in our brains is angular in shape. But when magnetite is created in a high-temperature environment, like in cars, it becomes circular.
That circular magnetite was what was found by the researchers from Lancaster University in their study. They used spectroscopic analysis to study 37 individuals between the ages of three and 92 years old from Mexico City and Manchester.
“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings,” says Barbara Maher, lead of the study, in a statement.
Maher and her team also found that the spherical particles were normally smaller than 150 nm, which fits into the 200nm limit for particles to enter the brain via the nose.