Medicine

Researchers Say Human Lifespans Have Already Hit Their Peak (newsweek.com) 243

An anonymous reader quotes Newsweek: We have reached our peak in terms of lifespan, athletic performance and height, according to a new survey of research and historical records... "These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress," said Jean-FranÃois Toussaint, a physiologist at Paris Descartes University, France, in a press release... For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, a team of French scientists, including Toussaint, from a range of fields analyzed 120 years' worth of historical records and previous research to gauge the varying pace of changes seen in human athletic performance, human lifespan and human height. While, as they observe, the 20th century saw a surge in improvements in all three areas that mirrored industrial, medical and scientific advances, the pace of those advances has slowed significantly in recent years.

The team looked at world records in a variety of sports, including running, swimming, skating, cycling and weight-lifting. Olympic athletes in those sports continually toppled records by impressive margins from the early 1900s to the end of the 20th century, according the study. But since then, Olympic records have shown just incremental improvements. We have stopped not only getting faster and stronger, according to the study, but also growing taller... [D]ata from the last three decades suggest that heights have plateaued among high-income countries in North America and Europe... As for our human lifespan, life expectancy in high-income countries rose by about 30 years from 1900 to 2000, according to a National Institutes of Health study cited by the authors, thanks to better nutrition, hygiene, vaccines and other medical improvements. But we may have maxed out our biological limit for longevity. The researchers found that in many human populations, says Toussaint, "it's more and more difficult to show progress in lifespan despite the advances of science."

Medicine

Can Researchers Detect Irregular Heart Rhythms with the Apple Watch? (usatoday.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: Might wearing an Apple Watch save you from a stroke or cardio problem? Apple is careful not to make that direct claim. But the company, in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine, launched the Apple Heart Study app on Thursday that uses the heart rate sensor inside the Apple Watch to collect data on irregular heart rhythms... If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, participants in the study will be notified through the Apple Watch and on their iPhones. Should that occur, you'll be offered a free consultation with a study doctor, and possibly an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring...

A participant in the study merely has to download the app and wear the watch... The way Apple explains it, a sensor inside the watch uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor has an optical design that gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist. Using software algorithms, the Apple Watch can isolate heart rhythms from other noise, and identify an irregular heart rhythm.

The FDA has also approved the first personal electrocardiogram accessory for the Apple Watch, according to TechNewsWorld. "The KardiaBand" also detects and records atrial fibrillation that can lead to strokes or other heart problems. "The user simply touches an integrated sensor, and the results are then displayed on the face of the Apple Watch."

An irregular, bloodflow-disrupting heartbeat is the top cause of strokes, which kill 130,000 people every year just in the U.S. -- in many case before they've experienced any symptoms.
Biotech

EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States (nature.com) 133

schwit1 writes: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature's news team has learned. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations. The decision -- which the EPA has not formally announced -- allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC.

MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.

Security

New VibWrite System Uses Finger Vibrations To Authenticate Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Rutgers engineers have created a new authentication system called VibWrite. The system relies on placing an inexpensive vibration motor and receiver on a solid surface, such as wood, metal, plastic, glass, etc.. The motor sends vibrations to the receiver. When the user touches the surface with one of his fingers, the vibration waves are modified to create a unique signature per user and per finger. Rutgers researchers say that VibWrite is more secure when users are asked to draw a pattern or enter a code on a PIN pad drawn on the solid surface. This also generates a unique fingerprint, but far more complex than just touching the surface with one finger. During two tests, VibWrite verified users with a 95% accuracy and a 3% false positive rate. The only problem researchers encountered in the live trials was that some users had to draw the pattern or enter the PIN number several times before they passed the VibWrite authentication test. Besides improvements to the accuracy with which VibWrite can detect finger vibrations, researchers also plan to look into how VibWrite will behave in outdoor environments to account for varying temperatures, humidity, winds, wetness, dust, dirt, and other conditions. This new novel user authentication system is described in full in a research paper entitled "VibWrite: Towards Finger-input Authentication on Ubiquitous Surfaces via Physical Vibration."
Biotech

Can Science Make Alcohol Safer? (scientificamerican.com) 107

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro was the first to spot this story. Scientific American reports: Could there be a "liver-friendly" vodka? One company claims its proprietary blend of additives reduces stress on the body... The researchers concluded that consuming the alcohol with the additives -- glycyrrhizin, derived from licorice; D-mannitol, a sugar alcohol; and potassium sorbate, a preservative -- may support improved liver health compared with drinking alcohol alone. Marsha Bates, a distinguished research professor and director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said the study design "seemed appropriate." But, she added, study itself was small, with only 12 healthy men and women, and "doesn't really provide any information of what the long-term effects of consuming alcohol with this additive would be. It's a positive preliminary study but certainly does not provide a firm basis for speculating about long-term impact."

Functional or not, Harsha Chigurupati needs approval from federal regulators before he can tout curative powers on a label... Specifically, Chigurupati is seeking approval to make the claim that his blend, known as NTX for "No Tox," provides "antioxidant and inflammatory support" and "reduces the risk of alcohol-induced liver diseases," among other claims... Chigurupati said his goal is not to enable people to drink more, but to drink with less physical harm.

The claim "leaves some experts deeply skeptical," adds the article, while 33-year-old Chigurupati admits that an earlier formula "tasted terrible and it actually burned my mouth." But his company later developed a formula which he says tasted good and is easier on the liver. "I don't believe in abstinence," Chigurupati told the Wall Street Journal. "What I do believe in is using technology to make life better. I'm not going to stop drinking, so why not make it safer?"
Biotech

Scientists Selectively Trigger Suicide In Cancer Cells (scitechdaily.com) 47

Long-time Slashdot reader Baron_Yam quotes SciTechDaily: A team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reveals the first compound that directly makes cancer cells commit suicide while sparing healthy cells. The new treatment approach was directed against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells but may also have potential for attacking other types of cancers.... AML accounts for nearly one-third of all new leukemia cases and kills more than 10,000 Americans each year. The survival rate for patients has remained at about 30 percent for several decades, so better treatments are urgently needed.
The team's computer screened a million compounds to determine the 500 most likely to bind to the "executioner protein" in cells. They then synthesized them all in their lab and evaluated their effectiveness.
Biotech

Should Zambia Allow The Testing of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes? (nhregister.com) 133

More than 400,000 lives are lost every year to malaria, reports the New York Post. But Thursday Science published two new studies on promisings ways to fight malaria -- with genetic engineering. The first study focused on whether mosquitoes that have been genetically modified to be more resistant to the malaria-causing parasite would become weaker and less able to mate and breed... The study, led by mosquito vector biologist George Dimopoulos, found that one type of genetically modified mosquito not only bred well, but became more attractive to normal mosquitoes... Within one generation, the mosquito population was becoming 90 percent genetically modified... The results suggest the genetically modified mosquitoes would not just thrive but could possibly drive their genetic immunity to the malaria parasite into mosquito populations to which they are introduced.

The second study published Thursday uses genetic modification of bacteria found inside mosquitoes to fight malaria. Researchers genetically modified a type of bacteria, which caused it to secrete a substance inside the mosquitoes' gut that kills off the malaria-causing parasite before it can develop properly... the genetically modified versions of the bacteria automatically spread to offspring in generation after generation, the researchers found. The next step for both approaches -- the genetically modified mosquitoes and bacteria -- is to test if they work outside the lab in conditions simulating nature. Johns Hopkins has built a "mosquito house" research facility in Zambia designed specifically for such experiments... But the researchers must first convince the Zambian government to allow their genetically modified subjects into its borders.

Biotech

Chip Reprograms Cells To Regenerate Damaged Tissue (scientificamerican.com) 16

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American about a device that delivers infusions of DNA and other molecules to restore injured limbs in mice, and maybe someday, humans: Cells are typically reprogrammed using mixtures of DNA, RNA and proteins. The most popular method uses viruses as a delivery vehicle -- although they can infect unintended cells, provoke immune responses and even turn cells cancerous. One alternative, called bulk electroporation, exposes cells to an electric field that pokes holes in their membranes to let in genetic material and proteins. Yet this method can stress or kill them. Tissue nanotransfection, described in a study published in August in Nature Nanotechnology, involves a chip containing an array of tiny channels that apply electric fields to individual cells. "You affect only a small area of the cell surface, compared with the conventional method, which upsets the entire cell," says study co-author James Lee, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at The Ohio State University. "Essentially we create a tiny hole and inject DNA right into the cell, so we can control the dosage."

Chandan Sen, a physiologist at Ohio State, and his colleagues developed a genetic cocktail that rapidly converts skin cells into endothelial cells -- the main component of blood vessels. They then used their technique on mice whose legs had been damaged by a severed artery that cut off blood supply. New blood vessels formed, blood flow increased, and after three weeks the legs had completely healed.

Technology

What We Get Wrong About Technology (timharford.com) 197

Tim Harford, a columnist for the Financial Times, uses the example of Rachael and Rick Deckard from Blade Runner to explain how we humans, when asked about how new inventions might shape the future, often tend to leap to technologies that are sophisticated beyond comprehension. Also spoiler of the Blade Runner plot is ahead. He writes: So sophisticated is Rachael that she is impossible to distinguish from a human without specialised equipment; she even believes herself to be human. Los Angeles police detective Rick Deckard knows otherwise; in Rachael, Deckard is faced with an artificial intelligence so beguiling, he finds himself falling in love. Yet when he wants to invite Rachael out for a drink, what does he do? He calls her up from a payphone. There is something revealing about the contrast between the two technologies -- the biotech miracle that is Rachael, and the graffiti-scrawled videophone that Deckard uses to talk to her. It's not simply that Blade Runner fumbled its futurism by failing to anticipate the smartphone. That's a forgivable slip, and Blade Runner is hardly the only film to make it. It's that, when asked to think about how new inventions might shape the future, our imaginations tend to leap to technologies that are sophisticated beyond comprehension. We readily imagine cracking the secrets of artificial life, and downloading and uploading a human mind. Yet when asked to picture how everyday life might look in a society sophisticated enough to build such biological androids, our imaginations falter. Blade Runner audiences found it perfectly plausible that LA would look much the same, beyond the acquisition of some hovercars and a touch of noir.
Biotech

Wisconsin Company Will Let Employees Use Microchip Implants To Buy Snacks, Open Doors (theverge.com) 112

A Wisconsin company called Three Square Market will soon offer employees implantable chips to open doors, buy snacks, log in to computers, and use office equipment like copy machines. The chips use near field communication (NFC) technology and will be implanted between the thumb and forefinger of participating employees. According to The Verge, around 50 people are supposedly getting the optional implants. From the report: NFC chips are already used in a couple of workplaces in Europe; The Los Angeles Times reported on startup workspace Epicenter's chip program earlier this year. In the US, installing them is also a form of simple biohacking. They're essentially an extension of the chips you'd find in contactless smart cards or microchipped pets: passive devices that store very small amounts of information. A Swedish rail company also lets people use implants as a substitute for fare cards. 32M CEO Todd Westby is clearly trying to head off misunderstandings and paranoia by saying that they contain "no GPS tracking at all" -- because again, it's comparable to an office keycard here.
Biotech

Can AI Replace Hospital Radiologists? (cnn.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Radiologists, who receive years of training and are some of the highest paid doctors, are among the first physicians who will have to adapt as artificial intelligence expands into health care... Today radiologists face a deluge of data as they serve patients. When Jim Brink, radiologist in chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, entered the field in the late 1980s, radiologists had to examine 20 to 50 images for CT and PET scans. Now, there can be as many as 1,000 images for one scan. The work can be tedious, making it prone to error. The added imagery also makes it harder for radiologists to use their time efficiently... The remarkable power of today's computers has raised the question of whether humans should even act as radiologists. Geoffrey Hinton, a legend in the field of artificial intelligence, went so far as to suggest that schools should stop training radiologists.
X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and PET scans do improve patient care -- but they also drive up costs. And now one medical imaging startup can read a heart MRI in 15 seconds, a procedure which takes a human 45 minutes. Massachusetts General Hospital is already assembling data to train algorithms to spot 25 common scenarios. But Brinks predicts that ultimately AI will become more of a sophisticated diagnostic aid, flagging images that humans should examine more closely, while leaving radiologists with more time for interacting with patients and medical staff.
Biotech

Tylenol May Kill Kindness (washingtonpost.com) 169

Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr writes: In research published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience scientists describe the results of two experiments conducted involving more than 200 college students.Their conclusion is that acetaminophen can reduce a person's capacity to empathize with another person's pain. "We don't know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning," senior author Baldwin Way, an Ohio State University psychologist, said. One of the studies has half the group consume a liquid with acetaminophen while the other group received a placebo. The group that drink the acetaminophen thought that people they read about experiencing pain was not as severe as the placebo group thought.
The Washington Post notes that acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, adding that "about a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week."
Medicine

US Government Task Force Urges Cash Incentives For Ditching Insecure Medical Devices (securityledger.com) 64

chicksdaddy shares this report from The Security Ledger: The healthcare sector in the U.S. is in critical condition and in dire need of an overhaul to address widespread and systemic information security weakness that puts patient privacy and even safety at risk, a Congressional Task Force has concluded... On the controversial issue of medical device security, the report suggests that the Federal government and industry might use incentives akin to the "cash for clunkers" car buyback program to encourage healthcare organizations to jettison insecure, legacy medical equipment...

The report released to members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Friday concludes that the U.S. healthcare system is plagued by weaknesses, from the leadership and governance of information security within healthcare organizations, to the security of medical devices and medical laboratories to hiring and user awareness. Many of the risks directly affect patient safety, the group found. It comes amid growing threats to healthcare organizations, including a ransomware outbreak that affected scores of hospitals in the United Kingdom.

Joshua Corman, the Director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at The Atlantic Council, argues that currently "Healthcare is target rich and resource poor," adding a special warning about the heavy usage of internet-connected healthcare equipment. "If you can't afford to protect it, you can't afford to connect it."
Medicine

Cancer Drug Proves To Be Effective Against Multiple Tumors (nytimes.com) 81

An anonymous reader writes: 86 cancer patients were enrolled in a trial of a drug that helps the immune system attack tumors. Though they had different kinds of tumor -- pancreas, prostate, uterus or bone -- they all shared a genetic mutation that disrupts their cells' ability to fix damaged DNA, found in 4% of all cancer patients. But tumors vanished and didn't return for 18 patients in the study, reports the New York Times, while 66 more patients "had their tumors shrink substantially and stabilize, instead of continuing to grow." The drug trial results were "so striking that the Food and Drug Administration already has approved the drug, pembrolizumab, brand name Keytruda, for patients whose cancers arise from the same genetic abnormality. It is the first time a drug has been approved for use against tumors that share a certain genetic profile, whatever their location in the body."
The researchers say that just in the U.S. there are 60,000 new patients every year who could benefit from the new drug.
Biotech

Researchers Found Perfect Contraceptives In Traditional Chinese Medicine (inverse.com) 144

hackingbear writes: Researchers at U.C. Berkeley found a birth control that was hormone-free, 100 percent natural, resulted in no side effects, didn't harm either eggs nor sperm, could be used in the long-term or short-term, and -- perhaps the best part of all -- could be used either before or after conception, from ancient Chinese folk medicine... "Because these two plant compounds block fertilization at very, very low concentrations -- about 10 times lower than levels of levonorgestrel in Plan B -- they could be a new generation of emergency contraceptive we nicknamed 'molecular condoms,'" team leader Polina Lishko.
Biotech

New Battery Technology Draws Energy Directly From The Human Body (bleepingcomputer.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A team of eleven scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut has created a new energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. What researchers created is a biological supercapacitor, a protein-based battery-like device that extracts energy from the human body and then releases it inside an electrical circuit â" the implantable medical device. According to a research paper published earlier this month, the supercapacitor is made up by a device called a "harvester" that operates by using the body's heat and movements to extract electrical charges from ions found in human body fluids, such as blood, serum, or urine.

As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body, relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use. Because graphene sheets can be drawn in sheets as thin as a few atoms, this allows for the creation of utra-thin supercapacitors that could be used as alternatives to classic batteries. For example, the bio-friendly supercapacitors researchers created are thinner than a human hair, and are also flexible, moving and twisting with the human body.

Biotech

Scientists 3D-Print Ovaries To Allow Infertile Mice To Mate and Give Birth (theguardian.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Infertile mice have given birth to healthy pups after having their fertility restored with ovary implants made with a 3D printer. Researchers created the synthetic ovaries by printing porous scaffolds from a gelatin ink and filling them with follicles, the tiny, fluid-holding sacs that contain immature egg cells. In tests on mice that had one ovary surgically removed, scientists found that the implants hooked up to the blood supply within a week and went on to release eggs naturally through the pores built into the gelatin structures. The work marks a step towards making artificial ovaries for young women whose reproductive systems have been damaged by cancer treatments, leaving them infertile or with hormone imbalances that require them to take regular hormone-boosting drugs. Of seven mice that mated after receiving the artificial ovaries, three gave birth to pups that had developed from eggs released by the implants. The mice fed normally on their mother's milk and went on to have healthy litters of their own later in life. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists describe how they printed layered lattices of gelatin strips to make the ovary implants. The sizes and positions of the holes in the structures were carefully controlled to hold dozens of follicles and allow blood vessels to connect to the implants. Mature eggs were then released from the implants as happens in normal ovulation.
Biotech

Researcher Hacks Nine Sleep-Tracking Devices To Test Their Accuracy (brown.edu) 44

A determined researcher at Brown University extracted "the previously irretrievable sleep tracking data from the Hello Sense, from the Microsoft Band, and nine other popular devices," according to an anonymous reader, "by decompiling the apps and using man-in-the-middle attacks." Then they compared each device's data to that from a research-standard actigraph. Their results? The Fitbit Alta seems to be the most accurate among the other nine in terms of sleep versus awake data... Our findings tell that these consumer-level sleep reports should be taken with a grain of salt, but regardless we're happy to see more and more people investing in improving their sleep.
Biotech

18-Year-Old Mexican Student Designs Bra That Can Detect Breast Cancer (independent.co.uk) 71

An 18-year-old student from Mexico has won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) for his invention of a bra that can help in the early detection of breast cancer. "The bra, otherwise known as EVA, was developed with three friends through his company Higia Technologies, and was created primarily for women with genetic predisposition to cancer," reports The Independent. From the report: Equipped with around 200 biosensors, the bra maps the surface of the breast and is able to monitor changes in temperature, shape and weight. "Why a bra? Because it allows us to have the breasts in the same position and it doesn't have to be worn more than one hour a week," he said in an interview with El Universal. Rios Cantu says that the biosensors are able to determine thermal conductivity by specific zones. In some instances, heat can indicate more blood flow, which therefore indicates that those blood vessels are "feeding" on something -- typically some type of cancer. After beating 13 other student entrepreneurs from around the globe, Rios Cantu took home an impressive $20,000.
Biotech

Supercomputers Assist In Search For New, Better Cancer Drugs (utexas.edu) 22

aarondubrow writes: Finding new drugs that can more effectively kill cancer cells or disrupt the growth of tumors is one way to improve survival rates for ailing patients. Researchers are using supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to find new chemotherapy drugs and to test known compounds to determine if they can fight different types of cancer. Recent efforts have yielded promising drug candidates, potential plant-derived compounds and new target sites that can lead to more effective drugs. From the Texas Advanced Computing Center: "Identifying a new drug by intuition or trial and error is expensive and time consuming. Virtual screening, on the other hand, uses computer simulations to explore how a large number of small molecule compounds 'dock,' or bind, to a target to determine if they may be candidates for future drugs. [...] In September 2016, writing in the journal Oncogene, Rommie Amaro, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, reported results from the largest atomic-level simulation of the tumor suppression protein [p53] to date -- comprising more than 1.5 million atoms. The simulations helped to identify new 'pockets' -- binding sites on the surface of the protein -- where it may be possible to insert a small molecule that could reactivate p53. They revealed a level of complexity that is very difficult, if not impossible, to experimentally test. According to Amaro, computing provides a better understanding of cancer mechanisms and ways to develop possible novel therapeutic avenues."

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