Category: Health Care


The viruses that we’re most familiar with, like the influenza virus, are small and simple. Influenza is about 100 nanometres across, and has only 13 genes. But scientists are beginning to realize that there’s no reason a virus needs to be that small or that simple – and in fact, there are “megaviruses” that can be much, much bigger and more complex than any virus you’ve seen before.

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In a study published today in Science, researchers describe a newly-discovered megavirus that’s the largest of its type ever seen. By volume, according to Carl Zimmer at the New York Times, it’s 200 times larger than the flu, and has a whopping 2,556 genes. Even crazier, only 6 percent of those genes are familiar to us. The rest are completely new.

The researchers have decided to give the virus the genus name “pandoravirus,” referring to the likelihood that the discovery will lead to all kinds of new knowledge about viruses. The first pandoravirus found, pictured above, turned up in a routine dig off the coast of Chile, and puzzled the researchers until they realized that it contained no bacterial DNA at all, and must in fact be a giant virus. But it’s not one of a kind; shortly after, in an Australian pond, they found another. The researchers believe this indicates that pandoraviruses aren’t rare at all, though much is still unknown about them (like, for example, why they’re so much bigger than other viruses).

They might be huge, but the pandoraviruses discovered so far live only underwater and don’t seem dangerous to humans. “This is not going to cause any kind of widespread and acute illness or epidemic or anything,” said Eugene Koonin of the National Institutes of Health to NPR. 

Ref: Popscience

One company has designed a system, called Sweat Machine, to wring sweat out of clothes and turn it into potable water.

The Sweat Machine heats and spins clothes to extract the liquid from them, then filters the extract with a membrane developed with the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Yum.

The filter is the most sophisticated part of the machine. It’s “a bit like Goretex,” one of the machine’s designers, engineer and Swedish TV host Andreas Hammar, told the U.K.’s The Independent. Water vapor passes through the material easily, but it traps bacteria, salts and fibres from the clothes.

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The demonstration is supposed to draw attention to the fact that 780 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. Contaminated water can be deadly, especially for children. UNICEF will be raising money for a more practical solution for those kids-water purification tablets.

Ref – PopScience

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Cancer researchers looking for a breakthrough might want to relocate to the International Space Station. Biologists have found that microgravity research and other space-based experiments provide greater insight into abnormal cell behavior.

In Earth-bound labs, cells grow flat, unable to fully mimic the three-dimensional architecture shaped by proteins and carbohydrates of a working human organ. This gap provides an obstacle for scientists studying changes in cell growth and development.

In space, cells clump together easily, arranging themselves into three-dimensional groupings that better replicate cell activity. They also experience less fluid shear stress, a type of disturbance that affects their behavior outside of the body.

Many of the cells in space will likely die due to a lack of blood vessels providing necessary oxygen and nutrients. That might seem like a disadvantage, but it actually resembles the condition of tumors with areas of dead tissue at their centers, biologists say.

While the unique physical conditions of space have proven apt, research on Earth is also making headway with the construction of 3-D cell structures using a collagen gel matrix. Combined with microgravity studies, such research advances could greatly help biologists understand the cellular changes that lead to cancer and develop ways to prevent them.

 
Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canaveri has recently released a paper entitled “HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage,”

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Sergio Canaveri makes a claim straight out of science fiction: that the technology required for successful human-head transplantation is finally here, and that it could be used to help people with irreparable damage to their bodies and spinal cords.

Before human head transplantation could enter the realm of consideration, scientists would have to perform multiple successful experiments on primates, Stephen Latham, a bioethicist at Yale University, says. And none of those, he believes, would be condoned by any reasonable ethics committee.

But say the primate experiments did pass the ethics test. And so did the human trials. The fact remains that a head transplant is a bit outrageous for the needs of most patients, Latham says. In the case of quadriplegics, or individuals with full-body paralysis, scientists would perform less invasive surgical procedures before they attempted to replace the patient’s entire body, he says. “If you’d have the technology to attach spinal columns, you’d have certainly developed the technology to repair somebody’s broken spinal column,” he says, laughing.

Personally I think it’s a great idea, although possible going a little too far. That said, it certainly is a great option not only for those suffering from paraplegia but also those inflicted with a case of the uglies.

Ref: PopScience

 

Now here’s something that will excite all you smokers out there, according to the University of Wollongong 3D printed organs such as replacement lungs are not all that far away. This is a boon for people on waiting lists for replacement livers, hearts or eyes. It does beg the question however of just how long until we begin to modify healthy people.?

Researchers from UOW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, announced in Melbourne today (Friday 3 May) that they are just three years away from printing custom-made body parts, including muscle and nerve cells and cartilage. And in just over a decade, they believe will be possible to print human organs.

“Within a few years, we believe it will be possible to manufacture living tissues like skin, cartilage, arteries and heart valves using cells and biomaterials. Using a patient’s own cells to create this tissue avoids issues of immune rejection. By 2025, it is feasible that we will be able to fabricate complete functional organs, tailored for an individual patient.”

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So this begins to open up a whole can of worms when we consider a world wide population explosion. As an individual I love the idea of being able to go in for day surgery to simply “fix” all the issues that have resulted from my poor lifestyle choices, however it begs the questions of should we be able to live longer.? If nature has designed us to live into our early hundreds then what’s the impact on humanity once we start extending our lifespans beyond two or three hundred years. ?

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