As many of you know we have a little fan club in India. More of a loose association of like minded people than anything formal, but it’s still fun. It does have its perks though. I have, over these last few weeks once it was proved I was a real person, been introduced to many wonderful things. I now have a layman’s understanding of cricket, for example. I have been sent a wide array of beautiful images showing what a wonderful country India is. I also got a complimentary subscription to the Times of India. Additionally, while they do love their Bollywood, few understand the American obsession with celebrities. They are much more interested in science. In fact, it was on a NASA blog where I met the people who were responsible for introducing my writing and podcasts to India. All of them were, and are, rocket scientists. When I’m not at a bar watching baseball those tend to be the kind of people I hang with. Anyway, while Caitlyn Jenner was breaking the Internet in ways her daughter Kim could only dream of, other stuff happened too. In fact a lot of sciencey stuff happened. So let’s catch up.
First off, a couple of things that got talked about on my weekly radio show that didn’t get written about.
The advent of continuous glucose monitoring systems has revealed just how often pregnant diabetic women’s blood glucose levels fluctuate dangerously. This is the case even with careful management using insulin pumps, which create a more even administration than injections. Plus the personal discomfort, sleep interruption and false alarms that can come from using continuous glucose monitors make it harder to ensure patients use them to manage the condition correctly.
The actual birth is even more of a challenge because of the greater chance for disaster. Withstanding and maintaining effective contractions in order to give birth requires large amounts of energy. That creates greater pressure for adequate blood glucose and insulin levels.
Artificial pancreas technology builds on and improves continuous glucose monitoring systems. University of Cambridge
Glucose levels are typically maintained during the birth through an intravenous glucose infusion and a manually adjustable dose of insulin. The insulin makes sure that the mother’s cells can absorb enough glucose, which in turn prevents the baby’s blood sugar levels from dropping to potentially fatal levels (neonatal hypoglycaemia).
After delivery, the insulin requirement drops sharply and clinical staff must be careful not to give the mother too much and reduce her blood sugar to a dangerous level (maternal hypoglycaemia). This risk develops soon after contractions have ended, especially if the mother quickly begins breastfeeding and if medication given to her for labour prevents her from recognising the symptoms of hypoglycaemia.
With all these complications, it is small wonder that diabetic women are often advised to opt for caesarean sections, although these carry their own post-operative risks as nutrition and mobility are again impaired.
The artificial pancreas eliminates all those problems and has been successfully used in one natural birth already. Click the link to meet the lucky lady.
Add this to my nightmare list: A creature that turns prey into a zombie, then eats it alive.
That’s pretty much the M.O. of Ampulex dementor, a wasp named after the mythical “Harry Potter” creatures that suck souls with abandon. Dementor wasps inject venom into cockroach prey, right in the belly, rendering it a “passive zombie,” according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund. The report details 139 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region during 2014.
“Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement,” according to the report. “With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body. Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it.”
Considering that there are billions of square miles that have never been studied I would imagine that these kind of discoveries will keep happening. Believe it or not, science doesn’t find this stuff just to creep you out.
In other stuff science created I need to make mention of the new super spiders.
Because regular spiders don’t bother enough people.
Spiders sprayed with a thin layer of graphene and carbon nanotubes have produced super-strong webs with record-beating properties.
Combining one of the strongest natural materials with one of the strongest artificial materials, researchers at the University of Trento in Italy created what they describe as “super silk”.
“The protein matrix and hard tissues of insects, worms, ants and spiders naturally incorporates metals, such as zinc, manganese and copper,” the study states. “This leads to mechanical hardening of teeth, jaws, mandibles, ovipositors and to an enhancement of silk toughness.
It has been touted as a “wonder material” by scientists for its remarkable properties and vast range of uses, which include everything from flexible smartphone screens to artificial retinas.
“Thus, the artificial incorporation of metals, or even insulating or semiconducting materials, into these protein structures could be exploited to obtain a reinforced matrix.”
The silk created by the graphene-coated spiders is 3.5 times tougher than that of the giant riverine orb spider – the strongest silk known to nature.
The process that leads to the graphene and carbon nanotubes being infused in the silk is still not clear to the researchers, though the principle theory is that spiders make use of materials found within their immediate environments when spinning silk.
Nicola Pugno, the lead researcher in the study, believes that the strength of the material produced is the highest reported to date, even when compared to high performance fibres like kevlar or the current toughest knotted fibres.
Graphene is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. UC Riverside physicists have found a way to induce magnetism in graphene while also preserving its electronic properties
If you made a web large enough with this stuff you could stop a jet from running off a runway with a net weighing under a pound. But if you’re still freaked out by spiders, here’s a happy little video that will help you get over it.
I aim to please.
Now here’s some completely new stuff.
Using proteins secreted by stem cells, researchers may have found a new, less risky way to regenerate bone tissue for people who have suffered major trauma to their limbs. According to findings published in Scientific Reports this week, the technique could one day provide a sustainable source of fresh tissue.
Right now, to stimulate the growth of new bone tissue, scientists have to grind up old bones to extract growth factors and various proteins known as “demineralized bone matrix” (DMB). This requires taking bones of varying quality from donated cadavers, and there’s no guarantee that enough of the necessary protein signals can be produced. “These limitations motivate the need for more consistent and reproducible source material for tissue regeneration,” Todd McDevitt of Gladstone Institutes says in a news release. “As a renewable resource that is both scalable and consistent in manufacturing, pluripotent stem cells are an ideal solution.” These have the potential to give rise to almost all cells and tissue types found in mammals.
All you need to do is think about people who’ve suffered bone or muscle loss from cancer or any other disease. This new treatment will help them heal quicker and more safely.
That’s a good thing.
Just in case you’ve got a little vampire in you, make sure to suck the blood of a younger person.
Hailed as the long sought-after elixir of youth ever since scientists demonstrated that it could reverse signs of aging in old mice, there has been a lot of interest in young blood as a potential rejuvenation factor. While scientists thought they may have pinpointed the responsible molecule, describing its impressive effects in several high-profile publications, its age-defying abilities have this week been called into question by a new study. But it seems scientists shouldn’t fall at the first hurdle as, interestingly, a new investigation has come out that showed that young blood can help old broken bones heal faster.
As described in Nature Communications, circulating the blood of young mice in older mice with fractures sped up the healing process, an effect that they could replicate by also giving the elderly mice a bone marrow transplant from youthful individuals. Furthermore, they were also able to pinpoint a signaling pathway that is at least partly responsible, although what causes it to go wrong in the elderly remains unknown.
Speaking of cancer related issues;
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) headed to Havana on a historic trade mission in April, he returned with the promise of an important commodity: a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine.
The vaccine, called CimaVax, has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and became available for free to the Cuban public in 2011. The country’s Center for Molecular Immunology signed an agreement last month with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York to import CimaVax and begin clinical trials in the United States.
“We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine, but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking,” Dr. Kelvin Lee, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park, told The Huffington Post.
When President Obama loosened the United State’s 55-year long trade embargo against the island nation in December, he allowed for such joint research deals to be finalized. Similar programs might have been impossible just a few years ago.
Cuba has long been known for its high-quality cigars, and lung cancer is a major public health problem and the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. A 2007 study of patients with stages IIIB and IV lung cancer, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, confirmed the safety of the CimaVax and showed an increase in tumor-reducing antibody production in more than half of cases. It proved particularly effective for increased survival if the study participant was younger than 60.
I first heard about this a few years ago and would have bet good money that it was a hoax. I am very pleased that no one took that bet and that I was wrong.
As long as we’re talking about hoaxes do you remember that snarky phrase “Physician heal thyself”? Some scientists got to thinking along those lines and wondered if the human body could heal itself from cancer.
The answer is maybe trending towards yes.
Researchers meeting in Chicago are hailing what they believe may be a potent new weapon in the fight against cancer: the body’s own immune system.
An international study found that a combination of two drugs that helped allow the immune system to fight the cancer — ipilimumab and nivolumab — stopped the deadly skin cancer melanoma from advancing for nearly a year in 58% of the cases.
Melanoma, though a skin cancer, can spread to the lungs, liver, bone, lymph nodes and brain.
Other studies have shown promise in treating lung cancer. The research is being presented in Chicago at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Those involved in the fight against cancer are divided as to just how excited to get over the promise of immunotherapy in battling cancer.
“Immunotherapy drugs have already revolutionized melanoma treatment, and now we’re seeing how they might be even more powerful when they’re combined,” said Dr. Steven O’Day, an expert with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“But the results also warrant caution — the nivolumab and ipilimumab combination used in this study came with greater side effects, which might offset its benefits for some patients. Physicians and patients will need to weigh these considerations carefully,” O’Day said.
The beauty of treatment like this is that it’s completely noninvasive. As of right now it needs to be used in conjunction with surgery and radiation therapy but the goal is to make it a stand alone treatment. At least as much as is possible.
Of course it may be a combination of the above possible cures that will do the trick. Either way science has made huge strides in keeping your happy ass alive a little longer.
Speaking of asses, have you ever wanted to get a good look at one without earning a restraining order or jail time? Science has you covered there too.
Good news for everyone with blurry vision or a strong desire to become Superman. The Ocumetics Bionic Lens may give you 60/20 eyesight — three times better than 20/20. It’s a major leap in eye prosthetics, and apparently, it’s pretty painless too.
Garth Webb, a British Columbia optometrist, founder of Ocumetics and the creator of the Bionic Lens, told CBC his product would allow someone who can’t make out an object at 10 feet to see it clearly from 30 feet. He also claims his surgically implanted lenses can prevent cataracts from forming because they replace the rotted human lens.
“At age 45 I had to struggle with reading glasses, which like most people, I found was a great insult,” Webb told CBC. “To this day I curse my progressive glasses. I also wear contact lenses, which I also curse just about every day.”
Webb says the surgery is identical to cataract surgery. The original lens you’re born with is removed, and then instead of replacing it with the usual artificial lens, the surgeon folds up Ocumetics’ Bionic Lens in a syringe and injects it into place. According to Webb, it’s an eight-minute surgery that leaves the patient with unprecedented eyesight — and could once and for all do away with contact lenses and glasses.
Science has also been experimenting with solar-powered sight and Wi-Fi-connected eyeballs. While all of this research is aimed at helping people with limited or nonexistent sight, the obvious recreational usages will probably fund them all for eternity.
Speaking of funding, when was the last time you thought about the rapper Akon? Yeah, me too. But there’s a good reason for that. It turns out he’s been in Africa using science that was barely nascent a year ago to bring electricity to almost a billion people.
Although he’s been absent on the music scene recently, Akon has been working to bring electricity to 600 million Africans with his initiative Lighting Africa.
At the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum, Akon announced his plan to launch a new solar academy for the continent.
Reports say that the academy would help with developing the skills and training of future entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The website for Akon’s Lighting Africa program released a press release stating:
“This professional training center of excellence is a first on the continent and targets future African entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians. It aims to reinforce expertise in every aspect of installing and maintaining solar-powered electric systems and micro-grids in particular, which are really taking off in rural Africa.”
Lighting Africa has already installed street lights and small household solar systems in 14 countries. With 320 days of sunshine per year, Africa is ideal for developing solar power.
While large parts of Africa are industrialized there are also large swaths that are not. With this technology, and the newly trained experts to install and oversee it, pretty much everything else becomes available. Electric powered water pumps instead of local wells is one good example. The ability to connect to the world at large is another.
And it’s not just important to Africa. Here in America this technology could eliminate, or greatly reduce, the need for power companies. Rural America would no longer require risky power lines. I could go on but you get the picture.
This is all very interesting, I hear you mumbling, but what about all the scientific advances you promised using poop.
Don’t worry,science didn’t forget you. They just created the fastest poop powered bus in the world and you can ride on it.
The Bus and Coach Buyer, however, specifies that the record attempt was meant to reflect speeds for “a service bus.” The article also notes that the record was simply a “lighthearted event” meant to help spread the word about biomethane gas as fuel.
Even if it doesn’t hold a Guinness World Record, though, we think the Bus Hound and its snazzy cow print paint job are pretty cool.
Reading Buses operates a total 34 buses powered by the cow manure fuel, according to Bus and Coach Buyer. The cow droppings are converted into fuel through anaerobic digestion, which involves microorganisms breaking down the feces in an oxygen-free environment. This process creates biogas, which can then be processed to produce biomethane that can be used as fuel, the Alternative Fuels Data Center explains.
The Bus Hound, by the way, is not to be confused with another U.K. “poo bus” that debuted recently: the Bio-Bus, which serves the city of Bristol and runs on human waste.
Considering that poop is a naturally occurring, and completely renewable, resource this is good news. While not as efficient as fossil fuels now continued research should clear that hurdle sooner rather than later.
So eat some chili and save the world.
Or you could just play the ukulele and ride a bike.