Significant Step Forward With Basic Cancer Detection Blood Test

Encouraging work, although there is still much that needs done for progress.

A team of researchers has taken a major step toward one of the hottest goals in cancer research: a blood test that can detect tumors early. Their new test, which examines cancer-related DNA and proteins in the blood, yielded a positive result about 70% of the time across eight common cancer types in more than 1000 patients whose tumors had not yet spread—among the best performances yet for a universal cancer blood test. It also narrowed down the form of cancer, which previously published pan-cancer blood tests have not.

The work, reported online today in Sciencecould one day lead to a tool for routinely screening people and catching tumors before they cause symptoms, when chances are best for a cure. Other groups, among them startups with more than $1 billion in funding, are already pursuing that prospect. The new result could put the team, led by Nickolas Papadopoulos, Bert Vogelstein, and others at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, among the front-runners.

Article in the British press:

Tumours release tiny traces of their mutated DNA and proteins they make into the bloodstream.

The CancerSEEK test looks for mutations in 16 genes that regularly arise in cancer and eight proteins that are often released.

[…]

Dr Cristian Tomasetti, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the BBC: “This field of early detection is critical.

“I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality.”

The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it.

Scientific Research Into Happiness

I am unsure how much I agree with the conclusions of this happiness research, but it is interesting to read nonetheless.

Over the past two decades, the positive psychology movement has brightened up psychological research with its science of happiness, human potential and flourishing.

It argues that psychologists should not only investigate mental illness but also what makes life worth living.

The founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, describes happiness as experiencing frequent positive emotions, such as joy, excitement and contentment, combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose.

It implies a positive mindset in the present and an optimistic outlook for the future.

Importantly, happiness experts have argued that happiness is not a stable, unchangeable trait but something flexible that we can work on and ultimately strive towards.

[…]

Recent research indicates that psychological flexibility is the key to greater happiness and well-being.

For example, being open to emotional experiences and the ability to tolerate periods of discomfort can allow us to move towards a richer, more meaningful existence.

Studies have demonstrated that the way we respond to the circumstances of our lives has more influence on our happiness than the events themselves.

Experiencing stress, sadness and anxiety in the short term doesn’t mean we can’t be happy in the long term.

Two paths to happiness

Philosophically speaking there are two paths to feeling happy, the hedonistic and the eudaimonic.

Hedonists take the view that in order to live a happy life we must maximise pleasure and avoid pain. This view is about satisfying human appetites and desires, but it is often short lived.

In contrast, the eudaimonic approach takes the long view. It argues that we should live authentically and for the greater good. We should pursue meaning and potential through kindness, justice, honesty and courage.

If we see happiness in the hedonistic sense, then we have to continue to seek out new pleasures and experiences in order to “top up” our happiness.

We will also try to minimise unpleasant and painful feelings in order to keep our mood high.

If we take the eudaimonic approach, however, we strive for meaning, using our strengths to contribute to something greater than ourselves. This may involve unpleasant experiences and emotions at times, but often leads to deeper levels of joy and contentment.

So leading a happy life is not about avoiding hard times; it is about being able to respond to adversity in a way that allows you to grow from the experience.

Growing from adversity

Research shows that experiencing adversity can actually be good for us, depending on how we respond to it. Tolerating distress can make us more resilient and lead us to take action in our lives, such as changing jobs or overcoming hardship.

In studies of people facing trauma, many describe their experience as a catalyst for profound change and transformation, leading to a phenomenon known as “post-traumatic growth”.

Often when people have faced difficulty, illness or loss, they describe their lives as happier and more meaningful as a result.

The ConversationUnlike feeling happy, which is a transient state, leading a happier life is about individual growth through finding meaning.

It is about accepting our humanity with all its ups and downs, enjoying the positive emotions, and harnessing painful feelings in order to reach our full potential.

Lamenting the Loss of Most Coral Reefs

Another consequence of climate change in this world is the disappearance of beautiful coral reefs.

coral-reefs

For decades, marine scientists have been warning of the demise of coral reefs in a warming world. But now, those warning calls have reached a full-scale alarm, leaving researchers at a loss for exactly how best to save the reefs.

A study published Thursday in Science by some of the world’s top coral experts amounts to a last rites for the ecosystems often referred to as “the tropical rainforests of the sea.” Scientists surveyed 100 reefs around the world and found that extreme bleaching events that once occurred every 25 or 30 years now happen about every five or six years.

Bleaching happens when corals become overheated and expel the symbiotic algae that feed them. Without the algae to photosynthesize their food for them, corals stop growing and become more susceptible to disease. If water temperatures remain too high for too long, the corals can die.

With the time transpiring between bleaching events shortened by a factor of five, there isn’t adequate time for the ecosystems to recover. Even the fastest-growing corals that survive a major bleaching event need about 10 years to regain their health. These damaging events are now occurring more quickly virtually eliminates any serious chance of large-scale recovery on a global scale. Huge portions of the world’s reefs face almost certain death — and that loss will reverberate beyond earth’s oceans.

“These impacts are stacking up at a pace and at a severity that I never had anticipated, even as an expert,” says Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and coral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It’s really the rapidity of it that is so sobering and shocking — and for me personally, life-altering.”

Cobb, who is not affiliated with the new study, had first-hand experience with the latest and most severe instance of global coral bleaching: a three-year event that hit almost every major reef system in the world and eventually decimated portions of the Great Barrier Reef. In 2016, around the height of the bleaching, she made a series of dives off remote Kiritimati Island, due south of Hawaii. There, Cobb watched in horror as roughly 80 percent of one of the most pristine coral ecosystems in the world died in a matter of months.

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.

Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year.

The new study finds that 94 percent of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared.

The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90 percent of the world’s reefs.

For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.”

“I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend on reef species as a primary protein source, and tourists bring tens of billions of dollars to coastal regions and island chains each year to get a peek at the underwater ecosystems.

Researchers are struggling to think about what the loss of such an integral part of the Earth might mean in the decades ahead. And scientists, like NOAA’s Eakin, have changed their outlooks on the scale of action that’s necessary to save the world’s coral reefs.

“We need to be looking at much more radical actions to preserve those reefs that we still can preserve,” he says.

In the best case, some researchers point to extreme measures like genetically modifying super corals to withstand increased temperatures, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or even geoengineering as the only remaining options for saving corals at a large scale. Another approach involves identifying the few dozen reefs around the world most likely to survive and instituting crash-conservation methods to transform each one into a kind of seed bank for future generations after climate change has stabilized.

As you might expect, each of these ideas is highly controversial. But increasingly, coral researchers are willing to support a kind of “all-of-the-above” strategy, to avoid the worst case — losing corals entirely.

“It’s scary to think of what the oceans might look like once we degrade reefs as much as they’re likely to degrade in the next 50 years,” says Georgia Tech’s Cobb. “It will be so profoundly reshaped that it’s kind of a scientific no-man’s land.”

If there’s one consensus among the coral community, it’s that this is unequivocally the last call for saving the reefs. It’s truly an all-hands-on-deck moment.

“I don’t have the hubris — and none of us have the data — to say what strategy will work and what won’t,” Cobb says. “What is categorically unacceptable for me is to not try.”

Scientists Find Where Nicotine Addiction Can be Blocked in the Mouse Brain, Providing an Advance to Blocking It in the Human Brain

Humans and mice have some similar enough brain structures that make this a relevant advance in giving people increased control to stop the scourge of nicotine addiction.

Brain researchers have pinpointed a small group of brain cells that are especially responsive to nicotine, and which might be the main culprits in driving addiction to the substance.

By tweaking these neurons in mouse brains, scientists were able to curb nicotine addiction in the animals. Not only have their results solved an important piece of the nicotine addiction puzzle, but they could also lead us towards new treatments for the problem.

Nicotine is one of humanity’s most popular drugs – it’s considered to be the third most addictive substance we know. And because it holds such a sway on our brains, it’s extremely difficult to quit.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, with about 1,300 people in the US dying every day due to cigarette smoking or smoke exposure.

Which is why a team led by researchers from The Rockefeller University has been digging around brain chemistry to identify potential new drug targets that could help curb the addiction.

They focussed on two small brain regions located in the midbrain – the evolutionary older part of vertebrate brains, and one of the many brain features we share with mice.

These two interconnected regions – the medial habenula and the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) – are known to be involved in drug dependence, and also contain the receptors that nicotine binds to once it enters the bloodstream and crosses into the brain.

[…]

Even though so far we only have seen these results in mice, we do share similar brain structures with these animals, so the researchers are confident we can learn something about human addiction here.

“What all of this tells us is that the habenula-IPN pathway is important for smoking in humans,” says Ibanez-Tallon.

Now that the researchers know where to look, they’ll be further investigating how to manipulate the Amigo1 neurons in order to discover new ways to target nicotine addiction.

The study has been published in PNAS.

Self-Healing Glass Discovery from Japan

Much of modern structures are made of glass, so the potential applications of this discovery are wide-ranging. It’s difficult to say how much glass this would be able to fix though.

A Japanese researcher has developed — by accident– a new type of glass that can be repaired simply by pressing it back together after it cracks.

The discovery opens the way for super-durable glass that could triple the lifespan of everyday products like car windows, construction materials, fish tanks and even toilet seats.

Yu Yanagisawa, a chemistry researcher at the University of Tokyo, made the breakthrough by chance while investigating adhesives that can be used on wet surfaces.

[…]

In a lab demonstration for AFP, Yanagisawa broke a glass sample into two pieces.

He then held the cross sections of the two pieces together for about 30 seconds until the glass repaired itself, almost resembling its original form.

To demonstrate its strength, he then hung a nearly full bottle of water from the piece of glass — and it stayed intact.

The organic glass, made of a substance called polyether thioureas, is closer to acrylic than mineral glass, which is used for tableware and smartphone screens.

Other scientists have demonstrated similar properties by using rubber or gel materials but Yanagisawa was the first to demonstrate the self-healing concept with glass.

The secret lies in the thiourea, which uses hydrogen bonding to make the edges of the shattered glass self-adhesive, according to Yanagisawa’s study.

But what use is all this if it cannot produce a self-healing smartphone screen?

“It is not realistically about fixing what is broken, more about making longer-lasting resin glass,” Yanagisawa told AFP.

Glass products can fracture after years of use due to physical stress and fatigue.

“When a material breaks, it has already had many tiny scars that have accumulated to result in major destruction,” Yanagisawa said.

“What this study showed was a path toward making a safe and long-lasting resin glass”, which is used in a wide range of everyday items.

“We may be able to double or triple the lifespan of something that currently lasts for 10 or 20 years,” he said.

Bacteria Can Acquire Antibiotic Resistance from Rival Bacteria, New Research Proves

It seems as though this is really important research into antibiotic resistance, as new metrics based on this research will need to be used to evaluate the dangerousness of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the future. The World Health Organization has said that “antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency,” and reports for years have warned of the trillions of dollars and millions of lives that could be lost if this antibiotic resistance problem isn’t addressed.

Bacteria not only develop resistance to antibiotics, they also can pick it up from their rivals. Researchers have demonstrated that some bacteria inject a toxic cocktail into their competitors causing cell lysis and death. Then, by integrating the released genetic material, which may also carry drug resistance genes, the predator cell can acquire antibiotic resistance.

The frequent and sometimes careless use of antibiotics leads to an increasingly rapid spread of resistance. Hospitals are a particular hot spot for this. Patients not only introduce a wide variety of pathogens, which may already be resistant but also, due to the use of antibiotics to combat infections, hospitals may be a place where anti-microbial resistance can develop and be transferred from pathogen to pathogen. One of these typical hospital germs is the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii. It is also known as the “Iraq bug” because multidrug-resistant bacteria of this species caused severe wound infections in American soldiers during the Iraq war.

Multidrug-resistant bacteria due to gene exchange

The emergence and spread of multidrug resistance could be attributed, among other things, to the special skills of certain bacteria: Firstly, they combat their competitors by injecting them with a cocktail of toxic proteins, so-called effectors, using the type VI secretion system (T6SS), a poison syringe. And secondly, they are able to uptake and reuse the released genetic material. In the model organism Acinetobacter baylyi, a close relative of the Iraq bug, Prof. Marek Basler’s team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, has now identified five differently acting effectors. “Some of these toxic proteins kill the bacterial competition very effectively, but do not destroy the cells,” explains Basler. “Others severely damage the cell envelope, which leads to lysis of the attacked bacterium and hence the release of its genetic material.”

The predator bacteria take up the released DNA fragments. If these fragments carry certain drug resistance genes, the specific resistance can be conferred upon the new owner. As a result, the antibiotic is no longer effective and the bacterium can reproduce largely undisturbed.

Pathogens with such abilities are a major problem in hospitals, as through contact with other resistant bacteria they may accumulate resistance to many antibiotics — the bacteria become multidrug-resistant. In the worst case, antibiotic treatments are no longer effective, thus nosocomial infections with multidrug-resistant pathogens become a deadly threat to patients.

Toxic proteins and antitoxins

“The T6SS, as well as a set of different effectors, can also be found in other pathogens such as those which cause pneumonia or cholera,” says Basler. Interestingly, not all effectors are sufficient to kill the target cell, as many bacteria have developed or acquired antitoxins — so-called immunity proteins. “We have also been able to identify the corresponding immunity proteins of the five toxic effectors in the predator cells. For the bacteria it makes absolute sense to produce not only a single toxin, but a cocktail of various toxins with different effects,” says Basler. “This increases the likelihood that the rivals can be successfully eliminated and in some cases also lysed to release their DNA.”

Conquest of new environmental niches

Antibiotics and anti-microbial resistance have existed for a long time. They developed through the coexistence of microorganisms and enabled bacteria to defend themselves against enemies or to eliminate competitors. This is one of the ways in which bacteria can conquer and colonize new environmental niches. With the use of antibiotics in medicine, however, the natural ability to develop resistance has become a problem. This faces researchers with the challenge of continually developing new antibiotics and slowing down the spread of drug resistance.

Positively Transforming Greenhouse Gases — Catalyst to Recycle Carbon Dioxide and Methane for Valuable Chemicals Developed

This new research looks to be quite important, as it could provide an added incentive to address the immense threat of climate change. Methane may be only about 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but it traps about 85 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does, so it too is definitely part of the environmental threat.

The University of Surrey has developed a new and cost-effective catalyst to recycle two of the main causes behind climate change — carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

In a study published by the Applied Catalysis B: Environmental, scientists have described how they created an advanced nickel-based catalyst strengthened with tin and ceria, and used it to transform CO2 and CH4 into a synthesis gas that can be used to produce fuels and a range of valuable chemicals.

The project is part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Global Research Project, which is looking into ways to lessen the impact of global warming in Latin America. The study has led the University of Surrey to file a patent for a family of new “supercatalysts” for chemical CO2 recycling.

According to the Global Carbon Project, global CO2 emissions are set to rise in 2017 for the first time in four years — with carbon output growing on average three per cent every year since 2006.

While carbon capture technology is common, it can be expensive and, in most cases, requires extreme and precise conditions for the process to be successful. It is hoped the new catalyst will help make the technology more widely available across industry, and both easier and cheaper for it to be extracted from the atmosphere.

Dr Tomas R. Reina from the University of Surrey said: “This is an extremely exciting project and we believe we have achieved something here that can make a real impact on CO2 emissions.

“The goal we’re all chasing as climate scientists is a way of reversing the impacts of harmful gases on our atmosphere — this technology, which could see those harmful gases not only removed but converted into renewable fuels for use in poorer countries is the Holy Grail of climate science.”

Professor Harvey Arellano-Garcia, Head of Research in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Surrey, said: “Utilising CO2 in this way is a viable alternative to traditional carbon capture methods, which could make a sizable impact to the health of our planet.

“We’re now seeking the right partners from industry to take this technology and turn it into a world-changing process.”