Fatigue and returning to normality!

Underlying fatigue sets in after basis exertion, however it does not stop me from getting on with my life while undergoing chemotherapy! I simply stop and have a rest then keep going …. . I have to be careful with my shallow breathing and do stop and rest if need be. Slowly returning to normality. Weds will be day 14 since chemo.When in Washington, April 2014 I was presented with the 2014 Alan Reinstein Award (ADAO Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation) at the annual global asbestos awareness conference for my commitment to education, advocacy and support to countless patients and families around the world. Unfortunately my beautiful crystal teardrop award was broken on the tip in transit. Linda Reinstein, ADAO kindly organised a replacement award to be sent to my home in …

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Ban asbestos! It kills! 5 more sleeps until I fly to Washington for ADAO’s 10th annual Asbestos Conference!

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) is proud to announce that Janelle Bedel, Heather Von St James, and Lou Williams will be recognized with the 2014 Alan Reinstein award on April 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. ADAO is deeply grateful to each of these women for their dedication and commitment to education, advocacy, and support to patients and families around the world.The above picture is of Heather and myself who will be both attending this conference.Sadly our brave and young warrior Janelle lost her battle with mesothelioma. She was a true fighter to the end and dearly loved by all. Her father will attending the conference to receive her well deserved award. Janelle was an inspiration to all – her courage and determination to make a difference will…

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Sensing gravity with acid: Scientists discover role for protons in neurotransmission

While probing how organisms sense gravity and acceleration, scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and the University of Utah uncovered evidence that acid (proton concentration) plays a key role in communication between neurons. The surprising discovery is reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The team, led by the late MBL senior scientist Stephen M. Highstein, discovered that sensory cells in the inner ear continuously transmit information on orientation of the head relative to gravity and low-frequency motion to the brain using protons as the key means of synaptic signal transmission. (The synapse is the structure that allows one neuron to communicate with another by passing a chemical or electrical signal between them.)”This addresses how we sense gravity and other low-frequency inertial stimuli, like acceleration of an automobile or roll of an airplane,” says co-author Richard Rabbitt, a professor at University of Utah and adjunct faculty member in the MBL’s Program in Sensory Physiology and Behavior. “These are very long-lasting signals requiring a a synapse that does not fatigue or lose sensitivity over time. Use of protons to acidify the space between cells and transmit information from one cell to another could explain how the inner ear is able to sense tonic signals, such as gravity, in a robust and energy efficient way.”The team found that this novel mode of neurotransmission between the sensory cells (type 1 vestibular hair cells) and their target afferent neurons (calyx nerve terminals), which send signals to the brain, is continuous or nonquantal. This nonquantal transmission is unusual and, for low-frequency stimuli like gravity, is more energy efficient than traditional synapses in which chemical neurotransmitters are packaged in vesicles and released quantally.The calyx nerve terminal has a ball-in-socket shape that envelopes the sensory hair cell and helps to capture protons exiting the cell. “The inner-ear vestibular system is the only place where this particular type of synapse is present,” Rabbitt says. “But the fact that protons are playing a key role here suggests they are likely to act as important signaling molecules in other synapses as well.”Previously, Erik Jorgensen of University of Utah (who recently received a Lillie Research Innovation Award from the MBL and the University of Chicago) and colleagues discovered that protons act as signaling molecules between muscle cells in the worm C. elegans and play an important role in muscle contraction. …

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Six Writers Who Battled the Bottle

Book review.In The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, author Olivia Laing’s stated goal is “to know why writers drink, and what effect this stew of spirits has had upon the body of literature itself.” To which I can only say, best of luck. The goal is impossibly ambitious; the book itself a bit digressive and loosely organized. But Laing has harvested a satisfying litany of literary anecdotes related to drinking, and throws out a few of her own.The writers she submits to scrutiny are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver—all of them unambiguously alcoholic and, for most of their lives, resolutely in denial. Only two of them—Carver and Cheever—attained some measure of sobriety …

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Baby’s innate number sense predicts future math skill

Oct. 22, 2013 — Babies who are good at telling the difference between large and small groups of items even before learning how to count are more likely to do better with numbers in the future, according to new research from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.The use of Arabic numerals to represent different values is a characteristic unique to humans, not seen outside our species. But we aren’t born with this skill. Infants don’t have the words to count to 10. So, scientists have hypothesized that the rudimentary sense of numbers in infants is the foundation for higher-level math understanding.A new study, appearing online in the Oct. 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that children do, in fact, tap into this innate numerical ability when learning symbolic mathematical systems. The Duke researchers found that the strength of an infant’s inborn number sense can be predictive of the child’s future mathematical abilities.”When children are acquiring the symbolic system for representing numbers and learning about math in school, they’re tapping into this primitive number sense,” said Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience, who led the study. “It’s the conceptual building block upon which mathematical ability is built.”Brannon explained that babies come into the world with a rudimentary understanding referred to as a primitive number sense. When looking at two collections of objects, primitive number sense allows them to identify which set is numerically larger even without verbal counting or using Arabic numerals. For example, a person instinctively knows a group of 15 strawberries is more than six oranges, just by glancing.Understanding how infants and young children conceptualize and understand number can lead to the development of new mathematics education strategies, said Brannon’s colleague, Duke psychology and neuroscience graduate student Ariel Starr. …

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Scan good results and change of chemo!

This morning while driving to Melbourne I knew in my mind that I did not want to continue with this chemotherapy regime! Cisplatin (this is my third time in 10 years of having this heavy metal drug) I know, is becoming toxic in my system and both times that I have had it since August 2013 I feel absolutely terrible like I am going to just curl up and die, the pain is unbearable, my weakness is awful and there is just no way of getting thru it for the 10 days after receiving it overnight in hospital as it has to be flushed through my body for 24 hours as it can be very damaging to all the organs.I told Keith my news and I think it really threw …

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New survey tools unveil two celestial explosions

Oct. 16, 2013 — A team of researchers including Carnegie’s Mansi Kasliwal and John Mulchaey used a novel astronomical survey software system — the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) — to link a new stripped-envelope supernova, named iPTF13bvn, to the star from which it exploded. The iPTF team also pinpointed the first afterglow of an explosion called a gamma-ray burst that was found by the Fermi satellite.Their work will be published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters in two papers led by Yi Cao and Leo Singer, both of the California Institute of Technology.Their findings reflect the first time a star has been linked to the resulting explosion for this type of supernova, called Type Ib. The discovery offers very important answers about how this supernova type is formed, a problem that has eluded scientists for years.About a third of all supernovae of massive stars are of the Type Ib. There are several theoretical models as to how they are formed, including mass transfer due to solar winds between a pair of binary stars. It is thought that the progenitors are either massive helium stars or a type of very large, very hot stars known as Wolf Rayet stars.”Pinpointing a progenitor star at exactly the same location as a Type Ib supernova was the best way to test the theories about the genesis of this type of explosion,” Kasliwal said. “Now we need to patiently wait for the supernova to fade away and see if the star disappears.”The new supernova was discovered in mid-June. No explosive light source was detected even a day earlier. Baby pictures of this one-day-old supernova were promptly taken by telescopes in the radio, X-ray, ultra-violet, and infrared wavelengths, providing vital clues about its origins.Detailed analysis of different types of observations of the supernova confirmed that it was, indeed, a Type Ib, and that it reached full luminosity two weeks from its initial explosion. The team detected a progenitor candidate for the explosion in Hubble Space Telescope imaging, linking the supernova to its predecessor star. …

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Training the older brain in 3-D: Video game enhances cognitive control

Sep. 4, 2013 — Scientists at UC San Francisco are reporting that they have found a way to reverse some of the negative effects of aging on the brain, using a video game designed to improve cognitive control.The findings, published on Sept. 5 in Nature, show that a specially designed 3-D video game can improve cognitive performance in healthy older adults, they said. The researchers said the study provides a measure of scientific support to the burgeoning field of brain fitness, which has been criticized for lacking evidence that such training can induce lasting and meaningful changes.In the game, which was developed by the UCSF researchers, participants race a car around a winding track while a variety of road signs pop up. Drivers are instructed to keep an eye out for a specific type of sign, while ignoring all the rest, and to press a button whenever that particular sign appears. The need to switch rapidly from driving to responding to the signs — i.e. multitasking — generates interference in the brain that undermines performance. The researchers found that this interference increases dramatically across the adult lifespan.But after receiving just 12 hours of training on the game, spread over a month, the 60- to 85-year-old study participants improved their performance until it surpassed that of 20-somethings who played the game for the first time.The training also improved the participants’ performance in two other important cognitive areas: working memory and sustained attention. And participants maintained their skills at the video game six months after the training had ended.”The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is,” said Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center. Gazzaley co-founded the company, Akili Interactive Labs, which is developing the next generation of the video game.Gazzaley, who has made a career out of studying how distraction affects cognitive performance, said his game, NeuroRacer, does more than any ordinary game — be it bridge, a crossword puzzle, or an off-the-shelf video game — to condition the brain. …

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An easier way to control genes

Sep. 3, 2013 — MIT researchers have shown that they can turn genes on or off inside yeast and human cells by controlling when DNA is copied into messenger RNA — an advance that could allow scientists to better understand the function of those genes.The technique could also make it easier to engineer cells that can monitor their environment, produce a drug or detect disease, says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biological engineering and the senior author of a paper describing the new approach in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.”I think it’s going to make it a lot easier to build synthetic circuits,” says Lu, a member of MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center. “It should increase the scale and the speed at which we can build a variety of synthetic circuits in yeast cells and mammalian cells.”The new method is based on a system of viral proteins that have been exploited recently to edit the genomes of bacterial and human cells. The original system, called CRISPR, consists of two components: a protein that binds to and slices DNA, and a short strand of RNA that guides the protein to the right location on the genome.”The CRISPR system is quite powerful in that it can be targeted to different DNA binding regions based on simple recoding of these guide RNAs,” Lu says. “By simply reprogramming the RNA sequence you can direct this protein to any location you want on the genome or on a synthetic circuit.”Lead author of the paper is Fahim Farzadfard, an MIT graduate student in biology. Samuel Perli, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, is also an author.Targeting transcriptionIn previous studies, CRISPR has been used to snip out pieces of a gene to disable it or replace it with a new gene. Lu and his colleagues decided to use the CRISPR system for a different purpose: controlling gene transcription, the process by which a sequence of DNA is copied into messenger RNA (mRNA), which carries out the gene’s instructions.Transcription is tightly regulated by proteins called transcription factors. These proteins bind to specific DNA sequences in the gene’s promoter region and either recruit or block the enzymes needed to copy that gene into mRNA.For this study, the researchers adapted the CRISPR system to act as a transcription factor. First, they modified the usual CRISPR protein, known as Cas9, so that it could no longer snip DNA after binding to it. They also added to the protein a segment that activates or represses gene expression by modulating the cell’s transcriptional machinery.To get Cas9 to the right place, the researchers also delivered to the target cells a gene for an RNA guide that corresponds to a DNA sequence on the promoter of the gene they want to activate.The researchers showed that once the RNA guide and the Cas9 protein join together inside the target cell, they accurately target the correct gene and turn on transcription. …

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Scientists discover novel functions of platelets

Sep. 1, 2013 — A new finding could lead to novel treatments to reduce bleeding in trauma and severe infections.The research, from Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientists Lijun Xia, M.D., Ph.D., Jianxin Fu, M.D., Ph.D., and Brett Herzog, Ph.D., appears in the most recent issue of the journal Nature.One way the immune system keeps a body healthy is through immune surveillance. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, constantly exit the bloodstream and “check in” at the lymph nodes to learn about possible pathogens or abnormal cell growth. The function prepares the immune system to fight infections and dispose of pre-cancerous cells.For years, scientists have wondered how lymphocytes exit the bloodstream at a large volume without causing bleeding. Xia and his team of researchers found that platelets, which normally stop blood loss by clumping and forming plugs in blood vessel holes after injuries, activate a screening process. And this process allows lymphocytes to exit into lymph nodes without letting red blood cells leave the blood vessel.”Platelets are the smallest blood cells that work in clotting to heal cuts because they stick to the site of the injury,” said Xia, a member of OMRF’s Cardiovascular Biology Research Program. “This novel function requires platelets to dump a specific lipid content, but does not need intact platelets because it’s not forming a clot. We never knew they could do this before.”Not only are platelets making it possible for lymphocytes to leave the blood vessel, they’re doing so by going outside the vessel, themselves — another novel finding, he said.When scientists interrupted the process by removing a protein called podoplanin, the screening process stopped working, allowing both lymphocytes and red blood cells to escape. The new study reveals a novel function of platelets independent of their hemostatic role. The findings could alter the ways in which doctors use platelets to treat traumatic injuries and serious infections.Intact platelets that can clot usually only last 5 to 7 days in the blood and cannot be frozen, making storage a problem, Xia said. …

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Views you can use? How online ratings affect your judgment

Aug. 8, 2013 — Are you influenced by the opinions of other people — say, in the comments sections of websites? If your answer is no, here’s another question: Are you sure?A new study co-authored by an MIT professor suggests that many people are, in fact, heavily influenced by the positive opinions other people express online — but are much less swayed by negative opinions posted in the same venues. Certain topics, including politics, see much more of this “herding” effect than others.The results, published today in the journal Science, detail a five-month experiment conducted on a major news-aggregation web site. The research group systematically altered the favorability ratings given to certain comments on the site, to see how perceptions of favorability affected people’s judgment about those comments. They found that comments whose ratings were manipulated in a favorable direction saw their popularity snowball, receiving a 25 percent higher average rating from other site users.”This herding behavior happens systematically on positive signals of quality and ratings,” says Sinan Aral, an associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and one of three authors of the study. At the same time, Aral notes, the results “were asymmetric between positive and negative herding.” Comments given negative ratings attracted more negative judgments, but that increase was drowned out by what the researchers call a “correction effect” of additional positive responses.”People are more skeptical of negative social influence,” Aral says. “They’re more likely to ‘correct’ a negative vote and give it a positive vote.”While this phenomenon of social positivity sounds pleasant enough on the surface, Aral warns that there are pitfalls to it, such as the manipulation of online ratings by some political operatives, marketers or anyone who stands to profit by creating an exaggerated appearance of popularity.”These positive ratings also represent bias and inflation,” Aral says. “The housing bubble was a spread of positivity, but when it burst, some people lost their savings and their houses went underwater. Stock bubbles represent a positive herding, and they can be dramatically bad in the wrong context.”Still, the experiment also revealed topical limitations in herding: Stories under the rubrics of “politics,” “culture and society” and “business” generated positive herding, but stories posted under the topics of “economics,” “IT,” “fun” and “general news” did not.More wisdom about crowdsIn turn, Aral suggests, we should be as analytical as possible when it comes to harnessing collective judgments.”We have to be careful about the design and analysis of systems that try to aggregate the wisdom of crowds,” Aral says.The research was conducted by Lev Muchnik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Sean Taylor of New York University; and Aral, who joined MIT this summer.The experiment was conducted on a news-aggregation site whose identity the researchers cannot disclose for legal reasons, although Aral allows that it operates along the lines of popular sites such as Reddit. …

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Blocking key enzyme in cancer cells could lead to new therapy

Aug. 1, 2013 — Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine have identified a characteristic unique to cancer cells in an animal model of cancer — and they believe it could be exploited as a target to develop new treatment strategies.An enzyme that metabolizes the glucose needed for tumor growth is found in high concentrations in cancer cells, but in very few normal adult tissues. Deleting the gene for the enzyme stopped the growth of cancer in laboratory mice, with no associated adverse effects, reports Nissim Hay, UIC professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, and his colleagues in the August 12 issue of Cancer Cell. Targeting glucose metabolism for cancer therapy — while avoiding adverse effects in other parts of the body — has been a “questionable” strategy, Hay said. But he and his coworkers showed that the glucose-metabolism enzyme hexokinase-2 can be almost completely eliminated in adult mice without affecting normal metabolic functions or lifespan.Hexokinase-2 is abundant in embryos but absent in most adult cells, where related enzymes take over its role in metabolism. One of the changes that mark a cell as cancerous is expression of the embryonic enzyme. Hay and his colleagues showed that the embryonic version is required for cancer cells to proliferate and grow, and that eliminating it halts tumor growth.They developed a mouse strain in which they could silence or delete the HK2 gene in the adult animal, and they found that these mice could not develop or sustain lung or breast cancer tumors but were otherwise normal and healthy.”We have deleted the HK2 gene systemically in these mice, and they have been living for more than two years now. Their lifespan is the same as normal mice,” Hay said. The researchers also looked at human lung and breast cancer cells in the lab, and found that if they eliminated all HK2, the cells stopped growing.”We think that the process we used to delete the HK2 gene is not absolutely perfect, so there must be some low levels of HK2 in the mice. But that seems to be enough for the cells that use HK2, and the therapeutic effects on tumors in these mice are stable.”Hay thinks the enzyme is involved in making the building-blocks for the DNA of cancer cells, which need lots of all cellular components as they rapidly divide.”Without HK2, the cancer cells don’t make enough DNA for new cells, and so tumor growth comes to a standstill,” said Hay.Krushna C. …

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Controlling genes with light: New technique can rapidly turn genes on and off, helping scientists better understand their function

July 23, 2013 — New technique can rapidly turn genes on and off, helping scientists better understand their function.Although human cells have an estimated 20,000 genes, only a fraction of those are turned on at any given time, depending on the cell’s needs — which can change by the minute or hour. To find out what those genes are doing, researchers need tools that can manipulate their status on similarly short timescales.That is now possible, thanks to a new technology developed at MIT and the Broad Institute that can rapidly start or halt the expression of any gene of interest simply by shining light on the cells.The work is based on a technique known as optogenetics, which uses proteins that change their function in response to light. In this case, the researchers adapted the light-sensitive proteins to either stimulate or suppress the expression of a specific target gene almost immediately after the light comes on.”Cells have very dynamic gene expression happening on a fairly short timescale, but so far the methods that are used to perturb gene expression don’t even get close to those dynamics. To understand the functional impact of those gene-expression changes better, we have to be able to match the naturally occurring dynamics as closely as possible,” says Silvana Konermann, an MIT graduate student in brain and cognitive sciences.The ability to precisely control the timing and duration of gene expression should make it much easier to figure out the roles of particular genes, especially those involved in learning and memory. The new system can also be used to study epigenetic modifications — chemical alterations of the proteins that surround DNA — which are also believed to play an important role in learning and memory.Konermann and Mark Brigham, a graduate student at Harvard University, are the lead authors of a paper describing the technique in the July 22 online edition of Nature. The paper’s senior author is Feng Zhang, the W.M. Keck Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at MIT and a core member of the Broad Institute and MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.Shining light on genesThe new system consists of several components that interact with each other to control the copying of DNA into messenger RNA (mRNA), which carries genetic instructions to the rest of the cell. The first is a DNA-binding protein known as a transcription activator-like effector (TALE). TALEs are modular proteins that can be strung together in a customized way to bind any DNA sequence.Fused to the TALE protein is a light-sensitive protein called CRY2 that is naturally found in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant. When light hits CRY2, it changes shape and binds to its natural partner protein, known as CIB1. …

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Researchers identify new source of powerful immunity protein

July 10, 2013 — Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center report the identification of a new cellular source for an important disease-fighting protein used in the body’s earliest response to infection.The protein interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) keeps viruses from replicating and stimulates the immune system to produce other disease-fighting agents. Neutrophils, the newly identified cellular source of the protein, are the major component of the pus that forms around injured tissue.The researchers also report that the neutrophils appear to produce IFN-γ through a new cellular pathway independent of Toll-like receptors (TLRs): the body’s early warning system for invasion by pathogens. This finding indicates that mammals might possess a second early-alert system — the sort of built-in redundancy engineers would envy, said Dr. Felix Yarovinsky, assistant professor of immunology and senior author of the study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June.”We believe our mouse study provides strong evidence that neutrophils, white blood cells created in the bone marrow, produce significant amounts of IFN-γ in response to disease,” Dr. Yarovinsky said. “The finding of a new and essential cellular source for IFN-γ challenges a long-held belief in the field and is significant because neutrophils are the most common kind of white blood cell.”Two pathogens were used in this study: the parasite Toxoplasma gondii — which can cause brain damage in humans and other mammals that have compromised immune systems — and a type of bacterium that causes gastroenteritis, Salmonella typhimurium.Innate immunity is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, including those that it has never before encountered. Adaptive immunity is the secondary system that battles pathogens to which the body has previously been exposed and to which it has developed antibodies.Textbooks list natural killer (NK) cells and T cells as the body’s significant sources of IFN-γ. Although large numbers of neutrophils have long been observed to congregate at the site of a new infection, they were commonly thought to be first responders or foot soldiers rather than generals in the battle against disease, as this study indicates they are, Dr. Yarovinsky explained.About 20 years ago, there were clinical reports in humans and animals suggesting that neutrophils might produce IFN-γ, but the idea was largely ignored by the scientific community until the last decade, he said.Since then, studies at UT Southwestern and elsewhere have found that mice lacking NK and T cells, and therefore expected to be unable to produce IFN-γ, somehow continued to withstand infections better than mice genetically unable to make any IFN-γ. These observations suggested the possibility of an unknown source of the protein, he explained.In a series of experiments, the UT Southwestern researchers identified neutrophils as the major source of IFN-γ in mice lacking NK and T cells. …

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Supercooled water transforms into new form of liquid

July 10, 2013 — Researchers at the University of Arkansas have identified that water, when chilled to a very low temperature, transforms into a new form of liquid.Through a simulation performed in “supercooled” water, a research team led by chemist Feng “Seymour” Wang, confirmed a “liquid-liquid” phase transition at 207 Kelvins, or 87 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale.The properties of supercooled water are important for understanding basic processes during cryoprotection, which is the preservation of tissue or cells by liquid nitrogen so they can be thawed without damaged, said Wang, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.“On a miscrosecond time scale, the water did not actually form ice but it transformed into a new form of liquid,” Wang said. “The study provides strong supporting evidence of the liquid-liquid phase transition and predicted a temperature of minimum density if water can be cooled well below its normal freezing temperature. Our study shows water will expand at a very low temperature even without forming ice.”The findings were published online July 8 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Wang wrote the article, “Liquid–liquid transition in supercooled water suggested by microsecond simulations.” Research associates Yaping Li and Jicun Li assisted with the study.The liquid–liquid phase transition in supercooled water has been used to explain many anomalous behaviors of water. Direct experimental veri?cation of such a phase transition had not been accomplished, and theoretical studies from different simulations contradicted each other, Wang said.The University of Arkansas research team investigated the liquid–liquid phase transition using a simulation model called Water potential from Adaptive Force Matching for Ice and Liquid (WAIL). While normal water is a high-density liquid, the low-density liquid emerged at lower temperatures, according to the simulation.The research was supported by a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award and by a startup grant from the U of A. The University of Arkansas High Performance Computing Center provided the main computational resource for the study.

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New treatment for schizophrenia?

July 1, 2013 — A research group led by professor Jesper Ekelund showed that by giving a very large dose of famotidine (200 mg daily), sufficient amounts of the drug are able to penetrate the so-called blood-brain barrier to affect the histamine system in the brain.Famotidine has been used for the treatment of heartburn since the 1980s, but at regular dosing, famotidine almost does not enter the brain at all, since the brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier. By increasing the dosage five-fold the drug is able to enter the brain and affect the histamine system.”Already after one week the symptoms of persons suffering from schizophrenia started to decrease and after four weeks of treatment the symptoms had decreased statistically significantly. The patients that participated in the study were also positively disposed towards the treatment,” says Ekelund.Thirty persons suffering from schizophrenia participated in the study. The patients had been on sickness pension for at least five years and were randomly divided into two groups, one which received famotidine and one which received placebo. All of the patients who took famotidine responded positively to the treatment while the symptoms of those who were on a placebo did not change.Schizophrenia is the most common and severe psychotic disorder, and is the cause of at least half of all psychiatric hospital treatment days. No randomized, controlled trials in humans that test the effect of H2 blockade in schizophrenia have been published so far.Innovation in psychiatric medication urgently neededSince 1963, when the subsequent Nobel prize winner Arvid Carlsson showed that dopamine has a central role in psychosis, the so called dopamine-hypothesis has been central in psychosis. All presently available medications for psychosis are based around this principle. Since treatment response is all too often incomplete and side effects common, there is still a great, unmet medical need for medications with other mechanisms of action. Many other signaling substances have been the focus of attention, but so far, the brain histamine system has most widely been regarded as important only with regard to side effects of many psychosis medications.”Famotidine shouldn’t be used directly as treatment for schizophrenia until long-term use of a dose of this size has been proved safe. However, our study shows that the histamine system in the brain offers a novel approach to treating psychosis. …

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Realistic robot carp created: First robot fish with autonomous 3-D movement in Asia

June 26, 2013 — A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering has developed a robot fish that mimics the movements of a carp. This robot which is essentially an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is ready for applications, as it can be programmed to perform specific functions, for example, for underwater archaeology such as exploring nooks and corners of wreckage — or sunken city which are difficult for divers or traditional AUVs to access. Other applications include military activities, pipeline leakage detection, and the laying of communication cable.The team comprises Professor Xu Jianxin, Mr Fan Lupeng, graduating Electrical Engineering student and Research Fellow, Dr Ren Qinyuan. Mr Fan worked on the project for his final year which won the High Achievement Award at the Faculty’s 27th Innovation and Research Award. It will also be featured at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, a top international conference on intelligent robots, in Tokyo on 3-7 November 2013.Said Prof Xu, “Currently, robot fish capable of 2-D movements are common, meaning that these models are not able to dive into the water. Our model is capable of 3-D movements as it can dive and float, using its fins like a real fish. Compared to traditional AUVs, they are certainly more mobile, with greater manoeuvrability. If used for military purpose, fish robots would definitely be more difficult to detect by the enemy.”Fish robots are also quieter and consume less energy, compared to traditional AUVs. Said Mr Fan who studied the movements of real life carps for three months, in order to develop their robot, “We chose to study carps because most fish swim like them. There is no literature at all on designing a mathematical model on the locomotion of fish and so we had to start from scratch. …

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A peptide to protect brain function

June 13, 2013 — A structure called “the microtubule network” is a crucial part of our nervous system. It acts as a transportation system within nerve cells, carrying essential proteins and enabling cell-to-cell communications. But in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s, this network breaks down, hindering motor abilities and cognitive function.Now Prof. Illana Gozes of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine has developed a new peptide in her lab, called NAP or Davunetide, that has the capacity to both protect and restore microtubule function. The peptide is a compound derived from the protein ADNP, which regulates more than 400 genes and is essential for brain formation, memory, and behavior.Prof. Gozes and her team of researchers, including Dr. Yan Jouroukhin and graduate student Regin Ostritsky of TAU, observed that in animal models with microtubule damage, NAP was able to maintain or revive the transport of proteins and other materials in cells, ameliorating symptoms associated with neurodegeneration. These findings, which were reported in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, indicate that NAP could be an effective tool in fighting some of the most debilitating effects of neurodegenerative diseases.Prof. Gozes is the director of TAU’s Adams Super Center for Brain Studies and holds the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors.Securing passage through the brainIn their investigation, the researchers used two different animal models with microtubule damage. The first group was made up of normal mice whose microtubule system was broken down through the use of a compound. …

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New therapy shown to improve progression-free survival and shrink tumors in rare cancer for the first time

June 1, 2013 — The experimental drug selumetinib is the first targeted therapy to demonstrate significant clinical benefit for patients with metastatic uveal melanoma, according to new Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center research presented on Saturday, June 1, at the 49th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).The findings are potentially practice-changing for a historically “untreatable disease.” Though uveal melanoma is rare — there are only 2,500 cases diagnosed in the United States each year — about half of patients will develop metastatic disease, and survival for patients with advanced disease has held steady at nine months to a year for decades.Researchers found that progression-free survival (PFS) in patients receiving selumetinib was nearly 16 weeks and 50 percent of these patients experienced tumor shrinkage, with 15 percent achieving major shrinkage. Patients receiving temozolomide, the current standard chemotherapy, had seven weeks of PFS and no tumor shrinkage. Selumetinib also lengthened overall survival to 10.8 months versus 9.4 months with temozolomide, and side effects were manageable.”This is the first study to show that a systemic therapy provides significant clinical benefit in a randomized fashion to advanced uveal melanoma patients, who have very limited treatment options,” said Richard D. Carvajal, MD, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and lead author on the study. “This clinical benefit has never been demonstrated with other conventional or investigational agents, which is all we have been able to offer patients for decades.”Dr. Carvajal and his team decided to test selumetinib because it blocks the MEK protein, a key component of the tumor-driving MAPK pathway. This pathway is activated by mutations in the Gnaq and Gna11 genes, which occur in more than 85 percent of uveal melanoma patients; 84 percent of patients in this trial had one of the mutations.Uveal melanoma does not respond to the drugs given to patients with melanoma on the skin; and, in fact, there is no drug approved specifically for treatment of the disease. Patients with uveal melanoma receive surgery to remove the tumor — and in some advanced cases, the entire eye — as well as radiation therapy or chemotherapy.In the trial, researchers randomized 98 patients with metastatic uveal melanoma and administered selumetinib to 47, of which 81 percent had a Gnaq or Gna11 mutation. Of the 49 patients who received temozolomide, 86 percent had a mutation. Two patients were not treated. …

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