Tri-Specific Antibodies Treating HIV Infection

The medicine industry is booming, thanks to new technologies like bendable batteries and injectable bandages. While these new discoveries can treat cancer and repair organs, some researchers are working on improving older remedies. The US National Institutes of Health and Sanofi have combined antibodies into tri-specific antibodies targeting HIV infection.

“They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.” [said Dr. Gary Nabel of Sanofi.]

“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,”

HIV strains mutate faster than immune systems can adapt, making resistance almost futile. Animal trials saw a 100% success rate in monkeys, while human trials will begin next year.

“Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention.”

Further testing may prove the usefulness of tri-specific antibodies in other fields. The battle against HIV is far from over, but it’s safe to say we’re getting there, one antibody at a time.

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Nerve Therapy Revives Consciousness Of Patients

A mere month ago, locked-in patients were given the opportunity to communicate via a computer interface. Now, researchers are using nerve therapy to revive the consciousness of patients in a persistent vegetative state.

The vagus nerve, which the treatment targeted, connects the brain to almost all the vital organs in the body, running from the brain stem down both sides of the neck, across the chest and into the abdomen. In the brain, it is linked directly to two regions known to play roles in alertness and consciousness.

The study, led by French scientists, brought a 35-year-old man out of PVS after being unresponsive for nearly 15 years. He can now track objects with his eyes and even turn his head when asked. Head of study Angela Sirigu believes the research can provide hope for families of locked-in patients.

“Personally I think it’s better to be aware, even if it’s a bad state, to be conscious of what’s happening. Then you can have a decision if you want to go on or if you want [euthanasia].”

At the very least, those in a locked-in state can be in control, which eliminates the nightmare of muscle loss.

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V.R. Is Helping Doctors Treat Cancerous Tumors

Things are looking up for cancer patients — from gene editing to the humble avocado, various forms of treatment are manifesting all over the world. Now, virtual reality systems are making it easier for doctors to treat cancerous tumors.

Once wearing the Oculus VR headset, the wearer can clearly see how the drug combats certain DNA strands inside the cell of a cancerous growth.

The wearer can then look around 360 degrees inside the tumor to see how the drug attaches itself to DNA strands to help dismantle the cancer.

The Oculus VR can eliminate the need of replica training, which is less practical and more expensive. It also provides users with feedback, allowing surgeons to perform more accurately.

“It is helpful in engaging the brain through interacting with a personalized animation someone is familiar with, so it feels real.”

I suppose this means virtual reality can escape its video game bubble and transition into the education industry. After all, there is always value in new technology.

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Pediatric Cancer Drug Displays 93% Success Rate

Breakthroughs in cancer research such as gene-altering treatments and the discovery of nanomachines have made waves in the past few years, persistently leading humanity through not-so-tiny victory after not-so-tiny victory in a battle between human and disease that has spanned decades. Just this month, a drug specifically targeting a fused gene found in several cancer types resulted in a 93% response rate among children.

“In some cancers, a part of the TRK [tropomyosin receptor kinase] gene has become attached to another gene, which is called a fusion. When this occurs, it leads to the TRK gene being turned on when it’s not supposed to be and that causes the cells to grow uncontrollably. What’s unique about the drug is it is very selective; it only blocks TRK receptors,” said lead author Dr. Ted Laetsch, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

Most drugs that are already known and used to cure cancer usually target a particular location or organ in the body. According to the researchers at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center, Larotrectinib is the first cancer drug designated for people with TRK fusions, or the fusion of two genes in the cancer cell, regardless of whether their cancer is in the lung, colon, or other areas.

“…none of the patients with TRK fusions had to quit the study because of a drug-induced side effect. Equally important, the response was long-lasting for most patients.”

The TRK fusions tend to occur mostly in certain types of pediatric cancer. This implies that, despite also being 75% effective in adult cancers, Larotrectinib is a bigger breakthrough in pediatric cancer research. This is a hopeful and life-giving discovery for children, or the people most capable of giving us hope in our own lives.

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Endoscope Camera Can See Through Human Body

Technology is painting a bright and promising future for the medical industry. If smart brain implants and advanced computer systems are no longer just ideas, other new discoveries could be well within our reach. This includes an endoscope camera  that can see through the human body better than an x-ray.

Thanks to thousands of integrated photon detectors inside the camera, the device can detect individual particles of light being beamed through human tissue.

By reconciling light signals that come directly to the camera with scattered photons… the device is able to determine where the light-emitting endoscope is placed inside the body.

The technique, called ballistic imaging, is highly accurate and cheaper than resorting to a conventional x-ray. The device is also low-risk and a lot less scary than it sounds.

“The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease.”

There isn’t yet word on when the device will be available to use commercially. However, considering the pace of current technological developments, I can’t assume it’ll take much longer.

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Why We Need to Celebrate the Smallpox Vaccine

In light of brilliant breakthroughs like gene alteration for genetic disorders, nanomachines to cure cancer cells, minimally invasive treatment procedures for epilepsy — no, the smallpox vaccine doesn’t seem like a big deal. It obviously isn’t a new medical discovery. In fact, last May 8 commemorates the fact that the world has been free of the illness for 38 years. But the reason we need to celebrate it is precisely because of the many successes that followed the 1980s smallpox eradication. And the need to counter the threats to these successes.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has written a book in 2011 called House on Fire where he explains just how he made it possible. He and other health workers wiped out smallpox — “by dreaming, being savvy in politics and unafraid to break the rules, and devising the brilliant ring vaccination strategy.”

Foege and his colleagues found that instead of using the vaccine on entire populations, it was more effective to distribute it among the demographic most at risk, which were the contacts of the infected. After being proven true in the smallpox case, this strategy on immunization was replicated on the prevention of other diseases or viruses such as measles, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and others. Some have been nearly wiped out as well, while the incidence rates of some have significantly dropped.

However, a few decades later, people now face a dilemma. What about the now-debunked finding that vaccine causes autism? The anti-vaccine movement discredits the milestones of smallpox eradication and immunization. Does the use of vaccine actually pose more risk than benefit to humans? Well, it might be time to look back at history for answers regarding the progress of human health. William Foege, the man who developed the global strategy for vaccination, is still fighting for truth.

“I think vaccines are really the foundation of public health . . . By the early 1980s, [many of] our vaccine diseases had gone down to close to zero . . . So things were going quite well until Andrew Wakefield did his Lancet article [suggesting there’s a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism] . . . He specifically said the MMR vaccine was the problem. He was disbarred in England because of the falsifications of his [data].”

Turns out, the research linking vaccines to autism is completely bogus that Wakefield even lost his medical license. But that hasn’t stopped parents all over the world from being paranoid. Foege understands that parents are only “trying to do the right thing,” but in doing so, they forget the risk of disease and focus on a completely false risk of the vaccine. This seems to make the anti-vaccine movement more of a health education issue, as people are just clearly misinformed.

38 years after smallpox eradication and other successes, vaccination has become a social problem more than a scientific one. In some countries, the public health debate even results in violence. But globally, more often than not, it results in the slower prevention and elimination of certain diseases. But Foege is still hopeful.

“I think we’re at the beginning of an eradication era — because of vaccines — and as we learn more and more about logistics, cold chains, how to develop vaccines that don’t require refrigeration, don’t require using needles and syringes, I think the future is very bright for disease eradication . . . You have to believe a disease can be eradicated . . . you have to put up with all the frustrations . . . you stick with your vision of what the last mile is.”

True enough, a disease can be eradicated. Smallpox is a testament to that. So celebrate the fact that you were born after it’s gone. Celebrate the fact that it led to much slimmer chances of measles in your lifetime. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate this feat, so that decades of medical history — thus, strong leads to medical progress — will not go down the laboratory drain.

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Less Invasive Epilepsy Treatment at Sourasky

Finding minimally invasive treatment procedures for significant illnesses have been the preoccupation of some of today’s medical breakthroughs, as exemplified by the research and development of light-activated methods in cancer treatment using nanomachines.

In Sourasky, minimally invasive procedures using advance laser and MRI technologies have been conducted in the treatment of epilepsy patients who are not responsive to medication. Offered in the neurosurgery department by Prof. Yitzhak Fried, Dr. Ido Strauss, and director of epilepsy service Dr. Firas Fahoum, it is the first time the procedure is being performed outside the US.

“If in the past we had to consider surgery in cases where the patient did not respond to medication, we can now make do with a minimally invasive procedure that is almost as successful as open surgery,” explained Strauss.

What made this possible is Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) technology. A small optic fiber is inserted into a small hole in the skull, and is then connected to a device called the Visualase system. While this is happening, an MRI scanner monitors brain temperatures and the size of the ablated tissue. Compared with open surgery, this procedure is more keen on preserving the areas of the brain proximate to the ablated issue and responsible for other bodily functions.

“Today, we know that the source of the disorder that causes epileptic seizures is found in neural networks in the brain and that the attacks can be prevented by proper medical treatment,” explained Fahoum. “In most cases, patients are given medication to try to control the seizures. But if this doesn’t help, it is necessary to consider neurosurgical intervention, in cases where the area where the seizures begin is located and surgically removed. But seizures come as a surprise and may cause cumulative damage to the cognitive and mental functioning of the patients along with physical injuries when they fall to the ground.”

The use of LITT, Visualase, and MRI technologies provides a less invasive procedure to the other surgical options such as nerve pacemakers and neuromodulation, as well as the removal of the seizure’s focal point. Moreover, the therapeutic option also provides easier recovery and may even be offered to children with epilepsy.

Hopefully, it is time we have more and more medical breakthroughs of less and less invasive treatment procedures.

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Dental Augmented Reality Acts As Virtual Mirror

The world of dentistry is now more futuristic than ever. Alternative treatments include some unexpected new contenders such as green tea extract and squid ink. Like all whitening and strengthening products, however, results take time — unless you’re working with this Swiss startup. Kapanu has created a dental augmented reality device that allows patients to “try on” their future smiles.

It works by matching a 3D scan of the person’s mouth cavity… to scans of known sets of good teeth… Once the software locks onto the user’s mouth and teeth, it overlays the improved teeth — and that’s where the fun starts.

Because the program is interactive, users can edit the spacing between teeth, as well as their shape. While the system may seem like a teeth-only version of The Sims, the fact that replacement teeth are molded down to every detail is mind-blowing. 

Once the patient has customized their teeth and given them a preview in the AR “virtual mirror,” the final model is sent off for manufacture wherever it is replacement teeth are made.

Shown at the International Dental Show in Cologne, the dental augmented reality program immediately hit some marks for investors. As an independent operator, Kapanu has yet to lay down its terms for commercial use. In the meantime, I’ll remember to stay off the sweets.

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Nerve Damage Repaired by Silkworms

Animals have long been proving they are more than just meant for zoos. Because of the modest squid, we can more simply detect gum disease. Due to the arion subfuscus slug, surgeons can quickly repair open wounds. Now, patients with spinal injuries have something to look forward to — silkworms that provide treatment to nerve damage.

Bombyx mori worms make most of the silk used in sutures. But processed silk from another species, Antheraea pernyi, seemed to provide a much better surface for spinal nerves to grow.

According to Oxford researchers, the silk in question is perfectly safe for use in human operations. As it happens, nerves along the silk threads grew at a quicker rate than normal. And not only are labs experimenting with silk to treat nerve damage — but also to advance other medical procedures.

Cocoon Biotech… is trying to use silk to treat arthritis…  Another company, Vaxess, is testing to see if silk proteins could help store and transport medications that are sensitive to things like heat.

Like the superglue slugs, no silkworms were harmed in the process. After all, they’re partners — not products.

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Kidney Donees Bond Over Same-Donor Transplants

Just last month, twin sisters Marian and Mary Jane Fields took their sisterhood to the next level after undergoing a skin transplant. Now, kidney donees Annie MacDonald and Kim Moncion are bonding over their same-donor transplants. While their medical conditions were hard to deal with, their experience has brought them closer than ever.

“I looked into it and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, she’s literally down the road,'” MacDonald said.

“We’ve got a connection now… We’re kidney twins.”

Doctors broke the good news to MacDonald after five years on dialysis, while Moncion was luckier, waiting in the wings only a few months. MacDonald is hoping to reach out to the donor’s family in order to thank them for saving her life.

“Hopefully in a year I can send a letter to the family to let them know how grateful I am,” she said.

“They’re my hero. It’s amazing what gift they’ve given us. Even if I don’t hear back, at least I can reach out and tell them how happy I am and what they’ve given me.”

Dr. Derek Chaudhary, who tended to both women, is hosting a kidney walk to honor not only MacDonald and Moncion, but all patients in need of transplants. The fresh donees are proof that good can come of the darkest of moments.

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