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Pulse 30: A Whole Planet of Biomedical and Human Enhancement Advances

Giulio Prisco Pulse Newsletter

Earth Lights

Besides the last, all news summaries below cover biomedical research done outside the US. Some will choose to interpret this negatively, as indicating that the US are losing their edge, but we prefer to interpret it positively, as indicating that the rest of the world is catching up. Health-related and human enhancement research and innovation really benefit us all, anywhere on the planet.

However, it can be argued that the US still have leadership when it comes to highly imaginative, bleeding-edge, world-changing research. For example, the brain-interfacing research that Elon Musk’s stealth company Neuralink (see Pulse 9, 12) is pursuing. Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers, no less, which has totally science-fictional implications.

Neuralink is now receiving external funding, Bloomberg Technology reports. Neuralink could one day “allow people to communicate brain to brain, instead of having to compress ideas into words, transmit them through speech or writing and then have a recipient decompress the words into thoughts in their own mind,” notes Tech Crunch. Instant telepathy on steroids.

Elon Musk also wants humanity to become an interplanetary species and start colonizing Mars (that’s just the beginning, the man certainly knows how to think big). Colonizing Mars will require finding ways to creatively re-use everything, including human waste. At the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), biomaterial researchers are presenting ways to turn human waste into plastic, which would be incredibly useful to future astronauts and Mars colonists.

Electronic skin for wearable health monitors. Bioengineers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, have developed a self-adhesive electronic skin patch that tracks heart rate, respiration, muscle movement and other health data. According to the researchers, the new electronic skin patch, described in Nature Communications, offers several improvements over existing trackers, including greater flexibility and portability. Related research was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Body-on-a chip for next-generation pre-clinical drug tests. Scientists at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), Kyoto University, Japan, have developed a “body-on-a-chip” device that can test the side effects of drugs on human cells. The Integrated Heart/Cancer on a Chip (iHCC) was used to test the toxicity of the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin on heart cells. The study, published in RSC Advances, shows that the drug itself is not toxic to heart cells, but a metabolite of the drug resulting from its interaction with cancer cells is toxic. According to the bioscientists, the new device offers promise for the next generation of pre-clinical drug tests.

New cancer therapy based on chimeric antibody shows promising results in dogs. Researchers at Hokkaido University, Japan, have developed a new chimeric antibody that suppresses malignant cancers in dogs. Tests on dogs with oral malignant melanoma (OMM), a highly invasive cancer, show that a chimeric (rat-dog) antibody, which targets PD-L1 proteins, can induce immune responses and tumor regression in dogs with malignant cancers. According to the scientists, the research results, published in Scientific Reports, show promise for safe and effective treatment of intractable cancers in human patients.

Diabetes and obesity drug useful to lower brain pressure. Scientists at the University of Birmingham have discovered that a drug commonly used to treat patients with either obesity or type II diabetes could be used to lower brain pressure. The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, indicates that GLP-1 agonist drugs, used in the treatment of diabetes and obesity, can reduce intracranial pressure in laboratory animals. The researchers expect that this novel treatment strategy could make a landmark change for future patient care and improve the treatment of patients with raised brain pressure due to causes including stroke, hydrocephalus and traumatic brain injury.

Biomaterial from algae could someday permit treating arthritis. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) are investigating the possible use of polysaccharide, a long-chain sugar molecule originating from brown algae, for treating arthritis. A research paper published in Biomaterials Science shows that chemically modified polysaccharide has an anti-inflammatory effect in cell culture tests and suppresses the immune reaction against cartilage cells, thereby combating the causes of arthritis. While expressing hopes for future applications, the scientists emphasize that further research is needed.

New combination of antibiotics effective against antibiotic-resistant superbug. Scientists at the University of Buffalo have combined three antibiotics and shown that the combination is capable of eradicating a deadly bacterium. The research results, published in mBio, show that a new combination of aztreonam, amikacin and polymyxin B (a last-resort antibiotic) was able to kill E. coli carrying mcr-1 and ndm-5 genes - a “superbug” that shows a disturbing immunity to last-resort antibiotics - within 24 hours while also preventing regrowth. Traditional combinations of these antibiotics were unable to kill the E. coli and resulted in rapid resistance.

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