Scientific Earth Conscientious

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened (Madame de Stael)

Archive for October, 2013

CNIO researchers discover new genetic errors that could cause 1 of the most deadly leukaemias The sequencing of the acute dendritic cell leukaemia exome shows that more than half of patients display ‘epigenetic’ gene alterations

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 23, 2013

Juan Cruz Cigudosa  from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre's (CNIO)

Juan Cruz Cigudosa from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre’s (CNIO)

Acute dendritic leukaemia is a rare type of leukaemia, but one with the worst prognosis—the average patient survival rate is just 12-14 months—that is difficult to treat. Juan Cruz Cigudosa’s team, from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre’s (CNIO) Molecular Cytogenetics Group, has for the first time sequenced the exome –the coding, or protein-generating, regions of the genome— of dendritic cell leukaemia.

The analyses, published in Leukemia, the world’s leading journal in onco- haematology, uncover new genetic pathways that could revolutionise treatment guidelines for these patients.

‘EPIGENETIC’ GENES ARE ALTERED IN MOST CASES

For the first time in human leukaemias, scientists have described mutations in four genes (IKZF3, HOXB9, UBE2G2 and ZEB2) that have important cellular functions, such as gene regulation and cellular differentiation.

“In addition to these genes, we have found that more than half of the cases harbour mutations in epigenetic genes at diagnosis —those genes that introduce chemical modifications in the DNA— something that had never been observed in this type of leukaemia”, says Cigudosa. “Therapies directed against these epigenetic genes already exist, so these patients could also benefit from them”.

In summary, the genetic profile of acute dendritic cell leukaemia, currently treated as a lymphoid leukaemia, is similar to that of myeloid leukaemia. “These results suggests a change in the treatment guidelines for these patients, who were completely misplaced”, says Juliane Menezes, the first author of the study.

According to Cigudosa, “this study is a clear example of the role of genomics in translational research being carried out by Spanish scientists, in general, and more specifically at CNIO”.

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Use light instead of electricity to carry information in computer circuits, potentially leading to vast improvements in efficiency

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 23, 2013

False-color scanning electron microscope image, the arrow shows the path light takes as it hops between silicon rings along the edge of the chip, successfully avoiding defects -- in this case a missing ring. Credit: NIST

False-color scanning electron microscope image, the arrow shows the path light takes as it hops between silicon rings along the edge of the chip, successfully avoiding defects — in this case a missing ring.
Credit: NIST

Scientists have a new way to edge around a difficult problem in quantum physics, now that a research team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) have proved* their recent theory about how particles of light flow within a novel device they built.

While the problem itself—how to find an easier way to study the quantum Hall effect—may be unfamiliar to many, the team’s solution could help computer designers use light instead of electricity to carry information in computer circuits, potentially leading to vast improvements in efficiency.

The quantum Hall effect is observed when there is a magnetic field perpendicular to a flat wire that has electrons flowing through it. The field pushes the electrons over to one side of the wire, so their flow is concentrated along its edge. Although a fairly exotic piece of physics, the quantum Hall effect already has been applied to make better standards for electrical conductance. But the effect is hard to study because measuring it requires stringent lab conditions, including extremely low temperatures and samples of exceptional purity.

The team looked for a way around these issues, and in 2011 they found** a potential, albeit theoretical, answer: Build a model system in which particles of light behave exactly like electrons do when subjected to the quantum Hall effect, and study that system instead.

“We knew building an analogous system that uses photons would have additional advantages,” says NIST physicist Mohammad Hafezi. “Light can carry much more information than electricity, so working with a photon-based system also could help us design computer components that use light.”

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Dolphins inspire new radar system to detect hidden surveillance and explosive devices

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 23, 2013

 This is an image of Professor Tim Leighton. Credit: University of Southampton

This is an image of Professor Tim Leighton.
Credit: University of Southampton

Inspired by the way dolphins hunt using bubble nets, scientists at the University of Southampton, in collaboration with University College London and Cobham Technical Services, have developed a new kind of radar that can detect hidden surveillance equipment and explosives.

The twin inverted pulse radar (TWIPR) is able to distinguish true ‘targets’, such as certain types of electronic circuits that may be used in explosive or espionage devices, from ‘clutter’ (other metallic items like pipes, drinks cans, nails for example) that may be mistaken for a genuine target by traditional radar and metal detectors.

The new system has been developed by a team led by Professor Tim Leighton from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research and is based on his unique sonar concept called twin inverted pulse sonar (TWIPS). TWIPS exploits the natural abilities of dolphins to process their sonar signals to distinguish between targets and clutter in bubbly water. Some dolphins have been observed to blow ‘bubble nets’ around schools of fish, which force the fish to cluster together, and their sonar would not work if they could not distinguish the fish from the bubbles.

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Adalimumab reduces inflammation in refractory pediatric uveitis Biologic agent offers new option for steroid-resistant patients, according to study published in the Journal of AAPOS

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 22, 2013

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is a tissue inside the eye. The uvea is made up of three parts:     the iris (the colored part of the eye that surrounds the pupil)     the ciliary body (a muscle that helps the eye focus and makes the fluid that fills the front of the eye)     the choroid (the layer of tissue in the back of the eye, behind the retina) Inflammation can affect any or all of these parts. Symptoms, treatment, and effects are different depending on which parts of the eye are affected. What is the cause? Most of the time, the cause of uveitis is not known. It can be related to autoimmune diseases that affect other parts of the body, such as sarcoidosis and some types of arthritis. Less often, infections like herpes, syphilis, or Lyme disease can cause uveitis.

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is a tissue inside the eye. The uvea is made up of three parts:
the iris (the colored part of the eye that surrounds the pupil)
the ciliary body (a muscle that helps the eye focus and makes the fluid that fills the front of the eye)
the choroid (the layer of tissue in the back of the eye, behind the retina)
Inflammation can affect any or all of these parts. Symptoms, treatment, and effects are different depending on which parts of the eye are affected.
What is the cause?
Most of the time, the cause of uveitis is not known. It can be related to autoimmune diseases that affect other parts of the body, such as sarcoidosis and some types of arthritis. Less often, infections like herpes, syphilis, or Lyme disease can cause uveitis.

A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) suggests that the biologic agent adalimumab may be a viable treatment option for patients with steroid-resistant refractory pediatric uveitis. In a study of fifteen children with the disease 85.7% showed initial improvement of anterior/posterior chamber inflammatory activity after almost three months of treatment.

Uveitis in children is relatively rare but left unchecked it can impair vision and even lead to blindness or other serious complications. Frequently occurring in conjunction with other conditions such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), pediatric uveitis is a chronic condition requiring long-term therapy. While corticosteroids are the first line of treatment, children may become resistant to the medications, develop significant side effects, or resist periocular administration. Studies show that about one third of children with uveitis develop one or more complications. Children with JIA-associated uveitis are especially prone to cataracts, band keratopathy, glaucoma, and phthisis. When complications threaten vision, urgent surgery may be necessary.

The goal of the study was to evaluate the effect of adalimumab on eye inflammation in children with refractory pediatric uveitis. Adalimumab is a recombinant human IgG1 monoclonal antibody to TNF-α that also affects TNF-α bound to receptors. Fifteen patients (12 female, average age 12 years) with either JIA-associated, idiopathic, or familial juvenile systemic granulomatosis (Blau syndrome) participated in the study. All children had previously been treated with systemic steroids and methotrexate, and a few of them had also failed to respond to immunosuppressive therapies such as cyclosporine and azathioprine, as well as the biologics etanercept and infliximab.

After subcutaneous injection with adalimumab (the dosage depended on weight) every two weeks for an average of 32 months, 85.7% of patients showed improvement of anterior/posterior chamber inflammatory activity, usually after six weeks of treatment. Adalimumab treatment was considered effective according to Standardization of Uveitis Nomenclature (SUN) Working Group grading criteria in 60% of patients although four patients failed to respond at all. Efficacy tended to ebb over time.

“The results of the present study suggest that adalimumab is a reasonable first biological agent in cases of refractory noninfectious uveitis in children with good results and a reasonable side effect profile,” said lead investigator Luciano Bravo Ljubetic, MD, of the Ophthalmology Service of the Instituto de Investigacion Hospital Universitario La Paz (Spain). Only minor injection-site side effects were observed.

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Sequential GO and standard chemotherapy provides no benefit for older patients with AML according to EORTC/GIMEMA trial

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 22, 2013

Immunohistochemical diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia. A, Bone marrow aspirate shows increased blasts from patient with acute myeloid leukemia with inv(16) (Wright-Giemsa stain, ×50). B, Bone marrow biopsy from the same patient shows 100% cellularity with sheets of blasts (hematoxylin-eosin stain, ×40).

Immunohistochemical diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia. A, Bone marrow aspirate shows increased blasts from patient with acute myeloid leukemia with inv(16) (Wright-Giemsa stain, ×50). B, Bone marrow biopsy from the same patient shows 100% cellularity with sheets of blasts (hematoxylin-eosin stain, ×40).

Results of the randomized, phase III, EORTC/GIMEMA 06012 intergroup trial (AML-17) reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology show that sequential combination of gemtuzumab ozogamicin (GO) and standard chemotherapy provides no benefit for older patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and is too toxic for patients 70 years of age or more. GO is an antibody-drug conjugate comprised of an anti-CD33 monoclonal antibody linked to a cytotoxic agent.

Patients younger than 70 years with secondary acute myeloid leukemia might possibly benefit from such treatment. However, outcomes were significantly worse in the oldest age subgroup due to a higher risk of early mortality.

Prof. Sergio Amadori of the Tor Vergata University Hospital in Rome and Coordinator of this study says, “This large trial in older patients with AML is the third randomized study to assess the addition of GO to chemotherapy in elderly patients with AML. So, it is an important addition to the literature. Unlike the two trials published so far (French ALFA-0701, and UK NCRI AML16), a higher dose of GO was used, and the GO in induction was given before standard induction chemotherapy. This turns out to be an important difference. While, as shown by the former trials, the addition of low doses of GO to chemotherapy resulted in a survival benefit for older patients with better-risk disease, our study clearly indicates that an intensification strategy combining two upfront higher doses of GO with sequential induction chemotherapy is highly myelosuppressive and not beneficial in older patients, particularly in the oldest age cohort where induction response and survival rates are significantly compromised due to excess early mortality. On the basis of the available studies, there is plausible evidence that lower doses of GO as an adjunct to standard chemotherapy may offer better outcomes for these patients with limited alternatives.”

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A fresh solution for the problem lindane in the soil

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 22, 2013

At the UPV/EHU’s Department of Analytical Chemistry Itxaso San Román has studied whether iron nanoparticles can be applied to eliminate lindane, and how far they are capable of achieving this.

At the UPV/EHU’s Department of Analytical Chemistry Itxaso San Román has studied whether iron nanoparticles can be applied to eliminate lindane, and how far they are capable of achieving this.

For many years two companies located in Bizkaia, Bilbao Chemicals (Barakaldo 1947-1987) and Nexana (Erandio 1952-1982), had been manufacturing lindane and dumping it into the environment with no control whatsoever. Today we have become aware of the need to solve the problems caused by this dumping and the difficulty in achieving this since there is no viable process that will safely destroy the lindane mixed with the soil. A study by the UPV/EHU’s Department of Physical Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry in collaboration with Tecnalia has confirmed the hypothesis of the high reactive capacity of iron nanoparticles to degrade lindane. The study has been published in the prestigious journal Chemosphere.

Lindane has been routinely used among farmers as an insecticide and pesticide, and although its use has now been banned, the consequences of lindane manufacture and use have not disappeared. The risk posed by lindane lies in the fact that it is not only toxic, it can be accumulated in living organisms. From an environmental point of view, it has low solubility, high stability and high persistence and resistance to degradation in the environment.

Although there is as yet no viable process for safely destroying lindane, an innovative, efficient alternative is to use iron nanoparticles. Iron nanoparticles have shown themselves to be very effective as a decontaminating agent when it comes to handling various families of highly toxic compounds like lindane. However, they have a number of drawbacks that limit and hamper their application, since they oxidize easily in the presence of air and their tendency to agglomerate limits their mobility in the medium in which one is seeking to apply them. So the need to protect them is done by using Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), polyaspartate (PAP) and poly (acrylic acid) (PAA) as biodegradable polymer coatings.

From the laboratory to the land

“The main aim of our study was to validate on a laboratory scale whether these iron nanoparticles can be applied and whether they have the capacity to eliminate the lindane,” explained Itxaso San Román, member of the UPV/EHU’s Department of Analytical Chemistry. This requires advanced analytical techniques capable of monitoring the degradation process, which will take place in the presence of the various nanoparticles, determining the speed of the reaction and likewise detecting the possible by-products that are formed in the course of that reaction.

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The mysterious scarab beetles: 2 new species of the endangered ancient genus Gyronotus

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on October 22, 2013

This image shows a living G. Perissinottoi in its natural habitat.

This image shows a living G. Perissinottoi in its natural habitat.

Famous as the sacred beetles of ancient Egypt the scarab beetle group in fact represents much greater diversity around the globe. Some of the most vulnerable representatives are contained in the flightless genus Gyronotus, which currently includes six known species. A recent study published in the open access journal Zookeys describes two new species with unusual distribution from southern Africa. The two new species G. perissinottoi and G. schuelei both dwell in grasslands/savannas, while most of the other known species in the genus exhibit a preference for forest habitats. G. perissinottoi occurs in a small but biodiversity unique area in southern KwaZulu-Natal, in the beautiful Umthamvuna Nature Reserve. The second species, G. schuelei originates from western Swaziland and is currently known only from two specimens.

The representatives of the genus Gyronotus as well as several other genera of the tribe Canthonini, are regarded among the most endangered of the African Scarabaeinae because of their sensitivity to disturbance. Apart from G. glabrosus and the two newly described beetles, Gyronotus species are linked to coastal and low-lying forest habitats, which have undergone massive transformation during the past 50 years, through clearance, degradation and fragmentation.

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