News Bites brings you 6 weekly news in bite-sized form.

1. Tadpoles with eyes-on-tail might revolutionise bioengineering of organs

Video credit: New Scientist

Scientists from Tufts University's Allen Discovery Centre have successfully allowed blind tadpoles to learn to see again, using eyes implanted on their tails. The team believe that the same approach may work in humans, allowing the body to integrate bioengineered organs.

With help from a migraine drug, Zolmitriptan, the eyes were able to grow new nerve connections to the tadpole's nervous system. The drug activates a class of serotonin receptors that trigger electrical activity in cells - something the team previously discovered to encourage the growth of neurons.

The research presents implications for scientists' ability to restore vision and also provides insight on how to connect implants and grafts to the body's own wiring. But currently, it only works on tadpoles.

2. Cap-like device improves survival rates for brain cancer patients

Joyce Endresen wears an Optune therapy device for brain cancer, as she speaks on a phone at work in Aurora, Ill. Photo credit: Carrie Antlfinger/AP
Joyce Endresen wears an Optune therapy device for brain cancer, as she speaks on a phone at work in Aurora, Ill. Photo credit: Carrie Antlfinger/AP

A cap-like device called Optune has been proven to fight cancer and improve survival rates for adults with glioblastoma multiforme by emitting electric fields. The therapy called tumour treating fields is used with chemotherapy after surgery and radiation to prevent recurrence of tumours and stresses that it is not a cure.

Results show that 13% of patients were alive five years after undergoing the therapy, whereas for those that did not, only 5% of patients were alive. Patients use the device at least 18 hours a day and only feel mild heat, but the device creates low-intensity, alternating electric fields that disrupt cell division, making cells die. Normal cells are unharmed as they do not divide as often as cancer cells, therefore in theory it mostly harms the disease and not the patient.

However, many doctors are skeptical of the therapy, not to mention it costs USD21,000 a month.

3. Lung probe to prevent misuse of antibiotics

Researchers hope Proteus could help prevent bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Photo credit: University of Edinburgh
Researchers hope Proteus could help prevent bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Photo credit: University of Edinburgh

Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Bath, have developed a lung probe that is able to diagnose bacterial infections within 60 seconds to prevent the unnecessary use of antibiotics in intensive care units.

The probe, known as the Proteus, uses chemicals that light up when they attach to specific types of bacterial infection. The fluorescence is then detected using fibre-optic tubes that are small enough to be threaded inside patients' lungs.

This offers a faster and more precise way of diagnosing compared to current reliance on X-rays and blood tests.

4. Gene-silencing drug decreases LDL levels by 51%

Researchers from Imperial College London have developed a drug known as inclisiran that they say is able to reduce cholesterol levels by up to 51%. The drug works by binding to the mRNA, causing the translation of the gene into a protein to be lost.

"By breaking the link, the message between the gene and translating the message into a protein, you silence the gene," Professor Kosh Ray, lead author of the study said.

Ray and his colleagues administered inclisiran or a placebo to 497 patients with high levels of low-density lipoprotein. Many of the participants were receiving statins (73%) and 31% were receiving ezetimibe at the beginning of the study.

The one-dose time-average reduction in LDL was 41.9% at 9 months, with a further improvement of 10% with two doses. This eliminated patient compliance problems.

5. One-shot vaccinations for newborns might become reality

Multiple booster shots are given to babies in their first few years of their life as newborns are highly vulnerable to infections and do not respond optimally to most vaccines as their immature immune systems usually mount weak antibody responses.

Scientists at Boston Children's Hospital might have a solution for this, with a one-shot vaccination. They added compounds called adjuvants to a pneumococcal vaccine, which stimulates a set of receptors on white blood cells. The adjuvants were also configured chemically with lipid "tails" that makes them hydrophobic. This keeps them from entering the bloodstream, where it can cause flu-like symptoms or inflammation.

When tested on on rhesus monkeys, it was shown by day 28 to elevate antibody levels from 10 to 100 times more compared to onkeys that received the conventional pneumococcal vaccine. The vaccine still needs to undergo human clinical trials.

6. UroLift addresses enlarged prostates problem

Small UroLift implants are permanently placed to lift or hold the enlarged prostate tissue out of the way and increase the opening of the urethra. The device is then removed so symptoms can be relieved. Photo credit: UroLift
Small UroLift implants are permanently placed to lift or hold the enlarged prostate tissue out of the way and increase the opening of the urethra. The device is then removed so symptoms can be relieved. Photo credit: UroLift

Many men suffer from benign prostatichyperplasia (BPH), which compresses the urethra, making it difficult to urinate or increases the frequency of urination.

Now, doctors have come up with a non-invasive surgical procedure called UroLift, meant to lift or hold the enlarged prostate tissue so that it no longer blocks the urethra. Urolift has a 90% success rate and can be conducted without general anaesthesia.

A device is inserted through the obstructed urethra to access the enlarged prostate before tiny implants to hold the prostate lobes apart are placed. This relieves the compression on the urethra and usually allows the patients to return home the same day without a catheter. MIMS

Read more:
News Bites: Smartphones can test semen quality, Lungs have been found to produce blood
News Bites: 80,000 EpiPens recalled due to faulty mechanism, FDA approves first drug for Parkinson's in a decade
News Bites: Pill-sized device squirts vaccines through inner cheeks, Robotic patient simulators now show emotion

Sources:
https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/30/tadpoles-see-through-tails/
https://www.statnews.com/2017/04/02/cancer-therapy-brain-tumors/
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-39433013
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/877397
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170323105818.htm
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/03/26/urolift-offering-patients-with-enlarged-prostate-quick-relief.html