News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized forms.

1. OCPs may prevent arthritis in later life

Researchers in Sweden have suggested that women who consume the oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) are protected from developing arthritis in later life.

As rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets joints (twice as common in women as it is in men), the researchers believe the hormonal changes prompted by the pill may decrease the risk of suffering from the disease.

The study showed statistics that usage of the pill for seven or more years was associated with a 19% lower chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Women who have stopped using the pill also appeared to benefit from a protective after-effect, with a 13% lower risk of the condition. They go on to suggest that “further research is required to explore the biological mechanisms behind our findings.”

2. A 3D printer is all a doctor needs


Dr Julielynn Wong, a Harvard educated physician-scientist has 3D printed a medical supply in space. Using a laser hand scan saved from the fitting process for space gloves, some free software and a 3D printer on the International Space Station, she created a customised finger splint.

This was to combat the problem of packing light for deep-space missions. Hand injuries are particularly common in astronauts and finger splints may need to be worn for up to two months—only to be taken off once a day to clean the skin.

Dr Wong’s splints were guaranteed to work as she and her team had tested them against standard steel equivalents and were proven to work equally well. The 3D printed ones could be printed in space—or in rural or remote area were access to proper medical equipment is lacking. Now, she heads a company, 3D4MD that provides the software and templates for customisable medical equipment.

Dr Julielynn Wong with her 3-D printing tools for the malleable finger splint. Photo credit: 3D4MD
Dr Julielynn Wong with her 3-D printing tools for the malleable finger splint. Photo credit: 3D4MD

3. Mind control now a reality

Scientists from the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences have utilised a technique called “magneto-thermal” stimulation to control the brain of animals.

The process requires the implantation of specially built DNA strands and nanoparticles which attach to specific neurons. These can then be remotely controlled via an alternating magnetic field. Upon applying magnetic inputs, the particles heat up, causing the neurons to fire.

The researchers were able to control the movement of the mice, causing them to freeze, lock their limbs, turn around, or even run. The team believes this could have far-reaching implications in the field of brain research.

4. A coil to treat prosthetic infections

A thermal image shows that the alternating magnetic fields selectively heat the metal knee joint. Photo credit: UT Southwestern Medical Centre.
A thermal image shows that the alternating magnetic fields selectively heat the metal knee joint. Photo credit: UT Southwestern Medical Centre.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas are developing a treatment that uses alternating magnetic fields to kill bacteria that form on prosthetic joints—which requires multiple surgeries to remove.

The device is a solenoid coil that is commonly used in household items such as stoves or speakers. The heat generated from the alternating magnetic fields is administered in short-duration doses at high power. Safety testing in mice has shown that this does minimal damage to the surrounding tissue.

The right temperature and duration for the pulses of heat is still being calibrated for mice before testing begins on larger, weight-bearing animals, followed by human subjects.

The team hopes human trials could begin within two to three years and are still determining which implants to focus on.

5. Tweaking genes for a new tuberculosis vaccine

These bacteria, called Mycobacterium smegmatis, have been genetically modified with a kill switch—an artificial amino acid they require to proliferate. Left: switch off. Right: switch on. (Videos shot over 48-hour period.) Photo credit: Jeff Wagner/Harvard University/STAT News
These bacteria, called Mycobacterium smegmatis, have been genetically modified with a kill switch—an artificial amino acid they require to proliferate. Left: switch off. Right: switch on. (Videos shot over 48-hour period.) Photo credit: Jeff Wagner/Harvard University/STAT News

Genetically modifying tuberculosis to add “kill switches” might be the solution to a new tuberculosis vaccine. The efforts by Harvard University focuses at changing the genetic makeup of Mycobacterium smegmatis, which closely related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis—but grows faster and is not infectious.

The team targeted an enzyme that helps build the cell wall of the bacteria—and cannot live without the enzyme. However, the researchers are making sure that the enzyme cannot form without their help. The enzyme has been tweaked to require an artificial amino acid that is not found in nature. Upon withholding the amino acid, the bacteria begin to die.

They also linked this kill switch to the production of mint smelling compounds. This would ideally translate into scanning a person’s breath using chemical tests to identify the amount of mint compound it contains—revealing the amount of bacteria present. The strains are set to be tested in mice and monkeys, before being tested in people. MIMS

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Sources:
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/15/health/medical-3d-printing-body-smart/index.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/08/17/does-pill-prevent-arthritis-new-study-suggests-link/
https://www.statnews.com/2017/08/16/coil-prosthetic-infections/
http://nypost.com/2017/08/21/scientists-can-now-hack-a-brain-to-control-body-movements/
https://www.statnews.com/2017/08/18/tuberculosis-vaccine-bacteria-genetic-engineering/