1. AI to monitor and track hospital hygiene practicesResearchers from Stanford University have developed a system that utilises depth cameras and computer vision – to observe activity on hospital wards. This is an attempt to track hygienic practices of hospital staff and visitors to identify behaviours that might contribute to the spread of infection.
Depth cameras are placed in various places – in hallways, patient rooms and near hand sanitising dispenser – across two hospital wards. Videos were collected over the course of one very busy hour in the hospital. Overall, 80% of the video was used to develop tracking algorithms, while the remaining 20% was used to test the algorithms.
A shocking 30 out of 170 people who entered patient rooms were found to follow correct hand hygiene protocol. The algorithms were found to be 75% as accurate; as humans in deciphering those who followed protocol from watching the video playback. Compared to observations made by people in hospital wards recording hand sanitation practices on the ground, the algorithms were more accurate.
Moving forward, three hospitals will be fitted for an entire year to see if the technology will help improve infection rates.
2. A beating Band-Aid for the heart
Supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), George Pins, a biomedical engineering professor and his team are developing a patch comprising heart cells that may help a patient heal after a heart attack.
So far, the team has succeeded with rat heart cells and are trying with human cells soon. Dead heart tissue is cut out and replaced with a personalised patch of hair-thin threads embedded in custom-grown heart cells.
A thread of proteins and enzymes are created before being submerged into a chemical bath. The chemicals increase the elasticity of the thread. This is known as the wet-stretching technique.
The thread is then stretched across a cardboard box so that is triples in length before being left to dry overnight. These threads provide the structure for the patch, which comprise threads resting in a gel of heart cells and other chemicals.
To be successful in the long-term, the patch will also need an oxygen supply to stay alive as blood vessels are unable to grow in from the sides.
Pin’s colleague Glenn Gaudette might hold the answer to that by using spinach leaves. In March, Gaudette showed that the skeleton structure of spinach leaves could act as a network of veins to deliver blood.
3. Injectable biodegradable patch to repair heart tissue after heart attack
Another team of researchers from the University of Toronto Engineering are also attempting to mend heart tissue destroyed after a heart attack.
The team have developed a technique that allows the repair patch to be injected into the heart.
Professor Milica Radisic who leads the team, has previously created the AngioChip, which is a tiny patch of heart tissue with its own blood vessels. It has been already used to test potential drug candidates for side effects, but the long-term goal of implanting them back into the body to repair damage is still not fulfilled.
The patch, seeded with real heart cells, is injected through the needle and unfolds based on shape-memory behaviour. The scaffold is made of biocompatible, biodegradable polymer that will leave behind new tissue. The patch has been tried on rat and pig hearts and proved to improve cardiac function after a heart attack.
The patch is still being assessed for long-term stability and whether improved cardiac function can be maintained.
4. “A double breakthrough” – Vitamin B3 could prevent miscarriages and birth defectsDeemed “a double breakthrough”, researchers from the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney are suggested that consuming Vitamin B3 could prevent miscarriages and birth defects.
The DNA of four families – where the mothers suffered from multiple miscarriages or had babies born with multiple birth defects (e.g. heart, kidney, vertebrae and cleft palate problems) – were analysed.
Mutations in two genes were identified to be the source of the problem, causing the child to be deficient in Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). The molecule allows cells to generate energy and organs to develop normally.
The team replicated these mutations in mice and found that they could be corrected when given niacin (vitamin B3).
However, other experts say this cannot be translated into recommendations for pregnant women, as the doses in the research were 10 times the recommended daily doses for supplementation in women. As the side-effects of such a dosage have yet to be determined, the team aims to study that next.
5. FDA may approve first gene therapy in US, CTL019 in SeptemberThe US FDA may approve a gene therapy treatment for leukaemia “CTL019” in September. If approved, it will be the first gene therapy allowed for clinical use in the US – and fourth in the world after Glybera and Strimvelis – approved in Europe and Gendicine in China.
CTL019 is a personalised drug developed by the University of Pennsylvania and marketed by Novartis. A single shot of immune cells are reprogrammed to kill the patient’s specific leukaemic cells.
Clinical trials have shown remarkable results – complete remission was seen in 90% of patients in the first round of trials in 30 patients. A later trial that included 50 patients showed a similar remission rate, which is very high for acute B-lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
Families of children with ALL, whose lives were saved by CTL019 have strongly advocated for its approval. MIMS
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