1. Glowing E.coli could revolutionise medical diagnostics
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have engineered E. coli to turn bright green when they come into contact with certain chemicals. The team then created gloves and bandages out of an amalgam of hydrogel and a rubber-like material, and injected the re-engineered bacteria suspended in liquid into the moulded channels. The needle-hole was then sealed, trapping the cells inside.
Common lab chemicals were tested against them and after a few hours they began to turn an eerie green. The technology is not perfect yet and the authors of the paper are working to reduce the time taken for the bacteria to light up. Other molecules such as environmental toxins or biomarkers of disease have also yet to be tested. But if they succeed, the re-engineered E. coli could be used as a diagnostic tool.
2. Virtual syringe allows surgeons to practice injecting skin and muscle
A firm called FundamentalVR has created a virtual syringe allowing surgeons to practice injecting skin and muscle in surgical situations. The system runs on off-the-shelf equipment meaning that it is more affordable than existing surgical simulators such as those used to practice keyhole surgery. The company claims all the necessary hardware can be bought for less than £5,000.
The procedure is designed to work with a high-end computer and a HTC Vive headset. Motors in the stylus exert increasing resistance accordingly when the virtual syringe pushes against skin, muscle or bone. The system has been programmed to know the ideal injection pattern for the drug and scores surgeons based on how accurately they have administered it.
In the next few months, the simulation will be used in US hospitals by surgeons training to administer the drug during knee replacement surgery. The company plans to develop other simulations to mimic a range of surgical techniques using the same hardware.
3. Implanting pig organs to address birth defects in babies
A team at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London will be treating babies born with oesophageal astresia with modified pig organs next year. Around 10 children with this rare condition will receive pigs' food pipes which have been modified using stem cells taken from the babies just after they are born to prevent them from being rejected by the children's bodies.
Surgeon Paaolo De Coppi who led the development of the new treatment, said while pig organs have been used for heart valve replacements, but this technique is "completely new". His team hopes to implant the modified organs in the children when they are two to three months of age as the tissue engineering process takes about eight weeks. Each treatment costs around £100,000, but it is hoped that it will significantly lessen the risk of dangerous long-term complications.
4. Wearable sweat sensor to diagnose and monitor disease
A wristband-type wearable sweat sensor developed by researchers from the University of Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley, is able to measure blood sugar and monitor other bodily functions.
The two-part system of flexible sensors and microprocessors sticks to the skin to stimulate sweat glands and detects the presence of different molecular constituents such as glucose, sodium and other compounds in the sweat collected. The results are electronically transmitted for analysis and diagnostics.
The team has tested it out on individuals with cystic fibrosis and measured the blood sugar and minerals associated with the diseases. Such a device might be useful for monitoring a patient's response to drugs, they said. The prototype will be developed further to correlate measurements of blood sugar, lactase, potassium and other compounds taken from sweat to what doctors know of when blood is measured.
5. Rare frog mucus able to combat most influenza viruses
Scientists at Emory University have found that the mucus of a rare frog, Hydrophylax bahuvistara contain "host defence peptides" that are able to combat numerous strains of human flu, whilst protecting normal cells.
This could be the basis of a powerful new class of drugs to combat influenza, the team said. The peptide, "urumin", showed it could bind to a protein, hemagglutinin - that the virus needs to invade human cells - that is identical across "dozens" of strains of the disease, increasing its potential potency.
However, caution is urgent, as the Keralan amphibian as three out of four of the peptides found in the mucus were found to be toxic to humans. MIMS
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