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

1. British study suggests foetuses respond to face-like patterns

34-week-old foetuses have been found to respond to a pattern of lights that resembled a human face than on the same lights configured to look nothing like a face.

The new research by a team at Lancaster University suggests that foetuses have the ability to discern faces when they are still in the womb.

Previous studies have shown that foetuses in the third trimester are able to see red light. Therefore, the researchers used three dots of red light and arranged them in an upside-down triangle ̶ two bright red dots next to each other at the top and one at the bottom, oriented like two eyes and a mouth.

It was found that foetuses seemed to turn towards and follow the red dots more frequently and longer than they did when the lights were flipped upside down, not looking like a face.

The results need to be confirmed by follow-up experiments but experts not involved in the experiment say the findings are a significant advance in understanding early human sight development and provide some insight if the brain has the ability to integrate information across senses very early on, prior to birth.

2. Implanting pig cells into brains to slow down Parkinson's Disease

Each capsule implanted in the brain contains roughly 1000 pig cells. Photo credit: Living Cell Technologies
Each capsule implanted in the brain contains roughly 1000 pig cells. Photo credit: Living Cell Technologies

Living Cell Technologies in Auckland, New Zealand, has been developing a treatment for Parkinson's disease, using cells from the choroid plexus in pigs. The brain structure produces a concoction of growth factors and signalling molecules known to help keep nerve cells healthy.

The company harvested cells from the brain structure, placed them in a porous coating of alginate and implanted it into the brains of people who were suffering from early stages of Parkinson's Disease.

Each capsule is half a millimetre wide and contains around 1,000 pig cells. In the first small trial, four people had 40 capsules implanted in one side of the brain.

An average improvement among these people of 14 points, measured against a 199-point scale of symptom severity ̶ which gauges things such as how well people can walk and cut up their food ̶ was recorded. The improvements were maintained over a long period of 18 months.

The company is carrying out larger trials with up to 120 capsules implanted in both sides of the brains. The results are due in November.

3. Aspirin can lower breast cancer risk, study suggests

A long-term use of low-dose aspirin can lower breast cancer risk for women with diabetes, researchers from Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan, suggest.

The team identified 148,739 women who had been diagnosed with diabetes, from the National Health Insurance Research Database in Taiwan. Over 14 years of follow-up, the researchers assessed the incidence of breast cancer among women who were consuming a daily low-dose of aspirin ̶ 75 to 165 milligrams per day.

They were found to have an 18% lower risk of breast cancer over 14 years, compared to the women who did not take low-dose aspirin every day.

At a high cumulative dose of aspirin over 14 years ̶ defined as at least 88,900 milligrammes ̶ the women had a 47% reduced breast cancer risk. The findings remain after taking into account other possible confounding factors such as the age of participants and the presence of other illnesses. However, the precise mechanisms behind the association are unclear.

4. NHS launches world's first trial of 3D printed bionic hands for children

The NHS has launched the world's first trial of 3D printed bionic hands for children. The new type of prosthesis has been designed to be produced at a fraction of a cost of current models.

Bristol-based firm Open Bionics is working in collaboration with the NHS to treat 10 children at a local hospital during the six-month trial. The hands cost £5,000, and utilises cutting-edge 3D scanning and printing techniques, cutting down manufacturing time to a day and ensures a good fit for the children.

The hand is made up of four separate parts, custom-built to fit the patient using scans for their body. Sensors are attached to the skin to detect the user's muscle movements to control the hand and open and close the fingers.

There is also a royalty-free agreement between Disney and the company that allows the devices to be based off characters from Iron Man, Frozen and Star Wars.

If the trial succeeds, the team will be able to apply for a grant of £1 million to offer the product at NHS clinics across the country.

5. Photosynthetic bacteria may reduce heart damage during heart attack

Photosynthetic bacteria could be the answer to reducing heart damage during a heart attack, a new study in rats reveals. When freshwater cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus was injected into rats' hearts which were starved of oxygen for 60 minutes and had a light shone on it to induce photosynthesis – less heart damage was seen 24 hours later. Improved heart function was also seen four weeks later.

In a different test, the researchers found that performing the therapy in the light resulted in almost a 30% increase in cardiac output compared to performing it in the dark. The injection also did not set off an immune response in rats.

This would provide alternate ways to get oxygen to heart muscle when blood flow is obstructed during a heart attack. However, if such a technique were to be used on humans, it would have to be modified to be less invasive and a way to shine light on the bacteria without exposing the heart needs to be devised. MIMS

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