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

1. PET helmet to quickly identify brain injury in stroke or trauma victims

Scientists from the West Virginia University developed a transportable brain-scanning helmet that could be used for rapid brain injury assessments of stroke or trauma victims.

The wearable device, known as the PET helmet, is a downscaled version of the hospital positron emission tomography (PET) scanner and is the size of a motorbike helmet. It produces detailed images, enough to identify regions of brain trauma quickly.

This allows for quicker diagnosis and could make the difference between a positive outcome and brain damage or fatality for some patients. The device is currently being tested on healthy volunteers and is expected to be clinically available in two years.

2. Salmonella can attack tumour cells as well

Traditionally the cause of food poisoning, salmonella is able to kill cancer as well. A genetically-altered version of the bacteria was developed to attack tumour cells only, the latest example of advancements in a new field of cancer treatment called 'bacteriotherapy'.

The researchers from Chonnam University in South Korea carried out experiments on mice with colon cancer and the modified version of salmonella significantly reduced the size of tumours. The bacteria also created 'flags' that guides the immune system to target the cancerous tumours.

"The engineered bacteria induced an effective anti-tumour immune response, successfully treating tumours in several different mouse models with no evidence of toxicity," said lead researcher Jin Hai Zheng.

3. Two new drug therapies could cure all forms of tuberculosis

Two new drug therapies - BPaMZ and BPaL - could cure all forms of tuberculosis, including antibiotic-resistant ones.

BPaMz involves taking four drugs once a day and trials have shown that it cures almost all cases of ordinary TB in four months, and most patients with drug-resistant TB in approximately six months. There were no signs of TB bacterium from sputum within two months in most cases.

BPaL, on the other hand, involves taking three drugs once a day and trials have shown that 40 of 69 patients with "extremely-drug-resistant TB" recovered within six months. The remaining 29 patients are still to be assessed.

Together, BPaMZ can treat the 99% of people who catch TB each year, while BPaL could treat the remainder of the more extreme cases. But larger trials are needed to confirm effectiveness and global use - at least three years.

4. Novel method of drug synthesis doubles yield of end-product

Researchers from Cardiff University have developed a new "highly-efficient" method of synthesising drugs - including an anti-malaria drug compound known as sesquiterpenes.

Sesquiterpenes are very sticky, usually bound to the enzyme that produces them, making them time-consuming, expensive and very difficult to synthesise in the lab. A "batch reaction" in a flask usually separates them, but the team used winding plastic tubes, yielding twice the amount of end-products.

This squeezes solutions containing the enzymes and compounds with other liquids in alternating drops through the tubes, creating thousands of segments for the compounds to mix, react and separate. The end-product is collected at the end.

5. Snail venom compound creates treatment options for chronic pain

A compound found in the venom of a Conus regius snail is suggested as a treatment for chronic pain by scientists from the University of Utah Health Sciences.

The compound, Rg1A, is normally used to paralyse to kill its prey but research on rats treated with a chemotherapy drug that causes hypersensitivity to cold and touch showed that the compound acted as a painkiller with an active phase of up to three days.

The researchers suggest that it may be possible to create a new pain therapy for patients who have run out of options.

6. Rotatable pinchable claw to revolutionise laparoscopic surgeries

FlexDex Surgical, a University of Michigan start-up, has designed a new "needle driver" known as FlexDex to precisely mimic the motions of a surgeon's wrist, without electronics or computerised components.

The apparatus has a gyroscopic handle that allows rotations, twists and be angled in three dimensions, while the rest of the device stays still. Those motions are translated through a cable to the tip, where a two-pronged clamp mimics the movements.

The pinchable claw and precise rotation allows internal suturing and according to the team, the movements are not inverted like other instruments due to the device's centre of rotation being in the same spot as the human wrist.

The device allows minimally invasive surgery, improving recovery rates and reducing trauma and pain for the patient. It is still in the midst of being approved by the FDA but is only a couple of years away from being commercially available. MIMS

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