Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tongue drives for wheelchairs and other health research news

I wrote "this week's news...took six installments to present[;] I don't think next week's will be so time consuming" at the end of Condoms and Florence Nightingale plus other health news.  That prediction has come to pass, as the health news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Comet ISON at perihelion) only required two installments, with the health care policy news in KPBS and others on the ACA for the week of Thanksgiving and the rest here.

Georgia Tech gets the featured position under my policy of "if it moves, it leads."  This is quite literally true in Georgia Tech Tongue Drive System.

Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair Outperforms Sip-and-Puff Wheelchairs
The Rambling Wrecks have more in Clinical Trial Shows Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair Outperforms Popular Wheelchair Navigation System, Posted November 27, 2013 | Atlanta, GA.
After a diving accident left Jason DiSanto paralyzed from the neck down in 2009, he had to learn how to navigate life from a powered wheelchair, which he controls with a sip-and-puff system. Users sip or puff air into a straw mounted on their wheelchair to execute four basic commands that drive the chair. But results from a new clinical study offer hope that sip-and-puff users like DiSanto could gain a higher level of independence than offered by this common assistive technology.

In the study, individuals with paralysis were able to use a tongue-controlled technology to access computers and execute commands for their wheelchairs at speeds that were significantly faster than those recorded in sip-and-puff wheelchairs, but with equal accuracy. This study is the first to show that the wireless and wearable Tongue Drive System outperforms sip-and-puff in controlling wheelchairs. Sip-and-puff is the most popular assistive technology for controlling a wheelchair.

The Tongue Drive System is controlled by the position of the user’s tongue. A magnetic tongue stud lets them use their tongue as a joystick to drive the wheelchair. Sensors in the tongue stud relay the tongue’s position to a headset, which then executes up to six commands based on the tongue position.
Follow over the jump for more health research from UCSD, Texas A&M, University of Georgia, and University of Massachusetts.

UCSD kicks off a section on pathogens with Quantitative Approaches Provide New Perspective on Development of Antibiotic Resistance By Kim McDonald.
November 28, 2013
Using quantitative models of bacterial growth, a team of UC San Diego biophysicists has discovered the bizarre way by which antibiotic resistance allows bacteria to multiply in the presence of antibiotics, a growing health problem in hospitals and nursing homes across the United States.

Two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a sobering report estimating that antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year caused more than two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths in the United States. Treating these infections, the report said, added $20 billion last year to our already overburdened health care system.

Many approaches are now being employed by public health officials to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria—such as limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock, controlling prescriptions of antibiotics and developing new drugs against bacteria already resistant to conventional drug treatments. But understanding how bacteria grow and evolve drug resistance could also help stop its spread by allowing scientists to target the process of evolution itself.

“Understanding how bacteria harboring antibiotic resistance grow in the presence of antibiotics is critical for predicting the spread and evolution of drug resistance,” the UC San Diego scientists say in an article published in the November 29 issue of the journal Science.
UCSD continues with Parasite Lost.
By targeting enzyme in mosquito-borne parasite, researchers aim to eliminate malaria
By Scott LaFee   
November 27, 2013
Using advanced methodologies that pit drug compounds against specific types of malaria parasite cells, an international team of scientists, including researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, have identified a potential new weapon and approach for attacking the parasites that cause malaria.

Their findings are published in the November 27, 2013 advanced online publication of Nature.
Next, a series of research releases about DNA, both its role in hereditary conditions and efforts to manipulate it.  UCSD again goes first with Using microRNA Fit to a T (cell).
Researchers show B cells can deliver potentially therapeutic bits of modified RNA
By Scott LaFee   
November 25, 2013
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have successfully targeted T lymphocytes – which play a central role in the body’s immune response – with another type of white blood cell engineered to synthesize and deliver bits of non-coding RNA or microRNA (miRNA).

The achievement in mice studies, published in this week’s online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may be the first step toward using genetically modified miRNA for therapeutic purposes, perhaps most notably in vaccines and cancer treatments, said principal investigator Maurizio Zanetti, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine and director of the Laboratory of Immunology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

“From a practical standpoint, short non-coding RNA can be used for replacement therapy to introduce miRNA or miRNA mimetics into tissues to restore normal levels that have been reduced by a disease process or to inhibit other miRNA to increase levels of therapeutic proteins,” said Zanetti.
University of Massachusetts, Worcester: Dekker Lab re-imagines how genomes are assembled
Using DNA interaction frequency data, UMMS faculty develop quicker, more accurate method for assembling complex genome sequences
By James Fessenden   
UMass Medical School Communications   
November 25, 2013
Scientists at UMass Medical School (UMMS) have developed a new method for piecing together the short DNA reads produced by next-generation sequencing technologies that are the basis for building complete genome sequences. Job Dekker, PhD, and colleagues have shown that entire genomes can be assembled faster and more accurately by measuring the frequency of interactions between DNA segments and by using their three-dimensional shape as a guide. Employing this technique, they have been able to place 65 previously unaccounted for DNA fragments in incomplete regions of the human genome.

Details of the study appear online in Nature Biotechnology.

“The ability of next-generation sequencing technologies to produce hundreds of millions of short reads of DNA sequences has been an incredible boon for biomedical researchers,” said Dr. Dekker, co-director of the Program in Systems Biology, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology and senior author of the study. “As these DNA sequences have become shorter and shorter, however, assembling complete genomes have become increasingly challenging. After 20 years of intense efforts, even the human genome still has gaps.
I'm fond of finding transitions, and Texas A&M University provides one between heredity and behavior with Obesity: Study shows you may be destined for it by Holly Lambert.
November 27, 2013
Inactivity and unhealthy eating habits are obvious contributing factors to obesity. To shed unwanted pounds, change your diet and increase activity. But research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) finds it may not be that simple.

With grant funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M IBT, and a team of colleagues from across Houston’s Texas Medical Center found the likelihood of adults developing obesity may be determined before birth.

“The DNA we inherit is like computer hardware. What runs the ‘computer’ is the software – the epigenome. In early life, as embryos or infants, this epigenetic programming is being “installed” on the genome of developing cells and tissues,” Walker explains. “Just like a computer, if the epigenetics – or software – isn’t installed correctly, the computer – or DNA – doesn’t work optimally.”
Finally, University of Massachusetts, Worcester begins a section on the neurology of behavior, cognition, and sensation with UMMS autism expert says new eye tracking research 'an important indicator'.
Teresa Mitchell believes study could lead to earlier interventions
By Ellie Castano
UMass Medical School Communications   
November 27, 2013
New research showing that infants who spent less time looking at people's eyes were more likely to be diagnosed with autism is an important indicator that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may not stem from congenital abnormalities and therefore may be modified by early intervention, according to Teresa V. Mitchell, PhD, a researcher at UMass Medical School's Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center who performs similar studies with older individuals with ASDs.

The study, published on Nov. 6 in the online edition of Nature, reports that researchers using eye-tracking technology found that infants later diagnosed with ASDs exhibit a "decline in eye fixation from 2 to 6 months of age, a pattern not observed in infants who do not develop autism spectrum disorders."

"This research documents the earliest evidence of a diverging developmental path for infants who go on to receive a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder," said Dr. Mitchell, who was not involved in this study.
University of Massachusetts: Factors Combine to Cause Hearing Problems in Middle Age, UMass Amherst Research Shows
November 25, 2013
AMHERST, Mass. ­– Results from a recent study of hearing in middle-aged and older adults conducted by hearing scientist Karen Helfer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggest that hearing loss is not the only factor playing a role as people experience age-related speech comprehension problems. Instead, declines in cognitive skills, particularly memory and processing speed, also contribute.

In this work, Helfer, an expert in aging and speech communication, studied the effect of hearing loss and cognitive abilities in middle-aged and older adults as they experienced a situation called “competing speech,” commonly encountered during this season when different generations gather around the holiday table.

Helfer’s study tested participants’ ability to understand a same-gender speaker in the presence of one or more background speakers. She says a great deal is known about how people in their 20s and 30s respond to competing speech and even about how adults older than 60 respond, “but ours is one of the very few investigations to study this situation in middle-aged adults, 45 to 59 years old.”
University of Georgia: New research shows promise for earlier, better dementia diagnosis
November 25, 2013
Athens, Ga. - Nearly 36 million people worldwide are estimated to currently have dementia. That number is expected to almost double every 20 years. Researchers are diligently working to find better, more accurate methods for earlier diagnosis.

According to recently published research from the University of Georgia's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology, scientists may be one step closer to a better biomarker for earlier detection of mild cognitive impairment, the leading predictor of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in older adults.

Psychology professor and Bio-Imaging Research Center director Stephen Miller, along with former graduate student Carlos Faraco, used fMRI brain scans-scans that give researchers not only a visual picture of the structure of the brain but also information about blood flow within the brain-to test the working memory of adults with normal healthy adult brains against those showing signs of mild cognitive impairment. The research was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
That's it for the week's health news.  It's time to start collecting next week's.

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