Spinal Cord Injuries & Venus Transit | SciByte 49

Spinal Cord Injuries & Venus Transit | SciByte 49

We take a look at new rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries, nanotech medical diagnosis, Guinness bubbles, tomato’s, a quiet room, tornado map, spacecraft updates and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Spinal Cord injury treatment

YouTube channel Sergeytule | Credit: Courtesy of EPFL

  • The low down
  • Most spinal injuries in people do not sever the spinal cord completely
  • Spinal injuries cause paralysis because they sever or crush nerve fibers that connect the brain to neurons in the spinal cord that move muscles throughout the body
  • These fibers, or axons, are the long extensions that convey signals from one end of a neuron to another, and unfortunately, they don’t regrow in adults
  • Restoring axons’ ability to regrow using growth factors, stem cells, or other therapies has been a longstanding and elusive goal for researchers.
  • Significance
  • To approximate a spinal injury in rats, researchers made two surgical cuts in the spinal cord, severing all of the direct connections from the brain, but leaving some tissue intact in between the cuts (it wouldn’t work for a completely severed cord)
  • The rats then began a rehab regime intended to bypass the fractured freeway, as it were, by pushing more traffic onto neural back roads and building more of them
  • The physical therapy began about a week after the rats were injured, and lasted about 30 minutes a day
  • During each session, the researchers injected the animals with a cocktail of drugs to improve the function of rats’ neural circuits in the part of the spinal cord involved in leg movements
  • They then stimulated this area with electrodes to prime the spinal cord for action
  • A rat was then fitted into a harness attached to a robotic device that supported its weight and allowed it to walk forward on its hind legs to the extent that it was able
  • At first, the rats could not move their legs at all, after 2 or 3 weeks, the rodents began taking steps toward a piece of food after a gentle nudge from the robot
  • By 5 or 6 weeks, they were able to initiate movement on their own and walk to get the food
  • After a few additional weeks of intensified rehab, they were able to walk up rat-sized stairs and climb over a small barrier placed in their path
  • Rats suspended over a moving treadmill that elicited reflex-like stepping movement
  • The amount of recovery depending on making intentional movements, not just any movement
  • Additional experiments in the paper make a compelling case that the rats’ recovery is due to new neural connections forming to create a detour around the injury
  • This study suggests that all three components of the rehab strategy are needed; the drugs, the electrical stimulation, and the robot-assisted physical therapy
  • Of Note
  • A case study published last year reported some recovery of voluntary movements in a man paralyzed in a vehicle accident, after he underwent a combination of electrical stimulation and physical therapy
  • Two more patients are undergoing similar rehab now, and his group hopes to add drug therapy to enhance nerve repair in the future
  • For the rats they could only make voluntary movements while the electrical stimulation was turned on, and the same was mostly true of the human patient in case study
  • YouTube
  • Robotic Rehab Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk Again | Sergeytule
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Robotic Rehab Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk Again | news.sciencemag.org


Nanotechnology meets medical diagnosis

Credit: Stephen Chou/Analytical Chemistry

  • The low down
  • A common biological test called immunoassay, mimics the action of the immune system to detect the presence of biomarkers
  • When biomarkers are present they produce a fluorescent glow (light) that can be measured in a laboratory
  • The greater the glow, the more of the biomarker is present; however, if the amount of biomarker is too small, the fluorescent light is too faint to be detected
  • Princeton researchers have tackled this limitation by using nanotechnology to greatly amplify the faint fluorescence
  • Significance
  • The key to the breakthrough lies in a new artificial nanomaterial called D2PA
  • The new material consists of a series of glass pillars in a layer of gold, speckled on their sides with gold dots and capped with a gold disk.
  • The sides of each pillar are speckled with even tinier gold dots about 10 to 15 nanometers in diameter Each pillar is just 60 nanometers in diameter, 1/1,000th the width of a human hair
  • The pillars are spaced 200 nanometers apart and capped with a disk of gold on each pillar
  • Using this material laboratory test used to detect disease and perform biological research could be made more than 3 million times more sensitive
  • Increased performance could greatly improve the early detection of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders by allowing doctors to detect far lower concentrations of telltale markers than was previously practical.
  • Of Note
  • When a sample such as blood, saliva or urine is added to small glass vials containing antibodies that are designed to “capture” or bind to biomarkers of interest in the sample
  • Another set of antibodies that have been labeled with a fluorescent molecule are then added to the mix
  • When biomarkers are not present in the vials the fluorescent detection antibodies do not attach to anything and are washed away
  • This new technology could play a significant role in other areas of chemistry and engineering, from light-emitting displays to solar energy harvesting
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Nanotechnology breakthrough could dramatically improve medical tests


The rise and fall of Guinness bubbles

Credit : E. S. Benilov, et al.

  • The low down
  • Why do the bubbles in a glass of stout beer such as Guinness sink while the beer is settling, even though the bubbles are lighter than the surrounding liquid?
  • Stout beers such as Guinness foam due to a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen bubbles, while other beers foam due only to carbon dioxide bubbles
  • In 2004 high-speed photography proved that bubbles do indeed sink
  • Significance
  • Simulations of the elongated vortices in a pint glass, where bubbles sink near the glass wall, and an anti-pint glass, where bubbles rise near the wall
  • A team of mathematicians from the University of Limerick has shown that the sinking bubbles result from the shape of a pint glass
  • As the glass narrows downwards and causes a circulation pattern that drives both fluid and bubbles downwards at the wall of the glass
  • It is not just the bubbles themselves that are sinking (in fact, they’re still trying to rise), but the entire fluid is sinking and pulling the bubbles down with it.
  • Of Note
  • Researchers are still uncertain of the specific mechanism responsible for reducing the bubble density near the wall for the pint geometry and increasing it for the anti-pint one.
  • The same flow pattern occurs with other types of beers, but the larger carbon dioxide bubbles are less subject to the downward drag than the smaller nitrogen bubbles in stout beers.
  • For a tilted straight-sided glass the side in the direction of the tilt represents the normal situation of a pint glass, while the opposite side is the “anti-pint” – and bubbles can be seen to both rise and fall in the same glass.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Irish mathematicians explain why Guinness bubbles sink | Phys.org
  • Falling stout bubbles explained | BBC News

You say tomato I say potato?

  • The low down
  • The genome of the tomato has been sequenced one from the “Heinz 1706” tomato as well as the sequence of a wild relative
  • Researchers report that tomatoes possess some 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes
  • Significance
  • The team has captured virtually all the genes for various characteristics, such as taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content
  • Now that the genome sequence of one variety of tomato is known, it will also be easier and much less expensive for seed companies and plant breeders to sequence other varieties
  • The sequencing of the tomato genome has implications for other plant species such as Strawberries, apples, melons, bananas and many other fleshy fruits, share some characteristics with tomatoes
  • Information about the genes and pathways involved in fruit ripening can potentially be applied to them, helping to improve food quality, food security and reduce costs
  • Of Note
  • The gene sequencing confirms that the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable
  • The tomato shares 92% of its more than 34,000 protein-coding genes with its close relative, the recently sequenced potato
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Tomato genome fully sequenced | phys.org
  • ScienceShot: Tapping the Tomato’s Secrets | news.sciencemag.org

Hear your own heart beat

Credit: Renee Jones Schneider / Minneapolis Star Tribune.

56 years of Tornado’s

Credit: John Nelson

  • The low down
  • Using information from data.gov, tech blogger John Nelson has created this spectacular image of tornado paths in the US over a 56 year period
  • The storms are categorized by F-scale with the brighter neon lines representing more violent storms
  • The tracker shows straight lines, but it is only because the data used in this study only tracked start and stop points
  • Also provided are some stats on all the storms in the different categories
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Stunning Visualization of 56 Years of Tornadoes in the US | UniverseToday.com
  • Data.gov


Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo receives permit

Credit: VirginGalactic YouTube Channel | Credit: TSC

  • The low down
  • Virgin Galactic’s flight system consists of two vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft
  • SpaceShipTwo is designed to launch six passengers and two pilots into suborbital space and offer a few minutes of weightlessness, then return to Earth
  • Significance
  • Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space tourism vehicle has won U.S. regulatory approval to begin powered flight testing of the rocket-propelled craft later this year
  • The experimental launch permit from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorizes the Scaled Composites development team "to progress to the rocket-powered phase of test flight
  • Before the rocket-powered testing phase they will perform aerodynamic performance of the spacecraft with the full weight of the rocket motor system on board
  • Integration of key rocket motor components, already begun during a now-concluding period of downtime for routine maintenance, will continue in the autumn
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Video : SS2 First Feather Flight, Mojave, May 2011)
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • FAA Clears Virgin Galactic to Begin SpaceShipTwo Rocket Test Flights | Space.com

GRAIL Moon mission extension

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT

Dragon SpaceCraft Splashdown

Credit: YouTube Channel ReelNASA


Looking back

  • June 09 1822 : 190 years ago : False teeth : Charles Graham received the first patent for false teeth. His were not the first false teeth in use, however. In the Colonial years, rotten teeth were considered the cause of many illnesses, and they would be extracted. Varied ways of replacing them were tried. For example, George Washington had at least four sets of false teeth (though none were wooden, despite a myth to that effect). Washington’s first dentures were made using human teeth inserted into carved ivory. In 1789, dentist John Greenwood of New York, made Washington another set from gold, hippo teeth, and hippo and elephant ivory. The one natural remaining tooth was a molar, and a hole was left for that.
  • June 08 1937 : 75 years ago : Titan Arum : A specimen of the world’s largest flower, first bloomed in the U.S. in the NY Botanical Garden. The giant Sumatran Titan Arum, Amorphophallus titanum, measured 8½-ft high and 4-ft diam. Its putrid rotting-corpse fragrance repelled visitors. Native in Sumatran jungles of Indonesia, it is known there as the “corpse flower.” Dr. Odoardo Beccari, an Italian botanist, was the first western expert to find the Titan Arum in the Pading Province during 1878. Seeds he sent back to his patron, the Marchese Corsi Salviati were grown in Italy, and a few plants were at Beccari’s request sent to Kew Gardens in England in 1879. One of those seedlings flowered in June 1887. Another plant bloomed there in 1926, to wide attention.

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