Sleep Apnea & Heart Defect Treatments | SciByte 115

Sleep Apnea & Heart Defect Treatments | SciByte 115

We take a look at breast-cancer therapy research, a new sleep apnea treatment, biomedical glue, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Breast-Cancer Therapy Research

  • A new breast-cancer therapy partially reverses the cancerous state in cultured breast tumor cells and prevents cancer development in mice, the therapy emerged from a sophisticated effort to reverse-engineer gene networks to identify genes that drive cancer
  • Current Treatment Options
  • To date the only way to stop cancer cells has been to kill them.
  • The treatments that accomplish that, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, often damage healthy tissue, causing harsh side effects
  • Many women currently undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a precaution, who might never develop the disease
  • In addition some women with a high hereditary risk of breast cancer have chosen to undergo preemptive mastectomies.
  • A therapy that heals rather than kills cancerous tissue could potentially help all these patients, as well as men who develop the disease
  • Identifying Problem Genes
  • First they had to identify the culprit genes among the thousands that are active in a cell at any moment
  • When molecular biologists typically are looking for cancer-causing genes, they search for individual genes that become active as cancer develops, but because genes in cells work in complex networks
  • With this process however, cells that are not cancer-causing often get labeled as such as well
  • To improve the odds of finding the real culprits, a systems biology expert who has developed a sophisticated mathematical and computational method to reverse-engineer bacterial gene networks.
  • Computational Method
  • They were able to hone the computational network to work for the first time on the more complex gene networks of mice and humans
  • The refined method helped the scientists spot more than 100 genes that acted suspiciously just before milk-duct cells in the breast begin to overgrow
  • The team narrowed their list down to six genes that turn other genes on or off, and then narrowed it further to a single gene called HoxA1 that had the strongest statistical link to cancer
  • The HocA1 Gene
  • Researchers wanted to know if blocking the HoxA1 gene could reverse cancer in lab-grown cells, so they grew healthy mouse or human cells in a nutrient-rich, tissue-friendly gel
  • Healthy cells in the gel formed hollow spheres of cells akin to a normal milk duct, cancerous cells, in contrast, packed together into solid, tumor-like spheres.
  • When they treated cancerous cells with a short piece of RNA called a small interfering RNA (siRNA) that blocks only the HoxA1 gene the cells reversed their march to malignancy
  • It stopped the runaway growth and forming hollow balls as healthy cells do, in addition they specialized as if they were growing in healthy tissue
  • The siRNA treatment also stopped breast cancer in a line of mice genetically engineered to have a gene that causes all of them to develop cancer
  • Researchers packed the siRNA into nanoparticles called lipidoids that allow for genes to be silenced for weeks inside the body
  • When they injected these nanoparticles, the treated mice remained healthy, while untreated mice developed breast cancer
  • The Future
  • The idea would be to start the treatment early on and sustain it throughout life to prevent cancer development or progression
  • The same strategy could lead to many new therapies that disable cancer-causing genes no current drugs can stop, and it also can be used to find therapies for other diseases
  • The findings open up the possibility of someday treating patients who have a genetic propensity as more women than ever are undergoing early tests that reveal precancerous breast tissue
  • Early diagnosis could potentially save lives; however, few of those lesions go on to become tumors and doctors have no good way of predicting which ones will turn malignant
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Novel noninvasive therapy prevents breast cancer formation in mice |


Sleep Apnea Medical Device

  • Implantation of a sleep apnea device called Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation (UAS) therapy can lead to significant improvements for patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
  • Affects more than 8 million men and 4 million women in the U.S. and is twice as common in men
  • Is characterized by repeated episodes of upper airway collapse during sleep, due to narrowing or blockage
  • Patients with OSA stop breathing, known as apnea, frequently during sleep, often for a minute or longer
  • Repeated episodes of apnea can lead to daytime fatigue, and increase a person\’s risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and even death.
  • Current Treatments for OSA
  • Include weight loss, upper airway surgeries, oral appliances, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is considered the primary treatment for OSA
  • CPAP is a successful treatment when used on a regular basis
  • As many as half of the patients who have been prescribed CPAP are unable to use it regularly, largely due to discomfort with the mask and/or the lack of desire to be tethered to a machine
  • Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation (UAS) Therapy
  • Differs from other traditional sleep apnea devices and surgical procedures as it targets the muscle tone of the throat rather than just the anatomy
  • The device is designed to sense breathing patterns and deliver mild stimulation to a patient\’s airway muscles to keep the airway open during sleep.
  • Surgical implantation of the upper-airway stimulation system was performed by otolaryngologists at 22 academic and private centers
  • Stimulation electrode was placed on the hypoglossal nerve, which provides innervation to the muscles of the tongue
  • The device was implanted in three areas, a sensing lead was placed between rib muscles to detect breathing effort, a neurostimulator was implanted in the upper right chest, just below the clavicle bone
  • Two thirds of patients using the Inspire UAS therapy device had successful control of their OSA, even more reported improvement in snoring, daytime sleepiness and quality of life measures
  • The Study
  • This was the first trial to evaluate the use of upper airway stimulation for sleep apnea
  • Conducted at 22 medical centers in the United States and Europe
  • From 724 candidates initially screened, the STAR trial implanted and prospectively evaluated 126 moderate-to-severe OSA patients who had difficulty using or adhering to CPAP therapy:
  • All patients underwent surgery to implant the device, 83 percent of the participants were men, the mean age was 54.5 years, and the mean body-mass index was 28.4.
  • Patients used a \”controller\” to turn on the device at night, so it is only used when the patient sleeps
  • Long Term
  • Eighty-six percent of patients were still using the device every night at the one year mark, which compares very favorably to CPAP
  • Using various sleep-disorder measuring systems, patients were found to experience 68 to 70 percent fewer sleep-apnea episodes per hour
  • After one year, patients using the device had an approximately 70 percent reduction in sleep apnea severity, as well as significant reductions in daytime sleepiness
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Dr. Soose explains sleep apnea clinical trial | UPMC
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • New device can reduce sleep apnea episodes by 70 percent, study shows |


Glue for the Heart

  • In a preclinical study, researchers developed a bio-inspired adhesive that could rapidly attach biodegradable patches inside a beating heart in the exact place where congenital holes in the heart occur, such as with ventricular heart defects.
  • Heart Defect Treatments
  • When a child is born with a heart defect such as a hole in the heart, the highly invasive therapies are challenging due to an inability to quickly and safely secure devices inside the heart
  • Sutures take too much time to stitch and can cause stress on fragile heart tissue
  • Currently available clinical adhesives are either too toxic or tend to lose their sticking power in the presence of blood or under dynamic conditions, such as in a beating heart
  • A New Adhesive
  • Many creatures in nature have secretions that are viscous and repel water enabling them to attach under wet and dynamic conditions
  • Researchers developed a material with these properties that also is biodegradable, elastic and biocompatible
  • The degradable patches secured with the glue remained attached even at increased heart rates and blood pressure and it works in the presence of blood and moving structures
  • The adhesive was strong enough to hold tissue and patches onto the heart equivalent to suturing, is biodegradable and biocompatible, so nothing foreign or toxic stays in the bodies of these patients
  • Its adhesive abilities are activated with ultraviolet (UV) light, providing an on-demand, anti-bleeding seal within five seconds of UV light application
  • What This Means
  • Researchers note that their waterproof, light-activated adhesive will be useful in reducing the invasiveness of surgical procedures, as well as operating times, in addition to improving heart surgery outcomes
  • \”It should provide the physician with a completely new, much simpler technology and a new paradigm for tissue reconstruction to improve the quality of life of patients following surgical procedures.\” | Pedro del Nido, MD, Chief of Cardiac Surgery, Boston Children\’s Hospital, co-senior study author
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Bio-inspired glue keeps hearts securely sealed |

Supernova In the Works

  • SN 1987A is the closest supernova to that we’ve been able to study since the invention of the telescope and it has provided scientists with good opportunities to study the physical processes of an exploding star
  • A nebula with a giant star at its center has striking similarities to SN 1987A.
  • Both stars have identical rings of the same size and age, which were travelling at similar speeds; both were located in similar HII regions; and they had the same brightness
  • No one can predict when a star will go supernova, but astronomers are certainly hoping they’ll have the chance to watch it happen.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • What a Star About to Go Supernova Looks Like |


Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2)

  • 2014 should be the year that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) brings passengers on suborbital space flights
  • The company started off the year by successfully completing its third rocket-powered supersonic flight after dozens of successful subsonic test flights
  • Getting to Altitude
  • The WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft brought SS2 to an altitude around 46,000 ft, then SS2 was released, and its rocket motor was ignited, powering the spaceship to a planned altitude of 71,000 ft.
  • SS2’s highest altitude to date, and it also reached a speed of Mach 1.4.
  • Testing
  • They tested the spaceship’s Reaction Control System, the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle’s tail booms, and the “feather” re-entry system.
  • The RCS will allow its pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space so that passengers will have great views of Earth, as well as aiding the positioning process for spacecraft re-entry
  • The new reflective protection coating on SS2’s inner tail boom surfaces is being evaluated to help maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Stunning video: Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo goes supersonic in test flight | euronews (in English)
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • SpaceShipTwo Goes Supersonic in Third Rocket-Powered Test Flight |

China’s Lunar Lander and Rover Back “Awake”

  • According to a BACC statement the Chinese Lunar lander, Chang’e-3, and the Yutu rover have \’woken up\’ from their Lunar night hibernation
  • Engineers put them to sleep to conserve energy since there is no sunlight to generate power with the solar arrays during the lunar night.
  • Lunar night time environment when temperatures plunged to below minus 180 degrees Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit
  • During the nocturnal hiatus they were kept alive by a radioisotopic heat source that maintained at a temperature of about minus 40 degrees Celsius to prevent debilitating damage to the computer and electronics subsystems inside a box below the deck
  • Just prior to hibernating, the lander snapped the first image of the Earth taken from the Moon’s surface in some four decades
  • The Yutu rover has already resumed roving, and they expect the Chang’e-3 lander should survive at least a year.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Stunning video: Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo goes supersonic in test flight | euronews (in English)
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • China\’s Historic Moon Robot Duo Awaken from 1st Long Frigid Night and Resume Science Operations |


  • Watching From Orbit
  • NASA\’s Curiosity Mars rover and its recent tracks from driving in Gale Crater appear in an image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA\’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 11, 2013.
  • The tracks show where the rover has zigzagged around obstacles on its route toward the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, its next major destination.
  • HiRISE first imaged the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft while it was descending on a parachute
  • Mars Orbiter Images Rover and Tracks in Gale Crater |
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report JPLnews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News


Looking back

  • January 17, 1929 : 85 years ago : Expanding universe : Edwin Hubble communicated the now classic paper that first showed the universe was expanding (and later provided observational evidence for the Big Bang theory). But Hubble explicitly made no such an interpretation. He left that to the reader. His paper was simply titled “A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae.” He listed the data that he plotted on a graph. It showed a roughly linear relationship between radial velocity for various galaxies and their distance. It dramatically showed that the the further away the galaxy, the faster it is moving away from the observer. However, stating that future new data might change the interpretation, he discretely wrote that he thought it “premature to discuss in detail the obvious consequences of the present results.

Looking up this week

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