Glowing, ‘Living’ Gloves Could Aid Crime-Scene Investigations


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Glowing, ‘Living’ Gloves Could Aid Crime-Scene Investigations

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Glowing, 'Living' Gloves Could Aid Crime-Scene Investigations

The “living material” is made of a hydrogel filled with programmed bacteria that light up in reaction to certain chemicals.

Credit: Courtesy of the researchers/MIT

One day, glowing gloves made of a “living material” could replace the “CSI”-style black lights currently used to detect certain substances in crime-scene investigations and other scientific applications, according to a new study.

A team of researchers has bioengineered a “living material” that will light up when in contact with certain chemicals. In the new study, the researchers described the living material — a hydrogel filled with E. colibacteria cells — and its potential applications. The cells are genetically reprogrammed to light up, using fluorescence, when they come into contact with different chemicals.

So far, the researchers have injected the hydrogel into gloves and bandages, but they say the living substance could be applied to crime scene investigations, medical diagnostics, pollution monitoring and more. [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]

“With this design, people can put different types of bacteria in these devices to indicate toxins in the environment, or disease on the skin,” study co-author Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT, said in a statement. “We’re demonstrating the potential for living materials and devices.”

Though wearable sensors are the goal, the researchers have seen the most success in testing the programmed cells within petri dishes, where the environment can be carefully controlled. Maintaining the living cells when they’re deployed in a functioning device has been a main challenge in the team’s research.

To find a host for his programmed cells, Lu teamed up with Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor of civil, environmental and mechanical engineering at MIT. Zhao and his colleagues had studied different hydrogelformulations, and their latest iteration offered the bioengineered bacteria a stable environment. The hydrogel is about 95 percent water, it doesn’t crack when it’s stretched or pulled and it can fuse to a layer of rubber while still letting in oxygen.

One test of the cell-filled hydrogel included a bandage, or “living patch” that was programmed to respond to rhamnose, a naturally occurring sugar found in plants. The researchers also tested a glove with fingertips that glowed when they came into contact with different chemicals. In both tests, the cells remained stable in the hydrogel and appropriately glowed in response to the chemicals.

For future living materials, the team also developed a theoretical model to guide researchers in their designs.

“The model helps us to design living devices more efficiently,” Zhao said. “It tells you things like the thickness of the hydrogel layer you should use, the distance between channels, how to pattern the channels, and how much bacteria to use.”

The MIT team’s living material is described in a study published online Feb. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Original article on Live Science

This Injectable Bandage Is Made of Pastry Gel. It Could Save Your Life One Day.


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This Injectable Bandage Is Made of Pastry Gel. It Could Save Your Life One Day.

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This Injectable Bandage Is Made of Pastry Gel. It Could Save Your Life One Day.

Credit: Shutterstock

There are a lot of ways to die from a traumatic injury, but many of them come down to this: So much blood spills out that your body just stops working. But now, an experimental “injectable bandage” material aims to slow that process in ways existing technologies can’t.

What’s the point of an injectable bandage? Existing approaches — such as regular bandages, tourniquets and applying pressure — can already slow a deadly bleed. But they all come with problems, including that the force used in these techniques may aggravate internal injuries acquired during the same trauma. And there’s a limit to how much bleeding you can stop using just gauze and squeezing. But an injectable bandage, in theory, could enter the wound itself and conform to its shape, plugging up blood flow.

In a paper published Sunday (April 1) in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, a team of Texas A&M University researchers reported that they had successfully developed a so-called hydrogel that could do just that. It can also provide some bonus benefits, such as inducing blood-clotting, the researchers reported. The hydrogel, however, has been tested only in lab experiments so far, and more research is needed to see if it works in living, bleeding humans. [The 7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

Their material, which they pitched specifically as a solution to “battlefieldwounds,” is a mix of seaweed-derived kappa-carrageenan (a thick, organic mush used by, yes, pastry chefs) and ceramic molecules. The ceramic is the big innovation here, strengthening the bandage without making it less useful. The mixture, even loaded with ceramic, is porous enough to deliver medicines directly into an injury along with the bandage.

The material is designed to harden after being injected into a wound, and the authors reported that it could maintain much of its strength even after 72 hours in water. They also found that it stuck better to cells than pure kappa-carrageenan did, and caused “bovine blood,” or cow blood, to clot in less than 6 minutes, rather than the usual 8.

It’s worth noting that these researchers haven’t field-tested their injectable bandage, and they aren’t the first team to develop an injectable-bandage prototype. But their results offer tantalizing hints as to how the technology might evolve.

Originally published on Live Science.

Woman’s Bones Vanish Before Doctors’ Eyes


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Woman’s Bones Vanish Before Doctors’ Eyes

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Woman's Bones Vanish Before Doctors' Eyes

X-rays show a woman’s left humerus bone at 12, 15 and 18 months after she first reported pain in her left arm and shoulder.

Credit: BMJ Case Reports

The woman’s symptoms were puzzling: The pain in her arm and shoulder wouldn’t go away, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing it. Then, the case got even stranger: In a series of X-rays, her bones seemed to be disappearing before doctors’ eyes.

This unusual phenomenon provided the clue needed to solve the mystery, according to a new report of the case from doctors at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in Scotland. The woman was diagnosed with Gorham-Stout disease, also known as “vanishing bone disease,” an extremely rare condition in which people experience progressive bone loss, according to the report. It was published March 22 in the journal BMJ Case Reports. Only 64 such cases have been reported in the medical literature, the researchers said. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]

Doctors don’t know what causes the condition; no genetic or environmental triggers of the disease have ever been identified, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).

But doctors do know that people with this condition experience abnormal growth of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, the channels that carry lymph (a fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells). These aggressively growing vessels infiltrate the bone, which causes it to break down, according to NORD. Fibrous connective tissue or benign (noncancerous) blood vessel tumors then replace the bone.

The 44-year-old woman was previously healthy; she went to the doctor when she experienced increasing pain in her left shoulder. On an X-ray, doctors saw a lesion in her humerus bone (the bone in the upper arm), and they initially thought she might have cancer. But her biopsy results didn’t show cancer; instead, the results were inconclusive. Several months later, another biopsy revealed a benign blood vessel tumor.

 

The initial X-ray of the woman's left arm, taken when she first reported increasing pain in her left arm and shoulder. This X-ray was taken before her bones showed noticeable signs of "vanishing."
The initial X-ray of the woman’s left arm, taken when she first reported increasing pain in her left arm and shoulder. This X-ray was taken before her bones showed noticeable signs of “vanishing.”

Credit: BMJ Case Reports

Over the next year, the woman continued to have pain and swelling in her arm, and her bone would fracture from just minor injuries. But she still hadn’t received a diagnosis.

About 18 months after the woman first went to the doctor, scans revealed her “vanishing” bones; both her humerus and her ulnar bone (one of the two bones in the forearm) appeared to be disappearing on X-rays. Additional biopsies showed that blood vessel growths were replacing her bone tissue.

The severity of Gorham-Stout disease varies from person to person. In most cases, the condition is a “regional” disease, meaning it stays in one area of the body, according to Boston Children’s Hospital. For example, a patient, like the one in this case, may have the disease in her shoulder and arm, but not elsewhere in the body.

Other commonly affected bones include the ribs, spine, pelvis, skull, collarbone and jaw. In some cases, the condition leads to paralysis if the disease affects bones of the spine or skull base, according to NORD. In addition, if the disease affects the rib cage, patients may develop a buildup of fluid between the membranes that line the lungs — a potentially fatal complication.

There is no standard treatment for the condition, and therapies are usually aimed at a patient’s specific symptoms, according to National Institute of Health’s Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD). Some therapies include surgery to remove the affected bone areas, radiation treatment to prevent the disease from spreading and bisphosphonates, which are drugs to prevent bone loss. In some cases, the disease improves spontaneously, without treatment, GARD says.

“Ultimately, this is a challenging disease where evidence-based management remains lacking,” the researchers of the new report concluded.

Original article on Live Science.

New ‘Nightmare’ Bacteria Are Popping Up All Over the US


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New ‘Nightmare’ Bacteria Are Popping Up All Over the US

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New 'Nightmare' Bacteria Are Popping Up All Over the US

This image depicts two mustard-colored, rod-shaped carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) bacteria interacting with a green-colored, human white blood cells.

Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

What’s worse than “nightmare” bacteria that are resistant to nearly all antibiotics? New nightmare bacteria that have the potential to spread their resistance genes to germs in hospitals around the country.

Researchers say that last year, they identified more than 200 cases of these “nightmare” bacteria with new or rare antibiotic-resistance genes, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These rare types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria popped up all over the country, in 27 states.

The good news is that researchers have come up with an aggressive strategy to identify, track and contain these germs, which appears to help stop their spread, according to the report.

“We are working to get in front of them before they do become common,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said at a news conference today (April 3). “We have data showing an aggressive approach works” to halt the spread of these new threats, Schuchat said. [6 Superbugs to Watch Out For]

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are, unfortunately, a common problem in medicine today — more than 2 million Americans get an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and 23,000 die from these infections, according to the CDC. Antibiotic-resistant infections are a major concern for health care workers because they are difficult to treat.

One particularly concerning type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is calledcarbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which has been dubbed “nightmare” bacteria. These bacteria are not only resistant to many antibiotics but are also highly lethal, killing up to 50 percent of infected patients, according to the CDC.

Doctors liken the spread of CRE and other antibiotic-resistant germs to a wildfire, which is difficult to contain once it spreads widely. Therefore, doctors are trying to stamp out new or unusual types of antibiotic resistance when they first appear — to extinguish the “spark” before it has a chance to grow and spread, Schuchat said.

To aid in these efforts, the CDC recently established the Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network (ARLN), a network of labs across the country that test patients’ samples for highly resistant bacteria and trackemerging antibiotic resistance.

In the first nine months of 2017, ARLN tested more than 5,700 samples of highly resistant bacteria, including CRE, from hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities around the country. Of the 1,400 CRE-positive samples tested, 221 samples (15 percent) had new or unusual types of antibiotic resistance, the report said.

“I was surprised by the numbers” of bacteria with unusual antibiotic resistance, Schuchat said. “This was more than I was expecting.”

When researchers detected a case of unusual antibiotic resistance, they screened other patients in the facility to see if some had “silent” infections, meaning they were infected but weren’t showing symptoms. They found that about 1 in 10 people screened had a silent infection, meaning that “unusual resistance may have spread and could have continued spreading if left undetected,” Schuchat said.

Fortunately, researchers were often able to stop the spread of these unusual antibiotic-resistant bacteria with an aggressive “containment” strategy. This strategy involves rapidly identifying antibiotic-resistant germs at a given facility, assessing the facility for gaps in infection control, screening other patients to see if any are “silent” carriers of the infection, coordinating a response with other facilities in the area that may transfer patients to and from the affected facility, and continuing these steps until transmission of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria is controlled.

This containment strategy can “help stop the spread of unusual types of antibiotic resistance that haven’t yet spread widely,” Schuchat said.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimated that implementing this strategy could prevent as many as 1,600 new CRE infections in three years, or a 76-percent reduction in cases.

Schuchat stressed that efforts to fight antibiotic resistance are ongoing.

“We need to do more, and we need to do it faster and earlier with each new antibiotic-resistance threat,”
Schuchat said.

Original article on Live Science.

Spleen: Function, Location & Problems


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Spleen: Function, Location & Problems

The spleen is located on the left side of the abdomen, under the ribs.

Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki | Shutterstock

The spleen is the largest organ in the lymphatic system. It is an important organ for keeping bodily fluids balanced, but it is possible to live without it.

The spleen is located under the ribcage and above the stomach in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. A spleen is soft and generally looks purple. It is made up of two different types of tissue. The red pulp tissue filters the blood and gets rid of old or damaged red blood cells. The white pulp tissue consists of immune cells (T cells and B cells) and helps the immune system fight infection.

According to Medical News Today, a helpful tip to remember the size of the spleen is the 1x3x5x7x9x11 rule:

  • An adult spleen measures around 1 inch by 3 inches by 5 inches.
  • It weighs around 7 oz.
  • It is located between the 9th and 11th ribs.

“The spleen . . . acts as a blood filter; it controls the amount of red blood cells and blood storage in the body, and helps to fight infection,” said Jordan Knowlton, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. If the spleen detects potentially dangerous bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms in the blood, it — along with the lymph nodes — creates white blood cells called lymphocytes, which act as defenders against invaders, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The lymphocytes produce antibodies to kill the foreign microorganisms and stop infections from spreading.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, when blood flows into the spleen, red blood cells must pass through narrow passages within the organ. Healthy blood cells can easily pass, but old or damaged red blood cells are broken down by large white blood cells. The spleen will save any useful components from the old blood cells, including iron, so they can be reused in new cells. The spleen can increase in size in order to store blood. The organ can widen or narrow, depending on the body’s needs. At its largest, the spleen can hold up to a cup of reserve blood.

Some problems associated with the spleen are:

Lacerated spleen or ruptured spleen

According to Knowlton, spleen lacerations or ruptures “usually occur from trauma (like a car accident or contact sports).” These emergency situations cause a break in the spleen’s surface and can lead to “severe internal bleeding and signs of shock (fast heart rate, dizziness, pale skin, fatigue),” said Knowlton. The Mayo Clinic reported that without emergency care, the internal bleeding could become life-threatening.

On the continuum of spleen breakage, a laceration refers to a lower-grade extent of injury, in which just a part of the spleen is damaged. A ruptured spleen is the highest grade of broken spleen injury, according toHealthTap, an online network of doctors who answer health questions.

According to Medical News Today, symptoms of a lacerated or ruptured spleen include pain or tenderness to the touch in the upper left part of the abdomen, left shoulder and left chest wall, as well as confusion and lightheadedness. If you experience any of the symptoms after a trauma, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Treatment options depend on the condition of the injury, according to theMayo Clinic. Lower-grade lacerations may be able to heal without surgery, though they will probably require hospital stays while doctors observe your condition. Higher-grade lacerations or ruptures may require surgery to repair the spleen, surgery to remove part of the spleen, or surgery to remove the spleen completely.

Humans can live without their spleen, but those without one may be more susceptible to infection. More on that, below. [What Organs Can You Live Without?]

Enlarged spleen

An enlarged spleen, also called a splenomegaly, is a serious but typically treatable condition. “An enlarged spleen puts one at risk for rupture,” said Knowlton. According to the Mayo Clinic, anyone can get an enlarged spleen, but children suffering from mononucleosis, adults with certain inherited metabolic disorders including Gaucher’s and Neimann-Pick disease, and people who live or travel to malaria-endemic areas are more at risk.

Knowlton listed infection, liver diseases, cancer, and blood diseases as typical causes for enlarged spleens. According to the Mayo Clinic, specific infections and diseases include:

  • viral infections, such as mononucleosis
  • bacterial infections
  • parasitic infections, such as malaria
  • metabolic disorders
  • hemolytic anemia
  • liver diseases, such as cirrhosis
  • blood cancers and lymphomas, such as Hodgkin’s disease
  • pressure on or blood clots in the veins of the liver or spleen

In many cases, there are no symptoms associated with an enlarged spleen, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors typically discover the condition during routine physicals because they can feel enlarged spleens. When there are symptoms, they might include:

  • pain in the upper left abdomen that may spread to the shoulder
  • fatigue
  • anemia
  • bleeding easily
  • feeling full without eating

Typically, enlarged spleens are treated by addressing the underlying problem, according to the Mayo Clinic. If the cause of the enlarged spleen can’t be determined or if the condition is causing serious complications such as a ruptured spleen, doctors may suggest removing the spleen.

Spleen cancer

Cancers that originate in the spleen are relatively rare. When they do occur, they are almost always lymphomas, blood cancers that occur in the lymphatic system. Usually lymphomas start in other areas and invade the spleen. According to the National Cancer Institute, adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma can have a spleen stage. This type of spleen invasion can also happen with leukemia, blood cancer that originates in bone marrow. Rarely, other types of cancers — like lung or stomach cancers — will invade the spleen.

Spleen cancer symptoms may resemble a cold or there may be pain or fullness in the upper abdomen. An enlarged spleen can also be the result of spleen cancer.

Treatment for spleen cancer will depend on the type of cancer and how much it has spread. The National Cancer Institute lists spleen removal as a possible treatment.

Spleen removal

Spleen removal surgery is called a splenectomy. Knowlton said that the procedure is done in cases such as: “trauma, blood disorders (idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP), thalassemia, hemolytic anemia, sickle cell anemia), cancer (lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, leukemia), and hypersplenism to name a few.”

Spleen removal is typically a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic, meaning that surgeons make several small incisions and use special surgical tools and a small camera to conduct the surgery. In certain cases, a surgeon may opt for one large incision, instead.

“You can live without a spleen because other organs, such as the liver and lymph nodes, can take over the duties of the spleen,” said Knowlton. Nevertheless, removing the spleen can have serious consequences. “You will be more at risk to develop infections,” said Knowlton. Often, doctors recommend getting vaccines, including a pneumococcus vaccine, Haemophilus B vaccine, Meningococcal vaccine, and yearly flu vaccine after a splenectomy, according to University of Michican Hospitals and Health Centers. It is important to see a doctor at the first sign of infection if you do not have a spleen.

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science contributor.

What on Earth Is This Fiery Blob?


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What on Earth Is This Fiery Blob?

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What on Earth Is This Fiery Blob?

This impressive blob is a 65-foot (20 meters) high lava dome fountain that was photographed in Hawaii on Oct. 11, 1969.

Credit: USGS

At first glance, it looks like a fiery monster out of “The Incredibles.” Or maybe a glowing alien orb, or a giant, irritated zit popping up above the Earth’s surface.

But it’s neither. Rather, it’s an incredibly rare, 65-foot-tall (20 meters) lava-dome fountain.

Normally, volcanoes erupt lava in powerful jets that look like fountains gone wild. But in this photo — captured Oct. 11, 1969, in Hawaii — the lava spurted out symmetrically, forming an aesthetically pleasing lava-dome fountain. [History’s Most Destructive Volcanoes]

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tweeted the photo on March 29 for Throwback Thursday (#TBT), a popular hashtag used when people post nostalgic photos from their past on social media.

The red-hot lava fountain certainly is a nostalgic moment for the USGS. This particular fountain was part of the Mauna Ulu eruption, which lasted (on and off) for an astonishing five years, from May 1969 until July 1974,according to the USGS.

Mauna Ulu is a volcanic cone on the east rift zone of the Kilauea volcanoon the Big Island of Hawaii. At the time Mauna Ulu erupted, it was the longest-lasting and most voluminous eruption on Kilauea’s eastern side in at least 2,200 years, the USGS said. The 1,774-day eruption spewed out about 460 million cubic yards (350 million cubic meters) of lava — enough to fill 140,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Mauna Ulu no longer holds the record for the longest-erupting volcano. Pu’u ‘Ō’ō, a volcanic vent on Kilauea’s east rift zone, has erupted nearly continuously since January 1983, according to a 2003 report from the USGS. But despite Pu’u ‘Ō’ō’s feat, “the Mauna Ulu eruption was more accessible to the public, with a viewing platform established at one point to observe a lava lake in the crater,” the USGS said.

The fountain pictured here spewed out lava from Oct. 10 to Oct. 13, 1969, relatively early in Mauna Ulu’s epic eruption. (As a side note, the perspective of the photo makes it look as if the lava were coming out of the water. But it’s actually on land, and those “waves” are ripples of lava.)

Typically, lava fountains occur when gas bubbles rapidly form and expand in molten rock, which prompts jets of lava to spray outward, the USGS said. Though impressive, Mauna Ulu’s fountain wasn’t on the big side; lava fountains range from about 30 to 330 feet (10 to 100 m) in height, and some have reached the incredible height of 1,640 feet (500 m), the USGS reported.

Geologists have found that lava fountains can gush out of isolated vents and fissures, from active lava lakes and from lava tubes that are exposed to water.

Original article on Live Science.