GAZA IN NEED OF AID.
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times, stating that: Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza Strip’s largest health care facility, faces a worsening humanitarian crisis due to Israeli airstrikes following Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. The hospital, already strained, is now filled with refugees. Electricity shortages, an existing issue, are set to worsen with the depletion of fuel for generators, risking lives of critical patients including newborns. Israel’s directive to evacuate 23 hospitals in Gaza places health workers in a dilemma: move patients, risking their lives, or stay and face potential bombardment. International humanitarian law mandates the protection of health facilities, but this conflict has seen repeated attacks on them.
Both Gaza and Israeli health facilities have suffered attacks, resulting in deaths and injuries of health workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) urgently calls for the safe release of hostages taken by Hamas and seeks an end to attacks on Israeli medical centers. The organization also urges Israel to restore electricity and water supplies and support a humanitarian corridor into Gaza. With Egypt’s cooperation, the WHO is working to deliver medical supplies to Gaza. The agency, politically neutral, emphasizes its commitment to the health of both Israelis and Palestinians. In light of the current chaos, the article concludes with an appeal for decisions that prioritize hope, health, and well-being. (New York Times)
TURNING BACK THE FERTILITY CLOCK.
Scientists have successfully reversed the declining fertility in older mice by administering them with spermidine, a compound naturally present in most living cells. This treatment also resulted in the mice producing larger litters. The study, published in Nature Aging, could pave the way for treatments addressing human fertility problems. Fertility challenges increase with age, largely due to the degeneration and diminishing number of oocytes (reproductive cells) in the ovaries. Spermidine, previously identified in sperm but now understood to function in various cell types, has demonstrated its capacity to extend lifespan in different organisms. In the recent study, older mice treated with spermidine showed improved oocyte quality and slowed follicle degeneration. Furthermore, these mice exhibited a higher rate of successful blastocyst formation, leading to increased offspring. The study suggests spermidine enhances mitochondrial function and boosts cellular clean-up processes. However, before clinical application, researchers must thoroughly investigate spermidine’s safety, potential side effects, and optimal dosages. (Nature)
DESTROYING TUMORS WITH SOUND.
The US FDA has approved the use of histotripsy, a method using sound waves to disintegrate tumors, for liver treatments. Developed at the University of Michigan, this technique presents a promising alternative to traditional cancer treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The FDA clearance was given to HistoSonics, a company established in 2009, to employ histotripsy for targeted liver tissue destruction. Since 2021, a human trial at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center has shown the technology’s efficacy and safety in treating liver tumors. The procedure involves using focused ultrasound waves to generate microbubbles within tumors, breaking them apart. This method offers patients less invasive treatments with reduced side effects and shorter recovery times. The system provides real-time monitoring, enabling precise targeting of tumors. Moreover, recent studies indicate histotripsy may boost the immune response against cancer. The treatment disrupts cancer cells, potentially exposing tumor antigens which can aid the immune system in identifying and attacking cancer cells. HistoSonics, which can now commercialize its histotripsy system called Edison, envisions its potential global therapeutic applications for various cancers. (Futurity)
LONG COVID AND SEROTONIN.
Researchers suggest that inflammation in response to SARS-CoV-2 may cause a drop in serotonin, leading to cognitive problems associated with Long Covid. The study found that people treated at a post-COVID-19 clinic had lower serotonin levels in their blood compared to those fully recovered. Experiments on mice infected with SARS-CoV-2 showed a drop in blood serotonin. Several reasons behind this drop include the hindered absorption of dietary tryptophan (a serotonin precursor), impaired transport of serotonin in the bloodstream, and increased activity of an enzyme breaking down serotonin. Mice subjected to virus or inflammation-stimulating drugs performed worse on memory tests, with reduced hippocampus activity. Researchers could reverse this by supplementing the diet with tryptophan or administering the antidepressant fluoxetine. However, the study revealed no difference in brain serotonin levels among treated and untreated mice. Some experts remain skeptical about the theory, arguing that it doesn’t entirely reflect the clinical condition of Long Covid. Further clinical research is being considered to determine if tryptophan-supplemented diets or SSRIs improve Long Covid impairments. Long Covid likely has various types with different root causes, and further study is needed to understand the complete implications of low serotonin levels. (Science)
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TURNING TO TECH TO FIGHT BEDBUGS.
Bedbug outbreaks are on the rise in France and the UK, causing growing concern among hotels, transport companies, and local governments. Rentokil, a pest control company, reported a 65% increase in bedbug cases in the UK in Q2 2023 compared to the previous year. Hotels, particularly in Paris, experience such outbreaks once a year, often during the summer when guests inadvertently bring them. In response, technology solutions like Spotta and Valpas have been developed. Spotta uses a device with pheromones to attract bedbugs. When one enters, a camera takes a photo and sends it to a database. AI and human verification determine if it’s a bedbug, alerting hotel managers. Valpas’ solution is integrated into bed legs, catching bugs that try to crawl up. Additionally, Rentokil uses trained sniffer dogs to detect bedbugs. Despite rising bedbug numbers globally, some experts believe the panic in the UK is exaggerated and advise simple precautions for travelers. The hospitality sector faces the challenge of investing in detection systems amidst other financial pressures. (BBC)
ROCHE MOVES FORWARD WITH MS DRUG.
Roche has announced promising results for its multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, fenebrutinib, in the phase 2 FENopta study, asserting its potential as a leading treatment in the disease. The study, involving 109 adults with relapsing MS, demonstrated a 90% reduction in new or enlarging gadolinium-enhancing T1 lesions at 12 weeks. Furthermore, a 95% relative reduction was observed for T2 lesions. Remarkably, the drug demonstrated the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, a significant achievement in biopharma. Roche assessed the drug level in the cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting that fenebrutinib concentration might effectively reduce MS disease activity. Alexandra Goodyear, Roche’s global development lead, emphasized the importance of brain penetration, especially for BTK inhibitors. Although some BTK inhibitor trials faced adverse events, fenebrutinib’s side effects were consistent with previous studies. Roche is now focusing on ongoing phase 3 trials to further determine the drug’s efficacy and safety. (Fierce Biotech)
HEMOGLOBIN HELPS O2-DEPRIVED CARTILAGE.
Chinese researchers have made a surprising discovery: cartilage-producing cells, known as chondrocytes, produce and utilize hemoglobin, possibly to aid their survival in oxygen-deficient environments. While blood’s redness is attributed to oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, the presence and purpose of hemoglobin in cells outside the bloodstream have long been a mystery. Scientists have observed hemoglobin in various cells, including neurons and lung cells, but its crucial role remained elusive. Hemoglobin had not been previously detected in chondrocytes. Yet, while studying young mice’s bone development in 2017, Feng Zhang noticed hemoglobin-rich structures in their chondrocytes. Collaborating with cell biologist Qiang Sun, the team hypothesized that hemoglobin helped chondrocytes thrive in low-oxygen conditions. Experiments using genetically modified mice supported this theory. The researchers speculate that hemoglobin acts as an oxygen reservoir for chondrocytes. This discovery offers insights into bone growth-related conditions and opens doors for further research in the field. (Science)
ADDRESS SPACE POLLUTION NOW, NOT LATER.
Governments and private sectors are planning manned missions to Mars. This will inevitably bring human-made chemicals and materials to the Martian environment, leading to potential pollution. Yet, there is limited research on the implications of these contaminants concerning Planetary Protection. On Earth, pollution from human activities has caused significant ecological disruptions, prompting international agreements to control harmful emissions. The Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967, ratified by 114 nations, mandates avoidance of “harmful contamination” in space, though traditionally focused on biological organisms. COSPAR guidelines further define these rules, primarily concerning terrestrial microbes. A critical worry is that such microbes might proliferate, causing irreversible contamination. The OST and COSPAR do not address non-biological contamination risks. The article emphasizes that the scientific community must study potential hazards from human-made chemicals and materials in celestial bodies. Earth’s history with chemicals like PFAS and CFCs demonstrates unintended environmental consequences. Mars may have been habitable in the past, so introducing foreign chemicals could disrupt its potential ecosystems or abiotic processes. The authors advocate for updated Planetary Protection regulations considering chemical risks and recommend joint efforts from the astrobiology, Planetary Protection, and environmental chemistry communities. These professionals should evaluate chemical emissions, transportation, and accumulation in celestial environments. The aim is to integrate this knowledge into the current Planetary Protection guidelines, ensuring responsible exploration of the solar system. (PNAS)
ANOTHER WIN FOR WEBB.
Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scientists have discovered quartz nanocrystals in the high-altitude clouds of exoplanet WASP-17 b, located 1,300 light-years away. This marks the first instance of silica (SiO2) particles being identified in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. The discovery was facilitated by MIRI, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument. Previous Hubble observations hinted at aerosols in WASP-17 b’s atmosphere, but their composition as quartz was unexpected. Generally, silicates, which are common in the galaxy and constitute much of Earth, have been observed in exoplanet atmospheres as magnesium-rich variants. However, this discovery suggests that these exoplanets may possess the basic particles required to form larger silicate grains. WASP-17 b, one of the biggest known exoplanets, was studied using transmission spectroscopy. An unexpected pattern emerged in the light data, pointing to the presence of quartz. These atmospheric quartz crystals, unlike Earth’s, form directly from gases due to the planet’s extreme conditions. Analyzing these clouds is pivotal to understanding the planet’s composition and environment. While the exact quantity and distribution of quartz on WASP-17 b remain uncertain, it’s speculated that the planet’s strong winds transport these particles at incredible speeds. This research is part of a broader effort by the JWST to study various exoplanets and deepen our understanding of the universe. (NASA)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: WHO.