THE NEXT WEIGHT-LOSS DRUG.
Eli Lilly’s weight-loss drug Zepbound received approval from U.S. and UK regulators, setting it up as a competitor to Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy in the burgeoning $100 billion obesity treatment market. While both drugs are lauded for their effectiveness, they are also under scrutiny for high costs that may limit accessibility. Zepbound, also known as Mounjaro for diabetes treatment, has been used off-label for weight loss and will soon hit U.S. and UK markets under its new branding. Priced at $1,059.87 monthly, it is less expensive than Wegovy, which is constrained by supply issues and costs $1,349 per package. Despite Lilly’s shares soaring by 67% in 2023, concerns about health inequity persist due to the affordability of such treatments. Lilly plans to mitigate this with a savings card program. Zepbound’s approval is based on a trial where some patients lost up to 25% of their weight, though side effects like nausea and hair loss were reported. The drug is approved for adults with a BMI of 30 or higher, or 27 with a weight-related health condition. (Reuters)
Researchers have developed a safer alternative to the antifungal drug Amphotericin B (AmB), which is effective but can cause severe kidney damage. The discovery, detailed in Nature, was made possible by more than a decade of research into AmB’s toxicity and the use of a robotic chemist to synthesize variants of the drug. Scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign discovered that AmB’s toxicity comes from its removal of cholesterol from human cell membranes, similar to its fungal target, ergosterol. By tweaking the drug’s structure, they created a new compound, Am-2-19, that avoids cholesterol yet effectively strips fungi of ergosterol, crucial for their survival. Tested in cell cultures and mice, Am-2-19 killed over 500 fungal species without any observed side effects. It has been licensed for a phase 1 human safety trial. This breakthrough not only promises a safer antifungal treatment but also opens a pathway to detoxify other similar drugs. (Science)
POLLUTION IN NEW DELHI.
Facing hazardous air pollution levels, New Delhi has closed all schools until November 18, advancing a winter break initially planned for January. The air quality index exceeded 320, signaling ‘hazardous’ conditions, although slightly improved from earlier readings above 400. Primary schools had already been shut to shield children from the smog. To further combat pollution, construction has been halted, and vehicle restrictions are set to begin next week. However, the city is urging neighboring states to address the issue of crop stubble burning by farmers in Punjab and Haryana, a practice contributing significantly to the capital’s pollution each year. This agricultural method, intended for quick field clearing before winter crops, is responsible for up to 40% of Delhi’s autumn pollution. India’s Supreme Court has directed surrounding states to prevent this crop burning to improve air quality. (Channel News Asia)
STEVE WOZNIAK HAS A STROKE.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, aged 73, was hospitalized due to an ischemic stroke in Mexico City. He was due to attend a conference at the World Business Forum but was urgently taken to ABC Santa Fe hospital for an MRI. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in the blood vessels supplying the brain. Wozniak’s condition is reported to be stable. His team flew to Mexico by private jet to accompany him back to the U.S. for further medical care. Known as a pioneer in technology, Wozniak is credited with creating the first personal computer and has frequently discussed this claim in public appearances. In 1976, he and Steve Jobs founded what would become the world’s largest technology company. (El Pais)
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NEW ISLAND EMERGES.
An undersea volcano near Iwo Jima, Japan, recently erupted, leading to the emergence of a new island. The eruption began on October 21, and within ten days, the accumulation of volcanic ash and rocks formed an island approximately 100 meters in diameter and 20 meters high. While the creation of new landmass is notable, the island’s future is uncertain due to its composition and erosion by waves. According to Yuji Usui of the Japan Meteorological Agency, if the island is made of more durable materials like lava instead of crumbly volcanic rocks, it may last longer. However, the island has already started to shrink, and such phenomena are often short-lived. Japan, part of the Pacific “ring of fire,” is no stranger to volcanic activity and island formations. In the past, similar events have led to the creation of new islands, with some like Nishinoshima growing over time due to continued volcanic activity. The site of the volcano, Iwo Jima, is historically known for a significant World War II battle and the iconic photograph of the U.S. flag being raised. (Associated Press)
CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ATTACK PAINTING.
Two activists from the climate group Just Stop Oil attacked Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus at London’s National Gallery, demanding the UK cease new fossil fuel projects. The painting, behind protective glass, was subjected to a hammer attack similar to last year’s incident where van Gogh’s Sunflowers faced a tomato soup protest by the same group. The Rokeby Venus, Velázquez’s famous nude depicting Venus and Cupid, was previously targeted in 1914 by suffragette Mary Richardson. The recent damage is being assessed, with minimal impact reported. The activists, arrested following the protest, paralleled their actions with historical suffragette efforts, arguing that drastic measures are needed to stop new oil and gas licensing. Meanwhile, other Just Stop Oil protesters were detained during a slow march on Whitehall. This event is part of a growing trend of climate protests targeting art, with past actions involving Monet and the Mona Lisa. (Smithsonian)
Ann, a stroke survivor with paralysis, communicates through an avatar using a brain-computer interface (BCI), which converts her neural activity into speech. This system, pioneered by neurosurgeon Edward Chang at the University of California, San Francisco, is part of a series of 2023 studies elevating excitement about BCIs. These devices decode intentions to move from brain signals and have enabled a paralyzed man to walk again. Companies like Neuralink are advancing in the field, with trials for paralyzed individuals underway. However, commercialization challenges include creating scalable, robust, and safe BCIs. Wearable brain-reading devices are also emerging, offering lower-resolution signals but potential applications in mental health and computer interaction. UNESCO is considering international guidelines for neurotechnology use, amidst excitement and ethical considerations about these advances in reading and potentially manipulating brain activity. (Nature)
WHEN STARCH IS NOT STARCH.
Cooling starchy foods like pasta and rice can transform their natural starches into resistant starches, offering health benefits such as lower blood sugar, improved gut health, and a potential reduction in cancer risk. This change occurs because cooling alters the structure of starch molecules, making them less digestible and thereby not rapidly increasing blood sugar levels. Resistant starch acts as a type of fiber that feeds beneficial gut microbes, contributing to overall health. While more research is needed, some studies suggest a link between resistant starch and a lower risk of certain cancers. This method of preparing starchy foods could be particularly beneficial for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, as it might help manage blood sugar levels without having to eliminate such foods from their diet. Overall, increasing fiber intake, through resistant starch or otherwise, is beneficial for health. (New York Times)
TRUTH AND LICE.
Scientists are looking beyond ancestral bones and artifacts to head lice genetics for insights into human migrations and interactions. A study published in PLOS ONE shows that European and American lice share a genetic connection dating back to European colonization. Head lice, which can only spread through human contact, serve as indicators of historical human contact and migration patterns. The study analyzed the DNA of 274 lice from various regions, identifying common genetic markers that suggest historical links between populations. For example, one genetic link traced back to the initial migration from East Asia into the Americas, and another connected lice from the Americas and Europe around 500 years ago, corresponding with European colonization. This research suggests that head lice could reveal instances of human contact not evident from DNA or archaeological records, such as non-reproductive interactions like trading. Future work aims to expand lice sampling to refine these insights into human history. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Gage Skidmore.