COMPLETE EYE TRANSPLANT FIRST.
Surgeons at NYU Langone Health have performed the world’s first transplant of an entire human eye, combined with a face transplant, on Aaron James, who lost most of his face and one eye in an accident. While it’s uncertain if James will regain vision, the transplant aims to improve cosmetic results and support the eye socket and lid. So far, James is recovering well, and the transplanted eye appears healthy, but he hasn’t regained movement or the ability to blink yet. This pioneering surgery offers a unique insight into eye healing. Transplanting an entire eye, including the eyeball, its blood supply, and the optic nerve, is a complex challenge. Although James’ optic nerve hasn’t healed yet, some brain signaling was detected during tests, providing hope for future progress. The operation involved innovative techniques like splicing the optic nerve and using stem cells for repair. This achievement is seen as a significant step in eye transplant research, potentially propelling the field forward. (Associated Press)
Scientists have created a groundbreaking chimaeric monkey with a high proportion of donor stem cells, a significant stride in chimaeric research for studying human diseases. Led by Miguel Esteban, the team injected genetically modified embryonic stem cells into monkey embryos, resulting in a chimaera with 67% of its cells from these stem cells. This chimaera, however, was euthanized at ten days old due to health issues, highlighting both the potential and challenges of this approach. The process marks an improvement over previous attempts, which had minimal donor stem cell integration, making them ineffective for disease modeling. Despite the low birth rate and the health concerns of the resultant chimaera, this research opens up new avenues for potentially growing human organs in animals. However, this approach raises ethical questions, especially regarding human cells contributing to significant organs like the brain. (Nature)
ANTIDEPRESSANTS LOWER SEX DRIVE.
Antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are known to cause sexual side effects like reduced libido and genital numbness. Alarmingly, a number of patients report these issues persist even after stopping the medication. Over half of those taking SSRIs experience such side effects, raising concerns about their long-term impact on sexual health and relationships. The medical community is just beginning to understand the prevalence of these persistent sexual dysfunctions. While some psychiatrists attribute these symptoms to recurring depression, patients and studies suggest a direct link to SSRI usage. The issue is complicated by serotonin’s role in sexual response, and a lack of comprehensive data on the effects post-discontinuation of SSRIs adds to the uncertainty. Advocacy and research are growing around this issue, especially considering the impact on young patients who start SSRIs before full sexual development. This increased awareness is leading to calls for more research and better recognition of the condition in the medical field. (New York Times)
U.S. VACCINE EXEMPTIONS CONTINUE TO RISE.
The U.S. has reached its highest level of kindergarten vaccine exemptions at 3%, influenced by increasing skepticism about routine childhood vaccinations. This skepticism has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more parents questioning vaccinations they previously accepted without hesitation. Despite this rise in exemptions, the overall national vaccination rate remains steady at 93% for the 2022-2023 school year, matching the previous year but lower than the pre-pandemic rate of 95%. All states require vaccinations for children attending schools, with exemptions allowed for medical reasons and, in most cases, for religious or nonmedical reasons. Over the past decade, the rate of nonmedical exemptions has risen, contributing to the overall increase in exemptions. The exemption rates vary significantly by state, with Idaho having the highest at 12% and New York the lowest at 0.1%. Health officials emphasize the importance of maintaining a 95% vaccination rate to prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles. The stability of the national vaccination rate is attributed to a decrease in the number of children who neither sought exemptions nor completed their vaccinations and paperwork. (Associated Press)
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RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS ISOLATED.
Yuri Kovalev, a Russian scientist, moved to the U.S. in 2003, returned to Russia for its advancing science sector, but left again in 2022 due to political turmoil and the Ukraine invasion. Despite initial growth in Russian R&D, the political environment has worsened, impacting scientific collaboration and resources. Sanctions following the invasion have further isolated Russian science, leading to a significant exodus of scientists. The restrictive political climate and crackdown on dissent have stifled scientific progress and freedom of expression. While some researchers remain, motivated by unique opportunities like Arctic studies, the ongoing departure of young talents threatens Russia’s future scientific capabilities. Global opinions on collaborating with Russian institutions are split, with some advocating for continued cooperation in crucial research areas, while others support sanctions. The situation presents a bleak outlook for Russian science, with many scientists relocating abroad in search of better opportunities and academic freedom. (Science)
The Ai Pin, developed by San Francisco startup Humane, is a novel wearable device resembling a body-worn camera. This small, square gadget, attachable to clothing, is equipped with features like photo capture, text messaging, and a laser-projected palm interface, along with a virtual assistant akin to ChatGPT. Set to go on sale for $699, with a $24 monthly service fee, the Ai Pin aims to reduce reliance on smartphones. Founded by ex-Apple employees, Humane’s device offers a less invasive alternative to smart glasses and AR headsets, focusing on accessibility and user presence. The Ai Pin, funded by $230 million, including high-profile investors, will begin shipping in early 2024. Despite its innovative features, it’s uncertain if the Ai Pin will achieve mainstream acceptance or remain a niche product for tech enthusiasts. Its impact on everyday life and tech dependency also remains to be seen, as it joins the emerging market of AI-integrated wearable devices. (Wired)
PINK POND IN HAWAII.
A pond at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Maui, Hawaii, has turned bubble-gum pink, likely due to “halobacteria” flourishing in its high-salt water, exacerbated by drought. This unusual phenomenon, first reported on October 30, has attracted attention and visitors to the refuge. Initially, there was concern that the striking color might be due to toxic algae, but lab tests ruled this out, pointing instead to halobacteria, extremophiles that thrive in very salty conditions. The salinity in the pond’s outlet area is currently over 70 parts per thousand, twice that of seawater. A definitive identification of the organism requires DNA analysis. The drought in Maui has reduced inflow from Waikapu Stream, contributing to the high salinity. It is expected that when the stream flows again, it will dilute the salinity, potentially returning the pond to its normal color. While this is the first time the pond has turned pink, it has previously experienced high salinity levels. The refuge, a vital habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds, has not observed any adverse effects on the birds due to the pink water. (The Guardian)
WINDS OF JUPITER.
NASA’s Juno mission has provided new insights into Jupiter’s internal structure, indicating that the gas giant’s atmospheric winds extend cylindrically, parallel to its spin axis. This discovery, revealed through measurements of tiny changes in Juno’s radio signal caused by Jupiter’s gravity field, challenges previous beliefs about Jupiter’s atmospheric dynamics. The study, using a mathematical technique initially for terrestrial planets, confirmed that Jupiter’s east-west zonal flows, visible as distinct zones and belts on its surface, penetrate inward in a cylindrical pattern. This finding resolves a long-standing debate about Jupiter’s atmospheric structure dating back to the 1970s. Juno’s extended mission includes flybys of Jupiter’s moons, contributing to a deeper understanding of the planet and its moons. The accuracy of these findings aligns with predictions made two decades ago, highlighting the mission’s significant role in advancing our knowledge of Jupiter and giant planets in general. (NASA)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wojtek Pacześ.