This Week in Science (April 1-8, 2019)

1.) For the first time, scientists image how individual immune system molecules activate 

In a first, the process for how immune system cells are switched on has been imaged. The environment signals the immune cell, which leads to several hundred proteins forming into a linked network. This process is called a phase transition. The study, published in the journal “Science”, represents a large leap forward in our understanding of the immune system. Scientists were looking at the physical mechanisms for how T-Cells and RAS proteins interacted. Until now, it was believed that RAS would signal 3 other proteins, LAT, GRB2, and SOS, in order to prompt them into a phase transition. Scientists were able to use detailed microscope scanning in order to image how this reaction took place. They found that it was not an instant reaction and that SOS took approximately 30 seconds before activating. If scientists are able to gain a full understanding of immune system signaling, it may prompt discoveries around cures for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and even the common cold and flu.

2.) MDMA may treat PTSD by reopening sociable ‘window’ which closes after puberty, study suggests

Recent years have seen numerous research studies conducted on MDMA and its ability to treat PTSD and other psychological illnesses. It has been shown to be very effective, with success rates beyond the capability of modern medicine. However, the reasons for its efficacy have not yet been determined. A new study published in “Nature” may help to resolve this conundrum. MDMA was given to adult mice. A single dose was sufficient to reactivate their socializing behavior that was similar to an adolescent mouse. The study authors believe that this represents a reopening of the social reward brain circuitry. Adolescents undergo immense changes to their brain based on interact and learn from new experiences.  Their brains are in a highly plastic state, which allows social reward learning to help them learn social behavior. Brain plasticity decreases as you age, which eventually limits your ability to make use of social reward learning. Scientists continue to study this aspect of MDMA with the hopes that they can expand effective treatment to stroke, degenerative disease, and traumatic brain injury victims.

3. ) Telsa’s full self driving computer enters production

Tesla has announced that the Autopilot Hardware 3.0 computer upgrade will enable full self-driving capability via future over-the-air software updates. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has also announced that they will offer the upgrade for free for current Tesla owners. The technology will be demonstrated at the investor conference on April 19th. Teslas will not be able to utilize this computer for full self-driving capability at this time, but Musk believes that the software for it will be available by the end of 2019. This milestone would mark a difference of several years from the current forecasted adoption timeline of 2021.

4.) Latent HIV infections are coaxed out of t-cells in a major step towards a functional cure

Current HIV drugs are able to control the infection and prevent it from progressing to AIDS. Retroviral therapy has been very successful at allowing HIV patients to live a near full lifespan. Despite this success, there has been little progress at curing HIV permanently beyond two patients who have been cured while undergoing gene therapy. The reason for this failure to cure HIV is due to the virus’s ability to lie in a dormant state in T-cells. If the patient stops retroviral therapy, HIV will reactivate and spread throughout the patient. In a first of its kind study, scientists showed that they were able to reactivate the latent HIV infection, and then harness the immune system to fight the infection. They did this by engineering a type of cell called MDC1. The MDC1 cells were primed to respond to a certain antigen. This approach showed a surprising efficacy of treatment when the engineered MDC1 cells were added back to the T-cells that contained latent HIV infections. This approach looks very promising. The study’s authors are currently pursuing funding to conduct clinical trials using this treatment.

5.) Scientists detail potential applications of borophene

Graphene has been the wonder material for nearly a decade. Its properties are well known. It is an excellent conductor, can form a wide variety of molecular shapes, and can provide a very high tensile strength. Borophene was first synthesized in 2015 as a result of research into the applications of graphene. Borophene possesses many of the same attributes and can be more easily synthesized in industrial quantity through gas-vapor deposition. Borophene will have wide applications in battery technology, hydrogen catalytic reactions & storage, and can even function as a supercapacitor. While research into these applications is still in its infancy, borophene may end up being the most important material science discovery of all time.


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