This Week In Science (January 27- February 2, 2020)

1.) China Announces a New Rapid Screening Test for Coronavirus

Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak that is ravaging China, it was announced that a new rapid screening test has been developed. The test can indicate the presence of Coronavirus in less than 15 minutes. Production capacity is currently 4000 kits per day, but it is expected that the production lines will ramp up due to the urgent need for solutions to the outbreak. The kit was developed by a joint team comprised of experts from the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, and a local technology company.  More than 17000 cases of Coronavirus have been reported, and the death toll is nearing 400. Epidemiologists predict that the total number of infected will continue to grow. Several reporters have identified suspicious data in what is being reported in China, and the true infection and death rates are unknown.

2.) Researchers Develop Nanoparticle that Removes Atherosclerotic Plaque

Researchers conducting a joint study between Stanford and Michigan State University published a paper in the scientific journal Nature. The article details a newly developed nanoparticle that is capacble3 of reducing plaque size in arteries. The nanoparticle is designed to have a high selectivity to monocytes and macrophages. Monocytes and macrophages are immune system cells that are designed to “eat” certain cellular debris. However, they can eventually harden into plaque in the arteries and cause atherosclerosis. When the nanoparticle is introduced, it bonds with the macrophages. It then releases a drug agent that improves the macrophage’s ability to eat cellular debris. It is believed that this will remove the diseased cells that comprise the plaque.

Bryan Smith, associate professor of biomedical engineering at MSU stated, “We found we could stimulate the macrophages to selectively eat dead and dying cells – these inflammatory cells are precursor cells to atherosclerosis – that are part of the cause of heart attacks. We could deliver a small molecule inside the macrophages to tell them to begin eating again.”

While additional work remains to be done on developing the nanoparticle into an FDA approved therapy, it represents one promising approach to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

3.) HPV Vaccines Continue to Decrease Disease Rates

The England Public Health department announced that they had not identified any HPV16/18 infections in the 16 to 18-year-old age group for the first time. Other types of HPV infection showed large declines since the introduction of the vaccine 10 years ago. The department also announced that there was no increase in HPV infections that were not impacted by the vaccine. This was an important finding to ensure that there was no “replacement” effect occurring as treatable HPV infections decreased. HPV rates have fallen drastically across the world since the introduction of the vaccine, though the rise of the anti-vax movement threatens progress. Researchers hope that additional studies showing the benefits of HPV vaccination will lead to an expansion in the number of people choosing to receive the vaccine.;

4.) Climate Change Continues to Follow Predicted Model

Climate Change Predictions

In a study published by The Royal Society journal, researchers announced that they had mapped over 100 locations where tropical forests and coral reefs have been affected by climate extremes such as hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, droughts, and fires. Their research indicated that these very diverse ecosystems are being threatened by a combination of ongoing climate changes, increasingly extreme weather and damaging local human activities.

Lead researcher Dr. Filipe France from the Embrapa Amazônia Oriental in Brazil and Lancaster University said: “Tropical forests and coral reefs are very important for global biodiversity, so it is extremely worrying that they are increasingly affected by both climate disturbances and human activities. Many local threats to tropical forests and coral reefs, such as deforestation, overfishing, and pollution, reduce the diversity and functioning of these ecosystems. This, in turn, can make them less able to withstand or recover from extreme weather. Our research highlights the extent of the damage which is being done to ecosystems and wildlife in the tropics by these interacting threats.”

The rise in average global temperature and increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters closely mirror many of the prediction models for climate change. The models predict that these impacts will only increase over time, as the world continues to delay addressing this crisis.

5.) Low Dose Lithium Shown to Stop Alzheimer’s Progression

In a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researches showed that low dose lithium was able to stop disease progression when given to rats. The lithium was specially formulated in order to pass the blood-brain barrier. The team, led by Dr. Claudio Cuello of McGill University, applied the new formulation to a rat transgenic model that expressed human mutated proteins causative of Alzheimer’s. This rat develops features of the human Alzheimer’s disease, including a progressive accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain and concurrent cognitive deficits.

“Microdoses of lithium at concentrations hundreds of times lower than applied in the clinic for mood disorders were administered at early amyloid pathology stages in the Alzheimer’s-like transgenic rat. These results were remarkably positive and were published in 2017 in Translational Psychiatry and they stimulated us to continue working with this approach on a more advanced pathology,” notes Dr. Cuello.

While continuing research needs to be conducted, this study is one more piece of evidence that lithium can be an effective treatment to minimize the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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