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New Antibiotics Discovered in Stomach Peptides

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Pseudomonas aeruginosa colony (Harvard Medical School, NIH)

21 August 2018. Researchers in Italy and the U.S. found a potential source of new antibiotics in derivatives of peptides used by the digestive process in the stomach. A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Naples Federico II report their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal ACS Synthetic Biology (paid subscription required).

The emergence of bacteria that resist today’s antibiotics is a continuing and growing problem. The wide use of antibiotics — in some cases over-use of these drugs — contributes to microbes evolving into strains that can evade current antibiotics, making infections more difficult to treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in the U.S., some 2 million people a year develop infections from microbes resistant to antibiotics, leading to 23,000 deaths.

Researchers led by MIT bioengineering postdoctoral fellow César de la Fuente-Nunez and Naples biochemistry professor Eugenio Notomista are seeking new sources for antibiotics to meet this challenge. Their search began with peptides generated naturally by the digestive system to protect against infections. Peptides are short chains of amino acids that resemble proteins, and can break through the cellular membranes of bacteria to damage their DNA and protein-producing functions. But by themselves peptides lack the power to treat infections, which calls for developing synthetic peptides that retain their chemical activity but function more like medications.

In earlier research, de la Fuente-Nunez and colleagues developed an algorithm for screening databases of human proteins for chemical properties similar to peptides. In this study, the team refined the algorithm to discover human proteins, with chemistries more complex than peptides, and screened some 2,000 proteins for antimicrobial characteristics like those in peptides. Their screening initially returned 800 proteins, but one protein known as pepsin A showed particular promise. Pepsin A is a protease, a type of digestive enzyme that breaks down the peptide pepsinogen. Residual fragments of pepsinogen, previously unknown to the team, were shown in further screening to have distinct antimicrobial properties against foodborne bacteria such as E. coli.

“The human stomach is attacked by many pathogenic bacteria,” says de la Fuente-Nunez in an MIT statement, “so it makes sense that we would have a host defense mechanism to defend ourselves from such attacks.”

The researchers produced synthetic forms of three pepsinogen fragments and found in lab cultures they have antimicrobial properties, killing E. coli and Salmonella, another foodborne bacteria. The team then tested the synthetic peptide fragments with lab mice, induced with skin infections from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium responsible for pneumonia is health care settings, as well as blood stream infections. The researchers say the synthetic peptides reduced the bacterial load in the mice infections by up to 4 orders of magnitude.

The team plans to refine the synthetic peptides tested in this study into antibiotic candidates, but they also want to extend the technology to other human peptides identified in their screening. De la Fuente-Nunez notes the researchers already collected a library of these peptides, “and the next step is to demonstrate whether each of them actually has antimicrobial properties and whether each of them could be developed as a new antimicrobial.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

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The Heat Is On – Running A Business In A Changing Climate

– Contributed content –

Thermometers graphic

(wynpnt, Pixabay)

21 August 2018. In years to come, we will look back on the summer of 2018 and summarize it with a single word: “hot”. This is the year where records have been broken across the world, as a global heatwave took hold and then remained in place for longer than anyone thought possible.

Unfortunately, due to climate change, these periods of excessive heat are likely to become more and more common in the years to come. This is a problem all of humanity needs to confront, but is a particular concern for business owners. It would seem that as our climate changes, business owners will need to focus on keeping their employees cool just as much as generating profits and managing their costs.

The impact of extreme heat in the workplace

We’ve all been taught to appreciate heat; to love the feel of the sun on our skin, to see a cloudless sky as a good thing. However, the simple reality is that heat is inherently dangerous, and extreme heat is incredibly dangerous. As extreme heat is likely to become more and more common over the next few decades, it is essential to implement measures to manage this in your workplace.

Studies have shown that a workplace being “too hot” is the number one concern for employees – and this should, in turn, concern business owners. If employees are overheated, their productivity will drop, staff morale will suffer, and you may even see employees falling unwell during their working day.

What can be done?

While it is beneficial to work in as environmentally-friendly way as possible, the immediate problem must also be dealt with.

In many ways, the solutions to these issues are rather basic:

  • Install air conditioning on your premises
  • Ensure all employees have access to water
  • Allow employees to take more, and longer, breaks during periods of extreme heat

However, these measures alone are not sufficient to manage extreme heat. You will need to look at “outside the box” remedies also:

  • One of the side effects of a heatwave is extra demand on the power grid, which can lead to brown- and black-outs. To prepare for such eventualities, it is worth contacting your local generator dealer to explore options to ensure you will always be able to run air conditioning at your premises.
  • It is also worth thinking about preventing the heat inside your premises from becoming too extreme in the first instance. Options such as blackout blinds and UV film for windows can be incredibly beneficial in this regard.
  • Finally, your employees having to commute to your place of business during extreme heat can put them in genuine danger. As a result, ensuring you have a system in place that allows remote working may be a sensible choice.

In conclusion

The heatwave of this summer is not an outlier, so change is needed now to ensure that your company can continue to operate at its best during periods of extreme heat. A combination of the options above should help ensure business continuity even during the hottest of summer days, and assist in ensuring you and your staff are as protected as possible from a changing climate in future.

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Organ-on-Chip Model Simulates Blood-Brain Barrier

Blood-brain barrier chip illustration

Blood-brain barrier chip illustration. The brain tissue chip, middle, is connected in both directions to blood vessel chips to trace the flow and composition of fluids in and out of the brain. (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

20 August 2018. Researchers at Harvard University developed a chip model of the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain’s nerve cells and tested the model with the drug methamphetamine. A description of the model, developed at the university’s engineering labs, including the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, appears in today’s issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology (paid subscription required).

A team from the university’s Disease Biophysics Group led by bioengineering professor Kevin Kit Parker is seeking better technologies for understanding the blood-brain barrier that usually prevents molecules from crossing from the blood stream into brain cells. Blood vessels in the brain form a support network for brain functions, with tightly-packed cells lining blood vessels that allow nutrients like glucose to pass through, but keeping out foreign substances. This barrier also keeps out drugs to treat neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, and its impaired functioning is also implicated in these disorders. So far, no efficient method is available to penetrate this barrier, preventing some 98 percent of current drugs from reaching the brain or central nervous system.

The researchers note that modeling the brain and its blood vessels is difficult because of the brain’s complexity, which includes many interactions with blood vessels. Their model focuses solely on the blood-brain barrier, and takes advantage of the Wyss Institute’s continuing work with chip devices that simulate biological functions and even entire organs. The model contains 3 chips made of clear polymer plastic, each about the size of a microscope slide. One chip has tiny microfluidic channels etched into the plastic with neurons, or nerve cells, and astrocyte cells representing brain tissue. Astrocytes are cells in the brain that support the signaling functions of neurons. A synthetic cerebrospinal fluid flows through the channels

The 2 other chips represent blood vessels, each having microfluidic channels lined with endothelial cells, like those lining blood vessels, and pericytes that regulate the flow of substances across the endothelial cells, a key part of the blood-brain barrier. A simulated blood flows through the channels in these 2 chips. The 3 chips are then linked together with separate flows of cerebrospinal fluid and blood, with semi-permeable membranes separating the cells and the channels. The system needs 2 blood-vessel chips flanking the brain-tissue chip to compare the state of the fluids before and after interacting with the brain-tissue chip.

The team put their model to a severe test, sending the addictive drug methamphetamine through the channels. Methamphetamine, or meth, is known to disrupt the tight junctions between blood vessels and brain cells, breaking down the blood-brain barrier. In their tests, meth broke down those junctions as predicted, indicating the model can serve as device for simulating some drug-brain interactions. But separate from meth, the researchers also found more subtle metabolic interactions that were previously not known between blood vessel and brain cells that support production of neurotransmitters, signaling chemicals in the brain, and other supporting amino acids.

“The big breakthrough here,” says Parker in a Wyss Institute statement, “is that not only have we created a new model for studying the effects of drugs on the human brain, along the way we teased out the communication networks between cells in a way that never could have been done with traditional brain research techniques.”

Co-author Donald Ingber, director of the Wyss Institute, is also a founder of the company Emulate Inc. that develops and commercializes organ-simulating chips. Ingber chairs Emulate’s scientific advisory board, while Parker is a member of that board. The following video tells more about the blood-brain barrier chip project.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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FDA Clears Magnetic Device for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

brain stimulationgraphic

(Media News, Flickr)

20 August 2018. A non-invasive device using magnetic waves that penetrate the brain to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder received authorization for sales in the U.S. from the Food and Drug Administration. The agency on Friday announced its clearance of the device, made by Brainsway Ltd., an Israeli medical device company with offices in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common and chronic condition characterized by uncontrollable thoughts, fears, and mental images that cause anxiety. But these repeated and upsetting thoughts often result in disturbing and disruptive behaviors when they involve other people. Unreasonable concern of contamination, for example, can lead to excessive and repeated hand-washing, or excessive fears can result in aggressive behaviors toward other people or oneself. FDA cites data from National Institute of Mental Health showing that 1 percent of adults in the U.S. experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder in the past year, with medication and psychotherapy the most common treatments.

Brainsway’s system uses what the company calls deep transcranial magnetic stimulation that sends electromagnetic waves into the frontal lobes of the brain. The core of the device is its own H7 coil that Brainsway says reaches deeper into the brain to stimulate nerve cells than other external stimulation devices, aiming in this case at the anterior cingulate cortex that connects the limbic system affecting emotions and the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s cognitive region. Treatments with the system last about 20 minutes and are given under supervision in a clinic. The company says it licenses its technology from patents filed by National Institutes of Health in the U.S., as well as its own intellectual property.

FDA based its authorization in part on a clinical trial of 100 individuals in North America and Israel with obsessive-compulsive disorder randomly assigned to receive either deep transcranial magnetic stimulation or sham treatments with a similar-looking but non-working device. Participants received these treatments for 6 weeks, and were evaluated for obsessive-compulsive behaviors on a standard 10-item rating scale. The results show 38 percent of participants receiving deep transcranial magnetic stimulation reported more than a 30 percent reduction in symptoms, compared to 11 percent of those receiving the sham treatments.

In addition, more than half (55%) of participants receiving Brainsway treatments experienced at least 20 percent fewer symptoms, compared to 27 percent of those in the sham treatment group. Reports of fewer symptoms among Brainsway-treated participants continued in a follow-up assessment 4 weeks later. The most common adverse effect was headache reported by about equal percentages of the Brainsway (38%) and sham treatment (35%) participants; noise made by the device requires the recipient to wear earplugs while in use. No serious adverse effects were reported.

FDA authorized the Brainsway system under its de novo premarket review pathway for new types of low- to moderate-risk medical devices. In addition to FDA clearance, the device also has a CE mark which permits marketing in Europe for a number of neurological disorders. The agency previously cleared a similar Brainsway system to treat major depressive disorder in 2008 and expanded that authorization to include pain from some forms of migraine headache in 2013.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Can You Make More Money With Your Trades?

– Contributed content –

Investing graphic

(CafeCredit.com, Flickr)

20 August 2018. Yes, of course you can make more money with your trade. You should take up every opportunity to be able to, and we think we know a few ways that might appeal to you. Because for every penny you could make, it’s just as easy to lose two. If you’re only just going into the world of trade, then this is something that you need to find out pretty quickly.

But, we do love how much you can make with trade if you do get it right, and we love how much potential trade brings to those who might not have the most money in the first place. Because you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands to be able to invest. All you need to do is know where to invest, when to invest, and the things that can help you make more money. First time investor or not, here’s how we think you can make more money with trades.

How much should you invest to make more?

As we’ve said, it’s the belief by many that you’re going to have to spend an absolute fortune to invest, but that’s totally wrong. There are plenty of low investment ideas that you could try, which if you kept going back to and building on, could bring you a hell of a lot of money back. We’re talking areas such as stock, virtual currency, and forex trading. Bear in mind, all of them are hard to get your head around, and you will probably have to go to a broker to do the work for you, and they’ll take a fee of what you get.

If you were looking for a bigger investment option, then go for something like property or stock again. You can go for a stock investment with any amount of money, which is why we love it so much. If you want to invest more and make more, put in around $10,000 with a broker and see what happens.

Can technology help?

It definitely didn’t used to help, but this is the 21st century, and technology can do anything nowadays! What you can do is use algorithm technology to try and improve your investment outcomes. It is such a good idea to try and use, because if there’s more money to be made, you might as well do it! It’s based on mathematics, and you can’t really go wrong with that. Powerful algorithmic-trading techniques are used by brokers and companies all over the world, and it has proven to be successful time and time again. You can also download trading apps which allow you to stay connected to your investment 24/7, meaning you can never miss an opportunity to make more money.

Is it all about luck?

In some cases, yes. You’re either going to get lucky and win big, or you’re going to strike out and lose some money. But that’s what people find so addictive with this. One minute you could be up, the next you could be battling to be back up at the top.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this post are the contributor’s and not Science & Enterprise.

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In Case You Missed It …

(tigerlily713, Pixabay)

19 August 2018. As our infographic yesterday indicates, the opioid crisis shows few signs of abating anytime soon. And while much of the current surge in overdose deaths is from synthetic opioid drugs like fentanyl, the roots of the crisis can be traced to abuse of prescription pain drugs.

As a result, new ways of treating acute and chronic pain are badly needed. A story last week in Science & Enterprise reports on a new NIH grant to the company Peptide Logic in San Diego, developing synthetic peptides, short chains of amino acids similar to proteins. The peptides in this case act on kappa opioid receptors, pain receptors in tissue and muscles outside the central nervous system, which unlike today’s opioid pain drugs that can be addictive, do not affect the brain. The 2-year award of nearly $3 million aims to advance the technology to the point of clinical trials.

Here are other stories we covered last week:

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Three Technologies That Make Your Recruitment Process Easier

– Contributed content-

Tablet with graphic

(Pexels.com)

19 August 2018. Technology has sculpted, changed and in many ways improved our lives over the past few decades. One place it has made a dramatic impact is in the world of business, and even quite specific tasks such as recruiting can be made quicker, easier and fairer with the use of technology. Here are three examples of tech you can utilize if you’re recruiting for your business.

Online testing

When you’re hiring a new employee, you of course want to know that they’re skilled and competent enough to handle the tasks that the role demands. Having good qualifications and experience is a start, but there’s nothing quite like seeing these things speak for themselves by passing a test you have set. Online testing can make the recruitment process much easier, you could have potential employees take a test and then instantly filter out the ones that fail. This narrows down your interview pool to the best, saving you time and money.

While of course a test isn’t everything (nerves might have got the better of them or they excel in other areas to the questions asked) then can be incredibly useful especially if your position attracts a lot of candidates. There are lots of programs and software you can use to make this process as cheap and simple as possible. Since candidates will take the test from home, there’s no need to arrange meetings and you only need to call in the ones that pass.

Video interviewing

While phone interviews have existed for a long time, video interviewing is quite different. It’s as close to a traditional interview as possible as you get to see the candidate in person, their body language and more which can help you to make a decision. Pre-recorded questions can be sent to candidates and then the footage can be watched back at a convenient time. No need for HR to arrange lots of meetings and it can generally make the recruitment process much quicker and easier.

You also have the option of conducting live video interviews. This is also something that would be useful if you plan on hiring a remote team, if the candidate doesn’t live locally (or even in the same country you’re in) you can still interview them and get a sense of their personality before taking them on.

Recruitment software

Recruitment software such as an applicant tracking system and management software can all help to organize the process making it quicker and easier as well as automate some elements completely. These kinds of programs can help you to make better decisions, improve productivity, and generally manage the whole recruitment and applicant management process as efficiently as possible. Lots of metrics can be measured in the recruitment process and using technology to track these saves you time and money during the recruitment and selection process.

Have you ever made use of any of these technologies? How are you currently recruiting employees for your business, could your methods be improved?

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Infographic – 72,000 Opioid Overdose Deaths in 2017

Drug overdose deaths

Change in predicted 12-month count of drug overdose deaths by state, through Jan. 2018. Click on image for full-size view. (Statista)

18 August 2018. We report regularly on the opioid drug crisis in the U.S., which shows little sign of ending. That assessment was underscored this week with a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that more than 72,000 deaths from opioid overdose were reported for 2017, an increase from 66,000 in the previous year.

But the report also indicates some states, where the battle against opioid addiction is fought day-to-day, are making progress in lowering the number of  opioid overdose deaths. This weekend’s infographic, from our friends at Statista, shows Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota were able to reduce the rate of overdose deaths below the expected number for those states, from 8 to 33 percent. Other states, however, are still struggling.

The increase in overdose deaths is attributed to more people using opioids, and the type of drugs used, particularly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The links below give some of our recent reporting on the epidemic.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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American Cities Leading The Way In Renewable Energy

– Contributed content –

Renewable energy

(Kenueone, Pixabay)

18 August 2018. While there is still a tiny minority that disagrees, it’s a widely accepted fact that fossil fuels have a huge negative impact on the environment and contribute to climate change. The impact of climate change is starting to become very visible as extreme weather events are on the rise and the climate of the planet is becoming more unpredictable. It’s clear then, that we need a solution. Most climate scientists agree that cutting down on the use of fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy sources is a priority.

There are still those out there that argue in favor of fossil fuels and claim that the renewable energy sources won’t produce enough power for the population. In reality, there are a lot of cities around the country that are already moving toward renewables in a big way and they serve as an example of how we can all adopt clean energy in the future. These are the American cities that are leading the way in renewable energy.

New York

A city as large as New York demands a lot of power so you would expect it to use quite a lot of fossil fuels. While it’s true that the city is largely powered by gas generators, those generators can be adapted to use renewable sources when they’re available and the gas is used as a backup. This a great model for cities that are in the transition period, trying to build a renewable energy infrastructure before ditching fossil fuels altogether.

Josco Energy sources renewable energy from quite a few different places. The Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant is one of the 4 biggest sources of hydroelectric power in the world. It’s a completely clean way of generating power and it supplies a lot of the electricity in New York. They’re also using biomass power plants to generate electricity. They take waste water and add bacteria to it. Those bacteria then purify the water and the reaction releases methane, which can then be harnessed to create electricity.

Las Vegas

You probably wouldn’t guess that Las Vegas is a leader in renewables because of the sheer amount of energy that they use. It’s true that they do use a huge amount of electricity and a lot of that is still generated by fossil fuels but they are starting to make big moves toward renewables. The Hoover Dam has been generating a big chunk of their energy since the 1930’s and more recently, they’ve started using solar power to generate the electricity for all of their municipal buildings. The casinos are also planning to move over to renewables which will make a huge difference.

San Diego

The government in San Diego has made huge commitments to renewable energy. Their climate action plan states that the city will rely almost entirely on solar energy and all of their power will come from renewable sources by 2035. They hope to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half and also invest a lot of money in the renewable energy industry, creating jobs and pushing the technology forward.

The rest of the country can use these cities as a model for how to adopt renewable energy and reduce their impact on the planet in a big way.

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Nanoparticle Process Designed to Detect, Treat Oral Bacteria

Streptococcus mutans

Streptococcus mutans bacterial communities (CDC.gov)

17 August 2018. A bioengineering lab devised a way to quickly detect and treat bacteria responsible for tooth decay with a combination of X-rays and a non-toxic compound in nanoscale particles. Researchers from University of Illinois in Urbana describe their techniques in the 30 July issue of the journal Biomaterials (paid subscription required).

A team from the Materials in Medicine lab at Illinois, led by engineering professor Dipanjan Pan, is seeking faster and more reliable methods for identifying and fighting harmful bacteria in the mouth that form stubborn communities called biofilms and contribute to cavities and tooth decay. Many dentists today use tablets that dissolve in the mouth or apply swabs with agents that disclose bacterial plaques, but these methods do not generally distinguish between harmful and benign bacteria. As Pan describes it in a university statement, “detection of dental plaque is highly subjective and only depends on the dentist’s visual evaluation.”

The Illinois team aims to take the subjectivity out of the process. Their technique uses hafnium oxide, an inert stable compound used in glass and ceramics, formulated in nanoscale particles. The hafnium oxide binds to characteristic peptides in offending bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutans, the most common cavity-causing oral microbe. The hafnium oxide enhances the visual presence of S. mutans bacteria, when exposed to a probe with ordinary X-rays, like those found in most dental clinics. At the same time, benign microbes are left alone.

In larger quantities, the hafnium oxide nanoparticles also show antibacterial properties. The nanoparticles not only bind to the bacteria, but when applied in higher concentrations, they also fragment the bacterial DNA, killing the microbes. In lab tests first with extracted teeth and later in lab rats, daily doses of hafnium oxide nanoparticles stopped the growth of S. mutans biofilms for 8 days. The researchers envision dentists first applying small quantities of hafnium oxide nanoparticles in a first step to identify the harmful bacteria with X-rays, then follow-up with a larger dose to break up the biofilms.

Pan says in this case the antimicrobial technique used by hafnium oxide nanoparticles to fragment bacterial DNA on tooth surfaces works differently from typical antibiotics. He notes,”This mechanism sets our work apart from previously pursued nanoparticle-based approaches where the medicinal effect comes from antibiotics encapsulated in the particles.” He also adds that “our approach avoids antibiotic resistance issues and it’s safe and highly scalable, making it well-suited for eventual clinical translation.”

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