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Genomic Analysis Company Adds Body Composition Profiles

Body composition images

Body composition images viewed on a computer screen (AMRA AB)

9 January 2018. A company analyzing genomics and microbiome factors to extend human life spans is adding an evaluation of body composition to its tool kit. Human Longevity Inc. in San Diego is offering fat and muscle composition profiling, provided by Advanced MR Analytics or AMRA, in Linköping, Sweden, as part of HLI’s personalized medicine platform.

HLI, founded by genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, provides whole genome analysis, but combines the results of that analysis with a comprehensive index of physical traits to offer personalized insights into an individual’s health that the company says can lead to better health planning and more treatment options for extending a person’s lifetime. The company’s flagship product is called Health Nucleus that offers a combination of whole genome sequencing, with analysis of gut microorganisms in the microbiome, and other health tests, such as CT scans or echocardiograms, as needed for an individual’s medical profile.

Under the agreement, AMRA is adding its main service, an analysis of a body’s fat and muscle composition to Health Nucleus. The analysis is derived from magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans of the whole body, which AMRA says takes about 6 minutes. The scans look particularly at fat concentrations in the abdominal cavity, under the skin, in the liver, and the limbs. The scans also provide images of muscle volumes in the limbs and the body overall. The technology, says the company, enables the calculation of fat and muscle content from the images.

Up to now, AMRA offered its body composition profiles for researchers and pharmaceutical companies in clinical trials. Because the scans take a few minutes, the company says they can be repeated at different intervals to track an individual’s progress in dealing with conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome disorders: heart disease, cancer, stroke, liver disease, and diabetes.

The company is a spin-off enterprise from Linköping University, founded in 2010 by Olof Dahlqvist Leinhard, a medical school lecturer, and Magnus Borga, a professor of biomedical engineering. Leinhard is AMRA’s chief scientist, while Borga serves as the company’s vice-president for imaging.

The founders say they were motivated in part by the 2004 documentary film Super Size Me, where Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but fast food for a month. Leinhard, Borga, and colleagues developed their MRI and analytical techniques, with an early test asking volunteers to eat 2 fast food meals a day and limit their exercise. The researchers then measured their fat and muscle content with MRI scans.

Venter in a joint statement says HLI pilot tested AMRA’s body composition profiles for more than a year. AMRA’s CEO Tommy Johansson adds, “Through our partnership with HLI, individuals will now be able to access our technology for the first time outside of medical research.”

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Ingestible Sensors Measure Gases in Stomach, Gut

Ingestible gas-sensing capsule

Ingestible gas-sensing capsule (Peter Clarke, RMIT)

9 January 2018. Researchers in Australia created a sensing device packed in a standard-size drug capsule that measures gas concentrations in the digestive tract in real time. An engineering and medical team from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Monash University, also in Melbourne, describes the device and a pilot test with humans in yesterday’s inaugural issue of the journal Nature Electronics.

The team led by RMIT engineering professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh is seeking better tools to understand the workings of the human gut, an area of increasing interest to medical practitioners and researchers. Among these interests are gases in the gut, which can provide indicators of digestive tract health and the body overall. These gases include hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, and oxygen, generated from swallowed air, as well as digestive enzymes and gut microbes interacting with unabsorbed food.

The tools currently available to monitor gut gases are limited, however, either to analysis of exhaled breath or fecal samples, or swallowed capsules connected by wires to capture the data. These methods, say the authors, either use indirect observations, or in the case of tethered capsules, are literally difficult for many people to swallow.

Kalantar-zadeh and colleagues designed an easy-to-swallow self-contained device that meets the pharmaceutical industry’s maximum size standards for capsules, measuring 26 millimeters in length and 9.8 millimeters across. The capsule is made of a biocompatible polymer, with a membrane at one end that blocks liquids, but allows gases to permeate and be read by sensors inside. The capsule’s electronics include sensors to measure oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide gases, as well as a heat sensor, microcontroller, and radio transmitter. Separate tests show the sensors could read hydrogen and oxygen within 0.2 percent, and carbon dioxide within 1 percent of independent measures.

After being swallowed, capsules transmit data every 5 minutes, captured by a handheld receiver, and relayed via Bluetooth to a mobile phone. The capsules are then retrieved after excreted by the users.

The researchers tested the device to prove the concept and feasibility with 6 volunteers, with one individual participating twice. The volunteers were asked to consume high- or low-fiber diets, to gauge the device’s ability to distinguish between these different conditions. All of the devices were recovered from participants, who displayed no ill effects from the tests.

The results show the sensors measure levels of the three target gases — oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide — in the stomach and gut, indicating they can monitor activities in these organs in real time. The findings suggest the device can detect and measure microbial activity through the gastrointestinal system as it happens, where before fecal samples were required.

A particularly interesting finding is the presence and activity of oxygen in the stomach and gut. Kalantar-zadeh says in a university statement sensors show the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals to break down compounds that stay in the stomach longer than expected, a protective mechanism not previously reported.

In addition, sensors found the presence of oxygen in the gut, in some cases. “Trials showed the presence of high concentrations of oxygen in the colon under an extremely high-fiber diet,” notes Kalantar-zadeh. “This contradicts the old belief that the colon is always oxygen free. This new information could help us better understand how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur.”

Kalantar-zadeh and co-author Kyle Berean filed for a patent on the technology. Bearan and others are also forming Atmo Biosciences, an enterprise to take the device to market, including plans for larger-scale clinical trials, working with technology commercialization company Planet Innovation.

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Lilly, Tech Company Study Diabetes Experiences

Livongo glucose meter

Livongo glucose meter (Livongo Health)

8 January 2018. A maker of diabetes drugs and digital health enterprise are beginning a study of real world experiences with self-management and education among people with diabetes. Drug maker Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis and Livongo Health in Mountain View, California say they plan to publish the results of their collaboration, but gave no timetable for the project, nor were financial details disclosed.

Diabetes is a chronic disorder where the pancreas does not create enough insulin to process the sugar glucose to flow into the blood stream and cells for energy in the body. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for at least 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body cannot process insulin. According to the International Diabetes Federation, diabetes affects an estimated 425 million people worldwide, of which 44 million are in North America.

Lilly is a provider of diabetes medications, and according to the company, the first commercial source of insulin. Livongo designs digital systems for managing diabetes, including analytics derived from data provided by individuals using the company’s smartphone-based technology. The system includes a smart blood glucose meter that connects to cellular networks, and transmits data from the meter to family members, clinicians monitoring the person’s condition, and third-party diabetes counselors certified by Livongo. The meter also collects other data related to the person’s health, such as physical activity.

Data from the smart meter are sent as well to a database in the cloud, where a rules-based inference engine analyzes the data and offers personalized guidance to the individual with diabetes and his or her physician. Livongo users with the mobile app can receive coaching, with tips on nutrition and lifestyle changes, from licensed third-party counselors. People connected to the meter in the Livongo community can provide feedback via voice telephone, e-mail, or text message.

The partnership with Lilly is expected to capture data on real-life experiences of people with diabetes in managing their conditions and learning more about the disease. Combining information gleaned from Livongo systems with insurance claims data, the research team aims to measure the impact of self-education and support on clinical outcomes and health care costs. The researchers also plan to document the factors driving healthy behaviors, and better understand ways people with diabetes can become or remain actively involved in their own health.

Livongo’s diabetes program was evaluated in a study published in July 2017, with data collected from 4,544 Livongo members. The results show participants in the program were 18 percent less likely to experience days with their blood sugar levels going too low, and 16 percent less likely to have days where blood sugar levels trended too high. The data were collected from October 2014 through December 2015.

“These studies will have a direct impact on the lives of Livongo members,” says Jennifer Schneider, Livongo’s chief medical officer, in a joint statement. “Livongo uses reinforcement learning to create customized and actionable insights that guide people to better manage their diabetes. The knowledge we gain from these studies will be incorporated into our diabetes management platform to help drive better health outcomes for our members.”

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Celgene Acquires Cancer Drug Start-Up in $7B Deal

Red blood cells

Red blood cells illustration (geralt, Pixabay)

8 January 2018. The biopharmaceutical company Celgene Corp. is acquiring Impact Biomedicines Inc., a developer of drugs to treat a type of blood-related cancer. The agreement with Celgene, in Summit, New Jersey could bring shareholders in San Diego-based Impact Biomedicines more than $7 billion if all milestones are achieved and sales projections met.

Impact Biomedicines develops drugs to treat a type of blood-related cancers known as myeloproliferative neoplasms, where bone marrow produces too many blood cells. The company’s lead product, fedratinib, was tested in intermediate- and late-stage clinical trials as a therapy for chronic myeloproliferative neoplasm, a condition where bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, platelets, or certain white blood cells. The latest trial tested the drug in patients that do not respond to the currently approved drug, ruxolitinib, comprising 30 to 40 percent of individuals with the disease.

Fedratinib limits the actions of the Janus kinase 2, or JAK2, gene that codes for the production of a protein stimulating growth and proliferation of cells. The gene’s protein is particularly important in the production of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, and is linked to a number of myeloproliferative neoplasms. In addition to chronic myeloproliferative neoplasm, Impact Biomed plans to test fedratinib as a treatment for myelofibrosis, a scarring of bone marrow that disrupts production of red blood cells, and polycythemia vera, a blood cancer that results in too many blood cells and a thickening of blood in the body.

Impact Biomedicines began only in October 2017, and is not your typical scientific start-up. The company was formed to acquire the rights to fedratinib from drug maker Sanofi, which sponsored clinical trials of the candidate drug. While the trials showed clinical benefits from fedratinib, several patient deaths also occurred from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a neurological condition associated with a vitamin-B deficiency. While researchers could not link the deaths to the drug, FDA put a clinical hold on the trial, effectively stopping the study, in 2013.

Once Impact Biomed gained fedratinib, the company presented a new plan to FDA for testing the candidate drug in patients with myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera, with the agency lifting the clinical hold in August 2017. The company is co-founded by Catriona Jamieson, who studies blood-related cancers at University of California in San Diego, and is serving as the company’s interim medical director. John Hood, another company founder and CEO, is one of the inventors of fedratinib while at TargeGen Inc., which was later acquired by Sanofi.

Under the agreement, Celgene is paying an initial fee of $1.1 billion with Impact Biomed’s shareholders also eligible for further payments of $1.4 billion if all regulatory milestones of fedratinib are achieved. In addition, if sales of fedratinib exceed $5 billion, Impact Biomed’s shareholders would qualify for as much as $4.5 billion in subsequent payments.

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The Benefits Of Using A Virtual Private Network

– Contributed content –

6 January 2018. Whether you use the internet for personal reasons for commercial applications, VPNs are essential in the modern world. That is because there are a lot of people out there who would like to monitor your online activities. With that in mind, this article will highlight all the benefits of using a VPN in the hope of shedding some light on the situation. Read it carefully!

VPNs can help you to save money

There are many situations in which the use of a virtual private network could save you a small fortune. That is especially the case if you run a business with multiple premises all over the world. VPNs can create savings by:

  • Reducing long-distance telephone charges
  • Offloading support costs

VPNs will prevent unwanted online attention

Both individuals and companies will want to make sure nobody monitors their online activities. The infographic below highlights the benefits of using VPNs in the home, but they have the same effect in the workplace too. You just need to select the most appropriate provider.

VPNs hide your location

There are instances in which you might want to alter your physical location due to online constraints. For example, you might want to access a service in a foreign country that will not display correctly due to you being outside of the nation. VPNs can override such things.

Now you know more about the benefits of using a VPN; you can go out and find the right solution for your requirements. There is lots of information and reviews online for anyone who struggles to sort the wheat from the chaff. Stay secure folks!

Continue reading The Benefits Of Using A Virtual Private Network

Infographic – America’s Smartphone Addiction

Infographic: America's Smartphone Addiction | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

6 January 2018. We’ve reported at Science & Enterprise many new ways of using smartphones, particularly for health care and data gathering. These devices — used more as pocket computers than phones — are ubiquitous, easy to operate, and increasingly inexpensive. But they’re also addictive, a condition our friends at Statista documented earlier this week, and it’s our weekend infographic.

For example, smartphone owners in the U.S. check their devices on average 47 times a day. In addition, more than 80 percent check their phones within an hour after waking up or going to bed, with more than one-third (35%) doing so within 5 minutes of waking or going to bed. Does that describe your behavior? (I plead guilty as charged.) Statista’s data come from a survey of more than 1,600 smartphone owners in the U.S. during July 2017.

And if you’re reading this story on your phone, thank you for visiting Science & Enterprise’s mobile site.

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Continuous Flow Manufacturing In Space Station Test

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Cargo Resupply Mission 13 launches on 15 December 2017. (NASA)

5 January 2018. Among the experiments carried to the International Space Station in mid-December is a test of continuous separations of one liquid from another, used in drug and chemical manufacturing. The experiment is evaluating a process developed by Zaiput Flow Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a 4 year-old spin-off enterprise from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zaiput Flow Technologies is commercializing a technology developed by then-postdoctoral researcher Andrea Adamo in the lab of MIT chemical engineering professor Klavs Jensen. Adamo’s research discovered a faster and more effective way to separate liquids in suspension. Most of today’s separation methods use gravity, which allows denser and heavier fluids in a tank to sink to the bottom, where they’re extracted. This process, says the company is slow and prone to error, since the fluids do not completely separate, leading to contamination.

Adamo’s process instead uses surface tension on a membrane to separate and extract one fluid from another. The fluids are feed through a tube, where they meet a polymer membrane that repels one of the fluids and attracts the other. Carefully controlled pressure through the tube separates the liquids into different tubes, where they’re collected. “You want a little bit of pressure,” says Adamo in an MIT statement, “so the chemical goes through, but not too much to push through the unwanted liquid. The internal controller ensures this happens at all times.”

As reported in Science & Enterprise in April 2016, Adamo and colleagues at MIT applied this technology to a continuous flow drug manufacturing system that produces small quantities of compounds on demand. Since then, Zaiput began building liquid-liquid separators and extractors for pharmaceutical companies and academic labs. Now, Adamo believes the ability to produce drugs and chemicals on demand without gravity can be useful for space exploration.

“When people go on deep space explorations, or maybe to Mars, these are multiyear missions,” notes Adamo. “But how do you synthesize chemicals for drugs and other products without gravity? We have that answer. Testing our unit in space will show that what we have done on Earth is fully exportable to space.”

That Zaiput separator unit is one of the systems launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 15 December as part of the cargo aboard a SpaceX Dragon space craft. The unit will be used for a series of experiments aboard the International Space Station to test separations of various liquids, with results captured through imaging. The ISS has a facility called TangoLab devoted to microgravity research. The experiments are expected to last about one month.

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Highly Targeted Opioid Designed to Avoid Side Effects

Head in hands

(Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash)

5 January 2018. A pharmacology team decoded complex opioid proteins in the brain to design a compound that can relieve pain, but avoid the dangerous adverse effects causing addiction and overdoses. Researchers from the lab of North Carolina medical school professor Bryan Roth at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill describe their discovery in yesterday’s issue of the journal Cell (paid subscription required).

The well-documented opioid crisis in the U.S. and elsewhere shows little sign of abating, with much of the problem linked to abuse of opioid pain drugs. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in July 2017 spells out the scope of the crisis, with some 2 million Americans age 12 and older addicted to prescription opioid drugs and another 600,000 addicted to heroin.

The most visible and immediate effect of the emergency is the growing number of overdoses and deaths that result. National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of National Institutes of Health, cites data showing more than 90 Americans each day die from opioid overdoses, with an economic burden estimated at $78.5 billion a year from the costs of care, treatment, lost productivity, and criminal justice.

The UNC team led by post-doctoral researchers Daniel Wacker and Tao Che is seeking to unravel the structure of proteins in the brain that respond to opioid drugs to relieve pain, but also cause the unwanted adverse effects. The researchers focused particularly on kappa opioid receptors, or KORs, proteins found on the surface of brain cells, which in their activated state can stop pain signals. Most of today’s opioid pain relievers address these receptors, but also affect other proteins that trigger the undesired effects.

“One of the big ideas is to target KORs,” says Roth in a university statement, “because the few drugs that bind to it don’t lead to addiction or cause death due to overdose. Those side effects are mainly related to actions at the mu opioid receptor.”

Wacker, Che, and colleagues first had to overcome the small size and fragility of KORs and opioid receptors in general that make them difficult to analyze with conventional X-ray techniques, to determine their structure in a crystallized form. In addition, the researchers needed to capture the protein’s structure when activated, which differs from its inactive state, particularly in finding the binding location needed for drugs to work on that protein.

The researchers employed a method called lipidic cubic phase crystallization that suspends protein molecules in a mixture of water and lipids, or oils, then removes the water to reveal the protein’s structure. Comparing KORs in their activated to inactive states revealed key structural details, including the region for binding to the protein. The team screened a number of compounds with the potential to bind to this target, and identified a morphine derivative code-named MP1104. Susruta Majumdar at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who discovered MP1104 is a co-author of the paper.

The researchers modified MP1104 to increase its binding ability to KORs, adding a nanoscale component that stabilizes KORs in their activated state, and tested the synthesized compound in lab cultures. The results show the drug candidate binds to KORs as designed, but unlike conventional opioid drugs, bypasses other receptor proteins, suggesting it can relieve pain while avoiding the dangerous side effects. Next steps will likely include testing this compound and related candidates with lab animals.

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Investing In The Future Of Technology

– Contributed content –

5 January 2018. Over the last couple of decades, science and technology have been able to reach new heights of discovery and innovation. Our computers are on their way to being virtually omniscient, more and more people are carrying computer devices, and each year there are new and amazing tools for people to get their hands on. Of course, as an investor, this can leave you in an odd place. Knowing where to put your money is hard, as the changes in this industry are incredibly rapid, and new trends are appearing all the time.

Airport passenger belt

(Photo by Tomasz Frankowski on Unsplash)

If you’re able to spot these trends, though, you might be onto a real winner. Figuring out what is about to become popular in a field like this will take a good amount of learning and research, coupled with the ability to carry out research. Once you find a trend, predicting the future can be quite easy, and choosing the right products to invest in shouldn’t be any trouble at all. To help you out with this, this post will be exploring the different ways you can find a trend in tech.

There are a lot of people out there with strong passions for the field of computing and technology, and the biggest companies know how to make them happy. Intel, for example, have recently announced plans to move onto a new semiconductor material in their processors. Thanks to size limitations, silicone is out, and options like indium gallium arsenide are hitting the scene. You can learn how to buy up resources like this via Commodity.com and other sites which deal with trading. Along with this, though, it’s always worth doing some outside research, too.

Of course, in a lot of cases, spotting a trend which will go into the future is a simple matter of looking at what the users of the web are searching for. A website like trends.google.co.uk can be a great resource when you’re doing this. A great example of a field in tech which people are excited about comes in the form of cell phone security. As newer methods come about, people are always after something smoother and easier to use. This gives you an excellent chance to look towards making some money.

Throughout time, inventors and those looking to fund them have always faced the struggle between good and bad ideas. It can be very hard to tell what people of the future will be using, and hedging your investments on it can be very risky. Of course, though, while it is hard, people in the past have still managed to accurately predict technology of the future. If you’re able to do this for yourself, you may just be able to slip into a massive market before it even exists.

With all of this in mind, the idea of breaking into future technology might be quite daunting. In reality, though, this sort of field is essential to human development and evolution. Without businesses to push further and innovate, the world would stay the same for a very long time.

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Biotech, Microsoft Partner on Immune System Diagnostics

Immuno-sequencing infographic

Click on image for full-size display (Adaptive Biotechnologies, Microsoft Corp.)

4 January 2018. A company that analyzes immune system genomics is collaborating with Microsoft Corporation to develop early-stage disease diagnostics. The agreement calls for Microsoft to make a financial investment in Adaptive Biotechnologies, based in Seattle, but further financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Adaptive Biotechnologies applies genomic sequencing to immune system cells, generating profiles of receptors on those cells for diagnostics and therapies for diseases related to the immune system, as well as cancer. The company is a spin-off enterprise from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, founded in 2009. Its main technology sequences genes from receptors on T- and B-cells, white blood cells in the immune system, for diagnostics and therapies.

The collaboration aims to combine Adaptive Biotechnologies’ immune-system sequencing capabilities with Microsoft’s large-scale machine learning and cloud computing to create diagnostics for individual patients from a simple blood test. The partnership is expected to produce a map connecting T-cell receptors and antigens, proteins that emit signals for a particular disease, eventually leading to a universal diagnostic test. Sequencing the genetics in trillions of T-cell receptors and matching them to the millions of antigens will require large databases and sophisticated analytics, powered in part by machine learning.

“Some conditions like cancer or autoimmune disorders can be difficult to diagnose,” says Adaptive’s CEO Chad Robins in a company statement, “but this universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease, potentially helping physicians to connect the dots to understand the relationship between disease states and eventually lead to a better understanding of overall human health.”

In a company blog post, Peter Lee, Microsoft’s vice-president for artificial intelligence and research, calls the project an “X-ray of the immune system,” which would “open new doors to predictive medicine, as a person’s immunological history is believed to shape their response to new pathogens and treatments in ways that are currently impossible to explore. The impact on human health of such a universal blood test that reads a person’s exposure and response to disease would be, in a word, transformational.”

The collaboration is part of Microsoft’s Healthcare Next initiative, begun last year to apply cloud computing and artificial intelligence to health care. The companies say it’s the first partnership between technology and genomics companies to map the genetics of the immune system.

Robins and Lee plan to tell more about their partnership on 10 January at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, an invitation-only meeting in San Francisco.

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