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Nanotechnology vs. cancer: How tiny particles sniff out the deadly disease
We may be able to detect cancer soon by simply peeing on a stick.
SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Take them away from their loved ones, And cancer has been, for all of human history, among the most insidious. The best way to address cancer or any disease is to prevent it. Vaccines are enormously important in preventing disease. It's much harder to fix a disease once you get it than it is to prevent you from getting the disease. So vaccines are very important. For cancer, we've determined a number of carcinogens things that will drive the development of cancer in some people. And so prevention is sometimes avoidance. Stopping smoking. In the United States, smoking cessation has resulted finally in a reduction of deaths from cancer.
Staying away from asbestos, wearing sunscreen when you go in the sun. But even if all of us were to have all the vaccines that are prescribed and exercise all of the preventions, cancer would still be with us. Cancer is an aberrant function of a normal cell, where the regulators of that cell's dividing are broken and the cell starts to divide without regulation. Left to its own devices, that dividing without regulation will overcome the entire body. And that is how cancer kills you. Now cancer is easier to treat if you can stop it where it starts. Cancer usually starts as a very small group of aberrantly dividing cells. With time, those cells break loose from the original site and will metastasize to other sites and set up new cancers there. And these cells are very mutagenic.
That means their DNA changes very rapidly. Most cancer cells have lost the ability to regulate their DNA mutation. And it is a biological challenge to control cancer once it has progressed to a certain level. So if you can't prevent cancer, the next best strategy is early diagnosis. Because if you can stop it when it's only a few hundred cells, before it's escaped its original location and gone to another location, there's a very high probability of cure. We have some very good diagnostic tests that have reduced the rates of death from colon cancer and breast cancer. Quite remarkable advances on those two cancers and some others. But even those technologies don't detect cancer when they're small enough and don't detect it reliably enough. There is a possibility I say a very real possibility that using a biology-engineering convergence based on nanotechnology, we may have a way to diagnose cancers much earlier than we can today.
One example that I give in the book is from the laboratory of Sangeeta Bhatia. And she has devised a young approach that she calls synthetic biomarkers. Biomarkers are things that measure something that's going on biologically in the body. Synthetic means that her biomarkers are something that she has synthesized, and she's synthesized them using nanotechnology. So one of the remarkable things about living things, about humans, all animals and plants, is there's a lot of specificity. There's a specificity in different tissues. There's a specificity in different diseases. So for example, our skin looks different from our liver. It looks different from our brain. And it's because the cells that make up each of those tissues expresses a different set of genes and a different set of proteins. It's absolutely remarkable, and one of the most interesting pursuits in biology is understanding that kind of gene regulation. It is magical. It's fantastic.
We understand a little bit about it, but there's much more to be learned. Suffice it to say that in cancer, there's a certain set of genes that get turned on and those genes express a certain set of proteins. For a cancer cell to grow and spread, it has to get rid of the things that would normally inhibit spreading. So our normal cells don't migrate around. They don't even grow beyond the bounds of where they're supposed to be. But cancer cells make proteins called enzymes, and enzymes are molecular scissors that cut up the things that stand in the way of cancer growing and spreading. And these enzymes are relatively specific for cancer. So Sangeeta Bhatia has thought, well, if we could detect the expression of those enzymes, we would have a way of detecting cancer. And she does it with a very, very clever device.
She starts with a nanoparticle, and she decorates the nanoparticle with a short stretch of a protein that contains she has synthesized it to contain the site that a cancer enzyme will cut. So if you don't have cancer and you're injected with these nanoparticles, the nanoparticles continue to be whole and eventually will go the way of all things that we don't need in the body. But if you do have cancer, the cancer enzymes will clip these little proteins off and produce very, very tiny peptides, short stretches of protein. She's made those short stretches of proteins small enough that the kidney the kidney is the organ that filters our blood and produces urine but in the urine are no real proteins. The kidney's filter only allows very small things to pass. So these clipped off bits of protein, these little peptides, get filtered from the kidney into the urine.
And in her system, you do a urine test to see whether those little peptides are present. If you don't have they're not going to be there because you don't have the enzyme that cuts them off. If you do have cancer, you'll detect these peptides in the urine. Everyone knows about over-the-counter pregnancy tests, peeing on a stick. The same principle, that there are proteins that appeared in the urine if you're pregnant because these are very, very small proteins that get filtered by the kidney into the urine. They're cheap. So Sangeeta Bhatia's technology has a possibility of giving us inexpensive non-invasive tests so we can follow the progress of a disease, you can determine whether you have a disease or not.
She has a company called Glympse Bio that's Working on this for the marketplace. And I'm an enthusiast. I think this is a marvelous set of ideas. I wouldn't be surprised if in five or 10 years part of your annual physical exam would include the urine sample, which you give anyway, but monitoring that urine sample for the appearance of the signals of any number of diseases that if you can detect early, you can cure them and not simply contain them.
- Cancer is an aberrant function of a normal cell, where the regulators of that cell's dividing are broken and the cell starts to divide without regulation. Left to its own devices, that dividing without regulation will overcome the entire body.
- Until we have a cure, early detection is the holy grail. MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia is currently devising a simple urine test that works just like a pregnancy test to detect cancer the moment it starts.
- How does it work? Nanoparticles are injected into the body that force specific peptides, previously invisible signs of cancer, to be easily detected in urine. In the future, this test may be part of your yearly physical check up.
- Scientists create 10-minute test that can detect cancer anywhere in ... ›
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.