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Brain game doesn't offer brain gain

A new study led by a team of Western University neuroscientists has debunked claims that getting better at a brain training game can translate to improved performance in other, untrained cognitive tasks.

This study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, set out to test whether hours of ‘brain training’ in one game could give someone an edge in a second game that uses the same area of the brain. If that result was found, it would lend credence to claims that ‘brain-training’ apps can improve working memory, which is vital for learning and retaining information and in staving off memory loss.

But researchers found such transference simply didn’t happen: participants’ high scores in the first game (the one they trained on) didn’t improve performance in the second game, and were equivalent to scores attained by the ‘untrained’ control group.

“We hypothesized that if you get really, really good at one test by training for a very long time, maybe then you’ll get improvement on tests that are quite similar. Unfortunately, we found no evidence to support that claim,” says Bobby Stojanoski, a research scientist in the Owen Lab at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute and lead author of the paper. “Despite hours of brain training on that one game, participants were no better at the second game than people who tested on the second game, but hadn’t trained on the first one.”

A groundbreaking 2010 study led by Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, monitored cognitive performance in 11,000 people who ‘brain trained’ for six weeks. It found that getting good at brain games doesn’t improve working memory or enhance IQ.

Owen is the senior author of the new study, which was supported by BrainsCAN — Western’s $66 million Canada First Research Excellence Fund program in cognitive neuroscience. The new study was designed to search for any transference between two specific and similar games but instead, the results reinforce and extend his previous findings.

Stojanoski concludes, there are other, proven ways to improve memory and brain health: “Sleep better, exercise regularly, eat better, education is great — that’s the sort of thing we should be focused on. If you’re looking to improve your cognitive self, instead of playing a video game or playing a brain training test for an hour, go for a walk, go for a run, socialize with a friend. These are much better things for you.”

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Advancing the search for antibodies to treat Alzheimer's disease

Two new studies published by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital illustrate that not all forms of amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein — the protein thought to initiate Alzheimer’s disease — play an equally menacing role in the progress of the disease. Using a new way of preparing and extracting the protein as well as a new technique to search for promising drug candidates, researchers have highlighted the importance of testing and targeting different forms of Aβ. Their work may help advance the search for more precise and effective drugs to prevent or halt the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Many different efforts are currently underway to find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and anti-Aβ antibodies are currently the furthest advanced. But the question remains: what are the most important forms of Aβ to target? Our study points to some interesting answers,” said Dominic Walsh, PhD, a principal investigator in the Ann Romney Center.

Aβ protein can take forms ranging from monomers — single molecules — to twisted tangles of plaques that can pollute the brain and are large enough that they can be seen with a traditional microscope. Walsh compares monomers to single Lego bricks, which can start sticking together to form complex structures of varying sizes. The two recently published studies investigate how to find new potential therapeutics that can target the structures most likely to cause harm.

Most Alzheimer’s disease studies use synthetic Aβ to approximate what conditions in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient might be like. A small number of researchers have used Aβ extracted from human brain, but the extraction process is crude. In a study published in Acta Neuropathologica in April, Walsh and colleagues developed a much gentler extraction protocol to prepare samples from subjects with Alzheimer’s disease. The team found that Aβ was far more abundant in traditional crude extracts, but that the bulk of the extracted Aβ was innocuous. In contrast, much less Aβ was obtained with the gentler protocol, but in this case most of the Aβ was toxic.

In a second study published in Nature Communications in July, Walsh and colleagues developed a screening test to try to find potential drugs to target the toxic forms of Aβ. The new technique uses extracts of brain samples from Alzheimer’s disease patients and live-cell imaging of stem-cell derived brain cells to find promising therapeutics. The team reports on 1C22, an Aβ antibody that they found could protect against toxic forms of amyloid-beta more effectively than the most clinically advanced Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics currently in clinical trials.

“We anticipate that this primary screening technique will be useful in the search to identify more potent anti-Aβ therapeutics in the future,” said Walsh.

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Poor mental health days may cost the economy billions of dollars

Poor mental health ranks as one of the costliest forms of sickness for U.S. workers and may sap billions of dollars from the country’s income growth, according to a team of researchers.

In an analysis of economic and demographic data from 2008 to 2014, the researchers found that a single extra poor mental health day in a month was associated with a 1.84 percent drop in the per capita real income growth rate, resulting in $53 billion less total income each year, said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics, Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.

“This starts to give us an idea of what the gain could be, if we did spend more money to help people with poor mental health,” said Goetz, who worked with Meri Davlasheridze, assistant professor and economist, Texas A&M University at Galveston and Yicheol Han, postdoctoral scholar in agricultural economics, sociology and education, Penn State.

Poor mental health days refer to days when people describe their mental health as not good and could include conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress and problems with emotions, according to the researchers, who report their findings in a current issue of the Review of Regional Studies. The measure does not include diagnosed mental illnesses.

To give some sense of the size of the problem, the researchers added that the global economic cost of mental illness is expected to be more than $16 trillion over the next 20 years, which is more than the cost of any other non-communicable disease.

The effect is stronger in rural counties, which tend to be poorer than urban counties. A poor mental health day in rural counties was associated with a reduction of 2.3 percent in income growth, compared with only a .87 percent reduction in urban counties.

“That’s an interesting finding in itself, too, because poorer counties already have so many factors going against them,” said Goetz. “If poor mental health days have a bigger impact in these poorer counties, it suggests that they would have an even harder time keeping up with the wealthy counties.”

Urban counties might have more resources for people struggling with poor mental health and conditions, according to Goetz. These communities typically have more mental treatment facilities, as well.

“We think this difference between urban and rural counties might exist because of the better services that are available for the mentally distressed in the urban counties, which are typically the wealthier counties,” he said. “In an urban county, you might have a mental health center, you may have more resources to tap into to help get you through the bad days, and there may be more mental health professionals. In a rural area, you’re less likely to have access to those types of resources.”

The researchers suggest that investing in mental health resources may be one way of lowering the economic costs of poor mental health, particularly in the harder-hit rural counties.

Goetz cautioned that the period covered in the study was a particularly tumultuous time for the U.S. economy and could have an effect on the findings. To further test the effect of poor mental health days on income growth, he suggested researchers study the relationship over longer time periods and in different economic conditions.

The researchers used county-level data from a number of public sources, including the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. The mental health day data was drawn from County Health Rankings.

Further information: http://journal.srsa.org/ojs/index.php/RRS/article/view/900

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Pungent tasting substance in ginger reduces bad breath

The pungent compound 6-gingerol, a constituent of ginger, stimulates an enzyme contained in saliva — an enzyme which breaks down foul-smelling substances. It thus ensures fresh breath and a better aftertaste. Citric acid, on the other hand, increases the sodium ion content of saliva, making salty foods taste less salty. To find out more about food components, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Leibniz- Institute for Food Systems Biology investigated the effects of food components on the molecules dissolved in saliva.

Many food components contribute directly to the characteristic taste of food and beverages by means of contributing their own particular taste, scent or spiciness. However, they also indirectly influence our sense of taste via other, still largely unknown biochemical mechanisms. A team led by Professor Thomas Hofmann from the Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science has now investigated this phenomenon in greater detail.

6-Gingerol ensures fresh breath

As the results of this study show, the pungent principle of ginger, the so-called 6-gingerol, makes the level of the enzyme sulfhydryl oxidase 1 in saliva increase 16-fold within a few seconds. The saliva and breath analyses carried out on human volunteers show that the enzyme breaks down malodorous sulfur-containing compounds. In this way, it is able to reduce the long-lasting aftertaste of many foods such as coffee. “As a result, our breath also smells better,” explains Prof. Hofmann, who headed the study. The mechanism discovered could contribute to the future development of new oral hygiene products, says the head of the Leibniz- Institute for Food Systems Biology at the TUM.

Citric acid reduces our perception of saltiness

According to the study, citric acid influences our perception of taste through a completely different mechanism. As everyone knows from personal experience, sour foods such as lemon juice stimulate salivation. The amount of minerals dissolved in saliva also increases in proportion to the amount of saliva.

According to Prof. Hofmann, the sodium ion level in saliva rises rapidly by approximately a factor of eleven after stimulation with citric acid. This effect makes us less sensitive to table salt. The food chemist explains: “Table salt is nothing other than sodium chloride, and sodium ions play a key role in the taste of salt. If saliva already contains higher concentrations of sodium ions, samples tasted must have a significantly higher salt content in order to taste comparatively salty.”

Hofmann believes that a great deal of research still needs to be done in order to understand the complex interaction between the molecules in food that create taste, the biochemical processes that take place in saliva and our sense of taste. Using a systems biology approach, Hofmann aims to develop a new scientific basis for the production of food with component and functional profiles that satisfy the health and sensory needs of consumers. To this end, he and his team are combining biomolecular research methods with high-performance analytical technologies and bioinformatics methods.

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A reliable, easy-to-use mouse model for investigating bone metastasis

Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology propose an improved mouse model that could revolutionize bone metastasis research. Their method, which involves injecting cancer cells via the so-called caudal artery in the mouse tail, overcomes many limitations of traditional mouse models. The new model could thus open a new chapter in the development of therapeutic strategies for bone metastasis and cancer progression.

In a study published in Nature Communications, a group of researchers led by Takahiro Kuchimaru and Shinae Kondoh of Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) present a mouse model that could greatly improve understanding of the underlying biology of bone metastasis.

It is widely known that metastasis — the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor to other parts of the body — is one of the main causes of cancer mortality in humans. Bone metastasis commonly occurs when cancer cells spread to the bone from tumors originating, for example, in the prostate, breast, lung and kidney.

Experimental mouse models provide vital clues as to how cancer cells proliferate and how treatments could be developed. For the last 20 years, a model based on intracardiac (IC) injection has been considered the “gold standard” for inducing bone metastasis. This model involves injecting cancer cells directly into the left ventricle of the mouse heart. It requires a high degree of technical expertise, and even when performed successfully, the number of cancer cells that can be injected at any one time is limited. Another drawback is that the IC model tends to be more suitable for studying cancer cell lines that have a relatively high metastatic ability, ruling out analysis of “weaker” cancer cell lines.

In contrast, the new method developed by Kondoh’s group involves injecting cancer cells via the caudal artery (CA) in the mouse tail — a procedure that can be performed much more easily as the artery is visible on the body surface. This method allows researchers to inject a larger number of cancer cells without causing acute death: In the present study, around one million cells were injected without any acute death. Moreover, the new method provides a new way of studying cancer cell lines with low bone metastatic potential.

The researchers emphasize that the CA model predominantly ensures that bone metastasis develops in the hind limbs with much higher efficiency.

Using bioluminescence (BL) imaging, the team was able to detect bone metastasis just five to twelve days after CA injection of all cell lines examined.

“Overall, the results demonstrated that CA injection provides a reliable method to develop bone metastasis by increasing the delivery efficiency of a wide variety of cancer cell lines to the bone marrow of the hind limbs in mice,” they say.

In addition, the CA model enables scientists to monitor the progression of bone metastasis over a longer period of time compared with the IC model due to reduced incidence of lethal metastasis in other organs. This represents a big step forward for investigating cancer cell dormancy and reactivation in greater depth.

The researchers conclude: “Our model may open a new avenue for understanding the bone metastatic processes and development of drugs preventing bone metastasis and recurrence.”

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Discuss religion, spirituality when treating young adults with severe mental illness

A majority of young adults with severe mental illness — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression — consider religion and spirituality relevant to their mental health, according to a new study from Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., associate dean for research and faculty development in the Garland School of Social Work, served as lead author on the study, which was published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

Researchers examined data from 55 young adults (ages 18-25) with serious mental illness who had used crisis emergency services. Of the 55 young adults interviewed, 34 “mentioned religion or spirituality in the context of talking about their mental health symptoms and service use with little-to-no prompting,” researchers wrote.

The sample for the study was racially diverse and gender-balanced. Not all of those interviewed considered themselves religious, as 41 percent answered “other,” “I don’t know” or “none” when asked their religious preference. However, researchers found that religion and spirituality emerged as a unique way in which this sample was able to make sense of their difficult life situations and mental health struggles.

“Not only did these young adults struggle with serious mental illness, but they had also experienced extreme adversity — including abuse, poverty, homelessness, addiction, near-death experiences, loss and an overwhelming lack of access to medical and mental health services,” researchers wrote. “Yet, many attempted to explain, make sense of or organize their circumstances through their religious/spiritual perspective and talked about God as a source of comfort and support.”

The young adults expressed both positive and negative views of God, prayer and support from religious and spiritual communities. Regardless of their views, the important thing to note, Oxhandler explained, is that they’re talking about these topics — something social workers and counselors traditionally are not often equipped or trained to assess or discuss.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Oxhandler said of discussions of religion and spirituality. “If we continue to ignore it, we’re ignoring a huge component of peoples’ lives that may be tied to the clinical issue.”

Oxhandler, who has researched this area extensively, said such discussions can help drive subsequent treatment options.

“As mental health care providers discern what mental health services to provide or coping strategies to recommend, it’s especially important they understand the role of religion/spirituality in the lives of the vulnerable young adults they serve,” she said.

Researchers also found that those surveyed described using positive religious coping, negative religious coping or experiences, discussed their relationship with God/Higher Power and unpacked the role of their support systems and faith.

Positive religious coping included prayer, reading religious texts, support from their religious and spiritual communities and identifying religious and spiritual meaning in difficult situations.

Negative religious coping or experiences included having a negative experience with a religious organization not being supportive or receiving hurtful messages from the religious community.

“Those who discussed their relationship with God or a higher power discussed God providing a sense of comfort or protection, accepting them for who they are or positively intervening in their lives,” Oxhandler said. “Among those who unpacked the role of their support systems and faith, they often described family and friends referencing religion or God for support, and some even offered recommendations for others struggling with mental illness that involve religion and spirituality.”

Some of those interviewed shared that they found the mention of God or religion by family and friends less than helpful.

For example, a 22-year-old white female with no religious identification mentioned in her interview that a family member “tries to tell me that going to church will be better for me because it will help me find peace, and it really does quite the opposite.”

Interestingly, researchers noted that nearly all participants who reported negative experiences with religion and spirituality also reported utilizing positive religious and spiritual coping or having a positive relationship with God.

Oxhandler said such complexity highlights the importance of including religion and spirituality during the initial assessment with a client.

“It’s critical that mental health care providers be well equipped and trained to assess for the complex role of religion and spirituality in the lives of young adults with serious mental illness, recognizing that it could appear to be a tremendous source of support and resilience and/or a source of pain and discomfort, if even a part of their lives at all,” she said.

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Low-power devices may one day run on new heat-based power source

A new way to generate electricity in special materials called Weyl magnets has been discovered by physicists at the University of Tokyo. The method exploits temperature gradients, differences in temperature throughout a material. This could pave the way for maintenance-free remote sensing devices or even medical implants.

“Our method exploits a phenomenon called the anomalous Nernst effect which has never been used in this way before,” says Professor Satoru Nakatsuji of the Institute for Solid State Physics. “I imagine this could be the power source for a new generation of low-power, low-maintenance electronic devices. We’ve created something engineers of small devices have been waiting for.”

So what is this anomalous Nernst effect and how could it lead to such a great leap forward?

“The anomalous Nernst effect is when a magnetized piece of metal generates a voltage subject to a gradient of heat across it, so it’s hotter on one side and cooler on the other,” explains Nakatsuji. This is similar to a more established phenomenon called the Seebeck effect, which is responsible for power generation in thermopiles, the functional components of thermoelectric generators. These are used in deep-space probes like Voyager and New Horizons, amongst other things. With the Seebeck effect, the voltage is generated between the hot and cold regions of the metal in question, so it’s parallel to the temperature gradient. The anomalous Nernst effect however generates a voltage along the length of a magnetized piece of metal, perpendicular to the temperature gradient.

The researchers observe this effect in a special kind of metal (Co2MnGa) known as a Weyl magnet. This provides the first clear evidence for the existence of Weyl fermions in a material, elementary particles which give Weyl magnets their unique properties. And there are important practical implications. The devices are much simpler than those used for the Seebeck effect, thin films as opposed to pillar-like structures thanks to that perpendicular rather than parallel voltage. So they are flexible and can be made into a variety of useful shapes. “Our materials, being far more common and completely non-toxic also mean devices can be much cheaper to produce,” says Nakatsuji. “Best of all, unlike previous devices, they’re efficient at room temperature, so mass production of such devices is in our sights.”

There is a catch however, in that the method usually produces about 0.1% the voltage of the equivalent Seebeck effect system, about 0.1 microvolt compared to 100 microvolts, so we might not see this technology in space probes anytime soon. “However, we aim to make our method comparable with the Seebeck effect in terms of efficiency,” says Nakatsuji. “And even before then, given the other advantages, this technology could see rapid widespread adoption.” Since the discovery of Weyl magnet thermopiles in 2015, which exhibit the anomalous Nernst effect, there has been a thousandfold increase in their power-generating efficiency, with this recent finding alone observing 8 microvolts per Kelvin, a whole order of magnitude increase over the previous maximum reported value of about 0.1 microvolt per Kelvin.

Engineers continually strive to improve the power efficiency of devices and the sources which provide that power. A general aim is to create functional devices, such as sensors, which could be put to work and then left alone without the need for maintenance or replacement batteries. They would generate power with their own Weyl-thermopile devices by use of ambient or waste heat or maybe even sunlight. Computer scientists may also be interested in these findings as Weyl magnets may be useful in future high-speed, high-density data storage technologies.

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Inflammation inhibitor delivered directly to kidneys reverses course of destructive nephritis

Using a humanmade version of a human antibody to directly deliver a drug that inhibits a powerful driver of inflammation, can reverse a disease course that often leads to kidney failure and dialysis, investigators report.

They have additionally found that it’s the powerhouses of kidney cells, called mitochondria, that are particularly impacted by the acute or chronic inflammation called nephritis, and that, at least in their animal model and cell cultures, the treatment restores their function.

Things like a serious infection or injury, and diseases like uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes, can cause acute or chronic nephritis, which affects both kidneys and the million filtering units in each. Particularly when it’s chronic, patients often wind up in kidney failure on dialysis.

“That is why we are looking at promoting recovery,” says Dr. Michael P. Madaio, nephrologist and chair of the Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

“We are delivering something to the kidney that is reducing inflammation and restoring mitochondrial function. We are helping the mitochondria be a little healthier and the kidney cells function better,” says Madaio, corresponding author of the study in the journal Kidney International.

For their studies, they used a model of immune-mediated nephritis in mice that develops rapidly and progressively over seven to 10 days.

But a few days after the disease was established, when they also gave a single dose of the protein kinase C-alpha inhibitor — delivered directly to the kidney via their humanmade antibody — those mice instead recovered kidney function and survived.

Parallel studies that enabled the investigators to look directly at the impact of both toxicity and treatment on the endothelial cells that line the filtering units, also showed the inhibitor reduced cell death and improved cell recovery.

A proteomic analysis determined that 157 proteins were significantly altered by nephritis — either up- or down-regulated by disease and restored by treatment — and that it was the mitochondria, the cell powerhouses, most affected.

Collectively, their studies show protein kinase C-alpha’s crucial role in the damage done by nephritis as they provide some of the first evidence that inhibiting it — and restoring mitochondrial function — could be helpful in reversing the inflammatory disease, Madaio says.

Nephritis therapy today incudes approaches like systemic high-dose steroids to battle inflammation and systemic immunosuppressive drugs, like those taken by transplant patients. Side effects include increased risk of infections, even cancer, but Madaio is hopeful that a targeted approach, like the one they are developing, could better fight the problem with fewer side effects.

Right now, they are using just a small dose of the whole human antibody but eventually they hope to use a physically smaller, non-inflammatory version of their humanmade antibody, called a minibody, to simultaneously deliver multiple drugs that can arrest the disease and protect the kidneys.

The human monoclonal antibody they are using is good at finding the kidneys because it targets a collagen that is unique in the connective tissue found in the kidneys’ filtering units.

The antibody is produced in a rare kidney disease called Goodpasture syndrome, a rapidly progressing, difficult-to-treat condition that inflames and scars the kidneys and can quickly destroy the organs. The antibody’s usual job at its usual level is actually promoting inflammation, but the investigators in this case are taking advantage of its skill at reaching the kidneys to use it as a mechanism for drug delivery that instead blocks inflammation.

Madaio’s group found that the antibody’s natural target, or antigen, is normally sequestered in the kidneys, however it is highly expressed during inflammation, which further enhances its role as a targeted delivery system in this scenario, Madaio says.

While the protein kinase C-alpha inhibitor it delivers clearly worked in their animal and cell models, the investigators also are already exploring other drugs for potential delivery. They reported five years ago in the American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology that delivery of prostaglandin E2, one of few prostaglandins known for its anti-inflammatory impact, to the filtering units also was effective at treating nephritis, and the two drugs appear to have similar pathways of recovery.

Madaio thinks the targeted therapy approach could one day also work well for common kidney diseases like diabetic nephropathy, which can accompany type 1 and 2 diabetes and is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease.

Their discovery that mitochondria play a role in recovery was of particular interest, Madaio says. Mitochondria primarily produce energy and the proteins inside these powerhouses most affected by nephritis were those associated with using oxygen to turn food into fuel and generating waste products like carbon dioxide and water. These essential proteins were downregulated by kidney inflammation and inhibiting protein kinase C-alpha restored normal expression.

Looking at the endothelial cells that line the millions of kidney filtering units, the toxin that produced nephritis in the mice also dramatically affected the cell powerhouses, even changing their shape, changes that were normalized with protein kinase C-alpha inhibition.

Using both an animal model and cell culture for their studies enabled these detailed assessments. “Using the whole animal approach, we can look at both inflammation and recovery as they happen, however we can more precisely hone in on the mechanisms with kidney cell culture,” Madaio says. “Then when you dig out a mechanism in the cell, you can go back to the animal model to test to see how relevant that is to the disease.”

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Nano-optic endoscope sees deep into tissue at high resolution

The diagnosis of diseases based in internal organs often relies on biopsy samples collected from affected regions. But collecting such samples is highly error-prone due to the inability of current endoscopic imaging techniques to accurately visualize sites of disease. The conventional optical elements in catheters used to access hard-to-reach areas of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract and pulmonary airways, are prone to aberrations that obstruct the full capabilities of optical imaging.

Now, experts in endoscopic imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and pioneers of flat metalens technology at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), have teamed up to develop a new class of endoscopic imaging catheters — termed nano-optic endoscopes — that overcome the limitations of current systems.

The research is described in Nature Photonics.

“Clinical adoption of many cutting-edge endoscopic microscopy modalities has been hampered due to the difficulty of designing miniature catheters that achieve the same image quality as bulky desktop microscopes,” said Melissa Suter, an assistant professor of Medicine at MGH and Harvard Medical School (HMS) and co-senior author of the paper. “The use of nano-optic catheters that incorporate metalenses into their design will likely change the landscape of optical catheter design, resulting in a dramatic increase in the quality, resolution, and functionality of endoscopic microscopy. This will ultimately increase clinical utility by enabling more sophisticated assessment of cell and tissue microstructure in living patients.”

“Metalenses based on flat optics are a game changing new technology because the control of image distortions necessary for high resolution imaging is straightforward compared to conventional optics, which requires multiple complex shaped lenses,” said Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and co-senior author of the paper. “I am confident that this will lead to a new class of optical systems and instruments with a broad range of applications in many areas of science and technology”

“The versatility and design flexibility of the nano-optic endoscope significantly elevates endoscopic imaging capabilities and will likely impact diagnostic imaging of internal organs,” said Hamid Pahlevaninezhad, Instructor in Medicine at MGH and HMS and co-first author of the paper. “We demonstrated an example of such capabilities to achieve high-resolution imaging at greatly extended depth of focus.”

To demonstrate the imaging quality of the nano-optic endoscope, the researchers imaged fruit flesh, swine and sheep airways, and human lung tissue. The team showed that the nano-optic endoscope can image deep into the tissue with significantly higher resolution than provided by current imaging catheter designs.

The images captured by the nano-optic endoscope clearly show cellular structures in fruit flesh and tissue layers and fine glands in the bronchial mucosa of swine and sheep. In the human lung tissue, the researchers were able to clearly identify structures that correspond to fine, irregular glands indicating the presence of adenocarcinoma, the most prominent type of lung cancer.

“Currently, we are at the mercy of materials that we have no control over to design high resolution lenses for imaging,” said Yao-Wei Huang, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-first author of the paper. “The main advantage of the metalens is that we can design and tailor its specifications to overcome spherical aberrations and astigmatism and achieve very fine focus of the light. As a result, we achieve very high resolution with extended depth of field without the need for complex optical components.”

Next, researchers aim to explore other applications for the nano-optic endoscope, including a polarization-sensitive nano-optic endoscope, which could contrast between tissues that have highly-organized structures, such as smooth muscle, collagen and blood vessels.

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Peste des petits ruminants: A model for use in eradicating the disease

Eradicating peste des petits ruminants is an ambitious objective that is neveretheless looking increasingly realistic, notably thanks to a targeted vaccination strategy centring on production systems that act as a virus reservoir. This was the conclusion drawn by a scientific study published in the journal PNAS.

In theory, the peste des petits ruminants control strategy relies on mass vaccination campaigns. However, although the existing vaccine provides lifelong immunity, such campaigns are both costly and highly complex to implement from a logistical point of view.

The study was initiated by CIRAD and conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC, University of London), in collaboration with Ethiopian and European partners. The researchers combined a dynamic model that simulates virus spread with a national serological study. The information obtained served to assess the level of virus transmission within endemic zones and the vaccine coverage required to halt transmission and eliminate the disease. The results also suggested that some pastoral production systems act as virus reservoirs from which the virus can spread.

For Guillaume Fournié, an epidemiologist at the RVC, “identifying high-risk populations and adapting vaccination strategies to local situations is vital in order to cut the cost of eradicating the disease while boosting the chances of success.”

“Peste des petits ruminants causes huge economic losses and is a particular threat to the livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable farmers,” François Roger, a CIRAD epidemiologist and co-author of the study, points out. “In view of the limited budgets currently allocated for control of the disease and the numerous constraints in the field, effective decision support tools are vital.”

The OIE and FAO, with the support of the European Union in particular, are launching a global programme to eradicate the disease within fifteen years. This would make peste des petits ruminants the third infectious disease to be eradicated, after smallpox and rinderpest.

Peste des petits ruminants, a devastating disease

This highly contagious viral disease affects almost a billion sheep and goats in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It causes substantial economic losses due to high morbidity and mortality rates. The role of wild ruminants in the spread of the disease is still largely undetermined, but models could be used to understand it better, like here with buffalos in Africa.

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