Next-Generation Spinal Implants Help People With Severe Paralysis Walk, Cycle, and Swim

sciencehabit shares a report from Three men paralyzed in motorcycle accidents have become the first success stories for a new spinal stimulation device that could enable faster and easier recoveries than its predecessors. The men, who had no sensation or control over their legs, were able to take supported steps within 1 day of turning on the electrical stimulation, and could stroll outside with a walker after a few months, researchers report today. The nerve-stimulating device doesn’t cure spinal cord injury, and it likely won’t eliminate wheelchair use, but it raises hopes that the assistive technology is practical enough for widespread use.

For now, sending commands to the device is cumbersome. Users must select their desired movement on a tablet, which sends Bluetooth commands to a transmitter worn around the waist. That device must be positioned next to a ‘pulse generator’ implanted in the abdomen, which then activates electrodes along the spine. Setting up to use the stimulation takes 5 to 10 minutes. But the next generation of devices should allow users to activate the pulse generator by giving voice commands to a smartwatch. The company behind the technology plans to test this newer mobility system in a multisite clinical trial of 70 to 100 participants that the team hopes will lead to U.S. regulatory approval. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Nature Medicine.

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Can Mapping Differences in Cancer Rates Help Pinpoint Environmental Factors?

“Scientists have made the first steps to develop an atlas of world cancer, hoping it will bring us closer to a cure,” reports the Telegraph.

“A map showing stark differences in the incidence of 10 types of cancer between Spain and Portugal has sparked a race to pinpoint causes and risk factors people should avoid.”

It shows huge differences for people living only a short distance apart, sometimes across the border between Spain and Portugal, and others occurring within the same country. Scientists say it will take years to solve the puzzle completely but are confident that the map provides the pieces. There are easier questions and more complex riddles. But it all points to environmental factors — as opposed to genetics — playing a major role in causing cancers.

The lung cancer map tells a clear story of far higher levels of smoking tobacco in Spain than in Portugal, with the latter country showing a consistent hue of dark blue for a lower risk of mortality, while Spain has large areas lit up in red, at least on the map representing men. Twenty per cent of Spanish adults are daily smokers, compared with just over 11 per cent in Portugal. But the data from cancer of the larynx, also linked to smoking, tells a vastly different story, with a high mortality risk for men shown straddling the border in southern Portugal and south western Spain, as well as patches in the north of both countries. “The lung cancer and smoking connection is very clear, so why in other cancers that have a strong link with tobacco are we seeing such surprising differences?” asks Pablo Fernández-Navarro, the lead co-ordinator of the atlas from the Spanish side.

“This is what is so fantastic. If whole countries had uniform levels of mortality, the maps would be in plain colours. Given that it is not the case, now we have to investigate and explain these differences, eliminating one factor after another,” Fernández-Navarro told The Telegraph.

In the case of larynx cancer, the Spanish epidemiologist says the map confirms that smoking is by no means the only risk factor, and that other elements must also be at work, from alcohol intake to levels of pollutants such as asbestos or petrochemicals in the environment.

Thanks to Slashdot reader Bruce66423 for sharing the link.

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‘Pulsed Electromagnetic Energy’ Could Cause Havana Syndrome

An intelligence panel investigating the cause of a spate of mysterious incidents that have struck dozens of US officials across the globe has said that some of the episodes could “plausibly” have been caused by “pulsed electromagnetic energy” emitted by an external source, according to an executive summary of the panel’s findings released Wednesday. CNN reports: But the panel stopped short of making a definitive determination, saying only that both electromagnetic energy and, in limited circumstances, ultrasound could explain the key symptoms — highlighting the degree to which the murky illness known colloquially as “Havana Syndrome” has remained one of the intelligence community’s most stubborn mysteries. “We’ve learned a lot,” an intelligence official familiar with the panel’s work told reporters, speaking on anonymity under terms set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “While we don’t have the specific mechanism for each case, what we do know is if you report quickly and promptly get medical care, most people are getting well.”

The scientific panel emphasized that the cases it studied were “genuine and compelling,” noting that some incidents have affected multiple people in the same space and clinical samples from a few victims have shown signs of “cellular injury to the nervous system.” An executive summary of the panel’s work provided new details about how the government is categorizing cases as possible Havana Syndrome, a clinically vague illness that has long frustrated firm diagnosis because victims have suffered from such a diverse array of symptoms. Although officials declined to say how many cases the panel examined as part of its inquiry, they said they studied cases that met four “core characteristics”: the acute onset of sounds or pressure, sometimes in only one ear or on one side of the head; simultaneous symptoms of vertigo, loss of balance and ear pain; “a strong sense of locality or directionality”; and the absence of any known environmental or medical conditions that could have caused the other symptoms.

Both pulsed electromagnetic energy, “particularly in the radiofrequency range,” and ultrasonic arrays could feasibly cause the four core symptoms, the panel found. Both could originate from “a concealable source.” But ultrasound can’t travel through walls, the panel found, “restricting its applicability to scenarios in which the source is near the target.”
Sources of radiofrequency energy, on the other hand, are known to exist, “could generate the required stimulus, are concealable, and have moderate power requirements,” the panel said. “Using nonstandard antennas and techniques, the signals could be propagated with low loss through air for tens to hundreds of meters, and with some loss, through most building materials.” But intelligence officials familiar with the panel’s work emphasized that important information gaps remained, forestalling them from reaching firmer conclusions. The experts panel also ruled out so-called psycho-social factors. They also ruled out “ionizing radiation, chemical and biological agents, infrasound, audible sound, ultrasound propagated over large distances, and bulk heating from electromagnetic energy.”

“The panel made seven recommendations, including developing better biomarkers that are ‘more specific and more sensitive for diagnosis and triage’ of cases,” reports CNN. “It also recommended utilizing ‘detectors’ and obtaining ‘devices to aid research.’ Finally, officials urged swift action by medical officials whenever a case is reported, emphasizing that individuals who have been treated immediately after an event have improved.”

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Blood Test Could Help Detect Cancer Earlier In People With Nonspecific Symptoms

Slashdot reader eastlight_jim writes:

Scientists from the University of Oxford have today published a study in Clinical Cancer Research which shows that they can use a technique called NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) metabolomics analysis to identify patients with cancer. Specifically, they identify patients with cancer from within a population of generally unwell patients with non-specific symptoms like fatigue and weigh-loss — a traditionally hard-to-diagnose cohort.

The technique works because the NMR identifies small molecules called metabolites in the blood of patients and this information can then be used by machine learning to recognise patterns of metabolites specific to cancer, as well as identifying patients whose cancer has already spread.

The Guardian reports:
If validated, the test could enable cancer patients to be identified earlier, when they are more likely to respond to treatment, and help flag up who could benefit from early access to drugs designed to tackle metastatic cancer.

The test can also tell if the disease has spread.

There is currently no clear route through which someone with nonspecific symptoms that could be cancer is referred for further investigation…. “The problem we’ve had in the past is that if they do have cancer, that cancer is growing all the time, and when they come back the cancers are often quite advanced,” said Dr James Larkin, of the University of Oxford, who was involved in the research. Although it is difficult to know precisely how many individuals fall into this category, “it is likely to be tens of thousands of patients across the UK,” Larkin said.

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Psilocybin Has No Short- Or Long-Term Detrimental Effects In Healthy People

New research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, in partnership with COMPASS Pathways, has established that psilocybin can be safely administered at doses of either 10mg or 25mg to up to six participants simultaneously. King’s College London reports: The research, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology, is an essential first step in demonstrating the safety and feasibility of psilocybin — a psychedelic drug isolated from the Psilocybe mushroom — for use within controlled settings alongside talking therapy as a potential treatment for a range of mental health conditions, including treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and PTSD. Current treatment options for these conditions are ineffective or partially effective for many people, resulting in a significant unmet need. Early research has indicated a potential for psilocybin therapy to treat these groups, but no trials have been undertaken at the scale needed for regulatory approval to make the therapy available.

The trial is the first of its kind to thoroughly investigate the simultaneous administration of psilocybin. 89 healthy participants with no recent (within 1 year) use of psilocybin were recruited. 60 individuals were randomly picked to receive either a 10mg or 25mg dose of psilocybin in a controlled environment. In addition, all participants were provided with one-to-one support from trained psychotherapists. The remaining 29 participants acted as the control group and received a placebo, also with psychological support. Participants were closely monitored for six to eight hours following administration of psilocybin and then followed up for 12 weeks. During this time, they were assessed for a number of possible changes, including sustained attention, memory, and planning, as well as their ability to process emotions. Throughout the study, there were no instances of anyone withdrawing from the study due to an adverse event, and no consistent trends to suggest that either of the psilocybin doses had any short- or long-term detrimental effects on participants.

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Can an Athlete’s Blood Enhance Brainpower?

fahrbot-bot shares a report from The New York Times: What if something in the blood of an athlete could boost the brainpower of someone who doesn’t or can’t exercise? Could a protein that gets amplified when people exercise help stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders? That’s the tantalizing prospect raised by a new study in which researchers injected sedentary mice with blood from mice that ran for miles on exercise wheels, and found that the sedentary mice then did better on tests of learning and memory. The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, also found that the type of brain inflammation involved in Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders was reduced in sedentary mice after they received their athletic counterparts’ blood. Scientific results with mice don’t necessarily translate to humans. Still, experts said the study supports a growing body of research.

The study involved mice that were about three months old — roughly the equivalent of 25-to-30-year olds for humans. Some of the mice, nocturnal animals that love to run, could freely use exercise wheels in their cages and logged about four to six miles on the wheels each night. The wheels were locked for other mice that could scoot around their cages but could not get an extended cardio workout. […] After 28 days, the researchers took a third group of mice that also did not exercise and injected them with blood plasma, the liquid that surrounds blood cells, from either the runner mice or the non-runner mice. Mice receiving runner blood did better on two tests of learning and memory than those receiving blood from the non-runner mice. In one test, which measures how long a mouse will freeze in fear when it is returned to a cage where it previously received an electric foot shock, mice with runner blood froze 25 percent longer, indicating they had better memory of the stressful event […]. In the other test, mice with runner blood were twice as fast at finding a platform submerged in opaque water, he said. The team also found that the brains of mice with runner blood produced more of several types of brain cells, including those that generate new neurons in the hippocampus, a region involved in memory and spatial learning. A genetic analysis showed that about 1,950 genes had changed in response to the infusion of runner blood, becoming either more or less activated. Most of the 250 genes with the greatest activation changes were involved in inflammation and their changes suggested that brain inflammation was reduced.

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Suicide Pods Now Legal In Switzerland, Providing Users With a Painless Death

Switzerland is giving the green light to so-called “suicide capsules” — 3-D printed pods that allow people to choose the place where they want to die an assisted death. Global News reports: The country’s medical review board announced the legalization of the Sarco Suicide Pods this week. They can be operated by the user from the inside. Dr. Philip Nitschke, the developer of the pods and founder of Exit International, a pro-euthanasia group, told the machines can be “towed anywhere for the death” and one of the most positive features of the capsules is that they can be transported to an “idyllic outdoor setting.”

Currently, assisted suicide in Switzerland means swallowing a capsule filled with a cocktail of controlled substances that puts the person into a deep coma before they die. But Sarco pods — short for sarcophagus — allow a person to control their death inside the pod by quickly reducing internal oxygen levels. The person intending to end their life is required to answer a set of pre-recorded questions, then press a button that floods the interior with nitrogen. The oxygen level inside is quickly reduced from 21 per cent to one per cent. After death, the pod can be used as a coffin. […]

Nitschke said his method of death is painless, and the person will feel a little bit disoriented and/or euphoric before they lose consciousness. He said there are only two capsule prototypes in existence, but a third machine is being printed now, and he expects this method to become available to the Swiss public next year.

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