Universal vaccine targets coronaviruses to prevent future pandemics

David Martinez, PhD., in the lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, studies a new universal vaccine that’s effective against a group of coronaviruses.

by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Scientists at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health have developed a universal vaccine that protected mice not just against COVID-19 but also other coronaviruses and triggered the immune system to fight off a dangerous variant.

While no one knows which virus may cause the next outbreak, coronaviruses remain a threat after causing the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

To prevent a future coronavirus pandemic, UNC-Chapel Hill researchers designed the vaccine to provide protection from the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and a group of coronaviruses known to make the jump from animals to humans.

The findings were published in Science by lead authors David Martinez, a postdoctoral researcher at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a Hanna H. Gray Fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Ralph Baric, an epidemiologist at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of immunology and microbiology at the UNC School of Medicine, whose research has sparked new therapies to fight emerging infectious diseases.

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Hitting the reset button: Stanford psychologist says we can build a better normal after the pandemic

Instead of emerging from the coronavirus pandemic resilient to crisis and catastrophe, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki asks what if we grew stronger because of it?

BY MELISSA DE WITTE

With the end of the pandemic in sight and a longing to return to some resemblance of normalcy, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zakithinks the harrowing experience of the past year is a unique opportunity to reset people’s expectations about many aspects of society. Instead of simply returning to life before the pandemic, what if we could institute new personal and social norms that are more balanced, just and equitable?

Instead of emerging from the coronavirus pandemic merely resilient to crisis and catastrophe, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki asks what if we grew stronger because of it?

Zaki believes a concept psychologists call “growth through adversity” may be key to defining what this “new normal” could look like. Instead of resilience – which is about bouncing back from disaster, unchanged – growth through adversity is about finding ways to learn from those hardships and focus on what matters.

“Resilience is staying the course through a storm. Growth is charting a new course,” Zaki said.

He points out that even before the pandemic upended our lives, much of what was considered normal in society was deeply problematic: People had been reporting feeling lonelier and more isolated than ever before. Economic inequality between the rich and poor has been soaring at an alarming rate. And profound racial disparities have marred everything from employment to health and housing.

The pandemic didn’t create these problems. In some cases, it merely exposed them; in others, it exacerbated them.

“A stronger normal holds the adversity we’re going through now up as a mirror, one that can clarify what we’ve been neglecting all along,” said Zaki, associate professor of psychology in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences.

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Ultrasound Waves Shown to Kill Coronavirus in MIT Experiments

Advanced simulations showed that SARS-CoV-2’s spikes and shells are vulnerable to ultrasound.

By  Chris Young

Shortly after COVID-19 lockdowns started to come into force almost exactly a year ago, a wave of novel engineering methods for breaking down the virus were proposed, including ultraviolet light-emitting robots and drones.

Now, researchers are turning to another approach with the same prefix: an MIT study shows that ultrasound waves at medical imaging frequencies can cause the virus shell and spikes to collapse and rupture in advanced simulations.

The spikes, the virus component that latches onto healthy cells, could be vulnerable to ultrasonic vibrations within the frequency used in medical diagnostic imaging, MIT researchers explain in a press statement.

In their simulations, researchers from the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering modeled the virus’s mechanical response to vibrations rippling through its structure across a range of ultrasound frequencies.

They found that vibrations between 25 and 100 megahertz triggered the virus shell and spikes to collapse and start to rupture within a fraction of a second. The simulations showed that the virus would rupture in air and water at the same frequencies.

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How a year of living online has changed us

BY REBECCA RUIZ

Imagine a household where everyone logged on to the internet in the morning and spent the rest of the day online. Four hours on Zoom or FaceTime. Three hours browsing the web. Three hours scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Three hours gaming. Four hours streaming HD Netflix. Imagine they did this every day of the month. 

It seems impossible that so many people sit in front of their screens for so long, and yet something like it is a new normal in America. As work, school, and social interactions migrated online once COVID-19 became a global pandemic last March, the average monthly household data use in 2020 skyrocketed by 40 percent compared to the prior year, according to OpenVault, a global provider of broadband industry analytics. That figure includes tablet, computer, gaming console, and mobile phone data that uses a household’s broadband internet connection, but doesn’t reflect when someone accesses the internet through their cellular data. The average household now uses nearly a half a terabyte of data each month. 

What exactly happens in these households when they go online is something of a mystery. The breakdown of hypothetical data usage, provided to Mashable by OpenVault, accounts for 483 GB of data by popular categories: video conferencing, browsing, social media, gaming, and streaming. It’s tempting to envision household dystopia writ large, in which families have forsaken their bonds so they can stare soullessly at a screen for nearly 20 cumulative hours a day. This is, after all, the technological fate we’ve been primed to fear. 

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S.Korea unveils inflatable isolation ward for COVID-19 patients

A woman passes the Mobile Clinic Module outside Korea Cancer Center Hospital in Seoul

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean researchers say they have designed an inflatable “negative pressure” ward for isolating and treating patients with infectious diseases like COVID-19, after the pandemic exposed shortages of such beds around the world.

The rooms use a ventilation system that creates negative pressure to allow air to flow into the isolation room and be channelled out safely, helping prevent the spread of airborne pathogens.

They have become a vital tool for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but many countries have struggled to create them quickly enough.

The mobile clinic modules designed by a research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) are large greenhouse-like inflatable tents, which the institute said cost a fifth of the price of building a conventional hospital ward.

Nam Tek-jin, an industrial design professor who led the KAIST team, says their tents, which are the size of a basketball court, can be installed and equipped in less than a day.

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Why all the world’s coronavirus would fit in a can of cola

By Christian Yates

If you collected up every Sars-CoV-2 virus particle in the world, it would fit inside a soft drinks can, writes the mathematician Christian Yates.

When I was asked to calculate the total volume of Sars-CoV-2 in the world for the BBC Radio 4 show More or Less, I will admit I had no idea what the answer would be. My wife suggested it would be the size of an Olympic swimming pool. “Either that or a teaspoon,” she said. “It’s usually one or the other with these sorts of questions.”

So how to set about calculating an approximation of what the total volume really is?

Fortunately, I have some form with these sorts of large-scale back-of-the-envelope estimations, having carried out a number of them for my book The Maths of Life and Death. Before we embark on this particular numerical journey, though, I should be clear that this is an approximation based on the most reasonable assumptions, but I will happily admit there may be places where it can be improved.

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New biosensors quickly detect coronavirus proteins and antibodies

An illustration of a new biosensor binding to a targeted molecule and emitting light. The creation of the biosensor was led by the UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design. Credit: Ian Haydon/UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design


by University of Washington

Scientists have created a new way to detect the proteins that make up the pandemic coronavirus, as well as antibodies against it. They designed protein-based biosensors that glow when mixed with components of the virus or specific COVID-19 antibodies. This breakthrough could enable faster and more widespread testing in the near future. The research appears in Nature.

To diagnose coronavirus infection today, most medical laboratories rely on a technique called RT-PCR, which amplifies genetic material from the virus so that it can be seen. This technique requires specialized staff and equipment. It also consumes lab supplies that are now in high demand all over the world. Supply-chain shortfalls have slowed COVID-19 test results in the United States and beyond.

In an effort to directly detect coronavirus in patient samples without the need for genetic amplification, a team of researchers led by David Baker, professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at UW Medicine, used computers to design new biosensors. These protein-based devices recognize specific molecules on the surface of the virus, bind to them, then emit light through a biochemical reaction.

Antibody testing can reveal whether a person has had COVID-19 in the past. It is being used to track the spread of the pandemic, but it ,too, requires complex laboratory supplies and equipment.

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Disinfection robot developed to halt COVID-19 spread

LASER-D, developed by USC Viterbi researchers, is an animal-like robot that can crawl, crouch and disinfect surfaces and objects to fight COVID-19.

BY AVNI SHAH 

A TEAM OF USC MASTER’S STUDENTS CREATED A DISINFECTION ROBOT CALLED LASER-D TO USE ON COVID-19 PREVENTION.

There are so many things robots can do on wheels, but in narrower, shallower spaces—like between desks in a classroom or on a stairwell—wheels can be limiting. Enter LASER-D (Legged Agile Smart Efficient Robot for Disinfection ) a four-legged robot created by a team of USC researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The animal-like LASER-D combines—for the first time—locomotive agility and chemical disinfection to fight COVID-19, among other applications.

Led by USC Viterbi professors SK Gupta and Quan Nguyen, the team worked to create LASER-D—built on an earlier project, a UV disinfection robot, and adapted Nguyen’s legged robot platform.

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A new biosensor detects COVID-19 antibodies in 10-12 seconds

by Advanced Science News | Dec 24, 2020

New-biosensor-detects-covid-19-antibodies-10-seconds
The testing platform identifies the presence of two antibodies in microliter samples of blood.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University report findings on an advanced nanomaterial-based biosensing platform that detects, within seconds, antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to testing, the platform will help to quantify patient immunological response to the new vaccines with precision.

The results were published this week in the journal Advanced Materials. Carnegie Mellon’s collaborators included the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and the UPMC.

The testing platform identifies antibodies to the spike S1 protein and receptor binding domain (RBD), in a very small drop of blood (about 5 microliters). Antibody concentrations can be extremely low and still detected below one picomolar (0.15 nanograms per milliliter). This detection happens through an electrochemical reaction within a handheld microfluidic device which sends results almost immediately to a simple interface on a smart phone.

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Scientists Develop New CRISPR-Based Test That Uses Smartphone Camera to Detect COVID-19

By Jeevan Biswas

scientists-develop-CRISPR-based-test-smartphon3-detect-covid19-1
THE RESEARCH WHICH IS ONGOING, HAS SHOWN ENCOURAGING RESULTS AND HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE APPLIED TO A WIDE VARIETY OF VIRUSES OTHER THAN THE SAR-COV-2 CORONAVIRUS

There is not much that a smartphone cannot do these days. However, can it help detect the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus? According to a new study, yes, it can. Scientists have designed a new assay that can identify the presence of the COVID-19-causing virus in a nasal swab through a device attached to a regular smartphone.

According to researchers from Gladstone Institutes, University of California in Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, the research which is still ongoing, has shown encouraging results and has the potential to be applied to a wide variety of viruses.

“Our study shows that we can do the detection part of this assay very quickly, making the measurement with mass-produced consumer electronics. We don’t need fancy laboratory equipment,” said Dr. Daniel Fletcher, co-senior author on the study, in a statement.

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City announces 3 winners in outdoor dining design challenge for winter

By Diane PathieuLeah Hope and ABC 7 Chicago Digital TeamThursday

Chicago-announces-winners-outdoor-dining-challenge

THE CITY HAS PICKED THREE WINNERS FROM OVER 600 SUBMISSIONS TO THEIR WINTER DINING CHALLENGE.CHICAGO (WLS) — THE CITY HAS PICKED THREE WINNERS FROM OVER 600 SUBMISSIONS TO THEIR WINTER DINING CHALLENGE.

THE TEAM OF JUDGES CHOSE THREE DESIGNS THAT “CAPTURE THE SPIRIT OF CHICAGO WHILE PROVIDING FEASIBLE AND SAFE OPTIONS FOR CHICAGOANS TO ENJOY DINING OUT AS TEMPERATURES DROP,” ACCORDING TO A STATEMENT FROM THE CITY.

EACH WINNER WILL RECEIVE A $5,000 CASH PRIZE AND OPPORTUNITIES TO PILOT THEIR IDEA AT RESTAURANTS AND BARS IN THE CITY.

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The death of the department store and the American middle class

By Jason Del Rey

death-of-department-store-middle-class-1
The collapse of America’s middle class crushed department stores. Amazon and the pandemic are the final blows.

In a New Jersey suburb seven miles west of Midtown Manhattan, the American Dream is on shaky ground.

The Dream in question isn’t the mythological notion that upward social mobility is within reach for all hardworking Americans. It’s a $5 billion, 3 million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex in East Rutherford featuring an indoor ski slope, an ice-skating rink, and a Nickelodeon-branded amusement park. The complex finally opened last fall, but it’s now facing huge new challenges.

The development’s complicated 17-year history, marked by ownership changes, false starts, and broken promises, had already put American Dream in a precarious situation. The Covid-19pandemic hitting in March made things much worse. Whether the mall makes it in the long term will hinge in part on how it deals with the collapse of three of the marquee department stores that were to anchor the complex and draw foot traffic — Barneys New York, Lord & Taylor, and Century 21 — which all have gone bankrupt and closed, or are planning to close all their stores in the US.More than half of all mall-based department stores will close by the end of 2021

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