Electrical zaps can ‘reawaken’ lost neural connections, helping paralyzed people walk again

Scientists identified the specific neurons needed for people to recover the ability to walk after spinal cord injuries. 

By Nicoletta Lanese

Scientists identified specific spinal nerve cells that people likely need to regain the ability to walk after paralyzing injuries.

People with paralyzing spinal cord injuries can walk again with the help of medical devices that zap their nerves with electricity. But the designers of these new implants weren’t completely sure of how they restored motor function over time — now, a new study provides clues. 

The new study of humans and lab mice, published Nov. 9 in the journal Nature, pinpoints a specific population of nerve cells that seems key to recovering the ability to walk after a paralyzing spinal cord injury. With a jolt of electricity, an implant can switch these neurons on and thus jumpstart a cascade of events in which the very architecture of the nervous system changes. This cellular remodel restores the lost lines of communication between the brain and the muscles needed for walking, allowing once-paralyzed people to walk again, the researchers concluded.

Understanding how the nerve-zapping system, called epidural electrical stimulation (EES), “reshapes spinal circuits could help researchers to develop targeted techniques to restore walking, and potentially enable the recovery of more-complex movements,” Eiman Azim, a principal investigator at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and Kee Wui Huang, a postdoctoral fellow in Azim’s lab, wrote in a commentary.

Nine people with paralyzing spinal cord injuries participated in the new study. Six were mostly or completely unable to move their legs but retained some feeling in the limbs; the other three participants had no motor control or sensation from the waist down. 

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New 4D Flow MRI Cuts Heart Scan Time in Half

Research out of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, has developed a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that can produce 4D flow images of a heart in less than half the time of a traditional 4D MRI scan, which takes up to 20 minutes. The new scan technology takes only eight minutes and looks to revolutionize the way potential heart failure is diagnosed.

“The best method to diagnose heart failure is by invasive assessment, which is not preferred as it has risks,” says Dr. Pankaj Garg, lead researcher on the study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust. He adds, while echocardiography is often used to measure peak velocity of blood flow with precision and accuracy, the method is unreliable. “In the 4D flow MRI, we can look at the flow in three directions over time.”

However, the time needed to carry out a 4D flow MRI traditionally takes up to 20 minutes, so, given patients aversions to MRI scans, the research team identified the need to shorten scan times. Working with General Electrics Healthcare in Germany, they investigated the reliability of Kat-ARC, a new fast-scan method. The results provide a precise image of heart valves and blood flow within the heart, which will help doctors better diagnose and decide a course of treatment for patients.

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Scientists look to grow ‘mini livers’ for patients with organ damage

After decades of overblown expectations, regenerative medicine looks ready to take a step further

By Daniel Bardsley

It sounds like science fiction: people with end-stage liver disease are injected with cells from a donor liver and, in response, their body produces multiple mini livers that keep them healthy.

Yet, science fiction really could be on the verge of becoming scientific fact, because US company LyGenesis is about to begin clinical trials in which participants are expected to develop such “ectopic” livers.

What is more, LyGenesis’s method could see as many as 75 patients receive liver cells from a single donated organ, and organs that have been discarded from transplant programmes are likely to be suitable for the technique.

It represents a stark contrast to standard transplant surgery, where just a single patient benefits for each donated organ, and that organ must have passed quality checks.

It certainly is a solution to an unmet need for patients who would be sitting waiting for an organ transplant for, sometimes, until death

Jacqueline Jeha of LyGenesis

After decades of overblown expectations and false starts for regenerative medicine, where old or non-functioning organs or tissues are replaced, it represents a potentially significant development.

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Lab-grown blood given to people in world-first clinical trial

The lab-grown blood kept in a facility in Bristol

By James Gallagher

Blood that has been grown in a laboratory has been put into people in a world-first clinical trial, UK researchers say. 

Tiny amounts – equivalent to a couple of spoonfuls – are being tested to see how it performs inside the body. 

The bulk of blood transfusions will always rely on people regularly rolling up their sleeve to donate.

But the ultimate goal is to manufacture vital, but ultra-rare, blood groups that are hard to get hold of.

These are necessary for people who depend on regular blood transfusions for conditions such as sickle cell anaemia. 

If the blood is not a precise match then the body starts to reject it and the treatment fails. This level of tissue-matching goes beyond the well-known A, B, AB and O blood groups. 

Prof Ashley Toye, from the University of Bristol, said some groups were “really, really rare” and there “might only be 10 people in the country” able to donate. 

At the moment, there are only three units of the “Bombay” blood group – first identified in India – in stock across the whole of the UK. 

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The Search for a Pill That Can Help Dogs—and Humans—Live Longer

A startup called Loyal is developing drugs to slow down the aging process in dogs, potentially adding a few years to their lifespans.

BY TOM SIMONITE

People have been searching for a fountain of youth for thousands of years. Celine Halioua thinks she’s found one—for canines. Be patient, we’re next.

CELINE HALIOUA DROPS into a crouch and greets Bocce, a Chihuahua-dachshund mix with soulful brown eyes, like a long-lost friend. “Oh my God, you’re so beautiful!” she chirps. The two have just met in an upstairs room at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, where light streams in through the open windows and urine occasionally streams onto the floor. About a dozen elderly dogs, none taller than a kneecap, putter around on the gray linoleum or nap on blankets. When Halioua kneels, her dark hair tumbling over her shoulder, Bocce rests his head blissfully in her lap.

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In a 1st, scientists use designer immune cells to send an autoimmune disease into remission

In lupus, B cells release “autoantibodies” that latch onto the body’s cells, triggering a damaging immune response.

By Nicoletta Lanese

The therapy will now be tested in larger trials.

Five patients with hard-to-treat lupus entered remission after scientists tweaked their immune cells using a technique normally used to treat cancer. After the one-time therapy, all five patients with the autoimmune disease stopped their standard treatments and haven’t had a relapse. 

This treatment, known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, needs to be tested in larger groups of lupus patients before it can be approved for widespread use. But if the results hold up in larger trials, the therapy could someday offer relief to people with moderate to severe lupus.

“For them, this is really a breakthrough,” said Dr. Georg Schett, director of rheumatology and immunology at Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. Schett is the senior author of a new report describing the small trial, which was published Thursday (Sept. 15) in the journal Nature Medicine.

“It’s a single shot of CAR T cells and patients stop all treatments,” Schett told Live Science. “We were really surprised [at] how good this effect is.” 

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Innovative approach brings cell-reprograming therapy for heart failure closer to reality

By Ana Maria Rodriguez

Not too long ago the idea of taking, for instance, a skin cell and transforming it into a muscle cell was unthinkable. About 10 years ago, however, revolutionary research showed that it is indeed possible to reprogram differentiated adult cells into other types fully capable of conducting new functions.

Cell reprogramming is a main interest of the lab of Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair, and professor of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, whose research focuses on finding innovative therapeutic approaches for heart failure.

“Heart failure remains the leading cause of death from heart disease,” said Rosengart, DeBakey-Bard Chair in Surgery and professor of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor. “Nearly 5 million Americans can be expected to develop advanced congestive heart failure, and heart transplant or mechanical circulatory support implantation currently are the only options for patients with end-stage heart disease. However, these options are limited. We need to improve how to treat this devastating condition.”

After a heart attack, the parts of the heart muscle that die do not regenerate into new heart tissue; instead, they are replaced by a scar that does not help the heart to beat. “The idea behind cell reprogramming is to coach the heart to heal itself by inducing the scar tissue, which is made mostly of fibroblasts, to change into functional heart muscle,” said Rosengart, professor of heart and vascular disease at the Texas Heart Institute.

Researchers have succeeded at reprogramming fibroblasts from small animals to become heart muscle, with dramatic improvements in heart function. The challenge has been to apply this technology to human cells — human fibroblasts are more resistant to reprogramming. In this study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, Rosengart and his colleagues explored a novel strategy to enhance the reprogramming efficiency of human fibroblasts.

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New approach using CRISPR can engineer massive quantities of cells for therapeutic applications

Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc.

A new variation of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system makes it easier to re-engineer massive quantities of cells for therapeutic applications. The approach, developed at Gladstone Institutes and UC San Francisco (UCSF), lets scientists introduce especially long DNA sequences to precise locations in the genomes of cells at remarkably high efficiencies without the viral delivery systems that have traditionally been used to carry DNA into cells.

“One of our goals for many years has been to put lengthy DNA instructions into a targeted site in the genome in a way that doesn’t depend on viral vectors,” says Alex Marson, MD, PhD, director of the Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology and senior author of the new study. “This is a huge step toward the next generation of safe and effective cell therapies.”

In the new paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Marson and his colleagues not only describe the technology but show how it can be used to generate CAR-T cells with the potential to fight multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, as well as to rewrite gene sequences where mutations can lead to rare inherited immune diseases.

“We showed that we can engineer more than one billion cells in a single run, which is well above the number of cells we need to treat an individual patient,” says first author Brian Shy, MD, PhD, a clinical fellow in Marson’s lab.

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Cornea implant made from pig skin restores vision in landmark pilot trial

A pilot study saw bioengineered implants restore the vision of 14 volunteers who were completely blind before the experimental procedure

By Rich Haridy

A cornea implant made out of collagen gathered from pig skin has restored the vision of 20 volunteers in a landmark pilot study. Pending further testing, the novel bioengineered implant is hoped to improve the vision of millions around the world awaiting difficult and costly cornea transplant surgeries.

More than one million people worldwide are diagnosed blind every year due to damaged or diseased corneas. A person’s vision can be easily disrupted when this thin outer layer of tissue surrounding the eye degenerates.

A person suffering corneal blindness can have their vision restored by receiving a corneal transplant from a human donor. However, a lack of cornea donors means barely one in 70 people with corneal blindness will ever be able to access a transplant. Plus, the surgical procedure can be complex, amplifying the lack of access to this vision-restoring procedure for people in low- and middle-income countries.

This new research first looked to develop cornea implants that didn’t rely on human donor tissue. Over a decade ago the researchers first demonstrated biosynthetic corneas were effective replacements for donor corneas. But those earlier studies still relied on complex lab-grown human collagen, molded into the shape of corneas.

This new study demonstrates the same biosynthetic cornea can be effectively produced using medical-grade collagen sourced from pig skin. Not only is this a cheap and sustainable source of collagen, but improved engineering techniques mean these bioengineered corneas can be safely stored for almost two years, unlike donated human corneas which must be used within two weeks of harvesting.

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Vision in Humans Restored Using Cornea Implants Bioengineered from Pig’s Skin

Cornea implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin.

By Thor Balkhed

For the estimated 12.7 million people around the world who are blind due to corneal stromal disease, a transplanted cornea from a human donor is the only way of regaining vision. But just one in 70 patients receives a cornea transplant. Now, researchers describe a cell-free engineered corneal tissue implant—made of collagen protein from pig’s skin—and a minimally invasive surgical method for its implantation. In a pilot study, performed in India and Iran (clinicaltrials.gov no. NCT04653922), all 20 patients who received the implants had vision restored.

The study is published in Nature Biotechnology, in the article, “Bioengineered corneal tissue for minimally invasive vision restoration in advanced keratoconus in two clinical cohorts.”

“The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for being used as human implants, which can be mass-produced and stored up to two years and thereby reach even more people with vision problems,” said Neil Lagali, PhD, professor at the department of biomedical and clinical sciences at Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden. “This gets us around the problem of shortage of donated corneal tissue and access to other treatments for eye diseases.”

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Artificial Heart: Researchers Use Focused Rotary Jet Spinning Technology for More Advanced Human Transplant

A representation of an artificial heart valve through a 3D Medical Animation

By Marie Morales 

The researchers of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have devised the first-ever biohybrid model of beating cardiac cells aligned helically.

As a Healthclubfinder report specifies, “the future of cardiac medicine involves tissue engineering.” Specifically, it includes the development of a human heart intended for transplant.

The future of cardiac medicine involves tissue engineering. It includes the creation of a human heart for transplant.

This model revealed that the alignment of muscles does, in fact, substantially increase the amount of blood that the ventricle can pump with every contraction.

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DOCTORS GENE-EDIT PATIENT’S LIVER TO MAKE LESS CHOLESTEROL

 BY VICTOR TANGERMANN

THIS COULD BE A GAME CHANGER.

A team of researchers from US biotech company Verve Therapeutics have injected a gene-editing serum into a live patient’s liver with the goal of lowering their cholesterol, a watershed moment in the history of gene editing that could potentially save millions from cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, MIT Technology Review reports.

The clinical trial kicked off with a patient in New Zealand receiving the unusual injection dubbed VERVE-101. Early experiments on monkeys have already yielded hopeful results.

The company claims that these genetic edits will be able to permanently lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a fatty molecule that at excessive levels can lead to clogged arteries.

And that could be a gamechanger as other interventions such as hard-to-follow diets, exercise, and other prescribed medicine have only been able to make a small dent LDL levels. Many drugs have also remained wildly expensive, with insurers refusing to pay for them, according to MIT Tech.

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