Supergenius high school student wins Intel Science Talent Search
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    Eric S. Chen, 17, of San Diego, Calif. (center) wins the first-place prize of $100,000 in the Intel Science Talent Search, a program of Society for Science & the Public. Also pictured are finalists Alec Vadim Arshavsky of N.C. (left) and Kathy Camenzind (right) of Calif. (INTEL)

17-year-old Californian Eric Chen walked away with a cool $100,000 after winning the Intel Science Talent Search for his research on influenza treatment drugs.

This isn’t the first major international science competition the California native has won. Chen took the grand prize at the 2013 Google Science Fair for his work on medication to fight against all influenza viruses including pandemic strains.

Other winners from the Intel competition include 17-year-old Kevin Lee who came in second place for his mathematical model that will help lead to treatments for arrhythmia and other heart conditions.

“We at Intel celebrate the work of these brilliant young scientists as a way to inspire the next generation to follow them with even greater energy and excitement into a life of invention and discovery,” executive director of the Intel Foundation Wendy Hawkins said in a press release.

“Imagine the new technologies, solutions and devices they will bring to bear on the challenges we face. The Intel Science Talent Search finalists should inspire all of us with hope for the future.”

Another 17-year-old came in third place for his research in solving a wide variety of problems in computer science, bioinformatics and computational biology.

All together, $630,000 was awarded to competitors from all across the country. From new breast cancer treatments to studies on the affects technology has on the teenage brain, America’s best and brightest young scientists were highlighted at the annual competition.

Giant virus resurrected from permafrost after 30,000 years

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    An ultrathin section of a Pithovirus particle in an infected Acanthamoeba castellanii cell observed by transmission electron microscopy with enhancement (JULIA BARTOLI AND CHANTAL ABERGEL, IGS AND CNRS-AMU)

A mysterious giant virus buried for 30,000 years in Siberian permafrost has been resurrected.

The virus only infects single-celled organisms and doesn’t closely resemble any known pathogens that harm humans.

Even so, the new discovery raises the possibility that as the climate warms and exploration expands in long-untouched regions of Siberia, humans could release ancient or eradicated viruses. These could include Neanderthal viruses or even smallpox that have lain dormant in the ice for thousands of years.

“There is now a non-zero probability that the pathogenic microbes that bothered [ancient human populations] could be revived, and most likely infect us as well,” study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France, wrote in an email. “Those pathogens could be banal bacteria (curable with antibiotics) or resistant bacteria or nasty viruses. If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them.”

(A “non-zero” probability just means the chances of the event happening are not “impossible.”)

Giant viruses
In recent years, Claverie and his colleagues have discovered a host of giant viruses, which are as big as bacteria but lack characteristic cellular machinery and metabolism of those microorganisms. At least one family of these viruses likely evolved from single-celled parasites after losing essential genes, although the origins of other giant viruses remain a mystery, Claverie said. [Tiny Grandeur: Stunning Images of the Very Small]

‘If viable virions are still there, this is a good recipe for disaster.’

– Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France

In the researchers’ hunt for more unknown pathogens, they took a second look at permafrost samples collected from Kolyma in the Russian Far East in 2000. Because the permafrost was layered along steep cliffs, drillers could extract samples from 30,000 years ago by drilling horizontally into the ice, thereby avoiding contamination from newer samples.

The team then took samples of this permafrost and put them in contact with amoebas (blob-like single-celled organisms) in Petri dishes. The researchers then waited to see what happened.

Some of the amoebas burst open and died. When the scientists investigated further, they found a virus had killed the amoebas.

The ancient virus infects only amoebas, not humans or other animals. This pathogen belongs to a previously unknown family of viruses, now dubbed Pithovirus, which shares only a third of its genes with any known organisms and only 11 percent of its genes with other viruses. Though the new virus resembles the largest viruses ever found, Pandoraviruses, in shape, it is more closely related to classical viruses, which have an isocahedral shape (with 20 triangular-shaped faces), Claverie said.

Pathogens reawakened?
The findings raise the possibility that other long-dormant or eradicated viruses could be resurrected from the Arctic. As the climate warms and sea ice and permafrost melt, oil and mining companies are drilling many formerly off-limit areas in Russia, raising the possibility that ancient human viruses could be released.

For instance, Neanderthals and humans both lived in Siberia as recently as 28,000 years ago, and some of the diseases that plagued both species may still be around.

“If viable virions are still there, this is a good recipe for disaster,” Claverie said. “Virions” is the term used for the virus particles when they are in their inert or dormant form.

But not everyone thinks these viruses spell potential doom.

“We are inundated by millions of viruses as we move through our everyday life,” said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who was not involved in the study. “Every time we swim in the sea, we swallow about a billion viruses and inhale many thousands every day. It is true that viruses will be archived in permafrost and glacial ice, but the probability that viral pathogens of humans are abundant enough, and would circulate extensively enough to affect human health, stretches scientific rationality to the breaking point.”

“I would be much more concerned about the hundreds of millions of people that will be displaced by rising sea levels than the risk of being exposed to pathogens from melting permafrost.”

The findings were published March 3 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Microwaving tumors: New procedure knocks out kidney cancer without surgery

As the war on cancer rages on, new technology is making it easier for doctors to remove tumors without invasive surgery.

When Rory Kleinman, 42, sought medical attention for stomach issues in 2012, he had no idea that routine scans would reveal a more serious problem.

“What happened was they were looking for something specific to do with my stomach, and through an MRI they then saw something – a nodule on my liver – and so they had me do a subsequent MRI to check that,” Kleinman told “The nodule was fine, but in that second MRI they saw that there was a tiny spot that was on my kidney.”

That tiny spot on Kleinman’s kidney turned out to be a tumor.

“I just felt shell shocked,” said Kleinman. “I just never thought that I would have cancer at a young age; if I was going to get it, I figured I would get it later in life.”

For many years, renal tumors required partial or total removal of the kidney. Doctors would take a biopsy of the tumor to see if it was cancer and then decide how much of the kidney to remove. But a new procedure called microwave ablation can be done without surgery, and at the same time as the biopsy.

“Microwave ablation is a technique used to heat tumors,” Dr. Aaron Fischman, assistant professor of radiology and surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City told “We’re able to actually place a needle directly to the tumor and kill it without actually removing it or making an incision.”

Patients are put under conscious sedation while a microwave antenna is fed through a biopsy needle. After a piece of the tumor is removed for testing, Fischman and his team use medical imaging to help place the tip of the antenna directly inside the tumor.

“The biggest benefit in my mind, and most of the patients will probably tell you, that they don’t have to have surgery,” said Fischman. “So we’re able to do this procedure with no incision. We just put a needle directly into the kidney itself, and ablate it, so the recovery time is less, the complication rate is theoretically less because the risk of bleeding is less without having a major surgery.”

Microwave ablation is used to treat tumors in the liver, kidneys and lungs. Doctors at Mount Sinai have seen success rates of 90 to 95 percent in their patients who undergo the procedure, Fischman said.

“Since this is a minor procedure, the risks are minimal,” he said. “The most common thing that people can see is minor bleeding or some pain at the site where the needle went in, and usually, this goes away in a day or two after the procedure.”

For Kleinman, the ease of the procedure has made cancer a distant memory.

“Literally, I had the procedure done and a few days later I was back at work – I really haven’t thought that much about it,” said Kleinman. “I like that I don’t have to look at a scar so that it reminds me that I had this procedure done.”

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Differences in a single gene may influence recovery from traumatic brain injury
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After an individual suffers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a stroke or concussion, the subsequent treatment can be highly variable depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms.

Now, new research has revealed that differences in a single gene may predict how well a person recovers from a TBI, compared to others with similar injuries.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers focused on the role of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene and how it related to the post-TBI recovery process.

“It’s a basic growth factor in the brain that supports neurogenesis, which is the formation of new neurons,” lead researcher Aron Barbey, a professor of neuroscience and of psychology at the University of Illinois, told “One of the hypotheses is that BDNF would be critical for recovering from TBI and the formation of new neurons following an injury.”

According to Barbey, there are two different polymorphisms of the BDNF gene: the Met variant and the Val variant.  The variants (or alleles) dictate whether the amino acids methionine (Met) or valine (Val) are incorporated in the BDNF protein.  Since people inherit two copies of each gene from their parents, individuals can have one of three combinations of the BDNF variants: Val/Val, Val/Met or Met/Met.

The researchers focused on the BDNF genetic variants of 156 Vietnam War veterans who had suffered penetrating head wounds during combat.  All of the study’s participants had focal injuries that impacted the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain found to be important for planning, problem-solving and complex analysis.

After controlling for size and location of the subjects’ brain injuries, Barbey and his team collected blood samples of the veterans for genetic analysis, in order to determine which BDNF variant they possessed.  They also gave the study participants a series of cognitive tests to understand how they performed after their injuries.  Prior to combat, the veterans had undergone the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, which measured for intelligence.

Through their testing, the researchers found that a single polymorphism accounted for a significant difference in cognitive function. Veterans with the Val/Val combination performed an average of eight I.Q. points lower than veterans with either the Val/Met or the Met/Met combination.

“These groups were highly similar in terms of pre-injury I.Q. scores and injuries; they were very precisely controlled, so the conclusions drawn from this study are very strong,” Barbey said. “And the main conclusion we drew from the study is if the patient had the Val/Val combination, their performance was remarkably lower.  That suggests individuals with a Val/Val combination are highly sensitive to traumatic brain injury.”

Though the research team did not study the underlying mechanisms of the BDNF gene, Barbey said there is some evidence to suggest that the Met allele may impair intracellular trafficking.  Following a TBI, this impairment may be protective against cell death and improve recovery.

Knowing that these variants play a key role in recovery from a brain injury, Barbey said physicians could potentially use this genetic information to guide their treatments for TBIs in the future.

“It would be possible for individuals with TBI to draw their blood and perform this genetic analysis to identify which polymorphism of BDNF is present and use that to guide the nature of their therapy,” Barbey said.  “If they have the Val/Val combination, it means this patient is likely to face significant challenges and impairments and maybe we should redirect additional resources to helping them after TBI.  [For] individuals with the Met/Met combination, it suggests they have much greater potential to have preserved cognitive function.”

Barbey said that this research also provides a better understanding of how the brain reorganizes and repairs itself following an injury.

“The mechanisms that underlie this process have not been fully understood, but [this gene] plays a role in neural plasticity,” Barbey said.  “So this is going to contribute to this much larger picture that incorporates molecular genetics, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and other disciplines that converge in understanding the mechanisms that occur during TBI.”

Baby’s rare brain tumor had teeth

A 4-month-old infant in Maryland may be the first person to have had teeth form in his brain as a result of a specific type of rare brain tumor, according to a new report of the case.

The boy is doing well now that his tumor has been removed, and doctors say the case sheds light on how these rare tumors develop.

Doctors first suspected something might be wrong when the child’s head appeared to be growing faster than is typical for children his age. A brain scan revealed a tumor containing structures that looked very similar to teeth normally found in the lower jaw.

The child underwent brain surgery to have the tumor removed, during which doctors found that the tumor contained several fully formed teeth, according to the report. [14 Oddest Medical Cases]

After an analysis of tumor tissue, doctors determined the child had a craniopharyngioma, a rare brain tumor that can grow to be larger than a golf ball, but does not spread.

Researchers had always suspected that these tumors form from the same cells involved in making teeth, but until now, doctors had never seen actual teeth in these tumors, said Dr. Narlin Beaty, a neurosurgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who performed the boy’s surgery along with his colleague, Dr. Edward Ahn, of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

“It’s not every day you see teeth in any type of tumor in the brain. In a craniopharyngiomas, it’s unheard of,” Beaty said.

Craniopharyngiomas commonly contain calcium deposits, “but when we pulled out a full tooth…I think thats something slightly different,” Beaty told Live Science.

Teeth have been found in people’s brains before, but only intumors known as teratomas, which are unique among tumors because they contain all three of the tissue types found in an early-stage human embryo, Beaty said. In contrast, craniopharyngiomas have only one layer of tissue.

The boy’s case provides more evidence that craniopharyngiomas do indeed develop from the cells that make teeth, Beaty said.

These tumors are most often diagnosed in children ages 5 to 14, and are rare in children younger than 2, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The boy is progressing well in his development, the researchers said. However, because craniopharyngiomas are tumors of thepituitary gland a gland in the brain that releases many important hormones they often cause hormone problems.

In the boy’s case, the tumor destroyed the normal connections in the brain that would allow certain hormones to be released, Beaty said, so he will need to receive hormone treatments for the rest of his life to replace these hormones, Beaty said.

“He’s doing extremely well, all things considered,” Beaty said. “This was a big tumor right in the center of his brain. Before the moderate surgical era this child would not have survived,” Beaty said.

The teeth were sent to a pathologist for further study, Beaty said, and generally, these types of tissue samples are saved for many years in case more investigation is needed.

The report is published in the Feb. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

First artificial heart recipient in ‘satisfactory’ condition 2 months after transplant

  • 5: You Have Heart Palpitations

A patient with terminal heart failure is in “satisfactory condition” two months after becoming the first person to be fitted with Carmat’s artificial heart which is designed to beat for several years, his hospital said.

The 76-year-old man is eating normally, no longer needs constant respiratory assistance and is able to walk a little further every day thanks to physical therapy, the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Carmat bioprosthesis continues to function satisfactorily, without any anti-clotting treatment since January 10,” said the hospital, where the implant surgery was performed on December 18 and where the patient is being treated.

It praised the patient’s “exemplary courage, sense of humour and family support” for playing a role in his recovery.

Heart-assistance devices have been used for decades as a temporary solution for patients awaiting transplants, but Carmat’s product is designed to replace the real heart over the long term, mimicking nature using biological materials and sensors.

It aims to extend life for thousands of patients who die each year while awaiting a donor, while reducing the side-effects that can be associated with transplants, such as blood clots and rejection.

Three more patients in France are due to be fitted with Carmat’s device. The people selected in this first series of clinical studies suffer from terminal heart failure – when the sick heart can no longer pump enough blood to sustain the body – and would otherwise have only a few days or weeks to live.

Success will be judged on whether the patients survive with the implant for at least a month. If deemed safe, the device will then be fitted into about 20 lower-risk patients.

A spokeswoman for Carmat declined to say when the other three patients in the first round of tests would be fitted with its artificial heart.

The company estimates around 100,000 patients in the United States and Europe could benefit from its artificial heart, a market worth more than 16 billion euros ($22 billion)

Chief Executive Marcello Conviti told Reuters in November that Carmat hoped to finish human trials of the heart by the end of 2014 and to obtain approval to market them in the European Union by early 2015.

Among its competitors for artificial heart implants are privately-held SynCardia Systems and Abiomed, both of the United States.

Surgeons reconstruct baby’s skull with 3D printing technology
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    Before and after models of Gabriel’s skull (ASSOCIATED PLASTIC SURGEONS)

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    3D printed templates utilized during surgery. (ASSOCIATED PLASTIC SURGEONS)

When baby Gabriel was born in August, his dad, Manuel Dela Cruz, said everything initially seemed fine with his new son. It wasn’t until a week after his birth that Gabriel’s parents thought their son’s forehead looked abnormal.

“We noticed something was wrong with him,” Dela Cruz, of East Quogue, N.Y., told  “His eye wasn’t the same, and his right forehead was more protruded than the other one.”

Worried for their son’s health, the new parents took Gabriel to a pediatrician, who diagnosed the newborn with unilateral coronal synostosis – also known as anterior plagiocephaly.  For babies with this condition, a growth plate fuses prematurely on one side of the skull, causing the forehead to become more and more distorted and form asymmetrically.

Although the side effects of plagiocephaly are mostly cosmetic, the deformity can grow significantly worse if left untreated – leading many parents to opt for reconstructive surgery.  Knowing what needed to be done, Dela Cruz said it was frightening to have their son undergo an operation at such a young age.

“You obviously fear the worse, especially because it was in the head,” Dela Cruz said. “Knowing he was going to be opened up…it was very scary on the part of the parent.”

In order to treat Gabriel, physicians at Stony Brook University decided to try a completely new kind of operation – one that would cut down on the time the infant spent in the operating room.

Through a collaboration with Medical Modeling Inc. in Golden, Colo., Dr. Michael Egnor and Dr. Elliot Duboys were able to virtually plan the entire surgery beforehand.  Additionally, the company created 3D printed before-and-after models of Gabriel’s skull for the surgeons, so they could accurately predict how the operation’s results would look.

“The first thing we do, after we make a diagnosis, is a CT scan of the baby’s head… and we sent the CT image to [Medical Modeling],” Egnor, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, told “Using a computer program, they simulated the baby’s skull with the symmetry and dimensions it should have.  Then the company manufactured these templates and sent them to us, so we had the exact measurements.”

Knowing exactly how the skull should look after the procedure, 6-month-old Gabriel was brought in for surgery and placed him under anesthesia.  In order to get to the deformed bone, the surgeons made an incision across the top of Gabriel’s forehead, exposing the entire front of the skull and eye sockets.

Through the use of a special saw, the surgeons removed four pieces of deformed bone and made special cuts in the skull to help reshape and restructure the baby’s head.  In an attempt to make the remodeling more precise, Egnor and Duboys utilized the 3D printed templates provided by Medical Modeling, which helped to highlight where the surgeons needed to make their incisions.

“They sent us cutting templates, which were pieces of 3D modeling that we were able to place on the child’s skull during surgery,” Duboys, associate professor of surgery  at Stony Brook Medicine, told “And then we just traced where the cuts should be on the skull, almost like a stencil… And then we know where to cut.”

Both Egnor and Duboys said the 3D modeling technology helped to cut down on the length of the procedure, which meant Gabriel spent far less time under anesthesia than during traditional surgery.  They hope more surgeons will utilize this 3D imaging and modeling to perform reconstructive surgeries in the future.

“I think it’s going to become, over time, acknowledged as the best way to do procedures of this nature,” Egnor said. “I was hopeful that this would work nicely, and it made a believer out of me.”

As for Gabriel, Dela Cruz said his son will still need to wear a helmet to reshape his forehead.  But overall, he responded extremely well to the surgery and his forehead is not as protruded as it once was.

“There are no side effects, and he’s a normal baby,” Dela Cruz said. “…Gabriel responded very good to the procedure, and three or four days after, he was joking and playing.  It was great seeing him that way.”

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

In a breakthrough that could one day revolutionize transplant medicine, researchers have successfully grown human lungs in a lab for the first time, Medical News Today reported.

Using portions of lungs from two deceased children, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston created a scaffold-like structure by stripping one set of lungs down to just collagen and elastin – the main components in connective tissue.

The researchers then gathered cells from the other set of lungs and applied them to the scaffolding, before placing it in a chamber filled with nutritious liquid. Four weeks later, the team had a complete human lung – and they were able to successfully repeat the procedure using another set of lungs.

The researchers first developed this technique in 2010, and have since tested the method on rat lungs and pig lungs before testing it on human lungs.

“It’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it. You don’t run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you’ve proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,”  researcher Dr. Joan Nichols said.

Though the researchers are excited about their discovery, they said it could take a minimum of 12 years before the use of lab-generated lungs in human transplants becomes a reality.

Click for more from Medical News Today.

Math saving lives: New models help address kidney organ donation shortages
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On any given day in the United States, approximately 100,000 patients are waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.

The main problem is availability.  In 2012, only 14,209 transplants took place in the U.S., leaving many on the waiting list for an available kidney.  And the longer they wait, the lower their chances for survival.

So, what is there to be done?  While it’s very difficult to increase the amount of viable kidneys available for transplantation, researchers from Northwestern and Stanford Universities have proposed new, innovative ways of optimizing kidney distribution throughout the country – using simple mathematical models.

Their initiative, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago, helps to address two major issues within the organ donation process: decreasing geographic disparity and increasing available living donors.

Geographic disparity
According to the researchers, the U.S. population is continuing to live longer and longer, which ultimately leads to a growing incidence of kidney failure throughout the nation.  However, since most kidneys come from deceased donors, organ donation has remained fairly stagnant over the years, creating a wide gap between the number of donors and the number of recipients on the transplant waiting list.

And as the gap widens, the amount of time an individual waits for a kidney can be highly variable, depending on that person’s location. According to panelist Sanjay Mehrotra, organ allocation and wait times can vary drastically across certain regions of the country.

“From a geographic perspective, depending on where you live, the time that is spent while waiting on the waitlist can be quite different,” Mehrotra, professor in the department of industrial engineering and management sciences at Northwestern University, told “That difference can be within in a state and across states – and it can be significant. If you live in Illinois … you may be waiting four years, but just north in Wisconsin, it could be [two] years.”

Mehrotra explained that a patient’s expected wait time greatly depends on their state’s population, as well as the region’s number of organ procurement organizations (OPOs) – local facilities responsible for coordinating the donor process within a designated service area (DSA). For example, Illinois, a state with a larger population, only has one OPO, meaning a patient waiting for a kidney in that region is also waiting on a list with many other individuals – much more than in Wisconsin.

Nationwide, this kind of geographic disparity has gotten much worse, Mehrotra said.  So in an attempt to shorten wait times in the U.S., he has utilized both retrospective and prospective model-based analytics to devise new methods for organ allocation. Based on his research, he proposed a way of making supply and demand better balanced – by have OPOs that allocate the most organs send some of their kidneys to DSAs in need.

He noted that oftentimes, these high-allocation centers discard their lower quality organs, which could be used in other regions that have longer wait times.

“What we’re finding is if you link up DSAs across regional states and DSAs within a state, you can actually make substantial progress to address this disparity issue,” Mehrotra said. “Our estimates are that 500 lives can be saved a year by essentially reducing this disparity.”

The panel also addressed the concept of better matching kidney life expectancy to recipient life expectancy, so that higher quality kidneys can be utilized for the longest periods of time.

“A kidney that may last someone 30 years may be given to someone with a 5-year life expectancy,” Dr. John Friedewald, an associate professor in medicine nephrology and surgery-organ transplantation at Northwestern University, told “A lot of kidneys are outliving their transplant recipients. And vice versa; there’s a mismatch in candidates to kidneys. One of the things we’re doing is doing longevity matching, where kidneys with the longest longevity will be matched with candidates with the longest estimated transplant survival.”

Friedewald estimated that longevity matching would add 8,000 additional life years for each year’s worth of donated kidneys.

Exchanges and chains
While these changes may help produce greater equity and boost life expectancy for some, they still don’t address one major issue surrounding organ donation: increasing the amount of kidneys available. Alvin Roth, the Craig and Susan McCaw professor of economics at Stanford University, spoke at the panel about the best way to utilize living donors – people who wish to donate one of their kidneys to help a loved one in need.

While these donors may be willing to donate a kidney, it’s not always possible for them help their intended recipient.

“If you wanted to donate a kidney to a loved one, you have to check to see if you’re a healthy donor,” Roth, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2012 for his work on finding stable matches, told “…Sometimes you’re healthy enough to give a kidney, but can’t give it to a person you love because you’re incompatible. That’s where kidney exchange comes in.”

Kidney exchange involves matching one incompatible donor-recipient pair to another incompatible donor-recipient pair, so that they essentially “exchange” kidneys with one another. Then, through a total of four simultaneous surgeries, the donors give an organ to the opposite recipient, insuring that both donors donate and both patients receive a kidney.

Roth is also known for his novel concept of kidney donor chains.  For chains to work, he explained that the process is initiated by a non-directed donor (NDD) – who wishes to donate a kidney to someone in need. That donor’s kidney is then given to a patient who is part of an incompatible donor-recipient pair. Once the patient in that pair receives the new, compatible kidney from the NDD, then the incompatible donor donates his or her kidney to another incompatible donor-recipient pair.

The process repeats again and again until there is a final recipient not involved in a donor-recipient pair.

“Each pair gets a kidney before they give one, so it’s not a tragedy if the chain breaks,” Roth explained. “The guys who are expecting a kidney, their donors haven’t given a kidney yet. And the chains can get very long. The first chain, the one reported in 2009, that one at the time of reporting had 10 transplants, and eventually had 16. The longest chain so far has 60 people in it.”

The researchers at the panel hope all of these models will ultimately inspire change and lead to policy alterations within the United Network for Organ Sharing. Dr. Michael Abecassis, a transplant surgeon at Northwestern Medical Hospital and organizer of the event, noted that there are definitely many ethical concerns behind what they are proposing, especially when it comes to distributing organs outside of their local areas, but he said their research is ultimately meant to help as many people as possible.

“The common thread is we don’t have enough organs, so we better make the best use of the ones we have,” Abecassis said. “We can’t do this with our brains, so we have to bring in these complicated mathematical models to make this happen.”

Bionic hand allows amputee to feel again

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    Amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen, right, wearing sensory feedback enabled prosthesis in Rome. To feel what you touch — that’s the holy grail for artificial limbs. In a step toward that goal, European researchers created a robotic hand that let an amputee feel differences between a bottle, a baseball and a mandarin orange. (AP PHOTO/PATRIZIA TOCCI, SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE)

Dennis Aabo Sorensen lost his left hand when a firework rocket he was holding exploded during New Year’s Eve celebrations 10 years ago, and he never expected to feel anything with the stump again.

But for a while last year he regained his sense of touch after being attached to a “feeling” bionic hand that allowed him to grasp and identify objects even when blindfolded.

The prototype device, which was wired to nerves in the 36-year-old Dane’s left arm, blurs the boundary between body and machine and scientists hope it could one day revolutionize the lives of many amputees.

There is still work to be done in miniaturizing components and tidying away trailing cables that mean the robotic hand has so far only been used in the lab, but Sorensen said the European research team behind the project had got the basics right.

“It was a great experience. It’s amazing to feel something you haven’t been able to feel for so many years,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “It was pretty close to having the same feeling as in my normal hand.”

Details of his month-long use of the bionic hand, including results from a week of concentrated daily tests, were reported by researchers from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Britain and Denmark in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Alastair Ritchie, a bioengineering expert at the University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the research, said the device was a logical next step but more clinical trials were now needed to confirm the system’s viability.

“It’s very exciting preliminary data but it’s a one-case study and we now need to see more cases,” he said.

Despite notable advances with prosthetic limbs, current artificial hands fall down when it comes to providing sensory feedback – a key element in human dexterity.

In his everyday life Sorensen uses a commercial prosthetic hand that can detect muscle movement in his stump to open and close his hand, but provides no sense of touch and requires him to watch constantly to prevent objects being crushed.

The new so-called LifeHand 2 prosthesis is far more sophisticated in combining intra-nerve wiring, robotics and computer science to create life-like feeling.

Implanted electrodes

Ultra-thin electrodes the width of a human hair were surgically implanted into the ulnar and median nerves of Sorensen’s arm before he was attached to the robotic hand, which is equipped with various artificial sensors.

These sensors measure the tension in man-made tendons on each finger to assess the force used to grasp different objects, while computer algorithms transform this information into an electrical signal that the nerves can interpret.

The result is real-time sensation, including a gradation in feelings that allowed Sorensen in tests to detect both shape and consistency. In a series of experiments, he was able to recognize the basic shapes of objects, such as the cylinder of a bottle, and also feel differences in the stiffness between a mandarin orange and a baseball.

It is a big advance on an initial LifeHand 1 device unveiled in 2009, which was less refined and was not implanted on the patient but only connected through electrodes.

There is still a need for further work, however, in order for the new hand to differentiate between more detailed textures, as well as between hot and cold.

Silvestro Micera, an engineer at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and the Cuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, said the challenge now was to ensure the system could remain implanted on multiple patients for “many months”.

“Our final goal is to have this in clinical practice in five, six or seven years time – but the next step is to show in two to three years that this can work long term not just in one patient but in several patients,” he said.

Assuming further clinical trials go well, the research team is likely eventually to bring in a commercial partner, although Micera said this was not on the cards just yet.

One big unknown is cost. The high-tech device will not be cheap but Micera said the surgery to implant the electrodes was relatively straightforward, which should limit hospital bills.