A Relatively Simple Gene Therapy Procedure Could Reverse Blindness

For the first time, scientists have used gene therapy to successfully reverse blindness in mice suffering with an inherited condition, which causes people to lose their sight over time.  

Researchers at the Nuffield Laboratory Of Ophthalmology, have shown that it is possible to use gene therapy to reprogram the retina nerve cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive again.

BIOPHOTO ASSOCIATES via Getty Images

The subjects in the study were all afflicted with Retinitis Pigmentosa, the name given to a group of inherited conditions of the retina, which are the most common cause of blindness in young people.

Affecting approximately 1 in every 3,000 to 4,000 people in the UK, the condition begins with a deterioration in night vision and peripheral vision, and later affects reading, colour, and central vision.

In order to counteract this lifelong condition, Samantha de Silva and her colleagues used a viral vector – a tool which can deliver genetic material into cells to modify a specific cell tissue and express therapeutic genes.

In this cause to express a light-sensitive protein, melanopsin, and reprogram the damaged cells to send visual signals back to the brain.

The trial resulted in mice maintaining their vision for the entire year after the procedure, being able to recognise detailed objects in their environment, something which indicated a high level of visual perception.

Samantha de Silva, the lead author of the study said: ’There are many blind patients in our clinics and the ability to give them some sight back with a relatively simple genetic procedure is very exciting.” 

The next step would be to start a clinical trial for this method in patients, 50% of whom have family members with the condition. 

The Oxford-based team has also been trialling an electronic retina successfully in blind patients, but the genetic approach may have advantages in being simpler to administer in the long term.

Health24.com | SEE: 1 in 10 women silently suffer from this debilitating condition

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus.

According to The Endometriosis Society of South Africa the pain caused by endometriosis is both physically and mentally exhausting.

It takes, on average, 8-10 years for a woman to be diagnosed with endometrisis. 

A new study has found cancer-related mutations in patients with deep endometriosis – this is an interesting find given that the condition itself is not cancerous.

Scientists Discover Ice On Mars Where It Shouldn’t Exist

Scientists have made an unexpected discovery while studying old images from the NASA archives – a region of ice near the Martian equator, where water simply isn’t meant to exist.

Everything we know about the red planet says water isn’t thermodynamically stable at low altitudes, but a team lead by researcher Jack Wilson, John Hopkins University, has now suggested that this might be wrong.

And this new information could be groundbreaking for any future Mars missions.

NASA

The images in question were first collected by the neutron spectrometer instrument on NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft (the agency’s longest-operating Mars orbiter) between 2002 and 2009.

But have recently undergone some serious editing.

Wilson’s team were able to reduce blurring and remove ‘noise’ from the imaging data, improving the spacial resolution from approximately 320 miles to 180 miles, allowing us all a closer look.

“It was as if we’d cut the spacecraft’s orbital altitude in half,” Wilson said, “and it gave us a much better view of what’s happening on the surface.”

As a result they were now able to see evidence of ‘significant hydration’ near the equator, located between the northern lowlands and southern highlands along the Medusae Fossae Formation.

Spotting unexpectedly high quantities of hydrogen gathering at high latitudes, the planetary scientists knew this was a sign of buried water ice much lower down (even though the spectrometer itself can’t directly detect water).

This revelation is so mysterious because although hydrogen was always known to exist higher in the atmosphere, as confirmed by 2008 NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, but it was thought that this was impossible closer to the surface.

Indeed the team wonders how the water could be preserved there, with some speculations suggesting that it is only being held there by an ice and dust mixture cycled through the atmosphere the polar areas.

But those conditions last occurred hundreds of thousands of millions years ago and any ice deposited there should be long gone.

“Perhaps the signature could be explained in terms of extensive deposits of hydrated salts, but how these hydrated salts came to be in the formation is also difficult to explain,” Wilson added.

Regardless of how the mysterious signature came to be there, the presence of water ice on Mars could potentially overhaul the entire way Mars missions are carried out.

As an accessible supply of water ice near the equator would mean the amount of delivered mass (brought on rockets) would be greatly reduced as the astronauts could use Martian natural resources for a water supply and as raw material for producing hydrogen fuel.

Health24.com | Whooping cough shot works, but many moms-to-be skip it

Research has proven that the whooping cough vaccination (Tdap) during pregnancy prevents whooping cough in about three-quarters of newborns – but only about half of mothers-to-be get the shot, a new US study reveals.

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysed 2011–2014 data from six states on babies younger than 2 months. The investigators found that Tdap vaccination in the third trimester of pregnancy prevented 78% of whooping cough (“pertussis”) cases.

A great opportunity

Vaccination during the third trimester was also 90% effective in preventing serious cases requiring hospitalisation, according to the study, which was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

However, only 49% of pregnant women who had babies between fall 2015 and spring 2016 received the vaccine, the researchers found.

“Women have such a great opportunity to help protect their babies before they enter the world by getting Tdap vaccine while pregnant,” said Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases.

“This study highlights how babies can benefit when their mothers get the vaccine, and reinforces CDC’s recommendation for women to get Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of each pregnancy,” she added in an agency news release.

Whooping cough can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make it difficult to breathe.

Making a comeback

In this study, two-thirds of babies younger than two months who got whooping cough required hospital treatment. Babies themselves don’t receive whooping cough vaccination until they’re 2 months old.

Babies younger than one year are at the highest risk for severe complications or death from whooping cough. Each year, five to 15 babies die from whooping cough in the United States. In most cases, these infants were too young to get their own shot, the CDC researchers said.

After a significant decline when vaccines became available, whooping cough started making a comeback in the 1980s. Since 2010, tens of thousands of cases have been reported each year in the United States, peaking at more than 48 000 in 2012. So far this year, more than 11 000 cases have been reported, according to the CDC.

Tdap vaccine also provides protection from tetanus and diphtheria.

Image credit: iStock

‘Revolutionary’ New Technology Could Turn Your Cup Of Tea Into A TV Remote

Researchers at Lancaster University have developed a “revolutionary” new technology that could turn just about any object into a TV remote.

Simply waving your cup of tea in front of the TV could change the channel, or rolling a toy car across the floor could change the volume.

Lancaster University

The new technology differs from conventional gesture recognition by being far simpler in its design. Unlike other more advanced methods that actually look to recognise a hand or even individual fingers, this system simply recognises the gestures and the movements themselves, regardless of what’s doing it.

The system, called Matchpoint, uses a conventional webcam to operate and works by recognising motion, rather than specific objects.

As you can see by the image below, changing channel, volume or activating the TV guide are all performed by moving your hand to a certain part of the screen.

Lancaster University

Once activated a simple slider appears and you just move your hand (with or without a mug of tea) in the direction you want. 

Christopher Clarke, PhD student at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, and developer of the technology, said: “Spontaneous spatial coupling is a new approach to gesture control that works by matching movement instead of asking the computer to recognise a specific object.

“Our method allows for a much more user-friendly experience where you can change channels without having to put down your drink, or change your position, whether that is relaxing on the sofa or standing in the kitchen following a recipe.”

Lancaster University

The system can be set up to read multiple users and the researchers believe that it could become a viable alternative for people who are unable to use conventional input devices such as remote controls or a keyboard or mouse.