Issue 14

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In this issue:


  • A bumper week for medical breakthroughs!

  • What to do about monkeys cracking open a cold one with the boys.

  • Are you smarter than an AI algorithm?

  • Covid updates, Joe Rogan, and... pee?


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Time to celebrate some medical milestones.

We can all agree that cancer sucks big time. This week, we received a major update on a new treatment that could help millions suffering from leukemia.

New treatment?

That’s right — this one involves some clever genetic engineering. The TL;DR is that scientists can take a patient’s T-cells (a type of white blood cell that attacks foreign substances) and modify them in the lab to recognize cancer cells. These new and improved T-cells can then be transfused back into the body. As they circulate in the patient’s bloodstream, the T-cells proliferate and destroy any cancer cells they come across and send the disease into remission.).

Does this mean we've cured cancer?

This treatment is highly specific, and doesn’t work for everyone. And until recently, scientists didn’t understand how long the cancer-attacking T-cells would last. In this latest development, researchers showed that the modified T-cells can persist for up to 10 years following the initial transfusion. At least two patients who were treated this way a decade ago are still in remission, with plenty of the genetically modified T-cells still in their bloodstream. Some are calling the treatment a “living therapy” for leukemia.

Still sounds like a pretty big deal.

You’re right. And if you think conquering cancer is cool, wait till you hear about the paralyzed man who can walk again thanks to electrodes implanted in his spine.

Hold up, what now??

You read that right. In 2017, Michael Rocatti experienced paraplegia after an accident severed his spinal cord. A group of neuroscientists looked at his injury and figured “we can fix that”. To give Michael back the use of his legs, they implanted an electrode on the portion of his spinal cord that is still connected to his lower body.

I gotta see this.

You can check it out for yourself here, it’s pretty incredible. Michael can use a tablet to wirelessly send commands like “walk” or “stand” to his spinal implant. Since the nervous system operates on electrical impulses, the implant can discharge electrical signals to make his muscles move based on his tablet commands. He still can’t feel his legs, but the device essentially allows Michael to electrically pull the strings on his legs to move them around as he pleases.

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The Leak: The world of medicine has started the year jam-packed with more headliners than Coachella. From leukemia to paralysis, scientists have been working their butts off to find solutions, and some of that butt-working has finally paid off. Guess the scientific method does work after all.

Thanks to Chris Mitchell for the tip on the spinal treatment!

See something story-worthy? Drop us a line!


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What do frat boys and Vervet monkeys have in common?

A mild drinking problem. That’s right — you might think Vervet monkeys are cute, but these little guys have a real penchant for alcohol. In fact, they’re infamous for stealing cocktails from beachside bars. While tiny drunk monkeys are undeniably hilarious, they also present scientists an opportunity to study the biology of alcoholism.

You just had to make it nerdy.

Well, that’s kinda what we do here. In a recent study, scientists tried to figure out a way to make these booze-loving primates drink a little less. The researchers zeroed in on a hormone called FGF21, which has previously been linked with having a sweet-tooth. Since animals in the wild tend to get their alcohol from fermented, sugar-heavy fruits, the scientists hypothesized that this hormone might also influence the monkeys’ urge to drink. They tested this hypothesis by injecting some Vervets with a drug that mimics the chemical properties of FGF21.

What did they find?

Almost immediately, the Vervets reduced their alcohol consumption by 50% (guess Thanos isn’t the only one capable of cutting things in half). This dramatic reduction appears to be because of FGF21-induced changes in neural activity in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.

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The Leak: According to a new study, alcoholic Vervet monkeys can be convinced to set aside the beer keg with an injection of a FGF21 analog. If future research can produce similar effects for people, it could mark a significant advance in treatments for people suffering from alcohol use disorder. Like a plain glass of whiskey, we think that’s pretty neat.


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Cashiers might not be the only ones losing their jobs to robots.

Your software engineer friend might be next. According to artificial intelligence (AI) company DeepMind, their new system, AlphaCode, can write computer code to solve complex problems and even beat out many humans in online coding competitions.

Hold up. Isn’t AI also just computer code?

That’s what makes this so impressive. Typically, a human would create a computer program that has explicit instructions for how to solve a certain type of problem (for e.g., find the shortest driving route between two cities). But devising the solution itself requires flexible thinking — something that until now only humans could do well. AlphaCode can come up with solutions to programming problems that it has never seen before, even without human instruction.

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The Leak: Computer programming is a valuable skill, and AI might soon do a better job than humans. Promising, because this technology could be used to help people who can’t write code for themselves. Or trigger a robot apocalypse, TBD.


Has covid got your nose out of odor?

You've probably heard that covid can mess up your sense of smell. But how? According to a new study, the body’s immune response can genetically influence olfactory (smell) neurons and prevent them from detecting odors. Scientists are now wondering whether other weird symptoms of “long covid” could also be traced back to similar genetic changes in different parts of the body.


If you're sick of hearing misinformation from Joe Rogan...

This reputable science podcast has dedicated itself to debunking his bullsh*t. The best part? They’re owned by Spotify too.


Think peeing is a huge waste of time?

Us too. Hibernating squirrels have figured out a way around it though by recycling the nitrogen in their body and eliminating the need to urinate. Goals.


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