Ukraine. Omicron. Climate change. Can we ever catch a break from the sad, the sordid, the violent, the vain, the completely unnecessary and utterly preventable death and destruction?
Amid all the serious issues to worry and obsess about, I’ve found a few bright spots in my weekly perusal of the news, courtesy of The Week:
An English bulldog, missing for five years, turned up in a Tennessee shelter, a thousand miles from her home in New York. She was identified by a microchip and happily reunited with her grateful and astonished owner.
A young woman in Denver, CO, was watching some children playing on a frozen pond when she saw the ice crack. She dashed out of her apartment to pull the kids out. Then the ice broke, plunging her into the frigid depths. Treading water, the heroic 23-year-old held an unconscious six-year old girl above the water until help arrived, and all survived.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous: It seems that a man in New York has filed a $6 billion class-action suit against the New York Giants and Jets for playing their home games in New Jersey. He claims that millions of New York football fans have suffered “mental and emotional damage”, depression, sadness and anxiety.
To maintain my own sanity, I’m focusing on long walks, hot baths, watching comedies, baking, planning vacations, and re-organizing my closet. How are you coping, dear readers?
Universal blood type organs created in groundbreaking procedure, making transplants available for all patients
TORONTO, Ontario — A revolutionary procedure could make donor organs available for more patients — regardless of their blood type. Researchers from the University Health Network in Toronto have proven that it’s possible to convert the blood type of an organ, creating a universal organ that would avoid rejection during transplants.
The procedure, conducted at the Latner Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratories and UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, changed the lungs from a donor with type A blood into an organ with type O blood. Scientists consider type O the universal donor type. The breakthrough may significantly cut down on the disparity in organ transplant availability and shorten transplant waiting lists worldwide.
“With the current matching system, wait times can be considerably longer for patients who need a transplant depending on their blood type,” explains senior author Dr. Marcelo Cypel, Surgical Director of the Ajmera Transplant Centre, in a media release.
“Having universal organs means we could eliminate the blood-matching barrier and prioritize patients by medical urgency, saving more lives and wasting less organs,” adds Dr. Cypel, who is also a thoracic surgeon at UHN’s Sprott Department of Surgery.
Why is blood type so important?
A person’s blood type is dependent upon the antigens sitting on the surface of their red blood cells. People with type A blood have A antigens on their cells, while type B has B antigens and type AB has both. People with type O blood, however, have no antigens on the surface of their cells.
The reason this is important is because these antigens trigger an immune response if they’re foreign to a person’s body. This is also why patients needing a blood transfusion can only receive blood from donors with the same blood type — or from universal type O donors.
This problem also complicates organ donations. Researchers explain that antigens A and B are present on the surfaces of organs as well. Even people with type O blood have problems receiving transplants from type A or B donors. Since type O patients have anti-A and anti-B antibodies in their blood, receiving an organ from a type A donor will likely result in rejection.
For these reasons, doctors have to match up organs according to blood type as well as many other factors — leading to a wait for the perfect organ which can last several years. On average, type O patients actually have the longest wait for lung transplants — sometimes twice as long as type A patients. Kidney transplant patients can also end up waiting up to five years for a compatible donor.
“This translates into mortality. Patients who are type O and need a lung transplant have a 20 percent higher risk of dying while waiting for a matched organ to become available,” says explains study first author Dr. Aizhou Wang. “If you convert all organs to universal type O, you can eliminate that barrier completely.”
How did scientists make a universal organ?
In the proof-of-concept study, Dr. Cypel’s team used the Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) System to pump nourishing fluids through human donor lungs from a type A patient. This process allowed the researchers to warm the lungs up to body temperature so the team could convert the organs for transplantation.
Before the procedure, the donor’s lungs were not considered suitable for an organ transplant. During the experiment, study authors treated one lung with a group of enzymes to flush out the A antigens, while leaving the other lung untreated.
From there, they tested the conversion by adding type O blood with large concentrations of anti-A antibodies to the EVLP circuit. This simulated the conditions of an ABO-incompatible transplant. Results show that the treated lung was well tolerated, meaning the lung would likely be safe from rejection if the team placed it in a human patient. Meanwhile, the untreated lung showed signs of rejection, meaning such a transplant in a human would likely fail.
Gut enzymes are key to universal organs
Dr. Stephen Withers, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia, found a group of gut enzymes in 2018 which became the first step in creating these universal organs. Researchers used the EVLP circuit to deliver these enzymes to the lungs during the new experiment.
“Enzymes are Mother Nature’s catalysts and they carry out particular reactions. This group of enzymes that we found in the human gut can cut sugars from the A and B antigens on red blood cells, converting them into universal type O cells,” Dr. Withers explains. “In this experiment, this opened a gateway to create universal blood-type organs.”
“This is a great partnership with UHN and I was amazed to learn about the ex vivo perfusion system and its impact [on] transplants. It is exciting to see our findings being translated to clinical research,” Dr. Withers adds.
The study authors are working on a proposal to begin a clinical trial on this new technique. They hope that the trial could begin within the next 12 to 18 months.
FORT WORTH, Texas — The beautiful people get all the breaks. A new study finds an interesting link between how attractive someone is and the strength of their immune system.
A team at Texas Christian University found that when people had to rate a group of photos based on the attractiveness of each person’s face, they consistently rated individuals with stronger immune health as more attractive than other photos in the study.
Although beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, researchers say there has been a historical link between what societies consider attractive and reproductive success. The TCU team theorized that, because certain evolutionary traits tie into more mating success, people who seem more attractive to others may also appear healthier to the opposite sex.
To test that theory, researchers gathered 159 men and women and photographed each one without makeup and while displaying a neutral expression on their face. Study authors then took blood samples from each person to measure their levels of white blood cells — which battle disease and infections.
The team then brought in 492 other people to rate members of the opposite sex in these photos based on their attractiveness. The volunteers did not have any information on each person’s immune health and only had that one neutral photo to base their rating on. Results show people with stronger immune systems were rated as being more attractive by the 492 volunteers.
“The current research suggests that a relationship between facial attractiveness and immune function is likely to exist,” corresponding author Summer Mengelkoch and her team write in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Interestingly, the study finds men and women have very different ideas about what makes a face attractive and healthy. Researchers found that, on average, women rated men with higher levels of NK (natural killer) cells as more attractive. These cells play a key role in fighting off and killing bacteria.
Men, on the other hand, found women with lower NK cell levels in their blood more attractive. Study authors believe the reason for this is women with lower NK levels generally have higher estrogen levels — a hormone important to sexual reproduction.
As for which features are likely to stand out and attract attention, researchers found a not-so-surprising list of qualities people look for in a pretty face.
“Features such as clear skin, prominent cheekbones, bright eyes, and full, red lips have been deemed attractive throughout recorded human history,” the researchers write.
Just came across this lovely story. Happy Valentines Day, everyone!
A kangaroo was saved after taking a dunk in the ocean off the coast of Australia by a rookie lifeguard.
Onlookers enjoying the surf and scenery on a rock shelf over-hanging the ocean in Bundjalung National Park were surprised to see an eastern grey kangaroo jumping across rock pools and tumbling into rough surf.
“My other workmate, Carissa and I, we were sitting on the tractor and she goes, ‘Oh my God, there’s a kangaroo jumping off the rocks!’” said 17-year old Lillian Bee-Young, a new lifeguard who had a surfboard nearby. “We were just figuring out what we should do… because we’ve never had that happen before.”
There were rough conditions that day on the north coast of New South Wales. Lillian believed the kangaroo was trying to avoid some fishermen and just “got wiped out by a set (of waves).”
Lillian told ABC News Australia that she didn’t quite know how to proceed as she paddled out with the rescue board. She didn’t know whether to try and get it onto the board, for example, or if that would put her in danger and stress the marsupial out even more.
It was just managing to keep its head above the water, but didn’t want to come ashore due to a gathering crowd.
Her friend Carissa cleared an avenue to allow Roo to feel comfortable, and after a few stumbles, it made it back onto dry land and immediately went off into the bushes.
“It was quite special. There were people cheering and clapping… and then [the kangaroo] was just sitting there up in the bushes, almost, I thought, as a thank you… It was really serene,” Lillian said.
The new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets and could be used as a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or cell phones, or as a building material for bridges or other structures. (Credits:Image: polymer film courtesy of the researchers; Christine Daniloff, MIT)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —Scientists at MIT have developed a material that is as light as plastic — but stronger than steel. They believe the material could revolutionize the car, mobile phone, and building industries.
The easily manufactured substance – up to six times more difficult to break than bulletproof glass – is the result of an engineering feat previously thought to be impossible. It is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets, unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional, spaghetti-like chains.
Until now, scientists believed it was impossible to induce polymers to form 2D sheets. Now, its developers hope the material could be used as a lightweight, durable coating for car parts or mobile phones. It could also serve as a worthy candidate for the construction of office buildings, bridges, or other structures.
“We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things,” says senior author Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT, in a statement. “It has very unusual properties and we’re very excited about that.”
The researchers filed for two patents on the pioneering process they used to generate the material.
Birth of 2DPA-1
So how did this groundbreaking substance come to be? Polymers, which include all plastics, consist of chains of building blocks called monomers. The chains grow by adding new molecules onto their ends. Once formed, polymers can be shaped into three-dimensional objects, such as water bottles, using injection molding. Experts have long believed that if polymers could be induced to grow into a two-dimensional sheet, they should form extremely strong, lightweight materials.
However, many decades of work led to the conclusion that it was impossible to create such sheets.
One reason was that if just one monomer rotates up or down, out of the plane of the growing sheet, the material will begin expanding in three dimensions and the sheet-like structure will be lost. However, in the new study, Strano and his colleagues came up with a new polymerization process that allows them to generate a two-dimensional sheet called a polyaramide.
For the monomer building blocks, they use a compound called melamine, which contains a ring of carbon and nitrogen atoms. Under the right conditions, the monomers can grow in two dimensions, forming discs. Strano explains that these discs stack on top of each other, held together by hydrogen bonds between the layers, which make the structure very stable and strong.
“Instead of making a spaghetti-like molecule, we can make a sheet-like molecular plane, where we get molecules to hook themselves together in two dimensions,” says Strano. “This mechanism happens spontaneously in solution, and after we synthesize the material, we can easily spin-coat thin films that are extraordinarily strong.”
Because the material self-assembles in solution, Strano says it can be made in large quantities by simply increasing the quantity of the starting materials. The researchers showed that they could coat surfaces with films of the material, which they call 2DPA-1.
“With this advance, we have planar molecules that are going to be much easier to fashion into a very strong, but extremely thin material,” says Strano.
Revolutionary material ‘can completely prevent water or gases from getting through’
The researchers write that the new material’s elastic modulus – a measure of how much force it takes to deform a material – is between four and six times greater than that of bulletproof glass. They also claim that its yield strength – how much force it takes to break the material – is twice that of steel, even though the material has only about one-sixth the density of steel.
Strano says that another key feature of 2DPA-1 is that it is impermeable to gases. “While other polymers are made from coiled chains with gaps that allow gases to seep through, the new material is made from monomers that lock together like Lego, and molecules cannot get between them,” he adds. “This could allow us to create ultrathin coatings that can completely prevent water or gases from getting through. This kind of barrier coating could be used to protect metal in cars and other vehicles, or steel structures.”
The study’s findings are published in the journal Nature. The authors are now studying in more detail how the material is able to form 2D sheets. They’re also experimenting with changing its molecular make-up to create other new materials.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.