Posts tagged with "science"

Nanodroplets & Ultrasound ‘Drills’ Prove Effective at Tackling Blood Clots

Engineering researchers have developed a new technique for eliminating particularly tough blood clots, using engineered nanodroplets and an ultrasound “drill” to break up the clots from the inside out. The technique has not yet gone through clinical testing. In vitro testing has shown promising results.

Specifically, the new approach is designed to treat retracted blood clots, which form over extended periods of time and are especially dense. These clots are particularly difficult to treat because they are less porous than other clots, making it hard for drugs that dissolve blood clots to penetrate into the clot.

The new technique has two key components: the nanodroplets and the ultrasound drill.

The nanodroplets consist of tiny lipid spheres that are filled with liquid perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Specifically, the nanodroplets are filled with low-boiling-point PFCs, which means that a small amount of ultrasound energy will cause the liquid to convert into gas. As they convert into a gas, the PFCs expand rapidly, vaporizing the nanodroplets and forming microscopic bubbles.

“We introduce nanodroplets to the site of the clot, and because the nanodroplets are so small, they are able to penetrate and convert to microbubbles within the clots when they are exposed to ultrasound,” says Leela Goel, first author of a paper on the work. Goel is a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering department at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After the microbubbles form within the clots, the continued exposure of the clots to ultrasound oscillates the microbubbles. The rapid vibration of the microbubbles causes them to behave like tiny jackhammers, disrupting the clot’s physical structure, and helping to dissolve the clots. This vibration also creates larger holes in the clot mass that allow blood borne anti-clotting drugs to penetrate deep into the clot and further break it down.

The technique is made possible by the ultrasound drill – which is an ultrasound transducer that is small enough to be introduced to the blood vessel via a catheter. The drill can aim ultrasound directly ahead, which makes it extremely precise. It is also able to direct enough ultrasound energy to the targeted location to activate the nanodroplets, without causing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The drill incorporates a tube that allows users to inject nanodroplets at the site of the clot.

In in vitro testing, the researchers compared various combinations of drug treatment, the use of microbubbles and ultrasound to eliminate clots, and the new technique, using nanodroplets and ultrasound.

“We found that the use of nanodroplets, ultrasound and drug treatment was the most effective, decreasing the size of the clot by 40%, plus or minus 9%,” says Xiaoning Jiang, Dean F. Duncan Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NC State and corresponding author of the paper. “Using the nanodroplets and ultrasound alone reduced the mass by 30%, plus or minus 8%. The next best treatment involved drug treatment, microbubbles, and ultrasound – and that reduced clot mass by only 17%, plus or minus 9%.  All these tests were conducted with the same 30-minute treatment period.

“These early test results are very promising.”

“The use of ultrasound to disrupt blood clots has been studied for years, including several substantial studies in patients in Europe, with limited success,” says co-author Paul Dayton, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UNC and NC State.  “However, the addition of the low-boiling point nanodroplets, combined with the ultrasound drill has demonstrated a substantial advance in this technology.”

“Next steps will involve pre-clinical testing in animal models that will help us assess how safe and effective this technique may be for treating deep vein thrombosis,” says Zhen Xu, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan and co-author of the paper.

SonoVascular, Inc.

A startup called SonoVascular, Inc., which was co-founded by Jiang, has licensed the ultrasound “drill” technology from NC State. SonoVascular and NC State are hoping to work with industry partners to advance the technology. The low-boiling point nanodroplets, co-invented by Dayton, have also been issued a U.S. patent. That technology has been licensed by spinout company Triangle Biotechnology, Inc., which was co-founded by Dayton. Study co-authors Dayton, Kim, Xu and Jiang have also filed a patent application related to nanodroplet-mediated sonothrombolysis.

For More Information

The paper, “Nanodroplet-Mediated Catheter-Directed Sonothrombolysis of Retracted Blood Clots,” is published open access in the journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering. The paper was co-authored by Huaiyu Wu and Bohua Zhang, who are Ph.D. students at NC State; and Jinwook Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC and NC State.

The work was done with support from the National Institutes of Health, under grant R01HL141967.

health

UVA Tests Different Approach to Managing Type 2 Diabetes

A researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine is testing what he calls a “radically different” approach to managing type 2 diabetes for those who can’t or don’t want to lose weight.

Daniel Cox, PhD, professor of psychiatry and internal medicine, said his program “flies in the face of conventionality” in that it doesn’t insist on weight loss as a key component of controlling blood sugar. Instead, it combines continuous glucose monitoring with well-informed eating choices, to understand the effect of different foods on blood-sugar levels, and well-timed exercise, to reduce those levels as needed.

“The convention is ‘lose weight.’ And if you lose weight, you lose belly fat, and if you lose belly fat, you lose adipose tissue in the liver. And that, in turn, reduces insulin resistance,” Cox said. “That’s all fine and good. And if you can, in fact, lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off for a long time – a lifetime – you’re golden. You can even put diabetes in remission. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and it’s a very effective approach. But some people don’t need to lose weight, and some people don’t want to lose weight, and other people want to lose weight but they can’t, or they can’t keep it off for a lifetime.”

A Different Take on Diabetes Management

Cox’s approach relies on continuous glucose monitoring to help people understand how their food choices affect their blood sugar. Different foods may affect people differently, he notes.medicine

Continuous glucose monitoring involves wearing a sensor on the back of the arm that continually sends a signal to a receiver that shows the person’s blood glucose level, without the need for fingersticks. Continuous glucose monitoring lets people see how a particular food affects their blood-glucose levels, whether it’s a sugary slice of cake or a seemingly healthy bowl of oatmeal, Cox said. Understanding that lets them make smart choices to keep their blood sugar under control.

If they do choose to indulge in a sugar-spiking food, the program encourages them to use light exercise, such as walking, to help bring their blood sugar back into check.

“This is the innovation: One, you dampen how much [blood sugar] goes up by minimizing the amount of carbohydrate you eat, and, two, you hasten its recovery by becoming more physically active,” Cox said. “Physical activity does two things: One, the skeletal muscle burns blood glucose as fuel, and, two, physical activity reduces your insulin resistance for a short period of time, about 24 hours.”

“Instead of fixing supper and having a great dinner and then plopping in front of the TV for the rest of the night, the alternative is becoming more physically active,” Cox said. “Do your shopping after you eat, walk the dog after you eat, clean your house after you eat.”

About the Diabetes Clinical Trial

Cox, of UVA’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, is testing his approach in small clinical trials at UVA, West Virginia University and the University of Colorado. Each site is recruiting four people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who have not yet begun taking medication. The participants will be provided with a treatment manual, continuous glucose monitors and activity/sleep trackers. Trial organizers will then check in with them virtually over several weeks to see how well the approach keeps their blood sugar under control.

The study is the latest in a series evaluating the approach. Cox said he has been encouraged by previous results but notes that “there’s no one approach that works for everybody.”

“In our 12-month follow-up study, slightly over half of participants – 52 percent of people – we would still classify as responders, meaning they’re having a significant benefit,” he said.

For the right people, he said, the approach may offer a way to control blood sugar without medication or with less medication, while still allowing flexibility in dietary choices. “We’re not asking for radical changes in lifestyle,” he said. “We’re asking for modest changes in lifestyle that directly impact blood sugar.”

For More Information

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at http://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu.

Gym Illustration by Rita Azar for 360 Magazine

UVA on Battling Diseases by Exercise

A top exercise researcher and colleagues at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have launched an ambitious effort to understand the whole-body benefits of exercise so that doctors can use that information to prevent and treat disease.

Zhen Yan, PhD, and his collaborators aim to identify the sources, functions and targets of the molecules that provide exercise’s well-documented health benefits. By understanding this, doctors will better understand how exercise helps fend off disease, and they may be able to design drugs to mimic those benefits for people who cannot exercise, such as those with limited mobility. The cutting-edge research could open new doors both for preventing and treating many common illnesses, the researchers hope.

“No one would dispute that physical activity or regular exercise is the best measures for health promotion and disease prevention,” said Yan, director of the Center for Skeletal Muscle Research at UVA’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center. “In fact, the health benefits of exercise are way beyond our imagination. The underlying reasons for the superb health benefits of exercise are being uncovered by many talented and passionate scientists around the world.”

Understanding How Exercise Improves Health

The UVA researchers have recently joined a national consortium seeking to create a “molecular map” of exercise benefits. Known as the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, or MoTrPAC, the group includes researchers at top institutions across the country, including Harvard, Duke, Stanford and Mayo Clinic.

The consortium came about after the National Institutes of Health invited Yan and a dozen other prominent scientists to a roundtable discussion in 2010 about the future of exercise research and the obstacles that stood in its way. The NIH then set aside almost $170 million for MoTrPAC’s research – believed to be the agency’s largest-ever investment into the mechanisms of how physical activity improves health and prevents disease.

“The program’s goal,” Yan explained, “is to study the molecular changes that occur during and after exercise and ultimately to advance the understanding of how physical activity improves and preserves health.”

The consortium is looking at exercise benefits in both humans and animal models. Initial animal research was conducted at Harvard, the University of Iowa and the University of Florida. In the latest round, UVA is joined by the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The vast amount of information collected as part of the project so far has poised the UVA team to make “unprecedented” advances, Yan reports. He and his multi-disciplinary team will employ advanced computer algorithms to sift through the heaps of data to identify specific molecules to study. They will then conduct state-of-the-art research in lab mice using gene editing, combined with a wide range of functional assessment, including muscle, cardiac, metabolic and cognitive/mental functions. This will let them determine the effects the molecules have and lay a foundation for doctors to harness the molecules to benefit human health in the future.

Yan’s team will work closely with colleagues at Stanford, who will conduct advanced “multiomics” analyses, meaning they will bring together data on genes, cellular proteins and much more to obtain a more holistic understanding of exercise’s benefits to the body.

UVA’s research team includes Yan, of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center and the Departments of Medicine, Pharmacology and Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics; Wenhao Xu, PhD, of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology; Chongzhi Zang, PhD, of UVA’s Center for Public Health Genomics, the Department of Public Health Sciences and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics; Matthew Wolf, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center; Thurl Harris, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology; and Alban Gaultier, PhD, and John Lukens, PhD, both part of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG).

“It is well known that exercise is one of the best treatments for mood disorders,” Gaultier said. “We are excited to test the group discoveries using animal models of anxiety and depression.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for team science,” Zang said. “I am happy to work with colleagues at UVA and across the country and use data-science approaches to unravel the complex molecular effects of exercise.”

UVA’s effort has received almost a half-million dollars in backing from the NIH’s fund for MoTrPAC’s research.

“Our research team encompasses exceptional talents. The collective wisdom and expertise of the team at UVA and MoTrPAC will allow us to reach a level that we would not be able to reach by an individual,” Yan said. “It is an unprecedented opportunity in our lifetime to tackle this incredibly important question to mankind.”

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at http://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu.

MORE: Exercise may help prevent deadly COVID-19 complication.

Breast Cancer Illustration by Kaelen Felix for 360 Magazine

UVA Breast Cancer Discovery

University of Virginia Cancer Center researchers have identified a gene responsible for the spread of triple-negative breast cancer to other parts of the body – a process called metastasis – and developed a potential way to stop it.

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive form of breast cancer that accounts for 40,000 deaths in the United States annually. The majority of these deaths result from resistance to chemotherapy and subsequent aggressive metastases. So UVA researchers asked: What causes a primary tumor to become metastatic? This is an important question in cancer biology because patients with metastatic tumors have the highest death rate.

UVA’s Sanchita Bhatnagar, PhD, and her team found that the breast cancer oncogene TRIM37 not only causes the cancer to spread but also makes it resistant to chemotherapy. A new approach she and her colleagues have developed could possibly address both, the researchers hope.

“Despite metastasis being the key reason for failure of cancer therapies, it remains poorly understood. We do not clearly understand what drives the metastatic growth in patients,” said Bhatnagar, who was the first to identify TRIM37 as a breast cancer oncogene. “In general, several genes are altered during tumorigenesis. However, whether targeting the same genes will prevent metastatic transition remains to be addressed.”

Promising research from Bhatnagar’s team shows that targeting TRIM37 prevents metastatic lesions in mouse models. Those findings form the foundation of her lab’s current work exploring the role of TRIM37 in racial disparities in triple negative breast cancer. Incidence of the disease is disproportionately higher in African-American women compared with other races, with a 5-year survival rate in African-American patients of only 14% compared with 36% in non-African-American women.

Targeting Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Bhatnagar and UVA’s Jogender Tushir-Singh, PhD, have developed a new approach to stop the effects of TRIM37 and, hopefully, prevent or significantly delay the spread of triple-negative breast cancer. This could also lower the disease’s defenses against chemotherapy.

Blocking the gene could benefit approximately 80% of triple negative breast cancer patients, the researchers estimate.

Bhatnagar and Tushir-Singh’s approach uses nanoparticles – microscopic balls of fat – to deliver treatment to block TRIM37. These nanoparticles are paired with specially engineered antibodies that bind to the cancerous cells but not to healthy cells. “As soon as the antibody finds the triple negative breast cancer cell, it binds to the receptor and is taken up by the cell,” explained Tushir-Singh, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.

“It is a kiss of death,” Bhatnagar said, “that selectively reduces the expression of TRIM37 in cancer cells and prevents the spread.”

The approach could be used to deliver targeted treatments for many other cancers as well, the researchers report. “That would not only get the treatment where it needs to be but, hopefully, help prevent unwanted side effects. Besides preventing metastases, it adds selectivity,” Bhatnagar said.

“A problem in the field is, how will you give [a nanoparticle treatment] to the patients? Most of these nanoparticles are cleared by the liver, so they never have a chance to really do their job,” she said. “In this study, researchers bypassed this issue by delivering nanoparticles by nasal route, increasing the rate of uptake in the lungs – one of the most common metastatic target sites in TNBC patients.”

The development of the new approach is in its early stages, but tests with lab mice have offered encouraging indications. “The lungs showed dramatic reduction in metastatic lesions after the treatment in comparison to the mice that received no treatment,” Bhatnagar said.

Next Steps

To verify that TRIM37 targeting might offer a potential treatment approach, Bhatnagar teamed up with Tushir-Singh, her husband, to test it in the lab. “And we find that our targeted nanoparticles significantly reduce metastatic lesions in the lungs of spontaneous metastatic murine [mouse] models – both immune compromised and immune sufficient,” she said. “This is an important proof-of-concept much needed for the bench-to-clinic transition of these important findings.”

Clinically, most women in the early stages of breast cancer are treated with surgery, followed by radiation or chemotherapy. However, metastasis remains a challenging medical problem. Bhatnagar’s research offers a potential way to target a driver of metastasis that she hopes will prevent or slow metastatic progression and improve overall survival.

Much more work needs to be done, but Bhatnagar’s research is being noticed by pharmaceutical companies interested in exploring the approach’s potential. “This is a delivery platform, not only for targeting our protein of interest but for many other chemotherapeutic drugs that can be packaged into the nanoparticles and selectively delivered,” Bhatnagar said.

Findings Published

The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Cancer Research. The research team consisted of Piotr Przanowski, Song Lou, Rachisan Djiake Tihagam, Tanmoy Mondal, Caroline Conlan, Gururaj Shivange, Ilyas Saltani, Chandrajeet Singh, Kun Xing, Benjamin B. Morris, Marty W. Mayo, Luis Teixeira, Jacqueline Lehmann-Che, Jogender Tushir-Singh and Sanchita Bhatnagar.

Bhatnagar, a Hartwell Investigator, is supported by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Breakthrough Award (BC170197P1, BC190343P1) and Metavivor Translational Research Award. A provisional patent has been filed for the molecularly targeted nanoparticle design engineered by the Bhatnagar and Tushir-Singh laboratories.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

New Scientific Study by Rice University Biochemists

Michael Stern and James McNew (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Study: Early, late stages of degenerative diseases are distinct
Two-phase theory applies to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscle atrophy

Rice University biochemists Michael Stern and James McNew have studied how neurodegeneration kills cells. They’ve conducted countless experiments over more than a decade, and they’ve summarized all they’ve learned in a simple diagram they hope may change how doctors perceive and treat degenerative diseases as varied as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and muscle atrophy.

In a study published this month in Molecular Psychiatry, McNew and Stern propose that degeneration, at the cellular level, occurs in two distinct phases that are marked by very different activities of protein signaling pathways that regulate basic cell functions.

“We would like clinicians and other researchers to understand that the two phases of degeneration represent distinct entities, with distinct alterations in signaling pathways that have distinct effects on disease pathology,” said Stern, a professor of biosciences at Rice. “In other words, we think that patients need to be treated differently depending on which phase they are in.”

Stern and McNew’s diagram shows how the activity of key cell-signaling proteins either increases or decreases at the onset of degeneration, ultimately bringing about oxidative stress. Oxidative stress then brings about the second phase of the condition, during which degeneration occurs, where the signaling proteins implicated in the first phase behave in a completely different way.

Because cells behave quite differently in the two phases, the research suggests patients in different phases of a disease may respond differently to the same treatment.

“The two phases of degeneration haven’t been previously recognized, so it hasn’t been understood, clinically, that you have two different populations of patients,” McNew said. “Today, they’re treated like one population, and we think this has confounded clinical trials and explains why some trials on Alzheimer’s have given variable and irreproducible effects. It would be like trying to treat all meningitis patients with antibiotics without realizing that there are two types of meningitis, one bacterial and one viral.”

Stern and McNew, professors of biochemistry and cell biology in Rice’s Department of BioSciences, became interested in the cellular processes of neurodegenerative disorders when they began studying hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) in the late 2000s. A rare disorder, HSP is marked by numbness and weakness in the legs and feet due to the progressive deterioration of neurons that connect the spine and lower leg.

These are some of the longest cells in the body, and starting with clues about structural defects that could cause them to degenerate, McNew and Stern used experiments on fruit flies to systematically piece together the biochemical domino effect that caused the neurons to progressively lose more and more function and eventually die. It had been thought that nerve damage could lead to muscle atrophy, but their studies found that muscle cells attached to the neurons started degenerating from the same type of biochemical cascade before the nerve cells died.

A key player in the cascade was a protein called TOR, a master regulator of cell growth and an essential protein for all higher-order life from yeast to humans. TOR acts like a knob, dialing growth up or down to suit the conditions a cell is experiencing. In some conditions, high growth is warranted and beneficial, and in other situations, growth needs to be dialed back so energy and resources can be conserved for daily chores, like the recycling or repair that take place during a process known as autophagy.

Some cancers highjack TOR to promote aggressive cell growth, and increased TOR activity has also been implicated in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and in diseases marked by muscle atrophy. After compiling evidence about how TOR and several other signaling proteins behaved in neurodegeneration, McNew and Stern won a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2018 for experiments to investigate signaling pathway changes that occur in the early stages of degeneration.

“At the time, we thought there might be a late phase during which degeneration actually occurs, but we didn’t propose any experiments to test that,” Stern said. “In the new paper, we’re explicit about the existence of a late phase. We propose mechanistically why degeneration occurs only during this phase, and cite abundant research in support.”

Stern said the two-phase process described in the study “is the basic engine that drives most or even all forms of degeneration forward. However, in addition, there are also inputs whose role is to specify how fast the engine turns over.”

To understand neurodegeneration, it’s critical to understand how those inputs work, he said. For example, insulin resistance plays a well-known role in driving Alzheimer’s disease, and in the study, McNew and Stern describe how it does that by accelerating progression through the early phase.

“Similarly, our data suggests that decreases in synaptic transmission, as occurs in our HSP insect model, likewise triggers degeneration by accelerating progression through the early phase,” McNew said. “Our NIH grant was funded so that we could learn the mechanism by which that occurs.”

Now that they clearly understand that two phases of degeneration exist, Stern said he and McNew would like to carry out more experiments to see how the effects of specific genes on degeneration are altered when they are activated in the early and late phases.

“What we would like to do in the last two years of the grant is to obtain data to test some of the predictions we have made, which will help determine if the ideas we have presented are likely to be correct,” Stern said.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01-NS102676).

Pfizer coronavirus vaccination article illustration by Kaelen Felix for 360 Magazine

Pfizer × BioNTech near historic vaccine

By Althea Champion

Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Monday that their COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90 percent effective. If approved, it could potentially be available to the public by early December, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The results came out of Pfizer’s Phase 3 trial, which involved 40,000 individuals. Of those participating, 94 contracted COVID-19. These results, like much of 2020, are historic. Vaccines have never been developed on such a fast-moving timeline. The last vaccine that was developed in such considerable haste was for mumps, and it took four years.

Pfizer says that they plan to ask the Federal Drug Administration for emergency use by the end of the month. The vaccine will require two doses administered three weeks apart. The company hopes to have enough doses for 25 million people by the end of the year, and 650 million people in 2021.

In the case that the vaccine supply is limited, the C.D.C. will first vaccinate healthcare personnel, essential workers, people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions, as well as those 65 years and older.

An expedited timeline does not mean drug companies are cutting corners. Fauci, like many of his colleagues in Washington, assures that manufacturers will stick to a process of vaccine development that ensures the safety of patients. The FDA will still make the final call.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, in Pfizer’s press release. “The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.”

However, a few questions remain unanswered.

“Historically, important scientific announcements about vaccines are made through peer-reviewed medical research papers that have undergone extensive scrutiny about study design, results and assumptions,” writes Arthur Allen in the Opinion section of the NYT. “Not through company press releases.”

According to Allen, it is unclear from the press release how long Pfizer’s vaccine will keep patients protected, if it is safe for high-risk populations like the elderly, or if rare side effects can arise in patients who are vaccinated. He notes that the Novavax and Sanofi Pasteur vaccines may be safer for older patients.

Novavax and Sanofi Pasteur are subunit vaccines, like the hepatitis B vaccine. They deliver only the essential antigens of the virus to the immune system, so it learns how to attack it. Because it is only a part, or a subunit, of the virus, fewer side effects are likely.

Pfizer’s is a nucleic acid vaccine that uses RNA. According to the Washington Post, “this type of vaccine contains a strip of genetic material within a fat bubble” that enters the cell. Once inside, “the RNA generates a protein found on the surface of the virus.” It can then familiarize itself with the virus and learn how to fight it.

Moderna’s vaccine is also an RNA vaccine in Phase 3 trials. Pfizer’s success bodes very well for Moderna, according to a statement Fauci made to CNN.

Furthermore, because the vaccine must be stored in extremely low temperatures—on dry ice at negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit according to the Washington Post—its roll-out becomes complicated. If left out in the sun, or just at room temperature, or even at just below freezing, the mRNA self-destructs and the vaccine becomes useless.

Shortly after Pfizer’s announcement, President-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation, warned of the “dark winter” ahead, and urged Americans, regardless of party affiliation, to wear a mask until the vaccine is available.

The head of the C.D.C. warned this fall, that “for the foreseeable future, a mask remains the most potent weapon against the virus,” he said from the podium. “Today’s news does not change that urgent reality.”

How to get rid of mosquitoes

Mosquitoes may not transmit COVID-19, but they can carry other dangerous diseases, including West Nile virus and Zika.

Most regions of the U.S. have issues with mosquitoes, but knowing prevention and mitigation measures can stop them from mushrooming into a big problem, says Dr. Craig Stoops (www.mosquito-authority.com), a retired U.S. Navy medical entomologist and chief science officer at Mosquito® Authority, a mosquito control company. 

“People are unfortunately attractive to mosquitoes,” Dr. Stoops says, “but there are numerous ways we can avoid the irritation and the potential danger of a bite. So much has to do with preparing your property and knowing how mosquitoes thrive.

“Some people are more susceptible to bites than others. Mosquitoes can be attracted to different chemicals found in human skin. But just because mosquitoes are an inevitable part of summer doesn’t mean you’re defenseless.”

Dr. Stoops offers five tips to reduce the appearance of mosquitoes and their biter:

  • Consider a professional service. Sometimes people prefer to do it themselves when it comes to fixing home issues, but they later find that a persistent problem is often better left to trained professionals. “Companies that specialize in mosquito control can effectively address the problem by implementing an entire program over a period of time, including follow-ups,” Dr. Stoops says. “There is a science and strategy to a program, and it requires considerable knowledge of how to treat different types of yards in different regions of the country. A good company in this industry continually educates its people as well as the consumers on how to effectively stay ahead of the problem.”
  • Get rid of standing water. Still water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Common places of standing water include: clogged drain gutters, corrugated drain pipes, bird baths, pet bowls, planters, trash and recycling bins, children’s toys, and kiddie pools. “It is important to remain vigilant and remove any containers and debris from your yard to lower the habitats available to mosquitoes,” Dr. Stoops says. “A mosquito needs only about a tablespoon of water to lay eggs.”
  • Use safe repellents. Repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency have been reviewed and approved to pose minimal risk when used properly. “Some of the most effective ingredients commonly referred to in a repellent are DEET, Picaridan, and oil of lemon eucalyptus,” Dr. Stoops says. EPA-approved repellents provide up to two hours of protection.
  • Dress appropriately. “Studies have shown that some mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing,” Dr. Stoops says. “Avoid wearing lightweight, thin materials, which mosquitoes can bite right through. Instead, opt for tightly woven materials, like cotton, denim, nylon, or windbreaker-type materials, which are more difficult for the bugs to penetrate. Clothing that provides UV protection is typically tightly woven and often protects against insect bites, too.”
  • Keep your landscape clean. “Trimmed trees and shrubs improve a property’s air circulation,” Dr. Stoops says. “The increased air flow will physically push mosquitoes out of that area and remove the environment they thrive in. Also, there are some gardening choices that can deter mosquitoes: basil, lavender, and catnip are all plants that mosquitoes don’t like.”

“Many people just think of bug spray during mosquito season,” Dr. Stoops says. “The main idea should be to keep them out of your yard as much as possible. From there, considering summer is the time to get away, always prepare for your environment, especially if hiking or camping.”

About Dr. Craig Stoops

Dr. Craig Stoops (www.mosquito-authority.com), LCDR (ret.) MSC USN, is a retired U.S. Navy Medical Entomologist and chief science officer at Mosquito® Authority, a mosquito control company. He has conducted mosquito control and research in the United States, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has a B.S. in biology from Shippensburg University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Entomology from Clemson University. Dr. Stoops is board certified by the Entomological Society of America in Medical and Veterinary Entomology.

Rolls-Royce Apprentices

Rolls-Royce announced Monday that a brand new intake of apprentices would be welcomed into the company.

18 new minds hailing from all across the UK will join the luxury vehicle titan at its home in Goodwood, West Sussex. They will be known as the “Class of 2020” in a program that began in 2006.

More than 150 aspiring engineers have entered the apprenticeship learning high-level practical and technical skills over the course of two to four years. They learn from Rolls-Royce specialists, gaining knowledge from the best minds in the company.

Of the 18 members of the “Class of 2020,” seven are candidates for the Sir Ralph Robins Degree Apprenticeship scheme, a four-year apprenticeship that grants students a degree from the University of Chichester upon completion.

Rolls-Royce is also providing placements in the industry for over 50 students. The placements last from six to 12 months. It also has a graduate program that makes new positions available every year.

A Trillion Turns of Light Nets Terahertz Polarized Bytes

American and Italian engineers have demonstrated the first nanophotonic platform capable of manipulating polarized light 1 trillion times per second. 

“Polarized light can be used to encode bits of information, and we’ve shown it’s possible to modulate such light at terahertz frequencies,” said Rice University’s Alessandro Alabastri, co-corresponding author of a study published this week in Nature Photonics.

 “This could potentially be used in wireless communications,” said Alabastri, who is also an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. “The higher the operating frequency of a signal, the faster it can transmit data. One terahertz equals 1,000 gigahertz, which is about 25 times higher than the operating frequencies of commercially available optical polarization switches.”

This new found research was a collaboration between experimental and theoretical teams at Rice, the Polytechnic University of Milan and the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa. This collaboration started in the summer of 2017 when co-author of the study, Andrea Schirato was a visiting scholar in the Rice lab of physicists along with co-author Peter Nordlander. Schirato is a Politecnico-IIT joint graduate student under the supervision of co-corresponding author Giuseppe Della Valle and co-author Remo Proietti Zaccaria. 

Each of the researchers work in nanophotonics, a fast-growing field that uses ultrasmall, engineered structures to manipulate light. Their idea for ultrafast polarization control was to capitalize on tiny, fleeting variations in the generation of high-energy electrons in a plasmonic metasurface.

 Metasurfaces are ultrathin films or sheets that contain embedded nanoparticles that interact with light as it passes through the film. By varying the size, shape and makeup of the embedded nanoparticles and by arranging them in precise two-dimensional geometric patterns, engineers can craft metasurfaces that split or redirect specific wavelengths of light with precision.

“One thing that differentiates this from other approaches is our reliance on an intrinsically ultrafast broadband mechanism that’s taking place in the plasmonic nanoparticles,” Alabastri said. 

The Rice-Politecnico-IIT team designed a metasurface that contained rows of cross-shaped gold nanoparticles. Each plasmonic cross was about 100 nanometers wide and resonated with a specific frequency of light that gave rise to an enhanced localized electromagnetic field. Thanks to this plasmonic effect, the team’s metasurface was a platform for generating high-energy electrons.

“When one laser light pulse hits a plasmonic nanoparticle, it excites the free electrons within it, raising some to high-energy levels that are out of equilibrium,” Schirato said. “That means the electrons are ‘uncomfortable’ and eager to return to a more relaxed state. They return to an equilibrium in a very short time, less than one picosecond.”

Experiments were performed by study co-first author Margherita Maiuri at Politecnico’s ultrafast spectroscopy laboratories and they were confirmed by the team’s theoretical predictions. She used an ultrashort pulse of light from one laser to excite the crosses, allowing them to modulate the polarization of light in a second pulse that arrived less than a picosecond after the first.

Despite the symmetric arrangement of crosses in the metasurface, the nonequilibrium state has asymmetric properties that disappear when the system returns to equilibrium. To exploit this ultrafast phenomenon for polarization control, the researchers used a two-laser setup.

“The key point is that we could achieve the control of light with light itself, exploiting ultrafast electronic mechanisms peculiar of plasmonic metasurfaces,” Alabastri said. “By properly designing our nanostructures, we have demonstrated a novel approach that will potentially allow us to optically transmit broadband information encoded in the polarization of light with unprecedented speed.”

Kaelen Felix Illustrates a Farm Animal Article for 360 MAGAZINE

Faunalytics x Farm Sanctuary

A new study from Faunalytics suggests that people who interact with farm animals at sanctuaries are more likely to consume fewer animal products.

Farm Sanctuary, America’s premier farm animal sanctuary and advocacy organization, joined Faunalytics to release the study, which showed that 70% of non-vegans who went on a tour through Farm Sanctuary said they would make dietary changes to reduce consumption of animal products. Comparatively, only 53% said they would change their diets prior to taking the tour.

You can see the study by clicking right here.

Farm Sanctuary followed up with participants in the survey two months later, and non-vegans reported eating less chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy, with many correspondents crediting the tour for that change.

Tourists didn’t only make active lifestyle changes. They also changed opinions. While 52% of participants said humans contribute to farm animal suffering before the tour, that number went up to 69% after the tour.

78% of omnivores said they were willing to cook vegetarian or vegan meals, which is up 12% from the 66% who were willing before the tour. 48% also said they were willing to discuss veganism and vegetarianism with others, but 73% said they’d had conversations with others about the subject at the time of the two month check-in.

The study took place at Farm Sanctuary locations in New York and California with over 1,200 subjects, and Farm Sanctuary hopes to continue progress by showing that tours can be both fun and effective.

Tom Beggs, a Faunalytics research scientist and the lead author of the study, said the public is becoming more aware of the way animals are treated in the food system, and a global shift is happening.

“The results from our study confirm something that most farm animal sanctuaries are already aware of: having meaningful interactions with farmed animals encourages people to empathize with them, and more importantly, to consider them as sentient individuals and not food,” Beggs said.

The study also shows that it’s important to find a balance between light-hearted and educational when sending a message about animal cruelty. The best way to spread the word is to make it easy to take immediate action by doing things like providing recipes, selling plant-based ingredients and foods and offering opportunities to get more involved in the cause.

Megan Watkins, CEO of Farm Sanctuary, said industrial agriculture is a major threat to our current world.

“The critical role that farm sanctuaries play in modeling a compassionate relationship with animals and inspiring positive lifestyle change cannot be overstated,” Watkins said. “Whether you visit in-person or virtually, the best way to glimpse the future is to visit a farm sanctuary.”

Faunalytics’ recent Animal Product Impact Scales list revealed the products causing the most suffering to animals in the United States. You can see that list by clicking right here

To learn more about Faunlytics, you can click right here, and to learn more about Farm Sanctuary, you can click right here.