Paralyzed patient walks with an exoskeleton controlled by the brain

A French man has returned to walking after having been paralyzed following an accident thanks to a brain-controlled exoskeleton according to the scientists who invented it.

The same doctors and engineers who created the device, while admitting that a possible use for the public is still many years away, believe that this device has “the potential to improve the quality of life and autonomy of patients.”

The patient in question had an accident four years ago when he fell from a height of 12 meters. The incident severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from his shoulders down. Experts from the Grenoble Alpes hospital, from Clinatec, a company in the biomedical field, and from the CEA research center have first implanted two devices on the patient’s head connected to the brain.

These devices read the signals of the cortex motor sense and these same signals are then translated by an algorithm. The algorithm then sends the physical commands to the exoskeleton that executes them.

To “train the algorithm” the patient had to use, using the signals of his brain, a sort of avatar in a computer simulation to acquire the necessary skills.

This new system, beyond the exoskeleton, could also help to build a wheelchair controlled by the brains of paralyzed patients.

Scientists discover how skin fights bacterial infections

A new mechanism that allows the body tape, specifically to our skin, to fight wounds caused by bacterial infections has been discovered by a group of researchers from Charité -Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Researchers have discovered that it is a specific molecule, known as interleukin 6, that goes into action and it is this discovery that could be used in the future for new methods to fight infections of bacterial wounds. These wounds, in the worst cases, can in fact lead to serious consequences such as severe inflammation and septicemia.

The team of researchers led by Frank Siebenhaar, from the German Institute’s Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology, analyzed how mast cells, cells of the immune system, are involved in the skin’s response to bacterial infection and in general in the healing process.

Observing the animals, the researchers realized that if the mast cells were absent at the point of the wound, the bacteria present on it were 20 times higher in number. This caused a much slower wound closure that took several days.

The researchers found that messaging interleukin 6 molecules made the beneficial action of mast cells possible. These molecules stimulate the cells of the superficial layer of the epidermis, prompting them to release antimicrobial peptides, protein chains that eliminate bacteria, as well as viruses and with mushrooms.

Researchers then replicated these processes also in human tissue in the laboratory. The same researchers believe that by artificially applying interleukin 6 to infected wounds a similar mechanism can be obtained even if this is for the moment only a hypothesis that must be demonstrated with possible experiments on human beings.

People with psychopathic traits can control themselves: scientists discover why

A group of researchers believes they have discovered how people with psychopathic traits manage to control their “dark impulses.” Many people with antisocial if not psychopathic tendencies, even strong enough, manage not to commit typical psychopathic acts and the researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Kentucky have decided to find out why. They then analyzed those mechanisms that could explain these trends using neuroimaging technologies. The same researchers confirmed that these people show greater development in those neural structures that promote self-regulation.

In particular, also performing structural magnetic resonances, they discovered that “successful” psychopaths, ie those who manage to control themselves, show a higher level of gray matter density in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

The latter is one of the brain areas that has, among its various tasks, those related to self-regulation. It includes the regulation of the most primitive instincts and reactive emotions such as anger or fear.

A denser region allows these people a greater capacity for self-control, as reported by Emily Lasko, a student at the VCU Department of Psychology who led the study: “This is important because it is one of the first evidence that indicates a biological mechanism that can potentially explain how some psychopathic people are able to ‘succeed’ while others cannot.”

Gut bacteria is also related to muscle mass in the elderly, according to a new study

The intestinal microbiome has quickly become one of the main topics of study in the biological field and not a day goes by that new research is not produced in this regard. A new study, published in Experimental Gerontology, indicates that bacteria that live in the intestine can also be involved in the mechanisms that regulate muscle strength in the elderly.

The relationship between the intestinal microbiome and muscle mass and in general with physical functions is gaining more and more importance in the last few years since it was discovered that bacteria in the intestine are much more influential than ever thought. The researchers behind this study compared the bacteria in the intestines of 18 elderly people with high physical function and low percentages of fat mass and 11 elderly people with less favorable body data.

They also colonized the intestines of various mice with fecal samples taken from these two groups of humans. Researchers first found higher levels of bacteria such as Prevotellaceae, Prevotella, Barnesiella and Barnesiella intestinihominis in the 18 elderly people with good levels of physical function and fat mass and in mice colonized with fecal samples taken from them.

“While we were surprised not to have identified a role for the intestinal microbiome in maintaining body composition, with these results we now begin to understand the role of intestinal bacteria in maintaining muscle strength in the elderly,” says Michael Lustgarten, a researcher at the HNRCA Institute of Tufts University.

Brain stem cells transplanted into the brain of mice successfully without anti-rejection drugs

A group of researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine states, in a work published in the journal Brain, that they succeeded in successfully transplanting brain stem cells into the brain of a mouse and without the use of anti-rejection drugs.

Just the lack of use of these drugs, if the same method can also be applied on humans, could advance the research field of brain stem cells, in particular for those therapies that are implemented on children who are born with a rare class of genetic diseases.

In these diseases, myelin, which is the protective coating of neurons, does not get to form normally. This is a rare condition that affects about one in 100,000 children in the United States. One of them is Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease.

To achieve this, Piotr Walczak, a professor of radiology and radiological sciences, injected, together with his team, into the brain of mice glial cells to independently produce the myelin sheath around neurons.

With a particular specialized camera to capture brain images of mice, the researchers found that one of the groups of rodents they treated showed that glial cells injected into the brain lasted for over 203 days, which showed that they had not been eliminated from the system immune of the mouse.

And not only were they not eliminated but they assumed their normal function of protecting neurons by populating the appropriate parts of the brain.

“We interpret this result as a success in selectively blocking immune system T cells from killing transplanted cells,” reports lead author Shen Li.

Researchers find why friction causes static electricity

A group of researchers believes that it has relatively precisely identified the ways in which friction leads to static electricity. This is a phenomenon that probably everyone knows and that leads us to have to deal, almost daily, with small sparks or electrical discharges, in the great majority of innocuous cases, which can be caused by frictions of various kinds or various objects. A known example is that of hair that can stand up on the head.

A team of researchers at Northwestern University has created a new model that explains why rubbing two objects can produce static electricity or a triboelectric effect. In the study, published in Physical Review Letters, it is explained that it is the small protrusions, almost identifiable only at the atomic level, on the surface of the materials that bend when they come into contact to produce this electricity.

If you look at the nanoscale, in fact, every material, even the smoothest, is characterized by rough surfaces with countless protrusions. When two objects or materials come into contact and begin to bend with one another, these protrusions begin to deform. And it is these deformations that proved the tensions which in the end cause a small electric discharge, an effect called the flexoelectric effect.

“Our discovery suggests that triboelectricity, flexo-electricity and friction are inextricably linked,” says Laurence Marks, professor of materials engineering sciences at Northwestern as well as lead author of the study. “This provides a lot of information on customizing triboelectric performance for current applications and expanding functionality to new technologies.”

Absorption of carbon dioxide in the Amazon is half of what was calculated

Disturbing news comes from the study conducted by an international team of scientists who have discovered that the absorption of carbon dioxide by the plants of the Amazon forest must be reduced by about 50% compared to what was previously calculated. The difference is that the previous climate models had not considered phosphorus deficiency.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows how these models can be considered “obsolete” because they are based on the belief that the amount of phosphorus, one of the main nutrients for plants, in the basement of the Amazon forest was more than sufficient.

In fact the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest, as pointed out by Jennifer Holm, a researcher at the Berkeley Lab and one of the authors of the study, has been characterized by a great impoverishment of phosphorus over millions of years due above all to the different types of weather to which this same environment has been subjected.

The researchers came to this conclusion by monitoring tree growth and leaf development as well as root growth in a region north of Manaus, Brazil. The same researchers hope that these results can be used to more realistically represent how the Amazon can counter global climate changes underway caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a contrasting force much more dependent on the acquisition of phosphorus from part of the plants and evidently weaker than thought.

Even nicotine-free electronic cigarettes can damage blood vessels according to a new study

Studies on electronic cigarettes are increasingly numerous but of course, given that we are dealing with a relatively new product, it will take a few more years to take cohort studies with a large number of participants and with a sufficiently long observation time. However, studies with time-reduced trials of groups of people are not lacking and often previously unknown links are found.
This is the case of a new study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania medical school.

The research, published in Radiology, found a link between nicotine-free electronic cigarettes and blood vessels.

This would run counter to the common belief that completely nicotine-free electronic cigarettes would be less harmful or otherwise not harmful. The researchers performed MRI scans on 31 healthy and non-smoking adults. The exam was performed before and after a “vaping” session of an electronic cigarette without nicotine.

Comparing the two measurements, the researchers found that these e-cigs also appear to have negative effects on the inner surface of blood vessels. Specifically, in the people examined, they seemed to cause a reduction in blood flow as well as an impairment of the endothelial function in the large artery, ie the femoral artery, represented by a 34% reduction in dilation.

The endothelium is a fundamental tissue for the circulation of blood in the body: if it is damaged, the blood can begin to thicken and in the most serious cases, the flow to the brain or heart may even stop, which leads to heart attacks and strokes.

To explain the results of the study is Felix W. Wehrli, professor of radiological sciences and biophysics at the aforementioned university and the author of the study, in the statement published on the website of the same university: “While the liquid for electronic cigarettes can be relatively harmless, the process of vaporization can transform the molecules – mainly propylene glycol and glycerol – into toxic substances. In addition to the harmful effects of nicotine, we have shown that vape has a sudden and immediate effect on the body’s vascular function and could potentially lead to long-term harmful consequences.”

Climate change is also affecting floods in Europe

Ongoing climate change is also affecting the frequency and magnitude of flood events. This is stated by a new study produced by various international researchers led by Günter Blöschl of the Technical University of Vienna who used the data collected from different climatic stations throughout Europe.

In particular, researchers focused on floods produced by rivers, a phenomenon that can cause enormous damage. They clearly state that changes in the magnitude of flood events that have occurred in recent decades in Europe can be attributed to ongoing climate change.

However, the same study finds that these climate changes seem to have different effects depending on the geographical area. For example, in north-western Europe floods are increasing, both in intensity and in number, while in southern and eastern Europe they are decreasing.

This is important research because up to now it has never been possible to connect the current climate changes to flood events with the scientific method, also due to the lack of sufficient data.
“Now we have examined this question in great detail and we can say with confidence: yes, the influence of climate change is clear,” says Günter, leaving little room for misunderstanding.

And the effects are not only connected to the fact that a higher temperature level in the atmosphere favors a greater accumulation of water: “Things are more complicated,” reports the same researcher.

In southern Europe, floods are decreasing because climate change is causing less rainfall and higher than average temperatures that evaporate water from the soil. In central and north-western Europe, on the other hand, floods increase because rainfall increases and the soil becomes wetter.

And the increases seem significant: they range from a 23.1% decline per decade to an 11.4% increase per decade. A new reality to which the entire flood management sector will soon have to adapt.

The researchers analyzed data from 3738 stations designed to measure floods in Europe, data collected from 1960 to 2010. The study was published in Nature.

Asteroid impact 2.2 billion years ago may have contributed to the thawing of the Earth

A group of researchers, led by geochronologist Timmons Erickson of the Johnson Space Center, analyzed Yarrabubba crater, an impact crater located in Western ​​Australia. By analyzing the rocks, the researchers showed that it is a crater caused by the impact of an asteroid that occurred 2,229 billion years ago.

This is a period that coincides with the end of a deep phase of freezing of the planet known as “Snowball Earth.” Erickson and colleagues in the team do not believe it is a casual connection: the impact of the asteroid itself could have helped the Earth to thaw.

The impact would vaporize the thick slabs of ice on the earth’s surface and help spread relatively warm steam into the stratosphere. This, in turn, would have caused a powerful greenhouse effect and therefore the thawing of the entire globe.

“The temporal coincidence is surprising,” reports Eva Stüeken, a geobiologist at the University of St. Andrews, in a speech on the Science website about this theory. The same researcher, however, shows some doubts. The Yarrabubba impact crater is less than 1/3 wide than that left by the asteroid that caused the dinosaurs to extinguish 66 million years ago.

The researcher, therefore, believes that the impact of Yarrabubba could not have had such a profound effect on a global level.

Erickson and colleagues believe however that the impact of Yarrabubba has played some role in the global thaw. Maybe it was helpful acting together with the supposed volcanic eruptions that are believed to have caused carbon dioxide to be released into the air, causing global warming of the planet and therefore its thawing.

Precisely for this reason, they have created a computer model of the impact of a 5 miles wide asteroid that hits an ice cap with a thickness between 2 and 5 miles. The simulation showed that the impact can cause the spread of dust for thousands of kilometers, darkening the ice and therefore improving its ability to absorb heat.

Furthermore, such an impact can send hundreds of billions of tons of steam into the stratosphere, which would help the atmosphere trap heat.