News & Events

Artificial intelligence predicts when heart will fail

Artificial intelligence can predict when patients with a heart disorder will die, according to scientists. The software learned to analyse blood tests and scans of beating hearts to spot signs that the organ was about to fail. The team, from the UK’s Medical Research Council, say the technology could save lives by finding patients that need more aggressive treatment. The results were published in the journal Radiology. The researchers, at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, were investigating patients with pulmonary hypertension.High blood pressure in the lungs damages part of the heart, and about a third of patients die with five years of being diagnosed. There are treatments: drugs, injections straight into the blood vessels, a lung transplant. But doctors need to have an idea of how long patients might have left, in order to pick the right treatment. Machine learning The software was given MRI scans of 256 patients’ hearts, and blood test results. It measured the movement of 30,000 different points in the organ’s structure during each a heartbeat. When this data was combined with eight years of patient health records, the artificial intelligence learned which abnormalities predicted when patients would die. The software could look about five years into the future. It correctly predicted those who would still be alive after one year about 80% of the time. The figure for doctors is 60%. Dr Declan O’Regan, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “The AI really allows you to tailor the individual treatment. See full article...

Transparent film smooths sagging skin back into shape

Transparent film smooths sagging skin back into shape If there are two things that most humans desire it is to look younger and be thinner. Recent advances in materials modelling puts one of these desires within our reach. Collaboration between materials scientists and cosmetic firms resulted in the development of a very thin transparent film that, when applied over the skin, reduce the appearance of sagging skin and wrinkles. While you are wearing this “second skin” it also reduces water loss from the skin. The product has been used in the beauty industry since 2014 to give temporary relief from an aging appearance. Besides being of considerable interest to cosmetic companies, the new invention also has possible applications in the medical field. These include its hydrating effects and the ability to trap corticosteroids used to treat inflammatory conditions on the skin to improve their absorption. These applications are already being investigated. Summarized by: Marlise van Staden (PhD, Physiology) University of Limpopo Reference: Geddes, L. 2016. Transparent film smooths sagging skin back into shape, Nature (09 May...

Human embryology: implantation barrier overcome?

Human embryology: implantation barrier overcome? A proper understanding of early human development is important for improving reproductive health and research on regenerative medicine. However, anyone who ever tried doing research in thisa field will agree that it is all but easy. Even if you can get hold of human embryos, research has to adhere to extremely strict ethical and legal regulations. Using embryos from animals such as rats and primates offers only a partial solution as there are important differences between the early development of different species, specifically at the implantation stage. According to an article in Nature, it is now possible to culture human embryos (derived from in vitro fertilization) for a period equivalent to 13 days post-fertilization in vivo. Despite structural differences between the in vitro and in vivo processes, this breakthrough paves the way for research that may result in an improved understanding of human development around the time of implantation. This may in return improve the understanding of how to induce human stem cells to differentiate into specific cells with therapeutic potential. As always this type of scientific breakthrough raises ethical questions – in this case with regards to the limits on human embryo development in vitro. Summarized by: Marlise van Staden (PhD, Physiology) University of Limpopo Reference: Rossant, J. 2016. Human embryology: implantation barrier overcome. Nature (04 May...

Wearable sweat sensor paves way for real-time analysis of body chemistry

Wearable sweat sensor paves way for real-time analysis of body chemistry Apparently you can learn a lot about a person from his/her sweat! Sweat contains a great number of electrolytes and metabolites and although normal values for many of these components in sweat are not available, it may simply be because sweat has never been considered as a body fluid that can be used as a diagnostic tool. Recently, materials scientists developed wearable electronics that have the ability to continuously analyze the composition of sweat and transmit the data wirelessly to a smart phone. The current instrument can measure body temperature as well as the concentration of glucose, lactate, sodium and potassium in sweat. The technology has obvious applications in athletics, but also in the medical field. It also opens new avenues for research as it has now become necessary to do research on the normal levels of metabolites and electrolytes in sweat. It is also necessary to investigate the accuracy of these levels at a clinical level. Summarized by: Marlise van Staden (PhD, Physiology) University of Limpopo Reference: Geddes, L. 2016. Wearable sweat sensor paves way for real-time analysis of body chemistry, Nature (27 January...

Metabolic Acceleration and the Evolution of Human Brain Size and Life History

How metabolic rates influenced the evolution of human brain sizes Species throughout time evolve based on their available metabolic energy versus their energy expenditure. An organisms’ metabolic energy (primarily a function of body size) must sustain the growth, reproduction and maintenance needs of the animal. For example, species that reproduce faster than expected for their body mass, generally have shorter maximum lifespans as their energy is directed towards reproductive function when compared to maintenance. Thus ultimately there are fundamental ‘’physiological trade-offs’’. Classically among primates this trade-off has been included in the need to grow and maintain large brains. So how is it possible that humans, more than any other hominoid reproduce more often, and produce larger neonates and still have the longest lifespans and the largest, while also having the most metabolically costly brains? It is from this perspective that humans present an energetic paradox. This article hypothesized that the human lineage experienced acceleration in metabolic rate, which provided energy for larger brains and faster reproduction without sacrificing maintenance and longevity. Measuring total energy expenditure (TEE) in adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes; n = 27), bonobos (Pan paniscus; n = 8), Western lowland gorillas (Gorillagorilla; n = 10) and orangutans (Pongo spp.; n = 11), and adult human samples (Homo sapiens; n = 141) the authors provide (very first time) evidence supporting the mechanism for the larger brains of Homo sapiens. The authors propose that a substantial increase in basal metabolic rate and body fat percentage, and changes in energy allocation was crucial in the evolution of human brain size and ultimately the history of life.   Summarized by: Kareemah...

Ebola Virus Vaccine Trial

Update on Ebola vaccine: report on phase 1 trials   In the wake of the Ebola virus outbreak being declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), the vesicular stomatitis virus Ebola Consortium (VEBCON) was established (under auspices of WHO) in August 2014. Here the aim was to initiate phase 1 testing of the replication-competent recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV)–vectored Zaire ebolavirus (rVSV-ZEBOV) candidate vaccine. The Canadian Government donated a total of 800 vaccine doses to the WHO. Preclinical safety records demonstrated that among approximately 80 immunized non-human primates, none displayed detectable toxic effects. In addition, none of the animals exhibited detectable illness after immunization. For phase 1, three open-label, dose-escalation phase 1 trials and one randomized, double-blind, controlled phase 1 trial were performed to determine the safety, side-effect profile, and immunogenicity of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine. This was done at various doses for a period of six months in healthy adults in Europe and Africa (Lambaréné, Gabon; Kilifi, Kenya; Hamburg, Germany; and Geneva, Switzerland). This study showed that while the vaccine was reactogenic, no serious adverse effects were reported. More importantly, the vaccine was immunogenic with all participants producing sustained levels of anti-bodies throughout the 180 days. Greater antibody titers were observed at higher concentrations of the vaccine. The authors report that this vaccine resulted in a favourable risk– benefit balance and that the data from phase 1 contributed to the dose selection process performed by the vaccine manufacturers. It has raised the awareness about the specific adverse events to be expected with the use of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine to all stake-holders. In...

US Public approves gene editing to improve health

US Public approves gene editing to improve health During December 2015, an International Summit on Human Gene Editing was co-hosted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The organizing committee requested an ongoing international forum to gather the perspectives of various stakeholders, which included members of the general public. Its aim was to determine what the US public thought about gene therapy and gene editing, how they felt about changing the genetic characteristics of human embryos or germline cells, and how interested they were in taking genetic tests in the future. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on 17 public opinion polls that were conducted over the past three decades. Their results showed that the public was not familiar with many of the terms used in the national debate over gene therapy and gene editing. Subsequently, the pollsters used a variety of easier-to-understand terms they thought might not be scientifically precise. For example: “germline editing” was used to describe changing “the genes of unborn babies,” “a child’s genetic structure in the womb,” or “a baby’s genetic characteristics.” The overall conclusion from the authors was quite revealing:   “Most of the public favors gene therapy for clinical use in patients with serious diseases. The majority do not support gene editing in human embryos or germline cells”.   The findings of this study demonstrated an alignment between that public’s view and the conclusions of the organizing committee of the NAS summit. The authors do, however, state that public opinion could change over time as the discussions of such issues continue to evolve and as more...

PSSA 2016 Conference

PSSA 2016 conference: 28th – 31st August 2016 Welcome to PSSA 2016 in Cape Town. It is my great pleasure to announce this year’s PSSA conference in Cape Town at the River Club; located in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, a mere 10 minutes from the CBD, famous V&A Waterfront and only 15 minutes from the Cape Town International Airport. Mark your calendar: Dates are 28th – 31st August 2016. Register Now Accommodation In addition to advancing physiology research in South Africa and in line with the recent initiative to strengthen robust links with the African Association of Physiological Sciences (AAPS), the vision of PSSA 2016 conference is to showcase our research achievements and prepare PSSA scientists to play a leading role at the AAPS conference in Lagos scheduled on 5th-8th September 2016. The Local organizing committee comprising of Prof Edward Ojuka (Chair), Prof Malcolm Collins, Prof Dirk Lang, Dr Asfree Gwanyanya and Dr Dale Rae (Secretary) are working hard to put together a rich program and invite prominent speakers from local and international Universities. The full calendar of events at the conference can be viewed from the PSSA 2016 conference site. We look forward to receiving your abstracts and encourage as many students as possible to present at the conference. An additional budget will be made available for travel bursaries to support students from the far corners of the country. Details and deadlines will be announced shortly. Awards for the “best paper in the past year”, the “best method”, and the Wyndham Prize Competition will remain prominent features of PSSA 2016 conference. Prof Edward Ojuka Chairman, Local...