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SciTech Briefs

New test detects Ebola quickly

Scientists are currently developing a new test that has the potential to rapidly detect Ebola, the virus that causes a number of potentially fatal symptoms, including fever, vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.

According to the World Health Organization, there are no licensed cures for Ebola, although two are undergoing human safety testing. Currently, Ebola is detected by examining genetic material; it takes an entire day to detect and the samples must be examined in a specialized laboratory.

Researchers reported the new test on Feb. 6 at the American Society for Microbiology Biothreats meeting. They are examining the use of antibodies that latch onto the virus and flag it — much like a pregnancy test. One antibody, containing gold nanoparticles, forcibly removes the virus particles from the sample, while another reveals the virus’ presence in the form of a colored line. By dabbing a patient’s blood onto a paper containing the antibodies, the colored line will appear either confirming or denying the virus’ presence after 10 to 15 minutes.

However, immunologist Haley DeMers of the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine says that the test only gives accurate results once a patient has been sick for a long time. DeMers and her colleges are currently testing different antibodies to find the most efficient and effective combination.

Source: Science News

United Nations Secretary General calls for more women in STEM

On Saturday, Feb. 7, the annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres called for more investment to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to girls and women worldwide, and more equal access.

“For too long, discriminatory stereotypes have prevented women and girls from having equal access to education in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Mr. Guterres in his message. “On this International Day, I urge commitment to end bias, greater investments in STEM education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions.”

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released its annual science report earlier this week titled 'Towards 2030' which featured a section called 'Global Trends in Human Capital,' noting that women are a minority in the research world, have more limited access to funding than men, and are less represented as faculty at prestigious universities.

“This should be a wake-up call,” UNESCO said. “Female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally as its importance for national economies grows, penetrating every aspect of daily life.”

Source: UN News Centre

Rabies is a potential solution to brain cancer

Researchers are looking into a seemingly unconventional way to treat brain cancer – through rabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies is a viral disease transmitted from wild animal bites.

It holds interest among researchers primarily due to its capability to infect the central nervous system. Normally, this will infect brain tissue, causing disease in the brain and resulting in death. Scientists are trying to mimic this capability in order to infect brain tumors with tumor-killing nanoparticles.

Researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, South Korea are engineering gold nanoparticles that have the same shape and size as the rabies virus, giving the particle more surface area. This allows for more receptors to bind to nerve cells. The nanoparticles themselves do not carry any drug, instead relying on heat produced from the gold rods absorbing light to kill surrounding tissue.

Currently, this approach works only in mice. Major concerns regarding this method include whether the nanoparticles actually make it to the tumor, side effects and potential toxicity from the rabies virus.

Source: Science

SpaceX launch to bring more scientific hardware to ISS

SpaceX is currently preparing for the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 18. This launch signifies SpaceX’s tenth resupply mission for the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon Spacecraft will carry cargo for the mission, including more than 5500 lbs. of new scientific hardware.

Onboard the craft will be the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the University of Alabama. LIS detects lightning over a larger geographic area and can help scientists and meteorologists understand weather forecasting, climate change, atmospheric chemistry and physics, and aircraft and spacecraft safety.

'Nanobiosym' is an experiment that will look into how microgravity affects the growth and mutation of a superbug, which is a bacterium that rapidly mutates in order to resist antibiotics.

Another interesting project is Raven, which is a robotic system that will be installed on the ISS in order to observe facets of any approaching vehicles. Autonomously, the ISS will then gimbal or pivot autonomously for rendezvous.

Source: The Daily Press

Autonomous cars to create organ shortage

As autonomous vehicles become the norm in the future, the roads will arguably be a safer place, resulting in fewer accidents and less death. However, while less death is always good from a humanitarian perspective, it may not be from an organ donation perspective.

According to national data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), 13.6 percent of people who donated organs after they died in 2016 were killed in automobile accidents. There are over 120,000 people on an organ transplant list a day, and not nearly enough organs to go around.

Science offers another solution to this organ shortage – 3D printing and other bioengineering technologies. There are a number of different ways researchers are looking into organ transplant – one is to regrow the organ using stem cells and avoid replacement altogether. Another is to build new organs using tissue scaffolds and stem cells or 3D printing and use those for transplantation.

Some organs are easier to recreate than others; the heart is currently one of the most difficult. This field of modern research could make drastic improvements on the current organ shortage. With science, it’s a win-win situation.

Source: NBC News

Head-dress figurine discovered in 17000 year-old tomb

Archaeologists have discovered a 1700 year-old tomb during an expedition to remodel a Seventh-day Adventist church in Colima, Mexico. The tomb dates between 0 and 500 A.D. during the Comala Period.

The tomb is broken up into three burial layers. In the first layer, the archaeologists found 12 skulls and other human bones piled atop each other. According to Rosa María Flores Ramírez, a physical anthropologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, some of the skulls showed damage such as tooth fractures and wear. The second burial level contained a male and female figurine placed face down next to two more skulls and several pots. Both figurines were sculpted from fine paste and adorned with elaborate headdresses.

The fact that the tomb was found untouched is very rare – more often than not, tombs are found already looted. This gave the archaeologists "a first approach with the bone remains, to observe the lesions, deformations and to have more information to know what was their way of life," the researchers said in the statement.

Source: Live Science