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With Some Structure, Stem Cells Might Still Stop Vision Loss

Getting older is supposed to give you perspective. But for one out of five people over the age of 65, it does the opposite. Macular degeneration is a common progressive eye condition, one that thins and breaks down a tissue behind the center of the retina. Without that tissue, the light-sensing cells it supports atrophy and die, making it impossible to get a clear picture of anything straight ahead of you—like, say, the faces of your loved ones or anything past your steering wheel. Treatments can slow the loss of vision, but there’s no way to reverse it.

Which is why scientists have long been excited about the prospect of using stem cells to restore that tissue, and with it the sharp central vision necessary for driving, reading, and navigating the world. Clinical trials in the last few years have shown that injecting stem cell-derived retinal pigment cells into the eye can be done safely. But so far they haven’t been that effective, because the support cells often don’t wind up in the right place. They need a little help, a little structure.

And for the first time, that’s exactly what a group of scientists from the University of Southern California are giving them. By building a synthetic scaffold, the team of bioengineers could get retinal pigment cells derived from embryonic stem cells into a single, fixed layer that mimics the natural tissue. And when ophthalmologist Amir Kashani and Mark Humayun surgically cemented the implant beneath the retinas of four patients, the new cells didn’t just stay put—they began activating photoreceptors that had gone dormant in the damaged tissue above.

The researchers published initial results from this first human clinical trial Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The implant successfully stopped further vision loss in all four patients in follow-ups that ranged from four months to a year. The youngest patient, a 69-year-old woman, actually got some vision back. She went from only being able to see seven letters on an eyesight test—you know, the one where the letters of the alphabet get smaller and smaller each row you go down—to being able to see 24 just four months post-surgery.

Of course, with a sample size this small it’s impossible to say whether the improvement is statistically (or clinically) significant. The study will continue enrolling until it gets 20 patients, and will follow them for five years. “We certainly need more subjects to be able to say how it works and when it works, and even why it works,” says Kashani. “But the fact we’re getting any improvement in any of these patients who have such advanced diagnoses is a pretty good sign of its potential.”

To pass regulatory muster, treatments like this one—which would be manufactured as an off-the-shelf implant—will require much bigger, longer, more prospective studies to prove their effectiveness. As more of them inch closer to commercialization, the Food and Drug Administration has begun cracking down on the more than 600 clinics across the US that hawk stem cells harvested from the blood and fat of patients, claiming they can treat everything from arthritis to autism. In 2015, doctors at one such clinic in Florida charged three elderly women with macular degeneration $5,000 each to inject these kinds of stem cells into their eyes. All three went blind.

Last August the FDA sent a warning letter to the clinic, which has since ceased administering the treatment for age-related vision loss. “Without commitment to the principles of adequate evidence generation that have led to so much medical progress, we may never see stem cell therapy reach its full potential,” wrote former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, in an editorial that accompanied a case study of one of the Florida women in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s a concern that researchers like Kashani share. The implants he’s studying are the result of a decade of lab work at public research institutions and private companies in southern California. And he fears that in that decade, stem cell treatments have been tarnished by the doctors that rushed ahead to turn a quick profit. “It makes it more difficult when you lose a lot of public trust, frankly,” says Kashani. “At the end of the day you can’t develop these therapies without patient involvement.” A bonafide stem cell cure for macular degeneration is going to take more than a little perspective. It’s going to take patience, too.

Stem Cell Hopes

  • Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, but therapies administered by stem cell clinics across the US are not FDA-approved.
  • Such experimental regenerative medicines got a big boost from the 21st Century Cures Act.
  • And the results can be truly astonishing: In one case, scientists used genetically corrected stem cells to grow a new skin for a boy with a rare genetic disorder.

Read More On This At Science Latest


Science & Technology

Japan has developed an inflatable scooter that weighs practically nothing

The University of Tokyo engineers have developed the Poimo inflatable electric scooter, which is created individually for each owner. It is enough to send your photo to the manufacturers – and a personal optimized model will be assembled for you.

The scooter is designed with a special program for the body size of a particular user and his specific fit. Moreover, each owner is free to make any changes to this model. If he makes any changes to the drawing, the program will automatically redesign the electric bike to maintain its strength, stability and controllability. When the model is finished and approved, it is handed over to the manufacturer.

Scooter Poimo

The scooter consists of seven separate inflatable sections that are constructed from durable fabric and sewn with straight stitch. It remains to add electronic components – in particular, a brushless motor and a lithium-ion battery. 

The finished electric scooter weighs about 9 kg and can travel at speeds up to 6 km / h (that is, slightly faster than a pedestrian). It can work for an hour on one charge.

This is how the current version of Poimo looks like in action:

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Excerpts from Elon Musk’s speech at the Martian Society convention

Elon Musk’s comments with questions relayed from the Mars Society Membership by Dr. Robert Zubrin, James L. Burk, and Carie Fay. Following Elon’s 30 min time, Dr. Zubrin took additional questions. This special event was part of the 2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention from October 14-18, 2020.

About Starship Test Schedule:

– entering orbit – with a probability of 80% -90% will take place in 2021

– the probability of the return of the ship and the 1st stage in this flight is 50%

– test of refueling in orbit – 2022

– Starship lunar version – 2022 or 2023

– Starship flight to Mars – around 2024

The goal of the Starship is to build a self-sufficient settlement on Mars as quickly as possible. Musk does not rule out the possibility that this will not be achieved during his lifetime. According to his rough estimates, to create a self-sufficient city, it will be necessary to deliver 1 million tons of cargo, which corresponds to 4-5 million tons in a low Earth orbit. Modern single-use launch vehicles are capable of removing less than 1% of this value.

“Disposable launch vehicles are completely stupid. They are a waste of time. I think people need to stop wasting time on this. If you try to sell a disposable plane, you will be thrown out of the office. If you try to sell a disposable car, you will also be thrown out of the office. “

A series of questions and answers followed:

What is the best landing site on Mars?

– I’m not sure about that. But I can name the criteria. The first of these is latitude: most likely it will be in the northern hemisphere, far enough to the north to have water ice, but to still have enough sunlight.It also needs to be low to get the most benefit from atmospheric braking.

How do you prioritize mission priorities: research, infrastructure construction, and science?

– The first will be the construction of a fuel plant.

A question from a teenager who wants to become an engineer and robot maker with a dream to work at SpaceX: what is the most important education in order to become an engineer?

– There are many varieties of this profession: you can be an aerospace engineer, in the field of electronics, software, or a chemical engineer involved in creating safe production of fuels. I think physics is a good foundation for critical thinking.

Boring Company was originally conceived as a tunnel manufacturing firm on Mars?

– No. It was originally something of a joke. I thought tunnels were a good solution to reduce the traffic problem in cities and improve the quality of life by turning parking lots into green parks. To do this, you need to go to 3d [get away from the “flat” infrastructure – approx. per.]. I think tunnels are good for Mars too. But there you need a lot lighter equipment: you don’t care about mass on Earth, but you will have to take care of it a lot when going to Mars.

At Boring Company, have you learned a lot of technology that might come in handy on Mars?

– I think, yes.

Do you have any tips for young people who love Mars but don’t know how to participate in its settlement?

– I think any strong advocate of the need to conquer Mars matters. People often don’t even think about it. I often talk to people who don’t even know about it. Therefore, I consider it important for humanity and consciousness in general to bring a discussion about this to society. Talking about it with friends and acquaintances – I think this is what we should do. In my estimate, we will spend less than 1% of our efforts on Mars exploration, exactly less than healthcare, perhaps even less than cosmetics – this will be enough to make life multi-planetary. But this requires people to start talking about it 100 times more often. I think this is what really matters. [the entire cosmonautics of the world is $ 424 billion a year, while cosmetics is $ 532 billion, and tobacco production is $ 849 billion – approx. per.]

What’s the coolest part about Starship development?

– I think the coolest detail is the ability to work with a great group of engineers and come up with interesting solutions. I think the best thing is the opportunity to work with smart and creative people who come up with solutions that were not available before. This is a great reward.

What do you focus on when hiring, especially with regard to engineers?

“We’re looking for signs of exceptional ability. Or at the very least, striving to do exceptional things at SpaceX.

Are you planning to make a Mars-Earth communication system like Starlink?

– Yes, I think we will use a laser, probably launched into orbit, to avoid atmospheric diffraction. Thus, it will be a laser beam going from the orbit of the Earth to the orbit of Mars. And also relay satellites in solar orbit, since the laser beam cannot be sent through the Sun [when it is between Mars and Earth – approx. per.].

Can Starship be used for other destinations like Venus and other planets?

– Starship will be able to travel to any target in the solar system that has a solid surface when fuel depots appear. It is not the kind of transport that will take us to other stars, but when we become a multi-planetary species, we will create a demand for innovation in space travel that will ultimately lead us to interstellar travel.

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Cern Scientists Plan an Impressive Experiment – They Will Come Into A Parallel Universe

Cern scientists are once again preparing to impress the entire planet and become the focus of discussions with the new experiment they are planning.

An experiment that, if it brings the fascinating result that scientists have in mind,  will change the way we think about the world , will take place in the next few days at the Large Hadron Collider, the European nuclear center, Geneva CERN Research.

The astonishingly LHC complex, the largest, most energetic elemental accelerator in the world,  will be “fired” for the first time to its highest energy levels, in an effort to detect – or even create – tiny black holes. 

If it succeeds, then, a completely new universe will be revealed – rewriting not only the books of physics, but also the books of philosophy! 

It is possible, however,  that gravity from our universe will “leak” into this parallel universe, as LHC scientists say. 

From the Higgs boson to dark matter and the parallel universe

According to the British Express, the experiment is sure to “trigger” the critics, who are worried about the LHC, many of whom warn that the elementary particle accelerator will mark the end of our universe, creating a of the black hole.

Nevertheless,  Geneva has remained … intact since 2008, when the LHC began its spectacular “work”.

The first scientists at the Large Hadron Collider proved the existence of the Higgs boson – a key building block of the universe – and the LHC appears to be on track to locate “dark matter” – a previously undetectable force now considered that it constitutes the majority of matter in the universe, being, in fact, the reason why the latter is constantly expanding and moving away. 

So next week’s experiment is considered to change the game. 

The truth is out there

Mir Faizal, one of three heads of the three natural groups behind the experiment, said: 

“Like many parallel sheets, which are two-dimensional objects (width and length) can exist in a third dimension (height) , so parallel universes can also exist in higher dimensions. We anticipate that gravity can leak into extra dimensions, and if that happens, then tiny black holes can be produced in the LHC. 

Normally, when people think of the multiverse, they think of the interpretation of quantum mechanics by many worlds, where every possibility is realized. This cannot be tested and so it is a philosophy and not a science. We do not mean this with parallel universes. What we mean is real universes, in extra dimensions. The truth is out there.”

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