May 29, 2015
Smoking is not only bad for your health; it also puts 400,000 children in poverty in the UK alone. Smoking places a financial burden on low income families, suggesting that parents are likely to forgo basic household and food necessities in order to fund their addiction.
Smoking is not only bad for your health; it also puts 400,000 children in poverty. Smoking places a financial burden on low income families, suggesting that parents are likely to forgo basic household and food necessities in order to fund their addiction, according to UK research published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.
This is the first UK study to highlight the extent to which smoking exacerbates child poverty. The findings are based on national surveys which estimate the number of children living in poverty by household structure. In 1999, the UK government announced a target to abolish child poverty by 2020, though this target is unlikely to be met. It is therefore crucial to identify avoidable factors that contribute to and worsen child poverty.
“Smoking reduces the income available for families to feed, clothe and otherwise care for their children living in low-income households. This study demonstrates that if our government, and our health services, prioritized treating smoking dependence, it could have a major effect on child poverty as well as health,” says lead author, Dr Tessa Langley from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham.
Smoking is an expensive habit and one that impoverishes millions of people around the world. In the US, smokers spend less on housing than non-smokers and recent research in India showed that smoking cuts spending on food, education, and entertainment.
This new study estimates that 1.1 million children in the UK, almost half of all children in poverty, were living with at least one parent who smokes. A further 400,000 would be classed as being in poverty if parental tobacco expenditure were subtracted from household income.
In July 2014, the weighted average price of 20 cigarettes in the UK was £7 (GB). Although many smokers save money by opting for budget brands or switching to hand rolling tobacco, the cost of their smoking is still a substantial drain on the budgets of families living on low incomes. “The poverty threshold income level for a two parent household with two children is £392. If both parents are smokers, these households will be spending an average of £50 on tobacco per week, which is a big drain on an already tight budget,” says Tessa Langley.
This is a key opportunity for the UK Government to take action to improve the lives of millions of children. “Tobacco control interventions to encourage low income smokers to quit, would not only improve health but also alleviate poverty,” says Tessa Langley. Future studies are needed to determine what families sacrifice to sustain their habit, whether they do without fresh fruit or food in general; heating bills or clothing. This would provide a better picture on the burden of smoking in poor households.
- Charmaine Belvin, John Britton, John Holmes, Tessa Langley. Parental smoking and child poverty in the UK: an analysis of national survey data. BMC Public Health, 2015; 15 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-015-1797-z
Source: BioMed Central. “Parental smoking puts nearly half a million UK children into poverty.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150529083538.htm>.
May 29, 2015
American Geophysical Union
While their attention may be inland on the San Andreas Fault, residents of coastal Southern California could be surprised by very large earthquakes — and even tsunamis — from several major faults that lie offshore, a new study finds.
While their attention may be inland on the San Andreas Fault, residents of coastal Southern California could be surprised by very large earthquakes — and even tsunamis — from several major faults that lie offshore, a new study finds.
The latest research into the little known, fault-riddled, undersea landscape off of Southern California and northern Baja California has revealed more worrisome details about a tectonic train wreck in the Earth’s crust with the potential for magnitude 7.9 to 8.0 earthquakes. The new study supports the likelihood that these vertical fault zones have displaced the seafloor in the past, which means they could send out tsunami-generating pulses towards the nearby coastal mega-city of Los Angeles and neighboring San Diego.
“We’re dealing with continental collision,” said geologist Mark Legg of Legg Geophysical in Huntington Beach, California, regarding the cause of the offshore danger. “That’s fundamental. That’s why we have this mess of a complicated logjam.”
Legg is the lead author of the new analysis accepted for publication in theJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. He is also one of a handful of geologists who have been trying for decades to piece together the complicated picture of what lies beyond Southern California’s famous beaches.
The logjam Legg referred to is composed of blocks of the Earth’s crust caught in the ongoing tectonic battle between the North American tectonic plate and the Pacific plate. The blocks are wedged together all the way from the San Andreas Fault on the east, to the edge of the continental shelf on the west, from 150 to 200 kilometers (90 to 125 miles) offshore. These chunks of crust get squeezed and rotated as the Pacific plate slides northwest, away from California, relative to the North American plate. The mostly underwater part of this region is called the California Continental Borderland, and includes the Channel Islands.
By combining older seafloor data and digital seismic data from earthquakes along with 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles) of new seafloor depth measurements, or bathymetry, collected in 2010, Legg and his colleagues were able to take a closer look at the structure of two of the larger seafloor faults in the Borderland: the Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge Fault and the Ferrelo Fault. What they were searching for are signs, like those seen along the San Andreas, that indicate how much the faults have slipped over time and whether some of that slippage caused some of the seafloor to thrust upwards.
What they found along the Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge Fault are ridges, valleys and other clear signs that the fragmented, blocky crust has been lifted upward, while also slipping sideways like the plates along the San Andreas Fault do. Further out to sea, the Ferrelo Fault zone showed thrust faulting — which is an upwards movement of one side of the fault. The vertical movement means that blocks of crust are being compressed as well as sliding horizontally relative to each other-what Legg describes as “transpression.”
Compression comes from the blocks of the Borderland being dragged northwest, but then slamming into the roots of the Transverse Ranges — which are east-west running mountains north and west of Los Angeles. In fact, the logjam has helped build the Transverse Ranges, Legg explained.
“The Transverse Ranges rose quickly, like a mini Himalaya,” Legg said.
The real Himalaya arose from a tectonic-plate collision in which the crumpled crust on both sides piled up into fast-growing, steep mountains rather than getting pushed down into Earth’s mantle as happens at some plate boundaries.
As Southern California’s pile-up continues, the plate movements that build up seismic stress on the San Andreas are also putting stress on the long Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge and Ferrelo Faults. And there is no reason to believe that those faults and others in the Borderlands can’t rupture in the same manner as the San Andreas, said Legg.
“Such large faults could even have the potential of a magnitude 8 quake,” said geologist Christopher Sorlien of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is not a co-author on the new paper.
“This continental shelf off California is not like other continental shelves — like in the Eastern U.S.,” said Sorlien.
Whereas most continental shelves are about twice as wide and inactive, like that off the U.S. Atlantic coast, the California continental shelf is very narrow and is dominated by active faults and tectonics. In fact, it’s unlike most continental shelves in the world, he said. It’s also one of the least well mapped and understood. “It’s essentially terra incognita.”
“This is one of the only parts of the continental shelf of the 48 contiguous states that didn’t have complete … high-resolution bathymetry years ago,” Sorlien said.
And that’s why getting a better handle on the hazards posed by the Borderland’s undersea faults has been long in coming and slow to catch on, even among earth scientists, he said.
NOAA was working on complete high-resolution bathymetry of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone — the waters within 200 miles of shore — until the budget was cut, said Legg. That left out Southern California and left researchers like himself using whatever bits and pieces of smaller surveys to assemble a picture of what’s going on in the Borderland, he explained.
“We’ve got high resolution maps of the surface of Mars,” Legg said, “yet we still don’t have decent bathymetry for our own backyard.”
- Mark Legg, Monica D. Kohler, Natsumi Shintaku, Dayanthie Weeraratne.High-resolution mapping of two large-scale transpressional fault zones in the California Continental Borderland: Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge and Ferrelo faults. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2014JF003322
Source: American Geophysical Union. “Little-known quake, tsunami hazards lurk offshore of Southern California.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150529131822.htm>.
May 27, 2015
University of Sheffield
Breast cancer is a disease that commonly spreads to other areas of the body; the most common site for the disease to spread is the bone. Leading scientists have identified a possible key to preventing secondary cancers in breast cancer patients, after discovering an enzyme that enhances the spread of the disease. They also report that an existing class of drugs for osteoporosis could stop the spread of the disease.
Leading scientists from the University of Sheffield and University of Copenhagen have identified a possible key to preventing secondary cancers in breast cancer patients, after discovering an enzyme which enhances the spread of the disease.
Secondary (metastatic) breast cancer is the main cause of the 12,000 deaths which occur from breast cancer in the UK every year.
The most common site for the disease to spread is the bone — occurring in around 85 per cent of secondary breast cancer patients.
The new research, which was conducted at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, found that the enzyme LysYl Oxidase (LOX) released from the primary tumor causes holes in bone and prepares the bone for the future arrival of cancer cells.
The findings suggest that identifying LOX in estrogen receptor negative (ER negative) breast cancer patients early, could allow doctors to block the enzyme’s activity, preventing bone damage and the spread of tumor cells to the bone (metastasis), halting the progression of the disease.
The researchers also showed that treatment with bisphosphonate, an existing class of drug which prevents the loss of bone mass and is already used to treat diseases such as osteoporosis, was able to prevent the changes in the bone and the spread of the disease in mice.
The pioneering research, co-led by Dr Alison Gartland at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Human Metabolism, could lead to a better prognosis for cancer patients in the longer term.
Dr Gartland said: “This is important progress in the fight against breast cancer metastasis and these findings could lead to new treatments to stop secondary breast tumors growing in the bone, increasing the chances of survival for thousands of patients.
“We are really excited about our results that show breast cancer tumors send out signals to destroy the bone before cancer cells get there in order to prepare the bone for the cancer cells’ arrival.
“The next step is to find out exactly how the tumor secreted LOX interacts with bone cells to be able to develop new drugs to stop the formation of the bone lesions and cancer metastasis. This could also have implications for how we treat other bone diseases too.”
Study co-leader Dr Janine Erler, formerly Team Leader in Cancer Biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who now is Associate Professor at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen, said: “Once cancer spreads to the bone it is very difficult to treat. Our research has shed light on the way breast cancer cells prime the bone so it is ready for their arrival. If we were able to block this process and translate our work to the clinic, we could stop breast cancer in its tracks thereby extending patients’ lives.”
The research, funded by Breast Cancer Campaign, Cancer Research UK, Novo nordisk foundation, Danish cancer society, lundbeck foundation, and both universities, is published in the journal Nature.
Katherine Woods, Senior Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “By unveiling the role that the protein LOX is playing, these results open up a whole new avenue for research and treatments that could stop breast cancer spreading to the bone. The research also adds weight to the growing body of evidence supporting the role of bisphosphonates in stopping secondary breast cancer in its tracks.
“The reality of living with secondary breast cancer in the bone is a stark one, which leaves many women with bone pain and fractures that need extensive surgery just when they need to be making the most of the time they have left with friends and family.”
She added: “Secondary breast cancer kills 1,000 women each and every month in the UK alone and yet we still don’t know enough about how and why breast cancer spreads to stop it.
“Our newly-formed charity is determined that by 2050, no one will lose their life to breast cancer and we’ll do this by ramping up our research efforts, in this area in particular, doing everything possible to achieve that goal.”
- Janine T. Erler et al. The hypoxic cancer secretome induces pre-metastatic bone lesions through lysyl oxidase. Nature, May 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nature14492
Source: University of Sheffield. “Scientists identify key to preventing secondary cancers.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150527133953.htm>.
May 26, 2015
Michigan State University
Astronomers have found that the black holes located at the cores of galaxies launch fountains of charged particles, which can stir up gas throughout the galaxy and temporarily interrupt star formation. But unless something intervenes, the gas will eventually cool and start forming stars again.
Supernovas just might be the maid service of the universe. It seems these explosions that mark the end of a star’s life work hand-in-hand with supermassive black holes to sweep out gas and shut down galaxies’ star-forming factories.
Recent research, led by Michigan State University astronomers, finds that the black holes located at the cores of galaxies launch fountains of charged particles, which can stir up gas throughout the galaxy and temporarily interrupt star formation.
But unless something intervenes, the gas will eventually cool and start forming stars again.
One mega-outburst from the black hole, though, could heat the gas surrounding the galaxy enough to let supernovas take over and mop up the mess. A celestial cleaning partnership might help astronomers understand why some massive galaxies stopped forming stars billions of years ago.
“Our previous research had shown that black-hole outbursts can limit star formation in massive galaxies, but they can’t completely shut it off,” said team leader Mark Voit, MSU professor of physics and astronomy in the College of Natural Science. “Something else needs to keep sweeping out the gas that dying stars continually dump into a galaxy, and supernova sweeping appears to work perfectly for that.”
Other members of the research team are Megan Donahue, MSU professor of physics and astronomy; Brian O’Shea, MSU associate professor of physics and astronomy; Greg Bryan, Columbia University professor of astronomy; Ming Sun, University of Alabama in Huntsville assistant professor of physics; and Norbert Werner, Stanford University research associate.
- G. Mark Voit, Megan Donahue, Brian W. O’Shea, Greg L. Bryan, Ming Sun, Norbert Werner. SUPERNOVA SWEEPING AND BLACK HOLE FEEDBACK IN ELLIPTICAL GALAXIES. The Astrophysical Journal, 2015; 803 (2): L21 DOI: 10.1088/2041-8205/803/2/L21
Source: Michigan State University. “Supernovas help ‘clean’ galaxies.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150526155720.htm>.
May 25, 2015
Brookhaven National Laboratory
In a new twist on the use of DNA in nanoscale construction, scientists put synthetic strands of the biological material to work in two ways: They used ropelike configurations of the DNA double helix to form a rigid geometrical framework, and added dangling pieces of single-stranded DNA to glue nanoparticles in place.
In a new twist on the use of DNA in nanoscale construction, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators put synthetic strands of the biological material to work in two ways: They used ropelike configurations of the DNA double helix to form a rigid geometrical framework, and added dangling pieces of single-stranded DNA to glue nanoparticles in place.
The method, described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, produced predictable clusters and arrays of nanoparticles–an important step toward the design of materials with tailored structures and functions for applications in energy, optics, and medicine.
“These arrays of nanoparticles with predictable geometric configurations are somewhat analogous to molecules made of atoms,” said Brookhaven physicist Oleg Gang, who led the project at the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. “While atoms form molecules based on the nature of their chemical bonds, there has been no easy way to impose such a specific spatial binding scheme on nanoparticles. This is exactly the problem that our method addresses.”
Using the new method, the scientists say they can potentially orchestrate the arrangements of different types of nanoparticles to take advantage of collective or synergistic effects. Examples could include materials that regulate energy flow, rotate light, or deliver biomolecules.
“We may be able to design materials that mimic nature’s machinery to harvest solar energy, or manipulate light for telecommunications applications, or design novel catalysts for speeding up a variety of chemical reactions,” Gang said.
The scientists demonstrated the technique to engineer nanoparticle architectures using an octahedral scaffold with particles positioned in precise locations on the scaffold according to the specificity of DNA coding. The designs included two different arrangements of the same set of particles, where each configuration had different optical characteristics. They also used the geometrical clusters as building blocks for larger arrays, including linear chains and two-dimensional planar sheets.
“Our work demonstrates the versatility of this approach and opens up numerous exciting opportunities for high-yield precision assembly of tailored 3D building blocks in which multiple nanoparticles of different structures and functions can be integrated,” said CFN scientist Ye Tian, one of the lead authors on the paper.
Details of assembly
This nanoscale construction approach takes advantage of two key characteristics of the DNA molecule: the twisted-ladder double helix shape, and the natural tendency of strands with complementary bases (the A, T, G, and C letters of the genetic code) to pair up in a precise way.
First, the scientists created bundles of six double-helix molecules, then put four of these bundles together to make a stable, somewhat rigid building material–similar to the way individual fibrous strands are woven together to make a very strong rope. The scientists then used these ropelike girders to form the frame of three-dimensional octahedrons, “stapling” the linear DNA chains together with hundreds of short complementary DNA strands.
“We refer to these as DNA origami octahedrons,” Gang said.
To make it possible to “glue” nanoparticles to the 3D frames, the scientists engineered each of the original six-helix bundles to have one helix with an extra single-stranded piece of DNA sticking out from both ends. When assembled into the 3D octahedrons, each vertex of the frame had a few of these “sticky end” tethers available for binding with objects coated with complementary DNA strands.
“When nanoparticles coated with single strand tethers are mixed with the DNA origami octahedrons, the ‘free’ pieces of DNA find one another so the bases can pair up according to the rules of the DNA complementarity code. Thus the specifically DNA-encoded particles can find their correspondingly designed place on the octahedron vertices” Gang said.
The scientists can change what binds to each vertex by changing the DNA sequences encoded on the tethers. In one experiment, they encoded the same sequence on all the octahedron’s tethers, and attached strands with a complementary sequence to gold nanoparticles. The result: One gold nanoparticle attached to each of octahedron’s six vertices.
In additional experiments the scientists changed the sequence of some vertices and used complementary strands on different kinds of particles, illustrating that they could direct the assembly and arrangement of the particles in a very precise way. In one case they made two different arrangements of the same three pairs of particles of different sizes, producing products with different optical properties. They were even able to use DNA tethers on selected vertices to link octahedrons end to end, forming chains, and in 2D arrays, forming sheets.
Visualization of arrays
Confirming the particle arrangements and structures was a major challenge because the nanoparticles and the DNA molecules making up the frames have very different densities. Certain microscopy techniques would reveal only the particles, while others would distort the 3D structures.
To see both the particles and origami frames, the scientists used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), led by Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University biologist Huilin Li, an expert in this technique, and Tong Wang, the paper’s other lead co-author, who works in Brookhaven’s Biosciences department with Li. They had to subtract information from the images to “see” the different density components separately, then combine the information using single particle 3D reconstruction and tomography to produce the final images.
“Cryo-EM preserves samples in their near-native states and provides close to nanometer resolution,” Wang said. “We show that cryo-EM can be successfully applied to probe the 3D structure of DNA-nanoparticle clusters.”
These images confirm that this approach to direct the placement of nanoparticles on DNA-encoded vertices of molecular frames could be a successful strategy for fabricating novel nanomaterials.
- Oleg Gang et al. Prescribed nanoparticle cluster architectures and low-dimensional arrays built using octahedral DNA origami frames.Nature Nanotechnology, May 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2015.105
Brookhaven National Laboratory. “DNA double helix does double duty in assembling arrays of nanoparticles.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150525115925.htm>.
Meeting on Sustainable Development Healthcare Delivery: Nutraceuticals & Natural Products
On June 1, 2015, the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration is having a conference – Sustainable Development Healthcare Delivery: Nutraceuticals & Natural Products – as part of the “United Nations at 70” NGO Series. The event will take place at the Church Center for the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza (44th St at 1st Avenue), Plaza Room (second floor), New York, NY 10017. The conference will cover global challenges, traditional medicine, regulatory issues, natural products and complementary medicine, and oncology therapy and prevention. In particular, Dr. Jules T. Mitchel, PhD, MBA, President of Target Health Inc., will be leading a panel on regulatory issues. Please note that admission is free and open to the public with advance registration. For detailed information and to register, please visit: http://ilscollaboration.org/news/. Please let us know if you will be attending.
Springtime in Central Park (NYC)
Winter was cold this year so Springtime is welcome.
Springtime in Central Park©Target Health Inc. 2015
ON TARGET is the newsletter of Target Health Inc., a NYC-based, full-service, contract research organization (eCRO), providing strategic planning, regulatory affairs, clinical research, data management, biostatistics, medical writing and software services to the pharmaceutical and device industries, including the paperless clinical trial.
For more information about Target Health contact Warren Pearlson (212-681-2100 ext. 104). For additional information about software tools for paperless clinical trials, please also feel free to contact Dr. Jules T. Mitchel or Ms. Joyce Hays. The Target Health software tools are designed to partner with both CROs and Sponsors. Please visit the Target Health Website.
Joyce Hays, Founder and Editor in Chief of On Target
Jules Mitchel, Editor
Red Blood Cells
Red blood cells are also known as RBCs, red cells, red blood corpuscles (an archaic term), haematids, erythroid cells or erythrocytes (from Greek erythros for red and kytos for hollow vessel, with -cyte translated as cell in modern usage). RBCs are the most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate organism’s principal means of delivering oxygen (O2) to the body tissues – via blood flow through the circulatory system. RBCs take up oxygen in the lungs or gills and release it into tissues while squeezing through the body’s 1) ___. The cytoplasm of erythrocytes is rich in hemoglobin, which is an iron-containing biomolecule that can bind oxygen and is responsible for the 2) ___ color of the cells. The cell membrane is composed of proteins and lipids, and this structure provides properties essential for physiological cell function such as deformability and stability while traversing the circulatory system and specifically the capillary network. In humans, mature red blood cells are flexible and oval biconcave disks. They lack a cell 3) ___ and most organelles, in order to accommodate maximum space for hemoglobin.
Approximately 2.4 million new erythrocytes are produced per second in human adults. The cells develop in the bone 4) ___ and circulate for about 100-120 days in the body before their components are recycled by macrophages. Each circulation takes about 20 seconds. Approximately a quarter of the cells in the human body are red blood cells. Packed red blood cells (pRBC) are red blood cells that have been donated, processed, and stored in a blood bank for blood5) ___.
As a result of not containing mitochondria, these RBCs use none of the oxygen they transport; instead they produce the energy carrier ATP by the glycolysis of glucose and lactic acid fermentation on the resulting pyruvate. Because of the lack of nuclei and organelles, mature red blood cells do not contain DNA and cannot synthesize any RNA, and consequently cannot divide. They have limited repair capabilities. This also ensures that no virus can evolve to target mammalian red blood 6) ___. When erythrocytes undergo shear stress in constricted vessels, they release ATP, which causes the vessel walls to relax and dilate so as to promote normal blood 7) ___. When their hemoglobin molecules are deoxygenated, erythrocytes release S-nitrosothiols, which also act to dilate blood vessels, thus directing more blood to areas of the body depleted of 8) ___. Erythrocytes can also synthesize nitric oxide enzymatically, using L-arginine as substrate, as do endothelial cells. Exposure of erythrocytes to physiological levels of shear stress activates nitric 9) ___ synthase and export of nitric oxide, which may contribute to the regulation of vascular tonus. Erythrocytes can also produce hydrogen sulfide, a signaling gas that acts to relax vessel walls. It is believed that the cardioprotective effects of garlic are due to erythrocytes converting its sulfur compounds into hydrogen sulfide. Erythrocytes also play a part in the body’s immune response: when lysed by pathogens such as bacteria, their hemoglobin releases free 10) ___, which break down the pathogen’s cell wall and membrane, killing it. Sources: WebMD; Wikipedia; ScienceDaily
ANSWERS: 1) capillaries; 2) red; 3) nucleus; 4) marrow; 5) transfusions; 6) cells; 7) flow; 8) oxygen; 9) oxide; 10) radicals
Elizabeth Holmes, Youngest to Make History in Medicine
Elizabeth Holmes (1984-Present)
American Founder and CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, is interested in the importance of enabling early detection of disease through new diagnostic tools and empowering individuals to make educated decisions about their healthcare.
I don’t want to make an incremental change in some technology in my life. I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender. – Elizabeth Holmes
Theranos, is a health technology and medical laboratory services company, which Holmes founded in 2003 at age 19 while she was at Stanford University as a chemical engineering major. The company was based on her invention and patent for a way to run 30 lab tests on one drop of blood. By 2014, the company offered 200 tests and was licensed to run in every state of the US. As of 2014, Holmes had 18 US patents and 66 non-US patents in her name and is listed as a co-inventor on over a hundred patent applications. She is the youngest self-made female billionaire on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion.
Holmes was born in February 1984 in Washington, D.C. Her father, Christian Holmes IV, worked in the United States, Africa and China as part of government agencies such as USAID. Her mother, Noel Anne (Daoust), worked as a Congressional committee staffer. She has a brother, Christian Holmes V, who is the director of product management at Theranos. One of her ancestors was a founder of the Fleischmann’s Yeast company. She is related to actress Katherine MacDonald who was married to Christian Rasmus Holmes II (1898-1944).
As a child, she read the biography of her great-great-grandfather Christian R. Holmes, who was a surgeon, engineer, inventor, and a decorated World War I veteran. He was born in Denmark in 1857 and was the dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where a hospital is named after him. The career of her ancestor inspired Elizabeth to take up medicine, but she soon found that she had a fear of needles. She later described this fear as one of her motivations to launch Theranos. Intrigued by their father’s work in China, Elizabeth and her brother learned Mandarin Chinese at a young age. She spent her teenage years in China, and while still in school, started a business selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities. After graduating from St. John’s School in 2002, Holmes enrolled at Stanford University to study chemistry. As a freshman, she was named one of the President’s Scholars and given a stipend of $3,000 to pursue a research project. She persuaded her chemical engineering professor, Channing Robertson, to use the money for a project in his lab. Holmes supplemented her childhood knowledge of Mandarin with summer language programs at Stanford. This helped her obtain an internship at the Genome Institute of Singapore. The Institute was working on developing new methods to detect the SARS coronavirus in blood or nasal swabs. After her return to the US, she wrote a patent application on a wearable patch that would administer a drug, monitor variables in the patient’s blood, and adjust the dosage to achieve the desired effect. She showed her application to Professor Robertson, and told him they could put a cellphone chip on this patch for telemedicine. She filed the patent application in September 2003, as Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery. Holmes proposed establishing a company to Professor Robertson in the fall of 2003, while she was a 19-year old sophomore at Stanford. She used money that her parents had saved for her education, to establish Real-Time Cures in Palo Alto. Later, she changed the company’s name to Theranos (an amalgam of therapy and diagnosis), because she believed that many people had a cynical reaction to the word cure. Initially, she worked out of a basement of a group college house. A semester later, she dropped out to pursue her business career full-time. Professor Robertson served as a director of the company.
Over the next decade, the company grew gradually, raising $400 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Larry Ellison, among others. During this time, Theranos operated in stealth mode, remaining highly secretive to avoid potential competitors and investors who could fund a competitor. In 2007, it took three former employees to court, accusing them of misappropriating trade secrets. By 2014, the company offered 200 tests and was licensed to run in every state of the US. It had 500 employees and was valued at more than $9 billion. Holmes retained control of more than 50% of the company’s equity. As of 2014, Holmes has 18 US patents and 66 non-US patents in her name and is listed as a co-inventor on over a hundred patent applications. Holmes is the youngest self-made female billionaire on the Forbes 400 list, where she is #111 with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion.
More About Theranos
A number of startups are selling portable diagnostic laboratories that require just a drop of the patient’s blood, made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics. But perhaps lab tests can be made faster, easier and more accurate with a turn-of-the-last-century technology: automation. That’s the bet the Silicon Valley company Theranos is making, and the company recently sealed a deal with Walgreen’s Pharmacy to deliver on-site laboratory services to many of its stores. Henry Ford would recognize the principle that allows Theranos to complete accurate lab tests within four hours: Consistency and automation increase speed and bring price down. Even so, Theranos’s selling point is much smaller than a Model T: a capsule-sized lab vial, and just one needs to be filled for the company to run nearly any standard lab test.
Here’s how it works: Blood is drawn with a finger stick, rather than a needle in the arm. (It can also run urine tests with just a drop of that.) There are no botched sticks ? of course, there are no phlebotomists, only machines, in Therenos labs. The bad news for workers may be good news for accuracy because human handling of samples accounts for the lion’s share of variation among results. Automation eliminates spills, tests done in error and other mishandling of the sample. In a few cases, Theranos has designed new diagnostic methods to shave time from the process. The machines mete out bits of the micro-sample for each test a doctor has ordered. In conventional testing, each test requires a dedicated vial, which adds dramatically to the amount of blood required. Theranos is even able to save some of the tiny sample in case the doctor requests further tests after seeing the initial results. All of the diagnostic technology is integrated, which increases precision. Each machine in a conventional lab may calibrate differently, and the mix of brands and ages means results come with an implied or so at the end. Plotting results over time is therefore mostly useless. Theranos offers a full range of laboratory tests for a consistently lower cost than most labs do now, and its prices are readily available through a mobile app and on the company’s website. While a deal with Walgreen’s may not be a Silicon Valley dream, laboratory tests are a big lever in the health care system. In the U.S., they are the industry’s single highest volume activity, with over 5 billion tests performed every year according to a new Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center study. Access to Walgreen’s will help Theranos get quick-and-painless testing close to most Americans. Singularity Hub, a cutting edge website for innovative technology, is betting that the military will use the instant lab tests. The reason? The list of the company’s board of directors reads like a who’s who guide to recent American military history.
Microchip Captures Clusters of Circulating Tumor Cells
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that break away from a tumor and move through a cancer patient’s bloodstream. Single CTCs are extremely rare, typically fewer than 1 in 1 billion cells. These cells can take up residence in distant organs, and it is believed that this is one mode by which cancer spreads. Even less common than single CTCs are small groups of CTCs, or clusters. While the existence of CTC clusters has been known for more than 50 years, their prevalence in the blood as well as their role in metastasis has not been thoroughly investigated, mostly because they are so elusive. However, recent advances in biomedical technologies that enable the capture of single CTCs have renewed interest in CTC clusters, which are occasionally captured along with single CTCs.
According to an article published online in Nature Methods Researchers (18 May 2015) a microfluidic chip has been developed that can capture rare clusters of circulating tumor cells from unprocessed blood, which could yield important new insights into how cancer spreads. The work was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health. The new technology — called Cluster-Chip — was developed with support from a Quantum Grant from NIBIB, which funds transformative technological innovation designed to solve major medical problems with a substantial disease burden, such as preventing cancer metastasis or precisely tailoring therapeutics to an individual’s cancer cell biology. When the authors recently used Cluster-Chip to capture and analyze CTC clusters in a group of 60 patients with metastatic breast, prostate, and melanoma cancers, CTC clusters-ranging from two to 19 cells were found in 30-40% of the patients. According to the authors, the presence of these clusters is far more common than was thought in the past and the fact that clusters were seen in this many patients is remarkable.
The chip is designed to slowly push blood through many rows of microscopic triangle-shaped posts. The posts are arranged in such a way that every two posts funnels cells towards the tip of a third post. At the tip, single cells — including blood cells and single CTCs — easily slide to either side of the post and continue through the chip until reaching the next tip; however CTC clusters are left at the tip, hanging in the balance due to forces pulling them down the post in opposite directions. To determine the efficiency of Cluster-Chip, the authors introduced fluorescently tagged cell clusters (ranging from 2-30 cells) into the chip and counted the number of clusters that were captured and the number that flowed through undetected. At a blood flow rate of 2.5ml/hr, the chip captured 99% of clusters containing four or more cells, 70% of three-cell clusters, and 41% of two-cell clusters. Comparison of the clusters under a microscope before and after capture found that the chip had no negative effects on the integrity of the clusters as a whole. The authors next compared the efficiency of their novel chip to two currently-used methods that have had some success capturing CTC clusters. They found that at similar blood flow rates, the Cluster-Chip was significantly more efficient than a filter-based method, which pushes blood through a membrane with pores only large enough to let single cells pass through. The chip was also more efficient than a different microfluidic chip that isolates CTCs and occasionally clusters using antibodies that stick to special proteins found on the surface of some tumor cells. The results highlight the importance of the unique Cluster-Chip capture technique, which is based on the structural properties of CTC clusters rather than their size or the presence of surface proteins. This latter property makes the Cluster-Chip well-suited for capturing CTC clusters from a range of cancer types, including those that lose surface proteins during metastasis and those that never express them, such as melanoma.
The authors tested the Cluster-Chip in a small trial of 60 patients with metastatic cancer. In this study, the chip captured CTC clusters in 11 of 27 (40.7%) breast cancer patients, 6 of 20 (30%) melanoma patients, and 4 of 13 (31%) prostate patients. The large number of clusters found in the patient samples suggests a possibly greater role for clusters in the metastatic cascade. To characterize the biology of the clusters, the authors measured a marker of tumor cell proliferation — an indicator of increased invasiveness and poor outcomes — in one breast cancer patient with high numbers of both single CTCs and clusters. Approximately half of the cells in the patient’s clusters were positive for the proliferative marker, demonstrating that clusters can contain both actively proliferating and quiescent cells. The authors also noted the rare presence of non-tumor cells within clusters in less than 5% of patients.
About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering: NIBIB’s mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website.
Animals’ Presence May Ease Social Anxiety in Kids with Autism
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect the structure and function of the brain and nervous system. People with these conditions have difficulty communicating and interacting with other people. They also have restricted and repetitive interests and behaviors. According to a study published online in Developmental Psychobiology (27 April 2015), companion animals — like dogs, cats or the guinea pigs in the study — may prove to be a helpful addition to treatment programs designed to help children with ASDs improve their social skills and interactions with other people. While previous studies suggest that in the presence of companion animals, children with autism spectrum disorders function better socially, the current study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations. This study is among several funded under a public-private partnership established in 2008 between NICHD and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars Inc., to establish a human-animal interaction research program to support studies relevant to child development, health, and the therapeutic use of animals.
For the current study, the authors measured skin conductance, the ease at which an unnoticeable electric charge passes through a patch of skin, in children with ASDs and in typically developing children. The study design divided the 114 children, ages 5 to 12 years old, into 38 groups of three. Each group included one child with ASD and two of their typically developing peers. Each child wore a wrist band fitted with a device that measures skin conductance. When people are feeling excited, fearful, or anxious, the electric charge travels faster through the skin, providing an objective way for researchers to gauge social anxiety and other forms of psychological arousal. For the first few minutes, the children read a book silently, giving researchers a baseline measure of skin conductance while carrying out a non-stressful, familiar task. Next, each child was asked to read aloud from the book in the presence of the two peers in their group, a task designed to measure their level of apprehension during social situations. The study staff then brought toys in the room and allowed the children 10 minutes of free play time. These situations may be stressful for children with ASDs, who may have difficulty relating socially to their typically developing peers. Finally, the study team brought two guinea pigs into the room and allowed the children to have 10 minutes of supervised play with the animals. The researchers chose guinea pigs because of their small size and docile nature — much easier to manage in a classroom than larger animals.
Results showed that, compared to the typically developing children, the children with autism had higher skin conductance levels when reading silently, reading aloud, and in the group toy session. These higher levels are consistent with reports from parents and teachers, and from other studies, that children with ASDs are more likely to be anxious in social situations than typically developing children. However, when the session with the guinea pigs began, skin conductance levels among the children with ASDs dropped significantly. The authors speculated that where human counterparts inherently pass social judgment, animals are often perceived as sources of unconditional, positive support, and offer unqualified acceptance and their presence makes the children feel more secure. For reasons the authors cannot explain, skin conductance levels in the typically developing children rose during the session with the guinea pigs. The researchers believe that these higher readings may indicate excitement at seeing the animals, rather than any nervousness or apprehension. The authors added that earlier studies have shown that children with ASDs were less likely to withdraw from social situations when companion animals are present. These studies, along with the current findings, indicate that animals might play a part in interventions seeking to help children with autism develop their social skills. However, the authors cautioned, however, that the findings do not mean that parents of children with ASDs should rush to buy an animal for their children, but that further research is needed to determine how animals might be used in programs aimed at developing social skills. The authors added that the study was conducted in a supervised setting, by researchers experienced in working with kids with ASDs who understand the needs and requirements of the animals, and that careful supervision was provided during the study, to ensure the welfare of the children as well as the animals.