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Constructing termite turrets without a blueprint

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Researchers develop a mathematical model to explain the complex architecture of termite mounds

Following a series of studies on termite mound physiology and morphogenesis over the past decade, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have now developed a mathematical model to help explain how termites construct their intricate mounds.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Termite mounds are amongst the greatest examples of animal architecture on our planet,” said L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics and lead author of the study. “What are they for? How do they work? How are they built? These are the questions that have puzzled many scientists for a long time.”

In previous research, Mahadevan and his team showed that day-to-night temperature variations drive convective flow in the mound that not only ventilates the colony but also move pheromone-like cues around, which trigger building behavior in termites.

Here, the team zoomed in further to understand how termites build the intricately connected floors in individual mounds without a plan or a planner. With experimentalists from the University of Toulouse, France led by Guy Theraulaz, the researchers mapped the interior structures of two nests using CT scans, and quantified the spacing and arrangement of floors and ramps. Adding to the complexity of the nests is the fact that not only do termites build simple ramps to connect floors but they also build spiral ramps, like the ramps in parking garages, to connect multiple floors.

Using these visualizations and incorporating the previous findings on how factors such as daily temperature shifts and pheromone flows drive building, OEB graduate student Alexander Heyde and Mahadevan constructed a mathematical framework to explain the layout of the mound.

Heyde and Mahadevan thought of each component of the mound — the air, the mud and the termites — as intermixed fluids that vary in space and time.

“We can think of the collection of hundreds of thousands of termites as a fluid that can sense its environment and act upon it,” said Heyde. “Then you have a real fluid, air, transporting pheromones through that environment, which drives new behaviors. Finally, you have mud, which is moved around by the termites, changing the way in which the pheromones flow. Our mathematical framework provided us with clear predictions for the spacing between the layers, and showed the spontaneous formation of linear and helical ramps.”

“Here is an example where we see that the usual division between the study of nonliving matter and living matter breaks down,” said Mahadevan. “The insects create a micro-environment, a niche, in response to pheromone concentrations. This change in the physical environment changes the flow of pheromones, which then changes the termite behaviors, linking physics and biology through a dynamic architecture that modulates and is modulated by behavior. ”

In addition to partially solving the mystery of how these mounds work and are built, the research may well have implications for swarm intelligence in a range of other systems and even understanding aspects of tissue morphogenesis.

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The research was co-authored by Lijie Guo and Christian Jost. It was supported in part by the US and French National Science Foundations under grant numbers DGE-1144152, ANR-06-BYOS-0008, and PHY1606895.

https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2021/01/constructing-termite-turrets-without-blueprint

Source: https://bioengineer.org/constructing-termite-turrets-without-a-blueprint/

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Sensing robot healthcare helpers being developed at SFU

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The current pandemic highlights how remote healthcare robots currently being developed at SFU could be beneficial in the future

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Credit: Simon Fraser University

Robots that could take on basic healthcare tasks to support the work of doctors and nurses may be the way of the future. Who knows, maybe a medical robot can prescribe your medicine someday? That’s the idea behind 3D structural-sensing robots being developed and tested at Simon Fraser University by Woo Soo Kim, associate professor in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

“The recent pandemic demonstrates the need to minimize human-to-human interaction between healthcare workers and patients,” says Kim, who authored two recent papers on the subject – a perspective on the technology and a demonstration of a robots’ usefulness in healthcare. “There’s an opportunity for sensing robots to measure essential healthcare information on behalf of care providers in the future.”

Kim’s research team programmed two robots, a humanoid figure and a robotic arm, to measure human physiological signals, working from Kim’s Additive Manufacturing Lab located in SFU Surrey’s new engineering building. The robotic arm, created using Kim’s 3D printed origami structures, contains biomedical electrodes on the tip of each finger. When the hand touches a person, it detects physiological signals, including those from an electrocardiogram (which monitors heartbeat), respiration rate, electromyogram (monitoring electrical signals from muscle movements) and temperature.

The humanoid robot can also monitor oxygen levels, which could be used to monitor the condition of those who develop severe COVID-19. The data can be viewed in real-time on the robot’s monitor or sent directly to the healthcare provider.

Kim plans further development and testing of the robot together with healthcare collaborators. At this stage, the robots are capable of passively gathering patient information. But within the next decade, he says it’s conceivable that healthcare robots fitted with artificial intelligence could take a more active role, interacting with the patient, processing the data they have collected and even prescribing medication.

Further study will also need to involve determining acceptance levels for this type of technology among various age groups, from youth to seniors, in a hospital setting.

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Media Contact
Melissa Shaw
melissa_shaw@sfu.ca

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https://www.sfu.ca/university-communications/issues-experts/2021/02/sensing-robot-healthcare-helpers-being-developed-at-sfu-.html

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/admt.202000938

Source: https://bioengineer.org/sensing-robot-healthcare-helpers-being-developed-at-sfu/

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Research reveals how bacteria defeat drugs that fight cystic fibrosis

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MISSOULA – University of Montana researchers and their partners have discovered a slimy strategy used by bacteria to defeat antibiotics and other drugs used to combat infections afflicting people with cystic fibrosis. The research was published Feb. 23 in the journal Cell Reports.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits a person’s ability to breathe over time. A common strain of bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, often thrives in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis, as well as in wounds from burns or diabetic ulcers. Once a P. aeruginosa infection is established, it can be incredibly difficult to cure, despite repeated courses of antibiotics.

Dr. Laura Jennings, a research assistant professor in UM’s Division of Biological Sciences and an affiliate with the University’s Center for Translational Medicine, said their research showed that the stubborn germs living in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients create a self-produced carbohydrate slime. And this slime makes the bacteria more resistant to the antibiotics prescribed by doctors, as well as drugs that reduce the thickness of mucus.

“We found the first direct evidence that these carbohydrates are produced at the sites of infection,” Jennings said. “We showed that one of the carbohydrates, called Pel, sticks to extracellular DNA, which is abundant in the thick mucus secretions prominent in cystic fibrosis lungs.

“This interaction makes a slimy protective layer around the bacteria, making them harder to kill,” she said. “As such, it reduces the pathogen’s susceptibility to antibiotics and drugs aimed at reducing the thickness of airway mucus by digesting DNA.”

She said the work supports a hypothesis that it’s the carbohydrates that group, or aggregate, the bacteria in cystic fibrosis lungs.

“This is important because we know that physically breaking up bacterial aggregates can restore bacterial susceptibility to killing with antibiotics and cells of the immune system,” Jennings said. “Therefore, understanding the mechanisms that promote bacterial aggregation may facilitate new therapeutic approaches aimed at digesting the carbohydrates holding bacterial cells together.”

The research also suggests that the carbohydrate Pel likely diminishes the efficacy of the most commonly used therapeutics for cystic fibrosis, which are inhaled antibiotics and a drug that breaks down the thickness of the airway mucus, making it easier to cough up.

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The paper in Cell Reports is titled “P. aeruginosa aggregates in cystic-fibrosis sputum produce exopolysaccharides that likely impede current therapies.” Dr. Matthew Parsek from the University of Washington is the senior author. Jennings is the lead author and a former postdoctoral fellow in Parsek’s laboratory. Other authors are from UW, UM and The Ohio State University.

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/research-reveals-how-bacteria-defeat-drugs-that-fight-cystic-fibrosis/

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Researchers identify characteristics of highest utilizers for mental health hospital services

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Credit: Cody Duty/UTHealth

Dropping out of high school, having schizophrenia, or being diagnosed with a co-occurring personality disorder increases the likelihood of someone becoming a “high utilizer” of inpatient psychiatric hospital services, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). A high utilizer is someone who has been admitted three or more times within one year.

The research was published today in The Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

For their findings, researchers used machine learning to analyze deidentified electronic health record data from 9,840 patients admitted to UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center from January 2014 to December 2016. It is the first study of its kind to examine high utilizer trends in an academic safety net psychiatric hospital in a large, diverse region, where many patients are from underserved and disadvantaged populations.

“Many people don’t realize that half of all health care expenses in the U.S. are incurred by 5% of the population,” said Jane Hamilton, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and first author of the study. “These high utilizers are a very small number of individuals who are consuming a high number of resources. We need to figure out why they keep coming back so we can put supports around them to stop the trend.”

Instead of a traditional statistical approach, where researchers would first examine each factor’s independent relationship with utilization, the team leveraged machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to examine all factors at once.

“A machine learning algorithm called the ‘elastic net’ was able to predict utilization by including all of the predictors in the model at the same time,” said Robert Suchting, PhD, assistant professor in the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and study co-author. “Traditionally, including all of the predictors at the same time can lead to unstable estimates of the strength of each predictor’s relationship. The elastic net quantifies each predictor’s relationship to the outcome, making it much easier to determine which predictors are strongest.”

By identifying years of education, a schizophrenia diagnosis, and a co-occurring personality disorder diagnosis (being diagnosed with a personality disorder and another psychiatric condition concurrently), as the main predictors of high utilization, researchers were able to highlight suggestions for each predictor:

Less than 12 years of education: When working with psychiatric patients with limited education, mental health providers should routinely assess for mental health literacy and connect patients with educational support programs to improve health outcomes.

Schizophrenia and co-occurring personality disorders: Patients experiencing a first episode of psychosis, or the first signs of schizophrenia, comprise a subpopulation requiring enhanced efforts and prioritization for better identification and treatment at this critical phase of illness. Additionally, the routine assessment and treatment for co-occurring personality disorders should be integrated into community-based psychiatric treatment.
Hamilton, who studies social determinants of health, writes in the paper that many high utilizers have complex health needs, are more likely to be from socially disadvantaged groups, and have limited access to community-based health care and social services.

“Both schizophrenia and personality disorders can be difficult to treat, and many patients with these diagnoses are disadvantaged and vulnerable to health disparities. We really need evidence-based treatments in place to help these patients avoid repeat hospitalizations, and this study is a great first step in helping to identify the appropriate outpatient resources to help these patients remain stable in the community and avoid repeat hospitalizations,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton is working with Lokesh Shahani, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center, to strategize how to leverage the study to improve care transitions for these patients as they move from inpatient to outpatient care.

“Rehospitalization in a psychiatric hospital affects patient care and adds financial burden to our current health care system,” said Shahani, an assistant professor in the Faillace Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Using results from this current study, we will be able to better identify patients at high risk for rehospitalization. This would help us design and provide new treatment modalities to reduce their likelihood of future hospitalization.”

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The senior author of the study was Raymond Y. Cho, MD, MSc, a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine who was formerly faculty with UTHealth.

Media inquiries: 713-500-3030

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/researchers-identify-characteristics-of-highest-utilizers-for-mental-health-hospital-services/

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C-Path and Global Partners launch Ataxia Consortium

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The Critical Path to Therapeutics for the Ataxias will optimize clinical trials for inherited ataxias

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Credit: C-Path

TUCSON, Ariz., February 26, 2021 — Critical Path Institute (C-Path) today announced the launch of the Critical Path to Therapeutics for the Ataxias (CPTA) Consortium, a public-private partnership focused on optimizing clinical trials for inherited ataxias. CPTA is a collaborative effort between C-Path, Ataxia Global Initiative, the National Ataxia Foundation, Ataxia UK and key partners in the industry and academic research communities, including Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Servier Group, Triplet Therapeutics, uniQure, and Vico Therapeutics.

“CPTA’s mission is to bring together experts from across different fields of ataxia research, advocacy and medical product development to create regulatory tools and strategies that will catalyze the development of therapeutics for the ataxias,” said Jane Larkindale, D.Phil., Executive Director of the Rare Disease Cures Accelerator-Data and Analytics Platform (RDCA-DAP). “In doing so, we aim to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of medical product development for these disorders and deliver innovative treatments to patients in need.”

Inherited ataxias are a diverse collection of genetic disorders that are characterized by ataxia (impaired coordination of voluntary movements), which can manifest in impaired gait, coordination of movement and speech. Such a clinical presentation is typically associated with atrophy of the part of the brain called the cerebellum. Each individual ataxia has a unique genetic cause and spectrum of clinical presentation, affecting many different body systems.

Klaus Romero, M.D., M.S., F.C.P., C-Path’s CSO indicates that “the pipeline of new medical products for the ataxias is expanding, but there remain large gaps in the understanding of these diverse disorders.” As therapies approach the clinic, there is an urgent need for actionable tools to understand the natural history, progression and variance in these diseases, as well as how to measure therapeutic effects in clinical trials. “The continuous input from regulators into CPTA will help guide the development of such tools, facilitating their adoption by sponsors,” Romero indicated.

CPTA will create a neutral, precompetitive space where stakeholders from across different fields and backgrounds including regulators can come together and share expertise, insights and data, which will be leveraged for the generation of actionable solutions for drug development for the ataxias.

Data contributed to CPTA will be hosted on C-Path’s RDCA-DAP, an FDA-funded initiative that provides a centralized and standardized infrastructure for data across rare diseases. The integration of data on RDCA-DAP will multiply the impact of the combined ataxia data and facilitate advanced data analysis approaches that would be impossible from individual studies in isolation. These data will inform ataxia research, leading to an optimized understanding of these disorders, how disease progression and drug effects are measured and will help optimize the development of novel medical products in this space.

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For more information, visit c-path.org/programs/cpta or email cptaadmin@c-path.org.

Critical Path Institute is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is 55% funded by FDA/HHS, totaling $14,575,306, and 45% funded by non-government source(s), totaling $11,916,747. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, FDA/HHS or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit FDA.gov.

About C-Path

Critical Path Institute (C-Path) is an independent, nonprofit organization established in 2005 as a public and private partnership. C-Path’s mission is to catalyze the development of new approaches that advance medical innovation and regulatory science, accelerating the path to a healthier world. An international leader in forming collaborations, C-Path has established numerous global consortia that currently include more than 1,600 scientists from government and regulatory agencies, academia, patient organizations, disease foundations, and dozens of pharmaceutical and biotech companies. C-Path US is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona and C-Path, Ltd. EU is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, with additional staff in multiple other locations. For more information, visit c-path.org and c-path.eu.

Media Contact:

Kissy Black

C-Path

615.310.1894

kblack@c-path.org

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Kissy Black
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Source: https://bioengineer.org/c-path-and-global-partners-launch-ataxia-consortium/

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