The announcements of this year's Nobel Prize winners will start Monday with the medicine award and continue with physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics. The secretive award committees never give away any hints in advance of who could win, but here's a look at five big scientific breakthroughs that haven't yet received a Nobel prize.
Univ. of South Florida researchers have suggested a new view of how stem cells may help repair the brain following trauma. In a series of preclinical experiments, they report that transplanted cells appear to build a “biobridge” that links an uninjured brain site where new neural stem cells are born with the damaged region of the brain.
Non-coding RNAs constitute the “dark matter of the genome”, as they are abundant but their function is largely unknown. Researchers in Canada have discovered how these RNA direct telomerase, a molecule essential for cancer development, toward structures on our genome called telomeres in order to maintain its integrity and in turn, the integrity of the genome.
Previous studies had established an association between the activity of certain types of neurons and the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). Scientists have now found the source of this causal relationship and have used optogenetics techniques to induce and modulate REM sleep in mice.
There is certainly no shortage of lab-on-a-chip devices, but in most cases manufacturers have not yet found a cost-effective way to mass produce them. Scientists are now developing a platform for series production of these pocket laboratories. The first major step is moving away from the usual injection molding or wet chemical processing techniques in favor of roll-to-roll processing.
Tracking blood flow in the laboratory is an important tool for studying ailments and is usually measured in the clinic using professional imaging equipment and techniques like laser speckle contrast imaging. Now, developers have built a new biological imaging system 50 times less expensive than standard equipment, and suitable for imaging applications outside of the laboratory.
At the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, experts have been conducting research of “organs” on microchips. Unlike the few other laboratories conducting these types of studies, the Army is specifically looking at potential scenarios that will affect warfighters, especially chemical agent exposure.
An intriguing study led by the Univ. of Colorado Boulder may provide a powerful new tool in the quiver of forensic scientists attempting to determine the time of death in cases involving human corpses: a microbial clock. The clock is essentially the lock-step succession of bacterial changes that occur postmortem as bodies move through the decay process.
Cancer cells metastasize in several stages—first by invading surrounding tissue, then by infiltrating and spreading via the circulatory system. Some circulating cells work their way out of the vascular network, eventually forming a secondary tumor. Now researchers have developed a microfluidic device that mimics the flow of cancer cells through a system of blood vessels. High-resolution time-lapse imaging captures the moment of metastasis.
A team of researchers at NIST and Applied Research Associates, Inc. has demonstrated an improved microfluidic technique for recovering DNA from real-world, complex mixtures such as dirt. According to the researchers their technique delivers DNA from these crude samples with much less effort and in less time than conventional techniques and yields DNA concentrations optimal for human identification procedures.
Richard Van As, a South African carpenter, lost four fingers from his right hand to a circular saw two years ago. He was unable to afford the tens of thousands of dollars to get a myoelectric hand, which detects a muscle's electric impulses to activate an artificial limb. He decided to build his own hand, made from cables, screws and thermoplastic, using only the Internet and a 3-D printer. He has since fitted 170 people with Robohands.
Siri and Watson may seem brainy in certain situations, but to build truly smart, world-changing machines, researchers must understand how human intelligence emerges from brain activity. To help encourage progress in this field, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $25 million to establish a Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory-developed biological detection technology has been employed as part of an international collaboration that has detected a virus in bladder cancers. The research is believed to be the first study to demonstrate an association between Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), also known as human herpesvirus 8, and bladder cancers.
A team of researchers at Harvard Univ. has found a way to self-assemble complex structures out of gel “bricks” smaller than a grain of salt. The new method could help solve one of the major challenges in tissue engineering: creating injectable components that self-assemble into intricately structured, biocompatible scaffolds at an injury site to help regrow human tissues.
In the parallel universe of the microbiological world, there is a current superstar species of blue-green algae that, through its powers of photosynthesis and carbon dioxide fixation, or uptake, can produce (count ’em) ethanol, hydrogen, butanol, isobutanol and potentially biodiesel. Called Synechocystis 6803, it also has the potential to make commodity chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Scientists have developed an influenza vaccine delivered via microneedle patch that provided 100% protection against a lethal influenza virus in mice more than one year after vaccination. Instead of a liquid containing whole killed or attenuated virus, this vaccine uses dry virus-like particles which simply coat the needles in the presence of a simple stabilizing agent, reducing the need for refrigeration.
Despite widespread adoption by hospitals of surgical robot technology over the past decade, a “slapdash” system of reporting complications paints an unclear picture of its safety, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. When an adverse event or device malfunction occurs, hospitals are required to report these incidents. But this doesn’t always happen, the researchers say.
MicroRNAs are abundant, small regulatory RNA molecules with diverse cellular functions. But their use as reliable blood-based biomarkers has been undermined by factors such as high interday variability. A new study, however, now shows that droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR) technology can be used to precisely and reproducibly quantify microRNA in plasma and serum across different days.
The Department of Systems Biology at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have formed a collaboration with Thermo Fisher Scientific to pursue breakthroughs in the understanding of how cellular protein networks drive important diseases. Under the collaboration, Thermo Fisher will provide early access to new technology and designs, and DTU proteomics scientists will provide feedback and collaborate on new applications.
By lowering the expression of a single gene, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have extended the average lifespan of a group of mice by about 20%—the equivalent of raising the average human lifespan by 16 years. The research team targeted a gene called mTOR, which is involved in metabolism and energy balance, and may be connected with the increased lifespan associated with caloric restriction.
A plastic material already used in absorbable surgical sutures and other medical devices shows promise for continuous administration of antibiotics to patients with brain infections, scientists are reporting in a new study. Use of the material, placed directly on the brain’s surface, could reduce the need for weeks of costly hospital stays now required for such treatment.
Getting biomolecules past the body’s numerous defenses requires innovations such as drug-delivering nanoparticles. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a potential candidate because it is non-toxic, biodegradable, and spontaneously assembles into tiny structures under the right conditions. Researchers in Singapore have developed a robust method to synthesize PLA nanoparticles using copolymer technology and a rigid “nanocage” made from silicon.
Since the genetic code’s discovery in the 1960s, researchers have wondered: How is it that a near-optimal code became so universal? To address this question, the researchers created a model of genetic code evolution in which multiple “translating” RNAs and “genomic” RNAs competed for survival. The approach revealed phenomena that offers new insights into how RNA signaling likely developed into the modern genetic code.
When a beating heart slips into an irregular, life-threatening rhythm, the treatment is well known: deliver a burst of electric current from a pacemaker or defibrillator. But because the electricity itself can cause pain, tissue damage and other serious side-effects, a Johns Hopkins-led research team wants to use laboratory data and an intricate computer model replace these jolts with a kinder, gentler remedy: light.
Stem cell technology has long offered the hope of regenerating tissue to repair broken or damaged neural tissue. Findings from a team of Univ. of California, Davis investigators have brought this dream a step closer by developing a method to generate functioning brain cells that produce myelin, the fatty, insulating sheath essential to normal neural conduction.