New ultrasound technique for transcranial stimulation improves brain performance

After a six-year development, a team of researchers from the Department of Neurology at the Vienna Medical University announces a new ultrasound technique that can significantly improve brain performance, especially for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. In these diseases, brain neurons are constantly lost and this leads to memory loss, speech and movement disorders, mood swings and classic Parkinson’s tremors.

The researchers, led by Roland Beisteiner, have developed a new method that would be, as described in the press release published by the Viennese University’s own website, “a world first.” The ultrasound technique is non-invasive and can reach all areas of the brain to activate neurons and regenerate functions otherwise lost. The method, called transcranial ultrasound pulse stimulation (TPS), allows to penetrate and stimulate all areas of the brain with ultrasound pulses that are delivered directly into the skull.

The procedure is painless and can be performed with the patient fully conscious. The pulse emitted by the device has a wavelength between 3 and 5 mm and a length of approximately 3 cm. The method requires an accurate map of the brain previously performed by magnetic resonance imaging.

Thanks to this “navigation system”, during the procedure the neurologist can identify on the screen where the impulse is to be delivered and generally perform the entire procedure very precisely, as Beisteiner himself states.

Unlike transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), this new method provides greater precision for deep brain activation.

Human bones grown in the laboratory with shells of ground eggs

A group of researchers has discovered that eggshells can help grow and repair human bones. The discovery, carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, could be of great help for those patients who have suffered bone damage caused by illness or accidents.

The process, led by Professor Gulden Camci-Unal, sees the first phase of grinding eggshells. The resulting mass is then combined with a hydrogel mixture. This compound then serves to form a miniature frame on which bone growth can be triggered in the laboratory. These artificially created bones can then be used for bone grafts. To grow bones in the laboratory with this system, researchers use bone cells taken from the patient’s body and cultured in an incubator.

According to the researchers, the main quality of eggshells lies in the fact that their particles, which are mostly made of calcium carbonate, favor the growth and hardening of bone cells taken from the patient, something that in itself accelerates healing as well as the growth of the bone in the laboratory. Furthermore, the fact that the basic cells are taken from the patient’s body minimizes the risks of possible rejection of the immune system.

The same system, the researchers assure, could then be used to make teeth, tendons and cartilage grow also in the laboratory. Researchers, who have already filed a patent, predict that this system may prove to be very important, as Camci-Unal points out, according to which, among other things, eggshell particles could also be used as a vehicle to supply drugs or other substances such as proteins and peptides in the human body.

Researchers study how self-conversation can help during physical activity

Talking to oneself as an incentive during physical exertion or any physical activity can be of great help. An interesting discovery was made with regards to this act of “self conversation” by a group of researchers.

Researchers at the University of Bangor have discovered that addressing themselves in the second person, rather than in the first person, can have better effects on the psyche and in general on encouraging effort. The researchers analyzed various participants during physical efforts to discover that those who encouraged themselves with verbs conjugated in the second person (“you can do it”) produced a greater effort than those who used the first person (“I can do it”).

It is not the first study that deals with the so-called “self-talk” as a form of incitement during physical activity but it is the first that shows that there are differences in the ways in which one can turn to oneself.

James Hardy, one of the authors of the study, explains the experiments and the results he and his team conducted in the article presenting the study: 16 males showed greater performance in physical endurance tests when they used second-person verbs to refer to themselves and at the same time the same participants, including those who used verbs in the first person, did not report differences in perceived effort.

This is further research, among other things, which emphasizes how important the psyche and the psychological context are during physical exercise or to better face a resistance test.

Seagulls carry infectious bacteria for humans according to a new study

According to a study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, seagulls could represent one of the main vehicles of infectious bacteria for humans in the future, in particular those bacteria resistant to drugs and antibiotics.

The research, carried out by scientists at the Murdoch University in Perth, found that 20% of the 550 Australian gulls analyzed were carriers of infectious bacteria for humans. The seagulls themselves would become infected by coming into contact with excrement or human organic waste. Seagulls are in fact used to frequent landfills and sewer spill points and the like in search of food or nutrients.

In particular, gulls carried specimens of Escherichia coli, something that the researchers themselves found unusual. Other bacteria that seagulls carried could also cause urinary tract infections and sepsis.

The risk of a seagull transmitting an infection to a human being is still unlikely according to Mark O’Dea, a researcher who carried out the study and made some statements to the AFP.

However, the increase in these birds in the inhabited areas and the increasingly frequent contacts they have with our organic waste do not bode well in this regard.

The speed of universe expansion has been more accurately calculated

A group of researchers from Princeton has announced, through a work presented on Nature Astronomy, to have calculated more precisely the Hubble constant, or the speed with which the universe is expanding in relation to the distance between the galaxies.

Currently, the methods used to calculate this constant are basically two: that which is based on the analysis of the cosmic background radiation and that relating to the explosions of large stars very far from us.

However, these are two methods that do not agree: the first method, the one that analyzes the cosmic background radiation, reveals that the universe is expanding faster than can be calculated with the second method. It is clear that one of them is wrong, says Kenta Hotokezaka, a researcher at Princeton and one of the authors of the study, who used a new method based on the analysis of the fusion of two neutron stars.

These are very powerful energetic events that see two neutron stars collide at very high speed before merging. This event emits very strong gravitational waves that can also be intercepted on Earth. Just the interception of one of these events, which took place on August 17, 2017, was used by Hotokezaka and colleagues to calculate the speed of expansion of the universe.

The gravitational waves that occur during these events, in fact, create a characteristic pattern that has been called “standard siren.” Researchers also used data from various radio telescopes around the world to improve the resolution of radio images related to this cosmic explosion so that the final resolution was so high that it could be compared to that of a camera that distinguishes individual hair on the head of someone from 5 km away, as specified by Adam Deller, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, another author of the study.

Then using a supercomputer, they also analyzed the most minute changes in the position and shape of this radiation, managing to determine the orientation of neutron stars.

Comparing this data with the speed with which the galaxy containing these two neutron stars moved away from ours, they therefore performed a better measurement of the Hubble constant. The speed of the expansion of the universe is now estimated between 65.3 and 75.6 kilometers per second per megaparsec, a more precise measurement than previously calculated.

However, for researchers, the level of precision in this estimate is still not enough: they intend to insist on analyzing more collisions like the one they used for this study.

Scientists discover that ghrelin, the hunger hormone, improves memory

A group of researchers has discovered that ghrelin, already defined as “the hunger hormone” because it is responsible for transmitting hunger signals from the intestine to the brain, can improve memory.

This substance, produced in the stomach, binds to particular receptors of the vagus nerve, a nerve that connects the intestine to the brain. According to Scott Kanoski, senior author of the study, ghrelin helps the vagus nerve promote memory, at least in the laboratory mice on which the experiments were conducted.

By blocking ghrelin signaling in rats using a method called RNA interference, the researchers found that mice had worse results in episodic memory tests, tests that involve having to remember when something happened or where it is. In the case of these experiments, the rats had to remember where an object was located in a specific location.

Furthermore, when the ghrelin signal was interrupted through the vagus nerve, rodents tended to eat more frequently but consumed smaller amounts with each meal.

According to the researchers, this characteristic would also be related to the problem of reduced memory as “deciding to eat or not to eat is influenced by the memory of the previous meal,” as specified by Elizabeth Davis, the lead author of the study.

These findings could prove useful for improving memory capacity in humans.

Drinking matcha tea can reduce anxiety according to study

A new study highlights the positive qualities of matcha tea, a quality of Japanese tea that is becoming increasingly popular. Originally from China and made from the Camellia sinensis green tea plant, this tea has a particular process with regards to its preparation: the leaves are steamed, then dried and then ground to obtain a very fine powder.

In Japan, this tea has a long history behind it even as a medicine or relaxing compound even though there is little scientific evidence to emphasize this.

The new research, conducted by Japanese scientists at the University of Kumamoto, shows that this particular quality of tea can help reduce anxiety in mice.

The mechanisms that help in this regard are related to the activation of dopamine D1 receptors and serotonin 5-HT 1A receptors. These are two types of receptors already known because they are linked to anxious behavior.

The researchers conducted a rodent anxiety test that sees the most anxious subjects spend more time in the walled, and therefore safer, areas of a particular maze.

The researchers first made some of the mice extract matcha extract and then conducted the experiment: the results clearly showed the reduction in anxiety in mice that took the extract.

Yuki Kurauchi, the lead author of the study, admits that further epidemiological research will be conducted but these studies show at the time that matcha tea “can be very useful for the human body.”

New satellite system identifies the smallest deformations to prevent bridge collapses

A new satellite system will help to identify bridges that could collapse. Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA and the University of Bath have in fact developed a new pre-alarm system that uses satellite images to identify even the smallest deformations or small movements in bridge structures in order to identify the risk of collapse.

The idea came when scientists verified 15 years of satellite images of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, of which a large section collapsed in August last year causing the death of 43 people. In the study, published in Remote Sensing, it is shown how the bridge, in these satellite images, already showed signs of deformation in the months that preceded the collapse. The system, in fact, is able to intercept the deformations of the structures with a millimetric precision.

“We have shown that it is possible to use this tool, in particular the combination of different data from satellites, with a mathematical model, to detect the first signs of collapse or deformation,” says Giorgia Giardina, a researcher at the University of Bath and one of the authors of the study.

The system would be better able to detect signs of deformation or structural movement in bridges, but also in other buildings or structures, compared to today’s monitoring systems that substantially detect these modifications only at specific points, ie those in which they are positioned sensors.

Instead, this new technique involves an almost real-time monitoring of the entire structure with unprecedented frequency and accuracy, as also emphasized by Pietro Milillo, researcher of the JPL and another author of the study. Combining this technique with other more “classic” techniques, the potential for bridge collapse prevention activities would become even higher.

This is a system whose conception has been made possible thanks to the major advances in satellite technology that have taken place in recent years.

In this case, the researchers combined the radar satellites of the COSMO-SkyMed constellation of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Sentinel-1a and 1b satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Thanks to the radar data of these satellites, it is possible to construct a very detailed and specific 3D image of a bridge or any building on the earth’s surface.