Health,Stem Cells, and Technology

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quantum Communication

Physicists in Germany, led by Professor Doctor Stephan Ritter, have begun to pave the path of a quantum computational future by constructing an elementary network for exchanging and storing quantum information. The network features two all-purpose nodes that can send, receive, and store quantum information, linked by a fiber-optic cable that carries the quantum information from one node to another using a single photon.

The network is a prototype, but if refined and scaled up, could form the basis of communication channels for relaying quantum information. A group from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (M.P.Q.) in Garching, Germany, described the advance in the April 12 issue of Nature.

Quantum bits, or qubits, are at the heart of quantum information technologies. A classical bit in current electronic technology can store one of two values: a 0 or a 1. But given the indeterminacy inherent in quantum mechanics, a qubit can be in a so-called superposition, an undecided state between 0 and 1 that adds a layer of complexity to the information being carried. Quantum computers would realize capabilities beyond those of even the most powerful classical supercomputers, and cryptography protocols based on the exchange of qubits would be more secure than traditional encryption methods.

Physicists have used many types of quantum objects to store qubits—electrons, atomic nuclei, and photons for example. In the new demonstration, the qubit at each node of the network is stored in the internal quantum state of a single rubidium atom trapped in a reflective optical cavity. The atom can then transmit stored information via an optical fiber by emitting a single photon, whose polarization state carries the mark of its parent atom's quantum state. Or conversely, the atom can absorb a photon from the fiber and take on the quantum state imprinted on that photon's polarization.

By scaling up the number of all purpose nodes, the technology may someday soon be made into a communication device capable of far outperforming today's computational machines. Soon may mean a decade or two.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nonheritable Variability Accelerates Cancer

The current cancer literature is dominated by the view that genetic or stably heritable epigenetic variants initiate the key evolutionary changes in carcinogenesis and drug resistance. Against that view, Dr Steven Frank, professor of biology at UC Irvine, presents data that suggest nonheritable cellular variability often plays a key role in initiating the major evolutionary steps of carcinogenesis and drug resistance. Nonheritable variability arises by stochastic fluctuations in cells and by physiological responses of cells to the environment.

The main point in Dr. Frank's hypothesis is that tumorigenesis and drug treatment typically impose novel or extreme environmental challenges to cells and tissues. The rate of evolutionary change in response to such challenges is greatly enhanced by nonheritable phenotypic variability, often acting synergistically with genetic variability. Therefore, beyond genomics and epigenomics, a clear understanding of cancer and its treatment requires closer attention to fundamental phenotypic evolutionary processes.

Dr. Frank's model has two important implications for drug treatment design. First, the mechanisms of tumor resistance may combine genetic mutations and nonheritable phenotypic fluctuations. If so, then combinations of drugs should target both the likely genetic resistance mutations and the likely nonheritable resistance mechanisms, rather than solely targeting genetic mutations.

The second implication for treatment arises when drugs drive cellular populations to a resistant state via a nonheritable intermediate state. For example, those cells initially resistant to a treatment may, by purely nonheritable phenotypic fluctuation, express a greater stress response than those cells that die. With continued treatment, some of those initially resistant cells may subsequently acquire a heritable change that upregulates
the stress response. Those mutated cells will tend to increase, causing the heritable fixation of a generalized resistance mechanism. Subsequent alternative drugs may then perform poorly. In this case, initial drug combinations should include stress response inhibitors.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A New Super-Conducting Plasma Phenomenon

A new physical attraction that may enable smaller and more powerful computer chips has  been discovered.  Dr. Padma Kant Shukla, professor of physics and engineering at  Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum in Germany and The University of California, San Diego, and Dr. Bengt Eliasson of Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum found a previously unknown phenomenon in quantum plasmas. A negatively charged potential makes it possible to combine positively charged particles (ions) in atom-like structures within the plasma. In this way, current can be conducted much more quickly and efficiently than before, opening new perspectives for nanotechnology. The researchers report on their findings in Physical Review Letters.
An ordinary plasma is an ionized electrically conducting gas consisting of positive (ions) and negative charge carriers (so-called non-degenerate electrons). This is the chief constituent of our solar system. On Earth, such plasmas among others can be used to produce energy in controlled thermonuclear fusion plasmas similar to the sun, or even to fight disease in the medical application field.

New effect on the atomic scale in quantum plasmas
Quantum plasmas extend the area of application to nano-scales, where quantum-mechanical effects gain significance. This is the case when, in comparison to normal plasmas, the plasma density is very high and the temperature is low. Then the newly discovered potential occurs, which is caused by collective interaction processes of degenerate electrons with the quantum plasma. Such plasmas can be found, for example, in cores of stars with a dwindling nuclear energy supply (white dwarfs), or they can be produced artificially in the laboratory by means of laser irradiation. The new negative potential causes an attractive force between the ions, which then form lattices. They are compressed and the distances between them shortened, so that current can flow through them much faster.

Microchips and semiconductors
The findings of the Bochum scientists open up the possibility of ion-crystallization on the magnitude scale of an atom. They have thus established a new direction of research that is capable of linking various disciplines of physics. Applications include micro-chips for quantum computers, semiconductors, thin metal foils or even metallic nano-structures.

P. K. Shukla and B. Eliasson (2012): Novel Attractive Force Between Ions in Quantum Plasmas, Physical Review Letters 108, in press.

Oscar Mayer Weinermobile Driver Is Chairman Of House Committee On The Budget

Before becoming a politician, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin member of the House and Chairmen of the House Committee on the Budget, was an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile driver. Wow, what great experience to become Chairmen of the House Committee on the Budget. Beyond working in politics, that's his experience, working as a Weinermobile driver. Let's have him as VP too. He has almost as much experience as Sarah Palin. What the heck has happened to the Republican Party?

Predictive Therapeutics Requires More Than Genomics

The recent mantra that if every aspect of a person’s DNA is known, we'll be able to predict the diseases in that person’s future has once again been shown to be false.

Although sequencing the entire DNA of individuals is one tool for understanding diseases and finding new treatments, genomics is not a method that will, for the most part, predict a person’s medical future.  A new study in the journal Science Translational Medicine concludes, that genomic analysis will not predict, for example, that Type 2 diabetes will occur with absolute certainty unless a person keeps a normal weight, or that colon cancer is a foregone conclusion without frequent screening and removal of polyps. Conversely, with genomic analysis we will not be able to tell some people that they can ignore all the advice about, for example, preventing a heart attack because they will never have one. Thus, this type of personalized medicine will not be the most important determinant of patient care.

Bottom line, we must consider many factors to predict a disease, including epigenetics, behavior, environment, and random events. Disease, for the most part, is unpredictable.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Physicists Find Patterns In New State of Matter Called Excitons

Previous work by Dr. Leonid Butov, a professor of physics at UCSD, has shown that excitons are tiny paired artificial objects adrift in a semiconductor and consist of an electron excited from its home orbital plus a vacancy left behind. The negatively charged electron and the positively charged hole are bound to each other and will usually, after about a a nanosecond, recombine, an event that knocks the electron back into its home band and releases a tiny parcel of light. This is how light emitting diodes (LEDs) produce their illumination.

Now, Dr. Butov's group at the University of California, San Diego have discovered patterns that underlie the properties of this newly discovered state state of matter. In a paper published in the March 29 issue of the journal Nature, the scientists describe the emergence of “spontaneous coherence,” “spin textures” and “phase singularities” when excitons—the bound pairs of electrons and holes that determine the optical properties of semiconductors and enable them to function as novel optoelectronic devices—are cooled to near absolute zero. This cooling leads to the spontaneous production of a new coherent state of matter that the physicists were finally able to measure in great detail in their basement laboratory at UC San Diego at a temperature of only one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero.

What they discovered was that the exciton particles’ spin is not homogenous in space, but forms patterns around these beads, which they call “spin textures.” They also discovered that a pattern of spontaneous coherence is correlated with a pattern of spin polarization and with phase singularities in the coherent exciton gas. 

Some will ask, what practicality does such work have to the taxpayers who ultimately fund, at least partially, these types of studies? The short answer is that, in general, these types of studies lead to fundamental new understandings of many physical phenomenon, and in particular, this study may lead to new, efficient, and less power consuming technologies for the development of computer chips. Indeed, these types of studies at our great research and teaching institutions in the USA have brought you the computer, the computer mouse, the computer touchpad, the internet, smart phones,  more efficient automobiles and airplanes, LASERs, TVs, to name just a few.

Contrary to the opinion of some anti-intellectual leaders who'd like to eviscerate our great research universities, in these times of great economic uncertainty and intense global competition, the US must, now, more than ever, support such work.....the very type of work that elevated this country to greatness in the first place. I suggest Rand and Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, and the Tea Party in general, please take note.

The youtube video of the scientist at work:

Chronic Stress Spawns Protein Aggregates Linked to Alzheimer’s

UCSD professor, Dr.Robert A. Rissman, PhD, has published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that repeated stress triggers the production and accumulation of insoluble tau protein aggregates inside the brain cells of mice.
The aggregates are similar to neurofibrillary tangles or NFTs, modified protein structures that are one of the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings may partly explain why clinical studies have found a strong link between people prone to stress and development of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which accounts for up to 95 percent of all AD cases in humans.
Using a mouse model, Dr. Rissman found that repeated episodes of emotional stress, which has been demonstrated to be comparable to what humans experience in ordinary life, resulted in the phosphorylation and altered solubility of tau proteins in neurons. These events underlie the development of NFT pathology in Alzheimer’s disease.”
The effect was most notable in the hippocampus, a region of the brain linked to the formation, organization, and storage of memories. In AD patients, the hippocampus is typically the first region of the brain affected by tau pathology and the hardest-hit, with substantial cell death and shrinkage.
Not all forms of stress are equally threatening. In earlier research, Rissman and colleagues reported that acute stress – a single, passing episode – does not result in lasting, debilitating long lasting changes in accumulation of phosphorylated tau. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Successful In Multiple Myeloma

Results of a study in France showed that stem cell transplantation using stem cells from an unrelated donor may be feasible in multiple myeloma patients. The estimated two-year overall and progression-free survival rates were similar between myeloma patients who received stem cells from a related donor and patients who received stem cells from an unrelated donor.

The purpose of this study was to assess the results of allogeneic stem cell transplantation (Allo-SCT) after reduced-intensity conditioning (RIC) from matched related donors (MRD) and unrelated donor (URD) in 40 patients with high-risk multiple myeloma (MM) in a single center.

Seventeen (43%) (Group 1) and 23 patients (57%) (Group 2) had URD and MRD respectively. Thirty nine patients (98%) received one or more autologous transplantation. The median follow-up was 22 months (1-49). None of of the patient experienced a graft rejection. The cumulative incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD was higher (47%) for the URD vs. (17%) for the MRD (p= 0.092). The cumulative incidence of chronic GVHD was no different between the two groups (24% vs. 30% respectively). At two-year the TRM probabilities was lower in the unrelated group 12% vs. 22% in the related group (p =0,4).

Also at 2 years, for patients receiving unrelated transplantation overall and progression-free survivals, 59% and 42% respectively compared to patients with related donor transplantation, 66% and 44% (p= 0.241).

The results are very promising, but this was small study and will not change the current mainstream approach to the treatment of myeloma. A much larger study using comparable groups of patients with a longer follow-up period of five years will be needed to better validate the technique.