This week in science – Sept. 16, 2013

Mark Hendricks, Science & Tech Editor Ω

Promising new AIDS vaccine found

Oregon Health & Science University researchers have found a potential vaccine for AIDS by pitting one virus with another.

The new vaccine Dr. Louis Picker and his team are testing has had a 50 per cent success rate in the prevention of SIV, the simian equivalent of HIV.

The simian patients contracted SIV, but the T-cells (key components of the immune system) produced by the vaccine eliminated all traces of SIV from the patients. Until now, SIV and HIV were considered permanent viruses that could not be fully removed from the patient once infected.

Picker and his team are utilizing cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus found in 50 per cent of the population in the developed world and 99 per cent of the population in the developing world, as a vaccine vector.

By injecting small amounts of SIV into CMV, the body generates an auto-immune response to both CMV and the attached SIV. CMV is a persistent non-disease-causing virus, and because of that, the body will continue producing T-cells to combat SIV for the life of the patient.

No human trials have been conducted, but Picker and his team are hoping to begin them soon.

Find more at: www.ohsu.edu

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Machines inspired by maggots may help combat brain tumors

Robots inspired by maggots are being developed for use inside of the human skull to combat brain tumors.

A prototype version of the robots that could be helping clear brain tumors. Image courtesy University of Maryland

A prototype version of the robots that could be helping clear brain tumors. Image courtesy University of Maryland

Neurosurgeon J. Marc Simard of the University of Maryland was inspired by the way maggots eat dead flesh and leave healthy flesh behind.

The robots will function in a similar way. They will be controlled remotely and will use an electrocution tool to zap the affected tissue and vacuum up the remains.

The primary benefit of this is that it will allow precision removal of a tumor while the patient is still inside an MRI, which is currently impossible. The MRI allows surgeons to much more easily determine where a tumor ends and healthy flesh begins.

The robots are currently being tested on pig and human cadavers.

Find out more: www.popsci.com

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First organic gear found

Researchers recently discovered an animal with a pair of interlocking biological gears that function like a man-made gear. This marks the first time an interlocking set of gears has been found in nature.

The interlocking gears at the top of the legs of the adolescent Issus nymph. Image courtesy Malcolm Burrows

The interlocking gears at the top of the legs of the adolescent Issus nymph. Image courtesy Malcolm Burrows

The researchers, Malcolm Burrows and Gregory Sutton, found this gear in the adolescent form of the Issus nymph. This tiny jumping insect uses a set of interlocking gears on its legs to synchronize their leg movements to propel themselves at incredible speeds.

The adolescent Issus uses its legs to accelerate at a rate of 400 Gs, 20 times what the human body can withstand.

The legs move at a speed faster than what the Issus’ nervous system is capable of processing.

Because of this, the Issus is incapable of synchronizing its jumps through miniscule corrections the way larger animals do. This caused the Issus to develop this organic gear that is specialized to work very quickly in one direction.

Find out more: www.sciencemag.org