IVF turns 40 today, and after six million babies conceived, the revolutionary procedure is still going strong


In-vitro fertislisation (IVF) was, very appropriately, born 40 years ago today.

Lesley Brown, an Englishwoman, secured her place in medical history as the first female to become pregnant through IVF. Ms. Brown and her husband had been trying for a baby for nine years, to no avail.

Then, on November 10, 1977 -exactly 40 years ago today-, the miracle happened at Oldham General Hospital. Lesley was successfully implanted with a viable embryo. Louise Joy Brown was the first human to be born thanks to IVF, weighing 5 pounds, 12 ounces at birth in July 1978. Robert Edwards, one of the developers of the IVF procedure, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2010. His colleague, Steptoe, was not eligible because the prize is not awarded posthumously.

In-vitro fertilization would go on to become a lifeline for those women unable to conceive naturally. Over six million babies have been born thanks to IVF worldwide.



Mankind’s days are numbered, and AI is the reason, according to Stephen Hawking


The days of mankind’s dominance on planet Earth are numbered, according to eminent physicist Stephen Hawking.

The 75-year-old genius has warned, and not for the first time, that AI’s evolution has passed the ‘point of no return’, and that it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an AI entity with self-replication ability.

When such time comes, our very survival will be in serious jeopardy.

In a recent interview for Wired, Hawking said “I fear that A.I. may replace humans altogether,”

“If people design computer viruses, someone will design A.I. that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans.”

If we are to avoid such grim fate, we should look towards space, Hawking added. The terraforming and colonization of other planets may be our only chance to prevail.

Hawking is not the only one to issue stark warnings about the rise of AI. SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk recently said that it (AI) ‘poses a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.’

Octopolis: Octopus species observed vying for living space in underwater city of their own making


Octopuses are a fascinating species that ranks amongst the most mysterious and intelligent of all invertebrates.

They are also loners, preferring to spend their usually short lives in isolation.

There is an exception to this rule, it seems, as fifty feet below the surface in Jervis Bay, Australia, marine biologists have observed what appears to be an underwater city built by octopuses.

The area in question is barely a few square meters wide, and has been dubbed Octopolis due to the unusual octopus activity observed there.

Groups of local gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus) are regularly seen congregating in Octopolis, sometimes fighting for control of a small patch of seabed, and other times mating around their little plot of underwater real state.

This rather gregarious behavior is highly unusual for a species that prefers solitude, so it has piqued the curiosity of the scientific community.

Octopolis seemingly started life as a man-made object stuck at the bottom of the bay. It soon became covered in clams and other debris apparently brought by the animals themselves, forming a town center of sorts for the gloomy octopus. Soon, Octopolis became a hub of social activity.

The cephalopods have even been observed hurling objects at each other using water jets blasted from a siphon-like organ in their bodies, in an apparent effort to protect their own turf. Few species outside apes are able to intentionally use items as missiles.

And it appears that Octopolis is not the only underwater city built by gloomy octopuses. A nearby site has also been erected using scallop shells and other maritime debris, in an apparent effort to form a defensive structure against sharks and other predators.

Whatever the purpose may be, this is yet another fascinating facet of a highly intelligent and always surprising creature.



FDA approves new treatment that uses engineered genes to treat aggressive leukemia, adding a ‘superweapon’ to the existing armamentarium against cancer


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency has recently approved a revolutionary new treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of leukemia, effectively implementing the first ever gene-therapy to treat cancer in the United States.

The brand new treatment is a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy created by Swiss pharma company Novartis and commercialized as Kymriah. The therapy has been approved to treat pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in patients up to the age of 25 with B-cell precursor ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse.

ALL is a type of aggressive cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow. The disease progresses rapidly, causing overproduction of immature white blood cells (lymphocytes), which inhibits the production of mature cells. Death will occur without quick treatment, but complete remission in children is also a typical outcome.

Kymriah uses genetically-modified cells to target a specific cancer cells in the receptor.

The process involves retrieving cells from the patient and sending them to a facility where they are genetically altered to include a new protein (CAR). The modified cells are then sent back and injected into the patient. The new cells stimulate the receptor’s immune system to target specific leukemia cells that contain the CD19 antigen.
Each single treatment is effectively ‘customized’ to every patient. Kymriah has shown astonishingly positive results in clinical trials, where 83 percent of patients treated with it achieved remission within three months.

Kymriah is not without its downsides. Its cost is rather high at present, for example. A single treatment costs $475,000, which may seem incredibly high, but it’s actually well below market expectations of around $700,000 per vial. And that price tag is for the treatment alone, it does not include hospitalization costs, or any other associated monetary outlays. On this regard, Novartis is working with health centres that provide Medicaid and Medicare facilities to iron out financial arrangements for those patients who undergo this treatment.

The new therapy may also cause severe neurological side effects in some cohorts, and the activation of CAR cells in the receptor may trigger a cytokine release syndrome (CRS). Both side effects may be fatal, but are treatable.

Despite these issues, Kymriah has been hailed as a quantum leap forward in the fight against cancer, particularly in the treatment of ALL. Scientists are now open to new avenues of research, and may consider applying similar therapies for the treatment of other types of leukemias and solid tumours.

Scientists develop new process to induce death of cancer cells


The fight against cancer has scored a major victory today, after researchers develop a brand new process to induce the death of cancerous cells.

The new method, known as Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD), has achieved total eradication of tumours in experimental models.

Current standard treatments for cancer patients include chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which kill off cancer cells via apoptosis.

Apoptosis is a sort of ‘programmed cell death’, where a cell is effectively induced to kill itself. This process involves proteins called caspases, which kick off the apoptosis process by breaking down the essential components needed for cell survival. The cells shrink, and as they do, they send out distress signals which are picked up by the human immune system. Macrophages (white blood cells) are then dispatched to consume the dying cell, essentially cleaning up the body. Apoptosis is often neat and leads no trace of the cell.

Despite its efficacy, apoptosis often fails to kill off all targeted cells, and crucially, the remaining cancerous cells fail to trigger an immune response, which is the reason why some types of cancer tend to reoccur.

CICD triggers cell death in such a way that the dying cell alerts the human immune system via the release of inflammatory proteins. The body responds and kills off the cancerous cells that escaped treatment.

CICD has shown great potential by inducing complete tumour regression in experimental models, and the results suggest new ways of treating cancer more effectively in the near future.

Clinical trial shows that anti-inflammatory drug greatly reduces risk of cardiac events and the onset of cancer


A recent clinical trial for an anti-inflammatory drug has yielded encouraging results for patients who have previously suffered a heart attack.

The drug in question, canakinumab, was tested on 10,000 patients who had already experienced a heart attack and also had inflammation biomarkers. The four year-long clinical trial, sponsored by the drug’s manufacturer Novartis, yielded extremely positive results.

The study design called for a subcutaneous canakinumab injection every three months for the active group, or statins or placebo for the control groups. Patients participating in the trial were followed for four years.

At the end of the trial period, the study team reported a remarkable 15% reduction in the reocurrence of vascular events (including non-fatal heart attacks and strokes). Typically, about 25% of patients who survive a heart attack will experience another cardiac event within five years, despite regular medication. Canakinumab induced a marked reduction of such incidence.

In addition to that, the drug was found to reduce the incidence of cancer onset by about half.

According to medical sources, the results were ‘above and beyond’ for those patients taking statins, the current standard treatment for vascular inflammation.

About 200,000 require urgent medical treatment for a cardiac event in the UK alone every year.

The Great American Eclipse: Vast swathes of the United States will be plunged into darkness on August 21


The United States is gearing up for a once-in-a-century astronomical event.

On August 21, 2017, the Moon will be positioned between the Earth and the Sun just right, creating a total solar eclipse, the first since 1979.

The event will be visible across the entire continent as the shadow of the Moon crosses the country, but a 70 miles-wide strip will experience night-like conditions for a brief period of time.

Spanning from South Carolina to Oregon, the so-called ‘path of totality’ will be plunged into total darkness for just over two and a half minutes. Planets and stars will become visible during this time.

The event will commence at 9.05am local time on the Pacific coast (5.05pm UK), and will finish at 4.09pm local time on the east coast (9.09pm UK).


Researchers develop new surgical adhesive inspired by slug secretions


Slugs are seldom talked about in a positive light, but this evening will be an exception.

Researchers at Harvard University studied slug secretions closely and somebody had an eureka moment. Based on the goo that the molluscs leave everywhere they wander to, some clever folk have developed a substance inspired by the sticky and elastic material secreted by the Arion subfuscus species of slug.

The new adhesive combines the positively-charged polymers found in slug goo with hydrogels, forming a bond, and the resulting substance is a strong adhesive that can stick to skin, cartilage, arteries, and other types of living tissues without the issues that current medical glues have.

Currently used products can be easily dislodged, can be toxic to certain tissues, and may become brittle. The new glue shows greater strength than the current generation of surgical adhesives, and crucially, is elastic (testing showed that it can stretch to 14 times its original size before failing), and sticks slowly over a period of time, which facilitates easy re-positioning if needed. Also, the new product demonstrated low toxicity to living tissue.

The adhesive is not commercially available yet, but shows the incredible potential in something as insignificant as a garden slug.


New weapon in oncology armamentarium against ovarian cancer deemed ‘biggest breakthrough in a decade’

A new experimental drug has shown extremely promising results in the treatment of metastasized ovarian cancer, with trial doctors going as far as saying that it is the ‘biggest breakthrough ten years.’

Ovarian cancer may cause few or no symptoms when it first develops, so it is commonly detected at an already advanced stage, making treatment options difficult. About a fifth of cases actually present with distant metastases, with most of these being terminal and requiring supportive or palliative care. Ovarian cancer kills an average of 4,000 people a year in the UK alone.

A new drug, ONX-0801, is currently being tested in a phase one clinical trial conducted at the Royal Marsden cancer hospital in London. The compound has shown extremely positive results so far, after seven out of fifteen women who were administered the trial drug experienced substantial tumour shrinkage.

Notably, ONX-0801 was only being tested for safety, but the unexpectedly beneficial therapeutic results encouraged the investigators to quickly move to further trials.

ONX-0801 was administered to women who had poor or negligible therapeutic response to standard chemotherapy treatment.

The drug is an alpha-folate receptor (aFR)-mediated inhibitor of thymidylate synthase. Administered intravenously, it selectively targets and binds to tumour cells where aFR expression is higher. Healthy cells remain relatively unaffected as aFR expression is significantly lower. Once bound, ONX-0801 inhibits both DNA synthesis and cell division, inducing cell apoptosis (death of the cell.)

Though initial results regarding the therapeutic outcomes of ONX-0801, further research and trials are needed to confirm its viability in the fight against ovarian cancer.

The breath of life: International team of scientists develops device that can detect up to 17 different diseases in human breath


Early disease detection greatly increases the chances of survival, sometimes by as much as 70%, specially when dealing with life-threatening conditions.

An international team of researchers has developed a non-invasive device to detect up to 17 different illnesses in a human breath sample.

The idea is hardly new. Hippocrates already theorized about the correlation between breath odors and disease, way back in 400 B.C., for instance.

This new device, which is controlled by an AI program, features a nano-array composed of carbon nanotubes and minuscule gold particles. According to its developers, the program can discern the unique chemical signatures of up to seventeen conditions.

The team, led by researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology, explained that human breath contains over 100 chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is these VOCs that the new device recognizes and analyzes, as different diseases produce unique chemical signatures in a person’s breath.

A spokesperson for the team said ‘Just as each of us has a unique fingerprint that distinguishes us from others, each disease has a chemical signature that distinguishes it from other diseases and from a normal state of health,’

‘These odor signatures are what enables us to identify the diseases using the technology that we developed.’

Early testing has shown that the device can pick up the chemical markers for chronic kidney failure, two forms of Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and eight different types of cancer with an 86% accuracy rate.

If commercialized, the new device may replace unpleasant and invasive procedures like biopsies, as breath testing is simple, painless, and can be repeated over and over.