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Johns Hopkins University

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According to a Johns Hopkins study, money raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge has significantly boosted research into ALS.

Ice Bucket Challenge campaign went viral during 2014.

They say it has helped them to understand more about a dysfunctional protein – TDP-43 – a mystery scientists have been studying for decades.

ALS is a rare condition affecting the nervous system.

Social media was awash with videos of celebrities and common people pouring cold water over their heads to raise money for ALS in 2014.

More than 17 million people uploaded videos to Facebook, including many celebrities who rose to the challenge, which were then watched by 440 million people worldwide.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

The study, published by Johns Hopkins researchers in Science journal last week, credits the Ice Bucket Challenge with helping them to unravel the mystery behind a protein called TDP-43, which in more than 90% of ALS cases is dysfunctional.

“For the past decade we’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is doing, and now I think we have finally figured it out,” Jonathan Ling, of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a YouTube video explaining the university’s latest breakthrough.

“The best part is it can be fixed, so with any luck this could lead to the possibility of a cure or at least a slowing down of this terrible disease,” he continues.

Prof. Philip Wong added: “The money came at a critical time when we needed it.”

However, they warned that the work was ongoing and many current ALS sufferers would not necessarily see the benefits of the research.

In the US, the ALS Association – which represents people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and all motor neurone disorders – received $115 million in donations during the months of August and September, when the challenge was at its peak.

The ALS Association says the money helped triple the amount it spends on research every year.

More than 12,000 people in the US have a definite diagnosis of ALS, for a prevalence of 3.9 cases per 100,000 persons in the US general population, according to a report on data from the National ALS Registry.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology tops the world’s top 20 universities, according to the new QS World University rankings.

Harvard University comes second and UK’s University of Cambridge is in third position.

University College London (UCL) and Imperial occupied fourth and fifth places, with Oxford in sixth.

Universities in the United States made up the rest of the top 10.

 

Top 20 universities:

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

2. Harvard University

3. University of Cambridge

4. University College London (UCL)

5. Imperial College London

Massachusetts Institute of Technology tops QS World University Rankings in 2013

Massachusetts Institute of Technology tops QS World University Rankings in 2013

6. University of Oxford

7. Stanford University

8. Yale University

9. University of Chicago

10=. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

10=. Princeton University

12. Eth Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

13. University of Pennsylvania

14. Columbia University

15. Cornell University

16. Johns Hopkins University

17=. University of Edinburgh

17=. University of Toronto

19=. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

19=. King’s College London

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A simple eye test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), medical experts say in the journal Neurology.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a scan that measures the thickness of the lining at the back of the eye – the retina.

It takes a few minutes per eye and can be performed in a doctor’s surgery.

In a trial involving 164 people with MS, those with thinning of their retina had earlier and more active MS.

The team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine say larger trials with a long follow up are needed to judge how useful the test might be in everyday practice.

The latest study tracked the patients’ disease progression over a two-year period.

Multiple sclerosis is an illness that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. In MS, the protective sheath or layer around nerves, called myelin, comes under attack which, in turn, leaves the nerves open to damaged.

Optical Coherence Tomography test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis

Optical Coherence Tomography test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis

There are different types of MS – most people with the condition have the relapsing remitting type where the symptoms come and go over days, weeks or months.

Usually after a decade or so, half of patients with this type of MS will develop secondary progressive disease where the symptoms get gradually worse and there are no or very few periods of remission.

Another type of MS is primary progressive disease where symptoms get worse from the outset.

There is no cure but treatments can help slow disease progression.

It can be difficult for doctors to monitor MS because it has a varied course and can be unpredictable.

Brain scans can reveal inflammation and scarring, but it is not clear how early these changes might occur in the disease and whether they accurately reflect ongoing damage.

Scientists have been looking for additional ways to track MS, and believe OCT may be a contender.

OCT measures the thickness of nerve fibres housed in the retina at the back of the eye.

Unlike nerve cells in the rest of the brain which are covered with protective myelin, the nerve cells in the retina are bare with no myelin coat.

Experts suspect that this means the nerves here will show the earliest signs of MS damage.

The study at Johns Hopkins found that people with MS relapses had much faster thinning of their retina than people with MS who had no relapses. So too did those whose level of disability worsened.

Similarly, people with MS who had inflammatory lesions that were visible on brain scans also had faster retinal thinning than those without visible brain lesions.

Study author Dr. Peter Calabresi said OCT may show how fast MS is progressing.

“As more therapies are developed to slow the progression of MS, testing retinal thinning in the eyes may be helpful in evaluating how effective those therapies are,” he added.

In an accompanying editorial in the same medical journal that the research is published in, MS experts Drs Robert Bermel and Matilde Inglese say OCT “holds promise” as an MS test.

North Korea has been conducting tests at a rocket launch site, according to recent satellite images captured by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said its analysis of images “indicates that North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles”.

There had been at least two tests of rocket motors since a failed rocket launch in April, it said.

The 30 m (100 ft) rocket crashed into the sea shortly after take off.

Pyongyang said the launch was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, but it was widely criticized by the US, South Korea and Japan as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

North Korea has been conducting tests at a rocket launch site, according to recent satellite images captured by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University

North Korea has been conducting tests at a rocket launch site, according to recent satellite images captured by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University

“Since the failed launch, the North has conducted at least two, and possibly more, tests of large rocket motors at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the most recent in mid-September 2012,” a report on the institute’s 38 North blog said.

The tests appear to have involved “liquid-fuelled, first stage engines” for either North Korea’s existing satellite launch vehicle, or a new long-range missile first seen during a military parade this year, the institute said.

There had also been indications of construction activity on the rocket site’s upper gantry platform “required for future launches of long-range rockets”, it said.

The report suggested North Korea could be planning test activities once both the US and South Korean presidential elections are finished. The South Korean poll takes place in December.

“Whether the testing of large rocket motors or construction at the launch pad are in preparation for such activities remains unclear at this point,” it said.

Advances in the country’s missile technology are watched carefully in both Seoul and Washington because of fears that North Korea could one day use long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons.

A United States institute has noticed that satellite images show that a ”major upgrade” is underway at North Korea’s rocket launch site Musudan-ri.

Work at the Musudan-ri site showed “rapid progress” since mid-2011, the analysis said.

The report came as Pyongyang accused Washington of trying to ”incite confrontation” over speculation it may carry out a third nuclear test.

North Korea ”never envisaged” such an act, said a foreign ministry spokesman.

The remarks followed a US warning that a nuclear test would lead to a “swift and sure response” from the region.

Glyn Davis, the US special envoy for North Korea policies, said on Monday that any such move by Pyongyang would be “a serious miscalculation”.

The satellite images, taken on 29 April of the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (also known as Musudan-ri) were analyzed by the 38north website of the US-Korea institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University.

A United States institute has noticed that satellite images show that a ''major upgrade'' is underway at North Korea's rocket launch site Musudan-ri

A United States institute has noticed that satellite images show that a ''major upgrade'' is underway at North Korea's rocket launch site Musudan-ri

Citing fast progress on upgrading work, the analysis said: ”At the current pace of construction, the facilities should be operational by 2016-17.”

It also noted similarities between the North Korean buildings and those at Iran’s Semnan Missile and Space Center.

”Nevertheless, while the two countries have a long history of missile co-operation, it is too soon to tell whether that co-operation extends to the design and construction of this facility or the new long-range liquid-fuelled rocket,” it added.

Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear ambitions faced increased scrutiny in recent months, following the death of Kim Jong-Il last December and installation of his son Kim Jong-Un.

In the wake of North Korea’s failed rocket launch last month, South Korea also reported that preparations for a third nuclear test appeared to be under way.

In a statement on Tuesday, North Korea hit out at US comments on the possible test, saying the country had told the US that it was ”restraining” itself.

”From the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” the ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by KCNA news agency.

There was still room for ”dialogue and negotiation” to resolve ”the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula”, the spokesman added, but this could not happen unless the US ”rolls up its hostile policy” towards North Korea.

”If the US persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure upon us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense,” the spokesman said.

The US Department of State declined to comment on the 38north analysis, but responded briefly to North Korea’s statement.

“We’re going to be guided not by what they say, but what they do,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

 

One of the most common flowering plants, foxglove, could soon be used to stop the spread of breast cancer, say scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

The scientists have discovered that a drug based on foxglove (Digitalis), which produces distinctive tall spires of pink tubular bells in the summer, can dramatically slow the migration of malignant cells to other parts of the body.

The research reveals that digoxin, a long-established drug based on chemicals found in foxglove, can block the production of a protein called HIF-1, which has been implicated in the spread of breast tumours.

Digoxin has been used for decades to treat conditions such as congestive heart failure and irregular heartbeats.

The latest discovery suggests the cheap and easily available medicine could also be deployed in the fight against cancer.

Earlier this year the same team found foxglove could reduce the spread of prostate cancer in men by around 24%.

Research leader, Dr. Gregg Semenza, from the Institute for Cell Engineering at the university said: “This is really exciting.”

“Our findings warrant clinical trials to determine if the doses (used in animal studies) are enough to sufficiently block HIF-1 and slow breast cancer growth and spread.”

Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that a drug based on foxglove (Digitalis), which produces distinctive tall spires of pink tubular bells in the summer, can dramatically slow the migration of malignant cells to other parts of the body

Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that a drug based on foxglove (Digitalis), which produces distinctive tall spires of pink tubular bells in the summer, can dramatically slow the migration of malignant cells to other parts of the body

Foxglove was one of the first plants to be used for the development of a pharmaceutical medicine.

In 1785, country doctor William Withering noticed a remarkable improvement in a patient with congestive heart failure after they took a traditional herbal remedy made from the plant.

William Withering identified that the active ingredient was a substance called digitalis and wrote about his findings more than 200 years ago in a book entitled “An account of the foxglove and some of its medical uses”.

GlaxoSmithKline eventually turned it into a tablet called digoxin, used for heart failure as well as atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm.

In recent months, new evidence has emerged that the traditional remedy could also play a vital role in treating cancer.

In April this year, the Johns Hopkins research team reported the results of a study involving 47,000 men in the journal Cancer Discovery.

These showed the drug appeared to stop the growth of prostate cancer in nearly one in four men.

But researchers warned this did not yet provide proof that digoxin was responsible for the benefits and warned against the drug, which can have side-effects such as nausea, headache and breast enlargement in men, being given to healthy people to prevent tumours.

Laboratory tests show digoxin appears to hinder the production of HIF-1, a protein that controls the genes which allow cancer cells to survive in low-oxygen environments, such as deep inside a solid tumour.

Experiments have also revealed that in women with breast cancer, an increase in HIF-1 levels is closely linked to metastasis – the spread of tumour cells – and a reduced likelihood of survival.

To see how the HIF-1 protein behaved when exposed to digoxin, researchers transplanted human breast cancer cells into mice and, two weeks later, gave them daily injections of either the drug itself or saline.

The results showed those given digoxin had fewer cancer cells spread to the lungs – one of the major sites that breast tumours migrate to – and tumours that had spread were smaller than in the saline group.

The findings could be even more significant because the research team found evidence that cancer cells start to spread from the breast to the lung much earlier than was previously thought.

This could mean that if further trials confirm the benefits of the drug, it’s possible it could be routinely used in women with aggressive tumours to try and reduce the risk of them spreading.