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MRSA prevention one step closer after discovery of bacterial mechanism

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In a bid to create a vaccine, scientists from GSK and Trinity have researched Staphylococcus aureus’s process of immune response disruption.

New research has revealed a trick used by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus to thwart the immune response in the human body, and has raised hope that we are closer to a vaccine to prevent MRSA infections.

This work was carried out by immunologists from Trinity College Dublin and scientists at pharma company GSK.

In their research paper, the scientists cite Staphylococcus aureus as one of the largest healthcare threats, with a reported annual mortality rate in the US greater than that of AIDS, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis combined.

Additionally, as antibiotic resistance (AMR) in bacteria becomes more common, the efficacy of modern medicines will be reduced. The World Health Organization has declared AMR as one of the top 10 global public health threats and said the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials are the main drivers of drug-resistant pathogens.

Staphylococcus aureus is the causative agent of the MRSA ‘superbug’. Due to its antibiotic resistance, there are challenges and reduced options in the treatment of MRSA. This is why the development of a vaccine would be of particular value to healthcare practitioners.

The study from Trinity and GSK found that the bacterium interferes with the host immune response by causing toxic effects on white blood cells, preventing them from engaging in their infection-fighting jobs.

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It also showed in a pre-clinical model that the toxicity could be lessened following vaccination with a mutated version of a protein engineered to disrupt how MRSA works. If this can be replicated in vaccines for humans, researchers would be one step closer in their goal to fight MRSA.

“In this study we have identified a mechanism by which a protein made by the bacterium – known as Staphylococcal Protein A (SpA) – attacks and rapidly kills white blood cells,” Dr Rachel McLoughlin, professor in immunology at Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology and the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, said.

“This protein has been widely studied for its immune evasion capacity and has a well-documented role in rendering antibodies raised against the bacterium non-functional.

“Here, we uncover a previously undocumented strategy by which SpA forms immune complexes through its interaction with host antibodies, that in turn exert toxic effects on multiple white blood cell types. This discovery highlights how important it will be for effective vaccines to be capable of disarming the effects of Protein A.”

The study is the latest advance made by the group at Trinity under an ongoing research agreement with GSK, in which PhD students from Trinity receive training in applied vaccine research in the goal of advancing both academic and industrial research.

Overall, this collaboration aims to increase understanding of the immunology of Staphylococcus aureus infection to advance the development of next-generation vaccines to prevent MRSA infections.

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Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon’s lava tubes • The Register

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Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”

Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge. 

“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.

One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.

Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.

Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth. 

The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.

Robots and lava tubes

The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.

Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.

The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts. 

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”

The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas. 

If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.

Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.

And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®

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Here are the Royal Irish Academy’s newest members from STEM

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14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.

Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.

This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).

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“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.

“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”

Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.

Linda Doyle, TCD

Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.

Geraldine Boylan, UCC

A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.

Mary Cannon, RCSI

Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.

Rónadh Cox, Williams College

One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.

Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council

Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.

Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway

A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.

Fiona Doohan, UCD

Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.

David Jones, QUB

A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.

Patricia Kearney, UCC

Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.

Mairead Kiely, UCC

Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.

Hannah McGee, RCSI

McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.

James P O’Gara, NUI Galway

A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.

Stefan Oscarson, UCD

Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.

Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD

Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Elon Musk denies he sexually harassed attendant on private jet in 2016 | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk has denied claims in a news report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016, calling the accusations “utterly untrue”.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Musk, paid the female attendant $250,000 (£200,000) in a severance settlement after a sexual misconduct claim against the world’s richest person, according to the news website Business Insider.

The attendant was a cabin crew member who was contracted to work for SpaceX’s corporate jet fleet. She accused Musk of exposing his erect penis to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offered to buy her a horse if she performed an erotic massage, according to interviews and documents obtained by Business Insider.

Musk, who is worth $212bn and is also CEO of the electric carmaker Tesla, told his 94.1 million Twitter followers that the allegations were “utterly untrue”. The Guardian has not been able to verify the Business Insider account. SpaceX has been approached for comment.

Shares of the electric carmaker skidded more than 10% on Friday amid concerns that the alleged sexual misconduct and Musk’s previous political comments could threaten to damage Tesla’s brand and sales. The share drop knocked about $66bn off Tesla’s market value and put the stock at its lowest since last August.

And, for the record, those wild accusations are utterly untrue

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The alleged incident took place in 2016 and the settlement was agreed in 2018. According to a declaration prepared in support of the claim, the attendant said that after taking the job she was encouraged to train as a masseuse so she could give Musk massages. It was during one of those massages, onboard Musk’s Gulfstream jet, that she was propositioned by the SpaceX chief executive.

The attendant, who Insider does not name, told her friend that she was asked to go to Musk’s cabin during a flight to London to give a “full body massage”. Upon entering the room, she found Musk was “completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body”. The declaration says that during the massage Musk “exposed his genitals” and “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more’, referring to the performance of sex acts”. The attendant, a horse rider, declined and continued with the massage without any sexual activity.

In an interview with Business Insider about the allegations, the attendant’s friend said Musk’s penis was erect when he propositioned her.

According to the declaration, after the incident the attendant felt she was being marginalised in her job. She felt “she was being pushed out and punished for refusing to prostitute herself”, says the declaration.

The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The attendant hired a lawyer in 2018 and sent the allegations to SpaceX’s HR department. The complaint was resolved after a session with a mediator attended by Musk, according to Insider. In November of that year, Musk, SpaceX and the attendant entered into a severance agreement that involved a $250,000 payment in exchange for a pledge not to sue over the claims.

Responding to Insider’s story, Musk told the news site that there was “a lot more to this story”. He wrote: “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light,” adding that the story was a “politically motivated hit piece”.

Without referring directly to the article, Musk tweeted on Friday that attacks against him should be “viewed through a political lens” and that he would continue to fight for “your right to free speech”. Musk said on Wednesday that he would vote Republican instead of Democratic, predicting a “dirty tricks campaign against me” would follow.

Musk has agreed to buy Twitter, the social media company with 229 million users, for $44bn but has said the deal is “on hold” until he receives further details of the number of fake and spam accounts on the platform.

Reuters contributed to this report



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