Stem cell teatment for blindness improves vision & appears safe in research

An experimental treatment for blindness that uses embryonic stem cells appears to be safe, and it improved vision in more than half of the patients who got it, two early studies show.

Researchers followed 18 patients for up to three years after treatment. The studies are the first to show safety of an embryonic stem cell treatment in humans for such a long period.

“It’s a wonderful first step but it doesn’t prove that (stem cells) work,” said Chris Mason, chair of regenerative medicine at University College London, who was not part of the research. He said it was encouraging the studies proved the treatment is safe and dispelled fears about stem cells promoting tumor growth.

Embryonic stem cells, which are recovered from embryos, can become any cell in the body. They are considered controversial by some because they involve destroying an embryo and some critics say adult stem cells, which are derived from tissue samples, should be used instead.

Scientists have long thought about transforming them into specific types of cells to help treat various diseases. In the new research, scientists turned stem cells into retinal cells to treat people with macular degeneration or Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, the leading causes of blindness in adults and children.

In each patient, the retinal cells were injected into the eye that had the worst vision. Ten of the 18 patients later reported they could see better with the treated eye than the other one.

No safety problems were detected. The studies were paid for by the U.S. company that developed the treatment, Advanced Cell Technology, and were published online Tuesday in the journal, Lancet.

Dr. Robert Lanza, one of the study authors, said it was significant the stem cells survived years after the transplant and weren’t wiped out by the patients’ own immune systems.

He said patients have regained their independence with their newfound vision and said some people are now able to use their computers again, read their watches or travel on their own.

“The next step will be to prove these (stem cell) treatments actually work,” Mason said. “Unless there is a sham group where you inject saline into (patients’) eyes, we can’t know for sure that it was the stem cells that were responsible.

Source: The Hindu

Bible of Mental Disorders suffers lack of scientific validity

Psychiatry’s Guide Is Out of Touch With Science, Experts Say

By PAM Belluck and Benedict Carey

Published: May 6, 2013 in New York Times

Just weeks before the long-awaited publication of a new edition of the so-called bible of mental disorders, the federal government’s most prominent psychiatric expert has said the book suffers from a scientific “lack of validity.”

The expert, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in an interview Monday that his goal was to reshape the direction of psychiatric research to focus on biology, genetics and neuroscience so that scientists can define disorders by their causes, rather than their symptoms.

While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M., is the best tool now available for clinicians treating patients and should not be tossed out, he said, it does not reflect the complexity of many disorders, and its way of categorizing mental illnesses should not guide research.

“As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Dr. Insel said, adding, “People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

The revision, known as the D.S.M.-5 and the first since 1994, has stirred unprecedented questioning from the public, patient groups and, most fundamentally, senior figures in psychiatry who have challenged not only decisions about specific diagnoses but the scientific basis of the entire enterprise. Basic research into the biology of mental disorders and treatment has stalled, they say, confounded by the labyrinth of the brain.

Decades of spending on neuroscience have taught scientists mostly what they do not know, undermining some of their most elemental assumptions. Genetic glitches that appear to increase the risk of schizophrenia in one person may predispose others to autism-like symptoms, or bipolar disorder. The mechanisms of the field’s most commonly used drugs — antidepressants like Prozac, and antipsychosis medications like Zyprexa — have revealed nothing about the causes of those disorders. And major drugmakers have scaled back psychiatric drug development, having virtually no new biological “targets” to shoot for.

Dr. Insel is one of a growing number of scientists who think that the field needs an entirely new paradigm for understanding mental disorders, though neither he nor anyone else knows exactly what it will look like.

Even the chairman of the task force making revisions to the D.S.M., Dr. David J. Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, said the new manual was faced with doing the best it could with the scientific evidence available.

“The problem that we’ve had in dealing with the data that we’ve had over the five to 10 years since we began the revision process of D.S.M.-5 is a failure of our neuroscience and biology to give us the level of diagnostic criteria, a level of sensitivity and specificity that we would be able to introduce into the diagnostic manual,” Dr. Kupfer said.

The creators of the D.S.M. in the 1960s and ’70s “were real heroes at the time,” said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Broad Institute and a former director at the National Institute of Mental Health. “They chose a model in which all psychiatric illnesses were represented as categories discontinuous with ‘normal.’ But this is totally wrong in a way they couldn’t have imagined. So in fact what they produced was an absolute scientific nightmare. Many people who get one diagnosis get five diagnoses, but they don’t have five diseases — they have one underlying condition.”

Dr. Hyman, Dr. Insel and other experts said they hoped that the science of psychiatry would follow the direction of cancer research, which is moving from classifying tumors by where they occur in the body to characterizing them by their genetic and molecular signatures.

About two years ago, to spur a move in that direction, Dr. Insel started a federal project called Research Domain Criteria, or RDoC, which he highlighted in a blog post last week.Dr. Insel said in the blog that the National Institute of Mental Health would be “reorienting its research away from D.S.M. categories” because “patients with mental disorders deserve better.” His commentary has created ripples throughout the mental health community.

Dr. Insel said in the interview that his motivation was not to disparage the D.S.M. as a clinical tool, but to encourage researchers and especially outside reviewers who screen proposals for financing from his agency to disregard its categories and investigate the biological underpinnings of disorders instead. He said he had heard from scientists whose proposals to study processes common to depression, schizophrenia and psychosis were rejected by grant reviewers because they cut across D.S.M. disease categories.

“They didn’t get it,” Dr. Insel said of the reviewers. “What we’re trying to do with RDoC is say actually this is a fresh way to think about it.” He added that he hoped researchers would also participate in projects funded through the Obama administration’s new brain initiative.

Dr. Michael First, a psychiatry professor at Columbia who edited the last edition of the manual, said, “RDoC is clearly the way of the future,” although it would take years to get results that could apply to patients. In the meantime, he said, “RDoC can’t do what the D.S.M. does. The D.S.M. is what clinicians use. Patients will always come into offices with symptoms.”

For at least a decade, Dr. First and others said, patients will continue to be diagnosed with D.S.M. categories as a guide, and insurance companies will reimburse with such diagnoses in mind.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the D.S.M., said that the new edition’s refinements were “based on research in the last 20 years that will improve the utility of this guide for practitioners, and improve, however incrementally, the care patients receive.”

He added: “The last thing we want to do is be defensive or apologetic about the state of our field. But at the same time, we’re not satisfied with it either. There’s nothing we’d like better than to have more scientific progress.”

Source: New York Times

UCL Doctors grow nose on cancer patient’s arm

Hat’s off to the technology.. we can look forward to bringing relief to victims of acid attacks, burn injuries, accidents etc.

In a pioneering surgery, a British businessman who lost his nose to cancer is growing a new one – in his arm. If all goes well it will eventually be removed and sewn on to his face with experts at University College London hoping that he will have feeling and a sense of smell too.

The Scientists are planning to use bone marrow cells of a cancer patient, whose nose was surgically removed, to produce a new nose. Then, they will implant it under skin in the man’s arm under controlled laboratory conditions.

It is a pioneering procedure that has to be dealt with efficiency. They will grow two noses in case one of them drops. According to Dr. Alex Seifalian of University College London, nose would be cultivated through the moulds taken from patient’s original nose before it was surgically removed.

These prototypes would be maintained in a bio-reactor. Cells would multiply in the controlled laboratory conditions. Along with this, Seifalian explained that the doctors would introduce a small balloon under the skin of one of the patient’s arPhoto from Topnews.aems. Then the prototypes would be inflated for over a week to help skin stretch for a little while.

Surgeons would implant one of them in the skin of one of the 53-year-old man’s arms. This innovative process would further continue for growth of its skin and build up a normal blood supply. The made-from-scratch sniffer would remain in the arm for four to six weeks. Then, doctors would sew the nose to patients face, open the nostrils and implant cells that allow for the secretion of mucus.

Various news coverage of this path breaking research are available at :

– Mail Today, New Delhi, Thursday, January 24, 20013



Visual E-Book from SIET for Visually Impaired Persons

Dear Colleagues,

SIET launches visual e-book  based on a software which could run on a mobile platform, a tablet PC environment, and on a regular desktop/laptop. Its going to be a major revolution for those with visual disabilities.

Here is the news report from The Hindu.

SIET readies visual e-book

It could help children with special needs.

A sure help for children with special needs, who are irked by the black-on-white constraints of the world of printed books, is the new audio-visual e-book that State Institute of Educational Technology (SIET) has come out with.

The SIET’s new venture is a scaled up version of the ‘dynamic e-textbook’ developed by the instituted some months ago. The institute has already started receiving enquiries about the e-book from various countries, including some African countries.

The e-book also boasts a ‘voice search response’ system, and Braille software complete with a keyboard, in addition to bringing onto a single platform text, audio, video, graphics, animation, and reference tools.

The SIET director Babu Sebastian told The Hindu here that the specialty of the e-book software was that it could run on a mobile platform, a tablet PC environment, and on a regular desktop/laptop. “I will say that our USP of this project, as was with our dynamic e-textbook project, is that we have been able to make it platform-neutral. The software is such that we can convert the soft copy of any textbook into a dynamic audio-visual e-book,” he explained.

As in the case of the ‘dynamic e-textbook’, the e-book would allow to student to listen to a lesson instead of reading it, Dr. Sebastian said . “A visually impaired child can use the voice search facility to ask the e-book to read out a lesson to him. All he has to do is to say clearly the name of the lesson or the page number. The child, if he does not understand a concept, can use the voice command to ask the textbook to explain the same to him or get the meaning of a word from the voice-driven dictionary,” he said. The e-book also had a provision to ‘freeze’ the audio component so that a child with difficulty in hearing can use it effectively.

Much like the dynamic e-textbook, each lesson in the new e-book would have embedded in it pictures, graphics, video clips and animated clips. The ‘book’ would also sport ‘virtual labs’ to help the student understand experiments of various kinds, Dr. Sebastian said.

The e-book boasts a ‘voice search response’ system and Braille software.

To read from source click here: The Hindu

Melbourne woman gets world’s first bionic eye

Melbourne woman gets world’s first bionic eye
Daily Mail

A BIONIC eye has given an Australian woman partial sight and researchers say it is an important step towards eventually helping visually impaired people get around independently.

Dianne Ashworth, who has severe vision loss due to the inherited condition retinitis pigmentosa, was fitted with a prototype bionic eye in May at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

It was switched on a month later, and on Thursday researchers revealed the results.

“ It was really funny when it switched on I was waiting, waiting,” she said.

“ I had these goggles on and I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t know if anyone did know what I was going to see.

“ Then all of a sudden I went ‘ yep’ I could see a little flash and it was like a little, I suppose, a splinter.

“ There were different shapes and dark black, lines of dark black and white lines together.

“ Then that turned into splotches of black with white around them and cloudlike images.

“ I can remember when the first bigger image came I just went ‘ wow’, because I just did not expect it at all but it was amazing.” The bionic eye, designed, built and tested by the Bionic Vision Australia, a consortium of researchers partially funded by the Australian government, is equipped with 24 electrodes with a small wire that extends from the back of the eye to a receptor attached behind the ear.

It is inserted into the choroidal space, the space next to the retina within the eye.

“ The device electrically stimulates the

retina,” said Dr Penny Allen, a specialist surgeon who implanted the prototype.

“ Electrical impulses are passed through the device, which then stimulate the retina. Those impulses then pass back to the brain, creating the image.” The device restores mild vision, where patients are able to pick up major contrasts and edges such as light and dark objects.

Researchers hope to develop it so blind patients can achieve independent mobility.

“ Di is the first patient of three with this prototype device, the next step is analysing the visual information that we are getting from the stimulation,” Allen said.

The operation itself was made simple so it can be readily taught to eye surgeons worldwide.

“ We didn’t want to have a device that was too complex in a surgical approach that was very difficult to learn,” Allen added.

Similar research has been conducted at Cornell University in New York by researchers who have deciphered the neural code, which are the pulses that transfer information to the brain, in mice.

There, researchers have developed a prosthetic device that has succeeded in restoring nearnormal sight to blind mice.

According to the World Health Organization, 39 million people around the world are blind and 246 million have low vision.

“ What we’re going to be doing is restoring a type of vision which is probably going to be black and white, but what we’re hoping to do for these patients who are severely visually impaired is to give them mobility,” Allen said.


A shoe that guides the Blind

Innate Haptic shoe for the blind developed to do away with walking canes

A hand out to someone is on any day way better than closing two hands in prayer, and that is exactly what some brilliant mind out there are determined to inculcate into their lives. Anirudh Sharma a young researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bangalore, India is one such individual who invested his time and mind into developing and all new system for the blind that will allow them to do away with walking stick. The idea for a haptic shoe that guides its blind owner through the city and every nook and corner of the surrounding areas propped up at the Design and Innovation workshop (organized by MIT)in Pune, Maharashtra that took place from 24-28 January.

Called very aptly as “Le Chal” meaning “Take Me” the shoe is fitted with a system that has vibrators at each end of the shoe to indicate direction. For example according to the input from the GPS system via Bluetooth communication the shoe makes vibration in the front, back, left side or right side to indicate the desired direction to move.

This is a very viable solution as compared to some other systems like voice-based navigation systems that can be complex and distracting, not to mention the hefty price tags they carry which can be very expensive for most people. But with the Le Chal shoe all these anomalies are out of the window in one go. The only thing needed to properly operate the navigation system in the shoe is mobile phone with GPS capabilities, so that the user can input the destination via the app specially designed for this mechanism.

The app operates via Google maps, updating the information in real time using the GPS transmitter in the phone. The vibration in the shoe corresponding to the data fed from the information is stronger if the user is close to the destination and weaker if they are not yet there. To calculate the distance of nearby objects there is also a proximity sensor so that the user doesn’t bum into roadblocks, other people or moving vehicles. You can imagine the selflessness of the guy who made this system by the fact that he has plans on releasing the make method of the haptic shoe in a DIY guide, with no intends of making money from it.

How Full is Sophia’s Backpack?

Dear Colleagues,

I am sure you would find this e-book  titled, ” How Full is Sophia’s Backpack?” interesting which is available at