Hi everyone, I’m Larry Tabak. I’ve served as NIH’s Principal Deputy Director for over 11 years, and I will be the acting NIH director until a new permanent director is named. In my new role, my day-to-day responsibilities will certainly increase, but I promise to carve out time to blog about some of the latest research progress on COVID-19 and any other areas of science that catch my eye.
I’ve also invited the directors of NIH’s Institutes and Centers (ICs) to join me in the blogosphere and write about some of the cool science in their research portfolios. I will publish a couple of posts to start, then turn the blog over to our first IC director. From there, I envision alternating between posts from me and from various IC directors. That way, we’ll cover a broad array of NIH science and the tremendous opportunities now being pursued in biomedical research.
Since I’m up first, let’s start where the NIH Director’s Blog usually begins each year: by taking a look back at Science’s Breakthroughs of 2021. The breakthroughs were formally announced in December near the height of the holiday bustle. In case you missed the announcement, the biomedical sciences accounted for six of the journal Science’s 10 breakthroughs. Here, I’ll focus on four biomedical breakthroughs, the ones that NIH has played some role in advancing, starting with Science’s editorial and People’s Choice top-prize winner:
Hackers breached the computer networks of a southeast Florida health care system in October and may have accessed sensitive personal and financial information on over 1.3 million people, the health care system announced this week.
Social Security numbers, patient medical history and bank account information are among the data that have been exposed in the breach of Broward Health, a network of over 30 health care facilities serving patients across roughly 2 million-person Broward County, Florida, according to a notice the health care provider filed with the Office of the Maine Attorney General.
About 470 of the data breach victims live in Maine. Like other states, Maine law requires organizations that hold state residents’ personal data to file a disclosure when they’ve been hacked.
A cheap, widely available drug used to treat mental illness cuts both the risk of death from COVID-19 and the need for people with the disease to receive intensive medical care, according to clinical-trial results1. The drug, called fluvoxamine, is taken for conditions including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But it is also known to dampen immune responses and temper tissue damage, and researchers credit these properties with its success in the recent trial. Among study participants who took the drug as directed and did so in the early stages of the disease, COVID-19-related deaths fell by roughly 90% and the need for intensive COVID-19-related medical care fell by roughly 65%.
Study co-author Angela Reiersen, a psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, has long been interested in using fluvoxamine to treat a rare genetic condition. While monitoring the fluvoxamine literature before the pandemic, she came across a 2019 study showing that fluvoxamine reduced inflammation in mice with sepsis2. When COVID-19 hit, “I immediately thought back to that paper with the mice,” she says.
Reiersen and her colleagues partnered with the organizers of the TOGETHER Trial, which aims to identify approved drugs that can be repurposed to treat COVID-19. The team’s study included 1,497 people in Brazil who had COVID-19 and were at high risk of severe disease. Roughly half received fluvoxamine, and the rest received a placebo.
The trial’s results, published on 27 October, mean that fluvoxamine is one of a handful of therapies that show strong evidence of preventing progression from mild to severe COVID-19. The only early-stage treatments currently recommended by the US National Institutes of Health are monoclonal antibodies, which are costly and difficult to administer in an outpatient setting.
If you had a few hundred experiments to manage during your days in space, how would you blow off steam in your spare time?
A badminton match was the activity of choice for International Space Station astronauts and spaceflight participants during the holidays. You can catch a short video of the activities of several crew members of Expedition 66 below; make sure to rotate it so you can watch the crew members working in 360 degrees.
The module they are using is the Japanese Kibo module, which is a common location for crews to conduct press conferences. The Kibo module also has a little more space for physical activities than some of the other ones, especially since there are no laptops or delicate experiments crowding the walls.
Space agencies around the world ask their astronauts to exercise for about 90 minutes to two hours a day, which does everything from keeping their bones and muscles secure for Earth living again, to providing mental well-being.
While the match was all in good fun, professional astronauts have a long-term goal of studying medicine on the International Space Station, both to prepare for long-duration missions to the moon and also to help seniors on Earth.
With plans for a nationwide rollout in the United States.
While the coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly brought grave hardships to most of us, it has also provided some opportunity for innovation. At this year’s CES 2022, the world’s largest technology show that takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada, the tech startup Ottonomy IO presented tremendous progress in building fleets of autonomous delivery robots. Its machines have already been employed at retail locations around the U.S., with a very real possibility they are coming to a store or drive-through near you soon.
How the robots work. At CES, Ottonomy IO explained how its robot delivery service functions. Once you make an order online through an app, the package you ordered gets placed in a cart-like robot, which navigates to a designated pickup location, which can be quite flexible. After the robot finds you, it scans your phone, then opens up a secure locker inside, allowing you to pick up your package. One major advantage of this human-less process from a Covid-safety standpoint is that the whole interaction is contactless.
New Zealand’s fossil record of land dinosaurs is poor, with just a few bones, but the collection of ancient extinct marine reptiles is remarkable, including shark-like mosasaurs and long-necked plesiosaurs.
Plesiosaurs first appeared in the fossil record around 200 million years ago and died off, alongside dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.
They are best known for the fanciful but appealing idea, suggested by British scientist Sir Peter Scott, that the fabled Loch Ness monster was in fact a plesiosaur that somehow outlasted all other giant reptiles and remained undetected throughout human history.
The “Robotics in Healthcare” Challenge is about the interaction of robotic systems with humans in medical applications. For this purpose, we are looking for ideas around the topic of diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment in the healthcare and nursing sector. We encourage participants to submit a concept that uses a robotic system to improve the ability to monitor health and prevent, detect, treat, and manage disease, as well as to test and demonstrate new models and tools for health and care delivery. We are looking for solutions that will enable new robotic use cases for the future of healthcare. You can win 20,000 Euros.
Call for Participation: Until 7 January 2022 you can apply with your innovative concepts to the Medical Robotics Challenge!
A team of chemists at McMaster University has discovered an innovative way to break down and dissolve the rubber used in automobile tires, a process which could lead to new recycling methods that have so far proven to be expensive, difficult and largely inefficient.
The method, outlined in the journal Green Chemistry, addresses the enormous environmental burden posed by tires, approximately 3 billion of which were manufactured and purchased worldwide in 2019. Most of those will end up in massive landfills or storage facilities, ultimately leaching contaminants into the ecosystem.
In 1990, a massive fire continued to burn out-of-control in a pile of 14 million scrap tires near Hagersville, Ontario. It continued for 17 days, spewing toxic smoke into the environment, and drove 4,000 residents from their homes. The fire has been linked to many long-term health issues, including rare cancers among the firefighters who worked on scene for days.
The research study of Spanish clinical neuropsychologist Gabriel G. De la Torre, Does artificial intelligence dream of non-terrestrial techno-signatures?, suggests that one of the “potential applications of artificial intelligence is not only to assist in big data analysis but to help to discern possible artificiality or oddities in patterns of either radio signals, megastructures or techno-signatures in general.”
“Our form of life and intelligence,” observed Silvano P. Colombano at NASA’s Ames Research Center who was not involved in the study, “may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon ” machinery.”