Category Archives: Science

HTC announces Android 4.3 for One coming this week

President of HTC America Jason Mackenzie posted on Twitter that the Android 4.3 and the latest version of Sense will hit HTC One Developer Edition smartphones starting this week. This will be followed by Canadian HTC One owners by the end of the month.

Since service providers need to give the final go-ahead for carrier branded units, specific dates have not been provided. Mackenzie sent out a second tweet regarding US carrier certification, although this one was even more vague in regards to anything other than “soon.”

We’re still working hard & optimistic for U.S. carrier certification – stay tuned to @HTCUSA for more news soon.

— Jason Mackenzie (@JasonMacHTC) September 23, 2013

Good news – the latest Sense experience & Android 4.3 will push to One Dev Edition owners this week & One customers in Canada by month end.

— Jason Mackenzie (@JasonMacHTC) September 23, 2013

Meanwhile, HTC One users in Taiwan are already reporting they are getting the Android 4.3 OTA notification.

HTC One in Taiwan just started getting Android 4.3

— LlabTooFeR (@LlabTooFeR) September 24, 2013

Mackenzie also updated us on the state of the pending Droid DNA update. The US variant of the HTC Butterfly is slated to get the Sense 5-enabled version of Jelly Bean by year’s end, although it will only be getting version 4.2.2.

Regarding Droid DNA. Update and clarification is that DNA customers will get new Sense experiences (w/ 4.2.2) before end of year.

— Jason Mackenzie (@JasonMacHTC) September 23, 2013

Here’s hoping that European owners of the One won’t be left high and dry among all the update goodness. We’ll post any news on that front as soon as we get it.


Father’s Experiment in DNA Hacking Yields Daughter’s Diagnosis

genesequencingOf all the possibilities for “do-it-yourself” home projects—think go-carts, potato guns, and barbecue pits—chances are “sequencing DNA” isn’t on your list. But after going from doctor to doctor with his daughter Beatrice and getting little in the way of answers as to why she was unable to increase her muscle mass, Hugh Rienhoff Jr., MD, a biotech entrepreneur in California, took matters into his own hands. He bought equipment to sequence and study his daughter’s DNA at home, all by himself.

Rienhoff has become the poster boy for personal genetics, especially after a 2009 Wired piece about his daughter’s illness reached newsstands. Almost immediately after her birth in 2003, Rienhoff noticed something was wrong with his youngest child, Beatrice, or Bea for short. She appeared to have been born with some type of genetic disorder that caused her to be incredibly frail.

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Unfortunately, though her symptoms seemed to suggest Marfan or Beals syndrome, doctors couldn’t find the culprit. And while physical therapy has helped, she remains weak. Now, the worry is that her disorder could affect her heart and lead to cardiovascular complications.

Nearly a decade after his quest began, Rienhoff still doesn’t have all the answers, but he has found the small mutation that is the likely cause of his daughter’s symptoms.

In 2009, Bea and the Rienhoff family became a test group for exome-sequencing technology at Illumina, a genome-sequencing company in San Diego, Calif. Exome-sequencing is different from genome sequencing in that it looks at the protein-encoding portion of a person’s DNA. 

Bea’s exome includes an individual mutation in a gene that encodes a growth factor known as TGF-?3. Further experiments have shown that the faulty gene produces a non-functional protein, essentially disrupting the communication of and directions for a growth protein.

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Bea’s gene mutation is changing the way her genes control cell growth, differentiation, and death. This entirely new mutation wouldn’t have been found if Rienhoff hadn’t taken his daughter’s health and well being into his own hands almost 10 years ago.

Reinhoff’s Background in Genetics

Even before Bea’s birth, Rienhoff was a player in the study of genetics. In a 2000 letter to the editor, he disagreed with the sentiment that genetic information won’t aid in making diagnoses, along with medical information provided in a family history. “Genetic information will be an improvement over the family history and, like the family history, will be used largely to set prior probabilities, not to make definitive diagnoses,” wrote Rienhoff in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The claim that no interventions based on the identification of disease-related genes have yet proved safe and effective is premature, Rienhoff wrote. “This would be akin to saying, in 1900, that no interventions based on the identification of disease-related microbes have yet proved safe and effective,” he wrote to the NEJM. That would essentially be the same as saying that identifying viruses in order to create vaccines to fight them isn’t a good use of resources, something we now know is essential to the successful production of lifesaving vaccinations.

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Let’s hope that a hundred years from now researchers look back at Rienhoff’s experiments as the start of a new approach to genetic study. While Bea’s condition isn’t yet defined, Rienhoff has a direction in which to look. The next steps include animal studies and, ideally, finding a living adult who displays Bea’s genetic mutation.

Scientists create human liver from stem cells

By Kate Kelland

stem cellLONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have for the first time created a functional human liver from stem cells derived from skin and blood and say their success points to a future where much-needed livers and other transplant organs could be made in a laboratory.

While it may take another 10 years before lab-grown livers could be used to treat patients, the Japanese scientists say they now have important proof of concept that paves the way for more ambitious organ-growing experiments.

“The promise of an off-the-shelf liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago,” said Dusko Illic, a stem cell expert at King’s College London who was not directly involved in the research but praised its success.

He said however that while the technique looks “very promising” and represents a huge step forward, “there is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine.”

Researchers around the world have been studying stem cells from various sources for more than a decade, hoping to capitalize on their ability to transform into a wide variety of other kinds of cell to treat a range of health conditions.

There are two main forms of stem cells – embryonic stem cells, which are harvested from embryos, and reprogrammed “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS cells), often taken from skin or blood.

Countries across the world have a critical shortage of donor organs for treating patients with liver, kidney, heart and other organ failure. Scientists are keenly aware of the need to find other ways of obtaining organs for transplant.

The Japanese team, based at the Okohama City University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, used iPS cells to make three different cell types that would normally combine in the natural formation of a human liver in a developing embryo – hepatic endoderm cells, mesenchymal stem cells and endothelial cells – and mixed them together to see if they would grow.

They found the cells did grow and began to form three-dimensional structures called “liver buds” – a collection of liver cells with the potential to develop into a full organ.

When they transplanted them into mice, the researchers found the human liver buds matured, the human blood vessels connected to the mouse host’s blood vessels and they began to perform many of the functions of mature human liver cells.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report demonstrating the generation of a functional human organ from pluripotent stem cells,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.

Malcolm Allison, a stem cell expert at Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the research, said the study’s results offered “the distinct possibility of being able to create mini livers from the skin cells of a patient dying of liver failure” and transplant them to boost the failing organ.

Takanori Takebe, who led the study, told a teleconference he was so encouraged by the success of this work that he plans similar research on other organs such as the pancreas and lungs.

A team of American researchers said in April they had created a rat kidney in a lab that was able to function like a natural one, but their method used a “scaffold” structure from a kidney to build a new organ.

And in May last year, British researchers said they had turned skin cells into beating heart tissue that might one day be able to be used to treat heart failure.

That livers and other organs may one day be made from iPS cells is an “exciting” prospect, said Matthew Smalley of Cardiff University’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute.

“(This) study holds out real promise for a viable alternative approach to human organ transplants,” he said.

Chris Mason, a regenerative medicine expert at University College London said the greatest impact of iPS cell-liver buds might be in their use in improving drug development.

“Presently to study the metabolism and toxicology of potential new drugs, human cadaveric liver cells are used, ” he said. “Unfortunately these are only available in very limited quantities”.

The suggestion from this new study is that mice transplanted with human iPS cell-liver buds might be used to test new drugs to see how the human liver would cope with them and whether they might have side-effects such as liver toxicity.


‘Star Trek’ on Pluto? It Could Really Happen, Scientists Say

'Star_Trek'_on_PlutoWhile the naming gods have swatted away an attempt to christen one of Pluto’s newfound moons “Vulcan,” the “Star Trek” universe may still leave its mark on the dwarf planet soon enough.

After NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gets the first up-close views of Pluto in 2015, craters, mountains and other features spotted on the dwarf planet’s surface could bear the names of famous “Star Trek” characters, researchers said.

“We might have craters called Sulu and Spock and Kirk and McCoy and so on,” Mark Showalter of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif., said during a Google+ Hangout today (July 2). [Photos of Pluto and Its Moons]

Showalter led the team that used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to discover Pluto’s two smallest known moons, which were announced in 2011 and 2012 with the pedestrian names P4 and P5, respectively. P4 is thought to be 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 kilometers) wide, while P5 is tinier still at 6 to 15 miles (10 to 25 km) across.

The SETI Institute sponsored an online poll called Pluto Rocks to come up with better monikers for the two natural satellites. The runaway winner of the poll was Vulcan, which snagged 170,000 of the nearly 500,000 votes cast after it was suggested by actor William Shatner (who played Capt. James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series). In the “Star Trek” universe, Vulcan is the name of both a planet and the pointy-eared beings who evolved there.

However, the International Astronomical Union — the organization responsible for naming celestial objects — nixed the name.

According to IAU rules, Pluto’s moons must be named after characters associated with the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. This connection was deemed too tenuous in the case of Vulcan (the ancient Roman god of fire and volcanoes), SETI officials said, adding that the name has also already been used in astronomy. (For example, Vulcan was a hypothetical planet once thought to orbit between Mercury and the sun.)

The IAU accepted the second- and third-place finishers in the Pluto Rocks poll, so P4 and P5 are now officially known as Kerberos (the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld) and Styx (the river separating the land of the living from that of the dead), respectively.

Some of the other candidates from the contest will likely find new life as the names of Pluto surface features spotted by the New Horizons probe, which is slated to fly by the dwarf planet in July 2015.

For example, Showalter said that if a large mountain exists on Pluto, it should bear the name of Sisyphus, a human condemned for all eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again.

Scientists have much more freedom in naming the surface features of planets and moons than they do in attaching monikers to the celestial bodies themselves, Showalter added. So craters, valleys and plains may get all sorts of interesting names, some of them of much more recent origin.

“We know there are a lot of fans out there of the animated works of Walt Disney, and I’m hoping that someday Pluto will give us a place in which we can put the name of Mickey [Mouse] into the Pluto system as well,” Showalter said.

Pluto has five known moons. The largest by far, Charon, was discovered in 1978. Hubble detected the other four, finding Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011 and Styx in 2012.

There could be more Pluto satellites out there waiting to be discovered and named, however.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we pick up a few more as the New Horizons spacecraft gets a little closer,” Showalter said.