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Pooping on Airplanes Could Contribute to Public Health Research

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Pooping on that 12 hour flight may be a public health service. Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark are siphoning off the sludge from international airline flights and using it to study the spread of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. 

In a study in Scientific Reports, they break down their analysis of 18 different airplanes that arrived in Copenhagen from nine different cities around the world, looking for the presence of things like Salmonella and Clostridium difficile

The team found that Salmonella was more prevalent in poop arriving from Southeast Asia, while the sludge from planes arriving from North America was more likely to contain C. difficile (a bacteria that causes a nasty drug-resistant infection). Planes arriving from Asia had higher rates of DNA from drug-resistant bacteria strains overall. 

The study indicates that planes could be a prime place for analysis on global health trends, including tracking the spread of infectious diseases—before an epidemic makes its way into doctors' reports and onto the radars of governmental disease control organizations. However, analyzing bacterial DNA for the presence of disease can be tricky: Scientists recently revised a widely reported study that mentioned the potential presence of bubonic plague bacterial DNA on the New York City subway, clarifying that the genetic evidence of the bubonic plague on the subway doesn’t necessarily correspond to organisms that would get people sick. But researchers might be able to learn from sudden upticks in different genetic material in plane waste. So the next time you are locked in a cramped airplane bathroom during turbulence, think of the public service you’re doo-doing. 

[h/t: Wired]

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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