News Notes: Headlines in science and innovation

An occasional roundup of news items Vector finds noteworthy.

Zika’s surface in stunning detail; mosquito tactics

Zika virus
(Purdue University image/courtesy of Kuhn and Rossmann research groups)

We haven’t curbed the Zika epidemic yet. But cryo-electron microscopy — a newer, faster alternative to X-ray crystallography — at least reveals the structure of the virus, which has been linked to microcephaly (though not yet definitively). The anatomy of the virus’s projections gives clues to how the virus is able to attach to and infect cells, and could provide toeholds for developing antiviral treatments and vaccines. Read coverage in the Washington Post and see the full paper in Science.

Meanwhile, as The New York Times reports, scientists are coming together in an effort to control Zika by genetically manipulating the mosquito that spreads it, Aedes aegypti.

Theranos: Too good to be true?  

finger stick blood test

Vector and others hailed Theranos’s quest to provide simple point-of-care blood tests for consumers. But many doubts have cropped up over the past year over the technology. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal recap new questions that have emerged in the past couple of weeks about quality control at the startup. The Wall Street Journal posted a 100+ page list (PDF) detailing deficiencies of Theranos’s laboratory process from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Can applying electricity jump-start an injured spinal cord?

epidural stimulation of spinal cord
(National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering)

STAT reports on the promising quest of a UCLA researcher to jolt severed spinal cords back to life. Through his technique, known as epidural stimulation, nearly a dozen paralyzed men have regained the ability to move their own limbs, control their bladders and bowels, function sexually. stand upright — and with assistance, take steps. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has a crowdfunding site to support a clinical trial.

Microbes Meet Cancer

This in-depth feature in The Scientist explores the mounting evidence that the human microbiome influences inflammation and immune function — thereby modulating cancer risk and our response to cancer treatment.

When the force is with cancer

Writing in The Scientist, Mass. General Hospital’s Lance Munn and Rakesh Jain review research on how various kinds of pressure in tumors (or release of those forces) might influence a tumor’s spread. One major force is increased fluid pressure — due to tumor angiogenesis and an infiltration of leaky blood vessels. Another could be simply burgeoning tumor cells pressing against their neighbors.

3-D printing brings pride to prosthetics

Forget skin tones. A company in Lake Placid, NY is allowing consumers to design colorful, custom-made covers for their prosthetic legs that reflect their tastes and who they are, reports NPR’s Shots blog.

Digital health funding was robust in Q1

Digital health funding is on the rise and the industry is maturing, according to a StartUp Health report. The sector received a record-setting amount for the first quarter of 2016. New York and San Francisco top the list in terms of dollars, Boston at $79M is a distant third. The top three categories for investment were big data/analytics, medical devices and patient/consumer experience.

Hackathon cartoon-Irina Bezyanova-Shutterstock

Hackathons for all

Hackathons have jumped the boundaries of the tech industry, write two partners from Bain & Company in Harvard Business Review. They are helping companies from banks to restaurants brainstorm, prototype new ideas and refocus their offerings.