Chewing Gum May “Double” As Wearable Sensor 

Who says one can’t walk and chew gum at the same? Not researchers at Manitoba University who have created a new stretchable, wearable sensor out of chewing gum. Their findings are in a recent issue of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Most conventional sensors today (from heart monitors to the ubiquitous FitBits and Jawbones) are very sensitive and detect the slightest movement, but many are made out of metal. As such, when these devices are twisted or pulled too much, they stop working. Researchers have tried to develop more pliable sensors using stretchy plastics and silicones but to no avail. What these materials gained in flexibility, they lost in sensitivity.

Mechanical Engineer Malcolm Xing and colleagues found a better solution right under their noses—and in their mouths. To make their supple sensor, a team member chewed a piece of gum (Doublemint, but any kind would do) for 30 minutes, washed it with ethanol, and let it sit overnight. The researchers then added to the “ABC” or “Already Been Chewed” gum a solution of carbon nanotubes, the sensing material. Simple stretching and folding coaxed the tubes to properly assemble.

Human finger-bending and head-turning tests showed the sticky substance remained working at high sensitivity even when strained 530 percent. The sensor also could detect humidity changes, a feature that could be used to track breathing, which releases water vapor with every exhale.


Music Is Food For The Soul: Music Therapy In Palliative Care

Music therapy has hit the right note in palliative care. From the first inception of palliative care wards in the 1970s, this practice has been present as a creative, complementary approach to improve the quality of life, manage symptoms, regulate emotions, and enhance communication and spiritual experiences for patients. 

Research has repeatedly shown that music can be used to improve learning, cognitive function, and symptoms of diseases like epilepsy and even Alzheimer’s. In the palliative care arena however, these studies have been few and far between and more qualitative in design. A new randomized controlled trial—the gold stand in clinical research—published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International provides rigorous proof that music therapy works better than relaxation exercises in improving the health of terminally ill patients.

Researchers at Heidelberg University split 84 patients in palliative care into two groups. The control group received   verbal relaxation exercises while the other group tuned into live music-based relaxation exercises from a monochord (a wooden instrument with 24 strings typically used in this therapy). After each of the two 30-minute sessions, given two days apart, the participants’ self-reported their rates of relaxation, well-being, and acute pain and had their heart rate and overall quality of life evaluated.

Patients that listened to the music therapy rated higher levels of relaxation and well-being and more elevated heart rates compared to the control group. Additionally, the musically-inclined patients had a significantly greater reduction in the fatigue score on the quality-of-life scale. Pain reduction did not differ between the groups.

The authors write: “The tested relaxation exercise can be used effectively by music therapy practitioners in their work with seriously and terminally ill patients,” which may be music to their ears and souls.

Anchors Away: New Technique Could Prevent Bacterial Mats From Binding To Catheters

A bacteria battle wages inside all our bodies: Several studies indicate that these malevolent microbes outnumber our cells 10 to one. But thanks to a new method developed by Swedish researchers, the odds may slightly veer in our favor.

Bad bacteria frequently coat the surfaces of catheters and of various medical implants, or prostheses, in mats called biofilms. Similar to the plaque that grows on teeth, biofilms can cause life-threatening infections and lead to failure of implants. Biofilm-related infections afflict around 1.7 million people in the United States alone, killing nearly 100,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotics are impotent against biofilms.

University of Gothenburg researchers Jakub Kwiecinski, Tao Jin, and collaborators show that coating implants with a demolition-type protein can prevent Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections, from forming biofilms. Their research will be detailed in a pending issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Biofilms require anchoring. Prior research from this team revealed that S. aureus hijacks the body’s clotting system to create a scaffolding of micro-clots to support the biofilm.

Enter tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which activates the clot-dissolving protein plasminogen. The investigators coated Petri dishes and catheters with tPA that they then implanted into laboratory mice. Mission accomplished: Biofilms were not created in the dishes of devices that had the special coating.                                                                      
The researchers said the clot-busting technique could be applied to biofilms of pathogens other than S. aureus.

Another Use For The Miracle Drug Aspirin: Neurodegenerative Diseases

Headaches, heart attacks…and now Huntington’s. Despite being over 100 years old, aspirin’s healing power does not appear to be slowing down. Researchers report in PLoS One that breakdown products of the little white round pill block death cells associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Lead author Daniel Klessig, a professor at Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., along with scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, discovered that salicylic acid, aspirin’s primary breakdown product, binds to an enzyme called GAPDH, preventing it from moving into the neuronal cell’s nucleus, where it triggers the cell’s demise. The anti-Parkinson’s drug deprenyl also blocks GAPDH via a similar mechanism.

Earlier this year, Klessig’s group identified another novel target of salicylic acid called HMGB1 (High Mobility Group Box 1), a key protein in inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, lupus, sepsis, atherosclerosis, and certain cancers. Low levels of salicylic acid dampened inflammation, with the above-mentioned derivatives being 40 to 70 times more powerful at the same task.

Klessig said that a better understanding of these derivatives “provides great promise for the development of new and better salicylic acid-based treatments of a wide variety of prevalent, devastating diseases.”

There Is No ‘I’ In Team: Multidisciplinary Approach Reduces Readmissions From Falls

It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes one to treat injuries sustained from falls in older adults and reduce hospital readmissions, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

An estimated one in three seniors aged 65 and older falls each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 700,000 are hospitalized for their injuries.

To counter these numbers, the Ford hospital implemented a program that includes specialists in trauma, geriatrics, behavioral health, pharmacy, and physical and occupational therapy, all of whom meet collectively to manage and develop a personalized care plan for each patient. Families are also engaged in the care planning, which has led to safer discharge plans for the home environment.

A team of researchers recently evaluated the quality of care for patients admitted to Henry         Ford’s Trauma Services, analyzing data of 558     patients, half of whom were 80 years of age or older, from 2012 to 2014. The findings were presented at the Trauma Quality and Improvement Program’s annual meeting in Tennessee.

Under the multidisciplinary program, the 30-day readmission rate for falls declined 10 percent from 2012 to 2013 and remained unchanged in 2014. The 30- to 90-day readmission rate from 2012 to 2013 also declined, before rising slightly in 2014.

The collaborative approach also emphasizes early intervention, which was reflected in the quality indicator of length of stay—no hospitalizations were extended. Additionally, 56 percent of patients were found to have suspected delirium with possible dementia.