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Towards cure newsletter — limbs regeneration, open brain research, living cell simulation, and Omicron

Issue #004 | By Chris Ng, Zak Song

Happy new year everyone! Hope y’all have a very tigery year of tiger. While indulging in the festive delicacies, don’t forget the brainfood we prepared for you!

Topics in this issue include regeneration of amputated limb, the ethical challenges with invasive research during open brain surgery, simulating an entire living cell on a computer, HKU’s finding on Omicron’s pathogenicity, and the reason behind why we are working hard.

The briefing

News and stories from the frontier of medicine

1. Bionics or biolimbs? Regeneration of amputated adult frog limb after immersion of cocktail multi-drug therapy

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

If in an unfortunate incident you get your limbs amputated in an accident in the future, should you choose to have a bionic prosthesis or have your limbs regenerated? Bizarre as it may sound for the latter, scientists have recently discovered a way to regenerate amputated limbs from adult frogs, which has limited regeneration capabilities similar to humans, with musculoskeletal and neurovascular structures for a long-term (18 months) after exposure to a multi-drug, pro-regeneration treatment for 24 hours. While this could pave the way to a promising therapy for regenerative medicine, a lot of work has to be done to bridge this therapy to humans while avoiding the deadly complication — cancer. (Science Advances)

2. Experimenting your brain: Ethical codes needed

Dagmar Turner, a UK violinist playing violin during awake neurosurgery. Source: Sky News.

Our progress in neuroscience is often limited by our abilities to collect data from the human brain, and good quality data from our brain almost always require invasive procedures and implants to record the neural signals. However, these studies are often performed by neurosurgeons on their patients who have to undergo neurosurgery but may not be relevant to the operation nor directly beneficial to the patient, such as the cortical homunculus mapped by Canadian neurosurgeon Dr Wilder Penfield since the 1930s. This raises an ethical question: Are we exploiting our patients? And how can we prevent this from happening? A new set of ethical frameworks for intracranial research was recently published at Neuron, looking toward more ethical research on our way to better cures in neuroscience. (Science, Neuron)

3. Welcome to the metaboliverse — scientists created a fully simulated cell on a computer

Reproduced from Thomberg et al., 2022. See Creative Commons license.

Every living cell contains countless components interacting in seemingly chaotic but actually high controlled ways. To better understand the principles underlying these extremely complex interactions, a team of researchers created a live 3D simulation of the G1 cell phase of a simplified mycoplasma (a genus of parasitic bacteria) cell. The simulation lasted for 20 minutes, making this the longest and most complex whole-cell simulation so far.

“What we found is that fundamental behaviors emerge from the simulated cell — not because we programmed them in, but because we had the kinetic parameters and lipid mechanisms correct in our model,” said the co-director of the centre behind this study; the simulated cell used most of its energy for what you would expect from a parasitic cell — transporting substances from the outside.

Although simulation of more complex structures like eukaryotic cells, not to mention multicellular tissues, is still an extremely difficult task, more accurate whole-cell simulation, together with advances in biological structure prediction and 3D genomics are allowing biologists to unveil the secrets of cells in the third dimension. (University of Illinois, Cell)

On Sassoon Rd

News and stories about research at HKUMed

Attenuated replication and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant

Photo by CDC.

Is Omicron the light at end of the pandemic? Although the Omicron variant is known to evade immunity, HKUMed researchers have found that the Omicron variant had a markedly reduced replication and pathogenicity when compared to the SARS-CoV-2 wild-type, Alpha, Beta, and Delta variant due to the decreased usage of the enzyme, TMPRSS2. While this brings hope to the end of the pandemic and the COVID-19 restrictions (depending on where you live), this matter remains controversial as there are still many ways the virus can evolve. Time will reveal the solution, but in the meantime getting vaccinated is still largely effective against Omicron infection and hospitalisation. (Nature, Time, NEJM)

From the editors

News and stories written by the editors of Towards cure

Anti-ageing vaccines

Living longer and healthier has always been the dream of many, and scientists nowadays are developing a vaccine that can slow down ageing and prolong our lifespan. Check out our article on anti-aging vaccines below! (Towards cure)

Interesting nonetheless

Cool stuffs we found whoes link to medicine are less obvious

Yes we medics work hard, but why is work hard in the first place? (blog)

Most people consider work a means to generate income, and you are lucky if you happen to enjoy what you do for work.

The problem is, why isn’t it the other way round: you work because you enjoy doing it, and you’re lucky if it pays well?

After all, most adults spend more than half of their waking time working — or suffering if you don’t enjoy your work. Why would anyone choose to pay the price of long-term pain for the short-term pleasure in return? You may find the answer in this classic essay by Paul Graham — the founder of YC, a start-up incubator who helped made AirBnB, Reddit, and Coinbase. (Paul Graham)

That’s all for this week. Make sure to get your friends to sign up here if you like what we write!

Please do not hesitate to contact us (futureofmedicine.2021@gmail.com) if you have any comments, suggestions, or feedback for our content!

We welcome contributions from absolutely everyone who’s excited about the future of medicine! Please shoot us an email or DM any of the admins of Future of Medicine if you want to write for Towards cure or Towards cure newsletter.

See you next Tuesday!

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News and stories in the world of biomedical tech and science, brought to you by the curious minds from the Future of Medicine society at HKU.

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