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Category: medicine

NHS could trade free cinema tickets for hitting fitness goals

Just as insurers are looking to wearables to motivate people to lead healthier lifestyles, the NHS is now also exploring a scheme that would reward active participants with discounts on shopping, fitness gear and gym memberships, as well as free cinema tickets. The concept programme would use a mobile app to track exercise and encourage people to hit targets in order to earn such bounties. The end goal being, naturally, to promote healthier lifestyles and thus "reduce pressure on the NHS."

The proposal forms part of a winning bid in NHS England's "Healthy New Towns" programme, launched last year. The NHS is working with ten new housing developments with the aim to "put good health at the heart of urban design and planning." The rewards scheme is one of several ideas cooked up by the city planning researchers at Citiesmode for the Halton Lea site in Cheshire. Other facets to the plan include public gym equipment, running tracks marked out on pavements, healthy cooking lessons for locals, free bicycles, and potentially even an outdoor cinema and community space to encourage people to get off the couch and socialise.

The final proposal and implementation strategy for the Halton Lea site is expected to be published in January next year, so it's all very much in the concept stage at this point. The activity-related rewards scheme would also need retail partners to get off the ground, but that's not inconceivable. UK insurer Vitality already offers discounted fitness trackers and a tradable points system for meeting exercise goals, for instance. Similar schemes exist elsewhere, too, showing that it's not a great stretch to imagine an NHS-backed version could also work.

Via: Huffington Post

Source: NHS England, Citiesmode

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High-powered microscope can scan cells without destroying them

Confocal microscopes are pretty wild. The instruments can capture cell division in realtime, but the downside is the lasers in existing ones tend to fry the cells they're studying. Researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology may have found a way around that, though. explains that professors Du Shenwang and Michael Loy have developed a microscope that's "1,000 times less photo-toxic" than what's available currently.

The laser used on previous 'scopes was a million times the strength of summer sunlight, says, which had a fatal effect on cells. Kind of like if you'd spent too much time staring at the eclipse today without protective eyewear.

In addition to being around 1,000 times faster than previous models, Shenwang said that this could grant scientists the ability to see how certain diseases are formed at the cellular level. This has been your confocal microscope update for the day.


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Researchers use encryption to keep patients’ DNA private

There are a lot of valid security concerns when it comes to genetic testing and keeping your genome under wraps. But researchers at Stanford University have figured out a way to keep the vast majority of your genomic data hidden while looking for disease-associated mutations. The work was recently published in Science.

When trying to figure out which genetic mutations cause disease and which are associated with healthy individuals, researchers have in the past had to compare whole genomes of thousands of people. But with this work, scientists have shown that a whole genome isn't necessary and there are ways of keeping all of the irrelevant genetic data private. "There is a general conception that we can only find meaningful differences by surveying the entire genome," said Gill Bejerano, an author of the study, in a statement. "But these meaningful differences make up only a very tiny proportion of our DNA. There are now amazing tools in computer science and cryptography that allow researchers to pinpoint only these differences while keeping the remainder of the genome completely private."

What the research team did was create a way for patients to encrypt their genome and report whether their genome analysis showed the presence of particular gene variants. That information was then uploaded to the cloud and researchers were able to reveal only the gene variants that were pertinent to their study. Around 97 percent of the participants' genomes were kept hidden and were only ever viewed in full by the participants themselves. "These are techniques that the cryptography community has been developing for some time," said Dan Boneh, another author of the study. "Now we are applying them to biology."

Ultimately, this means that patients' genetic data can remain private while also being used for study. "We now have the tools in hand to make certain that genomic discrimination doesn't happen," said Bejerano. "There are ways to simultaneously share and protect this information."

Via: Gizmodo

Source: Science, Stanford

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Scientists find a much faster way to classify our cells

Researchers have created a new technique for identifying cell types much quicker than ever before, a finding that could improve disease diagnoses and treatments. While there are many types of cells in our bodies (red blood cells, spindle neurons, etc.), scientists don't know the exact number, because current microscope techniques are slow and laborious. By tagging cells with molecular markers, however, the team was able to read their unique RNA combinations like a bar code at exponentially higher speeds.

Here's how it works: Cells are first placed into wells, where molecular markers attach themselves to each RNA strand. The process is repeated, and eventually each cell type has a unique combination of tags on its RNA molecules. The team can then break the cells open chemically and read back the sequences of tags. "We came up with this scheme that allows us to look at very large numbers of cells at the same time, without ever isolating a single cell," Dr. Jay Shender told the New York Times.

The team tested it using 150,000 cells from Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm), a tiny worm that has been model for biological research since the 1960s. They not only identified the 27 known cell types, but were able to break them down into groups with mildly different gene arrangements. That includes 40 different neuron types, including a rare example that only forms one cell in very few worms.

We came up with this scheme that allows us to look at very large numbers of cells at the same time, without ever isolating a single cell.

Those results are exciting, but the system doesn't work all the time. With roundworms, for instance, it failed to identify 78 different types of previously identified neurons. "Of course, there is more to do, but I am pretty optimistic that this can be solved," said Rockefeller University's Cori Bargmann, who wasn't directly involved in the study.

The research also must be adapted to the complexities of the human body. Nevertheless, it's very promising, particularly for the Human Cell Atlas initiative being funded in part by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. That aims to map every cell in the human body, providing a baseline to compare healthy cells with diseased ones.

The study could reveal signature for pathology, better record cell-to-cell interactions and help scientists interpret genetic variants. The ultimate goal is to "discover targets for therapeutic intervention and ... drive the development of new technologies and and advanced analysis techniques." Much like with new gene sequencing techniques, it could help push medicine and treatments to a new level.

Source: Science

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Samsung’s Gear VR app provides help to the visually impaired

Samsung isn't just using VR headsets as a means of boosting phone sales. The company's C-Lab has launched Relumino, a Gear VR app that uses augmented reality to compensate for vision problems. It can magnify the picture or adjust the contrast of what you're looking at if it's just a question of clarity, but it can also remap your field of view (to deal with blind spots or tunnel vision), outline objects and filter colors.

The app is free in the Oculus Store, and don't be dissuaded by the Korean-only product page -- it supports English.

Yes, it would be awkward and impractical to walk around wearing a VR headset (and your phone) at all times, so the current app is more for special situations. And Samsung knows it -- the Relumino team hopes to develop "glasses-like" hardware that achieves similar results without drawing attention to wearers or adding too much bulk. Even in its current state, though, this could be valuable for any visually impaired person who'd like to supplement their eyesight without springing for expensive specialized equipment.

Source: Samsung Newsroom, Relumino

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