Cerebral palsy patients at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, New York are seeing positive results from robotics enhanced movement therapy. Initially developed for stroke victims, the MIT-MANUS robot has made strides in cerebral palsy therapy. From walking machines to computer simulations in which patients control a robotic hand that reaches, grips and moves objects on a screen, robotics therapy helps to recreate connections in the brain that send the correct signals for movement. The therapy promises to be especially helpful to children, whose brains are still developing movement connections, which then have only to be repaired, rather than rebuilt from scratch.
Scientists and patients battling cancer got their hands on a new weapon this week. Researchers at Oxford University have put a leash on the common adenovirus and trained it to attack cancer cells while leaving healthy normal cells alone. By disarming certain pieces of mRNA in the virus, it is rendered unable to harm healthy liver cells. But the process doesn’t stop it from replicating in and destroying tumor cells, turning the adenovirus into a seemingly safe self replicating treatment for cancer.
In medical news from the other end of the animal kingdom, a Hungarian stork has been given a new lease on life thanks to the latest in cybernetic animal attachments. While we’re not affixing metallic wings to injured birds quite yet, the prosthetic beak the bird received from an animal clinic should let it get on with a reasonably normal life in the wild, rather than the hand fed existence it would have otherwise had.
Cola drinkers went down as losers this week after a pair of reports that drinking too much cola can lead to weakness and muscle paralysis. Researchers have found that subjects who drink several liters of soda per day are more susceptible to hypokalaemia, a lowering of potassium levels that can result in loss of muscle function. And while I don’t imagine that anyone thought drinking 4 liters of soda per day was necessarily good for them, I’m hard pressed to believe that most people would have suspected paralysis would be a symptom of this over indulgence, rendering it the single worst idea since New Coke.
In happier to report news, fire ants are also among the weeks losers. Pest control authorities in Texas are trying a novel approach in the much deserved extermination of the stinging, invasive critters. The muscle for the latest attempt at controlling the spread of fire ants – nests of South American phorid flies, which not only kill the ants, but do so in a manner that is, at least in principle, astonishingly entertaining. After stinging a foraging ant, the phorid fly injects its eggs into the brain of the ant. As the larvae develop, the afflicted ant is reduced to a dunce, wandering around in a zombie like state until, after two weeks, it’s head falls off entirely, releasing a new phorid fly into the world. Now admittedly, importing non-native species to fend off non-native species is at best an imperfect solution (just visit the National Invasive Species Information Center for a few examples) to a complicated problem, and one rife with it’s own troubles, there is a case to be made that if you’re going to do something stupid, it might as well be kind of cool to watch.
The weeks last losers are Taiwanese goats, who proved less durable than one would hope when a herd of the creatures was apparently killed by insomnia earlier this week. Taiwanese farmer Kuo Jin-Shan attributes the animals sudden bout of fatal sleeplessness on the eight wind turbines recently installed near his herd, from which 400 goats have now died, apparently after losing sleep for months.