Mindfulness eases depressive symptoms, study shows

African-American women with lower socio-economic status have an increased risk of depressive disorders, yet they rarely seek out antidepressants or psychotherapy because of negative attitudes and stigma associated with conventional mental health treatments.

A new pilot Northwestern Medicine study showed that eight weeks of mindfulness training helped alleviate their depressive symptoms and reduce stress, providing an effective alternative to more conventional treatment.

“Many women are in need of help with their depression and coping with daily life, but they don’t seek it out because of limited access to high-quality mental health services and the stigma within their families and communities,” said the study’s principal investigator Inger Burnett-Zeigler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our study shows that there are alternatives to traditional mental health treatment, such as mind-body approaches, that effectively alleviate symptoms and can be done autonomously in the comfort of their own home.”

Over the course of the 16-week study, the average depressive symptoms and stress scores decreased across the 31 participants. They also reported an increase in well-being and were able to recognize stressful triggers in their lives, notice how their bodies react to triggers and learn how to gain more control over their physiological responses to stress.

“It felt good to be in control of my emotions for the first time in my life,” one participant said. Another said, “We are always superwomen [and] we have to be able to do everything, and that brings out a lot of stress. …This helped me to reorganize and put [these stressful events] in the proper perspective and understand I have an opportunity to learn how to calm myself down and recognize what is going on.”

The study, which was published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Aug. 13, is the first to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to combat depression among disadvantaged women in a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which provides comprehensive community-based medical care to low-income individuals.

Burnett-Zeigler and her co-authors recruited women from the Komed Holman Health Center, an FQHC on Chicago’s South Side. At the time of recruitment, 91 percent of the women at the center were eligible for the study, which demonstrates the high level of mental health need among adult women in the FQHC. Thirty-one women ended up participating in the study.

Burnett-Zeigler said there is great potential to expand mindfulness-based interventions nationally based on this growing need to provide low-cost, effective mental health services in community-based settings. Her future studies aim to examine the feasibility of national implementation and dissemination.

The mindfulness techniques Burnett-Zeigler teaches include sitting meditation, yoga, mental body scans and taking a mindful pause to be in the moment. Patients are encouraged to increase their awareness of everyday activities, such as taking a shower or drinking a cup of coffee.

“These practices help them take a step back and live in the moment versus worrying about what’s already happened or what’s to come,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “People who are depressed or who have depressive symptoms often have tunnel vision, whereby they’re only seeing information in the environment that supports their negative beliefs.

Study participants also were encouraged to engage in daily practice at home, in addition to the guided sessions in the clinic. On average, participants practiced meditation, yoga and mental body scans four days per week and spent an average of 2.5 hours practicing a week.

Before participating in the study, 45 percent of the women reported no prior experience with meditation, and 71 percent reported no past experience with yoga. All of the women who participated in the study reported symptoms of depression, however 87 percent had not received any mental health treatment in the past year.

Full story can be found from Northwestern University website.

FDA Clears SPR Therapeutics Pain Management Device

SPR Therapeutics received clearance from the United States Food and Drug Administration to commercialize the SPRINT™ Peripheral Nerve Stimulation (PNS) System. SPRINT is the first and only completely reversible and minimallyinvasive peripheral nerve stimulation system cleared to provide relief of chronic and acute pain, including postoperative and posttraumatic pain.

“The FDA’s clearance comes at a critical time when physicians, patients and the U.S. healthcare system are seeking therapies to manage pain while reducing opioid use,” said Maria Bennett, SPR Therapeutics Founder, President and CEO. “SPR has developed a drugfree treatment for relieving chronic and acute pain. With more than 100 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, and more than two million people suffering severe acute and postoperative pain every year, we believe SPRINT will be a game changer in the world of pain management.”

The SPRINT PNS System includes a threadlike, coiled wire, or lead, and a matchboxsized wearable stimulator, about the weight of four quarters. The lead is placed percutaneously, or through the skin, via a fine needle and connects externally to the wearable stimulator. The stimulator delivers electrical stimulation through the lead, which activates peripheral nerves to achieve pain relief.

SPRINT is unique in that it allows lead placement as far as two to three centimeters from the targeted nerve. This simplifies the lead placement procedure for physicians and gives them the distinct ability to preferentially stimulate specific fibers of the nerve to maximize pain relief. This innovative approach to PNS is fully reversible, as the device is designed to be withdrawn without surgery at the end of the 30day treatment period.

A press release can be found from SPR Therapeutics website.

Simultaneous multiview capture and fusion improves spatial resolution in wide-field and light-sheet microscopy

Most fluorescence microscopes are inefficient, collecting only a small fraction of the emitted light at any instant. Besides wasting valuable signal, this inefficiency also reduces spatial resolution and causes imaging volumes to exhibit significant resolution anisotropy. We describe microscopic and computational techniques that address these problems by simultaneously capturing and subsequently fusing and deconvolving multiple specimen views. Unlike previous methods that serially capture multiple views, our approach improves spatial resolution without introducing any additional illumination dose or compromising temporal resolution relative to conventional imaging. When applying our methods to single-view wide-field or dual-view light-sheet microscopy, we achieve a twofold improvement in volumetric resolution (∼235  nm×235  nm×340  nm ) as demonstrated on a variety of samples including microtubules in Toxoplasma gondii, SpoVM in sporulating Bacillus subtilis, and multiple protein distributions and organelles in eukaryotic cells. In every case, spatial resolution is improved with no drawback by harnessing previously unused fluorescence.

Further information can be found from The Optical Society of America website.

FDA approves CyPass Micro-Stent

The CyPass® Micro-Stent is a minimally invasive device that can be implanted at the time of cataract surgery. About 20% of patients undergoing cataract surgery also have glaucoma, leading to a large number of patients who could conveniently receive combined therapy.

FDA has approved CyPass micro stent from Alcon Laboratories.

Product Name: CyPass® System Model 241-S
PMA Applicant: Alcon Laboratories, Inc.
Address: 6201 South Freeway, Fort Worth, TX 76134-2099
Approval Date: July 29, 2016
Approval Letter: Not Yet Available
What is it? The CyPass® Micro-Stent is a tiny tube that is implanted into the eye to help drain fluid that builds up in patients with glaucoma. The CyPass® System consists of a small stent (CyPass® Micro-Stent) that is pre-loaded into a stent delivery tool (CyPass® Applier).
How does it work? The CyPass® Micro-Stent is designed to control eye pressure (intraocular pressure, or IOP) by creating a drainage pathway from the inside (anterior chamber) to the outermost layer of the eye (suprachoroidal space).
When is it used? The CyPass® Micro-Stent is used in patients with primary open angle glaucoma (POAG). If not treated, pressure builds up inside the eye and eventually can damage the optic nerve, causing blindness. The CyPass® Micro-Stent is placed in the eye at the time of cataract surgery.
What will it accomplish? Data supporting the approval of this device included 374 subjects implanted with the CyPass® Micro-Stent device at the same time as cataract surgery, and 131 patients that had cataract surgery alone. In this study, 72.5 percent of patients who received the CyPass® Micro-Stent achieved a significant lowering of their IOP compared to 58 percent of patients who had cataract surgery alone. The lower IOP lasted through the 2-year-long study. Complications occurred in 39.3 percent of patients with CyPass® Micro-Stent and cataract surgery and in 35.9 percent of patients with cataract surgery alone.
When should it not be used? The CyPass® Micro-Stent should not be used if:

  • patients have a type of glaucoma other than POAG.
  • eye anatomy or condition is unusual.
Product information can be found from Transcend Medical website.
FDA announcement can be found from FDA website.

Microswimmer Robots Can Work Together And Apart

Drexel University researchers, led by MinJun Kim, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering, have successfully pulled off a feat that both sci-fi fans and Michael Phelps could appreciate. Using a rotating magnetic field they show how multiple chains of microscopic magnetic bead-based robots can link up to reach impressive speeds swimming through a liquid. Their finding is the latest step toward using the so-called “microswimmers” to deliver medicine and perform surgery inside the body.

In a paper recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, the mechanical engineers describe their process for magnetically linking and unlinking the beads while they’re swimming, and individually controlling the smaller decoupled robots in a magnetic field. This data helps further the concept of using microrobots for targeted, intravenous drug delivery, surgery and cancer treatment.

“We believe microswimmer robots could one day be used to carry out medical procedures and deliver more direct treatments to affected areas inside the body,” said U Kei Cheang, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Drexel’s College of Engineering and an author of the paper. “They can be highly effective for these jobs because they’re able to navigate in many different biological environments, such as the blood stream and the microenvironment inside a tumor.”

One of the central findings is that longer chains can swim faster than shorter ones. This was determined by starting with a three-bead swimmer and progressively assembling longer ones. The longest chain examined by the group, 13-beads in length, reached a speed of 17.85 microns/second.

Drexel engineers have been adding to the understanding of microrobots for biomedical applications for nearly a decade, with the goal of producing a robotic chain that can travel inside the body, then decouple to deliver their medicinal payload or targeted treatment.

The reason for this approach is that a rather versatile robot that can do multiple tasks could be controlled using a single magnetic field.

The robot chains move by spinning, like a long screw-like propeller, in step with a rotating external magnetic field. So the faster the field rotates, the more the robots spin and the faster they move. This dynamic propulsion system is also the key to getting them to divide into shorter segments. At a certain rate of rotation the robotic chain will split into two smaller chains that can move independently of each other.

“To disassemble the microswimmer we simply increased the rotation frequency,” Cheang said. “For a seven-bead microswimmer, we showed that by upping the frequency 10-15 cycles the hydrodynamic stress on the swimmer physically deformed it by creating a twisting effect, which leads to disassembly into a three-bead and four-bead swimmer.”

Once they’re separated, the field can be adjusted to manipulate the three- and four-bead robots to move in different directions. Because the beads are magnetized, they can eventually be reconnected — simply by tweaking the field to bring them back into contact on the side with the corresponding magnetic charge. The team also determined optimal rotation rates and angle of approach to facilitate re-linking the microswimmer chains.

This finding is a key component of a larger project in which Drexel is partnering with 10 institutions of research and medicine from around the world to develop this technology for performing minimally invasive surgery on blocked arteries.

“For applications of drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery, future work remains to demonstrate the different assembled configurations can achieve navigation through various in vivo environments, and can be constructed to accomplish different tasks during operative procedures,” the authors write. “But we believe that the mechanistic insight into the assembly process we discussed in this research will greatly aid future efforts at developing configurations capable of achieving these crucial abilities.”

Full story can be found from Drexel University website.

New enzyme-mapping advance could help drug development

Scientists at MIT and the University of São Paulo in Brazil have identified the structure of an enzyme that could be a good target for drugs combatting three diseases common in the developing world.

The enzyme, fumarate hydratase (FH) is essential for metabolic processes of parasites that are responsible for the spread of three diseases: Leishmaniases, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness. As such, understanding the enzyme’s structure could help researchers figure out how to inhibit FH enzymes, thereby providing new medical therapies.

“This enzyme is really critical for the metabolism of organisms like Leishmania major,” says Catherine Drennan, an MIT professor whose lab hosted the research. “If you knock it out, the organism should be dead.”

Leishmaniases are a group of diseases varying from severe skin ulcers to debilitation of internal organs, and are present in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Southern Europe. Chagas disease, located mostly in Latin America, causes cardiac and intestinal complications, and can lead to heart failure. Sleeping sickness affects humans and other animals and is an often-deadly disease concentrated in Africa.

The study of FH began at the University of São Paulo, where researchers Patricia R. Feliciano and M. Cristina Nonato made important progress on studying Leishmania major FH. Feliciano then moved to MIT to complete the analysis of the enzyme structure with Drennan, a professor of chemistry and biology, and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“The exciting thing about this is thinking that my work could help people who have those diseases,” says Feliciano.

The paper, “Crystal structure of an Fe-S cluster-containing fumarate hydratase enzyme from Leishmania major reveals a unique protein fold,” is being published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The authors are Feliciano, Drennan, and Nonato.

First in class

Fumarate hydratase enzymes fall into two types, class I and class II. The current study represents the first time that a class I fumarate hydratase enzyme has been mapped.

Significantly, the Leishmania major FH enzyme has a protein architecture — it vaguely resembles a human heart in appearance — that is distinctive from the structure of human fumurate hydratase.

“When we looked at the structure for the first time, it was like, ‘Whoa, it is completely different from the human FH enzyme,’” says Feliciano.

“The fact that it is a novel fold does add to the idea that this is a good drug target,” Drennan adds. “It has a lot of potential.”

Here’s why: The distinctive structure of class I FH makes it possible that drugs could target the parasite variant of the enzyme alone, while leaving intact the functionally equivalent enzymes that humans use.

“It’s an enzyme that does the exact same thing, but it’s a completely different enzyme,” Drennan explains. “That’s what makes this such an exciting target.”

Brazil connection

The finding stems from work Feliciano started doing nine years ago in Brazil in Nonato’s lab, but was not able to complete at the time, in part because of difficulties accessing the right equipment.

In 2012 Feliciano arrived at MIT, where the Drennan Lab has tools that let researchers form crystals of proteins under anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions. Having formed a crystal of the Leishmania major FH enzyme, it still took Feliciano several months to completely map out the enzyme’s structure, partly because of its complexity, she notes.

Drennan emphasizes the complementary aspects of the research arrangement, with the research problem identified and important groundwork accomplished in Brazil, while MIT provided the right tools to solve the enzyme structure, and with the results hopefully having long-term application in Latin America and Africa.

“It’s a really lovely collaboration between the two groups and two countries,” Drennan says.

For that matter, Drennan says, the nature of globalization means diseases can spread worldwide in relatively short timespans these days. That means the need to find remedies for Leishmaniases, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness is potentially global, too.

“I think it’s important to reflect on these health issues, and more people in the U.S. need to be aware of these diseases,” Drennan says. “The world is getting to be a smaller place.”

More information can be found from MIT website.