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Innovative robotic cup could empower older adults to stay hydrated

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A one-of-a-kind robotic cup designed to help people living with cerebral palsy stay hydrated could also be a game-changer for older adults suffering from mobility impairments.

The aptly named RoboCup enables people with limited upper body mobility to stay hydrated without relying on a caregiver for help.

The battery-powered device, which can be mounted on a user’s wheelchair and customised to suit their mobility needs, is activated either by a button or a proximity sensor that brings a straw directly to their mouth.

The user can then take a drink, and once they have finished the straw automatically withdraws.

The cup is the brainchild of engineering students Thomas Kutcher and Rafe Neathery, who came up with the innovative idea after Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) in Houston, Texas, in the United States, was approached by spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy patient Gary Lynn for help creating an assistive drinking device.

The result is RoboCup, which Thomas and Rafe hope will offer users greater freedom as they won’t need to rely on a caregiver whenever they need a drink.

To this end, the undergraduates have generously made their design available for free to anyone with access to a 3D printer to assemble their own drinking device by downloading instructions from RoboCup’s OEDK website.

Having made it possible for those living with cerebral palsy to drink water autonomously, Thomas and Rafe are now looking at the cup’s wider application – and believe it could prove to be a life-changing piece of technology for those with age-related eating and drinking problems caused by muscle weakness, pain, disease, and neurological conditions that can seriously affect mobility.

Thomas told AgeTech World: “While our client who had the idea for this device has cerebral palsy, the potential use cases spread far and wide. Rafe and I wanted our design to be as generalisable as possible.

“The device is catered to anyone with impaired mobility in a wheelchair, to the extent that they can either push a button or hold their finger in front of a motion sensor, and sip water from a straw.

“Once the device is set up it is very intuitive. It just needs to be set up in a manner where the straw rotates directly to a comfortable location for the user, and the sensor should be placed in a position where the user is able to trigger it.

“Once that criteria is met it should be very easy for the user.”

Rafe Neathery (left) and Thomas Kutcher with the robotic cup. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University

Dehydration is dangerous for anyone of any age. But older people are at a greater risk than any other age group.

This is because as people age their bodies don’t demand the same levels of liquid as they did in their younger years. This in turn changes a person’s sense of thirst.

However, the body still needs fluids to function, whether that be helping lubricate joints, regulating body temperature, pumping blood to the muscles, or ensuring the kidneys and urinary tract continue to function properly.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, dehydration is not only a common cause of hospital admissions in older people but is associated with increased mortality.

For example, a two-fold increase in the mortality of stroke patients has been reported.

Even mild dehydration can be dangerous, affecting tiredness levels and mental performance, potentially leading to low blood pressure, dizziness, weakness, and an increased risk of falls.

In older people, dehydration is often associated with dementia, poorly controlled diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.

Certain medications can also cause dehydration.

The obvious way to prevent a lack of fluids is to drink more. But this can be easier said than done if you have impaired physical or mental abilities that may confine you to a bed or a wheelchair.

There are several hydration aids on the market aimed at older adults and those with cognitive impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, from water sweets to sports-type bottles and wearable devices that can monitor fluid intake.

But Thomas and Rafe believe RoboCup is in a class of its own.

Rafe said: “RoboCup is primarily focused on allowing those with limited mobility to find increased autonomy in their day-to-day lives. The primary alternative to something like RoboCup would be a water bottle with a long adjustable straw that can be positioned near the user’s mouth.

Thomas Kutcher (left), Gary Lynn and Andrea Lynn at the OEDK. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University

“However, the issue with these products is that they intrude on the user’s headspace, and they tend to leak water down their shirt. RoboCup gives people autonomy to have hydration when they want it, and to have control over their own personal space.”

Whilst currently designed for use with a wheelchair, Rafe and Thomas say the RoboCup could be adapted for use in other situations, such as a hospital or care home environment, where a patient is confined to bed.

Thomas and Rafe, who are both 21 and in their final year at Rice University studying bioengineering and mechanical engineering respectively, are currently busy with senior design projects in other fields.

But Thomas said: “As far as assistive devices go our focus is still on RoboCup. As there is such a wide range of potential users, we’re still looking for and exploring ideas to make RoboCup more customisable.

“The main ones are investigating different sensors and locations to fit an individual’s personal ability, adjusting the design to accommodate more viscous fluids, or making it simpler for people to adjust the timing of the motion.”

Making the device as accessible as possible has meant simplifying it. During its development, the duo removed some of the more complicated or expensive parts and found alternatives for custom pieces that required special equipment to be made.

Rafe explained: “It was challenging walking that thin line between simplifying the device and sacrificing functionality or robustness. We wanted to keep it working well while still making it simpler and cheaper.

“Balancing all these considerations was really tricky, but we did get to a point where it’s now a lot easier to 3D print and assemble the device using simple, readily accessible tools.”

The pair worked closely with Gary Lynn during the development stage to optimise the design, which went through several iterations. An initial prototype featured a camelback but was scrapped for the current mounted cup-and-straw version.

Both Gary and his mother Andrea Lynn have expressed their hope that the project will bring attention to the struggles of people living with disabilities who can often strain with something as seemingly easy as drinking water.

Gary has said of Thomas and Rafe’s design: “This cup will give independence to people with limited mobility in their arms. Getting to do this little task by themselves will enhance the confidence of the person using the device.”

To help spread the word about RoboCup, Rafe and Thomas entered the device in the World Cerebral Palsy Day Remarkable Designa-thon competition intended to promote “ideas for a new product or service that could change lives” for people in the cerebral palsy community.

Sadly, RoboCup didn’t win. The prize went to a woman with cerebral palsy who developed an idea for an app that knows who she is, and where she is, and contains a list of her contacts for emergencies, allowing those with speech challenges to effectively communicate their needs to anyone.

Rafe said: “I’m glad the money is going to someone with cerebral palsy who has an important need to be met.”

That hasn’t stopped Rafe and Thomas from getting the word out about RoboCup.

But why did they decide to make their invention freely available rather than taking the entrepreneurial route?

Thomas said their goal had always been to bring it to as many people as possible, especially as they had neither the time nor the investment to commercialise it.

“Helping other people make their own is best,” he commented. “We have open-sourced the part files and code online, and everything else is available to buy from other vendors. After everything is printed, all it takes is a screwdriver and less than an hour to assemble Robocup – the instructions are also online with a few dozen pictures.

“The idea behind all of this effort is to enable others to make Robocup themselves, regardless of access to tools or machinery.

“The low cost, small size, and wide capabilities of a desktop 3D printer are bringing it into more and more households, as well as schools, labs, and maker spaces. There are also several online services that can print and ship 3D-printed parts.”

He added: “We hope the manufacturing process doesn’t prove too burdensome, as Rafe and I worked hard to make it as simple as possible. We do believe that the fully idealised version of this device is purchasable off the shelf to make it as easy as possible for the consumer.”

With graduation looming, Thomas and Rafe admit they are keen to move on to future endeavours. Rafe is going to work for SpaceX post-graduation and Thomas is planning to pursue a PhD in Neural Engineering.

That doesn’t mean if the RoboCup takes off, it might not become a commercial enterprise.

Thomas said: “Like I said before, Rafe and I have wanted to get the word out about RoboCup and move on, as we are graduating. We were potentially hoping that another organisation could take the reins on the RoboCup, or our open-source website could become popular.

“We mostly just wanted to get our work out there through open sourcing, but Rafe and I have more things to discuss in terms of making sure the RoboCup is successful, reaching as many people as possible.

“I personally am somewhat interested in turning it into a commercial enterprise if there is a clear path there, but I need to do more research.”

 

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Gut microbes from aged mice induce inflammation in young mice

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Findings from a new study suggest that changes to the gut microbiome play a role in the systemwide inflammation that often occurs with ageing.

When scientists transplanted the gut microbes of aged mice into young “germ-free” mice — raised to have no gut microbes of their own — the recipient mice experienced an increase in inflammation that parallels inflammatory processes associated with ageing in humans. Young germ-free mice transplanted with microbes from other young mice had no such increase.

Published in Aging Cell, the study also found that antibiotics caused longer-lasting disruptions in the gut microbiomes of aged mice than in young mice.

“There’s been a growing consensus that ageing is associated with a progressive increase in chronic low-grade inflammation,” said Jacob Allen, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the new research with Thomas Buford, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“And there’s a kind of debate as to what drives this, what is the major cause of the ageing-induced inflammatory state. We wanted to understand if the functional capacity of the microbiome was changing in a way that might contribute to some of the inflammation that we see with ageing.”

Previous studies have found associations between age-related changes in the microbial composition of the gut and chronic inflammatory diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have linked microbial metabolism to an individual’s susceptibility to other health conditions, including obesity, irritable bowel syndrome and heart disease. Age-related changes in the gut microbiome also may contribute to the so-called leaky gut problem, the researchers said.

“Microbiome patterns in aged mice are strongly associated with signs of bacterial-induced barrier disruption and immune infiltration,” they wrote.

“The things that are in our gut are supposed to be kept separate from the rest of our system,” Buford said. “If they leak out, our immune system is going to recognize them. And so then the question was: ‘Is that a source of inflammation?’”

Many studies have compared the relative abundance and diversity of species of microbes in the gut, offering insight into some of the major groups that contribute to health or disease. But sequencing even a portion of the microbes in the gut is expensive and the results can be difficult to interpret, Allen said. That is why he and his colleagues focused on microbial function — specifically, how the gut microbiomes of ageing mice might spur an immune response.

The team focused on toll-like receptors, molecules that mediate inflammatory processes throughout the body. TLRs sit in cellular membranes and sample the extracellular environment for signs of tissue damage or infection. If a TLR encounters a molecule associated with a potential pathogen — for example, a lipopolysaccharide component of a gram-negative bacterium — it activates an innate immune response, calling in pro-inflammatory agents and other molecules to fight the infection.

The researchers first evaluated whether the colonic contents of young and aged mice were likely to promote TLR signalling. They found that microbes from aged mice were more likely than those from young mice to activate TLR4, which can sense lipopolysaccharide components of bacterial cell walls. A different receptor, TLR5, was not affected differently in aged or young mice. TLR5 senses a different bacterial component, known as flagellin.

Young germ-free mice transplanted with the microbes of aged mice also experienced higher inflammatory signalling and increased levels of lipopolysaccharides in the blood after the transplants, the team found.

This finding provides “a direct link between ageing-induced shifts in microbiota immunogenicity and host inflammation,” the researchers wrote.

In other experiments, the team treated mice with broad-spectrum antibiotics and tracked changes in the microbiomes during treatment and for seven days afterward.

“One of the most interesting questions for me was what microbes come back immediately after the treatment with antibiotics ends,” Buford said. And in the mice with aged microbiota in their guts, “these opportunistic pathogens were the most quick to come back.”

“It appears that as we age our microbiome might be less resilient to antibiotic challenges,” Allen said. “This is important because we know that in the U.S. and other Western societies, we’re increasingly exposed to more antibiotics as we age.”

The study is an important step toward understanding how age-related microbial changes in the gut may affect long-term health and inflammation, the researchers said.

Co-authors of the study also included Illinois postdoctoral researcher Elisa Caetano-Silva; U. of I. Ph.D. student Akriti Shrestha; National Children’s Hospital research scientist Michael Bailey; and Jeffrey Woods, the director of the Center on Health, Aging and Disability at Illinois.

Allen also is a professor of nutritional sciences at Illinois and an affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I.

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Evening exercise benefits elderly hypertensives

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Evening exercise benefits elderly hypertensives

A study conducted at the University of São Paulo with 23 volunteers found that aerobic exercise performed in the evening benefits elderly hypertensives more than morning exercise.

Aerobic training is known to regulate blood pressure more effectively when practiced in the evening than in the morning.

Researchers who conducted a study of elderly patients at the University of São Paulo’s School of Physical Education and Sports (EEFE-USP) in Brazil concluded that evening exercise is better for blood pressure regulation thanks to improved cardiovascular control by the autonomic nervous system via a mechanism known as baroreflex sensitivity.

Leandro Campos de Brito, first author of the article, commented: “There are multiple mechanisms to regulate blood pressure, and although morning training was beneficial, only evening training improved short-term control of blood pressure by enhancing baroreflex sensitivity.

“This is important because baroreflex control has a positive effect on blood pressure regulation, and there aren’t any medications to modulate the mechanism.”

In the study, 23 elderly patients diagnosed and treated for hypertension were randomly allocated into two groups: morning training and evening training. Both groups trained for ten weeks on a stationary bicycle at moderate intensity, with three 45-minute sessions per week.

Key cardiovascular parameters were analysed, such as systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate after ten minutes’ rest. The data was collected before and at least three days after the volunteers completed the ten weeks of training.

The researchers also monitored mechanisms pertaining to the autonomic nervous system, which controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and other involuntary bodily functions, such as muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which regulates peripheral blood flow via contraction and relaxation of blood vessels in muscle tissue, and sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity, assessing control of blood pressure via alterations to muscle sympathetic nerve activity.

In the evening training group, all four parameters analysed were found to improve: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity, and muscle sympathetic nerve activity. In the morning training group, no improvements were detected in muscle sympathetic nerve activity, systolic blood pressure or sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity.

“Evening training was more effective in terms of improving cardiovascular autonomic regulation and lowering blood pressure. This can be partly explained as due to an improvement in baroreflex sensitivity and a reduction of muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which increased in the evening. For now, all we know is that baroreflex control is the decisive factor, from the cardiovascular standpoint at least, to make evening training more beneficial than morning training, since it induces the other benefits analysed. However, much remains to be done in this regard in order to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms involved,” said Brito, who is currently a professor at Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences in the United States, and continues to investigate the topic via circadian rhythm studies.

Baroreflex sensitivity regulates each heartbeat interval and controls autonomic activity throughout the organism.

“It’s a mechanism that involves sensitive fibres and deformations in the walls of arteries in specific places, such as the aortic arch and carotid body. When blood pressure falls, this region warns the brain region that controls the autonomic nervous system, which in turn signals the heart to beat faster and tells the arteries to contract more strongly. If blood pressure rises, it warns the heart to beat more slowly and tells the arteries to contract less. In other words, it modulates arterial pressure beat by beat,” Brito explained.

In previous studies, the EEFE-USP research group showed that evening aerobic training reduced blood pressure more effectively than morning training in hypertensive men (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/34194), and that the more effective response to evening training in terms of blood pressure control was accompanied by a greater reduction in systemic vascular resistance and systolic pressure variability (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/37432).

“Replication of the results obtained in previous studies and in different groups of hypertensive patients, associated with the use of more precise techniques to evaluate the main outcomes, has strengthened our conclusion that aerobic exercise performed in the evening is more beneficial to the autonomic nervous system in patients with hypertension. This can be especially important for those with resistance to treatment with medication,” Brito said.

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Revolutionising cancer treatment: intracellular protein delivery using hybrid nanotubes

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Revolutionising cancer treatment: intracellular protein delivery using hybrid nanotubes

A new hybrid nanotube stamp system has been developed which revolutionises precision medicine with high efficiency and cell viability rates for cancer treatment.

Precision medicine and targeted therapies are gaining traction for their ability to tailor treatments to individual patients while minimising adverse effects. Conventional methods, such as gene transfer techniques, show promise in delivering therapeutic genes directly to cells to address various diseases.

However, these methods face significant drawbacks, hindering their efficacy and safety. Intracellular protein delivery offers a promising approach for developing safer, more targeted, and effective therapies. By directly transferring proteins into target cells, this method circumvents issues such as silencing during transcription and translation and the risk of undesirable mutations from DNA insertion. Additionally, intracellular protein delivery allows for precise distribution of therapeutic proteins within target cells without causing toxicity.

A group of researchers led by Professor Takeo Miyake at Waseda University, Japan in collaboration with the Mikawa Group at the RIKEN Institute have now developed a hybrid nanotube stamp system for intracellular delivery of proteins. This innovative technique enables the simultaneous delivery of diverse cargoes, including calcein dye, lactate oxidase (LOx) enzyme, and ubiquitin (UQ) protein, directly into adhesive cells for cancer treatment.

The researchers explored the therapeutic potential of delivering LOx enzyme for cancer treatment. “Through our innovative stamp system, we successfully delivered LOx into both healthy mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) and cancerous HeLa cells. While MSC cells remained unaffected, we observed significant cell death in HeLa cancer cells following LOx treatment with viabilities decreasing over time. Our findings highlight the promising efficacy of intracellularly delivered LOx in selectively targeting and killing cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells, offering a targeted therapeutic strategy for cancer treatment,” explains Miyake.

Finally, the team successfully delivered 15N isotope-labeled UQ proteins into HeLa cells using the HyNT stamp system. This delivery allowed for the analysis of complex protein structures and interactions within the cells. In addition, optical and fluorescence imaging confirmed the presence of delivered UQ in HeLa cells, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy matched the intracellular UQ protein concentration with that of a solution containing 15N-labeled UQ. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of the stamp system in delivering target proteins for subsequent analysis.

The results demonstrate the remarkable capability of the HyNT stamp system in delivering LOx and UQ into a substantial number of adhesive cells, as required for regenerative medicine applications. The system achieved a notably high delivery efficiency of 89.9%, indicating its effectiveness in transporting therapeutic proteins into the target cells with precision. Moreover, the cell viability rate of 97.1% highlights the system’s ability to maintain the health and integrity of the treated cells throughout the delivery process.

The HyNT stamp system offers transformative potential in intracellular protein delivery, with applications spanning from cancer treatment to molecular analysis. Beyond medicine, its versatility extends to agriculture and food industries, promising advancements in crop production and food product development. With precise cell manipulation and efficient delivery, the HyNT stamp system is poised to revolutionize biomedical research, clinical practice, and diverse industries, paving the way for personalized interventions and shaping the future of modern medicine.

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