The week’s most astounding developments from the neobiological frontier.

July 8, 2021

Wireless, automated deworming collars for dogs

Dog, human, and farm animal infections with the tapeworms Echinococcus multilocularis and E. granulosus are common around the world, especially in China, and they account for billions of dollars of annual losses to agriculture as well as untold human and canine suffering. Dogs are the definitive host for the parasites, and one approach to controlling them is for dog owners to periodically give their pets treats infused with the deworming drug praziquantel. But compliance is an issue. So a team of scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention developed a durable, wireless, waterproof doggie collar that delivers the drug on an optimal schedule. In field tests involving more than 500 dogs in field tests they found the automated collars were more effective at deworming than manually treating the dogs, and they suggest the technology could accelerate the elimination of the disease. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

New tool improves predictions of preterm labor

Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal illness and death worldwide, impacting 15 million babies annually. This risk could be mitigated with timely medical intervention, but spotting the signs of preterm labor can be difficult. A University of Edinburgh research team published a study this week describing a risk assessment model they designed that predicts preterm birth based on a specific protein concentration coupled with clinical data taken from five studies involving 1,783 pregnant European women. They validated their model in a study group of 2,924 women in the U.K. Dubbed QUIDS (“quantitative fetal fibronectin to improve decision-making in women with signs and symptoms of preterm birth”), the study found that the algorithm “promisingly” and cost-effectively predicted preterm labor. PLOS Medicine

Medicare needs a Costco membership for cheaper generic drugs

In 2018, some 88 percent of all drugs purchased through Medicare Part D were generics, but what might seem a cost-savings success story may be anything but. According to an analysis by doctors at the University of Southern California that looked at 184 of the 200 most common generic drugs prescribed that year, Medicare overpaid for 43.2 percent of them. Comparing what Medicare paid to what people without insurance shelled out for the same drugs at the retail chain Costco, the doctors found that if the same prescriptions had been filled at Costco, it would have saved U.S. taxpayers $2.6 billion. The added cost may be due to the fact that Medicare relies on an “opaque” supply chain where intermediaries take a cut—whereas Costco largely bypasses such intermediaries. JAMA Internal Medicine

Gene expression profiling of an entire nervous system

More than 50 years ago, Sydney Brenner decided to study the development of the nervous system in the lowly worm Caenorhabditis elegans—work for which he later won the Nobel prize—and it has been an important model system ever since, becoming one of the first organisms to have its entire genome solved in the 1990s. Now a major study led by researchers at Vanderbilt, Yale, and Columbia University has uncovered the “molecular topography” of the nematode’s nervous system. They have created a gene expression profile map of all 302 neurons in mature C. elegans, a map that deciphers the molecular basis for differences in neuronal connectivity and function in the animal. Cell

National Human Genome Research Institute

The economic argument for longevity

Three researchers at London Business School, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School have placed a value on the potential economic gain of longevity this week, estimating the financial benefit of living longer (improving lifespan), slowing age-related health problems (improving healthspan), or both. Their analysis shows that improving human healthspan and reducing age-related illness is more valuable than simply increasing lifespan, and it suggests that there is more to be gained by targeting aging than by eradicating individual diseases. In a gobsmacking bottom line, they estimate the worldwide economic value of increasing healthy life expectancy by one year would be worth $38 trillion. Increasing life expectancy by 10 years would be worth $367 trillion. Nature Aging