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

July 28, 2022

Exercise-induced signaling protein could lead to “workout drugs”

The improved muscle function benefit of exercise comes, in part, from signaling networks in our bodies that are activated as we move—but which signals? Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have uncovered a seemingly important one, called C18ORF25, showing that mice lacking this protein have reduced muscle size and function and lower capacity for exercise. They found this protein from an experiment where eight healthy young men underwent separate, grueling exercises involving endurance, sprint, and resistance training. Analyzing muscle biopsies taken before, immediately after, and three hours after the exercises with mass spectrometry, they identified 5,486 protein “phosphosites,” which showed evidence of signaling network regulation during the exercises and 420 core sites common to all three. Among these was the previously uncharacterized protein C18ORF25, which could be a new target for therapeutics to chemically confer the health benefits of exercise—but without the workout. Cell Metabolism

Diagnostic ultrasound meets skin patch

Continuously monitoring a person’s vital signs with a watch, ring, or arm cuff is nothing new. But the challenge today is finding ways to upgrade those wearables from simple accelerometers and thermocouples to more sophisticated technologies for monitoring health. Now researchers at MIT are reporting a new device they call bioadhesive ultrasound (BAUS), which consists of a thin, rigid ultrasound probe coupled to a strong adhesive. It has enough power to continuously monitor the body’s blood vessels, muscles, heart, GI tract, and lungs when adhered to the skin in the right location, they say, which could improve the diagnosis and management of many different diseases. Science

Simulation of the phased array wave convergence in the bioadhesive ultrasound (BAUS) device. Chonghe Wang, Xiaoyu Chen, Liu Wang, Mitsutoshi Makihata, Hsiao-Chuan Liu, Tao Zhou, and Xuanhe Zhao

Implantable device shrinks brain tumors in rats

And speaking of ultrasound, another paper this week describes an implantable device that uses ultrasound to induce electromagnetic fields to break up tumors. A potential new modality for brain cancer treatment that has yet to be tested in humans, the device is designed to disrupt rapidly dividing cancer cells while sparing healthy neurons. According to researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China, the device inhibited tumor growth in the test tube and shrunk brain tumors in rats. Science Advances

Water-activated disposable battery

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf, Switzerland, have developed a water-activated disposable battery based on paper, zinc, and graphite they say could reduce the environmental impact of single-use electronics in packaging, environmental sensors, and point-of-care diagnostics. The battery is inactive until it’s wet and provides 1.2 volts of power (equivalent to an AA battery), the researchers write. As a proof of concept, they fabricated a battery and used it to power an alarm clock. Scientific Reports

Photograph of a stencil-printed two-cell paper battery that spells “Empa,” the abbreviated name of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, where the battery was invented. Alexandre Poulin

Alexa, show me ethics

Along with the promise of using AI-assisted, voice-activated devices at home to monitor activity in the elderly and look for signs of cognitive impairment comes peril. According to a perspective by professors at Harvard Law School and the University of Florida Levin College of Law, using devices like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant in this way could be fraught. It may violate informed consent, capture data from bystanders, skip outside of FDA regulation, and undermine laws on the books in 14 states that mandate reporting of elder abuse (since those statutes stipulate “any person” who discovers abuse must report it). Companies designing such tools should make them ethical by design, they say, incorporating “transparency, fairness, human agency, data protection, accountability, oversight, and well-being.” Cell Reports Medicine

Variants in human protein shape psychedelic experience

Looking at sequence variations in the human brain protein serotonin 2A receptor (called “5-HT2AR” for short), researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have demonstrated how seven variants of the protein exert a small but significant effect on the potency of four psychedelic drugs psilocin, LSD, DMT, and mescaline. The seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor’s response to the drug in the test tube, they write, and this discovery could help researchers test the efficacy of psychedelics for therapy by allowing them to do controlled clinical studies that only enroll people most likely to respond to the therapy. ACS Chemical Neuroscience