Science Reporting

Facial recognition could be used for monitoring intensive care patients

Facial recognition to monitor the faces of ICU patients? It is the idea that came to a group of researchers at the hospital of the University of Yokohama, Japan. The research, presented at the congress of the European Society of Anaesthesiology, provides a fully automated and computerized system through which it is possible to monitor and perhaps even predict the unsafe behavior of patients in intensive care.

Unsafe behavior can be considered, for example, as the accidental removal of the respiratory tube. According to the first tests, the system has a fairly high precision (75% according to the researchers). The monitoring is done by means of a camera mounted on the ceiling above the bed where the patient is hospitalized.

A special automatic learning algorithm was instructed by the researchers through hundreds of hours of recording collected during the first phase, an algorithm that then proved useful in recognizing high-risk behavior in the first tests. It is a system that could make up for cases of limited personnel or that could prove useful in all those cases in which the staff itself can not continuously, 24 hours a day, monitor unconscious patients.

“We were surprised by the high degree of accuracy achieved, which shows that this new technology has the potential to be a useful tool to improve patient safety and is the first step towards an intelligent ICU (intensive care unit) planned in our hospital,” says Akane Sato, one of the researchers involved in the project.

Science Reporting

Torrential rain and extreme showers increased steadily between 1964 and 2013

A new study confirms the global increase in rainfall, specifically the most violent and torrential rains, between 1964 and 2013, an increase due to global warming. The new research published in Water Resources Research shows how extreme rainfall has increased in much of Europe, Canada, the Midwest and the north-eastern region of the United States, northern Australia, western Russia and parts of China.

This would have happened in the last fifty years, the period during which global warming accelerated, as reported by Simon Papalexiou, a climatologist at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, who conducted the study with co-author Alberto Montanari, professor of hydraulics and hydrology at the University of Bologna.

And they are not natural climatic variables, according to the scientist: “The probability of this happening is less than 0.3% according to the model assumptions used.” In addition, the data reports that between 2004 and 2013 there was a 7% increase in “extreme rainfall events” globally while in Europe, during this decade, these events would have increased by 8.6%, which underlines how much the phenomenon of increased rainfall involves even more markedly Europe.

The study could not take into account the regions of South America and Africa, which were excluded due to the lack of or inadequacy of data.

According to Papalexiou, the increase in rainfall is due to global warming, the latter causing more heat in the atmosphere which in turn leads to a greater formation of atmospheric water and therefore to rainfall.

In turn, torrential rains can produce floods and disasters that can seriously threaten public health, especially if these disasters occur in areas not supported by strong health networks. In addition, torrential rains can cause landslides, damage crops and collapse buildings and structures.

Science Reporting

Direct image of a planetary system obtained in formation 370 light-years away

A group of astronomers has succeeded in reconstructing a direct image of a planetary system that includes more than a dozen exoplanets in orbit around the star PDS 70, some 370 light-years away from us. This is the second time that we can recreate a direct image, through a combination of adaptive optics and data processing, of a system of exoplanets after that of the star HR 8799.

This planetary system is, however, perhaps more interesting because there are two planets inside the growth disk that orbits around the star. These are two more internal planets, PDS 70b and PDS 70c. It was possible to identify these two planets through a complex technique that involves the cancellation of the central light of the star.

The first has a mass from four to 17 times that of Jupiter and was also detected and photographed for the first time in 2018. The second, just spotted, is near the outer edge of the growth disk at a distance from its star similar to that separating Neptune from the Sun. PDS 70 c is less massive than the first exoplanet and is characterized by a mass between one and 10 times that of Jupiter.

The discovery of this system shows that the planetary disks around the stars can be large enough to be observed directly. Already with very powerful tools, such as Hubble or the large optical terrestrial telescopes, it is possible to detect rings or discs around the stars and the question that astronomers ask themselves when they are detected is always the same: are there planets in formation in these rings? In this case, the answer is positive, an answer that makes us think that in many cases it may be the same.

And in the future things should improve even further with the putting into orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope from NASA. Through sophisticated spectral techniques, this telescope will allow analyzing in more detail not only this planetary system but also others that contain exoplanets in formation.

Science Reporting

Discovery of the connection between oral health and Alzheimer’s disease

A group of researchers discovered a link between oral hygiene and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, researchers at the University of Bergen (UiB), led by Piotr Mydel, found that the bacteria that cause gingivitis can pass directly from the mouth to the brain. Here they can produce a protein that destroys the nerve cells of the brain itself, which in turn can lead to conditions such as memory loss and ultimately to Alzheimer’s disease.

These bacteria therefore increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and even when Alzheimer’s disease is already present, they accelerate its development. The same researcher therefore advises people to floss their teeth and, if there are cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the family, to visit the dentist regularly.

That the bacteria that cause gingivitis were linked to certain negative brain diseases, in particular the destruction of nerve cells, had already been discovered before but Mydel, with this new study, published in Science Advances, brings evidence based on DNA.

The researcher examined 53 people with Alzheimer’s and in 96% of cases discovered the harmful enzymes expelled by the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis. This knowledge may prove useful in developing new approaches to combat Alzheimer’s disease through a new drug that researchers themselves are planning and testing.

Science Reporting

A hormone produced during pregnancy can treat joint pain

A group of researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that a particular hormone, produced by women from the first trimester of pregnancy, can help alleviate the pain caused by a particular joint condition called arthrofibrosis. This hormone is produced by the mother to relieve muscles, joints and ligaments to prepare the body for a growing baby.

Dr. Edward Rodriguez, head of the orthopedic surgery department at the BIMDC, observed that patients with arthrofibrosis who were pregnant experienced a strange and lasting relief. In the process, the researcher, along with his colleagues including Mark Grinstaff, a professor of chemistry at the University of Boston, discovered that it was relaxationine that was responsible for the decrease in pain for that particular condition affecting the joints.

It is a peptide hormone that the woman produces through the ovaries during pregnancy. In addition, the same team of researchers discovered that by injecting relaxationin directly into the diseased joint in animals, it was possible to restore movement and generally improve tissue health.

These results, later published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, may prove useful in analyzing the possibilities of creating a new drug based on this hormone, but of course further studies will be necessary to verify the effectiveness of relaxin also for the treatment of arthrofibrosis in humans.

Science Reporting

Were feathers or birds born first? Researchers think they have found an answer

A new study, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, provides the answer to one of the fundamental questions that biologists and paleontologists have increasingly asked in recent years about birds: were the latter born first or the feathers? The new work, which according to the researchers could change our understanding of the feathers themselves and their functions, suggests that they were formed at least 100 million years before the birds.

The study is mainly based on key fossil discoveries made in recent years, discoveries that suggested that pterosaurs were equipped with feathers. These new fossils have caused the very birth of feathers to retreat back into the evolutionary tree, even before the point considered as the birth of the first birds.

According to Mike Benton, a researcher at the University of Bristol and the main author of the study, it is more or less since 1994, the year in which numerous amazing specimens from China were found and analyzed, that we know that different species of dinosaurs had feathers. It is since then that the diatribe was born about the very birth of feathers that was not, since then, considered to match the birth of the same birds.

This research group, as reported by Maria McNamara, co-author of the study and researcher at University College Cork, was then lucky enough to work on new remains of a dinosaur from Russia, the Kulindadromeus. These are fossil remains that show incredibly well-preserved skin details, details that also show the presence of feather feathers. As this species is one of the most distant dinosaurs from the birds in the evolutionary tree, researchers have imagined that the feathers may have been born with the very first dinosaurs.

They also imagined this when analyzing the anatomy of modern birds such as chickens: “Modern birds such as chickens often have scales on their legs or necks, and we have shown that these are reversals: what had once been plumage has turned into scales. In fact, we have shown that the same genome regulation network drives the development of reptile scales, bird feathers and mammalian hair and that feathers may have evolved very early,” says Danielle Dhouailly, another researcher at the University of Grenoble involved in the study.