Iranian surgeon: brain cancer vaccine is a promising therapy

A London-based Iranian neurosurgeon who is leading the first ever brain cancer vaccine trial in Europe, says he is satisfied with the initial results of this new therapy for the most aggressive form of brain cancer known as “glioblastomatumour”.

Iranian surgeon: brain cancer vaccine is a promising therapy

In an exclusive interview with IRNA, Dr Keyoumars Ashkan, consultant neurosurgeon and Reader (Associate Professor) at King’s College Hospital London, said this is an individualised treatment based on each patientˈs own cancer type because glioblastomas are genetically different.

Under the supervision of Dr Ashkan, the first patient in Europe, a 62 year old male, has received the new vaccine in September last year. The vaccine had been produced from his own tumour after an operation in June.

“Since September we have recruited another 10 patients at Kingˈs College Hospital to this trial and so far I am happy with the progress of the trial ”, said DrAshkan, who is also the Lead for Neuro-Oncology at King’s College as well as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Neurosurgery.

However he stressed that this is still a trial and “we should be patient and test the vaccine on more patients to see how effective it would be at the end of the trial process.”



New Salt Compounds Challenge the Foundation of Chemistry

All good research breaks new ground, but rarely does the research unearth truths that challenge the foundation of a science. That's what Artem R. Oganov has done, and the professor of theoretical crystallography in the Department of Geosciences will have his work published in the Dec. 20, 2013 issue of the journal Science.

The paper, titled "Unexpected stable stoichiometries of sodium chlorides," documents his predictions about, and experiments in, compressing sodium chloride -- rock salt -- to form new compounds. These compounds validate his methodology for predicting the properties of objects -- a methodology now used worldwide for computational material discovery -- and hold the promise of novel materials and applications.

"I think this work is the beginning of a revolution in chemistry," Oganov says. "We found, at low pressures achievable in the lab, perfectly stable compounds that contradict the classical rules of chemistry. If you apply the rather modest pressure of 200,000 atmospheres -- for comparison purposes, the pressure at the center of the Earth is 3.6 million atmospheres -- everything we know from chemistry textbooks falls apart."

Standard chemistry textbooks say that sodium and chlorine have very different electronegativities, and thus must form an ionic compound with a well-defined composition. Sodium's charge is +1, chlorine's charge is -1; sodium will give away an electron, chlorine wants to take an electron. According to chemistry texts and common sense, the only possible combination of these atoms in a compound is 1:1 -- rock salt, or NaCl.

"We found crazy compounds that violate textbook rules -- NaCl3, NaCl7, Na3Cl2, Na2Cl, and Na3Cl," says Weiwei Zhang, the lead author and visiting scholar at the Oganov lab and Stony Brook's Center for Materials by Design, directed by Oganov. "These compounds are thermodynamically stable and, once made, remain indefinitely; nothing will make them fall apart. Classical chemistry forbids their very existence. Classical chemistry also says atoms try to fulfill the octet rule -- elements gain or lose electrons to attain an electron configuration of the nearest noble gas, with complete outer electron shells that make them very stable. Well, here that rule is not satisfied."

This opens all kinds of possibilities. Oganov posited that, if you mix NaCl with metallic sodium, compress in a diamond anvil cell, and heat, you will get sodium-rich compounds like Na3Cl. He likewise theorized that, if you take NaCl, mix it with pure chlorine, and compress and heat, you will get chlorine-rich compounds such as NaCl3. This is exactly what was seen in the experiments, which were performed by the team of Alexander F. Goncharov of Carnegie Institution of Washington, confirming Oganov's predictions. "When you change the theoretical underpinnings of chemistry, that's a big deal," Goncharov says. "But what it also means is that we can make new materials with exotic properties."

Among the compounds Oganov and his team created are two-dimensional metals, where electricity is conducted along the layers of the structure. "One of these materials -- Na3Cl -- has a fascinating structure," he says. "It is [composed of] layers of NaCl and layers of pure sodium. The NaCl layers act as insulators; the pure sodium layers conduct electricity. Systems with two-dimensional electrical conductivity have attracted a lot of interest."

Like much of science, Oganov's pursuit began with curiosity -- and obstinacy.

"For a long time, this idea was haunting me -- when a chemistry textbook says that a certain compound is impossible, what does it really mean, impossible? Because I can, on the computer, place atoms in certain positions and in certain proportions. Then I can compute the energy. 'Impossible' really means that the energy is going to be high. So how high is it going to be? And is there any way to bring that energy down, and make these compounds stable"?

To Oganov, impossible didn't mean something absolute. "The rules of chemistry are not like mathematical theorems, which cannot be broken," he says. "The rules of chemistry can be broken, because impossible only means 'softly' impossible! You just need to find conditions where these rules no longer hold."

Oganov's team harnessed their own energy to bring the research to fruition. "We have a fantastic team," he says. "The theoretical work was done here at Stony Brook; the experimental work took place at the Geophysical Laboratory in the Carnegie Institution of Washington."

Additionally, Oganov's team utilized the NSF-funded Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) by running USPEX code -- the world-leading code for crystal structure prediction -- on Stampede, a supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. USPEX was developed by Oganov's lab and he estimates over 1,500 researchers use it worldwide.

His discovery may have application in the planetary sciences, where high-pressure phenomena abound. It may explain results of other experiments, where researchers compressed materials and got puzzling results. His computational methodology and structure-prediction algorithms will help researchers predict material combinations and structures that exhibit desired properties and levels of stability.

"We have learned an important lesson -- that even in well-defined systems, like sodium chloride, you can find totally new chemistry, and totally new and very exciting materials," Oganov says. "It's like discovering a new continent; now we need to map the land. Current rules cannot cope with this new chemistry. We need to invent something that will."

Source: Science Daily


Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting Off Jupiter Moon

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust. Researchers are not yet fully certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by erupting water plumes on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Should further observations support the finding, this would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings are being published in the Dec. 12 online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa," said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa's crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa's potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting."

In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles have subsequently been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of Europa's auroral emissions measured by Hubble's imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by charged particles from Jupiter's magnetic bubble and plumes from Europa's surface, and also to rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact.

The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter's intense magnetic field, near the moon's south pole. Excited atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable auroral glow and leave a telltale sign that are the products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines.

"We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light," said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne, Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth.

Roth suggested that long cracks on Europa's surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host the Enceladus jets.

Also the Hubble team found that the intensity of the Europa plumes, like those at Enceladus, varies with Europa's orbital position. Active jets have only been seen when the moon is farthest from Jupiter. The researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation for the variability is that these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas-giant planet.

"The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean," said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

The Europa and Enceladus plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has a roughly 12 times stronger gravitational pull than Enceladus, the minus-40-degree-Fahrenheit (minus-40-degree-Celsius) vapor for the most part doesn't escape into space as it does at Enceladus, but rather falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles (201 kilometers), according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon's south polar region, the researchers hypothesize.

"If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system," said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa."

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Source:Science Daily


Apple Mac Pro could arrive on 16 December

Although there has been no word from Cupertino, a German e-tailer had started taking pre-orders for the desktop machine. Conrad Electronic has since removed the webpage, but by that time the news had already spread across social media.

Apple had already said that it planned to launch the Mac Pro in December, however thus far it had not mentioned a specific date.

The Mac Pro will sport an Intel Xeon E5 processor with options for between four and 12 cores. Up to 64GB of 1866Mhz DDR3 will be available and storage options will range from 256GB to 1TB.

Its casing is black, glossy and cylindrical, drawing comparisons with something from a sci-fi movie and fitting with Apple's brief to make a next generation desktop machine. It will have 4K video capability via an HDMI 4.1 port, plus an abundance of USB and Thunderbolt 2 ports, rounded off with Bluetooth and 802.11ac WiFi.

All of this high end technology comes at a typically high Apple price, however, with prices starting at $2,999.

While it is possible that Conrad Electronic was simply speculating, this does seem to be the most solid evidence yet that there is a definite date for the arrival of the Mac Pro, and that it will be here before the figgy pudding.


Astronomers Discover Planet That Shouldn't Be There

The discovery of a giant planet orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance has astronomers puzzled over how such a strange system came to be.

An international team of astronomers, led by a University of Arizona graduate student, has discovered the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, sun-like star. It is the first exoplanet -- a planet outside of our solar system -- discovered at the UA.

Weighing in at 11 times Jupiter's mass and orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance, planet HD 106906 b is unlike anything in our own Solar System and throws a wrench in planet formation theories.

"This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," said Vanessa Bailey, who led the research. Bailey is a fifth-year graduate student in the UA's Department of Astronomy.

It is thought that planets close to their stars, like Earth, coalesce from small asteroid-like bodies born in the primordial disk of dust and gas that surrounds a forming star. However, this process acts too slowly to grow giant planets far from their star. Another proposed mechanism is that giant planets can form from a fast, direct collapse of disk material. However, primordial disks rarely contain enough mass in their outer reaches to allow a planet like HD 106906 b to form. Several alternative hypotheses have been put forward, including formation like a mini binary star system.

"A binary star system can be formed when two adjacent clumps of gas collapse more or less independently to form stars, and these stars are close enough to each other to exert a mutual gravitation attraction and bind them together in an orbit," Bailey explained. "It is possible that in the case of the HD 106906 system the star and planet collapsed independently from clumps of gas, but for some reason the planet's progenitor clump was starved for material and never grew large enough to ignite and become a star."

According to Bailey, one problem with this scenario is that the mass ratio of the two stars in a binary system is typically no more than 10-to-1.

"In our case, the mass ratio is more than 100-to-1," she explained. "This extreme mass ratio is not predicted from binary star formation theories -- just like planet formation theory predicts that we cannot form planets so far from the host star."

This system is also of particular interest because researchers can still detect the remnant "debris disk" of material left over from planet and star formation.

"Systems like this one, where we have additional information about the environment in which the planet resides, have the potential to help us disentangle the various formation models," Bailey added. "Future observations of the planet's orbital motion and the primary star's debris disk may help answer that question."


At only 13 million years old, this young planet still glows from the residual heat of its formation. Because at 2,700 Fahrenheit (about 1,500 degrees Celsius) the planet is much cooler than its host star, it emits most of its energy as infrared rather than visible light. Earth, by comparison, formed 4.5 billion years ago and is thus about 350 times older than HD 106906 b.

Direct imaging observations require exquisitely sharp images, akin to those delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope. To reach this resolution from the ground requires a technology called Adaptive Optics, or AO. The team used the new Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO) system and Clio2 thermal infrared camera -- both technologies developed at the UA -- mounted on the 6.5 meter-diameter Magellan telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile to take the discovery image.

UA astronomy professor and MagAO principal investigator Laird Close said: "MagAO was able to utilize its special Adaptive Secondary Mirror, with 585 actuators, each moving 1,000 times a second, to remove the blurring of the atmosphere. The atmospheric correction enabled the detection of the weak heat emitted from this exotic exoplanet without confusion from the hotter parent star."

"Clio was optimized for thermal infrared wavelengths, where giant planets are brightest compared to their host stars, meaning planets are most easily imaged at these wavelengths," explained UA astronomy professor and Clio principal investigator Philip Hinz, who directs the UA Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics.

The team was able to confirm that the planet is moving together with its host star by examining Hubble Space Telescope data taken eight years prior for another research program. Using the FIRE spectrograph, also installed at the Magellan telescope, the team confirmed the planetary nature of the companion. "Images tell us an object is there and some information about its properties but only a spectrum gives us detailed information about its nature and composition," explained co-investigator Megan Reiter, a graduate student in the UA Department of Astronomy. "Such detailed information is rarely available for directly imaged exoplanets, making HD 106906 b a valuable target for future study."

"Every new directly detected planet pushes our understanding of how and where planets can form," said co-investigator Tiffany Meshkat, a graduate student at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. "This planet discovery is particularly exciting because it is in orbit so far from its parent star. This leads to many intriguing questions about its formation history and composition. Discoveries like HD 106906 b provide us with a deeper understanding of the diversity of other planetary systems."

The research paper, "HD 106906 b: A Planetary-mass Companion Outside a Massive Debris Disk," has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and will appear in a future issue.

MaAO's development was funded by the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program, and its Telescope System Instrumentation Program and an Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation Award.

Source: Science Daily

R. Sawas