Study shows stem cells constitute alternative approach for treating corneal scarring

Infection, inflammation, trauma, disease, contact lenses—all of these and more can lead to corneal scarring, which according to the World Health Organization is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. While corneal transplant remains the gold standard to treat this condition, patient demand far outweighs donor supply. However, in a study released today in Stem Cells Translational Medicine researchers demonstrate a potential solution to this major problem.

The cornea is the clear front surface of the eye that not only protects the eye, but allows light to enter and provides as much as 75 percent of the eye’s focusing power. When scarring occurs, the cornea clouds over and impacts vision. The stroma—the thick middle layer of the cornea—plays a pivotal role in normal visual function as it produces a variety of cellular products that support normal corneal development and maintenance.

“As such, corneal stromal stem cells (SSCs) show promise for replacing conventional donor tissues as they are potentially able to regenerate the corneal stromal extracellular matrix, which is essential for maintaining corneal transparency,” said study leader Vincent Borderie, M.D., Ph.D., and first author Djida Ghoubay, Ph.D, both of the Institut de la Vision, Sorbonne Université, INSERM and CNRS. “Additionally, SSCs can be easily retrieved and cultured from the patient’s or donor’s eye.”

With this in mind, the two and their team, which included researchers from several other institutions in Paris, set out to determine the therapeutic effect of these adult stem cells and whether they might indeed restore the cornea to its pre-injured state. They tested their theory on a new mouse model created especially for the study.

Younger mice (four weeks old) were selected, as the researchers were hoping to mimic a stromal scarring condition called keratoconus that generally occurs in teenagers or young adults. They sedated the mice, then did an epithelial scraping followed by an application of liquid nitrogen (N2) to the corneal surface of each mouse’s left eye. Its right eye was left untouched for comparison.

After the injured corneas had scarred over and become opaque—approximately three weeks after injury—the mice were divided into groups. One group received injections of murine (mouse) stromal stem cells (MSSCs) at the injured site. A second group received injections of human stromal stem cells (HSSCs). A third group received sham injections, and a fourth group received no SSCs, as a control. The animals’ eyes were then examined for several indicators of corneal health, with the assessments occurring just before the N2 application and then repeated in intervals up to three months after.

“Results showed that injection of SSCs resulted in improved corneal transparency associated with corneal SSC migration and growth in the recipient stroma without inflammatory response. Moreover, decreased stromal haze, corneal rigidity and improved vision were observed,” Dr. Borderie reported.

Dr. Ghoubay added, “Interestingly, the injected HSSCs showed a different fate compared with the MSSCs. In fact, the former were still detected three months after injection, whereas the latter were no longer detected following the first month. As labeling is lost with cell divisions, we can hypothesize that xenogeneic HSSC divide slower than allogeneic MSSC after injection.”

“In conclusion,” Drs. Borderie and Ghoubay said, “our study demonstrates the ability of corneal SSCs to promote regeneration of transparent stromal tissue. Injection of corneal SSCs can constitute an alternative approach in the treatment of corneal scarring.”

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The role of miRNAs in glioblastoma multiforme

Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the most malignant tumors of the central nervous system. It is characterized by the fast growth and high malignancy. Although surgery combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy has been widely used for the treatment of glioblastoma, the prognosis is still very poor. Furthermore, chemoresistance and radioresistance are the typical hallmarks of the recurrent glioblastoma. Thus, it is necessary to identify all the potential therapeutic targets for glioblastoma and to clarify its underlying mechanism.

In recent years, attention has been paid to the role of microRNAs in the development, diagnosis, and prognosis of gliomas. Thus, the team of researchers from the Cancer Hospital of China Medical University revealed that miR-129-5p, and ZFP36L1 gene were functionally involved in the hallmarks glioblastoma. This includes the tumor proliferation, migration, and tumor colony-forming abilities.

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Obesity is linked to gut microbiota disturbance, but not among statin-treated individuals

In 2012, the European Union MetaCardis consortium, comprising 14 research groups from six European countries with multidisciplinary expertise set out to investigate a potential role of the gut microbiota in the development of cardio-metabolic diseases. This project, coordinated by Prof Karine Clément at INSERM (France) studies more than 2,000 deeply phenotyped European participants in health and at different stages of cardiometabolic disease (obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases).

Today, research teams led by Jeroen Raes (VIB-KU Leuven) and Prof. Clément (INSERM, Paris), together with the Metacardis consortium, publish their first findings in the authoritative journal Nature, identifying the common cholesterol-lowering drug statins as a potential microbiota-modulating therapeutic.

In their manuscript entitled “Statin therapy associates with lower prevalence of gut microbiota dysbiosis,” Jeroen Raes (VIB-KU Leuven) and colleagues explore gut bacteria in a Metacardis cohort subset comprising nearly 900 individuals from three countries (France, Denmark and Germany) with BMI ranging between 18 and 73 kg.m-2. While the intestinal microbiota in obese individuals had previously been shown to differ from those in lean subjects, the unique experience of the Raes Lab in quantitative microbiome profiling allowed the researchers to shed a whole new light on microbiota alterations associated with obesity.

Prof. Jeroen Raes says, “Recently, our lab identified a single gut microbiota configuration (enterotype) with increased prevalence among patients suffering from intestinal inflammation (inflammatory bowel disease), multiple sclerosis, and depression. We observed this disturbed enterotype to be characterized by low bacterial abundances and biodiversity, notably deficient in some anti-inflammatory bacteria such as Faecalibacterium. In fact, even among healthy individuals, we detected slightly higher inflammation levels in carriers of what we refer to as the Bacteroides2 (Bact2) enterotype. As obesity is known to result in increased systemic inflammation levels, we hypothesized that Bact2 would also be more prevalent among obese study participants.”

Exploring gut microbiota configurations of lean and obese volunteers, the MetaCardis researchers observed that Bact2 prevalence increased with BMI. While only 4% of lean and overweight subjects were characterized as Bact2 carriers, percentages sharply rose to 19% among obese volunteers. The same trend was observed among 2,350 participants of the VIB-KU Leuven Flemish Gut Flora Project population cohort.

Sara Vieira-Silva (principal author, VIB-KU Leuven): “We found systemic inflammation in participants carrying the Bact2 enterotype to be higher than expected based on their BMI. Even though this study design does not allow inferring causality, our analyses do suggest that gut bacteria play a role in the process of developing obesity-associated comorbidities by sustaining inflammation. While these key findings confirmed our study hypothesis, the results we obtained when comparing statin-treated and -untreated participants came as a total surprise.”

Statins are commonly prescribed to reduce risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases. Besides their target cholesterol-lowering effects, statins also tend to appease patients’ systemic inflammation levels. Now, Vieira-Silva and colleagues have identified an additional potential beneficial effect of statin therapy on the gut microbiota. In obese individuals, the prevalence of the dysbiotic Bact2 enterotype was significantly lower in those taking statins (6%) than in their non-treated counterparts (19%) – comparable to levels observed in non-obese participants (4%). These striking observations were validated not only in the independent Flemish Gut Flora Project dataset, but also in an additional MetaCardis subset consisting of 280 patients with cardiovascular diseases.

Sara Vieira-Silva says, “These results suggest statins could potentially modulate the harmful gut microbiota alterations sustaining inflammation in obesity. Several interpretations of our results remain possible. On one hand, by appeasing gut inflammation, statin therapy might contribute to a less hostile gut environment, allowing the development of a healthy microbiota. On the other hand, a direct impact of statins on bacterial growth has been previously demonstrated, which could possibly benefit non-inflammatory bacteria and underlie anti-inflammatory effects of statin therapy.”

For many years, microbiota modulation strategies have been revolving around dietary interventions, (next-generation) pro- and prebiotics, introducing or promoting growth of beneficial bacteria. Only recently, a revived interest in the effect of small molecules and drugs on the colon ecosystem appeared. This study will further fuel that momentum.

Prof. Jeroen Raes says, “The potential beneficial impact of statins on the gut microbiota opens novel perspectives in disease treatment, especially given the fact that we have associated the Bact2 enterotype with several pathologies in which a role of the gut microbiota has been postulated. Our results open a whole range of possibilities for novel, gut microbiota modulating drug development.”

At the same time, the MetaCardis team insists on a careful interpretation of their study results.

While promising, the findings reported are based on cross-sectional analyses, as opposed to following a treatment timeline. This means causality cannot be claimed based on these observations, nor can the researchers exclude that unaccounted factors could have played a role. For example, statin-medicated participants might have adopted a radically healthy lifestyle after being diagnosed with an increased risk of developing cardio-metabolic disease, which could have had a profound impact on their gut ecosystem.

“Thus,” the researchers warn, “while our results are definitely promising, they require further evaluation in a prospective clinical trial to ascertain whether the effect is reproducible in a randomized population, before considering the application of statins as microbiota-modulating therapeutics.”

The present study is part of a greater effort in unraveling the role of the gut microbiota in cardiovascular disease by the European Commission-sponsored MetaCardis consortium.

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Patients with prostate cancer to get pills at home instead of chemotherapy

Recently sufferers had been dealt a double blow of being told they had the killer disease but could not be given treatment. Targeted hormonal therapies enzalutamide and abiraterone will now be temporarily available after new guidance from NHS England. The tablets will allow patients to minimise their risk of infection by staying away from hospitals.

Previously they were only for men who had tried other forms of hormone treatment.

Prostate Cancer UK said about 1,000 men will benefit from the change over the next three months.

The charity’s Heather Blake said: “This is fantastic news for newly diagnosed men. Until now, they have been faced with the distressing prospect that chemotherapy – which could extend their life by 15 months – was not being made available due to the increased risk from Covid-19.”

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, welcomed the move but said it had taken too long. Professor Nick James, who is researching how best to treat prostate cancer, said the drugs were “smarter, kinder treatments”.

Stuart Fraser, 66, who was diagnosed in February, started a petition for the drugs to made available to men in his situation. He is now been prescribed enzalutamide.

The father of two, from Ashtead, Surrey, said: “Being diagnosed was a huge shock. What made it even more worrying was that – because of coronavirus – I was told I couldn’t have the usual treatment of chemotherapy, which would have affected my immune system. That’s why it’s such great news that NHS England have made this change.”

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Laws that punish pregnant drug abusers aren’t working, new study finds

A new study co-authored by a University of Central Florida researcher shows that laws that punish substance use during pregnancy actually do more harm than good.

These unintended consequences include keeping women from getting the treatment they need and failing to reduce the number of babies addicted to drugs.

The study, which was published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, compared the effects of punitive polices in states that implemented them and those that didn’t.

The findings are increasingly important as instances of opioid use disorder at delivery continue to rise.

“Opioid use during pregnancy can harm both the mother and baby, and rates of opioid use disorder at delivery increased over 300 percent between 1999 and 2014,” said Danielle Atkins, an assistant professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education and study co-author.

“States have taken various approaches to address prenatal substance use, including policies that consider prenatal substance use as equivalent to child abuse or neglect,” Atkins said. “In our study, we did not find evidence that having a punitive prenatal-substance-use policy reduced rates of babies born with withdrawal symptoms or maternal narcotic exposure at birth.”

“We found evidence, however, that punitive policies reduce substance use treatment admissions among pregnant women and that a smaller share of pregnant women are referred to treatment by health care providers in states with punitive policies,” she said.

For the study, Atkins and co-author Christine Piette Durrance, an associate professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project’s State Inpatient Databases, which has records for 95 percent of hospital discharges from 37 states.

From that data, they counted the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms and affected by maternal narcotics exposure from 2000 to 2014.

They also used data from the Treatment Episode Data Set—Admissions, a national data system of annual admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities, to identify the number of pregnant women admitted to treatment by state and year.

For prenatal substance use policies implemented in different states, they used information from the Guttmacher Institute, State Policies in Brief, Substance Abuse During Pregnancy, bi-annual reports.

When they compared the proportion of pregnant women admitted to treatment before punitive policies were enacted to after, and with states that had those policies and those that didn’t, they found that treatment admissions for pregnant women dropped by 29 percent and referrals to treatment by health care professionals decreased by 18 percent when punitive laws were put in place.

Furthermore, punitive policies were not statistically significantly related to the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms or exposed to narcotics.

“These results provide population-based evidence of the effect of punitive prenatal substance use policies on birth outcomes and substance use treatment admissions,” Atkins said. “Although proponents of punitive prenatal-substance-use policies often cite improved birth outcomes for infants as one policy aim, our results do not support this.”

She said alternatives to punitive laws include improved access to medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, along with prenatal care and behavioral health counseling.

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Early government intervention is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19

Early and strict governmental intervention is a key factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19 cases. That’s the conclusion reached by a team of researchers comparing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus between the Chinese province of Hunan and Italy in a new paper published in Frontiers in Medicine.

While Hunan and Italy are similar in population size—about 60-70 million people each—the scope of the epidemic in each location has differed dramatically. At time of publication, Italy has the second-most confirmed deaths after the United States and ranks third in total confirmed infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. There are just over 1,000 confirmed cases in Hunan.

The research team, based in China, used data from the John Hopkins database through April 2 to map infection trends in both Hunan and Italy. They modified a standard mathematical model known as a susceptible-infected-removed (SIR) model to account for the effects of different epidemic prevention measures at different periods in time.

“It should be noted that in actual situations, the speed of transmission can be changed through many interventions, such as personal protective measures, community-level isolation and city blockade,” said lead author Dr. Wangping Jia with the Chinese PLA General Hospital in Beijing.

The paper’s extended SIR (eSIR) model found that under current measures there could be a total of 3,369 (the mean in a possible range of 840-8,013) infected cases in Hunan, with the endpoint of the epidemic having already occurred around March 3. In contrast, total infected cases in Italy are projected to be 182,051 (the mean in a possible range of 116,114-274,378) with an end date around August 6.

The authors speculated that the disparate trends could be due to a couple of reasons. For instance, Italy may not have implemented preventive measures soon enough, as the eSIR model demonstrated that taking action earlier in the case of Hunan drastically reduced infection rates.

The authors noted that “from China’s experience, various control measures, including the early detection and isolation of individuals with symptoms, traffic restrictions, medical tracking, and entry or exit screening, can well prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

The paper did not specifically address mortality rates because a number of factors can affect these predictions, according to Jia, such as bed capacity of intensive care units, as well as a patient’s age, sex and any underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes.

“Accurate patient-specific data are urgent needs for the prediction of the total deaths,” he said.

The Italian government recently announced it would begin to ease lockdown measures beginning May 4—three months earlier than the eSIR model advises.

“We think it is too early to ease restrictions starting around May 4,” Jia said. “The potential second wave may come if restrictions are eased three months earlier. Italy is not in the end period of the COVID-19 epidemic.”

The authors concede that the current study has several limitations. First, due to the limited amount of testing, it’s likely the number of infected people in Italy and elsewhere is higher than the official count. The eSIR model does not incorporate the disease’s incubation period, which could make it less accurate. And there may be other factors that could throw off the estimate, such as the influence of “super spreaders” of the disease on a population.

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Gutmann receives Advocate of Hope award

David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor and vice chair for research affairs in the Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received the Advocate of Hope Award from the national Neurofibromatosis (NF) Network.

The NF Network is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people living with NF, a set of complex genetic disorders of the nervous system that is characterized by tumors that can grow on nerves in the brain and throughout the body.

The Advocate of Hope Award honors Gutmann for his work in the field of NF and his compassion for NF patients. For more than 25 years, he has devoted his academic career to improving the lives of people with NF, through laboratory and clinical research. He established the NF clinical program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1994, which serves as a regional referral center for patients. In addition, he founded and directs the Washington University NF Center, one of the world’s largest centers focused on accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and its application to the care of individuals with NF.

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A big problem later: A majority of antivaxxers plan to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, study suggests

The availability of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus will likely play a key role in determining when Americans can return to life as usual. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on April 30 announced that a vaccine could even be available by January 2021.

Whether a vaccine can end this pandemic successfully, however, depends on more than its effectiveness at providing immunity against the virus, or how quickly it can be produced in mass quantities. Americans also must choose to receive the vaccine.

According to some estimates, 50% to 70% of Americans would need to develop immunity to COVID-19—either naturally, or via a vaccine—in order to thwart the spread of the virus. If these estimates are correct, that could mean that nearly twice as many Americans would need to elect to receive a COVID-19 vaccine than those who currently opt to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Just 37% of American adults did so in 2017-2018, even in the midst of a historically severe flu season.

Making matters more complicated is the possibility that people who hold skeptical views about vaccine safety—sometimes referred to as “anti-vaxxers”—will not opt to receive the coronavirus vaccine. According to some estimates, about one fifth to two fifths of Americans express reservations about vaccine safety. If most of these individuals forego receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, they could potentially jeopardize the recovery process.

One of us is a doctoral candidate, and the other is a professor, who both study vaccine resistance. We conducted a study, which is currently undergoing peer review, where we estimate the number of Americans who report being willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, once it becomes available. We also investigate the reasons some Americans might refuse the vaccine.

We found that about one fifth of Americans, and more than half of people who hold skeptical views toward vaccine safety, may be unwilling to pursue vaccination. Although most Americans do plan to get vaccinated, non-compliance rates may be high enough to pose a threat to collective immunity.

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Is coronavirus changing minds about vaccine safety?

On the one hand, a pandemic may be encouraging anti-vaxxers to change their minds. One reason so many Americans doubt vaccine safety is due to complacency – the idea that, because high rates of vaccine compliance have kept us safe from diseases that once reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., segments of the population can hold anti-vaccine views without endangering public health.

Consistent with this view, research finds that when people are concerned that once nearly eradicated diseases might re-emerge to reach epidemic levels, people are more likely to trust recommendations from public health experts. Additionally,cross-national survey research suggests that people who live in parts of the world where the threat of epidemics are more likely tend to hold more positive views toward vaccines than the rest of the world.

Studies based on in-depth interviews with parents further suggest that parents who chose not to vaccinate their children are often willing to accept treatments for children with life-threatening illnesses.

On the other hand, however, it could be the case that anti-vaxxers remain suspicious of a COVID-19 vaccine, when it becomes available. Prominent anti-vaccine websites have already begun circulating misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine—such as the idea that a vaccine has existed for years and has been kept from public consumption. Additionally, recent research suggests that anti-vaccine views are tied to deeply held psychological and moral aversions to inoculation, implying that attitudes may be difficult to change.

What do anti-vaxxers say now?

We set out to investigate this important question. In a demographically representative survey of 493 U.S. adults conducted on April 15, 2020, we investigated whether people who hold skeptical views toward vaccine safety plan to receive a vaccine against COVID-19.

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Specifically, we asked respondents whether they would be willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes available. Nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents said that they would not.

Additionally, and consistent with the view that even a global pandemic may not persuade anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated, we find that 62% of people who are skeptical of vaccines said that they will forego COVID-19 vaccination.

To assess this, we measured vaccine skepticism by asking respondents three questions about whether they find vaccines to be safe, effective, and/or important—which is how vaccine skepticism is typically measured. Respondents indicated whether they thought each characteristic described vaccines “quite a bit,” “a moderate amount,” “a little bit,” or “not at all.” We then averaged the score across the three to create a scale of vaccine skepticism.

Nearly one-fifth (19%) of respondents were more vaccine skeptical than not. Among vaccine skeptics, 62% stated that they would not get vaccinated against COVID-19. By contrast, just 15% of those more supportive of vaccines than skeptical said that they would not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

We also asked respondents if they self-identified as anti-vaxxers, and nearly 16% said they did. For those that identified as anti-vaxxers, 44% said they would not vaccinate against COVID-19, compared to 19% of people who did not identify as anti-vaxxers.

A threat to collective immunity?

We believe that these findings, although preliminary, suggest that many people who hold anti-vaccine beliefs may jeopardize the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available, due to issues of non-compliance. Furthermore, it appears that anti-vaccine sentiment is at least as widespread as it was before the pandemic began.

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Lymphatic vessels in mice and humans: Alike yet different

In an international collaboration, researchers from Uppsala University have mapped the lymph node lymphatic vessels in mice and humans down to the level of individual cells. The results may eventually help scientists to discover new methods for strengthening the immune system against viruses and cancer. Their work has been published in the journal Frontiers of Cardiovascular Research.

The unique microenvironment of the lymph nodes plays an important role in maintaining an efficient immune system. When we have an infection, the lymph nodes swell and release activated white blood cells into the body through the lymphatic vessels. It is important to understand how these vessels work if we are to develop new drugs to improve the immune system; for example, new vaccines.

Previous research has shown that the specialized cells that make the lymphatic vessels, known as lymphatic endothelial cells, both communicate with white blood cells and actively assist in regulating the immune system. Until now, however, researchers have only understood the importance of a few of the genes that control the versatility of these cells.

Our immune system is involved in a range of different diseases, including chronic inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, atherosclerosis and cancer. In order to study the role of the immune system in disease mechanisms, many scientists use model systems, including mice.

“By using model systems, we researchers can test the function of various genes and evaluate treatment strategies, all of which provides us with valuable knowledge. However, in order to translate findings from mouse models to humans we need a better understanding of the similarities and differences between the signaling pathways and genes that control cell function in the different species,” explains Maria Ulvmar, a researcher who led the study at Uppsala University’s Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology.

The research teams that conducted the study analyzed the activity of genes in individual cells in mice and humans. Based on the gene activity profiles, they were able to demonstrate that both species have five distinct and similar groups of lymphatic endothelial cells in the lymph nodes, two of which were previously unknown. This discovery, complements previous published analysis of the lymphatic vessels in the lymph nodes and will help the scientific understanding of how immune cells enter and leave the lymph nodes and how their activity is regulated.

The results support the proposition that basic vessel functionality is the same in mice and humans. At the same time, researchers noted crucial differences in gene activity between the two species. This discovery is important for future research.

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Architect designs ‘healthier’ temporary ICUs for COVID-19 patients

They went from a conversation on a Thursday morning to blueprints on Monday and a full-scale prototype built five days later. University of Toronto alumnus Tye Farrow, who graduated with a degree in architecture in 1987, and friend Ray Arbesman moved quickly to design temporary intensive care units in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farrow, who is the senior partner at Farrow Partners Inc. and the current president of the U of T Alumni Association, is known for creating buildings that wrap health-promoting features into their design. Arbesman is the founder of Nucap Industries, a global technology company, and the inventor of a novel mechanical system that can bind building materials together.

Together, they’ve developed Solace Rapid Assembly—High Performance COVID-19 Inpatient Bed Solutions, and they’re hoping the project could soon help hospitals around the world that are struggling to care for COVID-19 patients.

“Our goal has been to create solutions that are faster, cheaper, smarter, safer, more adaptable to individual hospital needs and importantly—healthier,” says Farrow.

Farrow founded the Cause Health movement to promote designs that nurture complete wellness, incorporating environmental sustainability, cultural sensitivity, a sense of purpose and health-boosting features such as natural materials, fractal shapes, and sunlight.

For example, Farrow designed the Credit Valley Cancer Centre in Mississauga with tree-like structures that evoke a person reaching to the sky.

“Spaces can tune basic emotions and background bodily feelings from negative to positive,” says Farrow. “Neurophysiologists call the principle ‘neural mirroring’ – we model, or feel into, feelings we observe in another person.”

He adds that a building environment creates a similar response, so the reaching structures in the Mississauga hospital seek to generate optimism, as well as a sense of life and growth, and an uplifting feeling that you are somewhere special and purposeful.

Farrow is currently earning a master’s degree in neuroscience applied to architecture and design—a field so specialized “I believe I will be the only architect in Canada with this degree,” he says.

“There is scientific evidence that space can be an accelerant or leave us numb. And the human dimension connecting space and performance for medical staff and patients alike is at the top of my mind.”

Farrow’s design for the ICU structures is based on an innovative, never-before used building technique: wood blocks laminated with metal instead of glue. Arbesman, a U of T donor, initially invented the fail-safe, velcro-like technology to build safer car brake pads, but began collaborating with Farrow on possible construction uses about five years ago.

The resulting blocks are as strong as concrete, but lighter and as easy to assemble as Lego. Even unskilled volunteers could build one of the 12-bed ICU units on a parking lot or vacant lot in a few hours, according to Farrow.

Features such as clerestory windows to introduce natural light are designed to lower patient and staff stress, while the unit’s wraparound logistics corridor is environmentally controlled so that workers who service mechanics, electricity and medical gases remain isolated from patient areas.

Farrow was inspired to improve on other temporary hospital solutions he’d seen on the news. “The environments we build to support our medical staff and patients need to be the meal equivalent to a fruit-, vegetable- and protein-enhanced energy drink smoothie,” he says, “giving you mental energy and clarity, physical strength and resiliency and mind comfort; an accelerant that will help you succeed under stressed conditions.”

Solace launched on April 23. “We already have interest from a range of different organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Israel,” says Farrow. “People are looking at it for the COVID-19 ICU responses, but because it is permanent in character, yet can also be disassembled easily, jurisdictions are also looking at it for other related uses that will need a longer shelf-life solution as we move into the winter.”

“I thought that the grip timber block solution was perfect as it could give a rapid response solution that could be designed to any medical special need, versus a fixed size as with shipping container structures,” he says. “And we can create an enhanced environment for staff and patients alike.

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