New motion capture screening technology could slow progression of arthritis

Most people don’t think about their thumbs very often. But for people living with advancing arthritis, the simplest thumb movements—from grasping a cup to sending a text message—can be painful and incredibly challenging.

That’s why Michigan State University researchers set out to see if they could use motion capture technology to screen for differences between healthy hand movements and those in patients with osteoarthritis, or OA. This method could potentially detect arthritis earlier, possibly delaying and preventing the loss of thumb function. In turn, that could save arthritis patients from surgery and even being forced into assisted living.

The team’s research is published in Clinical Biomechanics.

“Our work suggests that three-dimensional motion tasks may be able to identify OA-associated motion deficits earlier than the two-dimensional motion tasks typically used in a clinical setting,” said Amber Vocelle, co-author on the research and a DO/Ph.D. student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “By identifying the disease earlier, we can treat OA earlier in the disease process.”

According to Vocelle, therapists and clinicians traditionally use goniometers, simple two-dimensional measurement tools, along with basic movements to screen for reduced hand function due to OA. But the results can vary depending on who’s doing the measuring, making it hard to track reliably over time.

“There are pieces of information that aren’t being gathered right now that could be useful for early prediction of OA of the thumb, or setting up thresholds to define when people should consider doing therapy before they’re in severe pain,” said Tamara Reid Bush, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering who also worked on the research.

In contrast, motion capture technology records precise, objective measurements in three dimensions.

Both Bush and Vocelle, along with Gail Shafer, an assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine, put markers on participants’ hands, which were then monitored by motion capture technology as they went through a series of three-dimensional thumb movements. Differences between healthy and OA-diagnosed patients were observed.

The thumb isn’t usually looked at in isolation with reference to OA, but this research may be changing that.

“Thumbs aren’t just important for people playing the piano or knitting for fun. Almost everything you do on a daily basis involves the thumb in some way, shape or form,” Bush added.

Forthcoming research from the trio will look at how a six-week thumb exercise protocol impacted the ability to generate forces with the thumb. The researchers observed an increase in thumb strength in just two weeks.

So where could this go next? One avenue would be to develop tools for conducting these three-dimensional measurements in-clinic without the need for laboratory-grade motion capture devices. That would give therapists the ability to not only evaluate more complex movement patterns for earlier diagnosis, but also measure the impact of treatment for better outcomes.

This type of collaboration between research specialties can be difficult to pull off, but Vocelle’s rotations as part of her DO/Ph.D. program presented a meaningful opportunity for integration. The three combined Vocelle’s clinical knowledge, Shafer’s rehabilitation expertise, and Bush’s deep understanding of biomechanics to offer a fresh perspective on a long-standing clinical problem.

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Bacterial predator could help reduce COVID-19 deaths

A type of virus that preys on bacteria could be harnessed to combat bacterial infections in patients whose immune systems have been weakened by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, according to an expert at the University of Birmingham and the Cancer Registry of Norway.

Called bacteriophages, these viruses are harmless to humans and can be used to target and eliminate specific bacteria. They are of interest to scientists as a potential alternative to antibiotic treatments.

In a new systematic review, published in the journal Phage: Therapy, Applications and Research, two strategies are proposed, where bacteriophages could be used to treat bacterial infections in some patients with COVID-19.

In the first approach, bacteriophages would be used to target secondary bacterial nfections in patients’ respiratory systems. These secondary infections are a possible cause of the high mortality rate, particularly among elderly patients. The aim is to use the bacteriophages to reduce the number of bacteria and limit their spread, giving the patients’ immune systems more time to produce antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Marcin Wojewodzic, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham and now researcher at the Cancer Registry of Norway, is the author of the study. He says: “By introducing bacteriophages, it may be possible to buy precious time for the patients’ immune systems and it also offers a different, or complementary strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies.”

Professor Martha R.J. Clokie, a Professor of Microbiology at the University of Leicester and Editor-in-Chief of PHAGE journal explains why this work is important: “In the same way that we are used to the concept of ‘friendly bacteria’ we can harness ‘friendly viruses’ or ‘phages’ to help us target and kill secondary bacterial infections caused by a weakened immune system following viral attack from viruses such as COVID-19”.

Dr. Antal Martinecz, an expert in computational pharmacology at the Arctic University of Norway who advised on the manuscript says: “This is not only a different strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies but, more importantly, it is exciting news relating to the problem of bacterial resistance itself.”

In the second treatment strategy, the researcher suggests that synthetically altered bacteriophages could be used to manufacture antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus which could then be administered to patients via a nasal or oral spray. These bacteriophage-generated antibodies could be produced rapidly and inexpensively using existing technology.

“If this strategy works, it will hopefully buy time to enable a patient to produce their own specific antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thus reduce the damage caused by an excessive immunological reaction,” says Dr. Wojewodzic.

Professor Martha R.J. Clokie’s research focuses on the identification and development of bacteriophages that kill pathogens in an effort to develop new antimicrobials. “We could also exploit our knowledge of phages to engineer them to generate novel and inexpensive antibodies to target COVID-19. This clearly written article covers both aspects of phage biology and outlines how we might use these friendly viruses for good purpose.”

Dr. Wojewodzic is calling for clinical trials to test these two approaches.”This pandemic has shown us the power viruses have to cause harm. However, by using beneficial viruses as an indirect weapon against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other pathogens, we can harness that power for a positive purpose and use it to save lives. The beauty of nature is that while it can kill us, it can also come to our rescue.” adds Dr. Wojewodzic.

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These Fruits and Veggies Could Last Months When Stored The Right Way

Any smart shopper would want their fresh produce to last as long as possible. If it doesn’t go bad fast, it means you can save more money because fresh fruits and vegetables can be pretty expensive. Having to throw away rotten ones and restock again can hurt your food budget and is also wasteful.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, around 94% of food thrown away end up in landfills. This could be lessened just by knowing the right way to purchase, store, and prepare your fruits and vegetables so they will last for as long as possible. But you can also opt to stock up on these products that could last for longer than you would expect, as long as you store and use them correctly.

Potatoes

It’s ideal to store potatoes in 40 degrees Fahrenheit. These veggies don’t like light, so the perfect storage conditions for potatoes is in the basement or a cellar. Light can also make them turn green.

Storing potatoes in this condition keeps them from rotting for around 2 to 4 months. However, keep them away from apples and onions as both of these food items emit gases that could make potatoes ripen faster.

Cabbage

Although cabbage tastes best when it’s fresh, it can also last for up to 2 months if you plan to stock up on it. However, it should be placed inside the fridge and wrapped in plastic. Since cabbages can last longer than lettuce or other delicate leafy greens, it can be used as a stand-in as an ingredient of your salads. Most greens that are frequently used in salads wilt in a matter of days because of their high water content.

Cabbages can be alternatives to salad greens that wilt quickly.

Apples

According to the University of Maine, no other tree fruit could last longer than apples and pears. Under the right conditions, these could last up to 4 months. Apples could thrive in a storage temperature of around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, except for the Honeycrisp variant that should be stored at 36 degrees Fahrenheit because it tends to get a chilling injury.

Among your bunch of apples, consume the largest one first since these are usually the first ones to go bad. Store apples inside a plastic bag and stow it inside the fruit crisper drawer of your refrigerator to prolong it for weeks. Just make sure that you keep them away from veggies. Other vegetables ripen faster when exposed to ethylene gas, which apples emit.

Beets

Beets can be used in a variety of ways. You can slice them up for salads or snack on baked beet chips. It’s a good thing that these veggies can last between 2 to 4 months in your refrigerator if stored properly. If there are still greens attached to the beets, make sure to remove them. After that, place it in a perforated plastic bag and inside the vegetable crisper.

Garlic

These kitchen staples can last the longest when stored at around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. These should be okay to store inside a dark kitchen cabinet.

A whole bulb could last for months stored inside a paper bag in the fridge. However, all your other food items might taste like garlic if you store them with already cut ones. Once you refrigerate the garlic bulb, you should keep it inside until you are about to use it. Days after it has been taken out from the cold and into room temperature, it will start sprouting.

You should only store unopened bulbs inside the fridge and not sliced ones if you don’t want other food items to acquire a garlicky taste.

Carrots

Carrots give off plenty of moisture, so you have to keep them dry if you intend to use it much later. This is because the moisture makes the carrots rot quicker. If they came in a plastic bag when you bought them from the grocery store, just put in a paper towel inside so it can absorb any moisture from the carrots. Once the paper towel gets saturated, replace it with a new one so you can keep your carrots fresh for up to a few months.

Onions

Onions can last up to a year as long as these are stored in a dry area with a temperature between 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have the proper storage place, just keep it in mesh bags, like the ones used to pack onions sold by the grocery stores. If you store them inside a dark cabinet, they can last to a month or even longer.

Winter Radish

The white-colored daikon variety you see in your local grocery store is more pungent than the red ones you use for spring salads. So, if you’re looking for a healthy supply of fresh produce, don’t store too many of these. Storage for winter radishes is similar to that of carrots. After you remove the greens, place the radishes inside a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture. That way, these could last for about a month.

You can use shredded or thinly shaved winter radish for your slaw or salad.

Winter Squash

Varieties of winter squash, including pumpkins and butternut squash, can last around 2 to 6 months if stored inside a dark cabinet. Just make sure that you arrange them in a single layer so that air can circulate better. Stocking up on these versatile vegetables is a smart choice since these are packed with nutrients and can be used in a number of recipes.

Frozen Vegetables

Aside from your fresh produce, also hit the frozen foods aisle and stock up on a couple of packs of frozen vegetables. It may be healthier than fresh asparagus, spinach, peas, and other veggies with a short shelf life as these were frozen just hours after being harvested. Plus, you don’t have to worry too much about expiration as long as you keep it inside your freezer.

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