Scientists announce key breakthrough in the quest to regenerate bones

Bone and cartilage regeneration has moved a step closer to reality. Scientists have successfully formed “bone-like structures” in mice using a new stem cell-based technique, which they believe could be transferred to humans.

Developed by scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Monash University and RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology, the technique allowed the creation of cells that have the appearance and behaviour of normal cells in the stage just before they form cartilage.

When the researchers transplanted these special proto-cartilage cells – more accurately known as chondrocyte precursor cells – into mice, they developed into structures that had the appearance and characteristic of bone.

According to the researchers, the technique can be easily scaled up to generate large numbers of these cells at once, giving it serious potential for human use.

The research has particular potential for the repair of damaged cartilage and bone in joints and the spine – conditions that plague professional athletes and those who do a lot of manual labour as part of their jobs.


For those who don’t know, stem cells are cells in the body that are not specialised for any particular function and which can in some circumstances be made to turn into other cells. They have previously been researched for bone regeneration, but with only limited success.

The reason for this is that previous research has used adult stem cells, which are located in the area trying to be regenerated and already have some of the properties  of normal cells in that part of the body.

This new research, however, has focused on the use of embryonic stem cells, which are extracted from an embryo (in this case of a mouse) and so have the potential to become a far wider range of cells than their adult counterparts.


However, to make any form of stem cells become a specific cell type, scientists need to use a second component to trigger a change in the cell.

“Current cell generation strategies generally use proteins to direct the stem cells to give rise to functional cells of interest,” explained Dr Naoki Nakayama, holder of the Jerold B Katz Distinguished Professorship in Stem Cell Research at the UTHealth Medical School.

However Nakayama believes that proteins aren’t the best tool for the job, as they use a lot of different mechanisms to make changes to the stem cell, and not all of them help to create the desired final cell. They are also very expensive, making them far from ideal for the task.

Instead this research used tiny organic compounds known as small molecules for the task, which are growing in popularity for use in stem cells.

“Small molecules are generally longer-lasting than proteins in culture and also inexpensive to produce to a large scale. They can also allow a particular mechanism to be more precisely activated,” said Nakayama.

The research was published today in the stem cell research journal Development.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC