By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022
Researchers on Thursday reported the latest in a surprising string of experiments in the quest to save human lives with organs from genetically modified pigs.
This time around, surgeons in Alabama transplanted a pig’s kidneys into a brain-dead man — a step-by-step rehearsal for an operation they hope to try in living patients possibly later this year.
“The organ shortage is in fact an unmitigated crisis and we’ve never had a real solution to it,” said Dr. Jayme Locke of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led the newest study and aims to begin a clinical trial of pig kidney transplants.
Similar experiments have made headlines in recent months as research into animal-to-human transplants heats up.
Twice this fall, surgeons at New York University temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient to watch them work. And earlier this month, surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center gave a dying man a heart from a gene-edited pig that so far is keeping him alive.
But scientists still needed to learn more about how to test such transplants without risking a patient’s life. With the help of a family who donated a loved one’s body for science, Locke mimicked the way human organ transplants are done — from removing the pig “donor” kidneys to sewing them inside the deceased man’s abdomen.
For a little over three days, until the man’s body was removed from life support, the pair of pig kidneys survived with no sign of immediate rejection, her team reported Thursday in the American Journal of Transplantation.
That was only one of several key findings. Locke said it wasn’t clear if delicate pig kidney blood vessels could withstand the pounding force of human blood pressure – but they did. One kidney was damaged during removal from the pig and didn’t work properly but the other rapidly started producing urine as a kidney should. No pig viruses were transmitted to the recipient, and no pig cells were found in his bloodstream.
But Locke said the kidney experiment could have more far-reaching impact – because it shows that a brain-dead body can be a much-needed human model to test potential new medical treatments.
The research was conducted in September after Jim Parsons, a 57-year-old Alabama man, was declared brain-dead from a dirt bike racing accident.
After hearing this kind of research “had the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, we knew without a doubt that that was something that Jim would have definitely put his seal of approval on,” said Julie O’Hara, Parsons’ ex-wife.
The need for another source of organs is huge: While more than 41,000 transplants were performed in the US last year, a record, more than 100,000 people remain on the national waiting list. Thousands die every year before getting an organ and thousands more never even get added to the list, considered too much of a long shot.
Animal-to-human transplants, what’s called xenotransplantation, have been attempted without success for decades. People’s immune systems almost instantly attack the foreign tissue. But scientists now have new techniques to edit pig genes so their organs are more human-like — and some are anxious to try again.
The recent string of pig experiments “is a big step forward,” said Dr. David Kaczorowski of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Moving on to first-stage trials in potentially dozens of people is “becoming more and more feasible.”
A heart transplant surgeon, Kaczorowski has done experiments testing pig organs in non-human primates that helped pave the way but “there are only things we can learn by transplanting them into humans.”
Hurdles remain before formal testing in people begins, including deciding who would qualify to test a pig organ, said Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center who will help develop ethics and policy recommendations for the first clinical trials under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Scientists also still have much to learn about how long pig organs survive and how best to genetically alter them, cautioned Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Health, who led that centre’s kidney experiments in the fall.
“I think different organs will require different genetic modifications,” he said in an email.
For the newest kidney experiment, UAB teamed with Revivicor, the subsidiary of United Therapeutics that also provided organs for the recent heart transplant in Maryland and the kidney experiment in New York. Company scientists made 10 genetic changes to these pigs, knocking out some genes that trigger a human immune attack and make the animals’ organs grow too large — and adding some human genes so the organs look less foreign to people’s immune systems.
Then there are practical questions such as how to minimise time spent getting pig organs to their destination. UAB housed the altered pigs in a germ-free facility in Birmingham complete with an operating room-like space to remove the organs and ready them for transplant.
Revivicor chief scientific officer David Ayares said future plans include building more such facilities near transplant centres.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launches 53 Starlink Satellites From California
By Associated Press | Updated: 14 May 2022
A SpaceX rocket carried 53 satellites for the Starlink internet constellation into orbit Friday after blasting off from California.
The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 3:07pm., and minutes later the first stage landed on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean while the second stage continued toward low Earth orbit.
SpaceX later tweeted that the satellites were successfully deployed.
Starlink is a space-based system that SpaceX has been building for years to bring internet access to underserved areas of the world.
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has hundreds of Starlink satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 340 miles (550 kilometers).
SpaceX recently announced that its Starlink Internet service will now be available in 32 new countries. It shared an availability map for the service, which showed countries marked under different segments such as Available, Waitlist, and Coming Soon. Most countries in Europe and North America are listed under Available, while some regions in South America are under waitlist, which means that the Starlink service is read to ship in these regions. Most of the newly added countries fall under the coming soon category, including all of Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia.
The Starlink Internet service will expand to more countries, including India. However, in India, the service still hasn’t received commercial licences. SpaceX had originally planned to launch the service in India and provide full coverage by the end of 2021. The new availability map does not reveal any timelines for the countries where the Internet service is said to launch.
China’s Tianzhou-4 Cargo Vessel Docks With Under-Construction Space Station Ahead of Crew Arrival Next Month
By Associated Press | Updated: 10 May 2022
A Chinese cargo vessel docked with the country’s under-construction space station Tuesday ahead of a new three-person crew expected to arrive next month.
The Tianzhou-4 spacecraft was slung into space atop a Long March-7 Y5 rocket at 1:56am (11:26pm) from the Wenchang Launch Base in the southern island province of Hainan. State media said it docked with the station about seven hours later.
The cargo vessel is carrying supplies for the next crew’s six-month stay, along with research equipment and spare parts for maintaining the station.
The station’s last crew returned to Earth last month after six months on the station, China’s longest space mission to date.
China intends to finish building the station this year with the addition of two laboratory modules in July and October to link with the Tianhe living module that was launched in April 2021. Another cargo craft, the Tianzhou-3, remains docked with the station.
China’s space programme launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making China only the third country to do so using its own resources after the former Soviet Union and the US.
It has landed robot rovers on the moon and placed one on Mars last year. China has also returned samples from the moon, and officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon.
The government announced in 2020 that China’s first reusable spacecraft had landed following a test flight but no photos or details have been released.
China is excluded from the International Space Station due to US unease that its space programme is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.
The Shenzhou 14 crewed mission is scheduled to launch next month for a six month stay. Toward the end of that mission, three more astronauts will be launched aboard Shenzhou 15 for a further six months, with the two crews overlapping for three to five days, marking the first time the station has six people aboard.
Elon Musk Accountable for Giving Communication Equipment to Ukraine Troops: Roscosmos Chief
By ANI | Updated: 9 May 2022
Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin criticized Sunday billionaire Elon Musk for allegedly providing the Ukrainian troops with military communication equipment and warned him about possible repercussions. Earlier on Sunday, the captured chief of staff of the 36th Ukrainian marines brigade said that Musk’s satellite constellation was providing internet connection to Ukrainian troops in Mariupol.
“Per our information, the delivery of Starlink internet terminals to the Ukrainian armed forces was done by the Pentagon,” Rogozin said on Telegram, adding that Musk is “thus complicit” and will be held accountable.
Musk’s Starlink project seeks to provide affordable access to broadband internet connections across the world. Immediately after the beginning of the Russian special operation in late February, Musk confirmed that the Starlink service was active in Ukraine and promised to deliver more terminals to the country.
On March 7, forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic surrounded Mariupol and began a liberation campaign, with the remaining fighters of the Ukrainian nationalist Azov battalion holing up in the underground tunnels of the Azovstal plant.
SpaceX Dragon Endurance Capsule With NASA Crew-3 Mission Returns to Earth After 6 Months on ISS
By Reuters | Updated: 6 May 2022
The third long-duration astronaut team launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) safely returned to Earth early on Friday, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida to end months of orbital research ranging from space-grown chilies to robots.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying three US NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate from Germany parachuted into calm seas in darkness at the conclusion of a 23-hour-plus autonomous flight home from the ISS.
The splashdown, at about 12:45 am EDT (0445 GMT, or 10:15am IST) was carried live by a joint NASA-SpaceX webcast.
And… splashdown! Dragon has safely made it home with precious cargo aboard: four #Crew3 astronauts!— NASA (@NASA) May 6, 2022
Now they wait for the recovery vehicle, which is named after Shannon Walker, mission specialist for the first crewed @SpaceX mission to the @Space_Station: pic.twitter.com/VDDXdsxkbH
The Endurance crew, which began its stay in orbit on November 11, consisted of American spaceflight veteran Tom Marshburn, 61, and three first-time astronauts – NASA’s Raja Chari, 44, and Kayla Barron, 34, and their ESA colleague Matthias Maurer, 52.
Camera shots from inside the crew compartment showed the astronauts strapped into their seats, garbed in helmeted white-and-black spacesuits.
It was expected to take splashdown-response teams about an hour to reach the capsule bobbing in the water, hoist it onto the deck of a recovery vessel and open the hatch to let the astronauts out for their first breath of fresh air in nearly six months.
The return from orbit followed a fiery re-entry plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures outside the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,930 degrees Celsius).
Two sets of parachutes billowed open above the capsule in the final stage of descent, slowing its fall to about 15 miles per hour (24 kph) before the craft hit the water off the coast of Tampa, Florida.
Applause from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles was heard over the Webcast, which showed infrared images of the capsule on its final descent.
The newly returned astronauts were officially designated as NASA’s “Commercial Crew 3,” the third full-fledged, long-duration team of four that SpaceX has flown to the space station under contract for the US space agency.
SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric carmaker Tesla who recently clinched a deal to buy Twitter, supplies the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules now flying NASA astronauts to orbit from US soil.
The company also controls those flights and handles the splashdown recoveries, while NASA furnishes the crews and launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and manages US space station operations.
MICROGRAVITY COTTON & COMBUSTION
California-based SpaceX has launched seven human spaceflights in all over the past two years – five for NASA and two for private ventures – as well as dozens of cargo and satellite payload missions since 2012.
Crew 3 returned to Earth with some 550 pounds (250 kg) of cargo, including loads of ISS research samples.
Aside from carrying out routine maintenance while in orbit some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, the astronauts contributed to hundreds of science experiments and technology demonstrations.
Highlights included studies of the genetic expression in cotton cells cultured in space, gaseous flame combustion in microgravity and the DNA sequences of bacteria inside the station. Crew members also tested new robot devices, harvested chili peppers grown in orbit and conducted experiments in space physics and materials science.
Barron and Chari performed a spacewalk to prepare the station for another in a series of new light-weight roll-out solar arrays, to be used eventually on the planned Gateway outpost that will orbit the moon.
Crew 3’s return comes about a week after they welcomed their replacement team, Crew 4, aboard the space station. One of the three Russian cosmonauts also now inhabiting the station, Oleg Artemyev, assumed command of the ISS from Marshburn in a handover before Endurance departed early Thursday.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
NASA, Boeing Say Starliner Capsule Ready for Test Launch to ISS on May 19
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 4 May 2022
Boeing’s Starliner capsule is finally ready to reattempt a key test launch to the International Space Station on May 19, officials said Tuesday.
The uncrewed flight, named OFT-2, is a vital step towards certifying the spaceship for eventually carrying passengers, giving NASA a second taxi provider alongside SpaceX.
Aerospace giant Boeing, which was awarded a $4.2 billion (roughly Rs. 32,150 crore) contract for the purpose in 2014, initially attempted the test in 2019, but failed to rendezvous with the ISS after experiencing software glitches that caused flight anomalies.
The programme has since experienced several delays. It was last supposed to fly in August 2021, but the mission was aborted just hours before launch because high humidity led to corrosion within Starliner’s valves.
“It’s been a hard eight months I would say, but very fulfilling that we’ve resolved the problem,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on a call with reporters.
NASA is targeting 6:54pm (4:24am IST) for lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If OFT-2 succeeds, Boeing will have to complete another crewed test before it is officially certified, with the company aiming for the end of 2022 for this mission, Boeing’s Mark Nappi said.
In the meantime, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already ferried more than 20 people to the ISS on its Crew Dragon capsule since its first crewed flight in 2020.
Google Sacks Another AI Researcher, After Internal Battle Over Chip Design Research
By Reuters | Updated: 3 May 2022
Google said on Monday it had recently fired a senior engineering manager after colleagues, whose landmark research on artificial intelligence software he had been trying to discredit, accused him of harassing behaviour.
The dispute, which stems from efforts to automate chip design, threatens to undermine the reputation of Google’s research in the academic community. It also could disrupt the flow of millions of dollars in government grants for research into AI and chips.
Google’s research unit has faced scrutiny since late 2020 after workers lodged open critiques about its handling of personnel complaints and publication practices.
The new episode emerged after the scientific journal Nature in June published “A graph placement methodology for fast chip design,” led by Google scientists Azalia Mirhoseini and Anna Goldie. They discovered that AI could complete a key step in the design process for chips, known as floorplanning, faster and better than an unspecified human expert, a subjective reference point.
But other Google colleagues in a paper that was anonymously posted online in March — “Stronger Baselines for Evaluating Deep Reinforcement Learning in Chip Placement” — found that two alternative approaches based on basic software outperform the AI. One beat it on a well-known test, and the other on a proprietary Google rubric.
Google declined to comment on the leaked draft, but two workers confirmed its authenticity.
The company said it refused to publish Stronger Baselines because it did not meet its standards, and soon after fired Satrajit Chatterjee, a leading driver of the work. It declined to say why it fired him.
“It’s unfortunate that Google has taken this turn,” said Laurie Burgess, an attorney for Chatterjee. “It was always his goal to have transparency about the science, and he urged over the course of two years for Google to address this.”
Google researcher Goldie told the New York Times, which on Monday first reported the firing, that Chatterjee had harassed her and Mirhoseini for years by spreading misinformation about them.
Burgess denied the allegations and added that Chatterjee did not leak Stronger Baselines.
Patrick Madden, an associate professor focused on chip design at Binghamton University who has read both papers, said he had never seen a paper before the one in Nature that lacked a good comparison point.
“It’s like a reference problem: Everyone gets the same jigsaw puzzle pieces, and you can compare how close you come to getting everything right,” he said. “If they were to produce results on some standard benchmark and they were stellar, I would sing their praises.”
Google said the comparison to a human was more relevant and that software licensing issues had prevented it from mentioning tests.
Studies by big institutions such as Google in well-known journals can have an outsized influence on whether similar projects are funded in the industry. One Google researcher said the leaked paper had unfairly opened the door to questions about the credibility of any work published by the company.
After “Stronger Baselines” emerged online, Zoubin Ghahramani, a vice president at Google Research, wrote on Twitter last month that “Google stands by this work published in Nature on ML for Chip Design, which has been independently replicated, open-sourced, and used in production at Google.”
Nature, citing a UK public holiday, did not have immediate comment. Madden said he hoped Nature would revisit the publication, noting that peer reviewer notes show at least one asked for results on benchmarks.
“Somehow, that never happened,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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