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This Week in Science Sept. 23: Microbeads, black holes and more collide

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Courtesy of James Gathany

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist measures the amount of virus that has been grown and harvested in a CDC’s laboratory. CDC scientists are predicting that this season's flu vaccine will be more effective than last year's.

There’s an app for that

A recent study conducted by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation showed that a new artificial pancreas system could be helpful in stabilizing blood glucose levels in patients with Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, resulting in the inability to convert glucose into energy.

The artificial pancreas system, designed by Cambridge University, is composed of a glucose sensor and an insulin pump. The system uses a smartphone to help control insulin transmission in Type 1 diabetics, which allowed subjects the ability to control their own insulin dosages, if necessary.

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The program, however, was still able to calculate and administer insulin dosages independently, according to the study.

Researchers believe that the new artificial pancreas system is significantly more effective than manual transmission in helping subjects with Type 1 diabetes remain in their target glucose range.

The study showed that subjects were able to maintain their target glucose range 68 percent of the time using the artificial pancreas system compared to 57 percent of the time for those who independently controlled their insulin dosages.

The subjects also showed improvement in night glucose levels, staying in range at night 59 percent of the time compared to 29 percent for those not using the artificial pancreas system, according to researchers.

According to the JDRF, the study was the longest trial ever performed using an artificial pancreas system that yielded positive results.

Banning beads

The cosmetic products you use every morning may be damaging ocean wildlife.

Microbeads, the tiny, plastic beads that are often found in soaps and cosmetics, are entering and polluting aquatic habitats, according to a new study published in Environmental Science and Technology.

According to the study, there are more than 800 trillion microbeads entering waterways every day in the U.S. through a sludge that turns into a runoff from sewage treatment plants.

“Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our waste-water treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge,” said Stephanie Green of Oregon State University, a co-author of the study.

Once these microbeads have entered aquatic habitats, marine life mistakes them for food and ingests them, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study states that although microbeads are made to be washed down drains, they are not biodegradable, and the small size of plastic microbeads makes them difficult for waste-water treatment plants to filter out on a large scale.

Illinois became the first state to ban the production and sale of products containing microbeads in 2014, according to the NOAA. Companies including Unilever and Johnson & Johnson have also pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in their products.

Foiling this year’s flu

According to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency is taking measures to ensure this year’s flu vaccine is more effective than last year’s.

The CDC reported that the flu vaccine available to the public last year was less than 23 percent effective because of recent mutations in the dominant strain of the flu virus, compared to a typical efficacy rate of 50 to 60 percent.

This year’s flu vaccine will be reformulated and derived from the H1N1-like virus, H3N2-like virus and influenza B to match mutational changes to the dominant strain of the flu virus.

A recent analysis done by the CDC in the U.S. indicates that this vaccine will be more effective at preventing the flu.

According to the CDC, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population becomes sick with the flu each year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 years and older get a flu vaccine each year, particularly those older than 65 and those with chronic diseases, as the flu can pose serious health threats to the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems.

On an intergalactic collision course

New research published by Columbia University predicts that two supermassive black holes in the Virgo constellation are on a collision course, and will most likely collide in 100,000 years.

According to the researchers, the black holes are currently one light-week apart and are moving closer to each other. Researchers currently know little about black hole collisions and how frequently they take place.

Zoltan Haiman, an astronomer at Columbia University and senior author of the study, claims that watching this process can help researchers understand how black holes and galaxies grow, and if they have similar growth rates.

“This is the closest we’ve come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision,” Haiman said in an interview with NYC Today.

One of the study’s co-authors, David Schiminovich, believes that studying the collision of these two black holes can help researchers search for more pairs of black holes that are undergoing similar activity.

Supermassive black holes are generally found at the center of galaxies.

The black holes being watched by researchers are located 3.5 billion light years from Earth. The research team predicts that the energy produced by the collision could generate an extremely high amount of energy, equivalent to that of 100 million supernova explosions.

A laboratory the size of a USB drive

A new DNA sequencing device could be used to treat infections more quickly.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia have developed a DNA sequencing device than can detect bacteria in urine samples four times more quickly than traditional methods.

Findings on the device, about the size of a USB stick, were unveiled last weekend at a medical conference in San Diego.

According to the researchers, the device could enable faster treatment of things like urinary tract infections.

David Livermore, a professor at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, believes that the device could lead to a more efficient use of antibiotics in treating patients with UTIs.

“Treatment can be refined earlier, benefitting the patient who gets an effective antibiotic,” Livermore said at the conference.

Researchers said that the sequencing device can detect bacteria and provide results in as little as 12 hours, compared to two days—the amount of time it takes to get results in a traditional laboratory setting.

According to Dr. Justin O’Grady, also from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, the device can also detect a patient’s resistance to any antibiotics.

Researchers said that there is still room for improvement in the device, as it only works on urine samples that are heavily infected.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (11/24)
1,344 22 1.6%
Total (8/2)
60,367 957 1.6%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated November 24, 2021