Ultrasound for Alzheimer’s, CLIP 3D Printing, and Smashing Records with Thor’s Hammer | Vol. 2 / No. 21

If you *really* zoom in on the brain... Ben Brahim Mohammed, CC BY 3.0
If you *really* zoom in on the brain… Photo:Ben Brahim Mohammed, CC BY 3.0

Ultrasound for Alzheimer’s?

This week a new study out in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests that a promising new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease may be on the way: ultrasound. Following hard on the heels of research out of Columbia University demonstrating that ultrasound was capable of temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier (a stumbling block for delivering many drugs to the brain), a team of researchers in Australia has shown that ultrasound may also have another effect on the brain: breaking up and disposing of the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. It appears that the plaque both breaks up and migrates out of the brain through the temporarily open barrier to be disposed of by the body, which could end up being a promising treatment for the disease. It’s still early days yet — the Australian team has so far only tested the technique on genetically-modified mice — but they’re hoping to have moved through further animal trials and into clinical trials by 2017. Check Science Alert, or the article in Science Translational Medicine for more.

Like Terminator melting in reverse; photo: Carbon3D
Like the Terminator melting in reverse; photo: Carbon3D


At a TED talk last week in Vancouver, UNC Chapel Hill chemistry professor and founder of Carbon3D Joseph DeSimone presented a new addition to the numerous 3D printing technologies already available, and this one has some definite advantages. The CLIP printer, short for Continuous Liquid Interface Production, uses photoreactive polymers in a liquid-filled tub to build objects from the top down, pulling each successive layer out of a reservoir of coloured goop that looks like you’re playing the end of Terminator 2 backwards. It’s faster than most conventional methods, and it has a much higher resolution: below 20 microns. As phys.org informs me, that’s something like a quarter of the thickness of a typical piece of paper. Check out the company, Carbon3D, for the sales pitch and TED talk, phys.org for explanation, and the journal Science for the details of the printing technique.

Thor Vol. 4 No.1, Midtown Comics NYCC variant cover detail; Photo: Marvel, Russel Dauterman, Midtown Comics
Thor Vol. 4 No.1, Midtown Comics NYCC variant cover detail; Photo: Marvel, Russel Dauterman, Midtown Comics

Smashing Records (with Thor’s Hammer)

People complaining about the new Marvel Comics rendition of Thor as female are going to have to sit back and enjoy the ride for a while. The Verge is reporting that the first five issues of Thor Volume 4 are doing, well, let’s say significantly better in terms of sales than the first five of the previous edition, Thor: God of Thunder, launched in 2012. They’re selling about 30% more, despite the change: that’s the difference between roughly 110k copies of the older #1 and the roughly 150k sold of the new. And for those complaining that the “real” god Thor is male and that they’re messing with Norse mythology, I have a friend who points out that nobody got up in arms about it when the Stargate universe turned the Aesir into “greys”. Just saying. Anyway for more on the story, check out the Independent and the Verge.

A closeup of the surface of Mercury taken this week by Messenger; photo: NASA / JPL
A closeup of the surface of Mercury taken this week by Messenger; photo: NASA / JPL

The End of Messenger

This week NASA’s Messenger spacecraft marked two milestones: four years in orbit around Mercury, and the final orbital corrections before its inevitable end. Over the past four years, it’s given us all sort of brilliant data about our Sun’s closest neighbour — check out the gallery of Messenger images if you want to see — and the best maybe yet to come. As the probe’s orbit deteriorates in advance of an estimated April 30 impact with the surface, it will be taking pictures as it creeps closer and closer. Check out Scientific American for more on the story.

Hacking for Cash

According to the Verge, a hacker at the Google-run Pwn2Own conference in Vancouver has won $225,000 for breaking into three web browsers. In a move that’s surely been good for the industry, the major software companies have begun “bug bounty” systems, whereby they pay enterprising hackers who can demonstrate (and not disclose) flaws in the security of their software. This week JungHoon Lee (aka lokihardt) poked holes in Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox, making a sweet pile of cash in the process of making everyone safer. I for one welcome our new hacking overlords. Check out the Verge for more.

Fatty Acid on Mars?

Toss it on the growing pile: yet another piece of evidence (albeit circumstantial) points to the possibility the life one existed on the red planet. This week results from Curiosity’s SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) seems to show the presence of a fatty acid. Of course, as with pretty much everything we’ve discovered on Mars to date, it’s only possible that this is due to life having once been present on our rusty neighbour. But at some point I remain confident that the preponderance of evidence will be locked down by something concrete. In the meantime, read more on this over at the BBC.

Best of the Rest

And as usual, I read more than I could cover this week, so if you’re dying for more check these out:

I’ll leave you with this, the strange marketing of a product that might exist (but no-one’s really sure): I present to you the augmented reality company (device?) Magic Leap.

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That’s all for today. Have a great week.