Researchers Produce First Map of Microbes in NYC Subway

(Relative amount of DNA found in the New York subway system form bacteria associated with the human body. Courtesy: Weill Cornell Newsroom)

(Relative amount of DNA found in the New York subway system form bacteria associated with the human body. Courtesy: Weill Cornell Newsroom)

The first-ever city-wide map of microbial diversity shows that half of all DNA on the New York City subway system’s surfaces match no known organism, and that about 10 percent of all sequenced DNA matched those related to the respiratory tract.

Results of the massive undertaking, published in Cell Systems, are part of an ongoing PathoMAP project to create a molecular portrait of New York City.

The majority of the identified bacterial, viral, fungal and animal species were harmless species that were commonly found on human skins or in the gastrointestinal tract. There were, however, DNA fragments of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Yersinia pestis (Bubonic plague), Staphylococcus aureus, and live methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) at some of subway stations.

S. aureus is commonly found on human skins as well as in the airways and doesn’t always cause diseases. Some strains, such as the antibiotic-resistant ones, may lead to complications.

“Despite finding traces of pathogenic microbes, their presence isn’t substantial enough to pose a threat to human health,” Dr. Christopher Mason, the study’s senior investigator was quoted as saying. “The presence of these microbes and the lack of reported medical cases is truly a testament to our body’s immune system, and our innate ability to continuously adapt to our environment.

The researchers also analyzed human DNA samples left on the surfaces of the subway system and were able to successfully predict the U.S. Census demographics of a neighborhood.

The study found mostly African American and Yoruban alleles at Canarsie station in Brooklyn, while they found Mexican, Colombian and Puerto Rican alleles in a primarily Hispanic and Amerindian area of Bronx. In Midtown Manhattan, they noted an increase in British, Tuscan and other European alleles with some potentially Chinese alleles.

“This provides a forensic ability to learn about the ancestry of the people who transit a station,” Dr. Mason was quoted as saying. “[A]nd it means the DNA people leave behind can reveal a clue as to the area’s demographics.”

Weill Cornell’s news release is available here. And the full study in Cell Systems can be downloaded here.

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1.2 M Britons May Have Been Wrongly Diagnosed with Asthma

(Courtesy U.S. NIH,: National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

More than 1.2 million people in the U.K. may have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma and may be taking unnecessary medications, according to a new draft clinical guideline for asthma diagnosis.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said up to 30 percent of 4.1 million adults who are treated for asthma in the United Kingdom do not have clear evidence of the chronic condition, although some might have had it once.

About 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, according an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet asthma remains under-studied, under-diagnosed and under-treated, and creates a significant burden on patients, their families and the health care systems.


  • Indoor allergens (dust mites, pollution, pet dander)
  • Outdoor allergens (pollens, molds)
  • Cockroach allergens
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Workplace chemical irritants
  • Air pollution
  • Respiratory infections
  • Cold air
  • Physical activity
  • Stress and strong emotions
  • Sulfites and preservatives

(Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic)

Prof. Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at NICE, acknowledged that under-diagnosis is a concern along with misdiagnosis:

“Accurate diagnosis of asthma has been a significant problem which means that people may be wrongly diagnosed or cases might be missed in others. Our aim with this guideline is to give clarity and set out the most clinical and cost effective ways to diagnose and monitor asthma based on the best available evidence.”

The 315-page draft guideline stresses that signs and symptoms alone are insufficient for an accurate diagnosis and recommends spirometry as the go-to clinical tool to check for obstructive airway disease.

The clinical guideline summarizes differential diagnosis in four flow charts that refers suspected occupational asthma to a specialist and recommends spirometry for those who are five and older.

“Use spirometry as the first-line investigation for asthma in adults and young people older than 16 and children aged 5-16 years. Regard a forced expiratory volume in 1 s/forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) ratio of less than 70% as a positive test for obstructive airway disease (obstructive spirometry).

For those with obstructive spirometry, the watchdog recommends a bronchodilator reversibility (BDR) test to see if FEV1 improves by 12% or more and if the volume increases by 200 mL or more.

In the United States, 18.7 million adults and 6.8 million children live with asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma kills an estimated 3,345 people in the U.S. each year.




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New VBMax S-Series Features Smaller Mouthpiece for Children and Adults

VBMax™ S-Series spirometry filters were designed for pediatric use as well as for situations where patients feel more comfortable with a smaller mouthpiece during spirometry maneuvers.

vbmax-s-series-ridgesWe designed the oval-shaped mouthpiece of the VBMax S-Series PFT filters to be approximately 35% smaller than that of VBMax Standard PFT filters. With some updates to the overall design, we achieved our goals without sacrificing the low resistance to flow that has helped VBMax family of pulmonary function test filters become popular worldwide.

A smaller mouthpiece may also be helpful to patients with temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) or anyone with a limited maximum oral aperture. The S-Series VBMax also features three, equally spaced, superior and inferior ridges for a tighter and easier grip.

If you’d like a sample or have any question about the VBMax S-Series PFT Filters, please let us know.

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How to Choose the Right Nebulizer

Nebulizers, Compressors, Desktop, Portable

A modern nebulizer system turns liquid medications for respiratory diseases into a fine mist that can be inhaled. Your doctor may determine that a powered nebulizer, instead of a metered-dose inhaler alone, may help you maximize the use of the inhaled medication to treat and manage asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory conditions.

Your doctor and respiratory therapist are the best resource for helping you choose the right nebulizer type or system that works with your prescribed medications. Still their recommendation might be broad and generic. They also might not take your lifestyle into consideration. Most consumer nebulizers on the market today fall into two categories:

Desktop nebulizer systems are designed for home use and tend to be larger but cheaper.

Mabis MiniComp

Desktop Nebulizer Systems

  • Often require a firm, flat surface and AC power for indoor use
  • May have built-in compartments, therefore can be bulkier, to store oxygen tubing, medication cups and electrical cords
  • Likely based on proven piston-pump technology (see below) to generate mist
  • May be weighted at the bottom to increase stability for pediatric use


Portable nebulizers are handheld and have multiple power sources.

Portable nebulizers are handheld and have multiple power sources.

Portable and/or Handheld Systems

  • Are designed for handheld operation at home or on the go
  • May use piston-pump or ultrasonic technology to generate mist (see below)
  • Offer multiple ways to power your nebulizer: with AC power, a car charger, or rechargeable battery

Advances in technologies have helped similar nebulizer systems consistently produce finer mists without the bulky housing of the past. If you use a nebulizer only at home, a bulky housing may not matter much. And they tend to be more cost effective. Nebulizer technologies fall largely into three categories:

Piston-Pump Compressor Nebulizers (Jet Nebulizers)

  • High-velocity air created by a piston-powered compressor helps aerosolize liquid medication in the nebulizer cup so you can inhale the medication as a mist
  • Tends to be heavier and noisier, but cheaper, than ultrasonic nebulizers

Ultrasonic Wave Nebulizer

  • Vibrating a metal plate at ultrasonic frequencies creates a mist in the medication cup, which is then mixed with air for easy inhalation
  • Creates slightly smaller and more uniform aerosols than compressor nebulizers
  • Operates almost silently, comes in compact, portable forms, and costs more than jet nebulizers

Ultrasonic Vibrating Mesh Technology Nebulizer (“Mesh” Nebulizer)

  • A membrane, or mesh, with thousands of tiny holes vibrates at ultrasonic frequency to pump out a mist which is then mixed with air for inhalation
  • Operates nearly silently, comes in compact, portable forms, creates uniform particles with little waste
  • The most expensive of all types of nebulizers

Disposable parts are also important to keep in mind when choosing a nebulizer system.

Air filters: Nebulizer compressors usually require an air filter that should be replaced every 30 days or whenever it becomes dirty.

Nebulizers: Manufacturers recommend that disposable nebulizers be replaced every two weeks, while reusable nebulizers be replaced every six months. They should still be cleaned regularly according to manufacturer instructions.

Cleaning and Maintenance: Cleaning instructions vary according to manufacturer and the technology used in a nebulizer system. Regular cleaning and maintenance go a long way in helping you get the most use of your nebulizer system.


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Neuroscience 2014: Sneak Peak at a New Stimulator, Live Demos of Behavioral Analysis, Plus Optopatcher in Action


Since 1976, A-M Systems has manufactured high-quality, affordable instrumentation and supplies for the neuroscientist. This year at Neuroscience, we have demos and sneak peaks of new electrophysiology instruments as well as tools for optogenetics and video analysis of behavioral tasks. Visit our booth to see what’s new for 2015, and qualify for free U.S. shipping on any purchase until the end of the year.

neuroscience-2014-box-actual-analyticsSee a live demo of how you can automatically track, recognize and analyze common fly, fish and rodent behavioral tasks from your own videos. ActualTrack lets you track and analyze videos in batches all without any special hardware or a dongle key.

neuroscience-2014-box-3800With 8 completely independent channels, a front panel touch screen, and computer control capabilities, our Model 3800 MultiStim 8-Channel Programmable Stimulator is the fastest multichannel, high-power stimulator on the market and has enough flexibility to meet your most demanding requirements.

neuroscience-2014-box-optopatcherUnmatched accuracy in applying optical stimulation to an in-vivo patch-clamp protocol. The holder houses both an optical fiber and an electrode enabling simultaneous patch-clamp recording and optogenetic activation.  Come see the Optopatcher in action!


For over 30 years, A-M Systems’ Model 2100 Isolated Pulse Stimulator has been the leading pulse generator used in labs worldwide. With a built-in constant current/voltage isolator and easy-to-use front panel controls, the 2100 is a cost-effective stimulator that can serve as your lab’s workhorse.

But even the 2100 can be improved upon, and 2015 will see the release of our new updated single-channel isolated pulse generator. More power, more functionality, and now with complete computer control, our new stimulator continues the tradition of the Model 2100, but extends its capabilities while not breaking your budget. Come see a sneak preview of our new stimulator!

Dr. Jonathan Bakin, Neuroscience & Physiology Product Manager, and Dr. David Mittmann, chief engineer, will be at booth 2517 answer your questions and walk you through the demos.

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Electrophysiology and Neuroscience Technical Sales and Support Representative

__official-ams-logo_RGB_vector_v2_200px A-M Systems is seeking a motivated sales and support scientist/engineer to represent and service our products. The candidate will have experience in electrophysiology or neuroscience with an oversized interest in electronic instrumentation. Ideal qualifications include expertise in patch clamp electrophysiology. Qualified candidates will have excellent English communication skills (spoken and written), are self-motivated, self-directed, detail oriented, and personable. Job includes full benefits package: (Medical/Dental, Retirement Plan, Vacation/Sick days). Competitive salary (base + commission & expenses) that is commensurate with experience. The ideal candidate should have a BS/MS degree in biology, physiology, neuroscience, or electrical or biomedical engineering, with extensive experience utilizing scientific instrumentation in a laboratory setting.

  • Technical Sales: Develop strong business relationships with existing customers as well as generating new customers through the use of provided leads, reviewing the scientific literature and governmental database sources, and your own knowledge of the industry. Visit customers at different institutions as needed to promote/provide servicing of their current A-M System’s equipment, and generate new sales of our products. Speak to and email customers about their equipment needs, prospect for new customers, make quotes, and follow up to procure orders.
  • Technical Support: become completely proficient in the use of our equipment, which includes both hardware and software. Help customers use our products by giving them superior technical support via telephone, email, and site visits. Be able to perform simple equipment calibrations using instruments such as a function/signal generator, an oscilloscope, and a voltmeter. Be able to follow written procedures documenting calibration procedures, including being able to read schematics as needed.
  • Product Development: Use own knowledge of neuroscience and patch clamp physiology to assist in development of new target customers, new applications for our existing products, and new products.
  • Trade Show Support: attend trade shows as needed. Assist during installation and breakdown of trade show exhibit. Staff booth and meet customers during trade show. Follow up with trade show customers and make appointments for on site visits to secure orders.
  • The position requires travel locally, around the US, and sometimes abroad (Valid Drivers License, own transportation, Passport a must).

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Three Share Nobel Prize for Discovery of ‘Inner GPS’ in Brain

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics or Medicine was shared by three neuroscientists: John O'Keefe and husband-and-wife team May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. (Images courtesy: Per Henning/NTNU, The Kavli Institute at the NTNU, Wikimedia.)

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics or Medicine was shared by three neuroscientists: John O’Keefe and husband-and-wife team May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. (Images courtesy: Per Henning/NTNU, The Kavli Institute at the NTNU, Wikimedia.)

Three scientists were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of “an inner GPS” system in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex that allows complex spatial navgiation.

The three recipients of the prestigious award are John O’Keefe, a U.K. and U.S. citizen and director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London; May-Britt Moser, a Norwegian neuroscientist and director of the Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim; and her husband Edvard Moser, a neuroscience professor and director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, also in Trondheim.

Their research spanning more than three decades has answered an age-old question about how “we navigate our way through a complex environment,” the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said in a press release.

In 1971 Dr. O’Keefe discovered a network of hippocampal “place cells” that activated depending on where a rat was in an open room. In 2005 and 2006, May-Britt and Edvard Moser described how certain cells of the entorhinal cortex actviated as the rat passed through multiple locations arranged in a hexagonal grid. These “grid cells” allowed spatial navigation, they concluded.

The circuitry formed by grid and place cells “constitutes a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain. The positioning system in the human brain appears to have similar components as those of the rat brain,” the Nobel Assembly said.

Understanding the mechanism of complex spatial navigation is likely to have a profound impact on Alzheimer’s disease research and on other areas where loss of spatial memory is a component of the devastating neurodegenerative disease.

Read more about May-Britt and Edvard Moser, whom Nature News dubbed “minor celebrities” in Norway for their teamwork and research at the Kavli Institute.

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NIH Awards $46 Million to 58 Projects Under Brain Initiative

The National Institutes of Health has awarded US$46 million to 58 projects in the initial round of funding for the Brain Initiative. (Image courtesy NIH)

The National Institutes of Health has awarded US$46 million to 58 projects in the initial round of funding for the Brain Initiative. (Image courtesy NIH)

The first round of funding for the Obama administration’s Brain Initiative has been announced for research projects ranging from futuristic wearable PET scanner to remote targeting of cell activity using radio waves, nanoparticles and genetically modified viruses.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded US$46 million to 58 projects in six categories:

  • classification of cell types in the brain
  • tools and techniques for analyzing brain cells and circuits
  • next-generation brain imaging technology
  • new methods and tools for large-scale recording-modulation
  • optimization of large-scale recording-modulation
  • understanding functions of neural circuits

“How do the billions of cells in our brain control our thoughts, feelings, and movements? That’s ultimately what the Brain Initiative is about,” Dr. Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, was quoted as saying in a press release. “Understanding this will greatly help us meet the rising challenges that brain disorders pose for the future health of the nation.”

A focus of the initial years of the BRAIN Initiative is the development of next-generation tools for exploring how dynamic patterns of neural activity in the brain control thoughts, feelings and movements. (Image courtesy NIH)

A focus of the initial years of the BRAIN Initiative is the development of next-generation tools for exploring how dynamic patterns of neural activity in the brain control thoughts, feelings and movements. (Image courtesy NIH)

Among the recipients were research labs at various University of California campuses, the Allen Institute, Rockefeller University, Cold Spring Harbor, CalTech, Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and University of Zurich. But MIT alone received six grants for 15 researchers.

Optogenetics remained a popular tool in the initial round of funding with eight projects ranging from the development of noninvasive light-and-sound system to the creation of optrodes for large-scale electrophysiological recording.

University of California Berkeley received a total of $7.2 million in NIH funding over three years for three research projects under the Brain Initiative. In May, the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses, a joint project between UC Berkeley and UCSF, received a five-year, US$26 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Federal funding for the Brain Initiative is set to double next year to US$200 million. It was unclear whether the Food and Drug Administration and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity will share the proposed budget with the NIH, Darpa and the National Science Foundation.

According to White House figures, the National Photonics Initiative, GE, Google, GlaxoSmithKline and Inscopix have realigned their resources and US$30 million to support the Brain Initiative. And more than US$240 million have also been set aside for the research initiative by private foundations and universities.

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Study: Inhaled Glucocorticoids Don’t Reduce COPD Exacerbations

An example of a valved holding chamber that helps patients inhale COPD and asthma medications. (Image courtesy Philips Respironics)

An example of a valved holding chamber that helps patients inhale COPD and asthma medications. (Image courtesy Philips Respironics)

European researchers are questioning the benefits of inhaled glucocorticoids in reducing the risk of exacerbations among patients with severe or very severe COPD. A double-blind study of nearly 2,500 patients found that glucocorticoids do not have a significant impact on reducing COPD exacerbations.

An inhaled glucocorticoid is commonly prescribed as an adjunct to LAMA (tiotropium) and LABA (salmeterol) combination therapy for patients with severe or very severe COPD with a history of exacerbations.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the patients that underwent a phased withdrawal of inhaled glucocorticoids over 18 weeks did not have a significantly greater risk of exacerbations.

All patients started out with 18 μg of tiotropium delivered once daily, 50 μg of salmeterol xinafoate twice daily and 500 μg of fluticasone propionate  twice daily by a metered-dose inhaler. Over 18 weeks, a group of patients, went from 1,000 μg of inhaled glucocorticoids to 500 μg, to 200 μg and then to 0 μg.

When the phased withdrawal was complete at week 18, those patients had a slight drop in FEV1 (38 mL) when compared to those who continued the inhaled glucocorticoid regimen. At the conclusion of the study, at 52 weeks, a similar difference (52 mL) was seen between the groups. However, the larger reduction of FEV1 from baseline “does not seem to be associated exacerbations,” the authors wrote.

Overall “the stepwise withdrawal of glucocorticoids was noninferior to the continuation of such therapy, with respect to the risk of moderate or severe exacerbations,” the authors concluded.


A chart of common types of asthma and COPD medications available in Australia as published by the National Asthma Council of Australia.

The study challenges current treatment guidelines which call for a triple therapy, including inhaled corticosteroids, for patients with severe COPD. It is unclear what immediate impact the European study might have on established therapies. (Learn more about the current recommended guidelines at the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, or GOLD.

In a separate study of patients who were 66 years or older, Canadian researchers found that a combination therapy of long-acting β-agonists and inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) was associated with a modestly reduced risk of death (36.4% vs 37.3%) or COPD-related hospitalizations (27.8% vs. 30.1%).

The benefits of the LABA-ICS combination therapy was greater in patients with a comorbidity of asthma with a difference in composite outcome at 5 years reaching -6.5% (at 95% confidence internal, and a hazard ratio of 0.84 at 95% CI) and those who were not receiving inhaled long-acting anticholinergic (LAA) drugs (-8.4%, 95% CI with HR of 0.79 at 95% CI).

Dr. Andrea Gershon, at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, and her colleagues followed nearly 12,000 patients over eight years for the real-world, population-based study.

“Our finding of an association between LABAs and ICSs and outcomes helps clarify the management of patients with COPD and asthma, as many studies of COPD medications have excluded people with asthma and vice versa,” Dr. Gershon was quoted as saying by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“In addition, practice guidelines for COPD recommend that LABAs be considered first-line treatment while asthma guidelines warn against use of LABAs without ICSs. Our findings also offer insight into the optimal treatment of COPD patients without asthma—those who would not be considered especially corticosteroid responsive.”


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Karl Deisseroth Earns Keio Medical Science Prize for Optogenetics

Keio Prize Awarded to Karl DeisserothKarl Deisseroth was chosen as one of two recipients of this year’s prestigious Keio Medical Science Prize for his “enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain function in health and disease,” Keio University announced yesterday.

Keio University lauded his efforts in inventing optogenetics, which has been adopted rapidly as a tool to precisely target and demonstrate “causal relationship between neuronal circuits and behavior.”

Thus, Dr. Deisseroth first provided “a method by which all neurons of just one type could be activated or inactivated, leaving the others more or less unaltered” (Francis Crick, 1979), which had been a long-required task in the field of neuroscience.

Optogenetics has further permitted us to control intracellular signals such as calcium and cAMP signals, and thus it can be widely applied to biomedical and life science research. By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain function in health and disease.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive the 2014 Keio Medical Science Prize, in recognition of our efforts to develop optogenetics,” Deisseroth told Keio University. “Prize is particularly meaningful because optogenetics originated as a tool to study the basic science of biology, not medical illness.”

But optogenetic investigations into forms of Parkinson’s in rodent models have already helped neurosurgeons better target implanted stimulating electrodes. Some Parkinson’s patients receive implanted electrodes as part of their treatment to reduce symptoms. However, the precise neuronal connections to target had been up for debate–until optogenetics helped pinpoint the wiring.

“Now neurosurgeons are finding that placing their electrical contacts to target connections gives better results in treating symptoms in people with Parkinson’s and many other conditions,” Deisseroth told Standord News Service in an interview.

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