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Ankle exoskeleton enables faster walking

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Being unable to walk quickly can be frustrating and problematic, but it is a common issue, especially as people age. Noting the pervasiveness of slower-than-desired walking, engineers at Stanford University have tested how well a prototype exoskeleton system they have developed – which attaches around the shin and into a running shoe – increased the self-selected walking speed of people in an experimental setting. The exoskeleton is externally powered by motors and controlled by an algorithm. When the researchers optimized it for speed, participants walked, on average, 42 percent faster than when they were wearing normal shoes and no exoskeleton. The results of this study were  published  April 20 in  IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering . “We were hoping that we could increase walking speed with exoskeleton assistance, but we were really surprised to find such a large improvement,” said  Steve Collins , associate professor of mechanical engineering at

First of Its Kind Study Links Wildfire Smoke to Skin Disease

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Wildfire smoke can trigger a host of respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms, ranging from runny nose and cough to a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke. A new study suggests that the dangers posed by wildfire smoke may also extend to the largest organ in the human body, and our first line of defense against outside threat: the skin. During the two weeks in November 2018 when wildfire smoke from the Camp Fire choked the San Francisco Bay Area, health clinics in San Francisco saw an uptick in the number of patients visiting with concerns of eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, and general itch, compared to the same time of the year in 2015 and 2016, the study found. The findings suggest that even short-term exposure to hazardous air quality from wildfire smoke can be damaging to skin health. The report, carried out by physician researchers at the UC San Francisco, in collaboration with researchers at the UC Berkeley, appears on April 21 in the journal  JAMA Dermat

Micro-molded ‘ice cube tray’ scaffold is next step in returning sight to injured retinas

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Tens of millions of people worldwide are affected by diseases like macular degeneration or have had accidents that permanently damage the light-sensitive photoreceptors within their retinas that enable vision. The human body is not capable of regenerating those photoreceptors, but new advances by medical researchers and engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison may provide hope for those suffering from vision loss. They described their work today in the journal Science Advances. Researchers at UW–Madison have made new photoreceptors from human pluripotent stem cells. However, it remains challenging to precisely deliver those photoreceptors within the diseased or damaged eye so that they can form appropriate connections, says  David Gamm , director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute and professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “While it was a breakthrough to be able to make the spare parts — these photoreceptors — it’

Warming Seas Might Also Look Less Colorful to Some Fish. Here’s Why it Matters.

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When marine biologist  Eleanor Caves  of the University of Exeter thinks back to her first scuba dives, one of the first things she recalls noticing is that colors seem off underwater. The vivid reds, oranges, purples and yellows she was used to seeing in the sunlit waters near the surface look increasingly dim and drab with depth, and before long the whole ocean loses most of its rainbow leaving nothing but shades of blue. “The thing that always got me about diving was what happens to people’s faces and lips,” said her former Ph.D. adviser  Sönke Johnsen , a biology professor at Duke University. “Everybody has a ghastly sallow complexion.” Which got the researchers to thinking: In the last half-century, some fish have been shifting into deeper waters, and climate change is likely to blame. One study found that fish species off the northeastern coast of the United States descended more than one meter per year between 1968 and 2007, in response to a warming of only about one degree C

Stress and Death in Female Baboons — as Measured by Hormones in Poop

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Female baboons may not have bills to pay or deadlines to meet, but their lives are extremely challenging. They face food and water scarcity and must be constantly attuned to predators, illnesses and parasites, all while raising infants and maintaining their social status. A new study appearing April 21 in Science Advances shows that female baboons with high life-long levels of glucocorticoids, the hormones involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response, have a greater risk of dying than those with lower levels. Glucocorticoids are a group of hormones that help prepare the body for a challenge. While these hormones have many functions in the body, persistently high levels of glucocorticoids in the bloodstream can be a marker of stress. To understand the relationship between stress responses and survival, scientists studied 242 female baboons in Amboseli National Park, in Kenya. For more than 20 years, they measured glucocorticoid levels in the baboons’ feces, a task that drew upon one o

Stem cell therapy promotes recovery from stroke and dementia in mice

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A one-time injection of an experimental stem cell therapy can repair brain damage and improve memory function in mice with conditions that replicate human strokes and dementia,  a new UCLA study  finds. Dementia can arise from multiple conditions, and it is characterized by an array of symptoms including problems with memory, attention, communication and physical coordination. The two most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and white matter strokes — small strokes that accumulate in the connecting areas of the brain. “It’s a vicious cycle: The two leading causes of dementia are almost always seen together and each one accelerates the other,” said  Dr. S. Thomas Carmichael,  senior author of the study and interim director of the  Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA. An estimated 5 million Americans have dementia. “And with the aging population, that number is going to skyrocket,” Carmichael said. Currently, there are n

In Calculating the Social Cost of Methane, Equity Matters

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What is the cost of 1 ton of a greenhouse gas? When a climate-warming gas such as carbon dioxide or methane is emitted into the atmosphere, its impacts may be felt years and even decades into the future – in the form of rising sea levels, changes in agricultural productivity, or more extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and heat waves. Those impacts are quantified in a metric called the “social cost of carbon,” considered a vital tool for making sound and efficient climate policies. Now a new study by a team including researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley reports that the social cost of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide in its ability to trap heat – varies by as much as an order of magnitude between industrialized and developing regions of the world. Published recently in the journal Nature,  the study  finds that by accounting for economic inequalities between countries and regions, t