World Round-Up

  • An ambitious, emergency plan to help save the vaquita, a rare species of porpoise, from extinction in the northern Gulf of California has been recommended by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA). The plan involves relocating some of the remaining vaquitas to a temporary sanctuary, while crucial efforts aimed at eliminating illegal fishing and removing gill nets from their environment continue. The emergency action plan will be led by the Mexican government and supported by a consortium of marine mammal experts from more than a dozen organisations around the world.
  • Women from low socio-economic backgrounds are 25% more likely to suffer a heart attack than disadvantaged men, a major new study has found. Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health examined data from 22 million people from North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.
  • New evidence involving the ancient excreta of some astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change. Led by Monash University in Victoria, Australia, and the University of Colorado Boulder, U.S., the team used information from a sediment core drilled in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia to help reconstruct past climate and ecosystems on the continent.
  • Heart failure affects millions of people worldwide, but treatment options are limited. If patients in advanced stages of the disease can’t get transplants, doctors can implant devices that help the heart pump blood. But those devices put patients at risk for infection and clotting, thanks to valves and pumps that come into direct contact with blood. Now, scientists have created a soft, robotic sheath that may someday help struggling hearts keep beating without that danger. Made from material that resembles the outer layers of heart tissue, the sheath encases the heart and helps it pump by applying alternating pressure and suction. Building on similar research designs moving through preclinical development, this version uses an array of actuators that function as artificial muscles to squeeze and twist simultaneously. Signals from a pacemaker wire tells the sheath when and how to move, directing it to mimic the weakened heart’s natural rhythm. In pigs whose failing hearts beat at only 47% of control levels, the devices restored heart function to 97%, the researchers have reported in Science Translational Medicine. The sheath is still far from human use — safety testing and other tweaks will require a lot more work — but scientists say the study lays the foundation for squeezing more out of heart treatment in the future.
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