Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

How dangerous and destructive forces in Nature can be used positively with the help of Science

Deadly  heat from the center of Earth. Volcanoes. Zika virus.

Pompeii in 79 A.D. Krakatoa eruption of 1883. 

What do these things  do to your mind when you think about them?  Cause fear!

But if I say Science can use these things for the benefit of mankind? And can reduce or eliminate the danger in the process? Did I hear a 'WOW'! ? 

Well ... then let me make you exclaim more by explaining things in detail.

Super volcanoes that can eliminate living beings from our planet can be handled and made to provide energy for us! That is the confidence of scientists. Yes, heard about Yellow stone National Park in the US? Super Volcano beneath it can become deadly when erupted. But scientists at NASA have sketched the rough outlines of a plan that they say would not only spare us from a deadly super-eruption but also turn the Yellowstone supervolcano into a source of electric power. The scientists argue that we could siphon heat from the caldera until it becomes too cool to erupt — and convert the geothermal energy into electricity. The primary objective…is to gradually defang Yellowstone as a threat to humanity.

 It is risky, no doubt! But the scientists could lower the risk by drilling into the hot rock near Yellowstone’s magma chamber, starting several miles outside the park. Water would be pumped through the borehole into the hot rock and then return to the surface at a temperature of more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water could be used to drive turbines to generate electric power. Then the water, now cooled, could be pumped back underground to steal away more heat. Great care would need to be taken to make sure the drilling process didn’t inadvertently trigger an eruption. Going slowly and approaching the magma chamber from the sides and beneath would be the safest approach, according to the planners. And the scientists say it would all be surprisingly feasible.

 It would take thousands of years for all the heat to be fully extracted. Throughout that time, as the risk of an eruption slowly subsided, there would be plenty of heat to generate electricity at competitive prices.

This plan is as bold as any human being can get. Need I say it is 'Great'!

Now let us handle Zika virus.

We know that Zika virus causes devastating damage to the brains of developing fetuses. 

But one day it may be an effective treatment for glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer, according to scientists.

New research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine shows that the virus kills brain cancer stem cells, the kind of cells most resistant to standard treatments.

The findings, published on Sept. 5, 2017 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine (1),  suggest that the lethal power of the virus -- known for infecting and killing cells in the brains of fetuses, causing babies to be born with tiny, misshapen heads -- could be directed at malignant cells in the brain. Doing so potentially could improve people's chances against a brain cancer -- glioblastoma -- that is most often fatal within a year of diagnosis.

The standard treatment is aggressive -- surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation -- yet most tumors recur within six months. A small population of cells, known as glioblastoma stem cells, often survives the onslaught and continues to divide, producing new tumor cells to replace the ones killed by the cancer drugs.

In their neurological origins and near-limitless ability to create new cells, glioblastoma stem cells reminded postdoctoral researcher Zhe Zhu, PhD, of neuroprogenitor cells, which generate cells for the growing brain. Zika virus specifically targets and kills neuroprogenitor cells.

In collaboration with co-senior authors Diamond and Milan G. Chheda, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine, and Jeremy N. Rich, MD, of UC San Diego, Zhu tested whether the virus could kill stem cells in glioblastomas removed from patients at diagnosis. They infected tumors with one of two strains of Zika virus. Both strains spread through the tumors, infecting and killing the cancer stem cells while largely avoiding other tumor cells.

The findings suggest that Zika infection and chemotherapy-radiation treatment have complementary effects. The standard treatment kills the bulk of the tumor cells but often leaves the stem cells intact to regenerate the tumor. Zika virus attacks the stem cells but bypasses the greater part of the tumor.

To find out whether the virus could help treat cancer in a living animal, the researchers injected either Zika virus or saltwater (a placebo) directly into the brain tumors of 18 and 15 mice, respectively. Tumors were significantly smaller in the Zika-treated mice two weeks after injection, and those mice survived significantly longer than the ones given saltwater.

If Zika were used in people, it would have to be injected into the brain, most likely during surgery to remove the primary tumor. If introduced through another part of the body, the person's immune system would sweep it away before it could reach the brain.

The idea of injecting a virus notorious for causing brain damage into people's brains seems alarming, but Zika may be safer for use in adults because its primary targets -- neuroprogenitor cells -- are rare in the adult brain. The fetal brain, on the other hand, is loaded with such cells, which is part of the reason why Zika infection before birth produces widespread and severe brain damage, while natural infection in adulthood causes mild symptoms.

The researchers conducted additional studies of the virus using brain tissue from epilepsy patients and showed that the virus does not infect noncancerous brain cells.

As an additional safety feature, the researchers introduced two mutations that weakened the virus's ability to combat the cell's defenses against infection, reasoning that the mutated virus still would be able to grow in tumor cells -- which have a poor antiviral defense system -- but would be eliminated quickly in healthy cells with a robust antiviral response.

When they tested the mutant viral strain and the original parental strain in glioblastoma stem cells, they found that the original strain was more potent, but that the mutant strain also succeeded in killing the cancerous cells.

Do we need more assurance?

Science makes us feel so good!


1. Zhe Zhu, Matthew J. Gorman, Lisa D. McKenzie, Jiani N. Chai, Christopher G. Hubert, Briana C. Prager, Estefania Fernandez, Justin M. Richner, Rong Zhang, Chao Shan, Xiuxing Wang, Pei-Yong Shi, Michael S. Diamond, Jeremy N. Rich, Milan G. Chheda. Zika virus has oncolytic activity against glioblastoma stem cellsThe Journal of Experimental Medicine, Sept. 5, 2017 DOI: 10.1084/jem.20171093

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