Vegan Diet Better For Weight Loss And Cholesterol Control Than Mediterranean Diet (Food)

A vegan diet is more effective for weight loss than a Mediterranean diet, according to a groundbreaking new study that compared the diets head to head. The randomized crossover trial, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found that a low-fat vegan diet has better outcomes for weight, body composition, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol levels, compared with a Mediterranean diet.

The study randomly assigned participants–who were overweight and had no history of diabetes–to a vegan diet or a Mediterranean diet in a 1:1 ratio. For 16 weeks, half of the participants started with a low-fat vegan diet that eliminated animal products and focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The other half started with the Mediterranean diet, which followed the PREDIMED protocol, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, low-fat dairy, and extra virgin olive oil, while limiting or avoiding red meat and saturated fats. Neither group had a calorie limit, and participants did not change exercise or medication routines, unless directed by their personal doctors. As part of the crossover design, participants then went back to their baseline diets for a four-week washout period before switching to the opposite group for an additional 16 weeks.

The study found that within 16 weeks on each diet:

  • Participants lost an average of 6 kilograms (or about 13 pounds) on the vegan diet, compared with no mean change on the Mediterranean diet.
  • Participants lost 3.4 kg (about 7.5 pounds) more fat mass on the vegan diet.
  • Participants saw a greater reduction in visceral fat by 315 cm3 on the vegan diet.
  • The vegan diet decreased total and LDL cholesterol levels by 18.7 mg/dL and 15.3 mg/dL, respectively, while there were no significant cholesterol changes on the Mediterranean diet.
  • Blood pressure decreased on both diets, but more on the Mediterranean diet (6.0 mm Hg, compared to 3.2 mmHg on the vegan diet).

“Previous studies have suggested that both Mediterranean and vegan diets improve body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors, but until now, their relative efficacy had not been compared in a randomized trial,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “We decided to test the diets head to head and found that a vegan diet is more effective for both improving health markers and boosting weight loss.”

The authors note that the vegan diet likely led to weight loss, because it was associated with a reduction in calorie intake, increase in fiber intake, decrease in fat consumption, and decrease in saturated fat consumption.

“While many people think of the Mediterranean diet as one of the best ways to lose weight, the diet actually crashed and burned when we put it to the test,” says study author Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee. “In a randomized, controlled trial, the Mediterranean diet caused no weight loss at all. The problem seems to be the inclusion of fatty fish, dairy products, and oils. In contrast, a low-fat vegan diet caused significant and consistent weight loss.”

“If your goal is to lose weight or get healthy in 2021, choosing a plant-based diet is a great way to achieve your resolution,” adds Dr. Kahleova.

Featured image credit: gettyimages

Reference: Neal D. Barnard, Jihad Alwarith, Emilie Rembert, Liz Brandon, Minh Nguyen, Andrea Goergen, Taylor Horne, Gabriel F. do Nascimento, Kundanika Lakkadi, Andrea Tura, Richard Holubkov & Hana Kahleova (2021) A Mediterranean Diet and Low-Fat Vegan Diet to Improve Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors: A Randomized, Cross-over Trial, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2020.1869625

Provided by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

7 Ways a Vegan Diet Fights Cancer (Food)

“Basing our diets around plant foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans), which contain fiber and other nutrients, can reduce our risk of cancer.” – World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, Cancer Prevention Recommendations

In 2018, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report called Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective, which analyzed data from 51 million people to create a global blueprint for preventing cancer. According to the report, following a healthy diet and lifestyle can prevent approximately 40% of all cancer cases!

Because today is World Cancer Day, we’ve compiled seven tips for achieving a healthy diet that may help reduce cancer risk:

1. Fill Up on Fiber

Plant foods contain fiber, which helps remove excess hormones that could lead to certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. Fiber also helps to remove waste from the digestive system, which can play a role in preventing colorectal cancer. Eating a fiber-rich diet can also help you achieve a healthy weight, which can also help to reduce the risk for 12 types of cancer

2. Eat the Rainbow

The more naturally colorful your diet is, the more likely it is to have an abundance of cancer-fighting compounds. The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors—like beta-carotene in sweet potatoes or lycopene in tomatoes—can help reduce cancer risk. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, have been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, lung, and stomach cancers, while carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, have been associated with a reduced risk for breast cancer.

3. Enjoy Soy

Soy products have been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer and a reduced risk of recurrence and mortality for women who have been previously treated for breast cancer. Research in Shanghai shows that women with breast cancer who consume 11 grams of soy protein each day can reduce mortality and risk of recurrence by about 30 percent.  U.S. populations show similar findings: The higher the isoflavone intake from soy products, the less risk of mortality and recurrence in women with breast cancer.

4. Drop the Deli Meat

The World Health Organization has determined that processed meat—including deli meat, bacon, and sausage—is a major contributor to colorectal cancer, classifying it as “carcinogenic to humans.”Each 50-gram daily serving of processed meat, equivalent to two slices of bacon or one sausage link, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 21%. Each 120-gram daily serving of red meat, equivalent to a small steak, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 28%.

5. Ditch the Dairy

Studies have linked high-fat dairy products to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers. Research funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Cancer Research Fund, found that women who consumed 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cow’s milk per day had a 30% increased chance for breast cancer. One cup per day increased the risk by 50%, and 2-3 cups were associated with an 80% increased chance of breast cancer. Studies have also found regular dairy consumption increases prostate cancer risk.

6. Drop the Hot Dogs

When meat is grilled, it releases carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), including a compound called PhIP. Studies have linked PhIP with multiple cancer. Enjoy grilling in the summer? Swap out the burgers and hot dogs for veggies, which do not produce these dangerous compounds.

7. Avoid Alcohol

Trade the cocktail for a mocktail! Drinking just one alcoholic beverage or more per day has been associated with an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Alcohol has also been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer.

Provided by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Healthy Lifestyle Improves Colorectal Cancer Prevention (Food)

A healthy lifestyle that limits consumption of red and processed meat and includes fiber and whole grains helps prevent colorectal cancer and mortality when combined with cancer screening, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine.

Researchers monitored cancer incidence and mortality for more than 100,000 men and women from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and scored lifestyle based on body mass index, physical activity, diet, and other factors.

After 26 years of follow up, the number of cancer cases prevented increased by almost 30% when healthy lifestyle was combined with endoscopic screening. Results showed similar improvements for cancer mortality.


Wang K, Ma W, Wu K, et al. Healthy lifestyle, endoscopic screening, and colorectal cancer incidence and mortality in the United States: A nationwide cohort study. PLoS Med. 2021;18:e1003522-e1003540. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003522.

Provided by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Grape Consumption May Protect Against UV Damage to Skin (Food)

New study finds grapes increased resistance to sunburn and reduced markers of UV damage

A recent human study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that consuming grapes protected against ultraviolet (UV) skin damage.1 Study subjects showed increased resistance to sunburn and a reduction in markers of UV damage at the cellular level. 2 Natural components found in grapes known as polyphenols are thought to be responsible for these beneficial effects.

The study, conducted at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and led by principal investigator Craig Elmets, M.D., investigated the impact of consuming whole grape powder – equivalent to 2.25 cups of grapes per day – for 14 days against photodamage from UV light. Subjects’ skin response to UV light was measured before and after consuming grapes for two weeks by determining the threshold dose of UV radiation that induced visible reddening after 24 hours – the Minimal Erythema Dose (MED). Grape consumption was protective; more UV exposure was required to cause sunburn following grape consumption, with MED increasing on average by 74.8%.3 Analysis of skin biopsies showed that the grape diet was associated with decreased DNA damage, fewer deaths of skin cells, and a reduction in inflammatory markers that if left unchecked, together can impair skin function and can potentially lead to skin cancer. 4

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. 5 Most skin cancer cases are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun: about 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 86% of melanomas, respectively. Additionally, an estimated 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun.

“We saw a significant photoprotective effect with grape consumption and we were able to identify molecular pathways by which that benefit occurs – through repair of DNA damage and downregulation of proinflammatory pathways,” said Dr. Elmets. “Grapes may act as an edible sunscreen, offering an additional layer of protection in addition to topical sunscreen products.”

References: (1) Oak, A.S.W., Shafi, R., Elsayed, M., Bae, S., Saag, L., Wang, C.L., & Elmets, C.A. (2021). Dietary table grape protects against UV photodamage in humans: 1. clinical evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Doi: (2) Oak, A.S.W., Shafi, R., Elsayed, M., Mishra, B., Bae, S., Barnes, S., Slominksi, A.T., Wilson, L.S., Athar, M., & Elmets, C.A. (2021). Dietary table grape protects against UV photodamage in humans: 2. molecular evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Doi: (3) Oak, A.S.W., Shafi, R., … & Elmets, C.A. (2021). Dietary table grape protects against UV photodamage in humans: 1. clinical evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Doi: (4) Oak, A.S.W., Shafi, R., …& Elmets, C.A. (2021). Dietary table grape protects against UV photodamage in humans: 2. molecular evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Doi: (5) Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics. Skin Cancer Foundation website Accessed January 26, 2021.

Provided by California Table Grape Commision

Tiny Sensor Technique Reveals Cellular Forces Involved in Tissue Generation (Engineering)

A team of Brown University researchers developed a technique that uses tiny polymer spheres to sense the forces at play as body tissue forms and grows.

A new technique developed by Brown University researchers reveals the forces involved at the cellular level during biological tissue formation and growth processes. The technique could be useful in better understanding how these processes work, and in studying how they may respond to environmental toxins or drug therapies.

As described in the journal Biomaterials, the technique makes use of cell-sized spheres made from a highly compliant polymer material, which can be placed in laboratory cultures of tissue-forming cells. As the tissue-formation process unfolds, microscope imaging of the spheres, which are stained with fluorescent dye, reveals the extent to which they are deformed by the pressure of surrounding cells. A computational algorithm then uses that deformation to calculate the forces at work in that cellular microenvironment.

“We know that mechanical forces are important stimuli in tissue formation and development, but actually measuring those forces is pretty difficult,” said Eric Darling, an associate professor of medical science, engineering and orthopedics at Brown. “These spheres that we’ve developed give us an extremely sensitive technique for measuring those forces over time in the same sample. And we can do this with multiple samples at a time on a 96-well plate, so it’s a high-throughput method as well.”

The research was a collaboration between Darling’s lab and the lab of Haneesh Kesari, an assistant professor of engineering at Brown and an expert in solid mechanics. Darling and graduate student Robert Gutierrez developed the spheres and performed cell culture experiments with them, while Kesari and graduate student Wenqiang Fang developed the computational algorithm to calculate the forces.

The spheres are made from a polymer called polyacrylamide. The spheres have no apparent effect on the behavior of the newly forming tissues, Darling said, and the polyacrylamide material has mechanical properties that are highly consistent and tunable, which made it possible to make spheres soft enough to deform measurably when exposed to cellular forces.

“The key to this is having a highly controlled material, with a very precise shape as well as finely tuned and uniform mechanical stiffness,” Kesari said. “If we know the properties of the spheres, then we can take pictures of how their shapes change and back out the forces necessary to make those changes.”

As a proof of concept, the researchers performed a series of experiments to measure forces involved in mesenchymal condensation — a process in which stem cells cluster together and eventually differentiate into tissue-specific cell types. The process is central to the formation of teeth, bones, cartilage and other tissue.

In one experiment, the team included the force-sensing spheres in cultures of cells were coming together to form multicellular balls. Microscope images of the cultures were taken every hour for 14 hours, enabling the team to track changes in the forces involved in each culture over time. The experiments showed that the forces involved in mesenchymal condensation were highly variable for the first 5 or so hours of the process, before settling down into a much steadier force profile. This was the first time such force dynamics had ever been measured, the researchers say.

To help verify that the spheres were truly sensitive to cellular forces, the team repeated the experiment using cultures treated with a cytoskeletal inhibitor, a drug that weakens the tiny contractile motors inside a cell. As expected, the spheres detected markedly weaker forces in the cultures treated with the drug.

In another set of experiments, the researchers added the sensor spheres to preformed cellular masses to observe how the spheres were taken up into the mass. Some of the spheres had been treated with a collagen coating, which enables cells to bind with the sensors, while others were uncoated. 

“We were able to see differences in the force profiles between the coated and uncoated spheres,” Darling said. “Overall there was a large compressive force, but with the coated cells we could see the cells interacting with the spheres directly, pulling on them and exerting a tensile force as well.”

Darling says he’s hopeful the technique could reveal fundamental details about how tissue-forming processes work. In the future, it may also be used screen drugs aimed at modulating these processes, or to test the effects of environmental toxins. It could also be useful in tissue engineering.

“If we want to grow cartilage, it might be helpful to know that the types of forces that these cells are exerting on each other because we might be able to apply an external force that matches or complements that force profile,” Darling said. “So in addition to fundamental discovery, I think there is some translational potential for this down the road.”

The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health (R01 AR063642), National Science Foundation (2018260690) and a Brown University Research Seed Award.

Featured image: Tiny fluorescent spheres (small red dots and insets) can be used to measure forces at the cellular level as biological tissue forms and grows. The spheres deform as surrounding cells exert forces upon them, and that deformation is used to calculate the forces. Credit: Darling Lab / Brown University

Reference: Robert A. Gutierrez, Wenqiang Fang, Haneesh Kesari, Eric M. Darling, Force sensors for measuring microenvironmental forces during mesenchymal condensation, Biomaterials, Volume 270, 2021, 120684, ISSN 0142-9612, (

Provided by Brown University

Link Found Between Time Perception, Risk For Developmental Coordination Disorder (Neuroscience)

Neuroscientists at McMaster University have found a link between children who are at risk for developmental coordination disorder (DCD), a common condition that can cause clumsiness, and difficulties with time perception such as interpreting changes in rhythmic beats.

Accurate time perception is crucial for basic skills such as walking and processing speech and music.

“Many developmental disorders, including dyslexia or reading difficulties, autism and attention deficits have been linked to deficits in auditory time perception,” says Laurel Trainor, senior author of the study and founding director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind.

Previous research has shown the brain networks involved in time perception often overlap with the motor control networks required for such activities as catching a ball or tapping along to musical beats. Until now, researchers had not investigated whether children with DCD tended to have auditory timing deficits, despite being at risk for dyslexia and attention deficits.

The study, published online in the journal Child Development, provides new evidence about that connection in children.

A researcher helping a child participant wearing an EEG cap, a non-invasive approach to measure the brain waves. © Auditory Development Lab, McMaster University

Developmental coordination disorder is a common but little-studied condition that affects approximately five to 15 per cent of all children, who can experience a wide range of difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills. It can have profound and lifelong effects on everyday tasks such as get dressed, writing, and engaging in sports or play, and often interferes with learning, academic performance and socialization.

For this study, researchers recruited more than 60 children aged 6 and 7 years old, who underwent motor skills tests and were assessed either to be at risk for DCD or to be developing typically.

During the first study, each child was asked in a series of trials to pinpoint which of two sounds was shorter in time or had an off-beat rhythm. From this, researchers measured the threshold or smallest time difference at which each child could just barely make the correct judgement.

“We saw that indeed, children at risk for DCD were much less sensitive to time changes compared to typically developing children,” says Andrew Chang, the lead researcher and graduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster.

In the second experiment, researchers used EEG to measure the brain waves of children as they listened to a sequence of sounds that had been tweaked to include occasional timing deviations. Children at risk for DCD had slower brain activity in response to the unexpected timing deviants.

There are no medications to treat DCD, but physiotherapy and occupational therapy can help children improve muscle strength, balance and coordination.

“We know anecdotally that therapists sometimes incorporate regular rhythms into the physical therapy they give to children with DCD, and they have the impression this helps – for example that children can walk better when they walk to a rhythm.” Chang explains.

“Although our current study did not directly investigate any intervention effects, the results suggest that music with salient and regular beats could be used for physiotherapy to help treat children,” he says.

He points to motor rehabilitation featuring auditory cueing with metronomes or musical beats, which helps adult patients who have Parkinson’s disease or are recovering from a stroke. Further research could help to determine whether similar therapies are useful for children with DCD, he says.

Attention editors: A copy of the study can be found at this link:

Featured image: Researchers assessing the motor skills of children © Pediatric Activity & Coordination for Excellence, China Medical University (Taiwan)

Provided by McMaster University

Pangolin Coronavirus Could Jump to Humans (Medicine)

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have found important structural similarities between SARS-CoV-2 and a pangolin coronavirus, suggesting that a pangolin coronavirus could infect humans. 

While SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have evolved from a bat coronavirus, its exact evolutionary path is still a mystery. Uncovering its history is challenging as there are likely many undiscovered bat coronaviruses and, due to differences between bat coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2, it is thought that the virus may have passed to humans via at least one other species.

By testing if the spike protein of a given virus can bind with cell receptors from different species, we’re able to see if, in theory, the virus could infect this species. 

— Antoni Wrobel

In their study, published in Nature Communications, the scientists compared the structures of the spike proteins found on SARS-CoV-2, the most similar currently identified bat coronavirus RaTG13, and a coronavirus isolated from Malayan pangolins which were seized by authorities after being smuggled to China. They found that the pangolin virus was able to bind to receptors from both pangolins and humans. This differs to the bat coronavirus, which could not effectively bind with human or pangolin receptors.

Antoni Wrobel, co-lead author and postdoctoral training fellow in the Structural Biology of Disease Processes Laboratory at the Crick, says: “By testing if the spike protein of a given virus can bind with cell receptors from different species, we’re able to see if, in theory, the virus could infect this species.”

“Importantly here, we’ve shown two key things. Firstly, that this bat virus would unlikely be able to infect pangolins. And secondly that a pangolin virus could potentially infect humans.”

The team used cryo-electron microscopy to uncover in minute detail the structure of the pangolin coronavirus’ spike protein, which is responsible for binding to and infecting cells. While some parts of the pangolin virus’ spike were found to be incredibly similar to SARS-CoV-2, other areas differed. 

In terms of understanding the evolutionary path of SARS-CoV-2, this work does not confirm whether or not this pangolin virus is definitely part of the chain of evolution for SARS-CoV-2. But the findings do support various possible scenarios for how the coronavirus jumped from bats to humans. One potential route is that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a different, currently unknown bat coronavirus which could infect pangolins, and from this species it then moved to humans. Or alternatively, RaTG13 or a similar bat coronavirus might have merged with another coronavirus in a different intermediate species, other than a pangolin.  

Donald Benton, co-lead author and postdoctoral training fellow in the Structural Biology of Disease Processes Laboratory at the Crick, says: “We still don’t have evidence to confirm the evolutionary path of SARS-CoV-2 or to prove definitively that this virus did pass through pangolins to humans.”

“However, we have shown that a pangolin virus could potentially jump to humans, so we urge caution in any contact with this species and the end of illegal smuggling and trade in pangolins to protect against this risk.” 

Steve Gamblin, group leader of the Structural Biology of Disease Processes Laboratory at the Crick says: “A lot is still to be uncovered about the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, but the more we know about its history and which species it passed through, the more we understand about how it works, and how it may continue to evolve.”

This work builds upon previous studies from the Crick team, including research published in July 2020, which found that the bat coronavirus RaTG13 could not effectively bind to human receptors.  

The team are continuing to examine the spikes of SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses, including other bat viruses, to better understand the mechanisms of infection and evolution.

Featured image: Cryo-EM images of the spike of Pangolin-CoV, showing two different angles

Reference: Wrobel, A.G., Benton, D.J., Xu, P. et al. Structure and binding properties of Pangolin-CoV spike glycoprotein inform the evolution of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Commun 12, 837 (2021).

Provided by Frank Crick Institute

Audiovisual Professionalisation Affects How the Brain Perceives Media Content (Neuroscience)

According to a study conducted by the UAB, ​​the Instituto Radio Televisión Española and the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, audiovisual professionals decrease their eyeblink rate after cuts.

Professionalisation in any field requires long-term experience and training. In the past decades, studies have demonstrated that the professionalisation of athletes and artists create differences in the behaviour of the brain while carrying out activities related to their area of expertise.

To detect the effects of media professionalisation in the brain, a research team from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the Instituto Ràdio Televisió Espanyola and the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville conducted a study published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience in which audiovisual contents were presented to a group of media professionals and a control group, with the aims of registering and analysing their brain activity. The study covers what happens to professionals in audiovisuals when they view media works, using a triple approach: eyeblink rate, electrical activity of the brain and functional connectivity.

Researchers observed that audiovisual cuts have a greater impact on media professionals, generating a decrease in their eyeblink rate, while non-professionals are not affected in the same manner when viewing these cuts. They also detected that the experience of media professionals has a greater effect on the brain’s mu rhythm in the somatosensory area immediately after a cut. Non-media professionals, however, demonstrate a highly diverse Granger causality in terms of connectivity when compared to their media professional counterparts, whose connectivity is much more concise in the visual cortex, somatomotor and frontal areas.

Videos and other audiovisual contents are filled with cuts that artificially segment narrative content. Films can contain dozens or hundreds of cuts and viewers are nevertheless not conscious of them. Previous studies conducted by the same team of researchers demonstrated that scene cuts have an impact on the management of viewer’s attention. In this study, researchers aimed to discover how this impact differs among media professionals. The experience acquired through years of producing and working with media contents causes a long-term impact on how professionals process these contents. Given that society produces and consumes more and more of these types of contents, there is an interest in discovering the effects the visual perception of these contents have on brain activity.

Doctor Celia Andreu-Sánchez, head researcher of this study and member of the Neuro-Com Group at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, ​​considers that the results can be of interest for neuroscience, given that “knowing that spending many hours with media works as a professional not only affects visual perception, but also the brain rhythms such as the mu rhythm, is without a doubt of great interest to science. These results present neuroscience with a highly important work tool: audiovisuals. We know that working and consuming these contents professionally affect the brain’s behaviour, therefore, it seems plausible that the design of consumption strategies for videos may be relevant in several areas of neuroscience research”.

Doctor Miguel Ángel Martín-Pascual, from the Instituto Radio Televisión Española and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, also author of this research published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, believes that these results are of utmost importance in the professional audiovisual production field. According to Martín-Pascual, “knowing the impact audiovisual professionalisation has on its professionals is of vital importance for the development of long-term strategies related to the occupational health of this group”.

José María Delgado, researcher at the Neuroscience Division of the Universidad Pablo de Olavide, highlights that “this study and other similar ones conducted by our two groups points out the enormous amount of unconscious processing taking place in the brain (particularly in the non-media profesional group) during the viewing of videos and films, especially when the material is edited to contain very short scenes. However, in some way this unconscious processing can have an effect, for example, on our emotional state: although we do not fully perceive all the shots in the video as displaying aggressive interactions, we are able to detect them from an emotional point of view”.

This study was developed by the Neuro-Com Research Group of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the Instituto de Radio Televisión Española and the Neuroscience Division of the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville. It was conducted under the framework of public grants from the Spanish Ministry for Economics and Competitiveness and from the Regional Government of Andalusia.

This research included the participation of professionals from Radio Televisión Española (RTVE), coordinated by the Instituto RTVE. The research was developed by Celia Andreu-Sánchez from the Neuro-Com Group of the Department of Audiovisual Communication and Advertising at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Miguel Ángel Martín-Pascual, from the Instituto Radio Televisión Española and the UAB’s Neuro-Com Group; and Agnès Gruart and José María Delgado-García from the Neuroscience Division of the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville.

Featured image: Electrodes placed on one of the study participants. © Neuro-Com (UAB), Instituto RTVE and the Neuroscience Division (UPO).

Reference: Andreu-Sánchez, C., Martín-Pascual, M.Á., Gruart, A., Delgado-García, J.M. (2021). The Effect of Media Professionalization on Cognitive Neurodynamics During Audiovisual Cuts. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 15: 598383.

Provided by Universität Autonoma de Barcelona

Artificial Intelligence Yields New Ways to Combat the Coronavirus (Medicine)

Countering COVID-19 mutations and designing updated vaccines could occur at lightning speeds thanks to a new, USC-developed AI framework.

USC researchers have developed a new method to counter emergent mutations of the coronavirus and hasten vaccine development to stop the pathogen responsible for ruining the economy and killing thousands of people.

Using artificial intelligence (AI), the research team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering developed a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy.

The method is easily adaptable to analyze potential mutations of the virus, ensuring the best possible vaccines are quickly identified — solutions that give humans a big advantage over the evolving contagion. Their machine-learning model can accomplish vaccine design cycles that once took months or years in a matter of seconds and minutes, the study says.

“This AI framework, applied to the specifics of this virus, can provide vaccine candidates within seconds and move them to clinical trials quickly to achieve preventive medical therapies without compromising safety,” said Paul Bogdan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at USC Viterbi and corresponding author of the study. “Moreover, this can be adapted to help us stay ahead of the coronavirus as it mutates around the world.”

The findings appear today in Nature Research’s Scientific Reports.

AI-assisted computer model predicts potential coronavirus vaccines

When applied to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — the computer model quickly eliminated 95% of the compounds that could’ve possibly treated the pathogen and pinpointed the best options, the study says.

The AI-assisted method predicted 26 potential vaccines that would work against the coronavirus. From those, the scientists identified the best 11 from which to construct a multi-epitope vaccine, which can attack the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to bind and penetrate a host cell. Vaccines target the region — or epitope — of the contagion to disrupt the spike protein, neutralizing the ability of the virus to replicate.

Moreover, the engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in less than a minute and validate its quality within an hour. By contrast, current processes to control the virus require growing the pathogen in the lab, deactivating it and injecting the virus that caused a disease. The process is time-consuming and takes more than one year; meanwhile, the disease spreads.

USC-developed method could help counter COVID-19 mutations

USC’s AI-assisted method will be especially useful during this stage of the pandemic as the coronavirus begins to mutate in populations around the world. Some scientists are concerned that the mutations may minimize the effectiveness of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, which are now being distributed. Recent variants of the virus that have emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily, which scientists say will rapidly lead to many more cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

But Bogdan said that if SARS-CoV-2 becomes uncontrollable by current vaccines, or if new vaccines are needed to deal with other emerging viruses, then the method can be used to design other preventive mechanisms quickly.

For example, the study explains that the USC scientists used only one B-cell epitope and one T-cell epitope, whereas applying a bigger dataset and more possible combinations can develop a more comprehensive and quicker vaccine design tool. The study estimates the method can perform accurate predictions with over 700,000 different proteins in the dataset.

“The proposed vaccine design framework can tackle the three most frequently observed mutations and be extended to deal with other potentially unknown mutations,” Bogdan said.

The raw data for the research comes from a giant bioinformatics database called the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB) in which scientists around the world have been compiling data about the coronavirus, among other diseases. IEDB contains over 600,000 known epitopes from some 3,600 different species, along with the Virus Pathogen Resource, a complementary repository of information about pathogenic viruses. The genome and spike protein sequence of SARS-CoV-2 comes from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

COVID-19 has led to 87 million cases and more than 1.88 million deaths worldwide, including more than 400,000 fatalities in the United States. It has devastated the social, financial and political fabric of many countries.

The study authors are Bogdan, Zikun Yang and Shahin Nazarian of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at USC Viterbi.

Support for the study comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Career Award (CPS/CNS-1453860) and NSF grants (CCF-1837131, MCB-1936775 and CNS-1932620); a U.S. Army Research Office grant (W911NF-17-1-0076); a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award and Director Award grant (N66001-17-1-4044), and a Northrop Grumman grant.

Featured image: The USC Viterbi machine-learning model can accomplish vaccine design cycles that once took months in a matter of minutes. (Illustration/iStock)

Reference: Yang, Z., Bogdan, P. & Nazarian, S. An in silico deep learning approach to multi-epitope vaccine design: a SARS-CoV-2 case study. Sci Rep 11, 3238 (2021).

Provided by USC