Sotrovimab Is Effective In Early Covid-19 Treatment (Medicine)

  • Treatment with sotrovimab resulted in an 85% reduction in the risk of hospitalisation or death in high-risk adult outpatients compared to placebo, based on interim results from Phase 3 COMET-ICE trial.
  • In vitro data indicate sotrovimab maintains activity against all known variants of concern, including the variant from India.
  • Sotrovimab will be available for appropriate patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) global pandemic is estimated to have killed over 3 million individuals worldwide. Older patients and those with certain comorbidities, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, chronic pulmonary diseases, and chronic kidney disease, have been identified as those at highest risk of hospitalization or death. Now, Adrienne E. Shapiro & colleagues reported the results from a preplanned interim analysis COvid-19 Monoclonal antibody Efficacy Trial-Intent to Care Early (COMET-ICE) study evaluating the efficacy and safety of treatment with sotrovimab in high-risk, ambulatory patients with mild/moderate Covid-19. They demonstrated that, Sotrovimab (previously VIR-7831), an engineered human monoclonal antibody, can significantly reduce high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalisation or death. Their study recently appeared in medRxiv.

Sotrovimab has been recently granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to facilitate the availability and use of this investigational monoclonal antibody for the treatment of COVID-19 in the U.S. while the pandemic remains a public health emergency.

The EUA was granted to sotrovimab based on an interim analysis of efficacy and safety data from the Phase 3 COMET-ICE (COVID-19 Monoclonal antibody Efficacy Trial – Intent to Care Early) trial in high-risk adult outpatients.

In the interim analysis of the COMET-ICE study, a single 500-mg dose of sotrovimab profoundly reduced the risk of hospitalization (>24 hours) or death in high-risk adults with symptomatic Covid-19 by 85% compared with placebo (P = 0.002). For every 17 high-risk patients with symptomatic Covid-19, sotrovimab prevented one hospitalization.

Importantly, among those who were hospitalized, no patient who received sotrovimab required admission to intensive care compared with five patients who received placebo, suggesting that sotrovimab may also prevent more severe complications of Covid-19 in addition to preventing the need for hospitalization itself.

Furthermore, as a result of investigator site selection, over 60% of the study population consisted of patients self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino; thus, this trial is one of the first to demonstrate efficacy in a population that has been largely underrepresented in Covid-19 clinical trials, despite the disproportionately negative impact the pandemic has had in this ethnic group.

Finally, they demonstrated that, Sotrovimab reduced progression of Covid-19 in patients with mild/moderate disease, was well tolerated, and no safety signals were identified in their study. There was also no evidence of antibody-dependent enhancement with sotrovimab, which would have manifested as worsening of disease compared with placebo.

Their study is sponsored by Vir Biotechnology, Inc., in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline.


Reference: Anil Gupta, Yaneicy Gonzalez-Rojas, Erick Juarez, Manuel Crespo Casal, Jaynier Moya, Diego Rodrigues Falci, Elias Sarkis, Joel Solis, Hanzhe Zheng, Nicola Scott, Andrea L. Cathcart, Christy M. Hebner, Jennifer Sager, Erik Mogalian, Craig Tipple, Amanda Peppercorn, Elizabeth Alexander, Phillip S. Pang, Almena Free, Cynthia Brinson, Melissa Aldinger, Adrienne E. Shapiro, for the COMET-ICE Investigators, “Early Covid-19 Treatment With SARS-CoV-2 Neutralizing Antibody Sotrovimab”, medRxiv 2021.05.27.21257096; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.27.21257096


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Juice Mission Prepares For Its Extreme Environmental Test (Astronomy)

JUICE, a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to be launched in September 2022, will study Jupiter and its moons to analyse the possibilities for the development of life around gas giant planets. The Institute de Astrophysics de Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) is participating in two of the mission’s instruments, the GALA laser altimeter and the JANUS camera

Juice, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, arrived “home” this month at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) technical centre in the Netherlands. The spacecraft will undergo extreme environmental testing in Europe’s largest thermal vacuum chamber to prepare for its journey to the outer Solar System. The Institute de Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) is the only Spanish institution contributing technologically to the mission, while scientifically researchers from the IAA-CSIC and the University of the Basque Country are participating.

The mission arrived at ESTEC, ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre, from Airbus Friedrichshafen (Germany). It is now being unpacked and prepared for access to the space simulator at the end of this month, where it will spend several weeks undergoing extreme vacuum heating and cooling cycles. This process confirms that the spacecraft is ready for its long journey through the Solar System to Jupiter. Juice will remain at ESTEC until July, before being transported to Toulouse for its final round of testing. From there it will travel to the European spaceport in French Guiana, to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Once in the Jovian system, the mission will make detailed observations of the gas giant planet and its three large oceanic moons (Ganymede, Callisto and Europa) with a suite of remote sensing, geophysical and local instruments. The mission will investigate, on the one hand, the appearance of habitable worlds around gas giants and, on the other hand, the Jupiter system as an archetype of the numerous giant exoplanets orbiting other stars.

SPANISH PARTICIPATION

The Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) is part of the international consortia building two of the instruments that form part of the Juice geodetic instrumentation package: the medium-high resolution visible space camera JANUS (led by Italy) and the laser altimeter GALA (led by Germany).

“GALA and JANUS will work complementarily to study the surface and interior of the satellites. JANUS will also analyse the planet’s atmosphere and obtain complementary data from other instruments on the mission”, says Luisa Lara, a researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) who is participating in the mission.

The IAA has developed the power supply for both instruments, as well as the filter wheel, designed and manufactured entirely at the IAA, and the control electronics for the JANUS camera.

JUICE TEAM AT THE IAA:

J.M. Castro, M.L. Herranz, F. Alvarez, I. Bustamante, A.J. García-Segura, P.J. Gutiérrez, J. Jiménez, I. Martínez-Navajas, J. Rodrigo y L. M. Lara.

INDUSTRIAL PARTICIPATION:

SENER Ingeniería y Construcción.


Provided by IAA CSIC

Scientists Discover A New Genetic Form of ALS in Children (Medicine)

NIH- and USU- led study links ALS to a fat manufacturing gene and maps out a genetic therapy

In a study of 11 medical-mystery patients, an international team of researchers led by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the Uniformed Services University (USU) discovered a new and unique form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Unlike most cases of ALS, the disease began attacking these patients during childhood, worsened more slowly than usual, and was linked to a gene, called SPTLC1, that is part of the body’s fat production system. Preliminary results suggested that genetically silencing SPTLC1 activity would be an effective strategy for combating this type of ALS.

“ALS is a paralyzing and often fatal disease that usually affects middle-aged people. We found that a genetic form of the disease can also threaten children. Our results show for the first time that ALS can be caused by changes in  the way the body metabolizes lipids,” said Carsten Bönnemann, M.D., senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and a senior author of the study published in Nature Medicine. “We hope these results will help doctors recognize this new form of ALS and lead to the development of treatments that will improve the lives of these children and young adults. We also hope that our results may provide new clues to understanding and treating other forms of the disease.”

Dr. Bönnemann leads a team of researchers that uses advanced genetic techniques to solve some of the most mysterious childhood neurological disorders around the world. In this study, the team discovered that 11 of these cases had ALS that was linked to variations in the DNA sequence of SPLTC1, a gene responsible for manufacturing a diverse class of fats called sphingolipids.

In addition, the team worked with scientists in labs led by Teresa M. Dunn, Ph.D., professor and chair at USU, and Thorsten Hornemann, Ph.D., at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Together they not only found clues as to how variations in the SPLTC1 gene lead to ALS but also developed a strategy for counteracting these problems.

The study began with Claudia Digregorio, a young woman from the Apulia region of Italy. Her case had been so vexing that Pope Francis imparted an in-person blessing on her at the Vatican before she left for the United States to be examined by Dr. Bönnemann’s team at the NIH’s Clinical Center.

Like many of the other patients, Claudia needed a wheelchair to move around and a surgically implanted tracheostomy tube to help with breathing. Neurological examinations by the team revealed that she and the others had many of the hallmarks of ALS, including severely weakened or paralyzed muscles. In addition, some patients’ muscles showed signs of atrophy when examined under a microscope or with non-invasive scanners.

Nevertheless, this form of ALS appeared to be different. Most patients are diagnosed with ALS around 50 to 60 years of age. The disease then worsens so rapidly that patients typically die within three to five years of diagnosis. In contrast, initial symptoms, like toe walking and spasticity, appeared in these patients around four years of age. Moreover, by the end of the study, the patients had lived anywhere from five to 20 years longer.

“These young patients had many of the upper and lower motor neuron problems that are indicative of ALS,” said Payam Mohassel, M.D., an NIH clinical research fellow and the lead author of the study. “What made these cases unique was the early age of onset and the slower progression of symptoms. This made us wonder what was underlying this distinct form of ALS.”

The first clues came from analyzing the DNA of the patients. The researchers used next-generation genetic tools to read the patients’ exomes, the sequences of DNA that hold the instructions for making proteins. They found that the patients had conspicuous changes in the same narrow portion of the SPLTC1 gene. Four of the patients inherited these changes from a parent. Meanwhile, the other six cases appeared to be the result of what scientist call “de novo” mutations in the gene. These types of mutations can spontaneously occur as cells rapidly multiply before or shortly after conception.

Mutations in SPLTC1 are also known to cause a different neurological disorder called hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 1 (HSAN1). The SPLTC1 protein is a subunit of an enzyme, called SPT, which catalyzes the first of several reactions needed to make sphingolipids. HSAN1 mutations cause the enzyme to produce atypical and harmful versions of sphingolipids.

At first, the team thought the ALS-causing mutations they discovered may produce similar problems. However, blood tests from the patients showed no signs of the harmful sphingolipids.

“At that point, we felt like we had hit a roadblock. We could not fully understand how the mutations seen in the ALS patients did not show the abnormalities expected from what was known about SPTLC1 mutations,” said Dr. Bönnemann. “Fortunately, Dr. Dunn’s team had some ideas.”

For decades Dr. Dunn’s team had studied the role of sphingolipids in health and disease. With the help of the Dunn team, the researchers reexamined blood samples from the ALS patients and discovered that the levels of typical sphingolipids were abnormally high. This suggested that the ALS mutations enhanced SPT activity.

Similar results were seen when the researchers programmed neurons grown in petri dishes to carry the ALS-causing mutations in SPLTC1. The mutant carrying neurons produced higher levels of typical sphingolipids than control cells. This difference was enhanced when the neurons were fed the amino acid serine, a key ingredient in the SPT reaction.

Previous studies have suggested that serine supplementation may be an effective treatment for HSAN1. Based on their results, the authors of this study recommended avoiding serine supplementation when treating the ALS patients.

Next, Dr. Dunn’s team performed a series of experiments which showed that the ALS-causing mutations prevent another protein called ORMDL from inhibiting SPT activity.

“Our results suggest that these ALS patients are essentially living without a brake on SPT activity. SPT is controlled by a feedback loop. When sphingolipid levels are high then ORMDL proteins bind to and slow down SPT. The mutations these patients carry essentially short circuit this feedback loop,” said Dr. Dunn. “We thought that restoring this brake may be a good strategy for treating this type of ALS.”

To test this idea, the Bönnemann team created small interfering strands of RNA designed to turn off the mutant SPLTC1 genes found in the patients. Experiments on the patients’ skin cells showed that these RNA strands both reduced the levels of SPLTC1 gene activity and restored sphingosine levels to normal.

“These preliminary results suggest that we may be able to use a precision gene silencing strategy to treat patients with this type of ALS. In addition, we are also exploring other ways to step on the brake that slows SPT activity,” said Dr. Bonnemann. “Our ultimate goal is to translate these ideas into effective treatments for our patients who currently have no therapeutic options.”

Article:

Mohassel, P. et al., Childhood Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Caused by Excess Sphingolipid Synthesis. Nature Medicine, May 31, 2021 DOI: 10.1038/s41591-021-01346-1

This study was supported by the NIH Intramural Research Program at the NINDSNIH grants (NS10762, NS072446); the U.S. Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (W81XWH-20-1-0219); the Swiss National Foundation (31003A_179371); the Deater foundation, Inc. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense.

Featured image: NIH researchers discovered a new form of ALS that begins in childhood. The study linked the disease to a gene called SPLTC1. As part of the study, NIH senior scientist Carsten Bonnemann, M.D., (right) examined Claudia Digregorio (left), a patient from the Apulia region of Italy. © Courtesy of the NIH/NINDS.


Provided by NINDS

Cell Encapsulation Could Enhance Antiviral Vaccines (Medicine)

A team from the UNIGE and the HUG has developed a new and effective anti-viral vaccination technique based on the cell encapsulation.

Immunotherapy techniques developed in oncology to combat cancerous cells have great potential for fighting viruses. A research team from the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE), in Switzerland, in collaboration with MaxiVAX, a spinoff of both institutions, developed an innovative technology called “cell encapsulation”. Originally designed to stimulate immunity to fight cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic motivated the scientists to broaden the scope of their technology to test its effectiveness against viruses. The first results of a pre-clinical study are very encouraging and can be discovered in the journal Vaccines.

The immune system is able to identify cancer cells and fight them, just as it does against a viral or bacterial pathogen. Researchers therefore rely on this to develop vaccines against cancer. “To develop an effective vaccine, two elements are needed: a target recognized by the immune system, such as cells, proteins, DNA or RNA sequences, and an adjuvant able to effectively stimulate the immune response”, says Nicolas Mach, an oncologist at the HUG Division of Oncology, and a professor at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine Department of Medicine and Translational Research Centre in Onco-Haematology, and co-author of this study. To this end, Nicolas Mach and his team, in partnership with the company MaxiVAX, developed a novel cell-based cancer vaccination using  cell encapsulation technology. With the coronavirus pandemic and the need to develop effective vaccines, they decided to extend the scope of this technology to test its effectiveness against viruses.

Exciting the immune system over the long term

Cell encapsulation consists of filling a semipermeable capsule with engineered cells before implanting it subcutaneously. The cells contained in the capsule are thus kept alive without spreading in the body, unlike their secretion, which is free to diffuse through the capsule wall. This technology therefore allows the stable and sustained long-term production and release of proteins such as cytokines or antibodies.

Loaded with cells modified to secrete a substance capable of stimulating the immune system, the capsule can be used as an adjuvant cargo ship. Since the encapsulated cells survive for days, weeks or even months, they allow for prolonged exposure to the substance they secrete, here the vaccine adjuvant. This is an undeniable advantage compared to standard vaccination strategies that cannot achieve such goal.

Coronavirus as proof of concept

For this study led on mice, the research team first vaccinated healthy mice against SARS-COV-2 by injecting them with the gene coding for the Spike viral protein, which is one of the small parts of the virus recognised by the immune system. Since only a small fraction of the virus is injected, the virus, lacking its machinery, is unable to infect the body and cause COVID-19.

To efficiently boost the immune system, the scientists used the tool they developed over the last two years, a genetically modified muscle cell line secreting GM-CSF, a protein known to promote the growth of white blood cells and able, under certain conditions, to train very effectively the immune system to react against a pathogenic target. “GM-CSF is like a hormone for the white blood cells, which are just as useful for defeating tumours as they are for defeating pathogens,” explains the oncologist.

In order to use GM-CSF as an adjuvant to enhance the immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 Spike target, the lab-produced cells are encapsulated. The capsule, introduced subcutaneously close to the vaccination site, remains in place for several days before being removed.

Treated mice developed antibodies and lymphocytes against SARS-CoV2. The study shows that their immune response was stronger when using the encapsulation technique to produce the booster protein GM-CSF over several days than when GM-CSF was injected directly with the target. “Our results show that our cell encapsulation approach significantly enhances the excitatory effect of GM-CSF “, Nicolas Mach is pleased to say. Furthermore, when used without any GM-CSF adjuvant, the vaccine triggered an even weaker immune response.

An innovative avenue to fight vaccine-resistant viruses 

“In view of the remarkable efficacy of mRNA vaccines against coronavirus, we do not consider it useful to develop clinical trials in humans for this use. However, if the efficacy of this vaccination technology is confirmed in other models of viral diseases, it could be used to fight pathogens against which we are currently lacking efficient vaccines, such as HIV or hepatitis C virus,” concludes Nicolas Mach.

The capsules and the cells used in this study are certified for Phase I and II clinical trials in oncology and are produced by the HUG’s clinical cell therapy centre.

Featured image: The cargo capsule can contain up to one million protein-secreting cells (adjuvant, antibody or other). Placed under the skin, it allows the cells it contains to be nourished by the body and to be active until the implant is removed several days after vaccination. ©UNIGE/HUG/MaxiVAX


Reference: Vernet, R.; Charrier, E.; Cosset, E.; Fièvre, S.; Tomasello, U.; Grogg, J.; Mach, N. Local Sustained GM-CSF Delivery by Genetically Engineered Encapsulated Cells Enhanced Both Cellular and Humoral SARS-CoV-2 Spike-Specific Immune Response in an Experimental Murine Spike DNA Vaccination Model. Vaccines 2021, 9, 484. https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines9050484


Provided by University of Geneve

The Universe is Hotter Than Expected (Cosmology)

Researchers at the UNIGE have succeeded in reconciling cosmological theory and observations of the Universe by considering that it is hotter than previously thought.

Astrophysicists still encounter various inconsistencies between cosmological theory and measurements made with various research instruments. Four values are particularly problematic: the speed of the expansion of the Universe today, the magnitude of matter density variations within the Universe, and the temperature variations and trajectory of the primordial light of the Universe. By no longer fixing the temperature of this light and the curvature of the Universe in their calculations, researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have succeeded in reconciling theory with the data. The reason? We live in an under-dense region in the Universe which slightly distorts the calculations and leads to these inconsistencies. These results, to be read in a Letter published in Physical Review D, open up new perspectives for cosmology, which would make it possible to answer many questions that are still pending.

Cosmological theorists are confronted with various inconsistencies between their computational results and satellite measurements. The first inconsistency concerns the speed of the expansion of the Universe. “We can measure this speed either through supernovae –  stars that implode at the end of their lives –  or through the light of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the electromagnetic radiation that is observed throughout the Universe”, explains Benjamin Bose, a researcher in the Department of Theoretical Physics in the Faculty of Science at the UNIGE. But these two measurements give a result that differs by more than 10% which cannot be explained by observational errors. The second inconsistency concerns the magnitude of the variation in the density of the matter in the Universe, which again differs by around 8% if calculated from the CMB or from the galaxies in the local Universe. Finally, the last two inconsistencies are statistical features of the temperature variations and light path of the CMB. In this case, theory fails to match the observations made by scientists.


A simple theory to align the results

Research is still trying to resolve these inconsistencies, albeit with a focus on one issue or the other. Benjamin Bose and Lucas Lombriser, a professor in the Department of Theoretical Physics at the UNIGE, sought to reconcile these four inconsistencies with a single theory, which would not itself introduce numerous other hypotheses to be tested. To do this, they chose to analyse the observational data that produces these inconsistencies by not assuming a particular temperature of the CMB – which is usually considered fixed – and the curvature of the Universe. “By removing these two assumptions, not only do the inconsistencies in the temperature variations of the CMB and its trajectory decrease, but those linked to the speed of the expansion of the Universe today and the spatial differences in the density of matter disappear, with measurements that are in statistical agreement!” Benjamin Bose enthuses. But how can this be explained?


The Earth may be located in a region of low density in the Universe

Lucas Lombriser hypothesised that the Earth is located in an under-dense region within the Universe when compared to the average. “This is why the measurements we make are slightly off, with the temperature of the cosmic microwave background being somewhat higher than the temperature we observe locally”, explains the Genevan professor. This hypothesis is corroborated in particular by measurements made of local galaxies, which would support the idea that the Earth is indeed in a less dense region of the Universe than the average.

According to this cosmological theory, the temperature of light would therefore be higher than that measured with our equipment and used in research. And this difference would affect the calculations and lead to these inconsistencies.

The UNIGE researchers now have to redo their data analysis on the basis that we live in a region of under-density in the Universe. “We show here that we do not need  new physics to solve the scientific problems we face. It may just be a matter of taking a new point of view”, concludes Benjamin Bose.

Featured image: The Andromeda galaxy, our nearest neighbour at 2.5 million lightyears away. This galaxy along with ours and hundreds others make up the Virgo supercluster which is about 100 million lightyears in length. © DR


Reference: Benjamin Bose and Lucas Lombriser, “Easing cosmic tensions with an open and hotter universe”, Phys. Rev. D 103, L081304 – Published 27 April 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.L081304


Provided by University of Geneve

Layer by Layer: Scientists Decipher How Skin Layers Are Formed (Biology)

Cologne scientists present a new two-phase model of skin formation | The data provide insights into the balance of tissues and diseases associated with greatly increased cell division rates | Publication in ‘Nature Communications’

The complex layering (stratification) of skin arises form one layer of cells during embryonic development. How stratification is stimulated and driven is still largely unknown. Together with his team, Dr Hisham Bazzi, research group leader at the Cluster of Excellence in Aging Research CECAD and the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC), has published a new two-phase model of physiological epidermal development. Using time-lapse imaging and measurements of tissue growth dynamics in mouse models, the research team suggests that the first phase is the major phase of stratification, which is characterized by particularly high cell divisions or high proliferation rates. This applies both to basal progenitor cells, the later stem cells of the skin, and to overlying skin cells, the suprabasally-commited skin cells. In addition, the so-called delamination, the detachment and movement of the basal cells to the suprabasal layers, contributes to the stratification. The article ‘High proliferation and delamination during skin epidermal stratification’ has now appeared in Nature Communications.  

‘We were surprised to see many dividing cells not only in the basal layer, where the future stem cells are located, but also in the cells above it that are committed to differentiation. The crowded environment pushes cells to leave the basal layer and form new layers,’ said Bazzi. ‘This is probably a general paradigm for the formation of other layered tissues or even pseudostratified epithelia, a single row of cells that appears multilayered through the staggering of the nuclei.’
Further experiments showed that the second phase, a maintenance phase, is likely supported by cellular detachment from the basal layer rather than by the division orientation of the basal progenitors. This is different from the previously proposed mechanism suggesting that thin skin arises from parallel cell division and thick skin arises from perpendicular cell division.

Understanding the basic mechanisms of developing skin is the foundation for clinical research and will allow researchers to better understand skin diseases such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. ‘Encouragingly, we were able to demonstrate that there is also a high proliferation of suprabasal cells in samples from patients with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. This suggests that programmes from the developmental phase are reactivated in these diseases,’ said Lisa Wirtz, a doctoral researcher in the group.


Publication: Damen, M., Wirtz, L., Soroka, E. et al. High proliferation and delamination during skin epidermal stratification. Nat Commun 12, 3227 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23386-4
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23386-4


Provided by University of Cologne

What Could Possibly Go Wrong With Virtual Reality? (Science and Technology)

YouTube is a treasure trove of virtual reality fails: users tripping, colliding into walls and smacking inanimate and animate objects. By investigating these “VR Fails” on YouTube, researchers at the University of Copenhagen have sought to learn more about when and why things go sideways for users and how to improve VR design and experiences so as to avoid accidents.

Millions of YouTube viewers have enjoyed hearty laughs watching others getting hurt using virtual reality – people wearing VR headsets, falling, screaming, crashing into walls and TV sets, or knocking spectators to the floor. Some of us have even been that failing someone. Now, videos of virtual reality mishaps, called “VR Fails”, have actually become a field of research.

Specifically, University of Copenhagen researchers who specialize in improving the relationship between computer technology and human beings studied 233 YouTube videos of VR fails. Their results have now been published in CHI Conference Proceedings.

For the most part, virtual reality remains the domain of gamers. But VR has become quite widespread in education, marketing and the experience industry and is increasingly popular in a variety of other sectors.

“As virtual reality has become cheaper and more common, the technology is being used in a host of environments that weren’t considered during its design. For example, VR is now used in people’s homes, which are often cluttered and populated by people and pets that move around. We’ve taken a closer look at where things go wrong for people so as to optimize user experience,” explains PhD Fellow Andreea-Anamaria Muresan of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Computer Science, one of the study’s authors.

Throwing slaps

Based upon the 233 different video clips, the researchers created a catalogue of, among other things, various types of fails, accidents and their causes.

“One of the recurrent accident types is when VR users hit walls, furniture or spectators. In one case, we saw a spectator tickling the person wearing the VR headset. This resulted in the VR user turning around and slapping the spectator,” says Andreea-Anamaria Muresan.

Fear is the most frequent reason for fails or accidents: users get scared of a development in their virtual universe, such as a roller coaster ride or objects rushing towards them. Fear manifests itself in exaggerated reactions, in the form of shouting and screaming or wild, uncontrolled movements in which users begin to lash out with their arms and legs. This often results in falls and collisions when, for example, a user tries to escape from a virtual situation and ends up running head first into a solid wall.

Illustration from scientific paper
Illustration from scientific paper created by Andreea-Anamaria Muresan.

New ideas for designers

Andreea-Anamaria Muresan and her fellow researchers now have a number of suggestions for how to prevent some of these accidents.

“Some VR games are designed to frighten players or give them jolts of adrenaline – which is part of what makes them fun to play. But in many cases, this isn’t the intention. So one has to find a balance. Because users get hurt from time to time and equipment can be destroyed, some people might lose their interest in using the technology. We seek to prevent this,” says Andreea-Anamaria Muresan, who elaborates:

“We can now provide designers with ideas about what they can do differently to avoid accidents. For example, collisions can be avoided by changing some of the game elements. Instead of a player being outfitted with a sword that requires large swings of the arms, their equipment can be substituted with a shield. This changes a player’s behavior.”

The researchers will now try to implement some of their design proposals in VR game prototypes.

WATCH SOME OF THE VIDEO CLIPS ON YOUTUBE:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KcllPEe8y8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cma-1DNlZU

Featured image credit: gettyimages


Reference: Emily Dao, Andreea Muresan, Kasper Hornbæk, Jarrod Knibbe, “Bad Breakdowns, Useful Seams, and Face Slapping: Analysis of VR Fails on YouTube”, CHI ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2021, Article No.: 526, Pages 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445435


Provided by University of Copenhagen

The Eponymous NGC 691 (Cosmology)

This image features the spiral galaxy NGC 691, imaged in fantastic detail by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). This galaxy is the eponymous member of the NGC 691 galaxy group, a group of gravitationally bound galaxies that lie about 120 million light-years from Earth. 

Objects such as NGC 691 are observed by Hubble using a range of filters. Each filter only allows certain wavelengths of light to reach Hubble’s WFC3. The images collected using different filters are then coloured by specialised visual artists who can make informed choices about which colour best corresponds to which filter. By combining the coloured images from individual filters, a full-colour image of the astronomical object can be recreated. In this way, we can get remarkably good insight into the nature and appearance of these objects.

Featured image: NGC 691, constellation Aries © ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess


Provided by ESA/Hubble

People Who Eat A Plant-based Dinner Could Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease by 10% (Food)

People who eat too many refined carbs and fatty meats for dinner have a higher risk of heart disease than those who eat a similar diet for breakfast, according to a nationwide study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Cardiovascular diseases like congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke are the number one cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. Eating lots of saturated fat, processed meats and added sugars can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Eating a heart-healthy diet with more whole carbohydrates like vegetables and grains and less meat can significantly offset the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Meal timing along with food quality are important factors to consider when looking for ways to lower your risk of heart disease. Our study found people who eat a plant-based dinner with more whole carbs and unsaturated fats reduced their risk of heart disease by ten percent,” said study author Ying Li of the Harbin Medical University in Harbin, China. “It’s always recommended to eat a healthy diet, especially for those at high risk for heart disease, but we found that eating meat and refined carbs for breakfast instead of dinner was associated with a lower risk.”

The researchers studied 27,911 U.S. adults’ data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and analyzed dietary information collected during interviews with the participants over two non-consecutive days. They examined the association between eating different fats, carbohydrates and proteins at breakfast or dinner with participants’ rates of heart disease. The analysis found eating a plant-based dinner reduced heart disease risk by ten percent.

Other authors of the study include: Wanying Hou, Jian Gao, Wenbo Jiang, Wei Wei, Huanyu Wu, Yuntao Zhang, Changhao Sun and Tianshu Han of the Harbin Medical University.

The manuscript received funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Young Elite Scientists Sponsorship Program.

The manuscript, “Meal Timing of Subtypes of Macronutrients Consumption with Cardiovascular Diseases: NHANES, 2003-2016,” was published online, ahead of print.


Reference: Wanying Hou, Jian Gao, Wenbo Jiang, Wei Wei, Huanyu Wu, Yuntao Zhang, Changhao Sun, Ying Li, Tianshu Han, Meal Timing of Subtypes of Macronutrients Consumption With Cardiovascular Diseases: NHANES, 2003 to 2016, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2021;, dgab288, https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgab288


Provided by Endocrine Society