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Harvard and Google Scientists Studying Connectomics Create Massive Highly Detailed 3D Nanoscale Model of Human Neural Tissue

Ten year collaboration between Google and Harvard may lead to a deeper understanding of the brain and new clinical laboratory diagnostics

With all our anatomic pathology and clinical laboratory science, we still do not know that much about the structure of the brain. But now, scientists at Harvard University and Google Research studying the emerging field of connectomics have published a highly detailed 3D reconstruction of human brain tissue that allows visualization of neurons and their connections at unprecedented nanoscale resolutions.

Further investigation of the nano-connections within the human brain could lead to novel insights about the role specific proteins and molecules play in the function of the brain. Though it will likely be years down the road, data derived from this study could be used to develop new clinical laboratory diagnostic tests.

The data to generate the model came from Google’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to color-code Harvard’s electron microscope imaging of a cubic millimeter of neural tissue—equivalent to a half-grain of rice—that was surgically removed from an epilepsy patient.

“That tiny square contains 57,000 cells, 230 millimeters of blood vessels, and 150 million synapses, all amounting to 1,400 terabytes of data,” according to the Harvard Gazette, which described the project as “the largest-ever dataset of human neural connections.”

“A terabyte is, for most people, gigantic, yet a fragment of a human brain—just a minuscule, teeny-weeny little bit of human brain—is still thousands of terabytes,” said neuroscientist Jeff W. Lichtman, MD, PhD, Jeremy R. Knowles Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, whose Lichtman Lab at Harvard University collaborated on the project with researchers from Google. The two labs have been working together for nearly 10 years on this project, the Harvard Gazette reported.

Lichtman’s lab focuses on the emerging field of connectomics, defined “as understanding how individual neurons are connected to one another to form functional networks,” said neurobiologist Wei-Chung Allen Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, in an interview with Harvard Medical News. “The goal is to create connectomes—or detailed structural maps of connectivity—where we can see every neuron and every connection.” Lee was not involved with the Harvard/Google Research study.

The scientists published their study in the journal Science titled, “A Petavoxel Fragment of Human Cerebral Cortex Reconstructed at Nanoscale Resolution.”

“The human brain uses no more power than a dim incandescent light bulb, yet it can accomplish feats still not possible with the largest artificial computing systems,” wrote Google Research scientist Viren Jain, PhD (above), in a blog post. “To understand how requires a level of understanding more profound than knowing what part of the brain is responsible for what function. The field of connectomics aims to achieve this by precisely mapping how each cell is connected to others.” Google’s 10-year collaboration with Harvard University may lead to new clinical laboratory diagnostics. (Photo copyright: Google Research.)

Study Data and Tools Freely Available

Along with the Science paper, the researchers publicly released the data along with analytic and visualization tools. The study noted that the dataset “is large and incompletely scrutinized,” so the scientists are inviting other researchers to assist in improving the model.

“The ability for other researchers to proofread and refine this human brain connectome is one of many ways that we see the release of this paper and the associated tools as not only the culmination of 10 years of work, but the beginning of something new,” wrote Google Research scientist Viren Jain, PhD, in a blog post that included links to the online resources.

One of those tools—Neuroglancer—allows any user with a web browser to view 3D models of neurons, axons, synapses, dendrites, blood vessels, and other objects. Users can rotate the models in xyz dimensions.

Users with the requisite knowledge and skills can proofread and correct the models by signing up for a CAVE (Connectome Annotation Versioning Engine) account.

Researchers Found Several Surprises

To perform their study, Lichtman’s team cut the neural tissue into 5,000 slices, each approximately 30 nanometers thick, Jain explained in the blog post. They then used a multibeam scanning electron microscope to capture high-resolution images, a process that took 326 days.

Jain’s team at Google used AI tools to build the model. They “stitched and aligned the image data, reconstructed the three dimensional structure of each cell, including its axons and dendrites, identified synaptic connections, and classified cell types,” he explained.

Jain pointed to “several surprises” that the reconstruction revealed. For example, he noted that “96.5% of contacts between axons and their target cells have just one synapse.” However, he added, “we found a class of rare but extremely powerful synaptic connections in which a pair of neurons may be connected by more than 50 individual synapses.”

In their Science paper, the researchers suggest that “these powerful connections are not the result of chance, but rather that these pairs had a reason to be more strongly connected than is typical,” Jain wrote in the blog post. “Further study of these connections could reveal their functional role in the brain.”

Mysterious Structures

Another anomaly was the presence of “axon whorls,” as Jain described them, “beautiful but mysterious structures in which an axon wraps itself into complicated knots.”

Because the sample came from an epilepsy patient, Jain noted that the whorls could be connected to the disease or therapies or could be found in all brains.

“Given the scale and complexity of the dataset, we expect that there are many other novel structures and characteristics yet to be discovered,” he wrote. “These findings are the tip of the iceberg of what we expect connectomics will tell us about human brains.”

The researchers have a larger goal to create a comprehensive high-resolution map of a mouse’s brain, Harvard Medical News noted. This would contain approximately 1,000 times the data found in the 1-cubic-millimeter human sample.

Dark Daily has been tracking the different fields of “omics” for years, as research teams announce new findings and coin new areas of science and medicine to which “omics” is appended. Connectomics fits that description.

Though the Harvard/Google research is not likely to lead to diagnostic assays or clinical laboratory tests any time soon, it is an example of how advances in technologies are enabling researchers to investigate smaller and smaller elements within the human body.

—Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Researchers Publish Largest-Ever Dataset of Neural Connections

A Petavoxel Fragment of Human Cerebral Cortex Reconstructed at Nanoscale Resolution

Ten Years of Neuroscience at Google Yields Maps of Human Brain

Groundbreaking Images Reveal the Human Brain at Nanoscale Resolution

A New Field of Neuroscience Aims to Map Connections in the Brain

Johns Hopkins Research Team Uses Machine Learning on DNA “Dark Matter” in Blood to Identify Cancer

Findings could lead to new biomarkers clinical laboratories would use for identifying cancer in patients and monitoring treatments

As DNA “dark matter” (the DNA sequences between genes) continues to be studied, researchers are learning that so-called “junk DNA” (non-functional DNA) may influence multiple health conditions and diseases including cancer. This will be of interest to pathologists and clinical laboratories engaged in cancer diagnosis and may lead to new non-invasive liquid biopsy methods for identifying cancer in blood draws.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md., developed a technique to identify changes in repeat elements of genetic code in cancerous tissue as well as in cell-free DNA (cf-DNA) that are shed in blood, according to a Johns Hopkins news release.

The Hopkins researchers described their machine learning approach—called ARTEMIS (Analysis of RepeaT EleMents in dISease)—in the journal Science Translational Medicine titled, “Genomewide Repeat Landscapes in Cancer and Cell-Free DNA.”

ARTEMIS “shows potential to predict cases of early-stage lung cancer or liver cancer in humans by detecting repetitive genetic sequences,” Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN) reported.

This technique could enable non-invasive monitoring of cancer treatment and cancer diagnosis, Technology Networks noted.

“Our study shows that ARTEMIS can reveal genomewide repeat landscapes that reflect dramatic underlying changes in human cancers,” said study co-leader Akshaya Annapragada (above), an MD/PhD student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a news release. “By illuminating the so-called ‘dark genome,’ the work offers unique insights into the cancer genome and provides a proof-of-concept for the utility of genomewide repeat landscapes as tissue and blood-based biomarkers for cancer detection, characterization, and monitoring.” Clinical laboratories may soon have new biomarkers for the detection of cancer. (Photo copyright: Johns Hopkins University.)

Detecting Early Lung, Liver Cancer

Artemis is a Greek word meaning “hunting goddess.” For the Johns Hopkins researchers, ARTEMIS also describes a technique “to analyze junk DNA found in tumors” and which float in the bloodstream, Financial Times explained.

“It’s like a grand unveiling of what’s behind the curtain,” said geneticist Victor Velculescu, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology and co-director of the Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics Program at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, in the news release.

“Until ARTEMIS, this dark matter of the genome was essentially ignored, but now we’re seeing that these repeats are not occurring randomly,” he added. “They end up being clustered around genes that are altered in cancer in a variety of different ways, providing the first glimpse that these sequences may be key to tumor development.”

ARTEMIS could “lead to new therapies, new diagnostics, and new screening approaches for cancer,” Velculescu noted.

Repeats of DNA Sequences Tough to Study

For some time technical limitations have hindered analysis of repetitive genomic sequences by scientists. 

“Genetic changes in repetitive sequences are a hallmark of cancer and other diseases, but characterizing these has been challenging using standard sequencing approaches,” the study authors wrote in their Science Translational Medicine paper.

“We developed a de novo k-mer (short sequences of DNA)-finding approach called ARTEMIS to identify repeat elements from whole-genome sequencing,” the researchers wrote.

The scientists put ARTEMIS to the test in laboratory experiments.

The first analysis involved 1,280 types of repeating genetic elements “in both normal and tumor tissues from 525 cancer patients” who participated in the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG), according to Technology Networks, which noted these findings:

  • A median of 807 altered elements were found in each tumor.
  • About two-thirds (820) had not “previously been found altered in human cancer.”

Second, the researchers explored “genomewide repeat element changes that were predictive of cancer,” by using machine learning to give each sample an ARTEMIS score, according to the Johns Hopkins news release. 

The scoring detected “525 PCAWG participants’ tumors from the healthy tissues with a high performance” overall Area Under the Curve (AUC) score of 0.96 (perfect score being 1.0) “across all cancer types analyzed,” the Johns Hopkins’ release states.

Liquid Biopsy Deployed

The scientists then used liquid biopsies to determine ARTEMIS’ ability to noninvasively diagnose cancer. Researchers used blood samples from:

Results, according to Johns Hopkins:

  • ARTEMIS classified patients with lung cancer with an AUC of 0.82.
  • ARTEMIS detected people with liver cancer, as compared to others with cirrhosis or viral hepatitis, with a score of AUC 0.87.

Finally, the scientists used their “ARTEMIS blood test” to find the origin of tumors in patients with cancer. They reported their technique was 78% accurate in discovering tumor tissue sources among 12 tumor types.

“These analyses reveal widespread changes in repeat landscapes of human cancers and provide an approach for their detection and characterization that could benefit early detection and disease monitoring of patients with cancer,” the researchers wrote in Science Translational Medicine.

Large Clinical Trials Planned

Velculescu said more research is planned, including larger clinical trials.

“While still at an early stage, this research demonstrates how some cancers could be diagnosed earlier by detecting tumor-specific changes in cells collected from blood samples,” Hattie Brooks, PhD, Research Information Manager, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), told Financial Times.

Should ARTEMIS prove to be a viable, non-invasive blood test for cancer, it could provide pathologists and clinical laboratories with new biomarkers and the opportunity to work with oncologists to promptly diagnosis cancer and monitor patients’ response to treatment.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

“Junk DNA” No More: Johns Hopkins Investigators Develop Method of Identifying Cancers from Repeat Elements of Genetic Code

Genomewide Repeat Landscapes in Cancer and Cell-Free DNA

AI Detects Cancer VIA DNA Repeats in Liquid Biopsies

Genetic “Dark Matter” Could Help Monitor Cancer

AI Explores “Dark Genome” to Shed Light on Cancer Growth

Clinical Trial Shows New Laboratory Developed Blood Test 83% Effective at Detecting Colorectal Cancer

Accurate blood-based clinical laboratory testing for cancer promises to encourage more people to undergo early screening for deadly diseases

One holy grail in diagnostics is to develop less-invasive specimen types when screening or testing for different cancers. This is the motivation behind the creation of a new assay for colorectal (colon) cancer that uses a blood sample and that could be offered by clinical laboratories. The data on this assay and its performance was featured in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine(NEJM).

The company developing this new test recognized that more than 50,000 people will die in 2024 from colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s primarily because people do not like colonoscopies even though the procedure can detect cancer in its early stages. Similarly, patients tend to find collecting their own fecal samples for colon cancer screening tests to be unpleasant.

But the clinical laboratory blood test for cancer screening developed by Guardant Health may make diagnosing the deadly disease less invasive and save lives. The test “detects 83% of people with colorectal cancer with specificity of 90%,” a company press release noted.

“Early detection could prevent more than 90% of colorectal cancer-related deaths, yet more than one third of the screening-eligible population is not up to date with screening despite multiple available tests. A blood-based test has the potential to improve screening adherence, detect colorectal cancer earlier, and reduce colorectal cancer-related mortality,” the study authors wrote in the NEJM.

As noted above, this is the latest example of test developers working to develop clinical laboratory tests that are less invasive for patients, while equaling or exceeding the sensitivity and specificity of existing diagnostic assays for certain health conditions.

“I do think having a blood draw versus undergoing an invasive test will reach more people, My hope is that with more tools we can reach more people,” Barbara H. Jung, MD (above), President of the American Gastroenterological Association, told NPR. Clinical laboratory blood tests for cancer may encourage people who do not like colonoscopies to get regular screening. (Photo copyright: American Gastroenterology Association.)

Developing the Shield Blood Test

Colorectal cancer is the “third most common cancer among men and women in the US,” according to the American Gastrological Association (AGA). And yet, millions of people do not get regular screening for the disease.

To prove their Shield blood test, Guardant Health, a precision oncology company based in Redwood City, Calif., enrolled more than 20,000 patients between the ages of 45-84 from across the US in a prospective, multi-site registrational study called ECLIPSE (Evaluation of ctDNA LUNAR Assay In an Average Patient Screening Episode).

“We assessed the performance characteristics of a cell-free DNA (cfDNA) blood-based test in a population eligible for colorectal cancer screening. The coprimary outcomes were sensitivity for colorectal cancer and specificity for advanced neoplasia (colorectal cancer or advanced precancerous lesions) relative to screening colonoscopy. The secondary outcome was sensitivity to detect advanced precancerous lesions,” the study authors wrote in the NEJM.

In March, Guardant completed clinical trials of its Shield blood test for detecting colorectal cancer (CRC) in men and women. According to the company press release, the test demonstrated:

  • 83% sensitivity in detecting individuals with CRC.
  • 88% sensitivity in detecting pathology-confirmed Stages I-III.

Additionally, the Shield test showed sensitivity by stage of:

  • 65% for pathology-confirmed Stage I,
  • 55% for clinical Stage I,
  • 100% for Stage II, and
  • 100% for Stage III.

“The results of the study are a promising step toward developing more convenient tools to detect colorectal cancer early while it is more easily treated,” said molecular biologist and gastroenterologist William M. Grady, MD, Medical Director, Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and corresponding author of the ECLIPSE study in the press release. “The test, which has an accuracy rate for colon cancer detection similar to stool tests used for early detection of cancer, could offer an alternative for patients who may otherwise decline current screening options.”

Are Colonoscopies Still Needed?

“More than three out of four Americans who die from colorectal cancer are not up to date with their recommended screening, highlighting the need for a more convenient and less invasive screening method that can overcome barriers associated with traditional options,” Daniel Chung, MD, gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in the Guardant press release.

Barbara H. Jung, MD, President of the American Gastroenterological Association, says that even if Guardant’s Shield test makes it to the public the “dreaded colonoscopy” will still be needed because the procedure is used to locate and test polyps. “And when you find those you can also remove them, which in turn prevents the cancer from forming,” she told NPR.

There is hope that less invasive clinical laboratory testing will encourage more individuals to get screened for cancer earlier and regularly, and that the shift will result in a reduction in cancer rates.

“Colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught in the early stages,” said Chris Evans, President of the Colon Cancer Coalition, in the Guardant press release.

Guardant Health’s ECLIPSE study is a prime example of the push clinical laboratory test developers are making to create user-friendly test options that make it easier for patients to follow through with regular screening for early detection of diseases. It echoes a larger effort in the medical community to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to reach wider audiences in the name of prevention.

—Kristin Althea O’Connor

Related Information:

Guardant Health ECLIPSE Study Data Demonstrating Efficacy of Shield Blood-based Test for Colorectal Cancer Screening to be Published in The New England Journal of Medicine

A Cell-free DNA Blood-Based Test for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Guardant Health Announces Positive Results from Pivotal ECLIPSE Study Evaluating a Blood Test for the Detection of Colorectal Cancer

A Simple Blood Test Can Detect Colorectal Cancer Early, Study Finds

Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer Facts and Statistics

Cancer Stat Facts: Colorectal Cancer

UK’s National Health Service Tests AI Tool That Can Spot Cancer in Mammograms Missed by Doctors

This AI platform has the potential to also reduce workload of radiologists, but also of anatomic pathologists and oncologists allowing them to be more productive

When the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recently tested an artificial intelligence (AI) platform’s ability to analyze mammograms, the AI found early signs of breast cancer that “human doctors” had previously missed, the BBC reported. This level of ability by AI might soon be adapted to aid overworked anatomic pathologists and cancer doctors in the United Kingdom.

The pilot program, which was conducted at NHS Grampian Aberdeen in Scotland, tested the Mammography Intelligent Assessment (MIA) AI platform for breast screening developed by Kheiron Medical Technologies and Imperial College London

Out of 10,000 mammograms MIA analyzed, the AI platform found “tiny signs of breast cancer in 11 women” which had not been spotted during earlier examinations, the BBC noted, adding that the cancers “were practically invisible to the human eye.”

This is a significant development in AI’s role in healthcare. Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders will note that ongoing advancements in AI are enabling technology developers to apply their solutions to assessing radiology images, as well as in whole slide imaging used in digital pathology. In the UK, use of AI, the BBC noted, may also help ease doctor’s workloads.

“This is just the beginning of our work with Kheiron,” said Ben Glocker, PhD (above), Professor in Machine Learning for Imaging at Imperial College London and Head of ML Research at Kheiron Medical, in a news release. “We are actively working on new methodologies for the safe deployment and continuous monitoring of MIA to support a US and UK rollout. We are working hard to make sure that as many women as possible will benefit from the use of this new technology within the next year.” AI tools such as MIA may soon take much of the load from anatomic pathologists and radiologists. (Photo copyright: Imperial College London.)

MIA Cloud-based AI Platform

Kheiron was founded in 2016 and MIA was named one of the seven biggest medical breakthroughs in 2023 by ABC News. A study conducted by Imperial College London in 2023 found that MIA “could significantly increase the early detection of breast cancers in a European healthcare setting by up to 13%,” according to an Imperial news release.

“The study was conducted over three phases (two pilot phases and a live roll-out). Overall across the three phases, the AI reader found 24 more cancers than the standard human reading—a 7% relative increase—and resulted in 70 more women recalled (0.28% relative increase),” the news release reported. “Of the additional recalls, six (initial pilot), 13 (extended pilot), and 11 (live use) additional cancers were found, increasing relative cancer detection rate by 13%, 10%, and 5% respectively. [The researchers] found that 83% of the additional cancers detected using MIA in real clinical practice were invasive, showing that MIA can detect cancers where early detection is particularly vital.”

Supported by Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, MIA came together over six years based on training encompassing millions of mammograms worldwide, Healthcare Digital reported.

“AI tools are generally pretty good at spotting symptoms of a specific disease if they are trained on enough data to enable them to be identified. This means feeding the program with as many different anonymized images of those symptoms as possible, from as diverse a range of people as possible,” Sarah Kerruish, Chief Strategy Officer, Kheiron, told Healthcare Digital.

MIA has been trained to “recognize subtle patterns and anomalies” that can point to “cancerous cells even in their earliest stages of development,” Dataconomy reported.

MIA Finds Early Cancer Signs

In the pilot study, MIA examined mammograms from 10,889 women. Each image had previously been reviewed by two radiologists, the BBC reported.

Findings include the following according to Healthcare Digital:

  • MIA “flagged” all people the physicians previously identified with symptoms.
  • The AI platform discovered 11 people with cancer the doctors did not identify.
  • The cancer MIA discovered—and the doctors did not—suggested cancer in early stages.

So, how did the doctors miss the cancer that MIA spotted? Gerald Lip, MD, Clinical Director for Breast Screening in North East Scotland who led the pilot study for the NHS, told Healthcare Digital, “part of the power of AI is it’s not prone to exhaustion or distraction.

“There is an element of fatigue,” he said. “You get disruptions, someone’s coming in, someone’s chatting in the background. There are lots of things that can probably throw you off your regular routine as well. And in those days when you have been distracted, you go, ‘how on earth did I miss that?’ It does happen.”

Lip is also the Chief Investigator in the Mammography Artificial Intelligence Project in the Industrial Center for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Diagnostics in Scotland.  

“I see MIA as a friend and an augmentation to my practice,” he told Healthcare Digital. “MIA isn’t perfect. It had no access to patient history so [it] would flag cysts that had already been identified by previous scans and designated harmless.”

AI as a Safety Net

In the 2023 study, researchers from Imperial College London deployed MIA as an extra reader for mammograms of 25,065 women who visited screening sites in Hungary between April 2021 and January 2023, according to a news release.

“Our prospective real-world usage data in Hungary provides evidence for a significant, measurable increase of early breast cancer detection when MIA is used in clinical practice,” said Peter Kecskemethy, PhD, CEO and co-founder of Kheiron Medical, in the news release.

“Our study shows that AI can act as an effective safety net—a tool to prevent subtler signs of cancer from falling through the cracks,” said Ben Glocker, PhD, Professor in Machine Learning for Imaging at Imperial College London and Head of ML Research at Kheiron Medical, in the news release.

More studies are needed before MIA can be used in clinical settings. Nevertheless, use of AI in radiology—specifically mammograms—where the AI tool can identify very small cancers typically undetectable by radiologists, would be a boon to cancer doctors and the patients they treat.

So far, the research suggests that the AI-powered MIA has benefits to deployment in breast cancer screening. Eventually, it may also make impressive contributions to medical diagnosis and patient care, particularly if MIA eventually proves to be effective at analyzing the whole slide images used by anatomic pathologists. 

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

NHS AI Test Spots Tiny Cancers Missed by Doctors

Seven Biggest Medical Breakthroughs of 2023

AI Tool Picks up Early-Stage Breast Cancers Doctors Missed

AI Tool MIA Accurately Detects Subtle Breast Cancers

Meet MIA/Introducing Kheiron Medical Technologies

New AI Tool Detects up to 13% More Breast Cancers than Human Clinicians Can

Prospective Implementation of AI-assisted Screen Reading to Improve Early Detection of Breast Cancer

Ex-Theranos Founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes Reduced Her Prison Sentence by Nearly Two Years

Good behavior in federal prison by the disgraced founder of the now-defunct clinical laboratory company earned her the reduction in her original sentence of 11 years

Elizabeth Holmes, founder of failed clinical laboratory blood analysis company Theranos, continues to serve a lengthy term in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of fraud in 2022. However, now comes news that good behavior at her federal prison has shortened her sentence by nearly two years, according to NBC News.

The latest reduction took Holmes’ release from December 2032 to August 2032 in her “11-plus-year (135 month) prison sentence for wire fraud and conspiracy,” NBC reported, adding that Holmes, though Theranos, “defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Holmes entered FPC Bryan, a federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas, to begin serving her term in May 2023.

“Holmes had her sentence computation done within the first 30 days of arriving at Bryan,” Forbes reported. Given Good Conduct Time (GCT), Holmes was given 608 days off calculated from the start of her sentence. “If she were to incur a disciplinary infraction, some of those days can be taken away. Most all prisoners receive 54 days per year of GCT based on the sentence imposed,” Forbes added.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) can additionally shave off up to a year through its Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). “To qualify, the prisoner must not have a disqualifying offense, such as terrorism or gun charge, and voluntarily provided information that they had a drug or alcohol problem prior to their arrest. This disclosure has to be done prior to sentencing during the pre-sentence interview and must be also documented in the Presentence Report, a detailed report used by the BOP to determine things like classification and programming for the prisoner,” Forbes noted.

Additionally, the federal First Step Act, which President Trump signed into law in 2018, enables Holmes to “earn up to 365 days off any imposed sentence by participating in prison programming such as a self-improvement classes, a job, or religious activities,” Forbes reported.

Given the opportunities to shave time off her sentence, Holmes may ultimately serve just 66 months of her original 135 month sentence in federal prison.

Elizabeth Holmes (above) taken backstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2014 when Holmes was at the height of her fame and popularity. At this point, Theranos’ Edison blood testing device had not yet been shown to be a fake. But evidence was mounting as clinical laboratory scientists and anatomic pathologists became aware of the technology’s shortcomings. (Photo copyright: Max Morse/Wikimedia Commons.)

Fall of a Silicon Valley Darling

Theranos boasted breakthrough technology and became an almost overnight sensation in Silicon Valley when it burst onto the scene in 2003. Holmes, a then 19-year-old Stanford University dropout, claimed Theranos would “revolutionize the world of blood testing by reducing sample sizes to a single pin prick,” Quartz reported.

The height of the company saw Theranos valued at $9 billion, which came crashing down when the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that questionable accuracy and procedures were being followed by the company, CNN reported.

In “After AACC Presentation, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos Failed to Convince Clinical Laboratory Scientists and the News Media about Quality of Its Technology,” Dark Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Michel reported on Holmes’ presentation at the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) annual meeting in 2016, after which the clinical laboratory scientists in attendance were highly skeptical of Holmes’ claims.

“From the moment Holmes concluded her presentation and stepped off the podium on Monday afternoon, she, her company, and her comments became the number one subject discussed by attendees in the halls between sessions and in the AACC exhibit hall,” Michel wrote, adding, “The executive team and the investors at Theranos have burned through their credibility with the media, the medical laboratory profession, and the public. In the future, the company’s claims will only be accepted if presented with scientific data developed according to accepted standards and reviewed by credible third parties. Much of this data also needs to be published in peer-reviewed medical journals held in highest esteem.”

A follow-up Dark Daily ebriefing concerning Theranos covered a fraud settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), sanctions from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), investor lawsuits, consumer lawsuits, and a settlement with Walgreens over claims about Theranos’ Edison portable blood analyzer. Theranos’ web of lies was unraveling.

Theranos Saga Continues

Ultimately, investors who had jumped in early with financial support for Theranos were defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars and Holmes was sentenced to 11 years/three months behind bars. 

“Theranos had only ever performed roughly a dozen of the hundreds of tests it offered using its proprietary technology, and with questionable accuracy. It also came to light that Theranos was relying on third-party manufactured devices from traditional blood testing companies rather than its own technology,” CNN added.

The company shut down in 2018.

And so, the Elizabeth Holmes saga continues with reductions in her prison sentence for “good behavior.” The irony will likely not be lost on the anatomic pathologists, clinical laboratory scientists, and lab managers who followed the federal trials.

—Kristin Althea O’Connor

Related Information:

Elizabeth Holmes Sees More Months Trimmed from Prison Release Date

Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes’ Prison Sentence Keeps Getting Shorter

Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled with Its Blood-Test Technology

Elizabeth Holmes Shaves More Time Off Her Sentence

The Infatuation with Elizabeth Holmes’ Prison Term

After AACC Presentation, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos Failed to Convince Clinical Laboratory Scientists and the News Media about Quality of Its Technology

Previously High-Flying Theranos Provides Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups with Valuable Lesson on How Quickly Consumer Trust Can Be Lost

University of Warwick Researchers Identity Blood Protein Biomarkers That Can Predict Dementia Onset Years in Advance

With further study, this research may provide clinical laboratories with a new proteomic biomarker for dementia screenings that identifies risk more than 10 years before symptoms appear

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK and Fudan University in Shanghai, China, identified four protein biomarkers in blood that they say can predict dementia up to 15 years before diagnosis. They say these biomarkers may lead to clinical laboratory blood tests that offer alternatives to costly brain scans and lumbar punctures for diagnosis of dementia.

The scientists “used the largest cohort of blood proteomics and dementia to date,” according to a University of Warwick news release. This included taking blood from 52,645 “healthy” people without dementia who participated in the UK Biobank—a population-based study cohort, the new release noted.

“The proteomic biomarkers are [easy] to access and non-invasive, and they can substantially facilitate the application of large-scale population screening,” said neurovegetative disease specialist Jin-tai Yu, MD, PhD, a professor at Fudan University and co-author of the study, in the news release.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Nature Aging titled, “Plasma Proteomic Profiles Predict Future Dementia in Healthy Adults.”

“The advent of proteomics offers an unprecedented opportunity to predict dementia onset,” the researchers wrote.

“This is a well-conducted study that adds to what we know about changes in blood that occur very early in diseases that cause dementia, which will be important for early diagnosis in the future,” said Tara Spires-Jones, PhD, in a post from the Science Media Center in the UK. “However,” she added, “it is important to note that these are still scientific research studies and that there are currently no blood tests available for routine use that can diagnose dementia with certainty.

Jones, who was not involved in the study, is President of the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) and group leader of the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

“Based on this study, it does seem likely that blood tests will be developed that can predict risk for developing dementia over the next 10 years, although individuals at higher risk often have difficulty knowing how to respond,” Suzanne Schindler, MD, PhD (above), told Reuters. Schindler, an Associate Professor of Neurology at Washington University in St. Louis, was not involved in the research. Clinical laboratories may soon have a new blood test for dementia. (Photo copyright: VJDementia.)

Predicting Onset of Dementia with 90% Accuracy

The researchers analyzed 52,645 blood samples from the UK Biobank (UKBB). The samples were collected between 2006 and 2010 from healthy individuals who at that time were without dementia.

By March 2023, 1,417 of the study participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. The researchers looked at 1,463 proteins and identified four that were present in high levels among those people:

“Individuals with higher GFAP levels were 2.32 times more likely to develop dementia,” the researchers wrote in Nature Aging. “Notably, GFAP and LTBP2 were highly specific for dementia prediction. GFAP and NEFL began to change at least 10 years before dementia diagnosis.”

When adding known risk factors such as age, sex, and genetics, the researchers said they could predict onset of dementia with 90% accuracy, according to the University of Warwick news release.

“Our findings strongly highlight GFAP as an optimal biomarker for dementia prediction, even more than 10 years before the diagnosis, with implications for screening people at high risk for dementia and for early intervention,” the researchers wrote.

The news release also noted that smaller studies had already identified some of the proteins as potential biomarkers, “but this new research was much larger and conducted over several years.”

Further Validation Needed

Amanda Heslegrave, PhD, of the UK Dementia Research Institute, University College London described the UKBB as “an excellent resource” in the Science Media Center (SMC) post. However, she noted, it’s “a highly curated biobank and may not capture all populations that we need to know the risk for. The new biomarkers identified will need further validation before being used as screening tools.”

Another expert raised additional questions about the University of Warwick/Fudan University study in the SMC post.

“These results may help researchers understand the biological systems involved in the development of dementia,” said David Curtis, MD, PhD, of the UCL Genetics Institute at University College London. “However in my view the strengths of the reported associations are not really strong enough to say that these would form a useful test for predicting who will get dementia in the future.”

Conversely, Curtis pointed to other studies suggesting that phosphorylated tau (p-tau) proteins are better candidates for developing a simple blood test.

P-tau “provides a very good indicator of whether the pathological processes leading to Alzheimer’s disease are present in the brain,” he said. “When effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are developed it will be very helpful indeed to have simple blood tests—such as measuring phosphorylated tau—available in order to identify who could benefit.”

At least two blood tests based on the p-tau217 variant—from ALZpath and C2N—are currently available to US clinicians as laboratory developed tests (LDT).

In “University of Gothenburg Study Findings Affirm Accuracy of Clinical Laboratory Blood Test to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease,” Dark Daily reported on a study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden which found that the ALZpath test was as good or better than lumbar punctures and brain scans as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.

UK Biobank

The UK Biobank continues to be used by researchers both in the UK and abroad because of the full sets of data on large numbers of patients over many years. There are few other sources of such data elsewhere in the world. The UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource. It contains de-identified genetic, lifestyle and health information, and biological samples from 500,000 UK participants.

On its website, the UK Biobank states, “It is the most comprehensive and widely-used dataset of its kind and is globally accessible to approved researchers who are undertaking health-related research that is in the public interest, whether they are from academic, commercial, government or charitable settings.”

Thus, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists can expect a continuing stream of published studies that identify biomarkers associated with different health conditions and to see where the data used in these analyses came from the UK’s biobank.

—Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Protein Biomarkers Predict Dementia 15 Years Before Diagnosis, According to New Study

Plasma Proteomic Profiles Predict Future Dementia in Healthy Adults

Proteins May Predict Who Will Get Dementia 10 Years Later, Study Finds

Expert Reaction to Study of Potential Protein Biomarkers for Dementia Risk

Two New p-Tau217 Blood Tests Join a Crowded Field

Plasma p-Tau-217 Assays Work Well, But No Home Run for Diagnosis

Dementia Can Be Predicted More than a Decade Before Diagnosis with These Blood Proteins

Dementia Predicted 10 Years Before Diagnosis

Early Blood Test to Predict Dementia Is Step Closer as Biological Markers Identified

Validating Blood Tests as A Possible Routine Diagnostic Assay of Alzheimer’s Disease

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