Prosthetics Going Star Wars? Estrogen Linked to Autism?

This is the Science and Health Segment of The Morning Brew. If you wish to see the clip, click the video.

“Luke Arm” Will Allow for Tactile Sense

Remember Luke’s arm from “The Empire Strikes Back”? Ever wonder if there was a way to develop the arm for amputees? At the University of Utah Center for Neural Interfaces is currently working on just that. Keven Walhgamott is a volunteer for the research project. He lost his left hand from a major electrical accident 17 years ago.

Their goal is to improve the messages from the prosthetic to the brain for better tactile control and pressure sensing, being able to emulate human messages from the brain to the prosthetic. This would allow the user to have a sense of touch from the hand.

“We are changing the way we are sending that information to the brain so that it matches the human body. And by matching the human body, we were able to see improved benefits.”

-Gregory Clark, biomedical engineering associate professor.

The Luke Arm has been in development for about 15 years and is mostly powered by an external battery attached to a computer. It has mostly metal parts and is encased in a silicone “skin”.

Lab Roots

New Research Links Autism and Elevated Estrogen

Scientists from the University of Cambridge and the State Serum Institute in Denmark have been conducting a research study since 2015 to find a correlation between androgens, estrogen, and Autism. The findings and research were published on July 29 in Molecular Psychology. It furthered and built on research from over 20 years ago.

They first looked at and measured four prenatal steroid hormones in amniotic fluids from the Danish Historic Birth Cohort (DHBC) and included two androgens. The results displayed higher quantities of androgen production in male fetuses. They admitted this COULD be one explanation as to why Autism is more frequent in males than females.

The most recent findings looked into levels of prenatal estrogen hormones:

  • estriol
  • estradol
  • estrone
  • estrone sulfate.

Taking the same samples from above, they came to the conclusion that estradiol levels gave the highest risk of the child having or developing Autism, close behind were estriol and estrone. Estrone sulfate did not raise any Autism risks. 

The next step in the research is to find the origin of the elevated hormone levels.

Lab Roots

Archaeology Student at Peruvian Dig Makes Surprise Discovery

Caroline Coolidge, a rising second-year archaeology student, was digging in a field school in San Jose de Moro, Peru, when she found something that startled her, a dusty small face staring up at her. What she found was an intact piece of pottery. This was found at one of the oldest burial grounds for the Moche, a pre-Columbian civilization that was prominent along the northern coast between the first and eighth-century A.D.The face turned into a complete figurine, approximately 1,000 years old, which would place it in the transitional period between the Moche and Lambayeque cultures. Coolidge stated, 

“Typically, this type of artifact would be included in burial, but there were no burials found near it.”

The field school is run by:

  • Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, professor of archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica and recently named Peru’s minister of culture
  • Gary Urton, Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Colombian Studies.

They head a five-week program where participants come to Peruvian archaeological sites and museums to learn the basics of documentation and analysis. 


Brand-Brand Competition Does Not Lower Cost

After systematically reviewing studies from PubMed and Econlit from 1990 and April 2019, Ameet Sarpatwari and her colleagues found a trend in regards to the prices of brand-name prescription medications. When comparing class to class, the competing medications did not lead to a drop in prescription medicine prices.

In fact, the opposite was shown to be true. Ameet Sarpatwari’s study, published July 30 of this year in “PLOS Medicine”, showed a spending increase in prescription drugs and rising launch prices of new brand-name drugs, which lead to greater brand-on-brand competition. This trend of price increases, for the most part, followed the introduction of a new drug. 

Further research led to the conclusion that policies to promote this type of competition would more than likely NOT help to lower drug list prices. 


The Morning Brew airs Sat.-Wed. 10:30 AM CST on Twitch.

Categories: News

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