Xenobots, HIV Vaccines and Other Promising News to Wrap Up 2021

From an anti-COVID gum to reproducing robots—let us look back at 2021 for some of the most unique and laudable studies in science and medicine.

By Debashruti Banerjee
21 Dec 2021

More often than not, morning news brings forth headlines that are worrying, depressing and frustrating, to say the least. However, the relentless hard work of scientists, researchers and healthcare workers before, during and beyond the pandemic crisis has brought forth some news which are worth commending. Here are a few exciting and positive achievements in healthcare that we can all look forward to.


  1. Daily consumption of yoghurt can reduce blood pressure: If you’re a dahi lover, we’ve got good news. Not only is yoghurt great for your gut health due to its probiotic properties, a recent study has found that daily consumption of yoghurt can significantly reduce risks of cardiovascular ailments. In a 2021 paper published in the International Dairy Journal, Alexandra T. Wade et al suggest that higher intake of yoghurt is associated with lower risk of blood pressure related issues as well as hypertension. Best of all, be it in your breakfast, beverage or dessert, yoghurt is as delicious as it is easy to incorporate in our daily diet.
  2. This fabric can check your vitals with a high-five: Smart clothing just got smarter. Forget scanning codes with your phones, cards, or biometrics, researchers in UCI's Henry Samueli School of Engineering have hacked a body area network enabling fabric that can be incorporated into low-cost and highly customisable wearable designs. With this kind of clothing, the Nature Electronics paper reveals, purchasing items with a handshake or high-five, starting your car, checking your vital signs and innumerable more opportunities can be made possible.
  3. Scientists invent robots that can reproduce: Now this one is straight out of a sci-fi movie. Scientists of the University of Vermont, USA, have combined artificial intelligence (AI) and embryonic stem cells from a frog to create ‘Xenobots’, the first-ever living robots. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research reveals that these Xenobots can gather hundreds of single cells together on a petri dish to create “baby Xenobots”. Though the babies have the genome of a frog, they are completely different from tadpoles, thereby confirming their xenogenesis (creation of an offspring unlike their parent). This unprecedented marriage of biology and AI is a remarkable achievement in the field of regenerative medicine and can do wonders in cases of traumatic injury, cancer and ageing.
  4. These molecules can repair severe spinal injuries: Speaking of regenerative medicine, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center suggests that only around 3 percent of patients with complete spinal cord injury ever regain basic physical functions and around 30 per cent have to be rehospitalised, thereby putting enormous physical, emotional and financial burden on the patients and their caregivers. However, a 2021 research paper published in the Science journal provides ample hope. With a new injectable therapy developed by scientists at Northwestern University, USA, mice with severe spinal cord injuries regained the ability to walk within weeks only. This promises further scope of regenerative treatment in other diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and more.
  5. A 10-minute run can improve brain processing: We’ve spoken time and again about the benefits of running on physiological and psychological health. It’s a low-cost, no-equipment workout that keeps us healthy and boosts our mood. A 2021 study published in the Scientific Reports journal goes a step further to confirm that one doesn’t need to be a seasoned runner to reap its benefits. Chorphaka Damrongthai et al suggest that even just 10 minutes of daily moderate running can improve our mental health and cognitive functioning by increasing blood circulation in the bilateral prefrontal cortex of our brains.


Related story: How To Start Running—A Plan For Beginners


  1. Chew this gum to reduce COVID-19 transmission: Mask? Check. Sanitiser? Check. Gum? Yes, you read that right. If all goes well, chewing gum could be the newest addition to your COVID-19 battle kit. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, have developed an experimental chewing gum laced with ACE2 protein, which can potentially neutralise SARS-CoV-2 virus when orally transmitted and present in the saliva. This can be a great protective tool for infected people, people whose infection status is unclear or when we have to potentially take off our masks, such as at a doctor’s office. The researchers have published their findings in a 2021 Molecular Therapy paper.


Related story: 5 Things You Need To Know About Omicron, the New COVID-19 Variant


  1. This brain surgery needs no incisions: Brain surgery is one of the most delicate and precise procedures in medicine. What if it got a little easier? A 2021 Journal of Neurosurgery paper may hold the key to the world’s first non-invasive brain surgery. The novel method, called PING, is based on penetrating the brain with low-intensity ultrasound waves. A targeted neurotoxin then attacks culprit cells while preserving healthy cells and surrounding brain structure. This incision-free technique could be a gamechanger in the realm of neurosurgery and neurological issues that don’t respond to medication.


  1. An experimental HIV vaccine is in the works: A proper cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has long been a head-scratcher for scientists worldwide. However, a dedicated team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), USA, seems to have cracked an experimental HIV vaccine based on mRNA, the same platform technology used to develop two COVID-19 vaccines. Published in the Nature Medicine journal, the findings reveal that the initial applications in non-human subjects are safe and effective, prompting up to 79 per cent lower risk of infection. This is a promising step towards further research of HIV/AIDS cases in human subjects.


Related story: Incredible Moments In Science And Medicine You May Have Missed



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