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Gizmorama - July 30, 2018

Good Morning,

A new online health calculator has been created to predict the age of a person's heart and the factors and possible risks for heart disease.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Material made from crab shells and tree fibers to replace plastic food packaging --*

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new material made from crab shells and tree fibers. Researchers hope the material will serve as a more sustainable replacement for flexible plastic packaging used to keep food fresh.

"The main benchmark that we compare it to is PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most common petroleum-based materials in the transparent packaging you see in vending machines and soft drink bottles," J. Carson Meredith, a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, said in a news release. "Our material showed up to a 67 percent reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher longer."

To make an eco-friendly plastic wrap, scientists looked to nature's two most common natural biopolymers: cellulose, sourced from plants, and chitin, found in shellfish, insects and fungi.

Researchers suspended the cellulose and chitin nanofibers in separate water solutions and sprayed them in alternating layers onto a substrate before allowing them to dry. The fibered layers formed a strong but flexible material.

"We had been looking at cellulose nanocrystals for several years and exploring ways to improve those for use in lightweight composites as well as food packaging, because of the huge market opportunity for renewable and compostable packaging, and how important food packaging overall is going to be as the population continues to grow," Meredith said.

Because chitin nanofibers are positively charged and celluloses nanocrystals are negatively charged, researchers realized the duo might make for ideal partners in a new composite material. The novel fibrous interface prevents gas from penetrating the materials.

"It's difficult for a gas molecule to penetrate a solid crystal, because it has to disrupt the crystal structure," Meredith said. "Something like PET on the other hand has a significant amount of amorphous or non-crystalline content, so there are more paths easier for a small gas molecule to find its way through."

Researchers described their new material this week in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Though the new material's performance and environmental impact is superior to PET, researchers will need to find ways to economically scale up production before food manufacturers agree to adopt the technology.

*-- Calculator can predict heart age, risk for heart disease --*

A new online health calculator is available that can predict a person's heart age and risk for heart disease based on a variety of factors.

Researchers developed and validated the Cardiovascular Disease Population Risk Tool, or CVDPoRT, based on data from the Canadian Community Health Surveys of 104,219 Ontario residents, who were between age 20 and 105. The surveys also included data from 2001 to 2007 of hospitalizations and deaths.

The tool was published Monday in Canadian Medical Association Journal and is available online.

"What sets this cardiovascular risk calculator apart is that it looks at healthy living, and it is better calibrated to the Canadian population," lead author Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and a senior core scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, said in a press release.

Using the calculator, users can predict their risk of hospitalization or death from cardiovascular disease within the next five years. The calculator also provides heart age vs. actual age.

The tool considers many factors: age, smoking status and lifetime exposure, alcohol consumption

diet, physical activity, stress, sense of belonging, ethnicity, immigration status, education, socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, diabetes, high blood pressure.

"A lot of people are interested in healthy living, but often we don't have that discussion in the doctor's office," said Manuel, a professor at the University of Ottawa. "Doctors will check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but they don't necessarily ask about lifestyle factors that could put you at risk of a heart attack and stroke."

He said the tool can be helpful to patients and medical personnel.

"We hope this tool can help people -- and their care team -- with better information about healthy living and options for reducing their risk of heart attack and strokes," he said.

Although the tool is set up for use in Canada, it can be adapted for countries around the world using data from there, the scientists said.


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