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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Novel BLAST Method Delivers Large Particles Into Cells at High Speed

Novel BLAST Method Delivers Large Particles Into Cells at High Speed | Amazing Science |

A newly developed device can deliver nanoparticles, enzymes, antibodies, bacteria and other “large-sized” cargo into mammalian cells at speeds up to 100,000 cells per minute.

A new device developed by UCLA engineers and doctors eventually help scientists study the development of disease, enable them to capture improved images of the inside of cells and lead to other improvements in medical and biological research.

The researchers created a highly efficient automated tool that delivers nanoparticles, enzymes, antibodies, bacteria and other “large-sized” cargo into mammalian cells at the rate of 100,000 cells per minute — significantly faster than current technology, which works at about one cell per minute.

The research, published online in Nature Methods on April 6, was led by Eric Pei-Yu Chiou, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of bioengineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. Collaborators included students, staff and faculty members from the engineering school and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Currently, the only way to deliver so-called large cargo, particles up to 1 micrometer in size, into cells is by using micropipettes, syringe-like tools common in laboratories, which is much slower than the new method. Other approaches for injecting materials into cells — such as using viruses as delivery vehicles or chemical methods — are only useful for small molecules, which are typically several nanometers in length.

The new device, called a biophotonic laser-assisted surgery tool, or BLAST, is a silicon chip with an array of micrometer-wide holes, each surrounded by an asymmetric, semicircular coating of titanium. Underneath the holes is a well of liquid that includes the particles to be delivered.

Researchers use a laser pulse to heat the titanium coating, which instantly boils the water layer adjacent to parts of the cell. That creates a bubble that explodes near the cell membrane, resulting in a large fissure — a reaction that takes only about one millionth of a second. The fissure allows the particle-filled liquid underneath the cells to be jammed into them before the membrane reseals. A laser can scan the entire silicon chip in about 10 seconds.

Chiou said the key to the technique’s success is the instantaneous and precise incision of the cell membrane. “The faster you cut, the fewer perturbations you have on the cell membrane,” said Chiou, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute.

Inserting large cargo into cells could lead to scientific research that was previously not possible. For example, the ability to deliver mitochondria, could alter cells’ metabolism and help researchers study diseases caused by mutant mitochondrial DNA.

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Something Smells Fishy? New Device Sniffs Out Seafood Fraud

Something Smells Fishy? New Device Sniffs Out Seafood Fraud | Amazing Science |

Handheld instrument does real-time nucleic acid testing to check if you're getting the fish you paid for.

Appreciate a well-cooked tuna steak or salmon wrapped in a sushi roll? There’s a good chance the fish sitting on your plate or in your grocery store’s seafood case is not what its label says it is, according to the ocean conservancy group Oceana. So you could be paying a premium for red snapper that’s really just plain old tilapia.

University of South Florida scientists have now made a handheld device that could help fight such seafood fraud. The instrument genetically verifies whether fish being called grouper is really grouper or less expensive, potentially harmful substitutes like catfish or mackerel. A quarter of grouper in the United States is mislabeled, according to Oceana, making it the fourth most commonly mislabeled fish in the country. Snapper was the most commonly mislabeled.

The Oceana study found that 33 percent of the 1200-plus seafood samples taken nationwide were mislabeled. This seafood fraud costs fishermen, the U.S. seafood industry, and consumers $20–25 billion annually, it calculates. In addition, fraud allows illegally caught fish to slip into the legal seafood trade and prevents consumers from making ecologically-friendly choices.

Today’s DNA barcoding methods for seafood identification analyze a sample’s DNA. While the price of gene sequencing has dropped in recent years, it still takes days and expensive lab equipment for accurate genetic identitification. The new device, on the other hand, purifies and amplifies a seafood sample’s RNA, or ribonucleic acid. The assay is simpler and works within 90 minutes. USF marine science professor John Paul and his colleagues have developed such assays to identify several microorganisms, and have now applied the technology to seafood identification. 

The researchers described the technology and its application in the journal Food Control. They are now developing assays for other commercially relevant species, and they’re also commercializing it through Tampa-based spinoff PureMolecular LLC. That company plans to start selling the machines for US $2000 by this summer, Reuters reports.

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Imaging break-through: Fusion of microscopy and mass spectrometry produces detailed map of protein distribution

Imaging break-through: Fusion of microscopy and mass spectrometry produces detailed map of protein distribution | Amazing Science |

Vanderbilt University researchers have achieved the first “image fusion” of mass spectrometry and microscopy — a technical tour de force that could, among other things, dramatically improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Microscopy can yield high-resolution images of tissues, but “it really doesn’t give you molecular information,” said Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., senior author of the paper published last week in the journal Nature Methods.

Mass spectrometry provides a very precise accounting of the proteins, lipids and other molecules in a given tissue, but in a spatially coarse or pixelated manner. Combining the best features of both imaging modalities allows scientists to see the molecular make-up of tissues in high resolution.

“That to me is just phenomenal,” said Caprioli, the Stanford Moore Professor of Biochemistry and director of the Mass Spectrometry Research Center. Caprioli said the technique could redefine the surgical “margin,” the line between cancer cells and normal cells where the scalpel goes to remove the tumor.

Currently that line is determined by histology — the appearance of cells examined under the microscope. But many cancers recur after surgery. That could be because what appear to be normal cells, when analyzed for their protein content using mass spectrometry, are actually cancer cells in the making. 

Using a mathematical approach called regression analysis, the researchers mapped each pixel of mass spectrometry data onto the corresponding spot on the microscopy image to produce a new, “predicted” image. It’s similar in concept to the line drawn between experimentally determined points in a standard curve, Caprioli said. There are no “real” points between those that were actually measured, yet the line is predicted by the previous experiments.

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Zapping Deadly Blood Clots Just Got a Thousand Times Faster

Zapping Deadly Blood Clots Just Got a Thousand Times Faster | Amazing Science |

Once the symptoms of a stroke begin—your face begins to droop, an arm feels suddenly weak, you find yourself struggling to speak—you have less than six hours to get to a medical center for treatment. That six hour window is the magic number: Patients treated soon after the onset of a stroke are more likely to survive and less likely to suffer disabilities after three months.

Fortunately, researchers at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have developed a new system that delivers brain-saving drugs up to 1,000 times faster using nanoparticles, miniscule magnetic objects that can ferry medication safely through our blood. he new research, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, introduces a method of tPA delivery that uses biodegradable nanoparticles (tPA-NC) to send the clot-busting tPA directly to the site of the dangerous clot. The particle is cloaked in the protein albumin; this camouflage allows it to move stealthily through the body, evading attack by the immune system.

At 150 nanometers wide each, the nanoparticles are almost mind-bogglingly small, roughly 1/50th the size of a human red blood cell.

For this experiment, researchers created an arterial clot in a mouse to study the effect of the particles in a live model. They found that, in addition to being much faster, the new method may reduce the overall risk of bleeding.

"We have designed the nanoparticles so that they trap themselves at the site of the clot, which means they can quickly deliver a burst of the commonly used clot-busting drug tPA where it is most needed," the study’s co-principal investigator, Paolo Decuzzi, explained to Science Daily.

This will allow doctors to use a lower dose of the drug, decreasing the risk of hemorrhage and opening up tPA treatment to patients previously considered ineligible for use of the drug due to their risk of bleeding. Because of the iron core, researchers believe these nanoparticles can be guided directly to the site of the clot using an external magnetic field, focusing the drug onto the dangerous clot and further reducing the risk of bleeding.

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Scientists create contact lens that magnifies at blink of an eye

Scientists create contact lens that magnifies at blink of an eye | Amazing Science |

A contact lens that magnifies objects at the wink of an eye has been created by scientists to help people with impaired vision. The lens contains an extremely thin telescope that is switched on when the wearer winks their right eye and returns to normal when they wink their left eye.

Eric Tremblay, a researcher at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), said the lens could help people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which leaves them with a blind spot in the centre of their vision. The contact lens magnifies objects by 2.8 times, making road signs, facial features and other objects large enough for people with AMD to recognise with their peripheral vision.

The device was funded by DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency, as a means of giving soldiers a form of bionic vision. “They were really interested in supervision, but the reality is more tame than that,” said Tremblay at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. So far, only five people have tested the latest version.

The device is larger and slightly thicker than a normal contact lens. It allows the wearer to see normally by correcting for short or long sight. But around the central region is a thin, ring-shaped reflective telescope, which expands the perceived size of objects like weak binoculars.

To swap between normal and magnified vision, the wearer dons a pair of liquid crystal glasses. By winking, they can switch the glasses electronically to polarise light in different planes. The contact lens is designed so that one type of polarised light goes through the normal, central part of the lens, while the other goes through the magnifying region.

More work is needed before the contact lenses are ready for patients to wear regularly. The latest lenses can only be worn for about half an hour, because they do not allow enough oxygen to pass through them and into the eye. Tremblay said he expected a working version of the contact lenses to be available in two years or so.

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New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again

New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again | Amazing Science |

Paralysed patients have been given new hope of recovery after rats with severe spinal injuries walked again through a ‘groundbreaking’ new cyborg-style implant. In technology which could have come straight out of a science fiction novel or Hollwood movie, French scientists have created a thin prosthetic ribbon, embedded with electrodes, which lies along the spinal cord and delivers electrical impulses and drugs.

The prosthetic, described by British experts as ‘quite remarkable’, is soft enough to bend with tissue surrounding the backbone to avoid discomfort.

Paralysed rats who were fitted with the implant were able to walk on their own again after just a few weeks of training. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are hoping to move to clinical trials in humans soon. They believe that a device could last 10 years in humans before needing to be replaced. 

The implant, called ‘e-Dura’, is so effective because it mimics the soft tissue around the spine – known as the dura mater – so that the body does not reject its presence. “Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or cortex,” said Professor Stéphanie Lacour.

“This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury.” Previous experiments had shown that chemicals and electrodes implanted in the spine could take on the role of the brain and stimulate nerves, causing the rats' legs to move involuntarily when they were placed on a treadmill.

However the new gadget is flexible and stretchy enough that it can be placed directly onto the spinal cord. It closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and drugs which activate cells. The implant is made of silicon and covered with gold electric conducting tracks that can be pulled and stretched. The electrodes are made of silicon and platinum microbeads which can also bend in any direction without breaking.

Mike Dele's curator insight, March 21, 1:50 AM

This research is astounding and it will be most valued in Africa.

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Organic electronic sensors can be stuck on the skin like a Band-Aid

Organic electronic sensors can be stuck on the skin like a Band-Aid | Amazing Science |

“There are various pulse oximeters already on the market that measure pulse rate and blood-oxygen saturation levels, but those devices use rigid conventional electronics, and they are usually fixed to the fingers or earlobe,” said Ana Arias, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the UC Berkeley team that is developing a new organic optoelectronic sensor.

By switching from silicon to an organic, or carbon-based, design, the researchers were able to create a device that could ultimately be thin, cheap and flexible enough to be slapped on like a Band-Aid during that jog around the track or hike up the hill. The engineers put the new prototype up against a conventional pulse oximeter and found that the pulse and oxygen readings were just as accurate.

A conventional pulse oximeter typically uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to send red and infrared light through a fingertip or earlobe. Sensors detect how much light makes it through to the other side. Bright, oxygen-rich blood absorbs more infrared light, while the darker hues of oxygen-poor blood absorb more red light. The ratio of the two wavelengths reveals how much oxygen is in the blood. For the organic sensors, Arias and her team of graduate students – Claire Lochner, Yasser Khan and Adrien Pierre – used red and green light, which yield comparable differences to red and infrared when it comes to distinguishing high and low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Using a solution-based processing system, the researchers deposited the green and red organic LEDs and the translucent light detectors onto a flexible piece of plastic. By detecting the pattern of fresh arterial blood flow, the device can calculate a pulse.

“We showed that if you take measurements with different wavelengths, it works, and if you use unconventional semiconductors, it works,” said Arias. “Because organic electronics are flexible, they can easily conform to the body.” Arias added that because the components of conventional oximeters are relatively expensive, healthcare providers will choose to disinfect them if they become contaminated. In contrast, “organic electronics are cheap enough that they are disposable like a Band-Aid after use,” she said.

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Wireless electronic implants deliver antibiotics, then harmlessly dissolve

Wireless electronic implants deliver antibiotics, then harmlessly dissolve | Amazing Science |

Imagine an electronic implant that delivers a drug when triggered by a remote wireless signal — then harmlessly dissolves (no post-surgical infection concerns, no fuss, no muss) within minutes or weeks. That’s what researchers at Tufts University and the  University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have demonstrated* in mice, using a resistor (as a source of heat for releasing drug and help dissolving the implant) and a power-receiving coil made of magnesium deposited onto a silk protein”pocket” that also protects the electronics and controls its dissolution time. There have been other implantable medical devices, but they typically use non-degradable materials that have limited operational lifetimes and must eventually be removed or replaced — requiring more surgery.

Devices were implanted in vivo in S. aureus-infected tissue and activated by a wireless transmitter for two sets of 10-minute heat treatments. Tissue collected from the mice 24 hours after treatment showed no sign of infection, and surrounding tissues were found to be normal. Devices completely dissolved after 15 days, and magnesium levels at the implant site and surrounding areas were comparable to levels typically found in the body. The researchers also conducted in vitro experiments in which similar remotely controlled devices released the antibiotic ampicillin to kill E. coli and S. aureus bacteria. The wireless activation of the devices was found to enhance antibiotic release without reducing antibiotic activity.

The research was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition the week of November 24–28, 2014. and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

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X Challenge winner diagnoses diseases in minutes from a single drop of blood

X Challenge winner diagnoses diseases in minutes from a single drop of blood | Amazing Science |

For the last two years, the US$2.25 million Nokia Sensing X Challenge has lured entrants from around the globe to submit groundbreaking technologies that improve access to health care. A panel of experts have awarded this year's grand prize to Massachusetts-based DNA Medical Institute (DMI), whose hand-held device is capable of diagnosing ailments in minutes, using only a single drop of blood.

The DMI team were selected from 11 finalists. Among them were Swiss team Biovotion, whose wearable computer monitors vital signs such heart rate and breathing, along with the US-based Eigen Lifescience team, whose low-cost, portable device is capable of testing for Hepatitis B in less than 10 minutes. But it was DMI's Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans system (rHealth) that impressed the judges most.

"Our expert judging panel reviewed a very exciting group of sensing technologies, all with the potential to address a wide array of diagnostic and personal health needs,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of X Prize, the foundation behind the competition. “DMI’s rHealth system embodies the original goal of the Nokia Sensing X Challenge, to advance sensor technology in a way that will enable faster diagnoses and easier, more sophisticated personal health monitoring.”

The rHealth diagnostic system requires the patient to provide just a single drop of blood, with this small sample mixed with nanoscale test strips and streamed past lasers to process its signature. This can then identify ailments ranging from simple colds, to the flu, to more serious diseases like Ebola, with claimed gold standard accuracy. It comes accompanied by a wearable patch which is worn to monitor vital signs, such as breathing and heart rate, sharing data over Bluetooth with either the device or the user's smartphone.

In addition to the portable device, DMI produced two other diagnostics instruments under the rHealth label, intended more for researchers in the lab and medical professionals. It developed the tools in collaboration with NASA and with space travel in mind, which it says pushed them to focus on simplicity and accuracy for their design.

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New device from Johns-Hopkins yields close-up look at metastasizing cancer cells

New device from Johns-Hopkins yields close-up look at metastasizing cancer cells | Amazing Science |

Engineers at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) have invented a lab device to give cancer researchers an unprecedented microscopic look at metastasis (spread of tumor cells, causing more than 90 percent of cancer-related deaths), with the goal of eventually stopping the spread, described in their paper in the journal Cancer Report.

“There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how tumor cells migrate through the body, partly because, even using our best imaging technology, we haven’t been able to see precisely how these individual cells move into blood vessels,” said Andrew D. Wong, a Department of Materials Science and Engineering doctoral student and lead author of the journal article. “Our new tool gives us a clearer, close-up look at this process.”

The device replicated these processes in a small transparent chip that incorporates an artificial blood vessel and surrounding tissue material. A nutrient-rich solution flows through the artificial vessel, mimicking the properties of blood.

With this novel lab platform, Wong said, the team was able to record a video of the movement of individual cancer cells as they crawled through a three-dimensional collagen matrix. This material resembles the human tissue that surrounds tumors when cancer cells break away and try to relocate elsewhere in the body.

Wong also created a video (above) of single cancer cells prying and pushing their way through the wall of an artificial vessel lined with human endothelial cells, the same kind that line human blood vessels.

By entering the bloodstream through this process, called “intravasion,” cancer cells are able to hitch a ride to other parts of the body and begin to form deadly new tumors.

The breast cancer cells, inserted individually and in clusters in the tissue near the vessel, are labeled with fluorescent tags, enabling their behavior to be seen, tracked and recorded via a microscopic viewing system.

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Paper-based synthetic gene networks could enable rapid detection of Ebola and other viruses

Paper-based synthetic gene networks could enable rapid detection of Ebola and other viruses | Amazing Science |

Synthetic gene networks hold great potential for broad biotechnology and medical applications, but so far they have been limited to the lab. A study published by Cell Press October 23rd in the journal Cell reveals a new method for using engineered gene circuits beyond the lab, allowing researchers to safely activate the cell-free, paper-based system by simply adding water. The low-cost, easy-to-use platform could enable the rapid detection of different strains of deadly viruses such as Ebola.

"Our paper-based system could not only make tools currently only available in laboratory readily fieldable, but also improve the development of new tools and the accessibility of these molecular tools to educational programs for the next generation of practitioners," says senior study author James Collins of the Wyss Institute for Biological Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

The field of synthetic biology aims to re-engineer the molecular components of the cell to harness the power of biology. To accomplish this goal, researchers have designed synthetic gene networks that can control the activity of genes and recognize nucleic acids and small molecules. However, this technology has been restricted to the lab, in part because of biosafety concerns associated with cell-based systems and because the reactions involved have not been practical for field use.

Collins and his team overcame these hurdles by developing a cell-free, paper-based system suitable for use outside the lab. To test the clinical relevance of their method, the researchers developed sensors capable of detecting RNA molecules made from genes that allow bacteria to survive antibiotics, as well as RNA molecules encoding proteins from two different strains of the highly deadly Ebola virus. When freeze-dried onto paper, the sensors quickly detected the presence of these RNA molecules, demonstrating the usefulness of the approach for diagnostic purposes.

"Considering the projected cost, reaction time, ease of use, and no requirement for laboratory infrastructure, we envision paper-based synthetic gene networks significantly expanding the role of synthetic biology in the clinic, global health, industry, research, and education," Collins says.

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Extremely high-resolution MRI: New MRI method detects single hydrogen atom

Extremely high-resolution MRI: New MRI method detects single hydrogen atom | Amazing Science |

For the first time, researchers have succeeded to detect a single hydrogen atom using magnetic resonance imaging, which signifies a huge increase in the technology's spatial resolution. In the future, single-atom MRI could be used to shed new light on protein structures.

Conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), well-known from its use in hospitals, can typically resolve details of up to one tenth of a millimeter, for example in cross-sectional images of the human body. Together with colleagues at the University of Leipzig, researchers of ETH Zurich are working on massively increasing the resolution of the technique, with the goal of eventually imaging at the level of single molecules – demanding an over one million times finer resolution. By detecting the signal from a single hydrogen atom, they have now reached an important milestone toward such single-atom MRI.

The research team led by Christian Degen, Professor at the Laboratory for Solid State Physics, developed a different and vastly more sensitive measurement technique for MRI signals. In standard hospital instruments, the magnetisation of the atomic nuclei in the human body is inductively measured using an electromagnetic coil. "MRI is nowadays a mature technology and its spatial resolution has remained largely the same over the last ten years. Physical constraints preclude increasing the resolution much further," explains Degen. In their experiments, the ETH researchers measured the MRI signal with a novel diamond sensor chip using an optical readout in a fluorescence microscope.

The sensor consisted of an impurity in diamond known as the nitrogen-vacancy centre. In this case, two carbon atoms are missing in the otherwise regular diamond lattice, while one of them is replaced by a nitrogen atom. The nitrogen-vacancy centre is both fluorescent and magnetic, making it suitable for extremely precise magnetic field measurements.

For their experiment, the researchers prepared an approximately 2x2 millimeter piece of diamond such that nitrogen-vacancy centers formed only a few nanometers below the surface. By an optical measurement of the magnetisation, they were in several cases able to confirm the presence of other magnetic atomic nuclei in the immediate vicinity. "Quantum mechanics then provides an elegant proof of whether one has detected an individual nucleus, or rather a cluster of several hydrogen atoms," states Degen. The researchers also used the measured data to localize the hydrogen nuclei with respect to the nitrogen-vacancy centre with an accuracy of better than one angstrom

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FDA Approval For Mini NMR-Based Pathogen Detector

FDA Approval For Mini NMR-Based Pathogen Detector | Amazing Science |

Startup T2 Biosystems in Lexington, Mass., got the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA’s) approval for a device that quickly and accurately detects dangerous pathogens. The instrument is based on miniaturized nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology developed by MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers who founded the company eight years ago. The Harvard researchers are also developing the tool for cancer detection.

Today’s culture-based diagnostic tests for viral and bacterial infections are expensive, and require a few days wait, even with the equipment at full-scale laboratories. A speedy, portable, sensitive detector could save lives and money.

T2 Biosystem’s fully automated bench-top tool delivers results in three to five hours and is more sensitive than culture-based tests, according to the company. It works like this: A clinician loads a patient’s blood sample into a disposable test cartridge containing a few reagents, inserts the cartridge into the machine, and waits. The machine is capable of detecting a range of biological material including proteins, DNA, small molecules, viruses, and bacteria.

In conventional NMR machines, atoms aligned in a magnetic field are vibrated using a radio-frequency signal in order to measure their oscillation frequency. Those machines require large, powerful magnets.

In T2 Bio’s miniature NMR device, the magnet can be smaller because the sample volume is tiny and because the system measures how quickly the atoms’ vibrations decay instead of their frequency. Specifically, the instrument probes water molecules in a sample. Magnetic nanoparticles coated with antibodies that bind to the target molecule are added to the sample. If the target molecule is present in the sample, the nanoparticles cluster around the target, changing the signal decay rate.

The FDA approved T2 Bio's diagnostic instrument and a test for Candida yeast that runs on the machine. The test can detect five Candida species that cause potentially fatal bloodstream infections. Clinical trials in over 1,500 people showed that the T2 system could detect Candida yeast with 91.1-percent accuracy, a major improvement over blood culture-based tests, which are 60 to 70 percent accurate.

A typical Candida-infected patient stays in the hospital for 40 days at a cost of over $130,000, states the company's website. Doctors usually put patients on antifungal drugs while waiting for blood culture results. Getting a result in a few hours would let doctors quickly deliver the most effective course of treatment. The company mentions a study that shows that providing the right antifungal therapy within 24 hours of symptom onset decreases the length of hospital stay by approximately ten days and decreases the average cost of care by approximately $30,000 per patient.

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High-resolution biosensor can report conditions from deep in the body

High-resolution biosensor can report conditions from deep in the body | Amazing Science |

A new microscopic shape-shifting probe capable of sensitive, high-resolution remote biological sensing has been developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If eventually put into widespread use, the design could have a major impact on research in medicine, chemistry, biology, and engineering and ultimately used in clinical diagnostics, according to the researchers. To date, most efforts to image highly localized biochemical conditions such as abnormal pH* and ion concentration — critical markers for many disorders — rely on various types of nanosensors that are probed using light at optical frequencies. But the light doesn’t reach far into the body, so the sensitivity and resolution of the resulting optical signals decrease rapidly with increasing depth into the body. That has limited most applications to more optically accessible regions.

Fluorescent and plasmonic labels and sensors have revolutionized molecular biology, helping visualize cellular and biomolecular processes. Increasingly, such probes are now being designed to respond to wavelengths in the near-infrared region, where reduced tissue autofluorescence and photon attenuation enable subsurface in vivo sensing. But even in the near-infrared region, optical resolution and sensitivity decrease rapidly with increasing depth. A team of scientists now presents a sensor design that obviates the need for optical addressability by operating in the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) radio-frequency spectrum, where signal attenuation and distortion by tissue and biological media are negligible, where background interferences vanish, and where sensors can be spatially located using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment.

The radio-frequency-addressable sensor assemblies presented here comprise pairs of magnetic disks spaced by swellable hydrogel material; they reversibly reconfigure in rapid response to chosen stimuli, to give geometry-dependent, dynamic NMR spectral signatures. The sensors can be made from biocompatible materials, are themselves detectable down to low concentrations, and offer potential responsive NMR spectral shifts that are close to a million times greater than those of traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopies. Inherent adaptability should allow such shape-changing systems to measure numerous different environmental and physiological indicators, thus providing broadly generalizable, MRI-compatible, radio-frequency analogues to optically based probes for use in basic chemical, biological, medical and engineering research.

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New technique for sorting biomolecules could lead to more efficient diagnostics

New technique for sorting biomolecules could lead to more efficient diagnostics | Amazing Science |

Employing an ingenious microfluidic design that combines chemical and mechanical properties, a team of Harvard scientists has demonstrated a new way of detecting and extracting biomolecules from fluid mixtures. The approach requires fewer steps, uses less energy, and achieves better performance than several techniques currently in use and could lead to better technologies for medical diagnostics and chemical purification.

The biomolecule sorting technique was developed in the laboratory of Joanna Aizenberg, Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical BiologyAizenberg is also co-director of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology and a core faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, leading the Adaptive Materials Technologies platform there.

The new microfluidic device, described in a paper appearing today in the journal Nature Chemistryis composed of microscopic “fins” embedded in a hydrogel that is able to respond to different stimuli, such as temperature, pH, and light. Special DNA strands called aptamers, that under the right conditions bind to a specific target molecule, are attached to the fins, which move the cargo between two chemically distinct environments. Modulating the pH levels of the solutions in those environments triggers the aptamers to “catch” or “release” the target biomolecule.

After using computer simulations to test their novel approach, in collaboration with Prof. Anna C. Balazs from the University of Pittsburgh, Aizenberg’s team conducted proof-of-concept experiments in which they successfully separated thrombin, an enzyme in blood plasma that causes the clotting of blood, from several mixtures of proteins. Their research suggests that the technique could be applicable to other biomolecules, or used to determine chemical purity and other characteristics in inorganic and synthetic chemistry.

“Our adaptive hybrid sorting system presents an efficient chemo-mechanical transductor, capable of highly selective separation of a target species from a complex mixture—all without destructive chemical modifications and high-energy inputs,” Aizenberg said. “This new approach holds promise for the next-generation, energy-efficient separation and purification technologies and medical diagnostics.”

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Future of bio-sensors: Ballpoint pens loaded with sensor-laden inks could eliminate finger pricks for diabetics

Future of bio-sensors: Ballpoint pens loaded with sensor-laden inks could eliminate finger pricks for diabetics | Amazing Science |

It means a small sketch on your skin could test your blood-sugar levels. Ballpoint pens loaded with sensor-laden inks could eliminate finger pricks for diabetics, and help them test their blood glucose levels simply by drawing cartoons - or just a few dots - on their skin. The innovative new ink could also be used to test for pollutants in the environment by drawing on leaves or on buildings' surfaces, and could help soldiers search for explosives and chemical weapons, the developers say. 

The team of engineers from the University of California, San Diego, who developed the ink, used it to fill up regular, off-the-shelf ballpoint pens. The aim was to enable a new type of do-it-yourself sensor with rapid diagnostic capabilities for people with diabetes. 

The ink is made from the enzymes glucose oxidase, which responds to sugar in the blood, and tyrosinase, which can help detect common pollutants known as phenols. These compounds are found in cosmetics and can be toxic at high enough concentrations.   

Charles Choi explains for IEEE Spectrum what else was needed to make the inks operate like on-demand sensors: “To make these bio-inks serve as electrodes, they added electrically conductive graphite powder. They also added: chitosan, a clotting agent used in bandages, to help the ink stick to surfaces; xylitol, a sugar substitute, to help stabilize the enzymes during chemical reactions; and biocompatible polyethylene glycol, which is used in several drug delivery applications, to help bind all these ingredients together.” 

The team has described its "enzymatic ink" and do-it-yourself sensor in the journalAdvanced Healthcare Materials.  Using their pens, they were able to draw sensors to measure glucose directly onto the wrist of a willing participant. They say this ink drawing could be “easily interfaced with a Bluetooth-enabled” device that can provide the read-out.

The researchers also used the ink to draw on and measure chemicals on leaves, and according to Choi at IEEE Spectrum, “the inks could be modified to react with many other pollutants, such as heavy metals or pesticides”. 

The main purpose of the ink, and probably the most immediate impact, will be to enable multiple-use testing strips for diabetes monitoring. As the authors note in their paper, handheld glucose meters rely on single use sensor strips, and each test is expensive for the user. 

Peter Hughes's curator insight, March 27, 1:47 AM

This technology will undoubtedly be one of the greatest creations of the 21st century. The ability to test ones blood by drawing on their skin with a pen almost seems impossible, and yet scientists are making it a reality. Who knows what this could develop into; it could be used for identification, easy credit payments and so much more.

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

A Pair of Sunglasses Promises a Miracle: A Cure for Colorblindess

A Pair of Sunglasses Promises a Miracle: A Cure for Colorblindess | Amazing Science |

The California company EnChroma is creating lenses that allow some to see colors for the first time. Colorblindness is just the latest problem that scientists have tried to solve with a technical fix. They’ve modified the DNA of plants such as corn to resist pests and fight disease, and now are building electronic bees to pollinate them. Drugs let antsy children concentrate in class and help depressed adults feel balanced. Cochlear implants help the deaf hear, and mechanical limbs help athletes win Olympic medals.

It is no surprise, then, that scientists have made breakthroughs with colorblindness, which is the most common congenital disorder in humans: More than 15 million people in the U.S. and over 300 million worldwide don’t see normal colors. Most are men who inherit it from their mothers’ fathers.

Despite how common this condition is, most people don’t understand it. The colorblind are almost all actually red-green colorblind, but that doesn’t mean they can’t see red and green. The colorblind can see the colors when they’re vivid, but make mistakes when they’re faint. And because so many colors such as pink or purple contain just a little bit of red or green, mistakes are common.

It’s treated as a joke, even among the celebrity colorblind. Didn’t you know Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook blue because it’s the easiest color for him to see? If Van Gogh had normal color vision, would his paintings have looked more or less intense? Is defective vision the reason why Bill Clinton has trouble seeing stains? Colorblind men clash ties when they dress, buy unripe bananas for breakfast, and mix up subway lines on their way to work. They get confused by line graphs during meetings, and try to push through the red “occupied” signs on bathroom doors. To a colorblind man, the red lipstick you’re wearing might not be that impressive, but neither will your blemishes.

Based in Berkeley, California, McPherson, who has a PhD in glass science from Alfred University, originally specialized in creating eyewear for doctors to use as protection during laser surgery. Rare earth iron embedded in the glasses absorbed a significant amount of light, enabling surgeons to not only stay safe, but also clearly differentiate between blood and tissue during procedures.

In fact, surgeons loved the glasses so much, they began disappearing from operating rooms. This was the first indication that they could be used outside the hospital. McPherson, too, began casually wearing them, as sunglasses. “Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated,” he says. “It makes the world look really bright.”

It wasn’t until Angell borrowed his sunglasses at the Frisbee game, however, that McPherson realized they could serve a broader purpose and help those who are colorblind. After making this discovery, he spent time researching colorblindness, a condition he knew very little about, and ultimately applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin conducting clinical trials.

Since then, McPherson and two colleagues, Tony Dykes and Andrew Schmeder, founded EnChroma Labs, a company dedicated to developing everyday sunglasses for the 300 million people in the world with color vision deficiency. They've been selling glasses, with sporty and trendy, Ray-Ban-like frames, since December 2012, at a price point ranging from $325 to $450. The EnChroma team has refined the product significantly, most recently changing the lenses from glass to a much more consumer-friendly polycarbonate in December 2014. 

The company’s eyewear is able to treat up to 80 percent of the customers who come to them. The remaining 20 percent, including the writer of this recent Atlantic article, who tested the glasses, are missing an entire class of photopigments, either green or red—a condition EnChroma is not currently able to address.

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ViaCyte Starts Stem-Cell Clinical Trial of Bioartificial Pancreas

ViaCyte Starts Stem-Cell Clinical Trial of Bioartificial Pancreas | Amazing Science |

Fourteen years ago, during the darkest moments of the “stem-cell wars” pitting American scientists against the White House of George W. Bush, one group of advocates could be counted on to urge research using cells from human embryos: parents of children with type 1 diabetes. Motivated by scientists who told them these cells would lead to amazing cures, they spent millions on TV ads, lobbying, and countless phone calls to Congress.

Now the first test of a type 1 diabetes treatment using stem cells has finally begun. In October, a San Diego man had two pouches of lab-grown pancreas cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, inserted into his body through incisions in his back. Two other patients have since received the stand-in pancreas, engineered by a small San Diego company called ViaCyte.

It’s a significant step, partly because the ViaCyte study is only the third in the United States of any treatment based on embryonic stem cells. These cells, once removed from early-stage human embryos, can be grown in a lab dish and retain the ability to differentiate into any of the cells and tissue types in the body. One other study, since cancelled, treated several patients with spinal-cord injury (see “Geron Shuts Down Pioneering Stem-Cell Program” and “Stem-Cell Gamble”), while tests to transplant lab-grown retina cells into the eyes of people going blind are ongoing (see “Stem Cells Seem Safe in Treating Eye Disease”).

Douglas Melton, a biologist at Harvard University who has two children with type 1 diabetes, worries that the ViaCyte system may not work. He thinks deposits of fibrotic, scarlike tissue will glom onto the capsules, starving the cells inside of oxygen and blocking their ability to sense sugar and release insulin. Melton also thinks it might take immature cells up to three months to become fully functional. And many won’t become beta cells, winding up as other types of pancreatic cells instead.

Melton says the “inefficiency” of the system means the company “would need a device about the size of a DVD player” to have enough beta cells to effectively treat diabetes. ViaCyte says it thinks 300 million of its cells, or about eight of its capsules, would be enough. (Each capsule holds a volume of cells smaller than one M&M candy.)    Last October, Melton’s group announced it had managed to grow fully mature, functional beta cells in the lab, a scientific first that took more than 10 years of trial-and-error research. Melton thinks implanting mature cells would allow a bioartificial pancreas to start working right away.

To encapsulate his cells, Melton has been working with bioengineer Daniel Anderson at MIT to develop their own capsule. Anderson doesn’t want to say exactly how it works, but a recent patent filing from his lab describes a container made of layers of hydrogels, some containing cells and others anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent the capsule from getting covered with fibrotic tissue. Both Melton and Anderson are cagey about discussing their results. “We do have some successes we are very excited about,” Anderson says. “The bottom line is we have reason to believe it is possible to use Doug’s cells in our devices and cure diabetes in animals.”

After the stem-cell wars, and then a decade of trying to turn the technology’s promises into reality, Henry says he feels convinced that “cells in bags” of some kind are going to be the answer to type 1 diabetes. He’s aware that curing rodents doesn’t guarantee the technology will help people, but he says the clinical trial he’s running is another in a series of “small steps” toward much-improved lives for millions of people. “I am just so positive that this is the future,” he says. 

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New treatment technique applying magnetic pulses to ferromagnetic nanorods to deliver drugs deep into body

New treatment technique applying magnetic pulses to ferromagnetic nanorods to deliver drugs deep into body | Amazing Science |

A new technique to magnetically deliver drug-carrying nanorods to deep targets in the body using fast-pulsed magnetic fields could transform the way deep-tissue tumors and other diseases are treated, say researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) and Bethesda-based Weinberg Medical Physics LLC (WMP).

Instead of surgery or systemically administered treatments (such as chemotherapy), the use of magnetic nanoparticles as drug carriers could potentially allow clinicians to use external magnets to focus therapy to the precise locations of a disease within a patient, such as inoperable deep tumors or sections of the brain that have been damaged by trauma, vascular, or degenerative diseases.

So for years, researchers have worked with magnetic nanoparticles loaded with drugs or genes to develop noninvasive techniques to direct therapies and diagnostics to targets in the body. However, due to the physics of magnetic forces, particles otherwise unaided could only be attracted to a magnet, not concentrated into points distant from the magnet face. So in clinical trials, magnets held outside the body have only been able to concentrate treatment to targets at or just below the skin surface, the researchers say.

“What we have shown experimentally is that by exploiting the physics of nanorods we can use fast-pulsed magnetic fields to focus the particles to a deep target between the magnets,” said UMD Institute for Systems Research Professor Benjamin Shapiro. 

These pulsed magnetic fields allowed the team to reverse the usual behavior of magnetic nanoparticles. Instead of a magnet attracting the particles, they showed that an initial magnetic pulse can orient the rod-shaped particles without pulling them, and then a subsequent pulse can push the particles before the particles can reorient. By repeating the pulses in sequence, the particles were focused to locations between the electromagnets. The study, published last week in Nano Letters, shows that using this method, ferromagnetic nanorods carrying drugs or molecules could be concentrated to arbitrary deep locations between magnets.

The researchers are now working to demonstrate this method in vivo to prove its therapeutic potential and have launched IronFocus Medical, Inc., a startup company established to commercialize their invention.

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Where are my veins? World-first vein viewing technology

Where are my veins? World-first vein viewing technology | Amazing Science |

Do you have hard-to-find veins? Don’t let that stop you from donating blood.  In a world-first study, the Australian Red Cross Blood service is conducting research into the use of leading-edge technology to visualise blood donors’ veins during blood donation.

The vein visualization devices are portable, and project an image of the veins onto the skin’s surface using non-invasive near infra-red technology. The Blood Service is aiming to find out if this procedure reduces anxiety, improves donation comfort and makes donors more likely to donate again.

The study will assess the responses of 300 first-time and 600 return donors aged between 18 and 30 attending the Chatswood and Elizabeth Street Donor Centres in Sydney. "Donor Centre staff have found the technology particularly useful in cases where the vein is not visible to the naked eye” said Dr Dan Waller, one of the senior investigators on the trial.

“We are keen to retain our young donors, and it is important to test if this technology may help us do that.”

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New device could make large biological circuits practical

New device could make large biological circuits practical | Amazing Science |

Innovation from MIT could allow many biological components to be connected to produce predictable effects.

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits — systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular kind of output. But while individual components of such biological circuits can have precise and predictable responses, those outcomes become less predictable as more such elements are combined.

A team of researchers at MIT has now come up with a way of greatly reducing that unpredictability, introducing a device that could ultimately allow such circuits to behave nearly as predictably as their electronic counterparts. The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Domitilla Del Vecchio and professor of biological engineering Ron Weiss.

The lead author of the paper is Deepak Mishra, an MIT graduate student in biological engineering. Other authors include recent master’s students Phillip Rivera in mechanical engineering and Allen Lin in electrical engineering and computer science. There are many potential uses for such synthetic biological circuits, Del Vecchio and Weiss explain. “One specific one we’re working on is biosensing — cells that can detect specific molecules in the environment and produce a specific output in response,” Del Vecchio says. One example: cells that could detect markers that indicate the presence of cancer cells, and then trigger the release of molecules targeted to kill those cells.

It is important for such circuits to be able to discriminate accurately between cancerous and noncancerous cells, so they don’t unleash their killing power in the wrong places, Weiss says. To do that, robust information-processing circuits created from biological elements within a cell become “highly critical,” Weiss says.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Circulating Tumor Cells Allow Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Circulating Tumor Cells Allow Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease | Amazing Science |

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a risk factor for lung cancer. Migration of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) into the blood stream is an early event that occurs during carcinogenesis. A group of scientists aimed to examine the presence of CTCs in complement to CT-scan in COPD patients without clinically detectable lung cancer as a first step to identify a new marker for early lung cancer diagnosis. The presence of CTCs was examined by an ISET filtration-enrichment technique, for 245 subjects without cancer, including 168 (68.6%) COPD patients, and 77 subjects without COPD (31.4%), including 42 control smokers and 35 non-smoking healthy individuals.

CTCs were identified by cyto-morphological analysis and characterized by studying their expression of epithelial and mesenchymal markers. COPD patients were monitored annually by low-dose spiral CT. CTCs were detected in 3% of COPD patients (5 out of 168 patients). The annual surveillance of the CTC-positive COPD patients by CT-scan screening detected lung nodules 1 to 4 years after CTC detection, leading to prompt surgical resection and histopathological diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer. Follow-up of the 5 patients by CT-scan and ISET 12 month after surgery showed no tumor recurrence. CTCs detected in COPD patients had a heterogeneous expression of epithelial and mesenchymal markers, which was similar to the corresponding lung tumor phenotype. No CTCs were detected in control smoking and non-smoking healthy individuals. CTCs can be detected in patients with COPD without clinically detectable lung cancer. Monitoring “sentinel” CTC-positive COPD patients may allow early diagnosis of lung cancer.

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Biomedical Sensors That Dissolve in Your Body and Reduce Infection and Waste

Biomedical Sensors That Dissolve in Your Body and Reduce Infection and Waste | Amazing Science |

John Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was the lead author on a recent study published in the journal Advanced Materials. This study tested biodegradable printed circuit boards, a very efficient type of sensor with a large surface area. In the study, Rogers and his team showed they had effectively created a sensor that both does its job and is fully dissolvable.

Rogers spearheads a lab that has been at the forefront of this technology since 2008. When they were first getting started in the field of biodegradable sensors, the researchers spent several years coming up with the materials and processes that worked, Rogers said in an email. “Our research now is focusing on systems and applications, in areas ranging from biomedicine to consumer electronics,” he added.

The semiconductor, the part of the device that does the sensing, is made of two materials. One is extremely thin silicon, which the researchers shave down to the nano scale. They combine the silicon with metals that are familiar components of food and vitamins, like magnesium, zinc, and iron. The sensor is encapsulated by and rests on a set of polymers that, Rogers said, “are already used, for other purposes, in the body.”

Rogers and his team are still perfecting the sensors, but they anticipate that they could even work wirelessly by transmitting information via radio waves back to doctors’ devices. Typically, the silicon dissolves in the body in a few weeks, Rogers said, but different substances could extend the device’s lifespan.

Devices like these have the potential to change medicine for the better. Currently, the infection rate for surgeries—including the procedure needed to implant a biomedical device—is 1 to 3 percent. Usually this happens because the wound gets contaminated.

The logic for Rogers’ devices is simple: when doctors have to cut a person open less often, there’s less chance of infection. And the devices could be used as more than sensors; they could administer programmed drug delivery for conditions that require daily injections, or reduce pain by stimulating stressed nerve endings.

There are also environmental implications. In an effort to decrease the chance of infection, the health industry has relied for years on disposable, one-use devices, from syringes to hospital gowns. The result is that medical facilities generate billions of tons of trash per year, although no one is sure exactly how much. And although much of this trash could be recycled with the proper treatment, almost all of it just ends up in landfills, where it biodegrades very slowly and could present potential health hazards if people are exposed to it. Dissolvable, biodegradable devices would mean less waste in a landfill, and if a device did end up there, it would decompose rapidly.

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Integrating laser diode and ultrasound transducer array to build compact medical imaging device

Integrating laser diode and ultrasound transducer array to build compact medical imaging device | Amazing Science |

Scientists at the MIRA research institute, in collaboration with various companies, have developed a prototype of a handy device that combines echoscopy (ultrasound) with photoacoustics. Combining these two medical imaging technologies in a compact device is designed, among other things, to enable the amount of inflammation in rheumatic patients' joints to be measured more simply and precisely. The researchers expect that the technology will eventually also be able to play a role in detecting the severity of burns, skin cancer and furring of the arteries. The prototype is presented in the scientific journal Optics Express.

Echoscopy and photoacoustics are complementary medical imaging technologies. Photoacoustics involves sending brief laser pulses into the patient's body. When the laser light hits a blood vessel, for example, it is locally converted into heat, which causes a minor rise in pressure. This propagates through the body like a sound wave and can then be measured on the skin. Echoscopy involves sending ultrasound waves into the body: different tissues reflect them in different ways, and they too can then be detected on the skin. Whereas echoscopy provides an image of structures, photoacoustics can provide an image containing more functional information, such as the presence of blood.

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A tiny ultrasound-powered chip to serve as medical device

A tiny ultrasound-powered chip to serve as medical device | Amazing Science |

Stanford engineers are developing a way to send power — safely and wirelessly — to “smart chips” in the body that are programmed to perform medical tasks and report back the results. The idea is to get rid of wires and batteries, which would make the implant too big or clumsy.

Their approach involves beaming ultrasound at a tiny device inside the body designed to do three things: convert the incoming sound waves into electricity; process and execute medical commands; and report the completed activity via a tiny built-in radio antenna.

“We think this will enable researchers to develop a new generation of tiny implants designed for a wide array of medical applications,” said Amin Arbabian, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford.

Arbabian’s team recently presented a working prototype of this wireless medical implant system at the IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference in San Jose.

The researchers chose ultrasound to deliver wireless power to their medical implants because it has been safely used in many applications, such as fetal imaging, and can provide precision and sufficient power  to implants a millimeter or less in size. Arbabian and his colleagues are collaborating with other researchers to develop sound-powered implants for a variety of medical applications, from studying the nervous system to treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The Stanford medical implant chip is powered by piezoelectricity (pressure on a material generates an electric voltage). The Stanford team created pressure by aiming ultrasound waves at a tiny piece of piezoelectric material mounted on the device.

In the future, the team plans to extend the capabilities of the implant chip to perform medical tasks, such as powering sensors or delivering therapeutic jolts of electricity right where a patient feels pain.


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