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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

FDA Approves The First Artificial Pancreas You Can Wear

FDA Approves The First Artificial Pancreas You Can Wear | Amazing Science |

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its first "artificial pancreas" to automatically control the insulin levels of diabetics.

The hormone insulin controls blood sugar levels and is normally produced in the body by the pancreas. But in Type 1 diabetics and sometimes Type 2, the pancreas just doesn't make insulin, meaning diabetics' bodies can't regulate blood sugar levels. This system, designed by Minneapolis-based medical tech company Medtronic, is a wearable little gadget that stops insulin delivery automatically when glucose levels get too low, hopefully keeping the wearer from going into a diabetic coma. 


With a traditional pump, the device can keep delivering insulin even when the your blood sugar is too low, lowering levels even further and sometimes causing loss of consciousness. This is especially dangerous during sleep, when you can't exactly gauge your own blood sugar. Medtronic's MiniMed 530G system can detect up to 93 percent of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) episodes, and will sound an alarm to wake you up if your blood sugar gets too low. If you don't respond, the system will shut off insulin delivery for two hours, hopefully staving off dangerously low blood sugar levels.


One caveat: Medtronic got a warning letter from the FDA only a few weeks ago related to manufacturing processes of their Paradigm Insulin Infusion Pumps (which are used in this system) at their facility in Northridge, Calif. The pumps had been recalled in June because they were malfunctioning and delivering either too much or not enough insulin, and the FDA found the company was not doing enough to verify that the failure wouldn't happen again. The company said in the press release accompanying the product approval that it had "already addressed many of the observations noted in the warning letter and is committed to resolving the remaining observations as quickly as possible."

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Injectable sponge delivers drugs, cells, and structure

Injectable sponge delivers drugs, cells, and structure | Amazing Science |

Bioengineers at Harvard have developed a gel-based sponge that can be molded to any shape, loaded with drugs or stem cells, compressed to a fraction of its size, and delivered via injection. Once inside the body, it pops back to its original shape and gradually releases its cargo, before safely degrading.


The biocompatible technology, revealed this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, amounts to a prefabricated healing kit for a range of minimally invasive therapeutic applications, including regenerative medicine.


“What we’ve created is a three-dimensional structure that you could use to influence the cells in the tissue surrounding it and perhaps promote tissue formation,” explains principal investigator David J. Mooney, Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.


“The simplest application is when you want bulking,” Mooney explains. “If you want to introduce some material into the body to replace tissue that’s been lost or that is deficient, this would be ideal. In other situations, you could use it to transplant stem cells if you’re trying to promote tissue regeneration, or you might want to transplant immune cells, if you’re looking at immunotherapy.”


Consisting primarily of alginate, a seaweed-based jelly, the injectable sponge contains networks of large pores, which allow liquids and large molecules to easily flow through it. Mooney and his research team demonstrated that live cells can be attached to the walls of this network and delivered intact along with the sponge, through a small-bore needle. Mooney’s team also demonstrated that the sponge can hold large and small proteins and drugs within the alginate jelly itself, which are gradually released as the biocompatible matrix starts to break down inside the body.


Normally, a scaffold like this would have to be implanted surgically. Gels can also be injected, but until now those gels would not have carried any inherent structure; they would simply flow to fill whatever space was available.

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Stimulated Raman Scattering Visualizes Brain Tumors During Surgery

Stimulated Raman Scattering Visualizes Brain Tumors During Surgery | Amazing Science |
A new method can distinguish tumors from normal brain tissue in living mice. With further refinement, the approach could help doctors remove brain tumors with great precision.


Recognizing the difference between tumors and normal brain tissue during surgery is a major challenge. Removing healthy tissue can cause neurologic problems, but leaving tumor tissue behind can allow the cancer to spread again. This is a particular problem with glioblastoma multiforme, the most common form of malignant brain cancer in adults. Glioblastoma tumors grow quickly and are difficult to treat. The tumors infiltrate normal brain tissue and can’t be easily singled out.


Experimental methods to tell the difference between tumors and normal tissue during surgery have had limited success. Over the past 15 years, a team led by Dr. Sunney Xie at Harvard University has been developing a technique called stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy. The method takes advantage of the fact that chemical bonds in molecules have their own sets of vibration frequencies, and produce unique patterns of scattered light called Raman spectra. These spectra can be used as fingerprints to identify and differentiate different molecules in a complex environment. SRS microscopy involves shining noninvasive lasers to excite particular Raman frequencies in tissues. The weak light signals emitted by the tissues vary depending on the tissues’ molecular composition, such as lipids, proteins, and DNA.


In collaboration with Dr. Daniel Orringer and colleagues at the University of Michigan Medical School, Xie’s team applied SRS microscopy to the problem of distinguishing protein-rich glioblastomas from more lipid-rich surrounding tissue. Their work was funded by an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award and by NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI). The results appeared on September 4, 2013, in Science Translational Medicine.


By combining SRS images made from light at 2 different frequencies, the scientists were able to construct images that identified tissues with different lipid and protein content. To test the approach on tumors, they implanted human glioblastoma cells into mice and allowed them to grow into tumors. They then placed samples on slides and used SRS microscopy to make 2-color images of the samples. For comparison, they froze the samples and stained them with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E), the current approach used to diagnose brain tumors.


The scientists found that SRS microscopy worked as well as H&E in distinguishing tumor-infiltrated brain tissue from surrounding healthy tissue. They then adapted the technique for use in live mice. Craniectomies exposed the tumor and adjacent brain tissue for SRS imaging. While standard microscopy found no obvious evidence of the tumor, SRS microscopy identified regions with extensive tumor infiltration.


“For more than 100 years, hematoxylin and eosin stain has been the gold standard for this type of imaging,” Xie says. “But with this [SRS] technology, we don't need to freeze the tissue, we don't need to stain tissue, and we don't need to biopsy—this acts like an optical biopsy and allows us to identify the tumor margins at a cellular level.”

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Self-powered nanoparticles instantly deliver healing drugs to bones

Self-powered nanoparticles instantly deliver healing drugs to bones | Amazing Science |

A novel method for finding and delivering healing drugs to newly formed microcracks in bones has been invented by a team of chemists and bioengineers at Penn State University and Boston University. This research-microscope image shows the increasing density at the bone-crack site during a 40-minute test of particles carrying the bone-healing medication.


The method involves the targeted delivery of the drugs, directly to the cracks, on the backs of tiny self-powered nanoparticles. The energy that revs the motors of the nanoparticles and sends them rushing toward the crack comes from a surprising source — the crack itself.


“When a crack occurs in a bone, it disrupts the minerals in the bone, which leach out as charged particles — as ions — that create an electric field, which pulls the negatively charged nanoparticles toward the crack,” said Penn State Professor of Chemistry Ayusman Sen, a co-leader of the research team.


“Our experiments have shown that a biocompatible particle can quickly and naturally deliver an osteoporosis drug directly to a newly cracked bone.”


Sen said that the formation of this kind of an electric field is a well-known phenomenon, but other scientists previously had not used it as both a power source and a homing beacon to actively deliver bone-healing medications to the sites most at risk for fracture or active deterioration. “It is a novel way to detect cracks and deliver medicines to them,” said team co-leader and Boston University Professor Mark Grinstaff.


The method is more energetic and more targeted than current methods, in which medications ride passively on the circulating bloodstream, where they may or may not arrive at microcracks in a high-enough dosage to initiate healing.


The new method holds the promise of treating — as soon as they form — the microcracks that lead to broken bones in patients with osteoporosis and other medical conditions.


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First American Surgery Transmitted Live Via Google Glass

First American Surgery Transmitted Live Via Google Glass | Amazing Science |

A surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is the first in the United States to consult with a distant colleague using live, point-of-view video from the operating room via Google Glass, a head-mounted computer and camera device.


“It’s a privilege to be a part of this project as we explore how this exciting new technology might be incorporated into the everyday care of our patients,” said Dr. Christopher Kaeding, the physician who performed the surgery and director of sports medicine at Ohio State.  “To be honest, once we got into the surgery, I often forgot the device was there. It just seemed very intuitive and fit seamlessly.”


Google Glass has a frame similar to traditional glasses, but instead of lenses, there is a small glass block that sits above the right eye.  On that glass is a computer screen that, with a simple voice command, allows users to pull up information as they would on any other computer.  Attached to the front of the device is a camera that offers a point-of-view image and the ability to take both photos and videos while the device is worn.


During this procedure at the medical center’s University East facility, Kaeding wore the device as he performed ACL surgery on Paula Kobalka, 47, from Westerville, Ohio, who hurt her knee playing softball.  As he performed her operation at a facility on the east side of Columbus, Google Glass showed his vantage point via the internet to audiences miles away.


Across town, one of Kaeding’s Ohio State colleagues, Dr. Robert Magnussen, watched the surgery his office, while on the main campus, several students at The Ohio State University College of Medicine watched on their laptops.


“To have the opportunity to be a medical student and share in this technology is really exciting,” said Ryan Blackwell, a second-year medical student who watched the surgery remotely.   “This could have huge implications, not only from the medical education perspective, but because a doctor can use this technology remotely, it could spread patient care all over the world in places that we don’t have it already.”


“As an academic medical center, we’re very excited about the opportunities this device could provide for education,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, chief innovation officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “But beyond, that, it could be a game-changer for the doctor during the surgery itself.”


Experts have theorized that during surgery doctors could use voice commands to instantly call up x-ray or MRI images of their patient, pathology reports or reference materials.  They could collaborate live and face-to-face with colleagues via the internet, anywhere in the world.


“It puts you right there, real time,” said Marsh, who is also the executive director of the Center for Personalized Health Care at Ohio State. “Not only might you be able to call up any kind of information you need or to get the help you need, but it’s the ability to do it immediately that’s so exciting,” he said.  “Now, we just have to start using it. Like many technologies, it needs to be evaluated in different situations to find out where the greatest value is and how it can impact the lives of our patients in a positive way.”


Only 1,000 people in the United States have been chosen to test Google Glass as part of Google’s Explorer Program. Dr. Ismail Nabeel, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Ohio State applied and was chosen. He then partnered with Kaeding to perform this groundbreaking surgery and to help test technology that could change the way we see medicine in the future.

Rob Hatfield, M.Ed.'s curator insight, August 28, 2013 8:22 PM

Outstanding news!

Zane's curator insight, September 3, 2013 11:44 PM

This one is absolutely amazing! 

Dane MillerHass's comment, September 5, 2013 9:26 PM
Super cool, we are developing great things!
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Smart neural dust could carry sensors deep into the human brain and send data back out

Smart neural dust could carry sensors deep into the human brain and send data back out | Amazing Science |
You can't do science without data, and a team at Berkeley has proposed a method to get a lot more data about the brain. All they need to do is sprinkle your brain with tiny dust-like sensors.


The key to unraveling the mysteries of the brain may lie in getting better real time data from that cluster of neurons. We have effective imaging technologies like functional MRI and positron emission tomography (PET), which can even be used to interact with machines. However, an MRI machine isn’t very portable. Science has been exploring the role of implantable devices for years, but a new paper from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley proposes a new kind of implantable sensor — intelligent dust that can infiltrate the brain, record data, and communicate with the outside world.


The preliminary design was undertaken by Berkeley’s Dongjin Seo and colleagues. They describe a network of tiny sensors that could be introduced into the brain. Each package would be little more than a speck 100 micrometers (one-tenth of a millimeter) across, which is why the team decided to call it neural dust.


The smart particles would all contain a standard (but very small) CMOS sensor capable of measuring electrical activity in nearby neurons. Rather than design a microscopic battery that would only die after a short time, the researchers envision a piezoelectric material backing the CMOS capable of generating electrical signals from ultrasound waves. The process would also work in reverse, allowing the dust to beam data back out via high-frequency sound waves. The entire package would be coated in a polymer, thus making it bio-neutral.


Ultrasound would likely be considerably safer than beaming electromagnetic waves back and forth. Ultrasound transfers much less energy to surrounding tissues — Seo and company believe it could keep the neural network charged and connected without heating the brain or skull (which is always good to hear).


The patient could have thousands of these devices nestled in their brain tissue, but a few additional components would be needed. A larger subdural transceiver would send the ultrasound waves to the dust and pick up the return signal. The internal transceiver would be wirelessly connected to an external device on the scalp (again, via ultrasound) that contains data processing hardware, a long range transmitter, storage, and a battery. It would be considerably easier to replace this external transmitter than a thousand microscopic sensors in the brain.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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In the US, a new era in non-invasive prenatal testing has just begun

In the US, a new era in non-invasive  prenatal testing has just begun | Amazing Science |

A new, noninvasive prenatal test is poised to change the standard of care for genetic screening. Cell-free fetal DNA (cfDNA) testing requires only a maternal blood sample, can be performed as early as 9 weeks of gestation, and outperforms standard screening tests for trisomies 21, 18, and 13 in high-risk populations. It has a sensitivity exceeding 98% and a specificity above 99.5%.


Currently, standard screening entails testing of maternal blood samples at gestational weeks 10 to 13 or 16 to 18 (or at both points) to measure serum markers associated with common trisomies and usually an ultrasound examination, including measurement of nuchal translucency, at 11 to 13 weeks. This approach identifies more than 90% of trisomies, with a screen-positive rate of 5% in the general population. Diagnostic testing for women with positive results on screening requires either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, invasive procedures that carry a risk of miscarriage. Amniocentesis, which is performed far more commonly than chorionic villus sampling, is generally delayed until after 15 weeks, with a 1-to-2-week turnaround time for results.


The use of cfDNA testing may appeal to expectant parents for many reasons: it carries no risk of miscarriage, permits earlier detection, and generally provides earlier information about a fetus's sex. Earlier testing can reassure parents who have negative results, while offering those with abnormal results timely information to help them make difficult decisions. People who choose to continue a pregnancy after an abnormal result have additional time to prepare to deliver and care for their child.


Nevertheless, the diffusion of cfDNA testing into routine prenatal care may be occurring too quickly. Professional societies do not recommend these tests for normal-risk pregnancies because their clinical utility in the general population is not well established. Yet because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not empowered to require testing companies to produce evidence of clinical utility before receiving marketing approval, companies have been free to build consumer demand for cfDNA testing by aggressively marketing the tests, emphasizing data that do not answer key questions. As a result, cfDNA testing seems to be drifting into routine practice ahead of the evidence.


Tests of cfDNA appear to be highly sensitive and specific in detecting trisomies, but two problems plague the evidence base. First, the sensitivity and specificity of the tests derive from studies done on collections of archived samples with known karyotypes that intentionally included a large proportion of specimens from women with known aneuploid fetuses. Evidence concerning the performance characteristics of the testing in the general population and for multiple gestations is limited.1 Second, cfDNA-testing companies have not reported information about their tests' positive predictive value (PPV), and there is reason to question the tests' performance on this measure.2Arguably, PPV is more important than sensitivity and specificity to patients undergoing testing: it indicates the probability that a positive test result indicates a true fetal aneuploidy. Thus, PPV should be discussed in study reports and marketing materials but isn't.


Studies of cfDNA testing have often been conducted on samples including a high percentage of specimens with known abnormal karyotypes. Prevalence rates for Down's syndrome in the samples are as high as 1 in 8.3 Although sensitivity and specificity are unaffected by the condition's prevalence in the test population, PPV and negative predictive value (NPV) vary considerably with prevalence. At a prevalence of 1 in 8, assuming a constant specificity of 99.7% and a sensitivity of 99.9%, the PPV and NPV are impressively high — 97.94% and 99.99%, respectively. But at a prevalence of 1 in 200 — the approximate prevalence of Down's syndrome among fetuses of 35-year-old women in the second trimester of pregnancy — the PPV drops to 62.59%.


It is worrisome that some laboratories that performed validation tests may have been aware that the samples included high proportions of specimens with known aneuploidies — but that this isn't always made clear in the studies' descriptions. Prior knowledge about the prevalence of aneuploidies in the samples may well have affected an analyst's decisions about how to classify ambiguous test results: someone who believes 1 in 8 samples is abnormal may be more likely to classify a questionable result as abnormal than someone who believes that 1 in 200 is abnormal. Not all published studies of cfDNA testing have this problem, and one study of a sample without a high prevalence of aneuploidies suggests that the false positive rate for the Harmony test (Natera) is low.1 Without additional evidence, however, the clinical utility of cfDNA remains uncertain.


Given this unproven utility in the general population, the leading professional organizations, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal–Fetal Medicine, and the National Society of Genetic Counselors, recommend cfDNA testing only for “high-risk pregnancies,” without specifically defining “high risk.” Furthermore, they recommend that positive results be confirmed through invasive testing. That recommendation is important for patients to understand, because if patients with positive results on cfDNA testing are counseled to wait until their diagnosis is confirmed before taking action, an important potential benefit of cfDNA testing is lost.


Patients must also weigh the benefits of earlier detection against other informational costs. Tests of cfDNA do not provide information about some disorders that are identified through standard screening, including chromosomal abnormalities other than trisomies. It is thus crucial that providers carefully counsel patients about the test's advantages and disadvantages. Decision making is further complicated by the fact that cfDNA testing is costly and not widely covered by insurance. Four versions of the test are available in the United States, priced from $795 to more than $2,000. A few major insurers cover cfDNA testing if it's accompanied by confirmatory testing for positive results, but many have yet to decide whether to cover it.


Meanwhile, testing companies have pursued various strategies to build consumer demand, including reaching out to expectant mothers through YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Some companies have capped out-of-pocket costs and offered “introductory pricing” specials with costs ranging from $200 to $235. This strategy has had apparent success, with one company boasting a “spectacular” adoption rate of 60,000 tests performed in 2012.


The companies' marketing strategy risks building demand for tests that may not offer a substantial benefit, particularly for women with low-risk pregnancies. Expectant parents' excitement about the opportunity to learn their child's sex and rule out trisomies earlier may lead to discounting the tradeoffs involved, push the standard of care away from professional recommendations for confining use to high-risk populations, and contribute to higher costs. The evidentiary gaps concerning cfDNA testing, aggressive marketing, and rapid diffusion into routine practice can be traced, at least partially, to our country's regulatory scheme for laboratory-developed tests. Under FDA regulations, commercial test kits — which are distributed to multiple laboratories and health care facilities — are subject to both premarketing assessments of analytic and clinical validity and postmarketing reporting of adverse events. No similar requirements exist for tests, like the cfDNA tests, developed for in-house use by a single laboratory.


Laboratory-developed tests are governed, instead, by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988. Laboratories must demonstrate such a test's accuracy, precision, specificity, and sensitivity — but not its clinical validity or utility. Although companies offering noninvasive prenatal tests have chosen to perform studies in the targeted population, they aren't obliged to do so, nor must they design studies so as to provide robust evidence about clinical utility.


Congress's choice to require a less onerous regulatory approach for laboratory-developed tests arguably promotes the availability of new tests, but it leaves the real-world benefits and risks of these tests more uncertain than those of commercial tests. The rapid proliferation of direct-to-consumer genetic tests and other laboratory-developed tests has led to controversy, culminating in two unsuccessful congressional attempts to strengthen oversight. For now, as with many medical innovations, it will fall to physicians to hold the line against pressures promoting diffusion of cfDNA testing beyond the boundaries of available evidence.

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Breakthrough could lead to "artificial skin" that senses touch, humidity and temperature

Breakthrough could lead to "artificial skin" that senses touch, humidity and temperature | Amazing Science |

Using tiny gold particles and a kind of resin, a team of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has discovered how to make a new kind of flexible sensor that one day could be integrated into electronic skin, or e-skin. If scientists learn how to attach e-skin to prosthetic limbs, people with amputations might once again be able to feel changes in their environments. The findings appear in the June issue of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Researchers have long been interested in flexible sensors, but have had trouble adapting them for real-world use. To make its way into mainstream society, a flexible sensor would have to run on low voltage (so it would be compatible with the batteries in today's portable devices), measure a wide range of pressures, and make more than one measurement at a time, including humidity, temperature, pressure, and the presence of chemicals. In addition, these sensors would also have to be able to be made quickly, easily, and cheaply.


The Technion team's sensor has all of these qualities. The secret is the use of monolayer-capped nanoparticles that are only 5-8 nanometers in diameter. They are made of gold and surrounded by connector molecules called ligands. In fact, "monolayer-capped nanoparticles can be thought of as flowers, where the center of the flower is the gold or metal nanoparticle and the petals are the monolayer of organic ligands that generally protect it," says Haick.


The team discovered that when these nanoparticles are laid on top of a substrate – in this case, made of PET (flexible polyethylene terephthalate), the same plastic found in soda bottles – the resulting compound conducted electricity differently depending on how the substrate was bent. (The bending motion brings some particles closer to others, increasing how quickly electrons can pass between them.) This electrical property means that the sensor can detect a large range of pressures, from tens of milligrams to tens of grams. "The sensor is very stable and can be attached to any surface shape while keeping the function stable," says Dr. Nir Peled, Head of the Thoracic Cancer Research and Detection Center at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, who was not involved in the research.

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Operations in China will soon be performed by American doctors in Texas, via robots

Operations in China will soon be performed by American doctors in Texas, via robots | Amazing Science |
A new partnership between two hospitals in China and the US will soon have Chinese patients on an operating table with a robot standing over them. At the controls will be a US doctor in Texas.
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DNA SEQ Alliance - Using a quantum computer to identify most potent drug candidates

DNA SEQ Alliance - Using a quantum computer to identify most potent drug candidates | Amazing Science |

DNA SEQ Inc. is both a free-standing, independent and privately held enterprise as well as the centerpiece of a cluster of strategic relationships with other independent organizations which it calls the DNA-SEQ Alliance. Co-founded by noted crystallographer Janusz M. Sowadski, DNA SEQ is headquartered in La Jolla, California. DNA SEQ’s business model for its stand-alone company is two-fold: first, via its website, DNA SEQ will promote the use of its collaborative process to provide for cancer patients and their oncologists an alternative data-driven view of the nature of their disease and possible protein kinase inhibitor molecules for the oncologist to consider prescribing in the course of his or her treatment of the patient. Second, the Company will focus on drug discovery of anti-relapse drugs to fight the recurrence of cancer once initial first-in-line drugs begin to fail, which is a demonstrated and expected phenomenon.


DNA SEQ Inc. has taken the crucial and missing steps to make Next Generation diagnostics and treatments a reality sooner rather than later by creating a solid inter-disciplinary and cross-organization collaborative alliance with best-in-class researchers, equipped with cutting edge tools. DNA SEQ will have clients deliver a tissue sample from the pathology laboratory of the hospital where their cancerous tumors were removed directly to the Baylor College of Medicine for the best tissue sample preparation to ready the sample for genomic sequencing. DNA SEQ will then have the option of using Baylor for genomic sequencing and follow-on annotation and analytics, or it can turn to its alternative source of supply,Illumina for Next Generation Sequencing, and on to its joint venture partner Diagnomics for annotation and analytics of the data obtained from Next Generation Sequencing. This most advanced genome annotation and analysis platform will allow DNA SEQ to identify rapidly and very accurately the differences between healthy cells and cancerous cells across the entire functional human genome. Next DNA SEQ will internally construct crystallographic models of the mutated cancer cells and use the models to identify corresponding kinase inhibiting molecules from the more than 120,000 kinase inhibitors currently in existence.


At the same time, DNA SEQ will rely on its collaboration with founding shareholder D-Wave Systems Inc. which offers the world’s first Quantum Computing platform to speed up the process of identifying effective protein kinase inhibitor molecules, including FDA-approved drugs and molecules in clinical trials, to cause the “inhibition” or cessation of the rapid division of cells caused by cancerous mutations. Moreover, DNA SEQ will harness D-Wave’s Quantum Computing power to target FDA-approved drugs, and kinase inhibitor in clinical trials, to fight the relapse of cancer once initial first-in-line drugs begin to fail.

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Ingestible, Implantable, Or Intimate Contact: How Will You Take Your Microscale Body Sensors?

Ingestible, Implantable, Or Intimate Contact: How Will You Take Your Microscale Body Sensors? | Amazing Science |

Computer chips and silicon micromachines are ready for your body. It’s time to decide how you’ll take them: implantable, ingestible, or intimate contact. Every flavor now exists. Some have FDA approval and some are seeking it. Others are moving quickly out of the research lab stage. With the round one Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize entries due in one year, we’re soon to see a heavy dose of sensors tied to the mobile wireless health revolution.


With these sensors comes a heavy dose of information about your health, data about what medication you are taking and when you took it. The sensors are available to protect your health, but choosing how to use them and how to protect the privacy of your data will be a matter of personal responsibility.



Via Ray and Terry's
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Baby's life saved with groundbreaking 3D printed device that restored his breathing

Bioresorbable splint used for first time, successfully stopped life-threatening tracheobronchomalacia.


Every day, their baby stopped breathing, his collapsed bronchus blocking the crucial flow of air to his lungs. April and Bryan Gionfriddo watched helplessly, just praying that somehow the dire predictions weren’t true.


“Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” says April Gionfriddo, about her now 20-month-old son, Kaiba. “At that point, we were desperate. Anything that would work, we would take it and run with it.”


They found hope at the University of Michigan, where a new, bioresorbable device that could help Kaiba was under development.  Kaiba’s doctors contacted Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan.


His colleague, Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M, went right into action, obtaining emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to create and implant a tracheal splint for Kaiba made from a biopolymer called polycaprolactone.


On February 9, 2012, the specially-designed splint was placed in Kaiba at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The splint was sewn around Kaiba’s airway to expand the bronchus and give it a skeleton to aid proper growth. Over about three years, the splint will be reabsorbed by the body. The case is featured today in the New England Journal of Medicine.


“It was amazing. As soon as the splint was put in, the lungs started going up and down for the first time and we knew he was going to be OK,” says Green.


Green and Hollister were able to make the custom-designed, custom-fabricated device using high-resolution imaging and computer-aided design. The device was created directly from a CT scan of Kaiba's trachea/bronchus, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3D printing to produce the splint.

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New Skin Patch Warns People When It’s Time to Get Out of the Sun

New Skin Patch Warns People When It’s Time to Get Out of the Sun | Amazing Science |

By the time most of us realize we’ve been out in the sun too long, it’s too late. It can take up to 24 hours after exposure before you realize you have a sunburn.


Now, a Michigan Technological University Senior Design team has devised a sensor that tells you when it’s time to seek shelter, long before your skin gets red and tender.


The biomedical engineering seniors developed a skin patch imprinted with a graphic—in this case, a happy face design. The nickel-size patch gradually darkens under ultraviolet light, the type of light that causes sunburn and skin cancer.  When you can’t see the happy face anymore, it’s time to get out of the sun.


Not everyone burns at the same rate, and the team took that into account. “We calibrated it based on skin type,” said team member Anne François. Their prototypes were made for the three skin types that are most susceptible to sunburn.


The patch is made with UV-sensitive film bonded to a special tape with medical-grade adhesive that can withstand plenty of trips into the swimming pool. Because it measures total UV exposure, it “knows” when a user applies sunscreen or goes in the shade and darkens more slowly.

The team has filed a provisional patent on their invention and received Best Overall Award in the  Invention Disclosure Competition at Michigan Tech’s 2013 Undergraduate Expo. If it makes it to market, it would be inexpensive: the prototypes cost only 13 cents apiece in materials.

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A new paradigm for nanoscale resolution MRI has been experimentally achieved

A new paradigm for nanoscale resolution MRI has been experimentally achieved | Amazing Science |

A team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University has devised a novel nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that delivers a roughly 10­nanometer spatial resolution. This represents a significant advance in MRI sensitivity—modern MRI techniques commonly used in medical imaging yield spatial resolutions on the millimeter length scale, with the highest-resolution experimental instruments giving spatial resolution of a few micrometers.

“This is a very promising experimental result,” said U. of I. physicist Raffi Budakian, who led the research effort. “Our approach brings MRI one step closer in its eventual progress toward atomic-scale imaging.”


MRI is used widely in clinical practice to distinguish pathologic tissue from normal tissue. It is noninvasive and harmless to the patient, using strong magnetic fields and non-ionizing electromagnetic fields in the radio frequency range, unlike CT scans and tradiational X-rays, which both use more harmful ionizing radiation.

MRI uses static and time-dependent magnetic fields to detect the collective response of large ensembles of nuclear spins from molecules localized within millimeter-scale volumes in the body. Increasing the detection resolution from the millimeter to nanometer range would be a technological dream come true.


The team’s breakthrough—the new technique introduces two unique components to overcome obstacles to applying classic pulsed magnetic resonance techniques in nanoscale systems. First, a novel protocol for spin manipulation applies periodic radio-frequency magnetic field pulses to encode temporal correlations in the statistical polarization of nuclear spins in the sample. Second, a nanoscale metal constriction focuses current, generating intense magnetic field-pulses.


In their proof-of-principal demonstration, the team used an ultrasensitive magnetic resonance sensor based on a silicon nanowire oscillator to reconstruct a two-dimensional projection image of the proton density in a polystyrene sample at nanoscale spatial resolution.


“We expect this new technique to become a paradigm for nanoscale magnetic-resonance imaging and spectroscopy into the future,” added Budakian. “It is compatible with and can be incorporated into existing conventional MRI technologies.”

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New Rapid Blood Test Can Distinguish Bacterial Infections from Viral

New Rapid Blood Test Can Distinguish Bacterial Infections from Viral | Amazing Science |
A blood test developed by Duke University researchers will help doctors learn whether a patient's infection is caused by a virus or bacteria.


The Duke test can recognize a specific genetic fingerprint that the body expresses when it's sick.


In the most recent experiment, 102 subjects with viral and bacterial infections, as well as healthy control patients, arrived at a hospital emergency room and were given the blood test. With about 90 percent accuracy, the test returned the proper diagnosis in just 12 hours.


Dr. Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, also of Duke's Genome Institute, told Healthline that the test results were confirmed using traditional lab tests, which take much longer and are far more labor-intensive. “It was really outstanding from our perspective having an assay [test] that performed so robustly in a real-world setting.”


In larger studies set to begin as early as this flu season, scientists will look at ways of paring down the number of genes the test analyzes and reducing the test's turnaround time to as little as one hour. “We'd love to have the pregnancy test equivalent to viral infections,” Ginsburg said.


Woods, Ginsburg, and others have filed for a provisional patent on the science behind the test. Their experiment was funded in part by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.


Many of the infectious samples the team used to develop the test came from the global H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Many H1N1 sufferers were not quickly diagnosed and treated, which allowed the disease to spread to even more individuals.


In addition to the early detection of naturally occurring global pandemics, the authors believe their test could also help the U.S. respond to a bioterrorism attack. “This could help screen people for exposure, perhaps even before they have fully developed symptoms,” Ginsburg said. “We hope it's an application, if it ever comes to that.”

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Nanomal smartphone-like malaria detection device to be field tested one year earlier than scheduled

Nanomal smartphone-like malaria detection device to be field tested one year earlier than scheduled | Amazing Science |

A pioneering mobile device using cutting-edge nanotechnology to rapidly detect malaria infection and drug resistance will be ready for field testing this year, one year ahead of schedule.


The €5.2million (£4million) Nanomal project was launched last year to provide an affordable hand-held diagnostic device to detect malaria infection and parasites’ drug resistance in 15 minutes. It will allow healthcare workers in remote rural areas to deliver effective drug treatments to counter resistance more quickly, potentially saving lives.


The news that the project is a year ahead of schedule comes on World Malaria Day today (25 April), as the World Health Organization warns of the alarming growth of resistance to drug treatments.


Nanomal lead Professor Sanjeev Krishna, from St George’s, said: “Recent research suggests there’s a real danger that current artemisinin combination therapies could eventually become obsolete, in the same way as other anti-malarials. This risk is worsened when patients presenting with a fever are given anti-malarial drugs without an analysis of the malaria parasites’ drug resistance status, or even without a diagnostic test at all, thereby reducing the treatments’ effectiveness.”


The Nanomal device is being developed by St George’s, University of London and Newcastle-based QuantuMDx Group. It will use a range of novel nanotechnologies to rapidly analyse the malarial DNA from a finger-prick of blood. The sample will be processed and a nanowire biosensor will detect DNA sequences of interest. This will provide a malaria diagnosis, speciation and drug resistance information in 15 minutes, allowing an effective personalised drug combination to be given immediately. The smartphone-like device will be easy to use; a healthcare worker simply puts the sample into the device, presses a few buttons and waits for the result, making it ideal for use in the field.


QuantuMDx’s CEO Elaine Warburton said: “Placing a full malaria screen with drug resistance status in the palm of a health professional’s hand will allow instant prescribing of the most effective anti-malaria medication for that patient. Nanomal’s rapid, low-cost test will further support the global health challenge to eradicate malaria.”


The device aims to provide the same quality of result as a referral laboratory, at a fraction of the time and cost. Each device could cost about the price of a smartphone initially, but may be distributed free in developing countries. A single-test cartridge will be around $13 (£10) initially, but the goal is to reduce this cost to ensure affordability in resource-limited settings.


In addition to improving immediate patient outcomes, the project will allow the researchers to build a better picture of levels of drug resistance in stricken areas. It will also give them information on population impacts of anti-malarial interventions. The technology could also be adapted afterwards for use with other infectious diseases.

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fMRI shows that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar

fMRI shows that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar | Amazing Science |

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain at work, they have observed the same regions activated in a similar pattern whenever a person remembers an event from the past or imagines himself in a future situation. This challenges long-standing beliefs that thoughts about the future develop exclusively in the frontal lobe.


Remembering your past may go hand-in-hand with envisioning your future! It's an important link researchers found using high-tech brain scans. It's answering questions and may one day help those with memory loss.


For some, the best hope of 'seeing' the future leads them to seek guidance -- perhaps from an astrologist. But it's not very scientific. Now, psychologists at Washington University are finding that your ability to envision the future does in fact goes hand-in-hand with remembering the past. Both processes spark similar neural activity in the brain.


"You might look at it as mental time travel--the ability to take thoughts about ourselves and project them either into the past or into the future," says Kathleen McDermott, Ph.D. and Washington University psychology professor. The team used "functional magnetic resonance imaging" -- or fMRI -- to "see" brain activity. They asked college students to recall past events and then envision themselves experiencing such an event in their future. The results? Similar areas of the brain "lit up" in both scenarios.


"We're taking these images from our memories and projecting them into novel future scenarios," says psychology professor Karl Szpunar.


Most scientists believed thinking about the future was a process occurring solely in the brain's frontal lobe. But the fMRI data showed a variety of brain areas were activated when subjects dreamt of the future.


"All the regions that we know are important for memory are just as important when we imagine our future," Szpunar says.


Researchers say besides furthering their understanding of the brain -- the findings may help research into amnesia, a curious psychiatric phenomenon. In addition to not being able to remember the past, most people who suffer from amnesia cannot envision or visualize what they'll be doing in the future -- even the next day.


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Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming

Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming | Amazing Science |

The first bionic eye to be approved for patients in the U.S. is getting software upgrades. The FDA-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System from Second Sight Medical Products transmits images from a small, eye-glass-mounted camera wirelessly to a microelectrode array implanted on a patient’s damaged retina. The array sends electrical signals via the optic nerve, and the brain interprets a visual image.

Now, to speed up the development process, Second Sight is working on a software platform called Acuboost that would make updating previously manufactured Argus models as easy as updating your computer’s operating system. This is especially important because the Argus is an implanted device, and installing it inside a patient’s eye requires pretty invasive surgery. So software upgrades would benefit both new patients and patients who already have the device implanted.

The company is currently developing algorithms to improve resolution, image focus and zooming. Their latest software can also automate brightness adjustments and enable color recognition.


Thus far, scientists at Second Sight have been able to produce the perception of multiple colors in the lab by sending different patterns of stimulation to each electrode in the retinal implant. When the Argus camera picks up red or green, that information would be encoded through different patterns of electrical activity, which would be sent to the electrodes in the patient’s eye, creating the perception of color.

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New technology offers 3D images inside colon, pointing toward better colonoscopy

New technology offers 3D images inside colon, pointing toward better colonoscopy | Amazing Science |

MIT researchers have developed a new endoscopy technology that could make it easier for doctors to detect precancerous lesions in the colon. Early detection of such lesions has been shown to reduce death rates from colorectal cancer, which kills about 50,000 people per year in the United States.

The new technique, known as photometric stereo endoscopy, can capture topographical images of the colon surface along with traditional two-dimensional images. Such images make it easier to see precancerous growths, including flatter lesions that traditional endoscopy usually misses, says Nicholas Durr, a research fellow in the Madrid-MIT M+Vision Consortium, a recently formed community of medical researchers in Boston and Madrid.


“In conventional colonoscopy screening, you look for these characteristic large polyps that grow into the lumen of the colon, which are relatively easy to see,” Durr says. “However, a lot of studies in the last few years have shown that more subtle, nonpolypoid lesions can also cause cancer.”


In the United States, colonoscopies are recommended beginning at age 50, and are credited with reducing the risk of death from colorectal cancer by about half. Traditional colonoscopy uses endoscopes with fiber-optic cameras to capture images.

Durr and his colleagues, seeking medical problems that could be solved with new optical technology, realized that there was a need to detect lesions that colonoscopy can miss. A technique called chromoendoscopy, in which a dye is sprayed in the colon to highlight topographical changes, offers better sensitivity but is not routinely used because it takes too long.


“What is attractive about this technique for colonoscopy is that it provides an added dimension of diagnostic information, particularly about three-dimensional morphology on the surface of the colon,” says Nimmi Ramanujam, a professor of biological engineering at Duke University who was not part of the research team.

The researchers built two prototypes — one 35 millimeters in diameter, which would be too large to use for colonoscopy, and one 14 millimeters in diameter, the size of a typical colonoscope. In tests with an artificial silicon colon, the researchers found that both prototypes could create 3-D representations of polyps and flatter lesions. 

The new technology should be easily incorporated into newer endoscopes, Durr says. “A lot of existing colonoscopes already have multiple light sources,” he says. “From a hardware perspective all they need to do is alternate the lights and then update their software to process this photometric data.” 

The researchers plan to test the technology in human patients in clinical trials at MGH and the Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid. They are also working on additional computer algorithms that could help to automate the process of identifying polyps and lesions from the topographical information generated by the new system. 

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New genetic test distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections could stop wrongly prescribed antibiotics

New genetic test distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections could stop wrongly prescribed antibiotics | Amazing Science |

By differentiating between bacterial and viral fevers, a new test may help doctors decide whether to prescribe antibiotics.


Fevers are a common symptom of many infectious diseases, but it can be difficult to tell whether viruses or bacteria are the cause. By measuring gene activity in the blood of 22 sick children, Gregory Storch, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues were able to distinguish bacteria-sparked fevers from ones kindled by viruses. The activity of hundreds of genes changed as the children’s immune systems responded to the pathogens, but the team found that gauging the response of just 18 genes could correctly distinguish between viral and bacterial infections about 90 percent of the time. The gene activity test could also determine, for viral infections, which specific microbes caused the illness, the team reports July 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Storch’s technique isn’t ready for the clinic; for one thing, it takes days to do the assay and doctors need answers much sooner. But Storch says he’s working to develop a test that could be used in hospitals and doctor’s offices.


The research is a step toward improving diagnosis, says Octavio Ramilo, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, who has done similar work. In the future, being able to quickly determine the cause of fevers should help prevent unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, he says. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but do nothing to fight viruses. Improper antibiotic use has been linked to bacterial resistance to the drugs.

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Tissue engineering: Scientists are beginning to engineer hearts by decellularizing donor hearts and using them as a scaffold for stem cells

Tissue engineering: Scientists are beginning to engineer hearts by decellularizing donor hearts and using them as a scaffold for stem cells | Amazing Science |
With thousands of people in need of heart transplants, researchers are trying to grow new organs.


Doris Taylor doesn't take it as an insult when people call her Dr Frankenstein. “It was actually one of the bigger compliments I've gotten,” she says — an affirmation that her research is pushing the boundaries of the possible. Given the nature of her work as director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Taylor has to admit that the comparison is apt. She regularly harvests organs such as hearts and lungs from the newly dead, re-engineers them starting from the cells and attempts to bring them back to life in the hope that they might beat or breathe again in the living.


Taylor is in the vanguard of researchers looking to engineer entire new organs, to enable transplants without the risk of rejection by the recipient's immune system. The strategy is simple enough in principle. First remove all the cells from a dead organ — it does not even have to be from a human — then take the protein scaffold left behind and repopulate it with stem cells immunologically matched to the patient in need. Voilà! The crippling shortage of transplantable organs around the world is solved.


In practice, however, the process is beset with tremendous challenges. Researchers have had some success with growing and transplanting hollow, relatively simple organs such as tracheas and bladders. But growing solid organs such as kidneys or lungs means getting dozens of cell types into exactly the right positions, and simultaneously growing complete networks of blood vessels to keep them alive. The new organs must be sterile, able to grow if the patient is young, and at least nominally able to repair themselves. Most importantly, they have to work — ideally, for a lifetime. The heart is the third most needed organ after the kidney and the liver, with a waiting list of about 3,500 in the United States alone, but it poses extra challenges for transplantation and bioengineering. The heart must beat constantly to pump some 7,000 litres of blood per day without a back-up. It has chambers and valves constructed from several different types of specialized muscle cells called cardiomyocytes. And donor hearts are rare, because they are often damaged by disease or resuscitation efforts, so a steady supply of bioengineered organs would be welcome.

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Researchers Move Closer to Low-Cost, Implantable Electronics

Researchers Move Closer to Low-Cost, Implantable Electronics | Amazing Science |

New technology under development at The Ohio State University is paving the way for low-cost electronic devices that work in direct contact with living tissue inside the body.


The first planned use of the technology is a sensor that will detect the very early stages of organ transplant rejection.


Paul Berger, professor of electrical and computer engineering andphysics at Ohio State, explained that one barrier to the development of implantable sensors is that most existing electronics are based on silicon, and electrolytes in the body interfere with the electrical signals in silicon circuits. Other, more exotic semiconductors might work in the body, but they are more expensive and harder to manufacture.


“Silicon is relatively cheap… it’s non-toxic,” Berger said. “The challenge is to bridge the gap between the affordable, silicon-based electronics we already know how to build, and the electrochemical systems of the human body.”


In tests, silicon circuits that had been coated with the technology continued to function, even after 24 hours of immersion in a solution that mimicked typical body chemistry.


The project began when Berger talked to researchers in Ohio State’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, who wanted to build an insertable sensor to detect the presence of proteins that mark the first signs of organ rejection in the body. They were struggling to make a working protein sensor from gallium nitride.


“We already have sensors that would do a great job at detecting these proteins, but they’re made out of silicon. So I wondered if we could come up with a coating that would protect silicon and allow it to function while it directly touched blood, bodily fluids or living tissue,” Berger said.

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Device allows visually impaired to read and move around freely

Device allows visually impaired to read and move around freely | Amazing Science |
A company has developed a camera-based system intended to give the visually impaired the ability to both “read” easily and move freely.


Liat Negrin, an Israeli who has been visually impaired since childhood, walked into a grocery store here recently, picked up a can of vegetables and easily read its label using a simple and unobtrusive camera attached to her glasses. Ms. Negrin, who has coloboma, a birth defect that perforates a structure of the eye and afflicts about 1 in 10,000 people, is an employee at OrCam, an Israeli start-up that has developed a camera-based system intended to give the visually impaired the ability to both “read” easily and move freely.

Until now reading aids for the visually impaired and the blind have been cumbersome devices that recognize text in restricted environments, or, more recently, have been software applications on smartphones that have limited capabilities.


In contrast, the OrCam device is a small camera worn in the style of Google Glass, connected by a thin cable to a portable computer designed to fit in the wearer’s pocket. The system clips on to the wearer’s glasses with a small magnet and uses a bone-conduction speaker to offer clear speech as it reads aloud the words or object pointed to by the user.

The system is designed to both recognize and speak “text in the wild,” a term used to describe newspaper articles as well as bus numbers, and objects as diverse as landmarks, traffic lights and the faces of friends.

It currently recognizes English-language text and beginning this week will be sold through the company’s Web site for $2,500, about the cost of a midrange hearing aid. It is the only product, so far, of the privately held company, which is part of the high-tech boom in Israel.


The device is quite different from other technology that has been developed to give some vision to people who are blind, like the artificial retina system called Argus II, made by Second Sight Medical Products. That system, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February, allows visual signals to bypass a damaged retina and be transmitted to the brain.

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RNA Interference: Nanocoatings on bandages could deliver RNAs to shut off disease-related genes

RNA Interference: Nanocoatings on bandages could deliver RNAs to shut off disease-related genes | Amazing Science |

Medical researchers think specially tailored RNA sequences could turn off genes in patients’ cells to encourage wound healing or to kill tumor cells. Now researchers have developed a nanocoating for bandages that could deliver these fragile gene-silencing RNAs right where they’re needed (ACS Nano 2013, DOI:10.1021/nn401011n). The team hopes to produce a bandage that shuts down genes standing in the way of healing in chronic wounds.


Small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, derail expression of specific genes in cells by binding to other RNA molecules that contain the code for those genes. Biologists have developed siRNAs that target disease-related genes. But for these siRNAs to reach the clinic, researchers must find a way to deliver the molecules safely to the right cells. Unfortunately, free oligonucleotides like siRNAs don’t fare well inside the body or cells as enzymes and acids quickly chop them up, says Paula T. Hammond, a chemical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Other groups have tackled this delivery challenge by attaching siRNAs to chemical carriers that protect the oligonucleotides as they travel through the bloodstream. The pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis asked Hammond to design a vehicle that would work at the site of a wound or tumor, releasing the siRNAs over a long period of time. The company hoped that putting the biomolecules right where they’re needed, without them having to survive a trip through the bloodstream, would increase the efficacy of the treatment.


Hammond and her colleagues produced an siRNA-containing nanocoating that could be applied to a wide range of medical materials, such as bandages or biodegradable polymers doctors could implant during surgery to prevent an excised tumor from coming back. As the coating slowly dissolves, it releases siRNA molecules tethered to protective nanoparticles.


The thin films consist of two different materials: a peptide called protamine sulfate and calcium phosphate nanoparticles decorated with the therapeutic siRNAs. Other researchers have shown that similar nanoparticles help the nucleotides evade destruction once they’re taken up by cells (J. Controlled Release 2010, DOI: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2009.11.008).


The team alternately dips whatever they want to coat in water solutions of the two materials. The RNA and nanoparticles are negatively charged, and the peptides are positively charged. The two substances cling together due to electrostatic force, producing a film when the water dries.


To test their delivery method, the researchers coated woven nylon bandages with 80-nm-thick films and applied the bandages to layers of human and animal cells in culture. In one experiment, a bandage loaded with 19 µg of siRNA per square centimeter released two-thirds of its load over 10 days. Other bandages made using siRNAs targeting the gene for fluorescent green protein almost completely shut down the protein’s production in cells expressing the gene. Hammond says the group is now testing bandages that knock down MMP9, a collagen-destroying protein associated with slow healing in chronic wounds.

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3D ultrasound hologram printing service of unborn fetuses using Pioneer's compact holographic printer

A Japanese company, Pioneer, has unveiled a service that creates 3D holograms of unborn fetuses. Ultrasound photos - sooo old school from last century! Make way for hologram-babies. The service uses data gathered during a routine pregnancy checkup. The information from an echogram is used to create a 3D digital model of the baby on a computer. That digital model is then printed using Pioneer's compact hologram printer, first developed end of 2012. Within two hours, you have a stunning, but slightly creepy, multi-colored 3D image that lets you see your child from a range of angles.


Holograms are recordings of "light fields", the sum of the scattered light reflecting off a surface in a range of directions. (As opposed to an ordinary photograph, which captures only the light scattered in one direction). By capturing the light from a range of directions, the "light field", the hologram allows a 3D recreation of the original object. Creating a hologram from scratch is a straightforward but tricky process. (See our "How To" here). But the printer developed by Pioneer bypasses all of that, at least as far as you're concerned.


"Previously, holograms were produced by making a model of the subject, shining two lights on the model, and photographing it. That method involved a lot of work, because it required a darkroom, knowledge of techniques, and specialized equipment," said a spokesperson for Pioneer. "But with the device we've developed, even if you don't have the actual object, as long as you have a CG design, then that can be used to record a hologram easily."


Advances in holographic technology have seen holograms invade various areas of modern life. Researchers at Cambridge are investigating the security applications of holograms embedded in carbon nanotubes; it has been suggested that infrared holographic images could aid firefighters; and in 2012, Coachella festival in California featured a performance from a holographic Tupac -- though it wasn't a "hologram"in the strictest sense of the word.

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