Posts belonging to Category Computational chemistry



Startups Produce Beef, Chicken, And Duck From Animal Cells

Alternative or “clean” meat startup Memphis Meats announced Wednesday morning that it has completed a $17 million Series A fundraising round. The company has now raised $22 million to date.

The round was led by venture capital firm DFJ. Cargill, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson also invested, as did European venture capital fund Atomico, New Crop Capital, SOSV, Fifty Years, KBW Ventures, Inevitable Ventures, Suzy Welch, Kyle Vogt, and Kimbal Musk. Several research institutions also joined the round.

Memphis Meats has yet to commercialize a product but has produced beef, chicken, and duck from animal cells. The company grows meat in tanks by feeding oxygen, sugar, and other nutrients to living animal cells.

 

In addition to the bold-faced names who have lent their support and dollars to the company, the round was significant for its inclusion of Cargill. While other parts of the food industry, such as dairy, have resisted the mainstreaming of animal product alternatives like almond milk, the move by Cargill shows the meat sector may be taking a different approach. Tyson, for example, has also invested in the sector, backing plant-based meat company Beyond Meat.

Source: http://fortune.com/

How To Fight Against Resistant SuperBugs

British biopharma firm Helperby Therapeutics, a spin-out drug discovery company from St George’s University of London, has developed a novel answer to the clear and present danger of antimicrobial resistanceAntibiotic Resistance Breakers (ARBs). Doctors increasingly rely on last resort antibiotics such as carbapenems and colistin, but as harmful bacteria continue to mutate, this final line of resistance will eventually failHelperby’s solution to this critical problem, and ground-breaking innovation, is Antibiotic Resistance Breakers – novel technology that rejuvenates existing antibiotics into long-term effective combination therapies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the immediate threat from three critical priority pathogens for which there is currently limited antibiotic protection:

  • CRE (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae)
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa(Carbapenem-resistant)
  • Acinetobacter (Carbapenem-resistant)

The most dangerous bacteria are CRE, causing severe and often fatal infections such as septicemia and pneumonia.CRE has spread from Asia into Europe and the USA, is epidemic and doubles every two years. 

Helperby’s Antibiotic Resistance Breakers rejuvenate existing antibiotics, enabling them to puncture the tough cell wall of CRE and other evolving superbugs to allow existing last-resort antibiotics to effectively do their work. The ARB rejuvenation process can be performed repeatedly on different combinations of existing antibiotics to outsmart resistance.

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New classes of antibiotics are difficult to develop, and none have been marketed for over 30 years,” said Prof Anthony Coates, chief scientific officer of Helperby Therapeutics. “It is therefore imperative we keep existing antibiotics working. We are one of only six companies in the world that have new antibiotics in clinical development which are potentially effective against all three of WHO’s critical priority pathogens,” he added.

ARBs are novel, effective and transferable, potentially producing many variants of new antibiotic combination. One ARB can be applied to multiple different classes of antibiotics, reducing the size, time and resource in Phase III clinical trials normally required for new chemical entities.

Source: https://www.thepharmaletter.com/

Simple Blood Test To Detect Eight Types Of Cancer

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer.

The test, called CancerSEEK, is a unique noninvasive, multianalyte test that simultaneously evaluates levels of eight cancer proteins and the presence of cancer gene mutations from circulating DNA in the blood. The test is aimed at screening for eight common cancer types that account for more than 60 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. Five of the cancers covered by the test currently have no screening test.

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The use of a combination of selected biomarkers for early detection has the potential to change the way we screen for cancer, and it is based on the same rationale for using combinations of drugs to treat cancers,” says Nickolas Papadopoulos, Ph.D., senior author and professor of oncology and pathology.

Circulating tumor DNA mutations can be highly specific markers for cancer. To capitalize on this inherent specificity, we sought to develop a small yet robust panel that could detect at least one mutation in the vast majority of cancers,” adds Joshua Cohen, an M.D.-Ph.D. student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the paper’s first author. “In fact, keeping the mutation panel small is essential to minimize false-positive results and keep such screening tests affordable.”

The findings were published online by Science.

Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/

How To Detect Alzheimer’s 30 years In Advance

Scientists from Japan and Australia have teamed up to develop and validate a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease, with the potential to massively ramp up the pace of Alzheimer’s disease drug trials. The blood test measures a specific peptide in the blood to inform scientists, with 90 per cent accuracy, if a patient has the very earliest stages of Alzheimer’s diseaseBlood samples from patients in a large study from the Japanese National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG) were initially analysed to identify the relevant peptides. Those indicating brain beta-amyloid burden were then tested against patient samples from the Australian Imaging, Biomarker and Lifestyle Study of Aging (AIBL), to validate the results.

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Our study demonstrates the high accuracy, reliability and reproducibility of this blood test, as it was successfully validated in two independent large datasets from Japan and Australia.” says Professor Katsuhiko Yanagisawa, Director-general of Research Institute at NCGG.

Dr Koichi Tanaka at Shimadzu Corporation was instrumental in developing the initial blood testing procedure. Professor Tanaka won the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 2002 for the technique. “From a tiny blood sample, our method can measure several amyloid-related proteins, even though their concentration is extremely low. We found that the ratio of these proteins was an accurate surrogate for brain amyloid burden.”

One of the essential hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is buildup of abnormal peptide in the brain, called beta-amyloid. The process starts silently about 30 years before outward signs of dementia, like memory loss or cognitive decline, have begun.

Current tests for beta-amyloid include brain scans with costly radioactive tracers, or analysing spinal fluid taken via a lumbar puncture. These are expensive and invasive, and generally only available in a research setting. A diagnosis is usually made without these tools, by assessing a patient’s range of symptoms.

Laureate Professor Colin Masters of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and The University of Melbourne, has been at the forefront of Alzheimer’s research since the 1980s. Professor Masters, who co-led the research published in the latest issue of Nature, comments: “This new test has the potential to eventually disrupt the expensive and invasive scanning and spinal fluid technologies. In the first instance, however, it will be an invaluable tool in increasing the speed of screening potential patients for new drug trials.

Source: https://www.florey.edu.au/

TriboElectricity, The Green Energy Source

Researchers from Clemson’s Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) are one step closer to wirelessly powering the world using triboelectricity, a green energy source. In March 2017, a group of physicists at CNI invented the ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerator or U-TENG, a small device made of plastic and tape that generates electricity from motion and vibrations. When the two materials are brought together — through such actions as clapping the hands or tapping feet — they generate voltage that is detected by a wired, external circuit. Electrical energy, by way of the circuit, is then stored in a capacitor or a battery until it’s needed.

Nine months later, in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, the researchers reported that they had created a wireless TENG, called the W-TENG, which greatly expands the applications of the technology. The W-TENG was engineered under the same premise as the U-TENG using materials that are so opposite in their affinity for electrons that they generate a voltage when brought in contact with each other.

In the W-TENG, plastic was swapped for a multipart fiber made of graphene — a single layer of graphite, or pencil lead — and a biodegradable polymer known as polylactic acid (PLA). PLA on its own is great for separating positive and negative charges, but not so great at conducting electricity, which is why the researchers paired it with graphene. Kapton tape, the electron-grabbing material of the U-TENG, was replaced with Teflon, a compound known for coating nonstick cooking pans.

After assembling the graphene-PLA fiber, the researchers pulled it into a 3-D printer and the W-TENG was born. The end result is a device that generates a maximum of 3,000 volts — enough to power 25 standard electrical outlets or, on a grander scale, smart-tinted windows or a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor. Because the voltage is so high, the W-TENG generates an electric field around itself that can be sensed wirelessly. Its electrical energy, too, can be stored wirelessly in capacitors and batteries.

It cannot only give you energy, but you can use the electric field also as an actuated remote. For example, you can tap the W-TENG and use its electric field as a ‘button’ to open your garage door, or you could activate a security system — all without a battery, passively and wirelessly,” said Sai Sunil Mallineni, the first author of the study and a Ph.D. student in physics and astronomy.

Source: http://newsstand.clemson.edu
/

Hydrogen Economy Closer

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have found a way to more efficiently generate hydrogen from water — an important key to making clean energy more viable. Using inexpensive nickel and iron, the researchers developed a very simple, five-minute method to create large amounts of a high-quality catalyst required for the chemical reaction to split water.

Energy conversion and storage is a key to the clean energy economy. Because solar and wind sources produce power only intermittently, there is a critical need for ways to store and save the electricity they create. One of the most promising ideas for storing renewable energy is to use the excess electricity generated from renewables to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen has myriad uses in industry and could be used to power hydrogen fuel-cell carsIndustries have not widely used the water splitting process, however, because of the prohibitive cost of the precious metal catalysts that are required – usually platinum or ruthenium. Many of the methods to split water also require too much energy, or the required catalyst materials break down too quickly.

In their work, the researchers, led by professor Yuehe Lin in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, used two abundantly available and cheap metals to create a porous nanofoam that worked better than most catalysts that currently are used, including those made from the precious metals. The catalyst they created looks like a tiny sponge. With its unique atomic structure and many exposed surfaces throughout the material, the nanofoam can catalyze the important reaction with less energy than other catalysts. The catalyst showed very little loss in activity in a 12-hour stability test.

We took a very simple approach that could be used easily in large-scale production,” said Shaofang Fu, a WSU Ph.D. student who synthesized the catalyst and did most of the activity testing. “The advanced materials characterization facility at the national laboratories provided the deep understanding of the composition and structures of the catalysts,” comments Junhua Song, another WSU Ph.D. student who worked on the catalyst characterization.

The findings are described in the journal Nano Energy.

Source: https://news.wsu.edu/

Monkeys Have Been Cloned, Humans Could Be Next

Chinese scientists have cloned monkeys using the same technique that produced Dolly the Sheep two decades ago, breaking a technical barrier that could open the door to copying humans.  Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, two identical long-tailed macaques, were born eight and six weeks ago, making them the first primates — the order of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and humans — to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell.

It was achieved through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves transferring the nucleus of a cell, which includes its DNA, into an egg which has had its nucleus removed. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai said their work should be a boon to medical research by making it possible to study diseases in populations of genetically uniform monkeys. But it also brings the feasibility of cloning to the doorstep of our own species.

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Humans are primates. So [for] the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken,” said Muming Poo, who helped supervise the program at the institute.

“The reason … we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, for human health.

Genetically identical animals are useful in research because confounding factors caused by genetic variability in non-cloned animals can complicate experiments. They could be used to test new drugs for a range of diseases before clinical use. The two newborns are now being bottle-fed and are growing normally.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/

Universal Vaccine Against Influenza A Viruses

Researchers have developed a universal vaccine to combat influenza A viruses that produces long-lasting immunity in mice and protects them against the limitations of seasonal flu vaccines, according to a study led by Georgia State UniversityInfluenza, a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs, is among the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates influenza has resulted in between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually in the U.S. since 2010. Seasonal flu vaccines must be updated each year to match the influenza viruses that are predicted to be most common during the upcoming flu season, but protection doesn’t always meet expectations or new viruses emerge and manufacturers incorrectly guess which viruses will end up spreading. In 2009, the H1N1 pandemic caused 200,000 deaths during the first 12 months, and low vaccine effectiveness was also observed during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 flu seasons. A universal flu vaccine that offers broad protection against various viruses is urgently needed and would eliminate the limitations of seasonal flu vaccines.

Seasonal flu vaccines provide protective immunity against influenza viruses by targeting the exterior head of the virus’s surface protein, which is hem
agglutinin
(HA). The influenza virus trains the body to produce antibodies against inactivated virus particles containing the head of this protein, ideally preventing the head from attaching to receptors and stopping infection. However, the head is highly variable and is different for each virus, creating a need for better vaccines. This study uses a new approach and instead targets the inside portion of the HA protein known as the stalk, which is more conservative and offers the opportunity for universal protection.

In this study, the researchers found vaccinating mice with double-layered protein nanoparticles that target the stalk of this protein produces long-lasting immunity and fully protects them against various influenza A viruses. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: http://news.gsu.edu/

Artificial Synapse For “Brain-on-a-Chip”

When it comes to processing power, the human brain just can’t be beat. Packed within the squishy, football-sized organ are somewhere around 100 billion neurons. At any given moment, a single neuron can relay instructions to thousands of other neurons via synapses — the spaces between neurons, across which neurotransmitters are exchanged. There are more than 100 trillion synapses that mediate neuron signaling in the brain, strengthening some connections while pruning others, in a process that enables the brain to recognize patterns, remember facts, and carry out other learning tasks, at lightning speeds.

Researchers in the emerging field of “neuromorphic computing” have attempted to design computer chips that work like the human brain. Instead of carrying out computations based on binary, on/off signaling, like digital chips do today, the elements of a “brain on a chip” would work in an analog fashion, exchanging a gradient of signals, or “weights,” much like neurons that activate in various ways depending on the type and number of ions that flow across a synapse.

In this way, small neuromorphic chips could, like the brain, efficiently process millions of streams of parallel computations that are currently only possible with large banks of supercomputers. But one significant hangup on the way to such portable artificial intelligence has been the neural synapse, which has been particularly tricky to reproduce in hardware.

Now engineers at MIT have designed an artificial synapse in such a way that they can precisely control the strength of an electric current flowing across it, similar to the way ions flow between neurons. The team has built a small chip with artificial synapses, made from silicon germanium. In simulations, the researchers found that the chip and its synapses could be used to recognize samples of handwriting, with 95 percent accuracy.

The design, published today in the journal Nature Materials, is a major step toward building portable, low-power neuromorphic chips for use in pattern recognition and other learning tasks.

Source: http://news.mit.edu/

AI Improves Heart Disease Diagnosis

Researchers from the University of Oxford are using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve diagnostic accuracy for heart disease. The team hope to roll out the system across the NHS later this year, helping to improve patient outcomes and saving millions is misdiagnoses. The research, led by Prof Paul Leeson and RDM DPhil student Ross Upton (Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility), took place in the Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust and is the basis of spin-out company Ultromics.

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Thousands of people every year have an echocardiogram – a type of heart scan – after visiting hospital suffering with chest pain. Clinicians currently assess these scans by eye, taking into account many features that could indicate whether someone has heart disease and if they are likely to go on to have a heart attack. But even the most well trained cardiologist can misdiagnose patients. Currently, 1 in 5 scans are misdiagnosed each year – the equivalent to 12,000 patients. This means that people are either not being treated to prevent a heart attack, or they are undergoing unnecessary operations to stave off a heart attack they won’t have.

The new system uses machine learning – a form of artificial intelligence – to tap into the rich information provided in an echocardiogram. Using the new system, AI can detect 80,000 subtle changes inviable to the naked eye, improving the accuracy of diagnosis to 90%. The machine learning system was trained using scans from previous patients, alongside data about whether they went on to have a heart attack. The team hope that the improved diagnostic accuracy will not only improve patient care and outcomes, but save the NHS £300million a year in avoidable operations and treatment.  So far the system has been trialled in six cardiology units in the UK. Further implementation of the technology is now being led by Ultromics – a spin-out company co-founded by Ross Upton and Paul Leeson (Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility). The software will be made available for free throughout the NHS later this year.

Source: https://www.rdm.ox.ac.uk/

Solar-driven Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen as a fuel source, rather than hydrocarbons like oil and coal, offers many benefits. Burning hydrogen produces harmless water with the potential to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and their environmental burden. In pursuit of technologies that could lead to a breakthrough in achieving a hydrogen economy, a key issue is making hydrogen cheaply. Using catalysts to split water is the ideal way to generate hydrogen, but doing so usually requires an energy input from other chemicals, electricity, or a portion of sunlight which has high enough energy.

Now researchers at Osaka University have developed a new catalytic system for efficiently splitting water and making hydrogen with energy from normal sunlight. Their study was recently reported in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

It has not been possible to use visible light for photocatalysis, but our approach of combining nanostructured black phosphorus for water reduction to hydrogen and bismuth vanadate for water oxidation to oxygen lets us make use of a wide range of the solar spectrum to make hydrogen and oxygen with unprecedented efficiency,” lead author Mingshan Zhu says.

Black phosphorus has a flat, two-dimensional structure similar to that of graphene and strongly absorbs light across the whole of the visible spectrum. The researchers combined the black phosphorus with bismuth vanadate, which is a well-known water oxidation catalyst.

In the same way that plants shuttle electrons between different structures in natural photosynthesis to split water and make oxygen, the two components of this new catalyst could rapidly transfer electrons excited by sunlight. The amounts of the two components was also optimized in the catalyst, leading to production of hydrogen and oxygen gases in an ideal 2:1 ratio.

Source: http://resou.osaka-u.ac.jp/

Thin And Highly Insulating Walls Lower Heating Costs

Better thermal insulation means lower heating costs – but this should not be at the expense of exciting architecture. A new type of brick filled with aerogel could make thin and highly insulating walls possible in the future – without any additional insulation layer.

The calculation is simple: the better a building is insulated, the less heat is lost in winter – and the less energy is needed to achieve a comfortable room temperature. No wonder, then, that the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) regularly raises the requirements for building insulation.

In order to achieve the same insulation values as a 165 mm thick wall of aerobricks, a wall of perlite bricks must be 263 mm thick – and a wall of non-insulating bricks even more than one meter!

Traditionally, the insulating layers are applied to the finished walls. Increasingly, however, self-insulating bricks are being used – saving both work steps and costs and opening up new architectural possibilities. Insulating bricks offer a workable compromise between mechanical and thermal properties and are also suited for multi-storey buildings. They are already available on the market in numerous models: some have multiple air-filled chambers, others have larger cavities filled with insulating materials such as pearlite, mineral wool or polystyrene. Their thermal conductivity values differ depending on the structure and filling material. In order to reach the insulation values of walls with seperate insulating layers, the insulating bricks are usually considerably thicker than normal bricks.

Empa researchers have now replaced Perlite in insulating bricks with Aerogel: a highly porous solid with very high thermal insulation properties that can withstand temperatures of up to 300°C (see box). It is not a novel material for the researchers: they have already used it to develop a high-performance insulating plaster which, among other things, allows historical buildings to be renovated energetically without affecting their appearance.

Together with his colleagues, Empa researcher Jannis Wernery from the research department «Building Energy Materials and Components» has developed a paste-like mixture of aerogel particles to be used as filler material for the brick. «The material can easily be filled into the cavities and then joins with the clay of the bricks», says Wernery. «The aerogel stays in the bricks – you can work with them as usual.» The «Aerobrick» was born.

Source: https://www.empa.ch/