Posts belonging to Category Life extension

How To Mimic Neural Tissue

U.S. Army-funded researchers at Brandeis University have discovered a process for engineering next-generation soft materials with embedded chemical networks that mimic the behavior of neural tissue. The breakthrough material may lead to autonomous soft robotics, dual sensors and actuators for soft exoskeletons, or artificial skins.

The research lays the foundations for futuristic soft active matter with highly distributed and tightly integrated sensing, actuation, computation and control, said Dr. Samuel Stanton, manager of the Complex and Dynamics Systems Program within the Engineering Sciences Directorate at the Army Research Office (ARO) , an element of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, located at Research Triangle Park in Durham, North Carolina.

ARO funds research to initiate scientific and far-reaching technological discoveries in extramural organizations, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and private industry that may make future American Soldiers stronger and safer.

The research team, led by Professor of Physics Dr. Seth Fraden of Brandeis University, drew inspiration from the mesmerizing sinuous motion of a swimming blue eel and puzzlingly large gap between how natural systems move and the lack of such coordinated and smooth movement in artificial systems.

New breakthrough material could lead to future autonomous soft robotics, dual sensors and actuators for soft exoskeletons, or artificial skins.

Our research interests lie squarely in the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology and materials science,” Fraden said. “Our lab is interdisciplinary, but we are also involved in several multi-investigator projects.

Fraden’s work sought to answer key questions, such as why is there such a void between the animate and inanimate that we never confuse the two, and if engineers could create materials with similar attributes to living organisms, but constructed from inanimate objects, can we do so using only chemicals and eschew use of motors and electronics? Looking deeper, Fraden studied how a type of neural network present in the eel, named the Central Pattern Generator (CPG), produces waves of chemical pulses that propagate down the eel’s spine to rhythmically drive swimming muscles.

Fraden’s lab approached the challenge of engineering a material mimicking the generator by first constructing a control device that produces the same neural activation patterns biologists have observed. There, they created a control system that runs on chemical power, as is done in biology, without resorting to any computer or electromechanical devices, which are the hallmarks of manmade, hard robotic technology.

A breakthrough was made when Fraden and his team realized that the same CPG dynamics could be captured on a non-biological platform if they used a well-known oscillating chemical process known as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction. The lab developed state-of-the-art fabrication techniques for soft materials engineering artificial chemical networks at the nanoscale that, altogether, would be capable of producing a wide variety of patterns. Their resulting robust chemical networks produced distributed dynamic patterns identical to the eel’s Central Pattern Generator.

Fraden noted that “the engineering principles they identified are general and can be applied to design a whole range of other Central Pattern Generators, such as those responsible for other autonomous functions, such as the gait of a horse, for example, walk, canter, trot and gallop.”


How To Detect Molecular Biomarker for Osteoarthritis

For the first time, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have been able to measure a specific molecule indicative of osteoarthritis and a number of other inflammatory diseases using a newly developed technology.  This preclinical study used a solid-state nanopore sensor as a tool for the analysis of hyaluronic acid (HA). HA is a naturally occurring molecule that is involved in tissue hydration, inflammation and joint lubrication in the body. The abundance and size distribution of HA in biological fluids is recognized as an indicator of inflammation, leading to osteoarthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases. It can also serve as an indicator of how far the disease has progressed.

Our results established a new, quantitative method for the assessment of a significant molecular biomarker that bridges a gap in the conventional technology,” said lead author Adam R. Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist. “The sensitivity, speed and small sample requirements of this approach make it attractive as the basis for a powerful analytic tool with distinct advantages over current assessment technologies.”

The most widely used method is gel electrophoresis, which is slow, messy, semi-quantitative, and requires a lot of starting material, Hall said. Other technologies include mass spectrometry and size-exclusion chromatography, which are expensive and limited in range, and multi-angle light scattering, which is non-quantitative and has limited precision.

The study, which is published in the current issue of Nature Communications, was led by Hall and Elaheh Rahbar, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist, and conducted in collaboration with scientists at Cornell University and the University of Oklahoma.


Sniffing Device Smells 17 Diseases On A Person’s Breath

Israeli scientists have told an audience of peers in London how they have developed a “cancer-sniffing nose” using nanotechnology to detect the disease early.The electronicnose’ he developed can smell 17 diseases on a person’s breath, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, tuberculous, diabetes and lung cancer. The non-intrusive medical device, which works by identifying as disease’s bio-markers, has attracted the attention of billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation focuses on the diagnostics of diseases.

Every disease has a unique signature – a ‘breath print,’” Hossam Haick, an Israeli researcher, explained. “The challenge is to bring the best science we have proven into reality by developing a smaller device that captures all the components of a disease appearing in the breath.”

Professor Hossam  Haick works at the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion in Israel and is an expert in the field of nanotechnology and non-invasive disease diagnosis.

The University said the latest advances in his research mean that it has the potential to identify diseases though sensors in mobile phones and wearable technology, and with more analysis and data it may even be able to predict cancer in the future.


Sneakers Made From Recycled Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Since carbon capture technologies became feasible and affordable, scientists and environmentalists have been working to figure out what to do with all that carbon dioxide. Now it seems that CO2 has been turned into a product, by optimistic scientists who have managed to focus on turning a bio product into something useful. Introducing the first athletic shoe that uses recaptured CO2 as a building block. This short video, brings to our attention to a pair of sneakers that have been designed without a foot print. Created by energy company NRG, the sneakers, first introduced at New York Fashion Week, have been made entirely out of recycled carbon dioxide.  Not for sale, these ordinary white sneakers are amazingly 75 percent gaseous waste captured from power plants and turned into a polymer.


Shoes serve functional purposes; they serve fashion purposes. And shoes are relatable and produced on a massive scale. That relates to our end goal in solving for carbon emissionsreuse carbon emissions in viable, everyday products that can be scaled for larger applications,” explains  Gin Kinney, vice president of NRG Business Solutions.


Polymer Nanoparticle Locates And Treats Breast Tumors

One major problem in treating cancer is identifying the location of small tumors and treating them before they metastasize.

In an effort to overcome that problem, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a fluorescing nanoparticle capable of finding tumors, lighting up upon arrival and being activated with light to generate heat to destroy the cancer cells.

A study in which these nanoparticlesHybrid Donor-Acceptor Polymer Particles, or H-DAPPs – successfully located and killed breast cancer skills in mice is published in the current issue of the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

An unexpected result was how efficiently the nanoparticles localized to the tumors without any targeting agent,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole Levi-Polyachenko, Ph.D., associate professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist. “Achieving high enough levels of H-DAPPs within the tumor to allow it to be seen provides an advantage for knowing exactly where light should be applied to generate heat and kill the cancer cells.

Other investigators have developed nanoparticles to detect tumors or carry drugs, and Levi-Polyachenko’s team has created polymers that strongly absorb infrared light and generate heat. Regarding the new nanoparticle, she said, “It was exciting to figure out the step for combining a heat-generating polymer with a light-emitting polymer to allow for detection and on-demand heat treatment.

H-DAPPs are made of electrically conductive polymers and are smaller than 100 nanometers (0.00000393701 of an inch) in diameter. Their small size and soft composition makes it easy for them to travel through the bloodstream to the tumor.

There is much more research needed to ensure that H-DAPPs can safely be used in humans,” Levi-Polyachenko said. “But we are enthusiastic about exploring the use of H-DAPPs with other cancer types and eventually in patients.


Graphene Brain Implant Turns Thoughts Into Speech

More than 5 million people worldwide suffer annually from aphasia, an extremely invalidating condition in which patients lose the ability to comprehend and formulate language after brain damage or in the course of neurodegenerative disorders. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), enabled by forefront technologies and materials, are a promising approach to treat patients with aphasia. The principle of BCIs is to collect neural activity at its source and decode it by means of electrodes implanted directly in the brain. However, neurorehabilitation of higher cognitive functions such as language raises serious issues. The current challenge is to design neural implants that cover sufficiently large areas of the brain to allow for reliable decoding of detailed neuronal activity distributed in various brain regions that are key for language processing.


BrainCom is a FET Proactive project funded by the European Commission with 8.35M€ for the next 5 years. This interdisciplinary initiative involves 10 partners including technologists, engineers, biologists, clinicians, and ethics experts. They aim to develop a new generation of neuroprosthetic cortical devices enabling large-scale recordings and stimulation of cortical activity to study high level cognitive functions. Ultimately, the BraimCom project will seed a novel line of knowledge and technologies aimed at developing the future generation of speech neural prostheses. It will cover different levels of the value chain: from technology and engineering to basic and language neuroscience, and from preclinical research in animals to clinical studies in humans.

This recently funded project is coordinated by ICREA Prof. Jose A. Garrido, Group Leader of the Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – ICN2) and deputy leader of the Biomedical Technologies Work Package presented last year in Barcelona by the Graphene Flagship. The BrainCom Kick-Off meeting is held on January 12-13 at ICN2 and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

Recent developments show that it is possible to record cortical signals from a small region of the motor cortex and decode them to allow tetraplegic people to activate a robotic arm to perform everyday life actions. Brain-computer interfaces have also been successfully used to help tetraplegic patients unable to speak to communicate their thoughts by selecting letters on a computer screen using non-invasive electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. The performance of such technologies can be dramatically increased using more detailed cortical neural information.

BrainCom project proposes a radically new electrocorticography technology taking advantage of unique mechanical and electrical properties of novel nanomaterials such as graphene, 2D materials and organic semiconductors.  The consortium members will fabricate ultra-flexible cortical and intracortical implants, which will be placed right on the surface of the brain, enabling high density recording and stimulation sites over a large area. This approach will allow the parallel stimulation and decoding of cortical activity with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.

These technologies will help to advance the basic understanding of cortical speech networks and to develop rehabilitation solutions to restore speech using innovative brain-computer paradigms. The technology innovations developed in the project will also find applications in the study of other high cognitive functions of the brain such as learning and memory, as well as other clinical applications such as epilepsy monitoring.


New ‘Recipe’ To Produce Easily Nanoparticles

In a rare move, a Houston Methodist researcher is sharing his recipe for a new, more affordable way to make nanoparticles. This will empower any laboratory in the world to easily create similar nanoparticles and could lead to a whole new way of delivering biotherapeutic drugs and do it more quickly.

We’re the only lab in the world doing this,” said Ennio Tasciotti, Ph.D., director of the Center for Biomimetic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and corresponding author on a paper published in Advanced Materials. “There are several questions about how our system works, and I can’t answer all of them. By giving away the so-called ‘recipe’ to make biomimetic nanoparticles, a lot of other labs will be able to enter this field and may provide additional solutions and applications that are beyond the reach of only one laboratory. You could say it’s the democratization of nanotechnology.

In the article, Tasciotti and his colleagues show how to standardize nanoparticle production to guarantee stability and reproducibility, while increasing yield. Eliminating the need for multi-million-dollar facilities, Tasciotti and his team demonstrate this using a readily available and relatively affordable piece of benchtop equipment to manufacture nanoparticles in a controlled, adjustable and low-cost manner.

Nanoparticles are generally made through cryptic protocols, and it’s very often impossible to consistently or affordably reproduce them,” Tasciotti added. “You usually need special, custom-made equipment or procedures that are available to only a few laboratories. We provide step-by-step instructions so that now everybody can do it.”


Effective Insertion Of DNA Molecules Into Cells For Gene Therapies

For years, researchers have attempted to harness the full potential of gene therapy, a technique that inserts genes into a patient’s cells to treat aggressive diseases such as cancer. But getting engineered DNA molecules into cells is not an easy task.

J. Mark Meacham, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science at Washington University in St. Louis, leads a team of researchers that has developed a method enabling effective insertion of large molecules — such as DNA, RNA and proteins into cells and propels them into the cell nucleus. By combining a technique known as Acoustic Shear Poration (ASP) with electrophoresis, the approach uses ultrasound waves and focused mechanical force to create nanoscale holes, or pores, in the cell membrane that are big enough for large macromolecules or nanoparticles to pass into the cell’s interior.

Operation of the acoustic shear poration (ASP) device in Meacham’s lab

The researchers wrote that so far, ASP has achieved greater than 75 percent delivery efficiency of macromolecules. DNA insertion, or transfection, which is of most interest in gene therapy, is significantly more challenging. Yet the combined application of mechanical and electrical forces pioneered by Meacham and colleagues yields roughly 100 percent improvement in transfection versus pure mechanoporation. Results of the research are published in Scientific Reports.


Electronics: Printing of flexible, stretchable silver nanowire circuits

Researchers at North Carolina State University ( NC State) have developed a new technique that allows them to print circuits on flexible, stretchable substrates using silver nanowires. The advance makes it possible to integrate the material into a wide array of electronic devices.

Silver nanowires have drawn significant interest in recent years for use in many applications, ranging from prosthetic devices to wearable health sensors, due to their flexibility, stretchability and conductive properties. While proof-of-concept experiments have been promising, there have been significant challenges to printing highly integrated circuits using silver nanowires. Silver nanoparticles can be used to print circuits, but the nanoparticles produce circuits that are more brittle and less conductive than silver nanowires. But conventional techniques for printing circuits don’t work well with silver nanowires; the nanowires often clog the printing nozzles.

Our approach uses electrohydrodynamic printing, which relies on electrostatic force to eject the ink from the nozzle and draw it to the appropriate site on the substrate,” says Jingyan Dong, co-corresponding author of a paper on the work and an associate professor in NC State’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering. “This approach allows us to use a very wide nozzle – which prevents clogging – while retaining very fine printing resolution.” “And because our ‘ink’ consists of a solvent containing silver nanowires that are typically more than 20 micrometers long, the resulting circuits have the desired conductivity, flexibility and stretchability,” says Yong Zhu, a professor of mechanical engineering at NC State and co-corresponding author of the paper.

In addition, the solvent we use is both nontoxic and water-soluble,” says Zheng Cui, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. “Once the circuit is printed, the solvent can simply be washed off.” What’s more, the size of the printing area is limited only by the size of the printer, meaning the technique could be easily scaled up.

The researchers have used the new technique to create prototypes that make use of the silver nanowire circuits, including a glove with an internal heater and a wearable electrode for use in electrocardiography. NC State has filed a provisional patent on the technique.


Magnet-based Drug Delivery SystemTo Fight Cancer

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA)  has developed a non-invasive method of delivering drugs directly to cancerous tissue using magnetic forces, a form of treatment that could significantly reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.

We showed that we can deliver anti-cancer drugs exactly in the area where they are needed and they can kill cancer cells,” said Andrey Zakharchenko, a graduate student in the Nanostructured Materials Lab in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences who led the study.

The researchers from UGA and Clarkson University in New York first created very fine nanoparticles that acted as drug carriers, one a substrate base carrying the drugs, and the other loaded with enzymes.

Upon application of a relatively weak magnetic field, the two nanoparticles merge, forcing a reaction that releases the drugs at a specific location. By controlling the timing of the interaction, researchers could pinpoint delivery of the drug to a precise location, thus preventing side common side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss or cardiac toxicity. Researchers performed the proof of concept study in vitro using chemotherapy drugs and cancer cells. The next step would be to develop an animal model, Zakharchenko said.

The use of a static magnetic field to cause the reaction is important because it poses no threat to the body, said Sergiy Minko, the Georgia Power Professor of Fiber and Polymer Science within the FACS department of textiles, merchandising and interiors and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry.

The article appears in the January issue of the journal Nature Catalysis


World’s First Virtual Reality Surgery

Doctors at the Avicenne hospital  (city of Bobigny in the Paris area) have successfully completed the world’s first ever augmented-reality surgical operation using 3D models and a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Doctor Thomas Grégory, head of orthopedic and traumatic surgery at the university teaching hospital, was able to “see through the skin of his patient” before the shoulder operation, through the use of 3D imaging technology and models created from the 80-year-old patient ahead of time.

During the key part of the operation, which lasted for 45 minutes, the doctors in France were joined by video link by four surgeons from South Korea, the USA, and the UK, who provided help via online call programme Skype.

Dr Grégory also performed the procedure while wearing a “mixed reality headset from Microsoft’s Hololens, which he could control with his movements and his voice, allowing him to see 3D images projected onto the anatomy of the patient during the operation, as well as enabling him to consult advisory videos and supporting medical documents. He had begun to practice on the device two months previously, he said.

It was a global first for this kind of operation, and purported to help the surgeons understand – to a much higher degree than normal – what they would find during the surgery, allowing them to prepare more and improve the quality of care overall. The headset also allowed the surgeons to operate with a previously unprecedentedlevel of precision”, that was less invasive, more effective, and less prone to infection after the fact.

The holy grail for a doctor is to [find a way] to see what we cannot see with our own eyes; the patient’s skeleton in every detail. That is what [this allows] us to do,” explained Grégory.


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.