Posts belonging to Category bioengineering

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.


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.


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.


Light-Powered Wires To Modulate Brain’s Electrical Signals

The human brain largely remains a black box: How the network of fast-moving electrical signals turns into thought, movement and disease remains poorly understood. But it is electrical, so it can be hacked—the question is finding a precise, easy way to manipulate electrical signaling between neurons.

A new University of Chicago study shows how tiny, light-powered wires could be fashioned out of silicon to provide these electrical signals. Published Feb. 19 in Nature Nanotechnology, the study offers a new avenue to shed light on—and perhaps someday treat—brain disorders.

Ten years ago, the science world was alive with speculation about a recently discovered technique called optogenetics, which would manipulate neural activity with light. The problem is that it has to be done with genetics: inserting a gene into a target cell that would make it respond to light. Other ways of modulating neurons have since been suggested, but a perfect alternative remains elusive.

A team led by Asst. Prof. Bozhi Tian built minuscule wires previously designed for solar cells. These nanowires are so small that hundreds of them could sit side by side on the edge of a sheet of paper—putting them on the same scale as the parts of cells they’re trying to communicate with.

These nanowires combine two types of silicon to create a small electrical current when struck by light. Gold, diffused by a special process onto the surface of the wire, acts as a catalyst to promote electrochemical reactions.

The rod at top right is positioned to modify electrical signaling between the neurons. The entire image is smaller than the diameter of a single human hair.

When the wire is in place and illuminated, the voltage difference between the inside and outside of the cell is slightly reduced. This lowers the barrier for the neuron to fire an electrical signal to its neighboring cells,” Tian said.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.