Articles from March 2012

New way to fight Breast Cancer

Researchers at Brown University and Hasbro Children’s Hospital have traced the molecular interactions that allow the protein survivin to escape the nucleus of a breast cancer cell and prolong the cell’s life. That  may help in the development of better therapies and prognostics.The study’s senior author Dr. Rachel Altura, associate professor of pediatrics in The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a pediatric oncologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital reports: “You always have to worry about all the things you don’t know that you are targeting,”. “If we can target HDAC6, we can maybe block survivin from coming out of the nucleus and maintain it in its good state.” The present strategy is to block CRM1, Altura said, an idea she is pursuing with a pharmaceutical company in breast cancer cells in the lab. She said preliminary experiments look promising in keeping survivin inside the nucleus and making cancer cells more susceptible to dying.


Best kept behind barsInside the nucleus, survivin behaves. If it escapes, it can give a cancer cell great longevity. Three proteins conspire to help survivin break out of the nucleus. The darker area around the nucleus, above, is HDAC6, one of the conspirators. 



How Good Cholesterol Turns Bad

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have found new evidence to explain how cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) mediates the transfer of cholesterol from “good” high density lipoproteins (HDLs) to “bad” low density lipoproteins (LDLs). These findings point the way to the design of safer, more effective next generation CETP inhibitors that could help prevent the development of heart disease.

Gang Ren, a materials physicist and electron microscopy expert with Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a DOE nanoscience research center, led a study in which the first structural images of CETP interacting with HDLs and LDLs were recorded. The images and structural analyses support the hypothesis that cholesterol is transferred from HDLs to LDLs via a tunnel running through the center of the CETP molecule. “Our images show that CETP is a small (53 kilodaltons) banana-shaped asymmetric molecule with a tapered N-terminal domain and a globular C-terminal domain,” Ren says. “We discovered that the CETP’s N-terminal penetrates HDL and its C-terminal interacts with LDL forming a ternary complex. Structure analyses lead us to hypothesize that the interaction may generate molecular forces that twist the terminals, creating pores at both ends of the CETP. These pores connect with central cavities in the CETP to form a tunnel that serves as a conduit for the movement of cholesterol from the HDL.”


Nanotherapy for brain tumors

 For the past 40 years, radiation has been the most effective method for treating deadly brain tumors called glioblastomas. But, although the targeting technology has been refined, beams of radiation still must pass through healthy brain tissue to reach the tumor, and patients can only tolerate small amounts before developing serious side effects.
A group of researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have developed a way to deliver nanoparticle radiation directly to the brain tumor and keep it there. The method doses the tumor itself with much higher levels of radiation20 to 30 times the current dose of radiation therapy to patients — but spares a much greater area of brain tissue.

The study, published today in the journal Neuro-Oncology, has been successful enough in laboratory experiments that they’re preparing to start a clinical trial at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center, said Andrew Brenner, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author and a neuro-oncologist at the CTRC who will lead the clinical trial.
We saw that we could deliver much higher doses of radiation in animal models,” Dr. Brenner said. “We were able to give it safely and we were able to completely eradicate tumors.


New solar cells

Researchers at CRANN, the Science Foundation Ireland funded nanoscience institute based in Trinity College Dublin (TCD), have discovered a new material that could transform the quality, lifespan and efficiency of flat screen computers, televisions and  solar cells.  The research team was led by Prof Igor Shvets, a CRANN, a  Principal Investigator who comments: "this is an exciting development with a range of applications and we are hopeful this initial research will attract commercial interest in order to explore its industrial use.  The new material could lead to innovations such as window-integrated flat screens and to increase the efficiency of certain solar cells, thus significantly impacting on the take-up of solar cells, which can help us to reduce carbon emissions.

Devices that the new material could be used with such as solar cells, flat screen TVs, computer monitors, LEDs all utilise materials that can conduct electricity and at the same time are see-through.  These devices currently use transparent conducting oxides, which are a good compromise between electrical conductivity and optical transparency. They all have one fundamental limitation: they all conduct electricity through the movement of electrons


Safe Reversible Hydrogen Storage

 Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators have developed a new catalyst that reversibly converts hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide to a liquid under very mild conditions. The work — described in a paper published online March 18, 2012, in Nature Chemistry — could lead to efficient ways to safely store and transport hydrogen for use as an alternative fuel.

This is not the first catalyst capable of carrying out this reaction, but it is the first to work at room temperature, in an aqueous (water) solution, under atmospheric pressure — and that is capable of running the reaction in forward or reverse directions depending on the acidity of the solution,” said Brookhaven chemist Etsuko Fujita, who oversaw Brookhaven’s contributions to this research. When the release of hydrogen is desired for use in fuel cells or other applications, one can simply flip the ‘pH switch’ on the catalyst to run the reaction in reverse,” said Brookhaven chemist James Muckerman, a co-author on the study. He noted that the liquid formic acid might also be used directly in a formic-acid fuel cell.


Nanotechnology based Robot Jellyfish

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have created an undersea vehicle inspired by the common jellyfish that runs on renewable energy and could be used in ocean rescue and surveillance missions. In a study published this week in Smart Materials and Structures, scientists created a robotic jellyfish, dubbed Robojelly, that feeds off hydrogen and oxygen gases found in water.

We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity,” said Dr. Yonas Tadesse, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas and lead author of the study. “The only waste released as it travels is more water.” These muscles are made of a nickel-titanium alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes, coated with platinum and housed in a pipe. As the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen encounters the platinum, heat and water vapor are created. That heat causes a contraction that moves the muscles of the device, pumping out the water and starting the cycle again. It could stay underwater and refuel itself while it is performing surveillance,” Tadesse said.


Solar power from your windows

Imagine a world where the windows of high-rise office buildings are powerful energy producers, offering its inhabitants much more than some fresh air, light and a view. For the past four years a team of researchers from Flinders University has been working to make this dream a reality – and now the notion of solar-powered windows could be coming to a not too distant future near you. As part of his just-completed PhD, Dr Mark Bissett from the School of   Chemical and Physical Sciences – Australia, has developed a revolutionary solar cell using carbon nanotubes. A promising alternative to traditional silicon-based solar cells, carbon nanotubes are cheaper to make and more efficient to use than their energy-sapping, silicon counterparts.

Solar power is actually the most expensive type of renewable energy – in fact the silicon solar cells we see on peoples’ roofs are very expensive to produce and they also use a lot of electricity to purify,” Dr Bissett said. He added that  the new, low-cost carbon nanotubes are transparent, meaning they can be “sprayed” onto windows without blocking light, and they are also flexible so they can be weaved into a range of materials including fabric – a concept that is already being explored by advertising companies.



Superior organic electronics

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).are working on superior new organic electronic devices . At the Lab's Molecular Foundry, a DOE nanoscience center, the team has provided the first experimental determination of the pathways by which electrical charge is transported from molecule-to-molecule in an organic thin film. Their results also show how such organic films can be chemically modified to improve conductance.

Electron diffraction patterns provide a wealth of information about the morphology, structure and quality of monolayer organic thin films.


"We have shown that when the molecules in organic thin films are aligned in particular directions, there is much better conductance," says Miquel Salmeron, a leading authority on nanoscale surface imaging who directs Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and who led this study. 
Organic electronics, also known as plastic or polymer electronics, are devices that utilize carbon-based molecules as conductors rather than metals or semiconductors. They are prized for their low costs, light weight and rubbery flexibility. Organic electronics are also expected to play a big role in molecular computing, but to date their use has been hampered by low electrical conductance in comparison to metals and semiconductors.


Very fast two-photon lithography

Printing three dimensional objects with incredibly fine details is now possible using “two-photon lithography”. With this technology, tiny structures on a nanometer scale can be fabricated. Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) have now made a major breakthrough in speeding up this printing technique: The high-precision-3D-printer  is orders of magnitude faster than similar devices (see video). This opens up completely new areas of application, such as in medicine.

The video shows the 3d-printing process in real time. Due to the very fast guiding of the laser beam, 100 layers, consisting of approximately 200 single lines each, are produced in four minutes.


This amazing progress was made possible by combining several new ideas. “It was crucial to improve the control mechanism of the mirrors”, says Jan Torgersen (TU Vienna). The mirrors are continuously in motion during the printing process. The acceleration and deceleration-periods have to be tuned very precisely to achieve high-resolution results at a record-breaking speed.


Affordable electric cars

Engineers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, known as PNNL, in Richland, WA – USA,, are conducting research that could go a long way toward making the cars more affordable — not necessarily to buy, but to operate. And that could ultimately make the cars more popular with the public. While internal-combustion engines generate a lot of heat, making it easy to heat the passenger cabin in winter, electric vehicles produce very little excess heat. As a result, providing electricity for the same amount of cabin heat can reduce their driving range by up to 40 percentThe researchers want to create a new, 5-pound molecular heat pump, the size of a 2-liter bottle, that would handle both heating and cooling and allow the cars to travel longer distances before they'd need to be plugged in again.

 Instead of using a conventional heat pump to control heating and air conditioning, the cars would be heated and cooled with a new class of nanomaterial — or an "electrical metal organic framework

"We're really just barely under way," said Pete McGrail, of Pasco, a laboratory fellow and engineer who has worked at PNNL for 29 years. "The vehicle is going to be more attractive because it's going to be able to travel longer distances on the same charge you're putting in overnight," McGrail said. "So it's going to make it more marketable, more attractive, and it's going to take less energy."

Nanochip development kit

Imec, a belgian world-leading research company in nano-electronics. today announces that it has released an early-version PDK (process development kit) for 14nm logic chips. This PDK is the industry’s first to address the 14nm technology node. It targets the introduction of a number of new key technologies, such as FinFET technology and EUV lithography. The PDK is made available to Imec’s partners, and will be followed by incremental updates. Imec and its partners are developing a 14nm test chip to be released in the 2nd half of 2012 using this PDK.


A well-made process design kit (PDK) can assist an integrated circuit (IC) designer to reach that goal by maximizing design productivity and providing a portal to the foundry where the IC will be fabricated.



This first 14nm PDK contains all elements for design assessment of the 14nm node through device compact models, parasitic extraction, design rules, parameterized cells (pcells), and basic logic cells. Starting from the PDK, Imec and its partners are now designing a first test chip.


Nanotechnology to fight cancer

Nanotechnologies could be game changers in how we diagnose, monitor and treat cancer, according to Mark Davis, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Program of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the City of Hope. Focusing on nanoparticles, Davis said, "We're trying to create these nanoscale particles for solid tumors [and] there really is, in my opinion, a very high potential to create new types of therapies."

Davis elaborated, saying, "What's really exciting to me is the patient evidence that reveal nanoparticles are actually going into tumor cells and releasing their payloads

According to Michael Phelps, Norton Simon Professor, and Chair of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles, another promising technology is PET molecular imaging probes, which can rapidly search for cancer throughout all tissues of the body, as well as characterize each cancer lesion it detects within an individual patient. "All cancer treatments are in need of better molecular diagnostics… to better characterize the biology of cancer," said Phelps. Anna Barkerf, former Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and current Director of Arizona State University's Transformative Healthcare Networks, she said, "The nanotechnologies that are currently in use in the cancer community are actually making cancer therapies safer. They are uniformly increasing the efficiency, while reducing the toxicity for patients."