Articles from November 2014

How To Reduce Side Effects From Chemotherapy

Wichita State University (WSU) researchers are working on a new system that could decrease the negative effects of cancer drugs on patients.

WSU professors Ramazan Asmatulu, Paul Wooley and Shang-You Yang – along with several graduate students – are collaborating on research that involves the use of nanotechnology in helping patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Nanotechnology is the creation and application of nanoscale materials. One nanoparticle is about 100,000 times smaller than a strand of hair.

With that technology, the group has created nanomaterials and developed a magnetic-targeted drug delivery system with the goal of localizing as much as possible the cancer drugs to the tumor sites and therefore decreasing the negative effects of the drugs on the body. They’ve targeted their research on patients with skin and breast cancer.
Skin and breast cancer patients will be exposed with the lesser amount of cancer drugs, which have too many side effects,” Asmatulu says.

So far, they have seen positive results in both “in vitro” studies (using petri dishes and test tubes) and “in vivo” studies (using mice). The group is in the final stages of receiving a patent from the study. In the future, they plan to apply the technology to humans.


Solar Panels Covering Car Parks Produce Cheap Energy

The world is full of car parks. And one British start-up wants us to be using them to produce green energy. Founder of the Solar Cloth Company, Perry Carroll, says his flexible solar panels can be placed on structures that can’t take the weight of traditional glass panels. Like this car park in Cambridge.
solar roof
There are enough car parking spaces in Great Britain that if we covered with solar, we would end up without having an energy problem at all in Great Britain. Now, we don’t have to cover farming fields, we don’t have to cover roofs, we don’t have to cover, if you wish to call it, new areas. This is existing infrastructure that people use“, says Perry Carroll, the founder of the Solar Cloth Company. The company’s Innovation Director Christopher Jackson says the lightweight, flexible panels can also be used on non-load bearing commercial roof space.

Roofs which you would never see otherwise can now be turned into sources of electricity. And that means you don’t have to have any impact on the environment, there are no concerns to take into account of planning. It’s an elegant solution to turn an otherwise unused space into a source of electricity“, Jackson adds. And the company also has iconic buildings such as the 02 Arena in London in its sights.
Perry Carroll concludes: “Imagine that powering itself, because it’s been covered in a flexible solar tensile structure. Imagine looking at things like the Sydney Opera House, imagine looking at sporting stadia where basically the ground is completely covered with a solar solution that allows you to one, appreciate the artistic merits of the design of the stadium, but it also allows you to create energy for its needs.”


Janus Nanoparticles Infiltrate, Kill Cancer Cells From Within

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have devised nanoparticles that target and treat early stage cancer cells by killing them with heat, delivered from inside the cell itself. Normal cells are thus left unaffected by the treatment regimen.
In contrast to conventional cancer therapy, the team has developed several novel designs for iron-oxide based nanoparticles that detect, diagnose and destroy cancer cells using photo-thermal therapy (PTT). PTT uses the nanoparticles to focus light-induced heat energy only within the tumor, harming no adjacent normal cells.

The UC study used the living cells of mice to successfully test the efficacy of their two-sided nanoparticle designs (one side for cell targeting and the other for treatment delivery) in combination with the PTT. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved the use of iron-oxide nanoparticles in humans. That means the photo-thermal effect of iron-oxide nanoparticles may show, in the next decade, a strong promise in human cancer therapy, likely with localized tumors.
cancer cells
The results of the UC work will be presented at the Materials Research Society Conference in Boston (Nov. 30-Dec. 5) by Andrew Dunn, doctoral student in materials science engineering in UC’s College of Engineering.


Low-Cost, Ultra Fast DNA Reader

A team of scientists from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center have developed a prototype DNA reader that could make whole genome profiling an everyday practice in medicine.
DNA readerOur goal is to put cheap, simple and powerful DNA and protein diagnostic devices into every single doctor’s office,” said Stuart Lindsay, an ASU physics professor and director of Biodesign’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics. Such technology could help usher in the age of personalized medicine, where information from an individual’s complete DNA and protein profiles could be used to design treatments specific to their individual makeup.

The device is sensitive enough to distinguish the individual chemical bases of DNA (known by their abbreviated letters of A, C, T or G) when they are pumped past the reading head.

Proof-of-concept was demonstrated, by using solutions of the individual DNA bases, which gave clear signals sensitive enough to detect tiny amounts of DNA (nanomolar concentrations), even better than today’s state-of-the-art, so called next-generation DNA sequencing technology. Making the solid-state device is just like making a sandwich, just with ultra high-tech semiconductor tools used to slice and stack the atomic-sized layers of meats and cheeses like the butcher shop’s block. The secret is to make slice and stack the layers just so, to turn the chemical information of the DNA into a change in the electrical signal.


Nanoprobe Lightens Up Tumors

Researchers from A*STAR (Singapore) have developed a hybrid metal––polymer nanoparticle that lights up in the acidic environment surrounding tumor cells. Nonspecific probes that can identify any kind of tumor are extremely useful for monitoring the location and spread of cancer and the effects of treatment, as well as aiding initial diagnosis.

Cancerous tumors typically have lower than normal pH levels, which correspond to increased acidity both inside the cells and within the extracellular microenvironment surrounding the cells. This simple difference between tumor cells and normal cells has led several research groups to develop probes that can detect the low pH of tumors using optical imaging, magnetic resonance and positron emission tomography.

Most of these probes, however, target the intracellular pH, which requires the probes to enter the cells in order to work. A greater challenge has been to detect the difference in extracellular pH between healthy tissue and tumor tissue as the pH difference is smaller. Success would mean that the probes are not required to enter the cells.

nanoprobe lightens up tumors
Intravenous administration of a hybrid metal–polymer nanoprobe causes tumor tissue to fluoresce

Our aim is to address the challenge of illuminating tumors universally,” says Bin Liu from the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering. Liu’s team, together with colleagues from the National University of Singapore, based their new probe on polymers that self-assemble on gold nanoparticles.

Nanotechnology Revolutionizes Jeweler’s Craft

The creation and manipulation of nanoparticles can result in unique optical properties often of no value in the fields where the particles are most commonly used. Sofie Boons, a London-based jewelry designer accustomed to working with gold, has applied these rare effects to beads used in jewelry.

When I first heard about gold nanoparticles, I thought they would have a gold or a dark gold color,” said Ms. Boons, a recent postgraduate of London’s Royal College of Art. “Instead, they were purple, brown, blue or sometimes even edging on green. It doesn’t look like gold at all.”

The color of objects is usually determined by the absorption of light by the dye or pigment within the particular material. This color stays the same no matter which way the object is viewed or broken apart. Gold and silver nanoparticles create color differently. If a gold nanoparticle is broken apart, it turns into a new color. In collaboration with Jodie Melbourne, 26, a nanotechnology doctoral candidate at Imperial College London, Ms. Boons, 25, created a range of round beads to be incorporated in necklaces, earrings and rings. Using the color effect of gold and silver nanoparticles, the beads cast contrasting hues as the wearer adjusts their surroundings.
If you have no light going through the bead, there will appear one color,” said Ms. Boons. “When you shine a light through the bead, its shadow will have another color. Then, when you hold the bead to the light, the light shining through will appear another color.”

Virtual Reality Will Help Autistic Children At Home

Autistic children can quickly lose interest in conventional therapy techniques. But in the 3D cave at Poland’s Silesian University Of Technology that’s not the case. Scientists led by Piotr Wodarski created this virtual world, similar to combat simulators used to train soldiers.

A child entering our application activates certain motion sequences which allow the optical system to measure where the individual segments of the body are, and on this basis calculate the appropriate modules of the application so that they match the location of the objects with the reach of a palm or the position of the head of the person in our system,” says Piotr Wodarski, researcher at the Silesian University of Technology. Therapeutic activities, like moving colourful blocks around, are programmed into the system. Professor Marek Gzik says it’s helping both children with autism and Down’s Syndrome focus better on their therapy. Autistic patients, in particular, can find human interaction difficult.
Getting through to these children can be difficult. But thanks to this technology they open up and we can diagnose their problems properly, in detail, objectively, measuring the mobility in their joints for instance, and then see which methods of rehabilitation are most efficient,” says Professor Marek Gzik. Engineers are tweaking the system to meet children’s varying levels of physical and mental development. They hope that children could soon use the program at home with virtual reality headsets.

A Billion Holes Make a Postage Stamp Battery

Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have invented a single tiny structure that includes all the components of a battery that they say could bring about the ultimate miniaturization of energy storage components.
A billion nanopores could fit on a postage stamp
The structure is called a nanopore: a tiny hole in a ceramic sheet that holds electrolyte to carry the electrical charge between nanotube electrodes at either end. The existing device is a test, but the bitsy battery performs well. First author Chanyuan Liu, a Ph.D. student in materials science, says that it can be fully charged in 12 minutes, and it can be recharged thousands of time.

Many millions of these nanopores can be crammed into one larger battery the size of a postage stamp. One of the reasons the researchers think this unit is so successful is because each nanopore is shaped just like the others, which allows them to pack the tiny thin batteries together efficiently.The space inside the holes is so small that the space they take up, all added together, would be no more than a grain of sand.
Now that the scientists have the battery working and have demonstrated the concept, they have also identified improvements that could make the next version 10 times more powerful. The next step to commercialization: the inventors have conceived strategies for manufacturing the battery in large batches.

A team of UMD chemists and materials scientists collaborated on the project: Gary Rubloff, director of the Maryland NanoCenter, Sang Bok Lee, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and seven of their Ph.D. students.

Tick Saliva To Combat Cancer

Brazilian doctors hope a compound found in a common blood-sucking tick can be used to break down cancerous tumours in humans after successful results in laboratory animals.
It’s not a pleasant sight; ticks having their saliva extracted. But according to researchers at the Butantan Institute in Brazil, the arachnid’s spit could be extremely valuable in fighting cancer. Project coordinator, Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, says her team originally explored the anti blood-clotting properties of tick saliva. But they soon found that one particular molecule, Ambyomin-X, also kills malignant cells. Tests on mice and rabbits not only reduced cancerous tumours, but did so without damaging healthy cells.
tick saliva
Usually with chemotherapy, though it has a bigger effect on tumour cells than on normal cells, normal cells are also always harmed. And what we’ve seen here, even with 42 days of treatment in animals, is that we aren’t reaching normal cells. So the idea is that side effects will be far fewer“, says Doctor Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, from the Instituto Butantan (Brazil). The tick saliva compound has successfully treated animals with cancers of the skin, pancreas, kidneys and metastases in the lungs. And Chudzinski-Tavassi says she hopes Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency will soon approve human clinical trials. She says these could prove an important breakthrough in the fight against cancer and put Brazil on the biotechnology map.


How To Stanch The Free Flow of Blood From An Injury

Stanching the free flow of blood from an injury remains a holy grail of clinical medicine. Controlling blood flow is a primary concern and first line of defense for patients and medical staff in many situations, from traumatic injury to illness to surgery. If control is not established within the first few minutes of a hemorrhage, further treatment and healing are impossible.

At the University of California Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara), researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering and at Center for Bioengineering (CBE) have turned to the human body’s own mechanisms for inspiration in dealing with the necessary and complicated process of coagulation. By creating nanoparticles that mimic the shape, flexibility and surface biology of the body’s own platelets, they are able to accelerate natural healing processes while opening the door to therapies and treatments that can be customized to specific patient needs.
Synthetic Platelets
This is a significant milestone in the development of synthetic platelets, as well as in targeted drug delivery,” said Samir Mitragotri, CBE director, who specializes in targeted therapy technologies. Results of the researchers’ findings appear in the current issue of the journal ACS Nano.


Solar-powered Bike Path Could Cover A Fifth of The Netherlands

SolaRoad isn’t your average bicycle path? Now, for the first in the world a bike path is fitted with embedded solar panels. Dutch finance minister Henk Kamp got in the saddle to launch the 70 metre stretch of a busy Amsterdam commuter road and made a comment: “This is not economically feasible but we will make it economically feasible and we are working on it very hard.
Co-inventor Sten de Wit says SolaRoad consists of rows of miniscule crystalline silicon solar cells, encased within concrete and covered with a translucent layer of tempered glass.
solar-powered bike path

The top layer is the main innovation of this road, because it has to combine a number of functions: it has to be transparent, because the sunlight has to go through the top layer to the solar cells that are underneath, but it also has to be sufficiently skid-resistant, sufficiently rough.” Because the path can’t be adjusted to the sun’s position, it produces 30 percent less energy than solar roof panels, says Sten De Wit. But he added that it’s suitable for up to a fifth of Dutch roads, and could eventually be used to power traffic lights and electric cars. “If in the future we could put that electricity from the road into electric cars that drive over the road, then we could make a huge step towards sustainable mobility system.” De Wit’s colleagues at the TNO research institute say they’ll have a commercially viable product within five years…once this initial trial gets into gear.


Artificial Retina

The loss of eyesight, often caused by retinal degeneration, is a life-altering health issue for many people, especially as they age. But a new development toward a prosthetic retina could help counter conditions that result from problems with this crucial part of the eye. Scientists, led by Yael Hanein from Tel Aviv University (TAU) published their research on a new device, which they tested on tissue from laboratory animals, in the ACS journal Nano Letters.
artificial retina

Yael Hanein and colleagues point out that a growing range of medical devices has become available to treat conditions, including visual impairment, that involve sending sensory signals to the brain. Patients with one type of eye disorder called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for example, could potentially benefit from such a device, they say. AMD usually affects people age 60 or older who have damage to a specific part of the retina, limiting their vision. Scientists are trying different approaches to develop an implant that can “seelight and send visual signals to a person’s brain, countering the effects of AMD and related vision disorders. But many attempts so far use metallic parts, cumbersome wiring or have low resolution.
The researchers, an interdisciplinary team from Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Centers for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Newcastle University, (UK) wanted to make a more compact device.