Articles from December 2016



Hyperloop Competition

Elon Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop concept was unveiled in 2013… …a transport system allowing people to travel at almost the speed of sound inside reduced-pressure tubes. To bring the idea closer to reality Musk launched the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod contest. 30 teams, like this one from Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), will test their pods on a mile-long track in California next month. The Delft Hyperloop uses passive magnetic bearing to allow contact-free levitation.

delft-hyperloopCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

What’s so nice about it is that these magnets they’re not electro-magnets that require current, but they’re passive, permanent magnets, so the ones you can put on your fridge, for example – and that makes the entire system very energy efficient. You don’t need to put in any power to start levitating. You just gain speed and then the vehicle wants to go up and levitate by itself,” explains Sascha Lamme, chief engineer for Delft Hyperloop.

The half-size pod prototype weighs just 149 kilograms. It’s designed to reach Musk’s 750 mile per hour target… …though the small test track will limit competitors to around half that. The Delft team insists its pod has proved safe in tests.
It starts levitating at a height of almost two centimetres. But also our braking system really controls the vehicle very smoothly, to get to a controlled stop, so that all the passengers still feel comfortable….Even when the power is lost in the entire vehicle, the vehicle will come to a quick standstill, so everyone is safe,” adds Sascha Lamme.  January’s competition winners will hope victory brings them closer to making Elon Musk’s high-speed dream a reality.

Source: http://delfthyperloop.nl/
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http://www.reuters.com/

ImmunoTherapy Registers Success Against Brain Cancer

Using the immune system to beat cancer is quickly becoming a promising new strategy for battling tumors. But most of the success so far has been with blood cancers like lymphomas and leukemias. Immunotherapy, as it’s called, has yet to prove itself with solid tumors like breast, prostate, lung, colon and brain cancers.But in a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Dr. Behnam Badie from the City of Hope Beckman Research Institute and Medical Center say that the same immune-based therapy that is successful against blood cancers also helped a patient with advanced brain cancer.

brain cancer

The 50-year-old man with glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor, had already been treated with surgery, radiation and anti-tumor drug therapies. Despite these treatments, his cancer had returned and also spread to other parts of his brain and spinal cord. Badie and his team extracted immune cells from him, then engineered them to express proteins on their surface that would recognize and destroy glioblastoma tumor cells. After surgery to remove the bulk of the brain tumor, Badie and his colleagues directly injected the site with the modified immune cells (called chimeric antigen receptor T cells, or CAR T cells) six times, and the remaining part of this tumor stopped growing.

Other smaller growths in the brain continued to grow, however, so the patient received 10 more doses of the CAR T cells injected into the cavities in the brain, called the ventricles. This is the first time that immune cells have been injected into these brain regions, because introducing anything into the ventricles can cause dangerous and possibly deadly inflammation. The man did not develop such serious complications, however, and after about four months, these tumors too started to shrink. By six months, almost all had disappeared.

If the patient had not received the CAR T therapy, he likely would only have survived a few weeks after his cancer recurred, says Badie. But after being treated with the immune therapy, his cancer did not grow or recur for nearly eight months. “If we can do the same for other patients, that would be an amazing accomplishment that many decades of work and research on glioblastoma have never done,” says Badie, whose own father passed away a decade ago from glioblastoma.

Source: http://time.com/

Robotic Sommelier Blends The Wine That Matches Your Personal Taste

It’s a device that may have wine aficionados spluttering into their claret. Vinfusion is a robotic sommelier that helps you blend a glass of wine to your specific taste. It’s pre-loaded with four distinct base wines that can be mixed together into hundreds of new flavour combinations.

wineCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

We took about 30-odd wines into the lab and analysed the chemical profile of those individual wines… we narrowed it down to four base wines; these are a Chilean Pinot Noir, a Chilean Merlot, an Australian Shiraz and a French sweet wine which is a Muscat. And we chose these wines to represent the extremes of the flavour space that we developed,” says Sajith Wimalaratne, Manager at Cambridge Consultants. Using simple terms like full-bodied or light, and dry or sweet the user simply adjusts the parameters on a sliding scale. Vinfusion also makes recommendations based on the wine you’ve created.

I’m going to blend my own wine. So I’m going to have quite a full-bodied wine, pretty soft and fairly sweet. And it says that this wine is similar to a ruby port. And now I’m going to blend this wine; so you can see we’ve got four wines blending in the chamber here, they’re coming in the top and they’re also being aerated to open up the bouquet of the wine, just as you would open a red wine for a while before you drink it.” adds Andrew Stratton, fluids engineer at Cambridge Consultants.

The wine dispensed – while certainly quaffable – would be unlikely to pass muster with serious wine lovers. The makers deliberately chose base wines priced around the 10-dollars the average consumer spend on a bottle.  “Wine is a complex beverage. And a lot of people just tend to stick to one or two that they know. But what we wanted to do was actually make this amazing range of wines out there, and make it more accessible to the consumer,” comments Sajith Wimalaratne.   Winemaking is steeped in history, largely defying technological interference. Vinfusion could, in theory, be loaded with finer wines producing a higher quality beverage. For wine snobs, however, any Vinfusion vintage might just be too unpalatable.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

Melanoma Detector

Even experts can be fooled by melanoma. People with this type of skin cancer often have mole-looking growths on their skin that tend to be irregular in shape and color, and can be hard to tell apart from benign ones, making the disease difficult to diagnose. Now, researchers at The Rockefeller University have developed an automated technology that combines imaging with digital analysis and machine learning to help physicians detect melanoma at its early stages.

melanoma-detectorMalignant or benign?: An image of a skin lesion is processed by a new technology to extract quantitative data, such as irregularities in the shape of pigmented skin, which could help doctors determine if the growth is cancerous

 

There is a real need for standardization across the field of dermatology in how melanomas are evaluated,” says James Krueger, D. Martin Carter Professor in Clinical Investigation and head of the Laboratory of Investigative Dermatology. “Detection through screening saves lives but is very challenging visually, and even when a suspicious lesion is extracted and biopsied, it is confirmed to be melanoma in only about 10 percent of cases.”

In the new approach, images of lesions are processed by a series of computer programs that extract information about the number of colors present in a growth, and other quantitative data. The analysis generates an overall risk score, called a Q-score, which indicates the likelihood that the growth is cancerous.

Published in Experimental Dermatology, a recent study evaluating the tool’s usefulness indicates that the Q-score yields 98 percent sensitivity, meaning it is very likely to correctly identify early melanomas on the skin. The ability of the test to correctly diagnose normal moles was 36 percent, approaching the levels achieved by expert dermatologists performing visual examinations of suspect moles under the microscope.

The success of the Q-score in predicting melanoma is a marked improvement over competing technologies,” says Daniel Gareau, first author of the report and instructor in clinical investigation in the Krueger laboratory.

The researchers developed this tool by feeding 60 photos of cancerous melanomas and an equivalent batch of pictures of benign growths into image processing programs. They developed imaging biomarkers to precisely quantify visual features of the growths. Using computational methods, they generated a set of quantitative metrics that differed between the two groups of images—essentially identifying what visual aspects of the lesion mattered most in terms of malignancy—and gave each biomarker a malignancy rating.

By combining the data from each biomarker, they calculated the overall Q-score for each image, a value between zero and one in which a higher number indicates a higher probability of a lesion being a cancerous.

Source: http://newswire.rockefeller.edu/

Artificial Skin Breathes like Human Skin

A scientist in Chile is using microscopic algae to make skingreen skin. These very small, very simple plants are being used to develop a new artificial skin for humans. The problem with most current artificial skin is that there are no blood vessels – so the man-made skin cannot produce the oxygen it needs to live. But with algae, the skin can breathe through the process of photosynthesis.

artificial-skin-breathesCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

What we’re basically doing is incorporating micro-algae, which are like microscopic plants into different types of materials. For example, when we apply artificial skin what we have is the characteristics of plants which means when it is lit up it can produce oxygen,” says Tomas Egana from the Chile’s Catholic University, professor at the Institute of biological engineering. And the benefits of the algae could go beyond just a cosmetic improvement. It may help human skin heal itself: “These micro-algae can be genetically modified. So that in addition to producing oxygen they will produce different factors, for example antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pro-regenerative molecules. So, we are going to have material which is completely artificial and still, which is a structure that has material that is alive.

Professor Egana says the green-colored skin could eventually be used to help patients treat open wounds, tumors and possibly avoid amputations. But patients need not worry about looking like the Incredible Hulk. Egana believes the green color will fade over time as the algae dies. At the moment, animal testing has proven a success. Human trials are expected next year.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

Japan Bets On Hydrogen As A Green Energy Source

Hydrogen gas is a promising alternative energy source to overcome our reliance on carbon-based fuels, and has the benefit of producing only water when it is reacted with oxygen. However, hydrogen is highly reactive and flammable, so it requires careful handling and storage. Typical hydrogen storage materials are limited by factors like water sensitivity, risk of explosion, difficulty of control of hydrogen-generation.

alstom-hydrogen-electric-train Hydrogen gas can be produced efficiently from organosilanes, some of which are suitably air-stable, non-toxic, and cheap. Catalysts that can efficiently produce hydrogen from organosilanes are therefore desired with the ultimate goal of realizing safe, inexpensive hydrogen production in high yield. Ideally, the catalyst should also operate at room temperature under aerobic conditions without the need for additional energy input. A research team led by Kiyotomi Kaneda and Takato Mitsudome at Osaka University have now developed a catalyst that realizes efficient environmentally friendly hydrogen production from organosilanes. The catalyst is composed of gold nanoparticles with a diameter of around 2 nm supported on hydroxyapatite.

The team then added the nanoparticle catalyst to solutions of different organosilanes to measure its ability to induce hydrogen production. The nanoparticle catalyst displayed the highest turnover frequency and number attained to date for hydrogen production catalysts from organosilanes. For example, the  converted 99% of dimethylphenylsilane to the corresponding silanol in just 9 min at room temperature, releasing an equimolar amount of hydrogen gas at the same time. Importantly, the catalyst was recyclable without loss of activity. On/off switching of hydrogen production was achieved using the nanoparticle catalyst because it could be easily separated from its organosilane substrate by filtration. The activity of the catalyst increased as the nanoparticle size decreased.

A prototype portable hydrogen fuel cell containing the nanoparticle catalyst and an organosilane substrate was fabricated. The fuel cell generated power in air at room temperature and could be switched on and off as desired.

Generation of hydrogen from inexpensive organosilane substrates under ambient conditions without additional energy input represents an exciting advance towards the goal of using hydrogen as a green energy source.

Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/
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http://www.nature.com/

Bones Could Be 3D Printed With Unbreakable Materials

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have discovered the secret behind the toughness of deer antlers and how they can resist breaking during fights.

3d-printed-bones

The fibrils that make up the antler are staggered rather than in line with each other. This allows them to absorb the energy from the impact of a clash during a fight,” said first author Paolino De Falco from QMUL‘s School of Engineering and Materials Science .

The research, published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, provides new insights and fills a previous gap in the area of structural modelling of bone. It also opens up possibilities for the creation of a new generation of materials that can resist damage.

Co-author Dr Ettore Barbieri, also from QMUL‘s School of Engineering and Materials Science, comments: “Our next step is to create a 3D printed model with fibres arranged in staggered configuration and linked by an elastic interface. The aim is to prove that additive manufacturing – where a prototype can be created a layer at a time – can be used to create damage resistant composite material.”

Source: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/

Neuron Triggers Insulin

Research led by a Johns Hopkins University biologist demonstrates the workings of a biochemical pathway that helps control glucose in the bloodstream, a development that could potentially lead to treatments for diabetes. In a paper published in the current issue of Developmental Cell, Jessica Houtz, a graduate student working with Rejji Kuruvilla in the Department of Biology at Johns Hopkins, shows that a protein that regulates the development of nerve cells also plays a role in prompting cells in the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that helps to maintain a normal level of blood sugar.

jessica_houtzCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO
Kuruvilla worked on the project with Johns Hopkins colleagues, Houtz who is the lead author, and Philip Borden and Alexis Ceasrine, all doctoral students in the biology department. Also taking part was Liliana Minichiello of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford.

The research is potentially relevant to type-2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, affecting nearly one in ten Americans. With this form of the condition, which can appear at any time of life, the body makes insulin, but is either not releasing enough of it or not using the regulatory chemical efficiently to control blood sugar. In type-1 diabetes, which appears in childhood, an immune response gone awry destroys the body’s ability to produce insulin altogether.

The research on insulin represents a detour for Kuruvilla, whose work has focused on development of the peripheral nervous system. She has studied a group of proteins called neurotrophins, and in particular nerve growth factor [NGF]. These proteins nurture the growth of neurons, the cells of the nervous system.

neurons-fly-through-3d-model

It has been known for some time that neurons and the pancreatic beta cells, or β-cells, that reside in clusters called islets of Langerhans and produce insulin, have many similarities in molecular makeup and signaling receptors. Receptors are proteins on cell surfaces that respond to particular chemicals and have critical roles in biochemical pathways. Both neurons and pancreatic β-cells have the receptors for neurotrophins.

This project was sparked by seeing NGF receptors present in beta-cells,” said Kuruvilla. The question was, she said: “what are these receptors doing outside the nervous system?”

Turns out that NGF performs a function in the mature pancreas that has nothing to do with supporting neurons. Specifically, the research team traced a chain of biochemical signals showing that elevated blood glucose causes NGF to be released from blood vessels in the pancreas, and that the NGF signal then prompts pancreatic β-cells to relax their rigid cytoskeletal structure, releasing insulin granules into the blood stream. Although β-cells also make NGF, Kuruvilla and her team found that it was the NGF released from the blood vessels that is needed for insulin secretion.

Using genetic manipulation in mice and drugs to block NGF signaling in β-cells, they were able to disrupt distinct elements of this signaling sequence, to show that this classical neuronal pathway is necessary to enhance insulin secretion and glucose tolerance in mice. Importantly, Kuruvilla and colleagues found that NGF’s ability to enhance insulin secretion in response to high glucose also occurs in human β-cells.

It is not yet clear how this system is affected in people with diabetes. “We are very interested in knowing whether aspects of this pathway are disrupted in pre-diabetic individuals,” said Kuruvilla. It would be of interest to determine if NGF or small molecules that bind and activate NGF receptors in the pancreas could be of potential use in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.

Source: http://releases.jhu.edu/

Graphene Detects Early Cancer

What can’t graphene do? You can scratch “detect cancer” off of that list. By interfacing brain cells onto graphene, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have shown they can differentiate a single hyperactive cancerous cell from a normal cell, pointing the way to developing a simple, noninvasive tool for early cancer diagnosis.

graphene-cancer-detectionNormal and cancerous brain cells interfaced with graphene show different activity levels under Raman imaging.
This graphene system is able to detect the level of activity of an interfaced cell,” says Vikas Berry, associate professor and head of chemical engineering at UIC, who led the research along with Ankit Mehta, assistant professor of clinical neurosurgery in the UIC College of Medicine.
The cell’s interface with graphene rearranges the charge distribution in graphene, which modifies the energy of atomic vibration as detected by Raman spectroscopy,” Berry said, referring to a powerful workhorse technique that is routinely used to study graphene. The atomic vibration energy in graphene’s crystal lattice differs depending on whether it’s in contact with a cancer cell or a normal cell, Berry said, because the cancer cell’s hyperactivity leads to a higher negative charge on its surface and the release of more protons.“Graphene is the thinnest known material and is very sensitive to whatever happens on its surface,” Berry said. The nanomaterial is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms linked in a hexagonal chicken-wire pattern, and all the atoms share a cloud of electrons moving freely about the surface.

The study, reported in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, looked at cultured human brain cells, comparing normal astrocytes to their cancerous counterpart, the highly malignant brain tumor glioblastoma multiforme. The technique is now being studied in a mouse model of cancer, with results that are “very promising,” Berry said. “Once a patient has brain tumor surgery, we could use this technique to see if the tumor relapses,” Berry said. “For this, we would need a cell sample we could interface with graphene and look to see if cancer cells are still present.”

The same technique may also work to differentiate between other types of cells or the activity of cells. “We may be able to use it with bacteria to quickly see if the strain is Gram-positive or Gram-negative,” Berry said. “We may be able to use it to detect sickle cells.”

Earlier this year, Berry and other coworkers introduced nanoscale ripples in graphene, causing it to conduct differently in perpendicular directions, useful for electronics. They wrinkled the graphene by draping it over a string of rod-shaped bacteria, then vacuum-shrinking the germs. “We took the earlier work and sort of flipped it over,” Berry said. “Instead of laying graphene on cells, we laid cells on graphene and studied graphene’s atomic vibrations.”

Co-authors on the study are Bijentimala Keisham and Phong Nguyen of UIC chemical engineering and Arron Cole of UIC neurosurgery.

Source: https://news.uic.edu/

Immunotherapy Could Eradicate A Third of All Cancers

In August 2015, former US President Jimmy Carter, then 91, announced he had cancer. The diagnosis was metastatic melanoma, and it had spread to his brain. He thought he had merely weeks to live. Just four months later, he made headlines again, revealing he had tested cancer-free. Before long, doctors said he no longer needed treatment. That remarkable turn came from a combination of a traditional therapy, radiation, and a new one, an immunotherapy drug called Keytruda, which was delivered intravenously once every three weeks. Keytruda had only been approved for about a year at that point.

Drug companies see potential for a new group of mega moneymakers. Investors and billionaires, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, have invested hundreds of millions into researching new treatments. New drugs such as Keytruda are a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors. Most people have a type of protein that stops their immune systems from fighting the cancerous cells. Keytruda and similar drugs block those proteins. It’s like taking down a guard tower, allowing the body’s own immune system force to flood past a barrier, where it then gets to work killing and clearing away the cancer cellsCheckpoint inhibitors were first approved to treat melanoma but have since gone on to tackle lung cancer, bladder cancer, blood cancers, and other cancers.

Dan Chen, vice president and global head of cancer immunotherapy development at Genentech considers  checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq to be the foundation of the company’s cancer immunotherapy program.

cancer-cells

This is a critical program for us. It allowed us to learn an enormous amount about cancer immunity,” like how the drugs work to inhibit the checkpoints, Chen said. Genentech points to patients like Bob Schoenbauer to show why the company is “investing more than ever to bring personalized cancer immunotherapy (PCI) to people with cancer.”

Schoenbauer had been diagnosed with late-stage inoperable lung cancer in 2013. Soon after, Schoenbauer was connected with a clinical trial of Tecentriq out of Georgetown University. “Almost immediately, the cough was going away,” his wife, Frances, said. “It worked so fast, I couldn’t believe how good he was feeling.” Schoenbauer, who still gets Tecentriq every three weeks, is active and walks to the mall in his Maryland town every morning. He’s in remission.

Still there are some major caveats. First, not everyone is responding to the drugs — for advanced stages of melanoma, the number of people still alive after two years was about 35%, compared to 29.7% over the same time for those taking chemotherapy. And sometimes new checkpoint inhibitors under development fail key trials.

Source: http://uk.businessinsider.com/

“Liquid Biopsy” Chip Detects Metastatic Cancer Cells in a Drop of Blood

A chip developed by mechanical engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) can trap and identify metastatic cancer cells in a small amount of blood drawn from a cancer patient. The breakthrough technology uses a simple mechanical method that has been shown to be more effective in trapping cancer cells than the microfluidic approach employed in many existing devices.

liquid-biopsy-chip-test

The chip is tested in the lab. The electrodes detect electrical changes that occur when cancer cells are captured (click on the image to enjoy the video)

The WPI device uses antibodies attached to an array of carbon nanotubes at the bottom of a tiny well. Cancer cells settle to the bottom of the well, where they selectively bind to the antibodies based on their surface markers (unlike other devices, the chip can also trap tiny structures called exosomes produced by cancers cells). This “liquid biopsy,”  could become the basis of a simple lab test that could quickly detect early signs of metastasis and help physicians select treatments targeted at the specific cancer cells identified.

Metastasis is the process by which a cancer can spread from one organ to other parts of the body, typically by entering the bloodstream. Different types of tumors show a preference for specific organs and tissues; circulating breast cancer cells, for example, are likely to take root in bones, lungs, and the brain. The prognosis for metastatic cancer (also called stage IV cancer) is generally poor, so a technique that could detect these circulating tumor cells before they have a chance to form new colonies of tumors at distant sites could greatly increase a patient’s survival odds.

The focus on capturing circulating tumor cells is quite new,” said Balaji Panchapakesan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI and director of the Small Systems Laboratory. “It is a very difficult challenge, not unlike looking for a needle in a haystack. There are billions of red blood cells, tens of thousands of white blood cells, and, perhaps, only a small number of tumor cells floating among them. We’ve shown how those cells can be captured with high precision.

The findings have been described in  the journal Nanotechnology,

Source: https://www.wpi.edu/

Nanoparticles Overcome Treatment-Resistant Breast Cancer

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine have been able to generate multifunctional RNA nanoparticles that could overcome treatment resistance in breast cancer, potentially making existing treatments more effective in these patients. The research team  led by Xiaoting Zhang, PhD, associate professor at the UC College of Medicine, demonstrates that using a nanodelivery system to target HER2-positive breast cancer and stop production of the protein MED1 could slow tumor growth, stop cancer from spreading and sensitize the cancer cells to treatment with tamoxifen, a known therapy for estrogen-driven cancer.
nanoparticles-300x225
Most breast cancers express estrogen receptors, and the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen has been widely used for their treatment,” says Zhang, who is also a member of the Cincinnati Cancer Center and the UC Cancer Institute. “Unfortunately, up to half of all estrogen receptor-positive tumors are either unresponsive or later develop resistance to the therapy. In this study, we have developed a highly innovative design that takes advantage of the co-overexpression of HER2 and MED1 in these tumors.”
Zhang and researchers in his lab found that these RNA nanoparticles were able to selectively bind to HER2-overexpressing breast tumors, eliminating MED1 expression and significantly decreasing estrogen receptor-controlled target gene production. The RNA nanoparticles not only reduced the growth and spread of the HER2-overexpressing breast cancer tumors, but also sensitized them to tamoxifen treatment.

The study, has been published in the online edition of ACS Nano.

Source: http://healthnews.uc.edu/