How To Repair Connections Between Nerve Cells

Carbon nanotubes exhibit interesting characteristics rendering them particularly suited to the construction of special hybrid devices – consisting of biological tissue and synthetic material – planned to re-establish connections between nerve cells, for instance at spinal level, lost on account of lesions or trauma. This is the result of a piece of research published on the scientific journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine conducted by a multi-disciplinary team comprising SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies), the University of Trieste, ELETTRA Sincrotrone and two Spanish institutions, Basque Foundation for Science and CIC BiomaGUNE. More specifically, researchers have investigated the possible effects on neurons of the interaction with carbon nanotubes. Scientists have proven that these nanomaterials may regulate the formation of synapses, specialized structures through which the nerve cells communicate, and modulate biological mechanisms, such as the growth of neurons, as part of a self-regulating process. This result, which shows the extent to which the integration between nerve cells and these synthetic structures is stable and efficient, highlights the great potentialities of carbon nanotubes as innovative materials capable of facilitating neuronal regeneration or in order to create a kind of artificial bridge between groups of neurons whose connection has been interrupted. In vivo testing has actually already begun.

Scientists have proven that these nanomaterials may regulate the formation of synapses, specialized structures through which the nerve cells communicate, and modulate biological mechanisms, such as the growth of neurons, as part of a self-regulating process

Interface systems, or, more in general, neuronal prostheses, that enable an effective re-establishment of these connections are under active investigation” explain Laura Ballerini (SISSA) and Maurizio Prato (UniTSCIC BiomaGUNE), coordinating the research project. “The perfect material to build these neural interfaces does not exist, yet the carbon nanotubes we are working on have already proved to have great potentialities. After all, nanomaterials currently represent our best hope for developing innovative strategies in the treatment of spinal cord injuries“. These nanomaterials are used both as scaffolds, a supportive framework for nerve cells, and as means of interfaces releasing those signals that empower nerve cells to communicate with each other.

Source: https://eurekalert.org/

Coral That Beats Global Warming

Coral reefs in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba can resist rising water temperatures. If they survive local pollution, these corals may one day be used to re-seed parts of the world where reefs are dying. The scientists urge governments to protect the Gulf of Aqaba ReefsCoral reefs are dying on a massive scale around the world, and global warming is driving this extinction. The planet’s largest reef, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is currently experiencing enormous coral bleaching for the second year in a row, while last year left only a third of its 2300-km ecosystem unbleached. The demise of coral reefs heralds the loss of some of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems. Scientists have shown that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Northern Red Sea are particularly resistant to the effects of global warming and ocean acidification. The implications are important, as the Gulf of Aqaba is a unique coral refuge. The corals may provide the key to understanding the biological mechanism that leads to thermal resistance, or the weakness that underlies massive bleaching. There is also the hope that the Gulf of Aqaba Reefs could be used to re-seed deteriorated reefs in the Red Sea and perhaps even around the world.

Scientists at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and UNIL (Université de Lausanne) in Switzerland, and Bar Ilan University and the InterUniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Israel, performed the very first detailed physiological assessment of corals taken from the Gulf of Aqaba after exposure to stressful conditions over a six-week period. They found that the corals did not bleach.

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Under these conditions,  most corals around the world would probably bleach and have a high degree of mortality,” says EPFL scientist Thomas Krueger. “Most of the variables that we measured actually improved, suggesting that these corals are living under suboptimal temperatures right now and might be better prepared for future ocean warming.”

The results are published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Source: https://actu.epfl.ch/

The Rise Of The Cyborg

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut have designed a new biofriendly energy storage system called a biological supercapacitor, which operates using charged particles, or ions, from fluids in the human body. The device is harmless to the body’s biological systems, and it could lead to longer-lasting cardiac pacemakers and other implantable medical devices like artificial heart.

The UCLA team was led by Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and the Connecticut researchers were led by James Rusling, a professor of chemistry and cell biology. A paper about their design was published this week in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Pacemakers — which help regulate abnormal heart rhythms — and other implantable devices have saved countless lives. But they’re powered by traditional batteries that eventually run out of power and must be replaced, meaning another painful surgery and the accompanying risk of infection. In addition, batteries contain toxic materials that could endanger the patient if they leak.

The researchers propose storing energy in those devices without a battery. The supercapacitor they invented charges using electrolytes from biological fluids like blood serum and urine, and it would work with another device called an energy harvester, which converts heat and motion from the human body into electricity — in much the same way that self-winding watches are powered by the wearer’s body movements. That electricity is then captured by the supercapacitor.

Combining energy harvesters with supercapacitors can provide endless power for lifelong implantable devices that may never need to be replaced,” said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study.

Source: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/

How To Create Human Skin With 3D Bio-Printers

Spanish scientists are making human skin using a 3D bio-printer. Engineered skin was the first living human organ available commercially but its production can be expensive and time-consuming. This research at Madrid’s Carlos III University could one day lead to the mass production of skin.

bioprinter

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The idea of applying 3D bio-printers for the creation of human tissue and organs is a real breakthrough because it has changed the way people in this field think because until now we have been doing it manually. Being able to use a bio-printer to control the amount of skin over time and space gives us new possibilities that were unimaginable when we worked manually,” says Jose Luis Jorcano, Head of the CIEMAT/UC3M  Bioengineering Department.

To bio-engineer skin on a 3D bio-printer, the key component is “bio-ink,” a substance loaded with biological components such as plasma containing human skin cells. Using a computer, scientists deposit these “bio-inks” on a print bed to form the skin. Although years away, scientists believe the technology could be used to bio-engineer more complex human organs.

The idea for the future would be to be able to fully print complex organs such as hearts or kidneys but as I said, that’s the desire and the dream all of us who work in this field have, but there is no date for it yet,” explains Jose Luis Jorcano, who is the co-creator of the bio-printer.

The scientists say their prototype can produce 100 cm2 of 3D printed skin in less than 35 minutes.

Source: http://www.uc3m.es/
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http://www.reuters.com/

How To Eradicate Undetectable HIV Cells

French researchers have identified a marker that makes it possible to differentiate “dormantHIVinfected cells from healthy cells. This discovery will make it possible to isolate and analyze reservoir cells which, by silently hosting the virus, are responsible for its persistence even among patients receiving antiviral treatment, whose viral load is undetectable. It offers new therapeutic strategies for targeting infected cells. This research is part of the ANRS strategic program “Réservoirs du VIH”.

HIV detection

Since 1996, there has been consensus among the scientific community that a cure for HIV will involve targetingreservoir cells” that host the virus in the organisms of patients undergoing triple therapy. HIV can remain hidden in these reservoirs, in latent form, for several decades, eluding the immune system’s response and antiviral treatments, without any viral protein being expressed. But if treatment ceases, the virus massively proliferates and the disease progresses again. Patients must therefore receive treatment for life. To envisage eliminating this dormant virus, a first stage consists in distinguishing the HIV-infected reservoir cells from their healthy counterpart cells, which resemble them to a very large degree. This is what has been achieved by a team of researchers, who have identified a marker of reservoir cells: a protein present only on the surface of infected cells.

Hypothesizing that HIV might leave a mark on the surface of its host cell, researchers from the Institut de génétique humaine (CNRS/Montpellier University) first worked in vitro on an infection model developed in their laboratory. After comparing infected cells and healthy cells, they noticed one particular protein, coded by a gene among the hundred of those expressed in a specific way by infected cells. Present only on the surface of the infected cells, the CD32a protein thus met, in vitro, the criteria of a reservoir cell marker. This was then confirmed by experiments on clinical samples. By studying blood samples from 12 patients living with HIV and receiving treatment, the researchers isolated the cells expressing the marker and observed that almost all were HIV carriers. In vitro, the activation of these cells induced a production of viruses capable of reinfecting healthy cells whereas their elimination entailed a significant delay in viral production.

The findings are the result of a collaboration between the CNRS, Montpellier University, Inserm, the Institut Pasteur, the Henri-Mondor AP-HP hospital in Créteil, the Gui de Chauliac hospital (CHU de Montpellier) and the VRI (Vaccine Research Institute), and is published in the journal Nature on March 15, 2017. A patent owned by the CNRS has been filed for the diagnostic and therapeutic use of the identified marker.

Source: http://presse.inserm.fr/

Killing Cancer Cells From Inside

Researchers have witnessed – for the first time – cancer cells being targeted and destroyed from the inside, by an organo-metal compound discovered by the University of Warwick (UK). Professor Peter J. Sadler, and his group in the Department of Chemistry, have demonstrated that Organo-Osmium FY26 – which was first discovered at Warwick – kills cancer cells by locating and attacking their weakest part.

osmium compound fy26 in cancer cell
This is the first time that an Osmium-based compound – which is fifty times more active than the current cancer drug cisplatin – has been seen to target the disease. Using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), researchers analysed the effects of Organo-Osmium FY26 in ovarian cancer cells – detecting emissions of X-ray fluorescent light to track the activity of the compound inside the cells

Looking at sections of cancer cells under nano-focus, it was possible to see an unprecedented level of minute detail. Organelles like mitochondria, which are the ‘powerhouses’ of cells and generate their energy, were detectable. In cancer cells, there are errors and mutations in the DNA of mitochondria, making them very weak and susceptible to attack.

FY26 was found to have positioned itself in the mitochondriaattacking and destroying the vital functions of cancer cells from within, at their weakest point. Researchers were also able to see natural metals which are produced by the body – such as zinc and calcium – moving around the cells. Calcium in particular is known to affect the function of cells, and it is thought that this naturally-produced metal helps FY26 to achieve an optimal position for attacking cancer.

Source: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk

Mental Viagra

As Valentines Day approaches, love may be in the air…. but it’s also in the mind. Scientists in London say a natural hormone – appropriately named kisspeptinenhances brain regions associated with sex and love. In placebo-controlled trials, 29 healthy young men were injected with kisspeptin and their brains scanned using MRI.

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During the MRI they performed tasks designed to activate certain areas of the brain. So we used tasks to activate the sexual arousal centres of the brain and task to activate the romance sensors of the brain using images. And we observed that kisspeptin boosted the activity in sexual arousal and romantic circuits in the brain,” says Dr. Alexander Comninos, Endocrinologist at Imperial College  London.

Kisspeptin is found in all men and women, and is vital for stimulating puberty. “So there’s a link, not just with the hormones, but also the stimulation of reproductive hormones but also stimulating how we perceive sexual images in the brain, and that’s what the really exciting part of this study been; is how for the first time having a link between a hormone that’s stimulating reproductive hormones, but also how our brains perceive sexual images,” explains Waljit Dhillo, Professor in Endocrinology at Imperial College London .

Psychological sexual disorders can make it difficult for couples to conceive. Biological factors play a large part, but the role of the brain and emotion can’t be overlooked. A kisspeptin-based therapy could be an answer, say researchers. It differs from drugs like Viagra, which only trigger a physiological response. “Viagra is very different. So Viagra will cause vasodilation, it will make the vessels essentially dilate, blood will go down to the genital area. So it’s a completely different action, it’s mechanical if you like. Whereas this is much more psychological in terms of its altering how we perceive sexual images in our brains. So it’s a completely different mechanism of action“, adds Professor Dhillo.

More research is needed – including on women and then eventually in patients with psychological issues. Kisspeptin could one day help treat sexual disorders of the mind… in effect, mental Viagra.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

A ”NaNose” Device Identifies 17 Types Of Diseases With A Single Sniff

The future of early diagnoses of disease could be this simple, according to a team of researchers in Israel. The ‘NaNose‘ as they call it can differentiate between 17 types of diseases with a single sniff identifying so-called smelly compounds in anything from cancers to Parkinson’s.

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Indeed, what we have found in our most recent research in this regard, that 17 types of disease have 13 common compounds that are found in all different types of disease, but the mixture of the compounds and the composition of these compounds changes from one disease to another disease. And this is what is really unique and what really we expect to see and utilize in order to make the diagnosis from exhaled breat,” says Professor Hossam  Haick ftom the Institute of Technology- Technion.

The NaNose uses “artificially intelligent nanoarraysensors to analyze the data obtained from receptors that “smell” the patient’s breath.

So our main idea is to try an imitate what’s going on in nature. So like we can take a canine, a dog and train it to scent the smell of drugs, of explosives or a missing person, we are trying to do it artificially. And we can do that by using these nano-materials and we build these nano material-based sensors. And of course there are many advantages and one of them of course is going all the way from sensors big as this to really small devices like this that have that have on them eight sensors and which can be incorporated to systems like this, or even smaller,” explains Doctor Yoav Broza from Technion .

Several companies are now trying to commercialize the technology – and encourage its use in healthcare systems… or see it incorporated into your smartphone.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

Paracetamol On Mars

How to produce medicine sustainably and cheaply, anywhere you want, whether in the middle of the jungle or even on Mars? Looking for a ‘mini-factory’ whereby sunlight can be captured to make chemical products? Inspired by the art of nature where leaves are able to collect enough sunlight to produce food, chemical engineers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in Netherlands have presented such a scenario. 
Using sunlight to make chemical products has long been a dream of many a chemical engineer. The problem is that the available sunlight generates too little energy to kick off reactions. However, nature is able to do this. Antenna molecules in leaves capture energy from sunlight and collect it in the reaction centers of the leaf where enough solar energy is present for the chemical reactions that give the plant its food (photosynthesis).

Luminescent Solar Concentrator-based Photomicroreactor (LSC-PM, artificial leaf for organic synthesis), research by PhD Dario Cambie & Timothy Noël, group Micro Flow Chemistry and Process Technology, Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, TU Eindhoven. photo: TU/e, Bart van Overbeeke

Luminescent Solar Concentrator-based Photomicroreactor (LSC-PM, artificial leaf for organic synthesis), research by PhD Dario Cambie & Timothy Noël

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The researchers came across relatively new materials, known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSC’s), which are able to capture sunlight in a similar way. Special light-sensitive molecules in these materials capture a large amount of the incoming light that they then convert into a specific color that is conducted to the edges via light conductivity. These LSC’s are often used in practice in combination with solar cells to boost the yield.

 


The results surpassed all their expectations, and not only in the lab. “Even an experiment on a cloudy day demonstrated that the chemical production was 40 percent higher than in a similar experiment without LSC material”, says research leader Noël. “We still see plenty of possibilities for improvement. We now have a powerful tool at our disposal that enables the sustainable, sunlight-based production of valuable chemical products like drugs or crop protection agents.”

For the production of drugs there is certainly a lot of potential. The chemical reactions for producing drugs currently require toxic chemicals and a lot of energy in the form of fossil fuels. By using visible light the same reactions become sustainable, cheap and, in theory, countless times faster. But Noël believes it should not have to stop there. “Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars. All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory.

The findings are described in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Source: https://www.tue.nl/

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.

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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/

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.

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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/

Light-Controlled NanoRobot Attacks Tumors

A team of researchers led by Dr Jinyao Tang of the Department of Chemistry, the University of Hong Kong, has developed the world’s first light-seeking synthetic Nano robot. With size comparable to a blood cell, those tiny robots have the potential to be injected into patients’ bodies, helping surgeons to remove tumors and enabling more precise engineering of targeted medications.

It has been a dream in science fiction for decades that tiny robots can fundamentally change our daily life. The famous science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage” is a very good example, with a group of scientists driving their miniaturized Nano-submarine inside human body to repair a damaged brain. In the film “Terminator 2”, billions of Nanorobots were assembled into the amazing shapeshifting body: the T-1000.

light-seeking-nanorobot

“Light is a more effective option to communicate between microscopic world and macroscopic world. We can conceive that more complicated instructions can be sent to Nanorobots which provide scientists with a new tool to further develop more functions into Nanorobot and get us one step closer to daily life applications”

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded to three scientists for “the design and synthesis of molecular machines”. They developed a set of mechanical components at molecular scale which may be assembled into more complicated Nano machines to manipulate single molecule such as DNA or proteins in the future. The development of tiny nanoscale machines for biomedical applications has been a major trend of scientific research in recent years. Any breakthroughs will potentially open the door to new knowledge and treatments of diseases and development of new drugs.

One difficulty in Nanorobot design is to make these nanostructures sense and respond to the environment. Given each Nanorobot is only a few micrometer in size which is ~50 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, it is very difficult to squeeze normal electronic sensors and circuits into Nanorobots with reasonable price. Currently, the only method to remotely control Nanorobots is to incorporate tiny magnetic inside the Nanorobot and guide the motion via external magnetic field.

The Nanorobot developed by Dr Tang’s team use light as the propelling force, and is the first research team globally to explore the light-guided Nanorobot and demonstrate its feasibility and effectiveness. In their paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, Dr Tang’s team demonstrated the unprecedented ability of these light-controlled Nanorobots as they are “dancing” or even spell a word under light control. With a novel Nanotree structure, the Nanorobots can respond to the light shining on it like moths being drawn to flames. Dr Tang described the motions as if “they can “see” the light and drive itself towards it”.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: http://www.hku.hk/