Drug lowers deadly Huntington’s disease protein

The first drug targeting the cause of Huntington’s disease was safe and well-tolerated in its first human trial led by UCL (UK) scientists. It successfully lowered the level of the harmful huntingtin protein in the nervous system. After over a decade in pre-clinical development, this first human trial of huntingtin-lowering drug began in late 2015, led by Professor Sarah Tabrizi (UCL Institute of Neurology) and sponsored by Ionis Pharmaceuticals.

The trial involved enrolling 46 patients with early Huntington’s disease at nine study centres in the UK, Germany and Canada. Each patient received four doses of either IONIS-HTTRx or placebo, given by injection into the spinal fluid to enable it to reach the brain. As the phase 1/2a trial progressed, the dose of IONIS-HTTRx was increased several times according to the ascending-dose trial design. Patient safety was monitored throughout the study by an independent safety committee. Today’s announcement at completion of the trial confirms that IONIS-HTTRx was well-tolerated by the trial participants and its safety profile supports further testing in patients.

The results of this trial are of ground-breaking importance for Huntington’s disease patients and families. For the first time a drug has lowered the level of the toxic disease-causing protein in the nervous system, and the drug was safe and well-tolerated. The key now is to move quickly to a larger trial to test whether the drug slows disease progression

Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Algorithm Replicates Perfectly Your Handwriting

In a world increasingly dominated by the QWERTY keyboard, computer scientists from University College London (UCL) have developed software which may spark the comeback of the handwritten word by analysing the handwriting of any individual and accurately replicating it.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEOcomputer-program-replicates-handwriting

The scientists have created ‘My Text in Your Handwriting’, a programme which semi-automatically examines a sample of a person’s handwriting, which can be as little as one paragraph, and generates new text saying whatever the user wishes, as if the author had handwritten it themselves. “Our software has lots of valuable applications. Stroke victims, for example, may be able to formulate letters without the concern of illegibility, or someone sending flowers as a gift could include a handwritten note without even going into the florist. It could also be used in comic books where a piece of handwritten text can be translated into different languages without losing the author’s original style”, said First author, Dr Tom Haines (UCL Computer Science).

Co-author, Dr Oisin Mac Aodha (UCL Computer Science), adds: “Up until now, the only way to produce computer-generated text that resembles a specific person’s handwriting would be to use a relevant font. The problem with such fonts is that it is often clear that the text has not been penned by hand, which loses the character and personal touch of a handwritten piece of text. What we’ve developed removes this problem and so could be used in a wide variety of commercial and personal circumstances.”

Published in ACM Transactions on Graphics, the machine learning algorithm is built around glyphs – a specific instance of a character.

Source: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Eye Test detects Parkinson’s Before Symptoms develop

A newly developed eye test offers the hope of far earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, a devastating condition usually discovered too late in patients for effective treatment.
This new eye test could detect Parkinson’s disease before symptoms develop. Developed at the University College London (UCL), Institute of Ophthalmology it looks for changes in patients’ retinas before brain alteration occurs. Researchers induced Parkinson’s in rats by injecting them with a chemical called rotenone. Having observed retinal changes, they treated the rodents with a new version ofRosiglitaz anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone.

eyes2CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

The preliminary results were that we were able to see evidence of Parkinson’s in the retina well in advance compared to the Parkinsonian events in the brain. Furthermore, by injecting the Rosiglitazone in these rats we were able to see a rescue effect of Rosiglitazone in this model, first in the eye and then in the brain“, says Dr. Eduardo Normando, UCL constant opthalmologist. Human clinical trials will begin soon. Earlier diagnosis could have a major impact on future patient outcomes

If you’ve seen the effects in the retina well before you see those effects in the brain then actually you could shorten the length of clinical trials and you could use this as a very good marker of treatment success. But in the long run what we think is that it could be a way of trying to see if patients are ever going to get Parkinson’s disease“, adds UCL Professor of glaucoma and retinal neurodegeneration, Francesca Cordeiro.

The degenerative condition affects 1 in 500 people, causing muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors and a reduced quality of life. Symptoms typically become apparent once more than 70 percent of the brain’s dopamine-producing cells have been destroyed.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

The Gene That Causes Grey Hair Is Now Identified

No matter who you are; for most of us grey hair is an inevitable part of getting older. But what if you could switch off the gene that causes it? For the first time, scientists have identified a gene called IRF4 as the culprit behind grey hair. DNA samples from over 6,000 volunteers were collected in Latin America; chosen for the diverse ancestry of its inhabitants. And it turns out if you have your roots in Europe, grey hair is much more likely.

Grey-HairCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

This genetic variant of IRF4 has two forms; one form is present world-wide and the other form is present only in Europeans. And we saw that this particular European specific form gives you almost double the chance of hair greying,” says Dr Kaustubh Adhikari from University College London (UCL), department of cell and developmental biology.

The gene IRF4 helps regulate melanin in the body, which determines – among other things – hair colour. Age and environmental factors will, of course, influence how quickly IRF4 triggers hair greying. But the researchers say their discovery could lead to a treatment that could stop it in its tracks.

Switching off a gene is of course feasible, the issue is whether it will have the desired effect and whether it’s the right thing to do… But in terms of trying to develop a therapy to delay or prevent hair greying, that is something that is potentially feasible; yes“, comments Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, UCL (department of BioSciences).

Scientists think that a simple cosmetic treatment for switching off the grey gene would take many more years of research. But for those keen to banish the grey forever, your prayers might one day be answered.

The study has been published in the journal  Nature Communications.

Source: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Smart Windows Clean Themselves, Save Energy

A revolutionary new type of smart window could cut window-cleaning costs in tall buildings while reducing heating bills and boosting worker productivity. Developed by University College London (UCL) with support from EPSRC, prototype samples confirm that the glass can deliver three key benefits:
Self-cleaning: The window is ultra-resistant to water, so rain hitting the outside forms spherical droplets that roll easily over the surface – picking up dirt, dust and other contaminants and carrying them away. This is due to the pencil-like, conical design of nanostructures engraved onto the glass, trapping air and ensuring only a tiny amount of water comes into contact with the surface.
 Energy-saving: The glass is coated with a very thin (5-10nm) film of window-cleaning of vanadium dioxide which during cold periods stops thermal radiation escaping and so prevents heat loss; during hot periods it prevents infrared radiation from the sun entering the building.
 Anti-glare: The design of the nanostructures also gives the windows the same anti-reflective properties found in the eyes of moths and other creatures that have evolved to hide from predators.

self cleaning windowA scanning electron miscroscope photograph shows the pyramid-like nanostructures engraved onto glass: at 200nm they are 100 times smaller than a human hair. Controlling the surface morphology at the nanoscale allows scientists to tailor how the glass interacts with liquids and light with high precision

This is the first time that a nanostructure has been combined with a thermochromic coating. The bio-inspired nanostructure amplifies the thermochromics properties of the coating and the net result is a self-cleaning, highly performing smart window, said Dr Ioannis Papakonstantinou of UCL. The UCL team calculate that the windows could result in a reduction in heating bills of up to 40 per cent.

Source: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/

Genetically Engineered Cells Save Baby From Leukaemia

A baby girl with aggressive leukaemia has become the first in the world to be treated with designer immune cells that were genetically engineered to wipe out her cancer. The one-year-old, Layla Richards, was given months to live after conventional treatments failed to eradicate the disease, but she is now cancer free and doing well, a response one doctor described as “almost a miracle”. Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London treated the girl two months ago and stressed that it could be more than a year before they know for sure whether the therapy has cured the disease, or simply delayed its progression.

baby

We have only used this treatment on one very strong little girl, and we have to be cautious about claiming this will be a suitable treatment option for all children,” said Waseem Qasim, professor of cell and gene therapy at University College London’s (UCL) Institute of Child Health, and a consultant immunologist at GOSH. “But this is a landmark in the use of new gene engineering technology and the effects for this child have been staggering,” he said.

Source: http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/
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http://www.theguardian.com/

How To Move Ten Times Faster in Water

Scientists at the University College London (UCL) have identified a new and potentially faster way of moving molecules across the surfaces of certain materials.

The team carried out sophisticated computer simulations of tiny droplets of water as they interact with graphene surfaces. These simulations reveal that the molecules can “surf” across the surface whilst being carried by the moving ripples of graphene.

moving fast in water

The study, published in Nature Materials, demonstrates that because the molecules were swept along by the movement of strong ripples in the carbon fabric of graphene, they were able to move at an exceedingly fast rate, at least ten times faster than previously observed.

Furthermore, the researchers found that by altering the size of the ripples, and the type of molecules on the surface, they could achieve fast and controlled motion of molecules other than water. This opens up a range of possibilities for industrial applications such as improved sensors and filters.

graphene and water

Professor Angelos Michaelides, from the Thomas Young Centre and London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) at UCL, lead researcher of the study, explained: “Atoms and molecules usually move across materials by hopping from one point on their surface to the next. However, through computer simulations we have uncovered an interesting new diffusion mechanism for motion across graphene that is inherently different from the usual random movements we see on other surfaces.

Source: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Super Repellant Paint

Watching paint dry isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But for University College London (UCL) researcher Yao Lu, the super water repellant properties of this paint could lead to new tough, self-cleaning surfaces. Yao says the chemistry was inspired by nature, such as the water repelling properties of lotus leaves.
hydrophobic coatingCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO
I am quite interested in self-cleaning coatings in nature, such as plants. We put water on superhydrophobic plants, water wouldn’t wet them. Instead the water will form drops and then roll off or just bounce away and leave the surface dry and clean,” Yao Lu says.

Superhydrophobic surfaces aren’t anything new, but the researchers at UCL have devised a way to make them extra tough. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry Claire Carmalt (pron. Car-Malt) says adding an adhesive renders the paint effective even after being scratched, scuffed or exposed to oil.
I think the improvement is the fact that we get this very resistant coating, so generally these superhydrophobic coatings are very mechanically weak, so can be easily rubbed off over time, whereas by applying this spray adhesive we’ve managed to get very resistant coatings that are resistant to, as I say, rubbing or scratching and with sandpaper and so on.“, explains Claire Carmalt.
The surface of the paint is rough, rather than smooth, thanks to two different sizes of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Adding a hydrophobic chemical called fluorosilane makes the surface waxy. The effect is that water forms near spherical droplets that pick up dirt as they roll off – acting like a miniature vacuum. Such a paint could be applied to a variety of surfaces; including clothes, paper, glass and steel. The team say it could easily be scaled up for industrial use, such as a paint for cars. The self-cleaning properties, they say, could even be used in antimicrobial coatings to combat hospital infections.
Source: http://www.reuters.com/

How To Design New Materials With Simple Computer Simulations

Scientists from the University College London (UCL ) have shown how advanced computer simulations can be used to design new composite materials. Nanocomposites, which are widely used in industry, are revolutionary materials in which microscopic particles are dispersed through plastics. But their development until now has been largely by trial and error.
The ‘virtual lab’, developed using supercomputer simulations by UCL’s James Suter, Deren Groen and Peter Coveney greatly improves our understanding of how composite materials are built on a molecular level. They allow the properties of a new material to be predicted based simply on its structure and the way it is manufactured – a holy grail of materials science.
Archer

SuperComputer ARCHER
The ARCHER supercomputer, one of several used in this study

“Developing composite materials has been a bit of a trial-and-error process until now,” says James Suter (UCL Chemistry), the first author of the study. “It typically involves grinding and mixing the ingredients and hoping for the best. Of course we test the properties of the resulting materials, but our understanding of how they are structured and why they have the properties they have, is quite limited. Our work means we can now predict how a new nanocomposite will perform, based only on their chemical composition and processing conditions.

Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Light-activated Neurons Restore Paralysed Muscles

A new way to artificially control muscles using light, with the potential to restore function to muscles paralysed by conditions such as motor neuron disease and spinal cord injury, has been developed by scientists at UCL and King’s College London.

The technique involves transplanting specially-designed motor neurons created from stem cells into injured nerve branches. These motor neurons are designed to react to pulses of blue light, allowing scientists to fine-tune muscle control by adjusting the intensity, duration and frequency of the light pulses.

In the study, published this week in Science, the team demonstrated the method in mice in which the nerves that supply muscles in the hind legs were injured. They showed that the transplanted stem cell-derived motor neurons grew along the injured nerves to connect successfully with the paralyzed muscles, which could then be controlled by pulses of blue light.

Following the new procedure, we saw previously paralysed leg muscles start to function,” says Professor Linda Greensmith of the MRC Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases at UCL’s Institute of Neurology, who co-led the study. “This strategy has significant advantages over existing techniques that use electricity to stimulate nerves, which can be painful and often results in rapid muscle fatigue. Moreover, if the existing motor neurons are lost due to injury or disease, electrical stimulation of nerves is rendered useless as these too are lost.”.

Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/

Building A Nanoscope Like a LEGO

The world’s first low cost Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) or Nanoscope has been developed in Beijing – China – by a group of PhD students from UCL – United Kingdom -, Tsinghua University and Peking University – using Lego.

In the first event of its kind, LEGO2NANO brought together students, experienced makers and scientists to take on the challenge of building a cheap and effective AFM, a device able to probe objects only a millionth of a millimetre in size – far smaller than anything an optical microscope can observe.
Lego game AFM 2

Low-cost scientific instrumentation is not just useful in high-schools, it can be a huge enabler for hospitals and clinics in developing countries, too” notes Gabriel Aeppli, director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL, a key contributor to the event, “That’s why novel initiatives like LEGO2NANO are so important.”
Low-cost scientific instruments, using cheap consumer hardware and open-source software, are becoming increasingly popular: for example, many researchers now collect data using apps on mobile phones.
Designing these state-of-the-art and low cost technologies has become an objective of industry, academia and now also the maker community, groups of talented amateurs around the globe who like to develop DIY solutions.
It’s impressive to see the UCL students working closely with their Chinese counterparts. The event was not only interdisciplinary, it also crossed the boundary between science and maker cultures”, remarked Prof. Xiao Guo, Pro-Provost (China) of UCL.

Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk

Reducing Lengh Makes Carbon Nanotube Non Toxic

Safety fears about carbon nanotubes, due to their structural similarity to asbestos, have been alleviated following research showing that reducing their length removes their toxic properties. A University College London UCL -team, showed evidence that the asbestos-like reactivity and pathogenicity reported for long, pristine nanotubes can be completely alleviated if their surface is modified and their effective length is reduced as a result of chemical treatment. The finding has been published in in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
carbon_nanotube_small_sq
The apparent structural similarity between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibres has generated serious concerns about their safety profile and has resulted in many unreasonable proposals of a halt in the use of these materials even in well-controlled and strictly regulated applications, such as biomedical ones. What we show for the first time is that in order to design risk-free carbon nanotubes both chemical treatment and shortening are needed”, said Professor Kostas Kostarelos, Chair of Nanomedicine at the UCL School of Pharmacy who led the research with his long term collaborators Doctor Alberto Bianco of the CNRS in Strasbourg, France and Professor Maurizio Prato of the University of Trieste, Italy.
Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/