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.


Super-Strong, Light New Metal For Airplanes, Cars

team led by researchers from the Univeristy of California Los Angleles (UCLA) Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals.

strong metalAt left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across.

It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.

The research has been  published  in Nature.


Stabilized Perovskite Solar Cells Clear the Way To The Market

UCLA professor Yang Yang, member of the California NanoSystems Institute, is a world-renowned innovator of solar cell technology whose team in recent years has developed next-generation solar cells constructed of perovskite, which has remarkable efficiency converting sunlight to electricity.

Despite this success, the delicate nature of perovskite — a very cheap, very light, flexible, organic-inorganic hybrid material — stalled further development toward its commercialized use. When exposed to air, perovskite cells broke down and disintegrated within a few hours to few days. The cells deteriorated even faster when also exposed to moisture, mainly due to the hydroscopic nature of the perovskite.

Now Yang’s team has conquered the primary difficulty of perovskite by protecting it between two layers of metal oxide. This is a significant advance toward stabilizing perovskite solar cells. Their new cell construction extends the cell’s effective life in air by more than 10 times, with only a marginal loss of efficiency converting sunlight to electricity.

perovskite solar panel

There has been much optimism about perovskite solar cell technology,” Meng said. In less than two years, the Yang team has advanced perovskite solar cell efficiency from less than 1 percent to close to 20 percent. “But its short lifespan was a limiting factor we have been trying to improve on since developing perovskite cells with high efficiency.”

The study was published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Researchers Jingbi You and Lei Meng from the Yang Lab were the lead authors on the paper.


Matter: How To See The Structural Arrangements Of Atoms

Atoms are the building blocks of all matter on Earth, and the patterns in which they are arranged dictate how strong, conductive or flexible a material will be. Now, scientists at UCLA have used a powerful microscope to image the three-dimensional positions of individual atoms to a precision of 19 trillionths of a meter, which is several times smaller than a hydrogen atom.

Their observations make it possible, for the first time, to infer the macroscopic properties of materials based on their structural arrangements of atoms, which will guide how scientists and engineers build aircraft components, for example. The research, led by Jianwei (John) Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute, has been published in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials.


atoms+image+(2015)The scientists were able to plot the exact coordinates of nine layers of atoms with a precision of 19 trillionths of a meter

For more than 100 years, researchers have inferred how atoms are arranged in three-dimensional space using a technique called X-ray crystallography, which involves measuring how light waves scatter off of a crystal. However, X-ray crystallography only yields information about the average positions of many billions of atoms in the crystal, and not about individual atoms’ precise coordinates.

“It’s like taking an average of people on Earth,” Miao said. “Most people have a head, two eyes, a nose and two ears. But an image of the average person will still look different from you and me.”


Paralyzed Man Controls His Leg Muscles, Walks Again

UCLA scientists publish findings that show a paralyzed man was able to voluntarily control his leg muscles and take steps in a robotic exoskeleton device. Jim Drury reports.

paralyzed man walks again

Mark Pollock gets back on his feet – five years after becoming paralysed from the waist down. The Briton is wearing a battery-powered exoskeleton that allows him to move his legs in a step-like fashion. The device captures data that allows scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles to see whether he’s moving his limbs independently or being aided by the suit. Data showed Pollock – who’s also blind – is the first person with complete paralysis to regain enough voluntary control to actively work with an exoskeleton. The Commonwealth Games medallist was also able to flex his knee with the aid of electrical spinal stimulation. The researchers do not describe his steps as “walking” because of the need for the robotic device and stimulation. But the 39-year-old has now taken thousands of steps, describing his training as “addictive“.


How To Store Solar Energy Up To Several Weeks

The materials in most of today’s residential rooftop solar panels can store energy from the sun for only a few microseconds at a time. A new technology developed by chemists at UCLA is capable of storing solar energy for up to several weeks — an advance that could change the way scientists think about designing solar cells.

The new design is inspired by the way that plants generate energy through photosynthesis.
bundle of polymers

The scientists devised a new arrangement of solar cell ingredients, with bundles of polymer donors (green rods) and neatly organized fullerene acceptors (purple, tan).
Biology does a very good job of creating energy from sunlight,” said Sarah Tolbert, a UCLA professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the research. “Plants do this through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency.” “In photosynthesis, plants that are exposed to sunlight use carefully organized nanoscale structures within their cells to rapidly separate charges — pulling electrons away from the positively charged molecule that is left behind, and keeping positive and negative charges separated,” Tolbert said. “That separation is the key to making the process so efficient.

To capture energy from sunlight, conventional rooftop solar cells use silicon, a fairly expensive material.  There is currently a big push to make lower-cost solar cells using plastics, rather than silicon, but today’s plastic solar cells are relatively inefficient, in large part because the separated positive and negative electric charges often recombine before they can become electrical energy.

Modern plastic solar cells don’t have well-defined structures like plants do because we never knew how to make them before,” Tolbert said. “But this new system pulls charges apart and keeps them separated for days, or even weeks. Once you make the right structure, you can vastly improve the retention of energy.”

The findings are published June 19 in the journal Science.



Use Your Smartphone To Analyze DNA

Fluorescence microscopes use technology that enables them to accomplish tasks not easy to achieve with normal light microscopes, including imaging DNA molecules to detect and diagnose cancer, nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, and drug resistance in infectious diseases.These microscopes work by labeling the samples with fluorescent molecules that are “excited” with a laser. This process gives off different colored light that the microscope detects and uses to build images of fluorescently labeled samples, visualizing objects that are 100 to 1000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. These fluorescent microscopes are expensive, bulky and relatively complicated, typically making them available only in high-tech laboratories.

Now researchers from UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute have reported the first demonstration of imaging and measuring the size of individual DNA molecules using a lightweight and compact device that converts an ordinary smartphone into an advanced fluorescence microscope. Led by Aydogan Ozcan, associate director of the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute , the research team will present the device from 16:30 – 18:30, Thursday, 14 May 2015, in meeting room 212 A/C, San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, California, USA.
DNA analyzer
The mobile microscopy unit is an inexpensive, 3-D-printed optical device that uses the phone’s camera to visualize and measure the length of single-molecule DNA strands. The device includes an attachment that creates a high-contrast, dark-field imaging set-up using an inexpensive external lens, thin-film interference filters, a miniature dovetail stage and a laser diode that excites the fluorescently labeled DNA molecules. The device also includes an app that connects the smartphone to a server at UCLA, which measures the lengths of the individual DNA molecules. The molecules are labeled and stretched on disposable chips that fit in the smartphone attachment. The application transmits the raw images to the server, which rapidly measures the length of each DNA strand. The results of DNA detection and length measurement can be seen on the mobile phone and on remote computers linked to the UCLA server.

The ability to translate these and other existing microscopy and sensing techniques to field-portable, cost-effective and high-throughput instruments can make possible myriad new applications for point-of-care medicine and global health,” said Ozcan, who is also an HHMI Professor with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He went on to say that these devices could have far-reaching positive impact on research and educational efforts in developing countries or resource-limited institutions, helping democratize advanced scientific instruments and measurement tools.

Media Registration: A media room for credentialed press and analysts will be located on-site in the San Jose Convention Center, 11-14 May 2015. Media interested in attending the event should register on the CLEO website media center.


How To Extract Tumor Cells From Blood

An international group led by scientists at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute has developed a new method for effectively extracting and analyzing cancer cells circulating in patients’ blood. Circulating tumor cells are cancer cells that break away from tumors and travel in the blood, looking for places in the body to start growing new tumors called metastases. Capturing these rare cells would allow doctors to detect and analyze the cancer so they could tailor treatment for individual patients. In his laboratory at the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute, Hsian-Rong Tseng, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, used a device he invented to capture circulating tumor cells from blood samples.

The device, called the NanoVelcro Chip, is a postage-stamp–sized chip with nanowires that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair and are coated with antibodies that recognize circulating tumor cells. When 2 milliliters of blood are run through the chip, the tumor cells stick to the nanowires like Velcro.
Now Tseng and his colleagues have developed a thermoresponsive NanoVelcro purification system, which enables them to raise and lower the temperature of the blood sample to capture (at 37 degrees Celsius) and release (at 4 degrees Celsius) circulating tumor cells at their optimal purity.

capture cancer cells

With our new system, we can control the blood’s temperature — the way coffeehouses would with an espresso machine — to capture and then release the cancer cells in great purity, ” said Tseng, who is also a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study, which was published online by the journal ACS Nano, brought together an interdisciplinary team from the U.S., China, Taiwan and Japan.


NanoDiamonds To Fight Glaucoma

By 2020, nearly 80 million people are expected to have glaucoma, a disorder of the eye that, if left untreated, can damage the optic nerve and eventually lead to blindness. Now researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry have created a drug delivery system that may have less severe side effects than traditional glaucoma medication and improve patients‘ ability to comply with their prescribed treatments. The scientists bound together glaucoma-fighting drugs with nanodiamonds and embedded them onto contact lenses. The drugs are released into the eye when they interact with the patient’s tears. The study, led by Dr. Dean Ho, professor of oral biology and medicine and co-director of the Jane and Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology at the UCLA School of Dentistry, appears online in the peer-reviewed journal ACS Nano.

Even with the nanodiamonds embedded, the lenses still possessed favorable levels of optical clarity. And, although mechanical testing verified that they were stronger than normal lenses, there were no apparent changes to water content, meaning that the contact lenses’ comfort and permeability to oxygen would likely be preserved

Delivering timolol through exposure to tears may prevent premature drug release when the contact lenses are in storage and may serve as a smarter route toward drug delivery from a contact lens.” said Kangyi Zhang, co-first author of the study and a graduate student in Ho’s lab.
In addition to nanodiamonds’ promise as triggered drug-delivery agents for eye diseases, they can also make the contact lenses more durable during the course of insertion, use and removal, and more comfortable to wear,” said Ho.

Previous UCLA studies have shown that nanodiamonds could potentially be used to address other diseases and disorders, including cancer and osteonecrosis of the jaw.

Light Releases Chemotherapy Inside Cancer Cells

Researchers from the cancer nanotechnology and signal transduction and therapeutics programs of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) have developed an innovative technique that can carry chemotherapy safely and release it inside cancer cells when triggered by two-photon laser in the infrared red wave length. Drs. Jeffrey Zink, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Fuyu Tamanoi, professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and colleagues published their findings in the journal Small online ahead of print on February 20, 2014.
A light-activated drug delivery system is particularly promising, because it can accomplish spatial and temporal control of drug release. Finding ways to deliver and release anticancer drugs in a controlled manner that only hits the tumor can greatly reduce the amount of side effects from treatment, and also greatly increase the cancer-killing efficacy of the drugs. The difficulty of treating cancer often derives from the difficulties of getting anticancer chemotherapy drugs to tumor cells without damaging healthy tissue in the process. Many cancer patients experience treatment side effects that are the result of drug exposure to healthy tissues.
A major challenge in the development of light-activated drug delivery is to design a system that can respond to tissue-penetrating light. Drs. Tamanoi and Zink joined their diverse teams and collaborated with Dr. Jean-Olivier Durand at University of Montpellier, France, to develop a new type of microscopic particles (nanoparticles) that can absorb energy from tissue-penetrating light that releases drugs in cancer cells.

Another feature of the nanoparticles is that they are fluorescent and thus can be tracked in the body with molecular imaging techniques. This allows the researchers to track the progress of the nanoparticle into the cancer cell to insure that it is in its target before light activation.

We have a wonderful collaboration,” said Zink, “when the JCCC brings together totally diverse fields, in this case a physical chemist and a cell signaling scientist, we can do things that neither one could do alone.”
Our collaboration with scientists at Charles Gerhardt Institute (University of Montpellier) was important to the success of this two-photon activated technique,” said Tamanoi, “which provides controls over drug delivery to allow local treatment that dramatically reduces side effects.”


Cancer: The Promises Of Nanotechnology

In preclinical trials, nanomaterials have produced safer and more effective imaging and drug delivery, and they have enabled researchers to precisely target tumors while sparing patients’ healthy tissue. In addition, nanotechnology has significantly improved the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging, making hard-to-find cancers easier to detect.

A broad spectrum of innovative vehicles is being developed by the cancer nanomedicine community for targeted drug delivery and imaging systems,” said Dr. Ho, author of a new research review published online bye the journal Science Translational Medicine. Ho is co-director of the Jane and Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology at the UCLA School of Dentistry. “It is important to address regulatory issues, overcome manufacturing challenges and outline a strategy for implementing nanomedicine therapies — both individually and in combination — to help achieve widespread acceptance for the clinical use of cancer nanomedicine.

Ho new report features multiple studies in which the use of nanoparticles was translated from the preclinical to the clinical stage. In several of the highlighted studies, nanotechnology-modified drugs showed improvements over conventional, drug-only approaches because of their ability to overcome drug resistance (which occurs when tumors reject the drug and stop responding to treatment), to more effective tumor reduction, among other advantages.

Also described is how algorithm-based methods that rapidly determine the best drug combinations, and computation-based methods that draw information from databases of drug interactions and side effects, to help rationally design drug combinations could potentially be paired with nanomedicine to deliver multiple nano-therapies together to further improve the potency and safety of cancer treatments.
This research review by Dr. Ho and his colleagues lays the groundwork for nanomedicine to become a widely accepted cancer therapy,” said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry. “This blueprint for navigating the process from bench research to mainstream clinical use is invaluable to the nanotechnology community.”


A Step Towards Pancreatic Cancer Healing

Researchers at UCLA‘s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a new technique for fighting deadly and hard-to-treat pancreatic cancer that uses two different types of nanoparticles, the first type clearing a path into tumor cells for the second, which delivers chemotherapy drugs. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or pancreatic cancer, is a deadly disease that is nearly impossible to detect until it is in the advanced stage. Treatment options are limited and have low success rates. The need for innovative and improved treatment of pancreatic cancer cannot be overstated, the researchers said, as a pancreatic cancer diagnosis has often been synonymous with a death sentence. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma tumors are made up of cancer cells that are surrounded by other structural elements called stroma. The stroma can be made of many substances, including connective tissue and pericyte cells, which block standard chemotherapy drugs in tumor blood vessels from efficiently reaching the cancer cells, reducing the effectiveness of treatment.
The dual-wave nanotherapy method employed by Dr Andre Nel and Huang Meng from UCLA uses two different kinds of nanoparticles injected intravenously in a rapid succession. The first wave of nanoparticles carries a substance that removes the pericytes‘ vascular gates, opening up access to the pancreatic cancer cells; the second wave carries the chemotherapy drug that kills the cancer cells.
The research team, led by Dr. Andre Nel, a UCLA professor of nanomedicine and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, and Dr. Huan Meng, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor of nanomedicine, has shown that this new drug-delivery technique is effective in treating pancreatic cancer in a mouse model.

The results of the study are published online in the journal ACS Nano and will be featured in the November 2013 print issue.