How To Detect Cancer With a Urine Test

Researchers centered at Nagoya University (Japan) develop a nanowire device able to detect microscopic levels of urinary markers potentially implicated in cancerCells communicate with each other through a number of different mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms are well-known: in animals, for example, predatory threats can drive the release of norepinephrine, a hormone that travels through the bloodstream and triggers heart and muscle cells to initiate a “fight-or-flight” response. A far less familiar mode of cellular transport is the extracellular vesicle (EV). EVs can be thought of as small “chunks” of a cell that are able to pinch off and circulate throughout the body to deliver messenger cargo to other cells. These messengers have become increasingly recognized as crucial mediators of cell-to-cell communication.

In a new study reported in Science Advances, researchers centered at Nagoya University have developed a novel medical device that can efficiently capture these EVs, and potentially use them to screen for cancer.


EVs are potentially useful as clinical markers. The composition of the molecules contained in an EV may provide a diagnostic signature for certain diseases,” lead author Takao Yasui explains. “The ongoing challenge for physicians in any field is to find a non-invasive diagnostic tool that allows them to monitor their patients on a regular basis–for example, a simple urine test.”

Among the many molecules EVs have been found to harbor are microRNAs, which are short pieces of ribonucleic acid that play diverse roles in normal cellular biology. Critically, the presence of certain microRNAs in urine might serve as a red flag for serious conditions such as bladder and prostate cancer. While this important cargo could therefore theoretically aid physicians in cancer diagnoses, there are still many technological hurdles that need to be overcome. One such hurdle: finding a feasible method to capture EVs in sufficient quantities to analyze them in a routine clinical setting.

The content of EVs in urine is extremely low, at less than 0.01% of the total fluid volume. This is a major barrier to their diagnostic utility,” Yasui notes. “Our solution was to embed zinc oxide nanowires into a specialized polymer to create a material that we believed would be highly efficient at capturing these vesicles. Our findings suggest that the device is indeed quite efficient. We obtained a collection rate of over 99%, surpassing ultracentrifugation as well as other methods that are currently being used in the field.


China, Global Leader In NanoScience

Mobile phones, computers, cosmetics, bicyclesnanoscience is hiding in so many everyday items, wielding a huge influence on our lives at a microscale level. Scientists and engineers from around the world exchanged new findings and perceptions on nanotechnology at the recent 7th International Conference on Nanoscience and Technology (ChinaNANO 2017) in Beijing last week. China has become a nanotechnology powerhouse, according to a report released at the conference. China’s applied nanoscience research and the industrialization of nanotechnology have been developing steadily, with the number of nano-related patent applications ranking among the top in the world.

According to Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China faces new opportunities for nanoscience research and development as it builds the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology  (NCNST) and globally influential national science centers.

We will strengthen the strategic landscape and top-down design for developing nanoscience, which will contribute greatly to the country’s economy and society,” said Bai.

Nanoscience can be defined as the study of the interaction, composition, properties and manufacturing methods of materials at a nanometer scale. At such tiny scales, the physical, chemical and biological properties of materials are different from those at larger scales — often profoundly so.

For example, alloys that are weak or brittle become strong and ductile; compounds that are chemically inert become powerful catalysts. It is estimated that there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market, including lightweight but sturdy tennis rackets, bicycles, suitcases, automobile parts and rechargeable batteries. Nanomaterials are used in hairdryers or straighteners to make them lighter and more durable. The secret of how sunscreens protect skin from sunburn lies in the nanometer-scale titanium dioxide or zinc oxide they contain.

In 2016, the world’s first one-nanometer transistor was created. It was made from carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulphide, rather than silicon.
Carbon nanotubes or silver nanowires enable touch screens on computers and televisions to be flexible, said Zhu Xing, chief scientist (CNST). Nanotechnology is also having an increasing impact on healthcare, with progress in drug delivery, biomaterials, imaging, diagnostics, active implants and other therapeutic applications. The biggest current concern is the health threats of nanoparticles, which can easily enter body via airways or skin. Construction workers exposed to nanopollutants face increased health risks.

The report was co-produced by Springer Nature, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).


Revolution In The Nanotechnology Industry

After six years of painstaking effort, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) materials scientists believe their breakthrough in growing tiny sheets of zinc oxide could have huge implications for the future of nanomaterial manufacturing—and in turn, on a host of electronic and biomedical devices.
The group, led by Xudong Wang, an associate professor of science and engineering at UW-Madison, and postdoctoral researcher Fei Wang, has developed a novel technique for synthesizing two-dimensional nanosheets from compounds that do not naturally form the atomic-layer-thick materials. Essentially the microscopic equivalent of a single sheet of paper, a 2D nanosheet is a material that is constrained to up to only a few atomic layers in one direction. Nanomaterials—materials that are constrained in at least one dimension to a maximum of a handful of atomic layers—have unique physical properties that alter their electronic and chemical properties in relation to their compositionally identical but conventional, and larger, material counterparts.


What’s nice with a 2D nanomaterial is that because it’s a sheet, it’s much easier for us to manipulate compared to other types of nanomaterials,” says Xudong Wang. Xudong Wang first had the idea for using a surfactant to grow nanosheets during a lecture he was giving in a course on nanotechnology in 2009. “The course includes a lecture about self-assembly of monolayers,” adds Xudong Wang. “Under the correct conditions, a surfactant will self-assemble to form a monolayer. This is a well-known process that I teach in class. So while teaching this I wondered why we wouldn’t be able to reverse this method and use the surfactant monolayer first to grow the crystalline face.

It is the first time such a technique has been successful, and the researchers described their findings in the journal Nature Communications.


Sunblocks Are Toxic For Aquatic Life

The sweet and salty aroma of sunscreen and seawater signals a relaxing trip to the shore. But scientists from the Université Aix-Marseille, France, are now reporting that the idyllic beach vacation comes with an environmental hitch. When certain sunblock ingredients wash off skin and into the sea, they can become toxic to some of the ocean’s tiniest inhabitants, which are the main course for many other marine animals.

Antonio Tovar-Sanchez and David Sánchez-Quiles (IMERAUniversité Aix Marseille) point out that other than staying indoors, slathering on sunscreen is currently the best way to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays. But when sunbathers splash into the ocean to cool off, some of their lotions and creams get rinsed into the water. The problem is that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles, which are common ingredients in sunblock, can react with ultraviolet light from the sun and form new compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, that could be toxic. High amounts of hydrogen peroxide can harm phytoplankton, the microscopic algae that feed everything from small fish to shrimp to whales. The scientists wanted to figure out just how serious of an impact beachgoers could be having on life in coastal waters.

To investigate the matter, they hit the beach. They went to Majorca Island’s Palmira beach on the Mediterranean along with about 10,000 beachgoers, a small portion of the more than 200 million tourists that flock to Mediterranean shores every year. Based on lab tests, seawater sampling and tourism data, the researchers concluded that titanium dioxide from sunblock was largely responsible for a dramatic summertime spike in hydrogen peroxide levels in coastal waters — with potentially dangerous consequences for aquatic life.