Saturday, December 07, 2013

Chinese Scientists use liquid Gallium and X-rays to Image Heart

Scientists in China have recently taken a new approach to the 3D imaging of organs and tissues. They injected a pig heart with liquid gallium instead of the more traditional iodine-based agent and used an x-ray to image the vasculature in the heart. The differences in the imaging are incredible and allow for a much better picture of how even the smallest of capillaries in the heart are arranged. This is possibly the first of many organs to be imaged with this method and may lead to much greater understanding of the body and how it functions. What makes this method even more interesting is that it is being tested to see if it is viable to use to image living tissue because gallium is chemically inert in the body and if done properly, may only need to be in the body for a few moments.

I think this article is pretty cool because the key to understanding a lot of diseases and disorders in the body is knowing how the system functions when everything is working smoothly. With this new imaging technique, large advances may be possible for understanding the body and doctors' abilities to help their patients can be improved.

New artificial, bionic hands start to get real feelings

This article features a new prosthetic bionic hand that is now capable of using measurements from 20 sensor points to control the grip force of its digits.  The sensor data is linked directly to the sensory nerves of the patient's forearm!  The key to making this device work is an instrument known as a cuff electrode. While these electrodes have been under development for decades for use as stimulators for the optic nerve, it has been difficult to get them to reliably stimulate axons for extended periods of time.  Because nerves have a complex cross section where individual channels exchange members continuously along their length. When multiple cuffs are eventually used on the same nerve, this particular feature of nerve bundles will come in handy because it provides a way to target different axons at different points in the nerve.  It appears that the nerves can handle this seeming trauma because the two patients outfitted with these devices have shown good performance now for 18 months.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Neovascularization of Synthetic Membranes Directed by Membrane Microarchitecture

In this study, the porosity of a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane was varied to study the correlation between porosity and vascular growth. It was found that larger pores had 80-100 fold more vascular structures. This type of investigation is a key aspect of preventing immune rejection of tissue transplantation devices. In general, the inflammatory reaction may be attributed to the primary adhesion of a layer of immune cells, the secondary avascular region, and a tertiary vascularized region surrounding the device membrane. The use of such large pore sizes, to induce vascularization, and a laminate to create a smaller pore inner membrane and thus prevent cell entry into the device is ideal for minimization of the inflammatory response.

This study is interesting in that the micro-architecture of the membrane is able to influence the behavior of inflammatory cells. If such a postulate is true universally, it holds that the structure of an engineered matrix itself is able to affect cell behavior. This is a discovery that may have implications in various aspects of the development of membranous devices, tissue scaffold constructs, and other devices that must be protected from immune rejection.

Implantable sensor may monitor cancer and diabetes

Researchers from MIT have recently designed a sensor made of carbon nanotubes which can be used to monitor glucose and nitric oxide levels through fluorescence.  The devise contains 1 nanometer diameter carbon cylinders which have a natural fluorescence which can be altered as chemicals in the body bind.  These changes in fluorescence are monitored by nanotube sensors such as hydrogen oxide.  The sensor is implantable under the skin and can last an estimated 400 days before needing to be replaced.  These sensors would be able to offer real time glucose monitoring for diabetic patients as an alternative to an insulin pump or traditional finger prick testing, a great improvement for more precise readings and less strain on daily living.  I was interested in this article as one of my roommates was recently diagnosed with a rare type of diabetes which he has struggled to keep in check this semester.  This technology would allow him to better control his blood sugar level by giving him constant feedback for the trends of his glucose level after eating or injecting insulin, helping him to avoid the near death experiences he has had in the last few months.

Put Down the (Pill) Bottle

It's a well-hewn chestnut that people with a regular intake of supplement pills earn themselves little more than rather expensive urine. While there often exits a vague hum of Science behind the homeopaths and other sundry pill-pushers, their quoted studies employ methods like squirting a solution of ascorbic acid into a dish with a few cancer cells in it, and seeing how quickly and violently the disembodied cells shrivel to their deaths. 

It's true that free radicals damage tissue. And yes, antioxidant scavengers can, in a sense, scoop up the offensive compounds and allay such damage. However, where is the evidence—the PEER REVIEWED science—  to support the notion that eating organic material which contains such scavengers does any more good than a hill of beans?

To the great misfortune of Big Pharma (of which Alterno-Pharma is merely a branch), it's been accidentally discovered that such supplements can do more than nothing, but can actually harm their placebo-toting hosts. 

For certain demographics, common dietary supplements can have serious, deleterious affects. Last week, a study out of Oxford reported a strong correlation between high levels of Vitamin C and E, and arthritis in the knees. The test was done to conflate antioxidant intake with prevention against OA. Results proved otherwise.

And there's CARET, of course. A β-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial meant to ascertain a link between lung cancer prevention and dietary supplementation. Before the study could finish, it had to be halted for moral reasons. An unseemly sum of patients from the supplemented group were developing and dying from cancer, while the placebo arm remained relatively unscathed.

Be cautious. Look for peer-reviewed studies which conduct randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trials. Eat your fruit and veg, exercise, manage stress. Do all the boring things that aren't written up in glossy magazine articles, and be the master of your own wellbeing. Wellness does not come in a bottle, at three easy payments of $29.95.

Noninvasive Optical Polarimetric Glucose Sensing Using a True Phase Measurement Technique - Berkay Basagaoglu

About 16 million people in the United States have a form of diabetes, a metabolic disease manifested by inadequate control of glycemia. By maintaining a near normal (70–120 mg/dL) glucose concentration, diabetic patients can decrease the occurrence of complications. Therefore noninvasive glucose sensors are sought to provide continuous information on the current glucose levels. A novel method to detect glucose levels is through true phase optical polarimetry, in which the amount of rotation of polarized light by an optically active substance depends on several factors, including concentration. It is currently known that the concentration of glucose in the aqueous humor of the eye is a true reflection of the blood glucose level. Additive amplitude noise in the aqueous humor, due to biochemical and acids, presented a major problem in optical polarimetry. By inducing rotation of the linear polarization vector of the beam, in order to reduce the detection of change, amplitude variations, due to interactions with particulate matter were reduced significantly. In order to induce the rotation, a helium neon laser was passed through a linear polarizing sheet, a quarter wave plate (causes the light to be circularly polarized), and a rotating linear polarizer affixed to a motor (rotates the light at a specific frequency).

This article was interesting for me because they were able to noninvasively monitor an in vivo concentration through optics. 

Robots to the Rescue!

If you have taken Dr. Wasser's class this semester, then you obviously remember the nanorobot project! Well, the theoretical research and design our groups created this semester might not be as far into the future as we thought!

Researchers at Berekely are currently researching this area of medicine, but mostly on the micro scale rather than the nano. They are building what they call "soft robots" that are small enough to squeeze through the body. Their goal is to get them smaller than 100 microns, which is the size of a human hair. The soft robots are designed primarily as a drug releasing mechanism. They are constructed from materials that can absorb or release water when heated or cooled. Once inside the body, an infrared laser is shined upon them which causes them to contract and release the medicine.

This topic interested me because we just spent four months researching and designing a device similar to this! From our research, we all know the benefits this advance in medicine could have. The bots would have a more localized target. They would also be able to release the drugs on a more varied time scale. The benefits are fantastic!!

For more information:

Nanoparticle both kills cancer cell and monitors its process

Researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia have developed a new method to track cancer cells. A metallic nanoparticle that is able to enter cancer cells provides new information about the release of drugs and diffusion through the tissue. Florescence of the nanoparticles allows the researchers to learn how drugs are released in a true biological environment instead of invitro experiments
This enables drugs to target cancerous cells in a tissue and also follow the pathway the drugs take. Polymer shells attaches to the drug doxorubicin and are able to enter the cancerous cells. These new nanoparticles will hopefully enable physicians and surgeons to easily recognize cancerous cells and target these cells directly for treatment. Eventually enabling individually adapted treatments. Since cancer is a very prevalent disease this method of improving treatment of cancer patients will be a big breakthrough.

How Scientists Could Watch Brain Chemicals Through The Skull

One team of researchers at Northwestern University is developing a way of tracking neurotransmitters in a living brain. Their technique, if successful, could one day allow us to non-invasively view chemical messages as they move throughout the brain. The team hopes to accomplish this by attaching chemically modified gold nanoparticles to the target chemical and using Raman (the Indian physicist, not the delicious noodles) spectroscopy to detect them. So far, the team has only carried out tests on raw lamb meat, but they have been successful at detecting the gold through bone.

I found this interesting because it is cutting edge bioengineering research. This is something that has never been done before, and if these researchers are successful the potential for learning about how neurotransmitters work will be almost limitless.


Noninvasive glucose testing for diabetics

As of right now, being a diabetic really stinks.  The tests that need to be taken for blood sugar levels are numerous and require the finger to be pricked upwards of 3-5 times a day so that the diabetic knows if they need to take medication or not.  Echo therapeutics is in the process of developing a noninvasive way for these tests to be taken without subjecting the diabetic to thousands of needles pricking their fingers.  It requires another of Echo's technology that removes the topmost layer of skin in a small area so that the Symphony CGM bio-sensor can be placed closer to the blood.  This bio-sensor is then connected wirelessly to monitor and will sound alarms if the glucose levels of the blood go out of a range predetermined by a doctor.  This will not only help diabetics at home, but with this device, doctors will no longer need to test a patient every few hours in the hospital, the monitor will automatically scan and send glucose levels every minute.  This continuous stream of data can then be used by doctors to determine how often a diabetic is out of range and work to make a more personalized medical plan for each patient.

This is of interest to me because my grandmother and a lot of people on my father's side of the family have diabetes and are always complaining about having to prick their fingers all the time.  I thought it was cool that this product was being developed specifically because of this complaint.

Replacing Antibodies: Engineering New Binding Proteins

One aim of protein engineering is to generate mutant proteins with enhanced or novel functions. As the variation among ligand-binding receptors is governed by folding and the diverse structures of protein domains, this can be accomplished through manipulation of natural or synthetic DNA. Antibodies are currently the preferred proteins for clinical use as biomolecular recognition elements in disease pathology. However, antibodies have limitations and protein scaffolds, polypeptide frameworks amenable to mutations or insertions, allow new high-affinity binding domains to be evolved. For example, antibodies are structurally reliant on disulfide bridges which cannot form in the cytosol of microbial hosts, while protein scaffolds express and fold efficiently in bacterial cytoplasm.

X-ray crystallography and modeling software allow for identification of suitable sites for mutagenesis in proteins that do not naturally participate in biomolecular recognition. Mutant constructs and libraries are generated based on these identifications, and mutants with a desired trait are isolated by selection of translated protein binding domains.

One application of these mutant proteins is in selective recognition of membrane-bound proteins associated with cancerous tissue. Protein scaffolds, such as the affibody molecule, have more favorable structural attributes than antibodies. An affibody, the first non-Ig protein to reach clinical trials for in vivo cancer imaging, is derived from a domain of a staphylococcal protein and selects for potential binders to human epidermal growth-factor receptor 2 (HER2) which is linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

I recently had a conversation with my mother, who claimed that the concept of receptors is a relatively new phenomenon and that she did not learn about them when she attended medical school. Having been through a semester of physiology now, I have a hard time conceiving the subject without such a crucial concept. It seems that receptors govern almost everything in the body (even cancer), so protein engineering has the potential to be extremely effective in medical application. As I posted previously, I am increasingly interested in the field of biomaterials and I could easily see myself involved in a similar field.

Anti-Cancer Drug that Reverses the Effects of Alzheimer’s?

A drug with the original intent of treating cancer has shown the reverse effects of Alzheimer’s when tested on mice. That being said, the drug, bexarotene, was tested on both male and female mice and exhibited improved cognitive skill, memory, and ability while not showing any signs of abnormal physical side effects or behavior. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health originally tested the drug for T cell lymphoma until they noticed the improved cognitive benefits in mice expressing gene mutations similar to that of human Alzheimer’s.
Researches are trying to find the connection between bexarotene and Amyloid plaques. Amyloid plagues are derived from amyloid beta protein (which can damage or destroy neurons) and can cause the noticeable side effects of Alzheimer’s such as memory deficiency. The drug essentially decreases the amount of amyloid beta peptides in the interstitial fluid and thus helps improve cognitive skill and recollection of memories.

I found this article to be interesting because it provides yet another possible solution in the battle against Alzheimer’s. If the drug actually aids in human cognitive skill for those who express Alzheimer’s disease, the drug could be help millions and help those who suffer from the disease.

Frontal Bone Remodeling for Gender Reassignment Surgery of the Male Forehead

Gender reassignment surgery (GRS) or genital reconstruction surgery is a medical term for the surgical procedures by which any random person's physical appearance and function of their existing sexual characteristics are altered to resemble that of the other sex. 

This article mainly describes the procedures that are used by the surgeons and the materials implanted into the male frontal bone to reconstruct the forehead to resemble a more feminine look on their expressions, in other words patients are undergoing feminizing cranioplasty. In this case, the material hydroxyapatite cement (HAC) composed of tetracalcium phosphate and dicalcium phosphate seems to be a good alternative, since it has been used in most patients, and due to its biocompatible and reconstructive properties. It also permits osseointegration, which makes it relatively resistant to infection. Overall, the results were very satisfactory.

I found this article interesting as it explains the difference between the male and female cranial structure. Reconstructive surgeries may be able to recreate a feminine look but it shows that the female features are very distinct from a male’s facial structure. And, I have found out that bossing across the orbital rims and hooding of the lateral orbit must be reduced to give a lifted eyebrow look.  Also, the concavity on the forehead above the area of the residual bossing must be filled, which eliminates the masculine characteristic and gives a continuous female curvature of the forehead on a male.

Scientists block the replication of HIV-1

   Scientists from Spanish Universities have managed to develop a terphenyl molecule that can block the replication of the HIV-1. For the viral RNA to replicate, it must first bind to a protein called Rev to leave the cell nucleus. The inhibiting terphenyl binds to the Rev receptors on the viral RNA and hence blocks the virus from Rev and leaving the nucleus. The molecule was experimentally tested and showed to block replication as theorized.
  This development could be monumental in paving the road to new treatments for HIV/AIDS which are desperately needed as viral resistance to current therapies has been increasing and the fact that there is no real vaccine in existence. HIV/AIDS has always seemed a daunting threat to me and hearing of new, alternative approaches that show promise gives me hope that the virus will eventually become an issue of the past.

Initial Worldwide Experience With the WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage System for Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation

Scientist have come up with a way to help prevent strokes. They deploy this small parachute device that seals off the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA). This parachute helps stop any clots that are formed in the heart from leaving and going to the brain, thus keeping strokes from happening. Patients with afib have to use blood thinners frequently to stop the coagulation and clot from forming. The thinners have a downfall and aren't the best for your body, especially for long periods of time. In another small blurb I read that it was a form of rat poison which just sounds bad!

This article grabbed my attention because my grandmother recently passed and had 6 strokes before doing so and my neighboy back home suffered from a massive stroke and has to relearn everything there is about life. He will never make a full recovery. It turned his familys' life upside down. They had to move and he hadn't retired yet. It's just a mess. So strokes for the time being feel pretty close to home for me. The article sounded like this procedure (Watchman Procedure) is only performed on people with atrial fibrillation, but it gives me hope that someday maybe we will have a better handle on strokes than just using thinners. While thinners are helpful they don't always get the job done.

A noninvasive way to detect chronic gastrointestinal diseases.

Recently scientist have discovered a new way  to detect and diagnosis various gastrointestinal tract disorder by simply swallowing a pill. This pill contains a miniature endoscope, which allows the doctors to view the various structures in the gastrointestinal tract.  This procedure is non-invasive and proved to be the most effective in identifying structural abnormalities, chronic issues, and obscure bleeding.  This exposes the patient to no radiation and simply allows nature to guide the endoscope through the tract. It takes a total of 18 hours to be excreted. The pill comes with an external antenna with attached portable computer, and a workstation with appropriate software for review, interpretation, and reporting of images.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Step Aside Google Glass: California Company Invents, Releases X-Ray Glasses

Evena in partnership with Epson, created Eyes-on-Glasses, which are glasses that allow you to have x-ray vision. These glasses don't let you see all the way to the bone but it allows you to see under the skin enough to see the veins and other vascular structures. These x-ray glasses would allow doctors to better insert IVs, to avoid patients feeling the discomfort that is usually felt because it usually takes more than once to insert an IV. It is very hard for doctors to find the tiny veins of young children and these glasses will help with that.
The glasses work by using both wireless connectivity and 3D imaging.  

This caught my eye because it is always something that kids talk about and superheroes supposedly have and now it is reality. It is amazing to me how far technology has come and I think this is something that will definitely help in hospital environments.

Horizon Awakening the Frozen Addicts

Parkinsonism (imprisonment in their own bodies)

Parkinsonism is an environmental disease also known as atypical Parkinson’s that is very similar to Parkinson’s disease. Both diseases occur from the death of cells producing dopamine causing a lack of dopamine in the brain. This allows the thought of movement to not be translated to the act of movement in the brain. Basically, patients with Parkinsonism knew in their brain that they needed to move, but could not know how to allow their muscles to perform the movement.
The only difference with Parkinsonism is that, the induced drug automatically damaged the Substantia Nigra, which produces dopamine. Both diseases include symptoms such as tremor, hyperkinesia, rigidity, impaired speech, inability to blink, loss of facial expressions, muscle stiffness and slow movements. Parkinson’s disease is mainly found in elder people and usually develops over a longer period of time. One of the effects found in Parkinson’s is the degeneration of the basal ganglia, which results in movement impairment. Parkinsonism first appeared in patients who were of a younger age and it occurred automatically after taking a drug that was thought to be heroin, but was created using different chemicals one of which was MPTP.
L-DOPA is a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
By using L-DOPA to patients with Parkinsonism, this caused many side effects one was excessive movement that could not be taken under control. In conclusion, Parkinson’s disease is a severe aging disease. The cause of Parkinson’s disease still remains unknown. Parkinson’s may have both genetic and environmental risk factors, but it is still indeterminate as to what the actual cause is.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Water-based Brain Imaging

Normally when a patient is preparing to undergo neurosurgery, they are told that there are many risks involved. Every inch of the brain contains millions of nerve fibers that are all responsible for different functions. In order to get to the tumors, those nerve lines must be crossed, which poses potential injury due to lack of preciseness. Now, however, neurosurgeons at the University of California at San Diego have come up with a solution—water. It seems so simple, but the reality of the matter is that water travels in a specifically oriented way in brain nerves. By tracking these distinct properties, a color-coded map may be viewed to see exactly where the nerve fibers are. The biggest breakthrough with this technology is the fact that certain nerves that are viewed as more important such as sight and hearing may be avoided all together during surgery.

This article initially caught my eye because it didn’t seem feasible. How could something as simple as water be the solution to so many current neurosurgical problems? It amazes me that there are people that can figure these things out and create such advances in technology. I’m sure that the effects of this discovery will ripple through the medical field, much like other developments do. There is a possible chance that this technique may later be developed and used to interpret and diagnose neurological disorders and so much more.

Function Tissue Made From Stem Cells

         Dr. Snoeck of the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology was able to differentiate stem cells into lung cells. This has many significant results, one being the ability for researches to study how lung diseases originate in hopes of better treatment options. These results are beneficial in that 90% of the time, the cells of lung transplant recipients reject the donated organ, and also, the 10 year survival rate for the recipients is only 28%.
         Snoeck did so by converting stem cells into the precursor endoderm cells that then would differentiate into six different respiratory tissues. One of those six includes type 2 alveolar cells that allows the lungs to maintain with air, and also aids with gas exchange. These methods also leave possibilities for patients to regrow a disease-free lung, thereby eliminating the need to wait on a transplant list as well as the risk for rejection of a transplant. In this situation, scientists would remove and decellularize the patient’s lung, coat it with stem cells, and place the organ back into the patient after the regrowth of tissue.
         Columbia University has filed a patent for whatever their specific technique is to retain these results, but it is still under research.

Changing Cell Types

The common belief in the scientific community is that only early embryonic stem cells are capable of becoming any cell in the body, a quality known as pluripotency. Adult stem cells have proved to be multipotent, or capable of becoming multiple types of cells. However, scientists have recently, for the first time, successfully changed a cell that was already differentiated into a completely different cell type.

Using a roundworm as the animal model in the experiment, the scientists introduced a protein known as transcription factor ELT-7 into the roundworm's genome. A transcription factor is a protein that is responsible for turning certain genes on in cells. In a fully differentiated cell, a very specific set of transcription factors are present which give the cell the characteristics and functions of the type of cell that it has become. In the experiment, the scientists were able to successfully change the transcription factors in a pharynx cell and the cell transformed and performed as a intestinal cell.

The experiment proved to have limitations, though. When skin, muscle, and nerve cells were called on to transform in a similar manner that the pharynx cell was called upon, they did not transform and instead remained in their fully-differentiated state. Scientists are still trying to determine why certain types of cells respond to the transformation and why other cells do not.

The article was interesting to me because if this technique can be further developed for human use, it has the potential for huge success in regenerative medicine. A tissue or an organ could theoretically be created using a completely different type of cell.


Printing Out a Biological Machine

I stumbled across this article when searching for news on 3D-printing in biotechnology and noticed that it pertained to nano/microbots. Scientist U of IL have 3D printed tiny biological bots that are part hydrogel, part muscle cell. The gel forms a type of springboard that can flex back and forth. On the underside, there is a layer of heart muscle cells that form connections between one another. When stimulated, these muscle cells contract in unison, thus flexing the springboard and creating movement of the "bot." The researchers are looking into different ways to regulate the level of stimulation of the heart muscles; ideas for this include chemical stimulation, such as caffeine on the heart muscles to speed up contractions, or using light pulses to control when the cells contract.

I found this interesting because it related to struggles that we had on our device design project. Although it is on a much larger than non-scale, it is a very interesting idea to create movement for bots. It would also not face issues with bio-compatibility, assuming the heart muscle cells were taken from the same organism the bot was being used in.

Low vitamin D levels may damage the brain

Researchers at the University of Kentucky have discovered that low vitamin D levels can lead to damage to the brain.   Certain proteins levels rise when low vitamin D levels occur, and these high levels of proteins can lead to free radical damage. Middle-aged rats that were given low levels  of vitamin D consistently performed lower on cognitive tests.
Vitamin D can be difficult to build into one's diet.   However, sunshine can help raise these levels.  We should get 10-15 minutes of sunshine each day to help raise these levels.

I found this interesting because it is finals week.  This gives us an excuse to take a break and enjoy the sunshine on a clear day.  Also, my great grandmother had Alzheimer's, and low levels of vitamin D has been linked to this disease.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Teasing Out New Teeth

Researchers have been able to successfully combine cells from human gum tissue and combine it with cells from the molars of fetal mice to form teeth with viable roots. This accomplishment indicates a great improvement in our ability to bioengineer new teeth for people who have lost their original ones. It has been established that when embryonic epithelial cells in the mouth are combined with mesenchymal cells from the neural crest, normal teeth develop. The reason this research is so important is because it uses a non-embryonic source of cells that may be used clinically.

            A stem cell biologist, Paul Sharpe, was able to successfully extract epithelial cells from the gums of adult humans and mix them with mesenchymal tooth cells from embryonic mice and later transplant this mixture to tissues around the kidneys of living mice where the cell mixture sometimes developed into a hybrid of human and mouse teeth that contained growing roots. This research proves that epithelial cells from adult human gum tissue are able to respond to signals from mouse tooth mesenchyme to create teeth. This means that gum cells are a possible source for clinical production of replacement teeth.

This article was interesting to me because I know a lot of the aging population unfortunately are not able to keep their teeth for the duration of their life, but if we were able to replace lost teeth, people would not be at a disadvantage if their own original teeth were lost.


Prenatal exposure to alcohol disrupts brain circuitry

     Although it is somewhat well known that drinking high levels of alcohol while pregnant can harm the baby and that moderation is the key, a new study shows that there isn't a "safe level" of alcohol that can be had whilst the woman is pregnant. Even a little could cause cognitive issues with the child.
     Neuroscientists from the University of California, Riverside recently discovered how alcohol reconnects parts of the brain in an erroneous way. The neocortex of the brain helps individuals with things such as balance, emotion and thought. When the mother consumes alcohol,  the intraneocortical links between  the visual cortex, frontal cortex and the somatosensory cortex are  messed with. This was seen with the mice in the experiment that was done by the researchers.
    This article is significant in that it provides proof that a widely held misconception is wrong. Many mothers may drink what they deem "safe levels" of alcohol ignorant of the fact that it could be harming the fetus. The research conducted on this topic helps prevent babies from being born with certain diseases similar to autism and FASD by making mothers aware of the impact of what seems like a harmless little drink. Also research on how alcohol manipulates the formation of the brain can help other researchers understand various diseases that are linked to alcohol consumption in order to possibly find a cure.

Award-Winning Research May Make ACL Healing Without Reconstruction Possible

    Recent research, worthy of the 2013 Ann Doner Vaughn Kappa Delta Award, has produced promising results for the possibility of a "bio-enhanced repair" method to treat rupture of the anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL).  Martha M. Murray, MD, and Braden C. Fleming, PhD, noting that more than 2/3 of patients who underwent ACL reconstruction developed osteoarthritis within 10-15 years of surgery, set out to develop a method of facilitating self-healing of the ACL as to avoid reconstruction and the associated long-term negative consequences.
    The team first studied the natural healing processes of the ACL vs those of extra-articular ligaments, such as the MCL. While the two had comparable rates of proliferation, revascularization, and collagen production, the most noticeable difference was the lack of provisional scaffold in the ACL. The MCL created a bridge between the two torn ends of the ligament upon which the body could scar and construct a replacement ligament, but the synovial fluid that bathes the ACL washed the bridge away such that no regrowth could occur. In order to mimic this process seen in the MCL, and facilitate the same regrowth in the ACL, the researchers set out to engineer a scaffold that would allow the body to regrow its own ligament and eliminate the need for tendon graft reconstruction. Much like the scaffold implanted in the rabbits we read about in our first SNBAL, the researchers found the most effective method of promoting growth was to introduce specific enzymes, growth factors, and platelet-rich plasma along with the scaffold. 
    The mechanism was tested in a large-animal model and yielded promising results. Following FDA approval, the next step is to conduct clinical trials and hope this new method of treatment will provide a better option for those who suffer ACL rupture.
    I found this article particularly interesting because I have had very considerable complications following the reconstruction of my ACL. Nearly two years post-op, I've undergone another surgery and am still not performing at the level I was pre-op. The development of osteoarthritis in my joint seems inevitable. Because I believe many of the complications I have encountered are a result of the invasive surgery, I am excited by the prospect of a new treatment option that would hopefully provide future patients with a greater chance of successful healing.

Device Helps Stroke Patients Increase Mobility

Paul Cordo has created a device that has shown great promise in improving mobility of stroke patients. Cordo’s device works by surrounding the flexor and extensor sides of the affected muscle and assisting in the movement of the muscle by passively shortening and stretching it. While the affected muscle is being flexed, a vibrator on the extensor side is turned on and the opposite is done for the flexor side. A computer also gives the patient visual feedback on what part of the muscle the device is moving. The goal with this setup is to improve the communication between the brain and the muscle by creating what Cordo called, “…an ‘exaggerated perception of movement’ in the central nervous system”. In doing this, the brain will be able to differentiate between voluntary and motorized movement, and keep track of the nerves recruited for each movement.  
            I chose this article because I liked how the topic integrated information from both neurophysiology and muscle physiology to come up with a solution to an important health problem we face today. I also enjoy reading about how different aspects of physiology that we have learned about are being coupled with today’s technology in order to help others, and this article is a great example of that.

Nanobots and Blood Clots

MIT researchers have combined nanomedicine with urine tests to provide a cheap, safe, and noninvasive way to determine a patient's risk of blood clots.  Using mice as their test subjects, the researchers injected an iron oxide nanoparticle into the blood stream that could safely travel throughout the body.  The particle is coated with peptides that detect thrombin, the enzyme that causes blood clots.  When thrombin is detected, the peptides break off and are filtered out into the patient's urine.  The urine is then tested for the presence of the peptides, with higher peptide levels indicating a higher level of thrombin in the blood and therefore a higher risk for severe blood clots.

The test can be used as a one-time test for patients displaying symptoms of blood clots, but it is also cheap enough that it could be used as a daily test for those patients suspected of a high risk of blood clots, given a way to test their urine at home.

I found this article interesting because the lead author of the research, Sangeeta Bhatia, is planning to create a company based on this technology.  As up-and-coming bioengineers, it is important to keep up with new companies because they provide job opportunities for us in the future.  Also, the author believes that by continuing work in this area, the same technology could be used to detect cancer and/or other diseases.  Personally, I am very interested in cancer research and am interested to see if the technology is successful in that area of medicine.

Teeny Tiny Pacemaker Fits Inside the Heart

            This article refers to a pacemaker that has been approved by the European Union but still has to run some more trials in order for it to be approved by the US. This pacemaker in particular reduces the risk of a lot of complications that an open heart surgery brings by inserting the device in a catheter that is introduced into the femoral artery and then transferred to a chamber of the heart. This procedure is done in only 30 minutes and the pacemaker can be easily removed and replaced by the same procedure used to insert it.

            I found this article really interesting because it deals with the branch of biomechanics, specifically cardiovascular mechanics which is the branch I’m interested in. It shows how improvements are being made every day and in this particular article it demonstrates how an open heart surgery can be replaced by a procedure that is not as dangerous and takes a really small amount of time.

            Here’s the link to access this file:

Causes of Menopause

"Putting the Men in Menopause"

This article goes into three different theories as to why women experience menopause, making them non-reproductive half way through their lifespan. Generally women experience menopause during their late 40s. 
The first and most popular explanation is the grandmother hypothesis. Older females genetically contribute to future generations by helping raise their grandchildren rather than continuing to bear and raise children of their own. The other leading theory is the life-span artifact hypothesis. This suggests that menopause is the by-product of an increase in life expectancy. The life expectancy for women in the early 1900s was 50 years old as opposed to now it is closer to 80. This assumes that over time, only males have extended fertility coupled with increased longevity, possibly to father more children.
The main subject of this article is a newly developed theory that looks at changes in mating behavior as a cause of early menopause with respect to life span. The modern trend of older men mating with younger women causes female fertility to decline with age. A team of researchers created a computer simulation to model this development over a long period of time.
In my opinion, this is not a very well development hypothesis because it makes too many assumptions about human's behavioral patterns and the genesis of menopause. It is, however, an interesting article and worth reading.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Nanoparticle to deliver and track drug

New nanoparticle has been created with iron oxide to function as "theranostics." The term "theranostics" refers to simultaneously treating and diagnosing. The particles are being used for cancer cells, specifically breast cancer and lung cancer. The nanoparticles release the drug for treatment and can also be tracked, allowing for better monitoring of the drug and its affects. This way, doses can be adjusted more easily for better results.

This is an interesting development in biomedical engineering for students in Physiology class because of our long term project to come up with a nanobot to cure a disease. Many groups also looked into drug delivery as a method for the nanobots, and considered methods of tracking the bots.

News article:

Literature (explains particle synthesis and method of monitoring drug):

Black Silicon Slices and Dices Bacteria

Bacteria are everywhere like it or not, and even though they are not all bad we all know the ones that are can get nasty quickly. As keeping surfaces clean is not only imperative for general health but also research, surgery, and much more research is being done to find better ways to eliminate the many microbes that would do harm. One group pursuing a better way to fight microbes are a group of researchers at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Their research involved comparing a nanomaterial known as black Silicon to the Wandering Percher Dragonfly's wings. This dragonfly's wings are similar in structure to the black Silicon, which is a nanomaterial with many spiky protrusions. The surface created by these materials creates a "mechanical bacteria killing effect which is unrelated to the chemical composition of the surface". In some preliminary testing both materials were very effective and "exhibited an estimated average bacteria killing rates of up to 450,000 bacteria per minute of exposure for every square centimeter of available surface." The applications of this technology are wide and varied, as anything needing to be sterile could be coated with this material. The most interesting aspect of this I believe is that researchers are finding ways to kill bacteria that don't necessarily involve drugs or chemicals.



The lymphatic system helps maintain homeostasis of liquids in the body by fighting infections, targeting the immune system, as well as cleansing the body of toxins and unwanted material. Active lymphatic pumping and regulation of fluids play significant roles in the wellbeing of the body. As a result, this article presents the study of how lymphatic vessel’s contraction behaves. The author uses bovine lymphatic vessel for the experiment. The method basically carries out as the 1% albumin physiological saline solution is added periodically into a tissue bath contained the vessel in order to create a period of action potential in the membrane of the vessel. The contraction of the vessel is studied as the solution is added and the contraction time period is also recorded. The relationship between diameter of the vessel, the generating force, and the tension is built based on both physical and biological aspects. In addition, the author uses knowledge from already-known type of vessels such as skeletal, vascular, and cardiac vessel in order to compare and make hypothesis for lymphatic vessel. The result proves that the uniqueness of lymphatic vessel’s contraction is a combination of both incomplete relaxation and electrical summation. Moreover, the duration of the lymphatic vessel’s contraction happens in a physiological range. Finally, all of the mentioned results are originated from the slow rate of relaxation and periodic spontaneous contractions of lymphatic vessels.

I am interested in this article since I am doing an experiment which is fairly similar to the one this article describes.  Working in a Debakey research team, I and my teammates are setting up the experiment in order to study the rat’s lymphatic vessel’s behaviors. We use myography apparatus to collect contraction data from the vessel. There are also some small changes and adjustments in our method comparing this article’s method. Beside my experiment, this article helps me to understand deeper about vessel’s contraction behaviors and membrane’s potential mechanism.

Source of Chemotherapy Resistance

Researchers as the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute have an answer as to why reoccurring cancer tumors are resistant to chemotherapy that administered previously.  The researchers studied colon cancer cells and their sensitivity to the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin and found that this resistance in reoccurring tumors is due to an inactivated SRBC gene that is not present in the original tumors.  The result of the inactivated gene is that the cancerous cells can survive by quickly repairing the damage done by the chemotherapy to the cell.  Inactivation of the SRBC gene has been associated with a more deadly cancer and, by default, a lower survival rate.  This discovery is important because doctors now have an idea of why a particular treatment is not working and can develop a more personalized treatment plan according to the tumor’s response to the drugs.  Patients with this inactivated gene will need a different type of chemotherapy than others who have a tumor with the activated SRBC gene or will need epigenetic drugs to restore cancerous cell’s sensitivity to oxaliplatin. 
I found this article interesting because finding the source of resistance to treatment is the first step to solving the problem.  Cancer is something that affects nearly everyone in one way or another and any advancements that can be made in the field have the potential to save thousands of lives.  This knowledge of an inactivated gene can help oncologists develop a better and more effective treatment plan for their patients and can increase the survival rate of patients with colon cancer.