Save the date – Biotech & law conference May 5-7, 2016

The first annual Biotech & the Law Global Conference, May 5-7, 2016, takes place this year at the Monona Terrace Conference Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference constitutes an international gathering of biotech researchers, lawyers, and business leaders coming together to network across disciplines and make new professional connections.

Wisconsin, claiming a history of biotech innovation that reaches back more than a century, offers a unique culture of public-private tech transfer that supports over 1600 businesses and earns the state the moniker, “Biotech’s Third Coast.”

The conference presents a unique opportunity for professionals to earn continuing education and take advantage of the resources of Madison’s academic and business communities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Morgridge Institute for Discovery, and a host of private and public interests in the health care, agriculture, and environmental science fields.

Registration is now open for Biotech & the Law on the conference website.

Related articles

Marker in cells mutated back to stem-cell-state may be able to predict cancer

English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation

English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News of a marker that may serve as a way to predict which cells will become cancer comes out of a recent study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital. Scientists were able to isolate a substance that appeared in a cell that had reverted to its stem-cell-state and then became cancerous in zebrafish that subsequently developed melanoma.

“The spark for that change was in the crestin gene, which should only be active in embryonic tissue but became inappropriately activated again, resulting in melanoma,” according to the article online at www.newvision.co.ug/. One of the authors of the study said “the beginning of cancer occurs after activation of an oncogene or loss of a tumor suppressor, and involves a change that takes a single cell back to a stem cell state.”

Now a fish is not a human being, so this information is a long way from having practical application in your doctor’s office. But the principle behind this discovery will guide further research and additional hoped-for developments.

Non-depressed heart failure patients have 80% lower risk of early death

Millions of Americans suffer from heart failure, and it’s the leading cause of hospitalization for people over 65. It comes in four stages, from mild to severe, and is a progressive and always eventually fatal disease. But the course of the disease can be profoundly affected by other factors.

In an ongoing study of heart failure patients, after adjusting for factors such as sex, age, hypertension, severity of heart failure, and comorbidities, moderate to severe depression remained a predicting factor for all-cause mortality for heart failure patients. In other words, if you’re depressed and have heart failure, you’re five times more likely to die an early death than a similar patient who isn’t depressed.

Now, add that fact to this one: heart failure patients who exercise more have fewer hospitalizations and better outcomes on all scores. Another recent study examined how levels of social support and barriers to exercise affected heart failure patients’ willingness to keep up with exercise programs. Not surprisingly, when patients completed surveys about the types of support they received and their barriers to exercise, those who had worse situations in regard to finances, weather, transportation, and/or childcare had less success in adhering to exercise regimens. And those with reduced barriers did, in fact, exercise more and have better outcomes.

Medical experts can only surmise why exercise helps depression, but there’s clear evidence that it does. So, what is the cost of having millions of heart failure patients regularly re-hospitalized versus helping reduce those social barriers and giving them the chance to experience longer and better-quality lives?

Sausages made with berries

English: Schwartz's smoked meat medium fat Mon...

English: Schwartz’s smoked meat medium fat Montreal Quebec 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember when scientists first discovered “antioxidants” back in the 1990s? These molecules began to be touted as miracle-workers, and food and drink purveyors took off in hot pursuit of profits. But since then, further sober consideration has heated up the debate as to how beneficial they are. Read this from Harvard Health about the true value of antioxidants for good health.

Meanwhile, researchers at Lund University in Sweden, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and four other European research institutions have launched a joint project to create a way to produce sausages and smoked meats made with antioxidants extracted from berries. The ultimate aim is to reduce the risk of colon cancer, one of the most common cancers in Sweden.

World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified smoked and processed meat products as Group 1 carcinogens, the same group that includes tobacco products and alcohol. Hmmm. So, are all those Italian eating the Mediterranean diet—which includes generous portions of sausages and smoked “salumi“—quaking in their boots? Unlikely, since their way or eating has long been considered the gold standard of diets for long life.

Simply explained, the project involves extracting antioxidants from plants and berries, and then prepare [sic] meat products with these antioxidants. Animal testing will afterwards show whether this reduces the occurrence of cancer or not.

The question is, can extracted isolated antioxidants have the same effects as the complete “package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains” that are known to help prevent a variety of chronic diseases? Research in this area has generally come up empty. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes.

Patient satisfaction surveys barking up the wrong tree?

Trying to achieve perfect customer satisfaction is not only nearly impossible in most businesses, but is often found to be, including in the case of medical care, completely the wrong approach to improving quality. Quality measurement is more readily applied to easily tracked process measures, like using checklists and giving discharge instructions. But improvements here don’t necessarily lead to improvements in patient outcomes, according to a recent Modern Healthcare article.

Getting medical staff to complete checklists of action items doesn’t focus on the real goals–lower mortality and lower readmission rates–and can lead to unintended consequences like acceding to a patient’s demand for medically unnecessary care.

Someone wrote once that traditional businesses ought to have a dissatisfaction rate of at least ten percent. If not, they were focusing too much on trying to please everyone, rather than doing the best possible job for the greatest number of customers. iSixSigma writes here about the pitfalls of relying too heavily on customer satisfaction surveys.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and other such aphorisms may apply just as well for medical care issues as they do for other businesses.

New microneedle biosensor detects nitric oxide during cancer diagnosis

"Cancer - Early Diagnosis Would Save 50,0...

“Cancer – Early Diagnosis Would Save 50,000 Lives Every Year” – NARA – 514027 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nitric oxide NO) plays a variety of complex roles in the genesis, growth and death of cancer cells/tumors. As it does in so many physiological processes, it exhibits both pro- and anti-tumor activities, and researchers are still discussing the implications of these data on the use of NO as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of cancer.

A recent study takes advantage of NO activity to make diagnosing cancer more certain. A novel microneedle biosensor electrically detects NO emissions from cancer tissues in real-time for in situ cancer diagnosis during endomicroscopy. Researchers showed that using this as a dual diagnostic system yields high resolution imaging and provides a new way to easily, quickly and accurately diagnose cancers.

Nitric oxide once again takes a starring role in science’s efforts to understand how the human body works.

Plant-based nanofibers don’t harm lungs – unlike carbon nanotubes

nanofiber

nanofiber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plant-based cellulose nanofibers, as opposed to carbon nanotubes suitable for similar purposes, don’t pose a short-term danger to human lungs, particularly when the fibers are very short. So says a study done as part of National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64).

Rather than experimenting on animals, researchers used human lung tissue in test tubes to develop a simulated 3D lung system that mimics human lungs. They found short nanofibers were fairly easily eliminated, but lung cells were less efficient at getting rid of longer fibers, as is true of humans inhaling asbestos fibers.

The study issues a recommendation that, in order to best protect technicians working with nanomaterials, manufacturers should develop and use soft, pliable, short, plant-based nanofibers rather than longer, rigid tubes. Thankfully, some specific safety guidelines for workers in this burgeoning field of bioscience.

Dormant mouse heart tissue made to regenerate

English: Medical X-rays Congestive heart failure

English: Medical X-rays Congestive heart failure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heart attack and heart failure are major causes of death and disability around the world. And although when we are brand new babies, our hearts can regenerate themselves–just like our blood and skin do throughout our lives–but once we’re past infancy, this ability to automatically regenerate new heart cells disappears. That’s why the only “cure” for advanced heart failure is a heart transplant.

Now a team of Australian and Israeli researchers at the Sydney Victor Change Cardiac Research Institute and the Weizmann Institute of Science has proven a method of getting murine (mouse) heart cells (cardiomyocytes) to recharge their ability to regrow. Invoking the neonatal process, researchers developed a strategy for administering Neuregulin-1 (NRG1) and inducing co-receptor ERGG2 expression, thereby encouraging hypertrophy, then dedifferentiation and growth of the mouse heart cells. Although it’s still early days and much more research is needed, this study is extremely promising for future sufferers of heart attack and heart failure.

If they can get mice hearts to regrow their damaged cells, it’s highly likely that one day they’ll be able to get ours to do the same. Too bad most of us won’t be around for it.

Stem cells made to produce new neurons

English: Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons...

English: Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons (also known as neurones and nerve cells) are electrically excitable cells in the nervous system that process and transmit information. In vertebrate animals, neurons are the core components of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our bodies are born with X number of neurons, which are the parts of the nervous system that carry chemical and electrical messages between the brain and other body parts. Up until now, no one has found neurons reproducing like regular cells do.

Now scientists have found a way to manipulate an RNA molecule called Pnky in such a way that neural stem cells will actually produce new neurons. It’s a complex process that takes a lot of explaining, so read more at BioScienceTechnology.com. And while you’re at it, read some clear layperson’s explanations about the many functions neurons perform in our bodies and brains on Psychology.About.com.

They’ve only done this in mice so far. But it’s clear this discovery constitutes a breakthrough in understanding a whole set of long, non-coding RNA molecules that researchers have heretofore assumed were just there–with no known function. One scientist called these the “dark matter” of the human genome, meaning there’s a lot more of this stuff than there is of the DNA we’ve already explored and named.

Another whole new world of knowledge is just beginning to crack open.

Can shrimp shells solve our huge plastic waste problem?

English: A heap of Pandalus borealis shrimp. O...

English: A heap of Pandalus borealis shrimp. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here. 2005-03-09 (original upload date) Original uploader was Stemonitis at en.wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine a moldable, sturdy, biodegradable substitute for the billions of pounds of plastics we dump into our oceans and rivers and on the ground. Scientists at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University have been working on developing just such a substance.

Their search may be yielding results. They report being able to do what they imagined with a substance called “chitosan, a form of chitin…a powerful player in the world of natural polymers and the second most abundant organic material on Earth. Chitin is a long-chain polysaccharide that is responsible for the hardy shells of shrimps and other crustaceans, armor-like insect cuticles, tough fungal cell walls — and flexible butterfly wings.”

They’ve been combining the chitosan with a protein from silk to make a pliable material that can be molded without breaking or shrinking. What’s more, it biodegrades in about two weeks, while also adding nutrients to the soil and helping plants – like the Institute’s black-eyed peas – grow in the enriched soil.

Fabulous news: recycling the Earth’s own resources to do what human civilization wants to accomplish – and not leaving more deadly waste. Can’t wait til they get this going.

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