Tag Archives: Biotechnology

Nanotech may deliver bloodless diabetes monitoring – and lots more

?esky: Aplikace
?esky: Aplikace “rychlého” inzulínu inzulinovým perem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nanotech is performing miracles on a lot of fronts. Now they’re using it to develop new ways to treat diabetes and even to monitor blood sugar without the painful blood-letting currently required.

This scholarly paper discussing new fronts in nanotechnology gives you an idea of the scope of the investigations. A quick rundown of the contents:

“…polymeric nanoparticles, oral insulin admin-istration using polysaccharides and polymeric nanoparticles, inhalable insulin nanoparticle formulations, and insulin delivery using BioMEMS [biomedical (or biological) microelectromechanical systems]. In addition to ceramic and polymeric nanoparticles, studies on gold nanoparticles for insulin delivery and treatment of diabetes-associated symptoms are discussed.”

I had to look up “polymeric,” so I’ll share. Polymeric just means made out of polymers, which are already in everything from synthetic plastics (your kitchen storage stuff) and other things we use every day at work and at home, to natural biopolymers (like in RNA, DNA and amino acids) that are critical pieces of our biological selves.

Carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And here’s one about nanosensors that could selectively measure glucose concentrations. Glucose  would alter the current flowing down the conductive nanotubes. That data would then be fed to an embedded microchip which would send it wirelessly to a wearable computer. The technology’s not there yet, though. They’re still working on making these things compatible with staying inside the human body for long periods of time – not a small problem.

And then there’s something that’s closer to becoming a reality. Put on the diabetic patient like a tattoo, a solution of nanoparticle  sensor molecules reacts with sodium or glucose, creating “biomarkers”. Ultraviolet light makes the tattoo shine. They’re thinking they can use converted iPhones to make the light that’s needed. Though this probably won’t be a complete solution, it may help diabetes patients spot dangerous changes in between regular monitorings, according to an article on AZOnano.com.





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Nano help for stem cell rebuilding hearts

English: Diagram to show how embryonic stem ce...
English: Diagram to show how embryonic stem cells are differentiated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m excited to report news involving three of my favorite topics: nanotechnology, stem cells, and fixing hearts. Past efforts using stem cells to treat heart attacks and heart failure haven’t been very successful. And the worst part is, they don’t know why. Apparently they inject the stem cells into a patient but then don’t know where they end up. Do they stay in the targeted part of the heart or wander off somewhere else? If the treatment doesn’t work, up til now there’s been no way to determine why not. Now if only they could tell where the stem cells go and what they do…

Enter this new visualizing technique. Doctors at Stanford University School of Medicine have designed a way to use nanotechnology to track stem cells after they’ve been introduced into a patient’s body. The thought is that once they know where the stem cells have gone, they’ll be able to see more clearly what’s happening with them.  The tracking technique, which also allows doctors to guide the stem cells more precisely to their intended location,  involves marking the stem cells with nanoparticles and a gadolinium-laced contrast agent and following them with standard ultrasounds (Yay, non-invasive!) as they enter the body and move around. The hope is the docs’ll be able to see exactly where the stem cells take up residence and watch what they do. Do they stay in the targeted area or do they diffuse away from the heart? Do they develop into the desired cells or into something else entirely?

I know that gadolinium as a contrast agent ingredient is known to cause people who have kidney problems to develop a terrible and disfiguring disease known as Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis. It’s certainly good to hear that the substance can also be used in this new way to potentially help people with serious heart issues.

Unfortunately, this exciting discovery has at least three more years before it can be used in humans. But as with all life-limiting conditions, those of us who live with them are always looking for reasons to hope.

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Stem cells and gene therapy restore hearing, vision, smell in animals

English: Diagram to show how embryonic stem ce...
English: Diagram to show how embryonic stem cells are differentiated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A researcher spent ten years and finally succeeded in getting human stem cells to grow into two distinct types of cells—auditory neurons and inner-ear hair cells. And now he’s used the appropriate neuron-type cells to re-connect the inner ear to the brain. In other words, to restore nearly 50% of hearing in gerbils (whose inner-ear hairs had remained undamaged).

It’s very niche research, but it demonstrates that restoring hearing is definitely possible to some degree. Plus other research shows it’s possible to restore hearing to mice born deaf and yet other gene therapy research showing you can restore function to hair, eye and heart cells and smell in mice.

So much of historical medical research has focused on devising invasive, even barbaric methods of arresting sickness. We refer to it always as “fighting” disease, killing cells, conjuring up images of swords, bullets and bombs. As we continue to plumb the magical powers of stem cell and gene therapies, it’s encouraging to think of the balance now slowly tipping more and more toward non-invasive ways of restoring, gently giving back, quality of life to those who suffer.

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Growing bone outside the body with stem cells from fat

English: Fat Stem Cells
English: Fat Stem Cells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Up til now stem cells have generally been injected or otherwise inserted into living tissue to get them to grow into specific types of organs or other tissue. Now scientists in the UK in collaboration with an Israeli research team have managed to grow human bone in the lab with stem cells from fat tissue. They’ve already successfully implanted a piece of lab-grown human bone into a rat’s leg, where it joined nicely with the creature’s existing bone.

The researchers use scans of the damaged bone to construct a gel-like scaffold that shows the stem cells how to grow into the shape of the needed replacement. Then the mold of stem cells is turned into actual bone in a special machine called a bioreactor that provides the conditions needed for this miracle to take place.

The bone grown from stem cells could theoretically be used to replace damaged or missing bone—for example in repairing a cleft palate. They mention using it to fix bones that have been crushed or otherwise mangled in accidents.

I suspect that once this process is perfected, far down the road, doctors may eventually be able to use it to construct replacement bone for arthritic hips and knees. Too bad it will be long after I and my arthritic relatives will be around to have any need for it.

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News in stem cell, nano, NO and other research

Happy to report on a number of small but significant developments in biomed research as reported in a recent MedPage Today.

Cell biology
Cell biology (Photo credit: Arenamontanus)

Regrowing heart tissue using bone marrow

stem cells after heart attacks. Healthy donors’ cells seem to work better than using the patient’s own compromised stem cells. Makes sense—if the heart is damaged, doesn’t seem right that cells from it would be okay. But of course it only looks obvious once we’ve actually learned it.

Fighting infection by controlling production of nitric oxide (NO). Silicate powder interacts with light to release NO and kill gram-negative bacteria without harming the host. Another useful partner for NO—and another good reason to get out and enjoy the sun.

Saving lives by preventing organ fibrosis (scarring). Peptide from collagen has prevented scarring in human skin samples and in lungs and skin of mice. It even reversed fibrosis that had already begun in mouse lungs. Wonder if they’ll ever be able to use it for COPD and emphysema victims.

Minimizing damage to healthy tissue by using nano-constructed cages for targeting and delivering drugs to specific cells. They’ve got the concept but need to work on the execution—e.g., controlling the porosity of the cage so the loaded drug doesn’t leak out before it reaches its target.

So much promise. My imagination goes wild with visions of a world with so much less suffering.

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Nanoparticles can damage plant DNA

We eat radishes. "Radish Roll" (Photo credit: ulterior epicure)

It’s not good news, but it’s also not unexpected. Recent experiments with adding engineered nanoparticles to plants’ diets determined that the plants started gradually shriveling up and dying.

Specifically, the plants being experimented with were radishes and two ryegrass ground covers that grazing animals commonly eat.  Researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) wanted to learn:

…whether nanosizing cupric oxide [a reactive chemical that removes electrons from other compounds] made the generation and accumulation of DNA lesions more or less likely in plants. If the former, the researchers also wanted to find out if nanosizing had any substantial effects on plant growth and health.

They found out. The radishes absorbed twice as much cupric oxide and developed twice as many DNA lesions when the mineral came in smaller nanoparticles versus those bigger than 100 nanometers. And the results on the radish seedlings were definitively destructive.

Although the DNA of the two ryegrasses was not as dramatically affected, in all three plant species, growth of both roots and shoots was significantly stunted. Next up for these researchers will be similar testing with “titanium dioxide nanoparticles — such as those used in many sunscreens — on rice plants.”

This report’s conclusions stick strictly to the science and don’t project anything about how the effects of this experiment might apply to human beings being injected or otherwise treated with medicines or protocols involving nano-sized particles. It’s reassuring, at least, to know that high-level researchers are working to test the safety of nanoparticles for living systems. Let’s hope this series of experiments is the first of many that will lead to new, strict standards for nano-sized development.

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Stem cells found to repair human hearts

Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...
Image via Wikipedia

Didn’t it have to be only a matter of time? I’m happy but not surprised to find that heart patients are beginning to benefit from having stem cells injected into their body’s operating plant. So far studies are limited, but they involve human hearts, not mice or pigs, and are yielding some very promising results.

In one case patients who’d had a heart attack had their hearts injected with bone marrow stem cells and experienced stronger healing. Even some scars in heart tissue began to fade. In another study patients battling heart failure after a heart attack benefited from injections of their own cardiac stem cells.

Research indicates that timing and sourcing are important. Using cardiac stem cells seems more effective than those from bone marrow. Injecting stem cells too soon or too late can cut short or even nullify benefits.

All the heart patients today have got to be on pins and needles hoping this research will progress rapidly enough to make a difference for them and those who love them.

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New way to create stem cells

A colony of embryonic stem cells, from the H9 ...
Image via Wikipedia

Researchers have been able to create stem cells by introducing genes into cells by using viruses. The cells then became stem cells. Unfortunately, viruses are known to mutate genes and that can easily trigger cancer in new cells.

Now a new technique uses plasmids to create stem cells—beating heart cells. Plasmids are elements of DNA that reproduce themselves inside cells and then gradually decay. Experimenters say the new technique is is affordable and efficient. They reported it “worked consistently for 11 different stem cell lines. In each of the 11 cell lines, each plate of cells had around 94.5 percent beating heart cells. It also worked for embryonic stem cells and adult blood stem cells.”

One day soon we’ll be beyond the arguments about where stem cells come from and can move on to discovering more of the healing secrets nature seems eager to unfold.

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Stem cells as proving ground for cancer studies

Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...
Image via Wikipedia

We already know about a host of diseases we can hope to battle more effectively using stem cells. Now I’ve just read about another inspired use of the seemingly limitless power of stem cells to help human beings battle disease.

Scientists have discovered a gene that’s present in many forms of cancer, according to a report on Google news via AFP (an international online news source). In this recent study they’ve been able to use human stem cells as the testing ground to see how this new gene relates to cancer.

The gene FOXM1, injected at higher-than-normal levels into stem cells from an adult human mouth, encouraged abnormal growth that mimicked the abnormal cell growth common with early cancer.

There is evidence that environmental and behavioral factors like UV ray exposure and smoking—the same stuff we’ve come to understand can result in cancer—can lead to increased levels of FOXM1.

I know this study doesn’t say this, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. How much faster may we be able to get to clinical trials for various treatments and drugs by using easily and readily available human stem cells as proving grounds instead of having to first experiment on animals and, later, pray that we’re getting it right with human beings.

Talk about a promising study…

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Using stem cells to find drugs’ potential side effects

A colony of embryonic stem cells, from the H9 ...
Image via Wikipedia

If we needed any further proof of how far-reaching the effects of stem cell research can be on making medicine not only less invasive but also more efficient and effective, now comes another momentous discovery.

According to a BusinessWeek article, a couple of pharma companies have developed a way to use stem cells to develop “human” tissue (independent of a living, breathing person), and they’re using the tissue to test drugs for potentially dangerous side effects.

The cost to develop a new drug—which can in some cases exceed $4 billion—usually includes animal trials and then human trials. Researchers have found that stem-cell-generated tissue—they are regularly producing 7 billion heart cells a month from skin and blood stem cells (not embryonic)—mimics the reactions of actual human tissue. And that allows scientists to test drugs for bad effects long before human trials would normally be scheduled.

The happiest part of this report is that this isn’t just the promise of stem cells—this work is actually going on now. One of the pharma companies used the stem-cell tissue to re-test a drug they’d worked on earlier and discarded because of a bad side effect on test animals. They found the drug had exactly the same results on the stem-cell tissue as it had had on the animals. The company realized if it had had this capability back then, it could have stopped development much sooner and saved a bundle.

Consider the potential benefits of making full use of this capability:

  • How much faster might useful drugs get through the pipeline and out to the patients who desperately need them?
  • How much might the cost of new drugs come down with pharmaceutical companies saving millions of dollars in development costs?
  • How many animal lives might be spared because research can be done on this “artificial” tissue instead of on rabbits or mice or chimps?

I say again, with stem cell miracles around every corner, we’ve at last discovered heaven’s own way of healing. And what we do with that power now and in the future will be limited only by our own imaginations .

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