Category Archives: nanotechnology

Nanotechnology helps visualize how cancer cells spread

Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia
Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cancer cells are incredibly flexible about promoting their own movement and growth in the body. They can travel through blood vessels as thin as spider silk. They even change their shape to do so, yet are still able to divide and cluster into colonies in those very skinny spaces. That spreading through the body is called metastasis, and it’s what makes cancer turn deadly.

Researchers are now putting nanotechnology to work to help decipher exactly how cancer cells perform this extraordinary feat. An article in Nanotechnology Now reports:

The researchers trapped live cancer cells in the tubular membranes and, with optical high- and super-resolution microscopy, could see how the cells adapted to the confined environment. Cell structures significantly changed in the nanomembranes, but it appeared that membrane blebbing — the formation of bulges — at the cells’ tips helped keep genetic material stable, an important requirement for healthy cell division.

For more details, check out this one-minute video on how scientists used microtubular membranes to study how cancer cells divide in capillaries.


Making organs clear to track nanoparticle meds

Molecular imaging for cancer cells
Molecular imaging for cancer cells

One of the biggest promises of nanomedicine is that doctors will be able to deliver needed medications directly to a site within your body without negatively affecting other tissues. That’s still a moving target, though.

One of the most challenging obstacles is the density and opaqueness of human tissue such as blood vessel walls and organs. A recent study reported in ACS nano (American Chemical Society Nano) has revealed a way to more accurately track where nanoparticles go once inside the body by allowing visibility a little deeper into living tissue. A gel, injected into tissues removed from mice, linked all the molecules of the tissue together except for lipids – the substances responsible for making tissue opaque. Lipids washed easily away and “left the tissues clear but otherwise intact.”

Lest you picture a big chunk of clear material, the actual depth to which researchers could image nanoparticles was only 1 millimeter, but that’s 25 times deeper than with existing methods. The hope is that in addition to helping track nanoparticles, this approach will assist researchers with tissue engineering, implant and biosensor applications.

Slowly, we peel away one tiny layer at a time from the mysteries of nature.

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

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.

Scanning for nanoprobes may cut brain tumor recurrence

English: Histology specimen of a glioblastoma ...
English: Histology specimen of a glioblastoma showing abundant mitotic activity of the tumor cells (HE stain) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new nanotech laser-like solution may help surgeons  more completely remove brain tumors, especially those called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Instead of guessing which cells are cancerous, this new scanner can identify them for sure so that only and hopefully all the tumor cells are surgically removed.

The method, reported in the journal ACS Nano, has been developed using mouse brains and could one day vastly improve the outlook for human patients.

The day before surgery was to take place, researchers injected “Raman nanoprobes” into a  in a mouse model that mimics human GBM. The nanoprobes headed right to tumor cells and avoided ordinary brain cells. Then the researchers used a handheld device similar to a laser pointer that allows them to identify and remove all malignant cells in the rodents’ brains.

Some steps of this procedure have already made it to human testing for other purposes. So researchers hope this process will move quickly into clinical trials. And they hope eventually to use the device to treat other types of brain cancer.

New nitric oxide component (HNO) promises new CV help

English: A schematic showing the (laboratory) ...
English: A schematic showing the (laboratory) production of nitric oxide. The setup was made based on an image of the 1949 Popular Mechanics article by Kenneth M. Swezey (titled: The gas that makes you laugh). Images from were used to make this image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The substance nitric oxide (NO), one of my favorite topics, is now known to be break-downable into components, one of which has one less electron. It’s known as NO(-) or HNO or nitroxyl, and researchers are finding some exciting new applications for it.

One novel use for nitroxyl is as part of a nanoparticle coating for implanted medical devices that otherwise might trigger dangerous blood clots. The coating is made up of sheets of graphene integrated with two components—haemin and glucose oxidase. “Both work synergistically to catalyze the production of nitroxyl, which can be used inside the blood like nitric oxide, although it contains one less electron. Nitroxyl has been reported as being analogous to nitric oxide in its clot-preventing capability.”

The other use for nitroxyl (HNO) involves its use in treating heart failure. Researchers normally write in very reserved terms about their discoveries, but the author of the passage below seems pretty excited about  the implications of the research. Basically it’s saying that HNO donors can do things that regular NO donors cannot do and may be dramatically more useful in treating cardiovascular disease.

Thus, unlike NO*, HNO can target cardiac sarcoplasmic ryanodine receptors to increase myocardial contractility, can interact directly with thiols and is resistant to both scavenging by superoxide (*O2-) and tolerance development. HNO donors are protective in the setting of heart failure in which NO donors have minimal impact.

It’s cool to see this showing three of my favorite topics coming together: nitric oxide, nanotechnology and heart failure. But then, when all is said and done someday, everything in bioscience will undoubtedly coalesce in one way or another.

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Nanomotors can now navigate inside human cells

English: Cancer cells photographed by camera a...
English: Cancer cells photographed by camera attached to microscope in time-lapse manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ability to control the movement of artificial nanomotors inside a human cell has far and wide implications for finding and treating cancers and other conditions. The hope is that the technology could be developed to perform intracellular surgeries and deliver drugs noninvasively.

Researchers tried introducing nanomotors years ago, but they had to use toxic fuels to propel them and even then they wouldn’t move in biological fluids, so the approach wasn’t practical in living tissue. Now they’ve discovered how to use ultrasonic waves to get the nanomotors to move forward or spin. They can also steer them using magnetic forces. And several of the little guys can be directed to move independently within the same cell. This technique has already been shown to be able to do some damage inside a HeLa cancer cell.

Check out the article and the Fantastic-Voyage-like nanomotor video.

Science fiction does indeed come to life every day in this age of biomedical wonders.

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5 news bits – nitric oxide and nanoparticles

English: An experimental setup used to measure...
English: An experimental setup used to measure the fraction of exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) in human breath samples. The subject blows into the tube (1) after a mouthpiece (2) has been connected to it. The wires on the side measure parameters like breath velocity, while the exhaled gas is taken to a FeNO analyzer (3). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first item is about nitric oxide (NO) used in testing, and the rest are all about using nanoparticles for delivering things into the human body, including NO. It’s astounding that scientists have found nanotechnology so helpful in these kinds of applications. I just hope more research is done on how safe it is to inject nanomaterials into our bodies or make us breathe them in. Their size is so similar to the deadly asbestos fibers that are currently costing billions in lawsuits by workers whose companies didn’t protect them from breathing and ingesting them.

Gotta make sure the cure doesn’t damage the patient in different ways than the condition it’s meant to help.

  1. Mayo Clinic officially recognizes the exhaled-nitric-oxide test to confirm asthma diagnoses and to determine how well medications are working –
  2. Japanese researchers have found a way to use nano-sized particles to deliver nitric oxide to cells as needed –
  3. Government wants scientists to adapt nano-delivery systems to protect soldiers in the field from bio and chemical weapons –
  4. Nanoparticles can carry RNA gene-silencing snippet to treat breast cancer –
  5. Inhaled nanoparticles to carry antimicrobial meds to treat pneumonia caused by drug-resistant bacteria –
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Light-triggered nanosystem delivers NO gas to cells

Nitric oxide (white) in conifer cells, visuali...
Nitric oxide (white) in conifer cells, visualized using DAF-2 DA (diaminofluorescein diacetate) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Japanese researchers have developed a new way to deliver nitric oxide (NO) gas into cells.

Nitric oxide is a workhorse in the body. It signals cells to divide, expands blood vessels and sends signals between nerve cells in the brain. Scientists believe that figuring out how NO controls all this may help them come up with new approaches to treating cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Despite progress, it’s still a mystery just how much NO causes specific effects. “No existing technique has been able to capture what this gas is truly doing at the cellular level,” said Stephane Diring, who led the study.

By combining chemical and biological techniques the team of researchers, from Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) put together a nano-based structure called MOF for delivering NO that could release its payload to nearby cells based on how much light is delivered to it.  Kind of like an underground sprinkler system delivers water to a lawn.

The system lets them control exactly where and how much nitric oxide is delivered by tuning the intensity and wavelength of the light, according to researcher Shuhei Furukawa. Plus, the fact that the light is infrared means it won’t harm other cells.

One giant leap into understanding NO. One small step in the never-ending battle to develop non-invasive therapies.

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Heart cells’ unique communication opens new paths for heart failure research

English: Treatment Guidelines for Chronic Hear...
English: Treatment Guidelines for Chronic Heart Failure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Research into how the heart communicates is yielding some fascinating insights. A recent study with mice has shown that the heart’s cells receive signals from the nervous system, but then the heart initiates its own way of passing on signals to other heart cells. The results could lead to novel ways to study the mechanisms of heart failure – where the system that speeds up and slows down the heart gets out of whack and results in the heart’s being unable to pump enough blood to the muscles.

What heart cells use to send messages to other heart cells is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). The study used mice whose heart cells only had been engineered not to release ACh. Their heart rates remained normal at rest but went much higher than usual rates during exercise and their hearts took much longer to return to normal after exercise. “The results suggest the heart cell derived ACh may boost parasympathetic signaling to counterbalance sympathetic activity.”

The researcher thinks this heart-critical non-neuronal source of ACh might also play a role in other organs. This study was supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.


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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





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