Author Archives: Maryse de la Giroday

Teaching molecular and synthetic biology in grades K-12

This* story actually started in 2018 with an August 1, 2018 Harvard University news release (h/t Aug. 1, 2018 news item on phys.org) by Leslie Brownell announcing molecular and synthetic biology educational kits that been tested in the classroom. (In 2019, a new kit was released but more about that later.)

As biologists have probed deeper into the molecular and genetic underpinnings of life, K-12 schools have struggled to provide a curriculum that reflects those advances. Hands-on learning is known to be more engaging and effective for teaching science to students, but even the most basic molecular and synthetic biology experiments require equipment far beyond an average classroom’s budget, and often involve the use of bacteria and other substances that can be difficult to manage outside a controlled lab setting.

Now, a collaboration between the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and Northwestern University has developed BioBits, new educational biology kits that use freeze-dried cell-free (FD-CF) reactions to enable students to perform a range of simple, hands-on biological experiments. The BioBits kits introduce molecular and synthetic biology concepts without the need for specialized lab equipment, at a fraction of the cost of current standard experimental designs. The kits are described in two papers published in Science Advances [2018].

“The main motivation in developing these kits was to give students fun activities that allow them to actually see, smell, and touch the outcomes of the biological reactions they’re doing at the molecular level,” said Ally Huang, a co-first author on both papers who is an MIT graduate student in the lab of Wyss Founding Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D. “My hope is that they will inspire more kids to consider a career in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] and, more generally, give all students a basic understanding of how biology works, because they may one day have to make personal or policy decisions based on modern science.”

Synthetic and molecular biology frequently make use of the cellular machinery found in E. coli bacteria to produce a desired protein. But this system requires that the bacteria be kept alive and contained for an extended period of time, and involves several complicated preparation and processing steps. The FD-CF reactions pioneered in Collins’ lab for molecular manufacturing, when combined with innovations from the lab of Michael Jewett, Ph.D. at Northwestern University, offer a solution to this problem by removing bacteria from the equation altogether.

“You can think of it like opening the hood of a car and taking the engine out: we’ve taken the ‘engine’ that drives protein production out of a bacterial cell and given it the fuel it needs, including ribosomes and amino acids, to create proteins from DNA outside of the bacteria itself,” explained Jewett, who is the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, and co-corresponding author of both papers. This collection of molecular machinery is then freeze-dried into pellets so that it becomes shelf-stable at room temperature. To initiate the transcription of DNA into RNA and the translation of that RNA into a protein, a student just needs to add the desired DNA and water to the freeze-dried pellets.

The researchers designed a range of molecular experiments that can be performed using this system, and coupled each of them to a signal that the students can easily detect with their sense of sight, smell, or touch. The first, called BioBits Bright, contains six different freeze-dried DNA templates that each encode a protein that fluoresces a different color when illuminated with blue light. To produce the proteins, students simply add these DNA templates and water to the FD-CF machinery and put the reactions in an inexpensive incubator (~$30) for several hours, and then view them with a blue light illuminator (~$15). The students can also design their own experiments to produce a desired collection of colors that they can then arrange into a visual image, a bit like using a Light Brite ©. “Challenging the students to build their own in vitro synthetic programs also allows educators to start to talk about how synthetic biologists might control biology to make important products, such as medicines or chemicals,” explained Jessica Stark, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Jewett lab at Northwestern University who is co-first author on both papers.

An expansion of the BioBits Bright kit, called BioBits Explorer, includes experiments that engage the senses of smell and touch and allow students to probe their environment using designer synthetic biosensors. In the first experiment, the FD-CF reaction pellets contain a gene that drives the conversion of isoamyl alcohol to isoamyl acetate, a compound that produces a strong banana odor. In the second experiment, the FD-CF reactions contain a gene coding for the enzyme sortase, which recognizes and links specific segments of proteins in a liquid solution together to form a squishy, semi-solid hydrogel, which the students can touch and manipulate. The third module uses another Wyss technology, the toehold switch sensor, to identify DNA extracted from a banana or a kiwi. The sensors are hairpin-shaped RNA molecules designed such that when they bind to a “trigger” RNA, they spring open and reveal a genetic sequence that produces a fluorescent protein. When fruit DNA is added to the sensor-containing FD-CF pellets, only the sensors that are designed to open in the presence of each fruit’s RNA will produce the fluorescent protein.

The researchers tested their BioBits kits in the Chicago Public School system, and demonstrated that students and teachers were able to perform the experiments in the kits with the same success as trained synthetic biology researchers. In addition to refining the kits’ design so that they can one day provide them to classrooms around the world, the authors hope to create an open-source online database where teachers and students can share their results and ideas for ways to modify the kits to explore different biological questions.

“Synthetic biology is going to be one of the defining technologies of the century, and yet it has been challenging to teach the fundamental concepts of the field in K-12 classrooms given that such efforts often require expensive, complicated equipment,” said Collins, who is a co-corresponding author of both papers and also the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science at MIT. “We show that it is possible to use freeze-dried, cell-free extracts along with freeze-dried synthetic biology components to conduct innovative educational experiments in classrooms and other low-resource settings. The BioBits kits enable us to expose young kids, older kids, and even adults to the wonders of synthetic biology and, as a result, are poised to transform science education and society.

“All scientists are passionate about what they do, and we are frustrated by the difficulty our educational system has had in inciting a similar level of passion in young people. This BioBits project demonstrates the kind of out-of-the-box thinking and refusal to accept the status quo that we value and cultivate at the Wyss Institute, and we all hope it will stimulate young people to be intrigued by science,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “It’s exciting to see this project move forward and become available to biology classrooms worldwide and, hopefully some of these students will pursue a path in science because of their experience.”

Additional authors of the papers include Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., Nina Donghia, and Tom Ferrante from the Wyss Institute; Melissa Takahashi, Ph.D. and Aaron Dy from MIT; Karen Hsu and Rachel Dubner from Northwestern University; Keith Pardee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto; and a number of teachers and students in the Chicago school system including: Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Tom Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander Hill, Jemima Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzales, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, and TaRhonda Woods.

This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence Grant, The Defense Threat Reduction Agency Grant, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. [emphases mine]

Well, that list of funding agencies is quite interesting. The US Army and Air Force but not the Navy? As for what the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada is doing on that list, I can only imagine why.

This is what they were doing in 2018,

Now for the latest update, a May 7, 2019 news item on phys.org announces the BioBits Kits have been expanded,

How can high school students learn about a technology as complex and abstract as CRISPR? It’s simple: just add water.

A Northwestern University-led team has developed BioBits, a suite of hands-on educational kits that enable students to perform a range of biological experiments by adding water and simple reagents to freeze-dried cell-free reactions. The kits link complex biological concepts to visual, fluorescent readouts, so students know—after a few hours and with a single glance—the results of their experiments.

A May 7, 2019 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert and received via email) by Amanda Morris, which originated the news item, provides more details,

After launching BioBits last summer, the researchers are now expanding the kit to include modules for CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] and antibiotic resistance. A small group of Chicago-area teachers and high school students just completed the first pilot study for these new modules, which include interactive experiments and supplementary materials exploring ethics and strategies.

“After we unveiled the first kits, we next wanted to tackle current topics that are important for society,” said Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, principal investigator of the study. “That led us to two areas: antibiotic resistance and gene editing.”

Called BioBits Health, the new kits and pilot study are detailed in a paper published today (May 7 [2019]) in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

Jewett is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. Jessica Stark, a graduate student in Jewett’s laboratory, led the study.

Test in a tube

Instead of using live cells, the BioBits team removed the essential cellular machinery from inside the cells and freeze-dried them for shelf stability. Keeping cells alive and contained for an extended period of time involves several complicated, time-consuming preparation and processing steps as well as expensive equipment. Freeze-dried cell-free reactions bypass those complications and costs.

“These are essentially test-tube biological reactions,” said Stark, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. “We break the cells open and use their guts, which still contain all of the necessary biological machinery to carry out a reaction. We no longer need living cells to demonstrate biology.”

This method to harness biological systems without intact, living cells became possible over the last two decades thanks to multiple innovations, including many in cell-free synthetic biology by Jewett’s lab. Not only are these experiments doable in the classroom, they also only cost pennies compared to standard high-tech experimental designs.

“I’m hopeful that students get excited about engineering biology and want to learn more,” Jewett said.

Conquering CRISPR

One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past decade, CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The powerful gene-editing technology uses enzymes to cut DNA in precise locations to turn off or edit targeted genes. It could be used to halt genetic diseases, develop new medicines, make food more nutritious and much more.

BioBits Health uses three components required for CRISPR: an enzyme called the Cas9 protein, a target DNA sequence encoding a fluorescent protein and an RNA molecule that targets the fluorescent protein gene. When students add all three components — and water — to the freeze-dried cell-free system, it creates a reaction that edits, or cuts, the DNA for the fluorescent protein. If the DNA is cut, the system does not glow. If the DNA is not cut, the fluorescent protein is made, and the system glows fluorescent.

“We have linked this abstract, really advanced biological concept to the presence or absence of a fluorescent protein,” Stark said. “It’s something students can see, something they can visually understand.”

The curriculum also includes activities that challenge students to consider the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding the use of gene-editing technologies.

“There is a lot of excitement about being able to edit genomes with these technologies,” Jewett said. “BioBits Health calls attention to a lot of important questions — not only about how CRISPR technology works but about ethics that society should be thinking about. We hope that this promotes a conversation and dialogue about such technologies.”

Reducing resistance

Jewett and Stark are both troubled by a prediction that, by the year 2050, drug-resistant bacterial infections could outpace cancer as a leading cause of death. This motivated them to help educate the future generation of scientists about how antibiotic resistance emerges and inspire them to take actions that could help limit the emergence of resistant bacteria.
In this module, students run two sets of reactions to produce a glowing fluorescent protein — one set with an antibiotic resistance gene and one set without. Students then add antibiotics. If the experiment glows, the fluorescent protein has been made, and the reaction has become resistant to antibiotics. If the experiment does not glow, then the antibiotic has worked.

“Because we’re using cell-free systems rather than organisms, we can demonstrate drug resistance in a way that doesn’t create drug-resistant bacteria,” Stark explained. “We can demonstrate these concepts without the risks.”

A supporting curriculum piece challenges students to brainstorm and research strategies for slowing the rate of emerging antibiotic resistant strains.

Part of something cool

After BioBits was launched in summer 2018, 330 schools from around the globe requested prototype kits for their science labs. The research team, which includes members from Northwestern and MIT, has received encouraging feedback from teachers, students and parents.

“The students felt like scientists and doctors by touching and using the laboratory materials provided during the demo,” one teacher said. “Even the students who didn’t seem engaged were secretly paying attention and wanted to take their turn pipetting. They knew they were part of something really cool, so we were able to connect with them in a way that was new to them.”

“My favorite part was using the equipment,” a student said. “It was a fun activity that immerses you into what top scientists are currently doing.”

###

The study, “BioBits Health: Classroom activities exploring engineering, biology and human health with fluorescent readouts,” was supported by the Army Research Office (award number W911NF-16-1-0372), the National Science Foundation (grant numbers MCB-1413563 and MCB-1716766), the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence (grant number FA8650-15-2-5518), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (grant number HDTRA1-15-10052/P00001), the Department of Energy (grant number DE-SC0018249), the Human Frontiers Science Program (grant number RGP0015/2017), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (grant number DE-EE008343) and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program. [emphases mine]

This is an image you’ll find in the abstract for the 2019 paper,

[downloaded from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acssynbio.8b00381]

Here are links and citations for the 2018 papers and the 2019 paper,

BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit by Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Jessica C. Stark, Melissa K. Takahashi, Nina Donghia, Tom Ferrante, Aaron J. Dy, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Keith Pardee, Michael C. Jewett, and James J. Collins. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5105 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5105

BioBits™ Bright: A fluorescent synthetic biology education kit by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Rachel S. Dubner, Karen J. Hsu, Thomas C. Ferrante, Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica S. Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Thomas Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander R. Hill, Jemima F. Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzalzles, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, TaRhonda Woods, Nina Donghia, Keith Pardee, James J. Collins, and Michael C. Jewett. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5107 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5107

BioBits Health: Classroom Activities Exploring Engineering, Biology, and Human Health with Fluorescent Readouts by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Jason Forbrook, Suzanne Marshalla, Faith Rodriguez, Mechelle Washington, Grant A. Rybnicky, Peter Q. Nguyen, Brenna Hasselbacher, Ramah Jabri, Rijha Kamran, Veronica Koralewski, Will Wightkin, Thomas Martinez, and Michael C. Jewett. ACS Synth. Biol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.8b00381 Publication Date (Web): March 29, 2019

Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

Both of the 2018 papers appear to be open access while the 2019 paper is behind a paywall.

Should you be interested in acquiring a BioBits kit, you can check out the BioBits website. As for ‘conguering’ CRISPR, do we really need to look at it that way? Maybe a more humble appraoch could work just as well or even better, eh?

*’is’ removed from sentence on May 9, 2019.

Cannibalisitic nanostructures

I think this form of ‘cannibalism’ could also be described as a form of ‘self-assembly’. That said, here is an August 31, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily announcing ‘cannibalistic’ materials,

Scientists at the [US] Department of Energy’s [DOE] Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL] induced a two-dimensional material to cannibalize itself for atomic “building blocks” from which stable structures formed.

The findings, reported in Nature Communications, provide insights that may improve design of 2D materials for fast-charging energy-storage and electronic devices.

An August 31, 2018 DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

“Under our experimental conditions, titanium and carbon atoms can spontaneously form an atomically thin layer of 2D transition-metal carbide, which was never observed before,” said Xiahan Sang of ORNL.

He and ORNL’s Raymond Unocic led a team that performed in situ experiments using state-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), combined with theory-based simulations, to reveal the mechanism’s atomistic details.

“This study is about determining the atomic-level mechanisms and kinetics that are responsible for forming new structures of a 2D transition-metal carbide such that new synthesis methods can be realized for this class of materials,” Unocic added.

The starting material was a 2D ceramic called a MXene (pronounced “max een”). Unlike most ceramics, MXenes are good electrical conductors because they are made from alternating atomic layers of carbon or nitrogen sandwiched within transition metals like titanium.

The research was a project of the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Center, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center that explores fluid–solid interface reactions that have consequences for energy transport in everyday applications. Scientists conducted experiments to synthesize and characterize advanced materials and performed theory and simulation work to explain observed structural and functional properties of the materials. New knowledge from FIRST projects provides guideposts for future studies.

The high-quality material used in these experiments was synthesized by Drexel University scientists, in the form of five-ply single-crystal monolayer flakes of MXene. The flakes were taken from a parent crystal called “MAX,” which contains a transition metal denoted by “M”; an element such as aluminum or silicon, denoted by “A”; and either a carbon or nitrogen atom, denoted by “X.” The researchers used an acidic solution to etch out the monoatomic aluminum layers, exfoliate the material and delaminate it into individual monolayers of a titanium carbide MXene (Ti3C2).

The ORNL scientists suspended a large MXene flake on a heating chip with holes drilled in it so no support material, or substrate, interfered with the flake. Under vacuum, the suspended flake was exposed to heat and irradiated with an electron beam to clean the MXene surface and fully expose the layer of titanium atoms.

MXenes are typically inert because their surfaces are covered with protective functional groups—oxygen, hydrogen and fluorine atoms that remain after acid exfoliation. After protective groups are removed, the remaining material activates. Atomic-scale defects—“vacancies” created when titanium atoms are removed during etching—are exposed on the outer ply of the monolayer. “These atomic vacancies are good initiation sites,” Sang said. “It’s favorable for titanium and carbon atoms to move from defective sites to the surface.” In an area with a defect, a pore may form when atoms migrate.

“Once those functional groups are gone, now you’re left with a bare titanium layer (and underneath, alternating carbon, titanium, carbon, titanium) that’s free to reconstruct and form new structures on top of existing structures,” Sang said.

High-resolution STEM imaging proved that atoms moved from one part of the material to another to build structures. Because the material feeds on itself, the growth mechanism is cannibalistic.

“The growth mechanism is completely supported by density functional theory and reactive molecular dynamics simulations, thus opening up future possibilities to use these theory tools to determine the experimental parameters required for synthesizing specific defect structures,” said Adri van Duin of Penn State [Pennsylvania State University].

Most of the time, only one additional layer [of carbon and titanium] grew on a surface. The material changed as atoms built new layers. Ti3C2 turned into Ti4C3, for example.

“These materials are efficient at ionic transport, which lends itself well to battery and supercapacitor applications,” Unocic said. “How does ionic transport change when we add more layers to nanometer-thin MXene sheets?” This question may spur future studies.

“Because MXenes containing molybdenum, niobium, vanadium, tantalum, hafnium, chromium and other metals are available, there are opportunities to make a variety of new structures containing more than three or four metal atoms in cross-section (the current limit for MXenes produced from MAX phases),” Yury Gogotsi of Drexel University added. “Those materials may show different useful properties and create an array of 2D building blocks for advancing technology.”

At ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), Yu Xie, Weiwei Sun and Paul Kent performed first-principles theory calculations to explain why these materials grew layer by layer instead of forming alternate structures, such as squares. Xufan Li and Kai Xiao helped understand the growth mechanism, which minimizes surface energy to stabilize atomic configurations. Penn State scientists conducted large-scale dynamical reactive force field simulations showing how atoms rearranged on surfaces, confirming defect structures and their evolution as observed in experiments.

The researchers hope the new knowledge will help others grow advanced materials and generate useful nanoscale structures.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

In situ atomistic insight into the growth mechanisms of single layer 2D transition metal carbides by Xiahan Sang, Yu Xie, Dundar E. Yilmaz, Roghayyeh Lotfi, Mohamed Alhabeb, Alireza Ostadhossein, Babak Anasori, Weiwei Sun, Xufan Li, Kai Xiao, Paul R. C. Kent, Adri C. T. van Duin, Yury Gogotsi, & Raymond R. Unocic. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 2266 (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04610-0 Published 11 June 2018

This paper is open access.

Where do I stand? a graphene artwork

A May 2,2019 news item on Nanowerk describes some graphene-based artwork being created at Rice University (Texas, US), Note: A link has been removed,

When you read about electrifying art, “electrifying” isn’t usually a verb. But an artist working with a Rice University lab is in fact making artwork that can deliver a jolt.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour introduced laser-induced graphene (LIG) to the world in 2014, and now the researchers are making art with the technique, which involves converting carbon in a common polymer or other material into microscopic flakes of graphene.

The “ink” in “Where Do I Stand?” by artist Joseph Cohen is actually laser-induced graphene (LIG). The design shows Cohen’s impression of what LIG looks like at the microscopic level. The work was produced in the Rice University lab where the technique of creating LIG was invented. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
A detail from “Where Do I Stand?” by artist Joseph Cohen, who created the work at Rice University using laser-induced graphene as the medium. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

A May 2, 2019 Rice university news release (also received via email), which originated the news item, describes laser-induced graphene (LIG) and the art in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

LIG is metallic and conducts electricity. The interconnected flakes are effectively a wire that could empower electronic artworks.

The paper in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Nano Materials – simply titled “Graphene Art” – lays out how the lab and Houston artist and co-author Joseph Cohen generated LIG portraits and prints, including a graphene-inspired landscape called “Where Do I Stand?”

While the work isn’t electrified, Cohen said it lays the groundwork for future possibilities.

“That’s what I would like to do,” he said. “Not make it kitsch or play off the novelty, but to have it have some true functionality that allows greater awareness about the material and opens up the experience.”

Cohen created the design in an illustration program and sent it directly to the industrial engraving laser Tour’s lab uses to create LIG on a variety of materials. The laser burned the artist’s fine lines into the substrate, in this case archive-quality paper treated with fire retardant.

The piece, which was part of Cohen’s exhibit at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative last year, peers into the depths of what a viewer shrunken to nanoscale might see when facing a field of LIG, with overlapping hexagons – the basic lattice of atom-thick graphene – disappearing into the distance.

“You’re looking at this image of a 3D foam matrix of laser-induced graphene and it’s actually made of LIG,” he said. “I didn’t base it on anything; I was just thinking about what it would look like. When I shared it with Jim, he said, ‘Wow, that’s what it would look like if you could really blow this up.’”

Cohen said his art is about media specificity.

“In terms of the artistic application, you’re not looking at a representation of something, as traditionally we would in the history of art,” he said. “Each piece is 100% original. That’s the key.”

He developed an interest in nanomaterials as media for his art when he began work with Rice alumnus Daniel Heller, a bioengineer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York who established an artist-in-residency position in his lab.

After two years of creating with carbon nanotube-infused paint, Cohen attended an Electrochemical Society conference and met Tour, who in turn introduced him to Rice chemists Bruce Weisman and Paul Cherukuri, who further inspired his investigation of nanotechnology.

The rest is art history.

It would be incorrect to think of the process as “printing,” Tour said. Instead of adding a substance to the treated paper, substance is burned away as the laser turns the surface into foamlike flakes of interconnected graphene.

The art itself can be much more than eye candy, given LIG’s potential for electronic applications like sensors or as triboelectric generators that turn mechanical actions into current.

“You could put LIG on your back and have it flash LEDs with every step you take,” Tour said.

The fact that graphene is a conductor — unlike paint, ink or graphite from a pencil — makes it particularly appealing to Cohen, who expects to take advantage of that capability in future works.

“It’s art with a capital A that is trying to do the most that it can with advancements in science and technology,” he said. “If we look back historically, from the Renaissance to today, the highest forms of art push the limits of human understanding.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Graphene Art by Yieu Chyan, Joseph Cohen, Winston Wang, Chenhao Zhang, and James M. Tour. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.9b00391 Publication Date (Web): April 23, 2019

Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper appears to be open access.

Because I can’t resist the delight beaming from these faces,

maging with laser-induced graphene (LIG) was taken to a new level in a Rice University lab. From left, chemist James Tour, holding a portrait of himself in LIG; artist Joseph Cohen, holding his work “Where Do I Stand?”; and Yieu Chyan, a Rice graduate student and lead author of a new paper detailing the process used to create the art. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Turn yourself into a robot

Turning yourself into a robot is a little easier than I would have thought,

William Weir’s September 19, 2018 Yale University news release (also on EurekAlert) covers some of the same ground and fills in a few details,

When you think of robotics, you likely think of something rigid, heavy, and built for a specific purpose. New “Robotic Skins” technology developed by Yale researchers flips that notion on its head, allowing users to animate the inanimate and turn everyday objects into robots.

Developed in the lab of Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, robotic skins enable users to design their own robotic systems. Although the skins are designed with no specific task in mind, Kramer-Bottiglio said, they could be used for everything from search-and-rescue robots to wearable technologies. The results of the team’s work are published today in Science Robotics.

The skins are made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators developed in Kramer-Bottiglio’s lab. Placed on a deformable object — a stuffed animal or a foam tube, for instance — the skins animate these objects from their surfaces. The makeshift robots can perform different tasks depending on the properties of the soft objects and how the skins are applied.

We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task — locomotion, for example — and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object,” she said. “We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device.”

Robots are typically built with a single purpose in mind. The robotic skins, however, allow users to create multi-functional robots on the fly. That means they can be used in settings that hadn’t even been considered when they were designed, said Kramer-Bottiglio.

Additionally, using more than one skin at a time allows for more complex movements. For instance, Kramer-Bottiglio said, you can layer the skins to get different types of motion. “Now we can get combined modes of actuation — for example, simultaneous compression and bending.”

To demonstrate the robotic skins in action, the researchers created a handful of prototypes. These include foam cylinders that move like an inchworm, a shirt-like wearable device designed to correct poor posture, and a device with a gripper that can grasp and move objects.

Kramer-Bottiglio said she came up with the idea for the devices a few years ago when NASA  [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] put out a call for soft robotic systems. The technology was designed in partnership with NASA, and its multifunctional and reusable nature would allow astronauts to accomplish an array of tasks with the same reconfigurable material. The same skins used to make a robotic arm out of a piece of foam could be removed and applied to create a soft Mars rover that can roll over rough terrain. With the robotic skins on board, the Yale scientist said, anything from balloons to balls of crumpled paper could potentially be made into a robot with a purpose.

One of the main things I considered was the importance of multifunctionality, especially for deep space exploration where the environment is unpredictable,” she said. “The question is: How do you prepare for the unknown unknowns?”

For the same line of research, Kramer-Bottiglio was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, as part of its Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.

Next, she said, the lab will work on streamlining the devices and explore the possibility of 3D printing the components.

Just in case the link to the paper becomes obsolete, here’s a citation for the paper,

OmniSkins: Robotic skins that turn inanimate objects into multifunctional robots by Joran W. Booth, Dylan Shah, Jennifer C. Case, Edward L. White, Michelle C. Yuen, Olivier Cyr-Choiniere, and Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio. Science Robotics 19 Sep 2018: Vol. 3, Issue 22, eaat1853 DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aat1853

This paper is behind a paywall.

May 2019: Canada and science, science, science—events

It seems May 2019 is destined to be a big month where science events in Canada are concerned. I have three national science science promotion programmes, Science Odyssey, Science Rendezvous, and Pint of Science Festival Canada (part of an international effort); two local (Vancouver, Canada) events, an art/sci café from Curiosity Collider and a SciCats science communication workshop; a national/local event at Ingenium’s Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, and an international social media (Twitter) event called #Museum Week.

Science Odyssey 2019 (formerly Science and Technology Week)

In 2016 the federal Liberal government rebranded a longstanding science promotion/education programme known as Science and Technology Week to Science Odyseey and moved it from the autumn to the spring. (Should you be curious about this change, there’s a video on YouTube with Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and Parliamentary Secretary for Science Terry Beech launching “Science Odyssey, 10 days of innovation and science discovery.” My May 10, 2016 posting provides more details about the change.)

Moving forward to the present day, the 2019 edition of Science Odyseey will run from May 4 – May 19, 2019 for a whopping16 days. The Science Odyssey website can be found here.

Once you get to the website and choose your language, on the page where you land, you’ll find if you scroll down, there’s an option to choose a location (ignore the map until after you’ve successfully chosen a location and clicked on the filter button (it took me at least twice before achieving success; this seems to be a hit and miss affair).

Once you have applied the filter, the map will change and make more sense but I liked using the text list which appears after the filer has been applied better. Should you click on the map, you will lose the filtered text list and have to start over.

Science Rendezvous 2019

I’m not sure I’d call Science Rendezvous the largest science festival in Canada (it seems to me Beakerhead might have a chance at that title) but it did start in 2008 as its Wikipedia entry mentions (Note: Links have been removed),

Science Rendezvous is the largest [emphasis mine] science festival in Canada; its inaugural event happened across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) on Saturday, May 10, 2008. By 2011 the event had gone national, with participation from research institutes, universities, science groups and the public from all across Canada – from Vancouver to St. John’s to Inuvik. Science Rendezvous is a registered not-for-profit organization dedicated to making great science accessible to the public. The 2017 event took place on Saturday May 13 at more than 40 simultaneous venues.

This free all-day event aims to highlight and promote great science in Canada. The target audience is the general public, parents, children and youth, with an ultimate aim of improving enrollment and investment in sciences and technology in the future.

Science Rendezvous is being held on May 11, 2019 and its website can be found here.You can find events listed by province here. There are no entries for Alberta, Nunavut, or Prince Edward Island this year.

Science Rendezvous seems to have a relationship to Science Odyssey, my guess is that they are receiving funds. In any case , you may find that an event on the Science Rendezvous site is also on the Science Odyssey site or vice versa, depending on where you start.

Pint of Science Festival (Canada)

The 2019 Pint of Science Festival will be in 25 cities across Canada from May 20 – 22, 2019. Reminiscent of the Café Scientifique events (Vancouver, Canada) where science and beer are closely interlinked, so it is with the Pint of Science Festival, which has its roots in the UK. (Later, I have something about Guelph, Ontario and its ‘beery’ 2019 Pint event.)

Here’s some history about the Canadian inception and its UK progenitor. From he Pint of Science of Festival Canada website, the About Us page,

About Us
Pint of Science is a non-profit organisation that brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings with you. You don’t need any prior knowledge, and this is your chance to meet the people responsible for the future of science (and have a pint with them). Our festival runs over a few days in May every year,but we occasionally run events during other months. 
 
A propos de nous 
Pinte de Science est une organisation à but non lucratif qui amène quelques brillants scientifiques dans un bar près de chez vous pour discuter de leurs dernières recherches et découvertes avec le public. Vous n’avez besoin d’aucune connaissance préalable, et c’est l’occasion de rencontrer les responsables de l’avenir de la science (et de prendre une pinte avec eux). Notre festival se déroule sur quelques jours au mois de mai chaque année, mais nous organisons parfois quelques événements exceptionnels en dehors des dates officielles du festival.
 
History 
In 2012 Dr Michael Motskin and Dr Praveen Paul were two research scientists at Imperial College London in the UK. They started and organised an event called ‘Meet the Researchers’. It brought people affected by Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis into their labs to show them the kind of research they do. It was inspirational for both visitors and researchers. They thought if people want to come into labs to meet scientists, why not bring the scientists out to the people? And so Pint of Science was born. In May 2013 they held the first Pint of Science festival in just three UK cities. It quickly took off around the world and is now in nearly 300 cities. Read more here. Pint of Science Canada held its first events in 2016, a full list of locations can be found here.
 
L’Histoire
 En 2012, Dr Michael Motskin et Dr Praveen Paul étaient deux chercheurs à l’Imperial College London, au Royaume-Uni. Ils ont organisé un événement intitulé «Rencontrez les chercheurs» et ont amené les personnes atteintes de la maladie de Parkinson, d’Alzheimer, de neuropathie motrice et de sclérose en plaques dans leurs laboratoires pour leur montrer le type de recherche qu’ils menaient. C’était une source d’inspiration pour les visiteurs et les chercheurs. Ils ont pensé que si les gens voulaient se rendre dans les laboratoires pour rencontrer des scientifiques, pourquoi ne pas les faire venir dans des bars? Et ainsi est née une Pinte de Science. En mai 2013, ils ont organisé le premier festival Pinte de Science dans trois villes britanniques. Le festival a rapidement décollé dans le monde entier et se trouve maintenant dans près de 300 villes. Lire la suite ici . Pinte de Science Canada a organisé ses premiers événements en 2016. Vous trouverez une liste complète des lieux ici.

Tickets and programme are available as of today, May 1, 2019. Just go here: https://pintofscience.ca/locations/

I clicked on ‘Vancouver’ and found a range of bars, dates, and topics. It’s worth checking out every topic because the title doesn’t necessarily get the whole story across. Kudos to the team putting this together. Where these things are concderned, I don’t get surprised often. Here’s how it happened, I was expecting another space travel story when I saw this title: ‘Above and beyond: planetary science’. After clicking on the arrow,

Geology isn’t just about the Earth beneath our feet. Join us for an evening out of this world to discover what we know about the lumps of rock above our heads too!

Thank you for the geology surprise. As for the international part of this festival, you can find at least one bar in Europe, Asia and Australasia, the Americas, and Africa.

Beer and Guelph (Ontario)

I also have to tip my hat to Science Borealis (Canada’s science blog aggregator) for the tweet which led me to Pint of Science Guelph and a very special beer/science ffestival announcement,


Pint of Science Guelph will be held over three nights (May 20, 21, and 22) at six different venues, and will feature twelve different speakers. Each venue will host two speakers with talks ranging from bridging the digital divide to food fraud to the science of bubbles and beer. There will also be trivia and lots of opportunity to chat with the various researchers to learn more about what they do, and why they do it.

But wait! There’s more! Pint of Science Guelph is (as far as I’m aware) the first Pint of Science (2019) in Canada to have its own beer. Thanks to the awesome folks at Wellington Brewery, a small team of Pint of Science Guelph volunteers and speakers spent last Friday at the brewery learning about the brewing process by making a Brut IPA. This tasty beverage will be available as part of the Pint of Science celebration. Just order it by name – Brain Storm IPA.

Curiosity Collider (Vancouver, Canada)

The (Curiosity) Collider Café being held on May 8, 2019 is affiliated with Science Odyssey. From the Collider Café event webpage,

Credit: Michael Markowsky

Details,

Collider Cafe: Art. Science. Journeys.

Date/Time
Date(s) – 08/05/2019
8:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Location
Pizzeria Barbarella [links to address information]
654 E Broadway , Vancouver, BC

#ColliderCafe is a space for artists, scientists, makers, and anyone interested in art+science. Meet. Discover. Connect. Create. Are you curious?

Join us at “Collider Cafe: Art. Science. Journeys.” to explore how art and science intersect in the exploration of curiosity

//New location! Special thanks to Pizzeria Barbarella for hosting this upcoming Collider Cafe!//
 
* Michael Markowsky (visual art): The Dawn of the Artist-Astronaut
* Jacqueline Firkins (costume design): Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty
* Garvin Chinnia (visual art): Triops Journey
* Bob Pritchard (music technology): A Moving Experience: Gesture Tracking for Performance
 
The event starts promptly at 8pm (doors open at 7:30pm). $5.00-10.00 (sliding scale) cover at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events. Curiosity Collider is a registered BC non-profit organization.

Visit our Facebook page to let us know you are coming, and see event updates and speaker profiles.

You can find a map and menu information for Pizzeria Barbarella here. If memory serves, the pizzeria was named after the owner’s mother. I can’t recall if Barbarella was a nickname or a proper name.

I thought I recognized Jacqueline Firkins’ name and it turns out that I profiled her work on cancer fashion in a March 21, 2014 posting.

SciCats and a science communication workshop (in Vancouver)

I found the workshop announcement in a May 1, 2019 Curiosity Collider newsletter received via email,


May 5 [2019] Join the Fundamentals of Science Communication Workshop by SciCATs, and network with other scicomm enthusiasts. Free for grad students!

I found more information about the workshop on the SciCATs’ Fundamentals of Science Communication registration page (I’ve highlighted the portions that tell you the time commitement, the audience, and the contents),

SciCATs (Science Communication Action Team, uh, something) is a collective of science communicators (and cat fans) providing free, open source, online, skills-based science communication training, resources, and in-person workshops.

We believe that anyone, anywhere should be able to learn the why and the how of science communication!

For the past two years, SciCATs has been developing online resources and delivering science communication workshops to diverse groups of those interested in science communication. We are now hosting an open, public event to help a broader audience of those passionate about science to mix, mingle, and build their science communication skills – all while having fun.

SciCATs’ Fundamentals of Science Communication is a three-hour interactive workshop [emphasis mine] followed by one hour of networking.

For this event, our experienced SciCATs facilitators will lead the audience through our most-requested science communication modules:
Why communicate science
Finding your message
Telling your science as a story
Understanding your audience
[emphasis mine]

This workshop is ideal for people who are new to science communication [empahsis mine] or those who are more experienced. You might be an undergraduate or graduate student, researcher, technician, or other roles that have an interest in talking to the public about what you do. Perhaps you just want to hang out and meet some local science communicators. This is a great place to do it!

After the workshop we have a reservation at Chaqui Grill (1955 Cornwall), it will be a great opportunity to continue to network with all of the Sci-Cats and science communicators that attend over a beverage! They do have a full dinner menu as well.

Date and Time
Sun, May 5, 2019
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM PDT

Location
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
1100 Chestnut Street
Vancouver, BC V6J 3J9

Refund Policy
Refunds up to 1 day before event

You can find out more about SciCats and its online resources here.

da Vinci in Canada from May 2 to September 2, 2019

This show is a big deal and it’s about to open in Ottawa in our national Science and Technology Museum (one of the Ingenium museums of science), which makes it national in name and local in practice since most of us will not make it to Ottawa during the show’s run.

Here’s more from the Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius exhibition webpage, (Note: A transcript is included)

Canada Science and Technology Museum from May 2 to September 2, 2019.

For the first time in Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum presents Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius, the most comprehensive exhibition experience on Leonardo da Vinci to tour the world. Created by Grande Exhibitions in collaboration with the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Rome and a number of experts and historians from Italy and France, this interactive experience commemorates 500 years of Leonardo’s legacy, immersing visitors in his extraordinary life like never before.

Transcript

Demonstrating the full scope of Leonardo da Vinci’s achievements, Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius celebrates one of the most revered and dynamic intellects of all time. Revolutionary SENSORY4™ technology allows visitors to take a journey into the mind of the ultimate Renaissance man for the very first time.

Discover for yourself the true genius of Leonardo as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor and philosopher. See and interact with over 200 unique displays, including machine inventions, life-size reproductions of Leonardo’s Renaissance art, entertaining animations giving insight into his most notable works, and touchscreen versions of his actual codices.

Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius also includes the world’s exclusive Secrets of Mona Lisa exhibition – an analysis of the world’s most famous painting, conducted at the Louvre Museum by renowned scientific engineer, examiner and photographer of fine art Pascal Cotte.

Whether you are a history aficionado or discovering Leonardo for the first time, Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius is an entertaining, educational and enlightening experience the whole family will love.

For a change I’ve placed the video after its transcript,

The April 30, 2019 Ingenium announcement (received via email) hints at something a little more exciting than walking around and looking at cases,

Discover the true genius of Leonardo as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and philosopher. See and interact with more than 200 unique displays, including machine inventions, life-size reproductions of Leonardo’s Renaissance art, touchscreen versions of his life’s work, and an immersive, walkthrough cinematic experience. Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius [includes information about entry fees] the exclusive Secrets of Mona Lisa exhibition – an analysis of the world’s most famous painting.

I imagine there will be other events associated with this exhbition but for now there’s an opening night event, which is part of the museum’s Curiosity on Stage series (ticket purchase here),

Curiosity on Stage: Evening Edition – Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius

Join the Italian Embassy and the Canada Science and Technology Museum for an evening of discussion and discovery on the quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.
Invited speakers from the Galileo Museum in Italy, Carleton University, and the University of Ottawa will explore the historical importance of da Vinci’s diverse body of work, as well as the lasting impact of his legacy on science, technology, and art in our age.

Be among the first to visit the all-new exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius”! Your Curiosity on Stage ticket will grant you access to the exhibit in its entirety, which includes life-size reproductions of Leonardo’s art, touchscreen versions of his codices, and so much more!

Speakers:
Andrea Bernardoni (Galileo Museum) – Senior Researcher
Angelo Mingarelli (Carleton University) – Mathematician
Hanan Anis (University of Ottawa) – Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Lisa Leblanc (Canada Science and Technology Museum) – Director General; Panel Moderator

Read about their careers here.

Join the conversation and share your thoughts using the hashtag #CuriosityOnStage.

Agenda:
5:00 – 6:30 pm: Explore the “Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius” exhibit. Light refreshments and networking opportunities.
6:30 – 8:30 pm: Presentations and Panel discussion
Cost:
Members: $7
Students: $7 with discount code “SALAI” (valid student ID required on night of event)
Non-members: $10
*Parking fees are included with admission.

Tickets are not yet sold out.

#Museum Week 2019

#Museum Week (website) is being billed as “The first worldwide cultural event on social networks. The latest edition is being held from May 13 – 19, 2019. As far as I’m aware, it’s held on Twitter exclusively. You can check out the hash tag feed (#Museum Week) as it’s getting quite active even now.

They don’t have a list of participants for this year which leaves me feeling a little sad. It’s kind of fun to check out how many and which institutions in your country are planning to participate. I would have liked to have seen whether or not the Canada Science and Technology Museum and Science World Vancouver will be there. (I think both participated last year.) Given how busy the hash tag feed becomes during the event, I’m not likely to see them on it even if they’re tweeting madly.

May 2019 looks to be a very busy month for Canadian science enthusiasts! No matter where you are there is something for you.

The wonder of movement in 3D

Shades of Eadweard Muybridge (English photographer who pioneered photographic motion studies)! A September 19, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily describes the latest efforts to ‘capture motion’,

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has often credited his success to spending countless hours studying his opponent’s movements on film. This understanding of movement is necessary for all living species, whether it’s figuring out what angle to throw a ball at, or perceiving the motion of predators and prey. But simple videos can’t actually give us the full picture.

That’s because traditional videos and photos for studying motion are two-dimensional, and don’t show us the underlying 3-D structure of the person or subject of interest. Without the full geometry, we can’t inspect the small and subtle movements that help us move faster, or make sense of the precision needed to perfect our athletic form.

Recently, though, researchers from MIT’s [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have come up with a way to get a better handle on this understanding of complex motion.

There isn’t a single reference to Muybridge, still, this September 18, 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology news release (also on EurekAlert but published September 19, 2018), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

The new system uses an algorithm that can take 2-D videos and turn them into 3-D printed “motion sculptures” that show how a human body moves through space. In addition to being an intriguing aesthetic visualization of shape and time, the team envisions that their “MoSculp” system could enable a much more detailed study of motion for professional athletes, dancers, or anyone who wants to improve their physical skills.

“Imagine you have a video of Roger Federer serving a ball in a tennis match, and a video of yourself learning tennis,” says PhD student Xiuming Zhang, lead author of a new paper about the system. “You could then build motion sculptures of both scenarios to compare them and more comprehensively study where you need to improve.”

Because motion sculptures are 3-D, users can use a computer interface to navigate around the structures and see them from different viewpoints, revealing motion-related information inaccessible from the original viewpoint.

Zhang wrote the paper alongside MIT professors William Freeman and Stefanie Mueller, PhD student Jiajun Wu, Google researchers Qiurui He and Tali Dekel, as well as U.C. Berkeley postdoc and former CSAIL PhD Andrew Owens.

How it works

Artists and scientists have long struggled to gain better insight into movement, limited by their own camera lens and what it could provide.

Previous work has mostly used so-called “stroboscopic” photography techniques, which look a lot like the images in a flip book stitched together. But since these photos only show snapshots of movement, you wouldn’t be able to see as much of the trajectory of a person’s arm when they’re hitting a golf ball, for example.

What’s more, these photographs also require laborious pre-shoot setup, such as using a clean background and specialized depth cameras and lighting equipment. All MoSculp needs is a video sequence.

Given an input video, the system first automatically detects 2-D key points on the subject’s body, such as the hip, knee, and ankle of a ballerina while she’s doing a complex dance sequence. Then, it takes the best possible poses from those points to be turned into 3-D “skeletons.”

After stitching these skeletons together, the system generates a motion sculpture that can be 3-D printed, showing the smooth, continuous path of movement traced out by the subject. Users can customize their figures to focus on different body parts, assign different materials to distinguish among parts, and even customize lighting.

In user studies, the researchers found that over 75 percent of subjects felt that MoSculp provided a more detailed visualization for studying motion than the standard photography techniques.

“Dance and highly-skilled athletic motions often seem like ‘moving sculptures’ but they only create fleeting and ephemeral shapes,” says Courtney Brigham, communications lead at Adobe. “This work shows how to take motions and turn them into real sculptures with objective visualizations of movement, providing a way for athletes to analyze their movements for training, requiring no more equipment than a mobile camera and some computing time.”

The system works best for larger movements, like throwing a ball or taking a sweeping leap during a dance sequence. It also works for situations that might obstruct or complicate movement, such as people wearing loose clothing or carrying objects.

Currently, the system only uses single-person scenarios, but the team soon hopes to expand to multiple people. This could open up the potential to study things like social disorders, interpersonal interactions, and team dynamics.

This work will be presented at the User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) symposium in Berlin, Germany in October 2018 and the team’s paper published as part of the proceedings.

As for anyone wondering about the Muybridge comment, here’s an image the MIT researchers have made available,

A new system uses an algorithm that can take 2-D videos and turn them into 3-D-printed “motion sculptures” that show how a human body moves through space. Image courtesy of MIT CSAIL

Contrast that MIT image with some of the images in this video capturing parts of a theatre production, Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge,

Getting back to MIT, here’s their MoSculp video,

There are some startling similarities, eh? I suppose there are only so many ways one can capture movement be it in studies of Eadweard Muybridge, a theatre production about his work, or an MIT video the latest in motion capture technology.

I am a sound speaker/loudspeaker (well, maybe one day)

Caption: From left are Saewon Kang, Professor Hyunhyub Ko, and Seungse Cho in the School of Energy and Chemical Engineering at UNIST. Credit: UNIST

What are these scientists so happy about? A September 18, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily reveals all,

An international team of researchers, affiliated with UNIST [Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology] has presented an innovative wearable technology that will turn your skin into a loudspeaker.

An August 6, 2018 UNIST press release (also on EurekAlert but published September 17,2018), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

This breakthrough has been led by Professor Hyunhyub Ko in the School of Energy and Chemical Engineering at UNIST. Created in part to help the hearing and speech impaired, the new technology can be further explored for various potential applications, such as wearable IoT sensors and conformal health care devices.

In the study, the research team has developed ultrathin, transparent, and conductive hybrid nanomembranes with nanoscale thickness, consisting of an orthogonal silver nanowire array embedded in a polymer matrix. They, then, demonstrated their nanomembrane by making it into a loudspeaker that can be attached to almost anything to produce sounds. The researchers also introduced a similar device, acting as a microphone, which can be connected to smartphones and computers to unlock voice-activated security systems.

Nanomembranes (NMs) are molcularly thin seperation layers with nanoscale thickness. Polymer NMs have attracted considerable attention owing to their outstanding advantages, such as extreme flexibility, ultralight weight, and excellent adhesibility in that they can be attached directly to almost any surface. However, they tear easily and exhibit no electrical conductivity.

The research team has solved such issues by embedding a silver nanowire network within a polymer-based nanomembrane. This has enabled the demonstration of skin-attachable and imperceptible loudspeaker and microphone.

“Our ultrathin, transparent, and conductive hybrid NMs facilitate conformal contact with curvilinear and dynamic surfaces without any cracking or rupture,” says  Saewon Kang in the doctroral program of Energy and Chemical Engineering at UNIST, the first author of the study.

He adds, “These layers are capable of detecting sounds and vocal vibrations produced by the triboelectric voltage signals corresponding to sounds, which could be further explored for various potential applications, such as sound input/output devices.”

Using the hybrid NMs, the research team fabricated skin-attachable NM loudspeakers and microphones, which would be unobtrusive in appearance because of their excellent transparency and conformal contact capability. These wearable speakers and microphones are paper-thin, yet still capable of conducting sound signals.

“The biggest breakthrough of our research is the development of ultrathin, transparent, and conductive hybrid nanomembranes with nanoscale thickness, less than 100 nanometers,” says Professor Ko. “These outstanding optical, electrical, and mechanical properties of nanomembranes enable the demonstration of skin-attachable and imperceptible loudspeaker and microphone.”The skin-attachable NM loudspeakers work by emitting thermoacoustic sound by the temperature-induced oscillation of the surrounding air. The periodic Joule heating that occurs when an electric current passes through a conductor and produces heat leads to these temperature oscillations. It has attracted considerable attention for being a stretchable, transparent, and skin-attachable loudspeaker.

Wearable microphones are sensors, attached to a speaker’s neck to even sense the vibration of the vocal folds. This sensor operates by converting the frictional force generated by the oscillation of the transparent conductive nanofiber into electric energy. For the operation of the microphone, the hybrid nanomembrane is inserted between elastic films with tiny patterns to precisely detect the sound and the vibration of the vocal cords based on a triboelectric voltage that results from the contact with the elastic films.

“For the commercial applications, the mechanical durability of nanomebranes and the performance of loudspeaker and microphone should be improved further,” says Professor Ko.

Thankfully, the researchers have made video that lets us hear this sound speaker,


Paper-thin stick-on speakers, developed by Professor Hyunhyub Ko and his research team at UNIST.

Thank you to the folks at UNIST for including something with the sound. Strangely, it’s not common practice to include audio when publishing research on sound, not in my experience anyway..

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Transparent and conductive nanomembranes with orthogonal silver nanowire arrays for skin-attachable loudspeakers and microphones by Saewon Kang, Seungse Cho, Ravi Shanker, Hochan Lee, Jonghwa Park, Doo-Seung Um, Youngoh Lee, and Hyunhyub Ko. Science Advances 03 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaas8772 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aas8772

This paper appears to be open access.

Gene editing and personalized medicine: Canada

Back in the fall of 2018 I came across one of those overexcited pieces about personalized medicine and gene editing tha are out there. This one came from an unexpected source, an author who is a “PhD Scientist in Medical Science (Blood and Vasculature” (from Rick Gierczak’s LinkedIn profile).

It starts our promisingly enough although I’m beginning to dread the use of the word ‘precise’  where medicine is concerned, (from a September 17, 2018 posting on the Science Borealis blog by Rick Gierczak (Note: Links have been removed),

CRISPR-Cas9 technology was accidentally discovered in the 1980s when scientists were researching how bacteria defend themselves against viral infection. While studying bacterial DNA called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), they identified additional CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein molecules. Together, CRISPR and one of those protein molecules, termed Cas9, can locate and cut precise regions of bacterial DNA. By 2012, researchers understood that the technology could be modified and used more generally to edit the DNA of any plant or animal. In 2015, the American Association for the Advancement of Science chose CRISPR-Cas9 as science’s “Breakthrough of the Year”.

Today, CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful and precise gene-editing tool [emphasis mine] made of two molecules: a protein that cuts DNA (Cas9) and a custom-made length of RNA that works like a GPS for locating the exact spot that needs to be edited (CRISPR). Once inside the target cell nucleus, these two molecules begin editing the DNA. After the desired changes are made, they use a repair mechanism to stitch the new DNA into place. Cas9 never changes, but the CRISPR molecule must be tailored for each new target — a relatively easy process in the lab. However, it’s not perfect, and occasionally the wrong DNA is altered [emphasis mine].

Note that Gierczak makes a point of mentioning that CRISPR/Cas9 is “not perfect.” And then, he gets excited (Note: Links have been removed),

CRISPR-Cas9 has the potential to treat serious human diseases, many of which are caused by a single “letter” mutation in the genetic code (A, C, T, or G) that could be corrected by precise editing. [emphasis mine] Some companies are taking notice of the technology. A case in point is CRISPR Therapeutics, which recently developed a treatment for sickle cell disease, a blood disorder that causes a decrease in oxygen transport in the body. The therapy targets a special gene called fetal hemoglobin that’s switched off a few months after birth. Treatment involves removing stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow and editing the gene to turn it back on using CRISPR-Cas9. These new stem cells are returned to the patient ready to produce normal red blood cells. In this case, the risk of error is eliminated because the new cells are screened for the correct edit before use.

The breakthroughs shown by companies like CRISPR Therapeutics are evidence that personalized medicine has arrived. [emphasis mine] However, these discoveries will require government regulatory approval from the countries where the treatment is going to be used. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed new regulations allowing somatic (i.e., non-germ) cell editing and clinical trials to proceed. [emphasis mine]

The potential treatment for sickle cell disease is exciting but Gierczak offers no evidence that this treatment or any unnamed others constitute proof that “personalized medicine has arrived.” In fact, Goldman Sachs, a US-based investment bank, makes the case that it never will .

Cost/benefit analysis

Edward Abrahams, president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition (US-based), advocates for personalized medicine while noting in passing, market forces as represented by Goldman Sachs in his May 23, 2018 piece for statnews.com (Note: A link has been removed),

One of every four new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the last four years was designed to become a personalized (or “targeted”) therapy that zeros in on the subset of patients likely to respond positively to it. That’s a sea change from the way drugs were developed and marketed 10 years ago.

Some of these new treatments have extraordinarily high list prices. But focusing solely on the cost of these therapies rather than on the value they provide threatens the future of personalized medicine.

… most policymakers are not asking the right questions about the benefits of these treatments for patients and society. Influenced by cost concerns, they assume that prices for personalized tests and treatments cannot be justified even if they make the health system more efficient and effective by delivering superior, longer-lasting clinical outcomes and increasing the percentage of patients who benefit from prescribed treatments.

Goldman Sachs, for example, issued a report titled “The Genome Revolution.” It argues that while “genome medicine” offers “tremendous value for patients and society,” curing patients may not be “a sustainable business model.” [emphasis mine] The analysis underlines that the health system is not set up to reap the benefits of new scientific discoveries and technologies. Just as we are on the precipice of an era in which gene therapies, gene-editing, and immunotherapies promise to address the root causes of disease, Goldman Sachs says that these therapies have a “very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies.”

Let’s just chew on this one (contemplate)  for a minute”curing patients may not be ‘sustainable business model’!”

Coming down to earth: policy

While I find Gierczak to be over-enthused, he, like Abrahams, emphasizes the importance of new policy, in his case, the focus is Canadian policy. From Gierczak’s September 17, 2018 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

In Canada, companies need approval from Health Canada. But a 2004 law called the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHR Act) states that it’s a criminal offence “to alter the genome of a human cell, or in vitroembryo, that is capable of being transmitted to descendants”. The Actis so broadly written that Canadian scientists are prohibited from using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology on even somatic cells. Today, Canada is one of the few countries in the world where treating a disease with CRISPR-Cas9 is a crime.

On the other hand, some countries provide little regulatory oversight for editing either germ or somatic cells. In China, a company often only needs to satisfy the requirements of the local hospital where the treatment is being performed. And, if germ-cell editing goes wrong, there is little recourse for the future generations affected.

The AHR Act was introduced to regulate the use of reproductive technologies like in vitrofertilization and research related to cloning human embryos during the 1980s and 1990s. Today, we live in a time when medical science, and its role in Canadian society, is rapidly changing. CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful tool, and there are aspects of the technology that aren’t well understood and could potentially put patients at risk if we move ahead too quickly. But the potential benefits are significant. Updated legislation that acknowledges both the risks and current realities of genomic engineering [emphasis mine] would relieve the current obstacles and support a path toward the introduction of safe new therapies.

Criminal ban on human gene-editing of inheritable cells (in Canada)

I had no idea there was a criminal ban on the practice until reading this January 2017 editorial by Bartha Maria Knoppers, Rosario Isasi, Timothy Caulfield, Erika Kleiderman, Patrick Bedford, Judy Illes, Ubaka Ogbogu, Vardit Ravitsky, & Michael Rudnicki for (Nature) npj Regenerative Medicine (Note: Links have been removed),

Driven by the rapid evolution of gene editing technologies, international policy is examining which regulatory models can address the ensuing scientific, socio-ethical and legal challenges for regenerative and personalised medicine.1 Emerging gene editing technologies, including the CRISPR/Cas9 2015 scientific breakthrough,2 are powerful, relatively inexpensive, accurate, and broadly accessible research tools.3 Moreover, they are being utilised throughout the world in a wide range of research initiatives with a clear eye on potential clinical applications. Considering the implications of human gene editing for selection, modification and enhancement, it is time to re-examine policy in Canada relevant to these important advances in the history of medicine and science, and the legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern them. Given the potential human reproductive applications of these technologies, careful consideration of these possibilities, as well as ethical and regulatory scrutiny must be a priority.4

With the advent of human embryonic stem cell research in 1978, the birth of Dolly (the cloned sheep) in 1996 and the Raelian cloning hoax in 2003, the environment surrounding the enactment of Canada’s 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA) was the result of a decade of polarised debate,5 fuelled by dystopian and utopian visions for future applications. Rightly or not, this led to the AHRA prohibition on a wide range of activities, including the creation of embryos (s. 5(1)(b)) or chimeras (s. 5(1)(i)) for research and in vitro and in vivo germ line alterations (s. 5(1)(f)). Sanctions range from a fine (up to $500,000) to imprisonment (up to 10 years) (s. 60 AHRA).

In Canada, the criminal ban on gene editing appears clear, the Act states that “No person shall knowingly […] alter the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the alteration is capable of being transmitted to descendants;” [emphases mine] (s. 5(1)(f) AHRA). This approach is not shared worldwide as other countries such as the United Kingdom, take a more regulatory approach to gene editing research.1 Indeed, as noted by the Law Reform Commission of Canada in 1982, criminal law should be ‘an instrument of last resort’ used solely for “conduct which is culpable, seriously harmful, and generally conceived of as deserving of punishment”.6 A criminal ban is a suboptimal policy tool for science as it is inflexible, stifles public debate, and hinders responsiveness to the evolving nature of science and societal attitudes.7 In contrast, a moratorium such as the self-imposed research moratorium on human germ line editing called for by scientists in December 20158 can at least allow for a time limited pause. But like bans, they may offer the illusion of finality and safety while halting research required to move forward and validate innovation.

On October 1st, 2016, Health Canada issued a Notice of Intent to develop regulations under the AHRA but this effort is limited to safety and payment issues (i.e. gamete donation). Today, there is a need for Canada to revisit the laws and policies that address the ethical, legal and social implications of human gene editing. The goal of such a critical move in Canada’s scientific and legal history would be a discussion of the right of Canadians to benefit from the advancement of science and its applications as promulgated in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights9 and article 15(b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,10 which Canada has signed and ratified. Such an approach would further ensure the freedom of scientific endeavour both as a principle of a liberal democracy and as a social good, while allowing Canada to be engaged with the international scientific community.

Even though it’s a bit old, I still recommend reading the open access editorial in full, if you have the time.

One last thing abut the paper, the acknowledgements,

Sponsored by Canada’s Stem Cell Network, the Centre of Genomics and Policy of McGill University convened a ‘think tank’ on the future of human gene editing in Canada with legal and ethics experts as well as representatives and observers from government in Ottawa (August 31, 2016). The experts were Patrick Bedford, Janetta Bijl, Timothy Caulfield, Judy Illes, Rosario Isasi, Jonathan Kimmelman, Erika Kleiderman, Bartha Maria Knoppers, Eric Meslin, Cate Murray, Ubaka Ogbogu, Vardit Ravitsky, Michael Rudnicki, Stephen Strauss, Philip Welford, and Susan Zimmerman. The observers were Geneviève Dubois-Flynn, Danika Goosney, Peter Monette, Kyle Norrie, and Anthony Ridgway.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Both McGill and the Stem Cell Network pop up again. A November 8, 2017 article about the need for new Canadian gene-editing policies by Tom Blackwell for the National Post features some familiar names (Did someone have a budget for public relations and promotion?),

It’s one of the most exciting, and controversial, areas of health science today: new technology that can alter the genetic content of cells, potentially preventing inherited disease — or creating genetically enhanced humans.

But Canada is among the few countries in the world where working with the CRISPR gene-editing system on cells whose DNA can be passed down to future generations is a criminal offence, with penalties of up to 10 years in jail.

This week, one major science group announced it wants that changed, calling on the federal government to lift the prohibition and allow researchers to alter the genome of inheritable “germ” cells and embryos.

The potential of the technology is huge and the theoretical risks like eugenics or cloning are overplayed, argued a panel of the Stem Cell Network.

The step would be a “game-changer,” said Bartha Knoppers, a health-policy expert at McGill University, in a presentation to the annual Till & McCulloch Meetings of stem-cell and regenerative-medicine researchers [These meetings were originally known as the Stem Cell Network’s Annual General Meeting {AGM}]. [emphases mine]

“I’m completely against any modification of the human genome,” said the unidentified meeting attendee. “If you open this door, you won’t ever be able to close it again.”

If the ban is kept in place, however, Canadian scientists will fall further behind colleagues in other countries, say the experts behind the statement say; they argue possible abuses can be prevented with good ethical oversight.

“It’s a human-reproduction law, it was never meant to ban and slow down and restrict research,” said Vardit Ravitsky, a University of Montreal bioethicist who was part of the panel. “It’s a sort of historical accident … and now our hands are tied.”

There are fears, as well, that CRISPR could be used to create improved humans who are genetically programmed to have certain facial or other features, or that the editing could have harmful side effects. Regardless, none of it is happening in Canada, good or bad.

In fact, the Stem Cell Network panel is arguably skirting around the most contentious applications of the technology. It says it is asking the government merely to legalize research for its own sake on embryos and germ cells — those in eggs and sperm — not genetic editing of embryos used to actually get women pregnant.

The highlighted portions in the last two paragraphs of the excerpt were written one year prior to the claims by a Chinese scientist that he had run a clinical trial resulting in gene-edited twins, Lulu and Nana. (See my my November 28, 2018 posting for a comprehensive overview of the original furor). I have yet to publish a followup posting featuring the news that the CRISPR twins may have been ‘improved’ more extensively than originally realized. The initial reports about the twins focused on an illness-related reason (making them HIV ‘immune’) but made no mention of enhanced cognitive skills a side effect of eliminating the gene that would make them HIV ‘immune’. To date, the researcher has not made the bulk of his data available for an in-depth analysis to support his claim that he successfully gene-edited the twins. As well, there were apparently seven other pregnancies coming to term as part of the researcher’s clinical trial and there has been no news about those births.

Risk analysis innovation

Before moving onto the innovation of risk analysis, I want to focus a little more on at least one of the risks that gene-editing might present. Gierczak noted that CRISPR/Cas9 is “not perfect,” which acknowledges the truth but doesn’t convey all that much information.

While the terms ‘precision’ and ‘scissors’ are used frequently when describing the CRISPR technique, scientists actually mean that the technique is significantly ‘more precise’ than other techniques but they are not referencing an engineering level of precision. As for the ‘scissors’, it’s an analogy scientists like to use but in fact CRISPR is not as efficient and precise as a pair of scissors.

Michael Le Page in a July 16, 2018 article for New Scientist lays out some of the issues (Note: A link has been removed),

A study of CRIPSR suggests we shouldn’t rush into trying out CRISPR genome editing inside people’s bodies just yet. The technique can cause big deletions or rearrangements of DNA [emphasis mine], says Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, meaning some therapies based on CRISPR may not be quite as safe as we thought.

The CRISPR genome editing technique is revolutionising biology, enabling us to create new varieties of plants and animals and develop treatments for a wide range of diseases.

The CRISPR Cas9 protein works by cutting the DNA of a cell in a specific place. When the cell repairs the damage, a few DNA letters get changed at this spot – an effect that can be exploited to disable genes.

At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. But in studies of mice and human cells, Bradley’s team has found that in around a fifth of cells, CRISPR causes deletions or rearrangements more than 100 DNA letters long. These surprising changes are sometimes thousands of letters long.

“I do believe the findings are robust,” says Gaetan Burgio of the Australian National University, an expert on CRISPR who has debunked previous studies questioning the method’s safety. “This is a well-performed study and fairly significant.”

I covered the Bradley paper and the concerns in a July 17, 2018 posting ‘The CRISPR ((clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-CAS9 gene-editing technique may cause new genetic damage kerfuffle‘. (The ‘kerfufle’ was in reference to a report that the CRISPR market was affected by the publication of Bradley’s paper.)

Despite Health Canada not moving swiftly enough for some researchers, they have nonetheless managed to release an ‘outcome’ report about a consultation/analysis started in October 2016. Before getting to the consultation’s outcome, it’s interesting to look at how the consultation’s call for response was described (from Health Canada’s Toward a strengthened Assisted Human Reproduction Act ; A Consultation with Canadians on Key Policy Proposals webpage),

In October 2016, recognizing the need to strengthen the regulatory framework governing assisted human reproduction in Canada, Health Canada announced its intention to bring into force the dormant sections of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act  and to develop the necessary supporting regulations.

This consultation document provides an overview of the key policy proposals that will help inform the development of regulations to support bringing into force Section 10, Section 12 and Sections 45-58 of the Act. Specifically, the policy proposals describe the Department’s position on the following:

Section 10: Safety of Donor Sperm and Ova

  • Scope and application
  • Regulated parties and their regulatory obligations
  • Processing requirements, including donor suitability assessment
  • Record-keeping and traceability

Section 12: Reimbursement

  • Expenditures that may be reimbursed
  • Process for reimbursement
  • Creation and maintenance of records

Sections 45-58: Administration and Enforcement

  • Scope of the administration and enforcement framework
  • Role of inspectors designated under the Act

The purpose of the document is to provide Canadians with an opportunity to review the policy proposals and to provide feedback [emphasis mine] prior to the Department finalizing policy decisions and developing the regulations. In addition to requesting stakeholders’ general feedback on the policy proposals, the Department is also seeking input on specific questions, which are included throughout the document.

It took me a while to find the relevant section (in particular, take note of ‘Federal Regulatory Oversight’),

3.2. AHR in Canada Today

Today, an increasing number of Canadians are turning to AHR technologies to grow or build their families. A 2012 Canadian studyFootnote 1 found that infertility is on the rise in Canada, with roughly 16% of heterosexual couples experiencing infertility. In addition to rising infertility, the trend of delaying marriage and parenthood, scientific advances in cryopreserving ova, and the increasing use of AHR by LGBTQ2 couples and single parents to build a family are all contributing to an increase in the use of AHR technologies.

The growing use of reproductive technologies by Canadians to help build their families underscores the need to strengthen the AHR Act. While the approach to regulating AHR varies from country to country, Health Canada has considered international best practices and the need for regulatory alignment when developing the proposed policies set out in this document. …

3.2.1 Federal Regulatory Oversight

Although the scope of the AHR Act was significantly reduced in 2012 and some of the remaining sections have not yet been brought into force, there are many important sections of the Act that are currently administered and enforced by Health Canada, as summarized generally below:

Section 5: Prohibited Scientific and Research Procedures
Section 5 prohibits certain types of scientific research and clinical procedures that are deemed unacceptable, including: human cloning, the creation of an embryo for non-reproductive purposes, maintaining an embryo outside the human body beyond the fourteenth day, sex selection for non-medical reasons, altering the genome in a way that could be transmitted to descendants, and creating a chimera or a hybrid. [emphasis mine]

….

It almost seems as if the they were hiding the section that broached the human gene-editing question. It doesn’t seem to have worked as it appears, there are some very motivated parties determined to reframe the discussion. Health Canada’s ‘outocme’ report, published March 2019, What we heard: A summary of scanning and consultations on what’s next for health product regulation reflects the success of those efforts,

1.0 Introduction and Context

Scientific and technological advances are accelerating the pace of innovation. These advances are increasingly leading to the development of health products that are better able to predict, define, treat, and even cure human diseases. Globally, many factors are driving regulators to think about how to enable health innovation. To this end, Health Canada has been expanding beyond existing partnerships and engaging both domestically and internationally. This expanding landscape of products and services comes with a range of new challenges and opportunities.

In keeping up to date with emerging technologies and working collaboratively through strategic partnerships, Health Canada seeks to position itself as a regulator at the forefront of health innovation. Following the targeted sectoral review of the Health and Biosciences Sector Regulatory Review consultation by the Treasury Board Secretariat, Health Canada held a number of targeted meetings with a broad range of stakeholders.

This report outlines the methodologies used to look ahead at the emerging health technology environment, [emphasis mine] the potential areas of focus that resulted, and the key findings from consultations.

… the Department identified the following key drivers that are expected to shape the future of health innovation:

  1. The use of “big data” to inform decision-making: Health systems are generating more data, and becoming reliant on this data. The increasing accuracy, types, and volume of data available in real time enable automation and machine learning that can forecast activity, behaviour, or trends to support decision-making.
  2. Greater demand for citizen agency: Canadians increasingly want and have access to more information, resources, options, and platforms to manage their own health (e.g., mobile apps, direct-to-consumer services, decentralization of care).
  3. Increased precision and personalization in health care delivery: Diagnostic tools and therapies are increasingly able to target individual patients with customized therapies (e.g., individual gene therapy).
  4. Increased product complexity: Increasingly complex products do not fit well within conventional product classifications and standards (e.g., 3D printing).
  5. Evolving methods for production and distribution: In some cases, manufacturers and supply chains are becoming more distributed, challenging the current framework governing production and distribution of health products.
  6. The ways in which evidence is collected and used are changing: The processes around new drug innovation, research and development, and designing clinical trials are evolving in ways that are more flexible and adaptive.

With these key drivers in mind, the Department selected the following six emerging technologies for further investigation to better understand how the health product space is evolving:

  1. Artificial intelligence, including activities such as machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing, and robotics.
  2. Advanced cell therapies, such as individualized cell therapies tailor-made to address specific patient needs.
  3. Big data, from sources such as sensors, genetic information, and social media that are increasingly used to inform patient and health care practitioner decisions.
  4. 3D printing of health products (e.g., implants, prosthetics, cells, tissues).
  5. New ways of delivering drugs that bring together different product lines and methods (e.g., nano-carriers, implantable devices).
  6. Gene editing, including individualized gene therapies that can assist in preventing and treating certain diseases.

Next, to test the drivers identified and further investigate emerging technologies, the Department consulted key organizations and thought leaders across the country with expertise in health innovation. To this end, Health Canada held seven workshops with over 140 representatives from industry associations, small-to-medium sized enterprises and start-ups, larger multinational companies, investors, researchers, and clinicians in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. [emphases mine]

The ‘outocme’ report, ‘What we heard …’, is well worth reading in its entirety; it’s about 9 pp.

I have one comment, ‘stakeholders’ don’t seem to include anyone who isn’t “from industry associations, small-to-medium sized enterprises and start-ups, larger multinational companies, investors, researchers, and clinician” or from “Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.” Aren’t the rest of us stakeholders?

Innovating risk analysis

This line in the report caught my eye (from Health Canada’s Toward a strengthened Assisted Human Reproduction Act ; A Consultation with Canadians on Key Policy Proposals webpage),

There is increasing need to enable innovation in a flexible, risk-based way, with appropriate oversight to ensure safety, quality, and efficacy. [emphases mine]

It reminded me of the 2019 federal budget (from my March 22, 2019 posting). One comment before proceeding, regulation and risk are tightly linked and, so, by innovating regulation they are by exttension alos innovating risk analysis,

… Budget 2019 introduces the first three “Regulatory Roadmaps” to specifically address stakeholder issues and irritants in these sectors, informed by over 140 responses [emphasis mine] from businesses and Canadians across the country, as well as recommendations from the Economic Strategy Tables.

Introducing Regulatory Roadmaps

These Roadmaps lay out the Government’s plans to modernize regulatory frameworks, without compromising our strong health, safety, and environmental protections. They contain proposals for legislative and regulatory amendments as well as novel regulatory approaches to accommodate emerging technologies, including the use of regulatory sandboxes and pilot projects—better aligning our regulatory frameworks with industry realities.

Budget 2019 proposes the necessary funding and legislative revisions so that regulatory departments and agencies can move forward on the Roadmaps, including providing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and Transport Canada with up to $219.1 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, (with $0.5 million in remaining amortization), and $3.1 million per year on an ongoing basis.

In the coming weeks, the Government will be releasing the full Regulatory Roadmaps for each of the reviews, as well as timelines for enacting specific initiatives, which can be grouped in the following three main areas:

What Is a Regulatory Sandbox? Regulatory sandboxes are controlled “safe spaces” in which innovative products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms can be tested without immediately being subject to all of the regulatory requirements.
– European Banking Authority, 2017

Establishing a regulatory sandbox for new and innovative medical products
The regulatory approval system has not kept up with new medical technologies and processes. Health Canada proposes to modernize regulations to put in place a regulatory sandbox for new and innovative products, such as tissues developed through 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and gene therapies targeted to specific individuals. [emphasis mine]

Modernizing the regulation of clinical trials
Industry and academics have expressed concerns that regulations related to clinical trials are overly prescriptive and inconsistent. Health Canada proposes to implement a risk-based approach [emphasis mine] to clinical trials to reduce costs to industry and academics by removing unnecessary requirements for low-risk drugs and trials. The regulations will also provide the agri-food industry with the ability to carry out clinical trials within Canada on products such as food for special dietary use and novel foods.

Does the government always get 140 responses from a consultation process? Moving on, I agree with finding new approaches to regulatory processes and oversight and, by extension, new approaches to risk analysis.

Earlier in this post, I asked if someone had a budget for public relations/promotion. I wasn’t joking. My March 22, 2019 posting also included these line items in the proposed 2019 budget,

Budget 2019 proposes to make additional investments in support of the following organizations:
Stem Cell Network: Stem cell research—pioneered by two Canadians in the 1960s [James Till and Ernest McCulloch]—holds great promise for new therapies and medical treatments for respiratory and heart diseases, spinal cord injury, cancer, and many other diseases and disorders. The Stem Cell Network is a national not-for-profit organization that helps translate stem cell research into clinical applications and commercial products. To support this important work and foster Canada’s leadership in stem cell research, Budget 2019 proposes to provide the Stem Cell Network with renewed funding of $18 million over three years, starting in 2019–20.

Genome Canada: The insights derived from genomics—the study of the entire genetic information of living things encoded in their DNA and related molecules and proteins—hold the potential for breakthroughs that can improve the lives of Canadians and drive innovation and economic growth. Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing genomics science and technology in order to create economic and social benefits for Canadians. To support Genome Canada’s operations, Budget 2019 proposes to provide Genome Canada with $100.5 million over five years, starting in 2020–21. This investment will also enable Genome Canada to launch new large-scale research competitions and projects, in collaboration with external partners, ensuring that Canada’s research community continues to have access to the resources needed to make transformative scientific breakthroughs and translate these discoveries into real-world applications.

Years ago, I managed to find a webpage with all of the proposals various organizations were submitting to a government budget committee. It was eye-opening. You can tell which organizations were able to hire someone who knew the current government buzzwords and the things that a government bureaucrat would want to hear and the organizations that didn’t.

Of course, if the government of the day is adamantly against or uninterested, no amount of persusasion will work to get your organization more money in the budget.

Finally

Reluctantly, I am inclined to explore the topic of emerging technologies such as gene-editing not only in the field of agriculture (for gene-editing of plants, fish, and animals see my November 28, 2018 posting) but also with humans. At the very least, it needs to be discussed whether we choose to participate or not.

If you are interested in the arguments against changing Canada’s prohibition against gene-editing of humans, there’s an Ocotber 2, 2017 posting on Impact Ethics by Françoise Baylis, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University, and Alana Cattapan, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, which makes some compelling arguments. Of course, it was written before the CRISPR twins (my November 28, 2018 posting).

Recaliing CRISPR Therapeutics (mentioned by Gierczak), the company received permission to run clinical trials in the US in October 2018 after the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) lifted an earlier ban on their trials according to an Oct. 10, 2018 article by Frank Vinhuan for exome,

The partners also noted that their therapy is making progress outside of the U.S. They announced that they have received regulatory clearance in “multiple countries” to begin tests of the experimental treatment in both sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, …

It seems to me that the quotes around “multiple countries” are meant to suggest doubt of some kind. Generally speaking, company representatives make those kinds of generalizations when they’re trying to pump up their copy. E.g., 50% increase in attendance  but no whole numbers to tell you what that means. It could mean two people attended the first year and then brought a friend the next year or 100 people attended and the next year there were 150.

Despite attempts to declare personalized medicine as having arrived, I think everything is still in flux with no preordained outcome. The future has yet to be determined but it will be and I , for one, would like to have some say in the matter.

A biotech talk: Re – [Generating, Creating, Interpreting] on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at 5:30 pm in Toronto, Ontario (Canada)

[downloaded from https://artscisalon.com/re-generating-creating-interpreting-tuesday-april-30-530-pm-ocadu/]

This image is intriguing as it’s being used to illustrate an ArtSci Salon April 30, 2019 event about biotechnology (from the Re – [Generating, Creating, Interpreting] event webpage),

Re – [Generating, Creating, Interpreting]

Conversations about Life

We live in strange times. We mourn for the countless lives we are losing to extinction, famine, severe weather and disease; we celebrate the possibility that science may assist us in preserving what we have and in regenerating what is no more. We aspire to re-create long gone species and proceed to create new one. Biotechnologies both terrify and invigorate us. We are torn between creating risk free futures and taking exciting Promethean risks. We claim that biotech can create a more democratic society; yet, we are increasingly racist, sexist and classist.

What’s at stake? How can life unfold from here? How do we reinterpret and re-imagine it? Join us for a series of brief presentations and a following juicy discussion. There will be refreshments. …And juice

With:

Joana Magalhães
Institute of Biomedical Research, A Coruña (INIBIC)

Polona Tratnik
Research Institute for Humanities, Alma Mater Europaea, Ljubljana

Roberta Buiani
Centre for Feminist Research, York University, Toronto

Moderated by:

Dolores Steinman
Biomedical Simulation Lab (BSL)

Tuesday, April 30
5.30 pm

OCADU (Ontario College of Art and Design University)
DF Salon, Room 701K  (7th floor)
205 Richmond St W

RSVP  https://www.facebook.com/events/811144362603498/

For the curious, here are the bios (also from the Re – [Generating, Creating, Interpreting] event webpage),

Roberta Buiani (PhD Communication and Culture, YorkU) is an interdisciplinary artist, media scholar and curator based in Toronto. She is the co-founder of the ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Toronto) and co-organizer of LASER Toronto. Her recent SSHRC-funded research creation project draws on feminist technoscience and on collaborative encounters across the sciences and the arts to investigate emerging life forms exceeding the categories defined by traditional methods of classification. Her artistic work has travelled to art festivals (Transmediale; Hemispheric Institute Encuentro; Brazil), community centres and galleries (the Free Gallery Toronto; Immigrant Movement International, Queens, Myseum of Toronto), and science institutions (RPI; the Fields Institute). Her writing has appeared on Space and Culture, Cultural Studies and The Canadian Journal of Communication among others. With the ArtSci Salon she has launched a series of experiments in “squatting academia”, by re-populating abandoned spaces and cabinets across university campuses with SciArt installations. Currently, she is a research associate at the Centre for Feminist Research at York University. ArtSci Salon website: https://artscisalon.com Personal http://atomarborea.net

Joana Magalhães holds a B.Sc. in Biology and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of A Coruña, Spain, working in the field of regenerative medicine strategies for osteoarthritis. Previous positions include a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Spanish Networking Biomedical Center and a Marie Curie PhD Fellowship at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research. In parallel with her scientific career, she develops STEAM-for-health media strategies from a gender perspective that received several national and international awards (Science on Stage 2017 for Radio, Press and TV or SCI-DOC Festival Mention of honour Women in Science Category 2018). Currently, she is Correspondent for “Women in Science” at Efervesciencia Radio Program. Moreover, she was a scientist-in-residence at Fundación Luis Seoane and Artesacía Theatrical Company for “TRANSCÉNICA” – I Transmedia Creators Meeting (2015). She is the Spanish Representative at the Young Scientist Forum – European Society of Biomaterials and Board Member of the Association of Women in Science and Technology (AMIT) – Galician Node. http://jomagellan.tumblr.com

Dolores Steinman Biomedical Simulation Lab, University of Toronto.

Dr. Steinman’s involvement with the Biomedical Simulation Laboratory (BSL), at the University of Toronto, is based on her experience as an MD (Romania) and PhD in Cell Biology (Canada) that led her to contribute in situating the BSL’s “patient-specific” computer-based simulations in the socio-historical, ethical and aesthetic context of medical imaging and imagery.

Polona Tratnik, Ph.D., is Dean of Alma Mater Europaea – Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Faculty and Research Institute for Humanities, Ljubljana [Slovenia], where she is a Professor and Head of Research as well. She also teaches courses at the Faculty for Media and Communication at Singidunum University in Serbia, at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design of the University of Ljubljana, at the Faculty of Education of the University of Maribor and at the Faculty for Design of the University of Primorska. She used to be the Head of the Department for Cultural Studies at the Faculty for Humanities of the University of Primorska. In 2012 she was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, as well as a Guest Professor at the University of California Santa Cruz. She was a Guest Professor also at the Capital Normal University Bejing (China), at the Faculty for Art and Design Helsinki TAIK (Finland), and at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México(Mexico City). She is president of the Slovenian Society of Aesthetics (since 2011) and an Executive Committee Member of the International Association of Aesthetics. She has authored seven monographs and one proceeding as single author, including the Hacer-vivir más allá del cuerpo y del medio (Mexico City: Herder, 2013), Art as Intervention(Sophia, 2017) and Conquest of Body. Biopower with Biotechnology (Springer, 2017). Polona Tratnik is a pioneer bio artist exhibiting worldwide at shows such as Ars Electronica festival and BEAP festival in Perth .http://www.polona-tratnik.si

It should be a stimulating discussion although I am curious as to about omission from this list: “… biotech can create a more democratic society; yet, we are increasingly racist, sexist and classist. ” What about age or, more specifically, ageism? Maybe next time, eh?