Category Archives: nanotechnology

Queen’s University (Canada) opens Kingston Nano-Fabrication Lab (KNFL)

First, there’s the opening (from an April 24, 2015 Queen’s University news release; Note: A link has been removed),

Queen’s University has secured its place at the forefront of transforming innovative research with the opening of the Kingston Nano-Fabrication Laboratory (KNFL).

The laboratory, located at Innovation Park, represents a milestone in the 30-year collaboration between Queen’s and CMC Microsystems for advancing Canadian strength in micro-nano innovation.

Some interesting details about the deal and the proposed uses for KNFL can be found in an April 24, 2015 story by Colleen Seto for Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI),

… a brand-new, 3,000-square-foot, $5 million research facility [KNFL] located at the Queen’s University Innovation Park. The lab includes $2.5 million in new CFI-funded custom equipment for fabricating and prototyping new nano-scale inventions to get them to market quicker.

“We’re making devices, films, coatings, and materials, and examining their properties at the nanoscale,” says Ian McWalter, President and CEO of CMC Microsystems, which manages the operations of KNFL. “This fundamental materials research spills over into experiments of great use to industry, which then looks at how to commercialize he research results.”

The Queen’s University news release describes the longstanding relationship between the company managing the KNFL and the university,

“This facility is the latest manifestation of a long and productive relationship between Queen’s and CMC Microsystems,” says Ian McWalter, president and CEO of CMC. “For more than three decades, this partnership has enabled research and advanced training activities nationwide that would not have otherwise occurred. The KNFL is a significant enhancement, and we look forward to exploring the expanded opportunities that it offers us for building Canadian strength in micro-nano research and innovation.”

The CFI story provides more specifics about the potential workings of the facility,

Take, for example, the possibilities presented by KNFL’s laser micromachining system. “This new tool could be used to engrave channels into a piece of glass or polymer to produce a microfluidic device,” says Andrew Fung, Client Technology Advisor for Microsystems and Nanotechnology at CMC. Microfluidic devices take advantage of the behaviour of fluids at a very small scale to create things like “lab-on-a-chip” technologies that can be used to cheaply and quickly diagnose diseases in developing countries, among many other things. “Microfluidics grew out of silicon-based fabrication, which costs a lot of money,” explains Fung. “These other materials are lower cost, and can be single use, consumable, and disposable for a medical device.”

Much of KNFL’s new equipment was selected to enable rapid prototyping of new nanotechnologies. “Prototypes can be ready within hours or a day, instead of days or weeks. It shortens the whole innovation process so researchers can design, make, test, and get the information they need much faster,” says Fung.

The CFI story also contextualizes this project by noting that it’s part of a larger initiative,

The KNFL is also part of Embedded Systems Canada (emSYSCAN), a $50-million, five-year project aimed at shortening the microsystems development cycle. It involves more than 350 university researchers at 37 institutions across Canada’s National Design Network (NDN), which enables multidisciplinary research and collaboration through shared technologies and expertise.

The KNFL’s open-access model is aimed specifically at supporting the NDN. “The idea is to make [expertise and tools] more available to non-experts and to overcome barriers such as lab training to access this equipment,” says McWalter. “Through the service aspect of our lab, you wouldn’t necessarily twiddle the knobs yourself, but you would contract the lab to do things for you.” This provides vital learning opportunities for students while giving researchers a more efficient means to an end — accessing the equipment they need without having to invest the time and effort to learn how to use it.

Congratulations to the folks at Queen’s University!

Wound healing is nature’s way of zipping up your skin

Scientists have been able to observe the healing process at the molecular scale—in fruit flies. From an April 21, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists from the Goethe University (GU) Frankfurt, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Heidelberg and the University of Zurich explain skin fusion at a molecular level and pinpoint the specific molecules that do the job in their latest publication in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

An April 21, 2015 Goethe University Frankfurt press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes similarities between humans and fruit flies allowing scientists to infer the wound healing process for human skin,

In order to prevent death by bleeding or infection, every wound (skin opening) must close at some point. The events leading to skin closure had been unclear for many years. Mikhail Eltsov (GU) and colleagues used fruit fly embryos as a model system to understand this process. Similarly to humans, fruit fly embryos at some point in their development have a large opening in the skin on their back that must fuse. This process is called zipping, because two sides of the skin are fastened in a way that resembles a zipper that joins two sides of a jacket.

The scientists have used a top-of-the-range electron microscope to study exactly how this zipping of the skin works. “Our electron microscope allows us to distinguish the molecular components in the cell that act like small machines to fuse the skin. When we look at it from a distance, it appears as if skin cells simply fuse to each other, but if we zoom in, it becomes clear that membranes, molecular machines, and other cellular components are involved”, explains Eltsov.

“In order to visualize this orchestra of healing, a very high-resolution picture of the process is needed. For this purpose we have recorded an enormous amount of data that surpasses all previous studies of this kind”, says Mikhail Eltsov.

As a first step, as the scientists discovered, cells find their opposing partner by “sniffing” each other out. As a next step, they develop adherens junctions which act like a molecular Velcro. This way they become strongly attached to their opposing partner cell. The biggest revelation of this study was that small tubes in the cell, called microtubules, attach to this molecular Velcro and then deploy a self-catastrophe, which results in the skin being pulled towards the opening, as if one pulls a blanket over.

Damian Brunner who led the team at the University of Zurich has performed many genetic manipulations to identify the correct components. The scientists were astonished to find that microtubules involved in cell-division are the primary scaffold used for zipping, indicating a mechanism conserved during evolution.

“What was also amazing was the tremendous plasticity of the membranes in this process which managed to close the skin opening in a very short space of time. When five to ten cells have found their respective neighbors, the skin already appears normal”, says Achilleas Frangakis from the Goethe University Frankfurt, who led the study.

The scientists hope that their results will open new avenues into the understanding of epithelial plasticity and wound healing. They are also investigating the detailed structural organization of the adherens junctions, work for which they were awarded a starting grant from European Research Council (ERC).

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

Quantitative analysis of cytoskeletal reorganization during epithelial tissue sealing by large-volume electron tomography by Mikhail Eltsov, Nadia Dubé, Zhou Yu, Laurynas Pasakarnis, Uta Haselmann-Weiss, Damian Brunner, & Achilleas S. Frangakis. Nature Cell Biology (2015) doi:10.1038/ncb3159 Published online 20 April 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available via ReadCube Access.

The researchers have provided an image illustrating ‘wound zipping’.

Caption: This is a perspective view of the zipping area with 17 skin cells. Credit: GU

Caption: This is a perspective view of the zipping area with 17 skin cells.
Credit: GU

Partners wanted to commercialize new production technique for metallic nanoparticles

An April 20, 2015 news item on Azonano announces a new technique for producing metallic nanoparticles (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd have devised a new, inexpensive metallic nanoparticle manufacturing technique.

The aerosol technology reactor employed for nanoparticle synthesis is capable of producing carbon-coated particles, particles of various alloys and a number of pure metal particles. It can even produce several grams and kilograms of nanoparticles every day.

Nanoparticles are suitable for applications including energy technology, tailoring the electrical and magnetic properties of polymers, drug dosing and medical diagnostics, and conductive and magnetic inks. VTT is looking forward to commercialize the technique.

An April 20, 2015 VTT press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,  describes the project’s achievements in more detail and makes a plea (of sorts) for partners to commercialize this work,

“Demand has outstripped supply in the nanoparticle markets. This has been an obstacle to the development of product applications; nano-metal composites are scarce and often available in small quantities only. We wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to produce nanomaterials in considerable quantities cost-effectively,” comments Ari Auvinen of VTT, head of the research team.

When developing the reactor, the aim was to achieve a production figure of 200-3,000 grammes per day. This has already been clearly exceeded. Due to the extremely small material wastage incurred when using this equipment, remote-control production can be maintained for several days. In most cases, industrial production of metallic nanoparticles involves chemical reduction in liquid solutions, which requires the design of product-specific solutions. Plasma synthesis, which consumes large amounts of energy and involves significant material wastage, is another generally used method.

In the design of the reactor developed by VTT, the scalability and cost-effectiveness of the synthesis process were key criteria. For this reason, synthesis is performed under air pressure at a comparatively low temperature. This means that the equipment can be built from materials commonly used in industry and energy consumption is low. The process generates an extremely high particle concentration, enabling a high production speed but with low gas consumption. In addition, even impure metallic salts can be used as a raw material, which keeps the price low.

VTT has demonstrated the practical functionality of its reactor by testing the production of various nanometals, metallic compounds and carbon-coated materials. Materials such as carbon-coated magnets, which can be used as catalysts in biorefineries – say, in the production of biofuels – have been produced in the reactor. Following synthesis, magnets used as catalysts can be efficiently gathered in and recycled back into the process.

Nanoparticles have also been tested in the manufacture of magnetic inks and inks that conduct electricity in printed electronics. For example, VTT succeeded in using a permalloy ink to print a magnetically anisotropic material, which can be used in the manufacture of magnetic field sensors.

VTT’s third application trial involved the prevention of microwave reflection. The tests showed that reflection can be reduced by even 10,000 times in polymers, by adding particles which increase radar wave attenuation.

VTT’s researchers believe that the reactor has many applications in addition to those already mentioned. The silicon nanoparticles it produces may even enable lithium battery capacity to be boosted by a factor of 10. Other possible applications, all of which require further investigation, include high permeability polymers, nanomagnets for medical diagnostics applications, materials for the 3D printing of metal articles, and silicon-based materials for thermoelectric and solar power components.

VTT is currently seeking a party interested in commercialising the technique.

For interested parties, here is the contact information listed in the press release,

For more information, please contact:

Raimo Korhonen, Head of Research Area
tel. +358 40 7030052, [email protected]

Good luck!

Maple syrup as an antibiotic helper?

This maple syrup research is from McGill University in Montréal, Québec (from an April 16, 2015 McGill University news release; also on EurekAlert),

A concentrated extract of maple syrup makes disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics, according to laboratory experiments by researchers at McGill University.

The findings, which will be published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, suggest that combining maple syrup extract with common antibiotics could increase the microbes’ susceptibility, leading to lower antibiotic usage. Overuse of antibiotics fuels the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, which has become a major public-health concern worldwide.

Prof. Nathalie Tufenkji’s research team in McGill’s Department of Chemical Engineering prepared a concentrated extract of maple syrup that consists mainly of phenolic compounds. Maple syrup, made by concentrating the sap from North American maple trees, is a rich source of phenolic compounds.

The researchers tested the extract’s effect in the laboratory on infection-causing strains of certain bacteria, including E. coli and Proteus mirabilis (a common cause of urinary tract infection). By itself, the extract was mildly effective in combating bacteria. But the maple syrup extract was particularly effective when applied in combination with antibiotics. The extract also acted synergistically with antibiotics in destroying resistant communities of bacteria known as biofilms, which are common in difficult-to-treat infections, such as catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

“We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” Tufenkji says. “But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics.”

The scientists also found that the extract affects the gene expression of the bacteria, by repressing a number of genes linked with antibiotic resistance and virulence.

All maple syrup samples used in the study were purchased at local markets in Montreal, then frozen until the beginning of each experiment, which involved a series of steps to produce the phenolic-rich extract.

Tufenkji, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biocolloids and Surfaces, has also studied the potential for cranberry derivatives to fight infection-causing bacteria. The new study is co-authored by postdoctoral fellows Vimal Maisuria and Zeinab Hosseinidoust.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper which at this time (April 24, 2014) is not yet published,,

Polyphenolic Extract from Maple Syrup Potentiates Antibiotic Susceptibility and Reduces Biofilm Formation of Pathogenic Bacteria by Vimal B. Maisuria, Zeinab Hosseinidoust, and Nathalie Tufenkji. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00239-15 AEM [Applied and Environmental Microbiology].00239-15

My guess is that this paper will be behind a paywall. Fear not! There is a very informative 3 mins. or so video,

I particularly appreciated the maple leaf-shaped glass container (still full) which is shown prominently when the researcher mentions purchasing the syrup from local markets.

Carbon nanotubes sense spoiled food

CNT_FoodSpolage

Courtesy: MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

I love this .gif; it says a lot without a word. However for details, you need words and here’s what an April 15, 2015 news item on Nanowerk has to say about the research illustrated by the .gif,

MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] chemists have devised an inexpensive, portable sensor that can detect gases emitted by rotting meat, allowing consumers to determine whether the meat in their grocery store or refrigerator is safe to eat.

The sensor, which consists of chemically modified carbon nanotubes, could be deployed in “smart packaging” that would offer much more accurate safety information than the expiration date on the package, says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

An April 14, 2015 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, offers more from Dr. Swager,

It could also cut down on food waste, he adds. “People are constantly throwing things out that probably aren’t bad,” says Swager, who is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensor this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

This latest study is builds on previous work at Swager’s lab (Note: Links have been removed),

The sensor is similar to other carbon nanotube devices that Swager’s lab has developed in recent years, including one that detects the ripeness of fruit. All of these devices work on the same principle: Carbon nanotubes can be chemically modified so that their ability to carry an electric current changes in the presence of a particular gas.

In this case, the researchers modified the carbon nanotubes with metal-containing compounds called metalloporphyrins, which contain a central metal atom bound to several nitrogen-containing rings. Hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, is a metalloporphyrin with iron as the central atom.

For this sensor, the researchers used a metalloporphyrin with cobalt at its center. Metalloporphyrins are very good at binding to nitrogen-containing compounds called amines. Of particular interest to the researchers were the so-called biogenic amines, such as putrescine and cadaverine, which are produced by decaying meat.

When the cobalt-containing porphyrin binds to any of these amines, it increases the electrical resistance of the carbon nanotube, which can be easily measured.

“We use these porphyrins to fabricate a very simple device where we apply a potential across the device and then monitor the current. When the device encounters amines, which are markers of decaying meat, the current of the device will become lower,” Liu says.

In this study, the researchers tested the sensor on four types of meat: pork, chicken, cod, and salmon. They found that when refrigerated, all four types stayed fresh over four days. Left unrefrigerated, the samples all decayed, but at varying rates.

There are other sensors that can detect the signs of decaying meat, but they are usually large and expensive instruments that require expertise to operate. “The advantage we have is these are the cheapest, smallest, easiest-to-manufacture sensors,” Swager says.

“There are several potential advantages in having an inexpensive sensor for measuring, in real time, the freshness of meat and fish products, including preventing foodborne illness, increasing overall customer satisfaction, and reducing food waste at grocery stores and in consumers’ homes,” says Roberto Forloni, a senior science fellow at Sealed Air, a major supplier of food packaging, who was not part of the research team.

The new device also requires very little power and could be incorporated into a wireless platform Swager’s lab recently developed that allows a regular smartphone to read output from carbon nanotube sensors such as this one.

The funding sources are interesting, as I am appreciating with increasing frequency these days (from the news release),

The researchers have filed for a patent on the technology and hope to license it for commercial development. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Army Research Office through MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

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

Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube/Metalloporphyrin Composites for the Chemiresistive Detection of Amines and Meat Spoilage by Sophie F. Liu, Alexander R. Petty, Dr. Graham T. Sazama, and Timothy M. Swager. Angewandte Chemie International Edition DOI: 10.1002/anie.201501434 Article first published online: 13 APR 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

There are other posts here about the quest to create food sensors including this Sept. 26, 2013 piece which features a critique (by another blogger) about trying to create food sensors that may be more expensive than the item they are protecting, a problem Swager claims to have overcome in an April 17, 2015 article by Ben Schiller for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

Swager has set up a company to commercialize the technology and he expects to do the first demonstrations to interested clients this summer. The first applications are likely to be for food workers working with meat and fish, but there’s no reason why consumers shouldn’t get their own devices in due time.

There are efforts to create visual clues for food status. But Swager says his method is better because it doesn’t rely on perception: it produces hard data that can be logged and tracked. And it also has potential to be very cheap.

“The resistance method is a game-changer because it’s two to three orders of magnitude cheaper than other technology. It’s hard to imagine doing this cheaper,” he says.

Glasswing butterflies teach us about reflection

Contrary to other transparent surfaces, the wings of the glasswing butterfly (Greta Oto) hardly reflect any light. Lenses or displays of mobiles might profit from the investigation of this phenomenon. (Photo: Radwanul Hasan Siddique, KIT)

Contrary to other transparent surfaces, the wings of the glasswing butterfly (Greta Oto) hardly reflect any light. Lenses or displays of mobiles might profit from the investigation of this phenomenon. (Photo: Radwanul Hasan Siddique, KIT)

I wouldn’t have really believed. Other than glass, I’ve never seen anything in nature that’s as transparent and distortion-free as this butterfly’s wings.

An April 22, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily provides more information about the butterfly,

The effect is known from the smart phone: Sun is reflected by the display and hardly anything can be seen. In contrast to this, the glasswing butterfly hardly reflects any light in spite of its transparent wings. As a result, it is difficult for predatory birds to track the butterfly during the flight. Researchers of KIT under the direction of Hendrik Hölscher found that irregular nanostructures on the surface of the butterfly wing cause the low reflection. In theoretical experiments, they succeeded in reproducing the effect that opens up fascinating application options, e.g. for displays of mobile phones or laptops.

An April 22, 2015 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the scientific interest,

Transparent materials such as glass, always reflect part of the incident light. Some animals with transparent surfaces, such as the moth with its eyes, succeed in keeping the reflections small, but only when the view angle is vertical to the surface. The wings of the glasswing butterfly that lives mainly in Central America, however, also have a very low reflection when looking onto them under higher angles. Depending on the view angle, specular reflection varies between two and five percent. For comparison: As a function of the view angle, a flat glass plane reflects between eight and 100 percent, i.e. reflection exceeds that of the butterfly wing by several factors. Interestingly, the butterfly wing does not only exhibit a low reflection of the light spectrum visible to humans, but also suppresses the infrared and ultraviolet radiation that can be perceived by animals. This is important to the survival of the butterfly.

For research into this so far unstudied phenomenon, the scientists examined glasswings by scanning electron microscopy. Earlier studies revealed that regular pillar-like nanostructures are responsible for the low reflections of other animals. The scientists now also found nanopillars on the butterfly wings. In contrast to previous findings, however, they are arranged irregularly and feature a random height. Typical height of the pillars varies between 400 and 600 nanometers, the distance of the pillars ranges between 100 and 140 nanometers. This corresponds to about one thousandth of a human hair.

In simulations, the researchers mathematically modeled this irregularity of the nanopillars in height and arrangement. They found that the calculated reflected amount of light exactly corresponds to the observed amount at variable view angles. In this way, they proved that the low reflection at variable view angles is caused by this irregularity of the nanopillars. Hölscher’s doctoral student Radwanul Hasan Siddique, who discovered this effect, considers the glasswing butterfly a fascinating animal: “Not only optically with its transparent wings, but also scientifically. In contrast to other natural phenomena, where regularity is of top priority, the glasswing butterfly uses an apparent chaos to reach effects that are also fascinating for us humans.”

The findings open up a range of applications wherever low-reflection surfaces are needed, for lenses or displays of mobile phones, for instance. Apart from theoretical studies of the phenomenon, the infrastructure of the Institute of Microstructure Technology also allows for practical implementation. First application tests are in the conception phase at the moment. Prototype experiments, however, already revealed that this type of surface coating also has a water-repellent and self-cleaning effect.

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

The role of random nanostructures for the omnidirectional anti-reflection properties of the glasswing butterfly by Radwanul Hasan Siddique, Guillaume Gomard, & Hendrik Hölscher. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6909 doi:10.1038/ncomms7909 Published 22 April 2015

The paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview via ReadCube Access.

Reversing Parkinson’s type symptoms in rats

Indian scientists have developed a technique for delivering drugs that could reverse Parkinson-like symptoms according to an April 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

As baby boomers age, the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is expected to increase. Patients who develop this disease usually start experiencing symptoms around age 60 or older. Currently, there’s no cure, but scientists are reporting a novel approach that reversed Parkinson’s-like symptoms in rats.

Their results, published in the journal ACS Nano (“Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats”), could one day lead to a new therapy for human patients.

An April 22, 2015 American Chemical Society press pac news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem the researchers were solving (Note: Links have been removed),

Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, Kavita Seth, Kailash Chand Gupta and colleagues from the CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research note that among other issues, people with Parkinson’s lack dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate with each other and is involved in normal body movements. Reduced levels cause the shaking and mobility problems associated with Parkinson’s. Symptoms can be relieved in animal models of the disease by infusing the compound into their brains. But researchers haven’t yet figured out how to safely deliver dopamine directly to the human brain, which is protected by something called the blood-brain barrier that keeps out pathogens, as well as many medicines. Chaturvedi and Gupta’s team wanted to find a way to overcome this challenge.

The researchers packaged dopamine in biodegradable nanoparticles that have been used to deliver other therapeutic drugs to the brain. The resulting nanoparticles successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier in rats, released its dopamine payload over several days and reversed the rodents’ movement problems without causing side effects.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Indian Department of Science and Technology as Woman Scientist and Ramanna Fellow Grant, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (India).

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

Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats by Richa Pahuja, Kavita Seth, Anshi Shukla, Rajendra Kumar Shukla, Priyanka Bhatnagar, Lalit Kumar Singh Chauhan, Prem Narain Saxena, Jharna Arun, Bhushan Pradosh Chaudhari, Devendra Kumar Patel, Sheelendra Pratap Singh, Rakesh Shukla, Vinay Kumar Khanna, Pradeep Kumar, Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, and Kailash Chand Gupta. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn506408v Publication Date (Web): March 31, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

Another recent example of breaching the blood-brain barrier, coincidentally, in rats, can be found in my Dec. 24, 2014 titled: Gelatin nanoparticles for drug delivery after a stroke. Scientists are also trying to figure out the the blood-brain barrier operates in the first place as per this April 22, 2015 University of Pennsylvania news release on EurekAlert titled, Penn Vet, Montreal and McGill researchers show how blood-brain barrier is maintained (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal or Université de Montréal, and McGill University). You can find out more about CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research here.

Outcomes for US-European Union bridging Nano environment, health, and safety (EHS) research workshop

According to Lynn Bergeson in an April 14, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, a US-European Union (EU) workshop on nanosafety has published a document,

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published on March 23, 2015, the outcomes of the March 12-13, 2015, joint workshop held by the U.S. and the European Union (EU), “Bridging NanoEHS Research Efforts.” …

A US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) ??, ??, 2015 notice on the nano.gov site provides more details,

Workshop participants reviewed progress toward COR [communities of research] goals and objectives, shared best practices, and identified areas for cross-COR collaboration.  To address new challenges the CORs were realigned and expanded with the addition of a COR on nanotechnology characterization. The seven CORs now address:

Characterization
Databases and Computational Modeling
Exposure through Product Life
EcoToxicity
Human Toxicity
Risk Assessment
Risk Management and Control

The CORs support the shared goal of responsible nanotechnology development as outlined in the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative EHS Research Strategy, and the research strategy of the EU NanoSafety Cluster. The CORs directly address several priorities described in the documents above, including the creation of a comprehensive nanoEHS knowledge base and international cooperation on the development of best practices and consensus standards.

The CORs are self-run, with technical support provided by the European Commission and the U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. Each Community has European and American co-chairs who convene meetings and teleconferences, guide the discussions, and set the group’s agenda. Participation in the CORs is free and open to any interested individuals. More information is available at www.us-eu.org.

The workshop was organized by the European Commission and the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative under the auspices of the agreement for scientific and technological cooperation between the European Union and the United States.

Coincidentally, I received an April 13, 2015 notice about the European Commission’s NanoSafety Cluster’s Spring 2015 newsletter concerning their efforts but found no mention of the ‘bridging workshop’. Presumably, information was not available prior to the newsletter’s deadline.

In my April 8, 2014 posting about a US proposed rule for reporting nanomaterials, I included information about the US and its efforts to promote or participate in harmonizing the nano situation internationally. Scroll down about 35% of the way to find information about the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) effort, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) effort.

Electronic organic micropump for direct drug delivery to the brain

I can understand the appeal but have some questions about this micropump in the brain concept. First, here’s more about the research from an April 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Many potentially efficient drugs have been created to treat neurological disorders, but they cannot be used in practice. Typically, for a condition such as epilepsy, it is essential to act at exactly the right time and place in the brain. For this reason, the team of researchers led by Christophe Bernard at Inserm Unit 1106, “Institute of Systems Neuroscience” (INS), with the help of scientists at the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne and Linköping University (Sweden) have developed an organic electronic micropump which, when combined with an anticonvulsant drug, enables localised inhibition of epileptic seizure in brain tissue in vitro.

An April 16, 2015 INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, goes on to describe the problem the researchers are attempting to solve and their solution to it,

Drugs constitute the most widely used approach for treating brain disorders. However, many promising drugs failed during clinical testing for several reasons:

  • they are diluted in potentially toxic solutions,
  • they may themselves be toxic when they reach organs to which they were not initially directed,
  • the blood-brain barrier, which separates the brain from the blood circulation, prevents most drugs from reaching their targets in the brain,
  • drugs that succeed in penetrating the brain will act in a non-specific manner, i.e. on healthy regions of the brain, altering their functions.

Epilepsy is a typical example of a condition for which many drugs could not be commercialised because of their harmful effects, when they might have been effective for treating patients resistant to conventional treatments [1].

During an epileptic seizure, the nerve cells in a specific area of the brain are suddenly activated in an excessive manner. How can this phenomenon be controlled without affecting healthy brain regions? To answer this question, Christophe Bernard’s team, in collaboration with a team led by George Malliaras at the Georges Charpak-Provence Campus of the École des Mines of Saint-Étienne and Swedish scientists led by Magnus Berggren from Linköping University, have developed a biocompatible micropump that makes it possible to deliver therapeutic substances directly to the relevant areas of the brain.

The micropump (20 times thinner than a hair) is composed of a membrane known as “cation exchange,” i.e., it has negative ions attached to its surface. It thus attracts small positively charged molecules, whether these are ions or drugs. When an electrical current is applied to it, the flow of electrons generated projects the molecules of interest toward the target area.

To enable validation of this new technique, the researchers reproduced the hyperexcitability of epileptic neurons in mouse brains in vitro. They then injected GABA, a compound naturally produced in the brain and that inhibits neurons, into this hyperactive region using the micropump. The scientists then observed that the compound not only stopped this abnormal activity in the target region, but, most importantly, did not interfere with the functioning of the neighbouring regions.

This technology may thus resolve all the above-mentioned problems, by allowing very localised action, directly in the brain and without peripheral toxicity.

“By combining electrodes, such as those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, with this micropump, it may be possible to use this technology to treat patients with epilepsy who are resistant to conventional treatments, and those for whom the side-effects are too great,” explains Christophe Bernard, Inserm Research Director.

Based on these initial results, the researchers are now working to move on to an in vivo animal model and the possibility of combining this high-technology system with the microchip they previously developed in 2013. The device could be embedded and autonomous. The chip would be used to detect the imminent occurrence of a seizure, in order to activate the pump to inject the drug at just the right moment. It may therefore be possible to control brain activity where and when it is needed.

In addition to epilepsy, this state-of-the-art technology, combined with existing drugs, offers new opportunities for many brain diseases that remain difficult to treat at this time.

###

[1] Epilepsy in brief

This disease, which affects nearly 50 million people in the world, is the most common neurological disorder after migraine.

The neuronal dysfunctions associated with epilepsy lead to attacks with variable symptoms, from loss of consciousness to disorders of movement, sensation or mood.

Despite advances in medicine, 30% of those affected are resistant to all treatments.

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

Controlling Epileptiform Activity with Organic Electronic Ion Pumps by Adam Williamson, Jonathan Rivnay, Loïg Kergoat, Amanda Jonsson, Sahika Inal, Ilke Uguz, Marc Ferro, Anton Ivanov, Theresia Arbring-Sjöström, Daniel T. Simon, Magnus Berggren, George G. Malliaras, and Christophe Bernardi. Advanced Materials First published: 11 April 2015Full publication history DOI: 10.1002/adma.201500482

This paper is behind a paywall.

Finally, my questions. How does the pump get refilled once the drugs are used up? Do you get a warning when the drug supply is almost nil? How does that warning work? Does implanting the pump require brain surgery or is there a less intrusive fashion of placing this pump exactly where you want it to be? Once it’s been implanted, how do you find a pump  20 times thinner than a human hair?

For some reason this micropump brought back memories of working in high tech environments where developers would come up with all kinds of nifty ideas but put absolutely no thought into how these ideas might actually work once human human beings got their hands on the product. In any event, the micropump seems exciting and I hope researchers work out the kinks, implementationwise, before they’re implanted.