Category Archives: nanotechnology

Chalmers University gears up to offer Graphene Science and Technology, an online, international course

They’ll be offering a MOOC, massive open online course, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on the topic of graphene starting March 23, 2015 according a Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Starting in 2015, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden will be a global disseminator of knowledge. The beginning of the year will mark the start of ChalmersX – the venture of Chalmers moocs on the platform edx.org.

Chalmers announces its membership in edx at the ongoing conference Edx Global Forum in Boston. Edx is the platform where Chalmers’ moocs will be accessible. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Tokyo and many more offer their moocs on the same platform.

“This is a new and different way for us to take on the role of knowledge disseminator in our society“, says Maria Knutson Wedel, vice president for undergraduate and master’s education at Chalmers.

With a computer and an Internet connection, course participants all over the world can watch video lectures, take part in discussions, do assignments and take exams.

“Previously, we have primarily shared knowledge on a local and national level. The technology today enables global knowledge sharing – we can reach people who need the knowledge in question no matter where they are located in the world,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

A Nov. 21, 2014 Chalmers University press release on mydesk.com, which seems to have originated the news item, notes that the university is the consortium lead on the European Union’s Graphene Flagship project,

The first ChalmersX mooc will be an introduction to the super-material graphene: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology. The subject is at the forefront of research, and EU’s biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers.

The course is led by graphene researcher Jie Sun. He took the initiative to the mooc as he saw the need of large-scale education about graphene.

“I hope to give the participants of the course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, says Jie Sun.

Moocs are a growing trend in higher education. There is a great deal of interest in the courses – each one typically attracts tens of thousands of participants.

Maria Knutson Wedel believes that moocs can be very useful as supplementary or continuing professional development for people who are already part of working life. She does not believe that the courses can completely replace a traditional campus education, however. Campus education are closely connected and designed to correspond to the expectations from industry, for example. This type of education also results in a degree and a title, something which companies consider when hiring.

“However, this probably depends in part on traditional thinking on the part of the people who do the hiring at companies. In the future, we may reach a point that knowledge, regardless of how it has been obtained, becomes more important than certificates and grades,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

The ChalmersX moocs will be specially adapted to their context – the recordings will not consist of traditional 45-minute lectures. The teachers who have developed the course have carefully analysed the concepts they want participants to come away with after the course. The content is then boiled down to short video clips of 5-7 minutes each.

The next mooc in line after the course on graphene will be on sustainability in everyday life, starting in May 2015.

More about: Moocs

Moocs, an abbreviation of massive open online courses, are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. The term mooc was coined in 2008. As opposed to traditional distance learning, moocs do not have any prerequisites for admission. Exams are conducted by machine and there are platforms on which participants can get in contact with each other and discuss. The courses do not generate higher education credits, but the participants do receive a certificate for completing the course.

They do have a course prerequisite, from the Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology course,

In order to benefit fully from this course you should have an adequate knowledge of general physics and university level mathematics.

Here’s a video of Jie Sun talking about graphene and his course,

Enjoy the course!

Norway and degradable electronics

It’s a bit higgledy-piggledy but a Nov. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights some work with degradable electronics taking place in Norway,

When the FM frequencies are removed in Norway in 2017, all old-fashioned radios will become obsolete, leaving the biggest collection of redundant electronics ever seen – a mountain of waste weighing something between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes.

The same thing is happening with today’s mobile telephones, PCs and tablets, all of which are constantly being updated and replaced faster than the blink of an eye. The old devices end up on waste tips, and even though we in the west recover some materials for recycling, this is only a small proportion of the whole.

And nor does the future bode well with waste in mind. Technologists’ vision of the future is the “Internet of Things”. Electronics are currently printed onto plastics. All products are fitted with sensors designed to measure something, and to make it possible to talk to other devices around them. Davor Sutija is General Manager at the electronics firm Thin Film, and he predicts that in the course of a few years each of us will progress from having a single sensor to having between a hundred and a thousand. This in turn will mean that billions of devices with electronic bar codes will be released onto the market.

Researchers are now getting to grips with this problem. Their aim is to develop processes in which electronics are manufactured in such a way that their entire life cycle is controlled, including their ultimate disappearance.

A Nov. 20, 2014 article by Åse Dragland for the Gemini newsletter (also found as a Nov. 20, 2014 news release on SINTEF [Norwegian: Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning]), describes the inspiration for the work in Norway while pointing out some signficant differences from US researchers in the approach to creating a commercial application,

In New Orleans in the USA, researchers have made electronic circuits which they implant into surgical wounds following operations on rats. Each wound is sewn up and the electricity in the circuits then accelerates the healing process. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually.

In Norway, researchers at SINTEF have now succeeded in making components containing magnesium circuits designed to transfer energy. These are soluble in water and disappear after a few hours.

“We make no secret of the fact that we are putting our faith in the research results coming out of the USA”, says Karsten Husby at SINTEF ICT. “The Americans have made amazing contributions both in relation to medical applications, and towards resolving the issue of waste. We want to try to find alternative approaches to the same problem”, he says.

The circuit containing the small components is printed on a silicon wafer. At only a few nanometres thick, the circuits are extremely thin, and this enables them to dissolve more effectively. Some of the circuit components are made of magnesium, others of silicon, and others of silicon with a magnesium additive.

But the journey to the researchers’ goal from their current position leaves them with more than enough work to do. Making the ultra-thin circuits is a challenge enough in itself, but they also have to find a “coating” or “film” which will act as a protective packaging around the circuits.

The Americans use silk as their coating material, but the Norwegians are not in favour of this. The silk used is made as part of a process which involves the substance lithium, which is banned at MiNaLab – the laboratory where the SINTEF researchers work.

“Lithium generates a technical problem for our lab”, says Geir Uri Jensen, “so we’re considering alternatives, including a variety of plastics”, he says. “In order to achieve this, we’ve brought in some materials scientists here at SINTEF who are very skilled in this field”, he says.

The nature of the coating must be tailored to the time at which the electronics are required to degrade. In some cases this is just one week – in others, four. For example, if the circuit package is designed to be used in seawater, and fitted with sensors for taking measurements from oil spills, the film must be made so that it remains in place for the weeks in which the measurements are being taken.

“When the external fluids penetrate to the “guts” inside the packaging, the circuits begin to degrade. The job must be completed before this happens”, says Karsten Husby.

Geir Uri Jensen makes a sketch and explains how the nano researchers use horizontal and vertical etching processes in the lab to deposit all the layers onto the silicon circuits. And then – how they have to etch and lift the circuit loose from the silicon wafer in order later to transfer it across to the film.

“This works well enough using sensors at full scale”, he says, “but when the wafers are as thin as this, things become more tricky”. Jensen shrugs. “Even if the angle is just a little off, the whole assembly will snap”, he says.

There’s no doubt that as the use of consumer electronics increases, so too does the need to remove obsolete electronic products. Just think of all the cheap electronics built into children’s toys which are thrown away every year.

The removal of “outdated electronics” can also be a very labour-intensive process. Every day, surgeons place implants fitted with sensors into our bodies in order to measure everything from blood pressure and pressure on the brain, to how our hip implants are working. Some weeks later they have to operate again in order to remove the electronics.

But not everyone is interested in the new technologies developing in this field. Electronics companies which manufacture circuits are more interested in selling their products than in investing in research that results in their products disappearing. And companies which rely on recycling for their revenues may regard these new ideas as a threat to their existence.
Eco-friendly electronics are on the way

“It’s important to make it clear that we’re not manufacturing a final product, but a demo that can show that an electronic component can be made with properties that make it degradable”, says Husby. “Our project is now in its second year, but we’ll need a partner active in the industry and more funding in the years ahead if we’re to meet our objectives. There’s no doubt that eco-friendly electronics is a field which will come into its own, also here in Norway. And we’ve made it our mission to reach our goals”, he says.

Here’s an image of dissolving electronic circuits made available by the researchers,

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF - See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF – See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

The researcher most associated with this kind of work is John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and you can read more about biodegradable/dissolving electronics in a Sept. 27, 2012 article (open access) by Katherine Bourzac for Nature magazine. You can find more information about Thin Film Electronics or Thinfilm Electronics (mentioned in the third paragraph of the news item on Nanowerk) website here.

Simon Fraser University – SCFC861Nanotechnology, The Next Big Idea: course Week 5

Week 5, (Nov. 20, 2014) of my course called, Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea and which is part of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Continuing Studies programme is also the penultimate week. Thankfully,, the technology worked a bit better this week although there was one notable blip. My Week Five PowerPoint slides and notes of a sort can be found after this brief description of the class,

Week 5: The Geo-political Situation

By establishing a National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2000, the US government established itself as a world leader in the field, eclipsing the UK. Some thirty governments have since followed suit, establishing their own nanotech initiatives. Canada, for better or worse, is not one of them.

Here’s the week 5 slide deck,

Week5_GeoPoliticsR

Here are my ‘notes’ for yesterday’s class consisting largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head.

Week5_Geopolitics

Happy Reading!

Congratulations to Vive Crop on its new manufacturing capability

Here’s the latest news from Vive Crop (from the Nov.20, 2014 announcement,

Toronto, ON – Nov 20, 2014 – Vive Crop Protection, Inc. is pleased to announce the opening of its new manufacturing plant to enable commercial production of its advanced product formulations. These technologies leverage Vive’s patented Allosperse® delivery system, providing enhanced agronomic performance and new application opportunities for farmers.

“This plant is the result of the dedicated effort of all our employees and the support of our partners. Completion of our manufacturing plant is a momentous milestone that significantly accelerates our company’s growth,” said Vive CEO Keith Thomas. “Vive’s innovative employees are rapidly developing a strong pipeline of effective crop protection products for our partners and growers.”

Vive’s products have been commercialized from fundamental research conducted at the University of Toronto and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) I2I program and Ontario Centres of Excellence. Ongoing support has been provided by private investors as well as the Government of Canada through Sustainable Development Technology Canada and FedDev Ontario as well as the Government of Ontario through the Innovation Demonstration Fund and Ontario Capital Growth Corporation. Vive’s plant is located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions.

About Vive Crop Protection: Vive Crop Protection makes products that better protect crops from pests. The company has won a number of awards and was highly commended for Best Formulation Innovation at the 2012 Agrow Awards. Vive’s patented Allosperse delivery system has the ability to coat plants more evenly, which provides better crop protection and can lead to increased yields. Vive is working with partners across the globe that share its vision of bringing safer, more effective crop protection products to growers everywhere. For more information, see www.vivecrop.com.

Congratulations to everyone at Vive Crop!

For anyone unfamiliar with the company, there’s this description from the Vive Crop website’s homepage,

At Vive, our aim is to develop effective crop protection products, giving farmers better tools to protect their crops.

We use our patented Allosperse® delivery system in formulations that have new, exciting properties that growers care about. Allosperse is a water-dispersible delivery system, meaning that our formulations are made without solvents.

We are looking for partners across the globe that share our vision of bringing effective crop protection products to growers everywhere.

Crop protection sounds like work on pesticides and insecticides to me and given that Vive Crop has won at least one ‘cleantech’ award, I assume that this is a relatively ‘green’ product. I last wrote about Vive Crop in a Dec. 31, 2013 post.

Finally, I was a little puzzled by the mention of Vive Crop’s manufacturing plant as being located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions located in Scarborough, Ontario. Perhaps they’re sharing space? In any event, you can find Halltech here.

rePOOPulate, silver nanoparticles, your gut, and Queen’s University (Canada)

A Nov. 19, 2014 Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) news release by Anne Craig (also on EurekAlert), describes some research into nanosilver’s effects on the human (more or less) gut,

Queen’s University biologist Virginia Walker and Queen’s SARC Awarded Postdoctoral Fellow Pranab Das have shown nanosilver, which is often added to water purification units, can upset your gut. The discovery is important as people are being exposed to nanoparticles every day.

“We were surprised to see significant upset of the human gut community at the lowest concentration of nanosilver in this study,” says Dr. Das. “To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has looked at this. It is important as we are more and more exposed to nanoparticles in our everyday lives through different routes such as inhalation, direct contact or ingestion.”

To conduct the research, Drs. Walker and Das utilized another Queen’s discovery, rePOOPulate, created by Elaine Petrof (Medicine). rePOOPulate is a synthetic stool substitute, which Dr. Petrof designed to treat C. difficile infections. In this instance, rather than being used as therapy, the synthetic stool was used to examine the impact of nanoparticles on the human gut.

The research showed that the addition of nanosilver reduced metabolic activity in the synthetic stool sample, perturbed fatty acids and significantly changed the population of bacteria. This information can help lead to an understanding of how nanoparticles could impact our “gut ecosystem.” [emphasis mine]

“There is no doubt that the nanosilver shifted the bacterial community, but the impact of nanosilver ingestion on our long-term health is currently unknown,” Dr. Walker says. “This is another area of research we need to explore.”

The findings by Drs. Das and Walker, Julie AK McDonald (Kingston General Hospital), Dr. Petrof (KGH)  and Emma Allen-Vercoe (University of Guelph) were published in the Journal of Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology.

It’s perturbing news. And, I notice the news release is carefully worded, “This information can help lead to an understanding of how nanoparticles could impact our ‘gut ecosystem.'”

The news release notes this about the ubiquity of nanosilver use,

Nanosilver is also used in biomedical applications, toys, sunscreen, cosmetics, clothing and other items.

I’m a little surprised by the reference to sunscreens; most of the material I’ve seen cites titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide at the nanoscale.

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

Nanosilver-Mediated Change in Human Intestinal Microbiota by Pranab Das, Julie AK McDonald, Elaine O Petrof, Emma Allen-Vercoe, and Virginia K Walker. Nanomed Nanotechnol 5: 235. doi: 10.4172/2157-7439.1000235

The link takes you to a PDF version of the research paper,

Note: Queen’s University is located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

A review of the nanotechnology in green technology

Michael Berger has written a Nov. 18, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article focusing on the ‘green’ in nanotechnology (Note: A link has been removed),

There is a general perception that nanotechnologies will have a significant impact on developing ‘green’ and ‘clean’ technologies with considerable environmental benefits. The associated concept of green nanotechnology aims to exploit nanotech-enabled innovations in materials science and engineering to generate products and processes that are energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable. These applications are expected to impact a large range of economic sectors, such as energy production and storage, clean up-technologies, as well as construction and related infrastructure industries.

A recent review article in Environmental Health (“Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy”) examines opportunities and practical challenges that nanotechnology applications pose in addressing the guiding principles for a green economy.

Here’s a link to and citation for the review article cited by Berger. It is more focused on occupational health and safety then the title suggests but not surprising when you realize all of the authors are employed by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),,

Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy by Ivo Iavicoli, Veruscka Leso, Walter Ricciard, Laura L Hodson, and Mark D Hoover. Environmental Health 2014, 13:78 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-78 Published:    7 October 2014

© 2014 Iavicoli et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an open access article.

Here’s the background to the work (from the article; Note: Links have been removed),

The “green economy” concept has been driven into the mainstream of policy debate by global economic crisis, expected increase in global demand for energy by more than one third between 2010 to 2035, rising commodity prices as well as the urgent need for addressing global challenges in domains such as energy, environment and health [1-3].

The term “green economy”, chiefly relating to the principles of sustainable development, was first coined in a pioneering 1989 report for the Government of the United Kingdom by a group of leading environmental economists [1]. The most widely used and reliable definition of “green economy” comes from the United Nations Environment Programme which states that “a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive” [4].

The green economy concept can indeed play a very useful role in changing the way that society manages the interaction of the environmental and economic domains. In this context, nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter in the dimension of 1 to 100 nm, offers the opportunity to produce new structures, materials and devices with unique physico-chemical properties (i.e. small size, large surface area to mass ratio) to be employed in energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable green innovations [8-12].

Although expected to exert a great impact on a large range of industrial and economic sectors, the sustainability of green nano-solutions is currently not completely clear, and it should be carefully faced. In fact, the benefits of incorporating nanomaterials (NMs) in processes and products that contribute to outcomes of sustainability, might bring with them environmental, health and safety risks, ethical and social issues, market and consumer acceptance uncertainty as well as a strong competition with traditional technologies [13].

The present review examines opportunities and practical challenges that nano-applications pose in addressing the guiding principles for a green economy. Examples are provided of the potential for nano-applications to address social and environmental challenges, particularly in energy production and storage thus reducing pressure on raw materials, clean-up technologies as well as in fostering sustainable manufactured products. Moreover, the review aims to critically assess the impact that green nanotechnology may have on the health and safety of workers involved in this innovative sector and proposes action strategies for the management of emerging occupational risks.

The potential nanotechnology impact on green innovations

Green nanotechnology is expected to play a fundamental role in bringing a key functionality across the whole value chain of a product, both through the beneficial properties of NMs included as a small percentage in a final device, as well as through nano-enabled processes and applications without final products containing any NMs [13,14]. However, most of the potential green nano-solutions are still in the lab/start-up phase and very few products have reached the market to date. Further studies are necessary to assess the applicability, efficiency and sustainability of nanotechnologies under more realistic conditions, as well as to validate NM enabled systems in comparison to existing technologies. The following paragraphs will describe the potential fields of application for green nanotechnology innovations.

Intriguingly, there’s no mention (that I could find) of soil remediation (clean-up) although there is reference to water remediation.  As for occupational health and safety and nanotechnology, the authors have this to say (Note: Links have been removed),

In this context according to the proposed principles for green economy, it is important that society, scientific community and industry take advantage of opportunities of nanotechnology while overcoming its practical challenges. However, not all revolutionary changes are sustainable per se and a cautious assessment of the benefits addressing economic, social and environmental implications, as well as the occupational health and safety impact is essential [95,96]. This latter aspect, in particular, should be carefully addressed, in consideration of the expected widespread use of nanotechnology and the consequent increasing likelihood of NM exposure in both living and occupational environments. Moreover, difficulties in nano-manufacturing and handling; uncertainty concerning stability of nano-innovations under aggressive or long-term operation (i.e. in the case of supercapacitors with nano-structured electrode materials or nano-enabled construction products); the lack of information regarding the release and fate of NMs in the environment (i.e. NMs released from water and wastewater treatment devices) as well as the limited knowledge concerning the NM toxicological profile, even further support the need for a careful consideration of the health and safety risks derived from NM exposure.Importantly, as shown in Figure 1, a number of potentially hazardous exposure conditions can be expected for workers involved in nanotechnology activities. In fact, NMs may have significant, still unknown, hazards that can pose risks for a wide range of workers: researchers, laboratory technicians, cleaners, production workers, transportation, storage and retail workers, employees in disposal and waste facilities and potentially, emergency responders who deal with spills and disasters of NMs who may be differently exposed to these potential, innovative xenobiotics.

The review article is quite interesting, albeit its precaution-heavy approach, but if you don’t have time, Berger summarizes the article. He also provides links to related articles he has written on the subjects of energy storage, evaluating ‘green’ nanotechnology in a full life cycle assessment, and more.

RNA interference: a Tekmira deal and a new technique births Solstice Biologics

I have two news items concerning ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi). The first item features Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation (a Canadian company located in the Vancouver area) and a licencing deal with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals (Massachusetts, US), according to a Nov. 18, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation a leading developer of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics, today announces a licensing and collaboration agreement with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Tekmira has licensed its proprietary lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology for exclusive use in Dicerna’s primary hyperoxaluria type 1 (PH1) development program.

Under the agreement, Dicerna will pay Tekmira $2.5 million upfront and payments of $22 million in aggregate development milestones, plus a mid-single-digit royalty on future PH1 sales. This new partnership also includes a supply agreement with Tekmira providing clinical drug supply and regulatory support in the rapid advancement of the product candidate.

The agreement announced today follows the successful testing and demonstration of positive results combining Tekmira’s LNP technology with DCR-PH1 in pre-clinical animal models.

I don’t entirely understand what they mean by “pre-clinical animal models” as I’ve not noticed the term “pre-clinical” applied to animal testing before this. It’s possible they mean they’ve run tests on animals (in vivo) and are now proceeding to human clinical trials or it could mean they’ve run in silico (computer modeling) or in vitro (test tube/test slide) tests and are now proceeding to animal tests. If anyone should have some insights, please do share them with me in the comments section.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Tekmira news release, which originated the news item, describes the deal in more detail,

Dicerna will use Tekmira’s third generation LNP technology for delivery of DCR-PH1, Dicerna’s Dicer substrate RNA (DsiRNA) molecule, for the treatment of PH1, a rare, inherited liver disorder that often results in kidney failure and for which there are no approved therapies.

“This new agreement validates our leadership position in RNAi delivery with LNP technology, and it underscores the significant value we can bring to partners who leverage our technology. Our LNP technology is enabling the most advanced applications of RNAi therapeutics in the clinic, and it continues to do so. We are excited to be working with Dicerna to be able to advance a needed therapeutic for the treatment of PH1,” said Dr. Mark J. Murray, Tekmira’s President and CEO.

“As a core pillar of our business strategy, we continue to engage in partnerships where our technology improves the risk profile and accelerates the development programs of our collaborators and provides meaningful non-dilutive financing to TKMR,” added Dr. Murray.

“Dicerna is focused on realizing the full clinical potential of our proprietary pipeline of highly targeted RNAi therapies by applying proven technologies,” said Douglas Fambrough, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Dicerna. “By drawing on Tekmira’s extensive and deep experience with lipid nanoparticle delivery to the liver, the agreement will streamline the development path for DCR-PH1. We look forward to initiating Phase 1 trials of DCR-PH1 in 2015, aiming to fill a high unmet medical need for patients with PH1.”

The news release also provides a high level description of the various technologies being researched and brought to market and a bit more information about the liver disorder being addressed by this research,

About RNAi

RNAi therapeutics have the potential to treat a number of human diseases by “silencing” disease-causing genes. The discoverers of RNAi, a gene silencing mechanism used by all cells, were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. RNAi trigger molecules often require delivery technology to be effective as therapeutics.

AboutTekmira’s LNP Technology

Tekmira believes its LNP technology represents the most widely adopted delivery technology for the systemic delivery of RNAi triggers. Tekmira’s LNP platform is being utilized in multiple clinical trials by Tekmira and its partners. Tekmira’s LNP technology (formerly referred to as stable nucleic acid-lipid particles, or SNALP) encapsulates RNAi triggers with high efficiency in uniform lipid nanoparticles that are effective in delivering these therapeutic compounds to disease sites. Tekmira’s LNP formulations are manufactured by a proprietary method which is robust, scalable and highly reproducible, and LNP-based products have been reviewed by multiple regulatory agencies for use in clinical trials. LNP formulations comprise several lipid components that can be adjusted to suit the specific application.

About Primary Hyperoxaluria Type 1 ( PH1)

PH1 is a rare, inherited liver disorder that often results in severe damage to the kidneys. The disease can be fatal unless the patient undergoes a liver-kidney transplant, a major surgical procedure that is often difficult to perform due to the lack of donors and the threat of organ rejection. In the event of a successful transplant, the patient must live the rest of his or her life on immunosuppressant drugs, which have substantial associated risks. Currently, there are no FDA approved treatments for PH1.

PH1 is characterized by a genetic deficiency of the liver enzyme alanine:glyoxalate-aminotransferase (AGT), which is encoded by the AGXT gene. AGT deficiency induces overproduction of oxalate by the liver, resulting in the formation of crystals of calcium oxalate in the kidneys. Oxalate crystal formation often leads to chronic and painful cases of kidney stones and subsequent fibrosis (scarring), which is known as nephrocalcinosis. Many patients progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and require dialysis or transplant. Aside from having to endure frequent dialysis, PH1 patients with ESRD may experience a build-up of oxalate in the bone, skin, heart and retina, with concomitant debilitating complications. While the true prevalence of primary hyperoxaluria is unknown, it is estimated to be one to three cases per one million people.1 Fifty percent of patients with PH1 reach ESRD by their mid-30s.2

About DCR-PH1

Dicerna is developing DCR-PH1, which is in preclinical development, for the treatment of PH1. DCR-PH1 is engineered to address the pathology of PH1 by targeting and destroying the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by HAO1, a gene implicated in the pathogenesis of PH1. HAO1 encodes glycolate oxidase, a protein involved in producing oxalate. By reducing oxalate production, this approach is designed to prevent the complications of PH1. In preclinical studies, DCR-PH1 has been shown to induce potent and long-term inhibition of HAO1 and to significantly reduce levels of urinary oxalate, while demonstrating long-term efficacy and tolerability in animal models of PH1.

About Dicerna’s Dicer Substrate Technology

Dicerna’s proprietary RNAi molecules are known as Dicer substrates, or DsiRNAs, so called because they are processed by the Dicer enzyme, which is the initiation point for RNAi in the human cell cytoplasm. Dicerna’s discovery approach is believed to maximize RNAi potency because the DsiRNAs are structured to be ideal for processing by Dicer. Dicer processing enables the preferential use of the correct RNA strand of the DsiRNA, which may increase the efficacy of the RNAi mechanism, as well as the potency of the DsiRNA molecules relative to other molecules used to induce RNAi.

You can find more information about Tekmira here and about Dicerna here. I mentioned Tekmira previously in a Sept. 28, 2014 post about Ebola and treatments.

Further south at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), researcher and founder of Solstice Biologics, Dr Steven Dowdy has developed and patented a new technique for delivering RNAi drugs into cells according to a Nov. 18, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Small pieces of synthetic RNA trigger a RNA interference (RNAi) response that holds great therapeutic potential to treat a number of diseases, especially cancer and pandemic viruses. The problem is delivery — it is extremely difficult to get RNAi drugs inside the cells in which they are needed. To overcome this hurdle, researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have developed a way to chemically disguise RNAi drugs so that they are able to enter cells. Once inside, cellular machinery converts these disguised drug precursors — called siRNNs — into active RNAi drugs. …

A Nov. 17, 2014 UCSD news release (also on EurekAlert) by Heather Buschman, which originated the news item, describes the issues with delivering RNAi drugs to cells and the new technique,

“Many current approaches use nanoparticles to deliver RNAi drugs into cells,” said Steven F. Dowdy, PhD, professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the study’s principal investigator. “While nanotechnology protects the RNAi drug, from a molecular perspective nanoparticles are huge, some 5,000 times larger than the RNAi drug itself. Think of delivering a package into your house by having an 18-wheeler truck drive it through your living room wall — that’s nanoparticles carrying standard RNAi drugs. Now think of a package being slipped through the mail slot — that’s siRNNs.”

The beauty of RNAi is that it selectively blocks production of target proteins in a cell, a finding that garnered a Nobel Prize in 2006. While this is a normal process that all cells use, researchers have taken advantage of RNAi to inhibit specific proteins that cause disease when overproduced or mutated, such as in cancer. First, researchers generate RNAi drugs with a sequence that corresponds to the gene blueprint for the disease protein and then delivers them into cells. Once inside the cell, the RNAi drug is loaded into an enzyme that specifically slices the messenger RNA encoding the target protein in half. This way, no protein is produced.

As cancer and viral genes mutate, RNAi drugs can be easily evolved to target them. This allows RNAi therapy to keep pace with the genetics of the disease — something that no other type of therapy can do. Unfortunately, due to their size and negatively charged chemical groups (phosphates) on their backbone, RNAi drugs are repelled by the cellular membrane and cannot be delivered into cells without a special delivery agent.

It took Dowdy and his team, including Bryan Meade, PhD, Khirud Gogoi, PhD, and Alexander S. Hamil, eight years to find a way to mask RNAi’s negative phosphates in such a way that gets them into cells, but is still capable of inducing an RNAi response once inside.

In the end, the team added a chemical tag called a phosphotriester group. The phosphotriester neutralizes and protects the RNA backbone — converting the ribonucleic acid (RNA) to ribonucleic neutral (RNN), and thus giving the name siRNN. The neutral (uncharged) nature of siRNNs allows them to pass into the cell much more efficiently. Once inside the cell, enzymes cleave off the neutral phosphotriester group to expose a charged RNAi drug that shuts down production of the target disease protein. siRNNs represent a transformational next-generation RNAi drug.

“siRNNs are precursor drugs, or prodrugs, with no activity. It’s like having a tool still in the box, it won’t work until you take it out,” Dowdy said. “Only when the packaging — the phosphotriester groups — is removed inside the cells do you have an active tool or RNAi drug.”

The findings held up in a mouse model, too. There, Dowdy’s team found that siRNNs were significantly more effective at blocking target protein production than typical RNAi drugs — demonstrating that once siRNNs get inside a cell they can do a better job.

“There remains a lot of work ahead to get this into the clinics. But, in theory, the therapeutic potential of siRNNs is endless,” Dowdy said. “Particularly for cancer, viral infections and genetic diseases.”

The siRNN technology forms the basis for Solstice Biologics, a biotech company in La Jolla, Calif. that is now taking the technique to the next level. Dowdy is a co-founder of Solstice Biologics and serves as a Board Director.

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

Efficient delivery of RNAi prodrugs containing reversible charge-neutralizing phosphotriester backbone modifications by Bryan R Meade, Khirud Gogoi, Alexander S Hamil, Caroline Palm-Apergi, Arjen van den Berg, Jonathan C Hagopian, Aaron D Springer, Akiko Eguchi, Apollo D Kacsinta, Connor F Dowdy, Asaf Presente, Peter Lönn, Manuel Kaulich, Naohisa Yoshioka, Edwige Gros, Xian-Shu Cui, & Steven F Dowdy. Nature Biotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nbt.3078 Published online 17 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have not been able to locate a website for Solstice Biologics but did find a rather curious item about Dr. Dowdy and a shooting incident last year. From a Sept. 18, 2013 news article by Kat Robinson for thewire.sheknows.com,

A wealthy San Diego community is shaken after a man opens fire on his former neighborhood early Wednesday morning. Police say Hans Petersen, a 48-year-old man, is the prime suspect in the shooting of Steven Dowdy and Michael Fletcher.

There’s also a Nov. 8, 2013 article about the incident by Lucas Laursen for Nature magazine,

On September 18 [2013], former Traversa Therapeutics CEO Hans Petersen went on a shooting spree. One of two people wounded was molecular biologist Steven Dowdy, a professor at University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, in La Jolla, and cofounder of Traversa, according to a San Diego police report.…

The rest of the article is behind a paywall.

OCSiAL (carbon nanotubes) makes moves: a production plant, maybe, in Israel and an international network

OCSiAl, the world’s largest nanotechnology business or developer of the revolutionary material TUBALL depending on the way the wind is blowing, has indicated interest in building a carbon nanotube production facility in Israel according to a Nov. 11, 2014 news item on the Economic Times (of India) website,

Nanotechnology company OCSiAl said on Tuesday [Nov. 11, 2014] it was in advanced talks to establish a production facility in southern Israel at an investment of $30 million.

OCSiAl said it intends to employ around 30 workers in Israel, mainly chemical engineers, industrial engineers, process engineers and automatic machine operators. It has started examining possible sites for the plant.

A Nov. 11, 2014 Time of Israel news article by David Shamah has more details,

The world’s biggest nanotechnology production company, OCSiAl, is shopping around in southern Israel for a site to build what could be the world’s largest nanotube production facility. It will produce as much as 50 tons of Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes (SWCNTs) a year – making it “possibly the largest producer of such nanotubes in the world,” the company announced Tuesday [Nov. 11, 2014].

….

… OCSiAl, … is the world’s biggest maker of the tiny SWCNTs. OCSiAl is an international nanotechnology company with operations in the US, UK, Germany, South Korea and Russia, headquartered in Luxembourg. The company employs 160 workers and is expected to hire 30 people for its Negev plant.

“Israel is one of the world’s leading knowledge and innovation centers in nanotechnology, and this is why we are interested in setting up a plant here,” said Konstantin Notman, vice president of OCSiAl. “We intend to deepen the contact with the Israeli market in all aspects – setting up our largest production facility here, enlarging our customer base, establishing contacts with Israeli dealers, and conducting cooperation with industrial companies and academic bodies.”

OCSiAL has a Nov. 13, 2014 news release, which despite the date seems to have inspired this news item about a SWCNT production plant in Israel.

There is this video produced by OCSiAL showing off some of its current production facilities,

On other fronts, OCSiAL has announced a worldwide partnership network program in a Nov. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

OCSiAl, developer of the revolutionary material TUBALL, is now focused on creating a worldwide partnership network. Facing a growing worldwide demand for new materials and solutions on one side, and a great interest of industrial manufacturers in providing these solutions without major changes in their business models and production processes on the other, OCSiAl presented TUBALL as an answer to these demands six months ago and now launches a partnership program.

An OCSiAL Nov. 14, 2014 news release, which despite the date seems to have originated the news item, provides more details,

TUBALL, first introduced in London this past spring, has gained attention of major brands in several industries since then. Not only due to its high “as produced” purity (75%+ of SWCNTs), but also because of its market price, which is 50 times lower than of other products with similar properties. That has been achieved by OCSiAl’s technology, which allows cost-efficient SWСNT synthesis in sufficient volumes and doesn’t require any further enrichment procedures.

To demonstrate TUBALL’s capabilities and to increase the number of its applications, OCSiAl has developed and licensed production technology for several TUBALL-based industrial modifiers: for cathodes of Li-ion batteries (TUBALL BATT), rubbers and tires (TUBALL RUBBER), thermoplastics (TUBALL PLAST), thermoset composites (TUBALL COMP) and for transparent conductive films (TUBALL INK). Modifiers for aluminium, concrete, paints and some other materials are under development.

The partnership program is compatible with various business models and works perfectly for different types of companies, including:

  • product manufacturers, who can produce TUBALL-enhanced versions of their current products;
  • solution providers, who can start their own production of TUBALL-based industrial modifiers (masterbatches and suspensions) using OCSiAl’s licensed technology for their own business, or to satisfy the demands of their clients;
  • large-scale distributors, who can introduce TUBALL and TUBALL-based modifiers to their local markets.

“We have great expectations for further prosperity of our business in cooperation with OCSiAl”, – says Managing Director of Evermore company Wu Lu-Hao. “We hope not only to attract new clients via highly sought TUBALL product, but to advance existing partnerships through offering new opportunities for development of our client’s products”

TUBALL’s introduction to the nanomaterials market served as a pivot point for many industries, which previously experienced difficulties with the industrial usage of nanomodifiers, due to their high cost and absence of an efficient synthesis technology, and the lack of any alternative solutions.

Now further development of a worldwide partnership network will remove the last geographical, technological and economical borders, empowering new wave of revolution in materials manufacture.

“Analytical studies suggest that the nanomaterials market will experience rapid growth in the next five to ten years, — says Yuri Koropachinskiy, OCSiAl’s President and co-founder — If you want to be there in 2025 — now is the time to start.”

You can find out more OCSiAl on its website; I last wrote about the company in a Sept. 11, 2014 posting.

India, Lockheed Martin, and canal-top solar power plants

Apparently the state of Gujarat (India) has inspired at least one other state, Punjab, to build (they hope) a network of photovoltaic (solar energy) plants over top of their canal system (from a Nov. 16, 2014 article by Mridul Chadha for cleantechnica.com),

India’s northern state of Punjab plans to set up 1,000 MW of solar PV projects to cover several kilometres of canals over the next three years. The state government has announced a target to cover 5,000 km of canals across the state. Through this program, the government hopes to generate 15% of the state’s total electricity demand.

Understandably, the construction of canal-top power plants is technically and structurally very different from rooftop or ground-based solar PV projects. The mounting structures for the solar PV modules cannot be heavy, as it could adversely impact the structural integrity of the canal itself. The structures should be easy to work with, as they are to be set up over a slope.

This is where the Punjab government has asked Lockheed Martin for help. The US-based company has entered into an agreement with the Punjab government to develop lightweight mounting structures for solar panels using nanotechnology.

Canal and rooftop solar power projects are the only viable options for Punjab as it is an agricultural state and land availability for large-scale ground-mounted projects remains an issue. As a result, the state government has a relatively lower (compared to other states) capacity addition target of 2 GW.

There’s more about the Punjab and current plans to increase its investment in solar photovoltaics in the article.

Here’s an image of a canal-top solar plant near Kadi (Gujarat),

Canal_Top_Solar_Power_PlantImage Credit: Hitesh vip | CC BY-SA 3.0

A Nov. 15, 2014 news item by Kamya Kandhar for efytimes.com provides a few more details about this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),

Punjab government had announced its tie up with U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to expand the solar power generation and overcome power problems in the State. As per the agreement, the state will put in 1,000 MW solar power within the next three years. Lockheed Martin has agreed to provide plastic structures for solar panels on canals by using nano technology.

While commenting upon the agreement, a spokesperson said, “The company would also provide state-of-the-art technology to convert paddy straw into energy, solving the lingering problem of paddy straw burning in the state. The Punjab government and Lockheed Martin would ink a MoU in this regard [on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014].”

The decision was taken during a meeting between three-member team from Lockheed Martin, involving the CEO Phil Shaw, Chief Innovation Officer Tushar Shah and Regional Director Jagmohan Singh along with Punjab Non-Conventional Energy Minister Bikram Singh Majithia and other senior Punjab officials.

As for paddy straw and its conversion into energy, there’s this from a Nov. 14, 2014 news item on India West.com,

Shaw [CEO Phil Shaw] said Lockheed has come out with waste-to-energy conversion solutions with successful conversion of waste products to electricity, heat and fuel by using gasification processes. He said it was an environmentally friendly green recycling technology, which requires little space and the plants are fully automated.

Getting back to the nanotechnology, I was not able to track down any information about nanotechnology-enabled plastics and Lockheed Martin. But, there is a Dec. 11, 2013 interview with Travis Earles, Lockheed Martin Advanced materials and nanotechnology innovation executive and policy leader, written up by Kris Walker for Azonano. Note: this is a general interview and focuses largely on applications for carbon nanotubes and graphene.