Category Archives: medicine

Long-term brain mapping with injectable electronics

Charles Lieber and his team at Harvard University announced a success with their work on injectable electronics last year (see my June 11, 2015 posting for more) and now they are reporting on their work with more extensive animal studies according to an Aug. 29, 2016 news item on psypost.org,

Scientists in recent years have made great strides in the quest to understand the brain by using implanted probes to explore how specific neural circuits work.

Though effective, those probes also come with their share of problems as a result of rigidity. The inflammation they produce induces chronic recording instability and means probes must be relocated every few days, leaving some of the central questions of neuroscience – like how the neural circuits are reorganized during development, learning and aging- beyond scientists’ reach.

But now, it seems, things are about to change.

Led by Charles Lieber, The Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, a team of researchers that included graduate student Tian-Ming Fu, postdoctoral fellow Guosong Hong, graduate student Tao Zhou and others, has demonstrated that syringe-injectable mesh electronics can stably record neural activity in mice for eight months or more, with none of the inflammation

An Aug. 29, 2016 Harvard University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“With the ability to follow the same individual neurons in a circuit chronically…there’s a whole suite of things this opens up,” Lieber said. “The eight months we demonstrate in this paper is not a limit, but what this does show is that mesh electronics could be used…to investigate neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, or processes that occur over long time, like aging or learning.”

Lieber and colleagues also demonstrated that the syringe-injectable mesh electronics could be used to deliver electrical stimulation to the brain over three months or more.

“Ultimately, our aim is to create these with the goal of finding clinical applications,” Lieber said. “What we found is that, because of the lack of immune response (to the mesh electronics), which basically insulates neurons, we can deliver stimulation in a much more subtle way, using lower voltages that don’t damage tissue.”

The possibilities, however, don’t end there.

The seamless integration of the electronics and biology, Lieber said, could open the door to an entirely new class of brain-machine interfaces and vast improvements in prosthetics, among other fields.

“Today, brain-machine interfaces are based on traditional implanted probes, and there has been some impressive work that’s been done in that field,” Lieber said. “But all the interfaces rely on the same technique to decode neural signals.”

Because traditional rigid implanted probes are invariably unstable, he explained, researchers and clinicians rely on decoding what they call the “population average” – essentially taking a host of neural signals and applying complex computational tools to determine what they mean.

Using tissue-like mesh electronics, by comparison, researchers may be able to read signals from specific neurons over time, potentially allowing for the development of improved brain-machine interfaces for prosthetics.

“We think this is going to be very powerful, because we can identify circuits and both record and stimulate in a way that just hasn’t been possible before,” Lieber said. “So what I like to say is: I think therefore it happens.”

Lieber even held out the possibility that the syringe-injectable mesh electronics could one day be used to treat catastrophic injuries to the brain and spinal cord.

“I don’t think that’s science-fiction,” he said. “Other people may say that will be possible through, for example, regenerative medicine, but we are pursuing this from a different angle.

“My feeling is that this is about a seamless integration between the biological and the electronic systems, so they’re not distinct entities,” he continued. “If we can make the electronics look like the neural network, they will work together…and that’s where you want to be if you want to exploit the strengths of both.”

In the 2015 posting, Lieber was discussing cyborgs, here he broaches the concept without using the word, “… seamless integration between the biological and the electronic systems, so they’re not distinct entities.”

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

Stable long-term chronic brain mapping at the single-neuron level by Tian-Ming Fu, Guosong Hong, Tao Zhou, Thomas G Schuhmann, Robert D Viveros, & Charles M Lieber. Nature Methods (2016) doi:10.1038/nmeth.3969 Published online 29 August 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Improving the quality of sight in artificial retinas

Researchers at France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and elsewhere have taken a step forward to improving sight derived from artificial retinas according to an Aug. 25, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

A major therapeutic challenge, the retinal prostheses that have been under development during the past ten years can enable some blind subjects to perceive light signals, but the image thus restored is still far from being clear. By comparing in rodents the activity of the visual cortex generated artificially by implants against that produced by “natural sight”, scientists from CNRS, CEA [Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives is the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission], INSERM [Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale is the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research], AP-HM [Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Marseille] and Aix-Marseille Université identified two factors that limit the resolution of prostheses.

Based on these findings, they were able to improve the precision of prosthetic activation. These multidisciplinary efforts, published on 23 August 2016 in eLife (“Probing the functional impact of sub-retinal prosthesis”), thus open the way towards further advances in retinal prostheses that will enhance the quality of life of implanted patients.

An Aug. 24, 2015 CNRS press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

A retinal prosthesis comprises three elements: a camera (inserted in the patient’s spectacles), an electronic microcircuit (which transforms data from the camera into an electrical signal) and a matrix of microscopic electrodes (implanted in the eye in contact with the retina). This prosthesis replaces the photoreceptor cells of the retina: like them, it converts visual information into electrical signals which are then transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. It can treat blindness caused by a degeneration of retinal photoreceptors, on condition that the optical nerve has remained functional1. Equipped with these implants, patients who were totally blind can recover visual perceptions in the form of light spots, or phosphenes.  Unfortunately, at present, the light signals perceived are not clear enough to recognize faces, read or move about independently.

To understand the resolution limits of the image generated by the prosthesis, and to find ways of optimizing the system, the scientists carried out a large-scale experiment on rodents.  By combining their skills in ophthalmology and the physiology of vision, they compared the response of the visual system of rodents to both natural visual stimuli and those generated by the prosthesis.

Their work showed that the prosthesis activated the visual cortex of the rodent in the correct position and at ranges comparable to those obtained under natural conditions.  However, the extent of the activation was much too great, and its shape was much too elongated.  This deformation was due to two separate phenomena observed at the level of the electrode matrix. Firstly, the scientists observed excessive electrical diffusion: the thin layer of liquid situated between the electrode and the retina passively diffused the electrical stimulus to neighboring nerve cells. And secondly, they detected the unwanted activation of retinal fibers situated close to the cells targeted for stimulation.

Armed with these findings, the scientists were able to improve the properties of the interface between the prosthesis and retina, with the help of specialists in interface physics.  Together, they were able to generate less diffuse currents and significantly improve artificial activation, and hence the performance of the prosthesis.

This lengthy study, because of the range of parameters covered (to study the different positions, types and intensities of signals) and the surgical problems encountered (in inserting the implant and recording the images generated in the animal’s brain) has nevertheless opened the way towards making promising improvements to retinal prostheses for humans.

This work was carried out by scientists from the Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone (CNRS/AMU) and AP-HM, in collaboration with CEA-Leti and the Institut de la Vision (CNRS/Inserm/UPMC).

Artificial retinas


© F. Chavane & S. Roux.

Activation (colored circles at the level of the visual cortex) of the visual system by prosthetic stimulation (in the middle, in red, the insert shows an image of an implanted prosthesis) is greater and more elongated than the activation achieved under natural stimulation (on the left, in yellow). Using a protocol to adapt stimulation (on the right, in green), the size and shape of the activation can be controlled and are more similar to natural visual activation (yellow).


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

Probing the functional impact of sub-retinal prosthesis by Sébastien Roux, Frédéric Matonti, Florent Dupont, Louis Hoffart, Sylvain Takerkart, Serge Picaud, Pascale Pham, and Frédéric Chavane. eLife 2016;5:e12687 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.12687 Published August 23, 2016

This paper appears to be open access.

Nanotubes tunnel between neurons in Parkinson’s disease

An Aug. 22, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily describes how scientists from the Institut Pasteur (France) have developed insight into one of the processes in Parkinson’s disease,

Scientists have demonstrated the role of lysosomal vesicles in transporting alpha-synuclein aggregates, responsible for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, between neurons. These proteins move from one neuron to the next in lysosomal vesicles which travel along the ‘tunneling nanotubes’ between cells.

An Aug. 22, 2016 Institut Pasteur press release (also on EurekAlert), expands on the theme,

Synucleinopathies, a group of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, are characterized by the pathological deposition of aggregates of the misfolded α-synuclein protein into inclusions throughout the central and peripheral nervous system. Intercellular propagation (from one neuron to the next) of α-synuclein aggregates contributes to the progression of the neuropathology, but little was known about the mechanism by which spread occurs.

In this study, scientists from the Membrane Traffic and Pathogenesis Unit, directed by Chiara Zurzolo at the Institut Pasteur, used fluorescence microscopy to demonstrate that pathogenic α-synuclein fibrils travel between neurons in culture, inside lysosomal vesicles through tunneling nanotubes (TNTs), a new mechanism of intercellular communication.

After being transferred via TNTs, α-synuclein fibrils are able to recruit and induce aggregation of the soluble α-synuclein protein in the cytosol of cells receiving the fibrils, thus explaining the propagation of the disease. The scientists propose that cells overloaded with α-synuclein aggregates in lysosomes dispose of this material by hijacking TNT-mediated intercellular trafficking. However, this results in the disease being spread to naive neurons.

This study demonstrates that TNTs play a significant part in the intercellular transfer of α-synuclein fibrils and reveals the specific role of lysosomes in this process. This represents a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms underlying the progression of synucleinopathies.

These compelling findings, together with previous reports from the same team, point to the general role of TNTs in the propagation of prion-like proteins in neurodegenerative diseases and identify TNTs as a new therapeutic target to combat the progression of these incurable diseases.

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

Tunneling nanotubes spread fibrillar α‐synuclein by intercellular trafficking of lysosomes by Saïda Abounit, Luc Bousset, Frida Loria, Seng Zhu, Fabrice de Chaumont, Laura Pieri, Jean-Christophe Olivo-Marin, Ronald Melki, Chiara Zurzolo. The EMBO Journal (2016) e201593411 DOI 10.15252/embj.201593411 Published online 22.08.2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Just swallow your battery, eh? Ingestible batteries

Christopher Bettinger, Ph.D., is developing an edible battery made with melanin and dissolvable materials. Courtesy of: Bettinger lab

Christopher Bettinger, Ph.D., is developing an edible battery made with melanin and dissolvable materials. Courtesy of: Bettinger lab

An Aug. 23, 2016 news item on phys.org describes a session at the 252nd American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting held Aug. 21 – 25, 2016 in Philadelphia,

Non-toxic, edible batteries could one day power ingestible devices for diagnosing and treating disease. One team reports new progress toward that goal with their batteries made with melanin pigments, naturally found in the skin, hair and eyes.

“For decades, people have been envisioning that one day, we would have edible electronic devices to diagnose or treat disease,” says Christopher Bettinger, Ph.D. “But if you want to take a device every day, you have to think about toxicity issues. That’s when we have to think about biologically derived materials that could replace some of these things you might find in a RadioShack.”

An Aug. 23, 2016 ACS news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, further describes the work featured in the ACS meeting session,

About 20 years ago, scientists did develop a battery-operated ingestible camera as a complementary tool to endoscopies. It can image places in the digestive system that are inaccessible to the traditional endoscope. But it is designed to pass through the body and be excreted. For a single use, the risk that the camera with a conventional battery will get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract is small. But the chances of something going wrong would increase unacceptably if doctors wanted to use it more frequently on a single patient.

The camera and some implantable devices such as pacemakers run on batteries containing toxic components that are sequestered away from contact with the body. But for low-power, repeat applications such as drug-delivery devices that are meant to be swallowed, non-toxic and degradable batteries would be ideal.

“The beauty is that by definition an ingestible, degradable device is in the body for no longer than 20 hours or so,” Bettinger says. “Even if you have marginal performance, which we do, that’s all you need.”

While he doesn’t have to worry about longevity, toxicity is an issue. To minimize the potential harm of future ingestible devices, Bettinger’s team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) decided to turn to melanins and other naturally occurring compounds. In our skin, hair and eyes, melanins absorb ultraviolet light to quench free radicals and protect us from damage. They also happen to bind and unbind metallic ions. “We thought, this is basically a battery,” Bettinger says.

Building on this idea, the researchers experimented with battery designs that use melanin pigments at either the positive or negative terminals; various electrode materials such as manganese oxide and sodium titanium phosphate; and cations such as copper and iron that the body uses for normal functioning.

“We found basically that they work,” says Hang-Ah Park, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at CMU. “The exact numbers depend on the configuration, but as an example, we can power a 5 milliWatt device for up to 18 hours using 600 milligrams of active melanin material as a cathode.”

Although the capacity of a melanin battery is low relative to lithium-ion, it would be high enough to power an ingestible drug-delivery or sensing device. For example, Bettinger envisions using his group’s battery for sensing gut microbiome changes and responding with a release of medicine, or for delivering bursts of a vaccine over several hours before degrading.

In parallel with the melanin batteries, the team is also making edible batteries with other biomaterials such as pectin, a natural compound from plants used as a gelling agent in jams and jellies. Next, they plan on developing packaging materials that will safely deliver the battery to the stomach.

When these batteries will be incorporated into biomedical devices is uncertain, but Bettinger has already found another application for them. His lab uses the batteries to probe the structure and chemistry of the melanin pigments themselves to better understand how they work.

I previously wrote about an ingestible battery in a November 23, 2015 posting featuring work from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Counteracting chemotherapy resistance with nanoparticles that mimic salmonella

Given the reputation that salmonella (for those who don’t know, it’s a toxin you don’t want to find in your food) has, a nanoparticle which mimics its effects has a certain cachet. An Aug. 22, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have designed a nanoparticle that mimics the bacterium Salmonella and may help to counteract a major mechanism of chemotherapy resistance.

Working with mouse models of colon and breast cancer, Beth McCormick, Ph.D., and her colleagues demonstrated that when combined with chemotherapy, the nanoparticle reduced tumor growth substantially more than chemotherapy alone.

Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories,NIAID,NIHColor-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells.

Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories,NIAID,NIHColor-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells.

An Aug. 22, 2016 US National Institute of Cancer news release, which originated the news item, explains the research in more detail,

A membrane protein called P-glycoprotein (P-gp) acts like a garbage chute that pumps waste, foreign particles, and toxins out of cells. P-gp is a member of a large family of transporters, called ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters, that are active in normal cells but also have roles in cancer and other diseases. For instance, cancer cells can co-opt P-gp to rid themselves of chemotherapeutic agents, severely limiting the efficacy of these drugs.

In previous work, Dr. McCormick and her colleagues serendipitously discovered that Salmonella enterica, a bacterium that causes food poisoning, decreases the amount of P-gp on the surface of intestinal cells. Because Salmonella has the capacity to grow selectively in cancer cells, the researchers wondered whether there was a way to use the bacterium to counteract chemotherapy resistance caused by P-gp.

“While trying to understand how Salmonella invades the human host, we made this other observation that may be relevant to cancer therapeutics and multidrug resistance,” explained Dr. McCormick.

Salmonella and Cancer Cells

To determine the specific bacterial component responsible for reducing P-gp levels, the researchers engineered multiple Salmonella mutant strains and tested their effect on P-gp levels in colon cells. They found that a Salmonella strain lacking the bacterial protein SipA was unable to reduce P-gp levels in the colon of mice or in a human colon cancer cell line. Salmonella secretes SipA, along with other proteins, to help the bacterium invade human cells.

The researchers then showed that treatment with SipA protein alone decreased P-gp levels in cell lines of human colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and lymphoma.

Because P-gp can pump drugs out of cells, the researchers next sought to determine whether SipA treatment would prevent cancer cells from expelling chemotherapy drugs.

When they treated human colon cancer cells with the chemotherapy agents doxorubicin or vinblastine, with or without SipA, they found that the addition of SipA increased drug retention inside the cells. SipA also increased the cancer cells’ sensitivity to both drugs, suggesting that it could possibly be used to enhance chemotherapy.

“Through millions of years of co-evolution, Salmonella has figured out a way to remove this transporter from the surface of intestinal cells to facilitate host infection,” said Dr. McCormick. “We capitalized on the organism’s ability to perform that function.”

A Nanoparticle Mimic

It would not be feasible to infect people with the bacterium, and SipA on its own will likely deteriorate quickly in the bloodstream, coauthor Gang Han, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explained in a press release. The researchers therefore fused SipA to gold nanoparticles, generating what they refer to as a nanoparticle mimic of Salmonella. They designed the nanoparticle to enhance the stability of SipA, while retaining its ability to interact with other proteins.

In an effort to target tumors without harming healthy tissues, the researchers used a nanoparticle of specific size that should only be able to access the tumor tissue due to its “leaky” architecture. “Because of this property, we are hoping to be able to avoid negative effects to healthy tissues,” said Dr. McCormick. Another benefit of this technology is that the nanoparticle can be modified to enhance tumor targeting and minimize the potential for side effects, she added.

The researchers showed that this nanoparticle was 100 times more effective than SipA protein alone at reducing P-gp levels in a human colon cancer cell line. The enhanced function of the nanoparticle is likely due to stabilization of SipA, explained the researchers.

The team then tested the nanoparticle in a mouse model of colon cancer, because this cancer type is known to express high levels of P-gp. When they treated tumor-bearing mice with the nanoparticle plus doxorubicin, P-gp levels dropped and the tumors grew substantially less than in mice treated with the nanoparticle or doxorubicin alone. The researchers observed similar results in a mouse model of human breast cancer.

There are concerns about the potential effect of nanoparticles on normal tissues. “P-gp has evolved as a defense mechanism” to rid healthy cells of toxic molecules, said Suresh Ambudkar, Ph.D., deputy chief of the Laboratory of Cell Biology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. It plays an important role in protecting cells of the blood-brain barrier, liver, testes, and kidney. “So when you try to interfere with that, you may create problems,” he said.

The researchers, however, found no evidence of nanoparticle accumulation in the brain, heart, kidney, or lungs of mice, nor did it appear to cause toxicity. They did observe that the nanoparticles accumulated in the liver and spleen, though this was expected because these organs filter the blood, said Dr. McCormick.

Moving Forward

The research team is moving forward with preclinical studies of the SipA nanoparticle to test its safety and toxicity, and to establish appropriate dosage levels.

However, Dr. Ambudkar noted, “the development of drug resistance in cancer cells is a multifactorial process. In addition to the ABC transporters, other phenomena are involved, such as drug metabolism.” And because there is a large family of ABC transporters, one transporter can compensate if another is blocked, he explained.

For the last 25 years, clinical trials with drugs that inhibit P-gp have failed to overcome chemotherapy resistance, Dr. Ambudkar said. Tackling the issue of multidrug resistance in cancer, he continued, “is not something that can be solved easily.”

Dr. McCormick and her team are also pursuing research to better characterize and understand the biology of SipA. “We are not naïve about the complexity of the problem,” she said. “However, if we know more about the biology, we believe we can ultimately make a better drug.”

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

A Salmonella nanoparticle mimic overcomes multidrug resistance in tumours by Regino Mercado-Lubo, Yuanwei Zhang, Liang Zhao, Kyle Rossi, Xiang Wu, Yekui Zou, Antonio Castillo, Jack Leonard, Rita Bortell, Dale L. Greiner, Leonard D. Shultz, Gang Han, & Beth A. McCormick. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12225  doi:10.1038/ncomms12225 Published 25 July 2016

This paper is open access.

Nanoparticles could make blood clot faster

It was the 252nd meeting for the American Chemical Society from Aug. 21 – 25, 2016 and that meant a flurry of news about the latest research. From an Aug. 23, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Whether severe trauma occurs on the battlefield or the highway, saving lives often comes down to stopping the bleeding as quickly as possible. Many methods for controlling external bleeding exist, but at this point, only surgery can halt blood loss inside the body from injury to internal organs. Now, researchers have developed nanoparticles that congregate wherever injury occurs in the body to help it form blood clots, and they’ve validated these particles in test tubes and in vivo [animal testing].

The researchers will present their work today [Aug. 22, 2016] at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

An Aug. 22, 2016 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provided more detail,

“When you have uncontrolled internal bleeding, that’s when these particles could really make a difference,” says Erin B. Lavik, Sc.D. “Compared to injuries that aren’t treated with the nanoparticles, we can cut bleeding time in half and reduce total blood loss.”

Trauma remains a top killer of children and younger adults, and doctors have few options for treating internal bleeding. To address this great need, Lavik’s team developed a nanoparticle that acts as a bridge, binding to activated platelets and helping them join together to form clots. To do this, the nanoparticle is decorated with a molecule that sticks to a glycoprotein found only on the activated platelets.

Initial studies suggested that the nanoparticles, delivered intravenously, helped keep rodents from bleeding out due to brain and spinal injury, Lavik says. But, she acknowledges, there was still one key question: “If you are a rodent, we can save your life, but will it be safe for humans?”

As a step toward assessing whether their approach would be safe in humans, they tested the immune response toward the particles in pig’s blood. If a treatment triggers an immune response, it would indicate that the body is mounting a defense against the nanoparticle and that side effects are likely. The team added their nanoparticles to pig’s blood and watched for an uptick in complement, a key indicator of immune activation. The particles triggered complement in this experiment, so the researchers set out to engineer around the problem.

“We made a battery of particles with different charges and tested to see which ones didn’t have this immune-response effect,” Lavik explains. “The best ones had a neutral charge.” But neutral nanoparticles had their own problems. Without repulsive charge-charge interactions, the nanoparticles have a propensity to aggregate even before being injected. To fix this issue, the researchers tweaked their nanoparticle storage solution, adding a slippery polymer to keep the nanoparticles from sticking to each other.

Lavik also developed nanoparticles that are stable at higher temperatures, up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). This would allow the particles to be stored in a hot ambulance or on a sweltering battlefield.

In future studies, the researchers will test whether the new particles activate complement in human blood. Lavik also plans to identify additional critical safety studies they can perform to move the research forward. For example, the team needs to be sure that the nanoparticles do not cause non-specific clotting, which could lead to a stroke. Lavik is hopeful though that they could develop a useful clinical product in the next five to 10 years.

It’s not unusual for scientists to give an estimate of 5 – 10 years before their science reaches the market.  Another popular range is 3 – 5 years.

SciFi novel “Divided Minds” from India

Thanks to an Aug. 23, 2016 news item on nyoooz.com I found out about an Indian science fiction writer,

Sanjay Koppikar’s book, Divided Minds is the harbinger of good news for sci-fi fans in India. Nanotechnology can take over the world and Sanjay Koppikar’s book Divided Minds tells its readers how Science fiction in India needs a push.

The summary on nyoooz.com is derived from an Aug. 22, 2016 article by Sahitya Poonacha for The Hindu, which features an interview with the author,

How did the idea of Divided Minds strike you?

I am basically a storyteller. Even in my job I do the same thing. I run a software company, I create technology stories that solve some problem, and send it to the customers. Then a few years ago I started saying no, I should not just be stuck with work. I should try and do something different so I started drawing. I travel a lot. I would sit at the airport and look at people’s faces, and sketch them. I also started making up stories to keep myself busy in ways other than work. I had this story in June, 2011. To finally get it to reality took five years. I had to do a lot of research. The story is about nanotechnology that is to be injected into the bloodstream. To make this story believable I had to study a little bit about that to realise that there are people already working on those lines.

… if you put an electronic chip into your bloodstream will that be acceptable to the bloodstream? It won’t be; so how will it react? Or how is it going to charge itself? You can’t think of putting a battery inside and replacing it. There were all these kinds of questions. Then there was the medical part of it. I spoke to at least six to seven doctors and kept picking their brains for information.

How did Delhi become the centre of activity in the book?

None of the places I have mentioned in the book I’ve ever been to. If you have followed the news, the story happened because of some different incidents knit together.

One of them is when General V.K. Singh was heading the Army — there was some news about the Army moving towards Delhi and later on there was a lot of denial and they said it was a general exercise. So, why did they move?

There is another story where a particular inspector took his family to a restaurant, had dinner and shot himself. These stories were eating me up — what must be going on in his head when he did that? A lot of people commit suicide but this is not the way to go about it. These people then became characters in my book. If at all I had to show the power that this phenomenon will bring about, it had to be set in the Capital.

I’m impressed by Koppikar’s interest in some of the real life issues with putting a computer chip into your bloodstream. A lot of science fiction writers use ‘nano devices’ merely as a means of moving the narrative forward and in those worlds, nano devices don’t have any of the shortcomings and problems one might expect in a real world medical application. Not having read the book I’m not sure how many of these concerns and what weight they have, if any, can be found in Koppikar’s narrative but it certainly sounds promising.

He has also integrated political concerns as per the article but no mention is made of the romance element evident in the book trailer,

For anyone interested in purchasing the book, go here.

Discovering how the liver prevents nanoparticles from reaching cancer cells

There’s a lot of excitement about nanoparticles as enabling a precise drug delivery system but to date results have been disappointing as a team of researchers at the University of Toronto (Canada) noted recently (see my April 27, 2016 posting). According to those researchers, one of the main problems with the proposed nanoparticle drug delivery system is that we don’t understand how the body delivers materials to cells and disappointingly few nanoparticles (less than 1%) make their way to tumours. That situation may be changing.

An Aug. 19, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces the latest research from the University of Toronto,

The emerging field of nanomedicine holds great promise in the battle against cancer. Particles the size of protein molecules can be customized to carry tumour-targeting drugs and destroy cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.

But here’s the problem: when nanoparticles are administered into the body, more than 99 per cent of them become trapped in non-targeted organs, such as the liver and spleen. These nanoparticles are not delivered to the site of action to carry out their intended function.

To solve this problem, researchers at the University of Toronto and the University Health Network have figured out how the liver and spleen trap intact nanoparticles as they move through the organ. “If you want to unlock the promise of nanoparticles, you have to understand and solve the problem of the liver,” says Dr. Ian McGilvray, a transplant surgeon at the Toronto General Hospital and scientist at the Toronto General Research Institute (TGRI).

An Aug. 15, 2016 University of Toronto news release by Luke Ng, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

In a recent paper in the journal Nature Materials, the researchers say that as nanoparticles move through the liver sinusoid, the flow rate slows down 1,000 times, which increases the interaction of the nanoparticles all of types of liver cells. This was a surprising finding because the current thought is that Kupffer cells, responsible for toxin breakdown in the liver, are the ones that gobbles [sic] up the particles.  This study found that liver B-cells and liver sinusoidal endothelial cells are also involved and that the cell phenotype also matters.

“We know that the liver is the principle organ controlling what gets absorbed by our bodies and what gets filtered out—it governs our everyday biological functions,” says Dr. Kim Tsoi (… [and] research partner Sonya MacParland), a U of T orthopaedic surgery resident, and a first author of the paper, who completed her PhD in biomedical engineering with Warren Chan (IBBME). “But nanoparticle drug delivery is a newer approach and we haven’t had a clear picture of how they interact with the liver—until now.”

Tsoi and MacParland first examined both the speed and location of their engineered nanoparticles as they moved through the liver.

“This gives us a target to focus on,” says MacParland, an immunology post-doctoral fellow at U of T and TGRI. “Knowing the specific cells to modify will allow us to eventually deliver more of the nanoparticles to their intended target, attacking only the pathogens or tumours, while bypassing healthy cells.”

“Many prior studies that have tried to reduce nanomaterial clearance in the liver have focused on the particle design itself,” says Chan. “But our work now gives greater insight into the biological mechanisms underpinning our experimental observations — now we hope to use our fundamental findings to help design nanoparticles that work with the body, rather than against it.”

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

Mechanism of hard-nanomaterial clearance by the liver by Kim M. Tsoi, Sonya A. MacParland, Xue-Zhong Ma, Vinzent N. Spetzler, Juan Echeverri, Ben Ouyang, Saleh M. Fadel, Edward A. Sykes, Nicolas Goldaracena, Johann M. Kaths, John B. Conneely, Benjamin A. Alman, Markus Selzner, Mario A. Ostrowski, Oyedele A. Adeyi, Anton Zilman, Ian D. McGilvray, & Warren C. W. Chan. Nature Materials (2016) doi:10.1038/nmat4718 Published online 15 August 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Ginger nanoparticles for inflammatory bowel disease

I guess we’ll have to add ginger to the list of folk medicines (tumeric is another) which are being discovered by nanomedicine. An Aug. 17, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily describes the ‘ginger’ research at the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs,

A recent study by researchers at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center took them to a not-so-likely destination: local farmers markets. They went in search of fresh ginger root.

Back at the lab, the scientists turned the ginger into what they are calling GDNPs, or ginger-derived nanoparticles. The process started simply enough, with your basic kitchen blender. But then it involved super-high-speed centrifuging and ultrasonic dispersion of the ginger juice, to break it up into single pellets. (Don’t try this at home!)

The research team, led by Dr. Didier Merlin with VA and the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, believes the particles may be good medicine for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The particles may also help fight cancer linked to colitis, the scientists believe.

An Aug. 16, 2016 US Dept. of Veterans Affairs news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

Each ginger-based nanoparticle was about 230 nanometers in diameter. More than 300 of them could fit across the width of a human hair.

Fed to lab mice, the particles appeared to be nontoxic and had significant therapeutic effects:

  • Importantly, they efficiently targeted the colon. They were absorbed mainly by cells in the lining of the intestines, where IBD inflammation occurs.
  • The particles reduced acute colitis and prevented chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer.
  • They enhanced intestinal repair. Specifically, they boosted the survival and proliferation of the cells that make up the lining of the colon. They also lowered the production of proteins that promote inflammation, and raised the levels of proteins that fight inflammation.

Part of the therapeutic effect, say the researchers, comes from the high levels of lipids–fatty molecules–in the particles, a result of the natural lipids in the ginger plant. One of the lipids is phosphatidic acid, an important building block of cell membranes.

The particles also retained key active constituents found naturally in ginger, such as 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol. Past lab studies have shown the compounds to be active against oxidation, inflammation, and cancer. They are what make standard ginger an effective remedy for nausea and other digestion problems. Traditional cultures have used ginger medicinally for centuries, and health food stores carry ginger-based supplements–such as chews, or the herb mixed with honey in a syrup–as digestive aids.

Delivering these compounds in a nanoparticle, says Merlin’s team, may be a more effective way to target colon tissue than simply providing the herb as a food or supplement.

The idea of fighting IBD with nanoparticles is not new. In recent years, Merlin’s lab and others have explored how to deliver conventional drugs via nanotechnology. Some of this research is promising. The approach may allow low doses of drugs to be delivered only where they are needed–inflamed tissue in the colon–and thus avoid unwanted systemic effects.

The advantage of ginger, say the researchers, is that it’s nontoxic, and could represent a very cost-effective source of medicine.

The group is looking at ginger, and other plants, as potential “nanofactories for the fabrication of medical nanoparticles.”

Merlin and his VA and Georgia State University coauthors elaborated on the idea in a report earlier this year titled “Plant-derived edible nanoparticles as a new therapeutic approach against diseases.” They wrote that plants are a “bio-renewable, sustainable, diversified platform for the production of therapeutic nanoparticles.”

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

Edible ginger-derived nanoparticles: A novel therapeutic approach for the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and colitis-associated cancer by Mingzhen Zhang, Emilie Viennois, Meena Prasad, Yunchen Zhang, Lixin Wang, Zhan Zhang, Moon Kwon Han, Bo Xiao, Changlong Xu, Shanthi Srinivasan, Didier Merlin. Biomaterials Volume 101, September 2016, Pages 321–340         doi:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2016.06.018

This paper is behind a paywall.

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

Plant derived edible nanoparticles as a new therapeutic approach against diseases by Mingzhen Zhang, Emilie Viennois, Changlong Xu, & Didier Merlin. Tissue Barriers Volume 4, 2016 – Issue 2  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21688370.2015.1134415 Published online: 11 Feb 2016

This paper too is behind a paywall.

A carbon nanomaterial ‘pot’ for drug delivery

Japanese scientists have developed a new material, which could be used as a carrier for drugs. From an Aug. 5, 2016 news item on phys.org,

A novel, pot-shaped, carbon nanomaterial developed by researchers from Kumamoto University, Japan is several times deeper than any hollow carbon nanostructure previously produced. This unique characteristic enables the material to gradually release substances contained within and is expected to be beneficial in applications such as drug delivery systems.

An Aug. 5, 2016 Kumamoto University press release on EurekAlert, which despite the discrepancy in the dates originated the news item, discusses carbon and the discovery in more detail,

Carbon is an element that is light, abundant, has a strong binding force, and eco-friendly. The range of carbon-based materials is expected to become more widespread in the eco-friendly society of the future. Recently, nanosized (one-billionth of a meter) carbon materials have been developed with lengths, widths, or heights below 100 nm [nanometre]. These materials take extreme forms such as tiny grained substances, thin sheet-like substances, and slim fibrous substances. Example of these new materials are fullerenes, which are hollow cage-like carbon molecules; carbon nanotubes, cylindrical nanostructures of carbon molecules; and graphene, one-atom thick sheets of carbon molecules.

Why are these tiny substances needed? One reason is that reactions with other materials can be much larger if a substance has an increased surface area. When using nanomaterials in place of existing materials, it is possible to significantly change surface area without changing weight and volume, thereby improving both size and performance. The development of carbon nanomaterials has provided novel nanostructured materials with shapes and characteristics that surpass existing materials.

Now, research from the laboratory of Kumamoto University’s Associate Prof. Yokoi has resulted in the successful development of a container-type carbon nanomaterial with a much deeper orifice than that found in similar materials. To create the new material, researchers used their own, newly developed method of material synthesis. The container-shaped nanomaterial has a complex form consisting of varied layers of stacked graphene at the bottom, the body, and the neck areas of the container, and the graphene edges along the outer surface of the body were found to be very dense. Due to these innovate features, Associate Prof. Yokoi and colleagues named the material the “carbon nanopot.”

The carbon nanopot has an outer diameter of 20 ~ 40 nm, an inner diameter of 5 ~ 30 nm, and a length of 100 ~ 200 nm. During its creation, the carbon nanopot is linked to a carbon nanofiber with a length of 20 ~ 100 μm [micrometre] meaning that the carbon nanopot is also available as a carbon nanofiber. At the junction between nanopots, the bottom of one pot simply sits on the opening of the next without sharing a graphene sheet connection. Consequently, separating nanopots is very easy.

“From a detailed surface analysis, hydrophilic hydroxyl groups were found clustered along the outer surface of the carbon nanopot body,” said Associate Prof. Yokoi. “Graphene is usually hydrophobic however, if hydroxyl groups are densely packed on the outer surface of the body, that area will be hydrophilic. In other words, carbon nanopots could be a unique nanomaterial with both hydrophobic and hydrophilic characteristics. We are currently in the process of performing a more sophisticated surface analysis in order to get that assurance.”

Since this new carbon nanopot has a relatively deep orifice, one of its expected uses is to improve drug delivery systems by acting as a new foundation for medicine to be carried into and be absorbed by the body.

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

Novel pot-shaped carbon nanomaterial synthesized in a submarine-style substrate heating CVD method by Hiroyuki Yokoi, Kazuto Hatakeyama, Takaaki Taniguchi, Michio Koinuma, Masahiro Hara, and Yasumichi Matsumoto. Journal of Materials Research / Volume 31 / Issue 01 / 2016, pp 117-126 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/jmr.2015.389 (About DOI) Published online: 13 January 2016

Copyright © Materials Research Society 2016

I’m not sure why there’s this push for publicity so long after the publication date. In any event, this paper is behind a paywall.