Tag Archives: Tel Aviv University

Sunscreens: 2018 update

I don’t usually concern myself with SPF numbers on sunscreens as my primary focus has been on the inclusion of nanoscale metal particles (these are still considered safe). However, a recent conversation with a dental hygienist and coincidentally tripping across a June 19, 2018 posting on the blog shortly after the convo. has me reassessing my take on SPF numbers (Note: Links have been removed),

So, what’s the deal with SPF? A recent interview of Dr Steven Q Wang, M.D., chair of The Skin Cancer Foundation Photobiology Committee, finally will give us some clarity. Apparently, the SPF number, be it 15, 30, or 50, refers to the amount of UVB protection that that sunscreen provides. Rather than comparing the SPFs to each other, like we all do at the store, SPF is a reflection of the length of time it would take for the Sun’s UVB radiation to redden your skin (used exactly as directed), versus if you didn’t apply any sunscreen at all. In ideal situations (in lab settings), if you wore SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer for you to get a sunburn than if you didn’t wear any sunscreen.

What’s more, SPF 30 is not nearly half the strength of SPF 50. Rather, SPF 30 allows 3% of UVB rays to hit your skin, and SPF 50 allows about 2% of UVB rays to hit your skin. Now before you say that that is just one measly percent, it actually is much more. According to Dr Steven Q. Wang, SPF 30 allows around 1.5 times more UV radiation onto your skin than SPF 50. That’s an actual 150% difference [according to Wang’s article “… SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin.”] in protection.

(author of the ‘eponymous’ blog) offers a good overview of the topic in a friendly, informative fashion albeit I found the ‘percentage’ to be a bit confusing. (S)he also provides a link to a previous posting about the ingredients in sunscreens (I do have one point of disagreement with regarding oxybenzone) as well as links to Dr. Steven Q. Wang’s May 24, 2018 Ask the Expert article about sunscreens and SPF numbers on skincancer.org. You can find the percentage under the ‘What Does the SPF Number Mean?’ subsection, in the second paragraph.

Ingredients: metallic nanoparticles and oxybenzone

The use of metallic nanoparticles  (usually zinc oxide and/or (titanium dioxide) in sunscreens was loathed by civil society groups, in particular Friends of the Earth (FOE) who campaigned relentlessly against their use in sunscreens. The nadir for FOE was in February 2012 when the Australian government published a survey showing that 13% of the respondents were not using any sunscreens due to their fear of nanoparticles. For those who don’t know, Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. (You can read about the debacle in my Feb. 9, 2012 posting.)

At the time, the only civil society group which supported the use of metallic nanoparticles in sunscreens was the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  After an examination of the research they, to their own surprise, came out in favour (grudgingly) of metallic nanoparticles. (The EWG were more concerned about the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens.)

Over time, the EWG’s perspective has been adopted by other groups to the point where sunscreens with metallic nanoparticles are commonplace in ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ sunscreens.

As for oxybenzones, in a May 23, 2018 posting about sunscreen ingredients notes this (Note: Links have been removed),

Oxybenzone – Chemical sunscreen, protects from UV damage. Oxybenzone belongs to the chemical family Benzophenone, which are persistent (difficult to get rid of), bioaccumulative (builds up in your body over time), and toxic, or PBT [or: Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs)]. They are a possible carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), endocrine disrupter; however, this is debatable. Also could cause developmental and reproductive toxicity, could cause organ system toxicity, as well as could cause irritation and potentially toxic to the environment.

It seems that the tide is turning against the use of oxybenzones (from a July 3, 2018 article by Adam Bluestein for Fast Company; Note: Links have been removed),

On July 3 [2018], Hawaii’s Governor, David Ig, will sign into law the first statewide ban on the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals that scientists say are damaging the Earth’s coral reefs. Passed by state legislators on May 1 [2018], the bill targets two chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in thousands of sunscreens and other skincare products. Studies published over the past 10 years have found that these UV-filtering chemicals–called benzophenones–are highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life and contribute to the fatal bleaching of coral reefs (along with global warming and runoff pollutants from land). (A 2008 study by European researchers estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunblock accumulates in coral reefs every year.) Also, though both substances are FDA-approved for use in sunscreens, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group notes numerous studies linking oxybenzone to hormone disruption and cell damage that may lead to skin cancer. In its 2018 annual sunscreen guide, the EWG found oxybenzone in two-thirds of the 650 products it reviewed.

The Hawaii ban won’t take effect until January 2021, but it’s already causing a wave of disruption that’s affecting sunscreen manufacturers, retailers, and the medical community.

For starters, several other municipalities have already or could soon join Hawaii’s effort. In May [2018], the Caribbean island of Bonaire announced a ban on chemicals sunscreens, and nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation, along with dive industry and certain resort groups, are urging legislation to stop sunscreen pollution in California, Colorado, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Marine nature reserves in Mexico already prohibit oxybenzone-containing sunscreens, and the U.S. National Park Service website for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommends the use of “reef safe” sunscreens, which use natural mineral ingredients–zinc oxide or titanium oxide–to protect skin.

Makers of “eco,” “organic,” and “natural” sunscreens that already meet the new standards are seizing on the news from Hawaii to boost their visibility among the islands’ tourists–and to expand their footprint on the shelves of mainland retailers. This past spring, for example, Miami-based Raw Elements partnered with Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu’s Waikiki Aquarium, the Aqua-Aston hotel group (Hawaii’s largest), and the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to get samples of its reef-safe zinc-oxide-based sunscreens to their guests. “These partnerships have had a tremendous impact raising awareness about this issue,” says founder and CEO Brian Guadagno, who notes that inquiries and sales have increased this year.

As Bluestein notes there are some concerns about this and other potential bans,

“Eliminating the use of sunscreen ingredients considered to be safe and effective by the FDA with a long history of use not only restricts consumer choice, but is also at odds with skin cancer prevention efforts […],” says Bayer, owner of the Coppertone brand, in a statement to Fast Company. Bayer disputes the validity of studies used to support the ban, which were published by scientists from U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, Tel Aviv University, the University of Hawaii, and elsewhere. “Oxybenzone in sunscreen has not been scientifically proven to have an effect on the environment. We take this issue seriously and, along with the industry, have supported additional research to confirm that there is no effect.”

Johnson & Johnson, which markets Neutrogena sunscreens, is taking a similar stance, worrying that “the recent efforts in Hawaii to ban sunscreens that contain oxybenzone may actually adversely affect public health,” according to a company spokesperson. “Science shows that sunscreens are a key factor in preventing skin cancer, and our scientific assessment of the lab studies done to date in Hawaii show the methods were questionable and the data insufficient to draw factual conclusions about any impact on coral reefs.”

Terrified (and rightly so) about anything scaring people away from using sunblock, The American Academy of Dermatology, also opposes Hawaii’s ban. Suzanne M. Olbricht, president of the AADA, has issued a statement that the organization “is concerned that the public’s risk of developing skin cancer could increase due to potential new restrictions in Hawaii that impact access to sunscreens with ingredients necessary for broad-spectrum protection, as well as the potential stigma around sunscreen use that could develop as a result of these restrictions.”

The fact is that there are currently a large number of widely available reef-safe products on the market that provide “full spectrum” protection up to SPF50–meaning they protect against both UVB rays that cause sunburns as well as UVA radiation, which causes deeper skin damage. SPFs higher than 50 are largely a marketing gimmick, say advocates of chemical-free products: According to the Environmental Working Group, properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98% of UVB rays; SPF 100 blocks 99%. And a sunscreen lotion’s SPF rating has little to do with its ability to shield skin from UVA rays.

I notice neither Bayer nor Johnson & Johnson nor the American Academy of Dermatology make mention of oxybenzone’s possible role as a hormone disruptor.

Given the importance that coral reefs have to the environment we all share, I’m inclined to support the oxybenzone ban based on that alone. Of course, it’s conceivable that metallic nanoparticles may also have a deleterious effect on coral reefs as their use increases. It’s to be hoped that’s not the case but if it is, then I’ll make my decisions accordingly and hope we have a viable alternative.

As for your sunscreen questions and needs, the Environment Working Group (EWG) has extensive information including a product guide on this page (scroll down to EWG’s Sunscreen Guide) and a discussion of ‘high’ SPF numbers I found useful for my decision-making.

The nanotube of a thousand faces (similar nanomaterials behaving differently)

Kudos to any one who recognizes the reference to the ‘man of a thousand faces’, Lon Chaney, a silent film horror star. As for the nanotubes, there’s this Sept. 14, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Nanotubes can be used for many things: electrical circuits, batteries, innovative fabrics and more. Scientists have noted, however, that nanotubes, whose structures appear similar, can actually exhibit different properties, with important consequences in their applications. Carbon nanotubes and boron nitride nanotubes, for example, while nearly indistinguishable in their structure, can be different when it comes to friction. A study conducted by SISSA/CNR-IOM and Tel Aviv University created computer models of these crystals and studied their characteristics in detail and observed differences related to the material’s chirality. …

A Sept. 14, 2016 Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) press release (PDF), which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

“We began with a series of experimental observations which showed that very similar nanotubes exhibit different frictional properties, with intensities ranging up to two orders of magnitude,” says Roberto Guerra, a researcher at CNR-IOM and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, first author of the study. “This led us to hypothesize that the chirality of the materials may play a role in this phenomenon.” The study involving also Andrea Vanossi (CNR-IOM) and Erio Tosatti (SISSA), was conducted in collaboration with the University of Tel Aviv.

For materials, such as those used in the study, chirality is linked to the three-dimensional arrangement of the weft that form the nanotube. “If we wrap a sheet of lined paper around itself to form a tube, the angle that the lines form with the axis of the tube determines its chirality,” says Guerra. “In our work we reconstructed the behavior of double-walled nanototubes, which can be imagined as two tubes of slightly different diameters, one inside the other. We observed that the difference in chirality between the inner tube and the outer tube has a remarkable effect on the three-dimensional shape of the nanotubes.”

A polygonal tube

“If we continue with the paper metaphor, the difference in orientation between the lattice on the inner tube and the outer tube determine to what extent, and, in what way, planar regions (faces) along the tube will form,” says Guerra. To better understand what is meant by “faces,” imagine a cross section of the tube, which is polygonal rather than perfectly circular. “The smaller the difference in chirality, the clearer and more obvious the faces,” concludes Guerra. If, however, the difference in chirality becomes too large, the faces disappear and the nanotubes take on the classic cylindrical shape.

The faces appear spontaneously depending on the characteristics of the material. Double-walled carbon nanotubes tend to form with a greater difference in internal and external chirality compared to boron nitride. Therefore, the former usually maintains a cylindrical shape that allows for less friction. In further studies, Guerra and colleagues intend to work directly on measuring the level of friction between nanotubes.

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

Multiwalled nanotube faceting unravelled by Itai Leven, Roberto Guerra, Andrea Vanossi, Erio Tosatti, & Oded Hod. Nature Nanotechnology (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.151 Published online 22 August 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Winner of Tel Aviv University (Israel) nanoscience and nanotech centre competition

[downloaded from http://www.e-architect.co.uk/israel/tel-aviv-university-center-for-nanoscience-and-nanotechnology-competition]

[downloaded from http://www.e-architect.co.uk/israel/tel-aviv-university-center-for-nanoscience-and-nanotechnology-competition]

The image above from e-architect shows part of the reason why l’Atelier d’Architecture Michel Rémon was announced as the winner of the international architectural competition for Tel Aviv University’s Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Center. A May 4, 2016 news item on Dexigner provides some explanation,

“The final choice of the Nano building reflects the synergy between the technical needs defined by the research teams and our desire to provide an open and welcoming research environment,” commented Joseph Klafter, President of Tel Aviv University. “I have no doubt that the new building will help inspire outstanding research and global collaborations.”

The project for Tel Aviv University presents a matrix of vertical lines creating a “skin” covering the three-storey building. The structure will enable natural light control and balance out the interior-exterior ratio. Visually, the building will not feature windows or doors. [emphasis mine] Among the energy efficiency solutions suggested by the company is special glass to optimize sun energy, natural ventilation, solar panels to cool the building and a rainwater collection system. …

In place of a main door or entry, it seems, according to the image, this building will have an opening. I wonder what they mean ‘special glass’. Are the walls underneath those white strips supposed to be glass? That would explain the lack of obvious windows but how do you cool a ‘transparent’ building and deal with the glare during summer and deal with heat loss in the winter? Presumably the ‘special’ glass will address those issues.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much information available. L’Atelier d’Architecture Michel Rémon doesn’t have an announcement about this latest success on the company website. As for Tel Aviv University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, their website also doesn’t have an announcement.

In any event, it’s a pretty nifty design.

Cardiac patch that’s both organic and engineered: a cyborg heart patch

A March 15, 2016 article by Michael Grothaus for Fast Company breaks the news about the ‘cyborg’ heart patch (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology have created a “cyborg heart patch” that may “single-handedly change the field of cardiac research,” reports EurekAlert. …

The researchers have made an illustration of the cyborg heart patch available,

 

Caption: A remotely regulated living bionic heart is pictured. The engineered tissue is comprised of living cardiac cells, polymers, and a complex nanoelectronic system. This integrated electronic system provides enhanced capabilities, such as online sensing of heart contraction, and pacing when needed. In addition, the electronics can control the release of growth factors and drugs, for stem cell recruitment and to decrease inflammation after transplantation. Credit: Tel Aviv University

A March 14, 2016 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release (also on EurekAlert) expands on the theme,

More than 25% of the people on the national US waiting list for a heart will die before receiving one. Despite this discouraging figure, heart transplants are still on the rise. There just hasn’t been an alternative. Until now.

The “cyborg heart patch,” a new engineering innovation from Tel Aviv University, may single-handedly change the field of cardiac research. The bionic heart patch combines organic and engineered parts. In fact, its capabilities surpass those of human tissue alone. The patch contracts and expands like human heart tissue but regulates itself like a machine.

The invention is the brainchild of Prof. Tal Dvir and PhD student Ron Feiner of TAU’s Department of Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Their study was published today in the journal Nature Materials.

Science fiction becomes science fact

“With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue,” Dr. Dvir said. “It’s very science fiction, but it’s already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way.

“Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results. Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly.”

Prof. Dvir’s Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Lab at TAU has been at the forefront of cardiac research for the last five years, harnessing sophisticated nanotechnological tools to develop functional substitutes for tissue permanently damaged by heart attacks and cardiac disease. The new cyborg cardiac patch not only replaces organic tissue but also ensures its sound functioning through remote monitoring.

“We first ensured that the cells would contract in the patch, which explains the need for organic material,” said Dr. Dvir. “But, just as importantly, we needed to verify what was happening in the patch and regulate its function. We also wanted to be able to release drugs from the patch directly onto the heart to improve its integration with the host body.”

For the new bionic patch, Dr. Dvir and his team engineered thick bionic tissue suitable for transplantation. The engineered tissue features electronics that sense tissue function and accordingly provide electrical stimulation. In addition, electroactive polymers are integrated with the electronics. Upon activation, these polymers are able to release medication, such as growth factors or small molecules on demand.

Cardiac therapy in real time

“Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well,” Dr. Dvir said. “His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient’s file — in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar.

“The longer-term goal is for the cardiac patch to be able to regulate its own welfare. In other words, if it senses inflammation, it will release an anti-inflammatory drug. If it senses a lack of oxygen, it will release molecules that recruit blood-vessel-forming cells to the heart.”

Dr. Dvir is currently examining how his proof of concept could apply to the brain and spinal cord to treat neurological conditions.

“This is a breakthrough, to be sure,” Dr. Dvir said. “But I would not suggest binging on cheeseburgers or quitting sports just yet. The practical realization of the technology may take some time. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to keep your heart healthy.”

It’s exciting news but this is at the proof-of-concept stage and there has been no testing, which (as Dvir seems to be hinting) means it could be several years before clinical trials.

Getting back to the heart of the matter (wordplay intended), here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Engineered hybrid cardiac patches with multifunctional electronics for online monitoring and regulation of tissue function by Ron Feiner, Leeya Engel, Sharon Fleischer, Maayan Malki, Idan Gal, Assaf Shapira, Yosi Shacham-Diamand & Tal Dvir. Nature Materials (2016) doi:10.1038/nmat4590 Published online 14 March 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Crowd computing for improved nanotechnology-enabled water filtration

This research is the product of a China/Israel/Switzerland collaboration on water filtration with involvement from the UK and Australia. Here’s some general information about the importance of water and about the collaboration in a July 5, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nearly 800 million people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion people live in precariously unsanitary conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, unsafe drinking water and the inadequate supply of water for hygiene purposes contribute to almost 90% of all deaths from diarrheal diseases — and effective water sanitation interventions are still challenging scientists and engineers.

A new study published in Nature Nanotechnology (“Water transport inside carbon nanotubes mediated by phonon-induced oscillating friction”) proposes a novel nanotechnology-based strategy to improve water filtration. The research project involves the minute vibrations of carbon nanotubes called “phonons,” which greatly enhance the diffusion of water through sanitation filters. The project was the joint effort of a Tsinghua University-Tel Aviv University research team and was led by Prof. Quanshui Zheng of the Tsinghua Center for Nano and Micro Mechanics and Prof. Michael Urbakh of the TAU School of Chemistry, both of the TAU-Tsinghua XIN Center, in collaboration with Prof. Francois Grey of the University of Geneva.

A July 5, 2015 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the work,

“We’ve discovered that very small vibrations help materials, whether wet or dry, slide more smoothly past each other,” said Prof. Urbakh. “Through phonon oscillations — vibrations of water-carrying nanotubes — water transport can be enhanced, and sanitation and desalination improved. Water filtration systems require a lot of energy due to friction at the nano-level. With these oscillations, however, we witnessed three times the efficiency of water transport, and, of course, a great deal of energy saved.”

The research team managed to demonstrate how, under the right conditions, such vibrations produce a 300% improvement in the rate of water diffusion by using computers to simulate the flow of water molecules flowing through nanotubes. The results have important implications for desalination processes and energy conservation, e.g. improving the energy efficiency for desalination using reverse osmosis membranes with pores at the nanoscale level, or energy conservation, e.g. membranes with boron nitride nanotubes.

Crowdsourcing the solution

The project, initiated by IBM’s World Community Grid, was an experiment in crowdsourced computing — carried out by over 150,000 volunteers who contributed their own computing power to the research.

“Our project won the privilege of using IBM’s world community grid, an open platform of users from all around the world, to run our program and obtain precise results,” said Prof. Urbakh. “This was the first project of this kind in Israel, and we could never have managed with just four students in the lab. We would have required the equivalent of nearly 40,000 years of processing power on a single computer. Instead we had the benefit of some 150,000 computing volunteers from all around the world, who downloaded and ran the project on their laptops and desktop computers.

“Crowdsourced computing is playing an increasingly major role in scientific breakthroughs,” Prof. Urbakh continued. “As our research shows, the range of questions that can benefit from public participation is growing all the time.”

The computer simulations were designed by Ming Ma, who graduated from Tsinghua University and is doing his postdoctoral research in Prof. Urbakh’s group at TAU. Ming catalyzed the international collaboration. “The students from Tsinghua are remarkable. The project represents the very positive cooperation between the two universities, which is taking place at XIN and because of XIN,” said Prof. Urbakh.

Other partners in this international project include researchers at the London Centre for Nanotechnology of University College London; the University of Geneva; the University of Sydney and Monash University in Australia; and the Xi’an Jiaotong University in China. The researchers are currently in discussions with companies interested in harnessing the oscillation knowhow for various commercial projects.

 

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

Water transport inside carbon nanotubes mediated by phonon-induced oscillating friction by Ming Ma, François Grey, Luming Shen, Michael Urbakh, Shuai Wu,    Jefferson Zhe Liu, Yilun Liu, & Quanshui Zheng. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.134 Published online 06 July 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Final comment, I find it surprising that they used labour and computing power from 150,000 volunteers and didn’t offer open access to the paper. Perhaps the volunteers got their own copy? I certainly hope so.

Tel Aviv University and the quest for super-slim, bendable displays

It’s beginning to seem like the quest for the Holy Grail. That is, the search for an object more myth than fact, but researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) believe they are on the right track to develop a slim, flexible screen according to a March 30, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

From smartphones and tablets to computer monitors and interactive TV screens, electronic displays are everywhere. As the demand for instant, constant communication grows, so too does the urgency for more convenient portable devices — especially devices, like computer displays, that can be easily rolled up and put away, rather than requiring a flat surface for storage and transportation.

A new Tel Aviv University study, published recently in Nature Nanotechnology (“Light-emitting self-assembled peptide nucleic acids exhibit both stacking interactions and Watson–Crick base pairing”), suggests that a novel DNA-peptide structure can be used to produce thin, transparent, and flexible screens. The research, conducted by Prof. Ehud Gazit and doctoral student Or Berger of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Yuval Ebenstein and Prof. Fernando Patolsky of the School of Chemistry at TAU’s Faculty of Exact Sciences, harnesses bionanotechnology to emit a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer — as opposed to the several rigid layers that constitute today’s screens.

A March 30, 2015 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release, which originated the news item, describes the material’s advantages and how the researchers developed it,

“Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly,” said Prof. Gazit. “It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well.”

For the purpose of the study, a part of Berger’s Ph.D. thesis, the researchers tested different combinations of peptides: short protein fragments, embedded with DNA elements which facilitate the self-assembly of a unique molecular architecture.

Peptides and DNA are two of the most basic building blocks of life. Each cell of every life form is composed of such building blocks. In the field of bionanotechnology, scientists utilize these building blocks to develop novel technologies with properties not available for inorganic materials such as plastic and metal.

“Our lab has been working on peptide nanotechnology for over a decade, but DNA nanotechnology is a distinct and fascinating field as well. When I started my doctoral studies, I wanted to try and converge the two approaches,” said Berger. “In this study, we focused on PNA — peptide nucleic acid, a synthetic hybrid molecule of peptides and DNA. We designed and synthesized different PNA sequences, and tried to build nano-metric architectures with them.”

Using methods such as electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography, the researchers discovered that three of the molecules they synthesized could self-assemble, in a few minutes, into ordered structures. The structures resembled the natural double-helix form of DNA, but also exhibited peptide characteristics. This resulted in a very unique molecular arrangement that reflects the duality of the new material.

“Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes,” said Berger. “To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent.”

The structures were found to emit light in every color, as opposed to other fluorescent materials that shine only in one specific color. Moreover, light emission was observed also in response to electric voltage — which make it a perfect candidate for opto-electronic devices like display screens.

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

Light-emitting self-assembled peptide nucleic acids exhibit both stacking interactions and Watson–Crick base pairing by Or Berger, Lihi Adler-Abramovich, Michal Levy-Sakin, Assaf Grunwald, Yael Liebes-Peer, Mor Bachar, Ludmila Buzhansky, Estelle Mossou, V. Trevor Forsyth, Tal Schwartz, Yuval Ebenstein, Felix Frolow, Linda J. W. Shimon, Fernando Patolsky, & Ehud Gazit. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.27 Published online 16 March 2015

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

Tackling ‘untreatable’ brain tumours

Isreal’s Tel Aviv University (TAU) has announced research that combines a nanoparticle-platform with RNA (ribonucleic acid) interference (RNAi) therapy for a difficult to treat brain cancer. From a Feb. 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

There are no effective available treatments for sufferers of Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and devastating form of brain tumor. The disease, always fatal, has a survival rate of only 6-18 months.

Now a new Tel Aviv University study may offer hope to the tens of thousands diagnosed with gliomas every year. A pioneer of cancer-busting nanoscale therapeutics, Prof. Dan Peer of TAU’s Department of Department of Cell Research and Immunology and Scientific Director of TAU’s Center for NanoMedicine has adapted an earlier treatment modality — one engineered to tackle ovarian cancer tumors — to target gliomas, with promising results.

A Feb. 24, 2015 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes how the two lead researchers came to collaborate on this project,

“I was approached by a neurosurgeon insistent on finding a solution, any solution, to a desperate situation,” said Prof. Peer. “Their patients were dying on them, fast, and they had virtually no weapons in their arsenal. Prof. Zvi Cohen heard about my earlier nanoscale research and suggested using it as a basis for a novel mechanism with which to treat gliomas.”

Dr. Cohen had acted as the primary investigator in several glioma clinical trials over the last decade, in which new treatments were delivered surgically into gliomas or into the surrounding tissues following tumor removal. “Unfortunately, gene therapy, bacterial toxin therapy, and high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy had all failed as approaches to treat malignant brain tumors,” said Dr. Cohen. “I realized that we must think differently. When I heard about Dan’s work in the field of nanomedicine and cancer, I knew I found an innovative approach combining nanotechnology and molecular biology to tackle brain cancer.”

The news release then describes the research in more detail,

Dr. Peer’s new research is based on a nanoparticle platform, which transports drugs to target sites while minimizing adverse effects on the rest of the body. Prof. Peer devised a localized strategy to deliver RNA genetic interference (RNAi) directly to the tumor site using lipid-based nanoparticles coated with the polysugar hyaluronan (HA) that binds to a receptor expressed specifically on glioma cells. Prof. Peer and his team of researchers tested the therapy in mouse models affected with gliomas and control groups treated with standard forms of chemotherapy. The results were, according to the researchers, astonishing.

“We used a human glioma implanted in mice as our preclinical model,” said Prof. Peer. “Then we injected our designed particle with fluorescent dye to monitor its success entering the tumor cells. We were pleased and astonished to find that, a mere three hours later, the particles were situated within the tumor cells.”

Rather than chemotherapy, Prof. Peer’s nanoparticles contain nucleic acid with small interference RNAs, which silence the functioning of a key protein involved in cell proliferation. “Cancer cells, always dividing, are regulated by a specific protein,” said Prof. Peer. “We thought if we could silence this gene, they would die off. It is a basic, elegant mechanism and much less toxic than chemotherapy. This protein is not expressed in normal cells, so it only works where cells are highly proliferated.”

100 days following the treatment of four injections over 30 days, 60 percent of the afflicted mice were still alive. This represents a robust survival rate for mice, whose average life expectancy is only two years. The control mice died 30-34.5 days into treatment.

“This is a proof of concept study which can be translated into a novel clinical modality,” said Prof. Peer. “While it is in early stages, the data is so promising — it would be a crime not to pursue it.”

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

Localized RNAi Therapeutics of Chemoresistant Grade IV Glioma Using Hyaluronan-Grafted Lipid-Based Nanoparticles by Zvi R. Cohen, Srinivas Ramishetti, Naama Peshes-Yaloz, Meir Goldsmith, Anton Wohl, Zion Zibly, and Dan Peer. ACS Nano, 2015, 9 (2), pp 1581–1591 DOI: 10.1021/nn506248s Publication Date (Web): January 5, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This study is behind a paywall.

Israeli scientists help us “sniff out” bombs

A July 23, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily describes the situation regarding bombs and other explosive devices and the Israelie research,

Security forces worldwide rely on sophisticated equipment, trained personnel, and detection dogs to safeguard airports and other public areas against terrorist attacks. A revolutionary new electronic chip with nano-sized chemical sensors is about to make their job much easier.

The groundbreaking nanotechnology-inspired sensor, devised by Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and developed by the Herzliya company Tracense, picks up the scent of explosives molecules better than a detection dog’s nose. Research on the sensor was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Existing explosives sensors are expensive, bulky and require expert interpretation of the findings. In contrast, the new sensor is mobile, inexpensive, and identifies in real time — and with great accuracy — explosives in the air at concentrations as low as a few molecules per 1,000 trillion.

A July 23, 2014 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, gives more detail about the research and potential product,

“Using a single tiny chip that consists of hundreds of supersensitive sensors, we can detect ultra low traces of extremely volatile explosives in air samples, and clearly fingerprint and differentiate them from other non-hazardous materials,” said Prof. Patolsky, a top researcher in the field of nanotechnology. “In real time, it detects small molecular species in air down to concentrations of parts-per-quadrillion, which is four to five orders of magnitude more sensitive than any existing technological method, and two to three orders of magnitude more sensitive than a dog’s nose.

“This chip can also detect improvised explosives, such as TATP (triacetone triperoxide), used in suicide bombing attacks in Israel and abroad,” Prof. Patolsky added.

The clusters of nano-sized transistors used in the prototype are extremely sensitive to chemicals, which cause changes in the electrical conductance of the sensors upon surface contact. When just a single molecule of an explosive comes into contact with the sensors, it binds with them, triggering a rapid and accurate mathematical analysis of the material.

“Animals are influenced by mood, weather, state of health and working hours, the oversaturation of olfactory system, and much more,” said Prof. Patolsky. “They also cannot tell us what they smell. Automatic sensing systems are superior candidates to dogs, working at least as well or better than nature. This is not an easy task, but was achieved through the development of novel technologies such as our sensor.”

The trace detector, still in prototype, identifies several different types of explosives several meters from the source in real time. It has been tested on the explosives TNT, RDX, and HMX, used in commercial blasting and military applications, as well as peroxide-based explosives like TATP and HMTD. The latter are commonly used in homemade bombs and are very difficult to detect using existing technology.

“Our breakthrough has the potential to change the way hazardous materials are detected, and of course should provide populations with more security,” said Prof. Patolsky. “The faster, more sensitive detection of tiny amounts of explosives in the air will provide for a better and safer world.”

Tracense has invested over $10M in research and development of the device since 2007, and expects to go to market next year [2015]. Prof.Patolsky and his team of researchers are currently performing multiple and extensive field tests of prototype devices of the sensor.

Here’s a link to and a citation for a recent paper by Professor Patolsky and his team,

Supersensitive fingerprinting of explosives by chemically modified nanosensors arrays by Amir Lichtenstein, Ehud Havivi, Ronen Shacham, Ehud Hahamy, Ronit Leibovich, Alexander Pevzner, Vadim Krivitsky, Guy Davivi, Igor Presman, Roey Elnathan, Yoni Engel, Eli Flaxer, & Fernando Patolsky. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4195 doi:10.1038/ncomms5195 Published 24 June 2014 Updated online 09 July 2014

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

China and Israel make big nanotechnology plans

A recently launched $300M China-Israel project seems to signal a new intimacy in relations between the two countries. From a May 25, 2014 article by Ruthie Blum for Israel21c.org,

The launch of a $300 million joint research project between Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University in Beijing has the academic communities and political echelons in both countries buzzing.

The opening of the XIN Center was announced at Tel Aviv University in mid-May amid great fanfare. The name is a play on words; “xin” means “new” in Chinese, and in English the “X” coupled with the “in” can stand for cross-innovation, cross-intelligence and/or cross-ingenuity.

The endeavor, to be funded by government and private sources, will initially focus on nanotechnology, with an emphasis on medical and optics applications, and later branch out into fields such as biotech and energy.

So far, nearly a third of the money has been raised for the project, which will involve recruiting research fellows from among the best and brightest of the graduate students of both universities to work in tandem (and fly back and forth) to develop products for eventual commercialization.

To raise the rest of the money, an investment fund is being established by Infinity Group, Israel’s largest investment firm, to seed ventures initiated by XIN fellows.

According to Blum, the deal is the outcome of a trip,

The idea for the ambitious program began inauspiciously, during a trip by Israeli scientists to meet with their counterparts in China.

“The project started bottom-up in Beijing,” said Klafter [TAU President Joseph Klafter]. “We fell in love with one another.”

… language is not the main gap between the Israeli and Chinese students. As both Hanein [Prof. Yael Hanein, head of the Tel Aviv University Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology] and Jining [Tsinghua University President Chen Jining]  pointed out, it is the cultural differences that are the most pronounced – and also a positive contrast that can be mutually beneficial.

“The Israelis are less obedient than the Chinese,” observed Hanein.

“The Israelis challenge authority,” said Jining. “And the Chinese bring harmony. The two groups learn from each other and create a balance.”

Jining added that though Tsinghua University collaborates with other academic institutions around the world, “This is the first that is so in-depth. We see it as a vehicle for nurturing future leaders of innovation – for cultivating and training a new generation of entrepreneurs.”

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin (Benjamin) Netanyahu provides an economic perspective,

“China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and fast becoming perhaps Israel’s largest trading partner, period, as we move into the future,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with Vice Premier Yandong at his office in Jerusalem following the XIN launch in Tel Aviv.

There are more details in a May 20, 2014 article written by Niv Elis & Victoria Kezr for the Jerusalem Post,

The first round, which will focus only on nano-technology, will recruit only seven advanced degree students from Tel Aviv University and 14 in China this summer.

While governments are pitching in some money for the $300m. price tag, the universities will seek private donations for the rest.

Israel’s Infinity group set up $16m. fund, comprising investors from Chinese industries and Tsinghua University alumni to help foot the bill.

The Jerusalem Post article mentions this opening, which took place on the same day,

Also on Monday [May 19, 2014], students and delegates from across the globe gathered to see Vice Premier of The People’s Republic of China Lui Yandong speak at the inauguration of the Confucius Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Confucius Institutes have been established at universities around the world by the Chinese Ministry of Education to promote the learning of Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture.

This is the second such institute, following the founding of Tel Aviv University’s Confucius Institute in 2007.

“The institute in Tel Aviv is for basic Chinese teaching. Here in the Hebrew University they have East Asian studies and they’ll be cooperation with that. Here there’ll be advanced study of Chinese history and culture,” said 21-year-old student Noa Yang, who not only helped organize the event but also sang during the ceremony.

Both the XIN Center and the new Confucius Institute are part of a much larger initiative according to the Jerusalem Post article,

The initiatives are the latest in a wave of cooperative agreements between Israel and China, not just in education, but also politics and business.

In September [2013], Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa received a $130m. grant from the Li Ka Shing Foundation to build an academy called the Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology as a joint venture with China’s Shantou University.

Blum’s article mentions yet another project, an agricultural technology incubator (Note: A link has been removed),

More recently, as ISRAEL21c reported in early May, a joint-venture agricultural technology incubator is slated to be built in Anhui Province, China. It will operate under the auspices of Trendlines Agtech, a specialized investment unit of Israel’s Trendlines Group, which supports early-stage, promising medical and agricultural technology companies in Israel.

These kinds of cooperative efforts are part of a comprehensive plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strengthen economic and technological ties with the People’s Republic. It was the impetus for his trip to China last year [2013].

Both these articles indicate that China and Israel are, as noted in the beginning of this post, developing more intimate relations both cultural and economic.

ETA May 28, 2014: JTA.org published a May 28, 2014 news item about a new Israel-China publication (Note: Links have been removed),

Introducing the Times of Israel Chinese on Wednesday [May 28, 2014], Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz said in a column that it “focuses on the evolving high-tech and innovation areas of the Israeli-Chinese relationship.”

He added, “It also dips into Israeli culture and society, giving Chinese readers insights into Israel beyond the spheres of business and high-tech.”

You can find Times of Israel Chinese here but you will need Chinese language reading skills to fully appreciate it.

Montréal Neuro and one of Europe’s biggest research enterprises, the Human Brain Project

Its official title is the Montréal Neurological Institute and Hospital (Montréal Neuro) which is and has been, for several decades, an international centre for cutting edge neurological research. From the Jan. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

The Neuro

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre.

Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. For more information, visit theneuro.com.

Nonetheless, it was a little surprising to see that ‘The Neuro’ is part one of the biggest research projects in history since it’s the European Union, which is bankrolling the project (see my posting about the Jan. 28, 2013 announcement of the winning FET Flagship Initatives). Here’s more information about the project, its lead researchers, and Canada’s role, from the news release,

The goal of the Human Brain Project is to pull together all our existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct the brain, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations. The models offer the prospect of a new understanding of the human brain and its diseases and of completely new computing and robotic technologies. On January 28 [2013], the European Commission supported this vision, announcing that it has selected the HBP as one of two projects to be funded through the new FET [Future and Emerging Technologies] Flagship Program.

Federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023). The cost is estimated at 1.19 billion euros. The project will also associate some important North American and Japanese partners. It will be coordinated at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

Canada’s role in this international project is through Dr. Alan Evans of the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University. His group has developed a high-performance computational platform for neuroscience (CBRAIN) and multi-site databasing technologies that will be used to assemble brain imaging data across the HBP. He is also collaborating with European scientists on the creation of ultra high-resolution 3D brain maps. «This ambitious project will integrate data across all scales, from molecules to whole-brain organization. It will have profound implications for our understanding of brain development in children and normal brain function, as well as for combatting brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease,» said Dr. Evans. “The MNI’s pioneering work on brain imaging technology has led to significant advances in our understanding of the brain and neurological disorders,” says Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of the MNI. “I am proud that our expertise is a key contributor to this international program focused on improving quality of life worldwide.”

“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is delighted to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of Dr. Evans and his team. Their work on the CBRAIN infrastructure and this leading-edge HBP will allow the integration of Canadian neuroscientists into an eventual global brain project,” said Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director for the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction. “Congratulations to the Canadian and European researchers who will be working collaboratively towards the same goal which is to provide insights into neuroscience that will ultimately improve people’s health.”

“From mapping the sensory and motor cortices of the brain to pioneering work on the mechanisms of memory, McGill University has long been synonymous with world-class neuroscience research,” says Dr. Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations). “The research of Dr. Evans and his team marks an exciting new chapter in our collective pursuit to unlock the potential of the human brain and the entire nervous system – a critical step that would not be possible without the generous support of the European Commission and the FET Flagship Program.”

Canada is not the only non-European Union country making an announcement about its role in this extraordinary project. There’s a Jan. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert touting Israel’s role,

The European Commission has chosen the Human Brain Project, in which the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is participating, as one of two Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship topics. The enterprise will receive funding of 1.19 billion euros over the next decade.

The project will bring together top scientists from around the world who will work on one of the great challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain. Participating from Israel will a team of eight scientists, led by Prof. Idan Segev of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at the Hebrew University, Prof. Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Dr. Mira Marcus-Kalish of Tel Aviv University.

More than 80 universities and research institutions in Europe and the world will be involved in the ten-year Human Brain Project, which will commence later this year and operate until the year 2023. The project will be centered at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, headed by Prof. Henry Markram, a former Israeli who was recruited ten years ago to the EPFL.

The participation of the Israeli scientists testifies to the leading role that Israeli brain research occupies in the world, said Israeli President Shimon Peres. “Israel has put brain research at the heart of its efforts for the coming decade, and our country is already spearheading the global effort towards the betterment of our understanding of mankind. I am confident that the forthcoming discoveries will benefit a wide range of domains, from health to industry, as well as our society as a whole,” Peres said.

“The human brain is the most complex and amazing structure in the universe, yet we are very far from understanding it. In a way, we are strangers to ourselves. Unraveling the mysteries of the brain will help us understand our functioning, our choices, and ultimately ourselves. I congratulate the European Commission for its vision in selecting the Human Brain Project as a Flagship Mission for the forthcoming decade,” said Peres.

What’s amusing is that as various officials and interested parties (such as myself) wax lyrical about these projects, most of the rest of the world is serenely oblivious to it all.