‘What becomes of the broken-hearted?’ Trinity College Dublin scientists may have an answer

While Valentine’s Day as celebrated here in Canada and elsewhere (but not everywhere) on February 14 of each year is usually marked in a purely joyous fashion,I’m going to focus on heartbreak. Here is one of the greatest versions of ‘What becomes of the broken-hearted?’ Then, repair follows in the context of some cardiac research coming out of Ireland,

Thank you Joan Osborne and the Funk Brothers. If you haven’t seen ‘Standing in the shadows of Motown’, you may want to make a point of it.

As for the musical question in the headline, researchers at Trinity College Dublin may have an answer of sorts. A February 13, 2020 Trinity College Dublin press release (also on EurekAlert) describes how broken hearts can be mended,

Bioengineers from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, have developed a prototype patch that does the same job as crucial aspects of heart tissue.

Their patch withstands the mechanical demands and mimics the electrical signalling properties that allow our hearts to pump blood rhythmically round our bodies.

Their work essentially takes us one step closer to a functional design that could mend a broken heart.

One in six men and one in seven women in the EU will suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives. Worldwide, heart disease kills more women and men – regardless of race, than any other disease.

Cardiac patches lined with heart cells can be applied surgically to restore heart tissue in patients who have had damaged tissue removed after a heart attack and to repair congenital heart defects in infants and children. Ultimately, though, the goal is to create cell-free patches that can restore the synchronous beating of the heart cells, without impairing the heart muscle movement.

The bioengineers report their work, which takes us one step closer to such a reality, in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Michael Monaghan, ussher assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Trinity, and senior author on the paper, said:

“Despite some advances in the field, heart disease still places a huge burden on our healthcare systems and the life quality of patients worldwide. It affects all of us either directly or indirectly through family and friends. As a result, researchers are continuously looking to develop new treatments which can include stem cell treatments, biomaterial gel injections and assistive devices.”

“Ours is one of few studies that looks at a traditional material, and through effective design allows us to mimic the direction-dependent mechanical movement of the heart, which can be sustained repeatably. This was achieved through a novel method called ‘melt electrowriting’ and through close collaboration with the suppliers located nationally we were able to customise the process to fit our design needs.”

This work was performed in the Trinity Centre for Biomedical Engineering, based in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute in collaboration with Spraybase®, a subsidiary of Avectas Ltd. It was funded by Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Partnership Program (IPP).

Dr Gillian Hendy, director of Spraybase® is a co-author on the paper. Dr Hendy commended the team at Trinity on the work completed and advancements made on the Spraybase® Melt Electrowriting (MEW) System. The success achieved by the team highlights the potential applications of this novel technology in the cardiac field and succinctly captures the benefits of industry and academic collaboration, through platforms such as the IPP.

Engineering replacement materials for heart tissue is challenging since it is an organ that is constantly moving and contracting. The mechanical demands of heart muscle (myocardium) cannot be met using polyester-based thermoplastic polymers, which are predominantly the approved options for biomedical applications.

However, the functionality of thermoplastic polymers could be leveraged by its structural geometry. The bioengineers then set about making a patch that could control the expansion of a material in multiple directions and tune this using an engineering design approach.

The patches were manufactured via melt electrowriting – a core technology of Spraybase® – which is reproducible, accurate, and scalable. The patches were also coated with the electroconductive polymer polypyrrole to provide electrical conductivity while maintaining cell compatibility.

The patch withstood repeated stretching, which is a dominant concern for cardiac biomaterials, and showed good elasticity, to accurately mimic that key property of heart muscle.

Professor Monaghan added:

“Essentially, our material addresses a lot of requirements. The bulk material is currently approved for medical device use, the design accommodates the movement of the pumping heart, and has been functionalised to accommodate signaling between isolated contractile tissues.”

“This study currently reports the development of our method and design, but we are now looking forward to furthering the next generation of designs and materials with the eventual aim of applying this patch as a therapy for a heart attack.”

Dr Dinorath Olvera, Trinity, first author on the paper, added:

“Our electroconductive patches support electrical conduction between biological tissue in an ex vivo model. These results therefore represent a significant step towards generating a bioengineered patch capable of recapitulating aspects of heart tissue – namely its mechanical movement and electrical signalling.”

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

Electroconductive Melt Electrowritten Patches Matching the Mechanical Anisotropy of Human Myocardium by Dinorath Olvera, Mina Sohrabi Molina, Gillian Hendy, Michael G. Monaghan. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.201909880 First published: 12 February 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here are links, should you be interested in the company partnering with the researchers, Spraybase®, or its parent company, Avectas Ltd.

Finally, the singer who made ‘What becomes of the broken-hearted?’ a hit in 1965 was Jimmy Ruffin,

Enjoy.

A lipid-based memcapacitor,for neuromorphic computing

Caption: Researchers at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences demonstrated the first example of capacitance in a lipid-based biomimetic membrane, opening nondigital routes to advanced, brain-like computation. Credit: Michelle Lehman/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The last time I wrote about memcapacitors (June 30, 2014 posting: Memristors, memcapacitors, and meminductors for faster computers), the ideas were largely theoretical; I believe this work is the first research I’ve seen on the topic. From an October 17, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory ]ORNL], the University of Tennessee and Texas A&M University demonstrated bio-inspired devices that accelerate routes to neuromorphic, or brain-like, computing.

Results published in Nature Communications report the first example of a lipid-based “memcapacitor,” a charge storage component with memory that processes information much like synapses do in the brain. Their discovery could support the emergence of computing networks modeled on biology for a sensory approach to machine learning.

An October 16, 2019 ORNL news release (also on EurekAlert but published Oct. 17, 2019), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the work,

“Our goal is to develop materials and computing elements that work like biological synapses and neurons—with vast interconnectivity and flexibility—to enable autonomous systems that operate differently than current computing devices and offer new functionality and learning capabilities,” said Joseph Najem, a recent postdoctoral researcher at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and current assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State.

The novel approach uses soft materials to mimic biomembranes and simulate the way nerve cells communicate with one another.

The team designed an artificial cell membrane, formed at the interface of two lipid-coated water droplets in oil, to explore the material’s dynamic, electrophysiological properties. At applied voltages, charges build up on both sides of the membrane as stored energy, analogous to the way capacitors work in traditional electric circuits.

But unlike regular capacitors, the memcapacitor can “remember” a previously applied voltage and—literally—shape how information is processed. The synthetic membranes change surface area and thickness depending on electrical activity. These shapeshifting membranes could be tuned as adaptive filters for specific biophysical and biochemical signals.

“The novel functionality opens avenues for nondigital signal processing and machine learning modeled on nature,” said ORNL’s Pat Collier, a CNMS staff research scientist.

A distinct feature of all digital computers is the separation of processing and memory. Information is transferred back and forth from the hard drive and the central processor, creating an inherent bottleneck in the architecture no matter how small or fast the hardware can be.

Neuromorphic computing, modeled on the nervous system, employs architectures that are fundamentally different in that memory and signal processing are co-located in memory elements—memristors, memcapacitors and meminductors.

These “memelements” make up the synaptic hardware of systems that mimic natural information processing, learning and memory.

Systems designed with memelements offer advantages in scalability and low power consumption, but the real goal is to carve out an alternative path to artificial intelligence, said Collier.

Tapping into biology could enable new computing possibilities, especially in the area of “edge computing,” such as wearable and embedded technologies that are not connected to a cloud but instead make on-the-fly decisions based on sensory input and past experience.

Biological sensing has evolved over billions of years into a highly sensitive system with receptors in cell membranes that are able to pick out a single molecule of a specific odor or taste. “This is not something we can match digitally,” Collier said.

Digital computation is built around digital information, the binary language of ones and zeros coursing through electronic circuits. It can emulate the human brain, but its solid-state components do not compute sensory data the way a brain does.

“The brain computes sensory information pushed through synapses in a neural network that is reconfigurable and shaped by learning,” said Collier. “Incorporating biology—using biomembranes that sense bioelectrochemical information—is key to developing the functionality of neuromorphic computing.”

While numerous solid-state versions of memelements have been demonstrated, the team’s biomimetic elements represent new opportunities for potential “spiking” neural networks that can compute natural data in natural ways.

Spiking neural networks are intended to simulate the way neurons spike with electrical potential and, if the signal is strong enough, pass it on to their neighbors through synapses, carving out learning pathways that are pruned over time for efficiency.

A bio-inspired version with analog data processing is a distant aim. Current early-stage research focuses on developing the components of bio-circuitry.

“We started with the basics, a memristor that can weigh information via conductance to determine if a spike is strong enough to be broadcast through a network of synapses connecting neurons,” said Collier. “Our memcapacitor goes further in that it can actually store energy as an electric charge in the membrane, enabling the complex ‘integrate and fire’ activity of neurons needed to achieve dense networks capable of brain-like computation.”

The team’s next steps are to explore new biomaterials and study simple networks to achieve more complex brain-like functionalities with memelements.

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

Dynamical nonlinear memory capacitance in biomimetic membranes by Joseph S. Najem, Md Sakib Hasan, R. Stanley Williams, Ryan J. Weiss, Garrett S. Rose, Graham J. Taylor, Stephen A. Sarles & C. Patrick Collier. Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 3239 (2019) DOI: DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-11223-8 Published July 19, 2019

This paper is open access.

One final comment, you might recognize one of the authors (R. Stanley Williams) who in 2008 helped launch ‘memristor’ research.

Comfortable, bulletproof clothing for Canada’s Department of National Defence

h/t to Miriam Halpenny’s October 14, 2019 Castanet article as seen on the Vancouverisawesome website for this news about bulletproof clothing being developed for Canada’s National Department of Defence. I found a September 4, 2019 University of British Columbia Okanagan news release describing the research and the funds awarded to it,

The age-old technique of dressing in layers is a tried and tested way to protect from the elements. Now thanks to $1.5 million in new funding for UBC’s Okanagan campus, researchers are pushing the practice to new limits by creating a high-tech body armour solution with multiple layers of protection against diverse threats.

“Layers are great for regulating body heat, protecting us from inclement weather and helping us to survive in extreme conditions,” says Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative, which is supporting the network of researchers who will be working together over the next three years. “The idea is to design and integrate some of the most advanced fabrics and materials into garments that are comfortable, practical and can even stop a bullet.”

The research network working to develop these new Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivability (COMFORTS) aims to create a futuristic new body armour solution by combining an intelligent, moisture-wicking base layer that has insulating properties with a layer of lightweight, ballistic-resistant material using cross-linker technology. It will also integrate a water, dust and gas repellent outer layer and will be equipped with comfort sensors to monitor the wearer’s response to extreme conditions.

“Although the basic idea seems simple, binding all these different materials and technologies together into a smart armour solution that is durable, reliable and comfortable is incredibly complex,” says Kevin Golovin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBCO and principal investigator of the COMFORTS research network. “We’re putting into practice years of research and expertise in materials science to turn the concept into reality.”

The COMFORTS network is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria and is supported by a number of industrial partners. The network has received a $1.5M contribution agreement from the Department of National Defence through its Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, designed to support innovation in defence and security.

“The safety and security threats faced by our military are ever-changing,” says Culver. “Hazards extend beyond security threats from foreign forces to natural disasters now occurring more frequently than ever before. Almost every year we’re seeing natural disasters, forest fires and floods that put not just ordinary Canadians at risk but also the personnel that respond directly to those threats. Our goal is to better protect those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us.”

While the initial COMFORTS technologies developed will be for defence and security applications, Culver says the potential extends well beyond the military.

“Imagine a garment that could keep its users comfortable and safe as they explore the tundra of the Canadian arctic, fight a raging forest fire or respond to a corrosive chemical spill,” says Culver. “I imagine everyone from first responders to soldiers to extreme athletes being impacted by this kind of innovation in protective clothing.”

The research will be ongoing with eight projects planned over the next three years. Some of the protective materials testing will take place at UBC’s STAR Impact Research Facility (SIRF), located just north of UBC’s Okanagan campus. The ballistic and blast simulation facility is the only one of its kind in Canada—it supports research and testing of ballistic and blast-resistant armour, ceramic and other composite materials, as well as helmets and other protective gear.

“I anticipate we will see some exciting new, field-tested technologies developed within the next few years,” says Culver. “I look forward to seeing where this collaboration will lead us.”

To learn more about the COMFORTS project, visit: ok.ubc.ca/okanagan-stories/textile-tech

UBC Expert Q&A

Western Canada primed to be defense and security research hotspot

World-class vineyards and sunny lakeside resorts have long been the reputation for BC’s Okanagan Valley. That reputation has expanded with Kelowna’s growth as a tech hub, according to Professor Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Research (STAR) initiative, but core expertise in defense and security research has also been rapidly expanding since UBC launched the STAR initiative five years ago.

Culver is a professor, legal theorist, self-described convener and coach with proven expertise assembling multi-disciplinary research teams working at the vanguard of innovation. One of these teams, led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Kevin Golovin, was recently awarded a $1.5 million contract by the Department of National Defense to develop next-generation, high-performance body armour that increases the safety and comfort of Canadian soldiers.

What is UBC’s STAR initiative?

UBC STAR is a group of researchers and partners working together to solve human performance challenges. We know that solving complex problems requires a multi-disciplinary approach, so we build teams with specialized expertise from across both our campuses and other Western Canadian universities. Then we blend that expertise with the know-how and production capabilities of private and public sector partners to put solutions into practice. Above all, STAR helps university researchers and partners to work together in new, more productive ways.

You recently received considerable new funding from the Department of National Defence. Can you tell us about that research

A team of researchers from UBC, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria have established a research network to invent and test new materials for the protection of humans operating in extreme environments – in this case, soldiers doing their jobs on foot. Assistant Professor Kevin Golovin of UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering is leading the network with support from UBC STAR. The network brings together three leading Western Canadian universities to work together with industry to develop new technologies for the defence and security sector.

The network is developing several kinds of protective materials and hazard sensors for use in protective armour for soldiers and first responders. The name of the network captures its focus nicely: Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivabilty (COMFORTS). Researchers in engineering, chemistry and other disciplines are developing new textile technologies and smart armour solutions that will be rigorously tested for thermal resistance to increase soldier comfort. We’re fortunate to be working with a great group of companies ready to turn our research into solutions ready for use. We’ll help to solve the challenges facing Canadian first responders and soldiers while enabling Canadian companies to sell those solutions to international markets.

What does the safety and security landscape look like in Western Canada?

I think there’s a perception out there that this kind of research is only happening in places like Halifax, Toronto or Waterloo. Western Canadian expertise is sometimes overlooked by Ottawa and Toronto, but there’s incredible expertise and cutting-edge research happening here in the west, and we are fortunate to have a strong private sector partner community that understands safety and security problems in military contexts, and in forestry, mining and wildfire and flood response. Our understanding of hazardous environments gives us a head start in putting technologies and strategies to work safely in extreme conditions, and we’re coming to realize that our creative solutions can both help Canadians and others around the world.

Why do companies want to work with UBC STAR and its Western Canadian partners?

We have great researchers and great facilities – our blast simulator and ballistics range are second to none – but we offer much more than expertise and equipment. UBC STAR is fundamentally about making the most of collaboration. We work together with our partners to understand the nature of problems and what could contribute to a solution. We readily draw on expertise from multiple universities and firms to assemble the right team. And we know that we are in the middle of a great living lab for testing solutions –with rural and urban areas of varying sizes, climates and terrains. We’re situated in an ideal place to work through technology development, while identifying the strategies and standards needed to put innovative technology to good use.

How do you expect this sector to develop over the next decade?

I see a boom coming in this sector. In Canada, and around the world, we are witnessing a rise in natural disasters that put first responders and others at risk, and our research can help improve their safety. At the same time, we are seeing a rise in global political tensions calling for Canadian military deployment in peacekeeping and other support roles. Our military needs help protecting its members so they can do their jobs in dangerous places. And, of course, when we develop protective materials for first responders and soldiers, the same solutions can be easily adapted for use in sport and health – such as protecting children playing contact sports or our aging population from slip and fall injuries. I think I speak for everyone involved in this research when I say that it’s incredibly rewarding to see how solutions found addressing one question often have far broader benefits for Canadians in every walk of life.

To learn more about STAR, visit: star.ubc.ca

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Courtesy: UBC Okanagan

I have featured bulletproof clothing here in a November 4, 2013 posting featuring a business suit that included carbon nanotubes providing protection from bullets. Here’s where you can order one.

Call for 2020 Canadian Science Policy Conference panel submissions

I just received (via email on February 7, 2020) the call for the 2020 (or 12th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) panel submissions. After many years in Ottawa, the conference is moving a few feet over the provincial border between Ontario and Quebec into the city of Gatineau. For anyone not familiar with the Ottawa region, Gatineau is next door (from the Gatineau Wikipedia entry), Note: Links have been removed,

Gatineau (/ˈɡætɪnoʊ/; French: [ɡatino]) is a city in western Quebec, Canada. It is the fourth-largest city in the province after Montreal, Quebec City, and Laval. It is located on the northern bank of the Ottawa River, immediately across from Ottawa, Ontario, together with which it forms Canada’s National Capital Region. [emphasis mine] As of 2016, Gatineau had a population of 276,245,[6] and a metropolitan population of 332,057.[7] The Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area had a population of 1,323,783.[8]

The 2020 CSPC is being held from November 23 – 25, 2020 at the Hilton Lac-Leamy,in Gatineau, Quebec. On the plus side (I guess), you can fly to Ottawa as usual.

At a guess, the Ottawa location is the most economically advantageous choice for the Canadian Science Policy Conference but I’m sorry to see they haven’t made any attempts to organize at least one conference outside that very constrained geography in something like seven years.

Organizers have established a deadline of April 10, 2020 for submissions. Here’s more from the CSPC 2020 themes page,

CSPC 2020 Themes and Topics:

List of the themes and topics

CSPC 2020 Special theme: Grand Challenges

  • Climate Change, Net Zero Plan
  • Global Health:  Pandemics, Ageing, AMR
  • Cyber Security & Digital Transformation
  • Disruptive Technologies
  • Energy & Resources
  • Sustainable Development Goals

Science and Society

  • Science communication
  • Information/Mis-information; How science can help
  • Science and society relationship
  • Contributing to solutions – the social and human sciences
  • Science and democracy
  • A changing workplace

Science and Policy

  • Government Science
  • Policy for Emerging Technologies
  • Best practices in research and translation
  • Equity, diversity and inclusion
  • Open Science
  • Linking science to policy; new trends in EBDM
  • Modernising the science ecosystem
  • Research excellence
  • Science Policy at Muinicpal and local level
  • Big data
  • The Decade of Ocean, declared by the UN

Science, Innovation and Economic Developmennt

  • Knowledge translation/technology transfer
  • Regional innovation capacity
  • Connecting science to innovation
  • Industrial R&D and Private sector innovation
  • Transition to low carbon economy
  • New Decade: Perspectives from industry

Science and International Affairs and Security

  • Trends in international collaboration
  • Risks and uncertainties in International collaboration
  • Science diplomacy in a polarized world
  • International agencies and the deglobalized world
  • Space – managing the “international commons”

Science and the Next Generation

  • Skill Development
  • Mobilty of researchers
  • Research training – how and for what
  • Science as a career
  • Next generation of science activists

Panel organizers are requested to develop the content of their proposals with a solution-oriented approach that covers important questions such as;

Why is this a pressing issue that Canada faces today and/or over the next decade? 

How and what kind of scientific and/or traditional knowledge can help address the challenge?

How do we strengthen the Canadian institutions and policies that support the production, integration and use of knowledge in tackling this challenge?

How do we more effectively link the public, private and academic sectors in tackling this challenge?

How could the public be engaged in addressing this challenge?

How should CSPC play a role in helping to find solutions to this priority challenge?

The proposed panel needs not to answer or discuss each of these questions but encouraged to take into consideration answering a few of the above questions.    

I can’t find a link to an online submission or any other information about submitting a proposal but I have sent a query via Twitter and will hopefully be able to update this soon.

One final bit, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) organizes the annual Canadian Science Policy Conference which is also abbreviated as CSPC.

Geometry and art, an exhibition in Toronto (Canada)

I received this notice from ArtSci Salon mailing (on February 7, 2020 via email),

Geometry is Life

Robin Kingsburgh

February 5 — 16, 2020
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 8, 2 — 5 pm​

Cicada (detail), Robin Kingsburgh (Acrylic on MDF board, 36″ x 38″, 2018)

My work takes inspiration from geometry. For me the square and the circle are starting points. And ending points. The square, defined by the horizontal and the vertical: it’s all you need. The circle: a snake biting its tail; the beginning and end; the still point. Geometric archetypes. But there is no perfect circle; there is no perfect square. The beauty of Pythagoras is within our minds. Rendered by the human hand, the square becomes imperfect, and becomes a part of the human world – where imperfection reigns. The rhythm of imperfection is beauty, where order and chaos dance, and sometimes balance.

Robin Kingsburgh is a trained astronomer (Ph.D. in Astronomy, 1992, University College London). Her artistic education comes from studies at University of Toronto, as well as in the U.K. and France, and has paralleled her scientific development. She currently teaches various Natural Science courses at York University, Toronto. Her scientific background influences her artwork in an indirect, subconscious way, where she employs geometric motifs as a frequent theme. She is a member of Propeller Gallery, where she shows her artwork on a regular basis. She has recently been elected to the Ontario Society of Artists.

There you have it. Have a nice weekend!

ETA February 10, 2020: I’m sorry I forgot to include the address: Propeller Gallery, 30 Abell St Toronto. Wed-Sat 12-6pm, Sun 12-5pm

Colloidal quantum dots as ultra-sensitive hyper-spectral photodetectors

An October 16, 2019 news item on Nanowerk announces some of the latest work with colloidal quantum dots,

Researchers of the Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques Unit (OPEM) at the University of Oulu [Finland] have invented a new method of producing ultra-sensitive hyper-spectral photodetectors. At the heart of the discovery are colloidal quantum dots, developed together with the researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Quantum dots are tiny particles of 15-150 atoms of semiconducting material that have extraordinary optical and electrical properties due to quantum mechanics phenomena.

By controlling the size of the dots, the researchers are able to finetune how they react to different light colors (light wavelengths), especially those invisible for the human eye, namely the infrared spectrum.

The figure briefly introduces the concept of the study conducted by the researchers of the University of Oulu and the University of Toronto. The solution consisting of colloidal quantum dots is inkjet-printed, creating active photosensitive layer of the photodetector. Courtesy: Oulu University

An October 16, 2019 Oulu University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

-Naturally, it is very rewarding that our hard work has been recognized by the international scientific community but at the same time, this report helps us to realize that there is a long journey ahead in incoming years. This publication is especially satisfying because it is the result of collaboration with world-class experts at the University of Toronto, Canada. This international collaboration where we combined the expertise of Toronto’s researchers in synthesizing quantum dots and our expertise in printed intelligence resulted in truly unique devices with astonishing performance, says docent Rafal Sliz, a leading researcher in this project.
 
Mastered in the OPEM unit, inkjet printing technology makes possible the creation of optoelectronic devices by designing functional inks that are printed on various surfaces, for instance, flexible substrates, clothing or human skin. Inkjet printing combined with colloidal quantum dots allowed the creation of photodetectors of impresive detectivity characteristics. The developed technology is a milestone in the creation of a new type of sub-micron-thick, flexible, and inexpensive IR sensing devices, the next generation of solar cells and other novel photonic systems.

-Oulus’ engineers and scientists’ strong expertise in optoelectronics resulted in many successful Oulu-based companies like Oura, Specim, Focalspec, Spectral Engines, and many more. New optoelectronic technologies, materials, and methods developed by our researchers will help Oulu and Finland to stay at the cutting edge of innovation, says professor Tapio Fabritius, a leader of the OPEM.

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

Stable Colloidal Quantum Dot Inks Enable Inkjet-Printed High-Sensitivity Infrared Photodetectors by Rafal Sliz, Marc Lejay, James Z. Fan, Min-Jae Choi, Sachin Kinge, Sjoerd Hoogland, Tapio Fabritius, F. Pelayo García de Arquer, Edward H. Sargent. ACS Nano 2019 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.9b06125 Publication Date:September 23, 2019 Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

MXene-coated yarn for wearable electronics

There’s been a lot of talk about wearable electronics, specifically e-textiles, but nothing seems to have entered the marketplace. Scaling up your lab discoveries for industrial production can be quite problematic. From an October 10, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily,

Producing functional fabrics that perform all the functions we want, while retaining the characteristics of fabric we’re accustomed to is no easy task.

Two groups of researchers at Drexel University — one, who is leading the development of industrial functional fabric production techniques, and the other, a pioneer in the study and application of one of the strongest, most electrically conductive super materials in use today — believe they have a solution.

They’ve improved a basic element of textiles: yarn. By adding technical capabilities to the fibers that give textiles their character, fit and feel, the team has shown that it can knit new functionality into fabrics without limiting their wearability.

An October 10, 2019 Drexel University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the proposed solution (pun! as you’ll see in the video following this excerpt),

In a paper recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers, led by Yury Gogotsi, PhD, Distinguished University and Bach professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, and Genevieve Dion, an associate professor in Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of Drexel’s Center for Functional Fabrics, showed that they can create a highly conductive, durable yarn by coating standard cellulose-based yarns with a type of conductive two-dimensional material called MXene.

Hitting snags

“Current wearables utilize conventional batteries, which are bulky and uncomfortable, and can impose design limitations to the final product,” they write. “Therefore, the development of flexible, electrochemically and electromechanically active yarns, which can be engineered and knitted into full fabrics provide new and practical insights for the scalable production of textile-based devices.”

The team reported that its conductive yarn packs more conductive material into the fibers and can be knitted by a standard industrial knitting machine to produce a textile with top-notch electrical performance capabilities. This combination of ability and durability stands apart from the rest of the functional fabric field today.

Most attempts to turn textiles into wearable technology use stiff metallic fibers that alter the texture and physical behavior of the fabric. Other attempts to make conductive textiles using silver nanoparticles and graphene and other carbon materials raise environmental concerns and come up short on performance requirements. And the coating methods that are successfully able to apply enough material to a textile substrate to make it highly conductive also tend to make the yarns and fabrics too brittle to withstand normal wear and tear.

“Some of the biggest challenges in our field are developing innovative functional yarns at scale that are robust enough to be integrated into the textile manufacturing process and withstand washing,” Dion said. “We believe that demonstrating the manufacturability of any new conductive yarn during experimental stages is crucial. High electrical conductivity and electrochemical performance are important, but so are conductive yarns that can be produced by a simple and scalable process with suitable mechanical properties for textile integration. All must be taken into consideration for the successful development of the next-generation devices that can be worn like everyday garments.”

The winning combination

Dion has been a pioneer in the field of wearable technology, by drawing on her background on fashion and industrial design to produce new processes for creating fabrics with new technological capabilities. Her work has been recognized by the Department of Defense, which included Drexel, and Dion, in its Advanced Functional Fabrics of America effort to make the country a leader in the field.

She teamed with Gogotsi, who is a leading researcher in the area of two-dimensional conductive materials, to approach the challenge of making a conductive yarn that would hold up to knitting, wearing and washing.

Gogotsi’s group was part of the Drexel team that discovered highly conductive two-dimensional materials, called MXenes, in 2011 and have been exploring their exceptional properties and applications for them ever since. His group has shown that it can synthesize MXenes that mix with water to create inks and spray coatings without any additives or surfactants – a revelation that made them a natural candidate for making conductive yarn that could be used in functional fabrics. [Gogotsi’s work was featured here in a May 6, 2019 posting]

“Researchers have explored adding graphene and carbon nanotube coatings to yarn, our group has also looked at a number of carbon coatings in the past,” Gogotsi said. “But achieving the level of conductivity that we demonstrate with MXenes has not been possible until now. It is approaching the conductivity of silver nanowire-coated yarns, but the use of silver in the textile industry is severely limited due to its dissolution and harmful effect on the environment. Moreover, MXenes could be used to add electrical energy storage capability, sensing, electromagnetic interference shielding and many other useful properties to textiles.”

In its basic form, titanium carbide MXene looks like a black powder. But it is actually composed of flakes that are just a few atoms thick, which can be produced at various sizes. Larger flakes mean more surface area and greater conductivity, so the team found that it was possible to boost the performance of the yarn by infiltrating the individual fibers with smaller flakes and then coating the yarn itself with a layer of larger-flake MXene.

Putting it to the test

The team created the conductive yarns from three common, cellulose-based yarns: cotton, bamboo and linen. They applied the MXene material via dip-coating, which is a standard dyeing method, before testing them by knitting full fabrics on an industrial knitting machine – the kind used to make most of the sweaters and scarves you’ll see this fall.

Each type of yarn was knit into three different fabric swatches using three different stitch patterns – single jersey, half gauge and interlock – to ensure that they are durable enough to hold up in any textile from a tightly knit sweater to a loose-knit scarf.

“The ability to knit MXene-coated cellulose-based yarns with different stitch patterns allowed us to control the fabric properties, such as porosity and thickness for various applications,” the researchers write.

To put the new threads to the test in a technological application, the team knitted some touch-sensitive textiles – the sort that are being explored by Levi’s and Yves Saint Laurent as part of Google’s Project Jacquard.

Not only did the MXene-based conductive yarns hold up against the wear and tear of the industrial knitting machines, but the fabrics produced survived a battery of tests to prove its durability. Tugging, twisting, bending and – most importantly – washing, did not diminish the touch-sensing abilities of the yarn, the team reported – even after dozens of trips through the spin cycle.

Pushing forward

But the researchers suggest that the ultimate advantage of using MXene-coated conductive yarns to produce these special textiles is that all of the functionality can be seamlessly integrated into the textiles. So instead of having to add an external battery to power the wearable device, or wirelessly connect it to your smartphone, these energy storage devices and antennas would be made of fabric as well – an integration that, though literally seamed, is a much smoother way to incorporate the technology.

“Electrically conducting yarns are quintessential for wearable applications because they can be engineered to perform specific functions in a wide array of technologies,” they write.

Using conductive yarns also means that a wider variety of technological customization and innovations are possible via the knitting process. For example, “the performance of the knitted pressure sensor can be further improved in the future by changing the yarn type, stitch pattern, active material loading and the dielectric layer to result in higher capacitance changes,” according to the authors.

Dion’s team at the Center for Functional Fabrics is already putting this development to the test in a number of projects, including a collaboration with textile manufacturer Apex Mills – one of the leading producers of material for car seats and interiors. And Gogotsi suggests the next step for this work will be tuning the coating process to add just the right amount of conductive MXene material to the yarn for specific uses.

“With this MXene yarn, so many applications are possible,” Gogotsi said. “You can think about making car seats with it so the car knows the size and weight of the passenger to optimize safety settings; textile pressure sensors could be in sports apparel to monitor performance, or woven into carpets to help connected houses discern how many people are home – your imagination is the limit.”

Researchers have produced a video about their work,

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

Knittable and Washable Multifunctional MXene‐Coated Cellulose Yarns by Simge Uzun, Shayan Seyedin, Amy L. Stoltzfus, Ariana S. Levitt, Mohamed Alhabeb, Mark Anayee, Christina J. Strobel, Joselito M. Razal, Genevieve Dion, Yury Gogotsi. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.201905015 First published: 05 September 2019

This paper is behind a paywall.

The CRISPR yogurt story and a hornless cattle update

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) does not and never has made much sense to me. I understand each word individually it’s just that I’ve never thought they made much sense strung together that way. It’s taken years but I’ve finally found out what the words (when strung together that way) mean and the origins for the phrase. Hint: it’s all about the phages.

Apparently, it all started with yogurt as Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley of Gastropod discuss on their podcast, “4 CRISPR experts on how gene editing is changing the future of food.” During the course of the podcast they explain the ‘phraseology’ issue, mention hornless cattle (I have an update to the information in the podcast later in this posting), and so much more.

CRISPR started with yogurt

You’ll find the podcast (almost 50 minutes long) here on an Oct. 11, 2019 posting on the Genetic Literacy Project. If you need a little more encouragement, here’s how the podcast is described,

To understand how CRISPR will transform our food, we begin our episode at Dupont’s yoghurt culture facility in Madison, Wisconsin. Senior scientist Dennis Romero tells us the story of CRISPR’s accidental discovery—and its undercover but ubiquitous presence in the dairy aisles today.

Jennifer Kuzma and Yiping Qi help us understand the technology’s potential, both good and bad, as well as how it might be regulated and labeled. And Joyce Van Eck, a plant geneticist at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York, tells us the story of how she is using CRISPR, combined with her understanding of tomato genetics, to fast-track the domestication of one of the Americas’ most delicious orphan crops [groundcherries].

I featured Van Eck’s work with groundcherries last year in a November 28, 2018 posting and I don’t think she’s published any new work about the fruit since. As for Kuzma’s point that there should be more transparency where genetically modified food is concerned, Canadian consumers were surprised (shocked) in 2017 to find out that genetically modified Atlantic salmon had been introduced into the food market without any notification (my September 13, 2017 posting; scroll down to the Fish subheading; Note: The WordPress ‘updated version from Hell’ has affected some of the formatting on the page).

The earliest article on CRISPR and yogurt that I’ve found is a January 1, 2015 article by Kerry Grens for The Scientist,

Two years ago, a genome-editing tool referred to as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) burst onto the scene and swept through laboratories faster than you can say “adaptive immunity.” Bacteria and archaea evolved CRISPR eons before clever researchers harnessed the system to make very precise changes to pretty much any sequence in just about any genome.

But life scientists weren’t the first to get hip to CRISPR’s potential. For nearly a decade, cheese and yogurt makers have been relying on CRISPR to produce starter cultures that are better able to fend off bacteriophage attacks. “It’s a very efficient way to get rid of viruses for bacteria,” says Martin Kullen, the global R&D technology leader of Health and Protection at DuPont Nutrition & Health. “CRISPR’s been an important part of our solution to avoid food waste.”

Phage infection of starter cultures is a widespread and significant problem in the dairy-product business, one that’s been around as long as people have been making cheese. Patrick Derkx, senior director of innovation at Denmark-based Chr. Hansen, one of the world’s largest culture suppliers, estimates that the quality of about two percent of cheese production worldwide suffers from phage attacks. Infection can also slow the acidification of milk starter cultures, thereby reducing creameries’ capacity by up to about 10 percent, Derkx estimates.
In the early 2000s, Philippe Horvath and Rodolphe Barrangou of Danisco (later acquired by DuPont) and their colleagues were first introduced to CRISPR while sequencing Streptococcus thermophilus, a workhorse of yogurt and cheese production. Initially, says Barrangou, they had no idea of the purpose of the CRISPR sequences. But as his group sequenced different strains of the bacteria, they began to realize that CRISPR might be related to phage infection and subsequent immune defense. “That was an eye-opening moment when we first thought of the link between CRISPR sequencing content and phage resistance,” says Barrangou, who joined the faculty of North Carolina State University in 2013.

One last bit before getting to the hornless cattle, scientist Yi Li has a November 15, 2018 posting on the GLP website about his work with gene editing and food crops,

I’m a plant geneticist and one of my top priorities is developing tools to engineer woody plants such as citrus trees that can resist the greening disease, Huanglongbing (HLB), which has devastated these trees around the world. First detected in Florida in 2005, the disease has decimated the state’s US$9 billion citrus crop, leading to a 75 percent decline in its orange production in 2017. Because citrus trees take five to 10 years before they produce fruits, our new technique – which has been nominated by many editors-in-chief as one of the groundbreaking approaches of 2017 that has the potential to change the world – may accelerate the development of non-GMO citrus trees that are HLB-resistant.

Genetically modified vs. gene edited

You may wonder why the plants we create with our new DNA editing technique are not considered GMO? It’s a good question.

Genetically modified refers to plants and animals that have been altered in a way that wouldn’t have arisen naturally through evolution. A very obvious example of this involves transferring a gene from one species to another to endow the organism with a new trait – like pest resistance or drought tolerance.

But in our work, we are not cutting and pasting genes from animals or bacteria into plants. We are using genome editing technologies to introduce new plant traits by directly rewriting the plants’ genetic code.

This is faster and more precise than conventional breeding, is less controversial than GMO techniques, and can shave years or even decades off the time it takes to develop new crop varieties for farmers.

There is also another incentive to opt for using gene editing to create designer crops. On March 28, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA wouldn’t regulate new plant varieties developed with new technologies like genome editing that would yield plants indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. By contrast, a plant that includes a gene or genes from another organism, such as bacteria, is considered a GMO. This is another reason why many researchers and companies prefer using CRISPR in agriculture whenever it is possible.

As the Gatropod’casters note, there’s more than one side to the gene editing story and not everyone is comfortable with the notion of cavalierly changing genetic codes when so much is still unknown.

Hornless cattle update

First mentioned here in a November 28, 2018 posting, hornless cattle have been in the news again. From an October 7, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily,

For the past two years, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have been studying six offspring of a dairy bull, genome-edited to prevent it from growing horns. This technology has been proposed as an alternative to dehorning, a common management practice performed to protect other cattle and human handlers from injuries.

UC Davis scientists have just published their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology. They report that none of the bull’s offspring developed horns, as expected, and blood work and physical exams of the calves found they were all healthy. The researchers also sequenced the genomes of the calves and their parents and analyzed these genomic sequences, looking for any unexpected changes.

An October 7, 2019 UC Davis news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research (I have checked the UC Davis website here and the October 2019 update appears to be the latest available publicly as of February 5, 2020),

All data were shared with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Analysis by FDA scientists revealed a fragment of bacterial DNA, used to deliver the hornless trait to the bull, had integrated alongside one of the two hornless genetic variants, or alleles, that were generated by genome-editing in the bull. UC Davis researchers further validated this finding.

“Our study found that two calves inherited the naturally-occurring hornless allele and four calves additionally inherited a fragment of bacterial DNA, known as a plasmid,” said corresponding author Alison Van Eenennaam, with the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

Plasmid integration can be addressed by screening and selection, in this case, selecting the two offspring of the genome-edited hornless bull that inherited only the naturally occurring allele.

“This type of screening is routinely done in plant breeding where genome editing frequently involves a step that includes a plasmid integration,” said Van Eenennaam.

Van Eenennaam said the plasmid does not harm the animals, but the integration technically made the genome-edited bull a GMO, because it contained foreign DNA from another species, in this case a bacterial plasmid.

“We’ve demonstrated that healthy hornless calves with only the intended edit can be produced, and we provided data to help inform the process for evaluating genome-edited animals,” said Van Eenennaam. “Our data indicates the need to screen for plasmid integration when they’re used in the editing process.”

Since the original work in 2013, initiated by the Minnesota-based company Recombinetics, new methods have been developed that no longer use donor template plasmid or other extraneous DNA sequence to bring about introgression of the hornless allele.

Scientists did not observe any other unintended genomic alterations in the calves, and all animals remained healthy during the study period. Neither the bull, nor the calves, entered the food supply as per FDA guidance for genome-edited livestock.

WHY THE NEED FOR HORNLESS COWS?

Many dairy breeds naturally grow horns. But on dairy farms, the horns are typically removed, or the calves “disbudded” at a young age. Animals that don’t have horns are less likely to harm animals or dairy workers and have fewer aggressive behaviors. The dehorning process is unpleasant and has implications for animal welfare. Van Eenennaam said genome-editing offers a pain-free genetic alternative to removing horns by introducing a naturally occurring genetic variant, or allele, that is present in some breeds of beef cattle such as Angus.

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

Genomic and phenotypic analyses of six offspring of a genome-edited hornless bull by Amy E. Young, Tamer A. Mansour, Bret R. McNabb, Joseph R. Owen, Josephine F. Trott, C. Titus Brown & Alison L. Van Eenennaam. Nature Biotechnology (2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-019-0266-0 Published 07 October 2019

This paper is open access.

Trick your kidneys with sugar (molecules, that is)

A February 4, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announces research that makes it possible for kidneys to remove nanoparticles after they’ve been used in therapeutic remedies (Note: A link has been removed),

In the past decade nanomedicine has contributed to better detection and treatment of cancer. Nanoparticles are several 100 times smaller than the smallest grain of sand and can therefore easily travel in the blood stream to reach the tumor.

However, they are still too big to be removed by the kidneys. Since several doses of nanoparticles are necessary to treat a tumor, over time the nanoparticles can accumulate in the kidney and cause irreversible damage.

In a study published in the scientific journal Biomaterials (“Renal clearance of polymeric nanoparticles by mimicry of glycan surface of Viruses”), materials scientists at the University of Freiburg [Germany] led by Prof. Dr. Prasad Shastri from the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry now present a natural solution to this problem: they built nanoparticles with the carbohydrate polysaccharides, which led to the excretion of the particles.

A February 4, 2020 University of Freiberg press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

In nature viruses such as the herpes simplex virus-1 and the cytomegalovirus, which are able to pass through the kidney filtration apparatus despite their large size compared to nanoparticles. Shastri and his team identified that both viruses presents sugar molecules on their surface. Inspired by this observation, the scientists engineered nanoparticles containing polysaccharides. These carbohydrates are frequently found in the human tissue environment. Using a real-time imaging technique, which they have established in their laboratory, the team investigated in a mouse model the fate of these nanoparticles. They observed that the polysaccharide-enriched nanoparticles readily pass through the kidney and are excreted with the urine within a few hours after intravenous administration. The decisive factor for the researchers was that the nanoparticles continued to act as intended and were still able to target tumors.

“The ability to combine tumor accumulation and kidney clearance in the same nanoparticle represents a tipping point in ensuring that nanomedicines can be safely administered” says Shastri. “Our nature-inspired approach enabled us to trick the kidney environment to let nanoparticles pass through” adds Dr. Melika Sarem who was a co-author of the study.

Prasad Shastri is Professor of Biofunctional Macromolecular Chemistry at the Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry and Professor of Cell Signalling Environments in the Excellence Cluster BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies and at the University of Freiburg.

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

Renal clearance of polymeric nanoparticles by mimicry of glycan surface of viruses by Pradeep P.Wyss, Surya P.Lamichhane, Ahmed Abed, Daniel Vonwil, Oliver Kretz, Tobias B. Huber, Melika Sarema, V. Prasad Shastri. Biomaterials Volume 230, February 2020, 119643 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biomaterials.2019.119643 First published online November 23, 2019

This paper is behind a paywall.