Monthly Archives: September 2019

Converting CO2 To Valuable Resources

Enzymes use cascade reactions to produce complex molecules from comparatively simple raw materials. Researchers have now copied this principle.

An international research team has used nanoparticles to convert carbon dioxide into valuable raw materials. Scientists at RUB in Germany and the University of New South Wales in Australia have adopted the principle from enzymes that produce complex molecules in multi-step reactions. The team transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. The chemists used carbon dioxide to produce ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry.

The team led by Professor Wolfgang Schuhmann from the Center for Electrochemistry in Bochum and Professor Corina Andronescu from the University of Duisburg-Essen, together with the Australian team led by Professor Justin Gooding and Professor Richard Tilley, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on 25 August 2019.

Transferring the cascade reactions of the enzymes to catalytically active nanoparticles could be a decisive step in the design of catalysts,” says Wolfgang Schuhmann.

 

Source: https://news.rub.de/

 

Mimicking Mosquito Eyes To Create Artificial Lens

Anyone who’s tried to swat a pesky mosquito knows how quickly the insects can evade a hand or fly swatter. The pests’ compound eyes, which provide a wide field of view, are largely responsible for these lightning-fast actions. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have developed compound lenses inspired by the mosquito eye that could someday find applications in autonomous vehicles, robots or medical devices.

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Compound eyes, found in most arthropods, consist of many microscopic lenses organized on a curved array. Each tiny lens captures an individual image, and the mosquito’s brain integrates all of the images to achieve peripheral vision without head or eye movement. The simplicity and multifunctionality of compound eyes make them good candidates for miniaturized vision systems, which could be used by drones or robots to rapidly image their surroundings. Joelle Frechette and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University wanted to develop a liquid manufacturing process to make compound lenses with most of the features of the mosquito eye.

To make each microlens, the researchers used a capillary microfluidic device to produce oil droplets surrounded by silica nanoparticles. Then, they organized many of these microlenses into a closely packed array around a larger oil droplet. They polymerized the structure with ultraviolet light to yield a compound lens with a viewing angle of 149 degrees, similar to that of the mosquito eye. The silica nanoparticles coating each microlens had antifogging properties, reminiscent of nanostructures on mosquito eyes that allow the insect organs to function in humid environments. The researchers could move, deform and relocate the fluid lenses, allowing them to create arrays of compound lenses with even greater viewing capabilities.

Source: https://www.acs.org/

How To Improve Your Body Movement

Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer Nan-Wei Gong went from designing sensors to search the universe for dark matter, to designing sensors to track the movement of the human body.

It’s a particle that’s really hard to find, and I didn’t find it,” Gong said of dark matter.

She’s had better luck with the human body, attracting $7.5 million to launch Figur8 at the end of August 2019. Figur8 is a startup that boasts of having the world’s most cost-effective and portable system for “accurately assessing quality of movement.”

That’s exciting news for trainers, physical therapists and physicians, all of whom have an interest in being able to quantify and assess the quality of human movement. Previously that took expensive equipment, including cumbersome cameras, to do it accurately.

But with Gong’s sensors strapped to the body, feeding data to a cloud-based mobile app, movement measurements and analytics can be taken anywhere, quickly and easily.

 

Gong developed Figur8 in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital as well as MIT’s Media Lab. The strap-on sensors produced by Figur8 do the job of much more expensive systems that were generally unavailable to anyone other than elite athletes.

 

Source: https://www.forbes.com/

How To Reverse Baldness Using Nanogenerators

Few things on earth strike fear into the hearts of men more profoundly than hair loss. But reversing baldness could someday be as easy as wearing a hat, thanks to a noninvasive, low-cost hair-growth-stimulating technology developed by engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW Madison).

I think this will be a very practical solution to hair regeneration,” says Xudong Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at UW–Madison.

Based on devices that gather energy from a body’s day-to-day motion, the hair-growth technology stimulates the skin with gentle, low-frequency electric pulses, which coax dormant follicles to reactivate hair production. The devices don’t cause hair follicles to sprout anew in smooth skin. Instead they reactivate hair-producing structures that have gone dormant. That means they could be used as an intervention for people in the early stages of pattern baldness, but they wouldn’t bestow cascading tresses to someone who has been as bald as a billiard ball for several years.

Because the devices are powered by the movement of the wearer, they don’t require a bulky battery pack or complicated electronics. In fact, they’re so low-profile that they could be discreetly worn underneath the crown of an everyday baseball cap. Wang is a world expert in the design and creation of energy-harvesting devices. He has pioneered electric bandages that stimulate wound-healing and a weight-loss implant that uses gentle electricity to trick the stomach into feeling full.

The hair-growth technology is based on a similar premise: Small devices called nanogenerators passively gather energy from day-to-day movements and then transmit low-frequency pulses of electricity to the skin. That gentle electric stimulation causes dormant follicles to “wake up.” “Electric stimulations can help many different body functions,” says Wang. “But before our work there was no really good solution for low-profile devices that provide gentle but effective stimulations.”

Wang and colleagues published a description of the technology in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: https://news.wisc.edu/

Drinking Tea May Improve Brain Health

In a recent study, Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in Singapore shares that drinking tea regularly may improve brain efficiency. It is revealed that regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions, which is associated with healthy cognitive function, as compared to non-tea drinkers.

By looking at brain imaging data of older adults, individuals who consumed either green tea, oolong tea, or black tea at least four times a week for about 25 years had brain regions that were interconnected in a more efficient way.

Take the analogy of road traffic as an example – consider brain regions as destinations, while the connections between brain regions are roads. When a road system is better organised, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses less resources. Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently,” explained Asst Prof Feng.

The results suggests that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organisation.

Previous studies have also shown that tea intake is beneficial to human health, and the positive effects include mood improvement and cardiovascular disease prevention. Another study led by Asst Prof Feng in 2017 showed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older people by 50 per cent.

Asst Prof Feng and his team plan to examine how tea and its bioactive compounds can affect cognitive decline next.

Source: http://nusmedicine.nus.edu.sg

Walking Patterns Identify Specific Dementia Type

Walking may be a key clinical tool in helping medics accurately identify the specific type of dementia a patient has, pioneering research has revealed.

Gait Lab

For the first time, scientists at Newcastle University have shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia have unique walking patterns that signal subtle differences between the two conditions. The research, published today in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, shows that people with Lewy body dementia change their walking steps more – varying step time and length – and are asymmetric when they move, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s disease. It is a first significant step towards establishing gait as a clinical biomarker for various subtypes of the disease and could lead to improved treatment plans for patients.

The way we walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia. “Correctly identifying what type of dementia someone has is important for clinicians and researchers as it allows patients to be given the most appropriate treatment for their needs as soon as possible”, says Dr Ríona McArdle, Post-Doctoral Researcher at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, who led the Alzheimer’s Society-funded research. The results from this study are exciting as they suggest that walking could be a useful tool to add to the diagnostic toolbox for dementia. It is a key development as a more accurate diagnosis means that we know that people are getting the right treatment, care and management for the dementia they have.

Current diagnosis of the two types of dementia is made through identifying different symptoms and, when required, a brain scan. For the study, researchers analysed the walk of 110 people, including 29 older adults whose cognition was intact, 36 with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 with Lewy body dementia. The participants took part in a simple walking test at the Gait Lab of the Clinical Ageing Research Unit, an NIHR-funded research initiative jointly run by Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle UniversityParticipants moved along a walkway – a mat with thousands of sensors inside – which captured their footsteps as they walked across it at their normal speed and this revealed their walking patterns.

Source: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/

Little Algae Bioreactor Removes As Much Carbon Dioxide as 4000m2 of Trees

Algae could play a surprising role in the fight against climate change. A.I.-focused technology firm Hypergiant Industries announced a machine that uses the aquatic organisms to sequester carbon dioxide. Algae, the company claims, is “one of nature’s most efficient machines.” By pairing it with a machine learning system, its developers hope to make these talents even more effective. That’s not all. The team claims the device, which measures three feet (90 centimeters) on each side and seven feet (2,1 meters) tall, can sequester as much carbon as a whole acre (4000 square meters) of trees — estimated somewhere around two tons.

We’ve been thinking about climate change solutions in only a very narrow scope,” Ben Lamm, CEO of the Austin-based firm, said. “Trees are part of the solution but there are so many other biological solutions that are useful. Algae is much more effective than trees at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, and can be used to create carbon negative fuels, plastics, textiles, food, fertilizer and much more.”
It’s not the only ambitious idea in the works at the six-division Hypergiant Industries. Its Galactic division is aiming to build a multi-planetary internet by using satellites as relays. Last month, it took the wraps off a prototype Iron Man-like helmet that could aid search and rescue teams. The company, founded last year, counts Bill Nye and astronaut Andy Allen among its advisory board members.

Hypergiant’s algae-powered bioreactor is the sort of idea that could be needed now more than ever. Despite a push to greener technologies, global annual carbon emissions rose in 2018 to hit an all-time high of 37.1 billion tonnes. That’s after two years of a relative plateau between 2014 and 2016. This has resulted in a global climate shift, where 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record. Several countries, including the United Kingdom, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Research has shown that restoring forests by an area the size of the United States could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a staggering 25 percent, reaching levels not seen for a century. While planting trees could play an important role in the pushback, alternative solutions like carbon capture and storage and new sequestering technologies could also help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Algae, Hypergiant Industries explains, needs three elements for growth: light, water, and carbon dioxide. The machine monitors factors like light, available carbon dioxide, temperature and more to maximize the amount sequestered by the algae.

One Eos Bioreactor sequesters the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as an entire acre of trees,” Lamm says. “With enough Eos devices, we could make whole cities carbon-neutral or even negative, and at a rate that is so much faster than that of trees. That’s the dream: breathable, livable cities for everyone and right now.”

When the algae consumes carbon dioxide, it produces biomass. The company has suggested that this biomass could be used in a number of applications, like making oils or cosmetics. A smart city could take the biomass and use it for fuels. The machine is small enough to fit inside office buildings, and Lamm tells FastCompany that the initial prototype it’s currently operating can attach to a building’s HVAC system to clean the air inside.

Eye Test Reveals How Likely Is A Person To Develop Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins to alter and damage the brain years — even decadesbefore symptoms appear, making early identification of AD risk paramount to slowing its progression.

In a new study published online in the September 9, 2019 issue of the Neurobiology of Aging , scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say that, with further developments, measuring how quickly a person’s pupil dilates while they are taking cognitive tests may be a low-cost, low-invasive method to aid in screening individuals at increased genetic risk for AD before cognitive decline begins.

In recent years, researchers investigating the pathology of AD have primarily directed their attention at two causative or contributory factors: the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain called amyloid-beta and tangles of a protein called tau. Both have been linked to damaging and killing neurons, resulting in progressive cognitive dysfunction.

The new study focuses on pupillary responses which are driven by the locus coeruleus (LC), a cluster of neurons in the brainstem involved in regulating arousal and also modulating cognitive function. Tau is the earliest occurring known biomarker for AD; it first appears in the LC; and it is more strongly associated with cognition than amyloid-beta. The study was led by first author William S. Kremen, PhD, and senior author Carol E. Franz, PhD, both professors of psychiatry and co-directors of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The LC drives pupillary response — the changing diameter of the eyes’ pupils — during cognitive tasks. (Pupils get bigger the more difficult the brain task.) In previously published work, the researchers had reported that adults with mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to AD, displayed greater pupil dilation and cognitive effort than cognitively normal individuals, even if both groups produced equivalent results. Critically, in the latest paper, the scientists link pupillary dilation responses with identified AD risk genes.

face of an elderly man

How quickly a person’s pupils dilate while doing mental tasks may be an indicator of increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, LC and tau and the association between pupillary response and AD polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual’s inherited AD risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer’s before symptom appear,” said Kremen.

Source: https://health.ucsd.edu/

Biomimetic Nanoparticles Used As Carriers Improve AntiCancer Drugs

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in collaboration with researchers from Åbo Akademi University (Finland) and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China) have developed a new anti-cancer nanomedicine for targeted cancer chemotherapy. This new nano-tool provides a new approach to use cell-based nanomedicines for efficient cancer chemotherapy.

Exosomes contain various molecular constituents of their cell of origin, including proteins and RNA. Now the researchers have harnessed them together with synthetic nanomaterial as carriers of anticancer drugs. The new exosome-based nanomedicines enhanced tumor accumulation, extravasation from blood vessels and penetration into deep tumor parenchyma after intravenous administration.

Exosomes

The new exosome-based nanomedicines enhanced tumor accumulation, extravasation from blood vessels and penetration into deep tumor parenchyma after intravenous administration.

This study highlights the importance of cell-based nanomedicines”, says the principal investigator and one of the corresponding authors of this study, Hélder A. Santos, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki.

Nanoparticles-based drug delivery systems have shown promising therapeutic efficacy in cancer. To increase their targetability to tumors, nanoparticles are usually functionalized with targeted antibodies, peptides or other biomolecules. However, such targeting ligands may sometimes have a negative influence on the nanoparticle delivery owing to the enhanced immune-responses.

Biomimetic nanoparticles on the other hand combine the unique functionalities of natural biomaterials, such as cells or cell membranes, and bioengineering versatility of synthetic nanoparticles, that can be used as an efficient drug delivery platform. The developed biocompatible exosome-sheathed porous silicon-based nanomedicines for targeted cancer chemotherapy resulted in augmented in vivo anticancer drug enrichment in tumor cells. “This demonstrates the potential of the exosome-biomimetic nanoparticles to act as drug carriers to improve the anticancer drug efficacy”, Santos concludes.

Source:  https://www.helsinki.fi/

RoboTaxis transported 6,299 passengers in one month

Waymo transported 6,299 passengers in self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its first month participating in a robotaxi pilot program in California, according to a quarterly report the company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

In all, the company completed 4,678 passenger trips in July — plus another 12 trips for educational purposes. It’s a noteworthy figure for an inaugural effort that pencils out to an average of 156 trips every day that month.  And it demonstrates that Waymo has the resources, staff and vehicles to operate a self-driving vehicle pilot while continuing to test its technology in multiple cities and ramp up its Waymo One ride-hailing service in Arizona. But Waymo’s data — along with quarterly reports from three other companies that hold permits with the CPUC — provides just a hint at what demand could be for commercial autonomous vehicles and how these services might reshape cities.

Waymo’s pilot program, for instance, isn’t open to the public. Waymo or Alphabet employees and their guests can take rides within its geofenced South Bay territory, which currently includes Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. This is only a few of the cities where Waymo is currently testing in California. And because companies in this pilot program cannot charge for rides, it’s difficult to determine what the demand will be for self-driving passenger services, Dr. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, noted in a recent interview.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/