Articles from March 2022



Ultrasound to Command Bacteria to Nuke Tumors

Scientists at Caltech have genetically engineered, sound-controlled bacteria that seek and destroy cancer cells. In a new paper appearing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the lab of Mikhail Shapiro, professor of chemical engineering and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, show how they have developed a specialized strain of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) that seeks out and infiltrates cancerous tumors when injected into a patient’s body. Once the bacteria have arrived at their destination, they can be triggered to produce anti-cancer drugs with pulses of ultrasound.

The goal of this technology is to take advantage of the ability of engineered probiotics to infiltrate tumors, while using ultrasound to activate them to release potent drugs inside the tumor,” Shapiro says.

The starting point for their work was a strain of E. coli called Nissle 1917, which is approved for medical uses in humans. After being injected into the bloodstream, these bacteria spread throughout the body. The patient’s immune system then destroys them—except for those bacteria that have colonized cancerous tumors, which offer an immunosuppressed environment.

To turn the bacteria into a useful tool for treating cancer, the team engineered them to contain two new sets of genes. One set of genes is for producing nanobodies, which are therapeutic proteins that turn off the signals a tumor uses to prevent an anti-tumor response by the immune system. The presence of these nanobodies allow the immune system to attack the tumor. The other set of genes act like a thermal switch for turning the nanobody genes on when the bacteria reaches a specific temperature.

By inserting the temperature-dependent and nanobody genes, the team was able to create strains of bacteria that only produced the tumor-suppressing nanobodies when warmed to a trigger temperature of 42–43 degrees Celsius. Since normal human body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, these strains do not begin producing their anti-tumor nanobodies when injected into a person. Instead, they quietly grow inside the tumors until an outside source heats them to their trigger temperature.

But how do you heat bacteria that are located in one specific location, potentially deep inside the body where a tumor is growing? For this, the team used focused ultrasound (FUS). FUS is similar to the ultrasound used for imaging internal organs, or a fetus growing in the womb, but has higher intensity and is focused into a tight point. Focusing the ultrasound on one spot causes the tissue in that location to heat up, but not the tissue surrounding it; by controlling the intensity of the ultrasound, the researchers were able to raise the temperature of that tissue to a specific degree.

Source: https://www.caltech.edu/

Regenerative Therapy Reverses Hearing Loss

The biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics is seeking to reverse hearing lossnot with hearing aids or implants, but with a new kind of regenerative therapy. The company uses small molecules to program progenitor cells, a descendant of stem cells in the inner ear, to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hearHair cells die off when exposed to loud noises or drugs including certain chemotherapies and antibiotics. Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea. In clinical trials, the company has already improved people’s hearing as measured by tests of speech perception—the ability to understand speech and recognize words.

Speech perception is the No. 1 goal for improving hearing and the No. 1 need we hear from patients,” says Frequency co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Chris Loose Ph.D.

In Frequency’s first clinical study, the company saw statistically significant improvements in speech perception in some participants after a single injection, with some responses lasting nearly two years. The company has dosed more than 200 patients to date and has seen clinically meaningful improvements in speech perception in three separate clinical studies, with some improvements lasting nearly two years after a single injection. Another study failed to show improvements in hearing compared to the placebo group, but the company attributes that result to flaws in the design of the trial. Now Frequency is recruiting for a 124-person trial from which preliminary results should be available early next year.

The company’s founders, including Loose, MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer, CEO David Lucchino MBA, Senior Vice President Will McLean Ph.D., and Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology affiliate faculty member Jeff Karp, are already gratified to have been able to help people improve their hearing through the clinical trials. They also believe they’re making important contributions toward solving a problem that impacts more than 40 million people in the U.S. and hundreds of millions more around the world.

Hearing is such an important sense; it connects people to their community and cultivates a sense of identity,” says Karp, who is also a professor of anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think the potential to restore hearing will have enormous impact on society.

Source: https://www.frequencytx.com/
AND
https://neurosciencenews.com/

Nano-Robots Injected into your Bloodstream to Fight Disease

What if there was a magical robot that could cure any disease? Don’t answer that. It’s a stupid question. Everyone knows there’s no one machine that could do that. But maybe a swarm made up of tens of thousands of tiny autonomous micro-bots could? That’s the premise laid out by proponents of nanobot medical technology. In science fiction, the big idea usually involves creating tiny metal robots via some sort of magic-adjacent miniaturization technology.

Luckily for us, the reality of nanobot tech is infinitely cooler. A team of researchers from Australia have developed a mind-blowing prototype that could work as a proof-of-concept for the future of medicine. Called “autonomous molecular machines,” the new nanotechnology eschews the traditional visage of microscopic metal automatons in favor of a more natural approach.

Inspired by biology, we design and synthesize a DNA origami receptor that exploits multivalent interactions to form stable complexes that are also capable of rapid subunit exchange”, explained the researchers. “DNA nanobots are synthetic nanometer-sized machines made of DNA and proteins. They’re autonomous because DNA itself is a self-assembling machine. Our natural DNA not only carries the code our biology is written in, it also knows when to execute. That’s part of the reason why, for example, your left and right feet tend to grow at roughly the same rate.”

Previous work in the field of DNA nanotechnology has demonstrated self-assembling machines capable of transferring DNA code, much like their natural counterparts. But the new tech out of Australia is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Using the DNA origami receptor to demonstrate stable interactions with rapid exchange of both DNA and protein subunits, thus highlighting the applicability of the approach to arbitrary molecular cargo, an important distinction with canonical toehold exchange between single-stranded DNA. These particular nanobots can transfer more than just DNA information. Theoretically speaking, they could deliver any conceivable combination of proteins throughout a given biological system. To put that in simpler terms: the scientists should be able to eventually program swarms of these nanobots to hunt down bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells inside of our bodies. Each member of the swarm could carry a specific protein and, when they’ve found a bad cell, they could assemble their proteins into a formation designed to eliminate the threat.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/

Burst of Ultrasound Waves Can Break up Kidney Stones in 10 minutes

A small study shows that ultrasound bursts reduce kidney stones‘ volume by 90%, according to research published this week in the Journal of Urology.

Using burst wave lithotripsy (BWL), UW Medicine urologists were able to fragment the stones in 10-minute procedures on patients who were under anesthesia. Eventually, urologists could use this procedure on conscious patients in a clinic visit, said Dr. Mathew Sorensen, a study co-author. Kidney stones are common, affecting 1 in 10 Americans at a cost of $10 billion per year to treat, the report said.  While many stones pass on their own, treatments are sometimes needed to help expel them.

Every year, more than 600 people in the throes of kidney-stone pain seek emergency care at Harborview and UW Medical Center (University of Washington)  in Seattle. Kidney stones that become stuck in the urinary tract can cause debilitating pain: The obstruction of urine flow also can result in kidney swelling and cramping and set the stage for infection or lasting damage. Many stones can be treated with a technique called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) where sound waves are used to break the stone so that the fragments would be more likely to pass. In some cases, however, ESWL only fractures the stones rather than pulverizing them, Sorensen said.  Ureteroscopy is another minimally invasive way to treat stones but often requires a temporary stent, which can be quite uncomfortable.

The ways we have to currently treat stones have some downsides,” he said. “Most involve anesthesia.”

In contrast to the shock waves used in ESWL, the BWL procedure uses “short harmonic bursts” of ultrasound energy, potentially enabling the stones to be broken up in a shorter procedure without the need for sedation or anesthesia. Pre-clinical studies supported the effectiveness of BWL in breaking experimental stones of varying size and composition, the study noted.

In this study, Sorensen and urology colleague Dr. Jonathan Harper, the study’s lead author, performed initial studies in human patients with kidney stones. The patients were undergoing ureteroscopy, which is used to treat larger stones. Before that treatment, the stones were treated with BWL for no longer than 10 minutes. Using the ureteroscope, the researchers were able to directly observe how well the ultrasound waves worked to break the stones, as well as observe any injury to the kidney tissues.

Source: https://newsroom.uw.edu/

Microplastics Found in Human Blood for First Time

Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested. The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year. Huge amounts of plastic waste are dumped in the environment and microplastics now contaminate the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People were already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water as well as breathing them in, and they have been found in the faeces of babies and adults.

The scientists analysed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults and found plastic particles in 17. Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.

Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – ​it’s a breakthrough result,” said Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.” Further studies by a number of groups are already under way, he said.

It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told the Guardian. “The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” He said previous work had shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in the faeces of babies compared with adults and that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day. “We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” he said. “That worries me a lot.”

The new research is published in the journal Environment International and adapted existing techniques to detect and analyse particles as small as 0.0007mm.

Source: https://vu.nl/
AND
https://www.theguardian.com/

Male Contraceptive Pill Found 99% Effective in Mice

A team of scientists reported they had developed an oral male contraceptive that is 99 percent effective in mice without causing side effects, and could enter human trials by the end of this year. The findings will be presented at the American Chemical Society‘s spring meeting, and mark a key step towards expanding birth control options — as well asresponsibilities — for men.

Ever since the female birth control pill was first approved in the 1960s, researchers have been interested in a male equivalent, Md Abdullah Al Noman, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who will present the work, told AFP.

Multiple studies showed that men are interested in sharing the responsibility of birth control with their partners,” he said — but until now, there have been only two effective options available: condoms or vasectomies. Vasectomy reversal surgery is expensive and not always successful.

The female pill uses hormones to disrupt the menstrual cycle, and historic efforts to develop a male equivalent targeted the male sex hormone testosterone. The problem with this approach, however, was that it caused side effects such as weight gain, depression and increased levels of a cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein, which increases heart disease risks. The female pill also carries side effects, including blood-clotting risks — but since women face becoming pregnant in the absence of contraception, the risk calculation differs.

To develop a non-hormonal drug, Noman, who works in the lab of Professor Gunda Georg, targeted a protein called “retinoic acid receptor (RAR) alpha.” Inside the body, vitamin A is converted into different forms, including retinoic acid, which plays important roles in cell growth, sperm formation, and embryo development. Retinoic acid needs to interact with RAR-alpha to perform these functions, and lab experiments have shown mice without the gene that creates RAR-alpha are sterile.

For their work, Noman and Georg developed a compound that blocks the action of RAR-alpha. They identified the best molecular structure with the help of a computer model.

“If we know what the keyhole looks like, then we can make a better key — that’s where the computational model comes in,” said Noman.

Source: https://www.france24.com/

Solar Power Station in Space

The UK government is reportedly considering a £16 billion proposal to build a solar power station in space. Space-based solar power is one of the technologies to feature in the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. It has been identified as a potential solution, alongside others, to enable the UK to achieve net zero by 2050. But how would a  in space work? What are the advantages and drawbacks to this technology?

Space-based solar power involves collecting solar energy in space and transferring it to Earth. While the idea itself is not new, recent technological advances have made this prospect more achievable.

The space-based  involves a solar power satellite—an enormous spacecraft equipped with . These panels generate electricity, which is then wirelessly transmitted to Earth through high-frequency radio waves. A ground antenna, called a rectenna, is used to convert the radio waves into electricity, which is then delivered to the .

A space-based solar power station in orbit is illuminated by the Sun 24 hours a day and could therefore generate electricity continuously. This represents an advantage over terrestrial solar power systems (systems on Earth), which can produce electricity only during the day and depend on the weather.

With  projected to increase by nearly 50% by 2050, space-based solar power could be key to helping meet the growing demand on the world’s energy sector and tackling global temperature rise.

Source: https://phys.org/

A New Blood Test Detects Alzheimer’s Dementia with 93 percent Accuracy

A blood test developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has proven highly accurate in detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a study involving nearly 500 patients from across three continents, providing further evidence that the test should be considered for routine screening and diagnosis.

Our study shows that the blood test provides a robust measure for detecting amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease, even among patients not yet experiencing cognitive declines,” said senior author Randall J. Bateman, MD,  Professor of Neurology. “A blood test for Alzheimer’s provides a huge boost for Alzheimer’s research and diagnosis, drastically cutting the time and cost of identifying patients for clinical trials and spurring the development of new treatment options,” Bateman said. “As new drugs become available, a blood test could determine who might benefit from treatment, including those at very early stages of the disease.”

Developed by Bateman and colleagues, the blood test assesses whether amyloid plaques have begun accumulating in the brain based on the ratio of the levels of the amyloid beta proteins Aβ42 and Aβ40 in the blood.

Researchers have long pursued a low-cost, easily accessible blood test for Alzheimer’s as an alternative to the expensive brain scans and invasive spinal taps now used to assess the presence and progression of the disease within the brain.

Evaluating the disease using PET brain scans – still the gold standard – requires a radioactive brain scan, at an average cost of $5,000 to $8,000 per scan. Another common test, which analyzes levels of amyloid-beta and tau protein in cerebrospinal fluid, costs about $1,000 but requires a spinal tap process that some patients may be unwilling to endure.

This study estimates that prescreening with a $500 blood test could reduce by half both the cost and the time it takes to enroll patients in clinical trials that use PET scans. Screening with blood tests alone could be completed in less than six months and cut costs by tenfold or more, the study finds.

Source: https://medicine.wustl.edu/

Medicine and Psychedelics

As mental health continues to decline, what will happen when medicine and virtual worlds come together in the Metaverse? The world is becoming more connected as cryptocurrency, blockchain, nonfungible token projects, the Metaverse and other online communities gain popularity.

However, we’re also seeing rates of depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness skyrocket. This development is certainly not causal, but it is something to consider as younger generations become more involved in virtual spaces. The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a national mental health crisis. Mental Health America reported that 47.1 million people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition..

Would you consider logging onto your computer to meet with your cryptographically certified doctor or therapist? How about receiving a prescription delivered to your door? Many young people actually feel more comfortable in a virtual setting, surrounded by peers and represented by their chosen avatar.

So how does this dream become reality? It all starts with innovation and nature. Researchers and doctors have been exploring the medicinal world of fungi and their power to heal and regenerate. Fungi have been core to this planet’s wellbeing for billions of years, and we’re just beginning to understand the psychoactive effects that certain fungi have on the human psyche.

President Richard Nixon put a halt to all research on psychedelics in 1970 when he deemed renowned psychologist and writer Timothy Leary the most dangerous man in America. He began the war on drugs and convinced society that these psychoactively medicinal fungi were the devil’s work. Scientific research into the benefits of psychedelics was set back twenty years before researchers could start back up and resume their studies. Now, psychedelics are making headlines, and the efficacy of the treatments is showing possibly the best results known to science.

Through psychedelic therapies, such as those being professionally performed in research being conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, the Center for Psychedelic Medicine in NYU Langone’s Department of Psychiatry, the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and other institutions, patients are learning how to process their trauma instead of suppressing it. With minimal doses of psychedelic medicine, recovery rates trend upwards and patients continue to get better on their own.

Source: https://cointelegraph.com

 

Engineering an “Invisible Cloak” for Bacteria to Deliver Cancer Drugs

Scientists exploring a novel but highly promising avenue of cancer treatment have developed a type of “invisibility cloak” that helps engineered bacteria sneak through the body’s immune defenses. The result is more powerful delivery of anti-cancer drugs and shrinking of tumors in mice, with the scientists hopeful the approach can overcome toxicity issues that have plagued these techniques so far.

Traditional forms of cancer treatment – radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy – each have their own strengths when it comes to combating tumors, and what’s known as therapeutic bacteria could bring its own set of skills into the mix. Bacteria itself can have powerful anti-tumor effects, but genetic engineering could allow it to take on entirely new capabilities, including releasing specific compounds or carrying potent anti-cancer drugs. There are a number of challenges in using bacteria for this purpose, however, with the issue of toxicity chief among them. Living bacteria can grow rapidly in the body, and because the body’s immune system sees them as a threat, too many can trigger an extreme inflammatory response.

In clinical trials, these toxicities have been shown to be the critical problem, limiting the amount we can dose bacteria and compromising efficacy,” said Columbia University‘s Jaeseung Hahn, who co-led the research. “Some trials had to be terminated due to severe toxicity.

Addressing this toxicity problem would mean finding (or engineering) bacteria that can evade the body’s immune system and safely make it to a tumor to fulfill their anti-cancer potential. Hahn’s team has made new inroads in this space by turning to sugar polymers called capsular polysaccharides (CAP), which naturally coat bacterial surfaces and protect them from immune attacks.

We hijacked the CAP system of a probiotic E. coli strain Nissle 1917,” said Tetsuhiro Harimoto, the study’s co-lead author. “With CAP, these bacteria can temporarily evade immune attack; without CAP, they lose their encapsulation protection and can be cleared out in the body. So we decided to try to build an effective on/off switch.”

Source: https://www.engineering.columbia.edu/