The Drug Masitinib Effective in Treating COVID-19

A new University of Chicago study has found that the drug masitinib may be effective in treating COVID-19. The drug, which has undergone several clinical trials for human conditions but has not yet received approval to treat humans, inhibited the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in human cell cultures and in a mouse model, leading to much lower viral loads.

Researchers at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), working with collaborators at Argonne National Laboratory and around the world, also found that the drug could be effective against many types of coronaviruses and picornaviruses. Because of the way it inhibits replication, it has also been shown to remain effective in the face of COVID-19 variants.

Inhibitors of the main protease of SARS-CoV-2, like masitinib, could be a new potential way to treat COVID patients, especially in early stages of the disease,” said Prof. Savas Tay, who led the research. “COVID-19 will likely be with us for many years, and novel coronaviruses will continue to arise. Finding existing drugs that have antiviral properties can be an essential part of treating these diseases.”

The results were published  in Science.


Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel

Catalysts speed up chemical reactions and form the backbone of many industrial processes.  For example, they are essential in transforming heavy oil into gasoline or jet fuel. Today, catalysts are involved in over 80 percent of all manufactured products.

A research team, led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration with Northern Illinois University, has discovered a new electrocatalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into ethanol with very high energy efficiency, high selectivity for the desired final product and low cost. Ethanol is a particularly desirable commodity because it is an ingredient in nearly all U.S. gasoline and is widely used as an intermediate product in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

The process resulting from our catalyst would contribute to the circular carbon economy, which entails the reuse of carbon dioxide,” said Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division and a UChicago CASE scientist. This process would do so by electrochemically converting the CO2 emitted from industrial processes, such as fossil fuel power plants or alcohol fermentation plants, into valuable commodities at reasonable cost.

The team’s catalyst consists of atomically dispersed copper on a carbon-powder support. By an electrochemical reaction, this catalyst breaks down CO2 and water molecules and selectively reassembles the broken molecules into ethanol under an external electric field. The electrocatalytic selectivity, or ​Faradaic efficiency,” of the process is over 90 percent, much higher than any other reported process. What is more, the catalyst operates stably over extended operation at low voltage.

With this research, we’ve discovered a new catalytic mechanism for converting carbon dioxide and water into ethanol,” said Tao Xu, a professor in physical chemistry and nanotechnology from Northern Illinois University. ​The mechanism should also provide a foundation for development of highly efficient electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide conversion to a vast array of value-added chemicals.


How To Prevent The Formation Of Alzheimer’s Plaques

People who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease have a specific type of plaque, made of self-assembled molecules called β-amyloid (Aβ) peptides, that build up in the brain over time. This buildup is thought to contribute to loss of neural connectivity and cell death. Researchers are studying ways to prevent the peptides from forming these dangerous plaques in order to halt development of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.

In a multidisciplinary study, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, along with collaborators from the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), have developed an approach to prevent plaque formation by engineering a nano-sized device that captures the dangerous peptides before they can self-assemble.

Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) images of Aβ peptide samples in the presence of the Aβ nanodevices (scale bar: 200 nm). The lack of grains in the image indicates the effectiveness of the nanodevice in trapping the peptides

We’ve taken building blocks from nanotechnology and biology to engineer a high-capacity cage’ that traps the peptides and clears them from the brain.” — Elena Rozhkova, scientist, Center for Nanoscale Materials

The β-amyloid peptides arise from the breakdown of an amyloid precursor protein, a normal component of brain cells,” said Rosemarie Wilton, a molecular biologist in Argonne’s Biosciences division.In a healthy brain, these discarded peptides are eliminated.”

In brains prone to the development of Alzheimer’s, however, the brain does not eliminate the peptides, leaving them to conglomerate into the destructive plaques.

The idea is that, eventually, a slurry of our nanodevices could collect the peptides as they fall away from the cells — before they get a chance to aggregate,” added Elena Rozhkova, a scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.


Metallic Hydrogen

Scientists have long speculated that at the heart of a gas giant, the laws of material physics undergo some radical changes. In these kinds of extreme pressure environments, hydrogen gas is compressed to the point that it actually becomes a metal. For years, scientists have been looking for a way to create metallic hydrogen synthetically because of the endless applications it would offer. At present, the only known way to do this is to compress hydrogen atoms using a diamond anvil until they change their state. And after decades of attempts (and 80 years since it was first theorized), a team of French scientists may have finally created metallic hydrogen in a laboratory setting. While there is plenty of skepticism, there are many in scientific community who believe this latest claim could be true. The study which described their experiment, titled Observation of a first order phase transition to metal hydrogen near 425 GPa, recently appeared on the arXiv preprint server.

The team consisted of Paul Dumas, Paul Loubeyre, and Florent Occelli, three researchers from the Division of Military applications (DAM) at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and the Synchrotron SOLEIL research facility.

As they indicate in their study, it is indisputable that “metal hydrogen should exist” thanks to the rules of quantum confinement. Specifically, they indicate that if the electrons of any material are restricted enough in their motion, what is known as the “band gap closure” will eventually take place.

In short, any insulator material (like oxygen) should be able to make become a conductive metal if it is pressurized enough. They also explain how two advances made their experiment possible. The first has to do with the diamond anvil setup they used, where the diamond tips were toroid-shaped – a torus with a hole in the middle (like a donut) – instead of flat. This allowed the team to be able to push past the previous pressure limit established by other diamond anvils (400 GPa) and get as high as 600 Gpa.

The second involved a new type of infrared spectrometer the research team designed themselves at the Synchrotron SOLEIL facility, which allowed them to measure the sample. Once their hydrogen sample had reached pressures of 425 GPa and temperatures of 80 K (-193 °C; -316 °F), they reported that it began absorbing all the infrared radiation, thereby indicated that they had “closed the band gap“.

In addition, this latest study has yet to be peer-reviewed and their experiment validated by other physicists. However, the French team and their experimental results have some powerful allies. One person is Maddury Somayazulu, an associate research professor at the Argonne National Laboratory who was not involved in this study. As he said in an interview with Gizmodo:

I think this is really a Nobel-prize worthy discovery. It always was, but this probably represents one of the cleanest and most comprehensive pieces of work on pure hydrogen.” Somayazulu also expressed that he knows the study’s lead author Paul Dumas “very well“, and that Dumas is an “incredibly careful and systematic scientist.”

Another physicist who spoke positively of this latest experiment is Alexander Goncharov, a staff scientist from the Carnegie Institute for Science’s Geophysical Laboratory.


How To Boost Batteries Conductivity And Improve Safety

Building a better lithium-ion battery involves addressing a myriad of factors simultaneously, from keeping the battery’s cathode electrically and ionically conductive to making sure that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique that can help solve these and several other potential issues with lithium-ion batteries all in one stroke.

The coating we’ve discovered really hits five or six birds with one stone.” Khalil Amine, Argonne distinguished fellow and battery scientist. In the research, Amine and his fellow researchers took particles of Argonne’s pioneering nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material and encapsulated them with a sulfur-containing polymer called PEDOT. This polymer provides the cathode a layer of protection from the battery’s electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges.

Unlike conventional coatings, which only protect the exterior surface of the micron-sized cathode particles and leave the interior vulnerable to cracking, the PEDOT coating had the ability to penetrate to the cathode particle’s interior, adding an additional layer of shielding. In addition, although PEDOT prevents the chemical interaction between the battery and the electrolyte, it does allow for the necessary transport of lithium ions and electrons that the battery requires in order to function.

This coating is essentially friendly to all of the processes and chemistry that makes the battery work and unfriendly to all of the potential reactions that would cause the battery to degrade or malfunction,” said Argonne chemist Guiliang Xu, the first author of the research.


Using Graphene, Munitions Go Further, Much Faster

Researchers from the U.S. Army and top universities discovered a new way to get more energy out of energetic materials containing aluminum, common in battlefield systems, by igniting aluminum micron powders coated with graphene oxide.

This discovery coincides with the one of the Army‘s modernization priorities: Long Range Precision Fires. This research could lead to enhanced energetic performance of metal powders as propellant/explosive ingredients in Army’s munitions.

Lauded as a miracle material, graphene is considered the strongest and lightest material in the world. It’s also the most conductive and transparent, and expensive to produce. Its applications are many, extending to electronics by enabling touchscreen laptops, for example, with light-emitting diode, or LCD, or in organic light-emitting diode, or OLED displays and medicine like DNA sequencing. By oxidizing graphite is cheaper to produce en masse. The result: graphene oxide (GO).

Scanning electron micrograph shows the Al/GO composite.

Although GO is a popular two-dimensional material that has attracted intense interest across numerous disciplines and materials applications, this discovery exploits GO as an effective light-weight additive for practical energetic applications using micron-size aluminum powders (µAl), i.e., aluminum particles one millionth of a meter in diameter.

The research team published their findings in the October edition of ACS Nano with collaboration from the RDECOM Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory (ARL), Stanford University, University of Southern California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory.