Implant Generates Electricity From Excess Glucose In the Blood

A fuel cell under the skin that converts blood sugar from the body into electrical energy sounds like science fiction. Yet it works perfectly, as an ETH Zurich research team led by Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering, has shown. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. This means that patients have to obtain the hormone externally to regulate their blood sugar levels. Nowadays, this is mostly done via insulin pumps that are attached directly to the body. These devices, as well as other medical applications such as pacemakers, require a reliable energy supply, which at present is met primarily by power from either single-​use or rechargeable batteries.

Now, a team of researchers led by Martin Fussenegger from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel (Switzerland) have put a seemingly futuristic idea into practice. They have developed an implantable fuel cell that uses excess blood sugar (glucose) from tissue to generate electrical energy. The researchers have combined the fuel cell with artificial beta cells developed by their group several years ago. These produce insulin at the touch of a button and effectively lower blood glucose levels much like their natural role models in the pancreas.

“Many people, especially in the Western industrialised nations, consume more carbohydrates than they need in everyday life,” Fussenegger explains. This, he adds, leads to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “This gave us the idea of using this excess metabolic energy to produce electricity to power biomedical devices,” he says.

At the heart of the fuel cell is an anode (electrode) made of copper-​based nanoparticles, which Fussenegger’s team created specifically for this application. It consists of copper-​based nanoparticles and splits glucose into gluconic acid and a proton to generate electricity, which sets an electric circuit in motion. Wrapped in a nonwoven fabric and coated with alginate, an algae product approved for medical use, the fuel cell resembles a small tea bag that can be implanted under the skin. The alginate soaks up body fluid and allows glucose to pass from the tissue into the fuel cell within.


Marked Donor Bone Marrow Cells Attack Cancer, Not Healthy Tissue

A groundbreaking process developed by researchers from University of Missouri is offering new hope in the fight against blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia.

A pair of researchers at the School of Medicine have developed a process for marking transplanted donor bone marrow cells so that the immune cells only attack cancerous cells but not healthy tissue. One of the reasons bone marrow transplants are often a last resort for patients with blood cancers is graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a common occurrence where transplanted donor immune cells attack both malignant and healthy cells in the recipient.

Our ability to biologically label these donor immune cells so that they will attack cancerous cells in the host and then stop themselves from attacking healthy tissue offers new hope that bone marrow transplants can be safer and more effective for patients,” said co-lead researcher, Esma S. Yolcu, PhD, professor of Child Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “The stem cells in bone marrow have tremendous potential to combat autoimmune diseases, such as type-1 diabetes and blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. It is critical to solve the puzzle of GVHD to unlock the full potential of bone marrow cell transplant treatment regimens.”

Yolcu and Haval Shirwan, PhD, also a professor of Child Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, developed the ProtEx™ platform technology to generate recombinant biologics that instruct immune cells to achieve a desired treatment outcome. Engineered donor cells display on their surface instructions for the transplanted immune cells to attack only the cancerous cells and then self-destruct before attacking healthy tissue in the host, thus preventing GVHD.

This approach has significant potential as a treatment on its own or in combination with other clinical regimens to increase the efficacy of stem cell transplants,” said Shirwan. “The process of engineering the donor cells is straightforward and efficient, making it suitable for clinical translation.”

In their research to date, the ProtEx™ engineered immune cells have been effective in overcoming GVHD following transplantation in mice as well as in a humanized mouse model. Transplantation with the engineered cells was effective in preventing acute GVHD without a detectable negative impact on the recipient immune system. The concept is presently being pursued for testing in a large animal model of GVHD as a prelude to clinical translation for the treatment of hematological cancers.

Yolcu and Shirwan’s research was recently published in Blood Advances, entitled “Engineering donor lymphocytes with Fas ligand protein effectively prevents acute graft-versus-host disease. The lead authors disclosed that they have a provisional patent on using SA-FasL-engineered cells as a prophylactic approach for acute GVHD. The researchers also recently received a National Institutes of Health grant for their research at the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health Building on a treatment for type-1 diabetes that uses transplanted stem cells derived insulin producing cells to replace the need for regular insulin injections.