David Kirkpatrick

October 20, 2009

Are we still evolving?

Of course.

The release:

Are humans still evolving? Absolutely, says a new analysis of a long-term survey of human health

Durham, NC – Although advances in medical care have improved standards of living over time, humans aren’t entirely sheltered from the forces of natural selection, a new study shows.

“There is this idea that because medicine has been so good at reducing mortality rates, that means that natural selection is no longer operating in humans,” said Stephen Stearns of Yale University. A recent analysis by Stearns and colleagues turns this idea on its head. As part of a working group sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC, the team of researchers decided to find out if natural selection — a major driving force of evolution — is still at work in humans today. The result? Human evolution hasn’t ground to a halt. In fact, we’re likely to evolve at roughly the same rates as other living things, findings suggest.

Taking advantage of data collected as part of a 60-year study of more than 2000 North American women in the Framingham Heart Study, the researchers analyzed a handful of traits important to human health. By measuring the effects of these traits on the number of children the women had over their lifetime, the researchers were able to estimate the strength of selection and make short-term predictions about how each trait might evolve in the future. After adjusting for factors such as education and smoking, their models predict that the descendents of these women will be slightly shorter and heavier, will have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, will have their first child at a younger age, and will reach menopause later in life.

“The take-home message is that humans are currently evolving,” said Stearns. “Natural selection is still operating.”

The changes may be slow and gradual, but the predicted rates of change are no different from those observed elsewhere in nature, the researchers say. “The evolution that’s going on in the Framingham women is like average rates of evolution measured in other plants and animals,” said Stearns. “These results place humans in the medium-to-slow end of the range of rates observed for other living things,” he added. “But what that means is that humans aren’t special with respect to how fast they’re evolving. They’re kind of average.”

###

Additional authors on the study were Sean Byars of Yale University, Douglas Ewbank of the University of Pennsylvania, and Diddahally Govindaraju of Boston University.

The team’s findings were published online in the October 19th issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

CITATION: Byars, S., D. Ewbank, et al. (2009). “Natural selection in a contemporary human population.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(42). doi: 10.1073_pnas.0906199106.

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) is an NSF-funded collaborative research center operated by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University.

October 13, 2009

Health care reform one step closer …

… and officially becomes bipartisan with Olympia Snowe’s GOP vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

From the link:

The Senate Finance Committee voted on Tuesday to approve legislation that would reshape the American health care system and provide subsidies to help millions of people buy insurance, as Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, joined all 13 Democrats on the panel in support of the landmark bill.

The vote was 14 to 9, with all of the other Republicans opposed.

Democrats, including President Obama, had courted Ms. Snowe’s vote, hoping that she would break with theRepublican Party leadership and provide at least a veneer of bipartisanship to the bill, which Mr. Obama has declared his top domestic priority. Ms. Snowe was a main author of the bill but she had never committed to voting for it.

September 11, 2009

Cocaine is so 1980s

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:31 pm

Snort stem cells instead! Seriously now, this would be quite a therapeutic discovery if it turns into something medically useful.

Via KurzweilAI.net:

Snort stem cells to get them to brain

NewScientist Health, Sept. 10, 2009

Snorting stem cells might be a way of getting large numbers of stem cells or therapeutic proteins such as neural growth factor into the brain without surgery, University Hospital of Tübingen researchers have found in an experiment with mice.

Read Original Article>>

September 10, 2009

Reporting on the International Space Station

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:51 am

News from NASA hot from this morning’s inbox:

NASA Publishes Report About International Space Station Science

HOUSTON, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells, and better materials for future spacecraft are among the results published in a NASA report detailing scientific research accomplishments made aboard the International Space Station during its first eight years.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The report includes more than 100 science experiments ranging from bone studies to materials’ research.

“This report represents a record of science accomplishments during assembly and summarizes peer-reviewed publications to date,” said Julie Robinson, program scientist for the station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “As we enter the final year of station assembly, this report highlights the capabilities and opportunities for space station research after assembly is complete.”

One of the most compelling results reported is the confirmation that the ability of common germs to cause disease increases during spaceflight, but that changing the growth environment of the bacteria can control this virulence. The Effect of Spaceflight on Microbial Gene Expression and Virulence experiment identified increased virulence of space-flown Salmonella typhimurium, a leading cause of food poisoning. New research on subsequent station missions will target development of a vaccine for this widespread malady.

Another experiment produced a potential medical advance, demonstrating a new and powerful method for delivering drugs to targets in the human body. Microgravity research on the station was vital to development of miniature, liquid-filled balloons the size of blood cells that can deliver medicine directly to cancer cells. The research was conducted for the Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing System experiment.

One of the most prolific series of investigations aboard the station tests how spacecraft materials withstand the harsh space environment. The results of the Materials International Space Station Experiment already have been used to develop solar cells for future commercial station cargo ships. This experiment has significantly reduced the time needed to develop new satellite systems, such as solar cells and insulation materials, and paved the way for materials to be used in new NASA spacecraft such as the Orion crew capsule.

The report compiles experiment results collected from the first 15 station missions, or expeditions, from 2000 to 2008. Results of some of the summarized investigations are complete. Preliminary results are available from other continuing investigations.

NASA’s research activities on the station span several scientific areas, including exploration technology development; microgravity research in the physical and biological sciences; human physiology research; Earth science and education.

The report details 22 different technology demonstrations; 33 physical science experiments; 27 biological experiments; 32 experiments focused on the human body; Earth observations and educational activities. In addition to science important to long-duration human spaceflights, most findings also offer new understanding of methods or applications relevant to life on Earth.

In 2008, station laboratory space and research facilities tripled with the addition of the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s three Kibo scientific modules, adding to the capabilities already provided in NASA’s Destiny Laboratory. In 2009, the number of crew members increased from three to six, greatly increasing crew time available for research.

The stage is set for increased station scientific return when assembly and outfitting of the research facility is completed in 2010 and its full potential as a national and international laboratory is realized. Engineers and scientists from around the world are working together to refine operational relationships and build on experiences to ensure maximum use of the expanded capabilities.

The International Space Station Program Scientist Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center published the report. A link to the full NASA Technical Publication, which provides an archival record of U.S.-sponsored research through Expedition 15, is available at:

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20090029998_200903090 7.pdf

For more information about the space station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
AP Archive:  http://photoarchive.ap.org/
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

September 4, 2009

American Society for Nanomedicine holding first conference in late October

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:09 pm

Very hot from the inbox — news on the first conference from the new organiztion, the American Society for Nanomedicine:

Newly Formed American Society for Nanomedicine (ASNM) to Hold First Conference (www.amsocnanomed.org)

ASHBURN, Va., Sept. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Nanomedicine – the science and technology of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease to improve human health using nanotechnology – has the potential to revolutionize healthcare.  Current and future products range from miniaturized “smart pills” that precision-target certain cancers to nanosensors that are capable of navigating through the body for early detection of disorders.  These approaches have the ability to reduce toxicity for the patient, thereby improving efficacy and patient compliance.  The newly formed American Society for Nanomedicine (ASNM) is holding its inaugural conference on October 22-25, 2009 in the Washington D.C. area, where some of the biggest stakeholders in this emerging technology operate and practice.

This major interdisciplinary international conference is designed for physicians, scientists, policy-makers, engineers, lawyers and educators from government, academia and industry.  The conference venue is the Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland, USA (http://www.dolce-bolger-center-hotel.com/).

This four-day conference will highlight numerous cutting-edge presentations broken up into various sessions focusing on innovations in nanomedicine and applications of nanotechnology to the pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology industries.  It will feature more than forty speakers, who are among the top researchers and leaders in various facets of nanomedicine throughout the world. The areas of emphasis are clinical applications of nanotechnology enabling successful vaccine development, effective cancer therapy and novel drug delivery approaches.  In addition, issues such as ethics, safety and toxicity, patent law, intellectual property and commercialization will be addressed.  Poster sessions, an award ceremony and numerous networking opportunities are included.

About American Society for Nanomedicine

American Society for Nanomedicine (ASNM) is a professional non-profit, medical society headquartered in Ashburn, Virginia, USA.  It promotes worldwide seminal research activities in nanomedicine and explores the applications of nanotechnology in the pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology industries.  Members also discuss issues such as ethics, toxicity, patents and commercialization.  They are drawn from diverse and overlapping fields such as biotechnology, engineering, medicine, policy and law. Members enjoy numerous benefits, including reduced rates to attend ASNM conferences and discounted rates to ASNM-affiliated journals.

Conference Information/Registration: www.amsocnanomed.org

Source: American Society for Nanomedicine

Web Site:  http://www.amsocnanomed.org/

August 21, 2009

3D patterned nanostructures

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:45 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — very cool news in nanotechnlogy. Beautiful and practical, a great combination.

First 3-D Patterned Nanostructures
Technology Review, Aug. 20, 2009

3-D nanostructures with patterned surfaces for drug delivery, electronics, and other applications have been made by Johns Hopkins University chemists.

They created arrays of patterned, cross-shaped nickel structures on a silicon wafer, then added tin hinges. When placed in a plasma etching chamber, the flat structures folded up into cubes and released from the wafer. To make nanocubes as small as 100 nanometers a side, the researchers added another panel.


(ACS/Nano Letters)

 
Read Original Article>>

August 18, 2009

Study finds foreclosure leads to depression

This isn’t a topic to make light of, but a study finding people whose homes have been foreclosed on show signs of clinical depression should suprise no one.

It does point out the larger picture that the toll of this ongoing economic downturn/recession/financial crisis goes far beyond the economics.

The release:

More than 1/3 of homeowners in foreclosure suffer from major depression, Penn study shows

Findings reveal looming health crisis tied to nation’s housing woes

(PHILADELPHIA) – The nation’s home foreclosure epidemic may be taking its toll on Americans’ health as well as their wallets. Nearly half of people studied while undergoing foreclosure reported depressive symptoms, and 37 percent met screening criteria for major depression, according to new University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine research published online this week in the American Journal of Public Health. Many also reported an inability to afford prescription drugs, and skipping meals. The authors say their findings should serve as a call for policy makers to tie health interventions into their response to the nation’s ongoing housing crisis.

“The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis,” says lead author Craig E. Pollack, MD, MHS, who conducted the research while working as an internist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Penn. “We need to do more to ensure that if people lose their homes, they don’t also lose their health.”

In addition to the high number of participants reporting depression symptoms, the study of 250 Philadelphia homeowners undergoing foreclosure also shed light on other health care problems that may be spurred by difficulties keeping up with housing costs. The study participants were recruited with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley, a non-profit, U.S. Housing and Urban Development-approved mortgage counselor. The authors found that compared to a sample of residents in the general public, those in foreclosure were more likely to be uninsured (22 percent compared to 8 percent), though similar health problems were seen among both the insured and uninsured. Nearly 60 percent reported that they had skipped or delayed meals because they couldn’t afford food, and people undergoing foreclosure were also more likely to have forgone filling a prescription because of the expense during the preceding year (48 percent vs. 15 percent). The study also revealed that for 9 percent of respondents, a medical condition in their family was the primary reason for the home foreclosure, and more than a quarter of those surveyed said they had significant unpaid medical bills.

Because the financial hardships of foreclosure may lead homeowners to cut back on health care spending that they consider “discretionary” – preventive care visits, healthy foods or drugs for chronic conditions like hypertension – Pollack theorizes that the prolonged period of time that most homeowners spend in foreclosure could have a serious effect on health outcomes. In addition, the stress of undergoing foreclosure may exacerbate health-undermining behaviors. Among the participants who smoke, for instance, 65 percent said they had been smoking more since they received notice of foreclosure.

The “exceptionally high” rate of depressive symptoms found in the study is especially concerning, Pollack says, compared to previous research showing that only about 12.8 percent of people living in poverty meet criteria for major depressive disorder.

“When people purchase homes, they are buying a piece of the American Dream,” says co-author Julia Lynch, PhD, the Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences in Penn’s department of political science. “Losing a home can be especially devastating because it means the loss of this dream. When this happens, there is reason to worry not only about the health of the home owner but also that of family members and the broader community they live in.”

The authors say that the data collected in Philadelphia may be only the tip of the iceberg when compared to other cities that have experienced a sharp spike in housing foreclosures. Although foreclosure filings nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008 in Philadelphia, other large cities have higher unemployment and foreclosure rates.

To combat the health problems revealed in the study, Pollack and Lynch suggest that health care workers and mortgage counseling agencies coordinate their efforts to help people at risk of foreclosure access both medical and housing help. Doctors, they suggest, should ask their patients about their housing situation and steer them towards mortgage relief resources. Mortgage counselors, meanwhile, can provide information about how to access safety net health care, enroll in public insurance programs like SCHIP or Medicaid, or apply for nutritional assistance programs for pregnant and nursing mothers and their children. The implications for policy, too, are vast.

“This study raises the stakes of the housing crisis,” Pollack says. “The policy push to get people into mortgage counseling should be combined with health outreach in order to fully help people during this tremendously difficult period in their lives.”

 

###

 

PENN Medicine is a $3.6 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn’s School of Medicine is currently ranked #3 in the nation in U.S.News & World Report’s survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to the National Institutes of Health, received over $366 million in NIH grants (excluding contracts) in the 2008 fiscal year. Supporting 1,700 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) includes its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation’s top ten “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S.News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, named one of the nation’s “100 Top Hospitals” for cardiovascular care by Thomson Reuters. In addition UPHS includes a primary-care provider network; a faculty practice plan; home care, hospice, and nursing home; three multispecialty satellite facilities; as well as the Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse campus, which offers comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation facilities and outpatient services in multiple specialties.

July 31, 2009

More science fiction becoming science fact

Via KurzweilAI.net — This time technology heading toward Fantastic Voyage territory. I’ll have to admit thing looks a bit large to be roaming free inside of anyone just yet. I think I’ll wait more more nanoscale-sized devices.

Robot Can Crawl Through Human Body
KurzweilAI.net, July 31, 2009

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers have created a prototype micro robot that can crawl through the human body.

It is only a millimeter in diameter and 14 millimeters long, so it can get into the body’s smallest areas. It is powered by either actuation through magnetic force located outside the body, or through an on-board actuation system. Made of silicone and metal, it can be made completely biocompatible, so it could remain in the body much as a stent placed in arteries does.

In the future, they hope the robot will be able to travel through a blood vessel, the digestive tract or the lungs, delivering targeted medicines to specific locations, clearing blockages, performing biopsies, or placed inside a shunt to drain body fluids from clogged areas.

Source: American Technion Society news release

July 9, 2009

Testing graphene for potential applications

Graphene is proving to be one of the most, if not the most, exciting nanotech discovery of the last few years. The material has a lot of promise in terms of applications in medicine, electronics and who know what else.

Here’s some measurement and testing on putting the nanomaterial to actual use in the market.

The release:

Material world: graphene’s versatility promises new applications

July 09, 2009

Since its discovery just a few years ago, graphene has climbed to the top of the heap of new super-materials poised to transform the electronics and nanotechnology landscape. As N.J. Tao, a researcher at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University explains, this two-dimensional honeycomb structure of carbon atoms is exceptionally strong and versatile. Its unusual properties make it ideal for applications that are pushing the existing limits of microchips, chemical sensing instruments, biosensors, ultracapacitance devices, flexible displays and other innovations.

In the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology Letters, Tao describes the first direct measurement of a fundamental property of graphene, known as quantum capacitance, using an electrochemical gate method. A better understanding of this crucial variable should prove invaluable to other investigators participating in what amounts to a gold rush of graphene research.

Although theoretical work on single atomic layer graphene-like structures has been going on for decades, the discovery of real graphene came as a shock.  “When they found it was a stable material at room temperature,” Tao says,  “everyone was surprised.” As it happens, minute traces of graphene are shed whenever a pencil line is drawn, though producing a 2-D sheet of the material has proven trickier.  Graphene is remarkable in terms of thinness and resiliency. A one-atom thick graphene sheet sufficient in size to cover a football field, would weigh less than a gram. It is also the strongest material in nature—roughly 200 times the strength of steel. Most of the excitement however, has to do with the unusual electronic properties of the material.

Graphene displays outstanding electron transport, permitting electricity to flow rapidly and more or less unimpeded through the material. In fact, electrons have been shown to behave as massless particles similar to photons, zipping across a graphene layer without scattering. This property is critical for many device applications and has prompted speculation that graphene could eventually supplant silicon as the substance of choice for computer chips, offering the prospect of ultrafast computers operating at terahertz speeds, rocketing past current gigahertz chip technology. Yet, despite encouraging progress, a thorough understanding of graphene’s electronic properties has remained elusive. Tao stresses that quantum capacitance measurements are an essential part of this understanding.

Capacitance is a material’s ability to store energy. In classical physics, capacitance is limited by the repulsion of like electrical charges, for example, electrons. The more charge you put into a device, the more energy you have to expend to contain it, in order to overcome charge repulsion. However, another kind of capacitance exists, and dominates overall capacitance in a two-dimensional material like graphene. This quantum capacitance is the result of the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that two fermions—a class of common particles including protons, neutrons and electrons—cannot occupy the same location at the same time. Once a quantum state is filled, subsequent fermions are forced to occupy successively higher energy states. As Tao explains, “it’s just like in a building, where people are forced to go to the second floor once the first level is occupied.”

In the current study, two electrodes were attached to graphene, and a voltage applied across the material’s two-dimensional surface by means of a third, gate electrode. Plots of voltage vs. capacitance can be seen in fig1. In Tao’s experiments, graphene’s ability to store charge according to the laws of quantum capacitance, were subjected to detailed measurement. The results show that graphene’s capacitance is very small. Further, the quantum capacitance of graphene did not precisely duplicate theoretical predictions for the behavior of ideal graphene. This is due to the fact that charged impurities occur in experimental samples of graphene, which alter the behavior relative to what is expected according to theory.

Tao stresses the importance of these charged impurities and what they may mean for the development of graphene devices. Such impurities were already known to affect electron mobility in graphene, though their effect on quantum capacitance has only now been revealed. Low capacitance is particularly desirable for chemical sensing devices and biosensors as it produces a lower signal-to-noise ratio, providing for extremely fine-tuned resolution of chemical or biological agents. Improvements to graphene will allow its electrical behavior to more closely approximate theory. This can be accomplished by adding counter ions to balance the charges resulting from impurities, thereby further lowering capacitance.  

The sensitivity of graphene’s single atomic layer geometry and low capacitance promise a significant boost for biosensor applications. Such applications are a central topic of interest for Tao, who directs the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors. As Tao explains, any biological substance that interacts with graphene’s single atom surface layer can be detected, causing a huge change in the properties of the electrons.

One possible biosensor application under consideration would involve functionalizing graphene’s surface with antibodies, in order to precisely study their interaction with specific antigens. Such graphene-based biosensors could detect individual binding events, given a suitable sample.  For other applications, adding impurities to graphene could raise overall interfacial capacitance. Ultracapacitors made of graphene composites would be capable of storing much larger amounts of renewable energy from solar, wind or wave energy than current technologies permit.

Because of graphene’s planar geometry, it may be more compatible with conventional electronic devices than other materials, including the much-vaunted carbon nanotubes. “You can imagine an atomic sheet, cut into different shapes to create different device properties,” Tao says.

Since the discovery of graphene, the hunt has been on for similar two-dimensional crystal lattices, though so far, graphene remains a precious oddity.

 Advanced Online Publication: http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nnano.2009.177.html

 -Written by Richard Harth
Science Writer
Biodesign Institute

Paying for health care reform

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:16 pm

Make no mistake about it, the Obama White House will accomplish some measure of health care reform. There are simply too many of the major players sitting at the table and willing to deal for nothing to make it to Congress. The big two health care questions are: how much service and how will the bill get paid?

Looks like in the early go the paying-for-it part is already a little sticky.

From the link:

Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said repeatedly that health reform would be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Baucus and others have made some progress through savings in Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.

On Wednesday, for instance, Vice President Biden said hospitals would reduce costs by $155 billion over 10 years. But nothing is final until that deal between the White House and business — and a similar one reached with drugmakers last month — is written into legislation.

And on the revenue side of the equation, there is still no apparent consensus.

This much is certain: Lawmakers must find ways to raise a lot of money.

July 7, 2009

Ray Kurzweil on beating aging

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:05 am

Guest blogging at Technology Review, futurist Ray Kurzweil writes about combating the aging process.

From the link:

Entropy is not the most fruitful perspective from which to view aging. There are varying error rates in biological information processes depending on the cell type and this is part of biology’s paradigm. We have means already of determining error-free DNA sequences even though specific cells will contain DNA errors, and we will be in a position to correct those errors that matter.

The most important perspective in my view is that health, medicine, and biology is now an information technology whereas it used to be hit or miss. We not only have the (outdated) software that biology runs on (our genome) but we have the means of changing that software (our genes) in a mature individual with such technologies as RNA interference and new forms of gene therapy that do not trigger the immune system (I am a collaborator with a company that performs gene therapy outside the body, replicates the modified cell a million fold and reintroduces the cells to the body, a process that has cured a fatal disease–Pulmonary Hypertension–and is undergoing human trials).

July 3, 2009

Stem cell news — differences and ethics

Two releases from yesterday on stem cells. Number one is on the found differences between reprogrammed skin cells and embryonic stem cells. Second is a call for stem cell debates by bioethicists before the science gets too far ahead of ethical considerations.

The first release:

UCLA scientists find molecular differences between embryonic stem cells and reprogrammed skin cells

UCLA researchers have found that embryonic stem cells and skin cells reprogrammed into embryonic-like cells have inherent molecular differences, demonstrating for the first time that the two cell types are clearly distinguishable from one another.

The data from the study suggest that embryonic stem cells and the reprogrammed cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, have overlapping but still distinct gene expression signatures. The differing signatures were evident regardless of where the cell lines were generated, the methods by which they were derived or the species from which they were isolated, said Bill Lowry, a researcher with the Broad Stem Cell Research Center and a study author.

“We need to keep in mind that iPS cells are not perfectly similar to embryonic stem cells,” said Lowry, an assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology. “We’re not sure what this means with regard to the biology of pluripotent stem cells. At this point our analyses comprise just an observation. It could be biologically irrelevant, or it could be manifested as an advantage or a disadvantage.”

The study appears in the July 2, 2009 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The iPS cells, like embryonic stem cells, have the potential to become all of the tissues in the body. However, iPS cells don’t require the destruction of an embryo.

The study was a collaboration between the labs of Lowry and UCLA researcher Kathrin Plath, who were among the first scientists and the first in California to reprogram human skin cells into iPS cells. The researchers performed microarray gene expression profiles on embryonic stem cells and iPS cells to measure the expression of thousands of genes at once, creating a global picture of cellular function.

Lowry and Plath noted that, when the molecular signatures were compared, it was clear that certain genes were expressed differently in embryonic stem cells than they were in iPS cells. They then compared their data to that stored on a National Institutes of Health data base, submitted by laboratories worldwide. They analyzed that data to see if the genetic profiling conducted in other labs validated their findings, and again they found overlapping but distinct differences in gene expression, Lowry said.

“This suggested to us that there could be something biologically relevant causing the distinct differences to arise in multiple labs in different experiments,” Lowry said. “That answered our first question: Would the same observation be made with cell lines created and maintained in other laboratories?”

Next, UCLA researchers wanted to confirm their findings in iPS cell lines created using the latest derivation methods. The cells from the UCLA labs were derived using an older method that used integrative viruses to insert four genes into the genome of the skin cells, including some genes known to cause cancer. They analyzed cell lines derived with newer methods that do not require integration of the reprogramming factors. Their analysis again showed different molecular signatures between iPS cells and their embryo-derived counterparts, and these signatures showed a significant degree of overlap with those generated with integrative methods.

To determine if this was a phenomenon limited to human embryonic stem cells, Lowry and Plath analyzed mouse embryonic stem cells and iPS lines derived from mouse skin cells and again validated their findings. They also analyzed iPS cell lines made from mouse blood cells with the same result

“We can’t explain this, but it appears something is different about iPS cells and embryonic stem cells,” Lowry said. “And the differences are there, no matter whose lab the cells come from, whether they’re human or mouse cells or the method used to derive the iPS cells. Perhaps most importantly, many of these differences are shared amongst lines made in various ways.”

Going forward, UCLA researchers will conduct more sophisticated analyses on the genes being expressed differently in the two cell types and try to understand what is causing that differential expression. They also plan to differentiate the iPS cells into various lineages to determine if the molecular signature is carried through to the mature cells. In their current study, Lowry and Plath did not look at differentiated cells, only the iPS and embryonic stem cells themselves.

Further study is crucial, said Mark Chin, a postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study.

“It will be important to further examine these cells lines in a careful and systematic manner, as has been done with other stem cell lines, if we are to understand the role they can play in clinical therapies and what effect the observed differences have on these cells,” he said.

 

###

 

The stem cell center was launched in 2005 with a UCLA commitment of $20 million over five years. A $20 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 2007 resulted in the renaming of the center. With more than 150 members, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research is committed to a multi-disciplinary, integrated collaboration of scientific, academic and medical disciplines for the purpose of understanding adult and human embryonic stem cells. The center supports innovation, excellence and the highest ethical standards focused on stem cell research with the intent of facilitating basic scientific inquiry directed towards future clinical applications to treat disease. The center is a collaboration of the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the UCLA College of Letters and Science. To learn more about the center, visit our web site at http://www.stemcell.ucla.edu.

Head below the fold for the second release on a call for an ethics debate on stem cells. (more…)

July 2, 2009

Small business and health care reform

Here’s two stories on Main Street and the health care debate.

First up is entrepreneurship and opposition to public plan health care:

The so-called “public option,” backed by President Obama and many Congressional Democrats, would set up a government-backed health insurance plan that would compete with private plans. Though details remain fuzzy, the proposal already has critics on both sides of the aisle decrying “government-run health care.” The American Medical Association and private insurers oppose any public option.

Also resisting is the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s largest and most influential small business group. A fierce critic of the Clinton administration’s health care reform efforts a decade ago, the NFIB now considers universal health care to be one of its top legislative priorities. But it wants to see that care and coverage come from the private sector.

“Our members, who are entrepreneurs and risk takers, really do fundamentally at the end of the day want lower costs and competition, but they are going to be very skeptical of something that has a lot of government involvement,” says Michelle Dimarob, the federation’s legislative policy manager. The NFIB is instead pushing for a reform plan that would provide universal coverage and cut costs by increasing competition among private insurers, likely through the creation of government-mediated insurance pools.

And batting second is a NYT blog post underscoring a range of small biz attitudes toward the debate:

Oddly, the public plan is also one of the battle lines for organizations that claim to represent small business. The National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce staunchly oppose a public plan; the Small Business Majority appears (pdf) to support it; while the National Small Business Association insists that if there is a public plan, it should be constrained by the same rules as private insurance.

 The legislators who will decide the issue are the handful of moderates in both parties. The conventional wisdom is that the House will pass the public plan, and its fate will rest in the hands of maybe 10 senators. But it may prove a battle in the House, too: The conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition supports only a drastically curtailed (pdf) government option, and its 49 members could tip the balance. So the question is, how will these moderates vote in the end?

June 30, 2009

Percocet and Vicodin staring at ban

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:21 pm

Looks like two favorite painkillers may be off the market soon. This is a tough week for the maker of Vicodin, Abbott Laboratories, since the pharmaceutical company just got hit with a $1.67 billion jury verdict.

From the first link:

A federal advisory panel voted narrowly on Tuesday to recommend a ban on Percocet and Vicodin, two of the most popular prescription painkillers in the world, because of their effects on the liver.The two drugs combine a narcotic with acetaminophen, the ingredient found in popular over-the-counter products like Tylenol and Excedrin. High doses of acetaminophen are a leading cause of liver damage, and the panel noted that patients who take Percocet and Vicodin for long periods often need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect.

Acetaminophen is combined with different narcotics in at least seven other prescription drugs, and all of these combination pills will be banned if the Food and Drug Administrationheeds the advice of its experts. Vicodin and its generic equivalents alone are prescribed more than 100 million times a year in the United States.

Laureen Cassidy, a spokeswoman for Abbott Laboratories, which makes Vicodin, said, “The F.D.A. will make a final determination and Abbott will follow the agency’s guidance.”

The agency is not required to follow the recommendations of its advisory panels, but it usually does.

June 26, 2009

Nanotech v. medical implant infection

Nanotechnology is proving to have many very useful medical applications.

The release from today:

Implant bacteria, beware: Researchers create nano-sized assassins

IMAGE: Erik Taylor is a graduate student in engineering at Brown University.

Click here for more information. 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Staphylococcus epidermidis is quite an opportunist. Commonly found on human skin, the bacteria pose little danger. But S. epidermidis is a leading cause of infections in hospitals. From catheters to prosthetics, the bacteria are known to hitch a ride on a range of medical devices implanted into patients.

Inside the body, the bacteria multiply on the implant’s surface and then build a slimy, protective film to shield the colony from antibiotics. According to a study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, up to 2.5 percent of hip and knee implants alone in the United States become infected, affecting thousands of patients, sometimes fatally.

More ominously, there is no effective antidote for infected implants. The only way to get rid of the bacteria is to remove the implant. “There is no [easy] solution,” said Thomas Webster, a biomedical engineer at Brown University.

IMAGE: Thomas Webster is an associate professor in engineering and orthopedics at Brown University.

Click here for more information. 

Now, Webster and Brown graduate student Erik Taylor have created a nano-sized headhunter that zeroes in on the implant, penetrates S. epidermidis‘s defensive wall and kills the bacteria. The finding, published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine, is the first time iron-oxide nanoparticles have been shown to eliminate a bacterial infection on an implanted prosthetic device.

In lab tests, Taylor, the lead author, and Webster, associate professor of engineering and orthopaedics, noted that up to 28 percent of the bacteria on an implant had been eliminated after 48 hours by injecting 10 micrograms of the nanoparticle agents. The same dosage repeated three times over six days destroyed essentially all the bacteria, the experiments showed.

The tests show “there will be a continual killing of the bacteria until the film is gone,” said Webster, who is editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal in which the paper appears.

A surprising added benefit, the scientists learned, is the nanoparticles’ magnetic properties appear to promote natural bone cell growth on the implant’s surface, although this observation needs to be tested further.

IMAGE: Iron-oxide nanoparticles developed at Brown University target an infected prosthesis, penetrate a bacterial film on the implant’s surface and thwart the colony by killing the bacteria. The nanoparticles also are…

Click here for more information. 

To carry out the study, the researchers created iron-oxide particles (they call them “superparamagnetic”) with an average diameter of eight nanometers. They chose iron oxide because the metallic properties mean the particles can be guided by a magnetic field to the implant, while its journey can be tracked using a simple magnetic technique, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Moreover, previous experiments showed that iron seemed to cause S. epidermidis to die, although researchers are unsure why. (Webster said it may be due to iron overload in the bacteria’s cell.)

Once the nanoparticles arrive at the implant, they begin to penetrate the bacterial shield. The researchers are studying why this happens, but they believe it’s due to magnetic horsepower. In the tests, the researchers positioned a magnet below the implant, producing a strong enough field to force the nanoparticles above to filter through the film and proceed to the implant, Webster explained.

The particles then penetrate the bacterial cells because of their super-small size. A micron-sized particle, a thousand times larger than a nanoparticle, would be too large to penetrate the bacterial cell wall.

 

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The researchers plan to test the iron-oxide nanoparticles on other bacteria and then move on to evaluating the results on implants in animals. The research was funded by the private Hermann Foundation Inc. In addition, Taylor’s tuition and stipend are funded through the National Science Foundation GK-12 program.

June 5, 2009

Nanotech testing heart disease

Release number three in the dump, this covers a medical application of nanotech.

The release:

Researchers test nanoparticle to treat cardiovascular disease in mice

IMAGE: This is an image of a multifunctional micelle designed by research team.

Click here for more information. 

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– Scientists and engineers at UC Santa Barbara and other researchers have developed a nanoparticle that can attack plaque –– a major cause of cardiovascular disease. The new development is described in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The treatment is promising for the eventual development of therapies for cardiovascular disease, which is blamed for one third of the deaths in the United States each year. Atherosclerosis, which was the focus of this study, is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. In atherosclerosis, plaque builds up on the walls of arteries and can cause heart attack and stroke.

IMAGE: Matthew Tirrell is a researcher at University of California – Santa Barbara.

Click here for more information. 

“The purpose of our grant is to develop targeted nanoparticles that specifically detect atherosclerotic plaques,” said Erkki Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We now have at least one peptide, described in the paper, that is capable of directing nanoparticles to the plaques.”

The nanoparticles in this study are lipid-based collections of molecules that form a sphere called a micelle. The micelle has a peptide, a piece of protein, on its surface, and that peptide binds to the surface of the plaque.

Co-author Matthew Tirrell, The Richard A. Auhll Professor and dean of UCSB’s College of Engineering, specializes in lipid-based micelles. “This turned out to be a perfect fit with our targeting technology,” said Ruoslahti.

To accomplish the research, the team induced atherosclerotic plaques in mice by keeping them on a high-fat diet. They then intravenously injected these mice with the micelles, which were allowed to circulate for three hours.

IMAGE: Erkki Ruoslahti is a researcher at University of California – Santa Barbara.

Click here for more information. 

“One important element in what we did was to see if we could target not just plaques, but the plaques that are most vulnerable to rupture,” said Ruoslahti. “It did seem that we were indeed preferentially targeting those places in the plaques that are prone to rupture.”

The plaques tend to rupture at the “shoulder,” where the plaque tissue meets the normal tissue. “That’s also a place where the capsule on the plaque is the thinnest,” said Ruoslahti. “So by those criteria, we seem to be targeting the right places.”

Tirrell added:”We think that self-assembled micelles (of peptide amphiphiles) of the sort we have used in this work are the most versatile, flexible nanoparticles for delivering diagnostic and therapeutic biofunctionality in vivo. The ease with which small particles, with sufficiently long circulation times and carrying peptides that target and treat pathological tissue, can be constructed by self-assembly is an important advantage.”

Ruoslahti said that UCSB’s strength in the areas of materials, chemistry, and bioengineering facilitated this research. He noted that he and Tirrell have been close collaborators.

 

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The work was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to Ruoslahti and Tirrell, the article, “Targeting Atherosclerosis Using Modular, Multifunctional Micelles,” was authored by David Peters of the Burnham Institute at UCSB and the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Group at UC San Diego; Mark Kastantin of UCSB’s Department of Chemical Engineering; Venkata Ramana Kotamraju of the Burnham Institute at UCSB; Priya P. Karmali of the Cancer Research Center, Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla; and Kunal Gujraty of the Burnham Institute at UCSB.

June 4, 2009

Looking into cells with nanotech

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:49 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Just wow.

Revolutionary Ultrasonic Nanotechnology May Allow Scientists To See Inside Patient’s Individual Cells
Science Daily, June 3, 2009

Nanoscale GHz-range ultrasonic technology that could allow scientists to see inside a patient’s individual cells to help diagnose serious illnesses is being developed by researchers at The University of Nottingham.

The new technology may also allow scientists to see objects even smaller than optical microscopes and be so sensitive they may be able to measure single molecules.

 
Read Original Article>>

June 2, 2009

Nantotech may end injections

Scared of needles? Nanotech may come to your salvation someday. Scientists at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland are working on a vaccine patch using nanotech in lieu of the traditional injected vaccination.

I’m no fan of being stabbed so this sounds like a pretty cool utilization of medical nanotechnology.

From the link:

The end of deep, painful vaccine injections is in sight. One of the first widespread applications of nanotechnology in medicine could be a painless, needle-free vaccine “nanopatch” being developed by Australian scientists.

It also promises to bring much-needed protection against deadly diseases to people in remote areas where there is a lack of refrigeration or disposable syringes for traditional vaccines. A nanopatch could be sent by post.

It will still pierce the skin. The centimetre-square silicon device has thousands of ultra-sharp microscopic spikes coated with dried vaccine. When applied lightly, it would cause no pain because it penetrates less than a hair’s thickness below the surface.

This may not sound far, but it is another of the nanopatch’s benefits, says Professor Peter Gray, the director of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland.

The tiny spikes deliver vaccine close to where immune cells, known as dendritic cells, are found. Hypodermic injections, on the other hand, inject most of the vaccine too deep to activate these disease-fighters, making the vaccine less effective.

April 23, 2009

Medical wii?

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:43 pm

Looks like it. The wii is a very cool console platform and I wouldn’t be surprised if more applications beyond gaming are explored.

The release:

For Release: April 23, 2009


Popular Gaming System May Offer Radiologists an Alternative Way to View Patient Images

The popular Wii gaming remote may offer radiologists a fun, alternative method to using a standard mouse and keyboard to navigate through patient images, according to a study performed at the New-York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, NY. The remote may also offer radiologists relief from repetitive motion injuries as a result of using a mouse and keyboard.

“We have developed a new fun and exciting way for radiologists to navigate through patient images using hand movements instead of basic keyboard and mouse clicks,” said Cliff Yeh, MD, Matthew Amans, MD, and George Shih, MD, lead authors of the study. “The device from the Nintendo Wii gaming system has both an infrared sensor and an accelerometer, which when used together, can allow for flexible ways to interact with radiology images,” they said.

“All the basic features that a radiologist routinely requires can be performed using the hand held device. For this study, new software for viewing radiology images which interfaces with the Wii remote was developed in conjunction with computer scientists Lu Zheng and Michael Brown, PhD, both from the National University of Singapore, in Singapore and both co-authors of the study,” according to Drs. Yeh, Amans and Shih.

“The traditional keyboard mouse user interface limits the way a radiologist can interpret images and manage an ever increasing workload. The Wii remote may alleviate those limitations. In addition repetitive motion injuries may be mitigated by altering usage between a device like the Wii remote and the traditional mouse because they use different sets of muscles. Small movements can manipulate the image on the screen and buttons can change windows and move between different series’. It is a lot more flexible than just a simple mouse,” they said.

“The Wii remote along with the software the authors developed is currently just a prototype and is not FDA approved for clinical use. We are constantly updating the software,” said Dr. Shih, senior author of the study. “We can only hope that in the next twenty years the mouse and keyboard will be replaced by something like the Wii remote,” said Drs. Yeh, Amans and Shih.

This study will be presented at the 2009 ARRS Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, on Monday, April 27. For a copy of the full study, please contact Heather Curry via email at hcurry@arrs.org.

About ARRS

The American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS) was founded in 1900 and is the oldest radiology society in the United States. Its monthly journal, the American Journal of Roentgenology, began publication in 1906. Radiologists from all over the world attend the ARRS annual meeting to participate in instructional courses, scientific paper presentations and scientific and commercial exhibits related to the field of radiology. The Society is named after the first Nobel Laureate in Physics, Wilhelm Röentgen, who discovered the x-ray in 1895. ###

March 18, 2009

Printing “stitches”

Very interesting medical breakthrough to improve sealing wounds.

The release:

Shellfish and inkjet printers may hold key to faster healing from surgeries

Using the natural glue that marine mussels use to stick to rocks, and a variation on the inkjet printer, a team of researchers led by North Carolina State University has devised a new way of making medical adhesives that could replace traditional sutures and result in less scarring, faster recovery times and increased precision for exacting operations such as eye surgery.

Traditionally, there have been two ways to join tissue together in the wake of a surgery: sutures and synthetic adhesives. Sutures work well, but require enormous skill and longer operating times. Additionally, the use of sutures is associated with a number of surgical complications, including discomfort, infection and inflammation. Synthetic adhesives are also widely used, but they are the source of increasing concerns over their toxicological and environmental effects. One such concern with some synthetic medical adhesives is that – because they are not biodegradable – they do not break down in the body and therefore may cause inflammation, tissue damage, or other problems.

But new research shows that adhesive proteins found in the “glue” produced by marine mussels may be used in place of the synthetic adhesives without these concerns, because they are non-toxic and biodegradable, according to study co-author Dr. Roger Narayan. In addition, the mussel proteins can be placed in solution and applied using inkjet technology to create customized medical adhesives, which may have a host of applications. For example, Narayan says this technique may “significantly improve wound repair in eye surgery, wound closure and fracture fixation.” Narayan is an associate professor in the joint biomedical engineering department of NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“This is an improved way of joining tissues,” Narayan says, “because the use of the inkjet technology gives you greater control over the placement of the adhesive. This helps ensure that the tissues are joined together in just the right spot, forming a better bond that leads to improved healing and less scarring.” This increased control would be a boon for surgery that relies on extreme precision, such as eye repair, Narayan explains.

 

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The study was performed in collaboration with Professor Jon Wilker in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University. The Journal of Biomedical Materials Research B will publish the study, “Inkjet printing of adhesives,” in April. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Naval Research funded the research.

February 24, 2009

Is social networking turning us into babies?

I’m going to get out there on a limb and say no.

Didn’t stop this Brit professor to state otherwise. Sadly, her comment is very indicative of the overall quality of UK medical research and opinion. Check out some of the bogus “research” published by the Lancet over the last few years to get a broader picture. Overt bias and research driven to meet pre-ordained results seems the order of the day across the pond.

From the link:

No less an authority on the brain’s workings than Susan Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and the director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, told a British newspaper on Tuesday that social networking sites remind her of the way that “small babies need constant reassurance that they exist” and make her worry about the effects that this sort of stimulation is having on the brains of users. Lady Greenfield (she’s a neuroscientist and a baroness) told the Daily Mail:

My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.

February 17, 2009

Twitter in the OR

Filed under: Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:08 pm

Is there anywhere Twitter hasn’t invaded these days? The last ten days or so may be the time when Twitter reaches critical mass.

Find me on Twitter at @davidkonline.

From the link:

t’s potentially a risky surgery, but everything’s ready: The doctors and nurses are in the operating room, the surgical instruments are sterilized and ready to go, and the chief resident is furiously Twittering on his laptop.

That’s right — last week, for the second known time, surgeons Twittered a surgery by using social-networking site Twitter to give short real-time updates about the procedure

(Hat tip: copyblogger)

February 12, 2009

MedTech Investing Conference — VC for medical devices

A release from today:

MedTech Investing Conference (8th Annual) May 6-7, 2009

Uniting Venture Capitalists to Identify Investment Opportunities in the Multi-Billion Dollar Medical Device Market

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. and MASSAPEQUA, N.Y., Feb. 12 /PRNewswire/ — The equity markets and the global economy have been turned upside down, leaving many young medical device companies and private equity investors to ponder how to ensure success in a down market.  For venture capitalists, the “New Economy” is having a severe impact on the viability of today’s medical device startups, as traditional portfolio company management tactics have to be adjusted to accommodate changing market conditions.  For the startup, raising capital in a stagnant market and having a longer time to exit is at the forefront of CEOs minds.

Building device companies in the current environment can only occur if the community as a whole gathers to address these issues with strategies to carry startups through this unstable period.  Presented by International Business Forum (IBF) and LifeScience Alley, the 8th Annual MedTech Investing Conference May 6-7th at the Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis, MN, provides a unique opportunity to facilitate deals, share information, and address concerns; as this is the premier event for medical device investors and entrepreneurs from around the nation.

2009 Risk Reduction Strategies for Medical Device Companies

The role that venture capitalists play in preserving success for young companies in a volatile market is critical, as limited cash flow and burn rates directly affect the performance.  How will today’s VCs continue to nurture and build emerging growth companies in a down economy?  The panel entitled “The Lightning Round” will highlight William Harrington of Three Arch Partners, Nathan Every of Frazier Healthcare Ventures, Richard Ferrari of De Novo Ventures, Peter McNerney of Thomas McNerney Partners, and Thomas D. Weldon of Accuitive Medical Venture Partners.  They will address a variety of candid questions surrounding the current investing landscape and issues relevant to portfolio management.  This panel is scheduled for 4:30pm on Wednesday, May 6th.  To learn more about the event and to register, visit the newly launched website www.medtechconference.com.

Event Sponsors & Exhibitors Include: Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Capital Advisors Group, RBC Capital Markets, Minnetronix and RCRI, Inc.

About LifeScience Alley(TM)

LifeScience Alley(TM) is the largest trade association serving the life sciences in the Upper Midwest. It represents more than 600 member companies, organizations and institutions of all sizes that devote their efforts to the research, development and commercialization of the life sciences. LifeScience Alley acts as the industry’s central resource for fostering innovation, offering education and creating consensus. It offers members unique opportunities to network and collaborate and provides them with a strong, unified voice at the state and federal level. Members hail from all life science industry sectors, including medical device, pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, health care providers and insurers, agricultural and industrial biotechnology, and renewable energy.  For more information, visit: www.lifesciencealley.org

About IBF*International Business Forum, Inc.

IBF*International Business Forum, Inc. is a leading presenter of venture capital, technology innovation and private equity conferences in the United States. For 20 years, IBF has been presenting conferences which unite investors, emerging growth companies and corporations. IBF produces conferences on the following venture capital subjects: Venture Capital Investing, Early Stage Investing, Cleantech Investing, Corporate Venturing & Strategic Partnering, Biotech & Life Sciences Investing, Medical Devices and Healthcare Technologies Investing, Consumer Medicine, Tech Transfer Investing, and Nanotechnology Investing.  To see a full listing of IBF’s conferences please visit: www.IBFConferences.com

Source: International Business Forum, Inc.
   
Web Site:  http://www.ibfconferences.com/

February 11, 2009

Stem cell research – free at last!

Well not quite free just yet, but the day is coming and it couldn’t come too soon. Among many, many bad science policies the US suffered under Bush 43, completely wrecking stem cell research through withholding federal funds was up there.

Thankfully some private and state money came through to keep the US from completely falling behind other countries in this vital medical research area, but Bush 43’s policies hurt and probably have cost American lives because of so-far-undiscovered breakthroughs related to stem cell research.

From the Technology Review link:

Three years ago, when Rene Rejo Pera was setting up a new lab at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), she had to make sure she had two of everything: one microscope for her federally funded lab, for example, and one for a privately funded replica next door. Because of funding restrictions on stem-cell research ordered by President George W. Bush in 2001, this was a redundant scenario played out in labs across the country. The edict specifically limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research to a small number of cell lines already in existence, leaving scientists who wanted to conduct cutting-edge research in this area scrambling for private money.

Scientists are now looking forward to an end of that edict. President Barack Obama promised during his campaign to overturn the order, and most expect the action to happen soon. “The imminent change in policy will quite literally allow us to take down these walls and integrate the laboratories in a way that will make the work move much more efficiently,” says Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

January 8, 2009

Health care reform …

… is coming. Let’s hope it’s a decent system.

And that’s an honest hope. Even as a libertarian I recognize the system as it is has broken. Insurance has become a roadblock to the process of medicine, and to a reasonable allocation of money through the process. I’m no fan of regulation, but some order in this house might just be in order.

From the link:

Former Senator Tom Daschle pledged on Thursday to work with lawmakers of both parties in a grass roots, ideology-free campaign to revamp the nation’s struggling health care system.

“We will be guided by evidence and effectiveness, not by ideology,” Mr. Daschle told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions after saying that he wanted “to work with each of you” on ways to improve health care for all Americans.

“When it comes to health care, we really are in it together,” Mr. Daschle said, adding that to do nothing — or too little — about the spiraling costs of health care, the growing legions of the uninsured and substandard medical treatment in some areas is simply unacceptable.

December 7, 2008

Stem cell transplantation news

The release from today:

Research Explores the Effects of Stem Cell Source and Patient Age on Stem Cell Transplantation Outcomes

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Two studies examining the effects of stem cell source and patient age on stem cell transplantation outcomes will be explored at a press conference taking place on Sunday, December 7, at 8:00 a.m., during the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Francisco, CA. Preliminary results from a study examining a specialized technique for increasing the presence of stem cells in cord blood for transplantation will also be shared during the press conference.

“For years, stem cell transplants have been a standard treatment option for many blood cancers and other hematologic conditions,” said Armand Keating, MD, moderator of the press conference and Director, Division of Hematology, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “The results of these studies add to the growing body of knowledge about the best regimens available to help produce durable responses and prolonged survival in many groups of patients.”

Blood cancers – leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma – are typically treated with a combination of treatments including chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation. Stem cell transplantation is the process by which blood stem cells are collected from a donor, or from the patient prior to chemotherapy, and then infused into the patient after treatment. The transplanted stem cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells, replacing those that are destroyed as a side effect of chemotherapy. Stem cell transplants are categorized by the source of the stem cells (bone marrow, peripheral blood, or cord blood) and by their origin – autologous (from the patient) or allogeneic (from a donor).

Effect of Stem Cell Source on Transplant Outcomes in Adults With Acute Leukemia: A Comparison of Unrelated Bone Marrow, Peripheral Blood, and Cord Blood [Abstract #151]

Mary Eapen, MBBS, the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplantation along with the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the New York Blood Center

In the absence of a matched sibling donor, the first choice for stem cell transplantation for patients with acute leukemia is an unrelated adult donor whose tissue type matches that of the patient. However, when such a donor is not available, the researchers of this study found that mismatched unrelated cord blood transplants were a suitable alternative to mismatched bone marrow or peripheral blood transplants because cord blood is readily available, making it an ideal option when transplantation is needed urgently.

For successful transplantation, bone marrow and peripheral blood donors are examined for genetic compatibility with the patient by comparing their human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). Current estimates from the National Marrow Donor Program donor registry suggest that the probability of finding a matched unrelated adult donor is relatively low (51 percent for Caucasians, 30 percent for Hispanics, 20 percent for Asians, and 17 percent for African Americans).

Cord blood donated to public cord blood banks can be an alternative source of stem cells for patients who need a transplant but cannot find a matched adult donor. The matching requirements for cord blood are not as strict as for bone marrow or peripheral blood because cord blood cells are immunologically immature and therefore more tolerant to mismatching.

The purpose of this study was to determine the efficacy of three types of stem cell sources: bone marrow, peripheral blood, and cord blood. Study results were based on an analysis of the outcomes of 1,240 adults with acute leukemia (707 patients with acute myeloid leukemia and 533 patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia) from 2002 to 2006. Of those patients who received a bone marrow stem cell transplant, 243 were matched at eight out of eight possible HLA loci and 111 were matched at seven HLA loci. In those receiving a peripheral blood stem cell transplant, 518 were matched at eight HLA loci and 210 at seven HLA loci. In those receiving cord blood transplants, 28 were matched at five or six HLA loci and 110 matched at four HLA loci.

The study found that there were fewer transplant-related deaths for matched peripheral blood and bone marrow transplants (27 percent and 26 percent, respectively) than as for mismatched peripheral blood, bone marrow, and cord blood transplants (42 percent, 37 percent, and 41 percent, respectively). Leukemia-free survival (LFS) and overall survival (OS) were highest after transplantation of matched peripheral blood (LFS: 43 percent; OS: 45 percent) and bone marrow (LFS: 46 percent; OS: 48 percent). These rates were lower after transplantation of mismatched peripheral blood (LFS: 33 percent; OS: 36 percent), bone marrow (LFS: 34 percent; OS: 38 percent), and cord blood (LFS: 33 percent; OS: 35 percent). Importantly, rates of transplant-related deaths, leukemia-free survival, and overall survival for the three types of mismatched transplants were similar even though cord blood transplants were mismatched at more HLA loci.

Notch-Mediated Expansion of Human Cord Blood Progenitor Cells Results in Rapid Myeloid Reconstitution in Vivo Following Myeloablative Cord Blood Transplantation

  [Abstract #212]
  Colleen Delaney, MD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA

This phase I study found that cord blood that is cultured to increase the number of CD34+ stem cells prior to transplantation helped to decrease the time to engraftment in patients with acute myeloid leukemia.

Cord blood is a valuable source of hematopoietic stem cells as it has a higher concentration of these cells than is normally found in adult blood. However, as only a small quantity of blood can typically be obtained from an umbilical cord, resulting in fewer available stem cells for transplantation, researchers have been investigating novel methods to expand the number of stem cells available from cord blood to help increase the success rates of cord blood stem cell transplants.

The objective of this study is to evaluate the safety and potential efficacy of giving increased numbers of cord blood progenitor cells that have been generated through a novel methodology whereby CD34+ cord blood progenitor cells are cultured prior to infusion to rapidly multiply in order to decrease the time required for the transplanted cells to engraft and begin production of healthy blood cells.

A total of six patients with acute myeloid leukemia were treated with a transplantation- preparation regimen of cytoxan (120 mg/kg), fludarabine (75 mg/m^2), and TBI (1320 cGy), followed one day later by an infusion of one unit of non-cultured cord blood and one unit of cord blood that had been CD34+ enriched and cultured for 16 days. The non-cultured unit was given to provide long-term repopulating stem cells that had not been previously manipulated, while the goal of the expanded unit was to provide cells capable of rapid myeloid recovery.

To achieve best results, cord blood units that most closely genetically matched the patient were selected for transfusion. All non-cultured cord blood stem cells were matched for four out of six alleles for each patient. For the cultured cord blood cells, two patients received a five-out-of-six allele match and four patients received a four-out-of-six allele match. There was an average CD34+ increase of 160 (range 41 to 382), meaning that for every one CD34+ cell, there were 160 CD34+ cells after the culture, with an average total nucleated cell fold increase of 660 (range 146 to 1496). A control group of 17 patients underwent an identical transplant regimen, but received two non-cultured cord blood units.

A relatively rapid engraftment time, averaging 14 days, was observed in the six patients in the experimental group compared with 25 days for the patients in the control group. The contribution of the expanded and non-cultured cord blood cells was determined by a DNA-based assay beginning seven days following the transplant. In the five patients with early engraftment, the engrafted cells present at day seven were derived almost entirely from the cultured unit. Persistent contribution to engraftment from the cultured cells was noted in two patients. One patient had persistent contribution from the cultured cells through 280 days post-transplant that was no longer noticeable at one year, and the second patient continued to demonstrate contribution from the cultured cells at 180 days post-transplant. One patient died on day 462 from a rare complication of myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord) caused by the varicella-zoster virus, while all other patients were still in remission.

Non-Myeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in Older Patients With AML and MDS: Results From the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) [Abstract #346]

Sergio Giralt, MD, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

This study found that the outcomes of adults over the age of 65 undergoing allogeneic stem cell transplantation for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes were similar to younger adults even after adjusting for multiple risk factors. The researchers concluded that age alone should not be a limiting factor for proceeding to allogeneic stem cell transplantation in these patients.

While stem cell transplantation remains one of the best treatment options for increasing overall survival and a possible cure for patients with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, transplants generally are not given to patients over the age of 65 because of concerns about extreme toxicity and poor outcomes. Over the past few years, non-myeloablative transplants that require smaller and safer doses of chemotherapy and radiation have allowed stem cell transplants to be conducted in older individuals or other patients considered too weak to withstand conventional stem cell treatment regimens.

To better study age as a predictor of outcome in patients receiving stem cell transplants, data from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) on 565 patients with acute myeloid leukemia and 551 patients with myelodysplastic syndromes were retrospectively analyzed for transplant-related mortality, engraftment, incidence of acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease, leukemia-free survival, and overall survival. Outcome data gathered from 1995 to 2005 were stratified into four groups by patient age for comparison: ages 40 to 54, 54 to 59, 60 to 64, and 65 and older.

The analysis found that there was no statistically significant difference in transplant-related mortality across age groups, and no overall difference in the occurrence of acute graft-versus-host disease (31-35 percent at 100 days) or chronic graft-versus-host disease (36-53 percent at two years). Rates of relapse were similar across all age groups (29-30 percent at three years). Additionally, no statistically significant impact of age was found for transplant-related mortality, leukemia-free survival, or overall survival. Type of disease and disease status at transplant were significant risk factors for leukemia-free survival and overall survival at one year and for transplant-related mortality and relapse at two years. Patients’ general health and degree of tissue-type match between recipient and donor were also significant at two years for nearly all outcomes.

American Society of Hematology 50th Annual Meeting

The study authors and press program moderator will be available for interviews after the press conference or by telephone. Additional press briefings will take place throughout the meeting on combating blood clots, therapeutic strategies for platelet disorders, treatment advances in leukemia and lymphoma, and advances in screening and treatment for sickle cell disease.

The American Society of Hematology (www.hematology.org) is the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders. Its mission is to further the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting blood, bone marrow, and the immunologic, hemostatic, and vascular systems, by promoting research, clinical care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. In September, ASH launched Blood: The Vital Connection (www.bloodthevitalconnection.org), a credible online resource addressing bleeding and clotting disorders, anemia, and cancer. It provides hematologist-approved information about these common blood conditions including risk factors, preventive measures, and treatment options. A cornerstone of this public awareness campaign is a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Joseph Lovett called “Blood Detectives,” which will air on the Discovery Health cable network on December 19, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT and again at 12:00 midnight. The show focuses on hematologists as they work to unravel medical mysteries and save lives.

Source: American Society of Hematology
   

Web Site:  http://www.bloodthevitalconnection.org/

December 6, 2008

Is the US ready for Dutch-style health care?

Not too sure about this bit of news.

The release:

UT public health policy expert says US can learn from Dutch universal healthcare coverage

The United States can learn from the Dutch Health Insurance System model, according to an article by Pauline V. Rosenau, Ph.D., in the December issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

Rosenau, professor of management, policy and community health at The University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston, co-authored the lead article, which discusses universal health care coverage in the Netherlands and its possible lessons for the United States.

The article examines the 2006 Enthoven-inspired Dutch health insurance reform, which is based on regulated competition and requires individuals to purchase basic insurance policies. The structure of the Dutch model provides insight into the effects that universal health care reform could have in the United States, Rosenau said.

“Although this type of reform is important and critical, policymakers must think carefully on how it is done,” she said.

According to Rosenau’s evidence-based assessment, U.S. policymakers seeking to establish universal health care should be aware that, according to the Dutch model, it may not control costs. Insurance companies have seen profit loss on basic policies, health care providers are in opposition and public satisfaction is not high in the Netherlands.

“The Netherlands is the best test of market competition-based health insurance reform to date,” Rosenau said. “But U.S. policymakers should be careful with this form of universal coverage because it has failed, so far, to reduce costs or improve quality.”

However, according to Rosenau, the quality and access to health care is sometimes better in the Netherlands, while the healthcare cost per person is half the amount of the United States.

“We suspect that if patient satisfaction with the Dutch healthcare system has not declined dramatically since the insurance reform (and surveys provide conflicting findings), it is because of a dedicated ‘army’ of primary care physicians who remain committed to their patients. An excellent example is the after-hours care provided by Dutch primary care physicians,” says Rosenau.

With several industrialized countries providing universal health care coverage, Rosenau believes the Netherlands’ model closely resembles the model that U.S. policymakers are looking to create.

The Dutch Health Insurance System requires regulated sale of health insurance policies and makes the purchase of basic health policies mandatory by implementing fines and penalties for those who ignore the law. The basic policy requires services such as primary and specialist care, hospitalization for up to one year, maternity care, ambulance service and prescription pharmaceuticals. For basic health insurance policies, there are no limitations on preexisting conditions. Citizens can purchase supplementary coverage for procedures such as cosmetic surgery or expanded dental or vision care, but insurance companies are able to choose the patients they want to cover.

 

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The article, titled “An Experiment with Regulated Competition and Individual Mandates for Universal Health Care: The New Dutch Health Insurance System,” is co-authored by Christiaan J. Lako of the Radboud University Nijmegen of the Netherlands.

December 5, 2008

News on dormant adult stem cells

The release:

Dormant stem cells for emergencies

Many specialized cells, such as in the skin, intestinal mucosa or blood, have a lifespan of only a few days. For these tissues to function, a steady replenishment of specialized cells is indispensable. This is the task of so-called “adult” stem cells also known as tissue stem cells.

Stem cells have two main characteristics: First, they are able to differentiate into all the different cell types that make up their respective tissue – a property called pluripotency. Second, they need to renew themselves in order to be able to supply new specialized tissue cells throughout life. These processes have best been studied in mouse bone marrow.

Up to now, scientists have assumed that adult stem cells have a low division rate. According to theory, they thus protect their DNA from mutations, which happen particularly during cell division and can lead to transformation into tumor stem cells. However, the actual number of divisions of a blood stem cell throughout an organism’s lifespan has remained unknown.

Professor Dr. Andreas Trumpp and Dr. Anne Wilson have now discovered a group of stem cells in mouse bone marrow that remain in a kind of dormancy almost throughout life. Trumpp, who has been head of the Cell Biology Division at DKFZ since summer 2008, had carried out these studies at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, jointly with colleagues at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research located in the same city.

The scientists labeled the genetic material of all mouse blood cells and subsequently investigated how long this label is retained. With each division, the genetic material is apportioned to the daughter cells and, thus, the labeling dilutes. During these studies, the investigators discovered the dormant stem cells which divide only about five times throughout the life of a mouse. Translated to humans, this would correspond to only one cell division in 18 years. Most of the time, these cells, which constitute no more than about 15 percent of the whole stem cell population, remain in a kind of dormancy with very low metabolism. In contrast, stem cells of the larger group, the “active” stem cells, divide continuously about once a month.

However, in an emergency such as an injury of the bone marrow or if the messenger substance G-CSF is released, the dormant cell population awakes. Once awakened, it shows the highest potential for self-renewal ever to be observed in stem cells. If transplanted into irradiated mice, these cells replace the destroyed bone marrow and restore the whole hematopoietic system. It is possible to isolate new dormant stem cells from the transplanted animals and these cells are able to replace bone marrow again – this can be done several times in a row. The situation is different with “active” stem cells, where bone marrow replacement can successfully be carried out only once.

“We believe that the sleeping stem cells play almost no role in a healthy organism,” Trumpp explains. “The body keeps its most potent stem cells as a secret reserve for emergencies and hides them in caves in the bone marrow, also called niches. If the bone marrow is damaged, they immediately start dividing daily, because new blood cells are needed quickly.” Once the original cell count is restored and the bone marrow is repaired, these stem cells go back to deep sleep. The larger population of “active” stem cells, however, keeps up the physiological balance of blood cells in the normal healthy state.

Andreas Trumpp expects that these results may give valuable impetus to our understanding of cancer stem cells: “Cancer stem cells, too, probably remain in a dormant state most of the time – we think that this is one of the reasons why they are resistant to many kinds of chemotherapy that target rapidly growing cells. If we were able to wake up these sleepers before a patient receives treatment, it might be possible to also eliminate cancer stem cells for the first time and, thus, to treat the disease much more effectively by destroying the supply basis.”

In a second article*, Dr. Elisa Laurenti from Trumpp’s team shows that the two cancer genes c-Myc and N-Myc play a vital role in the functioning of stem cells. The two genes provide the blueprints for what are called transcription factors, which in turn regulate the activity of other genes and are overactive particularly in cancer cells. If both c-Myc and N-Myc are switched off at the same time in mice, the animals quickly start suffering from a general lack of blood cells and quickly die.

The two genes are not only responsible for survival of nearly all blood cells, but they also jointly control the two prime characteristics of stem cells – the capability of self-renewal and the potential to produce differentiated blood cells. This result is not only relevant for our understanding of stem cells, but it also explains the damage that can be caused by overactive Myc genes. Trumpp explains: “In tumors, too, c-Myc and N-Myc are presumably responsible for the self-renewal of cancer stem cells and, thus, for uncontrolled growth.”

 

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Anne Wilson; Gabriela Oser; Richard van der Wath; William Blanco; Elisa Laurenti; Maike Jaworski; Cyrille Durant; Leonid Eshkind; Ernesto Bockamp; Pietro Lio; Robson MacDonald, and Andreas Trumpp: Hematopoietic stem cells reversibly switch from dormancy to self-renewal during homeostasis and repair. CELL 2008, DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2008.10.048

*Elisa Laurenti, Barbara Varnum-Finney, Anne Wilson, Isabel Ferrero, William E. Blanco-Bose, Armin Ehninger, Paul S. Knoepfler, Pei-Feng Cheng, H. Robson MacDonald, Robert N. Eisenman, Irwin D. Bernstein, and Andreas Trumpp: Hematopoietic Stem Cell Function and Survival Depend on c-Myc and N-Myc Activity. CELL Stem Cell 2008, DOI 10.1016/j.stem.2008.09.005

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany and is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers. More than 2,000 staff members, including 850 scientists, are investigating the mechanisms of cancer and are working to identify cancer risk factors. They provide the foundations for developing novel approaches in the prevention, diagnosis , and treatment of cancer. In addition, the staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. The Center is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90%) and the State of Baden-Württemberg (10%).

 

November 23, 2008

Vaccinations do not cause autism

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:04 pm

I welcome any opportunity to debunk this rumor. It’s particularly pernicious because kids who aren’t vaccinated become little time-bomb vectors of disease. This fact points to potential health hazards for many communities.

A health risk created solely by selfish and uninformed parents who are making very serious decisions that can easily bring harm to their children and others based on faulty data. If you believe this blatant untruth and don’t get your kids vaccinated because of it, you really need to do some research from sound scientific sources.

I don’t want to die of some childhood disease becuase you are ignorant and frightened.

From the link:

Theodore Dalrymple reviews Paul Offit’s book on the anti-vaccination crusaders:

Paul Offit’s new book, as readable as a good detective novel, tells the story of how autism, a disorder of psychological development, came falsely to be blamed first on the MMR vaccine and then on thimerosal, a preservative found in several vaccines. It is a tale about bad science, worse journalism, unscrupulous political populism, and profiteering litigation lawyers.

Update 10/9/09 — Here’s the latest in vaccination/autism research.

Head below the fold for the release: (more…)

November 18, 2008

Nanoparticle medical delivery system

This method is good for drugs or tracking dye. Some of the best nanotech apps getting notice right now are in the medical field.

The release:

Nontoxic nanoparticle can deliver and track drugs

A nontoxic nanoparticle developed by Penn State researchers is proving to be an all-around effective delivery system for both therapeutic drugs and the fluorescent dyes that can track their delivery.

In a recent online issue of Nano Letters, an interdisciplinary group of materials scientists, chemists, bioengineers, physicists, and pharmacologists show that calcium phosphate particles ranging in size from 20 to 50 nanometers will successfully enter cells and dissolve harmlessly, releasing their cargo of drugs or dye.

Peter Butler, associate professor of bioengineering, and his students used high-speed lasers to measure the size of fluorescent dye-containing particles from their diffusion in solution.

“We use a technique called time correlated single photon counting,” Butler says. “This uses pulses of laser light to read the time, on the order of nanoseconds, that molecules fluoresce.”

With this method, his group was able to measure the size of the particles and their dispersion in solution, in this case a phosphate-buffered saline that is used as a simple model for blood.

“What we did in this study was to change the original neutral pH of the solution, which is similar to blood, to a more acidic environment, such as around solid tumors and in the parts of the cell that collect the nanoparticles-containing fluid immediately outside the cell membrane and bring it into the cell. When we lower the pH, the acidic environment dissolves the calcium phosphate particle,” he adds.

“We can see that the size of the particles gets very small, essentially down to the size of the free dye that was inside the particles. That gives us evidence that this pH change can be used as a mechanism to release any drug that is encapsulated in the particle,” Butler explains.

Although the primary use envisioned for these particles is for targeted cancer therapy, Butler’s group is interested in their ability to deliver various drugs that have been shown to inhibit cell growth associated with vascular disease.

Several drugs have been shown in cultures to be promising for reducing hardening of the arteries and narrowing of blood vessels after balloon angioplasty. The problem has been in delivering any of these drugs to a target, Butler says.

Ceramide, a chemotherapeutic molecule that initiates cell death in cancer cells, has the ability to slow growth in healthy cells.

Mark Kester, professor of pharmacology, and Jong Yun, associate professor of pharmacology, both at Penn State College of Medicine, have optimized ceramide for both cancer and vascular disease.

Their groups found that by using human vascular smooth muscle cells in vitro, ceramide encapsulated in calcium phosphate nanoparticles reduced growth of muscle cells by up to 80 percent at a dose 25 times lower than ceramide administered freely, without damaging the cells.

The calcium phosphate nanoparticles were developed by James Adair, professor of materials science and engineering, and his students. The nanoparticles have several benefits other drug delivery systems do not, according to lead author Thomas Morgan, graduate student in chemistry.

Unlike quantum dots, which are composed of toxic metals, calcium phosphate is a safe, naturally occurring mineral that already is present in substantial amounts in the bloodstream.

“What distinguishes our method are smaller particles (for uptake into cells), no agglomeration (particles are dispersed evenly in solution), and that we put drugs or dyes inside the particle where they are protected, rather than on the surface,” says Morgan. “For reasons we don’t yet understand, fluorescent dyes encapsulated within our nanoparticles are four times brighter than free dyes.

“Drugs and dyes are expensive,” he continues, “but an advantage of encapsulation is that you need much less of them. We can make high concentrations in the lab, and dilute them way down and still be effective. We even believe we can combine drug and dye delivery for simultaneous tracking and treatment. That’s one of the things we are currently working on.”

 

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Other researchers on the project are graduate students Erhan Altinoglu and Amra Tabakovic, materials science and engineering, and former group member, Sara Rouse, Ph.D. in materials; graduate students Hari Muddana and Tristan Tabouillot, bioengineering; Timothy Russin, physics; Sriram Shanmugavelandy, pharmacology; and Peter Eklund, distinguished professor of physics and materials science and engineering.

Most of the researchers are affiliated with Penn State’s Materials Research Institute, which supports more than 200 faculty groups involved in materials research at Penn State. More information is at www.mri.psu.edu

Support for this research was provided by National Science Foundation, NASA, Keystone Nano Inc. and NIH-NHLBI.

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