Heart Recovery Without Cell Implants

Myocardial infarction, commonly known as heart disease, affects close to a million people in the United States every year. Unfortunately, there is still no effective treatment. Unlike the liver, a human heart cannot recover after injury. The death of cardiomyocytes, also known as cardiac muscle cells, causes irreversible heart weakness that limits its functions. Researchers are now turning to stem cell transplants to tackle this problem. However, previous studies have shown that such transplants struggle to repair damaged muscle tissue. When differentiated before transplantation, stem cells function well but have a major problem: they cannot contract rhythmically with the heart muscles. This could lead to lethal abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

In a recent study published in the Nature Biomedical Engineering journal, a new team of researchers have developed a new way of treating heart disease without stem cell implantation. The study shows that extracellular vesicles obtained from cardiomyocytes have powerful potential to provide effective and safe treatments for heart disease. These micro vesicles are easy to confine and can be frozen to allow long-term storage. They have three advantages: they do not lead to Arrhythmia, they can be used immediately unlike other cells which require time to grow, and lastly, their procedure for clinical application is much easier for cell-based therapy. The research team was led by Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Columbia University’s biomedical engineering professor.

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Mouth Sensor That Provides Real-Time Sodium Intake Data

There are approximately 36 million people in the United States suffering from hypertension. Often, patients are advised to reduce their sodium intake. The biggest challenge, however, is that sodium is part of every modern diet. It’s the key component of table salt and is found in restaurant meals, beverages and even snack foods. To tackle this issue, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology recently invented an electronic mouth sensor that is flexible enough to fit in a patient’s dental retainer. Its purpose is to provide real-time information on sodium intake. The information is sent to your phone, telling you if you’re going against your doctor’s advice.

This could assist you make changes to your diet. The study was published in the PNAS journal. The team of researchers was led by assistant professor for nano and micro engineering, W. Hong Yeo. The sensor can be embedded on an individual’s tongue or roof of the mouth. It can also be laminated onto a tooth. The soft retainer used allows for cleaning and easy handling. According to Yeo, the biggest challenge was making the device flexible, soft and comfortable for use. They decided to use stretchable circuits attached to an extremely thin porous membrane. There is an Android app already in place and the device uses Bluetooth to transmit information.

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CRISPR Use Could Lead to “Organic” Gene Therapies for Blood Disorders

Australian scientists, led by University of New South Wales (UNSW) professor Merlin Crossley, Ph.D., have identified the gene-control mechanism that allows some individuals with blood disorders such as sickle sell anemia or β-thalassemia to produce a fetal form of human hemoglobin that can naturally compensate for the lack of adult hemoglobin in their body, reducing the severity of the disease. The researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing (!) to mutate cultured blood cells and observed a boost in production of fetal hemoglobin.
Dr. Crossley, UNSW deputy vice-chancellor academic, called the new approach a “forerunner to ‘organic gene therapy’ for a range of common inherited blood disorders including β-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia.” No new DNA is introduced into the cells; CRISPR Cas9 engineers in naturally occurring, benign mutations and should therefore be a safe and effective therapy for patients.
References: https://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/crispr-use-could-lead-to-organic-gene-therapies-for-blood-disorders/81255649


Search Engine for the Brain

At the Julich Research Centre in Germany, neuroscientists often slice brain specimens into several thousand pieces in order to study them. Once sliced, the brain is scanned using 3D polarized light imaging equipment. This measures how widely nerve fibres are spaced. A digital construction of these scans follows where nerve fibres are magnified to a larger scale. These amongst other scientific efforts of combining and studying data could help scientists answer several questions about the brain. The long-term goal is to have a complete analysis of the brain which individuals can access without limitation. Currently, this is far-fetched as scientists do not have adequate hardware for brain storage.

They also lack the software that can bridge the gaps between molecules, genes, cells and connectivity, networks and behaviour. These, among other reasons, are why scientists are yet to create drugs that cure conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. To achieve this, neuroscientists are working collaboratively to ensure that they create a searchable manual for the brain. Current efforts are geared towards culminating an adequate and searchable human genome. The Human Brian Project is currently developing infrastructure that includes data analysis, high-performance computation equipment, modelling and simulating software. These tools could lead to further advancements in the study of the brain.

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Biotech Water Treatment Pioneers Win 2018 Stockholm Water Prize

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) announced today that environmental biotechnology professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann have been named the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates for their work in waste/water sustainability.

These two professors- Van Loosdrecht, who teaches at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Rittman, a Regents’ professor of environmental engineering and director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, in the United States- are responsible for revolutionizing microbiological-based waste treatment. According to a press release from SIWI, they “have demonstrated how to remove harmful contaminants from water, cut waste water treatment costs, reduce energy consumption, and even recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.”


“With current technology, you can already be energy neutral and there is a lot of research on how to become energy positive. Especially in developing countries with unstable electricity supply and limited access to funding, this is very important. If we could build a waste water plant that is self-sufficient in energy, that would make sewage plants feasible in many more places,” said Van Loosdrecht.



Theratechnologies Steps Into the Spotlight

The two biggest names in the HIV treatment market are GlaxoSmithKline and Gilead Sciences. Recently, a virtually unknown company emerged as a contender lower down the pecking order, noted EP Vantage, the editorial arm of the Evaluate group.

That company is Canada’s Theratechnologies, which is predicted to become the world’s fifth-biggest HIV player- a massive leap from where it was before. While it will barely come close to competing with companies like GSK or Gilead, its transformation and entry into a bigger market is no doubt noteworthy. The new drug was Tuesday given the all-clear by the US FDA for use in heavily pre-treated HIV patients who have no further options.

Trogarzo, the HIV treatment that led to Theratechnologies’s success, represents the first HIV treatment with a novel mechanism of action to be approved for 10 years. Assuming that there are plenty more salvage HIV patients who decline Fuzeon, Theratechnologies could be headed for a lot of future success.

References: https://www.thepharmaletter.com/article/first-in-class-hiv-therapy-approved-by-us-fda