Alzheimer’s Reversed in Mouse Model

It’s certainly a promising development in this area.

A team of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute have found that gradually depleting an enzyme called BACE1 completely reverses the formation of amyloid plaques in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s disease, thereby improving the animals’ cognitive function. The study, which will be published February 14 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, raises hopes that drugs targeting this enzyme will be able to successfully treat Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

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“To our knowledge, this is the first observation of such a dramatic reversal of amyloid deposition in any study of Alzheimer’s disease mouse models,” says Yan, who will be moving to become chair of the department of neuroscience at the University of Connecticut this spring.

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“Our study provides genetic evidence that preformed amyloid deposition can be completely reversed after sequential and increased deletion of BACE1 in the adult,” says Yan. “Our data show that BACE1 inhibitors have the potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease patients without unwanted toxicity. Future studies should develop strategies to minimize the synaptic impairments arising from significant inhibition of BACE1 to achieve maximal and optimal benefits for Alzheimer’s patients.”

The Common Drug That Can Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

This should help millions of people since diabetes still doesn’t have a cure. It’s nice to see that people at risk for this disease now have the potential to prevent it with medication.

There’s new hope for stopping Type 1 diabetes in its tracks after researchers discovered an existing drug can prevent the condition from developing – and the same techniques used here could also be applied to other diseases.

The drug in question is methyldopa, currently on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential drugs having been used for more than 50 years to treat high blood pressure in pregnant women and children.

By running an analysis of thousands of drugs through a supercomputer, the team of researchers was able to pinpoint methyldopa as a drug able to block the DQ8 molecule. The antigen is found in a proportion of the population and has been implemented in auto immune responses.

It appears in some 60 percent of people at risk from developing Type 1 diabetes.

“This is the first personalised treatment for Type 1 diabetes prevention,” says one of the team, Aaron Michels from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “This is very significant development.”

Based on the supercomputer calculations, the scientists found that methyldopa not only blocked the binding of DQ8 but didn’t harm the immune functions of other cells, which is often the case with drugs that interfere with the body’s immune system.

Overall, the research covered a period of 10 years – after the supercomputer analysis, the drug was tested in mice and in 20 patients with Type 1 diabetes through a clinical trial. The new drug is taken orally, three times a day.

While it’s not a full cure (work on that continues), methyldopa could help delay, or even limit the onset of Type 1 diabetes – a disease that currently starts mostly in childhood.

“We can now predict with almost 100 percent accuracy who is likely to get Type 1 diabetes,” says Michels. “The goal with this drug is to delay or prevent the onset of the disease among those at risk.”

That 100 percent prediction rate is made possible by looking at a variety of genetic and biological markers, including autoantibodies in the blood. Those at risk could now be put on a course of treatment to ward of the development of diabetes.

With diagnosed cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes on the rise in the United States – and the Type 1 condition believed to affect around 1.25 million people in the US alone – such treatments could make a huge difference.

Accounting for about 5-10 percent of people with diabetes, Type 1 involves the body’s own immune system attacking the pancreas, stopping the production of insulin and hampering the absorption of glucose and the production of energy.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body can’t process the insulin it does make properly.

Methyldopa is far from the first drug to show benefits in treating health issues other than the ones it was first designed for, but we now have better ways to spot these extra powers: this idea of identifying certain molecules and then applying modern-day computing power to find drugs that block them could work in other situations too.

“This study has significant implications for treatment of diabetes and also other autoimmune diseases,” says one of the researchers, David Ostrov from the University of Florida.

“This study suggests that the same approach may be adapted to prevent autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and others.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Nanorobots Successfully Programmed to Seek and Eliminate Tumors in Major Nanomedicine Study

This is a significant nanotechnology advance, although there’s still progress needed for it in further trials. These nanorobots have yet to be tested on humans, which makes them another advance worth looking for the human trial results on when they’re available.

In a major advancement in nanomedicine, Arizona State University (ASU) scientists, in collaboration with researchers from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST), of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have successfully programmed nanorobots to shrink tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

“We have developed the first fully autonomous, DNA robotic system for a very precise drug design and targeted cancer therapy,” said Hao Yan, director of the ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and the Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences.

“Moreover, this technology is a strategy that can be used for many types of cancer, since all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same,” said Yan.

The successful demonstration of the technology, the first-of-its-kind study in mammals utilizing breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian and lung cancer mouse models, was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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First and foremost, the team showed that the nanorobots were safe and effective in shrinking tumors.

“The nanorobot proved to be safe and immunologically inert for use in normal mice and, also in Bama miniature pigs, showing no detectable changes in normal blood coagulation or cell morphology,” said Yuliang Zhao, also a professor at NCNST and lead scientist of the international collaborative team.

Most importantly, there was no evidence of the nanorobots spreading into the brain where it could cause unwanted side effects, such as a stroke.

“The nanorobots are decidedly safe in the normal tissues of mice and large animals,” said Guangjun Nie, another professor at the NCNST and a key member of the collaborative team.

The treatment blocked tumor blood supply and generated tumor tissue damage within 24 hours while having no effect on healthy tissues. After attacking tumors, most of the nanorobots were cleared and degraded from the body after 24 hours.

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Yan and his collaborators are now actively pursuing clinical partners to further develop this technology.

“I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology,” said Yan. “Combinations of different rationally designed nanorobots carrying various agents may help to accomplish the ultimate goal of cancer research: the eradication of solid tumors and vascularized metastases. Furthermore, the current strategy may be developed as a drug delivery platform for the treatment of other diseases by modification of the geometry of the nanostructures, the targeting groups and the loaded cargoes.”

Research: Wireless Energy Source that Generates Electricity from Simple Mechanical Motions Developed

This is cool research, but it’s difficult to determine how costly and efficient it would be at scale. Also, the W-TENG’s prototypical use of Teflon is definitely a concern, as Teflon’s C8 chemical is toxic to humans.

Researchers from Clemson’s Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) are one step closer to wirelessly powering the world using triboelectricity — a green energy source.

In March 2017, a group of physicists at CNI invented the ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerator, or U-TENG — a small device made simply of plastic and tape that generates electricity from motion and vibrations. When the two materials are brought together — through clapping your hands or tapping your feet, for example — a voltage is generated that is detected by a wired, external circuit. Electrical energy, by way of the circuit, is then stored in a capacitor or a battery until it’s needed.

Nine months later, in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, the researchers have uncovered a wireless version of TENG, called the W-TENG, which greatly expands the applications of the technology.

The W-TENG was engineered under the same premise as the U-TENG, using materials that are so opposite in affinity for electrons that they generate a voltage when brought in contact with each other.

In the W-TENG, plastic was swapped for a multipart fiber made of graphene — a single layer of graphite, or pencil lead — and a biodegradable polymer known as poly-lactic acid (PLA). PLA, on its own, is great for separating positive and negative charges, but not so great at conducting electricity — which is why the researchers paired it with graphene. Kapton tape, the electron-grabbing material of the U-TENG — was replaced with Teflon, a compound known for coating nonstick cooking pans.

“We use Teflon because it has a lot of fluorine groups that are highly electronegative, whereas the graphene-PLA is highly electropositive. That’s a good way to juxtapose and create high voltages,” said Ramakrishna Podila, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of physics at Clemson.

To obtain graphene, the researchers exposed its parent compound, graphite, to a high frequency sound wave. The sound wave then act as a sort of knife, slicing the “deck of cards” that is graphite into layer after layer of graphene. This process, called sonication, is how CNI is able to scale up production of graphene to meet the research and development demands of the W-TENG and other nanomaterial inventions in development.

After assembling the graphene-PLA fiber, the researchers exploited additive manufacturing — otherwise known as 3D printing — to pull the fiber into a 3D printer, and the W-TENG was born.

The end result is a device that generates a max voltage of 3000 volts — enough to power 25 standard electrical outlets, or on a grander scale, smart-tinted windows or a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor. Because the voltage is so high, the W-TENG generates an electric field around itself that can be sensed wirelessly. Its electrical energy, too, can be stored wirelessly in capacitors and batteries.

“It cannot only give you energy, but you can use the electric field also as an actuated remote. For example, you can tap the W-TENG and use its electric field as a ‘button’ to open your garage door, or you could activate a security system — all without a battery, passively and wirelessly,” said Sai Sunil Mallineni, the first author of the study and a Ph.D. student in physics and astronomy.

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As such, Podila says there is a definite philanthropic use for the team’s invention.

“Several developing countries require a lot of energy, though we may not have access to batteries or power outlets in such settings,” Podila said. “The W-TENG could be one of the cleaner ways of generating energy in these areas.”

The team of researchers, again led by Mallineni, is in the process of patenting the W-TENG through the Clemson University Research Foundation. Professor Apparao Rao, director of the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute, is also in talks with industrial partners to begin integrating the W-TENG into energy applications.

However, before industrial production, Podila says more research is being done to replace Teflon with a more environmentally friendly, electronegative material. A contender for the redesign is MXene, a two-dimensional inorganic compound that has the conductivity of a transition metal and the water-loving nature of alcohols like propanol. Yongchang Dong, another graduate student at CNI, led the work on demonstrating the MXene-TENG, which was published in a Nov. 2017 article in the journal Nano Energy. Herbert Behlow and Sriparna Bhattacharya from CNI also contributed to these studies.

Will the W-TENG make an impact in the realm of alternative, renewable energies? Rao says it will come down to economics.

“We can only take it so far as scientists; the economics need to work out in order for the W-TENG to be successful,” Rao said.

New Potential Asthma Treatment Through New Understanding of Airway Closure

Asthma is a consequence of rising air pollution, and new approaches to the problem like this can help those who suffer from it. It’s a disease estimated to cost the U.S. economy about $80 billion a year, which is an amount equal to about $635 per U.S. family.

Houston Methodist researchers have a new explanation for what causes the lungs’ airways to close during asthma attacks that could change the lives of the 300 million people worldwide who suffer from asthma. The discovery holds promise for developing a new class of drugs that is radically different from the steroids currently used to treat it.

Led by Xian C. Li, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Immunobiology and Transplant Science Center at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, the study is in the Feb. 5 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, one of the oldest journals in medicine.

One of the key features of asthma is an overproduction of a highly sticky protein secreted by the mucous membranes of airways in the lungs, called mucin, which leads to plugging up the small airways and stopping air from traveling in and out of them. This leaves patients out of breath and, oftentimes, causes them to gasp for air.

Li and his team discovered an interaction between two molecules that can be manipulated to solve this problem. “If we can do this and develop better and more specific drugs to selectively stop super-enhancers, asthmatic patients may never have to struggle for air again,” he said.

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“Finding new approaches to target and block super-enhancers may provide a new means of treatment for asthma patients that is likely to be more efficacious than the standard of care, which is now steroids,” Li said.

Too Much Time in Dimly Lit Rooms May Decrease Intelligence, Neuroscience Research Finds

There’s a lot that could be said about this and the structural effects from it.

Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn, indicates groundbreaking research by Michigan State University neuroscientists.

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

The rats exposed to bright light, on the other hand, showed significant improvement on the spatial task. Further, when the rodents that had been exposed to dim light were then exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break), their brain capacity — and performance on the task — recovered fully.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain. Americans, on average, spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning,” said Antonio “Tony” Nunez, psychology professor and co-investigator on the study. “This is similar to when people can’t find their way back to their cars in a busy parking lot after spending a few hours in a shopping mall or movie theater.”

Nunez collaborated with Lily Yan, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator on the project, and Joel Soler, a doctoral graduate student in psychology. Soler is also lead author of a paper on the findings published in the journal Hippocampus.

Soler said sustained exposure to dim light led to significant reductions in a substance called brain derived neurotrophic factor — a peptide that helps maintain healthy connections and neurons in the hippocampus — and in dendritic spines, or the connections that allow neurons to “talk” to one another.

“Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus,” Soler said.

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The project could have implications for the elderly and people with glaucoma, retinal degeneration or cognitive impairments.

“For people with eye disease who don’t receive much light, can we directly manipulate this group of neurons in the brain, bypassing the eye, and provide them with the same benefits of bright light exposure?” Yan said. “Another possibility is improving the cognitive function in the aging population and those with neurological disorders. Can we help them recover from the impairment or prevent further decline?”

Developing Edible QR Codes for Future Medications

Quite a different approach than how medicine is administered today. There will need to be safeguards, however, such as by ensuring the legitimacy of the scans through cryptographic verification.

For the last 100 years, researchers have constantly pushed the boundaries for our knowledge about medicine and how different bodies can respond differently to it. However, the methods for the production of medicine have not yet moved itself away from mass production. Many who have a given illness get the same product with equal amount of an active compound.

This production might soon be in the past. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen together with colleagues from Åbo Akademi University in Finland have developed a new method for producing medicine. They produce a white edible material. Here, they print a QR code consisting of a medical drug.

“This technology is promising, because the medical drug can be dosed exactly the way you want it to. This gives an opportunity to tailor the medication according to the patient getting it,” says Natalja Genina, Assistant Professor at Department of Pharmacy.

Potential for reducing wrong medication and fake medicine

The shape of a QR code also enables storage of data in the “pill” itself.

“Simply doing a quick scan, you can get all the information about the pharmaceutical product. In that sense it can potentially reduce cases of wrong medication and fake medicine,” says Natalja Genina.

The researchers hope that in the future a regular printer will be able to apply the medical drug in the pattern of a QR code, while the edible material will have to be produced in advance to allow on-demand production of medical drug near end-users.

“If we are successful with applying this production method to relatively simple printers, then it can enable the innovative production of personalized medicine and rethinking of the whole supply chain,” says professor Jukka Rantanen from Department of Pharmacy.

The researchers are now working to refine the methods for this medical production.