Monthly Archives: June 2008

Cancer ‘cure’ in mice to be tested in humans

Scientists at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are about to embark on a human trial to test whether a new cancer treatment will be as effective at eradicating cancer in humans as it has proven to be in mice.

The treatment will involve transfusing specific white blood cells, called granulocytes, from select donors, into patients with advanced forms of cancer. A similar treatment using white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice has previously been highly successful, curing 100 percent of lab mice afflicted with advanced malignancies.

Zheng Cui, Ph.D., lead researcher and associate professor of pathology, will be announcing the study June 28 at the Understanding Aging conference in Los Angeles.

The study, given the go-ahead by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will involve treating human cancer patients with white blood cells from healthy young people whose immune systems produce cells with high levels of cancer-fighting activity.

The basis of the study is the scientists’ discovery, published five years ago, of a cancer-resistant mouse and their subsequent finding that white blood cells from that mouse and its offspring cured advanced cancers in ordinary laboratory mice. They have since identified similar cancer-killing activity in the white blood cells of some healthy humans.

“In mice, we’ve been able to eradicate even highly aggressive forms of malignancy with extremely large tumors,” Cui said. “Hopefully, we will see the same results in humans. Our laboratory studies indicate that this cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans.”

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The wheels of biotech keep on churning out impressive cures for all that ails us.

Curing 100% of mice with agressive cancer is more than impressive.

The cure is definitely coming. I understand people have made failed predictions about this in the past, but they were only wrong in their timing, not in their ability to see possibilities.

The difference between then and now is that today, we are seeing actual proof of the fact that cancer can indeed be cured.

Harvard Team Creates World’s First Synthesized Cells

A single cell is the most awesomely sophisticated molecular machine yet produced.  A self-directing, self-replicating micro-factory capable of complex constructions, automated repair and even (like all good sci-fi-sounding devices) self-destruct.  The first cells, however, were much less “complex mechanisms” and significantly more “Shake and Bake” – a model that we’re now ready to build ourselves.

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It’s amazing how life apparently bootstraps itself together when you just throw together some basic chemicals.

We’re actually talking about a DNA replicating cell, synthesized from scratch, apparently.

How long before I get to design my own pets?

U.S. Military Gets Newest Kill-Bot

The U.S. military’s small, but growing, arsenal of armed robots has a new addition. Bot-maker Foster-Miller has shipped the first of its new killer machines to the Defense Department’s Combatting Terrorism Technology Support Office.

The 350-pound MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) machine can carry a 40mm grenade launcher or a M240B medium machine gun. Or, if the robot’s operators want their killer ‘bot to be a little less-lethal, the thing can be equipped with a laser dazzler, a loudspeaker, or pepper spray.

After years of safety testing and modifications, three of MAARS kill-bot predecessors were sent to Iraq in 2007. But after nearly nine months in the field, safety concerns (among other reasons) have kept those machines from firing a shot in combat.

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Dean Kamen’s Robot Arm Grabs More Publicity

Dean Kamen showed some video of the impressive, mind-controlled prosthetic robot arm he’s invented today at D6 in Carlsbad. Kamen has been showing the arm off since early 2007, usually via video clips like what he showed today. But today’s demonstration at D6 was impressive enough that it’s got the gadget blogs and the Twitterverse all aflutter today.

Deservedly so: Kamen’s arm, dubbed “Luke” (after Skywalker, I assume), is an incredibly sophisticated bit of engineering that’s lightyears ahead of the clamping “claws” that many amputees are forced to use today. The arm is fully articulated, giving the user the same degrees of movement as a natural arm, and is sensitive enough to pick up a piece of paper, a wineglass or even a grape without mishap.

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Scientists dig deeper into the genetics of schizophrenia

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have illuminated a window into how abnormalities in microRNAs, a family of molecules that regulate expression of numerous genes, may contribute to the behavioral and neuronal deficits associated with schizophrenia and possibly other brain disorders.

In the May 11 issue of Nature Genetics, Maria Karayiorgou, M.D., professor of psychiatry, and Joseph A. Gogos, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center explain how they uncovered a previously unknown alteration in the production of microRNAs of a mouse modeled to have the same chromosome 22q11.2 deletions previously identified in humans with schizophrenia.

“We’ve known for some time that individuals with 22q11.2 microdeletions are at high risk of developing schizophrenia,” said Karayiorgou, who was instrumental in identifying deletions of 22q11.2 as a primary risk factor for schizophrenia in humans several years earlier. “By digging further into this chromosome, we have been able to see at the gene expression level that abnormalities in microRNAs can be linked to the behavioral and cognitive deficits associated with the disease.”

The investigators modeled mice to have the same genetic deletion as the one observed in some individuals with schizophrenia and examined what happens in the expression of over 30,000 genes in specific areas of the brain. When they discovered that the gene family of microRNAs was affected, they suspected that the Dgcr8 gene was responsible. The Dgcr8 gene is one of the 27 included in the 22q11.2 microdeletion and has a critical role in microRNA production, so this was a logical hypothesis. Indeed, when they produced a mouse deficient for the Dgcr8 gene, and tested it on a variety of cognitive, behavioral and neuroanatomical tests, they observed the same deficits often observed in people with schizophrenia.

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Scientist team creates first GM human embryo

Scientists have created what is believed to be the first genetically modified (GM) human embryo.A team from Cornell University in New York produced the GM embryo to study how early cells and diseases develop. It was destroyed after five days.

The British regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has warned that such controversial experiments cause “large ethical and public interest issues”.

News of the development comes days before MPs are to debate legislation that would allow scientists to use similar techniques in this country.

The effects of changing an embryo would be permanent. Genes added to embryos or reproductive cells, such as sperm, will affect all cells in the body and will be passed on to future generations.

The technology could potentially be used to correct genes which cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and even cancer. In theory, any gene that has been identified could be added to embryos.

Ethicists warn that genetically modifying embryos could lead to the addition of genes for desirable traits such as height, intelligence and hair colour.

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Lab-grown cells ‘treat baldness’

Cells grown in the laboratory may offer a possible solution to hair loss, preliminary trials have suggested.The technique involves taking small amounts of the remaining hair cells, multiplying them, then injecting them into bald areas.

Six months after treatment, 11 out of 19 patients had grown new hair, UK researchers told an Italian conference.

However, a UK specialist said further work would be needed so that the new hair looked right.

Hair loss affects two-fifths of men over 50, and can be a long-term problem for some people following radiotherapy or burns.

Currently available methods of hair transplantation involve taking large clumps of remaining follicles under local anaesthetic and moving them to the desired area, a technique dependent on the amount of hair left, as no new hair is created.

The new method, called “follicular cell implantation”, developed by UK firm Intercytex, claims to be able to provide a limitless supply of replacement hair cells, and, if other trials show it to be safe and effective, could be available within five years.

Doctors take only the dermal papilla cells – cells found in the follicle which are responsible for hair growth.

They are harvested from areas on the back of the head, which usually still have hair growth, and then bathed in a specially-developed chemical in the laboratory, before being placed back into bald areas of the scalp.

The early results suggest that most patients appear to benefit after just a few months, although the numbers involved in the trial are relatively small.

Dr Paul Kemp, Intercytex’s Scientific Officer, said that the presence of the dermal papilla cells encouraged skin cells to start building a brand new hair follicle, or rejuvenated follicles which have stopped producing hair properly.

He said: “It will revolutionise hair care, I think. People will use this when they are starting to go bald – they’ll come and see us, we’ll take a few dermal papilla cells, grow them up in the lab, freeze most of them, and inject some.

“They can keep coming back as the balding process continues. I’m convinced it will work, it’s just a question of fine-tuning the technique.”

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Nanotrucks and Nanotrains: Workhorses of the Future?

They might not look like your Ford F-150 or Toyota Camry, but a new generation of nanocars and nanotrucks (along with nanotrains and even nanobackhoes) could eventually build anything from computer memory chips to entire buildings, atom by atom.

Now they don’t even have to be built; some nanomachines can build themselves, according to an upcoming study.

“Most things that people build are top-down. You cut down a tree to build a table,” said James Tour, a scientist at Rice University and co-author on the upcoming study, which will appear in the upcoming issue of the new journal Tetrahedron.

“But what if you could make the table from assembling molecules together from the bottom up?” said Tour.

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Nanoworms Find, Treat Cancer Tumors Much Better

Scientists at UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT have developed nanometer-sized “nanoworms” that can travel through the bloodstream and — like tiny anti-cancer missiles — zero in on tumors. These can circulate in the body for hours since they do not trigger the immune system.

These nanoworms, composed of magnetic iron oxide and coated with a polymer, are able to find and attach to tumors. The nanoworms are superparamagnetic and show up very well on MRIs.

Using these nanoworms, doctors could eventually be able to target and reveal the location of developing tumors that are too small to detect by conventional methods.

With the use of this nanoworms concept, researchers are developing chemical attachments that will help to reach specific targets in the body, and are adding drugs that would be released when these targets are reached.

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IBM demonstrates water-cooling for 3D processors

Three-dimensional processors took a baby step towards commercial reality today, thanks to IBM’s water-cooling research. Big Blue and the Fraunhofer Institute have successfully tested a multistack CPU prototype that’s cooled by pumping water directly through the separate layers of the processor. If you aren’t used to thinking of processors in terms of layers, you may need to check Jon Stokes’ “Dagwood Sandwich” analogy before continuing on.

3-D chip stacking uses a technology referred to as “through silicon via” (TSV) to build processors vertically, rather than just horizontally. By using both dimensions, CPU engineers can reduce wire delay, improve CPU efficiency, and significantly reduce total power consumption. We’ve previously covered both Intel and IBM’s efforts in this area; readers should consult those articles for a more comprehensive treatment of the subject.

Thermal dissipation, however, is the Achilles’ heel of any three dimensional processor. The more layers in a processor, the more difficult it is to effectively remove heat emanating from the lower levels. CPU architects can compensate for this by placing the hotter parts of a core on upper layers and by avoiding designs that stack core hotspots vertically, but the complexity of the problem increases with every additional layer. Simply leaving more space between the individual layers is not a solution, as this would quickly recreate the wire delay problems three-dimensional processors are meant to alleviate.

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