Monthly Archives: January 2009

New Technology May Heal Bones in Minutes

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The worst part of breaking a bone (besides the pain) is the healing process. Wearing an uncomfortable cast can be irritating and aggravating, making it harder to move around for months at a time. Well, that process may soon change. A company has developed a product called “Injectable Bone” that may repair the broken bone in minutes.

The U.K. company, called RegenTec, has created a white powder that is designed to be injected into a person in order to speed up the healing process of broken bones.

“You won’t be able to just walk out of a hospital with a broken leg,” said Robin Quirk, a professor at the University of Nottingham and co-developer of the technology. “What we are trying to do in the short term is have something that fills the void left by a break that acts like normal spongy bone and encourages natural regeneration.”

Injectable Bone is a mix of ceramic and polylactic acid. On the outside, it looks like white powder. When injected into the body with a needle, the higher temperature inside causes the two components to mix together to form a hard, spongy mass similar to bones in the body.

While there are already other products similar to Injectable Bone, those products experience some problems in that they harden into a solid mass or raise body temperature enough to damage other tissue in the immediate area.

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Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Successful In Reversing Brain Birth Defects

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Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have succeeded in reversing brain birth defects in animal models, using stem cells to replace defective brain cells.

Neural and behavioral birth defects, such as learning disabilities, are particularly difficult to treat, compared to defects with known cause factors such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, because the prenatal teratogen – the substances that cause the abnormalities — act diffusely in the fetal brain, resulting in multiple defects.

Prof. Joseph Yanai and his associates at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School were able to overcome this obstacle in laboratory tests with mice by using mouse embryonic neural stem cells. These cells migrate in the brain, search for the deficiency that caused the defect, and then differentiate into becoming the cells needed to repair the damage.

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Nanotechnology – A Boon For Medical Science

Nanotechnology, or more affectionately nicknamed as nanotech, is a field of research that deals with controlling matter on an atomic or molecular level. This has multiple applications that range anywhere from electronics, to energy production, to engineering, to physics, and even to medicine. In the field of medicine alone, nanotech is giving rise to tools and possible applications that are now being streamlined to focus on finding and eradicating cancer cells. This is a particularly timely issue because cancer is now the foremost killing disease of the modern times. As humankind evolves into the new millennia, it seems that cancer cells are evolving as well. As such, there are still no known medicines or medical procedures that can prevent or cure the occurrence of any type of cancer.

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Extinct animals could be brought back to life thanks to advances in DNA technology

The idea of resurrecting extinct animals moved a step closer to reality last year when scientists announced that they had decoded almost all of the genome of the woolly mammoth, from 60,000-year-old remains found frozen in Siberia.

Now New Scientist magazine has named the 10 other beasts most likely to rise again, including the Irish elk deer whose antlers measured 12 feet across, the dodo and Neanderthal man.

Animals that died out thousands of years ago could be recreated using genetic information retrieved from well-preserved specimens recovered from permafrost, dark caves or dry desserts.

There is no chance of bringing back the dinosaurs because genetic information is unlikely to survive more than a million years in any environment.

But scientists have just announced they had “resurrected” a gene from the Tasmanian tiger by implanting it in a mouse and examined its function – the first time such a feat had been achieved.

The genomes of several extinct species besides the mammoth are already being sequenced.

To revive a long-dead species scientists would have to recover enough DNA from a well-preserved specimen and find a suitable surrogate species similar to that of the extinct animal in which to grow the new baby from an embryo.

“It’s hard to say that something will never ever be possible,”said Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who is sequencing the Neanderthal genome.

“But it would require technologies so far removed from what we currently have that I cannot imagine how it would be done.”

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CES 2009: 3D video gaming to become a reality next month

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Mitsubishi will be pitching a 3D product consisting of Nvidia driver software, 3D glasses with a receiver and a sender that is placed on top of a TV. If you own a home entertainment PC with a potent Nvidia graphics card, the driver software can create 3D imagery from regular video games, we are told. The sending unit  reacts to the position of the 3D glasses to create a true 3D feeling.

We were able to testdrive the technology for a few minutes and were deeply impressed. Mitsubishi said that the product will be offered for $200 beginning next month – home entertainment PC and 3D-enabled LCD TV not included.

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Scientists identify machinery that helps make memories

A major puzzle for neurobiologists is how the brain can modify one microscopic connection, or synapse, at a time in a brain cell and not affect the thousands of other connections nearby. Plasticity, the ability of the brain to precisely rearrange the connections between its nerve cells, is the framework for learning and forming memories.

Duke University Medical Center researchers have identified a missing-link molecule that helps to explain the process of plasticity and could lead to targeted therapies.

The discovery of a molecule that moves new receptors to the synapse so that the neuron (nerve cell) can respond more strongly helps to explain several observations about plasticity, said Michael Ehlers, M.D., Ph.D., a Duke professor of neurobiology and senior author of the study published in the Oct. 31 issue of Cell. “This may be a general delivery system in the brain and in other types of cells, and could have significance for all cell signaling.”

Ehlers said this could be a general way for all cells to locally modify their membranes with receptors, a process critical for many activities — cell signaling, tumor formation and tissue development.

“Part of plasticity involves getting receptors to the synaptic connections of nerve cells,” Ehlers said. “The movement of neurotransmitter (chemical) receptors occurs through little packages that deliver molecules to the synapse when new memories form. What we have discovered is the molecular motor that moves these packages when synapses are active.”

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Bone in a bottle

GROWING human cells in a laboratory is easy. Making those cells arrange themselves into something that resembles human flesh is, however, anything but. So-called tissue engineers have mastered the arts of artificial skin and bladders, and recently they have managed to rig up a windpipe for a patient whose existing one was blocked. But more complicated organs elude them. And simpler ones, too. No one, for instance, has managed to grow bone marrow successfully.

At first sight, that is surprising. The soft and squishy marrow inside bones does not look like a highly structured tissue, but apparently it is. That does not matter for transplants. If marrow cells are moved from one bone to another they quickly make themselves at home. But it matters for research. Bone marrow plays an important role in the immune system, and also in bodily rejuvenation. Stem cells that originate within the marrow generate various sorts of infection-fighting blood cells and also help to repair damaged organs. However, many anti-cancer and anti-viral drugs are toxic to marrow. That leaves patients taking them susceptible to disease and premature ageing. Experiments intended to investigate this toxicity using mice have proved unsatisfactory. Nicholas Kotov of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his colleagues have therefore been trying to grow human marrow artificially.

When they started their research, Dr Kotov and his team knew that the stem cells from which marrow is derived grow naturally in specialised pores within bone. These pores are lined by a mixture of connective-tissue cells, bone cells and fat cells, which collaborate to nurture the stem cells. The researchers also knew that the cells in this lining send chemical signals to one another and to those stem cells they touch. That suggests a stem cell’s fate may depend on its surroundings in three dimensions, rather than the two dimensions of the bottom of a Petri dish—the type of vessel traditionally used to grow cell cultures. If correct, this would explain why attempts to make marrow in Petri dishes have failed.

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Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli

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As bacterium goes, E. coli is a public health scourge, but a lab favorite. It’s one of the most thoroughly studied microbes out there, and so one of the most easily manipulated for genetic engineering. Scientists can tweak its metabolic pathways to produce insulinmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli , antibiotics and anticancer drugs; they can increase its ability to make ethanol or even engineer it to manufacture hydrocarbons. But until now, they couldn’t push it to create something that didn’t exist naturally: long-chain alcohols.

By manipulating E. coli to produce alcohols with up to eight carbon atoms, James Liao and his colleagues at the University of California-Los Angeles recently introduced a new twist to the field of biofuels research. Long-chain alcohols overcome some of the traditional limitations of ethanol, which has only two carbon atoms. They have both high-energy density—on par with gasoline—and low water solubility, so they are compatible with existing infrastructure.

“Long-chain alcohols can be directly used in automobiles or aircraft,” Liao says. “Unlike E85, which requires retrofitted vehicles, [they] can be used without vehicle modification.”

The current research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 8, builds on work Liao published in the journal Nature last January. The Nature study demonstrated that E. coli can metabolize glucose into branched chain alcohols with four or five carbon atoms—and do so in higher yields (for isobutanol, 86 percent of the theoretical maximum) that will be necessary for large-scale biofuels production.

Alcohols with six to eight carbon atoms in each molecule could only be generated by pioneering a whole new metabolic pathway—a nonnatural one, created by chemically synthesizing amino acidsmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli that allow the microbe to manufacture alcohols longer than what would be naturally possible.

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Will Nanotubes Make You Super-Smart?

Researchers in Italy and Switzerland have found carbon nanotubes to be bio-compatible and that the can be attached to neurons to boost the natural signal-processing capabilities of those neurons.

“Our findings show that carbon nanotubes, which are as good an electrical signal conductor as the nerve cells of our brain, form intimate mechanical contacts with the cellular membranes, establishing a functional link to neuronal structures,” said University of Trieste (Italy) professor Laura Ballerini…

…the current results explaining the biocompatibility of carbon nanotubes hold the promise of enabling permanent repairs to be made to the faulty neurons, enhancing the performance of these networks and restoring their original functions…

The researchers propose engineering carbon nanotube scaffolds as electrical bypass circuitry, not only for faulty neural networks but potentially to enhance the performance of healthy cells to provide “superhuman” cognitive functions. [Emphasis added. From EE Times – Nanotubes shown to boost neuron signals by R. Colin Johnson.]

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Will Artificial Organism with Advanced Group Intelligence Evolve?

Remember Michael Crichton’s science-fiction novel, “Prey”? Well,  researchers at the University of York have investigated large swarms of up to 10,000 miniature robots which can work together to form a single, artificial life form. The multi-robot approach to artificial intelligence is a relatively new one, and has developed from studies of the swarm behavior of social insects such as ants.

Swarm robotics is a field of study based on the supposition that simple, individual robots can interact and collaborate to form a single artificial organism with more advanced group intelligence.

As a part of an international collaboration dubbed the “Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms” project, or “Symbrion” for short, researchers are developing an artificial immune system which can protect both the individual robots that form part of a swarm, as well as the larger, collective organism.

The aim of the project is to develop the novel principles behind the ways in which robots can evolve and work together in large ‘swarms’ so that – eventually – these can be applied to real-world applications. The swarms of robots are capable of forming themselves into a ‘symbiotic artificial organism’ and collectively interacting with the physical world using sensors.

The multi-robot organisms will be made up of large-scale swarms of robots, each slightly larger than a sugar cube, which can dock with each other and share energy and computing resources within a single artificial-life-form. The organisms will also be able to manage their own hardware and software, they will be self-healing and self organizing.

Professor Alan Winfield, a member of the project team, explains, “A future application of this technology might be for example where a Symbrion swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake, and they could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a ‘medicine bot’ to give first aid.

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