Tag Archives: biotech

Growing Organs in the Lab

This research isn’t something that might happen in the distant future.  It’s being used today to grow fresh organs, open up new ways to study disease and the immune system, and reduce the need for organ transplants. Organ-farming laboratories are popping up across the planet, and showing impressive results. Here we look at the state of the union of a rapidly advancing field called tissue engineering: what’s been accomplished so far, and what’s right around the corner.

Patients who undergo organ transplants require loads of toxic drugs to suppress their immune systems; otherwise their body might reject the organ. But tissue engineering could make organ transplants a thing of the past. By using a patient’s cells to grow new types of tissue in the lab, researchers are finding new ways to custom-engineer you new body parts by using your own cells.

At the cutting edge of organ engineering is Tengion, a clinical-stage biotech company based outside of Philadelphia. Their most successful research to date led to the creation of the Neo-Bladder. Tengion takes some of your cells and grows them in culture for five to seven weeks around a biodegradable scaffold. When the organ is ready, it can be transplanted without the need to suppress the patient’s immune system (because the organ was grown from the patient’s own cells, it carries no risk of rejection). Once the organ is in, the scaffold degrades and the bladder adapts to its new (old) home.


Medicine goes digital

The convergence of biology and engineering is turning health care into an information industry. That will be disruptive, says Vijay Vaitheeswaran (interviewed here), but also hugely beneficial to patients.

Innovation and medicine go together. The ancient Egyptians are thought to have performed surgery back in 2750BC, and the Romans developed medical tools such as forceps and surgical needles. In modern times medicine has been transformed by waves of discovery that have brought marvels like antibiotics, vaccines and heart stents.

Given its history of innovation, the health-care sector has been surprisingly reluctant to embrace information technology (IT). Whereas every other big industry has computerised with gusto since the 1980s, doctors in most parts of the world still work mainly with pen and paper.

But now, in fits and starts, medicine is at long last catching up. As this special report will explain, it is likely to be transformed by the introduction of electronic health records that can be turned into searchable medical databases, providing a “smart grid” for medicine that will not only improve clinical practice but also help to revive drugs research. Developing countries are already using mobile phones to put a doctor into patients’ pockets. Devices and diagnostics are also going digital, advancing such long-heralded ideas as telemedicine, personal medical devices for the home and smart pills.

The first technological revolution in modern biology started when James Watson and Francis Crick described the structure of DNA half a century ago. That established the fields of molecular and cell biology, the basis of the biotechnology industry. The sequencing of the human genome nearly a decade ago set off a second revolution which has started to illuminate the origins of diseases.


Harvard Scientists’ Discovery Opens Door to Synthetic Life

Harvard University scientists are a step closer to creating synthetic forms of life, part of a drive to design man-made organisms that may one day be used to help produce new fuels and create biotechnology drugs.

Researchers led by George Church, whose findings helped spur the U.S. human genome project in the 1980s, have copied the part of a living cell that makes proteins, the building blocks of life. The finding overcomes a major roadblock in making synthetic self-replicating organisms, Church said today in a lecture at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The technology can be used to program cells to make virtually any protein, even some that don’t exist in nature, the scientists said. That may allow production of helpful new drugs, chemicals and organisms, including living bacteria. It also opens the door to ethical concerns about creation of processes that may be uncontrollable by life’s natural defenses.

“It’s the key component to making synthetic life,” Church said yesterday in a telephone call with reporters. “We haven’t made synthetic life and it’s not our primary goal, but this is a huge milestone in that direction.”


20 New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine

1. Decay-Fighting Microbes

Bacteria living on teeth convert sugar into lactic acid, which erodes enamel and causes tooth decay. Florida-based company ONI BioPharma has engineered a new bacterial strain, called SMaRT, that cannot produce lactic acid—plus, it releases an antibiotic that kills the natural decay-causing strain. Dentists will only need to swab SMaRT, now in clinical trials, onto teeth once to keep them healthy for a lifetime.

2. Artificial Lymph Nodes

Scientists from Japan’s RIKEN Institute have developed artificial versions of lymph nodes, organs that produce immune cells for fighting infections. Though they could one day replace diseased nodes, the artificial ones may initially be used as customized immune boosters. Doctors could fill the nodes with cells specifically geared to treat certain conditions, such as cancer or HIV.

3. Asthma Sensor

Asthma accounts for a quarter of all emergency room visits in the U.S., but a sensor developed at the University of Pittsburgh may finally cause that number to plummet. Inside the handheld device, a polymer-coated carbon nanotube—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—analyzes breath for minute amounts of nitric oxide, a gas that lungs produce prior to asthma attacks.


Harvard Scientists Unravel The Secret Of Aging

As we get older, our health becomes our worst enemy. What’s the secret of living a longer healthy life, is a question still unanswered. At least until today, when Harvard researchers sustain that they might know the secret of aging.

Their paper published in this week issue of the journal Cell is the latest to draw attention to sirtuins, proteins involved in the aging process. Sirtuins become increasingly important as people age, according to lead author David A. Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School professor and co-founder of the Cambridge biotechnology company Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The proteins help maintain a youthful pattern of gene expression by ensuring that the genes that should be “off” remain silent.

The same proteins appear to also repair DNA damage as we age, Harvard researchers found.

“The critical protein controls both which genes are off and on as well as DNA repair; it’s used for both processes, and that’s the catch,” said Sinclair.

As we get older, more and more chromosomes get damaged and the SIR1 proteins can’t handle both jobs as well. This causes gene activity to go “haywire” leading to symptoms associated with the process of aging.

Bu the good part is just starting. The scientists have found evidence that the aging process can be slowed. They discovered that mice with more SIRT1 proteins have an improved ability to repair the DNA and to prevent the unwanted changes in the gene expressions.

Previous studies have shown that resveratrol, a chemical found primarily in red wine, helps activate the SIRT1 protein, which aids in the repair of broken chromosome. It’s true that the studies have been conducted on mice, but it’s an important step forward and a reason to believe that the possibility of improving our life is closer than we think.


Major step forward in cell reprogramming

Imagine, if you can, a day within the next decade when a physician-scientist could remove a skin cell from your arm and with a few chemicals turn that fully formed adult cell into a dish of stem cells genetically matched to you.

That day came a giant step closer to reality on Oct. 12 with the publication in Nature Biotechnology of a report in which Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers describe successfully having used a chemical in place of half the gene cocktail currently used to reprogram adult cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

“This study demonstrates there’s a possibility that instead of using genes and viruses to reprogram cells, one can use chemicals,” said Doug Melton, HSCI co-director and senior author of the study, whose first author is Danwei Huangfu, a postdoctoral fellow in Melton’s lab.

“The exciting thing about Danwei’s work is you can see how one might be able to sprinkle chemicals on cells and make stem cells,” said Melton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, giving his postdoc credit for the experiment.

This publication marks Huangfu’s second success employing chemicals in reprogramming: Last year, working with mouse cells, Huangfu used a chemical to improve the efficiency of the gene-induced reprogramming process.


Scientists grow mouse prostate from a single cell

Molecular biologists reported Wednesday that they had grown prostates in mice from single cells, marking an important step forward in the quest to grow transplant tissue in the lab.

The four-person team at the Californian biotechnology firm Genentech said they achieved the feat after identifying a primitive, powerful cell called a stem cell in mouse prostates.

The cell, known by its marker CD117, was transplanted below the kidney in lab mice, according to their study, published online by the British-based science journal Nature.

Of 97 of these single-cell transplants, 14 functioning prostates developed.

Stem cells have unleashed enormous interest in recent years because of their theoretical potential to grow specific cells that can be used to replace tissue damaged by disease or accident.

The biggest focus has been on stem cells at the embryonic stage as these are “pluripotent”, meaning that they can become any tissue in the body.

There are also “unipotent” adult stem cells, which are already programmed to divide into specific cells, which is the case in this research.


Senecavirus Structure Revealed – Kills Cancer 10,000 Times Better Than Chemo

The Senecavirus is a “new” virus, discovered several years ago by Neotropix Inc., a biotech company in Malvern, Pennsylvania. It was at first thought to be a laboratory contaminant, but researchers found it was a pathogen, now believed to originate from cows or pigs. Further investigation found that the virus was harmless to normal human cells, but could infect certain solid tumors, such as small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer.

Scientists at Neotrophix say that, in laboratory and animal studies, the virus demonstrates cancer-killing specificity that is 10,000 times higher than that seen in traditional chemotherapeutics, with no overt toxicity. The company has developed the “oncolytic” virus as an anti-cancer agent and is already conducting early phase clinical trials in patients with lung cancer.

The 3-D structure of the virus, officially known as Seneca Valley Virus-001, reveals that it is unlike any other known member of the Picornaviridae viral family, and confirms its recent designation as a separate genus, Senecavirus. A new study reveals that the virus’s outer protein shell looks like a craggy golf ball¬—one with uneven divets and raised spikes—and the RNA strand beneath it is arranged in a round mesh rather like a whiffleball.


Stem Cells without Side Effects

Last year, researchers announced one of the most promising methods yet for creating ethically neutral stem cells: reprogramming adult human cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This involved using four transcription factor proteins to turn specific genes on and off. But the resulting cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for their ability to develop into just about any tissue, have one huge flaw. They’re made with a virus that embeds itself into the cells’ DNA and, over time, can induce cancer. Now, scientists at Harvard University have found a way to effect the same reprogramming without using a harmful virus–a method that paves the way for tissue transplants made from a patient’s own cells.

The first generation of iPS cells was created using a retrovirus to insert the four transcription factors into skin cells. Because a retrovirus, by definition, inserts itself permanently into its host’s DNA, this ensured that the transcription factors were transferred, but it also led to the propagation of the virus itself. Furthermore, since the virus confers self-renewal capabilities to its new host cell, many believed that the retrovirus might be required for iPS cells to reproduce.

New research by Konrad Hochedlinger and his colleagues at Harvard University, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine shows that a different type of virus–an adenovirus–can make the transfer in mouse cells without permanently integrating itself. The resulting iPS cells can divide indefinitely but show no trace of the virus–just a temporary infection that disappears within a short time. “That means that the four transcription factors themselves are sufficient to induce pluripotency in adult cells,” Hochedlinger says.


The super vaccine that protects you from all types of flu for LIFE

A super-vaccine that could give permanent protection against all forms of flu is being developed by British doctors.

The once-in-a-lifetime vaccine could do away with the need for an annual jab, according to researchers at Oxford University.

At present, the current jab has to be given every winter to match different circulating strains.

If successful, the new vaccine could be a key weapon against a flu pandemic because stockpiles could be made in advance.

Official estimates of the impact of such a pandemic in Britain show it could lead to 750,000 deaths, with more than six million children affected, including 750,000 under five.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Gilbert said the vaccine could be used routinely in as little as five years, once tests had been done to ensure its safety and efficacy.

She said a universal vaccine would drastically change the way flu vaccine is used.

‘With having to make new vaccine every year, there’s never enough to go around,’ she said.

‘With this vaccine, we could end up having pretty much everyone vaccinated  –  a situation more like measles, where you don’t really need it any more.

‘Children would be protected, we’d see economic benefits through reduced sickness in people of working age, and the elderly, who respond less well to vaccination, would be better off through lack of exposure to flu.’

Dr Gilbert added: ‘The current approach to influenza vaccination is unsatisfactory for use against seasonal influenza, and of little use when new types of flu begin to infect humans from birds.

‘It leaves manufacturers with a few months to produce the necessary stocks, the vaccine has to be administered to at risk populations within a short time window, and those receiving the injection will all have to be vaccinated again the following year.’

The latest approach follows successful tests of another universal vaccine by scientists at Cambridge biotech firm Acambis.

Trials on healthy adults in the U.S. showed the jab is safe, causing no side effects other than the occasional red arm and high temperature associated with all vaccines.