Chinese scientists unveil energy-generating window

072613solarScientists in China said on Thursday they had designed a “smart” window that can both save and generate energy, and may ultimately reduce heating and cooling costs for buildings.


Scientists in China have designed a window that can save and generate energy. Photo: Reuters

While allowing us to feel close to the outside world, windows cause heat to escape from buildings in winter and let the sun’s unwanted rays enter in summer.

This has sparked a quest for “smart” windows that can adapt to weather conditions outside.

Today’s smart windows are limited to regulating light and heat from the sun, allowing a lot of potential energy to escape, study co-author Yanfeng Gao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said.

“The main innovation of this work is that it developed a concept smart window device for simultaneous generation and saving of energy.”

Engineers have long battled to incorporate energy-generating solar cells into window panes without affecting their transparency.

Gao’s team discovered that a material called vanadium oxide (VO2) can be used as a transparent coating to regulate infrared radiation from the sun.

VO2 changes its properties based on temperature. Below a certain level it is insulating and lets through infrared light, while at another temperature it becomes reflective.

A window in which VO2 was used could regulate the amount of sun energy entering a building, but also scatter light to solar cells the team had placed around their glass panels, where it was used to generate energy with which to light a lamp, for example.

“This smart window combines energy-saving and generation in one device, and offers potential to intelligently regulate and utilise solar radiation in an efficient manner,” the study authors wrote in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Atomic Layer Technique Creates Breakthrough for Solar Cell Efficiency

Posted: Oct 25, 2013
New atomic layer-by-layer technique creates breakthrough for solar cell efficiency

longpredicte(Nanowerk News)

Did you know that crystals form the basis for the penetrating icy blue glare of car headlights and could be fundamental to the future in solar energy technology?

Crystals are at the heart of diodes. Not the kind you might find in quartz, formed naturally, but manufactured to form alloys, such as indium gallium nitride or InGaN. This alloy forms the light emitting region of LEDs, for illumination in the visible range, and of laser diodes (LDs) in the blue-UV range.

Research into making better crystals, with high crystalline quality, light emission efficiency and luminosity, is also at the heart of studies being done at Arizona State University by Research Scientist Alec Fischer and Doctoral Candidate Yong Wei in Professor Fernando Ponce’s group in the Department of Physics.

In an article recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters (“Highly luminescent, high-indium-content InGaN film with uniform composition and full misfit-strain relaxation”), the ASU group, in collaboration with a scientific team led by Professor Alan Doolittle at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just revealed the fundamental aspect of a new approach to growing InGaN crystals for diodes, which promises to move photovoltaic solar cell technology toward record-breaking efficiencies.

The atomic arrangement at a relaxed InGaN/GaN interface created by layer-by-layer atomic crystal growth is shown. The technique may point to new developments in solar cell efficiency.
The InGaN crystals are grown as layers in a sandwich-like arrangement on sapphire substrates.

Typically, researchers have found that the atomic separation of the layers varies; a condition that can lead to high levels of strain, breakdowns in growth, and fluctuations in the alloy’s chemical composition.

“Being able to ease the strain and increase the uniformity in the composition of InGaN is very desirable,” says Ponce, “but difficult to achieve. Growth of these layers is similar to trying to smoothly fit together two honeycombs with different cell sizes, where size difference disrupts a periodic arrangement of the cells.”

As outlined in their publication, the authors developed an approach where pulses of molecules were introduced to achieve the desired alloy composition. The method, developed by Doolittle, is called metal-modulated epitaxy. “This technique allows an atomic layer-by-layer growth of the material,” says Ponce.

Analysis of the atomic arrangement and the luminosity at the nanoscale level was performed by Fischer, the lead author of the study, and Wei.

Their results showed that the films grown with the epitaxy technique had almost ideal characteristics and revealed that the unexpected results came from the strain relaxation at the first atomic layer of crystal growth.

“Doolittle’s group was able to assemble a final crystal that is more uniform and whose lattice structures match up…resulting in a film that resembles a perfect crystal,” says Ponce. “The luminosity was also like that of a perfect crystal. Something that no one in our field thought was possible.”

The ASU and Georgia Tech team’s elimination of these two seemingly insurmountable defects (non-uniform composition and mismatched lattice alignment) ultimately means that LEDs and solar photovoltaic products can now be developed that have much higher, efficient performance.

“While we are still a ways off from record-setting solar cells, this breakthrough could have immediate and lasting impact on light emitting devices and could potentially make the second most abundant semiconductor family, III-Nitrides, a real player in the solar cell field,” says Doolittle.

Doolittle’s team at Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering also included Michael Moseley and Brendan Gunning. A patent is pending for the new technology.

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Physicists decode decision circuit of cancer metastasis

Human Body

Rice U. research reveals three-way genetic switch for cancer metastasis


HOUSTON — (Oct. 24, 2013) — Cancer researchers from Rice University have deciphered the operating principles of a genetic switch that cancer cells use to decide when to metastasize and invade other parts of the body. The study found that the on-off switch’s dynamics also allows a third choice that lies somewhere between “on” and “off.” The extra setting both explains previously confusing experimental results and opens the door to new avenues of cancer treatment.

The study appears online this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eshel Ben-Jacob

Eshel Ben-Jacob

Cancer cells behave in complex ways, and this work shows how such complexity can arise from the operation of a relatively simple decision-making circuit,” said study co-author Eshel Ben-Jacob, a senior investigator at Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) and adjunct professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice. “By stripping away the complexity and starting with first principles, we get a glimpse of the ‘logic of cancer’ — the driver of the disease’s decision to spread.”

In the PNAS study, Ben-Jacob and CTBP colleagues José Onuchic, Herbert Levine, Mingyang Lu and Mohit Kumar Jolly describe a new theoretical framework that allowed them to model the behavior of microRNAs in decision-making circuits. To test the framework, they modeled the behavior of a decision-making genetic circuit that cells use to regulate the forward and backward transitions between two different cell states, the epithelial and mesenchymal. Known respectively as the E-M transition (EMT) and the M-E transition (MET), these changes in cell state are vital for embryonic development, tissue engineering and wound healing. During the EMT, some cells also form a third state, a hybrid that is endowed with a special mix of both epithelial and mesenchymal abilities, including group migration.

The EMT transition is also a hallmark of cancer metastasis. Cancer cells co-opt the process to allow tumor cells to break away, migrate to other parts of the body and establish a new tumor. To find ways to shut down metastasis, cancer researchers have conducted dozens of studies about the genetic circuitry that activates the EMT.

One clear finding from previous studies is that a two-component genetic switch is the key to both the EMT and MET. The switch contains two specialized pairs of proteins. One pair is SNAIL and microRNA34 (SNAIL/miR34), and the other is ZEB and microRNA200 (ZEB/miR200).

Each pair is “mutually inhibitory,” meaning that the presence of one of the partners inhibits the production of the other.

Cancer CTBP metastasis abstract

This is an artist’s depiction of the dangers of metastasis, the process by which cancer cells migrate and establish tumors throughout the body. A new study from Rice University cancer researchers details the workings of key genetic circuits involved in metastasis. Credit: University

In the mesenchymal cell state — the state that corresponds to cancer metastasis — both SNAIL and ZEB must be present in high levels. In the epithelial state, the microRNA partners dominate, and neither ZEB nor SNAIL is available in high levels.

“Usually, if you have two genes that are mutually limiting, you have only two possibilities,”

Ben-Jacob said. “In the first case, gene A is highly expressed and inhibits gene B. In the other, gene B is highly expressed and it inhibits A. This is true in the case of ZEB and miR200. One of these is ‘on’ and the other is ‘off,’ so it’s clear that this is the decision element in the switch.”

SNAIL and miR34 interact more weakly. As a result, both can be present at the same time, with the amount of each varying based upon inputs from a number of other proteins, including several other cancer genes.

“One of the most important things the model showed us was how SNAIL and miR34 act as an integrator,” Ben-Jacob said. “This part of the circuit is acted on by multiple cues, and it integrates those signals and feeds information into the decision element. It does this based upon the level of SNAIL, which activates ZEB and inhibits miR200.”

In modeling the ZEB/miR200 decision circuit, the team found that it operates as a “ternary” or three-way, switch. The reason for this is that ZEB has the ability to activate itself by a positive feedback loop, which allows the cell to keep intermediate levels of all four proteins in the switch under some conditions.

Ben-Jacob said the hybrid, or partially on-off state, also supports cancer metastasis by enabling collective cell migration and by imparting stem-cell properties that help migrating cancer cells evade the immune system and anticancer therapies.

“Now that we understand what drives the cell to select between the various states, we can begin to think of new ways to outsmart cancer,” Ben-Jacob said. “We can think about coaxing the cancer to make the decision that we want, to convert itself into a state that we are ready to attack with a particularly effective treatment.”

José Onuchic CTBP cancer researcher

José Onuchic

The cancer-metastasis results correspond with findings from previous studies by Ben-Jacob and Onuchic into the collective decision-making processes of bacteria and into new strategies to combat cancer by timing the delivery of multiple drugs to interrupt the decision-making processes of cancer.

“At CTBP, we allow the underlying physics of a system to guide our examination of its biological properties,” said Onuchic, CTBP co-director and Rice’s Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Physics and Astronomy and professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and cell biology. “In this case, that approach led us to develop a powerful model for simulating the decision-making circuitry involved in cancer metastasis. Going forward, we plan to see how this circuit interacts with others to produce a variety of cancer cells, including cancer stem cells.”

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the Tauber Family Funds at Tel Aviv University. Lu is a postdoctoral researcher at CTBP, and Jolly is a graduate student in bioengineering. Levine is co-director of CTBP and Rice’s Karl F. Hasselmann Professor in Bioengineering. Ben-Jacob is also the Maguy-Glass Professor in Physics of Complex Systems and professor of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University.


A high-resolution IMAGE is available for download at: CAPTION: This is an artist’s depiction of the dangers of metastasis, the process by which cancer cells migrate and establish tumors throughout the body. A new study from Rice University cancer researchers details the workings of key genetic circuits involved in metastasis. CREDIT: University

A copy of the PNAS paper is available at:

Eric Drexler lecture & debate (Video): “Radical Abundance” – Nanotechnology

Published on Oct 11, 2013

mix-id328072.jpgK. Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology—the science of engineering on a molecular level. In Radical Abundance, he shows how rapid scientific progress is about to change our world.



Thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon have the power to produce radically more of what people want, and at a lower cost. The result will shake the very foundations of our economy and environment.
Already, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. The advent of this kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things—cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale. It allows us to imagine a world where solar arrays cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, and laptops cost about the same.
A provocative tour of cutting edge science and its implications by the field’s founder and master, Radical Abundance offers a mind-expanding vision of a world hurtling toward an unexpected future.

Watch the Video Presentation Here:



Mass producing pocket labs

mix-id328072.jpg(Nanowerk News) There is certainly no shortage of  lab-on-a-chip (LOC) devices, but in most cases manufacturers have not yet found  a cost-effective way to mass produce them. Scientists are now developing a  platform for series production of these pocket laboratories.
Ask anyone to imagine what a chemical analysis laboratory looks  like, and most will picture the following scene: a large room filled with  electrical equipment, extractor hoods and chemical substances, in which  white-robed researchers are busy unlocking the secrets behind all sorts of  scientific processes. But there are also laboratories of a very different kind,  for instance labs-on-a-chip (LOCs). These “pocket labs” are able to  automatically perform a complete analysis of even the tiniest liquid samples,  integrating all the required functions onto a chip that’s just a few centimeters  long. Experts all over the world have developed many powerful LOC devices in  recent years, but very few pocket labs have made it onto the market.
Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology  IPT in Aachen want to find out why so many LOCs are not a commercial success.  They are working with colleagues from polyscale GmbH & Co. KG, an IPT  spin-off, and ten other industrial partners from Germany, Finland, Spain, the  United Kingdom, France and Italy on ways to make LOCs marketable. Their ML²  project is funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which is  providing a total of 7.69 million euros in funding through fall 2016.
“One of the main reasons LOCs don’t make it to market is that  the technologies used to fabricate them are often not transferrable to  industrial-scale production,” says Christoph Baum, group manager at the IPT.  What’s more, it is far from easy to integrate electrical functions into pocket  labs, and of the approaches taken to date, none has yet proved suitable for mass  production.
Microfluidic negative for structuring films
Microfluidic negative for structuring films. (© Fraunhofer IPT)
Platform for series production
The ML² project aims to completely revise the way pocket labs  are made so they are more suited to series production. “Our objective is to  create a design and production platform that will enable us to manufacture all  the components we need,” says Baum. This includes producing the tiny channel  structures within which liquids flow and react with each other, and coating the  surfaces so that bioactive substances can bond with them. Then there are optical  components, and electrical circuits for heating the channels, for example. The  experts apply each of these components to individual films that are then  assembled to form the complete “laboratory”. The films are connected to one  another via vertical channels machined through the individual layers using a  laser.
The first step the researchers have taken is to adapt and modify  the manufacturing process for each layer to suit mass-production requirements.  When it comes to creating the channel structures, the team has moved away from  the usual injection molding or wet chemical processing techniques in favor of  roll-to-roll processing. This involves transferring the negative imprint of the  channels onto a roller to create an embossing cylinder that then imprints a  pattern of depressions on a continuous roll of film. The electrical circuits are  printed onto film with an inkjet printer using special ink that contains copper  or silver nanoparticles.
Each manufacturing stage is fine-tuned by the researchers in the  process of producing a number of demonstrator LOCs – for instance a pregnancy  test with a digital display. These tests are currently produced in low-wage  countries, but with increased automation set to slash manufacturing costs by up  to 50 percent in future, production would once again be commercially viable in a  high-wage country such as Germany. The team aims to have all the demonstrators  built and the individual manufacturing processes optimized by 2014. Then it will  be a case of fitting the various steps in the manufacturing process together,  making sure they match up, and implementing the entire sequence on an industrial  scale.
Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

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Origami Form and Nanotechnology combine to advance batteries

Nanotubes images(Nanowerk News) A combination of nanotechnology and the  traditional art of paper folding, known as origami, could be a key to a  significant step toward improved battery technologies.
Arizona State University engineers have constructed a  lithium-ion battery using paper coated with carbon nanotubes that provide  electrical conductivity.
Using an origami-folding pattern similar to how maps are folded,  they folded the paper into a stack of 25 layers, producing a compact, flexible  battery that provides significant energy density – or the amount of energy  stored in a given system or space per unit of volume of mass.
foldable battery
The  above image illustrates the architecture of a foldable lithium-ion battery ASU  engineers have constructed using paper coated with carbon nanotubes. They began  with a porous, lint-free paper towel, coated it with polyvinylidene difluoride  to improve adhesion of carbon nanotubes and then immersed the paper into a  solution of carbon nanotubes. Powders of lithium titanate oxide and lithium  cobalt oxide – standard lithium battery electrodes – are sandwiched between two  sheets of the paper. Thin foils of copper and aluminum are placed above and  below the sheets of paper to complete the battery.
Their research paper in the journal Nano Letters (“Folding Paper-Based Lithium-Ion Batteries for  Higher Areal Energy Densities”) has drawn attention from websites that focus  on news of technological breakthroughs.
The researchers have also developed a new process to incorporate  a polymer binder onto the carbon nanotube-coated paper. The polymer binder  improves adhesion of the structure’s active materials.
The achievements open up possibilities of using the origami  technique to create new forms of paper-based energy storage devices, including  batteries, light-emitting diodes, circuits and transistors, says Candace Chan,  who led the research team.
Chan is an assistant professor of materials science and  engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Energy and Transport, one  of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Fellow ASU engineering faculty members, associate professor  Hanqing Jiang and assistant professor Hongyu Yu, have played leading roles in  the work.
We have also covered this work in our Nanowerk Spotlight series  here: Nanotechnology  researchers fabricate foldable Li-ion batteries.
Source: Arizona State University

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Nanodiamonds: a cancer patient’s best friend?

201306047919620(Nanowerk News) Diamonds are sometimes considered as a  girl’s best friend. Now, this expression is about to have a new meaning. Indeed,  nanometric scale diamond particles could offer a new way to detect cancer far  earlier than previously thought. This is precisely the objective of a research project  called Dinamo, funded by the EU. Specifically, it aims to develop a  non-invasive nanotechnology sensing platform for real-time monitoring of  biomolecular processes in living cancer cells.
To do so, they developed a new technique, based on the use of  fluorescent nanodiamond particles (NDPs). “We demonstrated that the specific  combination of NDP-properties make them a highly suitable material for the  construction of probes capable of sensing biomolecules ranging from proteins to  DNA,” says team coordinator Milos Nesladek, who is also principle scientist at  the Institute for Material Research, Imec, based in Leuven, Belgium, “such  probes could be used to study molecular processes in cells at nanoscale.”
The trouble is that previous solutions did not allow monitoring  processes within living cells for any extended period of time. “Our key  challenge was to replace fluorescent bimolecular dyes that are currently used as  luminescence markers in cancer cell research,” explains Nesladek.
NDPs present several advantages. They are highly biocompatible.  They can remain for prolonged periods inside cells without influencing any  cellular mechanisms. Furthermore, they can be engineered to obtain a range of  optic, magnetic and surface properties. “The small size of NDPs enables them to  penetrate individual cell membranes in a non-invasive way, which causes no  damage to the cell and without any disruption of normal cellular functions,”  Nesladek tells CommNet. “The luminescence and the magnetic properties change  depending on the NDP’s interaction with the cellular environment,” he adds.
The surface properties of NDPs are such that it is possible to  attach specific biomolecules to them, such as primary DNA molecules. Delivered  precisely to the target cell, these biomolecules can measure, monitor or alter  biological components within the cell. The NDPs can thus become not only a tool  to monitor and detect pre-cancerous changes, but also to rectify them. Further  developments are going on in subsequent EU-projects such as DIAMANT.
Some experts welcome this approach. “Development of new drug  delivery carriers is crucial for treatment of numerous deceases, including  cancer,” comments Fedor Jelezko, director of the Institute of Quantum Optics at  Ulm University in Germany. “The novelty of approach in [the project] is the use  of innovative material to transport drugs,” he tells CommNet. Nanodiamond  provides unique opportunities for drug carrier design since they can be imaged  optically using fluorescence microscopy technique. “This allows monitoring of  drug delivery and release of drugs in the cells with unprecedented details,” he  adds. This monitoring has already been demonstrated (“Nanodiamond as a Vector for siRNA Delivery to Ewing Sarcoma  Cells”) by teams of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Cachan and Gustave  Roussy Cancer Institute in Paris, France.
Other experts are more cautious. “Although there have been  numerous convincing experiments showing that nanodiamonds can carry active  anti-cancer drugs in culture cells and even in mice, it is very unlikely that it  will be ever used in humans, mostly because diamond is so inert that it cannot  be degraded and therefore cannot be easily eliminated by the body”, comments  François Treussart, physics professor at the ENS.
However, he seems a bright future for the technology. “Far  beyond the [project] goals, nanodiamond future in medical applications is more  as a diagnostic device in personal medicine or as a monitoring tool for example  to track stem cell engraftment in regenerative medicine, as recently  demonstrated (“Tracking the engraftment and regenerative  capabilities of transplanted lung stem cells using fluorescent  nanodiamonds”) by the biomedical applications of fluorescent ND-team at the  Institute of Atomic and Molecular Science, at the Academia Sinica inTaiwan,” he  concludes.
A NDP-probe, placed in a target cell, should be able to detect  and relay information about the processes taking place in this cell. “The Dinamo  project has been finished, but the partners still are collaborating,” Nesladek  tells. “The University of Stuttgart in Germany is developing a NDP-probe.  “Dinamo has focused on the context of breast cancer and colorectal cancer, but  there is no reason why the technique could not be applied to a wide range of  other cancers,” he tells CommNet. He concludes that another future aim is to  explore the possibility of using NDP probes to detect cancer stem cells.
Source: By Koen Mortelmans, Youris

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NanoH2O Invests $45M to Change the Economics of Desalination in China


NanoH2O Invests $45M to Change the Economics of Desalination in China

“It all comes down to the performance of the membrane.”

The water-energy nexus can’t be ignored. There is a looming water crisis for nearly every region of the globe as populations rise, pollution increases, and climate and weather patterns change.

Desalination is one way of addressing some of these water problems. The process can be accomplished with a number of expensive, energy-intensive technologies, including distillation, ion-exchange and reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis (RO) is a well-established desalination technology, but there are challenges pertaining to the amount of energy consumed in the process. The key to the economics of the reverse osmosis process is the membrane.


“It all comes down to the performance of the membrane,” said Jeff Green, water startup NanoH2O’s CEO, in an earlier interview. “A more productive membrane allows less energy to be used or provides higher throughput.”

NanoH2O is a well-funded, Los Angeles-based startup that is commercializing a new membrane material based on technology developed by UCLA‘s Eric Hoek. The VC-funded firm has had a measure of success with deployments across the globe (see case studies here). The company has won more than $85 million in funding and credit facilities from Khosla Ventures, Oak Investment Partners, BASF, Total, and CalPERS Clean Energy & Technology Fund.

The firm just announced its intention to build a manufacturing site in Liyang, China, a city 150 miles west of Shanghai. The 10,000-square-meter factory comes at a total investment of $45 million and is expected to be operational by the end of 2014.

China holds one-fifth of the world’s population, but just 6 percent of the global fresh water supply, according to the company. The Chinese government is looking to increase its seawater reverse-osmosis desalination capacity threefold by 2015. Its latest Five-Year Plan calls for 70 percent of the equipment used in desalination plants to be produced domestically, according to NanoH2O.

The “benign nanomaterials” used in NanoH2O’s thin-film layer have demonstrated a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in permeability compared to traditional thin-film RO membranes. A higher-performance, more permeable membrane allows more fresh water to cross the barrier with less pressure from a pump, which needs to be driven by an energy source, often natural gas, diesel, or coal.

The high-pressure pump consumes 35 percent to 60 percent of the process’ energy budget. According to the company, municipal and industrial plants optimized for NanoH2O’s membranes can expect up to a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption, a 70 percent increase in water production, or a 40 percent smaller plant footprint.

“Just two years after our commercial entry into the RO membrane and desalination markets, the opening of this second facility marks a major expansion for our company that will allow us to support a rapidly growing international market,” said CEO Jeff Green in a statement.

The firm also furnishes a comparison tool via which competitor products can be directly compared to NanoH2O’s membrane module on critical technical specs.

The industry-standard membrane module is a cylinder 8 inches in diameter and 40 inches long. A flat sheet of membrane is spiral-wound in the cylinder. Under pressure, the desalinated water moves through the membrane into a tube on the inside while the waste stream or brine stream remains on the outside. A typical pressure vessel contains many of the membrane modules. NanoH2O’s goal has been to make a membrane module that fits into RO systems with an identical size and shape to the existing product.
Traditional membranes have been made from a polyamide material for decades, but they had a propensity for fouling, and “fouling can severely degrade the productivity of the process or cause a complete shutdown of a system,” said Green. The firm claims that NanoH2O’s

technology is the first materials breakthrough in RO membranes since the 1970s.
Looking forward, Green envisions the desalination market becoming a much more global industry to drive down the cost of the process.
Other firms working on membranes for water applications include the industrial plumbing giant Danfoss, while Energy Recovery, Novozymes and a startup called Aquaporin are doing related work. The challenge, Aquaporin CEO Peter Jensen told Greentech Media, is making the membrane durable.
The U.S. is now “entering an era of water scarcity, as opposed to large chunks of the rest of the world that are already in the midst of water scarcity,” said Gayle Pergamit, CEO of membrane start-up Agua Via, in an email.  “Even if there wasn’t one whit of climate change, we are still going to run out of water. Nanotechnology-based water filtration could deliver completely pure water from any source at vastly reduced energy usage and lower total costs.”

Tags: desalination, khosla ventures, nanoh2o, water


Nanotech system, cellular heating may improve treatment of ovarian cancer

Oct 17, 2013 

       Nanotech system, cellular heating may improve treatment of ovarian cancerEnlarge        

 A new drug delivery system that incorporates heat, nanotechnology and chemotherapy shows promise in improving the treatment of ovarian cancer. Credit: Oregon State University

The combination of heat, chemotherapeutic drugs and an innovative delivery system based on nanotechnology may significantly improve the treatment of ovarian cancer while reducing side effects from toxic drugs, researchers at Oregon State University report in a n

The findings, so far done only in a laboratory setting, show that this one-two punch of mild hyperthermia and chemotherapy can kill 95 percent of ovarian cells, and scientists say they expect to improve on those results in continued research.

The work is important, they say, because – one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women – often develops resistance to if it returns after an initial remission. It kills more than 150,000 women around the world every year.

“Ovarian cancer is rarely detected early, and because of that chemotherapy is often needed in addition to surgery,” said Oleh Taratula, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy. “It’s essential for the chemotherapy to be as effective as possible the first time it’s used, and we believe this new approach should help with that.”

It’s known that elevated temperatures can help kill , but heating just the cancer cells is problematic. The new system incorporates the use of  nanoparticles that can be coated with a cancer-killing drug and then heated once they are imbedded in the cancer cell.

Other features have also been developed to optimize the new system, in an unusual collaboration between engineers, material science experts and pharmaceutical researchers.

A peptide is used that helps guide the nanoparticle specifically to cancer cells, and the nanoparticle is just the right size – neither too big nor too small – so the immune system will not reject it. A special polyethylene glycol coating further adds to the “stealth” effect of the nanoparticles and keeps them from clumping up. And the interaction between the cancer drug and a polymer on the nanoparticles gets weaker in the acidic environment of cancer cells, aiding release of the drug at the right place.

“The hyperthermia, or heating of cells, is done by subjecting the magnetic nanoparticles to an oscillating, or alternating magnetic field,” said Pallavi Dhagat, an associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and co-author on the study. “The absorb energy from the oscillating field and heat up.”

The result, in laboratory tests with , was that a modest dose of the chemotherapeutic drug, combined with heating the cells to about 104 degrees, killed almost all the cells and was far more effective than either the drug or heat treatment would have been by itself.

Doxorubicin, the cancer drug, by itself at the level used in these experiments would leave about 70 percent of the cancer cells alive. With the new approach, only 5 percent were still viable.

The work was published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, as a collaboration of researchers in the OSU College of Pharmacy, College of Engineering, and Ocean NanoTech of Springdale, Ark. It was supported by the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon, the PhRMA Foundation and the OSU College of Pharmacy.

“I’m very excited about this delivery system,” Taratula said. “Cancer is always difficult to treat, and this should allow us to use lower levels of the toxic chemotherapeutic drugs, minimize side effects and the development of drug resistance, and still improve the efficacy of the treatment. We’re not trying to kill the cell with heat, but using it to improve the function of the drug.”

Iron oxide particles had been used before in some medical treatments, researchers said, but not with the complete system developed at OSU. Animal tests, and ultimately human trials, will be necessary before the new system is available for use.

Drug delivery systems such as this may later be applied to other forms of cancer, such as prostate or pancreatic cancer, to help improve the efficacy of  in those conditions, Taratula said.

Explore further:     New ovarian cancer treatment succeeds in the lab

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