Nanoscale blood test technique could lead to accelerated early diagnosis and personalized medicines

A technique to get more information from the blood of cancer patients than previously possible has been developed.

“We hope this technique could be a springboard for further research, from monitoring disease progression or recurrence, to identifying which treatment is best for each patient and potentially finding new biomarkers for early diagnosis.”- Professor Kostas Kostarelos

The discovery could potentially accelerate early diagnosis, speed up drug discovery and lead to advancements in personalised medicines.

The Cancer Research UK-funded study* is published in Advanced Materials today (Wednesday).

The scientists, from the University of Manchester, collected blood samples from women with advanced ovarian cancer who were treated with a type of chemotherapy called CAELYX®.

This chemotherapy drug is contained in a soft, lipid-based nanoparticle, called a liposome, which acts as a vessel to help minimise side effects**.

Women gave a sample of blood, following an injection of CAELYX® over a course of 90 minutes as part of their treatment. By extracting the injected liposomes, the scientists were able to detect a wide variety of biomolecules that stuck to the surface of the liposome – called the ‘biomolecule corona’.

Professor Kostas Kostarelos, lead author from the University of Manchester, said: “We’re astonished at how rich the information was on the surface of the liposomes taken from the blood. We hope this technique could be a springboard for further research, from monitoring disease progression or recurrence, to identifying which treatment is best for each patient and potentially finding new biomarkers for early diagnosis.”

This is a step forward in developing a better technique to gather information from patients’ blood – a ‘halo effect’ of biomolecules sticking to the liposomes has been seen before, but only after dipping the nanoparticles in blood samples in a tube outside the patient’s body.

Dr Marilena Hadjidemetriou, study author from the University of Manchester, said: “The blood is a potential goldmine of information, but there’s a challenge to amplify cancer signals that would otherwise be buried within the ‘noise’.

“More abundant proteins mask rarer and smaller molecules that could be significant in helping us to understand disease progression or finding potential new drug targets. This technique overcomes this challenge.”

Professor Caroline Dive, Cancer Research UK’s expert in liquid biopsies, said: “Finding a test to help diagnose, track and treat cancer is something many scientists are pursuing. Liquid biopsies are quicker, cheaper and less invasive than many other tests, and this technique is an important early step in developing such a test. Further work will reveal what the information captured using liposomes can tell us about the disease.”

The researchers now hope to use this technique in mice to help find the best patterns of biomarkers to identify cancers in the early stages of disease as part of their Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award, which funds innovative ideas from any discipline that could revolutionise our understanding of cancer.



NIST Research Suggests Graphene Can Stretch to be a Tunable Ion Filter – Applications for nanoscale sensors, drug delivery and water purification



Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have conducted simulations suggesting that graphene, in addition to its many other useful features, can be modified with special pores to act as a tunable filter or strainer for ions (charged atoms) in a liquid.

The concept, which may also work with other membrane materials, could have applications such as nanoscale mechanical sensors, drug delivery, water purification and sieves or pumps for ion mixtures similar to biological ion channels, which are critical to the function of living cells. The research is described in the November 26 issue of Nature Materials.

“Imagine something like a fine-mesh kitchen strainer with sugar flowing through it,” project leader Alex Smolyanitsky said. “You stretch that strainer in such a way that every hole in the mesh becomes 1-2 percent larger. You’d expect that the flow through that mesh will be increased by roughly the same amount. Well, here it actually increases 1,000 percent. I think that’s pretty cool, with tons of applications.”

If it can be achieved experimentally, this graphene sieve would be the first artificial ion channel offering an exponential increase in ion flow when stretched, offering possibilities for fast ion separations or pumps or precise salinity control. Collaborators plan laboratory studies of these systems, Smolyanitsky said.

Graphene is a layer of carbon atoms arranged in hexagons, similar in shape to chicken wire, that conducts electricity. The NIST molecular dynamics simulations focused on a graphene sheet 5.5 by 6.4 nanometers (nm) in size and featuring small holes lined with oxygen atoms. These pores are crown ethers—electrically neutral circular molecules known to trap metal ions. A previous NIST simulation study showed this type of graphene membrane might be used for nanofluidic computing.

In the simulations, the graphene was suspended in water containing potassium chloride, a salt that splits into potassium and chlorine ions. The crown ether pores can trap potassium ions, which have a positive charge. The trapping and release rates can be controlled electrically. An electric field of various strengths was applied to drive the ion current flowing through the membrane.

Researchers then simulated tugging on the membrane with various degrees of force to stretch and dilate the pores, greatly increasing the flow of potassium ions through the membrane. Stretching in all directions had the biggest effect, but even tugging in just one direction had a partial effect.

Researchers found that the unexpectedly large increase in ion flow was due to a subtle interplay of a number of factors, including the thinness of graphene; interactions between ions and the surrounding liquid; and the ion-pore interactions, which weaken when pores are slightly stretched. There is a very sensitive balance between ions and their surroundings, Smolyanitsky said.

The research was funded by the Materials Genome Initiative.

Paper: A. Fang, K. Kroenlein, D. Riccardi and A. Smolyanitsky. Highly mechanosensitive ion channels from graphene-embedded crown ethers. Nature Materials. Published online November 26, 2018. DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0220-4

Quantum Dots leader completes deal to manufacture NextGen Cadmium Free QD’s in Asia

A leading US quantum dot and nanomaterials manufacturer has announced a licensing and manufacturing deal in Assam, India.

The company, Quantum Materials Corp (QMC), has a range of products which can be used to make anything from superior Ultra High Definition television displays to ultra-thin solar cells and more efficient batteries.

The agreement will not only lead to significant job opportunities in the locality of Assam, but is also a major step in deploying QMC’s extraordinary technologies in the region.

There is the opportunity to adopt next-generation solar photovoltaic technology in the area, after the implementation of recent tariffs on imported photovoltaics into India.

QMC’s cadmium-free quantum dots offer a less hazardous and eco-friendlier alternative for producers and consumers, providing them with the color benefit without the risks of toxicity or liability.

The incorporation of cadmium in quantum dots has restricted their adoption, keeping manufacturers from leveraging the benefits of the technology. Restriction of Hazardous Substances regulations currently state that 1,000 parts per million (ppm) cadmium can be used, however this exception will soon expire and only 100 ppm of cadmium will be acceptable. In 2015, the European Parliament banned the continued use of cadmium in display and lighting devices.

img_0866Read More: What are quantum dots? The Science and Applications

Furthermore, controls and regulations are growing in Asia, with China implementing new laws of its own.

QMC signed the License and Development Agreement with Amtronics CC to allow for the establishment of large scale, low cost quantum dot production for the development and future commercial manufacture of: ultra-high definition display panels, solid state lighting LEDs and quantum dot driven thin-film solar cells.

The Agreement provides Amtronics CC with the right to manufacture quantum dots and thin-film quantum dot solar cells for commercial supply in India, as well as the right to use the QDXTM trademark and technical data to support its marketing initiatives. Under the terms of the Agreement, QMC receives an immediate upfront license fee of US$1,000,000 in addition to technology development funding, scheduled milestone payments and royalties on all quantum dots/solar cells produced.

The 12,000 square feet nanotech-focused facility is being established as the anchor project within the recently announced Electronics Manufacturing Cluster in the Guwahati Tech City.

“We are extremely pleased to partner with Amtronics CC and Amtron as they establish the necessary infrastructure to support large scale thin-film, quantum dot based solar cell production in Assam India using QMC patented technologies” explained Stephen B. Squires, President and CEO of Quantum Materials Corp.

“India’s recent implementation of tariffs applied to imported solar photovoltaics creates an ideal opportunity to establish QMC’s next generation thin-film photovoltaics for broad adoption in the region. I am highly confident that our technologies will help India fulfill its goal to deploy low cost renewables as a significant step toward energy independence”

Dr. George Anthony Balchin, Managing Director of Amtronics CC added, “We are pleased to be involved and provide the initial US $20,000,000 in funding for this enterprise and are anxious to see these extraordinary technologies deployed in a region that will benefit from both the end product as well as the significant potential for job creation.

The initial capital infusion will be used to build out the facility, purchase all the production and process equipment, including the micro reactors, train the staff and provide the initial working capital. It is very rare and rewarding to be involved with a project that is the culmination of a group of like-minded individuals striving for a common goal that has so much potential to enhance the lives of so many.”

Commenting further QMC CEO Squires stated: “As India represents one of the largest renewable energy and consumer electronics markets in the world, our partnership with Amtronics CC is an important step in expanding the value of the QMC franchise globally. This partnership will allow us to address global challenges such as rising energy costs, energy security, increasing power consumption and environmental quality on a more rapid basis.”

A Better Battery from Biology? Osaka University Researchers Publish Promising Results


Figure 1: Structure of the newly developed ionic crystal. The pathway in which the ions can travel is highlighted in yellow. (Image: Osaka University)

A research team at Osaka University has reported a new advance in the design of materials for use in rechargeable batteries, under high humidity conditions. Using inspiration from living cells that can block smaller particles but let larger particles pass through, the researchers were able to create a material with highly mobile potassium ions that can easily migrate in response to electric fields (Chemical Science“Mobility of hydrated alkali metal ions in metallosupramolecular ionic crystals”).

This work may help make rechargeable batteries safe and inexpensive enough to drastically reduce the cost of electric cars and portable consumer electronics.
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Link to Osaka University’s Joint Research Programs
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are widely used in laptops, cell phones, and even electric and hybrid cars. Unfortunately, these batteries are expensive, and have even been known to burst into flames on occasion.
New materials that do not use lithium could reduce the cost and improve the safety of these batteries, and have the potential to greatly accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient electric cars. Both sodium and potassium ions are potential candidates that can be used to replace lithium, as they are cheap and in high supply.
However, sodium and potassium ions are much larger ions than lithium, so they move sluggishly through most materials. These positive ions are further slowed by the strong attractive forces to the negative charges in crystalline materials.
“Potassium ions possess low mobility in the solid state due to their large size, which is a disadvantage for constructing batteries,” explains corresponding author Takumi Konno.
To solve this problem, the researchers used the same mechanism your cells employ to allow the large potassium ions to pass through their membranes while simultaneously keeping out smaller particles. Living systems achieve this seemingly impossible feat by considering not just the ion themselves, but also the surrounding water molecules, called the “hydration layer,” that are attracted to the ion’s positive charge.
In fact, the smaller the ion, the larger and more tightly bound its associated hydration layer will be. Specialized potassium channels in cell membranes are just the right size to allow hydrated potassium ions to pass through, but block the large hydration layers of smaller ions.
The researchers developed an ionic crystal using rhodium, zinc, and oxygen atoms. Just as with the selective biological channels, the mobility of the ions in the crystal was found to be higher for the bigger potassium ions, compared with the smaller lithium ions.
In fact, the potassium ions moved so easily, the crystal was classified as a “superionic conductor.” The researchers found that the current material had the largest hydrated potassium ion mobility ever seen to date.

Figure 2: Conductivities of lithium (Li , red), sodium (Na , green), and potassium (K , blue) ions inside the crystal at different temperatures. The conductivities increase even as the sizes of the ions increase. (Image: Osaka University)

“Remarkably, the crystal exhibited a particularly high ion conductivity due to the fast migration of hydrated potassium ions in the crystal lattice” lead author Nobuto Yoshinari says. “Such superionic conductivity of hydrated potassium ions in the solid state is unprecedented, and may lead to both safer and cheaper rechargeable batteries.”
Source: Osaka University

Researchers Just Found a Way to Turn CO2 Into Plastic With Unprecedented Efficiency

Researchers have developed catalysts that can convert carbon dioxide—the main cause of global warming—into plastics, fabrics, resins, and other products.

The electrocatalysts are the first materials, aside from enzymes, that can turn carbon dioxide and water into carbon building blocks containing one, two, three, or four carbon atoms with more than 99 percent efficiency.

Two of the products—methylglyoxal (C3) and 2,3-furandiol (C4)—can be used as precursors for plastics, adhesives, and pharmaceuticals. Toxic formaldehyde could be replaced by methylglyoxal, which is safer.

(Karin Calvinho/Rutgers University-New Brunswick)

The discovery, based on the chemistry of artificial photosynthesis, is detailed in the journal Energy & Environmental Science .

“Our breakthrough could lead to the conversion of carbon dioxide into valuable products and raw materials in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries,” says senior author Charles Dismukes, a professor in the chemistry and chemical biology department and the biochemistry and microbiology department at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

He is also a principal investigator at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute of Microbiology.

Previously, scientists showed that carbon dioxide can be electrochemically converted into methanol, ethanol, methane, and ethylene with relatively high yields.

But such production is inefficient and too costly to be commercially feasible, according to lead author Karin Calvinho, a chemistry doctoral student.

Using five catalysts made of nickel and phosphorus, which are cheap and abundant, however, researchers can electrochemically convert carbon dioxide and water into a wide array of carbon-based products, she says.

The choice of catalyst and other conditions determine how many carbon atoms can be stitched together to make molecules or even generate longer polymers. In general, the longer the carbon chain, the more valuable the product.

The next step is to learn more about the underlying chemical reaction, so it can be used to produce other valuable products such as diols, which are widely used in the polymer industry, or hydrocarbons that can be used as renewable fuels. The researchers are designing, building, and testing electrolyzers for commercial use.

Based on their work, the researchers have earned patents for the electrocatalysts and formed RenewCO₂, a start-up company.

The research has been published in the journal  Energy & Environmental Science .

Source: Rutgers University

Scientists develop Lithium Metal batteries that charge faster, last longer with 10X times more energy by volume than Li-Ion Batteries – BIG potential for Our EV / AV Future


October 25, 2018

Rice University scientists are counting on films of carbon nanotubes to make high-powered, fast-charging lithium metal batteries a logical replacement for common lithium-ion batteries.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour showed thin nanotube films effectively stop dendrites that grow naturally from unprotected lithium metal anodes in batteries. Over time, these tentacle-like dendrites can pierce the battery’s electrolyte core and reach the cathode, causing the battery to fail.

That problem has both dampened the use of lithium metal in commercial applications and encouraged researchers worldwide to solve it.

img_0837-1Rice University graduate student Gladys López-Silva holds a lithium metal anode with a film of carbon nanotubes. Once the film is attached, it becomes infiltrated by lithium ions and turns red. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Lithium metal charges much faster and holds about 10 times more energy by volume than the lithium-ion electrodes found in just about every electronic device, including cellphones and electric cars.



MIT NEWS: Read More About Lithium Metal Batteries

“One of the ways to slow dendrites in lithium-ion batteries is to limit how fast they charge,” Tour said. “People don’t like that. They want to be able to charge their batteries quickly.”

The Rice team’s answer, detailed in Advanced Materials, is simple, inexpensive and highly effective at stopping dendrite growth, Tour said.

“What we’ve done turns out to be really easy,” he said. “You just coat a lithium metal foil with a multiwalled carbon nanotube film. The lithium dopes the nanotube film, which turns from black to red, and the film in turn diffuses the lithium ions.”

“Physical contact with lithium metal reduces the nanotube film, but balances it by adding lithium ions,” said Rice postdoctoral researcher Rodrigo Salvatierra, co-lead author of the paper with graduate student Gladys López-Silva. “The ions distribute themselves throughout the nanotube film.”

img_0835An illustration shows how lithium metal anodes developed at Rice University are protected from dendrite growth by a film of carbon nanotubes. Courtesy of the Tour Group

When the battery is in use, the film discharges stored ions and the underlying lithium anode refills it, maintaining the film’s ability to stop dendrite growth.

The tangled-nanotube film effectively quenched dendrites over 580 charge/discharge cycles of a test battery with a sulfurized-carbon cathode the lab developed in previous experiments.

The researchers reported the full lithium metal cells retained 99.8 percent of their coulombic efficiency, the measure of how well electrons move within an electrochemical system.

1028_DENDRITE-3-rn-1plyhun (1)

Rice University scientists have discovered that a film of multiwalled carbon nanotubes quenches the growth of dendrites in lithium metal-based batteries. Courtesy of the Tour Group

Co-authors of the paper are Rice alumni Almaz Jalilov of the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia; Jongwon Yoon, a senior researcher at the Korea Basic Science Institute; and Gang Wu, an instructor, and Ah-Lim Tsai, a professor of hematology, both at the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice.

The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Institutes of Health, the National Council of Science and Technology, Mexico; the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, Brazil; and Celgard, LLC.

1028_DENDRITE-5-rn-18fsg2wRice University chemist James Tour, left, graduate student Gladys López-Silva and postdoctoral researcher Rodrigo Salvatierra use a film of carbon nanotubes to prevent dendrite growth in lithium metal batteries, which charge faster and hold more power than current lithium-ion batteries. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

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How nanotechnology research could cure cancer – genetic diseases

Genetic diseases may soon be a thing of the past thanks to nanotechnology, which employs tiny particles to manipulate cells and change our DNA.

Here is how cancer treatment often runs today: a patient develops an aggressive tumor. A surgeon operates to remove the tumor, but a few cancer cells remain, hiding in the body. Chemotherapy is administered, weakening both patient and cancer cells. But the cancer does not die; it comes back and eventually kills the patient.

Now imagine another scenario. After surgery, strands of DNA anchored in tiny gold particles are injected into the affected area. The DNA strands bind to the tumor cells, killing them directly, without the help of chemo. The healthy cells around the tumor cells, which don’t express the tumor gene, are untouched.

Just like that, all the tumor cell stragglers are rendered harmless, corrected on the genetic level. The patient is cured, and without having to endure months of chemotherapy and its brutal side effects: hair loss, nausea and extreme weakness.

The future of medicine won’t focus on treating the symptoms of a disease, according to reseachers: it will focus on curing it at the genetic level.

Nanotechnology, the science of working with particles that are one billionth of a meter, is enabling scientists to change gene expression on the cellular level, potentially curing a host of diseases.

“Nanotechnology medical developments over the coming years will have a wide variety of uses and could potentially save a great number of lives,” says Eleonore Pauwels, senior associate and scholar at the Wilson Center, an interdisciplinary policy research center.

The science of using nanoparticles got its start with a lecture by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, but because of the technical challenges, it is only in the past 10 years or so that the technology has really taken off for practical medical applications.

Figuring out how to consistently create the right nanoparticle, get it into the right tissue, ensure it is not degraded and does what it was programmed to do, took some time.

The science of nanotechnology depends on the fact that when things get super small, they function differently. Protein, for example, is a naturally occurring nanoparticle. A single protein molecule is a very different entity than a human being, which is made up of many protein molecules.

Gold, which is used often in medicine, is red when broken down into tiny particles. That microscopic bright red color has been used for centuries to give red stained glass its color.

“Because of their small size, engineered nanomaterials have unique properties that do not exist at the larger scale: increased surface area, charge, reactivity and other physicochemical properties, all of which may affect how nanomaterials interact with biological entities, like cells,” says Sara Brenner, assistant professor of nanobioscience at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

Scientists are learning to take advantage of those properties to create new treatments. One of the most powerful examples uses DNA, says Chad Mirkin, a professor at Northwestern University and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology.

DNA is rod shaped and normally would not be able to enter cells, which have developed protection against entry from foreign DNA segments.

But by using nanotechnology, many little snippets of DNA can be attached to a tiny, round synthetic core. The receptors on cells that would block rod shaped DNA do not recognize the tiny spheres of DNA and allow it to enter.

Using that property, a whole new class of treatments for genetic diseases is being developed.

By being able to insert DNA into existing cells, scientists can “attack disease at its genetic root and turn off receptors that regulate how a cell functions, stopping a disease pathway in its tracks,” explains Mirkin.

Right now, most of the research into developing therapies using spheres of DNA is focused on disease of the liver, says Mirkin, as anything a person takes in is going to be processed in the liver. Another area of research into nanotech treatments is the skin, as the treatment can be applied topically, making it easy to target one area.

“Potential applications are virtually endless,” explains Brenner. “But some areas of investigation right now for gene therapy are cancer, diabetes, AIDS, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.”

As research into using nanoparticles advances, scientists hope to be able to not just turn off specific signals in cells, but also eventually insert genes to correct for defects and cure more complex diseases.

Called gene therapy, it would involve inserting larger fragments of DNA into cells that have faulty DNA. For example, cystic fibrosis is caused by a defective gene called CFTR. If scientists can figure out a way to get a non-defective copy of the gene into the cells and correct it, they could cure the disease.

“Approximately 4,000 diseases have been found to have a genetic component and are therefore potential targets for gene therapy,” according to Brenner.

While nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize medicine and how we view treatment of diseases, there are still kinks to work out.

Some of the challenges with nanotechnology include how to get nanoparticles into the right cells and tissues, and how to get them into the cells safely without the nanoparticles degrading.

Nanotechnology is still in its infancy, however. It’s only recently that we were able to produce microscopes that allowed us to see and manipulate nanoparticles. 

Research requires bringing together a number of disciplines like chemistry, biomedical engineering, biology and physics. But pharmaceutical companies have already begun work on creating treatments using nanotech, and many are in various stages of development now. “It’s not a pipe dream,” says Mirkin. Being able to cure genetic diseases of all kinds is on the horizon.

Graphene takes a Step Toward Renewable Fuel – Converting water and carbon dioxide to the renewable energy of the future

graphenetakeJianwu Sun at Linköping University inspecting the growth reactor for growth of cubic silicon carbide. Credit: Thor Balkhed/LiU

Using the energy from the sun and graphene applied to the surface of cubic silicon carbide, researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, are working to develop a method to convert water and carbon dioxide to the renewable energy of the future.

They have now taken an important step toward this goal, reporting a method that makes it possible to produce graphene with several layers in a tightly controlled process. The researchers have also shown that graphene acts as a superconductor in certain conditions. Their results have been published in the scientific journals Carbon and Nano Letters.

Carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are the three elements obtained by taking apart molecules of carbon dioxide and water. The same elements are the building blocks of chemical substances used for fuel, such as ethanol and methane. The conversion of carbon dioxide and water to renewable fuel could provide an alternative to fossil fuels and contribute to reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Jianwu Sun, senior lecturer at Linköping University, is trying to find a way to do just that.

Researchers at Linköping University have previously developed a world-leading method to produce cubic silicon carbide, which consists of silicon and carbon. The cubic form has the ability to capture energy from the sun and create charge carriers. This is, however, not sufficient. Graphene, one of the thinnest materials ever produced, plays a key role in the project. The material comprises a single  of  atoms bound to each other in a hexagonal lattice. Graphene has a high ability to conduct an electric current, a property that would be useful for solar energy conversion. It also has several unique properties, and possible uses of graphene are being extensively studied all over the world.

jianwu-sun-ifm-liu-tb-dsc2960Read Original Post from Linkoping University

In recent years, the researchers have attempted to improve the process by which graphene grows on a surface in order to control the properties of the graphene. Their recent progress is described in an article in the scientific journal Carbon.

“It is relatively easy to grow one layer of graphene on silicon carbide. But it’s a greater challenge to grow large-area uniform graphene that consists of several layers on top of each other. We have now shown that it is possible to grow uniform graphene that consists of up to four layers in a controlled manner,” says Jianwu Sun of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University.

One of the difficulties posed by multilayer graphene is that the surface becomes uneven when different numbers of layers grow at different locations. The edge when one layer ends has the form of a tiny, nanoscale staircase. Flat layers are desirable, so these steps are a problem, particularly when the steps accumulate in one location, like a wrongly built staircase in which several steps have been united to form one large step. The researchers have now found a way to remove these large, united steps by growing the graphene at a carefully controlled temperature. Furthermore, the researchers have shown that their method makes it possible to control how many layers the graphene will contain. This is the first key step in an ongoing research project whose goal is to make fuel from water and .

In a closely related article in the journal Nano Letters, the researchers describe investigations into the electronic properties of multilayer graphene grown on cubic silicon carbide.

“We discovered that multilayer graphene has extremely promising electrical properties that enable the material to be used as a superconductor, a material that conducts electrical current with zero electrical resistance. This special property arises solely when the graphene layers are arranged in a special way relative to each other,” says Jianwu Sun.

Theoretical calculations had predicted that multilayer  would have superconductive properties, provided that the layers are arranged in a particular way. In the new study, the researchers demonstrate experimentally for the first time that this is the case. Superconducting magnets are extremely powerful magnets used in medical magnetic resonance cameras and in particle accelerators. There are many potential areas of application for superconductors, such as electrical supply lines with zero energy loss, and high-speed trains that float on a magnetic field. Their use is currently limited by the inability to produce superconductors that function at room temperature. Currently available superconductors function only at extremely low temperatures.

 Explore further: Atoms use tunnels to escape graphene cover

More information: Yuchen Shi et al, Elimination of step bunching in the growth of large-area monolayer and multilayer graphene on off-axis 3C SiC (111), Carbon (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.carbon.2018.08.042

Weimin Wang et al. Flat-Band Electronic Structure and Interlayer Spacing Influence in Rhombohedral Four-Layer Graphene, Nano Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02530


Healing Kidneys with Nanotechnology – ASU Researchers Explore a new horizon for DNA Nanotechnology

healingkidne (1)The illustration shows a diseased kidney on the left and a healthy kidney on the right, after rectangular DNA nanostructures migrated and accumulated in the kidney, acting to alleviate damage due to oxidative stress. Credit: Shireen Dooling

Each year, there are some 13.3 million new cases of acute kidney injury (AKI), a serious affliction. Formerly known as acute renal failure, the ailment produces a rapid buildup of nitrogenous wastes and decreases urine output, usually within hours or days of disease onset. Severe complications often ensue.

AKI is responsible for 1.7 million deaths annually. Protecting healthy kidneys from harm and treating those already injured remains a significant challenge for modern medicine.

In new research appearing in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, Hao Yan and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in China describe a new method for treating and preventing AKI. Their technique involves the use of tiny, self-assembling forms measuring just billionths of a meter in diameter.

The triangular, tubular and rectangular shapes are designed and built using a method known as DNA origami. Here, the base pairing properties of DNA’s four nucleotides are used to engineer and fabricate DNA origami nanostructures (DONs), which self-assemble and preferentially accumulate in kidneys.

“The interdisciplinary collaboration between nanomedicine and the in-vivo imaging team led by professor Weibo Cai at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the DNA nanotechnology team has led to a novel application—applying DNA origami nanostructures to treat ,” Yan says. “This represents a new horizon for DNA nanotechnology research.”

Experiments described in the new study—conducted in mice as well as human embryonic kidney cells—suggest that DONs act as a rapid and active kidney protectant and may also alleviate symptoms of AKI. The distribution of DONs was examined with positron emission tomography (PET). Results showed that the rectangular nanostructures were particularly successful, protecting the kidneys from harm as effectively as the leading drug therapy and alleviating a leading source of AKI known as .

The study is the first to explore the distribution of DNA nanostructures in a living system by means of quantitative imaging with PET and paves the way for a host of new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of AKI as well as other renal diseases.

“This is an excellent example of team science, with multidisciplinary and multinational collaboration,” Cai said. “The four research groups are located in different countries, but they communicate regularly and have synergistic expertise. The three equally-contributing first authors (Dawei Jiang, Zhilei Ge, Hyung-Jun Im) also have very different backgrounds, one in radiolabeling and imaging, one in DNA nanostructures, and the other in clinical nuclear medicine. Together, they drove the project forward.”

Vital organ

Kidneys perform essential roles in body, removing waste and extra water from the blood to form urine. Urine then flows from the kidneys to the bladder through the ureters. Wastes in the blood are produced from the normal breakdown of active muscle and from foods, which the body requires for energy and self-repair.

Acute kidney injury can range considerably in severity. In advanced AKI, kidney transplantation is required as well as supportive therapies including rehydration and dialysis. Contrast-induced AKI, a common form of the illness, is caused by contrast agents sometimes used to improve the clarity of medical imaging. An anti-oxidant drug known as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is used clinically to protect the kidneys from toxic assault during such procedures, but poor bioavailability of the drug in the kidneys can limit its effectiveness. (Currently, there is no known cure for AKI.)

Nanomedicinethe engineering of atoms or molecules at the nanoscale for biomedical applications—represents a new and exciting avenue of medical exploration and therapy. Recent research in the field has driven advances leading to improved imaging and therapeutics for a range of diseases, including AKI, though the use of nanomaterials within living systems in order to treat  has thus far been limited.

Healing kidneys with nanotechnology
Hao Yan directs the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and is the Martin D. Glick Distinguished Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU. Credit: The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University

The base-pairing properties of nucleic acids like DNA and RNA enable the design of tiny programmable structures of predictable shape and size, capable of performing a multitude of tasks. Further, these nanoarchitectures are desirable for use in living systems due to their stability, low toxicity, and low immunogenicity.

New designs

The current study marks the first investigation of DNA origami nanostructures within living organisms, using quantitative imaging to track their behavior. The PET imaging used in the study allowed for a quantitative and reliable real-time method to study the circulation of DONs in a living organism and to assess their physiological distribution. Rectangular DONs were identified as the most effective therapeutic to treat AKI in mice, based on the PET analysis.

Yan and his colleagues prepared a series of DONs and used radio labeling to study their behavior in mouse kidney, using PET imaging. The PET scans showed that the DONs had preferentially accumulated in the kidneys of healthy mice as well as those with induced AKI. Of the three shapes used in the experiments, the rectangular DONs provided the greatest benefit in terms of protection and therapy and were comparable in their effect to the drug NAC, considered the gold standard treatment for AKI.

Patients with kidney disease often have accompanying maladies, including a high incidence of cardiovascular disease and malignancy. Acute kidney illness may be induced through the process of oxidative stress, which results from an increase in oxygen-containing waste products known as , that cause damage to lipids, proteins and DNA. This can occur when the delicate balance of free radicals and anti-oxidant defenses becomes destabilized, causing inflammation and accelerating the progression of renal disease. (Foods and supplements rich in antioxidants act to protect cells from the harmful effects of reactive oxygen species.)

Safeguarding kidneys with DNA geometry

The protective and therapeutic effects of the DONs described in the new study are due to the ability of the nanostructures to scavenge reactive oxygen species, thereby insulating vulnerable cells from damage due to oxidative stress. This effect was studied in human embryonic kidney cell lines as well as in living mice. The accumulation of the nanostructures in both healthy and diseased kidneys provided an increased therapeutic effect compared with traditional AKI therapy. (DONs alleviated oxidative stress within 2 hours of incubation with affected kidney cells.)

Improvement in AKI kidney function—comparable with high-dose administration of the drug NAC— was observed following the introduction of nanostructures. Examination of stained tissue samples further confirmed the beneficial effects of the DONs in the kidney.

The authors propose several mechanisms to account for the persistence in the kidneys of properly folded origami nanostructures, including their resistance to digestive enzymes, avoidance of immune surveillance and low protein absorption.

Levels of serum creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) were used to assess renal function in mice. AKI mice treated with rectangular DONs displayed improved kidney excretory function comparable to mice receiving treatment using the mainline drug NAC.

Further, the team established the safety of rectangular DONs, evaluating their potential to elicit an immune response in mice by examining blood levels of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha. Results showed the DONs were non-immunogenetic and tissue staining of heart, liver, spleen lungs and kidney revealed their low toxicity in primary organs, making them attractive candidates for clinical use in humans.

Based on the effective scavenging of reactive oxygen species by DONs in both human kidney cell culture and living mouse , the study concludes that the approach may indeed provide localized protection for kidneys from AKI and may even offer effective treatment for AKI-damaged kidneys or other renal disorders.

The successful proof-of-concept study expands the potential for a new breed of therapeutic programmable nanostructures, engineered to address far-flung medical challenges, from smart drug delivery to precisely targeted organ and tissue repair.

 Explore further: YAP after acute kidney injury

More information: Dawei Jiang et al, DNA origami nanostructures can exhibit preferential renal uptake and alleviate acute kidney injury, Nature Biomedical Engineering (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-018-0317-8


One step closer to complex ‘Quantum Teleportation’ – University of Vienna


Novel complex quantum entanglement generated in the laboratory for the first time

For future technologies such as quantum computers and quantum encryption, the experimental mastery of complex quantum systems is inevitable. Scientists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have succeeded in making another leap.

While physicists around the world are trying to increase the number of two-dimensional systems, so-called qubits, researchers around Anton Zeilinger are breaking new ground. They pursue the idea to use more complex quantum systems as qubits and thus can increase the information capacity with the same number of particles.

The developed methods and technologies could in the future enable the teleportation of complex quantum systems. The results of their work “Experimental Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger Entanglement Beyond QuBits” is published recently in the renowned journal Nature Photonics.

Similar to bits in conventional computers, QuBits are the smallest unit of information in quantum systems. Big companies like Google and IBM are competing with research institutes around the world to produce an increasing number of entangled QuBits. The clear motivation is to develop a functioning quantum computer. A research group at the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, however, is pursuing a new path to increase the information capacity of complex quantum systems.

quantum-satellite-record-1Quantum Teleportation Explained in the Nutshell

The idea behind it is simple: instead of just increasing the number of particles involved, the complexity of each system is increased. “The special thing about our experiment is that for the first time it entangles three photons beyond the conventional two-dimensional nature,” explains Manuel Erhard, first author of the study. For this purpose, the Viennese physicists use quantum systems which have more than two possible states – in this particular case, the angular momentum of individual light particles. These individual photons now have a higher information capacity than QuBits.

However, the entanglement of these light particles turned out to be difficult on a conceptual level. The researchers overcame this challenge with a ground-breaking idea: a computer algorithm that autonomously searches for an experimental implementation.

Also Read About: Chinese satellite shatters quantum teleportation distance record

With the help of the computer algorithm Melvin an experimental setup to produce this type of entanglement has been uncovered. At first this was still very complex, but at least it worked in principle. After some simplifications, physicists still faced major technological challenges. The team was able to solve these with state-of-the-art laser technology and a specially developed multi-port. “This multi-port is the heart of our experiment and combines the three photons so that they are entangled in three dimensions,” explains Manuel Erhard.

The peculiar property of the three-photon entanglement in three dimensions allows for experimental investigation of new fundamental questions about the behaviour of quantum systems. In addition, the results of this work could also have a significant impact on future technologies, such as quantum teleportation. “I think the methods and technologies that we developed in this publication allow us to teleport a higher proportion of the total quantum information of a single photon, which could be important for quantum communication networks,” Anton Zeilinger points out into the future of possible applications.


Publication in Nature Photonics: „Experimental Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger Entanglement Beyond QuBits”, Manuel Erhard, Mehul Malik, Mario Krenn & Anton Zeilinger.