Exploring Nanotechnology to Enhance Treatment, Diagnosis & Drug Discovery


What can you do with a liberal arts degree? Native New Yorker Daniel Heller, PhD, majored in history, added in some basic science courses, and started his working life as a middle school science teacher. After taking some additional chemistry coursework during non-teaching hours, Heller parlayed it all into a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Illinois.

Today he is a biomedical engineer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), New York City, where his Cancer Nanomedicine Laboratory team invents new technologies that can assist health care in helping human kind.

Heller chuckled when mentioning his circuitous life path and some of the stops along the way: performing as a wizard at a Renaissance Fair (“…liquid nitrogen turns into a pretty impressive potion…”), trying to master the Argentine tango, appreciating his brother’s equally non-traditional path as a drummer in heavy metal bands, and happily settling into married life with his wife who is a primary care physician.

In recent years, he has also managed to garner solid industry credentials in the form of awards, including the NSF CAREER Award (2018), Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Innovators in Cancer Research (2017), and NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (2012), among others.

“I like inventing,” Heller stated simply. “In my lab, we often think of ourselves as biomedical engineers whose primary goal is invent new technologies to improve cancer research, diagnosis, and therapy.

Only when I arrived at MSKCC did I realize how far that is from the way biologists think. I was trained that our goal is to invent, and to learn new science along the way, while a biologist’s goal is to understand nature and develop tools mainly as a means to an end. I didn’t have a huge biomedical background coming in, but by talking to the people around me at Sloan Kettering and Weill Cornell Medicine [where he is an Assistant Professor], I have learned a great deal.”

As detailed on his laboratory website (www.mskcc.org/research-areas/labs/daniel-heller), Heller and team are “… developing nanomedicines to target precision agents to disease sites, including to metastatic cancers. We are also addressing the problem of the early detection of cancer and other diseases by building implantable nanosensors.

To enable the discovery of new medicines, we also are inventing new nanosensors and imaging tools to accelerate drug development and biomedical research.”

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Nanoparticles in Treatment

Heller told Oncology Times that it all begins with interaction and collaboration. “We are lucky because we get to dig deep with the clinicians, clinician/scientists, and biologists to understand exactly what might be wrong with a particular mode of therapy,” said Heller of his development process. “An oncologist might talk to us about a drug or class of therapies that have particular problems and specific side effects, such as dose-limiting toxicity that prevents people from getting enough of a therapy to adequately inhibit the target in the tumor.”

He added that problems often stem from the fact that a drug negatively affects tissue that is not part of the tumor. “Can we avoid that one vulnerable tissue that will really mess up the use of this drug for treating the tumor? Can we prevent the drug from getting into that tissue?” asked Heller rhetorically. Clearly, he believes it is possible with the help of nanoparticles.

He noted that people erroneously think of nanoparticles as being “the smallest of the small.” But small molecule drugs, and even protein drugs, are much smaller than nanoparticles. Most drugs can diffuse all over the body. “But if we put the drug into a larger nanoparticle, we can keep it from spraying out over all the tissues,” detailed Heller.

His team also must consider how to deliver the nanoparticle containing the drug to a precise location in the tumor site, and whether there is a target that can lead it to that tumor site. “Most of the targets we are looking for are not on the tumor cells themselves, but on the blood vessels that are feeding the tumor,” said Heller. “Our targets are not drug targets, but rather gateways to the tumor, molecules on blood vessels in tumors sites, or sites of inflammation. Then we make sure that the nanoparticle has a molecule on the outside of it that can stick to those targets.”

The research takes the engineering team into the realms of vascular biology, vascular transport, and an understanding of how materials can get across the blood, across the blood/brain barrier, across the tumor barrier. “We are also exploring signaling pathways,” said Heller. “When trying to deliver a kinase inhibitor, for example, we must consider the target we are hitting, where else that target is in the body, and if there any other off-target proteins elsewhere in the body that the drug will hit. We also have to think about resistance mechanisms and compensatory pathways. So as a team we have been learning a lot of physiology.”

Heller says his 5-year-old laboratory contains requisite benches, a tissue culture room, and a studio equipped with lasers and optics for work on sensors. In the basement reside the all-important mice, critical to preclinical development and testing. Looking at target proteins in the body of a mouse, the team is able to determine if a drug encased in a nanoparticle hits the target, if it works better in a nanoparticle, and if it has the same side effects.

The eventual goal is to translate this understanding and these emerging technologies to clinical use and human patients. But it is a long row to hoe. “Once a technology is developed, it must go through the full ‘investigational new drug’ FDA process,” Heller lamented. “Even if a known compound is inside the particle, the whole particle is treated as a new drug.

That means we can’t just give it to clinicians to trial in patients; first the FDA must allow us to start a clinical trial.” Though regulatory delays are a frustration, the researcher said enthusiasm remains high because the potential of the new technologies is so powerful.

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Nanoparticles in Detection

The Cancer Nanomedicine Laboratory also maintains an interest in developing innovative approaches to cancer detection that is “… easier and more predictive. We found that we can detect some cancers earlier by measuring certain biomarkers in a person without having to take blood or biofluids to do it,” said Heller.

Instead, a tiny sensor made of carbon nanotubes is inserted inside a person. The nanotubes give off infrared light that can pass through tissues. “We can implant nanomaterial in a body, shoot light into it from outside the body, and then get a reading externally,” detailed Heller. “These nanomaterials are very sensitive to certain stimuli. We can put an antibody onto the surface of the nanotube and when it binds to an antigen we can see a signal change—a shift in the wavelength of the nanotube fluorescence—through the tissue.” (The team successfully detected ovarian cancer signaling changes in a mouse model. This work was detailed in a paper, Non-Invasive Ovarian Cancer Biomarker Detection via an Optical Nanosensor Implant, coauthored by Heller in Science Advances [2018;4(4):eaaq1090]).

Implications for future use of this technology in humans are significant. Heller said the first possible application could be in people with risk factors for certain diseases. “We could implant a biomarker or panel of biomarkers in people to detect early stage cancer, to measure cancer recurrence, or to monitor treatment and have earlier warning when therapy stops working.”

Asked how early the signaling changes would become apparent, Heller said it depends on the level of a given marker in the tissue. “With ovarian cancer, we would look at the technology as an intrauterine device, placed near the source of the cancer. If we were to wait for biomarkers to reach a high enough level to be detected in the blood, we likely would be dealing with late-stage cancer. If we can measure that biomarker right next to the ovaries or fallopian tube, we would see signal changes at an even earlier point in the life cycle of the cancer.”

Looking downstream of this work, Heller said the team is already questioning if it might be possible to insert a small sensor under the skin, in the blood, or even in a tattoo to measure all kinds of biomarkers, then report a whole panel in real time, at early stages, back to a wearable Fitbit-like device. “The long-term hope is to find super easy ways to measure lots of biomarkers in real time,” said Heller.

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Nanoparticles in Discovery

A third aspect of the work underway in Heller’s lab focuses on making research tools, specifically using carbon nanotubes as sensors in drug discovery assays. Heller believes the sensors will be able to measure things that have not been measurable before, or measured in ways that could not be accomplished before, such as in living cells and living tissue. “By measuring an analyte inside living cells or living tissue in mice, we gain the ability to do studies that cannot be done otherwise. This will allow us to address new hypotheses, and it will be helpful for drug development and for basic researchers at institutions such as MSKCC.”

Heller stressed that it is exactly institutions like MSKCC that can lead the way in helping biomedical engineers interact more fully with biomedical researchers. “Even though both of these concepts have the word ‘biomedical’ in them, ‘biomedical engineering’ departments come from engineering schools, while ‘biomedical research’ comes from places that often do not have engineering schools.

So there is a disconnect,” said Heller. “I realize how valuable it is to me as an engineering researcher to be in a biomedical institution and come in contact with the people who study biomedical questions and understand the medical problems. Biomedical institutions would benefit greatly from organized efforts to bring in engineering researchers whose goal it is to understand and make new technologies to address their problems.”

Heller laughed at the suggestion that some of the things he makes sound like cinematic props from the vintage sci-fi flick, The Incredible Voyage. “Sometimes people think we are the science fiction lab of Memorial Sloan Kettering,” he admitted with humor. And when asked if the younger history student/middle school teacher/or physical scientist in him ever thinks, “I can’t believe I am doing this kind of stuff,” he answered without hesitation, “Yeah, all the time. I think I have gotten to where I am by not defining myself. It’s important to be flexible. Where does it stop? It doesn’t. If you keep changing you can aspire to do anything you want.”

Valerie Neff Newitt is a contributing writer.

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Quantum dots could aid in fight against Parkinson’s


A large team of researchers with members from several institutions in the U.S., Korea and Japan has found that injecting quantum dots into the bloodstreams of mice led to a reduction in fibrils associated with Parkinson’s disease. In their paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the group describes their studies of the impact of quantum dots made of graphene on synuclein and what they found.

Quantum dots are particles that exist at the nanoscale and are made of semiconducting materials. Because they exhibit quantum properties, scientists have been conducting experiments to learn more about changes they cause to organisms when embedded in their cells. In this new effort, the researchers became interested in the idea of embedding quantum dots in synuclein cells.

Synucleins make up a group or family of proteins and are typically found in neural tissue.

One type, an alpha-synuclein, has been found to be associated with the formation of fibrils as part of the development of Parkinson’s disease. To see how such a protein might react when exposed to quantum dots, the researchers combined the two in a petri dish and watched what happened. They found that the quantum dots became bound to the protein, and in so doing, prevented it from clumping into fibrils. They also found that doing so after fibrils had already formed caused them to come apart. Impressed with their findings, the team pushed their research further.

Noting that quantum dots are small enough to pass through the blood/brain barrier, they injected quantum dots into mice with induced Parkinson’s disease and monitored them for several months. They report that after six months, the mice showed improvements in symptoms.

Read A Related Article

Quantum dots in brain could treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases

The researchers suggest that quantum dots might have a similar impact on multiple ailments where fibrilization occurs, noting that another team had found that injecting them into Alzheimer’s mouse models produced similar results.

It is still not known if injecting similar or different types of quantum dots into human patients might have the same effect, they note. Nor is it known if doing so would have any undesirable side effects. Still, the researchers are optimistic about the idea of using quantum dots for treatment of such diseases and because of that, have initiated plans for testing with other animals—and down the road they are looking at the possibility of conducting clinical trials in humans.

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Graphene smart contact lenses could give you thermal infrared and UV vision


A breakthrough in graphene imaging technology means you might soon have a smart contact lens, or other ultra-thin device, with a built-in camera that also gives you infrared “heat vision.” By sandwiching two layers of graphene together, engineers at the University of Michigan have created an ultra-broadband graphene imaging sensor that is ultra-broadband (it can capture everything from visible light all the way up to mid-infrared) — but more importantly, unlike other devices that can see far into the infrared spectrum, it operates well at room temperature.

As you probably know by now, graphene has some rather miraculous properties — including, as luck would have it, a very strong effect when it’s struck by photons (light energy). Basically, when graphene is struck by a photon, an electron absorbs that energy and becomes a hot carrier — an effect that can be measured, processed, and turned into an image. The problem, however, is that graphene is incredibly thin (just one atom thick) and transparent — and so it only absorbs around 2.3% of the light that hits it. With so little light striking it, there just aren’t enough hot carrier electrons to be reliably detected. (Yes, this is one of those rare cases where being transparent and super-thin is actually a bad thing.)

Zhaohui Zhong and friends at the University of Michigan, however, have devised a solution to this problem. They still use a single layer of graphene as the primary photodetector — but then they put an insulating dielectric beneath it, and then another layer of graphene beneath that. When light strikes the top layer, the hot carrier tunnels through the dielectric to the other side, creating a charge build-up and strong change in conductance. In effect, they have created a phototransistor that amplifies the small number of absorbed photons absorbed by the top layer (gate) into a large change in the bottom layer’s conductance (channel).

In numerical terms, raw graphene generally produces a few milliamps of power per watt of light energy (mA/W) —  the Michigan phototransistor, however, is around 1 A/W, or around 100 times more sensitive. This is around the same sensitivity as CMOS silicon imaging sensors in commercial digital cameras.

The prototype device created by Zhong and co. is already “smaller than a pinky nail” and can be easily scaled down. By far the most exciting aspect here is the ultra-broadband sensitivity — while the silicon sensor in your smartphone can only register visible light, graphene is sensitive to a much wider range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet at the bottom, all the way to far-infrared at the top.

In this case, the Michigan phototransistor is sensitive to visible light and up to mid-infrared — but it’s entirely possible that a future device would cover UV and far-IR as well.

There are imaging technologies that can see in the UV and IR ranges, but they generally require bulky cryogenic cooling equipment; the graphene phototransistor, on the other hand, is so sensitive that it works at room temperature. [Research paper: doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.31 – “Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature”]

Now, I think we can all agree that a smartphone that can capture UV and IR would be pretty damn awesome — but because this is ultra-thin-and-light-and-efficient graphene we’re talking about, the potential, futuristic applications are far more exciting. For me, the most exciting possibility is building graphene imaging technology into smart contact lenses. At first, you might just use this data to take awesome photos of the environment, or to give you you night/thermal vision through a display built into the contact lens. In the future, though, as bionic eyes and retinal implants improve, we might use this graphene imaging tech to wire UV and IR vision directly into our brains.

Imagine if you could look up at the sky, and instead of seeing the normal handful of stars, you saw this:

The Milky Way, as seen by NASA’s infrared Spitzer telescope

That’d be pretty sweet.

New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers: Videos


New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers

#GreatThingsFromSmallThings

Watch the Videos Below

Detecting Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance

8 Cancers Detected with ONE Simple Blood Test

The remarkable nanostructure of human bone – Revealed


Interweaving mineral and protein form continuous networks to provide the strength essential for functional bones.

Credit: Dr Roland Kröger

Summary:

Using advanced 3D nanoscale imaging of the mineral in human bone, research teams have shown that the mineral crystals of bone have a hierarchical structure integrated into the larger-scale make-up of the skeleton.

Scientists have produced a 3D nanoscale reconstruction of the mineral structure of bone.

Bone performs equally well whether in an accelerating cheetah or in a heavy elephant, thanks to its toughness and strength.

The properties of bone can be attributed to its hierarchical organisation, where small elements form larger structures.

However, the nanoscale organisation and relationship between bone’s principle components — mineral and protein — have not been fully understood.

Using advanced 3D nanoscale imaging of the mineral in human bone, research teams from the University of York and Imperial College London have shown that the mineral crystals of bone have a hierarchical structure integrated into the larger-scale make-up of the skeleton.

Researchers combined a number of advanced electron microscopy-based techniques, and found that the principal building blocks of mineral at the nanometre scale are curved needle-shaped nanocrystals that form larger twisted platelets that resemble propeller blades.

The blades continuously merge and split throughout the protein phase of bone. The interweaving mineral and protein form continuous networks to provide the strength essential for functional bones.

Lead author, Associate Professor Roland Kröger, from the University of York’s Department of Physics, said: “Bone is an intriguing composite of essentially two materials, the flexible protein collagen and the hard mineral called apatite.”

“There is a lot of discussion about the way these two stiff and flexible phases uniquely combine to provide toughness and strength to bone.

“The combination of the two materials in a hierarchical manner provides bone with mechanical properties that are superior to those of its individual components alone and we find that there are 12 levels of hierarchy in bone.”

Dr Natalie Reznikov, formerly of Imperial College, London and an author on the paper, said: “If we compare this arrangement, for example, to an individual living in a room of a house, this extends to a house in a street, then the street in a neighbourhood, a neighbourhood in a city, a country and on it goes. If you continue to 12 levels you are reaching the size of a galaxy! ”

Professor Molly Stevens, from Imperial College, London, added: “This work builds on the shoulders of many beautiful previous studies investigating the fundamental properties and structure of bone and helps to unlock an important missing piece of the puzzle.”

Besides the large number of nested structures in bone, a common feature of all of them is a slight curvature, providing twisted geometry. To name a few, the mineral crystals are curved, the protein strands (collagen) are braided, the mineralized collagen fibrils twist, and the entire bones themselves have a twist, such as those seen in the curving shape of a rib for example.

Fractals are common in Nature: you can see self-similar patterns in lightning bolts, coast lines, tree branches, clouds and snowflakes. This means that the structure of bone follows a fundamental order principle in Nature.

The authors believe that the fractal-like structure of bone is one of the key reasons for its remarkable attributes.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

Nanorobots successfully target and kill cancerous tumors


Science fiction no more

In an article out today in Nature Biotechnology, scientists were able to show tiny autonomous bots have the potential to function as intelligent delivery vehicles to cure cancer in mice.

These DNA nanorobots do so by seeking out and injecting cancerous tumors with drugs that can cut off their blood supply, shriveling them up and killing them.

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

DNA nanorobots, Nature Biotechnology 2018

The scientists behind this study tested the delivery bots by injecting them into mice with human breast cancer tumors. Within 48 hours, the bots had successfully grabbed onto vascular cells at the tumor sites, causing blood clots in the tumor’s vessels and cutting off their blood supply, leading to their death.

Remarkably, the bots did not cause clotting in other parts of the body, just the cancerous cells they’d been programmed to target, according to the paper.

The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.

The goal, say the scientists behind the paper, is to eventually prove these bots can do the same thing in humans. Of course, more work will need to be done before human trials begin.

Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research. The current methods of either using chemotherapy to destroy every cell just to get at the cancer cell are barbaric in comparison. Using targeted drugs is also not as exact as simply cutting off blood supply and killing the cancer on the spot. Should this new technique gain approval for use on humans in the near future it could have impressive affects on those afflicted with the disease.

University of Delaware: Programming DNA to deliver cancer drugs


DNA has an important job — it tells your cells which proteins to make. Now, a research team at the University of Delaware has developed technology to program strands of DNA into switches that turn proteins on and off. Credit: University of Delaware

DNA has an important job—it tells your cells which proteins to make. Now, a research team at the University of Delaware has developed technology to program strands of DNA into switches that turn proteins on and off.

UD’s Wilfred Chen Group describes their results in a paper published Monday, March 12 in the journal Nature Chemistry. This technology could lead to the development of new cancer therapies and other drugs.

Computing with DNA

This project taps into an emerging field known as DNA computing. Data we commonly send and receive in everyday life, such as text messages and photos, utilize binary code, which has two components—ones and zeroes. DNA is essentially a code with four components, the nucleotides guanine, adenine, cytosine, and thymine. In cells, the arrangement of these four nucleotides determines the output—the proteins made by the DNA. Here, scientists have repurposed the DNA code to design logic-gated DNA circuits.

“Once we had designed the system, we had to first go into the lab and attach these DNA strands to various proteins we wanted to be able to control,” said study author Rebecca P. Chen, a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering (no relation to Wilfred Chen).

The custom sequence designed DNA strands were ordered from a manufacturer while the proteins were made and purified in the lab. Next, the protein was attached to the DNA to make protein-DNA conjugates.

The group then tested the DNA circuits on E. coli bacteria and human cells. The target proteins organized, assembled, and disassembled in accordance with their design.

“Previous work has shown how powerful DNA nanotechnology might possibly be, and we know how powerful proteins are within cells,” said Rebecca P. Chen. “We managed to link those two together.”

Applications to drug delivery

The team also demonstrated that their DNA-logic devices could activate a non-toxic cancer prodrug, 5-fluorocytosine, into its toxic chemotherapeutic form, 5-fluorouracil. Cancer prodrugs are inactive until they are metabolized into their therapeutic form.

In this case, the scientists designed DNA circuits that controlled the activity of a protein that was responsible for conversion of the prodrug into its active form. The DNA circuit and protein activity was turned “on” by specific RNA/DNA sequence inputs, while in the absence of said inputs the system stayed “off.”

To do this, the scientists based their sequence inputs on microRNA, small RNA molecules that regulate cellular gene expression. MicroRNA in cancer cells contains anomalies that would not be found in healthy cells. For example, certain microRNA are present in cancer cells but absent in healthy cells. The group calculated how nucleotides should be arranged to activate the cancer prodrug in the presence of cancer microRNA, but stay inactive and non-toxic in a non-cancerous environment where the microRNA are missing.

When the cancer microRNAs were present and able to turn the DNA circuit on, cells were unable to grow. When the circuit was turned off, cells grew normally.

Wilfred Chen (left) and Rebecca P. Chen are developing new biomolecular tools to address key global health problems. Credit: University of Delaware/ Evan Krape

This technology could have wide applications not only to other diseases besides cancer, but also beyond the biomedical field. For example, the research team demonstrated that their technology could be applied to the production of biofuels, by utilizing their technology to guide an enzymatic cascade, a series of chemical reactions, to break down a plant fiber.

Using the newly developed technology, researchers could target any DNA sequence of their choosing and attach and control any protein they want. Someday, researchers could “plug and play” programmed DNA into a variety of cells to address a variety of diseases, said study author Wilfred Chen, Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering.

“This is based on a very simple concept, a logical combination, but we are the first to make it work,” he said. “It can address a wide scope of problems, and that makes it very intriguing.”

More information: Rebecca P. Chen et al, Dynamic protein assembly by programmable DNA strand displacement, Nature Chemistry (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-018-0016-9

Provided by: University of Delaware

Is It Possible? Will You Soon be Able to Replace Your Glasses And Contacts With Nanoparticle Eyedrops?


A revolutionary, cutting-edge technology, developed by researchers at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), has the potential to provide a new alternative to eyeglasses, contact lenses, and laser correction for refractive errors.

The technology, known as Nano-Drops, was developed by Dr. David Smadja (Ophthalmologist from Shaare Zedek Medical Center), Prof. Zeev Zalevsky, from Bar-Ilan’s Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, and Prof. Jean-Paul Moshe Lellouche, Head of the Department of Chemistry at Bar-Ilan. A related patent on this new invention was recently filed by Birad – Research & Development Company Ltd., the commercializing company of Bar-Ilan University.

Nano-Drops achieve their optical effect and correction by locally modifying the corneal refractive index. The magnitude and nature of the optical correction is adjusted by an optical pattern that is stamped onto the superficial layer of the corneal epithelium with a laser source. The shape of the optical pattern can be adjusted for correction of myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) or presbyopia (loss of accommodation ability). The laser stamping onto the cornea takes a few milliseconds and enables the nanoparticles to enhance and ‘activate’ this optical pattern by locally changing the refractive index and ultimately modifying the trajectory of light passing through the cornea.

The laser stamping source does not relate to the commonly known ‘laser treatment for visual correction’ that ablates corneal tissue. It is rather a small laser device that can connect to a smartphone and stamp the optical pattern onto the corneal epithelium by placing numerous adjacent pulses in a very speedy and painless fashion.  Tiny corneal spots created by the laser allow synthetic and biocompatible nanoparticles to enter and locally modify the optical power of the eye at the desired correction.

In the future this technology may enable patients to have their vision corrected in the comfort of their own home. To accomplish this, they would open an application on their smartphone to measure their vision, connect the laser source device for stamping the optical pattern at the desired correction, and then apply the Nano-Drops to activate the pattern and provide the desired correction.

Upcoming in-vivo experiments in rabbits will allow the researchers to determine how long the effect of the Nano-Drops will last after the initial application. Meanwhile, this promising technology has been shown, through ex-vivo experiments, to efficiently correct nearly 3 diopters of both myopia and presbyopia in pig eyes.

Bar-Ilan University, founded in 1955, was one of the first comprehensive research universities to be established in Israel.  From 70 students to 17,000, its milestone achievements in the sciences and humanities have made an indelible imprint on the landscape of the nation.  The university has 8 faculties, four of which focus on STEM research. They include Medicine, Exact Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Biophysics and Mathematics), Life Sciences and Engineering.

Bar-Ilan University

Scientists create hybrid nanomaterials in fight against cancer and bacteria


IMAGE: SAMPLES OF NANOHYBRIDS OBTAINED IN NUST MISIS “INORGANIC NANOMATERIALS ” LABORATORY view more 

CREDIT: ©NUST MISIS

NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MISIS

Scientists from the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (NUST MISIS), the State Research Center for Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology and the Queensland University (Brisbane, Australia) have created BN/Ag hybrid nanomaterials and have proved their effectiveness as catalysts and antibacterial agents as well as for treating oncological diseases. The results are published in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology.

The interest in the nanomaterials is related to the fact that when a particle is decreased to nanometers (1 nanometer = 10-9 meter) its electronic structure changes, and the material acquires new physical and chemical properties. For example, a magneto can lose its magnetism completely when decreased to ten nanometers.

Today, scientists are beginning to study combinations of various materials at the nanolevel instead of as separate nanoparticles (fullerenes and nanotubes). They have come up with a concept of hybrid nanomaterials, which combine the properties of individual components.

Hybridization makes it possible to combine properties that were incompatible before, for example, to create a material that can be a solid and a plastic at the same time. In addition, the scientists noted that combinations of nanomaterials often showed better or even new properties. Today the nanohybrid area is only beginning to develop.

MISIS scientists are studying the properties of BN hybrid nanomaterials. BN (boron nitride) was chosen as the base for new hybrid nanoparticles because it is chemically inert and biocompatible and has low relative density.

BN hybrid nanomaterials are used as prospective key components of the next generation advanced biomaterials, catalysts and sensors. These hybrids have advantageous combination of properties, such as biocompatibility, high tensile strength and thermal conductivity as well as superb chemical stability and electrical insulation. This explains their rich functionality for developing new biomedicines, reinforcement of ultralight metals and polymers and production of transparent superhydrophobic films and quantum devices.

“We have studied BN/Ag nanohybrid properties and have discovered a high potential for new applications. We were especially interested in an application for treating oncological diseases as well as their activity as catalysts and antibacterial agents,” said Andrei Matveyev, a research author, Senior Research Fellow at the MISIS Inorganic Materials Laboratory.

According to Matveyev, these nanohybrids can be used in cancer therapy as a base for drug delivery medicines. The nanohybrids with the drug become containers to be delivered inside cancer cells. Nanohybrids are chemically modified by attaching folic acid (vitamin ?9) to its surface through an Ag nanoparticle.

The modified nanohybrids with folic acid are mostly accumulated in cancer cells, because they have an increased number of folic acid receptors, so the concentration grows thousand times higher than in healthy cells. In addition, the acidity in a cancer cell is also higher than in the intercellular space, which leads to the drug’s release from its nanocontainer.

“This is why the drug is mostly released inside cancer cells, which decreases the general concentration of the drug in the organism, thus preventing toxicity,” Matveyev notes.

The authors believe that nanohybrids modified for drug delivery can be applied to uses in isotope and neuron capture cancer therapy.

The synthesized particles have also demonstrated high antibacterial activity against test bacteria: Escherichia coli live in dirty water, so water disinfection by nanohybrids may prove useful in emergencies or during war time.

Nanohybrids based on BN/Ag nanoparticles can also be used as an ultraviolet photoactive material.

BREAKTHROUGH DISCOVERY – NEW GRAPHENE BIOMATERIAL REGENERATES HEART AND NERVE TISSUE


One of the biggest challenges to the recovery of someone who has experienced a major physical trauma such as a heart attack is the growth of scar tissue.

As scar tissue builds up in the heart, it can limit the organ’s functions, which is obviously a problem for recovery.

However, researchers from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre have revealed a new biomaterial that actually ‘grows’ healthy tissue – not only for the heart, but also for people with extensive nerve damage.

In a paper published to Advanced Materials, the team said its biomaterial regenerating tissue responds to electrical stimuli and also eliminates infection.

The new material developed by the multidisciplinary research team is composed of the protein collagen, abundant in the human body, and the atom-thick ‘wonder material’ graphene.

The resulting merger creates an electroconductive ‘biohybrid’, combining the beneficial properties of both materials and creating a material that is mechanically stronger, with increased electrical conductivity.

This biohybrid material has been shown to enhance cell growth and, when electrical stimulation is applied, directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse.

Could repair spinal cord

It is able to prevent infection in the affected area because the surface roughness of the material – thanks to graphene – results in bacterial walls being burst, simultaneously allowing the heart cells to multiply and grow.

For those with extensive nerve damage, current repairs are limited to a region only 2cm across, but this new biomaterial could be used across an entire affected area as it may be possible to transmit electrical signals across damaged tissue.

Speaking of the breakthrough, Prof Fergal O’Brien, deputy director and lead investigator on the project, said: “We are very excited by the potential of this material for cardiac applications, but the capacity of the material to deliver physiological electrical stimuli while limiting infection suggests it might have potential in a number of other indications, such as repairing damaged peripheral nerves or perhaps even spinal cord.

“The technology also has potential applications where external devices such as biosensors and devices might interface with the body.”

The study was led by AMBER researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin and Eberhard Karls University in Germany.