Tag Archives: biochemistry

Brilliant New Treatment Uses Targeted Nano-Particles to Blow Up Cancer Cells and Deliver Drugs

Two years ago, researchers at Rice University began working on an innovative, unique way to treat particularly aggressive forms of cancer (like head, neck or brain cancer), which are often resistant to both drugs and chemotherapy.

To make the problem worse, cancerous tissue is often interlaced with healthy tissue, making it difficult to remove all of the cancer through surgery.

Rice professor and researcher Dmitri Lapotko

So a team of researchers, led by Biochemistry and Cell Biology professor Dmitri Lapotko, designed an ingenious 3-step treatment that will allow doctors and oncologists to treat these difficult cancers in a new way.

The process is known as quadrapeutics because of its use of four components: encapsulated drugs, colloidal gold nanoparticles, short laser pulses and X-rays. The success of the new procedure’s first preclinical trials was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The quadrapeutics logo

In the first step, a proven cancer drug is encapsulated and then tagged with an antibody that specifically targets cancer cells. Because of this antibody, the drugs will cluster around the cancer cells.

The second step involves colloidal gold nano-particles. A colloidal is basically a liquid or gel which allows the microscopic gold particles to travel smoothly through the bloodstream.

These nano-particles are also tagged with cancer targeting antibodies, so when a cancerous cell is found, the antibody on the colloidal will latch onto the cell and inject the envelope of gold nano-particles into it, as is illustrated below.

In the third step, infrared laser pulses are delivered to the tumor. This laser pulse causes the colloidal gel that encases the gold nano-particles to rapidly evaporate and expand into a tiny bubble known as a plasmonic nanobubble. This bubble then bursts, creating a mini explosion inside the cancer cell.

The explosion blows an opening in the cell wall, allowing the drugs that accumulated around the cell in the first step to rush inside of it.

Cancer cell with a colloidal nanobubble in it
Cancer cell with a plasmonic nanobubble in it
The same cell, after the bubble burst
The same cell, after the nanobubble burst

The final step is to aim a very low dose of X-ray radiation at the tumor. The gold nano-particles, which are still in the cancer cells, amplify the effect of the radiation within the cells, allowing the treatment to deliver high doses of radiation to the cancerous cells while exposing healthy cells to only very low doses of radiation.

The combination of all of these methods and technologies led to,

“…a 100-fold amplification of the therapeutic strength of standard chemoradiation in experiments on cancer cell cultures,”

according to Lapotko. The method was so effective that the treatment only required between 2-6% of the typical clinical doses of drugs and X-rays.

The video below explains the process more and also has awesome footage of the treatment at work. The second video delves a bit deeper into the technology of nanobubbles and gold nano-particles which allows chemotherapy to be brought into the actual cancer cells.

(h/t IFL Science)

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Canada Just Opened the World’s First Waste-to-Biofuel Facility and Its A Game-Changer

In Edmonton, Alberta, an idea that could drastically change how we produce energy as well as how we dispose of our waste has finally come to fruition.

Edmonton’s new Waste Management Center converts household garbage into biofuels. The facility is expected to reduce the amount of trash in Edmonton’s landfills by 90% in the next two years, using all of that trash to create biofuels.

The new Edmonton Waste Management facility

Vincent Chornet is the CEO of Enerkem, the company who owns the new plant. He describes their raw materials as,

“a mixture of non-recyclable plastics, non-recyclable fibre, there’s wood, there’s even such things as shingles — that gets shredded down and that’s what we are fed with.”

That shredded non-recyclable waste is converted to gas, which is in turn converted into methanol. The process leaves behind about 10% of the waste, including metal, ceramics and glass which can’t be converted into methanol.

A diagram of the waste-to-biofuel process. Click to enlarge

Methanol has a number of uses. It’s often used in windshield wiper fluid because it won’t freeze in cold weather, but it can also be used as a basic chemical building block for other chemicals. A significant portion of the methanol will be purchased a local chemical company and some will end up in Canadian cars, as Alberta mandates at least 5% methanol in all gasoline.

At $75 per metric ton (~1.1 U.S. tons), the process is only slightly more expensive than transporting the waste to a landfill, and won’t require citizens to change anything about how they dispose of their garbage.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson

Edmonton’s mayor Don Iveson (who, by the way, looks like he’s still in high school) calls the new facility a “sexy” topic for the cities inhabitants. He also said,

“I think we are fiercely proud of what we’ve been doing here in this city. It’s one of the things that when people question the commitment of Edmontonians and Albertans to the environment, we point to this as global leadership and we’re very, very proud of it, and we should be.”

Read more from the Edmonton Journal here.

The Coolest Places On Earth: Fly Geyser, Nevada (Pictures)

On the Hualapai Flat in Northwest Nevada, about a third of a mile off of old Route 34, lies the Fly Ranch. In 1964, energy speculators dug wells into the area, looking for sources of geothermal energy.

The well they dug at Fly Ranch was either capped incorrectly or not tapped at all, because soon after the speculators left, dissolved minerals began to rise from the ground, accumulating into the mounds which continue to grow to this day.

Eventually, the built up pressure from the hot water in the ground was too much to hold back, and the water burst through, creating a geyser and some 30-40 pools in the surrounding 74 acres.

Unfortunately, Fly Ranch is privately owned so you can’t visit the geyser without special permission. You can, however, check out some more pictures of it below. Click an image to enlarge:

The brilliant colors on the geyser are a result of the thermophilic algae that grows on the rocks.

Thermophiles are just one example  of a group of organisms known as extremophiles. These organisms thrive under extreme conditions, such as the boiling hot temperatures of the water coming from the geyser.

Other extremophiles are known to live in extremely acidic, alkaline or even radioactive environments. Many are able to survive without oxygen and some even live in the frigid conditions of ice and permafrost.

New Discovery: HIV Can “Cut and Paste” In Our Genome, Allowing Us To Use It to Repair Genetic Conditions

Researchers in the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark just did something truly amazing: they altered particles of the HIV virus to simultaneously “cut and paste” within our genome. Here’s Jacob Giehm Mikkelsen, associate genetics professor at Aarhus:

“Now we can simultaneously cut out the part of the genome that is broken in sick cells, and patch the gap that arises in the genetic information which we have removed from the genome. The new aspect here is that we can bring the scissors and the patch together in the HIV particles in a fashion that no one else has done before.”

The technology will allow doctors to repair the human genome in a new way, and will also be invaluable in the treatment of hereditary and viral diseases as well.

HIV particles (yellow) infecting a human T-cell (Image: NIAID/NIH)

The cutting and pasting process isn’t actually a new one- we have been able to “cut and paste” parts of the genome using cells for a while now. The problem with this process, however, is that these cells would keep producing more “scissors”. Mikkelson explains,

“In the past, the gene for the scissors has been transferred to the cells, which is dangerous because the cell keeps on producing scissors which can start cutting uncontrollably. But because we make the scissors in the form of a protein, they only cut for a few hours, after which they are broken down. And we ensure that the virus particle also brings along a small piece of genetic material to patch the hole… We call this a ‘hit-and-run’ technique because the process is fast and leaves no traces.”

We have known for years that HIV particles can be turned into transporters of genetic information. However, this new discovery that they can also be altered to carry proteins that can have a direct effect on infected cells, rather than just on the genes, is huge.

Artist rendition of the HIV virus (Image: Russel Kightley)

Ironically enough, HIV infection is one of the main fields in which the researchers plan to employ this new process. Here’s post-doctoral professor Yujia Cai, who was also part of the research team:

“By altering relevant cells in the immune system (T cells) we can make them resistant to HIV infection and perhaps even at the same time also equip them with genes that help fight HIV. So in this way HIV can in time become a tool in the fight against HIV.”

Read more from Aarhus University News here.

A Team of MIT Students Is Developing A Wristband That Could Totally Replace Air Conditioning

Sam Shames is an MIT student who had spent a lot of time dealing with a fairly common problem: he tends to run hot while his mom tends to run cold. Sam realized that there had to be a better way to accommodate them both.

Sam Shames doing a presentation on solar fuels last year

He set about doing research on how our bodies regulate temperature. In one particular paper, he found some key information: the study talked about how locally heating or cooling small areas on our body can have major effects on how cold or hot we feel overall.

The research suggested that any change in temperature faster than 0.1º Celsius per second would produce the perceptual sensation of feeling cooler or warmer. Using this information, Sam and a team of fellow MIT students designed Wristify.

The key is keeping the wearer from getting acclimated to the colder or warmer temperature. Here’s Sam discussing this concept:

“The human body and human skin is not like a thermometer. If I put something cold directly on your body at a constant temperature, the body acclimates and no longer perceives it as cold.”

A volunteer tests out the device

To avoid this problem, Wristify has a 15 second cycle: 5 seconds on, then 10 seconds off.

By sending these regular shocks of cold or hot temperature into the wrist (they are able to change the temperature by up to 0.4º C per second), the device tricks our mind into thinking we are either cooler or warmer than we actually are.

The device is still very much a prototype, made of $50 worth of various electronics and wires strapped to an old fake Rolex band. The team is extremely excited to take the next step of development, making the device more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

They are also confident that their idea has the potential to revolutionize how we heat and cool ourselves. As Sam puts it,

“Why heat or cool a building when you could heat or cool a person?”

87% of Americans used air conditioning in 2007. While developing countries like Brazil (11%) and India (2%) used significantly less air conditioning than the U.S. in 2007, it is predicted that by 2025, large emerging countries like these will account for more than a billion new consumers.

Click to enlarge. (FSU=Former Soviet Union, ie. Russia)

Despite having less than 4.5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for nearly 20% of total energy consumption. 16.5% of our total energy use here in the States comes from air conditioning.

So with the amount of demand for air conditioning expected to explode over the next decade, Wristify may be our way of limiting how much energy we consume.

Not to mention you can share a room with both your always-cold and always-hot friends and family without igniting a civil war over the thermostat.

Read more from Wired here.

Scientists Just Discovered A New Metal-Eating Plant Species

A group of scientists from the University of the Philippines- Los Baños recently discovered a new species of plant that has developed a taste for metal, more specifically for nickel.

The plant, which they named Rinorea niccolifera because of its appetite for the metal, is able to absorb nickel in extremely high amounts, accumulating it at up to 18,000 ppm (parts per million) in its leaves without being poisoned.

These levels are a hundred to a thousand times greater than in most plants. According to the CDC, levels of Nickel above 5 ppm are “immediately dangerous to life” for humans.

Rinorea niccolifera (click to enlarge)

Nickel hyperaccumulation is a very rare attribute- only about 0.5-1% of plants living in nickel-rich soil have the ability. This new species was discovered in the iron-rich western region of the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

Plants with this extraordinary ability could prove to be extremely useful to us in the near future. Here’s Augustine Doronila from the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry, who co-authored the report which was published in Science Daily on May 9th:

“Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, ‘phytoremediation’ and ‘phytomining’.”

Some close ups of the plant at various stages in its development (click to enlarge)

Phytoremediation is the use of hyperaccumulators like this new species to remove heavy metals from soils contaminated by industrial processes. Nickel contamination can destroy entire ecosystems.

Phytomining, on the other hand, is the practice of growing hyperaccumulators to collect metals from the earth so that the metals can be harvested from the plants and used commercially.

Read more from Science Daily here.

Two Guys Swallowed Pieces of Film. The Images They Recovered Are Other-Worldly

Luke Evans and Josh Lake are graphic design students at Kingston University in London. At the end of their first year in 2012, they wanted to do something creative for their final project.

The subject brief for the project was “outdoor”, so the duo chose to take a creative approach to the concept. They would bring their “insides” to the outside by swallowing individual frames of 35mm film, recovering it (yes that means digging through their own poop), and seeing how their bodies’ chemical processes had affected the film.

They called the project, “I turn myself inside out”.

Click to enlarge

Evans explained,

“Wanting to bring something on the inside to the outside, we chose to investigate how we could use our bodies to alter materials. As the project evolved, we decided to use a material that is synonymous with image making, it was a very logical process. There is a physicality to film that we wanted to explore: the soft emulsion layer, its thickness, the way it reacts to touch and temperature. At this point we were really excited because there was absolutely no way to envision how the results would look, and that no two would be the same: would the film’s gelatin content be completely digested by enzymes? Would we ever get the film back?”

Click an image to enlarge.

Evans summed up it this way:

“This project isn’t ‘photography’ in the traditional sense, in some ways it’s image making about photography. Film has a huge history and set of rules surrounding it, but who is to say that it must be approached in such a way?”

Read more from Wired here.