Harvard student develops technique to diagnose cancer from a single drop of blood


January 5, 2016
  • Harvard student Neil Davey worked in the lab of mentor David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics.

Harvard student Neil Davey, A.B. ’18, has developed a technique that pushes the possibility of non-invasive cancer diagnosis one step closer to reality. Davey recently won a silver medal in the undergraduate section of the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Collegiate Inventors Competition for his research project, “Early Cancer Diagnosis by the Detection of Circulating Tumor Cells using Drop-based Microfluidics.”

His technique involves injecting a tiny amount of blood into a microfluidic device to encapsulate single cells from the blood stream in individual microfluidic drops. Once the cells have been encapsulated, Davey uses a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common technique in molecular biology, to target and amplify fragments of cancer DNA within the drops.  Rest

Scientists Take Key Step Toward Custom-made Nanoscale Chemical Factories

[Our BioNano future depends on our ability to make many more types of these nanoscale chemical factories!]

Scientists have for the first time reengineered a building block of a geometric nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria. They introduced a metal binding site to its shell that will allow electrons to be transferred to and from the compartment. This provides an entirely new functionality, greatly expanding the potential of nanocompartments to serve as custom-made chemical factories.

Scientists hope to tailor this new use to produce high-value chemical products, such as medicines, on demand.

The sturdy nanocompartments, which are polyhedral shells composed of triangle-shaped sides and resemble 20-sided dice, are formed by hundreds of copies of just three different types of proteins. Their natural counterparts, known as bacterial microcompartments or BMCs, encase a wide variety of enzymes that carry out highly specialized chemistry in bacteria.

The shell of a bacterial microcompartment (or BMC) is mainly composed of hexagonal proteins, with pentagonal proteins capping the vertices, similar to a soccer ball (left). Scientists have engineered one of these hexagonal proteins, normally devoid of any metal center, to bind an iron-sulfur cluster (orange and yellow sticks, upper right). This cluster can serve as an electron relay to transfer electrons across the shell. Introducing this new functionality in the shell of a BMC greatly expands their possibilities as custom-made bio-nanoreactors. (Credit: Clément Aussignargues/MSU, Cheryl Kerfeld and Markus Sutter/Berkeley Lab)

The shell of a bacterial microcompartment (or BMC) is mainly composed of hexagonal proteins, with pentagonal proteins capping the vertices, similar to a soccer ball (left). Scientists have engineered one of these hexagonal proteins, normally devoid of any metal center, to bind an iron-sulfur cluster (orange and yellow sticks, upper right). This cluster can serve as an electron relay to transfer electrons across the shell. Introducing this new functionality in the shell of a BMC greatly expands their possibilities as custom-made bio-nanoreactors. (Credit: Clément Aussignargues/MSU, Cheryl Kerfeld and Markus Sutter/Berkeley Lab)


The Race is On: One Month Left to Submit

The National Cancer Institute and Center for Advancing Innovation are sponsoring a challenge to accelerate translation and commercialization of nanomedicines. The Challenge is open to the public and asks entrants to form teams to develop a business plan around cancer nanotechnology inventions. These inventions can originate from an intramural NIH program or can be brought forward by the entering team. Details on the challenge can be found at http://www.nscsquared.org/.NSC2 nano cancer challenge logo

Teams that enter the NSC2 Challenge will be advised and evaluated by a group of experienced researchers, industry leaders, and investors with an ultimate goal to commercialize these inventions. It is expected that the Challenge will help to accelerate and increase the volume of commercialized cancer nanotechnologies, bringing hope and health to millions of families affected by cancer.

The deadline has been extended to March 1st; submissions are due one month from today! A direct link to the Letter of Intent to join the Challenge can be found at: http://www.jotformpro.com/form/52454438639969. For a complete submission, you will need … Rest

Inspiring with Nano – Education & Outreach

As highlighted in the White House blog today, the National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with NBC Learn, has launched Nanotechnology: Super Small Science, a series of videos for middle and high school students.  This video series features six areas where nanotechnology has a significant impact, including advanced electronics, renewable energy, and human health. The content, which was developed for classroom use, will reach a potential audience of 9 million students across the country. Highlights will also be shared with the more than 200 NBC affiliate stations for use in news segments. The videos are also available through NSF’s Science360 website and Nano.gov.

NBC Learn Nanotechnology title slide with lettering and logosOver the past 15 years, the Federal Government has invested over $22 billion in R&D under the auspices of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to understand and control matter at the nanoscale and develop applications that benefit society. As these nanotechnology-enabled applications become a part of everyday life, it is important for students to have a basic understanding of material behavior at the nanoscale, and some states have even incorporated nanotechnology concepts into their K-12 science standards. Furthermore, application of the novel properties that exist at the nanoscale, from gecko-inspired climbing gloves and invisibility cloaks, to water-repellent coatings on clothes or cellphones, can spark students’ excitement about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The “Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes” contest, hosted by NSF and the NNI, aims to do just that by asking high school students to design nanotechnology-enabled gear for an original superhero. Submissions (due February 2, 2016) include a brief technical description of the gear and either a video or comic showing their superhero using that gear. Three semi-finalists will win a trip to the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 16-17, 2016, in Washington, D.C., where they will present their entries and compete for cash prizes.

Nanotechnology: Super Small Science videos and the Generation Nano contest are just two examples of how the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) is promoting nanoscale science and engineering education across the country. Other activities include expanding teacher resources on Nano.gov and working with nanoHUB to develop a searchable database for nanoeducation; collaborating with a local school district to develop educational videos that were distributed nationwide (Innovation Workshop: Nanotechnology); providing guidance to students making animations about nanotechnology featured on Science Matters, Community Idea Stations; coordinating a growing, national Nano & Emerging Technologies Student Network; and providing outreach via presentations, workshops, participation in trade shows, and the administration of contests, including EnvisioNano and Tiny Science. Big Impacts. Cool Videos on behalf of the NNI agencies.

Activities like the ones described above are critical to our future, as a highly skilled and motivated workforce with increasing knowledge of STEM will be required to ensure America’s global competitiveness.

We at the NNCO look forward to working with colleagues from across the educational spectrum to promote STEM education and awareness of nanotechnology. If you’d like more information about any of these activities or to share opportunities to advance nanoeducation, contact us at nanoed@nnco.nano.gov.

Lisa E. Friedersdorf
Deputy Director, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

Media contact:
Marlowe Newman, NNCO Communications Director

upcoming personal medicine virtual event


 Latest advances in personalized medicine direct to researchers

 SELECTBIO’S latest virtual event to offer free access to latest research

Sudbury, UK, 13 January 2016SELECTBIO, a leading organiser of scientific conferences, is delighted to announce that registration for their first personalised medicine virtual event is now open.

Available to watch from 1 February 2016, Personalized Medicine and its Impact in the Clinic is a free to attend online event that features presentations from leading academic and industry professionals. Using a custom designed platform, researchers around the world have the opportunity to hear the latest research from this rapidly evolving field.

Presentations at this virtual event include:

  • Developing Personalized Medicine in Oncology
    Christof von Kalle, Head of Translational Oncology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
  • Liquid Biopsy: Detection and molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells and DNA

Klaus Pantel, Director, Institute for Tumor Biology, University of Hamburg

  • Oncology and beyond : PHC approaches and the benefit to patients / healthcare

Jean-Jacques Palombo, Senior Vice President, Roche

  • Early Engagement with Health Technology Assessment: Its Role in Evidence Generation

Ailish Higgins, Analyst, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

Commenting on the event, Sara Spencer, Conference Director, said “At SELECTBIO we understand that the pressures placed on today’s researchers can often make it difficult for them to attend conferences. We believe that through providing on demand access to the latest research, SELECTBIO is offering a convenient, modern service to the scientific community.”
The virtual event Personalized Medicine and its Impact in the Clinic is available to watch from 1st February. Registration to this event is now open.

Australian scientists leading Bio-Nano research

In the latest 007 film, Spectre, James Bond is injected with “smart blood”, a miniature device that tracks his location and monitors his vital signs. As the British Secret Service’s head of R&D, Q, explains patiently to his spy, “it’s nanotechnology” — and Australia is, in many ways, leading the world in it.

Nanotechnology refers to technologies and devices that are as small as a molecule, the width of a hair, and it has been a staple of science fiction plots for decades. Think Fantastic Voyage with its tiny spaceship and cargo of humans whizzing around the human blood system.

However, unlike many of the fantastical devices and technologies in the Bond films, the idea that a tiny device can be injected into the human body to scan and deliver information is real, and it is being developed by a unique collaboration of scientists across Australia.

This year the ARC Centre for Bio-Nano Science was created to bring together our world-class nano-scientists into one organisation. Although based in Melbourne the Bio-Nano Centre has researchers across five universities nationally — experts in everything from chemistry to engineering, drug design to cancer biology. Rest (paywall)

Molecular information transfer from DNA nanostructures to gold nanoparticles

ABSTRACT: DNA nanotechnology offers unparalleled precision and programmability for the bottom-up organization of materials. This approach relies on pre-assembling a DNA scaffold, typically containing hundreds of different strands, and using it to position functional components. A particularly attractive strategy is to employ DNA nanostructures not as permanent scaffolds, but as transient, reusable templates to transfer essential information to other materials. To our knowledge, this approach, akin to top-down lithography, has not been examined. Here we report a molecular printing strategy that chemically transfers a discrete pattern of DNA strands from a three-dimensional DNA structure to a gold nanoparticle. We show that the particles inherit the DNA sequence configuration encoded in the parent template with high fidelity. This provides control over the number of DNA strands and their relative placement, directionality and sequence asymmetry. Importantly, the nanoparticles produced exhibit the site-specific addressability of DNA nanostructures, and are promising components for energy, information and biomedical applications.


Future of Disease Diagnosis Needs Engineers

Genomics is about as popular in science circles as Adele is in pop music. Sequencing is getting cheaper and faster and the molecular editing system known as CRISPR offers opportunities to edit DNA in living cells.

That’s all yesterday’s news, though, for Jamey Marth, PhD, whose previous achievements include the conception and co-development of the Cre-Lox conditional mutagenesis used for genetic editing.

Jamey Marth
Jamey Marth

What about the role played by molecules other then nucleic acids, and the proteins they help create? What about glycans and lipids?

“I’d like to suggest we’re entering the post-genomic era,” says Marth, who is director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (See Marth deliver a talk about nanotechnology and engineering atMD&M West.)

Cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases, neurodegenerative diseases—none of these diseases can be described simply though DNA, Marth says. Think, for example, how monozygotic (“identical”) twins share the same DNA, but not the same diseases.

“So what’s happening? We’re getting environmental influences: things we eat, bugs that we’re infected with, chemicals we’re in contact with. These are describing disease, and this is what we need to understand. And you can’t do that without looking at metabolism in the cell.”

Engineers have an important role to play in figuring this out, because the devices needed to effectively analyze these interactions are not like anything that is presently out there, Marth says. Marth is presently working with bioengineering colleagues on such devices, which Marth thinks will greatly increase diagnostic abilities.  Rest

Guided ultrasound plus nanoparticle chemotherapy cures tumors in mice

By Holly Ober

Thermal ablation with magnetic resonance–guided focused ultrasound surgery (MRgFUS)  is a noninvasive technique for treating fibroids and cancer. New research from UC Davis shows that combining the technique with chemotherapy can allow complete destruction of tumors in mice.

MRgFUS combines an ultrasound beam that heats and destroys tissue with a magnetic resonance imaging to guide the beam and monitor the effects of treatment. The effectiveness of the treatment can be limited by the need to spare normal tissue or critical structures on the tumor margins, as well as the need to eliminate micrometastases.

In a new paper in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Katherine W. Ferrara, distinguished professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis, and colleagues report on a strategy that can destroy an entire tumor without thermal destruction of the tumor margin. Her group demonstrated a dramatic increase in the concentration of anti-cancer chemotherapy within several types of MRgFUS thermal ablation-treated tumors. Rest

Liquid Metal Nano-Terminators

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new drug delivery technique that uses a biodegradable liquid metal to target cancer cells. The liquid metal drug delivery method promises to boost the effect of cancer drugs.

“The advance here is that we have a drug-delivery technique that may enhance the effectiveness of the drugs being delivered, can help doctors locate tumors, can be produced in bulk, and appears to be wholly biodegradable with very low toxicity,” says Zhen Gu, corresponding author of a Nature Communications paper on the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-CH. “And one of the advantages of this technique is that these liquid metal drug carriers — or ‘nano-terminators’ — are very easy to make.” Rest