Monthly Archives: December 2015

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

ITIF Innovation Fact of the Week

U.S. businesses spend more on biotechnology and nanotechnology R&D than all other OECD nations combined.

Source: OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2015

Commentary: The latest OECD data shows that U.S. companies are spending $27 billion per year on biotechnology R&D while businesses from other OECD nations spend a combined $16 billion on similar research. In nanotechnology, U.S. companies spend $14 billion compared to $12 billion for the rest of the OECD.

Biotechnology involves science and technology derived from living organisms to alter living or non-living materials for the production of goods and services. Nanotechnology involves manipulating matter between 1 nanometer and 100 nanometers; for comparison, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.