The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: nanotechnology

Friday Science Review: April 9, 2010

New fixes for diabetes, HIV, and nerve damage…

Nano-Vaccine Cures Diabetes: To prevent the immune system from attacking pancreatic cells in Type 1 diabetes, a nanotechnology based “vaccine” was used successfully to stop the disease in mice.  The strategy involves nanoparticles that are coated with diabetes specific peptides and bound to MHC molecules. When injected into the body, they stimulate regulatory T cells – the “friendly” T cells that prevent the “bad” T cells from destroying the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.  The advantage of this method is that it is specific to the ‘diabetes T cells’ and there are no negative effects on the rest of the immune system.  Other autoimmune diseases may also benefit from a nanoparticle vaccine approach.  Dr. Pere Santamaria’s team at the University of Calgary describes their work in the online edition of Immunity and has licensed this innovative technology to Parvus Therapeutics, Inc., a U of C spin-off company.

Allowing Neural Regeneration: The p75NTR receptor is important for the development of the nervous system during childhood.  A new research study published in Nature Neuroscience describes an inhibitory effect of p75 neurotrophin receptors (p75NTR) in the adult nervous system.  Not only does it prevent adult nerve cells from regenerating, it actively destroys axons as necessary if any aberrant connections try to form.  This monitoring system is likely skewed in neurological diseases or disorders.  Thus, further molecular information surrounding p75NTR in the nervous system can lead to developing strategies to facilitate nerve regeneration to occur or prevent degenerative disorders.  Dr. Freda Miller and her team conducted the research at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

HIV’s Secret Weapon Revealed: The discovery of how the viral protein called Vpu facilitates HIV-1 proliferation in a host may present opportunities to block this pathway with a small molecule inhibitor.  Vpu binds to and blocks Tetherin, a natural antiviral protein on the cell surface that can sense and capture the virus and prevent production and further transmission of HIV-1.  HIV-1 has evolved with Vpu as its weapon to impede Tetherin from reaching the cell surface where it acts to tether viruses.  Now it is time for scientists to outsmart the virus and find a method to block Vpu.  Dr. Éric A. Cohen directed his team at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal and reports the study in this week’s PLoS Pathogens journal.

Cell-Cell Krazy Glue: The integrity of cell-cell contacts is important for the maintenance of the epithelial cell layer and aberrations may contribute to disease progression such as in cancer metastasis.   Two proteins involved in this cell-cell adhesion are p120 catenin and E-cadherin.  Dr. Mitsuhiko Ikura at the Ontario Cancer Institute performed NMR structural studies to provide a detailed map and understanding of the protein-protein interaction between catenin and cadherin.  The detailed study, published in the journal Cell, describe both dynamic and static interactions that contribute to the stability of the adhesion interaction between cells.

Bring out the Bazooka: Following the article above on the epithelial cell layer, this study examines a protein called Bazooka (Par3 in mammalian cells) in fruit flies.  It is expressed on epithelial cells and acts a protein interaction hub to regulate the integrity of the epithelial structure.  Using a series of gene mutants, gene mapping and bioinformatics techniques, researchers identified up to 17 genes that associate with Bazooka to regulate epithelial structure, many of these are novel interactions with Bazooka.  Further study is necessary to determine how they work together and how this translates to human tissues.  The list of genes is available in the article online in PLoS One journal and was reported by lead researcher Dr. Tony Harris at the University of Toronto.

Friday Science Review: March 19, 2010

Friday Science Review: October 2, 2009

Prostate cancer and H1N1 updates…

Nanotechnology is Coming:  A research study by a group of University of Toronto engineers, nanoscientists, and pharmaceutical specialists has garnered a lot of media attention this week describing the use of nanomaterials in microchip technology to create a highly sensitive biosensor.  In the more technical report published in Nature Nantotechnology this week, they describe a special nanostructuring technique arranged in an array architechture to expand the dynamic range and sensitivity of the system for nucleic acid and protein biodetection.  The microchip is small, fast, and super sensitive.

In an earlier publication in ACS Nano, they applied their nanotechnology to detect prostate cancer biomarkers.  They demonstrated the accuracy, sensitivity and speed of the non-invasive test, which they are trying to package into a small hand-held device that can readily conduct testing at the point-of-care.  Of course, the application of this technology goes far beyond prostate cancer and can be adapted to detect other cancer biomarkers, HIV and other diseases.   Nanomaterial, nanotechnology, nanomedicine – these are hot words that you will hear about more frequently in the near future.

The research was lead by University of Toronto scientists, Drs. Shana Kelley and Ted Sargent.  A spinoff company based on the molecular diagnostic platform, tentatively called GenEplex, is in the works with the support of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s Intellectual Property Development and Commercialization Program.  Also, the Ontario Genomics Institute is funding a microRNA application of the technology to the tune of almost $1 million.

In other prostate cancer research news:

Targeting IGF-1R:  Researchers targeted the Insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor (IGF-1R) with antisense technology to suppress IGF-1R expression in prostate cancer cells.  They found that by inhibiting IGF-1R signaling activity, the cancer cells grew more slowly but also increased their rate of cell death.  This is the first preclinical proof-of-principal that antisense therapy targeting IGF-1R in prostate cancer may be a viable treatment route and warrants further investigation.

The study was conducted by Dr. Michael Cox at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and published in this week’s editon of The Prostate.

Fatty Acids Promote Prostate Cancer: The hormone androgen, and its androgen receptor partner, have been shown to contribute to prostate cancer progression.  In this research report, researchers at the University of British Columibia suggest that elevated fatty acid (arachadonic acid) levels in the tumors may lead to increased activation of steroid hormone synthesis and contribute to the progression of the cancer.  Therefore, they recommended that fatty acid pathways should also be targeted as part of a therapeutic approach to treating prostate cancer.

Dr. Colleen Nelson led the research team at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and published the report also in this week’s edition of The Prostate.

H1N1 Update: Following last week’s “seasonal flu vs. swine flu” vaccination story, the Public Health Agency of Canada reviewed their own data and soon declared their position on the yet unpublished study saying that “there is no link between having a seasonal flu shot and developing a severe bout of pandemic flu.”  More to follow on this as the controversial study should become public next week.

In other H1N1 news:

Big Pharma gets Immunity: As increasing H1N1 cases emerge and Health Canada is being encouraged to expedite the approval of H1N1 vaccines, the Public Health Agency of Canada is following other countries in stating that they will protect GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the vaccine, from any lawsuits arising from potential side effects.

Surgical Masks are Adequate: Healthcare workers should be encouraged by a study comparing standard surgical masks versus N95 respirator in protecting against flu viruses (swine included).  In the randomized controlled study, conducted by flu expert Dr. Mark Loeb at McMaster University, 446 nurses from eight hospitals in Ontario were equally distributed to wear either sugical masks or fit-tested N95s.  The results showed that there was an insignificant difference (23.6%, surgical mask vs. 22.9%, N95) in the number who contract the ‘flu’ during the course of the season.  However, this study is sure to raise more debate within the healthcare community as unpublished work in China found that N95 masks can cut the risk of catching the flu virus by 75% while surgical masks offer no protective effect.  Dr. Loeb’s study is published in the early edition of JAMA.   A commentary on this issue is also provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Benefits of Handwashing? And if you are not confused enough about how to avoid catching the virus, consider this article in CMAJ questioning the benefits, due to lack of scientific evidence, of hand washing in preventiing the transmission of influenza viruses.

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Some Good Clean Tech Synergy: Biotech + Cleantech + Nanotech = $

A story today at GenomeWeb shows a collaboration among biotech, cleantech and high-tech interest groups successfully generating government support:

Illinois life-science industry advocates for the second straight year are urging state lawmakers to set aside $25 million in grants and tax credits to assist biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical-device startups commercialize new technologies.

Unlike last year, when the proposal died in a state House of Representatives committee, the state’s life-sci industry group expects this year’s version to pass. One key reason: The legislation … would award cash to other tech industries, including alternative-energy, or so-called “clean,” technologies, and the state’s fast-growing nanotech sector.

This type of cross-tech synergy has contributed to government support for other funding initiatives as well.  Look no farther than MaRS, or go as far afield as the UK; common needs for tech commercialization build stronger constituencies.

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Friday Science Review: March 20, 2009

I had a hard time finding news-making Canadian science stories this week; but in the meantime, here’s a  “numbers” edition of the Friday Science Review:

  • Number of Canadians with cancer: Statistics Canada released its latest figures, showing that of all persons living in Canada on January 1, 2005, 695,000 had been diagnosed with an invasive cancer at some point in the previous 10 years.  That includes the 1 in every 111 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and the 1 in every 118 men diagnosed with prostate cancer.  The headline number shows an increase in the number of Canadians living with cancer; but that’s due to the earlier detection of cancer and improving survival.
  • Number of Canadians who could be helped by nanotech packaging: 11 million Canadians suffer from food-borne illnesses, some of which could be prevented by rapid nanoparticle-based testing.  Nanoparticles could also be used in packaging to signal when food has passed its best-before date.
  • Number of centimeters long you have to be to qualify as the “T-Rex of the Cambrian Period”: twenty.  At the time, most creatures were no bigger than a fingernail … although how could you tell, since there were no fingernails at the time?!? (har.)
  • Number of mussels needed to make a tube of a new medical adhesive: mussels don’t make adhesive, people make adhesive.  Duh.  Here’s a cool story, though, about a new adhesive based on a protein that marine mussels use to stick to rocks.
  • Number of volunteers needed for a 3-way crossover study to show bioequivalence: twenty-three, at least for SemBioSys Genetics Inc.’s trial of its plant-produced human insulin.

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Friday Science Review: March 6, 2009

Cool Canadian science stories this week…

Stem Cells: The big Canadian science news this week was the report by Dr. Nagy’s lab at the Lunenfeld that they have found a much safer way to make pluripotent stem cells from adult tissue.  Their publication (co-authored with Keisuke Kaji’s team at the University of Edinburgh) appeared in Nature this week.

Also on the stem cell front, Dr. Kremer, the co-director of the Musculoskeletal Axis of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, used Interferon gamma to induce the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells into osteoblasts in vitro, and that IFNγ knockout mice also show reduced bone density and that isolated mesenchymal stem cells from the knockout mice show a differentiation defect.  Long story short: a potential new target for improving bone density.

Clinical Trials: Good news for GSK and for scientists at McMaster University, who showed that GSK’s Mepolizumab (pdf), an anti-IL5 humanized antibody that blocks eosinophil production, helps severe asthmatics improve asthma and reduce their need for prednisone by close to 90 per cent, a result that was seconded by a group in the UK.

Nanotechnology Costs: We noted a few weeks ago that there were changes coming to nanotechnology regulatory environment, and now researchers in BC and Minnessota estimate that testing the toxicity of existing nanomaterials in the United States could cost between $249 million and $1.18 billion and that full-scale testing could take decades to complete. They propose a tiered approach, similar to the EU’s REACH program for testing toxic chemicals, to define priorities.  Hat tip to ScienceInsider.

Hosted Services: Canadians, being hospitable types, are hosting World Diabetes Congress in Montreal in October, as well as a new Occupational Cancer Research Centre – charged with “improving knowledge and evidence to help identify, prevent and ultimately eliminate exposures to cancer-causing substances in the workplace.”

Musical Chairs: A group at Ryerson University’s centre for learning technologies in conjunction with the science of music, auditory research and technology (SMART) lab have developed a chair that allows the hearing-impaired to experience music by using the skin as a hearing membrane. 

Global Issues: An Amazon drought caused a major release of carbon dioxide; but don’t worry, because we’ll find a new planet in no time.  Sound painful? Don’t worry – a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

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