Category Archives: Biotech

Researchers Grow Blood Vessel in a Week

News from Sahlgrenska Univ. Hospital in Sweden:

“Two tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown in a new study from Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska Univ. Hospital published in EBioMedicine.”

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“We believe that this technological progress can lead to dissemination of the method for the benefit of additional groups of patients, such as those with varicose veins or myocardial infarction, who need new blood vessels,” Holgersson says. “Our dream is to be able to grow complete organs as a way of overcoming the current shortage from donors.”

Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough?

This is big news if it works in humans. From the Telegraph:

“A cure for diabetes could be imminent after scientists discovered how to make huge quantities of insulin-producing cells, in a breakthrough hailed as significant as antibiotics. Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation. It could mean the end of daily insulin injections for the 400,000 people in Britain living with Type 1 diabetes. And it marks the culmination of 23-years of research for Harvard professor Doug Melton who has been trying to find a cure for the disease since his son Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby.”

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This Device Could Detect Dozens of Cancers With a Single Blood Test

It’s still a long way away, but this is a great idea (and from Singularity University).

From Wired:
“A new startup, dubbed Miroculus, is building a device that could easily and affordably check for dozens of cancers using a single blood sample. Known as Miriam, this low-cost, open source device made its public debut at the TEDGlobal conference in Rio De Janeiro on Thursday, with TED curator Chris Anderson calling it “one of the most thrilling demos in TED history.”

Potential for ‘in body’ muscle regeneration

More great work from Wake Forest:

New research in mice and rats, conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, suggests that “in body” regeneration of muscle tissue might be possible by harnessing the body’s natural healing powers.

Reporting online ahead of print in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, the research team demonstrated the ability to recruit stem cells that can form muscle tissue to a small piece of biomaterial, or scaffold that had been implanted in the animals’ leg muscle. The secret to success was using proteins involved in cell communication and muscle formation to mobilize the cells.

“Working to leverage the body’s own regenerative properties, we designed a muscle-specific scaffolding system that can actively participate in functional tissue regeneration,” said Sang Jin Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of regenerative medicine and senior author. “This is a proof-of-concept study that we hope can one day be applied to human patients.”

How lizards regenerate their tails: researchers discover genetic ‘recipe’

A team of researchers from Arizona State University have discovered the genetic “recipe” for lizard tail regeneration.

“Using next-generation technologies to sequence all the genes expressed during regeneration, we have unlocked the mystery of what genes are needed to regrow the lizard tail,” said lead author Kenro Kusumi. “By following the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future.”

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

A gut microbe that stops food allergies

“A class of bacteria commonly found in the guts of people—and rodents—appears to keep mice safe from food allergies, a study suggests. The same bacteria are among those reduced by antibiotic use in early childhood.” From Sciencemag.org.

Making Old Bones New Again

“A new study from biomedical engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrates how the compound N-phenacylthiazolium bromide, or PTB, dissolves the sugary impurities within bone tissue that cause our femurs, fibulas, and other bones to become more fragile. Using PTB to reduce bone fragility and boost bone flexibility could lead to new strategies for preventing bone fractures in elderly individuals, as well as accelerated bone healing in patients with diabetes or osteoporosis.”

See more here.

Revolutionary new blood test ‘could detect ALL types of cancer’

From the DailyMail:

“A revolutionary blood test that could detect any type of cancer has been developed by British scientists.
It is hoped the breakthrough will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms – saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures and biopsies.
Early results have shown the simple test can diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer with a high degree of accuracy.”

Science Fiction Becomes Science-Fact: Two Strategies for Repairing Humans

Here’s my first article in a series for Slate magazine on longevity. Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring my obsession with health extension!

“Not long ago, it would have sounded like science fiction to discuss growing human organs in the lab or re-writing DNA. Yet today both are realities that will change the world and allow for longer and healthier lives.

Already, lab-grown bladders, windpipes and blood vessels have been successfully created and implanted into humans. Most recently, tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala and his team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced another breakthrough: lab-made vaginas—one of the most complex organs made to date. In four girls with MRKH syndrome, a medical condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent, Dr. Atala’s team was able to create new organs that functioned normally, dramatically increasing each patient’s quality of life.

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Read more here.

Biologists Create Cells With 6 DNA Letters, Instead of Just 4

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has just announced that it has created cells with an expanded genetic alphabet — an X and a Y added to the regular ACTG of DNA. This is a huge win for the field of synthetic biology. Here’s the Wired story.

“We now have a cell that survives and lives with more information in its genome,” said Floyd Romesberg, the synthetic biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California who led the work.

Having more letters to work with potentially opens the door to a huge range of novel molecules. (A rough analogy: Just think how many crazy new words you could spell with 39 letters instead of the usual 26). With further refinements, synthetic cells might one day be used to create–or evolve–proteins that don’t exist in nature, as well as new sequences of DNA and RNA, any of which could be useful for research, diagnosing disease, or creating new therapies. But that’s still a ways off.”

RMF Conference — photo with Dr. Atala

I was honored to be on a panel tonight with tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala, Patient advocate Katie Jackson, and science artist Kelly Milukas. It was a fun panel and a great discussion about how to get more community members involved in supporting life-saving advances in regenerative medicine. Our audience, mainly scientists, wowed me after the discussion with stories of their world-changing work.
Atala

Stem cells used to repair animal hearts and human muscle

More good news from the regenerative medicine scene. One of the studies was conducted by Dr. Stephen Badylak, whose work was profiled in my book. Here’s the story from USA Today:

Two new studies out today show both the incredible promise of stem cell research and its current limitations.

In one, published in the journal Nature, researchers showed that they could repair damaged hearts by injecting these versatile stem cells into macaque monkeys. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and if the same process can work in people, it could benefit hundreds of thousands a year.

In the other study, published in Science Translational Medicine, five men were able to regrow leg muscles destroyed by accidents or military service. The researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh, inserted into the men’s muscles a “scaffold” of muscle tissue from a pig. Through aggressive physical therapy right after the surgery, the men’s own stem cells were encouraged to populate the scaffold and substantially rebuild their leg muscles.

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Another win for organ-growing

Dr. Anthony Atala and his team at Wake Forest recently announced yet another organ-growing success, this time more complicated than before. As the WSJ reports:

Scientists have successfully transplanted laboratory-made vaginas into four teenage girls whose own were absent because of a rare disease, marking a milestone in the quest to grow structurally complex body parts.

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Some of the easiest organs to make are flat structures, like skin, typically composed of a single type of cell. Tubular body parts including windpipes, urethras and blood vessels are harder to fashion as some are typically made of two cell types. But in recent years several such organs have been successfully transplanted into patients.

Another step up in complexity are body parts such as the vagina, a highly elastic organ that also secretes mucus. And the final frontier is the quest to make solid organs—such as the heart and liver—that typically don’t have a cavity and have more complex functioning.

New genomics initiative at UC Berkeley

With a $10 million gift from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, Berkeley recently announced the formation of the Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI). Its purpose is to “lead a revolution in genetic engineering based on a new technology already generating novel strategies for gene therapy and the genetic study of disease.”

Excellent. And UC Berkeley is a good place to do it since the university is home to Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, who is credited with co-discovering CRISPR/Cas9, precision “DNA scissors” that allow scientists to better edit genes.

Scientists regenerate immune organ in mice

UK scientists report that they have fully restored a degenerated organ in a living animal, a discovery that could pave the way for future human therapies.

Professor Clare Blackburn from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: “By targeting a single protein, we have been able to almost completely reverse age-related shrinking of the thymus. Our results suggest that targeting the same pathway in humans may improve thymus function and therefore boost immunity in elderly patients, or those with a suppressed immune system. However, before we test this in humans we need to carry out more work to make sure the process can be tightly controlled.”

Here’s a BBC article about the work. And the original press release.

Neurosurgeons successfully implant 3D printed skull

3D printing is creating all sorts of options for patients these days, including getting a customized replacement for skull bone. That was important for a 22-year-old woman who was facing certain death if she didn’t have the intervention because her scull kept getting thicker and needed to be switched out. Get the full story at Wired UK.