Optogenetics allows scientists to control neurons’ electrical activity with light by engineering them to express light-sensitive proteins, called opsins. Most opsins respond to light in the blue-green range. Now, a team has discovered an opsin that is sensitive to red light, which allows researchers to independently control the activity of two populations of neurons at once, enabling much more complex studies of brain function.
In an editorial cartoon that appeared in a recent issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, a surgeon wields a scalpel over his patient. The caption reads: “Just a little nip here and there. We don’t want it to look like it’s had any work done.” The catch? The patient is a western blot, and the doctor is presumably making his patient look presentable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
As interest and investment in biopharmaceuticals grows, the pressure to innovate and rapidly deliver new therapies increases. While many avenues may be pursued, the high cost of developing biological molecules increases the need to advance only those therapies with the greatest likelihood of becoming manufacturable, efficacious, safe and profitable products.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies will join Stanford Univ. in leading a new Center of Excellence in Stem Cell Genomics, created through a $40 million award by California's stem cell agency. The center will bring together experts and investigators from seven major California institutions to focus on bridging the fields of genomics with cutting-edge stem cell research and ultimately find new therapies.
Nearly 70% of patients with advanced breast cancer experience skeletal metastasis, in which cancer cells migrate from a primary tumor into bone. While scientists are attempting to better understand metastasis in general, not much is known about how and why certain cancers spread to specific organs. Now researchers have developed a 3-D microfluidic platform that mimics the spread of breast cancer cells into a bone-like environment.
A Texas bioengineer has received a four-year, $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to create a nanoparticle system to shore up arterial walls following angioplasty and stenting procedures to treat coronary arterial disease. Kytai Nguyen discovered a way to use nanoparticles to help the arteries heal themselves more effectively.
Our cells produce thousands of proteins, but more than one-third of these proteins can fulfill their function only after migrating to the outside of the cell. While it is known that protein migration occurs with the help of various “nanomotors” that push proteins out of the cell, little is known about their precise mechanical functioning. New research reveals the inner workings of one such nanomotor, called SecA, with new clarity.
In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) building on the outskirts of Atlanta, large metal vats are filled with a frozen array of specimens such as blood and DNA, many of them irreplaceable. Battelle has been awarded a five-year, $12.6 million contract to help manage this important biological repository, which contains 12 million biological samples.
In the early 1990s, MIT researcher Shuguang Zhang, then an MIT postdoctoral researcher, stumbled upon peptides that could self-assemble into nanostructures, creating 3-D environments for cell culturing. It was, at the time, a breakthrough discovery. But it wouldn’t be until a decade later, in a last-ditch effort to bring this discovery to the public, that these peptides would find commercial application through 3-D Matrix.
Researchers at NIST and in Lithuania have used a NIST-developed laboratory model of a simplified cell membrane to accurately detect and measure a protein associated with a serious gynecological disease, bacterial vaginosis (BV), at extraordinarily low concentrations. The work illustrates how the artificial membrane could be used to improve disease diagnosis.
Univ. of Oregon biologists say they have opened the window on the natural process of bone regeneration in zebra fish, and that the insights they gained could be used to advance therapies for bone fractures and disease. Their work shows that two molecular pathways work in concert to allow adult zebra fish to perfectly replace bones lost upon fin amputation.
Drugmaker Merck & Co. is joining two dozen other pharmaceutical companies and contract laboratories in committing to not use chimpanzees for research. The growing trend could mean roughly 1,000 chimps in the U.S. used for research or warehoused for many years in laboratory cages could be "retired" to sanctuaries by around 2020.
Continuous miniaturization in microelectronics is nearing physical limits, so researchers are seeking new methods for device fabrication. One promising candidate is a DNA origami technique in which individual strands of the biomolecule self-assemble into arbitrarily-shaped nanostructures. A new simpler strategy combines DNA origami with self-organized pattern formation to do away with elaborate procedures for positioning DNA structures.
Scientists in Japan have developed a new, surprisingly simple method for creating stem cell. In a pair of reports, the researchers show that ordinary somatic cells from newborn mice can be stripped of their differentiation memory, reverting to a state of pluripotency resembling embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. All that’s needed is a dose of sublethal stress.
By letting DNA strands grow together with gold, scientists in Finland have developed a new concept for super-sensitive disease diagnostics. The method relies on growth of a DNA strand over a narrow gap between two electrodes in an electric circuit. The strand will only grow if a certain DNA molecule has bound to the surface of one electrode, which makes it possible to build diagnostic tests for detection of that specific DNA molecule.
People infected with HIV can stave off the symptoms of AIDS thanks to drug cocktails that mainly target three enzymes produced by the virus, but resistant strains pop up periodically. Researchers have now focused on a fourth protein, Nef, that hijacks host proteins and is essential to HIV’s lethality. By blocking the part of a key host protein to which Nef binds, it may be possible to slow or stop HIV.
Scientists in Germany, inspired by the odor-processing nervous system of insects, have recently refined a new technology that is based on parallel data processing. Called neuromorphic computing, their system is composed of silicon neurons linked together in a similar fashion to the nerve cells in our brains. If the assembly is fed with data, all silicon neurons work in parallel to solve the problem.
Silk and diamonds aren't just for ties and jewelry anymore. They're ingredients for a new kind of tiny glowing particle that could provide doctors and researchers with a novel technique for biological imaging and drug delivery. Just tens of nanometers across, the new particles are made of diamond, covered in silk and can be injected into living cells.
A new method allows for large-scale generation of human embryonic stem cells of high clinical quality. It also allows for production of such cells without destroying any human embryos. The discovery is a big step forward for stem cell research and for the high hopes for replacing damaged cells and thereby curing serious illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
Databanks containing information and biological materials from individuals are a crucial resource for research, but they are currently accessible only to researchers. In a recent paper published in Science, experts say that donors should have unrestricted access to data derived from their own material and that advanced technology means allowing such access is today a question of will rather than feasibility.
Some may think of turkeys as good for just lunch meat and holiday meals, but bioengineers at the Univ. of California (UC), Berkeley saw inspiration in the big birds for a new type of biosensor that changes color when exposed to chemical vapors. This feature makes the sensors valuable detectors of toxins or airborne pathogens.
Reaction Biology Corp. (RBC), a contract research organization providing early-stage drug discovery services, announced that it has signed an agreement for Cisbio Bioassays, a biotechnology company in the field of products and services for human in vitro diagnostics and pharmaceutical research, to distribute its epigenetic proteins.
An international research team led by Mount Sinai Heart at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is testing its novel sugar-based tracer contrast agent to be used with positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to help in the hunt for dangerous inflammation and high-risk vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque inside vessel walls that causes acute heart attacks and strokes.
A world of cloak-and-dagger pharmaceuticals has come a step closer with the development of stealth compounds programmed to spring into action when they receive the signal. Researchers in the U.K. have designed and tested large molecular complexes that will reveal their true identity only when they’ve reached their intended target, like disguised saboteurs working deep behind enemy lines.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have devised a way to measure the mass of particles with a resolution better than an attogram. Weighing these tiny particles, including both synthetic nanoparticles and biological components of cells, could help researchers better understand their composition and function.