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Catalyst-free chemistry makes self-healing materials more practical

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
217-244-1073; kloeppel@uiuc.edu

11/27/07

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —  A new catalyst-free, self-healing material system developed by researchers at the University of Illinois offers a far less expensive and far more practical way to repair composite materials used in structural applications ranging from airplane fuselages to wind-farm propeller blades.

The new self-healing system incorporates chlorobenzene microcapsules, as small as 150 microns in diameter, as an active solvent. The expensive, ruthenium-based Grubbs’ catalyst, which was required in the researchers’ first approach, is no longer needed.

“By removing the catalyst from our material system, we now have a simpler and more economical alternative for strength recovery after crack damage has occurred,” said Jeffrey Moore, the Murchison-Mallory Professor of Chemistry at Illinois. “Self-healing of epoxy materials with encapsulated solvents can prevent further crack propagation, while recovering most of the material’s mechanical integrity.”

The new chemistry is described in a paper accepted for publication in Macromolecules, and posted on the journal’s Web site.

During normal use, epoxy-based materials experience stresses that can cause cracking, which can lead to mechanical failure. Autonomous self-healing – a process in which the damage itself triggers the repair mechanism – can retain structural integrity and extend the lifetime of the material.

“Although we demonstrated the self-healing concept with a ruthenium-based catalyst, the cost of the catalyst made our original approach too expensive and impractical,” said Moore, who also is affiliated with the university’s Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory and with the Beckman Institute. “Our new self-healing system is simple, very economical and potentially robust.”

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Neurognostics fMRI Imagesets Compatible with Leading Neuronavigation Systems

November 26th, 2007 (Milwaukee, WI) - Neurognostics, a Milwaukee-based medical imaging company, has recently validated their ability to upload processed functional MRI (fMRI) imagesets into the three leading neuronavigation systems; StealthStation® by Medtronic Navigation, the BrainSUITE® iMRI system by BrainLAB,  and Stryker's iNtellect Cranial Navigation system.  This unique usability option provides enhanced surgical planning and resection capabilities to physicians who utilize neuronavigation systems in their operating suite.

Functional MRI is a revolutionary technology that allows physicians to locate a patient's brain function. Along with a variety of Central Nervous System (CNS) related research applications, clinicians are increasingly using fMRI to assist with neurosurgical planning. With the ability to integrate processed fMRI imagesets into the leading neuronavigation systems, Neurognostics provides physicians with the increased freedom to view functional brain images both in advance of the surgery and within the operating room.

"By having complete control over fusing fMRI and anatomical images during an operation, surgeons are able to easily view and manipulate observed brain activation during resection," says Philip Morrison, Global Product Manager, Stryker. "This neurosurgical portability feature that Neurognostics provides has been designed to increase surgical confidence and reduce neurological morbidity."

After standardized functional data has been acquired using Neurognostics' all-inclusive fMRI system, Neurognostics provides its customers with highly specialized data processing and reporting services. When data processing has been completed, customers are provided with a patient-specific performance report and two customized datasets in both DICOM (PACS workstation compatible) and neuronavigation system-compatible formats. Having the ability to fully utilize a patients' functional information in multiple settings (neurosurgical and neuroradiological) is critical when implementing a clinical fMRI program.

"Not only do our data analysis services provide physicians with cutting-edge functional imaging options," says Catherine Elsinger, Neurognostics Vice President of Research and Clinical Operations, "with all processing taking place at a Neurognostics off-site location, an organization does not need in-house personnel with fMRI expertise. Our data processing and reporting service is designed to minimize both staffing concerns and quality control issues for our customers."

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Stem cell transplant can grow new immune system in certain mice, Stanford researchers find

STANFORD, Calif. - Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have taken a small but significant step, in mouse studies, toward the goal of transplanting adult stem cells to create a new immune system for people with autoimmune or genetic blood diseases.

The researchers found a way to transplant new blood-forming stem cells into the bone marrow of mice, effectively replacing their immune systems. Many aspects of the technique would need to be adapted before it can be tested in humans, said Irving Weissman, MD, a co-senior author of the study and director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. The work was done on a particular group of mice that are a poor mimic for the human immune system. Still, Weissman suggested the remaining hurdles could eventually be overcome.

When those barriers are surmounted, the benefits are potentially big. The study will be published in the Nov. 23 issue of Science.

A person with an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis has a defective immune system in which immune cells attack the person's own body. An immune system transplant, much like a liver or heart transplant, would give the person a new system that might not attack the body.

The way to get a new immune system is to transplant new blood-forming stem cells into the bone marrow, where they generate all the cells of the blood. But before transplanting new stem cells, the old ones first must be removed, which is currently done by intensive chemotherapy or radiation. Those processes eliminate the cells of the bone marrow, but also damage other tissue and can cause lasting effects including infertility, brain damage and an increased risk of cancer. A treatment for M.S. at the expense of brain function is hardly an ideal therapy.

Weissman and co-first author Deepta Bhattacharya, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in Weissman's lab, thought one way around this problem would be to eliminate only the blood-forming stem cells without affecting bone marrow cells or other tissues. They worked with Agnieszka Czechowicz, first author and medical student, to accomplish that feat by injecting the mice with molecules that latch on to specific proteins on the surface of the blood-forming stem cells, effectively destroying the cells. That technique eliminated the blood-forming stem cells without otherwise harming the mice.

"It is essentially a surgical strike against the blood-forming stem cells," said Weissman, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research. When they transplanted new blood-forming stem cells into the mice, those cells took up residence in the bone marrow and established a new blood and immune system.

In a person with autoimmune disease, that new immune system would likely no longer attack tissues of the body. Likewise, in people with a genetic disorder such as sickle cell anemia, the new blood system would not have the sickle-cell mutation, eliminating the cause of disease. However, the barriers are still significant.

First, the researchers don't know whether the same molecule on human blood-forming stem cells would be the right one to target with a therapy. Also, the mice they used in the study lack a functioning immune system. They'll need to get the therapy working in mice with a normal immune system before they can begin testing the technique in humans.

Although these steps will take time to overcome, Weissman said he considered this work to be the beginning of research that could lead to human studies.

 

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'Popping' bubbles to treat cancer

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News
 

Scientists at the University of Oxford are trying to harness the energy released when bubbles collapse as a way of killing off cancer cells.

They have built a device to beam waves of ultrasound into the body, generating bubbles at the site of a tumour.

When these bubbles pop, they release energy as heat - killing rogue cells.

The UK team plans to apply its new technique in clinical trials; it will be used in treating patients with kidney and liver tumours.

These clinical trials of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (Hifu) are being conducted at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

Full story.

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Researchers Report Stem Cell Breakthrough

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer

Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively human embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs -- the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.

The unencumbered ability to turn adult cells into embryonic ones capable of morphing into virtually every kind of cell or tissue, described in two scientific journal articles to be released today, has been the ultimate goal of researchers for years. In theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for their bodies from a few of their own skin cells, while giving researchers a uniquely powerful means of understanding and treating diseases.

Until now only human egg cells and embryos, both difficult to obtain and laden with legal and ethical issues, had the mysterious power to turn ordinary cells into stem cells. And until this summer, the challenge of mimicking that process in the lab seemed almost insurmountable, leading many to wonder if stem cell research would ever wrest free of its political baggage.

As news of the success by two different research teams spread by e-mail, scientists seemed almost giddy at the likelihood that their field, which for its entire life has been at the center of so much debate, may suddenly become like other areas of biomedical science: appreciated, eligible for federal funding and wide open for new waves of discovery.

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UW reports stem cell breakthrough

Anita Weier

In a major advance, UW-Madison researchers say they have genetically reprogrammed human skin cells to create cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.

This significant scientific achievement also potentially remakes the tumultuous political and ethical landscape of stem cell biology, as human embryos may no longer be needed to obtain the blank slate stem cells capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells in the human body.

The new technique would avoid without the ethical and legal constraints that now hamper stem cell use use by scientists.

Another major advantage of using reprogrammed skin cells is that any cells developed for therapeutic purposes can be customized to the patient.

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UW-Madison researcher helping to save transplanted lungs

By Ron Seely
608-252-6131
November 17, 2007

For UW-Madison transplant researcher Will Burlingham, the distance between the laboratory and real life is not far. All he has to do is take a short stroll and he is among the hospital 's transplant patients, the very people he studies and has worked throughout his career to help.

That proximity makes a difference to Burlingham. Over the years, he has come to know many patients and to appreciate their struggles and their courage in the face of difficult surgeries and frequently long odds.

Burlingham 's specialty is trying to understand why transplant patients reject their new organs. In May 2000, he was just beginning what would become a successful but controversial seven-year study of lung transplants and a mysterious condition that causes many transplanted lungs to fail.

Through the investigation, Burlingham said, he was spurred less by the notion of success and publication than by the plight of two patients. The first two patients Burlingham worked with in 2000 at the outset of the study were dead within nine months, their new lungs having failed. In the intervening years, Burlingham and the other scientists discovered what may have destroyed their lungs and killed them and, consequently, they also discovered what could have saved them.

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Cells from the womb lining discarded during a woman's period are the new stem cells

The cells which thicken the womb wall during a woman's menstrual cycle contain a newly discovered type of stem cell, and could be used in the treatment of damaged and/or old tissue, according to research published today in the online open access publication, Journal of Translational Medicine.

Dr Xiaolong Meng of the Bio-Communications Research Institute in Wichita, Kansas, led the research team consisting of scientists from the University of Alberta, University of Western Ontario and Medistem Laboratories (mdsm.ob). The team identified a new type of stem cell that can be reproducibly isolated from menstrual blood collected from healthy female subjects.

"We have many problems with our current methods of stem cell therapy, like those taken from bone marrow," commented Dr Meng, "They may be rejected by the recipient and/or have limited potential to generate new tissue. Now we've found a possible new way to overcome these difficulties by using cells from menstrual blood."

The growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels is an essential part of the uterine or womb phase of the menstrual cycle. Cells collected from the menstrual blood of women include types which can be cultured in the laboratory, which replicate almost 70 times in a very rapid time span. This replication rate is far faster than cells which are currently used, taken from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. The cells are so unique in their ability to develop into at least 9 different cells including heart, liver and lung, that researchers called the cells Endometrial Regenerative Cells (ERC). Not only do ERC replicate at a phenomenal rate of almost every 20 hours, but they produce unique growth factors at a rate of almost 100,000 greater than cells from umbilical cord blood.

A mere 5ml of menstrual blood collected from a healthy woman provided enough cells which after two weeks of culture provided beating heart cells. The results of this breakthrough research indicate that these cells could be cultured at a large scale, thereby providing an alternative to the current methods of using bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, which itself poses threats of rejection.

Link to full article.

 

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Medical College of Wisconsin study finds drug may limit radiation kidney damage in BMT patients

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee have found that the risk of radiation injury in normal tissue after exposure may be reduced by a drug in common use. Their study in press appears in the on line issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics.

It suggests that long-term administration of the drug captopril, starting at three weeks after patients receive total body irradiation in preparation for bone marrow transplantation (BMT), showed a favorable trend for better long-term kidney function and better long-term patient survival. Chronic kidney failure continues to be a major complication in these patients caused by radiation injury.

“The research holds promise, not only for protection of healthy tissue during radiation therapy, but also because it may lead to strategies for protection from radiation injury after nuclear accidents,” says Eric P. Cohen, M.D., professor of medicine in the division of nephrology, and principal investigator for the study. “Our findings overturned the former dogma that normal tissue radiation injury is untreatable,” he says.

Kidney failure is a well known and serious complication of BMT and occurs in up to 50 percent of patients within the first 30 days after transplantation, increasing early mortality. Chronic kidney failure is also common and affects the health and well being of people otherwise cured of the cancer for which the BMT was performed.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, the team tested captopril on 52 adults and three children undergoing bone marrow transplant from July 1998 to January 2006 at Froedtert Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, both major teaching affiliates of the College. When compared to a placebo, captopril-treated subjects had better kidney function and better patient survival.

“The statistics do not show a definite significant value, but the trends are there,” Dr. Cohen says.

Captopril is an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor; a class of drugs that help relax blood vessels, and is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of hypertension, heart failure, and diabetic nephropathy. Because Captopril may cause leukopenia, the study drug was not started until the new marrow had engrafted in the participants. Leukopenia is a condition in which the white blood cells fall below normal.

“The three-week delay in administration of the drug was justified by our animal studies in the late 1990s which showed that a delayed start of captopril could successfully prevent radiation injury to the kidney,” Says Dr. Cohen.

“In an earlier 1992 animal study, published in Radiation Research, we found that captopril was effective in treating chronic kidney damage and its progression after total body irradiation. That showed that normal tissue radiation injury can be treated,” he says.

 

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Human clones: New U.N. analysis lays out world's choices

Report says ban on human reproductive cloning, coupled with restricted therapeutic research, is global compromise most likely to succeed

The world community quickly needs to reach a compromise that outlaws reproductive cloning or prepare to protect the rights of cloned individuals from potential abuse, prejudice and discrimination, according to authors of a new policy analysis by the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies (www.ias.unu.edu).

A legally-binding global ban on work to create a human clone, coupled with freedom for nations to permit strictly controlled therapeutic research, has the greatest political viability of options available to the international community, says the report: Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable: Future Options for UN Governance, released Nov. 12 by A.H. Zakri, Director of UNU-IAS, based in Yokohama, Japan.

Virtually every nation opposes human cloning and more than 50 have legislated bans on such efforts. However, negotiation of an international accord foundered at the UN in 2005 due to disagreement over research cloning (also called therapeutic cloning).

"Human reproductive cloning could profoundly impact humanity," says UN Under-Secretary-General Konrad Osterwalder, Rector of UNU. "This report offers a plain language analysis of the opportunities, challenges and options before us – a firm and thoughtful base from which the international community can revisit the issue before science overtakes policy."

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