Britain gives scientists permission to genetically modify human embryos

By Rachel Feltman February 1

 On Monday, Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority greenlighted experiments that will attempt to edit the genes of human embryos. The work, which will be the world's first officially approved use of public funding for human-genome editing, is to be led by The Francis Crick Institute's Kathy Niakan.

The news comes less than a year after the first reports of human-gene editing — published by Chinese scientists in the journal Protein and Cell — using the fantastic and at times troubling technology known as CRISPR. By harnessing an ancient defense mechanism built into bacteria, CRISPR allows scientists to target, delete and replace specific genes. It has been used extensively in other organisms, but research in humans has been slow.

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Stem cell advance yields mature heart muscle cells

by Renee Meiller

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has induced human embryonic stem cells (hESC) to differentiate toward pure-population, mature heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes.

A substrate patterned with a precisely sized series of channels played a critical role in the advance.

Published online in the journal Biomaterials, the research could open the door to advances in areas that include tissue engineering and drug discovery and testing.

Researchers currently can differentiate hESC into immature heart muscle cells. Those cells, however, don't develop the robust internal structures — repeating sections of muscle cells called sarcomeres — that enable cardiomyocytes to produce the contracting force that allows the heart to pump blood. Other cell components that allow heart muscle cells to communicate and work together also are less developed in immature cardiomyocytes.

One barrier to efforts to produce more mature cells is the culture surface itself; hESC are notoriously finicky. "It's really hard to culture stem cells effectively and to provide them with an environment that's going to help them to thrive and differentiate in the way you want," says lead author Wendy Crone, a professor of engineering physics, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at UW-Madison.

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Secret second code found hiding within human DNA

Scientists have long believed that DNA tells the cells how to make proteins. But the discovery of a new, second DNA code overnight suggests the body speaks two different languages.

The findings in the journal Science may have big implications for how medical experts use the genomes of patients to interpret and diagnose diseases, researchers said.

The newfound genetic code within deoxyribonucleic acid, the hereditary material that exists in nearly every cell of the body, was written right on top of the DNA code scientists had already cracked.

Rather than concerning itself with proteins, this one instructs the cells on how genes are controlled.

Its discovery means DNA changes, or mutations that come with age or in response to viruses, may be doing more than what scientists previously thought, he said.

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Research Paves Path for Hybrid Nano-Materials That Could Replace Human Tissue or Today's Pills

Brooklyn, New York—A team of researchers has uncovered critical information that could help scientists understand how protein polymers interact with other self-assembling biopolymers. The research helps explain naturally occurring nano-material within cells and could one day lead to engineered bio-composites for drug delivery, artificial tissue, bio-sensing, or cancer diagnosis.

Results of this study, “Bionanocomposites: Differential Effects of Cellulose Nanocrystals on Protein Diblock Copolymers,” were recently published in the American Chemical Society’s BioMacromolecules. The findings were the result of a collaborative research project from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) Montclare Lab for Protein Engineering and Molecular Design under the direction of Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jin K. Montclare.

Bionanocomposites provide a singular area of research that incorporates biology, chemistry, materials science, engineering, and nanotechnology. Medical researchers believe they hold particular promise because—unlike the materials that build today’s medical implants, for example—they are biodegradable and biocompatible, not subject to rejection by the body’s immune defenses. As biocomposites rarely exist isolated from other substances in nature, scientists do not yet understand how they interact with other materials such as lipids, nucleic acids, or other organic materials and on a molecular level. This study, which explored the ways in which protein polymers interact with another biopolymer, cellulose, provides the key to better understanding how biocomposite materials would interact with the human body for medical applications.

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Gauthier Biomedical partners, not just supplies customers

By Guy Boulton of the Journal Sentinel

Grafton — A divide of concrete blocks, painted white and about 4 feet tall, sets off a small area of the factory floor at Gauthier Biomedical.

The area commemorates Gauthier Biomedical's start: It is the same size — 900 square feet — as the medical instrument manufacturer's first shop when it was founded in 2000.

It also provides a measure of the company's growth.

In July 2012, Gauthier Biomedical moved its offices and factory to a $10 million, 80,000-square-foot building in Grafton. The company has invested $8 million in equipment, including more than $4 million in the past two years. It now employs more than 80 people, with plans to hire an additional 25 this year.

That growth came by reinvesting profits and without money from outside investors.

Gauthier Biomedical designs and makes spine and orthopedic surgical instruments for some of the largest companies in the business, including Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Zimmer, Biomet and Stryker.

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Steering stem cells with magnets

Quinn Eastman

July 16, 2013

Magnets could be a tool for directing stem cells’ healing powers to treat conditions such as heart disease or vascular disease.

By feeding stem cells tiny particles made of magnetized iron oxide, scientists at Emory and Georgia Tech can then use magnets to attract the cells to a particular location in a mouse's body after intravenous injection.

[...]

The type of cells used in the study, mesenchymal stem cells, are not embryonic stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells can be readily obtained from adult tissues such as bone marrow or fat. They are capable of becoming bone, fat and cartilage cells, but not other types of cell such as muscle or brain. They secrete a variety of nourishing and anti-inflammatory factors, which could make them valuable tools for treating conditions such as cardiovascular disease or autoimmune disorders.

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Nanoparticles could power 'electronic skin' in the future

By Devin Coldewey

July 10, 2013

A new development in nanotechnology may enable "electronic skin" for robots and prosthetic limbs, offering sensitivity not just to pressure, but to humidity and temperature — and it's even flexible.

The new material is developed by chemical engineers at the Israel Institute of Technology, who found that a certain type of gold nanoparticle changed how it conducted electricity based on pressure.

These nanoparticles are only 5-8 nanometers in diameter, comprising a gold core and a spiky, protective outer layer. When sandwiched into a special film, the way that film is bent or pressed may cause the nanoparticles to spread out or bunch together, changing how well electricity passes between them.

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Seed-patent case in Supreme Court: Loss of patent control could rekindle ‘terminator’ technology.

Heidi Ledford

A technology called a ‘terminator’ was never going to curry much favour with the public. But even Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology giant in St Louis, Missouri, was surprised by the furore that followed when it patented a method for engineering transgenic crops to produce sterile seed, forcing farmers to buy new seed for each planting. In 1999, Monsanto’s chief executive pledged not to commercialize terminator seeds.

The concept, if not the technology, is now gaining traction again. This week, the US Supreme Court hears arguments that pit Monsanto against 75-year-old Indiana soya-bean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who used the progeny of Monsanto seeds to sow his land for eight seasons. The company says that by not buying seeds for each generation, Bowman violated its patents. If Bowman wins — and observers say that is not out of the question — the decision could make it harder for biotech firms to enforce patents on engineered organisms, from seeds to microbes, prompting them to revisit terminator-like technology.

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