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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Supreme Court rules human genes cannot be patented

By Stephanie K. Baer of the Journal Sentinel

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that isolated human genes are not patentable, but synthetic DNA is.

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Download Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad

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Merck Has Solid Results in a Cancer Drug Trial

CHICAGO — An experimental drug from Merck that unleashes the body’s immune system significantly shrank tumors in 38 percent of patients with advanced melanoma, putting the company squarely in the race to bring to market one of what many experts view as the most promising class of drugs in years.

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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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Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, IBM reveal new antimicrobial hydrogel

Researchers from IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology revealed today an antimicrobial hydrogel that can break through diseased biofilms and completely eradicate drug-resistant bacteria upon contact. The synthetic hydrogel, which forms spontaneously when heated to body temperature, is the first-ever to be biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic, making it an ideal tool to combat serious health hazards facing hospital workers, visitors and patients.

Traditionally used for disinfecting various surfaces, antimicrobials can be found in traditional household items like alcohol and bleach. However, moving from countertops to treating drug resistant skin infections or infectious diseases in the body are proving to be more challenging as conventional antibiotics become less effective and many household surface disinfectants are not suitable for biological applications.

IBM Research and its collaborators developed a remoldable synthetic antimicrobial hydrogel, comprised of more than 90% water, which, if commercialized, is ideal for applications like creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even orifice barriers.

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The Wisconsin Biotech Story: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Luke Timmerman

They say you can’t go home again. But sometimes you can go home after a few years and notice that your home has changed quite a bit.

This past week, I went back to Wisconsin, where I’m originally from, to visit family and do some reporting. I stopped by the capitol, Madison, to take stock of what’s happening in Wisconsin biotech, and maybe come away with a story idea or two.

My bias coming into this visit was bi-coastal: Most of the action in biotech happens on the East and West coasts. Wisconsin, like several other Midwestern states, has a great research university, but hasn’t quite been able to leverage that asset into a thriving commercial biotech cluster. Like a lot of states and regions around the world, Wisconsin officials have worked hard to create a biotech hub, without making it into the major leagues. There’s a lack of venture capital, and the business culture doesn’t really support super-speculative biotech startups. When I left Wisconsin a dozen years ago, it was famous for its work in human embryonic stem cell research, but many people were moaning about how the commercial rights were licensed to a company in the San Francisco Bay Area (Geron).

Those perceptions, as I soon realized on this trip, are out of date and only half-true.

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Medical College to join gene-sequencing partnership

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

The Medical College of Wisconsin has signed a collaboration agreement with Transgenomic Inc. that calls for the school to provide sophisticated gene-sequencing services for one of the company's products.

The parties did not disclose financial terms, but said the agreement could lead to further collaborations in the rapidly growing area of next-generation DNA sequencing, where high-powered machines are used to determine the exact order of chemical base pairs in a gene.

This is the first time the school's Human and Molecular Genetics Center has landed an agreement to provide such a service for a commercial venture, said Howard Jacob, the center's director.

"It helps us generate money to stay on the cutting edge," Jacob said. The center will use the money it earns to buy new equipment, do more research and hire additional people, he said.

Three of the genetics center's staff members have been licensed as clinical technicians and converted to the clinical lab, Jacob said. That number will probably grow to six in the next year, and possibly higher if things go well, he said.

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Artificial jellyfish built from rat cells: Reverse-engineered life form could be used to test drugs.

Ed Yong

22 July 2012

Bioengineers have made an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart.

“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,” says Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the work. The project is described today in Nature Biotechnology1.

Parker’s lab works on creating artificial models of human heart tissues for regenerating organs and testing drugs, and the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.

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Payoff may be near for Exact Sciences

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

Exact Sciences Corp. was one of the top-performing stocks in Wisconsin over the last year.

And that was despite reporting losses totaling $60 million over the 39 months ended March 31.

Analyst John Collopy uses just one word to describe the Madison biotech company's losses: "Awful."

The dismal financial results didn't stop Exact's stock from rising 39% so far this year. The company also was the sixth-best performing Wisconsin-based stock for the 12 months ended June 30, according to a Bloomberg Financial Markets report provided by Landaas & Co. A $1,000 investment in Exact at the beginning of June 2011 would have grown to more than $1,246.51 by the end of the month,

Exact also has raised $117.4 million in stock offerings in the last three years.

"Despite all the travails they have gone through from a profit-and-loss standpoint, some pretty sophisticated investors are willing to put money into this company," said Collopy, director of research for Oshkosh-based brokerage firm Carl M. Hennig Inc.

The losses, and the cash infusions from investors, are part of the well-worn pathway biotech companies follow.

Biotechs must raise enormous sums of money to develop, clinically validate and win regulatory approval for their products. Sales and profits come later.

Exact has been on that pathway longer than most.

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'NOVA' to Feature Advanced Genetics Research at Medical College, Children’s Hospital

The PBS science series focuses on efforts begun here to use sequencing of up to the whole genetic code of a patient to develop treatments for debilitating and life-threatening conditions that other methods cannot explain.

By Maureen Mack_West

The world’s first clinical genetics DNA sequencing program, housed at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, will be featured in a new episode of “NOVA” produced by PBS.

The presentation airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Milwaukee Public Television (Channel 10).

The program explores how researchers, using techniques developed here, are examining patients' entire genetic codes to get at the causes of diseases that no other medical technologies can explain.

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