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Stanford fruit-fly study adds weight to theories about another type of adult stem cell

STANFORD, Calif. - It turns out that an old dog - or at least an old fruit-fly cell - can learn new tricks. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that mature, specialized cells naturally regress to serve as a kind of de facto stem cell during the fruit-fly life cycle.

The surprising discovery counters the common belief that the ability to form new cell types or tissues wanes as a cell becomes more specialized.

"It was mind-boggling, because it went completely against what we had expected to see happening," said lead researcher Molly Weaver, PhD. "Once we figured out what was happening, however, the results were very clear." Weaver is a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Mark Krasnow, MD, PhD, professor and chair of biochemistry.

Harnessing this type of developmental backtracking in adult human cells would allow researchers to explore new avenues for treating many human diseases. Although recent research has shown that human skin cells can be coaxed in a laboratory dish to generate many other types of cells, the conversion requires the use of viruses to deliver specific combinations of genes into the cells. The existence in humans of similar, naturally occurring stem cell understudies, called "facultative stem cells," has recently been proposed, but the idea remains controversial.

Continue reading "Stanford fruit-fly study adds weight to theories about another type of adult stem cell" »

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First Disease-Specific Stem Cells from Human Skin Cells

A team of researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) and Columbia University, in a collaboration catalyzed by the Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research, has demonstrated that pluripotent stem cells generated from a patient with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) can be directed to differentiate into motor neurons—the very brain cells destroyed by ALS. The results of the team’s study appear in today’s online issue of Science. This is the first published report to show that disease-specific stem cells may be derived from an individual patient.

In the study, led by Kevin Eggan, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, skin cells taken from a patient with a familial form of ALS were induced to become pluripotent stem cells. Scientists then differentiated the pluripotent cells into motor neurons and glia (support cells in the brain) that featured an ALS genotype.

“This is a seminal discovery,” said Valerie Estess, director of research for Project A.L.S. “The ability to derive ALS motor neurons through a simple skin biopsy opens the doors to improved drug discovery. For the first time, researchers will be able to look at ALS cells under a microscope and see why they die. If we can figure out how a person’s motor neurons die, we will figure out how to save motor neurons.”

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New method extracts oxygen from water with minimal energy, potentially boosting efforts to develop solar as a 24-hour energy source

July 31, 2008

Using a surprisingly simple, inexpensive technique, chemists have found a way to pull pure oxygen from water using relatively small amounts of electricity, common chemicals and a room-temperature glass of water.

Because oxygen and hydrogen are energy-rich fuels, many researchers have proposed using solar electricity to split water into those elements--a stored energy source for when the sun goes down. One of the chief obstacles to that green-energy scenario has been the difficulty of producing oxygen without large amounts of energy or a high-maintenance environment.

Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist Daniel Nocera and his postdoctoral student Matthew Kanan have discovered an efficient way to solve the oxygen problem. They announced their findings July 31, 2008, online in the journal Science.

"The discovery has enormous implications for the large scale deployment of solar since it puts us on the doorstep of a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism," said Nocera. "The ease of implementation means that this discovery will have legs. I have great faith in my chemistry, materials science and engineering colleagues in the community to drive this discovery hard and hopefully their work, along with our continued studies will yield viable technologies within 10 years."

While a home-based energy source using this technique could be a decade away, the breakthrough is a major step forward.

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Scientists demonstrate highly directional semiconductor lasers

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – July 28, 2008 – Applied scientists at Harvard University in collaboration with researchers from Hamamatsu Photonics in Hamamatsu City, Japan, have demonstrated, for the first time, highly directional semiconductor lasers with a much smaller beam divergence than conventional ones. The innovation opens the door to a wide range of applications in photonics and communications. Harvard University has also filed a broad patent on the invention.

Spearheaded by graduate student Nanfang Yu and Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering, all of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and by a team at Hamamatsu Photonics headed by Dr. Hirofumi Kan, General Manager of the Laser Group, the findings were published online in the July 28th issue of Nature Photonics and will appear in the September print issue.

"Our innovation is applicable to edge-emitting as well as surface-emitting semiconductor lasers operating at any wavelength—all the way from visible to telecom ones and beyond," said Capasso. "It is an important first step towards beam engineering of lasers with unprecedented flexibility, tailored for specific applications. In the future, we envision being able to achieve total control of the spatial emission pattern of semiconductor lasers such as a fully collimated beam, small divergence beams in multiple directions, and beams that can be steered over a wide angle."

While semiconductor lasers are widely used in everyday products such as communication devices, optical recording technologies, and laser printers, they suffer from poor directionality. Divergent beams from semiconductor lasers are focused or collimated with lenses that typically require meticulous optical alignment—and in some cases bulky optics.

To get around such conventional limitations, the researchers sculpted a metallic structure, dubbed a plasmonic collimator, consisting of an aperture and a periodic pattern of sub-wavelength grooves, directly on the facet of a quantum cascade laser emitting at a wavelength of ten microns, in the invisible part of the spectrum known as the mid-infrared where the atmosphere is transparent. In so doing, the team was able to dramatically reduce the divergence angle of the beam emerging from the laser from a factor of twenty-five down to just a few degrees in the vertical direction. The laser maintained a high output optical power and could be used for long range chemical sensing in the atmosphere, including homeland security and environmental monitoring, without requiring bulky collimating optics.

"Such an advance could also lead to a wide range of applications at the shorter wavelengths used for optical communications. A very narrow angular spread of the laser beam can greatly reduce the complexity and cost of optical systems by eliminating the need for the lenses to couple light into optical fibers and waveguides," said Dr. Kan.

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GE Healthcare acquires Vital Signs to complement clinical systems

Posted: July 24, 2008

GE Healthcare’s purchase of Vital Signs Inc. signals the importance General Electric’s medical technology division is putting on its Wauwatosa-based clinical systems business.

London-based GE Healthcare said Thursday it will acquire Vital Signs Inc. — a Totowa, N.J.-based company that makes disposable products for anesthesia, respiration, sleep therapy and emergency medicine — for about $860 million.

Vital Signs will become part of GE Healthcare’s clinical systems business, which is run by Omar Ishrak.

That business has been growing 10% per year for the past three or four years, making it one of GE Healthcare’s fastest-growing businesses, said Ishrak, the division’s president and CEO.

Vital Signs’ products complement the anesthesia, monitoring and respiratory offerings of GE Healthcare’s clinical systems business, Ishrak said.

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Medical College Has $1.8 Million NIH Grant to Study Links Between Respiratory Viral Infection, Allergic Disease & Asthma

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a five-year, $1.8 million National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant to study the mechanisms linking respiratory viral infection to allergic disease and asthma.

Mitchell H. Grayson, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology at the Medical College, is principal investigator for the grant.

“The prevalence of allergic disease is increasing in the modern world, and severe respiratory viral infections early in life impart a greatly increased risk for asthma and allergic disease,” says Dr. Grayson.

Dr. Grayson hopes to understand how respiratory viral infections early in life contribute to the development of allergies and asthma.  He is studying the roel of immune cells that are critical to the development of respiratory virus-induced allergic disease.  These studies should provide the basis for development of new therapies to prevent or treat asthma and allergic diseases.

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Advance brings low-cost, bright LED lighting closer to reality

Researchers at Purdue University have overcome a major obstacle in reducing the cost of "solid state lighting," a technology that could cut electricity consumption by 10 percent if widely adopted.

The technology, called light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, is about four times more efficient than conventional incandescent lights and more environmentally friendly than compact fluorescent bulbs. The LEDs also are expected to be far longer lasting than conventional lighting, lasting perhaps as long as 15 years before burning out.


"The LED technology has the potential of replacing all incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, which would have dramatic energy and environmental ramifications," said Timothy D. Sands, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Materials Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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National Cancer Institute Awards $1.57 Million Grant to Medical College of Wisconsin for Breast Cancer Research

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a five-year, $1.57 million grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to investigate the mechanism by which statins, commonly-used cholesterol lowering drugs, kill breast cancer cells. Balaraman Kalyanaraman, Ph.D., chairman and professor of biophysics is the principal investigator.

Statins are the most widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs.  Their beneficial effects in cardiovascular health are well established. Emerging research suggests that some statins may be more effective in killing breast cancer cells.  In this study, Medical College researchers will investigate if statins play a role in preventing and/or treating breast cancer.

Using state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, researchers will monitor the therapeutic response of statins alone, and in combination with other antioxidants, in a rat model of breast cancer.  The ultimate goal of this research is to be able to translate these findings to humans so that breast cancer may be detected non-invasively at an early stage and treated more effectively with a less toxic combination of statins and antioxidants.

Other collaborating investigators are: Kathleen Schmainda, Ph. D., associate professor of radiology, Carol Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology & toxicology, and Donna McAllister, research associate in biophysics.

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Tomo Therapy spinoff to delve into proton technology

Compact Particle Acceleration Corp. to focus on reducing devices’ size

Posted: July 14, 2008

TomoTherapy Inc. has spun off a separate company to handle development of a new system that could dramatically change the business of radiating cancer tumors.

Compact Particle Acceleration Corp. was formed in April to bring to market a proton therapy system based on a technology developed at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The system would be small enough to fit into a standard radiation room rather than the football field-sized facilities required by the few existing proton therapy centers in the U.S.

Full article.

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IB’S MR Perfusion Software Will Evaluate Mechanisms of AntiAngiogenic Drugs

Milwaukee, WI – Imaging Biometrics, LLC (IB), a provider of advanced visualization and analytical software solutions, has an agreement with the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN) to evaluate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) datasets using its proprietary dynamic susceptibility contrast (DSC) MR perfusion software, IB Neuro™. The ACRIN trial (#6677) is a global multi-center phase II trial using advanced imaging to track the effectiveness of biological treatments for brain tumors. IB Neuro™ uses DSC algorithms to provide information about blood volume and blood flow in the brain. These critical perfusion parameters are valuable for detecting new tumor growth or tumor recurrence, and should assist in tailoring personalized treatment plans for patients. MR perfusion imaging may also play an important role in the development of improved treatment therapies,
which is another objective of this study.

ACRIN Principal Investigator Gregory Sorensen, M.D., Harvard Professor and Co-Director of the A.A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, says, “This study marries advanced imaging techniques with one of the most important topics in oncology today: antiangiogenic drugs. We hope that by doing this study we’ll understand better how antiangiogenic drugs work, how imaging can shed light on making decisions about therapeutic choices, and how to better develop
improved treatments for cancer.”

IB Neuro™
Recently cleared by the FDA, IB Neuro™ incorporates proprietary algorithms to correct for contrast agent leakage to more consistently distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue. This rich information should enable better decisions in tailoring individual treatment plans for patients with brain tumors and other brain disorders.

“We are delighted that ACRIN has contracted with us to assist them in this important clinical initiative”, said Michael Schmainda, IB’s President and CEO. “Participating in this trial will help advance healthcare and leveraging the computational power of IB Neuro™ is a very cost-effective way to provide the results”.

ACRIN 6677
The study, ACRIN 6677/RTOG-0625, A Randomized Phase II Trial of Bevacizumab with Irinotecan or Bevacizumab with Temozolomide in Recurrent Glioblastoma, will determine whether the drug bevacizumab, in combination with one of two other drugs, is effective in treating glioblastoma. A key part of this study will be exploring whether three different advanced MRI techniques can act as biomarkers by providing valuable information about patients’ response to treatment.


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Biotechnician Joins Medical College of Wisconsin Faculty

Shama Mirza, Ph.D., has been appointed assistant professor of biochemistry in the Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Her research interests include development of novel technologies for comprehensive characterization of cell proteins to gain insight into biological processes that would otherwise not be understood.

Dr. Mirza has been with the Medical College since 2005, when she began a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Proteomics Research. She previously completed a fellowship in mass spectrometry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 2004. She has authored or co-authored 17 journal articles.

She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology in Hyderabad, India in 2004. She received her master of science degree in analytical chemistry and her bachelor of science in chemistry, botany and zoology from Nagarjuna University in Andhra Pradesh, India in 1997 and 1995, respectively.

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IB Neuro™ Post-processing software is available as a plug-in for DICOM workstations and viewers Milwaukee, WI - Imaging Biometrics, LLC (IB), a provider of advanced visualization and analytical software solutions, today announced it has received FDA 510(k) clearance by the Food and Drug Administration for the company’s new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) perfusion software, IB Neuro™.

By incorporating proprietary computational algorithms, IB Neuro™ enables clinicians to make informed decisions in their approach to MRI perfusion imaging of brain tumors and other brain disorders. Based on over ten years of award-winning research, the technology within IB Neuro™ has proven to be a robust way of providing more specific information about brain tumor biology and vasculature, enabled by the unique way it accounts for correcting contrast-agent leakage effects. Until now, most of the available dynamic susceptibility contrast (DSC) post-processing software tools did not correct for these leakage effects and, as a result, provided widely varying results.

“When comparing the results of other MR perfusion techniques against IB Neuro™, IB Neuro™ showed a statistically significant ability to consistently differentiate between normal and abnormal brain tissue, whereas all the other techniques to which IB Neuro™ was compared did not,” said Michael Schmainda, IB’s President and CEO. “This rich information should enable clinicians to better personalize care for patients with brain tumors and other brain disorders.”

IB Neuro™ generates and displays an array of perfusion parameter colormaps in just seconds. That’s a drastic improvement over the hour-plus time typically required to process the data sets using research laboratory software. Now neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, neuro-oncologists and technologists can efficiently generate these perfusion maps in a few simple mouse-clicks. Beta versions of IB Neuro™ have already been licensed for research purposes to more than two dozen institutions around the world and can also assist pharmaceutical companies in the development of new therapies. IB Neuro™ is currently available as an OsiriX plug-in. OsiriX is an open-source, image processing software, designed for navigation and visualization of multimodality and multidimensional images.


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MIT opens new 'window' on solar energy

Cost effective devices expected on market soon

Elizabeth A. Thomson, News Office
July 10, 2008


Imagine windows that not only provide a clear view and illuminate rooms, but also use sunlight to efficiently help power the building they are part of. MIT engineers report a new approach to harnessing the sun's energy that could allow just that.

The work, to be reported in the July 11 issue of Science, involves the creation of a novel "solar concentrator." "Light is collected over a large area [like a window] and gathered, or concentrated, at the edges," explains Marc A. Baldo, leader of the work and the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

As a result, rather than covering a roof with expensive solar cells (the semiconductor devices that transform sunlight into electricity), the cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel. In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell "by a factor of over 40," Baldo says.

Because the system is simple to manufacture, the team believes that it could be implemented within three years--even added onto existing solar-panel systems to increase their efficiency by 50 percent for minimal additional cost. That, in turn, would substantially reduce the cost of solar electricity.

Full story.

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Bacterial resistance is futile against wound-cleaning laser

A laser-activated antimicrobial offers hope for new treatments of bacterial infections, even those that are resistant to current drugs. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Microbiology describes the use of a dye, indocyanine green, which produces bacteria-killing chemicals when lit by a specific kind of laser light.

Michael Wilson led a team from UCL (University College London) who carried out experiments showing that activated indocyanine green is capable of killing a wide range of bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The dye is safe for humans. The strength of this new approach lies in the variety of ways in which the chemicals produced by the activated dye harm bacteria. As Wilson explains, this means that resistance is unlikely to develop, "The mechanism of killing is non-specific, with reactive oxygen species causing damage to many bacterial components, so resistance is unlikely to develop - even from repeated use". Michael Wilson's co-authors on the study include Ghada Omar and Sean Nair of the Division of Microbial Diseases, UCL Eastman Dental Institute.

The increasing occurrence of bacterial resistance is a well-known problem facing modern medicine. The laser-powered treatment described in the study will be useful in the treatment of infections that occur in wounds. According to Wilson "Infected wounds are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality, and an increase in the duration and the cost of hospital stay. The growing resistance to conventional antibiotics among organisms that infect wounds and burns makes such infections difficult to treat. The technique we are exploring is driven by the need to develop novel strategies to which pathogens will not easily develop resistance."

The laser used by the researchers emits 'near-infrared' light, which is known to be capable of producing heat. However, as Wilson describes, "Substantial killing of all of the bacteria tested was achieved without causing any temperature rise. The benefit of the laser described in this study is that it produces light that is more able to penetrate deep wounds, increasing the area cleansed".


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