Detecting single molecules and diagnosing diseases with a smartphone

by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

a TEM image (left, reproduced at least 3 times) and sketches (right) of the DNA origami structure used for the nanoantenna assembly with the position of the plasmonic hotspot indicated in red. A representative class averaged TEM image of the DNA origami used is shown on the upper right. b Schematics of NACHOS assembly: the DNA origami construct is bound to the BSA-biotin coated surface via biotin-NeutrAvidin interactions, thiolated DNA-functionalized 100 nm silver particles are attached to the DNA origami nanoantenna via polyadenine (A20) binding strands in the zipper-like geometry to minimize the distance between the origami and the nanoparticles30. c TEM image of a NACHOS with 100 nm silver nanoparticles (reproduced at least 3 times). d Single-molecule fluorescence intensity transients, measured by confocal microscopy, normalized to the same excitation power of a single Alexa Fluor 647 dye incorporated in a DNA origami (orange) and in a DNA origami nanoantenna with two 100 nm silver nanoparticles (blue) excited at 639 nm e. Fluorescence enhancement distribution of Alexa Fluor 647 measured in NACHOS with 100 nm silver nanoparticles. A total number of 164 and 449 single molecules in the reference (more examples are provided in Supplementary Fig. 3) and NACHOS structures were analyzed, respectively. Credit: Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21238-9

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers show that the light emitted by a single molecule can be detected with a low-cost optical setup. Their prototype could facilitate medical diagnostics.

Biomarkers play a central role in the diagnosis of disease and assessment of its course. Among the markers now in use are genes, proteins, hormones, lipids and other classes of molecules. Biomarkers can be found in the blood, in cerebrospinal fluid, urine and various types of tissues, but most of them have one thing in common: They occur in extremely low concentrations, and are therefore technically challenging to detect and quantify.

Many detection procedures use molecular probes, such as antibodies or short nucleic-acid sequences, which are designed to bind to specific biomarkers. When a probe recognizes and binds to its target, chemical or physical reactions give rise to fluorescence signals. Such methods work well, provided they are sensitive enough to recognize the relevant biomarker in a high percentage of all patients who carry it in their blood. In addition, before such fluorescence-based tests can be used in practice, the biomarkers themselves or their signals must be amplified. The ultimate goal is to enable medical screening to be carried out directly on patients, without having to send the samples to a distant laboratory for analysis.

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The Future of Healthcare Is in the Cloud

Secure and reliable virtual access to healthcare professionals and data has become table stakes for us to meet our 21st century challenges and goals.

By Morris Panner

We will look back on 2020 as a pivotal moment for the use of cloud computing in healthcare. As the pandemic swept away old constraints, digital health innovators rushed in. In the face of a major crisis, providers and technologists worked tirelessly to make healthcare better, pushing change to save lives. Innovation and entrepreneurship don’t come without risk, but they also can provide enormous benefits. Collecting and sharing data via the cloud will enable a healthcare system fit for the 21st century. 

This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. The banking industry for example is reaping the benefits of a major digital transformation that was driven by cloud adoption over the last decade. Until now healthcare providers have been reticent to embrace the same kind of IT modernization. Concerns about security, legal compliance, and potential downtime when dealing with the most sensitive personal data in life and death situations are all legitimate, but can all be addressed. Secure and reliable virtual access to healthcare professionals and data has become table stakes for us to meet our 21st-century challenges and goals.

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Scientists 3D Bioprint a hybrid tissue construct for cartilage regeneration

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Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine scientists (WFIRM) have developed a method to bioprint a type of cartilage that could someday help restore knee function damaged by arthritis or injury.

This cartilage, known as fibrocartilage, helps connect tendons or ligaments or bones and is primarily found in the meniscus in the knee. The meniscus is the tough, rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee joint. Degeneration of the meniscus tissue affects millions of patients and arthroscopic partial meniscectomy is one of the most common orthopedic operations performed. Besides surgery, there is a lack of available treatment options.

In this latest proof-of-concept strategy, the scientists have been able to 3D bioprint a hybrid tissue construct for cartilage regeneration by printing two specialized bioinks – hydrogels that contain the cells – together to create a new formulation that provides a cell-friendly microenvironment and structural integrity. This work is done with the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System, a 3D bioprinter that was developed by WFIRM researchers over a 14-year period. The system deposits both biodegradable, plastic-like materials to form the tissue “shape” and bioinks that contain the cells to build new tissues and organs.

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Israeli smokable cannabis sticks to hit US market in January

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StickIt CBD sticks

The main upside to these smokable sticks is their consistency. The sticks allow for accurate, measured doses of cannabis extracts, making them much easier to regulate worldwide.

The Israeli start-up industry could be taking over an unexpected new market: smokable cannabis sticks.

Last month, an Israeli start-up, TrichomeShell, which makes a smokable cannabis toothpick called “moodpicks,” smashed fundraising goals as they prepared to enter the Canadian cannabis market.

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This electronic patch can monitor, treat heart disease, say scientists

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According to the scientists, while pacemakers and other implantable devices are used to monitor and treat irregular heartbeats, these are mostly made with rigid materials that can’t move to accommodate a beating heart.

The patch has been developed with rubbery electronic materials compatible with heart tissue

Researchers have developed a patch made from rubbery electronics that can be placed directly on the heart to collect information on its activity, temperature, and other indicators — an innovation that may help look out for cardiac arrest in vulnerable individuals.

According to the scientists, including those from the University of Houston (UH) in the US, while pacemakers and other implantable devices are used to monitor and treat irregular heartbeats, these are mostly made with rigid materials that can’t move to accommodate a beating heart.

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Medical innovations that will revolutionize the future of you healthcare

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2020 has ingrained in me an age-old adage my mom loves to quote – health is wealth. Focus on our healthcare and the strain on our healthcare system has increased exponentially this year. While the world altogether has jumped up to help improve our healthcare systems, what can truly help is improved preventive methods, devices that help the patients monitor their health from home as well as to stay in touch with their doctors virtually while providing accurate data. The best example of the data’s impact is how an Apple Watch helped saved a man’s life by detecting problems with his heartbeat – and this is just the beginning. The products here show the best of healthcare we can provide to make this world a better place!

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Nanobiologic approach trains the innate immune system to eliminate tumor cells

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A groundbreaking new type of cancer immunotherapy developed at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai trains the innate immune system to help it eliminate tumor cells through the use of nanobiologics, tiny materials bioengineered from natural molecules that are paired with a therapeutic component, according to a study published in Cell in October.

This nanobiologic immunotherapy targets the bone marrow, where part of the immune system is formed, and activates a process called trained immunity. This process reprograms bone marrow progenitor cells to produce “trained” innate immune cells that halt the growth of cancer, which is normally able to protect itself from the immune system with the help of other types of cells, called immunosuppressive cells.

This work for the first time demonstrates that trained immunity can be successfully and safely induced for the treatment of cancer. The research was performed in animal models, including a mouse model with melanoma, and the researchers said it is being developed for clinical testing.

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Don’t drop your diet yet, but scientists have discovered how CRISPR can burn fat

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A personalized therapy for metabolic conditions that are linked to obesity could involve removing a small amount of a person’s fat, transforming it into an energy-burning variation using CRISPR gene-editing, and then re-implanting it into the body, according to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

In tests involving mice, the implanted human fat cells helped lower sugar concentrations in the blood and decrease fat in the liver. When the mice were put on a high-fat diet, the ones that had been implanted with the human beige fat only gained half as much weight as those that had been implanted with regular human fat.

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Researchers 3D-printed a cell-sized tugboat

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The aim was to see how microorganisms like sperm or bacteria swim.

 Physicists at Leiden University in the Netherlands have 3D printed what could be the world’s smallest boat, a test object known as Benchy (via Gizmodo). At 30 microns long, it’s a third smaller than the thickness of a human hair and about six times larger than a bacteria cell. It’s not only small but surprisingly detailed, with an open cockpit that features some tricky geometry. The goal is to understand how “microswimmers” like bacteria and sperm move through liquids.

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3D-printed pharmaceuticals pave the way for customizable drug therapies

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Personalized pills created by 3D printers will help treat complex diseases cheaply.

Since its inception during the later decades of the last century, 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) has moved far beyond merely fabricating simple plastic parts. Today the technique can be used to produce much-needed medical supplies such as personal protective equipment for health care workers fighting COVID-19. Among other advances, 3D printing is now also considered a serious tool to advance medicine and pharmacology through bioprinting. Bioprinting can create anatomical models of patients prior to surgery and some biological tissues, with the goal of progressing to printing whole complex organs such as the heart. However, another emerging and potentially revolutionary use for 3D bioprinting is the production of pharmaceutical drugs that are tailored to meet the needs of specific patients.

In 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first 3D-printed pharmaceutical, SPRITAM (levetiracetam), created by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals for the treatment of seizures. Although the drug remains the only 3D-printed drug currently approved by the FDA, the many advantages of 3D-printed drugs place them at the forefront of what’s ahead for medicine as the FDA works on formulating a regulatory framework for them.

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Artificial ‘mini-lungs’ grown in a lab allow scientists to watch how the coronavirus infects human cells in ‘major breakthrough’

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Tiny artificial lungs grown in a lab from adult stem cells have allowed scientists to watch how coronavirus infects the lungs in a new ‘major breakthrough’.

Researchers from Duke University and Cambridge University produced artificial lungs in two independent and separate studies to examine the spread of Covid-19.

  • Researchers took stem cells and had them grow into cells found in the lungs
  • They then had them produce 3D models of the lung cells Covid-19 infects
  • They can use their new models to track the spread of the deadly virus in lungs
  • It’s hoped doing so will allow them to develop new drugs to help treat the virus

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Researchers use AI to predict Alzheimer’s disease 7 years before clinical diagnosis

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IBM and Pfizer developed an AI that looks at speech patterns over time for markers of the crippling degenerative disease.

Alzheimer’s is a crippling degenerative disease, but the answer to early diagnosis might lie in speech.

I was afraid my grandmother wouldn’t remember who I was the last time I saw her in person. She looked small and frail in the wheelchair but I could still see the sparkle in her eyes. Our relationship was complicated, but when she said she remembered me, none of it mattered any more.

I sat by her wheelchair and tried to cram in a decade of memories and happenings. Every few moments, it was like she’d reset, and would ask what I’d been up to all these years. We’d go through everything again. We only had a few precious hours before she didn’t remember who I was anymore, no matter how many stories I told her.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that over 5 million Americans live with, and that number is only expected to grow, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But IBM Research and Pfizer have developed a new AI model that uses quick speech tests to help predict the onset of the disease in healthy people, the companies said Thursday. The AI’s accuracy is about 70%, potentially giving people up to seven years’ notice before symptoms of cognitive decline.

The disease can seem like it sneaks in, beginning with symptoms that may be misinterpreted as typical age-related changes. These early warning flags are important to recognize, as they’re a sign of coming cognitive decline. The sooner clinicians can detect Alzheimer’s disease, the more that can be done to help a patient, even though there’s no cure to date.

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