New Israeli tech could use light to control drugs

‘This technology opens opportunities for biomedical and biotechnological applications’

Researchers from Israel’s Tel Aviv University developed a new technology that could lead to better control over the release of drugs in the human body – by using ultraviolet light.

The technology is inspired by the “viral factories” made by the measles virus when infecting a cell. True to their name, these compartments are made within the host cell, containing the necessary material for making more viral particles. Recent studies have also shown that these viral factories are actually liquid-like structures. 

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A self-powered ingestible sensor opens new avenues for gut research

UC San Diego Researchers develop a self-powered ingestible sensor system designed to monitor metabolites in the small intestine over time. Credit: David Ballot for the Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

By Emerson Dameron

Engineering researchers have developed a battery-free, pill-shaped ingestible biosensing system designed to provide continuous monitoring in the intestinal environment. It gives scientists the ability to monitor gut metabolites in real time, which wasn’t possible before. This feat of technological integration could unlock new understanding of intestinal metabolite composition, which significantly impacts human health overall.

The work, led by engineers at the University of California San Diego, appears in the December issue of the journal Nature Communications.

The ingestible, biofuel-driven sensor facilitates in-situ access to the small intestine, making glucose monitoring easier while generating continuous results. These measurements provide a critical component of tracking overall gastrointestinal health, a major factor in studying nutrition, diagnosing and treating various diseases, preventing obesity, and more.

“In our experiments, the battery-free biosensor technology continuously monitored glucose levels in the small intestines of pigs 14 hours after ingestion, yielding measurements every five seconds for two to five hours,” said Ernesto De La Paz Andres, a nanoengineering graduate student at UC San Diego and one of the co-first authors on the paper. “Our next step is to reduce the size of the pills from the current 2.6 cm in length so they will be easier for human subjects to swallow.”

Older methods for directly monitoring the inside of the small intestine can cause significant discomfort for patients while generating only single short data recordings of an environment that continuously changes. By contrast, this biosensor provides access to continuous data readings over time. The platform could also be used to develop new ways to study the microbiome of the small intestine. The “smart pill” approach could lead to simpler and cheaper ways to monitor the small intestine, which could lead to significant cost savings in the future. 

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Novel Antibiotic Cement May Help Treat Bone Infections

Every year, 700,000 people die due to antibiotic resistance. Now, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a specialized drug-device delivery system to identify an effective antibiotic for targeted use in a bone cement matrix. The new antibiotic demonstrated promising results used against Staphylococcal in a rat model. Their approach may potentially be used to treat bone infections and decrease bacterial resistance development.

Their findings are published in Nature Biomedical Engineering in an article titled, “A potent antibiotic-loaded bone-cement implant against Staphylococcal bone infections.”

“New antibiotics should ideally exhibit activity against drug-resistant bacteria, delay the development of bacterial resistance to them, and be suitable for local delivery at desired sites of infection,” wrote the researchers. “Here, we report the rational design, via molecular-docking simulations, of a library of 17 candidate antibiotics against bone infection by wild-type and mutated bacterial targets.”

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Robot pill could help replace insulin injections for diabetics

A robotic pill could replace the need for diabetics to regularly inject themselves with insulin

By Mark Waghorn

A robot pill that delivers insulin directly to the gut could replace multiple painful injections for people with diabetes.

It can also deliver antibiotics – offering hope of battling superbugs with oral medications.

For patients and physicians, taking treatments by mouth is most desirable. Swallowing is safer, more convenient and less invasive.

But they drugs often cannot withstand stomach acids before unleashing their payloads for the intended effects. The degradation makes them less effective.

The capsule, called RoboCap, could revolutionise therapy. In a swine model, it increased permeability for insulin more than tenfold.

Similar results were seen for vancomycin – an antibiotic that is usually delivered intravenously.

Lead author Dr Giovanni Traverso, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said: ‘Peptides and proteins are important drugs.

‘But the degradative environment of the gastrointestinal tract and poor absorption has limited the ability to deliver these drugs orally.’

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New Wearable Sensor Detects Even More Compounds in Human Sweat

If you have ever had your blood drawn, whether to check your cholesterol, kidney function, hormone levels, blood sugar, or as part of a general checkup, you might have wondered why there is not an easier, less painful way.

Now there might be. A team of researchers from Caltech’s Cherng Department of Medical Engineering has unveiled a new wearable sensor that can detect in human sweat even minute levels of many common nutrients and biological compounds that can serve as indicators of human health.

The sensor technology was developed in the lab of Wei Gao, assistant professor of medical engineering, Heritage Medical Research Institute investigator, and Ronald and JoAnne Willens Scholar. For years, Gao’s research has focused on wearable sensors with medical applications, and this latest work represents the most precise and sensitive iteration yet.

“We’ve done wearable sweat sensors before,” he says. “There were so many biomarkers we wanted to detect, but in the past we could not. There was no good way.”

Gao says previous versions of his sweat sensors relied on enzymes embedded within them to detect a limited number of relevant compounds. While antibodies could be used in sensors to detect more compounds at low concentrations, that technique had a big weakness: antibodies in the sensor can only be used once, meaning the sensors will wear out.

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Researchers develop ultrasound stickers that can see inside the body

An ultrasound sticker

Researchers have created a stamp-sized ultrasound sticker that can provide images of internal organs continuously for 48 hours.

Currently, ultrasounds require bulky and specialised equipment only available in hospitals and doctors’ offices.

But a new design by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers might make the technology as wearable and accessible as buying plasters at the pharmacy.

The patch was tested in people doing activities such as jogging and drinking fluids.

Ultrasounds allow doctors to see live images of a patient’s internal organs, and wands and probes are used to direct sound waves into the body.

These waves reflect back out to produce high-resolution images of a patient’s heart, lungs and other deep organs.

MIT graduate student Chonghe Wang said: “Wearable ultrasound imaging tools would have huge potential in the future of clinical diagnosis.

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Drug that increases human lifespan to 200 years is in the works

Taken in pill form, the drug would eliminate cells in the human body that are responsible for advancing the ageing process – potentially doubling our lifespan. But is this desirable?

By Jessica Byrne

Are you ready to live an additional hundred years?

British computational biologist Dr Andrew Steele has published a new book on the longevity of human life, arguing it is entirely feasible for us to live well beyond a single century with the help of a certain kind of drug.

In the book, he states that research in the field of senolytics – drugs that work to eliminate cells that degrade tissue function – are already showing promising results and could become available on the market within the next decade.

‘I don’t think there is any kind of absolute cap on how long we can live,’ said Dr Steele. ‘I can’t see a physical or biological reason why people couldn’t live to 200 — the challenge is whether we can develop the biomedical science to make it possible.’

Once perfected, the drug would destroy ‘zombie cells’, scientifically known as senescent cells. These cells stop dividing over our lifespan, accumulate inside our bodies, and eventually release compounds that speed up processes of ageing.

In a 2020 trial, mice who were administered the drug showed improved physical function and extended health and lifespan. Given that gene functions in humans and mice are almost identical, many believe we could reap the same benefits.

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Combining AI and Zebrafish to Accelerate Drug Discovery

As part of our SLAS Europe 2022 coverage, we speak to Dr. Javier Terriente, Co-founder and Chief of Drug Development at ZeClinics, about how zebrafish could be the future for discovering new therapeutics.

Please could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at ZeClinics?

My name is Javier Terriente, and I have a PhD in molecular biology. I spent 15 years in academia, and in 2013 we founded ZeClinics. I am the co-founder of ZeClinics, but I have also been leading the scientific side of the company. I was the scientific director until a couple of years ago, and today I am the chief of drug development.

Essentially, my role now within the company is to lead our internal drug development programs, and I also help with the implementation of new technologies like artificial intelligence and so on. In a way, I would say that I am the chief innovative officer in the company.

ZeClinics is a contract research organization (CRO) specializing in zebrafish research. Why was ZeClinics founded, and what are some of its core missions and values?

First and foremost, ZeClinics was founded on the basis of our expertise, which we felt could bring something new to the industry. As an academic, I had a lot of experience working with zebrafish. I was very much focused on basic research problems, but we understood from early on that the zebrafish could bring a lot of biological and experimental advantages to the industry that may be useful for drug discovery, target discovery, and understanding the safety of new compounds and more. So, we thought, ‘Why not?’. Why not create a company that can bring that expertise to the industry? Our company started small and has grown to 40 people – and we hope to grow more in the future.

In terms of core missions and values, I would say that our main mission is excellence and quality. We think – and hope – that we are always providing the best scientific output with the best quality, in terms of data management, in terms of scientific quality, and in terms of translatability of the results to humans.

I would say this excellence is what really drives us. The second mission that we have is to accelerate research. Within everything that we do, we seek to get drugs to patients earlier and at the lowest possible cost.

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Abundant “Secret Doors” on Human Proteins Could Be Game-Changer for Drug Discovery

A three-dimensional animation of the human protein PSD95-PDZ3 showing the binding partner CRIPT (yellow) in the active site with the blue-to-red color gradient indicating increasing potential for allosteric effects. Based on PDB accession 1BE9.

By CENTER FOR GENOMIC REGULATION

Identification of hidden vulnerabilities on surface of ‘undruggable’ proteins could transform treatment of disease.

The number of potential therapeutic targets on the surfaces of human proteins is much greater than previously thought, according to the findings of a new study in the journal Nature.

A ground-breaking new technique developed by researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona has revealed the existence of a multitude of previously secret doors that control protein function and which could, in theory, be targeted to dramatically change the course of conditions as varied as dementia, cancer and infectious diseases.

The method, in which tens of thousands of experiments are performed at the same time, has been used to chart the first ever map of these elusive targets, also known as allosteric sites, in two of the most common human proteins, revealing they are abundant and identifiable.Official HCP Treatment Website – Partial-Onset Seizure InfoA Therapy Option May Reduce Your Patient’s Seizures. Learn Treatment Info Now.Prescription Treatment Website

The approach could be a game-changer for drug discovery, leading to safer, smarter and more effective medicines. It enables research labs around the world to find and exploit vulnerabilities in any protein – including those previously thought ‘undruggable’.

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Liverpool Hospital trials smart gloves to train surgeons

Liverpool Hospital is trialling smart gloves that are said to provide surgical trainees with instant and accurate feedback.

The surgical gloves, invented by engineers at Western Sydney University, have been built around low-cost sensors which can record hand movements in fine detail, giving trainee surgeons and their mentors actionable data to evaluate and improve on intricate surgical procedures.

The research team are working closely with surgeons and students at Liverpool Hospital to develop the technology, which will augment rather than replace traditional surgical training.

Dr Gough Lui, who led the work, believes the device could objectively measure the intricate hand manoeuvres of surgeons, allowing for clear and actionable feedback for trainees.

“Training surgeons in a more objective and evidence-based manner ensures evidence-based competency. Teachers will be able to give precise feedback on minute details post-surgery, and students can analyse their performance,” Dr Lui said.

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A ‘game-changer’ weight-loss drug was approved in 2021. Demand was so high that there were shortages within months.


By Gabby Landsverk

  • Semaglutide, a weight-loss drug, showed promise for treating obesity in recent research.
  • Demand quickly exceeded supply after the FDA in June approved once-weekly semaglutide injections.
  • However, some experts worry that we don’t yet understand the drug’s long-term effects.

2021 was a historic year for obesity treatment. In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved the weight-loss drug semaglutide, which some experts described as a “game-changer.”

The medication, initially developed to treat Type 2 diabetes, was the first drug treatment to be approved by the FDA for weight management since 2014. Wegovy, the brand of semaglutide sold by Novo Nordisk, is a once-weekly injection designed to balance out hunger hormones. It’s prescribed for people with a body mass index of 30 or more, or a BMI of 27 with related conditions such as diabetes.

Semaglutide was widely praised, prompting such high demand that there were shortages within months of Wegovy’s entrance into the market.

While questions remain about its long-term effects, the drug made a splash in healthcare this year, changing how experts and the public think about weight loss.

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World’s first smart bandage detects multiple biomarkers for onsite chronic wound monitoring

By  National University of Singapore

A research team led by Professor Lim Chwee Teck from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biomedical Engineering and Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech), in collaboration with clinical partners from Singapore General Hospital, has developed a smart wearable sensor that can conduct real-time, point-of-care assessment of chronic wounds wirelessly via an app. A world’s first, the novel sensor technology can detect temperature, pH, bacteria type and inflammatory factors specific to chronic wounds within 15 minutes, hence enabling fast and accurate wound assessment.

With a rapidly aging population, healthcare providers are seeing more patients suffering from non-healing wounds such as diabetic foot and chronic venous leg ulcers. It has been estimated that about two percent of the world’s population suffer from chronic wounds. The healing processes for these chronic wounds are often interrupted due to reasons such as infection and repeated trauma, leading to severe stress, pain and discomfort to afflicted patients. For patients with diabetic foot ulcers, this can lead to more severe outcomes such as foot amputation. Timely care and proper treatment of chronic wounds are needed to speed up wound recovery. However, this requires multiple clinical visits for lengthy wound assessment and treatment, which adds to the healthcare cost. The NUS team’s innovation can help mitigate these consequences and relieve patients with chronic wounds from unnecessary distress.

The research was first published in the journal Science Advances on 21 May 2021.

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