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NIH Funds Natural Hearing Restoration Technology

Florian Solzbacher

University of Utah engineering professor Florian Solzbacher holds a version of the Utah Electrode Array. (Dan Hixson, University of Utah)

20 Mar. 2019. An international group of universities and companies is designing a next-generation device to restore more natural hearing to people suffering from hearing loss. The 5-year initiative is funded by a $9.7 million grant from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of National Institutes of Health.

According to National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, or NIDCD, some 37.5 million or 15 percent of adults in the U.S. report at least some trouble hearing, with 2 to 3 of every 1,000 children born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. Since the 1980s, the standard of care for hearing loss is cochlear implants, electronic devices that restore some hearing by performing the functions of cochlear hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical nerve signals, sufficient to understand speech.

NIDCD says some 324,000 cochlear devices are implanted worldwide. These devices, however, have their limitations. Cochlear implants, for example, cannot restore more qualitative hearing abilities, such as differentiating musical tones, and discriminating among sounds in noisy environments. And for some individuals with hearing loss, the implants do not adequately fit the anatomical requirements of their cochlea, nor are able to transmit electrical signals across the bony cochlear wall to reach the auditory nerve.

The researchers led by biomedical engineering and otolaryngology professor Hubert Lim at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis plan to study an alternative to cochlear implants, an implant that directly connects to the auditory nerve. The team brings in physicians, engineers, and neuroscientists at University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, and Hannover Medical School and International Neuroscience Institute in Hannover, Germany. The researchers also include participants from the company Blackrock Microsystems in Salt Lake City, and MED-EL, an auditory medical device developer in Innsbruck, Austria.

The first phase of the project aims to design and build a prototype auditory nerve implant that meets reliability, safety, functional, biocompatibility, and sterilization requirements for human use. The device aims to integrate an advance in neuroscience called the Utah Electrode Array, a tiny chip-like device developed at University of Utah and offered by Blackrock Microsystems, collaborators on the project. The original Utah array is implanted in the brain to record neural signals, but a newer variation is made to connect to peripheral nerves, such as the auditory nerve. Its developers say the array could be used in today’s cochlear implants.

“You have much higher resolution of sound, which means you can cover more individual frequencies and have better tonal range,” says Florian Solzbacher, University of Utah engineering professor, in a university statement. “That should allow you to get more realistic hearing.”  Solzbacher is Utah’s lead investigator on the project and a co-founder of Blackrock Microsystems.

In the second phase of the project, during its last 2 years, the researchers plan to surgically implant the auditory nerve implant in up to 3 individuals with hearing loss, after preclinical tests with cadavers. The small clinical trial will test for the device’s safety and technical feasibility, and is expected to set the stage for further larger-scale trials and regulatory submissions.

“Work to develop brain or intracranial solutions beyond the cochlear implant is getting more attention in recent years,” says Lim in a University of Minnesota statement.” Lim adds, “We hope that our proposed auditory nerve implant could lead to a new generation of neural technologies and greatly advance novel treatment options in the hearing implant industry.”

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FDA Chief Calls Teen Vaping an “Epidemic”

Scott Gottlieb at Brookings Institution

Scott Gottlieb at Brookings Institution, 19 March 2019 (A. Kotok)

20 Mar. 2019. The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration warned that the sharp rise in teen electronic cigarette use is an epidemic threatening the public health. Scott Gottlieb made the remarks in an interview yesterday at the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank in Washington,. D.C.

Gottlieb, in his last few weeks as FDA’s commissioner, used the word “epidemic” several times to describe the recent increases in electronic cigarette use, also known as vaping, among teenagers. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered nicotine delivery devices, that heat a liquid containing nicotine, moisturizing and flavoring agents, as well as preservatives and artificial coloring. Makers of e-cigarettes often market the devices as safer alternatives to tobacco-burning cigarettes and sometimes as a technique to help tobacco smokers quit conventional cigarettes.

But findings from the most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey, released in November 2018, show the number of e-cigarette users in high school rose 78 percent to more than 3 million, or about 21 percent of all high school students, since the last survey in 2017. Even among middle school students, e-cigarette smoking jumped by 48 percent in the past year to 570,000 or about 5 percent of all middle school students. The report also shows rising combustible tobacco use among high school and even middle school students, after years of continuous declines.

“All the gains made against youth tobacco use over the years,” noted Gottlieb, “will be reversed by these products.” While acknowledging that some evidence shows e-cigarettes can help current smokers quit their conventional cigarettes, that’s far outweighed by the marked increases in teen use of e-cigarettes and upticks in combustible tobacco. In fact, said Gottlieb, the law requires giving more weight to stopping adolescent smoking. And while tobacco companies agreed to take their flavored products — considered inducements for younger smokers — off the shelves, Gottlieb called a meeting held last week with tobacco company executives “difficult.”

Another difficult issue for FDA was the U.S. government funding impasse and shutdown, which included FDA for much of that period. Gottlieb called the shutdown, “the largest operational challenge in our history,” but has not seen long-term negative effects from it, at least not yet. With a separate funding stream from user fees, FDA was able to keep up its schedule of high-risk inspections, but Gottlieb acknowledged overall inspections were down 5 to 10 percent.

Other questions posed by interviewer Anna Edney, health policy reporter at Bloomberg, included prospects for cannabidiol, or CBD, -based products before FDA. The latest farm bill that passed Congress in December 2018 legalized growing of hemp with low concentrations, less than 0.3 percent, of THC, the high-producing chemical in cannabis. The legislation still puts restrictions on growing non-intoxicating hemp, but CBD from hemp grown under those restrictions is no longer considered a controlled substance. Gottlieb said an agency working group is now reviewing the legislation, but because there are no products with CBD now in the food supply, it will take “highly novel rule-making” to establish a regulatory framework for these products.

One disappointment for Gottlieb is the slow growth in the use of so-called biosimilar therapies. Biosimilars are engineered replacements for original branded biologic drugs, and not one-to-one chemical substitutes like generic drugs. As a result, biosimilars are more complex and must show they are interchangeable with the branded drugs they seek to replace. Gottlieb said biosimilars face headwinds from larger rebates offered by makers of branded biologics, as well as physicians who have more experience with the original biologics. He urged payers and health plans to “take a long view” with biosimilars, and look past the immediate rebates to more price competition that biosimilars can provide.

Gottlieb announced his resignation as FDA commissioner on 5 March because of the long periods of time away from his family, including 3 young children, who live in Connecticut. He said his last day will be 5 April, and feels “very good about the inflection point FDA is at.” Gottlieb added that, “It will be hard to walk away from this job.”

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Technology is Shaping the Future of Business Travel

– Contributed content –

Suitcase in airport

(Michal Parzuchowski, Unsplash)

19 Mar. 2019. Those who have to travel for business regularly will know that the experience can often leave much to be desired.  The whole booking process can be stressful and clumsy; reservations can be lost or changed at the very last minute, and let’s not get started on the entire tedious process of expense reporting. From start to end, the whole experience is full of potential pitfalls that can cost significantly in time, money and patience.

Thanks to recent technological innovations, the coming years will see some pivotal changes that will (hopefully) improve business travel.  If appropriately implemented we should, theoretically, see a more flexible, personalized and altogether more seamless experience for business travelers.

People are already expecting to be met with personalized information in all areas of life, but especially when it comes to business. When we look online for a restaurant or a chartered flight, such as https://www.aircharterservice.ca/about-us/news-features/blog/how-much-does-it-cost-to-charter-a-private-jet-in-canada, for example, the results will be tailored according to many factors – the date, time, location and the purchase history of the user. Further developments in technology mean that shortly, this level of customization will be applied to all areas of the travel industry.

On such advancement, for example, is in the identity process.  Carrying a passport around can be a logistical nightmare for regular travelers, who may fear misplacing it and being stuck in a different country until they can sort it out. Blockchain technology may take over the need for passports in the future and be used for identity purposes. It could also allow faster check-in for hotels, hire cars, ticket reservations and other instances where one has to prove who they are.

Smart technology may also improve the experience of staying in a hotel, which can often be stark and unwelcoming. Already, hotels are adopting various forms of smart technology – allowing guests to order room service using an app, controlling the temperature of the room, managing their entertainment choices and so on. Advancements in technology will only further improve this.

When it comes to reporting expenses, there is nothing more frustrating than carrying around a wallet full of paper receipts, which get creased, lost and if they make it to the right place, have to be filed away. We are beginning to see a shift towards apps where you can scan receipts in or the option of having it emailed to you, but this still involves various documents going to multiple places, which still need collating at some point. We may well see the development of wearable technology which can be scanned at every purchase, and it is automatically sent back to whoever manages the accounts department at your place of work.

While the advancements we have discussed above focus on the traveler’s experience, many of the same technologies will inform and improve the experience from the other side. As artificial intelligence and blockchain technology continues to move forward, the frustrations felt by all parties when it comes to not only business travel, but personal travel, will soon begin to fade away.

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Antibacterial Sleeve Protects Against Implant Infections

Heart and major blood vessels

(NIH.gov)

19 Mar. 2019. A mesh envelope infused with antibiotics holding an implanted cardiac device is shown in a large-scale clinical trial to reduce the number of infections associated with those devices. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio presented their findings on Monday at the annual scientific meeting of American College of Cardiology in New Orleans, and in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team lead by Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Khaldoun Tarakji is seeking better ways to reduce the rate of infection from implanted cardiac devices, such as heart pacemakers. The authors estimate, from 10 year-old data, that 1.5 million people worldwide receive an implanted cardiac device each year. And while modern surgical practices, such as antibiotics before implantation, can prevent infections, the risk of a major infection remains a concern. Infections are most likely to occur within the first year after implantation, but can also happen when replacing the battery, leads, or the entire device.

Tarakji and colleagues tested a simple mesh sleeve infused with antibiotics as an alternative way to prevent these infections. The sleeve, called the TYRX absorbable antibacterial envelope, is made by medical device developer Medtronic, which also funded the study. TYRX is infused with 2 antibiotics, minocycline and rifampin, the same medications used to prevent implant infections. The biocompatible polymer mesh fabric disintegrates and is absorbed into the body after about 9 weeks. FDA cleared the TYRX envelope for marketing in 2013.

The post-marketing clinical trial recruited nearly 7,000 individuals scheduled to receive implanted cardiac devices at 181 sites worldwide to test the TYRX sleeve. Participants were randomly assigned to receive their implants either in a TYRX envelope or in the standard procedure without the mesh sleeve. The average age of participants was 70, and 72 percent were males.

The study team looked primarily for signs of major infections in the surgical pockets within 12 months following the procedure, whether it required more antibiotic treatments, further surgical repairs, or removal of the device. The researchers also looked for indicators of adverse effects, including minor infections or complications of any kind related to the implanted device.

The results show low rates of major infections in both groups, but fewer of these infections in the group receiving the TYRX envelope — 25, or 0.7 percent — than the comparison group without the TYRX, 42 or 1.2 percent, a large enough difference for statistical reliability. Occurrences of any complications or adverse effects were similar in both groups of participants, but still lower in the TYRX group, 6 percent, than the 7 percent reported for the comparison group, again a large enough difference for statistical reliability.

Tarakji calls the low infection rates throughout the study population “great news for all electrophysiologists and a testament for the quality of all participating centers in adhering to best practices to minimize infection,” in an American College of Cardiology statement. “Even so,” he notes, “using the antibiotic envelope led to an additional 40 percent reduction in major device-related infection during the first year after implantation. And we saw no increase in complications with the use of the envelope, indicating that it is safe to use.”

The research team plans a follow-up study assessing the cost-effectiveness of the TYRX envelope.

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Venture Funds, Mergers in A.I. Up Sharply in 2018

Glasses, computer screens

(Kevin Ku, Pexels.com)

18 Mar. 2019. Start-up companies working in artificial intelligence scored sizeable increases in venture financing, and were highly prized acquisition targets in 2018, a new analysis shows. The findings were released today by technology market intelligence company GlobalData, based in London.

GlobalData analysts compiled the data on companies working in artificial intelligence, or A.I., from the company’s database of financial deals, for the years 2014 to 2018. The analysis shows the number of venture funding deals for these enterprises increased from less than 600 worldwide in 2014 to nearly 1,200 by 2018. And the dollar volume of those deals also rose each year, beginning at about $US 2 billion in 2014 to nearly $18 billion in 2018. These gains represent compound annual growth rates of 23 percent for the number of deals and 63 percent for dollar volumes.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of venture capital, or V.C., deals for A.I.-related companies rose sharply, from about 700 in 2017 to nearly 1,200 in 2018. And the dollar volume of those deals also rose markedly, from about $8 billion in 2017 to nearly $18 billion in 2018.

Of the 5 largest venture funding recipients working in artificial intelligence, according to GlobalData, 4 of the companies are based in China: Sensetime, Horizon Robotics, Megvii Technology, and Yitu Technology. Only one non-Chinese company, autonomous vehicle developer Zoox in Foster City, California, made the list. These 5 companies combined raised some $4.7 billion.

During this 5-year period, merger and acquisition activity of companies in the artificial intelligence field also rose, but growth rates were uneven, according to GlobalData. The number of acquisitions remained stable at less than 100 in 2014 and 2015, then rose over the next 2 years to about 150, and jumped sharply to more than 250 deals in 2018. The dollar volume of those merger deals rose steadily from about $4 billion in 2014-15 to some $8 billion in 2016, then dipped to about $7 billion in 2017. In 2018, however, acquisition deal value rose markedly to nearly $20 billion.

GlobalData says U.S. companies were among the leading enterprises making the acquisitions, notably Microsoft, Accenture, Apple, and Google. “A.I.-based technologies,” says GlobalData analyst Aurojyoti Bose in a company statement, “will play a critical role across various industries and business functions in the near future and will continue to draw significant investments from V.C. firms. As a result, major IT companies are also investing in this space to embed A.I. technologies in their existing solutions or new offerings.”

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Infographic – Public, Tech Execs Differ on A.I. Use

Chart: public knowledge of A.I.

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

16 Mar. 2019. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is making rapid inroads into the world’s economy and people’s daily lives, and particularly in the fields of technology and science. We’ve followed developments in machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision for several years on Science & Enterprise, with a few recent stories found in the links below.

The Edelman public relations agency released results of a survey earlier this month, gauging the public’s awareness of A.I., with some of those findings displayed yesterday by our friends at Statista, our infographic for this weekend. The Edelman team polled 1,000 adults in the U.S. last summer on their knowledge and concerns about A.I., and compared the results to responses from 300 technology industry executives.

On the question of where A.I. is used, technology executives were generally more aware of these applications than the public, which should come as no surprise, but some of the differences are telling. For example, strong majorities — about two-thirds to three-quarters — of both the public and technology executives know A.I. underpins voice assistants on phones and home speakers, but only 37 percent of the public is aware of A.I.’s role in natural language processing, a key technology behind voice assistants, compared to a majority (56%) of technology executives. Similar gaps are found in knowledge of text recognition and computer vision, two other foundational A.I. technologies.

One of the reasons for the gaps in awareness could be a similar lack of knowledge about A.I. by today’s news reporters. Last summer, I was on a panel at University of Iowa about media ethics, politics, and public policy, where I noted how the lack of math skills by many journalists hampers their understanding of critical topics like A.I. If reporters don’t know basic math, how will they ever understand algorithms?

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Keeping Information Safe in the Internet Age

– Contributed content –

Cyber-security graphic

(Flickr)

16 Mar. 2019. We have all heard all of the stories about people having their information stolen and used. From government data to HMRC in the UK. The data is powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands. Taking steps to protect your personal information will help reduce your risk of identity theft significantly.

There are a few ways that you can be vigilant. Firstly, you should keep a note of who you share your data with. Be thorough when deciding to share your private information. Store and dispose of your own sensitive information carefully. And, finally, consider your phone and computer like a vault – both are filled with a lot of information, so passwords and the fastest VPN are a minimum to keeping it safe.

Keeping your devices secure

Privacy policies

Most websites that you visit will have a privacy policy. In this policy, you can find out how they control, use and dispose of your information. With the new GDPR rules, many people have even more control over their data and also the adverts that they will see on certain websites.

Ideally, if you will be working with an individual or a company that doesn’t have a privacy policy, or it is too complicated and filled with jargon, you’ll look elsewhere.

WiFi wise

When you use the wifi in your local coffee shop, you essentially send over a whole load of information into a public space. Libraries, coffee shops, airports and hotels all tend to provide wifi to guests.

Many websites are now encrypted. But they only protect the information you send between you and that site. If you’re surfing, you might want to think about a virtual private network. A VPN basically keeps your data anonymous while you surf on public spaces.

Phishing

Phishing scams are pretty common now. But they aren’t always easy to tell apart from the real deal. In general, never open email attachments from someone you don’t know, or click links either.

Even if an email looks legitimate, if you aren’t sure, call the company for confirmation.

Laptop lockdown

Pretty much everyone is guilty of using the auto-login features on their laptops. However, if t were to be stolen, it won’t be as protected as you might think. A few things you can do is to add tracking software to the laptop. This way if it is stolen, while turned on, you stand a chance of getting it back, and they usually have a wipe function. Always log out or log off when you are done using the laptop. And if you don’t need to save financial information on there, just don’t.

Security software

There are many different companies that provide software that will look after your computer and laptop. You should look to install anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software too. As well as running weekly scans to make sure there is nothing nasty on your hardware.

Keep the software up to date when you are prompted to do so, and you shouldn’t have any problems with an attack from viruses or spyware.

Keeping your information secure offline

You will be surprised how often people are careless with their private and financial information. If someone were to break into your home or office, how much could they gather from you in a matter of minutes?

If you work in an open office, or you have housemates or roommates, it pays to be vigilant.

In the home, you should aim to keep all your essential financial information in a fireproof lockbox and keep the key somewhere separately. Where possible, you should use a secondary method of protection like a padlock with a code.

When you are out and about in the world are you guilty of carrying a little bit too much with you? Unless you need to take all of you ID, your credit and debit cards, driving license and social security information then leave it at home.

If you have a Medicare card, then rather than carry the real deal with you, make a copy and blank out some of the information – but leave the last four digits visible.

We are all guilty of talking a little bit too much sometimes, and you might be surprised just how much information you give away. You don’t need to share the location of your doctor’s office, where your children go to school, or even the flavour of the coffee that you had last week. Think about what you are saying and who you are saying it too.

If you have a pile of paper in your office, it might be time to get the shredder out. Many people keep bank statements, credit information, insurance information, receipts and other personal documentation together. That can be disastrous. Before you start throwing things out in bulk, shred it all.

Healthcare comes at a premium, and you won’t want to be landed with a fraudulent claim. Before giving any information out, or throwing away prescriptions, bottles think about what data can be gained from those things.

Keeping your information secure online

Scams are dressed up prettier than ever so you should consider factoring some of these steps into your life as soon as you can.

Password privacy

When it comes to passwords, many people are still using their birthdays or their children’s birthdays. That just won’t cut it – they’re the easiest to guess. And, many people use one password for all of their logins – from financial to emails. Try replacing some letters in your favorite words into numbers. Or, breaking a sentence down like this: I Wish I Had A Horse Called Tulip – IwIHAHC2Lip.

And when you finally have that password ready, don’t share it.

Social networking nasty

Pretty much everyone on the planet has a Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter. So it isn’t all that surprising when a person is stalked, or taken advantage of by using the information shared there.

Selfies with street names in, back to school photos with school badges in plain sight. Sitting on the bonnet of your new car, flashing the number plate. Big mistakes, but in the moment you might not even notice. Unless you know a person, don’t add them as friends, it doesn’t take much to work out the secret answer to the secret questions with the amount people share on a status.

Data encryption

A simple way to tell if your data is relatively safe on a website that you are using is the ‘lock’ image in the URL bar of any browser. If you are making a purchase online, and you don’t see the lock symbol you might want to hold off on that transaction until you find a reputable place instead.

Imposters

A common and a pretty hideous scam is calling and convincing the recipient that they are from a company that they usually have dealings with. They will then get to work getting information like name, address, social security number, and maybe even bank details. The last few years has seen this translate to emails.

If you get an email asking you to verify who you are, perhaps out of the blue, then don’t click the link or fill anything out. Usually, if a company need to communicate something with you, they will do so by postal mail first.

If you do get an email and need to read the information, instead of clicking the link, go directly to the website and login to access it that way.

Again, as above, if you aren’t sure then call the company in question.

Disposal of information

When you upgrade your electrical stuff, it is very simple to throw it in the bin and think nothing more of it. But, as above, there is a lot of information that can be extracted from a laptop or computer or even your mobile phone.

If you are selling or disposing of anything that has previously stored data, you should take steps to reset the device to factory settings. You should be able to find information in the manual or online about how to do this.

Before you do reset anything, make sure you don’t have any apps that are needed to log in to anything else. Verification applications etc.

Think before you act

Before you give information to anyone that you don’t know or a company that apparently needs you to verify yourself think about the following questions:

  • Why do they need that information
  • How will that information be used
  • How will they keep the info your provided safe
  • What the next steps are if you choose not to share that information with them

Sometimes in order to get a service, or complete a transaction, you’ll need to share specific information. It is at your discretion that you share this data and your responsibility to ensure they will take protective measures. Even if you take all of these precautions, you might find that you still fall victim to scammers. However, being vigilant will lower your risk considerably.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this post are the contributor’s and not those of Science & Enterprise.

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Mobile Device Screens That Tap Back

Touchscreen system

Research engineers Sophie Nalbach, left, and Steffen Hau from Stefan Seelecke’s lab test the prototype system exhibited at Hannover Messe. (Oliver Dietze, Saarland University)

15 Mar. 2019. Engineers in Germany designed screens for mobile phones and tablets that not only feel touch pressure, but can also return pulses or vibrations to users’ fingers. A team from Saarland University’s Center for Mechatronics and Automation Technology, or Zema, in Saarbrücken plans to demonstrate the technology on 1 to 5 April at the Hannover Messe, an annual technology trade show in Germany.

Researchers from the Intelligent Material Systems Lab in Zema, led by engineering professor Stefan Seelecke, is seeking to provide more sensory mechanisms to mobile devices that increase their ability to interact with users. Seelecke’s lab studies electroactive polymers, thin sheets of plastic like common household plastic wraps, with electronic properties that both sense and respond to touch with tactile actions and motions that can be felt by the users.

Seelecke and colleagues add this electronic capability to plastic films by printing a thin conductive layer on the polymers. This conductive property enables the film to expand or contract in response to changes in the current. These changes in current can then be programmed to enable plastic films to emit complex or precise tactile signals, such as emulating a heart beat or vibrating in high-frequency oscillations. The lab also writes algorithms to provide more precise and complex control over the tactile signals given through the plastic film.

“We use the film itself as a position sensor and this imparts sensory properties to the display,” says engineering researcher Steffen Hau in a university statement. “There’s no need for any other sensors.” Hau adds, “This means that we always know exactly how the film is deforming at any specific moment.”

The ability to not only sense the position of fingers on the screen, but also respond with tactile signals makes it possible for users to interact with a mobile device strictly through the screen. For example, virtual buttons can be added to the screen, with tactile signals directing users’ fingers to different positions on the surface.

Seelecke notes the electroactive polymers use inexpensive, everyday materials. “As this technology does not rely on rare earths or copper,” says Seelecke, “it can be manufactured cheaply, it consumes very little energy, and the polymer films are astonishingly light.”

The Intelligent Material Systems Lab built smartphone and tablet prototypes with electroactive polymer screens that it plans to demonstrate in Hannover. At the trade show, the researchers hope to attract commercial and industrial partners to help take the technology to market.

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NIH Funding Nanodrugs to Prevent Opioid Addiction

Head in hands

(Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash)

15 Mar. 2019. A drug that invokes the immune system to block addictive effects of opioid pain drugs and heroin is in early development at Washington University in St. Louis. A team led by biomedical engineering professor Jai Rudra received a 2-year, $373,000 grant from National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, part of National Institutes of Health, to fund the research.

Rudra and colleagues at WashU aim to help fill a need for better treatment options to meet the growing and continuing public health emergency of prescription opioid drug abuse, as well as heroin and fentanyl sold on the street. Overdose deaths from these drugs this year number more than 130 per day, according to NIDA. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in July 2017 spells out the full scope of the crisis beyond overdose deaths, with some 2 million Americans age 12 and older addicted to prescription opioid drugs and another 600,000 addicted to heroin.

Current opioid treatments use opioid analogues to help reduce cravings for the drugs, while also reducing withdrawal symptoms. And while they are often effective, these treatments also run the risk of feeding participants’ addictions. The WashU team proposes an alternative strategy: an immunotherapy drug, one that invokes the immune system, to block the addictive effects of opioids, to help individuals in treatment programs break their addiction habits, as well as prevent opioid overdoses.

“We are developing a therapy that will generate an anti-opioid antibody that will arrest the drug in circulation and prevent it from getting to the brain,” says Rudra in a university statement. “While this immunotherapy does not directly address the underlying neurobiological mechanism behind drug abuse, it is intended to treat a person in recovery in the event of a relapse. The patient will obtain no pleasure from taking the drug and will be further motivated to continue toward recovery.”

The WashU team plans to design low-weight drug molecules called haptens that can invoke an immune response. But unlike antigens — full-fledged proteins often designed for immunotherapies — haptens need a carrier, other protein-like molecules, to get the attention of the immune system. For that carrier, the researchers plan to use peptides, short chains of amino acids resembling small proteins, but with amphiphilic properties, which means they both repel and attract water. Because of these properties, peptide amphiphiles can form on their own into nanoscale rods and fibers, with bioactive effects.

The researchers propose creating haptens with analogs of the opioid pain drug oxycodone and heroin, and packaging them with peptide amphiphiles so they form nanoscale particles that invoke the immune system like a vaccine. “Since the immune system does not see the small drug molecules as a threat, we attach them to a synthetic supramolecular nanocarrier,” notes Rudra. “The carrier-drug combination is sensed by the immune system as a foreign entity, generating an anti-drug antibody response.”

The team plans to test the oxycodone and heroin vaccines separately in lab mice, but also try assembling one vaccine with this technology that prevents addiction to both substances. The researchers will measure the ability of the vaccines to prevent addiction in test mice, as well as in mice showing symptoms of opioid addiction.

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Dos and Don’ts of Opening a New Branch

– Contributed content –

Shop open sign

(StockSnap, Pixabay)

15 Mar. 2019. When a business is doing well, its owner’s minds usually turn to expansion. The extra profits that the company has been bringing in during its profitable period can help to fund opening a new store or branch, which might have otherwise been too expensive to do. Once this extra branch is open, it will provide the business with another stream of income, ensuring that its finances become very stable.

However, that’s not all it will take to open a new branch or store. There’s a lot more hard work that needs to go in behind the scenes. In fact, it needs a lot of focus and attention from a business owner, or it could risk being a big failure. To ensure that doesn’t happen to you, here are a few dos and don’ts that you need to follow in order for your brand new branch to be a big success.

Do research the optimum location

One of the first things any entrepreneur wishing to expand his or her business must think about is the best location for their second branch. If you are opening a shop or store and will be dependent on a large amount of customers coming to you, then you will need to make sure it is somewhere which will see a lot of footfall. If there aren’t that many people walking past the new location regularly, then you will have to put in a lot of extra effort with your marketing to make sure that people hear about you. As well as that, it’s also worth being in a location that has some good public transport links and isn’t too close to your competitors.

Don’t forget to put some objectives in place

You shouldn’t just open a new branch without understanding why it would be beneficial for you to do so. To figure out why you should open a second location, and to make sure that it helps you achieve your business goals, it’s worth writing down a few objectives for the launch. Having these goals clear in your mind can help you keep on track of everything that needs to be done as well. It’s worth publishing these launch objective somewhere that all your high-level management can access them so that everyone is one the same page with the launch.

Do step up your recruitment efforts

There’s a good chance that you will need to hire some new staff to man this second branch location. If that is the case, it’s worth starting the recruitment process as early as possible so that you get enough new hires ready to start on launch day. Don’t forget that you might need to prepare these new employees with some training as well. That will be especially the case if they have never worked in any customer-facing roles before. All of this training will need to be completed before the launch of your new store so that this new team are all happy in their roles.

Don’t keep things quiet on social media

You will want to get all your loyal customers very excited about the prospect of a new branch opening. So, you shouldn’t stay quiet about expanding the business, otherwise hardly anyone will find out about it. The best way to ensure that as many people find out about your big launch as soon as possible is to be very vocal about it on social media. Once you’ve set your launch date, make sure you are tweeting and Facebooking about it as soon as you can. And then you can ensure that the big opening day will be a very well-attended event indeed.

Do plan a launch event

It is really worth planning a launch event for your new branch. Some entrepreneurs don’t do this as they believe it will cost them a lot, but there are ways you can do it as cheaply as possible. For instance, you might just want to create a big buzz around the very first day it will be open so that you get as many people in there as possible. Don’t forget to buy a banner for your store that can go outside the main entrance. This will catch the attention of passersby, and they will be a lot more likely to come over to your store to check out what is going on.

Don’t neglect your cash flow

One thing to keep a close eye on when you are opening a second location is your company’s overall cash flow. It will take time for your new location to start generating a profit. In some cases, it could take up to a year. So, you need to take this into consideration as it could really affect your whole business’s cash flow. If your first location isn’t generating enough to create a profit that will be able to sustain two locations, you need to take this into consideration. It might be necessary to find some extra investment to tie you over until your new branch becomes profitable.

Do establish consistent workflows between branches

When you are in the process of setting up a new branch, you need to make sure that all of the processes and workflows are consistent between both locations. This will then ensure it’s easy to staff to transfer between each other. Not only that, though, but it makes it easier to create a consistent customer experience in both branches as well.

Don’t start your marketing efforts too late

You will need to do some extra marketing for your new branch. Don’t wait too long to do this or else it could really undermine your whole launch. Ideally, you need to start marketing for the big launch as soon as announce that it is happening. But, of course, you need to be ready to hit the ground rolling, so you should ideally have been planning your marketing for a few months prior to the announcement.

If you follow all of these dos and don’ts, then your new branch should open to quite a bit of fanfare.

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