Science & Enterprise subscription

Please share Science & Enterprise

Follow by Email
Visit Us

NSF Supports Expanding Lab-On-Chip Integration, Manufacturing Center

Cadmim leadership

Cadmim leadership, L-R, Abraham Lee and Gisela Lin with UC-Irvine, and Ian Papautsky of UI-Chicago (Univ of California in Irvine)

20 Nov. 2018. A new federal grant supports expansion of a research and development center developing techniques to make the manufacture and integration of microfluidic, or lab-on-a-chip, devices easier and less expensive. The 5-year, $1.25 million award from National Science Foundation continues the work of the Center for Advanced Design and Manufacturing of Integrated Microfluidics, or Cadmim, at University of Illinois in Chicago and University of California in Irvine.

Microfluidic devices are handheld or smaller systems with microscale channels etched or drilled through the surface that simulate lab processes on a larger scale. The devices are used in research for simulation of biological processes and organs, and medical practice for diagnostics. These devices usually require tiny specimen (e.g. blood or saliva) samples, and can be linked together into more complex systems. In addition to health and medicine, microfluidic systems are found in chemistry, engineering, and agriculture.

Cadmim was first established in 2014 to transform microfluidics from primarily a laboratory tool into a more widely used technology. The center, housed both in Chicago and Irvine, collaborates with industry partners, as well as national and military research labs to develop specialized microfluidic devices. Since 2014, NSF provided some $836,000 for Cadmim, with the new funds divided between the 2 institutions: $750,000 for UC-Irvine and $500,000 for UI-Chicago.

The new grant supports more of these collaborations to simplify and standardize lab-on-a-chip, or LOC technologies, make them more readily available, and bring down their costs. The award documents specifically point out, “What does not yet exist are mass-produced, cost-effective LOC platforms that integrate components to carry out multiple microfluidic/diagnostic functions and report results via a standard communications device. A primary obstacle is the lack of integration-enabling and manufacturable LOCs capable of processing real-world samples.” The next phase of the project aims to adapt more current scalable processes into microfluidics, and design new microfluidic devices that work autonomously, are easily deployed, and can be manufactured in quantity.

“We look forward to bringing more industry partners on board,” says UI-Chicago bioengineering professor Ian Papautsky in a joint university statement, “working with them to advance microfluidics technology and develop solutions to their needs, and also to providing unique internship opportunities to our grad students through these partnerships.” Papautsky leads the Chicago branch of Cadmim, while the Irvine section is led by biomedical engineering professor Abraham Lee and researcher Gisela Lin.

Among the current Cadmim projects is development of a human liver model built with microfluidics and induced pluripotent stem cells. The research, conducted with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, aims to design a high-speed platform for screening compound candidates that includes the ability to add in cells from individual patients. Another initiative with Corteva Agriscience, a division of DowDuPont, explores using microfluidics for plant genetic analysis to help breed crop varieties that can better adapt to changing weather conditions. That project already produced a prototype device.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

RNA Therapy Helps Reduce Preeclampsia Symptoms

Pregnant woman

(Sergio Santos,, Flickr)

20 November 2018. Experimental treatments with engineered RNA are shown in lab animals to reduce symptoms of preeclampsia, a disorder causing high blood pressure in pregnant women. A team from University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and other institutions, and the company Moderna Therapeutics, report their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by UMass medical chemistry professor Anastasia Khvorova, Moderna Therapeutics chief scientist Melissa Moore, and Ananth Karumanchi at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel medical center in Boston are seeking better treatments for preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition resulting from a sudden rise in blood pressure in a pregnant woman, affecting blood flow to the placenta, and excess protein in the urine.

The only known cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby, which in some cases can be dangerous for the baby as well as the mother. Severe cases of preeclampsia can result in break downs in red blood cells, impaired liver and kidney function, and fluid in the lungs. The earlier in the pregnancy preeclampsia occurs, the riskier to outcomes for both mother and baby. The Preeclampsia Foundation says the condition occurs in 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies.

The research team focused on a characteristic protein associated with preeclampsia, called soluble vascular endothelial growth factor receptor FLT1, or sFLT1, often found overproduced in women with the condition. This protein, at high levels and in soluble forms, limits development of new blood vessels, thus the team looked for ways to block production of this protein in order to treat preeclampsia.

The researchers designed a form of RNA, amino acids with coding instructions for proteins to cells, to interrupt production of sFLT1. The treatment is known as RNA interference, a natural process to silence the expression of genes causing disease. RNA interference targets specific genes, making it a potentially powerful therapeutic technique, while minimizing damage to other genes, thus limiting side effects. In this case, the interfering RNA molecules are small in size, with limited numbers of amino acids, and are known as short interfering RNAs or siRNAs.

The team designed their siRNAs to target FLT1 genes responsible for three specific types of sFLT1 proteins, without completely blocking all FLT1 genes. The researchers formulated the siRNAs to accumulate in the placenta, where harmful sFLT1 proteins also congregate. In tests with lab mice, the team found the siRNAs reduced sFLT1 proteins by half. Working with colleagues at Western Sydney University in Australia, the researchers also tested the treatment in pregnant baboons, a proxy model for humans, and found the siRNAs suppressed sFLT1 production and reduced symptoms of preeclampsia, including high blood pressure and protein accumulations in urine.

However, the baboons also gave birth to offspring with lower birth rates, which will need further study and resolution before advancing the treatment to clinical trials. Moore, who still holds a faculty position at UMass Medical School, suffered from preeclampsia 15 years ago, so this research is more than a professional exercise. “This project is near and dear to my heart,” says Moore in a UMass statement. “As exciting as these results are, it still feels like we’re half done. It won’t be complete until we can get a therapy to women. Getting pregnant shouldn’t be one of the most dangerous things a woman can do.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Keeping Your Business Safe Online

– Contributed content –

Laptops on a table

(, Pexels)

20 Nov. 2018. There are many ways in which a business might be in some kind of danger, and one of those ways is that you might have to think about the online world. Knowing how your business is online and whether it is safe there is hugely important if you are going to be able to keep your business running smoothly and be able to keep it safe in general.

There are many things you will need to think about in order to make sure that your business is safe online, and the more that you are aware of, the better off your business will be. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the essential things you need to be sure of if you are to keep your business as safe in the online world as possible.

Protect your web site

Whatever kind of information you might have on your web site, you will need to make sure that it is as safe as possible. You also want to be sure that the  itself is going to be safe and relatively protected from outside influence or attacks. There are many things you might want to do to try and ensure this, but one of the most essential is to make sure that you are hosting everything on a safe server, ideally possibly even a Virtual Private Server (VPS). You should be able to find a budget VPS, so you won’t have to worry about overspending or anything either. And yet it will ensure that your web site is going to be as protected from outside attacks as possible.

Encrypt sensitive data

There are many kinds of data in any business which need to be as protected as possible, and if you are to ensure this then you need to think about encrypting any sensitive data. There are so many encryption methods out there, and you will find that they are all worthwhile, but some are likely to be slightly more effective than others too. By encrypting everything which is sensitive or important, you will not only ensure that your business is kept safe online, but also that you will be able to keep any data of your customers or staff safe too, which is arguably even more important and something you have a duty to be careful about.

Minimize online use

One of the very best ways to keep your business safe online is to think about trying to keep its use of the web to a minimum wherever possible. Obviously the internet is hugely useful, so we’re not talking about doing away with it entirely; merely that you might want to think about trying to only use it in a way which is safe, and without putting too much information which might be sensitive online. The less you place online, the safer your business will be, so this is something that you should definitely think about as best as you can.

*     *     *

Report – U.S. Lags in Robotic Adoption

Robots Sawyer and Baxter

Robots named Sawyer and Baxter (Jeff Green, Rethink Robotics)

19 Nov. 2018. A report released today shows the U.S. and most European countries are falling behind most other developed countries, in adopting robotics into their economies. The report, from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, or ITIF, shows countries in Asia are accelerating their adoption of robots when taking wage levels into account, with the U.S. ranked no. 16 in the world, and much of Europe lagging even further behind.

The ITIF report highlights the key role played by robotics in boosting workforce productivity, which the group says is needed to sustainably raise living standards. The report cites data from the Conference Board showing a decline in annual labor productivity growth worldwide from 2.6 percent in the years 1999 to 2006, to barely 2 percent from 2012 to 2014. Since 2007, productivity growth in the U.S., Europe, and Japan rose at only about half the rate of 2000 to 2006.

Robots, says ITIF, plays a key role in improving labor productivity. The report notes data from Centre for Economics and Business Research showing investments in robotics added 10 percent to per capita growth in gross domestic product in OECD countries from 1993 to 2016. While most initial robotics investments are in manufacturing, many difficult but routine jobs in agriculture, construction, distribution, and service industries could also be aided by robotics. Among service job candidates cited by the report are robots to help care for elderly people.

ITIF’s report first measures robotic adoption  with data from 27 countries compiled by International Federation of Robotics. Those data calculate the number of robots installed in a country per 10,000 manufacturing workers, and show the global number rising from 66 in 2015 to 85 in 2017, a 29 percent increase. When looking at this rate for each of 27 developed and developing countries, the results show Korea and Singapore leading with 710 and 658 robots respectively per 10,000 workers, followed by Germany and Japan with 322 and 308. The U.S. ranks seventh with 200 robots.

Robotics adoption chart

(Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)

However, as the report points out, a business’s decision to invest in robots could depend largely on its wage and salary expenses, which would skew the results in favor of countries with higher wages and salaries. To account for payroll differences, ITIF adjusted the robotics adoption data first by controlling for compensation rates, with data from International Labor Organization and the Conference Board. The report also computed the payback for installing robotics, using a formula provided by RobotWorx, an industrial robotic systems developer.

Finally, ITIF calculated an “expected” number of new robotics installations in a country based on the global average of 85 in 2017, and compared the actual compensation- and payback-adjusted robotics installations to the so-called expected number, to calculate a robotic adoption rate as a share of the expected number.

The results show Asian countries — Korea, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Taiwan — with the leading robotics adoption rates in the world, all with more than double their expected share of compensation- and payback-adjusted rates. In a second-tier group are the European countries of Slovenia and Czech Republic, joined by Japan and Mexico, all with adoption rates exceeding their expected levels.

Robotics adoption chart

(Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)

Countries with the lowest robotic adoption do not form a clear geographic pattern, with Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, and Russia each showing an adjusted adoption rates of 80 to 88 percent below their expected levels. The U.S. ranks 16th overall with an adjusted adoption rate of 49 percent below expected levels.

Robert Atkinson, founder and president of ITIF, and the report’s author, notes in foundation statement that fear of job losses often inhibit policy-makers from encouraging robotic adoption. “Robots are key to boosting productivity and improving living standards,” says Atkinson, “but there is a dangerous misperception that they will lead to mass unemployment. Policy-makers shouldn’t let fear of job losses discourage robot adoption. The evidence is clear: using robots makes economies more competitive, which helps them grow and create jobs.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Trial Shows Treatment Prevents Peanut Allergy Reactions

Peanutes in shells


19 Nov. 2018. Final results from a clinical trial show a preventive treatment desensitizes children and adolescents with peanut allergies against reaction-causing proteins in peanuts for one year. The clinical study’s findings, reported yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, also show the treatment code-named AR101 by Aimmune Therapeutics, has no statistically reliable effects among adults with peanut allergies, and results in a 2 percent rate of serious adverse effects.

Allergies to peanuts and other foods are a result of the body’s immune system misinterpreting certain foods as pathogens, and responding by the release of histamines, chemicals in the body causing the allergy symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms are mild, such as runny nose and itching, but people with peanut allergies face a real and elevated risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition constricting airways, swelling the throat, and causing a sharp drop in blood pressure. Food Allergy Research and Education says some 15 million people in the U.S. including nearly 6 million children, have a food allergy, with growing numbers of people reporting an allergy.

Aimmune Therapeutics, in Brisbane, California, develops a form of immunotherapy for food allergies, starting with peanuts. The company’s technology known as Codit exposes people with food allergies to increasing amounts of the allergens over 6 months, thereby desensitizing the individuals to the allergen. Codit, says Aimmune, enhances conventional oral immunotherapies by precisely controlling the amount of offending food protein ingested by people with food allergies and establishing treatment routines that start with very small amounts and gradually increasing the amounts over time.

The late-stage clinical trial tested Aimmune’s AR101 as a powder given in capsules and sachets to 496 children age 4 to 17 with peanut allergies, and a separate group of 55 adults age 18 to 49, at 69 sites in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either AR101 or a placebo in similar forms, first in increasing doses to build the tolerance, then in maintenance quantities for the remainder of a 12 month period. After that time, participants were asked to ingest from 300 to 1,000 milligrams of peanut protein to test the treatment’s effectiveness; the company says 1 peanut kernel is the equivalent of 250 to 300 milligrams of peanut protein.

The primary outcome goal for the trial was the ability to ingest 600 of peanut protein in the U.S. and Canada, or 1,000 milligrams in Europe, with no more than mild reaction symptoms, after the 12-month period. About two-thirds (67%) of all children receiving AR101 were able to tolerate 600 milligrams of protein, compared to 4 percent of placebo recipients. In addition, about 3 in 4 of the AR101 recipients (77%) tolerated 300 milligrams of peanut protein, while half (50%) were able to tolerate 1,000 milligrams, compared to 8 and 2 percent respectively among placebo recipients.

Among adult participants, age 18 and older, results show higher percentages of AR101 recipients were able to tolerate 300 to 1,000 milligrams of peanut protein, but the differences were not enough to be statistically reliable.

Because the trial tested a peanut allergy treatment, nearly all — 95 to 99 percent — of participants reported some adverse effects during the trial. The research team reports the rate of adverse effects declined during the trial, with 8 or 2 percent of AR101 recipients reporting serious adverse effects, as well as 1 placebo recipient. Also, 12 percent of AR101 recipients discontinued participation during the trial, compared to 2 percent in the placebo group.

In February 2018, Science & Enterprise reported partial findings from the trial, with comparable results. Jayson Dallas, president and CEO of Aimmune, says in a statement the company expects to submit the findings to FDA as early as next month, and in Europe by the middle of 2019.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

What Jobs Are Most Secure For The Future?

– Contributed content –

Doctor with tablet

(Rawpixel, Unsplash)

19 Nov. 2018. These are strange times. We’re living through a revolution – the digital one – that will have an even bigger impact on the world than the industrial revolution, and no-one’s quite sure what the future is going to hold. One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s that technology is going to become even more intertwined with our jobs, to the point where it might take our job altogether.

The experts predict that somewhere in the region of 40% of jobs could be lost to automation in the next couple of decades, and that’s just a starting point. Who knows where it’ll end up? But fear not, because there are some jobs that are less likely to be affected by the rise of the machines. We take a look at some of these positions below.

Health care options

There’s one thing that a robot will never have: the human factor. So anything that relies on that as a core aspect of the role, such as most anything related to healthcare, will be pretty safe. While it’s likely that robots may be used for things like routine surgeries, they’re not going to replace doctors, more work by their side. So if you have a natural affinity for helping others, this future-proof industry might be the way to go.

All things tech

It feels like technology is everywhere, doesn’t it? But it’s not. In terms of the “digital revolution,” we’re still in the early days. There are bigger and better things coming up ahead! So anyone who studies for a tech-related job will be likely to be high in demand in the future. The people who are in charge of the world’s tech companies aren’t planning on withdrawing their all-encompassing reach any time soon, after all.

Logistical issues

The world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. We’re no longer buying items that were made down the road, but from all over the globe. Because this is a complicated industry that depends on many factors, it’s a job that requires human intelligence and common sense to work hand in hand. Figuring out the logistical side is one aspect; the practical side – driving – is the other.

While some truck routes will be automated, others, such as refrigerated trucking, won’t be, since they require human hands to adjust temperatures and clean the units after delivery. If you’re interested in this type of work, then check out They provide jobs that offer high levels of satisfaction.

Training the robots

The robots that are on their way aren’t going to be like an alien, invasive species. They’re going to need people behind them. Indeed, while the first batch of automated AI workers will be rolled out shortly, it’ll be a long time until they’re found everywhere. The development, transition, and maintenance of these robots are going to be highly important in the coming decades, so you can feel reasonably confident that you’ll be in a secure – not to mention lucrative – position should you take this career path.

*     *     *

Update – Verily Suspends Glucose-Sensing Contact Lens Project

Smart contact lenses

Smart contact lenses (Verily Life Sciences)

17 Nov. 2018. An initiative developing a contact lens that measures blood glucose levels in tear fluid is now on hold, according to Verily Life Sciences, a division of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Suspension of the nearly 5 year-old project, a joint venture of Verily and Alcon, the eye care division of drug maker Novartis, was announced in a Verily blog post yesterday.

As first reported in Science & Enterprise in July 2014, Novartis/Alcon licensed the so-called smart contact lens from pre-Alphabet Google. Google’s research labs developed a prototype device to analyze the composition of tears to gauge blood glucose levels for people with diabetes. The prototype layered a miniaturized glucose sensor and wireless transmitter between two soft contact lenses that measures blood glucose levels up to once a second. Google first announced its work on the lenses in January of that year.

In its blog post, Verily says its development teams could not generate enough consistency in measuring glucose in tear fluids to correlate with glucose levels in blood. The company attributes the inconsistencies to confounding molecules in tear fluids, which make it difficult to reliably gauge the low levels of glucose in tears. Verily says it will continue other development work with Alcon on accommodating contact lens for presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness, and other lens devices for improving sight after cataract surgery.

In addition, Verily says it plans to continue joint ventures involving diabetes care with drug maker Sanofi and medical device company Dexcom. The Sanofi joint venture, reported by Science & Enterprise in September 2016, created a separate enterprise called Onduo to develop new devices that help people with diabetes better manage their condition.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

How To Transform An Office Space

– Contributed post –

Coworking space

(Startup Stock Photos,

17 Nov. 2018. The function and presentation of an office are important not only for those who visit but for the staff who work there. If the space doesn’t have the necessities required for your business, then it can certainly hinder the growth and longevity of it. Here are a few ways to pick out an office space that’s right for your business, and ways you can transform it, to maximize your company’s potential.

Consider the options

You may want to decide firstly whether you would benefit from purchasing an office for just your business or sharing an office with other companies. There can be advantages to both, but it’s dependent on what you’re after.

For example, a shared office opens new possibilities for potential collaborations and networking but having your own office keeps everything more private. Shared offices are becoming increasingly popular due to the flexibility of working hours and the low cost that offices for rent are. There are even serviced offices that provide rooftop gardens, gym membership, and even a self-serving bar area. Not what you’d find in your average office right?

Before you transform a space, it has to work for your company’s needs. It’ll be harder if you go with an office that’s too small because to make any extensions, especially if it’s in a big city, will be very challenging. So choose wisely and think about how the office will be used on a daily basis and by who.

Invest in decor wisely

Having the right decor can impact how clients see you as an organization, so picking the right colors can influence your vibe. Art can help engage casual conversation and add a level of sophistication to a room. Music playing in the background can set a certain mood within the space. So it’s important to add character to the whole office in order to show off the personality of who you are as a company. Think about everything from the type of lamp shades to the color of your meeting room chairs.

Nature can also transform the room as science tells us, as humans, we naturally long to be outdoors. Certain plants can provide a cleaner atmosphere and boost happiness levels significantly. Simple things like subscribing to a bi-weekly or monthly flower service can bring that variety and pop of color to the reception areas or meeting rooms.

The layout

For staff who are spending the majority of their day within the building, will appreciate the layout of the space and this can be the case for a variety of things.


  • Natural lighting – Dull and artificial lighting is a big no-no in the workplace. Lighting contributes to productivity levels so ensure that lots of natural light are in the main areas where all of the staff work.
  • Spacious desk areas – No one likes to feel like a sardine cramped in a cubicle that has no character. Having spacious desk areas are good for mental well-being but to also allow staff to do their work properly.
  • Open plan options – Not everyone prefers an open plan space, but this can be beneficial for social interaction and feeling less confined. Of course, you may have staff members of a senior level who prefer an office as well as others who might need a quiet area, so it’s good to factor this in too.
  • Breakout areas – it’s essential that work zones are defined and that breakout areas are available for staff to enjoy on their lunch break or if they require a few minutes just to step away from their desk. When it comes to staff parties or events, these breakout areas can be perfect, so they’re multi-functional.


Buy good office furniture

The well-being of your staff should be a top priority and therefore biting good quality office furniture is going to keep the office healthy and happy. Sitting at a computer all day can be brutal on the back and the neck. So it’s important to get the right chairs and desk accessories that support the body’s health as best as possible.

Standing desks are becoming a popular trend and have many health benefits including weight loss and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. If standing desks are a little out of the price range, having a footrest and riser for PC monitors can keep the body in the right position. As a company, it’s always best to encourage regular breaks to your employees so that they can stretch and recharge the batteries.

Keep It organized and decluttered

Space can be minimalistic, or it can have a lot of character, as long as it’s organized and decluttered. It’s very easy for an office to become a bit of a dumping ground for files, paperwork, and dirty crockery. Be sure to keep on top of storage for organizing the space and keeping areas clean. Having a good filing system is important, and it’s something that should be echoed throughout the entire office. Set an example from the very top of the organization to make sure appearance is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Get inspiration from staff

Getting staff involved will not only tell them that you care about their ideas but that they hold some value and are just as important. Whether it’s through a monthly staff meeting or over a casual Friday drink, ask for their input on how to develop and improve the space. You may have a talented interior designer in your midst!

Working with employees can be an incredibly insightful experience and through this you can build strong relationships and keep the communication open between employer and employee, not just in regards to space but within everything your organization does.

Transforming a space should be done often but doesn’t have to be an expensive outgoing each time. Simply moving things around or adding in a few extra pieces can make a difference. The space you work in is important for showing off the business to clients and guest but also keeping your employees happy and productive. Both equally important in running a successful business.

*     *     *

Faster Crop Breeding Techniques Made Available to Other Scientists

Growing wheat

(walfred, Pixabay)

16 Nov. 2018. Plant scientists in the U.K. and Australia are making available to their colleagues experimental techniques that speed-up breeding cycles for more commercial crop varieties. Researchers from John Innes Centre, a plant science research institute in Norwich, U.K. and several other institutions describe their technology in today’s issue of the journal Nature Protocols (paid subscription required).

The team led by John Innes Centre geneticist Brande Wulff are seeking ways to reduce seed-to-seed breeding cycles of plant crops, initially for research, but eventually commercial agriculture. Plant scientists need to develop crop varieties more resistant to more demanding conditions like heat and drought as a result climate change. But at the same time, legal restrictions in Europe against genetically modified plant species, now including gene-edited varieties, call for new research and development strategies.

Among the new methods are shorter breeding cycles, using methods adapted from the U.S. space program. As reported by Science & Enterprise in January 2018, Wulff and University of Queensland plant geneticist Lee Hickey — a co-senior author on the new paper — use methods designed for enclosed and controlled environments, such as greenhouses, with LED lights to provide constant illumination. Plant scientists devised similar techniques for NASA in the U.S. to help feed deep-space travelers.

Current breeding methods allow for growing 2 generations of crops in greenhouses and a single generation in the field. With speed breeding, the researchers can reduce a single cycle today to about 8 weeks. In addition to constant lighting, the techniques involve changes to soil composition, controlled temperature, modified plant spacing, and early seed harvests. In their paper, the researchers report reducing growing cycles with bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, oats, chickpeas, grass peas, quinoa, several types of brassica or cabbages, and brachypodium distachyon, a model grass species related to a number cereal grains.

The need for new plant breeding strategies was underscored in July by a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union that classified gene-edited crops as genetically-modified organisms, requiring the same restrictions as those imposed on all GMO varieties. “Speed breeding,” says Wulff in a John Innes Centre statement, “allows researchers to rabidly mobilize the genetic variation found in wild relatives of crops and introduce it into elite varieties that can be grown by farmers. The EU ruling that heavily regulates gene editing means we are more reliant on speed breeding to grow sturdier, more resilient crops.”

To help make these techniques more readily available to researchers, the authors provide instructions for research colleagues to generate similar results in smaller-scale environments and without expensive greenhouses. The team’s call these desktop research units growth cabinets, and the researchers believe they will help make it easier for other plant scientists to get similar results with other species.

Postgraduate student and first author of the paper Sreya Ghosh notes, “It was important to us that we develop something that could be bought quickly and set up with minimum skill. This scaled down growth cabinet means the technology is accessible and democratic. Researchers all over the world can set it up on their desk to get the benefits of speed breeding for their research program.”

Wulff, Hickey, and Ghosh tell more about the project in the following video.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Trial Testing Non-Opioid Pellet Implant for Sciatica Pain


(Michael Dorausch, Flickr)

16 Nov. 2018. A clinical trial to test a tiny implanted pellet containing a non-opioid pain killer began treating participants to relieve leg and back pain from sciatica. The first patient enrolled at West Virginia University’s neuroscience institute in Morgantown, one of the clinical trial sites, received an implanted pellet yesterday.

The pain-relief pellets are made by Sollis Therapeutics, a start-up enterprise in Columbus, Ohio as an alternative to opioid pain medications. Abuse of prescription opioid drugs, as well as heroin and fentanyl sold on the street, are a serious national public health emergency, with overdose deaths from these drugs in 2018 numbering more than 115 per day, according to National Institute of Drug Abuse.

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. West Virginia is one of the states most hard hit by this epidemic. The university says the state is on course to set a record in overdose deaths this year.

The Sollis therapy is a tiny pellet, about the size of a grain of rise, made of clonidine, a drug originally developed to treat high blood pressure, but also found to have analgesic, or pain-relief, capabilities. Clonidine stimulates alpha2-adrenergic receptor proteins, found in the lower back region that limit processing of sensory signals by neurons, or nerve cells. The pellets are implanted with an injection to the epidural space in the lumbar section of the spinal column. The company says the implants can last as long as a year.

The late-stage clinical trial is recruiting 200 individuals with lumbosacral radiculopathy, the more formal name for sciatica, caused by irritation or compression of nerve roots causing pain and weakness in the legs and buttocks. Participants at 8 sites in the U.S. are randomly assigned to receive an implant-injection of the clonidine pellet or a sham injection for comparison.

After 30 days, participants are asked to rate the intensity of their leg pain on a standard numeric scale, the primary effectiveness measure in the study. Individuals in the study will also be asked to rate their leg pain one day after the implants, track their use of pain medications in the 30 days after treatment, and rate their extent of disability and improvement in pain condition.

Sollis Therapeutics is a one year-old company, spun-off from Ohio State University’s medical center. Ali Rezai, a neuroscientist at Ohio State at the time the company was founded is now executive chair of WVU’s neuroscience institute, and a scientific adviser to Sollis. “Innovative technologies that act directly at a target location like this micropellet,” says Rezai in a university statement, “are crucial to reducing the need for systemic medications and opioids for chronic pain.”

Rezai adds, “Our hope is that we can look back on this day and say we made a significant advance in the ongoing efforts to treat chronic pain and combat the opioid crisis.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *