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Report – U.S. Needs Regional Technology Centers

Rochester, New York

Rochester, New York, one of the cities highlighted as a future high-growth technology hub. (A. Kotok)

9 Dec. 2019. Growth patterns in the U.S. show a concentration of technology development in a few cities, with new policies and investments needed to encourage innovation elsewhere. These findings are outlined in a report issued today by the Brookings Institution, a public policy research institute, and Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, both in Washington, D.C.

The Brookings/ITIF analysis shows employers in the U.S. based on advanced industries, those investing in and incorporating the latest technologies in their products, are increasingly located in a very few population centers. Their findings show just five metropolitan areas — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego — account for 90 percent of the nation’s growth in innovation-based employment from 2005 to 2017. Since 2005, these five cities increased their share of the country’s total innovation-based employment from 18 to 23 percent. At the same time, the 343 metro areas making up the bottom 90 percent of employment in advanced technologies reduced their share of these workers.

The result, say the authors, is “a grave national problem,” with negative consequences for both the cities left behind and the superstar regions attracting a larger share of advanced technology employees. The high concentration of technology industries in a few cities means the most highly trained workers from the top universities are also congregating in those metro areas, making it more difficult for employers in other regions to hire the best workers. In addition, more private investment is concentrating in these higher-growth areas, with the rest of the country increasingly losing out.

And even for the so-called winners, the high concentration of advanced technology employment comes with steep costs. These high-tech hubs, for example, face escalating residential prices and traffic gridlock, making day-to-day life more difficult. As a result, companies in advanced industries are looking off-shore for lower-cost future sites with highly trained workers, rather than less-expensive American cities that are not attracting a more educated workforce. This increasing divergence, say the authors, is also driving some of the backlash politics from areas left behind in the U.S.

The authors note that neither market forces nor local initiatives alone are enough to change this pattern. The combination of high-tech worker concentration and accumulation of investment capital in a few metro areas feeds a self-perpetuating cycle that eclipses classic market economics. The size and complexity of the problem, says the report, requires public policies and resources on a national scale, as well as solutions identifying specific regions for attention.

The report identifies 35 metro areas in 19 states, most of which are far-removed from the current superstar cities, with the potential to become high-growth technology centers. The authors recommend that the federal government select eight to 10 of these cities after an open competition, and invest $700 million a year in R&D funding in each of the cities for 10 years to jump-start their transformation. The authors also point out that federal policies in the past sited national labs and other technology centers in specific regions, notably Boston, the bay area in California, and North Carolina’s research triangle.

“The nation’s tech-driven spatial divides have reached emergency status and won’t resolve themselves on their own,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow/policy director at Brookings and an author of the report, in an institute statement. “It’s time for the nation to push back against these trends and conduct a major experiment to see if we can help eight to 10 promising metros emerge as really dynamic anchors of growth in the nation’s heartland.”

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Subtle Effects of Interior Design into Our Emotions

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Interior design

9 Dec. 2019. Usually, when we review the interior design, we talk about the aesthetic aspects of it. Items like exactly how to accomplish a particular appearance, which decorating style you ought to imitate, new style fads that you should check out.

A location that’s not always thought about is the result of interior decoration on your subconscious. Think about it. The choices that you make when determining just how your home will undoubtedly have a recorded effect on your feelings and also understandings. The shade of the walls in your cooking area may be adding to your stress and anxiety, and your brand of sofa could lead others to presume that you’re indifferent.

Keep reading for more details regarding the mental side of décor.

Color selection affects your mood

It’s no surprise that shade is a significant component of just how we experience the environment around us. What may be unusual to some is the reality that the shades in our environment have a conclusive result on our moods and feelings. As you start to conceive your house’s interior decoration, make sure that you are using colors in ways that fit with the tone you intend to create in the room.

Modern shade psychology dated its origins to the very early 19th-century when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe released his publication, Theory of Hues. Though there is some dispute regarding the implications of specific tones, scientists, indoor developers, and advertising and marketing professionals appear to agree on these standard occupants:

  •       Red

It symbolizes power and also enthusiasm. It can be made use of to warm up spaces and also make them feel a lot more intimate.

  •       Orange

It offers a jolt of energy and innovation. It’s best utilized as an accent because too much can leave people feeling bewildered.

  •       Yellow

It is related to joy, development, as well as imagination. It functions well in mix with a relaxing neutral and in areas with lots of all-natural light to produce a peaceful setting.

  •       Environment-friendly

Environment-friendly colors are famous for high soothing qualities. Green is an excellent option for an entrance hall or entrance because it relieves the change from the outdoors.

  •       Blue

It continues feelings of tranquility and also freshness. It’s an excellent fit for high website traffic areas like bathrooms and kitchens.

  •       Purple

It connotes nobility as well as luxury. Purple is an excellent selection for an official living-room or bedroom because it adds an air of lush sophistication.

  •       Gray

It provides a feeling of leisure and peacefulness. Usage gray precedes like office or shower rooms.

  •       Brown

Like environment-friendly, its natural roots offer a relaxing touch. Pick it for rooms where the household gathers and also furniture collections that will incite conversation.

  •       Black

It is an assertion of power. Use black for statement items that you wish to draw the eye.

  •      White

It associates a feeling of tidiness and pureness. It is terrific for specifying a room, yet make use of white together with various other shades given that excessive checks out as sterile.

Remember, when you select which colors to consist of in your inside, three choices are much better than one. Select a neutral for the most significant things like walls, family name sign, and floor covering, a calmer color for furniture, and also other sturdy items. After that, pick a third more significant shade to pop in your declaration devices and also decoration.

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Infographic – Most in US Say Climate Change Affects Them

U.S. opinions on climate change

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

7 Dec. 2019. A solid majority of Americans now says that climate change affects their communities, a finding that could affect future state and federal public policies. The data for this weekend’s infographic are displayed by our friends at Statista, from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew survey of American adults, taken 1 to 13 October, shows about six in 10 respondents (61%) say climate change at least somewhat affects their communities. About one in three of those individuals (22%) say climate change affects their towns or cities a great deal. The findings are comparable to results from a 2018 Pew survey showing 59 percent of Americans believe climate change affects their communities in some respects or more.

A breakdown of the Pew data indicates geography is a major factor in forming an opinion about climate change, which should come as no surprise. Two-thirds of respondents living within 25 miles of a coastline (67%) say climate change affects their communities, compared to 59 percent of those within 300 miles of the ocean. Another key factor is politics. Some eight in 10 Democrats and independents leaning to Democrats say their communities are affected by climate change, compared to roughly four in 10 (38%) of Republicans and their independent allies.

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Bioprinting Ear Tissue Tagged Rare Disease Treatment

3-D bioprinter

3-D bioprinter (Bonassar Research Group, Cornell University)

6 Dec. 2019. A company developing 3-D printed outer ear tissue received a rare pediatric disease designation on its treatment designed for children. According to the company 3DBio Therapeutics Inc. in New York, Food and Drug Administration granted the designation for AuriNovo, a process developed for treating microtia, a condition usually evident at birth.

Microtia is the name for irregularities in construction of the outer ear, from smaller than normal size, to deformed tissue, or completely missing outer ear tissue. The disorder occurs at a rate of 1 in 6,000 to 12,000 births, is rarely caught on fetal sonograms, occurs more often in boys than girls, and affects the right ear more than the left. While hearing loss may accompany the deformed ear tissue structure, the visible condition is often highly upsetting to children and parents. Up to now, treating microtia requires difficult surgical reconstruction of the outer ear.

3DBio Therapeutics offers 3-D printed tissue custom-designed for the patient’s disorder. For microtia, the company developed its AuriNovo process that takes cells from a patient’s own ear cartilage tissue, and uses those cells to seed and grow more outer ear tissue cells. Those cells are formulated into bio-inks for the company’s GMPrint 3-D printer that 3DBio says meets standards of FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practices. With GMPrint, the company produces replacement tissue for surgical implantation, guided by algorithms and designs matching the patient’s individual size and shape dimensions.

The company’s technology is based on research by its scientific founders biomedical engineering professor Larry Bonassar at Cornell University and robotics professor Hod Lipson at Columbia University. Dan Cohen, a Ph.D. engineer at Cornell studying 3-D printing, joined Bonassar and Lipson in founding 3DBio Therapeutics in 2014, and continues as the company’s CEO. In February 2013, Science & Enterprise reported on advances in 3-D printing of ear tissue for treating microtia developed by Bonassar and colleagues at Cornell, published in the journal PLoS One.

FDA’s rare pediatric disease designation offers an opportunity for priority review of a drug or biologic designed for rare conditions affecting individuals under the age of 18. Developers of a treatment designated for a rare disease receive a voucher making the drug or biologic eligible for priority review by FDA, when eligible. All of 3DBio’s treatment candidates — for microtia, herniated intervertebral disc, degenerative disc disease, and complex nasal defect — are in preclinical stages.

In November, 3DBio received from FDA orphan disease designation for AuriNovo, making the treatment also eligible for financial incentives, such as tax credits and waived user fees.

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University Opens Geothermal Entrepreneurship Center

Geothermal energy plant

Geothermal energy plant in Iceland (Falco, Pixabay)

6 Dec. 2019. A federally-funded research and entrepreneurship center is underway to adapt and commercialize geothermal energy technologies from the oil and gas industry. The Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at University of Texas in Austin is funded by a $1 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office.

The Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization aims to encourage commercially-viable innovations in geothermal energy that capture heat from deep beneath the earth’s surface, and translate that energy into electric power. In Iceland, the country’s geology offers geothermal energy relatively close to the surface, which the nation exploits today to power homes and industries. In many parts of the U.S., however, geothermal energy sources reside much deeper beneath the earth’s surface, requiring different technologies and business models.

The new center at UT-Austin is researching ways to tap geothermal energy as a commercially-viable source, taking advantage of engineering and business resources on campus. The oil and gas industry amassed decades of experience drilling for energy that can be readily applied to geothermal energy, according to Jamie Beard, executive director of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization.

“Drilling technically complex, high-temperature and high-pressure wells is a core strength of the oil and gas industry,” says Beard in a university statement. Beard, also assistant director of the university’s entrepreneurship center, adds, “We want to take advantage of Texas’ existing intellectual capital and leadership in geosciences and drilling to build the future of energy. By leveraging technologies and methodologies developed here over the past century and building upon them with new innovations, Texas can pioneer our clean energy future.”

Eric van Oort, a petroleum engineering professor at UT-Austin, and co-investigator on the project says that “the oil and gas industry has a large amount of experience in drilling deep high-temperature, high-pressure wells that can be straightforwardly leveraged into deep geothermal drilling and well construction. This is not a blue-sky ambition.”

The Department of Energy grant funds research on technical and commercial feasibility of geothermal energy, along with modeling and design of new technologies for energy capture and distribution, as well as related economic and environmental analyses. But the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization aims to take the research findings further, highlighting opportunities for start-up enterprises seeking to bring these technological advances to the marketplace.

Robert Metcalfe, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in UT-Austin’s engineering school and co-director of the new center notes that its program expects to resolve many of the economic questions about geothermal energy, reducing the risks for entrepreneurs. Answering these questions up front, he says, can bridge the so-called valley of death that plagues science-based companies, where proof-of-concept in the lab doesn’t advance to the market, because of risk-averse funders.

“That makes start-ups and commercialization an essential part of our effort,” says Metcalfe. “We will create clusters of geothermal start-ups based on technologies developed at UT to infuse the industry with fast and impactful innovation that is mature enough for industry to immediately leverage.”

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The Future of Car Charging

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EV charging

5 Dec. 2019. Electric vehicles are becoming popular nowadays. However, before there can be a nationwide transition to electrical car usage, there must be a sufficient network of EV charging stations to reduce range anxiety for potential owners.

Benefits of EV Charging Station

If you are a property owner and manager, you may want to consider including charging stations in your buildings, as being an early adopter of these innovations has a lot of benefits.

  •     Tenant Attraction and Retention

Offering an EV charging station is one way for property owners and managers to attract and retain their tenants, particularly those who own electric vehicles. When you have an EV charging station, it is a direct way to exemplify a building’s or property management company’s environmental values. It will also help contribute to a green image that attracts and retains tenants and customers who share the same values.

  •   Income-generating Activity

When you have an EV charging station, you have the opportunity to generate additional revenue directly from people who use the station’s services. Just learn how to maintain them properly so as not to damage their wirewound resistors.

  •       Advertising Opportunities

When an EV driver visits a charging station, there is the opportunity to advertise. A station host can promote their products or services in this way, or sell advertising space to other organizations.

Types of EV Charging Stations

An EV charging station is an element in an infrastructure that supplies electrical energy for the recharging of electric vehicles, such as electric cars, neighborhood electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids. EV charging stations typically fall under three main categories. Below is the detailed description of each kind.

  •       Level 1 EV charging station

This charging station uses a 120 V AC plug and can be plugged into a standard outlet. Compared with the other chargers, Level 1 chargers do not require installation of additional equipment. They typically deliver two to five miles of range per hour of charging and are most often used at home.

Level 1 chargers are the least expensive EV charging station. However, they also take the most time to charge your car’s battery. That’s why homeowners use level 1 chargers to charge their vehicles overnight.

  •   Level 2 EV charging station

This charging station is used for both residential and commercial charging stations. It uses a 240 V for residential and 208 V for the industrial plug. Unlike Level 1 chargers, it can’t be plugged into a standard wall outlet. Instead, it is usually installed by a professional electrician. You can also install it as a part of a solar panel system.

A Level 2 EV charging station delivers 10 to 60 miles of range per hour of charging. It can fully charge an electric car in as little as two hours. It makes it an ideal option for both homeowners who need fast charging and businesses who want to offer charging stations to customers.

  •     Level 3 EV charging station or DC Fast Chargers

This type of charging station can offer 60 to 100 miles of range for your electric car in 20 minutes of charging it. However, people only used DC fast chargers in commercial and industrial applications because they require highly specialized, high-powered equipment to install and maintain.

Not all kinds of electric cars can use DC fast chargers. Most of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles don’t have this charging capability.

EV charging

How do EV Charging Stations Work?

When you own an electric vehicle, you need an electric charging station to run your car. All-electric cars don’t have a gas tank. Rather than filling up your car with gallons of gas, you plug your vehicle into a charging station to fuel it up. An average EV driver does 80% of their vehicle charging at home.

For charging at home or work, some electric cars feature converters onboard that can plug into a standard electrical outlet or high-capacity appliance outlet. Other electric vehicles require a charging station that provides electrical conversion, monitoring, or safety functionality. Electrical utility companies usually supply some public charging stations or are located at retail shopping centers, restaurants, and parking places. Private companies operate some of them.

The charging time depends on the battery capacity of the vehicle and the charging power of the station host. In other words, the time rate of the charge depends on the charging level used, and the charging level depends on the voltage of the batteries in the car.

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Once-a-Month Contraceptive Pill Demonstrated

Monthly contraceptive

Device for delivery of once-a-month contraceptives (Tiffany Hua, MIT)

5 Dec. 2019. A contraceptive capsule is shown in tests with pigs to release and maintain detectable levels of birth control drugs in the blood stream for up to 29 days. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions describe the drug-delivery technology in yesterday’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

A team from the biomedical engineering and materials science labs of Giovanni Traverso and Robert Langer at MIT are seeking better methods for family planning that help overcome obstacles of access, convenience, and acceptance. The most common form of birth control for women is a daily contraceptive pill, because of its ease of use and rapid reversal to fertility when desired. The authors point out, however, that up to half of respondents in a multi-national survey say they missed at least one dose of daily contraceptives, or reported taking the pill at the wrong time. As a result, women taking daily contraceptives have a 1 in 11, or 9 percent, chance of becoming pregnant.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the project to find a safe but longer-term solution for family planning, with the ease of oral contraceptives. Traverso and Langer are developing solutions that provide extended delivery of drugs to improve adherence by patients. Much of their work focuses on bio-compatible and degradable polymer materials that can be folded into ingestible capsules and withstand the stomach’s acidic environment. Once in the stomach, the devices unfold and release their medication over extended periods.

Following this model, the team led by postdoctoral researcher Ameya Kirtane and technical associate Tiffany Hua, now at Lux Research, built a snowflake-shaped device with six arms, made of the polymers polydimethylsiloxane and polysebacic anhydride, bio-compatible materials employed in medical devices and tissue engineering. The researchers loaded the device with the contraceptive drug levonorgestrel, used in intrauterine devices, as well as emergency pregnancy-protection drugs (e.g., Plan B). Bench tests in the lab show changing the mix of polymers in the device could alter the release of levonorgestrel in the stomach.

The team tested the device by folding the arms of the device into an ingestible gelatin capsule, given to three female pigs through a feeding tube. Pigs have organs similar in size and function to humans. Blood tests of the pigs show detectable concentrations of levonorgestrel in the pigs for up to 29 days. By comparison, concentrations of levonorgestrel given as tablets diminished quickly in the first two days. In addition, X-rays show the devices largely remain in the pigs’ stomachs over the 29 days, although two of the arms detached and were passed by the animals.

In 2015, Langer, Traverso, and entrepreneur Amy Schulman founded the company Lyndra Therpeutics Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts to license and commercialize the extended release drug-delivery technology. As reported in Science & Enterprise in July, Lyndra Therapeutics also received a Gates Foundation grant to further develop a contraceptive capsule that works for weeks at a time.

“Through the development of these technologies,” says Traverso in an MIT statement, “we aim to transform people’s experience with taking medications by making it easier, with more infrequent dosing in the first once-a-month, orally delivered drug system.”

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AI-Based Discovery Seeks Non-Opioid Pain Drugs

Neuron

(National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH)

4 Dec. 2019. A new initiative aims to find non-opioid treatments for chronic pain targeting specific nerve cells that initiate pain sensations. The project undertaken at Harvard Medical School, with affiliated hospitals in Boston and other institutions, is supported by a cooperative agreement with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, that includes funding of up to $23.4 million.

The Safe Therapeutic Options for Pain and Inflammation, or Stop Pain, initiative seeks to discover new therapies that relieve chronic pain, but work differently from opioid pain relievers. Abuse of opioid pain drugs continues at rates in the U.S. reaching emergency levels, along with heroin and fentanyl sold on the street. Overdose deaths from these drugs this year number more than 130 per day, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse. 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.

The Stop Pain project is led by researchers at Harvard’s Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology that studies the actions of drugs in the body, using more systematic and automated processes to accelerate the discovery of new therapies. Among these tools are mathematical models and algorithms to find new treatments in large databases of biochemical and genomic research findings. Researchers in this project are applying these tools to neuroscience, stem cell biology, and medicinal chemistry.

Peter Sorger, director of the lab and professor of systems pharmacology, leads the Stop Pain project. “We have substantial opportunities today,” says Sorger in a university statement, “to combine new laboratory methods, advanced chemistry, and artificial intelligence and bring those tools to bear on the enormous societal, scientific, and medical challenges of pain management.” One of its tools is the Integrated Network and Dynamical Reasoning Assembler, or Indra, that uses natural language processing and algorithms to build models of gene and protein networks from databases of scientific literature.

Sorger is joined by colleagues at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital affiliated with Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany. The researchers are seeking treatments that act on nociceptor neurons, nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system — outside the brain and spinal cord — that detect potentially damaging stimuli and transform those stimuli into pain signals sent to the brain.

“Our goal is to systematically understand the complex network of molecules controlling the function of pain-sensing neurons and use that knowledge to design drug molecules that hit many targets,” adds Bruce Bean, professor of neurobiology and co-investigator on the project, “with the aim of safely and selectively inhibiting nociceptor function.”

The team expects to screen for small molecule, or low molecular weight, compounds that silence human nociceptor neurons derived from stem cells. The researchers will identify the most promising candidates, then refine or redesign their chemistry to best meet clinical needs. The team will assess the lead candidates for safety and efficacy in preclinical tests and simulations.

The Stop Pain project is part of Darpa’s Panacea program that seeks new treatments for demanding conditions that affect the health and well-being of armed services members. Darpa says the program supports efforts that reflect the complexity of biological and molecular processes, and generate treatments addressing multiple protein targets.

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Semiconductors Developed to Emulate Nerve Cells

Solid state neuron

Solid state neuron chip (University of Bath)

4 Dec. 2019. Physicists and neuroscientists created semiconductors that in lab simulations and tests with animal models perform like nerve cells for biological functions. A team from University of Bath in the U.K. and other institutions describes the devices in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers led by University of Bath physicist Alain Nogaret aim to advance medical devices treating chronic disease that correct for defects in heart and lung functions by improving the electronic signals sent to these organs. Neurons, or nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord send these signals to organs, but up to now efforts to recreate these signals in silicon chips did not adequately capture the complex, non-linear features of nerve cell signals in their natural state.

The team from the U.K., Switzerland, and New Zealand devised an analogue circuit — a device that sends continuous electronic signals — that the authors say emulates the signals produced by nerve cells controlling functions of organs in the body. The researchers designed the chips to simulate the protein interactions in nerve cells that produce electronic signals. Only in this case, those protein interactions are modeled and programmed into circuits the researchers call solid state neurons.

“Until now,” says Nogaret in a university statement, “neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside. Our work is paradigm changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.”

Nogaret and colleagues bench-tested their solid state neurons in the lab, which show a scaled-down circuit performs similarly to established models of nerve cell signaling, with more than 96 percent accuracy. The researchers then devised more full-scale circuits that produce signals similar to nerve cells in rats for controlling respiratory functions and in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Those tests show 94 to 97 percent agreement between signaling patterns of the semiconductors and animal nerve cells.

The sold state neurons have one more desirable feature: low power needs. The respiratory chip, for example, consumes 139 nanoWatts of power, which the researchers say is one billionth of the power typically used by a microprocessor. As a result, say the authors, these chips would be suitable for implanted medical devices.

The team believes solid state neurons can encourage a new generation of medical devices that better respond to the individual needs of patients. Nogaret notes, “we’re developing smart pacemakers that won’t just stimulate the heart to pump at a steady rate but use these neurons to respond in real time to demands placed on the heart, which is what happens naturally in a healthy heart.”

As reported in Science & Enterprise in February 2017, Nogaret leads an EU-funded initiative to design a new type of pacemaker device that adapts to a host of signals in the cardiovascular system and regulates multiple heart functions, called the Adaptive-Cardio-Respiratory Pacemaker, or CresPace, project. He adds, “Other possible applications could be in the treatment of conditions like Alzheimer’s and neuronal degenerative diseases more generally.”

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Fine Fibers Spun to Deliver Brain Tumor Treatments

Electrospun fibers

Electrospun fibers used to deliver chemotherapy to brain tumors (Joseph Fuqua, Univ of Cincinnati)

3 Dec. 2019. A process for spinning thin polymer fibers loaded with chemotherapy drugs is shown in tests with lab animals to deliver treatments directly to brain tumors. Researchers from University of Cincinnati in Ohio and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore describe the process in the 29 November issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers, led by Cincinnati materials science and engineering professor Andrew Steckl, are seeking more effective techniques for treating glioblastoma, a form of brain tumor. Glioblastoma is an aggressive cancer that affects astrocyte or glial cells supporting neurons or nerve cells in the brain. The disease is often difficult to treat, where usually the best hope is to slow progression of the disease with radiation or chemotherapy. Survival from initial tumors is typically 15 months and those with recurring glioblastoma usually survive for less than a year.

Chemotherapy for glioblastoma is usually given as infusions into the blood stream, for eventual delivery to the brain. “Chemotherapy essentially is whole-body treatment,” says Steckl in a university statement. “The treatment has to get through the blood-brain barrier, which means the whole-body dose you get must be much higher. This can be dangerous and have toxic side-effects.”

Steckl’s Nanoelectronics Lab studies techniques for fabricating nanoscale polymer fibers into biomedical applications. One of those techniques is coaxial electrospinning, which allows for spinning fibers into layers. This technique makes it possible to array the spun fibers into a core of one fiber material, surrounded by a sheath of a different material. Fibers configured form multiple materials infused with different drugs could allow for sophisticated drug delivery methods.

To treat glioblastoma, drugs can now be delivered directly to the brain, with the chemotherapy drug carmustine loaded into a biodegradable polymer wafer that surgeons can implant into the surgical cavity after removing the brain tumor. For this project, the developers of this chemotherapy wafer, Henry Brem and Betty Tyler at Johns Hopkins University, collaborated with Steckl on an upgraded fiber device to provide more uniform and longer-term delivery of the drug.

The device, in this case, is a disc of coaxial electrospun nanoscale fibers in a mesh infused with carmustine. The researchers implanted the drug-laden fiber mesh discs in lab rats induced with brain tumors, in three different tests. The different scenarios tested rats given the fiber mesh discs against untreated rats, or rats implanted with only the mesh, but containing no chemotherapy drugs. The tests also assessed the fiber mesh discs in rats with early-stage or advanced-stage tumors.

The tests show the coaxial electrospun fibers could deliver an initial short burst of chemotherapy into the brain, followed by longer-term sustained release of the drug. Lab rats given mesh discs without the drugs or no treatments lasted 11 or 12 days, while rats given the fiber mesh discs loaded with carmustine lived up to 150 days. The researchers also found no evidence of toxicity to healthy brain cells in the rats from the treatments.

The authors believe fiber mesh discs could offer new treatment options for glioblastoma patients. The team also wants to extend the technology by delivering multiple drugs from the fibers. “Looking ahead,” says Steckl, “we are planning to investigate ‘cocktail’ therapy where multiple drugs for the combined treatment of difficult cancers are incorporated and released either simultaneously or sequentially from our fiber membranes.”

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