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The Ins and Outs of Running a Lab-Based Business

– Contributed content –

Are you thinking about starting a lab-based business at some point in the near future? If so, you need to understand more about some of the things that could help you make that business a real success. It’s not always easy to get to where you want to be when you’re starting this sort of business. But by focusing on the basic things and getting off to a good start, you’ll be on the right track. Read on to find out more about some of the things you should do.

Finding finances

Getting the right location and the right equipment for your business to succeed is one of the hardest things of all. That’s why finding the right source of financing from the get-go is really important. Many people never get their idea off the ground because they don’t have the money to make it happen. There is often public financing and some grants available to businesses in the science sector, and that’s something that you should definitely look into further. Start applying as soon as you can.

Make the lab as safe as it can be

The lab environment you’re working in needs to be as safe as possible. As I’m sure you already know, labs can be very dangerous places when they are not run in the correct way. There are all kinds of hazards lurking and waiting to strike. You need to mitigate each and every risk you and your colleagues face on a day to day basis. Ellis Whittam can help by providing some health and safety services. It’s not something you can afford to put on the back burner, though.

Testtubes

(Pixabay.com)

Promote your work and research

Your research is what you’re going to be working on from day one. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you do what you can do promote it. You can connect with new people and find new opportunities and financing if you promote your research. This is now easier than ever to do thanks to the internet and the range of fantastic social media platforms that are out there. Make the most of them all, and let the world know about what your new startup is up to.

Hire the right people early on

You also need to make sure that your business hires the right people early on. When you don’t hire the right people, you will not be able to push your business forward and make the most of its potential. Start small, and hire a couple of technicians that you know you can rely on. They should have the right skills, as well as a background that relates to the kind of work that you’re going to need to do going forward.

Lab worker

(Defense.gov)

Running a business that operates from a lab and does scientific research is not the most conventional startup path. But don’t let that put you off. It doesn’t need to be made difficult or complicated. Just follow the important advice outlined above, and then get to work.

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$175K Challenge Seeks New Antimicrobial Preservatives

Testtubes, beakers

(PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay)

28 April 2017. A new challenge competition on InnoCentive is seeking development of new types of preservatives for personal care and other household products. The competition has a total prize purse of $175,000 and a deadline of 24 August 2017.

The challenge is conducted by InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts that conducts open-innovation, crowdsourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors, in this case Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, or GC3. Free registration is required to see full details of the competition.

GC3 is an network of companies and other groups, affiliated with University of Massachusetts in Lowell, that promotes green chemistry: the design new chemical processes and products to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous products. In this competition, GCS aims to encourage creation of a new class of safe preservatives and preservative boosters for personal care and household products free of ingredients that would risk harming consumers.

The organization says regulatory bans and customer preferences have reduced the array of preservatives available to manufacturers of personal care and household products. Yet, the need for preservatives — to keep products safe during their shelf lives — remains, and without new types of preservatives, the current limited selection could lead to resistance by microbes, skin sensitization, and allergic reactions.

InnoCentive calls this type of competition a reduction-to-practice challenge that calls for a detailed proposal describing a solution, as well as evidence that the solution meets the sponsor’s requirements. GC3’s detailed specifications are spelled out in documents available to registered challenge participants, but solutions should propose chemical agents effective against gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, as well as yeast, and molds. Preservative boosters, which may be designed originally for other functions but enhance antimicrobial effectiveness, may also be proposed.

Participants in the challenge are also asked to submit results of proof-of-concept tests, and if requested, samples of preservatives from the sponsors. A review team plans to evaluate proposals as they are submitted. Participants with solutions that merit further discussion with sponsors will be notified. Information in submissions from participants, due by 24 August, will be considered confidential by sponsors.

GC3 plans to award 3 to 5 cash prizes from a total purse of $175,000, with a minimum award value of $25,000. The group expects to invite up to 5 finalists to present their solutions at a meeting with industry representatives during February or March 2018. Participants will not need to transfer or license exclusive intellectual property rights to the sponsors.

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Crispr, Stem Cells Produce Precise Arthritis Therapy

Knee X-ray

(Akha, Wikimedia Commons)

28 April 2017. Editing the genes in stem cells is shown to produce cartilage that in lab tests releases therapeutic proteins only when needed to relieve joint inflammation in arthritis. A team from Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University, and the company Cytex Therapeutics, describes its process in yesterday’s issue of the journal Stem Cell Reports.

Researchers led by Washington University orthopedic surgery professor Farshid Guilak are seeking more targeted treatments for arthritis that results in joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. The term arthritis applies to as many as 100 different joint disorders that affect 53 million adults in the U.S., according to Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of the disease, where cartilage cushioning the joints wears away over time, causing inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis result from autoimmune malfunctions, where the immune system attacks the joints causing inflammation and pain.

Some current drugs for relieving arthritis symptoms are designed to relieve the inflammation and pain associated with the disorder, by blocking signals from proteins such as interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF-alpha, that promote inflammatory responses. While often effective remedies for arthritis symptoms, these drugs are taken systemically, which means they block interleukin-1 and TNF-alpha signals that operate throughout the immune system. And as a result, people taking these drugs run a risk of adverse side effects, such as infections, where these protein signals may be needed.

Guilak, formerly on the faculty at Duke University, and colleagues devised a solution that would enable cells to block inflammatory protein signals only in response to inflammation and in the joints where it occurs. The team’s strategy uses cartilage cells derived from stem cells edited with the genome-editing technique known as Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Crispr is based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. The actual genome editing in this case uses an enzyme known as Crispr-associated protein 9 or Cas9. RNA molecules guide the Cas9 editing enzyme to specific genes needing repair.

For this study, researchers derived their stem cells from skin on the tails of lab mice, which the team grew in the lab for editing with Crispr-Cas9. The editing step added elements to the stem cell gene controlling the response to inflammation that, in effect, switches on the response blocking interleukin-1 and TNF-alpha proteins only when encountering these inflammatory signals. The researchers then cultured the stem cells into cartilage tissue similar to that found on joints.

Tests in lab dishes show the engineered cartilage tissue produces the blocking actions only when exposed to inflammatory proteins, with the response ending when the inflammation signals also end. In addition, these programmed responses increase or decrease depending on the strength of the inflammation signals, suggesting these responses could be calibrated to reflect the extent of inflammation.

The authors envision their process as a way to deliver vaccine-type therapies for arthritis that treat the condition only in the joints, and when inflammatory signals occur. “If this strategy proves to be successful,” says Guilak in a Washington University statement, “the engineered cells only would block inflammation when inflammatory signals are released, such as during an arthritic flare in that joint.”

Cytex Therapeutics Inc. is a spin-off company from Duke University in Durham, founded by Guilak and others to develop engineered cartilage as a treatment for arthritis, particularly younger individuals years or decades away from joint replacements. As reported in Science & Enterprise, Guilak’s lab at Washington University and Cytex in July 2016 reported on development of joint cartilage for people with arthritis, using stem cells seeded by gene therapy.

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How The Internet Changed Business Forever

– Contributed content –

The dawn of the information superhighway has been the biggest thing to happen to the international business arena since the industrial revolution. If you were to hop in a time machine and go back just a few decades, pretty much every facet of the way businesses operate would be almost unrecognizable. Here, we’ll look at some of the biggest ways that the internet has changed business forever.

Woman with bag

(Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay)

Advanced customer segmentation

Modern businesses have access to more data than ever before, and this shift has made it easier than ever for business owners to know exactly what their target audience is looking for. With sophisticated analytics services expanding all the time, businesses can segment their prospective buyers into smaller and smaller groups, allowing them to target them more specifically and get better returns for the capital they pump into marketing. A simple Google Analytics account will show any business owner where their online customers are from, the kind of browser they’re using, how they found a given website and what they used it for. More in-depth services will also allow entrepreneurs to narrow down that data even more, and refine their processes, products, and overall marketing strategy in manageable increments.

More accessible education

The creation of online distance learning has meant that there are now more people with the skills and expertise needed to make it in business than ever before. In a matter of seconds, anyone with an internet connection can find a company like Maryville University, and sign up to courses that will give them everything they need to drive success in a given business niche. Many of these courses tend to be much more affordable than conventional university degrees, and also allow a degree of flexibility that budding entrepreneurs simply wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Of course, no amount of lectures and exams can really prepare someone for the experience of starting and maintaining a profitable business. However, this increased access to high-quality educational materials has meant that far more people are able to develop themselves and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams than at any other time in history.

The growing role of social media

Social media keys

(Pixelkult, Pixabay)

No modern business can afford to exist in a social vacuum, even for a short period of time. The explosion of social networks that has occurred over the past decade or so has made the world much smaller, and created a business arena where consumers can connect with brands and other individuals regardless of their geographic location, their social status, or their financial background. Not too long ago, it was easy enough for businesses to get by on a fairly mediocre standard of customer service. However, the modern business owner now needs to worry about furious rants on Facebook and scathing poor reviews on sites like Yelp. Thanks to social media, bad reputations hang over brands much longer than they ever have before, and all businesses, from tiny start-ups to multi-national corporations, need to be more worried about their digital footprint and how their brand is perceived on social media.

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Muscle Supplement Shown Safe, Active in Elderly

Open pomegranate

(Fruchthandel_Magazin, Pixabay)

27 April 2017. A clinical trial testing a dietary supplement to improve muscle function in older persons shows the derivative from pomegranates is safe and produces desired biological actions. Results of the study testing the experimental supplement code-named AMAZ-02 by Amazentis SA, a life science enterprise in Lausanne, Switzerland, are scheduled to be presented tomorrow at the International Conference on Frailty and Sarcopenia Research in Barcelona, Spain.

Amazentis develops treatments derived from natural products, in this case urolithins, the result of gut microbes metabolizing nutrients in pomegranates and other dark-colored fruits, as well as walnuts. The company’s lead product, AMAZ-02, is made from urolithin-A, which is believed to enhance the function of mitochondria, the energy centers in human and mammalian cells. Urolithin-A works, says Amazentis, by encouraging mitophagy, a process that clears out and recycles damaged mitochondria and reduces oxidative stress.

AMAZ-02 is designed as a nutritional supplement to improve muscle function in older individuals by encouraging mitophagy to maintain health of mitochondria. Results of a preclinical study published in the journal Nature Medicine in July 2016 show urolithin-A helps improve exercise capacity and muscle functions in older lab mice, and maintain muscle function in young rats.

The clinical trial was a two-part early-stage study of AMAZ-02’s safety and activity in the body among 60 healthy individuals in France, age 61 to 85. The first part of the study, with 24 participants, tested AMAZ-02 capsules or mixed in yogurt in four single dosage levels over 28 days against a placebo. In the second, part, with 36 participants, AMAZ-02 capsules were tested in three multiple ascending doses over 28 days against a placebo.

In both sections, the research team looked primarily for adverse effects, but also assessed activity in the body with concentration measures of AMAZ-02 or metabolites in blood and urine, as well as expression of mitochondrial biomarkers in blood cells and muscle tissue. The results show participants experienced no serious adverse effects during the trial, nor any effects related to AMAZ-02. Tests of blood and muscle tissue samples from participants show both the presence of metabolites from AMAZ-02, as well as biomarkers of mitochondrial gene expression indicating the supplement’s bioactivity.

Earlier that day at the same conference, presenters from Amazentis are discussing results of a separate study showing a relationship between declining mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle and low mobility among older individuals.

Amazentis is a spin-off enterprise from Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, in Switzerland, co-founded by neurology professor Patrick Aebischer, who serves as the company’s board chair. “These results,” says  Aebischer in a company statement, “set the stage for Phase 2 clinical studies featuring a longer intervention period and designed to assess the impact of Urolithin A on muscle and mitochondrial function in the healthy elderly population.”

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Smartphone-Controlled Cells Produce Insulin on Demand

Authors with system

Haifeng Ye, standing, and first author Jiawei Shao operate the smartphone system controlling pancreas cells. (East China Normal University)

27 April 2017. A system designed by researchers in China and Switzerland and controlled by a smartphone app was shown in lab mice to produce insulin on demand from engineered pancreas cells. The team from East China Normal University in Shanghai and ETH Zürich describe the system in yesterday’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by Haifeng Ye from the university’s Laboratory of Regulatory Biology are seeking better solutions for people with diabetes to manage their condition, which requires careful monitoring of blood glucose levels and injections of insulin. Diabetes is a chronic disorder affecting some 422 million people worldwide in 2014, where the pancreas does not create insulin to process the glucose to flow through the blood stream and provide energy for cells in the body. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body cannot process insulin. Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the immune system attacks and stops beta cells in the pancreas from producing insulin.

The team’s system combines synthetic pancreas cells, optical engineering, wireless electronics, and smartphone software. The synthetic pancreas cells are activated by beams in the far end of the visible light spectrum, called far-red light. This part of the spectrum, at the border of visible and infrared rays, can penetrate through skin and other tissue. The researchers combine these synthetic cells with tiny light-emitting diodes, or LEDs in hydrogel, or water-based polymer, capsules. These capsules are implanted into the skin, in this case of of lab mice, some of which are induced with diabetes.

The system has a glucose monitor to measure levels in blood from the tails of mice, with the monitor linked via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone and a system controller. When glucose levels reach designated thresholds, the controller sends signals to the smartphone indicating the need to activate the implanted pancreas cells. The individual sets the app on the phone to produce hormones for lowering blood glucose levels, either insulin or a form of glucagon-like peptide-1, for a specified period of time until desired glucose levels are reached.

The engineered pancreas cells respond to light waves either by firing the tiny LEDs packed in with the cells, or by external light sources. The pancreas cells are engineered with molecules adapted from light-sensitive bacteria to respond to either light source, and emit enzymes to trigger production of one of the hormones to lower blood glucose.  The system went through a few iterations to remove issues with signals from the implanted capsules that could trigger unwanted immune system reactions.

After 3 iterations, the system was able to safely reduce glucose concentrations in the test mice, with those concentrations controlled by the human-operated smartphone app. Tests comparing healthy mice and those induced with type 2 diabetes show the system can reduce blood glucose levels on demand for 3 days. The researchers report the system continued working with the mice for several weeks.

The authors note the system requires human intervention and is not a closed-loop artificial pancreas. But the results suggest therapies for diabetes combining synthetic cells and electronics available to consumers are becoming feasible. East China Normal University filed for patents in China on several elements in the system.

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New Article on Omni Media: Organs-on-Chips

Lung-on-chip

Lung-on-chip device (Emulate Inc.)

26 April 2017. If you’re a regular reader of Science & Enterprise, you’ve probably read at least few of our articles on lab-on-a-chip or organ-on-chip devices. These bioelectronic devices made from clear polymer plastic simulate human tissue and organs, and provide a more reliable and controllable platform than lab animals for some research and testing.

I’m now writing regularly for Omni Media, a web site — and once a glossy print publication — on science, lifestyle, culture, and the human condition. The latest piece is now live on the Omni site, covering advances over the past five years with organs-on-chips, including the emergence of Emulate Inc., a spin-off company from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, which we report on often at Science & Enterprise.

In case you missed it, my first article for Omni Media appearing last week tells about the growing presence of big technology companies in pharmaceuticals, with the smartphone’s increasing use in diagnostics and now even delivery of therapeutics. The article suggests pharma is not prepared for the changes the tech industry might inflict on it.

Thanks for your readership of Science & Enterprise, and now our contributions to Omni Media.

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Algorithms Simplify, Improve Robot Grasping

Robotic arm and gripper

Robotic arm and gripper (Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning, Georgia Institute of Technology)

26 April 2017. Computer scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology developed a process that simplifies remote-controlled robotic grasping movements for end users. The team from the robotics lab of Sonia Chernova in Atlanta described their methods and results of tests at this year’s Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in March, in Vienna, Austria.

The Georgia Tech researchers are seeking ways of making robotics easier and more intuitive for home and small-business users. With current technology, controlling a robotic arm and gripper uses a split-screen visual presentation, where the end-user controls the machinery with a mouse. Users must manipulate the arm and gripper with a ring-and-arrow display for each of the three dimensions, to get the gripper in its proper position, then grasp the target object. Robotics experts are familiar and comfortable with this method, but it takes practice for novices to master the technique, and would likely be an obstacle for many home users, such as older individuals needing assistance.

“Instead of a series of rotations, lowering and raising arrows, adjusting the grip and guessing the correct depth of field,” says Chernova in a Georgia Tech statement, “we’ve shortened the process to just two clicks.” The process devised by the researchers replaces the split screen with a single display, where the end-user points at the object then decides on the grasping motion.

The new method, developed by Ph.D. candidate David Kent, uses computer vision and 3-D mapping algorithms that analyze the surface geography to determine the position of the gripper. The software then moves the arm and gripper in place and presents the user with a choice of grasping motions to complete the task. Thus, the user is relieved of manipulating the arm and gripper, focusing only on the end result.

Chernova describes the system’s operation with retrieving a bottle as an example. “The robot can analyze the geometry of shapes,” she notes, “including making assumptions about small regions where the camera can’t see, such as the back of a bottle. Our brains do this on their own — we correctly predict that the back of a bottle cap is as round as what we can see in the front. In this work, we are leveraging the robot’s ability to do the same thing to make it possible to simply tell the robot which object you want to be picked up.”

The researchers tested the system with student volunteers, giving them a series of grasping tasks to be performed with either the conventional split-screen display or new single-screen, point-and-click presentation. Participants using the point-and-click technique performed the tasks about 2 minutes faster on average than the conventional method. Also, participants using the conventional technique made an average of 4 errors per task, compared to 1 error for point-and-click users.

The developers believe their software can be incorporated into assistive robotics for older individuals or those with disabilities, but could also be used in search-and-rescue systems and with astronauts in space. The remote manipulation and agile grasping software modules are released as open-source software.

In the following video, the research team shows the software in action with a robotic device.

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FDA Warns Cancer Fraud Product Providers

Cancer fraud products

A sample of products considered making fraudulent cancer claims (FDA.gov/Flickr)

25 April 2017. The Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to 14 companies in the U.S. that the agency says are selling products fraudulently claiming to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer. The letters from FDA alert the companies marketing 65 products to the public that they violate federal law and request responses indicating actions taken to correct the violations.

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, companies need to first demonstrate to FDA that products that claim to diagnose, prevent, or treat diseases are safe and effective if used as labeled or advertised. The agency says none of the companies have approval from FDA for these products, most of which are marketed on web sites or through social media.

The sanctioned companies offer pills, ointments, drops, syrups, and teas to treat cancer, as well as diagnostic systems to detect tumors. The products, says FDA, claim to prevent cancer, kill cancer cells, reverse cancer progression, or cure cancer entirely. “Consumers should not use these or similar unproven products,” says Douglas Stern, FDA’s director of enforcement and import operations in an agency statement, “because they may be unsafe and could prevent a person from seeking an appropriate and potentially life-saving cancer diagnosis or treatment.”

One of the companies sent a warning letter is Hawk Dok Natural Salve LLC in Wenden, Arizona. FDA specifically highlights several of the company’s products sold on its web site or through Amazon.com, including Booster Cleansing Tablets, Genital Wart Remover & Relief, Skin Cancer Treatment, and Smokeless Tobacco Cancer Treatment for Gums, and Lip Sores as those making cancer treatment claims. Hawk Dok’s Skin Cancer Treatment, for example, claims to contain herbs that “pull out the virus and cancer,” and clean “cancer out of the body.”

Another company cited by FDA is Nature’s Treasures Inc. in Glendale, California that also offers products for treating cancer in humans and pets, such as KR22 Oxicell. FDA cites Nature’s Treasures claims, “If you (or your pet) are suffering from liver problems, cancer, arthritis, kidney disease or other inflammatory conditions, this product can really help.” The company also offers a type of green tea that claims to fight cancer.

In addition, Nature’s Treasures markets a device called a thermographic camera for detection of breast cancer, for which the company never sought approval, according to FDA. The agency cites claims by Nature’s Treasures that its thermographic camera can detect breast cancer on its own, making it a class 3 medical device, requiring FDA approval before marketing. Nature’s Treasures web site also compares its thermographic diagnostics to mammography.

FDA gives the companies 15 working days to respond to the warning letters, indicating the actions taken to correct the cited violations. Natures Treasures, however, was asked to immediately stop the misbranding of its thermographic camera.

In a blog post on the the agency’s web site, FDA consumer safety officer Nicole Kornspan notes that, “Anyone who suffers from cancer, or knows someone who does, understands the fear and desperation that can set in. There can be a great temptation to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.”

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Nanoparticle Vaccine Stops Tumor Growth

Laser beam through nanoparticle solution

A laser beam highlights cancer vaccine nanoparticles in a solution. (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center)

25 April 2017. Researchers in Texas designed a cancer vaccine with nanoscale particles that in lab mice stimulates the immune system and stops the growth of several types of tumors. The team from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas describes its discoveries in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology (paid subscription required).

The UT-Southwestern team, led by professor of pharmacology and otolaryngology Jinming Gao, is seeking a more direct method for delivering agents activating the body’s built-in or innate immune system that includes T-cells, white blood cells fighting foreign invaders. Most current immunotherapy methods, say the authors, require proteins known as antigens to first link up with the immune system cells, which then travel to lymph nodes where they activate T-cells to fight tumors. The team’s method instead adds antigens with biocompatible polymer plastic nanoparticles that go directly to the lymph nodes to activate T-cells.

“What is unique about our design,” says Gao in a UT-Southwestern statement, “is the simplicity of the single-polymer composition that can precisely deliver tumor antigens to immune cells while stimulating innate immunity. These actions result in safe and robust production of tumor-specific T cells that kill cancer cells.”

Researchers in Gao’s lab partnered with colleagues from the lab of molecular biologist Zhijian Chen, who studies innate immune system processes. Among these processes is identification and binding with precise antigens that in turn activate the exact T-cells needed to fight the cancer. “For nanoparticle vaccines to work,” notes Chen, “they must deliver antigens to proper cellular compartments within specialized immune cells called antigen-presenting cells and stimulate innate immunity.”

The researchers configured the nanoparticles, code-named PC7A NP, as a platform technology, which means the same basic design can be adapted for different types of cancers, and even other diseases. T-cells activated by PC7A NP stimulate genes coding interferons, a group of proteins that send signals to fight invading pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, but also tumor cells.

The team tested PC7A NP formulations in lab mice induced with melanoma, an advanced form of skin cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancers resulting from the human papilloma virus affecting the cervix, head, neck, and genital regions. The results show the nanoparticles travel to mice lymph nodes, bind easily with target antigens, stimulate a strong T-cell response, and generate interferons. As a result, these reactions sharply limit tumor growth in the mice.

The researchers also combined PC7A nanoparticles with antibodies designed to counter programmed cell death, or PD-1, proteins that prevent the immune system from fighting tumors and its supporting microenvironment. The results show PC7A nanoparticles work well with anti-PD1 antibodies, extending survival of the cancer-induced mice for more than 60 days. In addition, when injecting the mice later on with more cancer cells, the immunity built up from the nanoparticles appears to prevent further tumor growth.

The PC7A nanoparticles also appear to limit adverse side effects sometimes experienced with cancer immunotherapies, which can result from their more complex design and use of bacterial agents to alert the immune system. The researchers found the nanoparticles generated low amounts of cytokines, small proteins generated by the immune system, some of which can cause inflammation and other adverse effects.

The researchers are now looking into clinical trials of PC7A treatments with colleagues at UT-Southwestern on a number of cancer types, particularly in combination with checkpoint-inhibitor therapies that remove roadblocks for the immune system to fight cancer.

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