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Cancer-Fighting Protein Designed to Cut Adverse Effects

Computational biology illustration

(Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

11 Jan. 2019. A computational biology lab designed a synthetic protein that works like natural cancer-fighting proteins, but in lab mice kills cancer cells with few adverse effects. A team from University of Washington in Seattle published its findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature (paid subscription required), and started a company to take the technology to market.

Researchers from the lab of medical school and biochemistry professor David Baker are seeking better treatment options for solid-tumor cancer patients. Potential weapons against cancer recognized for some time are interleukin-2 and interleukin-15, natural signaling proteins called cytokines, that bind to and regulate the actions of white blood cells. Thus, these cytokines can stimulate the immune system to fight tumor cells, but are also blunt instruments in the body, becoming toxic to other cells and functions, particularly in the immune system. Because of these limitations, natural interleukin-2 and -15 are used sparingly, only in last-ditch cases, and where the patient is otherwise healthy enough to withstand the effects.

Earlier attempts to engineer changes to interleukin-2 and -15 proteins to make them less toxic, say the authors, resulted in weaker or less stable variations of the natural proteins. The team from Baker’s lab, in UW’s Institute for Protein Design that Baker also directs, took a different approach, designing a new protein from scratch. Institute for Protein Design is the developer and home of Rosetta software for molecular modeling of proteins that  makes it possible to design large, complex molecular structures, such as cytokines, from scratch, without starting from a known natural protein. The new protein in this case would need to bind only to immune system targets for fighting cancer cells, like natural interleukin-2 and -15, but ignore other cells to minimize adverse effects.

Using Rosetta, the team led by postdoctoral researcher and first author Daniel Adriano Silva, designed a new protein to meet these specifications they call neoleukin-2/15, or Neo-2/15. The new protein is built around a chemical scaffold, with components that bind only to the desired target receptors in immune system cells. In further iterations, they optimized the amino acid sequences to enhance their binding properties, while remaining stable. “Neo-2/15 is very small and very stable,” says Silva in a university statement. “Because we designed it from scratch, we understand all its parts, and we can continue to improve it making it even more stable and active.”

Tests in lab mice induced with melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, and colon cancer show that Neo-2/15 stimulated the immune system to kill these tumor cells. But the test mice also exhibited few toxic effects and little, if any, unwanted immune system responses. The authors conclude the technology has promise for developing a new class of immunotherapies.

Several of the paper’s authors, including Baker and Silva, founded a spin-off enterprise, Neoleukin Therapeutics, to commercialize the technology. Silva is also the company’s vice-president and research chief. The university applied for a provisional patent, essentially an intent to file for a patent, on the technology, with several of the authors listed as inventors.

Baker tells more about their discoveries in the following video.

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How To Worry Less About Money

– Contributed content –

Cash in a wallet

(Rawpixel, Pexels.com)

11 Jan. 2019. For many people around the world, money is a real worry, and something which causes them a lot of ongoing problems. If that is true for you, then you will certainly be keen to try and do away with those issues, and you will know fully how it feels to be always worried about your finances, and find yourself wondering what you can possibly do about the financial troubles you might have.

The truth is that worrying about money is common, and it leads to a much less enjoyable life. If you can find a way to worry less about money, you will find that it is easier to live your life in the way that you want, so it is something that is worth looking into. In this article, we are going to discuss some of the active steps you can take to try and worry less about money. You should find this makes things a lot easier and more bearable on the whole.

Remember your options

Something that can help is to remind yourself that there are always options available to you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. No matter what, you can be sure that you are going to be able to do something about whatever position you might be in. It might not always be exactly the thing you would like to do, or even what is the absolute best – but just knowing you have an action to take can often help hugely in making you feel a little less powerless. So, next time you find yourself worrying about what you will be able to do, sit down and write a list of your options, as many as you can think of. You will find that this helps greatly in even the bleakest scenarios.

There is always a way

It is a good idea to also bear in mind that there is always a way out of whatever financial troubles you might be having, no matter how bad they seem to be getting. Even if you end up in a terrible situation, you will find that there are things you can do to improve upon it in the long run, and that is worth remembering if you want to try and worry a little less about your finances. In the absolute worst case scenario, you always have the option of bankruptcy, which only requires finding a bankruptcy attorney and allowing them to guide you through it, so there are always things you can do to improve your situation and get out of a hole.

Worrying doesn’t help

As with anything, when you worry about your finances, it is likely to only make things worse. Although this does not necessarily mean that you can merely do away with your worrying thoughts at a whim, it is something that is worth bearing in mind if you are trying to be a little less worried about your finances. Worrying will not help you improve things, in fact in many ways it makes things worse – so make sure that you are doing whatever you can to not feed it. That will make it easier to do whatever you need to do to keep things moving in the right direction.

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

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Start-up Funds Univ. Medical Cannabis Research

Cannabis plant

Cannabis plant (Michael Fischer, Pexels.com)

10 Jan. 2018. A developer of therapies derived from cannabis is sponsoring a 3-year basic and translational research program, including clinical trials, at Imperial College London. Financial details of the agreement between Emmac Life Sciences plc in London and the university were not disclosed.

Emmac Life Sciences is a start-up enterprise, incorporated in March 2018 to develop therapies derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, also called marijuana. The National Library of Medicine in the U.S. says some 80 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, are associated with these plants. One of those chemicals, cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating derivative, makes up about 40 percent of cannabis extracts and has been studied extensively for a range of disorders. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. approved Epidiolex, a cannabidiol formulation to treat 2 severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

In the agreement with Imperial College London, Emmac is funding research on mechanisms in the body of cannabis-derived treatments, starting with pain and cancer. The research program also plans to conduct preclinical studies exploring other potential therapies from cannabis for chronic pain and cancer, as well as spasticity, the continuous contraction of muscles usually caused by brain or spinal cord damage. In addition, the research is expected to investigate cannabinoids as treatments for acute pain, nausea, and vomiting.

The program includes a clinical trial of cannabinoids to relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting among patients undergoing major hepato-pancreato-biliary or HPB surgery involving cancer and other diseases in the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and bile duct. That study is being conducted by the clinical trial unit at Imperial College, and is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

The program at Imperial College is led by Nagy Habib, professor of hepatobiliary surgery. Habib studies new treatments for liver cancer, and worked with gene therapies, bone marrow/stem cell transplants, RNA therapies, and radio frequency devices in liver surgery.

“Translational research lies at the heart of our academic aims at Imperial College London,” says Habib in an Emmac statement, “and our first collaborative project illustrates the potential scope of cannabinoids to improve the quality of life and outcomes of patients undergoing surgery. As we gain a greater understanding of the therapeutic properties for a range of clinical conditions, this research will inform a portfolio of basic science work packages.”

At the time of the approval of Epidiolex in June 2018, FDA’s commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that the agency will continue to consider new drugs based on cannabis, if as in the case of Epidiolex, they meet rigorous standards for efficacy and safety.  “We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products,” said Gottlieb in an agency statement, “and work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high quality products.”

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Electronic Tags Assessed to Boost Clinic Care

Eye exam

(U.S. Air Force Medical Service)

10 Jan. 2018. A medical school eye clinic is asking clinicians and patients to wear radio-frequency tags that track their time and movements to improve the clinic’s efficiency and quality of care. The project is a partnership between the Kellogg Eye Center at University of Michigan medical school and the school’s Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety, or CHEPS, both in Ann Arbor.

Radio frequency identification, or RFID tags, often printed on plastic, are used in a wide range of industries, particularly in retail stores and supply chain. RFID tags contain identifying and other product data — e.g., size, price, color, location — in a standardized format, which respond to UHF radio signals sent from and transmitted back to a reading device. These so-called passive RFID tags require no additional power source, but respond to electromagnetic signals from the reader on demand.

Michigan’s eye clinic is trying RFID tags as a way to reduce wait times by patients and make optimum use of clinicians’ time with patients. In the project, doctors, ophthalmic technicians, and medical assistants in the clinic as well as more than 2,000 patients are wearing the tags with unique identifiers. “Good decision-making depends on good data,” says Amy Cohen, associate director of CHEPS in a university statement, “and RFID tags enabled us to get up-to-the-second granular data to truly understand how patients and providers move through the clinic.” Cohn is also a professor of industrial and operations engineering at Michigan.

The more granular data are being translated into a statistical model that the clinic uses to experiment with different staffing patterns and operations to improve delivery and reduce patient waiting times. For patients, visits to the clinic can be lengthy experiences, with waiting times between different examinations. The model, which the school says predicts patient waiting times with 80 percent accuracy, highlights opportunities for clinicians to conduct patient counseling and education.

This need to better integrate education into patients’ visits is considered essential to improve their health outcomes, and was an original objective of the project. “We were trying to understand how to better integrate education into the glaucoma clinic visit,” says Paula Anne Newman-Casey, a professor of ophthalmology at Michigan. “And it took on a life of its own.”

A continuing problem with glaucoma care, says Newman-Casey, is getting patients to take their medications. Glaucoma is a collection of eye conditions resulting in damage to the optic nerve that in advanced stages can lead to vision loss. In most cases of glaucoma, abnormally high intraocular pressure in the eye results in the optic nerve damage. In the U.S., according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, some 3 million individuals have glaucoma, making it a leading cause of blindness.

“We hope to schedule patients in a more respectful way,” adds Newman-Casey, “that acknowledges the complexity that goes into glaucoma care and recognizes the burden on patients of managing a chronic disease.” The eye clinic says with RFID tags it already is able to treat more patients without increasing their waiting times.

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The Biggest Business Fleet Expenses

– Contributed content –

Old truck cab

(Jaymantri, Pexels.com)

10 Jan. 2019. Figuring out the return on investment is the only way to ensure that a branch of the business is working towards the success of the whole, rather than dragging it down. When it comes to a fleet of vehicles, the expenses can be so diverse and deep, that it can be hard to figure that out exactly. For that reason, we’re going to look at some of the biggest costs (and potential costs), as well as what you can do to cut them.

Maintenance

The costs of taking care of and repairing a fleet of vehicles can seem to get out of hand quickly. However, there are some ways to better manage the costs. Working out the overall average costs of repairs can ensure you always save enough in reserves to cover unexpected costs so you’re not financing the repairs. Otherwise, investing in proactive maintenance means that you’re a lot likely to see premature repair and replacement costs down the line, as well.

Damage

The costs of repairs and replacements are going to skyrocket if one your vehicles ends up in a road collision, of course. Not only is there the damage to the vehicle to be aware of, but also the potential cost of a legal battle, and covering the employee if they’re injured on the job. Having a lawyer covering accidents on your side can help you manage those costs by ensuring that your interests are covered in the event of an incident on the road. Equipping your vehicles with dash cams to capture evidence of a situation can help do that, but it’s important to regularly address road safety issues with your drivers so that they’re not as likely to end up in dangerous scenarios that can potentially end badly, too.

Depreciation

Vehicles are an investment that rarely, if ever, pay for themselves. Your return on investment is primarily in the form of revenue you make through your deliveries. With that in mind, depreciation can genuinely cost you more than you stand to make. Proactive maintenance can help you slow this decrease of value, but a depreciation calculator can help you figure out how much you stand to lose. At some point, you need to cut a vehicle loose by selling it instead of letting it lose any more value.

Inefficiency

If your fleets primarily offer a return on how many deliveries they get done a day, then you need to make sure they get as much done a day. Instead of encouraging drivers to be quicker on the road, approaching it from a logistics point of view can help you make them much more efficient. Fleet tracking and management systems are getting more and more advanced and scalable, so using GPS and path-finding software to ensure your drivers are always taking the right way is easier than ever.

For the safety your drivers and vehicles, it’s wise not to try and skimp too much on fleet costs. Rather, investing in making them as effective and efficient as possible will help you save more money in the long run than making quick, easy cuts to the fleet budget.

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Crispr Deployed to Stop Disease, Pest Insects

Nikolay Kandul and Omar Akbari

Nikolay Kandul, left, and Omar Akbari (University of California in San Diego)

9 Jan. 2019. A genetics lab is using the genome editing technique Crispr to create sterilized male insects, which can lead to fewer disease-spreading and farm pest insects. A team led by University of California in San Diego biologist Omar Akbari describes the technique in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Akbari’s lab studies genetic methods for controlling insects, particularly those spreading infectious diseases, including mosquitoes responsible for public health threats such as yellow fever, zika, dengue fever, and malaria. The lab does much of its research with model insect organisms, such as fruit flies — known formally as Drosophila — which have genomes similar to a range of insect species. These fruit flies, however, are also pests harming cherry crops in California and elsewhere.

The lab’s current work includes adapting the genome editing technique Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, to disrupt the reproduction of insects, to minimize or stop the birth of offspring. Crispr is a genome-editing process based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. The actual editing of genomes with Crispr employs enzymes that cleave DNA strands at the desired points, with Crispr-associated protein 9, or Cas9, being the enzyme used for the longest period.

Interrupting insect reproduction patterns has a long history, going back to the 1950s. Those earlier methods, known as the sterile insect technique, use radiation to sterilize male insects in a target population, causing the eventual collapse of entire insect communities. Later techniques use genetic engineering to stop reproduction functions in males and females. These later techniques require altering specific genes in the genomes of target insects, which can vary from one species to another, essentially requiring a customized solution with each use. In addition, they require successive generations of insects to mate and reproduce before the target population collapses.

The UC-San Diego researchers designed a process with Crispr called precision-guided sterile insect technique, which they say is more efficient and applicable to a wider range of insect species than current radiation and genetic engineering methods. The use of Crispr for the lab’s precision-guided technique was developed by research scientist and first author Nikolay Kandul, and creates altered strains of the target species, where the genes governing fertility and sex determination are excised.

In lab tests, the team genetically edited the fruit flies, where females produced only sterile males, which the researchers replicated in large numbers of insects. The result, say the researchers is a much faster collapse of the target population. Moreover, the edited genomes affect only the fruit flies’ reproductive functions. The male insects are otherwise fit, allowing them to compete for female mates. The researchers say the genes edited by the precision-guided sterile insect technique are found in a wide range of insects. Using statistical models, the team says its techniques would reduce disease-spreading or farm pest insect populations faster than current techniques.

The researchers envision producing genetically edited species in labs and shipping the altered insects to communities or farms where they’re needed. “This is a novel twist of a very old technology,” says Kandul in a university statement. “That novel twist makes it extremely portable from one species to another species to suppress populations of mosquitoes or agricultural pests, for example those that feed on valuable wine grapes.”

The university applied for a provisional patent, essentially an intent to file for a patent, on the technology. Akbari is a co-founder of the start-up company Agragene Inc. in Carlsbad, California formed to commercialize the process.

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Trial Testing DNA Antibody Vaccine for Zika

Baby with microcephaly

Baby with microcephaly, born to a mother infected with the Zika virus (Agencia Brasil, Wikimedia Commons)

9 Jan. 2019. A clinical trial is enrolling participants testing a vaccine to prevent Zika infections with synthetic DNA particles designed to produce antibodies against the virus. The study is conducted by University of Pennsylvania, testing the vaccine derived from research by the Wistar Institute and developed by biotechnology company Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., all in or near Philadelphia.

The Zika outbreak is a current public health challenge, with cases in Brazil spreading to the Caribbean and the Americas, including the U.S. mainland. The Zika virus is transmitted primarily by aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the same species carrying chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever pathogens. The virus may also be spread through sexual contacts. Most people contracting the Zika virus report symptoms such as mild fever, conjunctivitis or pink eye, and muscle and joint pain.

Recent Zika outbreaks, however, are resulting in more cases of birth defects, notably microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndromeCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, as of early January 2019, counts more than 5,700 Zika cases in the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia, and 37,300 cases in U.S. territories. Nearly 2,500 pregnant women in the U.S. states and D.C. are reported with Zika, as well as more than 4,900 women in U.S. territories.

Researchers led by immunologist David Weiner, director of the Wistar Institute’s Vaccine Center, are seeking faster and easier methods to make vaccinations protecting against Zika and other infectious diseases. The institute is developing a technology that Inovio Pharmaceuticals licensed from Weiner’s lab while he was at University of Pennsylvania. In this process, called DMab — short for DNA monolclonal antibody — DNA fragments are ingested into cells, where they’re exposed to 3 to 4 mild electrical pulses, which Inovio calls its Cellectra system, increasing the uptake of DNA to generate more antibodies. Weiner is a scientific adviser to Inovio.

“DMAb technology is changing the clinical story as we know it,” says Weiner in a joint statement. “In just the last few years we’ve conducted detailed preclinical studies developing this new platform and have demonstrated in vivo production of DMAbs using the Cellectra delivery system.”

The clinical trial is an early-stage study testing the safety and dose-tolerability of a DNA vaccine against Zika. The study, led by virologist and infectious disease specialist Pablo Tebas at University of Pennsylvania, is recruiting 24 healthy volunteers to receive up to 4 doses of the vaccine, code-named INO-A002 by Inovio. In November 2018, Science & Enterprise reported on a similar DMab vaccine developed by Wistar and Inovio in preclinical testing to protect against Ebola infections.

“This is a completely novel technology that could change the way we deliver antibodies as therapeutic agents and may have the potential to be fast-tracked into clinical trials,” notes Tebas. “While there are still questions to be answered, this could be useful not only for Zika, but for other emerging infections as well.”

Other synthetic antibodies from DNA are being tested to protect against Zika infections. As reported in Science & Enterprise in April 2017, a Zika vaccine with genetically-engineered DNA is being tested in a mid-stage trial conducted by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of National Institutes of Health. This technology genetically alters a circular piece of DNA found in bacteria and other microorganisms called a plasmid, then adding Zika genes from the surface of the virus. The result is a particle resembling the Zika virus enough to produce antibodies, but not an infection.

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What It Takes to Ace Your Online Course

– Contributed content –

Outdoor laptop

(Anete Lusina, Unsplash)

9 Jan. 2019. The popularity of online study continues to grow year on year. More and more people are realizing the benefits of being able to access degree level education digitally, from being able to study at any institution in the world to not having to deal with the costs of relocation, visas and accommodation that attending in person brings. The opportunity is huge, and with online resources getting increasingly sophisticated, the study experience for those choosing distance learning is also improving.

However, there are undeniably some skills you will need to make the scenario work for you. Studying by yourself, even with support available virtually, can be a challenge. With a little preparation you can make it work, so take a look at these tips and see if online study could be for you…

Find your inspiration

Distance learning requires a high level of self-motivation, so to make it work you’re going to have to find the right course – one that inspires you. From doing an MBA to an online public safety degree, the course you choose needs to fit with your career aspirations and spark your interest as well. Do you want to understand art? Set up a tech business? Find your passion for the subject and it will be much easier to keep going.

Make a commitment

In order for you to succeed, you’ve got to be totally committed to what you are studying. There can be no excuses for skipping study time. You have to be quite strict, as it’s all too easy to avoid opening the laptop if you just aren’t feeling it. Treat your study professionally and show up when you should. You owe it to yourself and your future career.

Create a study schedule

In order to stick to what you’re doing, it’s best to plan out a study schedule to make your plans concrete. Especially if you’re working your study around a job, a family and various other responsibilities. Studying can be more time consuming than you think, so make sure you’re allocating enough time to get everything done – and don’t forget to plan in some breaks as well.

Set study goals

When you’re on the laptop for study, it becomes easy to think you’ll quickly check social media only to find you’ve whiled away the whole time. Use a social media blocker to remove the temptation if you need help resisting. Learn some simple time management techniques and put them into practice. Set goals and milestones for your study to keep things moving along.

Find support

Being at a physical remove can be difficult, so make the effort to connect with your course mates. There’s a wealth of support and motivation to be found in your online study groups. Spend time getting to know other people studying the same subject and it will also remind you why you want to succeed in the first place. You will also have a group of people to ask questions to and turn to for help with technical support or course queries. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re struggling – someone else is bound to be experiencing the same thing.

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Algorithms Identify More Genetic Syndromes

Data and person graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

8 Jan. 2019. An analysis of facial images with computer vision and deep learning returned more accurate identifications of genetic syndromes than 3 panels of trained clinicians. Results of the analysis, conducted by the company FDNA Inc., developer of the technology being tested, appear in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Medicine (paid subscription required).

FDNA, in Boston and Herzliya, Israel, offers systems using artificial intelligence for genetic analysis. In this case, the company’s Face2Gene service analyzes photos of faces to identify physical traits related to genetic syndromes. These syndromes, are typically rare inherited disorders characterized by abnormal growth patterns in the face or skull, and diagnosed in children. While the syndromes are individually rare, in the aggregate they affect an estimated 8 percent of the population. Identifying these conditions requires a trained clinician, often with the help of computerized tools, but the authors say most of these analyses point to just a few of the syndromes, rather than considering the hundreds of possibilities.

The Face2Gene service uses a combination of computer vision and deep learning to identify genetic syndromes. Deep learning is a form of machine learning and artificial intelligence that makes it possible for systems to discern underlying patterns in relationships, and build those relationships into knowledge bases applied to a number of disciplines. This technique uses machine learning to form layers of neural networks, with each layer adding to the knowledge derived from previous layers.

The Face2Gene base technology, known as DeepGestalt, looks for characteristics of genetic syndromes in photographs of faces. The subsequent analysis is based on training with crowd-sourced data from 150,000 Face2Gene patients. These data include some 17,000 patient images representing 200 different genetic syndromes. The company recommends using the Face2Gene service with high-throughput genomic sequencing.

The FDNA team, led by the company’s chief technologist Yaron Gurovich, evaluated the ability of DeepGestalt to identify individual genetic syndromes. The DeepGestalt system analyzed images with facial characteristics to identify specific syndromes from those images, and asked 2 panels of trained clinicians to review the same images and make their assessments. The results show the DeepGestalt analysis correctly identified more syndromes from the images than the clinicians.

In a third evaluation, DeepGestalt analyzed 502 images to identify genetic sub-types of Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder with characteristic facial indicators, but can also affect a person’s height and heart functions. DeepGestalt succeeded in identifying 91 percent of the top 10 sub-types, again more accurately identifying the sub-types than a panel of clinicians.

The authors conclude that DeepGestalt adds value for genetic testing, clinical genetics, and precision medicine. Gurovich notes in a company statement that the study, “demonstrates how one can successfully apply state of the art algorithms, such as deep learning, to a challenging field where the available data is small, unbalanced in terms of available patients per condition, and where the need to support a large amount of conditions is great.”

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Genetic Acids Harnessed to Promote Wound Healing

Hand bandage

(Rawpixel, Pexels.com)

8 Jan. 2019. A bioengineering team designed a way to use acids in DNA that in lab tests promote wound repair by encouraging production of healing proteins in surrounding tissues. Researchers from Imperial College London in the U.K. describe their process in yesterday’s issue of the journal Advanced Materials.

Researchers led by Imperial College engineering lecturer Ben Almquist are seeking new methods for healing wounds without creating entirely new medical technologies. Recent advances in regenerative medicine use three-dimensional materials such as hydrogels and scaffolds to promote repair of chronic wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, or acute traumatic injuries. These techniques often require the healing materials to bind with adjacent tissue, or in some cases need external triggers, such as light activation. While these techniques may get results in the lab, say the authors, they have less success in the more complex animal or human tissue environment.

Almquist and colleagues designed a strategy that promotes the natural production of growth factor proteins when combined with these tissue-repair technologies. The team seeks to emulate the protein called transforming growth factor or TGF-beta, which remains in an inactive state, inside a protein structure known as the large latent complex. When confronted by a wound, signals from the damaged tissue cells break through the large latent complex to release TGF-beta. Not only does TGF-beta directly encourage wound repair, it encourages other neighboring cells to send similar signals for TGF-beta to support the healing process.

The researchers also seek simple solutions that work with a wide range of healing technologies. The focused on aptamers, nucleic acids related to DNA and RNA that bind to proteins. The Imperial College team synthesized molecules with aptamers, folded and connected to a peptide that attaches to cells, which also can integrate with a variety of substances used in wound healing. They call their nanoscale synthesized molecules traction force-activated payloads, or Traps.

In lab tests, the researchers found Traps work similarly to TGF-beta, which when exposed to signals from damaged tissue cells, are released into the wound region. The lab results show release of Traps triggers production of other healing proteins including platelet?derived growth factor?BB that stimulates stem cells for regenerating skin and muscle tissue, and vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF-165 that promotes blood vessel development. The researchers also found Traps could integrate with a variety of materials used in regenerative medicine, including collagen scaffolds and sponges, water-polymer hydrogels, and glass surfaces.

Because aptamers, the core of the Traps system, are already used in a number of current therapies, the team believes it could receive faster regulatory approval than an entirely new technology. “Traps,” says Almquist in an Imperial College statement, “provide a flexible method of actively communicating with wounds, as well as key instructions when and where they are needed. This intelligent healing is useful during every phase of the healing process, has the potential to increase the body’s chance to recover, and has far-reaching uses on many different types of wounds.”

Imperial College London applied for a patent on the technology, with Almquist and first author Anna Stejskalová as inventors. The following video tells more about Traps.

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