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Early Space Bio-Experiments Detailed in New Book

– Contributed content –

Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17

Astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt with the lunar lander and rover during the Apollo 17 mission. (NASA.gov)

26 June 2019. Editor’s note: A new book by David Warmflash, MD tells about interactions and experiences of humans with the moon, from legends and myths in ancient civilizations to projections for future colonies. Many of today’s biological experiments in space, on which we report in Science & Enterprise, can be traced to efforts by scientists working with early satellites and on Apollo missions that Warmflash describes and illustrates in his publication. Here are examples from the book.

“On January 31, 1958, the ABMA-JPL [Army Ballastic Missle Agency – Joint Propulsion Laboratory] team launched the satellite Explorer I into an orbit higher than either of the two Soviet missions. Featuring a cosmic ray detector designed by University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen (1914–2006), Explorer I detected radiation particles trapped in certain regions and altitudes by Earth’s magnetic field. This led Van Allen to propose the existence of radiation belts that later would be vital to the planning of piloted lunar missions.” (p. 121)

“Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in the late 1950s, NASA had known that using the most direct trajectory to the Moon would expose astronauts to potentially lethal doses of radiation—protons and heavy ions, also called HZE particles, that have been trapped by the geomagnetosphere. Considering fuel, the inclination of the Moon’s orbit around Earth, shielding capability of the Apollo hull, and the geometry of the belts, the solution was a trajectory that traversed only the corner of the inner belt, very rapidly, avoiding its most lethal radiation entirely, and that took astronauts through a fairly narrow region of the outer belt for just a few hours.

“This minimized exposure to trapped radiation, but did not eliminate it. Furthermore, outside the belts, space is full of un-trapped HZE particles, which exist as components of two types of deep-space radiation. One type, called solar particle events (SPEs), produces many low-energy HZEs periodically. The other type, called galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), includes smaller numbers of HZEs, but they are highly energetic and always present in the space between the outer Van Allen Belt and the Moon.

“It was unknown to what degree HZE particles from the outer belt and from GCR would affect life forms. To study the issue, European scientists sent Biostack I and Biostack II, experiments respectively in the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 command modules. Researchers measured HZE exposure in numerous biological species, including Artemia salina shrimp eggs, spores of Bacillus subtilis bacteria, and Arabidopsis thaliana plant seeds. HZE particles did not harm B. subtilis spores, nor did Arabidopsis seeds fare worse than control seeds on the ground, although the shrimp eggs exposed to HZEs in space proved more sensitive than the other organisms.

“Since Apollo 17, very few biological experiments have even flown outside the Van Allen belts. As for humans in deep space, there are very few data. Studies hint that there are reasons to be concerned about flights beyond LEO possibly elevating risks for cancer and cardiovascular conditions, cataracts, and other long-term effects, but the issue requires more study and we may not know the limits of human radiation tolerance until we return to the Moon and establish bases.” (p. 185)

——————–

Book cover

(Sterling Publishing)

Moon: An Illustrated History: From Ancient Myths to the Colonies of Tomorrow (Sterling Illustrated Histories)

David Warmflash
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Sterling; Illustrated edition (May 7, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1454931981
ISBN-13: 978-1454931980

Kindle edition
File Size: 33227 KB
Print Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Sterling (May 7, 2019)
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Language: English
ASIN: B07JNSF5C6

 

 

 

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A.I. Chip Start-Up Raises $23M in Early Funds

Eliad Hillel, left, and Elad Sity, founders of NeuroBlade (Keren Gafni)

26 June 2019. A start-up enterprise is developing computer chips designed to run artificial intelligence, or A.I., applications but with an architecture it says can avoid memory logjams. NeuroBlade, a two year-old company in Hod-Hasharon, Israel is also raising $23 million in its first venture funding round.

The company aims to solve a problem with A.I. hardware used in applications such as image and speech recognition, video analysis, and autonomous driving, where the large volumes of data and intensive processing can degrade and slow the system’s performance. NeuroBlade’s technology, says the company, is designed to operate more efficiently than other A.I. chip sets, working with a corresponding software stack to make better use of a system’s resources.

According to NeuroBlade, its chips and software improve the operating connections between logic and memory and thus re-balance these elements in the system. As a result, says the company, memory bottlenecks are reduced, while retaining access to a system’s high-density memories and maintaining the accuracy of algorithms being run.

NeuroBlade was founded in 2017 by software and algorithm designers Elad Sity and Eliad Hillel, who worked previously at the Israeli solar technology company SolarEdge. Both Sity and Hillel are engineering graduates of Tel Aviv University and the technical arm of Israel’s intelligence service. The company received $4.5 million in seed funds from StageOne Ventures and Grove Ventures at the outset and operated in incubation mode until now. Sity is NeuroBlade’s CEO, while Hillel is the company’s chief technology officer.

NeuroBlade’s first venture funding round is raising $23 million led by Marius Nacht,, a co-founder of security software company Check Point Software Technologies, with participation from seed-round investors StageOne Ventures and Grove Ventures. Also taking part in the financing is Intel Capital, the venture funding arm of semiconductor maker Intel. The company plans to use the funds to ramp-up R&D and staffing to bring its first-generation A.I. chip to market.

In a statement e-mailed to Science & Enterprise, Tal Slobodkin, a partner at StageOne Ventures notes, “The chip developed by NeuroBlade will allow running A.I. algorithms on par with the performance of market-leading chips but at a smaller size or with significantly better performance at similar throughput and size. NeuroBlade’s technology targets servers and is also relevant to end devices, such as security cameras, laptops, cars, multimedia, and more.”

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Company Launches Attacking Cancer Proteins, Lands $67M

Cancer magnified

(PDPics, Pixabay)

25 June 2019. A new enterprise is starting-up to develop treatments that target cancer-causing proteins considered unreachable with current therapies. Frontier Medicines Corp. in South San Francisco, California is also raising $67 million in its first venture funding round.

Frontier Medicines is a spin-off business from the labs of two life science professors at University of California in Berkeley, and scientific founders of the company. Daniel Nomura is a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley, as well as chemistry, nutritional science, and toxicology. He is also on the pharmaceutical chemistry faculty at UC-San Francisco. Roberto Zoncu is a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley, also studying biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology.

Nomura’s lab investigates the chemistry of disease-causing proteins, particularly those proteins considered “undruggable” or not addressable with conventional small molecule drugs. Many of these proteins are difficult to reach with current drugs because they do not provide convenient targets for binding with today’s treatments. Nomura and colleagues are developing a technology to discover these proteins’ previously unreachable binding sites, particularly those addressable with natural substances.

Zoncu’s lab studies lyosomes, the parts of cells containing enzymes that break down basic chemicals in the body including proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. The lab looks particularly at lyosomes’ role as control centers for cells to sense nutrients and signal to metabolic pathways.

Discoveries from Nomura’s and Zonco’s labs are integrated into Frontier Medicines’ platform called chemoproteomics. The company expects its chemoproteomics technology to identify hot-spots in the structure of cancer-causing proteins, offering temporary targets for binding with small molecule drugs revealed in the movement of proteins. That technology includes a database of hot-spot binding targets in a majority of human proteins, as well as a library of diverse chemical compounds collected with help from machine-learning algorithms to screen against the binding targets.

And Frontier Medicines plans to enhance the efficacy of its treatments with protein degradation techniques the company says are superior to current methods. “This platform,” says Nomura in a company statement, “enables us to go after almost any protein target of interest for therapeutic intervention.”

Life science entrepreneur Chris Varma is the company’s CEO as well as a co-founder. “Our therapeutic programs are focused on several of the most important and difficult targets in cancer,” says Varma. “With our platform, we have the ability to address previously inaccessible disease-causing proteins.”

Frontier Medicines is raising $67 million in its first round of venture financing. Health care and life science investment companies Deerfield Management, Droia Oncology Ventures, and MPM Capital are leading the round, with participation from DCVC Bio, RA Capital Management, and other investors.

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Safe, Economical Method Devised to Make Graphene

Eucalyptus trees

Eucalyptus trees (ekaterinvor, Pixabay)

25 June 2019. Researchers in Australia and India developed a safer and much less costly process for synthesizing the super-material graphene using an extract from eucalyptus bark. The team from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia and India’s National Institute of Technology in Warangal describe the process in the 13 June issue of the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (paid subscription required).

Graphene is closely related to graphite like that used in pencils. The material is very light, strong, chemically stable, and only one atom in thickness, arrayed in a hexagonal pattern. Graphene can conduct both heat and electricity, with potential applications in electronics, energy, and health care. In 2010, two researchers at University of Manchester in the U.K. received the Nobel Prize in physics for their discoveries on graphene.

A continuing drawback with graphene, however, is the unsustainable process for producing the material. A widely used method synthesizes graphene from graphene oxide, which the researchers say relies on harmful chemical reagents to transform the flakes of graphene oxide into graphene sheets. The team — led by Suresh Bhargava, director of RMIT’s Centre for Advanced Materials and Industrial Chemistry, and National Institute of Technology chemistry professor Vishnu Shanker — is seeking a more sustainable and economical method for synthesizing graphene, while retaining the properties that makes it attractive for so many applications.

The researchers found their solution in the bark of the eucalyptus tree, also known as gum tree. Eucalyptus is a native and abundant plant species in Australia, which grows quickly and with evidence the trees can be irrigated with wastewater rather than fresh water. In this case, the researchers use a chemical extracted from eucalyptus bark containing polyphenols, chemicals found in plants with anti-oxidant properties.

The team uses polyphenol compounds from ground-up eucalyptus bark to separate graphene from graphene oxide flakes, in a water-based medium under reflux conditions, where reactants are heated, with vapors cooled into liquids through condensation. The result, say the authors, is 1 to 4 layers of stable, homogeneous graphene.

The researchers tested their eucalyptus polyphenol-produced graphene in a supercapacitor device, a type of energy storage that employs a static charge rather than the electrochemical reactions in batteries. Supercapacitors are used for energy storage that needs fast charge-discharge cycles. The team says their supercapacitor performed as well as a similar device made with conventional graphene, including charge–discharge rates and energy density.

But a key added benefit of this process is its low cost. In an RMIT statement, Bhargava calculates graphene made with eucalyptus polyphenols can be made at a cost of $US 0.50 per gram, compared to $100.00 a gram with conventional methods. “Our approach,” notes Bhargava, “could bring down the cost of making graphene from around $US 100.00 per gram to just 50 cents, increasing its availability to industries globally and enabling the development of an array of vital new technologies.”

Bhargava’s calculations may be due to the abundance of eucalyptus in Australia, but it grows as well in parts of the U.S., where in some locations at least, the trees are considered a nuisance.

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Gut Microbe Linked to Longer Exercise Endurance

2014 Boston Marathon

Elite women’s start of the 2014 Boston Marathon (JD, Flickr)

24 June 2019. An analysis of gut microbes from elite athletes identified a particular bacterial strain, which in tests with lab mice boosted their exercise endurance. Results of the study from researchers at Harvard University and affiliated institutes appear in today’s issue of the journal Nature Medicine (paid subscription required).

The study’s two senior authors and first author are co-founders of Fitbiomics Inc. in New York, a spin-off enterprise from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering applying high-throughput genomic sequencing of the microbiome for sports medicine to produce performance-enhancing probiotics.

The analysis aims to provide a better understanding of the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria and other microbes in the intestines, particularly the functioning of microbes that affect athletic performance. Much of the attention to date is given to connections between gut microbes and disease. The team from the labs of Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, also one of the core faculty at the Wyss Institute, and Aleksander Kostic, a microbiologist at Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, seeks to identify microbes in the gut that may promote greater strength or endurance.

“At the start of this project,” says former postdoctoral researcher and the paper’s first author Jonathan Scheiman in a Wyss Institute statement, “we hypothesized that the microbiomes of elite athletes must have highly adjusted bacterial species in common that could help with their performance and recovery, and that, once identified, these could become the basis of highly validated performance-enhancing probiotics.” Scheiman is a co-founder — along with Church, Kostic, and three others — of Fitbiomics and is now the company’s CEO.

The team took stool samples from elite runners taking part in the 2015 Boston Marathon from a week before to a week after the race. The runners’ samples disclosed an abundance of bacteria known as Veillonella after the race, particularly a strain called Veillonella atypica. Veillonella is part of the normal microbiome communities in the mouth, gut, and vaginal tract. But Veillonella atypica, when isolated from the runners and transferred to lab mice, increased the mice’s exercise endurance on treadmills by 13 percent.

The researchers then sought to understand how Veillonella atypica works with elite athletes. The team conducted a genomic analysis of the microbes from the samples using bioinformatics tools from Kostic’s lab. “We were able to demonstrate that the Veillonella-driven performance boost,” notes Kostic, “was due to the bacteria’s ability to break down lactate, a metabolite known to accumulate with prolonged strenuous exercise, and to produce propionate, a short-chain fatty acid, that in turn enhances the body’s resilience to exercise stress.”

Still not known, however, were the exact workings of propionate with lactate in the gut to affect athletic performance. The researchers added a tracing molecule to lactate in lab mice, and transferred propionate to the guts of the mice to find out. The team’s analysis shows lactate in the lab mice equivalent of elite runners crosses from the blood stream into the interior of the intestinal tract. There, Veillonella atypica soak up the lactate, but propionate also metabolizes lactate, with the added benefit of reducing indicators of inflammation. Further tests with the mice show mice with added propionate displayed exercise endurance similar to the earlier mice given Veillonella atypica.

“Now that we have built out a platform for identifying microbes associated with extreme performances,” says Church, “we can explore the microbiomes of other types of extreme athletes or individuals that are highly adapted to environmental challenges, uncover additional beneficial functional links, and work towards translating them into probiotic treatments.”

Church is a serial entrepreneur, founding or licensing discoveries from his lab to dozens of start-up and spin-off enterprises, including Fitbiomics. For Scheiman, Fitbiomics is more than a business. He played college basketball at St. John’s University in New York, on teams that won the Big East conference championship in 2000 and post-season National Invitational Tournament in 2003.

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CBD Shown Effective Against Staph, Strep Bacteria

MRSA bacteria

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in brown spheres, surrounded by cellular debris. (NIAID, NIH)

24 June 2019. Tests of synthetic cannabidiol, or CBD, show the compound is as effective as current antibiotics against a class of microbes that includes Staphyloccocus and Streptococcus bacteria. Researchers from Queensland University in Brisbane and the company Botanix Pharmaceuticals in Perth, Australia described their results yesterday at the annual meeting of American Society for Microbiology in San Francisco.

The team led by Queensland’s Mark Blaskovich, a research chemist with the university’s Centre for Superbug Solutions, is seeking new tools to combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, the evolution of bacteria into organisms that do not respond conventional antibiotics. As the authors state, “New antimicrobial agents are urgently needed, particularly novel structural classes with new mechanisms of action that can overcome resistant strains.”

The researchers tested CBD as one of these new antimicrobial agents. CBD is a non-intoxicating chemical derived from the cannabis plant, also called marijuana, and widely studied as a treatment for neurological disorders. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. approved Epidiolex, a formulation of CBD to treat two severe forms of epilepsy.

Botanix Pharmaceuticals develops treatments for skin diseases, such as acne and atopic dermatitis or eczema, with compounds using a synthetic form of CBD, also non-intoxicating and without the need for cannabis plants. The company’s treatments, formulated as skin creams, target cannabinoid receptors in the body that regulate lipid or body oil production affecting inflammation and infection.

In this study, Blaskovich and colleagues tested synthetic CBD on a range of bacteria, both gram-positive and gram-negative. “Gram” refers to a classification for bacteria where the microbes either retain (gram-positive) or shed (gram-negative) a test stain on their protective cell coatings, with gram-positive bacteria having a thicker outer membrane that retains the stain. Gram-positive bacteria include Staphyloccocus aureus bacteria, responsible for skin and other infections in the body, and Streptococcus pneumoniae, responsible for pneumonia, meningitis, and other infections.

The researchers used standard bacterial testing procedures to test CBD against bacterial cultures, starting with broth microdilution, a basic test of antibiotic activity. The team also tested for susceptibility to resistance and activity against biofilms, communities of bacteria often difficult to eradicate. And with lab mice, the researchers tested CBD on infections of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a particularly difficult bacterium to treat.

The results show CBD particularly effective against gram-positive bacteria that include Staphyloccocus and Streptococcus microbes, but not gram-negative bacteria. With gram-positive bacteria, CBD is as fast and effective as the antibiotics vancomycin and daptomycin, but also works against resistant strains of staph and strep bacteria. And CBD is active against MRSA infections in lab mice. The tests show as well that CBD has a low propensity for resistance and is active against biofilms, including communities of MRSA bacteria.

The authors say that because of CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, it has added value when formulated into an antibiotic treatment. “Given cannabidiol’s documented anti-inflammatory effects, existing safety data in humans, and potential for varied delivery routes, it is a promising new antibiotic worth further investigation,” notes Blaskovich in an American Society for Microbiology statement. Botanix assigned the code-name BTX 1801 that the company plans to develop into an antibiotic to complement its current line of skin disease treatments.

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Infographic – Where Vaccine Distrust is Greatest

Chart: mistrust in vaccines

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

22 June 2019. The recent outbreak of measles in the U.S. and in other parts of the world is traced in large part to mistrust of vaccines. While much attention is focused on the current measles outbreak, distrust of vaccines apparently goes beyond this one disease. Our friends at Statista published a chart this week with data from a global Wellcome Trust survey showing where that distrust is greatest, our infographic for this weekend.

The survey asked 140,000 respondents in 140 countries if they believed vaccines were safe, and the highest percentages of those saying “not much” or “not at all” are found in Europe and Africa. About 1 in 3 people in France (33%) do not believe in the safety of vaccines, which Statista says may be related to a current controversy over a pandemic flu vaccine. About a quarter, 24 to 26 percent, of those in Gabon, Togo, and Russia also do not trust the safety of vaccines.

In seven other countries, mainly in Europe, but also Burkina Faso and Haiti, 20 to 22 percent of respondents express distrust in vaccine safety. In the U.S., that percentage is 11 percent.

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Making A Food Product That Promotes Cell Life

– Contributed content –

Basil, olive oil, tomatoes

(Conger Design, Pixabay)

22 June 2019. The food industry is not like it was even just 10 years ago. Now in the age of information, millions of people around the world want to know what they are putting in their bodies. It’s a fact that with smartphones and calorie counting apps, consumers want to keep track of their health and diet at all times of the day. However we are now in an era where food for the average consumer is becoming way more scientific.

People want to know what the content of the food is, such as the level of calcium, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, water content level as well as acidic compounds and processed food chemicals. They also want to know what kinds of life affects the food they are eating, will have on their bodies. Many diets are fighting for supremacy but it seems like the keto diet is pulling ahead of everything else. One of the reasons why this is so is because it promotes more organic foods but without making the diet bland and boring such as the vegan method. So how could you make a product that fits in this scheme of things?

Meaty and fatty

The keto diet promotes the consumption of healthy, organic and lean meat as well as natural fats. Processed and pasteurized fats are not always the best choice for many on the keto diet because there is too much treatment to the product. Instead they want something that uses tried and tested methods of aging and cooking. Filtered smoking is something that is growing more and more popular among keto dieters but the most popular way of infusing flavor into meat products is dry curing. This allows the meat to gradually lose water content as well as allow the spices and herbs to sink deeper into the structure of the meat.

A fatty product is also something highly desired because they are constantly trying to bring up their calorie numbers. Fat has the highest amount of calories per gram than any other biomolecule. Since the keto diet is low carb, dieters have to make up most of their calories from fat instead. So before even going into the kitchen to make and test your product, you should make sure that you are making something that is either high in protein or high in fat. Preferably, you could make a product that balances the two, for example bacon and fatty beef cuts are the best of both worlds.

The benefit to cells

Anti-aging diets have really come to the fore. More and more people are starting to realize that high red meat diets are very detrimental to our health. However purely plant based diets are also not proving themselves to be healthy as the balance is totally out of kilter. We humans need both meat and plants to live a healthy and long life.

Aging and the impact our food has on it, is something consumers want to know more about. Food with high deuterium is bad for our health as it slows down the mitochondria. This means that the powerhouse of our cells which creates energy is unable to produce the energy we need to live a fulfilled life as well as speed up the process of aging.

Therefore when you are going to make a product that promotes healthy cell structure and life, you should consider running some tests using deuterium. Here you can find over 3000 deuterium labelled compounds ready to ship internationally to any business and or laboratory.

Food testing is a very complex, expensive and legally a very important part of making a food product. Using various deuterium compounds you can compare and contrast the effects of one product over another. The tests can be purely chemical or you can test them using various animals.

Sourcing the best ingredients

The best food always starts with the best ingredients and that means a business has to source form the correct people and regions. For the majority of food products quality is low in the list and value for money is top priority. However it’s been shown that the best ingredients often come from small independent businesses that are growing their products in a fresh and clean part of the countryside. This is why their organic and time consuming products are priced so highly in grocery stores. However you can start your search for the best ingredients by going to artisan stores and markets where niche products are being sold in the food industry. Various events around the world that are purely for craft products is perhaps your best best to find a potential partner.

You can inspect their methods will your own eyes as many of them will be using methods that have been in place for many years. They may also be void of machines and chemicals which are for highly processed foods. This is also a great marketing angle you can use as processed foods will increase the speed of aging which means faster cell deterioration. However you should also make sure the soil and or feed that the ingredients are eating and growing in, are also not contaminated with chemicals.

Make it understandable

Although consumers are always searching for the healthiest product, they don’t always understand which is better for them. This is why in your marketing campaign, you should clearly explain how your product is going to help keep their cell structure healthy. Prolonging their lifespan and helping the mitochondria keep spinning at a high speed, should be explained using visuals that can be in the form of a video advertisement. This will communicate the consumers why your product is going to personally have an impact on their health.

The food industry is becoming closer and closer with the science industry. Consumers want to know more about what they are eating and consequently, different diets are competing for scientific approval. The keto diet is probably the most liked because it’s known to be healthy but also is scientifically sound. Making a product that is high in fat and high in protein is the best aiming point to make a product that promotes cell life.

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

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Energy-Efficient Process Devised for Nano-Emulsions

Water drops

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

21 June 2019. A more efficient process using less energy is being developed for producing emulsions with tiny droplets to deliver drugs or cosmetics through the skin. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and cosmetics company L’Oréal in Paris that funded the research describe their process in today’s issue of the journal Nature Communications.

A team led by MIT chemical engineering professor Patrick Doyle is seeking a better process for creating emulsions with nanoscale droplets suspended in a carrier liquid, much like salad dressing with oil and vinegar. The smaller the droplets — in this case no more than 200 nanometers, where 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter — the more stable they become, allowing for longer storage times. And smaller emulsion droplets better penetrate the skin, for drugs and cosmetics, as well as mucus membranes in the nose for nasal sprays.

Creating emulsions with these fine droplets using today’s technologies, however, requires considerable energy expenditures. Doyle and colleagues aimed to produce ultra-fine emulsions with more a efficient process requiring much less energy. In addition, the researchers sought to produce emulsions that could turn to a gel when in contact with the skin to reduce waste when applied. And the researchers needed to use materials already approved by the Food and Drug Administration to meet safety requirements.

Doyle’s lab studies physical properties of soft matter, particularly in micro- and nanoscale formulations. Producing an emulsion at that fine scale usually requires surfactants to help speed the emulsifying process. Surfactants are substances that reduce the surface tension of liquids in a solution making them more slippery, but many commercial surfactants have ingredients that cause skin irritation. The researchers found two surfactants already approved by FDA and used in consumer products: polysorbate and sorbitan oleate. The team also added the common biocompatible polymer polyethylene glycol to further reduce the droplet size to about 50 nanometers.

The team discovered that this combination of emulsifiers and surfactants makes it possible to produce nanoscale droplets of isopropyl myristate, the “oil” part of its emulsion, much more efficiently than before. “With this approach, you don’t have to put in much energy at all,” says Doyle in an MIT statement. “In fact, a slow stirring bar almost spontaneously creates these super small emulsions.”

The researchers then turned to formulating the emulsion in a heat-sensitive gel. Their solution aimed to produce a hydrogel, a water-based polymer material, with a type of polymer known as Pluronics. This polymer is made of three chemical segments, two parts that attract water on the outside of its molecules, and a water-repelling part on the inside. When heated, the water-repelling parts of Pluronics attach to the oil droplets, which forces the droplets more tightly together. This action turns the liquid suspension into a a more solid gel material.

The team demonstrated the emulsion-gel to deliver the over-the-counter pain medication ibuprofen. The researchers show a nanoscale emulsion with ibuprofen could form into a gel at a human’s body temperature of 37 degrees C, and release the ibuprofen in about 30 minutes. The team also show emulsion-gel’s heat reactivity can be adjusted by varying droplet size and Pluronics concentrations, with a gel forming at 10 degrees C (50 F) and releasing ibuprofen in about 10 minutes.

Doyle’s lab is looking into tests of the gel with a range of different drug ingredients, both for topical delivery and inside the body. For cosmetics, the nanoscale emulsions could be used for skin creams and moisturizers with a longer shelf life.

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Electronic Tattoo Continuously Monitors Blood Pressure

Heart monitoring tattoo

Prototype flexible heart monitoring tattoo (University of Texas in Austin)

21 June 2019. A bio-engineering lab created an ultra-thin, flexible plastic film, which when attached to the chest can monitor blood pressure over a period of time. Researchers from University of Texas in Austin describe their device and proof-of-concept tests in the 21 May issue of the journal Advanced Science.

A team from the lab of biomedical engineering and materials science professor Nanshu Lu is seeking more convenient ways for continuously monitoring vital signs like blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a continuing public health problem affecting people in both genders and all ethnic groups, and increasingly at younger ages. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says high blood pressure increases one’s risk of heart disease and stroke, and currently effects 75 million people, or one in three adults in the U.S.

Lu’s lab studies the use of electronics integrated with thin, flexible materials in wearable systems for health monitoring. For most people, measuring blood pressure is done at most periodically, if at all, and requires a visit to a clinic. Continuous monitoring of blood pressure and other heart-health indicators can provide a more complete picture of a person’s cardiovascular system and an earlier alert of problems.

The team’s solution is an ultra-thin clear plastic film with sensors to monitor physical and electrical heart signals. The film is made of polyvinylidene fluoride or PVDF, a clear polymer, with a special property needed for this device, the ability to generate electricity. PVDF is piezoelectric, which means it produces an electric current as a result of movement or stress. This quality allows the Texas team’s device to be self-powered, eliminating the need for a separate power source, keeping it very thin and worn like a stick-on tattoo.

The researchers printed an electronic sensor with gold electrodes on the PVDF film measuring electrical signals from the heart, much like an electrocardiogram. But the device also has a similar sensor to measure vibrations made by the chest each time the heart beats. The researchers say it is the first flexible and wearable device to incorporate monitor both electric signals and vibrations from the heart. Lu notes in a university statement, “We can get much greater insight into heart health by the synchronous collection of data from both sources.”

The team also devised a technique using digital image correlation to locate the optimum location on the chest to place the tattoo device. Digital image correlation calculates contour, deformation, vibration, and strain on a surface, in this case to determine the best point on the chest to measure vibrations from heart beats, as well as capture electrical signals.

The researchers tested a prototype device with four volunteers. The tattoo systems provided data on the volunteers’ heart signals and vibrations that allowed the team to calculate timing intervals from their hearts, including systolic time interval, a measure of pumping ability. With systolic time intervals, the authors estimated the volunteers’ blood pressure, a measure correlated with systolic time interval.

The team believes a device like their electronic tattoo can eventually replace bulky systems like Holter monitors for tracking cardiac performance. The researchers still need to add communications functions, such as Bluetooth, to the device, but the lab is already working on a smartphone app that stores data from the device and illustrates the heart beating in real time.

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