tech

Cows Might Be The Future For HIV Vaccines

Until recently, no one has identified an immunogen capable of eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (Bnabs) for HIV vaccines in either human or animal models. However, a 2017 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) research initiative has immunized four cows with the soluble cleaved trimer BG505 SOSIP in an attempt to produce these Bnabs – and has succeeded. Since antibodies in cows are approximately 4 to 5 times longer than typical human antibodies, the cows antibodies have a greater chance of penetrating the sugars surrounding the HIV virus and neutralizing it. There is not yet a clear path to achieving the same results in humans, but according to the director of vaccine research at the NIAID, John Mascola, MD, while the study “doesn’t tell us how to make a vaccine for HIV in human patients […] it does tell us how the virus evades the human immune response.” How far have we come from HIV Vaccinations? It has been a long road in the battle against HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began in the early 1980s. However, in 2013, the virus hit what was widely referred to as a tipping point when, for the first time, more people were newly being treated with antiretroviral drugs than became newly infected with HIV. Despite this milestone, there are still 35 million people estimated to be living with HIV today — 19 million who are estimated to be unaware of their HIV-positive status — and 2 million more people are being infected each year....

Portable MPM Will Change How Doctors Diagnose Breast Cancer

Michael Giacomelli, PhD, Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his laboratory team have developed a portable system for multiphoton imaging (portable MPM) of large tissue samples within an operating surgical suite. “The system enables true 10x/20x/40x imaging at video rates using VH&E rendering to produce virtual histology images in real-time.” The technology is currently being tested in breast cancer surgeries, since many lumpectomies result in second surgeries to remove more tissue after histology from the first surgery is complete. With imaging taking place during surgery, these subsequent reoperations may be reduced significantly. Currently, doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering are considering the tool and/or technique for skin cancer and prostate cancer as well. Read more about this imaging experiment by clicking here. Complete removal of cancerous tissue during surgery for breast cancer is essential.  Unfortunately, about 1 in 3 women undergoing lumpectomy for breast cancer will require more than one surgery due to inadequate surgical resection.   Multiphoton microscopy (MPM) can be used to perform video-rate imaging of tissue during surgery to evaluate pathology, ensuring complete removal of cancerous tissue.  I have developed MPM systems enabling very wide area imaging of tissue specimens with real-time rendering using H&E-like appearance (“virtual H&E”). For more on X-Rays, make sure to check out our article on how medical students utilize them: No one expects a radiology expert at the level of...

4 Medicine & Science Podcasts to Check Out

Radiolab Radiolab is the holy grail of science podcasts. It’s consistently ranked in the top five on iTunes, and for good reason. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the two-time Peabody Award-winner uses sound effects and music to bring great science reporting to life. Often, Abumrad and Krulwich will invite a guest to talk about the issues and raise questions that you probably hadn’t thought to ask. If you’re interested in listening, check out these two episodes: “Update: CRISPR” and “Radiolab Extra: Henrietta Lacks.” The Show About Science The Show About Science is hosted by a six-year-old—yes, you read that right. Nate Butkus started the show when he was five years old, and he’s serious about science. In each episode, Nate invites a guest to talk about their research. For example, MIT’s Kevin Esvelt recently came on the show to talk about gene editing. The great thing about Nate’s podcast is that guests often explain things as if they were talking to a six year old (which they actually are), and this makes science much easier to understand for listeners. Nate already has the quite the following after 28 episodes—check him out on Ellen: Hidden Brain NPR’s Hidden Brain is one of my favorite podcasts. Host Shankar Vedantam uses a blend of science and storytelling to uncover how our unconscious drives our behavior. Vedantam focuses on large-scope issues such as the...

DNA Bacteria Will Be Your New Hard Drives

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to encode five frames of a vintage motion picture into the DNA Bacteria of E. coli bacteria. By reducing each frame into a series of single-color pixels and matching each color to a DNA code, the scientists were able to string together DNA strands that represented the video frames. Non-biological information has been encoded into DNA before, going back as far as 2003. However, this is the first time living organisms have been used as the message’s vessel. Living organisms are in a constant state of movement and flux, making them less stable and less predictable than the synthetic DNA material used in previous encoding experiments. Even though this technology is in its infancy, the research team was able to retrieve approximately 90% of the original message from the E. coli cells, effectively marking a new milestone in the advancement of our information storage methods. According to the research from Methods and applications, edited by Y.E. Khudyakov and W.A. Fields. 2003, for the US National Library of Medicine: Despite the broadness of the biochemical and medical applicability of artificial DNA presented in this book, some important aspects from a more chemical point of view are missing. These include new synthetic DNA constructs, such as locked DNA (LNA), metal-mediated base pairing (M-DNA), artificial DNA bases with or without hydrogen-bonding capabilities, new DNA base pairs for the extension of the...

Reprogramming Cells to Fight Leukemia

The FDA may soon approve a new cancer therapy that genetically alters a patient’s own existing T-cells to fight leukemia. This new, investigational treatment is known as CTL019 and is a type of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy. CTL019 utilizes a process in which T-cells are carefully harvested from each individual leukemia patient. These patient-specific T-cells are then genetically reprogrammed to express a chimeric CD19 antigen receptor and subsequently transfused back into the specific patient from whom they were originally collected. Once back inside the patient, these reprogrammed T-cells multiply, hunt down, and attack CD19-positive leukemia cells. Click here to read about this FDA update in the NY Times. A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market in the United States. Others are expected: Researchers and drug companies have been engaged in intense competition for decades to reach this milestone. Novartis is now poised to be the first. Its treatment is for a type of leukemia, and it is working on similar types of treatments in hundreds of patients for another form...

Suffering From Swallowing Disorders? 3D Printing Food Can Help

For those who suffer from swallowing disorders, the options for nutrition are severely limited. In many cases, patients may only tolerate specific textures to ensure adequate nutritional intake and safety. Approximately 1 in 20 Americans have a swallowing disorder, with over 10 million being evaluated for swallowing difficulties each year, according to the National Foundation for Swallowing Disorders. Image: Rainbow 2013-055, Frédérique Voisin-Demery/ CC by 2.0 Speech pathologists generally recommend that patients with dysphagia eat mostly pureed, minced and moist, or soft and bite sized foods, depending on the severity of their condition. Unfortunately, this limits people to foods that may look unappealing, and there is no doubt that eating pureed food all the time can be very boring and repetitive. But the 3D printing industry has a solution – 3D printing food that both looks and tastes appealing. Image: www.wasproject.it  Food created by 3D printers is having a bit of a moment, with restaurants that are incorporating 3D printers into their kitchens, and even some shops and pop-ups serving solely 3D-printed food. However, doctors and speech pathologists envision an entirely different opportunity for 3D-printed food: helping those with dysphagia improve their diet by offering a wider variety of experiences that still suit their condition. Image: Foodink.io By using 3D printers, clinicians see an opportunity to add colors, flavors and an infinite number of ways to present the food at...

How Exactly Does Gene Transfer via AAV Work?

Properly functioning genes within our DNA provide the blueprint for the production of proteins. Mutations affecting those genes can result in proteins with altered or zero function. Using gene transfer techniques might be an effective way to restore function of proteins within cells. Gene transfer can occur via adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors because they can target both dividing and non-dividing cells to correct disease-causing improper protein function. Therapeutic genes loaded inside an AAV can correct defective or missing protein function by injecting the AAV’s therapeutic genetic material to restore function of the proteins. A capsid encases the genetic material of the vector and helps target delivery to specific cells. Once inside the targeted cells, an episome is formed from the vector genome which allows for long-term expression of the therapeutic molecule. AAVs are nonpathogenic and can be administered by intravenous drip or direct injection to target tissues. The unique life cycle of adeno-associated virus (AAV) and its ability to infect both nondividing and dividing cells with persistent expression have made it an attractive vector. An additional attractive feature of the wild-type virus is the lack of apparent pathogenicity. Gene transfer studies using AAV have shown significant progress at the level of animal models; clinical trials have been noteworthy with respect to the safety of AAV vectors. No proven efficacy has been observed, although in some instances, there have been promising observations. In this review, topics in AAV biology are supplemented with...