The Future is Here: Nanofibre Heart Patches

heart_patchesFor years, medical researchers have been trying to find a solution to the problem of post-cardiac event health. You see, when a heart attack occurs, the damaged tissue doesn’t grow back, but instead forms non-beating scar tissue. This in turn permanently weakens the heart, making another cardiac event that much more probable.

However, researchers at Tel Aviv University are getting promising results from a possible solution using patches that contain cardiac cells and gold nanofibers. As with other experimental heart patches, the idea behind these ones is that they could be surgically placed on damaged areas of the heart, where they would cause normal, beating heart tissue to grow back.

gold_nanoparticlesTo create them, a team led by Dr. Tal Dvir started by integrating nanofibers made of gold nanoparticles into a three-dimensional scaffolding made of biomaterials. That scaffolding was then “seeded” with heart muscle cells. The high conductivity of the gold allowed those cells to communicate with one another by sending electrical signals through the network of nanofibers.

When viewed with an electron microscope, the cells were observed to be contracting in unison, which is essential to the proper beating of the heart. By contrast, cells that were placed on scaffolding without the embedded gold nanofibers displayed much weaker contractions. In other experiments, gold nanofibers have proven useful to enhancing heart heath. But in this case, may prove useful to replacing damaged heart tissue.

heart_healthNaturally, more work is needed before this new heart patch can be made available to patients. This includes human trials, which Dr. Dvir and his colleagues are hoping to conduct soon. Similar research is also being conducted at MIT, where scientists have created electrically conductive tissue scaffolds that include cardiac cells and gold nanowires.

This research is not only a boon for cardiac health, but is also a major step forward in terms of cybernetics, biomimetics, and nanotechnology. By merging the organic and synthetic at the nano level, and in a way that merges with our bodies natural architecture, a new breed of medical solutions are being made available that could make “permanent conditions” a thing of the past.

Source: gizmag.com, aftau.org

Ending Cancer: “Canary” and Microscopic Velcro

cancer_cellEnding terminal illness is one of the hallmarks of the 21st century, with advances being made all the time. In recent years, efforts have been particularly focused on findings treatments and cures for the two greatest plagues of the past 100 years – HIV and cancer. But whereas HIV is one of the most infectious diseases to ever be observed, cancer is by far the greater killer. In 2008 alone, approximately 12.7 million cancers were diagnosed (excluding non-invasive cancers) and 7.6 million people died of cancer worldwide.

Little wonder then why so much time and energy is dedicated to ending it; and in recent years, a number of these initiatives have begun to bear fruit. One such initiative comes from the Mayo Clinic, where researchers claim they have developed a new type of software that can help classify cancerous lung nodules noninvasively, thus saving lives and health care costs.

lung-cancer-treatmentIt’s called Computer-aided Nodule Assessment and Risk Yield, or Canary, and a pilot study of the software recently appeared in the April issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology. According to the article, Canary uses data from high-resolution CT images of a common type of cancerous nodule in the lung and then matches them, pixel for pixel, to one of nine unique radiological exemplars. In this way, the software is able to make detailed comparisons and then determine whether or not the scans indicate the presence of cancer.

In the pilot study, Canary was able to classify lesions as either aggressive or indolent with high sensitivity, as compared to microscopic analyses of the lesions after being surgically removed and analyzed by lung pathologists. More importantly, it was able to do so without the need for internal surgery to allow a doctor to make a visual examination. This not only ensures that a patient could receive and early (and accurate) diagnosis from a simple CT scan, but also saves a great deal of money by making surgery unnecessary.

velcroAs they say, early detection is key. But where preventative medicine fails, effective treatments need to be available. And that’s where a new invention, inspired by Velcro comes into play. Created by researchers at UCLA, the process is essentially a refined method of capturing and analyzing rogue cancer cells using a Velcro-like technology that works on the nanoscale. It’s called NanoVelcro, and it can detect, isolate, and analyze single cancer cells from a patient’s blood.

Researchers have long recognized that circulating tumor cells play an important role in spreading cancer to other parts of the body. When the cells can be analyzed and identified early, they can offer clues to how the disease may progress in an individual patient, and how to best tailor a personalized cancer treatment. The UCLA team developed the NanoVelcro chip (see above) to do just that, trap individual cancer cells for analysis so that early, non-invasive diagnosis can take place.

NanoVelcro-deviceThe treatment begins with a patient’s blood being pumped in through the NanoVelcro Chip, where tiny hairs protruding from the cancer cells stick to the nanofiber structures on the device’s surface. Then, the scientists selectively cut out the cancer cells using laser microdissection and subject the isolated and purified cancer cells to single cell sequencing. This last step reveals mutations in the genetic material of the cells and may help doctors personalize therapies to the patient’s unique form of cancer.

The UCLA researchers say this technology may function as a liquid biopsy. Instead of removing tissue samples through a needle inserted into a solid tumor, the cancer cells can be analyzed directly from the blood stream, making analysis quicker and easier. They claim this is especially important in cancers like prostate, where biopsies are extremely difficult because the disease often spreads to bone, where the availability of the tissue is low. In addition, the technology lets doctors look at free-floating cancer cells earlier than they’d have access to a biopsy site.

Already, the chip is being tested in prostate cancer, according to research published in the journal Advanced Materials in late March. The process is also being tested by Swiss researchers to remove heavy metals from water, using nanomaterials to cling to and remove impurities like mercury and heavy metals. So in addition to assisting in the war on cancer, this new technology showcases the possibilities of nantechnology and the progress being made in that field.

Sources: news.cnet.com, fastcoexist.com

Nokia Morph Concept Phone

nokia_morphThis story is a bit of an expansion on a preview post, and one which I’ve put off since I spent so much time talking about phones a few weeks ago. And the concept is a little dated at this point, but since it’s still in the works and just as revolutionary. And trust me, its quite cool and to read about!

It seems that there is no shortage of new and radical ideas when it comes to the field of personal communications these days! And when it comes to personal phones, it seems the sky’s the limit. In keeping with the trend to build smaller, ergonomic, flexible and thinner smartphones and PDA’s, Nokia has another concept which is making waves.

It’s known as the Morph, a new concept that showcases some revolutionary leaps being made in numerous fields. Thanks to ongoing collaboration between the Nokia Research Center (NRC) and the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre in the UK, this device incorporates numerous advances being made in terms of thin displays, flexible housings and nanotechnological processes. Once feasible, this phone will literary be assembled at the microscopic levels, leading to a phone made of “smart matter”.

In addition to the revolutionary nanoscale manufacturing process, the phone will present a number of radical new possibilities for users and device manufacturers everywhere. They include:

  • Newly-enabled flexible and transparent materials that blend more seamlessly with the way we live
  • Devices that are self-cleaning and self-preserving
  • Transparent electronics that offer an entirely new aesthetic dimension
  • Built-in solar absorption that charge a device and batteries that are smaller, longer lasting and faster to charge
  • Integrated sensors that allow people to learn more about the environment, empowering them to make better choices

In addition to the advances above, the integrated electronics shown in the Morph concept could cost less and include more functionality in a much smaller space, even as interfaces are simplified and usability is enhanced. What’s more, the development and combination of these technologies will have far-reaching benefits for the fields of communication and personal computing, revolutionizing how people do these in their daily lives.

And of course, Nokia was sure to create an animated video displaying the Morph concept in action. Take a gander:

Source: press.nokia.com, youtube.com

The Future is Here: Smart Tattoos!

electronic_skin_patchIn recent years, scientists have been working towards electronics that come in flexible and ultra-thin packages. Back in 2011, this bore fruit as researchers from the University of Illinois unveiled the world’s first health monitoring patch, an ultra-thin device which looked like a temporary tattoo, but packed enough sensors in its flesh to monitor a person’s vitals. As a testament to the rate at which technological developments happen these days, improvements are already being made on the concept and design.

For example, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of California recently announced the creation of what they are calling the “smart tattoo”.  This device is a step up from the previous one, as it contains “ion-selective electrodes” which go beyond monitoring just your vitals. According to the collaborative team, this patch is made up of “sensors that detect the pH or salt levels of the skin, as well minerals like potassium, and even blood oxidation.”

In other words, this patch can monitor athletic performance at a granular level, but without any of the bulk or wiring of older sensors. It also means that for the first time, detailed athletic response testing would no longer be limited to the walls of a sports clinic, but could be done daily by the athlete herself. What’s more, the nature of the design and relative cost are in keeping with a mass production model and mass market appeal.

bloodstreamThis last aspect is an important indicator since one of the hallmarks of technological progress is the ability to create devices which go beyond matters of life and death and are able to address our daily concerns. In addition to proving that the technology is becoming more commonplace, it’s also a sign of growing affordability and availability. With this latest development, it seems that smart tattoos are doing just that.

Another example comes from Sano intelligence, a 2012 health startup that announced that they are in the testing phase of a smart tattoo that reads a wearer’s blood markers. This patch would be especially useful to diabetics, for whom blood monitoring is a constant hassle and often required invasive measures, such as needles. If the patch proves successful, diabetics everywhere would not only be able to forgo finger pricking and needles, but would also be freed of the burden of having to carry around bulky devices.

stretchable-electronicsFinally, there was the news from Cambridge Massachusetts, where another startup company named MC10 announced early in 2012 that they had created a “stretchable electronics” patch that was applicable not only to skin, but to human clothing and even organs. By mounting nanoscale electronics to a flexible, stretchable patch, the company hopes to be able to produce sensors that can monitor any number of health functions, from the more mundane things like heart-rate and hydration, to brain, heart, tissue, and organ function.

What is especially exciting about all of this is not so much the technology involved, but the fact that it is leading to an era where patients will have a far greater degree of control over their own health and monitoring. No longer will we be dependent on clinics and doctors for every single matter relating to our health, from checkups to surgery. Now we can take care of the former ourselves, making our information available to our doctor or specialist as needed, and going in for only serious or life-threatening procedures. This, in addition to leading to a more health-conscious public, could also bode well for medical costs.

Sources: takepart.com, technologreview.com, factcoexist.com