News Article | May 19, 2017
China has for the first time extracted gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered key to future global energy supply. Chinese authorities have described the success as a major breakthrough. Many countries including the US and Japan are working on how to tap those reserves, but mining and extracting are extremely difficult. The catchy phrase describes a frozen mixture of water and gas. "It looks like ice crystals but if you zoom in to a molecular level, you see that the methane molecules are caged in by the water molecules," Associate Professor Praveen Linga from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore told the BBC. Officially known as methane clathrates or hydrates, they are formed at very low temperatures and under high pressure. They can be found in sediments under the ocean floor as well as underneath permafrost on land. Despite the low temperature, these hydrates are flammable. If you hold a lighter to them, the gas encapsulated in the ice will catch fire. Hence, they are also known as "fire ice" or "flammable ice". By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrates break down into water and methane - a lot of methane. One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel. The crux, though, is that extracting the gas is extremely difficult and energy consuming. Methane hydrates were discovered in Russia's north in the 1960s, but research into how to extract gas from them from maritime sediment only began in the last 10 to 15 years. As a country lacking any natural energy resources, Japan has been a pioneer in the field. Other leading countries are India or South Korea - who also don't have their own oil reserves. While the US and Canada are also active in the field, they have been focussing on hydrates under permafrost in the far north of Alaska and Canada. Methane hydrates are thought to have the potential to be a revolutionary energy source that could be key to future energy needs - likely the world's last great source of carbon-based fuel. Vast deposits exist basically underneath all oceans around the the globe, especially on the edge of continental shelves. Countries are scrambling for a way to make the extraction safe and profitable. China describes its latest results as a breakthrough and Mr Linga agrees. "Compared with the results we have seen from Japanese research, the Chinese scientists have managed to extract much more gas in their efforts." "So in that sense it is indeed a major step towards making gas extraction from methane hydrates viable." It's thought that there is as much as 10 times the amount of gas in methane hydrates than in shale for instance. "And that's by conservative estimates," says Prof Linga. China discovered flammable ice in the South China Sea in 2007. Nestled between between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, the South China Sea has in recent years been an increasingly contentious issue, with Beijing claiming sole sovereignty over it - and hence rights to all natural reserves hidden under its surface. While indeed a breakthrough, China's success is still only one step on a long journey, Prof Linga explains. "It is the first time that production rates actually seem promising," he says. "But it's thought that only by 2025 at the earliest we might be able to look at realistic commercial options." An average of 16,000 cubic meters of gas with high purity have been extracted per day in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea, according to Chinese media. But Mr Linga also cautions that any exploitation of the reserves must be done with the utmost care because of environmental concerns. The potential threat is that methane can escape, which would have serious consequences for global warming. It is a gas that has a much higher potential to impact climate change than carbon dioxide. So the trick is to extract the gas without any of it slipping out.
News Article | May 18, 2017
-- UCLA researchers have developed a cost-effective method to rapidly monitor the degradation of drug carrying nanoparticles using a chip-scale microscope. This nanoparticle characterization platform is based on holography and can accurately monitor the size changes of nanocapsules undergoing degradation, while releasing the contents of their drug cargo. This research provides scientists a powerful measurement tool that can be used to design better nanocapsules for drug delivery and other nanomedicine related applications.Nanotechnology has gained significance in various aspects of our lives, including drug delivery. The global market for nanomedicine is estimated to reach 350 billion USD by 2025. Design and synthesis of degradable nanoparticles are very important in drug delivery and nanomedicine fields. Although accurate assessment of nanoparticle degradation rate would improve the characterization and optimization of drug delivery vehicles, traditional approaches that are used to monitor drug release from nanoparticles and nanocapsules rely on using advanced instruments, for example, electron microscopy, dynamic light scattering, or other biochemical methods, all of which have drawbacks and practical limitations. Most of these instruments are expensive and do not have the ability to monitor nanoparticle degradation in real time.UCLA's holographic imaging method, on the other hand, has an accuracy close to the higher-end measurement devices, but at a fraction of their cost and complexity. It was built using 3D printed parts and comprises of low cost optical elements, forming a chip-scale optical microscope that weighs about a pound and can be operated using any desktop or laptop computer. This holographic nanoparticle characterization tool can be used to measure the size of individual nanoparticles over a large range of particle densities, from a few tens to tens of thousands of nanoparticles per micro-liter and can detect nanoparticles as small as ~40 nm."Through this collaboration between my lab and Prof. Tatiana Segura's lab at UCLA, we have created a powerful and yet cost-effective computational method that enables high-throughput monitoring of the degradation of any type of nanoparticle, using an extremely small sample volume that is at least 1000-fold smaller than what is required by other optical techniques, providing additional cost savings per measurement,"said Aydogan Ozcan, who led the research team and is UCLA's Chancellor's Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).Dr. Ozcan and his collaborator, Dr. Segura from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at UCLA, along with postdoctoral scholars, Drs. Aniruddha Ray and Shuoran Li, utilized this holographic imaging method to characterize a polymer-based nanocapsule system used to deliver vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that can help in stroke recovery and wound healing. Growth factors are especially critical for regular cell function and their incorporation within therapeutic nanomaterials has been a major focus of recent research, making this new holographic nanoparticle characterization tool very timely.This research has been published in ACS Photonics, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The research of Ozcan Lab was supported by the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, National Institutes of Health, Vodafone Americas Foundation and HHMI.ACS Photonics publication:
News Article | May 18, 2017
An illustration of a cost-effective method to rapidly monitor the degradation of drug carrying nanoparticles using a chip-scale microscope. Credit: UCLA Ozcan Research Group UCLA researchers have developed a cost-effective method to rapidly monitor the degradation of drug-carrying nanoparticles using a chip-scale microscope. This nanoparticle characterization platform is based on holography and can accurately monitor the size changes of nanocapsules undergoing degradation, while releasing the contents of their drug cargo. This research provides scientists with a powerful measurement tool that can be used to design better nanocapsules for drug delivery and other nanomedicine-related applications. Nanotechnology has gained practical importance, including in drug delivery. The global market for nanomedicine is estimated to reach $350 billion USD by 2025. Design and synthesis of degradable nanoparticles are very important in drug delivery and nanomedicine fields. Although accurate assessment of nanoparticle degradation rates would improve the characterization and optimization of drug delivery vehicles, traditional approaches that are used to monitor drug release from nanoparticles and nanocapsules rely on using advanced technology such as electron microscopy, dynamic light scattering, or other biochemical methods, all of which have drawbacks and practical limitations. Most of these instruments are expensive, and do not have the ability to monitor nanoparticle degradation in real time. UCLA's holographic imaging method, on the other hand, has an accuracy close to the higher-end measurement devices, but at a fraction of their cost and complexity. It was built using 3-D printed parts and comprises low-cost optical elements, forming a chip-scale optical microscope that weighs about a pound and can be operated using any desktop or laptop computer. This holographic nanoparticle characterization tool can be used to measure the size of individual nanoparticles over a wide range of particle densities, from a few tens to tens of thousands of nanoparticles per micro-liter, and can detect nanoparticles as small as ~40 nm. "Through this collaboration between my lab and Professor Tatiana Segura's lab at UCLA, we have created a powerful and cost-effective computational method that enables high-throughput monitoring of the degradation of any type of nanoparticle using an extremely small sample volume that is at least 1000-fold smaller than what is required by other optical techniques, providing additional cost savings per measurement," said Aydogan Ozcan, who led the research team and is UCLA's Chancellor's Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). Dr. Ozcan and his collaborator, Dr. Segura from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at UCLA, along with postdoctoral scholars, Drs. Aniruddha Ray and Shuoran Li, utilized this holographic imaging method to characterize a polymer-based nanocapsule system used to deliver vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that can help in stroke recovery and wound healing. Growth factors are especially critical for regular cell function and their incorporation within therapeutic nanomaterials has been a major focus of recent research, making this new holographic nanoparticle characterization tool very timely. Explore further: Mobile device can accurately and inexpensively monitor air quality using machine learning More information: Aniruddha Ray et al. High-Throughput Quantification of Nanoparticle Degradation Using Computational Microscopy and Its Application to Drug Delivery Nanocapsules, ACS Photonics (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.7b00122
News Article | May 15, 2017
How can physicians and engineers help design athletic equipment and diagnostic tools to better protect teenaged athletes from concussions? A unique group of researchers with neuroscience, bioengineering and clinical expertise are teaming up to translate preclinical research and human studies into better diagnostic tools for the clinic and the sidelines -- as well as creating the foundation for better headgear and other protective equipment. The study will be led by three co-investigators: Kristy Arbogast, PhD, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Christina Master, MD, a primary care sports medicine specialist and concussion researcher at CHOP, and Susan Margulies, PhD, the Robert D. Bent Professor of Bioengineering at University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, using a new $4.5 million award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The five-year project focuses specifically on developing a suite of quantitative assessment tools to enhance accuracy of sports-related concussion diagnoses, with a focus on objective metrics of activity, balance, neurosensory processing including eye tracking, as well as measures of cerebral blood flow. These could provide better guidelines for estimating both recovery time after a concussion and when young athletes can safely return to play. Researchers will examine the role of factors such as repeated exposures and direction of head motion. In addition, they will also look at sex-specific data to see how prevention and diagnosis strategies need to be tailored differently for males and females. "To truly advance the science and answer the complex questions around concussion requires us to integrate protocols that will involve multiple disciplines and methods, instrumenting athletes on the field, using animal models in the laboratory and in-depth clinical observation of patients with concussion," says Dr. Arbogast. "We'll develop evidence-based criteria that can inform policy, equipment design and clinical practice." In a deliberately parallel manner, the study uses pigs and humans, and leverages the strengths of both platforms: human studies will allow researchers to see how concussions happen on the field, while animal studies will allow researchers to replicate those conditions in a controlled environment. "An innovative feature of our study design is the translation of human assessments to the animal domain," says Dr. Margulies. "Human head movements are monitored in sports but not controlled. We will duplicate these movements in a reproducible way in male and female pigs and use those human assessments to relate head movements to outcomes." Researchers will capture objective metrics of brain function in boys and girls aged 14 to 18 with a diagnosed concussion compared to matched control participants. Simultaneously, they will follow same-age athletes equipped with head impact sensors, collecting pre- and post-season objective clinical metrics data and concussive hits from the sensors. Finally, animal models will experience head rotations scaled across species, similar to what is experienced by athlete participants, and be evaluated for functional outcomes to match those used with human study participants. The multidisciplinary research team believes this study will result in post-concussion metrics that can provide objective benchmarks for diagnosis, a preliminary understanding of the effect of sub-concussive hits, the magnitude and direction of head motion and sex on symptom time course, as well as markers in the bloodstream that relate to functional outcomes. Knowing the biomechanical exposure and injury thresholds experienced by different player positions can help sports organizations tailor prevention strategies and companies create protective equipment design for specific sports and even specific positions. "As a clinician specializing in sports concussion, I look forward to translating study results into improved clinical practice strategies and evidence-based rules and policies for safe participation in sports and return to play after injury," says Dr. Master. The study will enroll research participants from The Shipley School, a co-ed independent school located in Philadelphia's suburbs, and from CHOP's Concussion Care for Kids: Minds Matter program which annually sees more than 2,500 patients with concussion in the Greater Delaware Valley Region. About Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 546-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.¬¬chop.edu. About Penn Engineering: For over 150 years, Penn Engineering's world-acclaimed faculty, state-of-the-art research laboratories and highly interdisciplinary curricula have offered a learning experience that is unparalleled. Over 35 undergraduate and graduate programs are offered in the Departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Computer and Information Science, Electrical and Systems Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. Engineering is also home to 15 research institutes and centers conducting innovative interdisciplinary research, epitomizing Penn founder Benjamin Franklin's idea of joining education and research for a practical purpose.
News Article | May 15, 2017
Lithium-oxygen batteries boast energy density levels comparable to fossil fuels and are thus seen as a promising candidate for future transportation-related energy needs. Several roadblocks stand in the way of realizing that vision, however. They include poor rechargeability, reduced efficiency due to high over-potentials (more charge energy than discharge energy) and low specific energy. Two instabilities contribute to these roadblocks. Much of the previous work done in the lab of Lynden Archer, professor of engineering in the Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) at Cornell University, has centered on one. The nucleation and growth of dendrites from one electrode to the other, which causes short-circuiting, a source of premature cell failure that invariably ends in fires. It's the other instability – the loss of battery power, also known as capacity fade – that is the focus of the lab's most recent work. Snehashis Choudhury, a doctoral student in the Archer research group, has come up with what Archer terms an "ingenious" answer to the problem of capacity fade. This work is detailed in a paper in Science Advances; Choudhury is co-first author along with Charles Wan, a chemical engineering major. Capacity fade occurs when the electrolyte, which transports charged ions from the negative electrode (anode) to the positive (cathode), reacts with the electrodes. "It starts to consume the electrodes," Choudhury said. "It forms many insulating products that impede ion transport. Over time, these build up to produce such prohibitive internal cell resistance that finally the battery fades." The problem then is how do you stop one electrolyte-electrode reaction, when it's another necessary reaction between the two – the transfer of ions – that produces power? Choudhury's solution is called an artificial solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI), a material that protects the electrodes while promoting the flow of electrons from one end of the cell to the other. "Such interphases form naturally in all electrochemical cells ... and their chemo-mechanical stability is critical to the success of the graphite anode in lithium-ion batteries," Archer said. Choudhury's approach for creating a functional designer interphase is based on bromide-containing ionic polymers (ionomers) that selectively tether to the lithium anode, forming a few-nanometers-thick conductive coating that protects the electrode from degradation and fade. The SEI ionomers display three attributes that allow for increased stability during electrodeposition: protection of the anode against growth of dendrites; reduction-oxidation (redox) mediation, which reduces charge over-potentials; and the formation of a stable interphase with lithium, protecting the metal while promoting ion transport. One challenge still exists: all research-grade lithium-oxygen electrochemical cells are evaluated using pure oxygen as the active cathode material. For a commercially-viable lithium-oxygen (or lithium-air, as it's also known) cell, it would need to pull oxygen out of the air, and that oxygen comes with other reactive components, such as moisture and carbon dioxide. If the inefficiencies that limit the performance of lithium-oxygen fuel cells can be resolved, the exceptional energy storage options offered by the cell chemistry would be a giant step forward for electrified transportation and a revolutionary advance for autonomous robotics, Archer said. "It is telling from observations of the most advanced humanoid robots that they are always either tethered to an ultra-long electrical cable or are using something like a loud lawnmower engine to generate energy," he said. "Either energy source compares poorly to those found in nature. Energy storage technologies such as lithium-air cells, which harness materials from the surroundings, promise to close this gap." This story is adapted from material from Cornell University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.
News Article | May 22, 2017
-- An international team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA, USA) and the Braunschweig University of Technology (Germany) has developed an approach to enhance the sensitivity of smartphone based fluorescence microscopes by ten-fold compared to previously reported mobile phone based handheld microscopes. This is an important development toward the use of mobile phones for advanced microscopic investigation of samples, sensing of disease biomarkers, tracking of chronic conditions, and molecular diagnostics and testing in general.Fluorescence is one of the predominant detection modalities for molecular diagnostic tools and medical tests due to the sensitivity and specificity that it enables. An important need in smartphone-based microscopy and sensing techniques is to improve the detection sensitivity to enable quantification of extremely low concentrations of target molecules, for example cancer biomarkers, pathogen proteins or even DNA. Therefore, these recent results on enhanced fluorescence microscopy using mobile phones are especially important to provide highly sensitive, mobile and cost-effective readers for molecular diagnostic tests, potentially impacting global health and point of care applications.The sensitivity enhancement was accomplished by using a thin silver film on which the fluorescent samples were placed. Although the thickness of the silver film is approximately two thousand fold thinner than the human hair, it is sufficient to enhance the strength of the excitation light, especially in the vicinity of the fluorescent samples. This is achieved by coupling the energy of an optical beam into plasmonic waves (known as surface plasmon polaritons) that are formed by electron oscillations in the silver film. This plasmonics based optical enhancement resulted in a cost-effective mobile phone fluorescence microscope that weighs approximately 370 grams including the smartphone, and achieved repeatable detection of single quantum-dots and as few as ~50-80 fluorophores per sample spot. Compared to standard benchtop fluorescence microscopes, this mobile device is more than twenty fold cheaper and lighter."We are now capable of detecting a few tens of fluorophores for each sample spot using a low-cost pocket microscope, enabled by plasmonics and mobile phones. This will create numerous new opportunities for bringing advanced molecular testing and diagnostics for tackling global health problems, especially in developing countries," said Aydogan Ozcan, who led the research team at UCLA and is a Chancellor's Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering and an associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).The first author of the research is Dr. Qingshan Wei, a former postdoctoral scholar at Ozcan Lab, who has recently moved to North Carolina State University (USA) as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.This collaboration between UCLA (Ozcan Lab) and Braunschweig University of Technology (Tinnefeld Lab) was published in Scientific Reports. Earlier this year, Ozcan Lab also reported targeted DNA sequencing and mutation analysis using a mobile phone based multimodal microscope, which was published in Nature Communications.Ozcan Lab was supported by the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, National Institutes of Health, Vodafone Americas Foundation and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).Scientific Reports publication:Qingshan Wei, Guillermo Acuna, Seungkyeum Kim, Carolin Vietz, Derek Tseng, Jongjae Chae, Daniel Shir, Wei Luo, Philip Tinnefeld and Aydogan Ozcan, "Plasmonics Enhanced Smartphone Fluorescence Microscope,"Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 2124 (2017), doi:10.1038/s41598-017-02395-Ozcan Lab: http://innovate.ee.ucla.edu/
News Article | May 26, 2017
A team led by Johns Hopkins researchers has discovered a biochemical signaling process that causes densely packed cancer cells to break away from a tumor and spread the disease elsewhere in the body. In their study, published online May 26 in Nature Communications, the team also reported that the combined use of two existing drugs disrupts this process and appears to significantly slow cancer's tendency to travel, a behavior called metastasis. The new findings are important, the researchers said, because 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, and anything that derails this activity could improve the prognosis for patients. The crucial new signaling process turned up when the team took a closer look at cellular events that promote metastasis. "We found that it was not the overall size of a primary tumor that caused cancer cells to spread, but how tightly those cells are jammed together when they break away from the tumor," said lead author Hasini Jayatilaka, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins' Physical Sciences-Oncology Center. "At a fundamental level, we found that cell density is very important in triggering metastasis. It's like waiting for a table in a severely overcrowded restaurant and then getting a message that says you need to take your appetite elsewhere." Jayatilaka and her colleagues found a medication mix that kept this microscopic message from being delivered. The team members cautioned that this treatment was tested in animal models, but not yet on human cancer patients. Nevertheless, they said the discovery contributes to a promising new focus for cancer research: disrupting the biochemical activity that prods cancer cells to spread through the body. One of the study's senior authors, Denis Wirtz, who is Johns Hopkins University's vice provost for research and director of its Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, said no commercial drugs are now being produced specifically to inhibit metastasis because drug companies believe the best way to stop cancer from spreading is to destroy the primary tumor from which it originates. "The pharmaceutical companies view metastasis as a by-product of tumor growth," said Wirtz, who also holds Johns Hopkins faculty appointments in chemical and biomolecular engineering, in pathology and at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. "Our study looked more closely at the steps that actually initiate metastasis. By doing this, we were able to develop a unique therapeutic that directly targets metastasis, not the growth of the primary tumor. This treatment has the potential to inhibit metastasis and thus improve cancer patient outcomes." The two key drivers of metastasis, Wirtz said, are cancer cells' tendency to reproduce at a rapid rate and their ability to move through surrounding tissue until they reach the bloodstream, where they can then hitch a ride to spread the disease to other parts of the body. By studying tumor cells in a three-dimensional environment that resembles human tissue, the researchers were able to determine how these activities begin. The team discovered that as two types of cancer cells reproduced and created more crowded conditions in the test site, these cells secreted certain proteins that encouraged migration. The researchers identified these proteins as Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Interleukin 8 (IL-8). "IL-6 and IL-8 seem to deliver a message to cancer cells, telling them to move away from the densely populated primary tumor," said lead author Jayatilaka, who recently earned her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering as a member of Wirtz's lab team and earlier received her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering. In the team's animal studies, the researchers found that applying two existing drugs--Tocilizumab and Reparaxin--blocked the receptors that enable cancer cells to get their relocation orders. Tocilizumab is an approved medication for rheumatoid arthritis and is in trials for use in ovarian cancer cases. Reparaxin is being evaluated as a possible treatment for breast cancer. "In our eight-week experiment, when we used these two drugs together, the growth of the primary tumor itself was not stopped, but the spread of the cancer cells was significantly decreased," Jayatilaka said. "We discovered a new signaling pathway that, when blocked, could potentially curb cancer's ability to metastasize." The other senior authors of the Nature Communications paper were Daniele M. Gilkes of the Oncology and Pathology departments in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Rong Fan of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Yale University. Other Johns Hopkins University co-authors were Pranay Tyle, Julia Ju, Hyun Ji Kim and Pei-Hsun Wu. Other co-authors from Yale were Jonathan J. Chen and Minsuk Kwak. Jerry S. H. Lee of the Johns Hopkins Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives at the National Cancer Institute, was also a co-author. This research was supported by National Cancer Institute grants 1U54CA210173-01 and R01CA174388. The Physical Sciences-Oncology Center at Johns Hopkins is based within the university's Institute for NanoBioTechnology.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Worcester Polytechnic Institute will hold its second annual Advanced Biomanufacturing Symposium, a two-day, in-depth event that will focus on the technology and processes of continuous biomanufacturing and the challenges of making novel cell and regenerative tissue therapies that are approaching the clinic. The symposium, which was over-subscribed last year, is set for March 27–28, 2017. Organized by WPI life sciences and bioengineering faculty members and the university’s Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center (BETC), the symposium will bring together industry professionals and academic researchers working with new technologies, processes, and business practices that will have a significant impact on biomanufacturing in the near term. “2017 is shaping up to be an important year for biological products, with increasing public awareness of the industry and advances across the biomanufacturing spectrum that will demand our attention,” said Kamal Rashid, PhD, director of the BETC and research professor at WPI. “Evolving platforms and expression systems, progress towards end-to-end continuous biomanufacturing, the challenges of cell and tissue therapies—all of these topics will be explored in detail at our symposium.” This year’s keynote presenters include Manon Cox, PhD, president and chief executive officer of Protein Sciences Corp.; Jerome Ritz, MD, professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Connell and O'Reilly Cell Manipulation and Gene Transfer Laboratory at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Gail Naughton, PhD, chief executive officer of Histogen Inc. Of note, Kelvin Lee, PhD, Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware, who led the team that organized the recently funded National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals(NIIMBL), will also speak at the symposium. WPI is a member of NIIMBL. The symposium will feature session talks by subject matter experts from Biogen, Eppendorf, GE Healthcare, MilliporeSigma, Organovo, Pall Life Sciences, Sartorius Stedim Biotech, and Unum Therapeutics, as well as faculty members from Tufts University and WPI. “The talks will be presented in a single-track so participants will have access to all the content, and not have to choose between concurrent sessions,” Rashid said. “This worked very well last year. It helps maximize interaction and information exchange.” (Click here for photos from last year’s symposium. ) The symposium will take place in the Rubin Campus Center on WPI’s campus in Worcester, Mass. Registration is required and space is limited. (Click here for more event information and registration.) Funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the BETC is a multi-faceted resource for the biologics industry, providing a range of hands-on customized programs. The BETC works with biomanufacturers to help them train, and retrain, their employees at a state-of-the-art center removed from their own production facilities. The center also provides research collaboration opportunities and consulting services to help companies manage challenges, explore new technologies, or scale up new processes. Founded in 1865 in Worcester, Mass., WPI is one of the nation’s first engineering and technology universities. Its 14 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. WPI’s talented faculty work with students on interdisciplinary research that seeks solutions to important and socially relevant problems in fields as diverse as the life sciences and bioengineering, energy, information security, materials processing, and robotics. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference to communities and organizations around the world through the university’s innovative Global Projects Program. There are more than 45 WPI project centers throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.
News Article | February 28, 2017
BROOKLYN, New York - Colloidal particles, used in a range of technical applications including foods, inks, paints, and cosmetics, can self-assemble into a remarkable variety of densely-packed crystalline structures. For decades, though, researchers have been trying to coax colloidal spheres to arranging themselves into much more sparsely populated lattices in order to unleash potentially valuable optical properties. These structures, called photonic crystals, could increase the efficiency of lasers, further miniaturize optical components, and vastly increase engineers' ability to control the flow of light. A team of engineers and scientists from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the NYU Center for Soft Matter Research, and Sungkyunkwan University School of Chemical Engineering in the Republic of Korea report they have found a pathway toward the self-assembly of these elusive photonic crystal structures never assembled before on the sub-micrometer scale (one micrometer is about 100 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair). The research, which appears in the journal Nature Materials, introduces a new design principle based on preassembled components of the desired superstructure, much as a prefabricated house begins as a collection of pre-built sections. The researchers report they were able to assemble the colloidal spheres into diamond and pyrochlore crystal structures - a particularly difficult challenge because so much space is left unoccupied. The team, comprising Etienne Ducrot, a post-doctoral researcher at the NYU Center for Soft Matter Research; Mingxin He, a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at NYU Tandon; Gi-Ra Yi of Sungkyunkwan University; and David J. Pine, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and a NYU professor of physics in the NYU College of Arts and Science, took inspiration from a metal alloy of magnesium and copper that occurs naturally in diamond and pyrochlore structures as sub-lattices. They saw that these complex structures could be decomposed into single spheres and tetrahedral clusters (four spheres permanently bound). To realize this in the lab, they prepared sub-micron plastic colloidal clusters and spheres, and employed DNA segments bound to their surface to direct the self-assembly into the desired superstructure. "We are able to build those complex structures because we are not starting with single spheres as building blocks, but with pre-assembled parts already 'glued' together," Ducrot said. "We fill the structural voids of the diamond lattice with an interpenetrated structure, the pyrochlore, that happens to be as valuable as the diamond lattice for future photonic applications." Ducrot said open colloidal crystals, such as those with diamond and pyrochlore configurations, are desirable because, when composed of the right material, they may possess photonic band gaps -- ranges of light frequency that cannot propagate through the structure -- meaning that they could be for light what semiconductors are for electrons. "This story has been a long time in the making as those material properties have been predicted 26 years ago but until now, there was no practical pathway to build them," he said. "To achieve a band gap in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the particles need to be on the order of 150 nanometers, which is in the colloidal range. In such a material, light should travel with no dissipation along a defect, making possible the construction of chips based on light." Pine said that self-assembly technology is critical to making production of these crystals economically feasible because creating bulk quantities of crystals with lithography techniques at the correct scale would be extremely costly and very challenging. "Self-assembly is therefore a very appealing way to inexpensively create crystals with a photonic band gap in bulk quantities," Pine said. This research was funded by the U.S. Army Research Office under a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant. About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country's largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit http://engineering. .
News Article | February 10, 2017
Research by Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Huimin Zhao and graduate student Behnam Enghiad at the University of Illinois is pioneering a new method of genetic engineering for basic and applied biological research and medicine. Their work, reported in ACS Synthetic Biology on February 6, has the potential to open new doors in genomic research by improving the precision and adherence of sliced DNA. "Using our technology, we can create highly active artificial restriction enzymes with virtually any sequence specificity and defined sticky ends of varying length," said Zhao, who leads a synthetic biology research group at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. "This is a rare example in biotechnology where a desired biological function or reagent can be readily and precisely designed in a rational manner." Restriction enzymes are an important tool in genomic research: by cutting DNA at a specific site, they create a space wherein foreign DNA can be introduced for gene-editing purposes. This process is not only achieved by naturally-occurring restriction enzymes; other artificial restriction enzymes, or AREs, have risen to prominence in recent years. CRISPR-Cas9, a bacterial immune system used for "cut-and-paste" gene editing, and TALENs, modified restriction enzymes, are two popular examples of such techniques. Though useful in genetic engineering, no AREs generate defined "sticky ends"--an uneven break in the DNA ladder-structure that leaves complementary overhangs, improving adhesion when introducing new DNA. "If you can cleave two different DNA samples with the same restriction enzyme, the sticky ends that are generated are complementary," explained Enghiad. "They will hybridize with each other, and if you use a ligase, you can stick them together." However, restriction enzymes themselves have a critical drawback: the recognition sequence which prompts them to cut is very short--usually only four to eight base pairs. Because the enzymes will cut anywhere that sequence appears, researchers rely on finding a restriction enzyme whose cut site appears only once in the genome of their organism or plasmid--an often difficult proposition when the DNA at hand might be thousands of base pairs long. This problem has been partially solved simply by the sheer number of restriction enzymes discovered: more than 3600 have been characterized, and over 250 are commercially available. "Just in our freezer, for our other research, we have probably over 100 different restriction enzymes," said Enghiad. "We look through them all whenever we want to assemble something ... the chance of finding the unique restriction site is so low. "Our new technology unifies all of those restriction enzymes into a single system consisting of one protein and two DNA guides. Not only have you replaced them, but you can now target sites that no available restriction enzymes can." Enghiad and Zhao's new technique creates AREs through the use of an Argonaute protein (PfAgo) taken from Pyrococcus furiosus, an archeal species. Led by a DNA guide, PfAgo is able to recognize much longer sequences when finding its cut site, increasing specificity and removing much of the obstacles posed by restriction enzymes. Further, PfAgo can create longer sticky ends than even restriction enzymes, a substantial benefit as compared to other AREs. "When we started, I was inspired by a paper about a related protein--TtAgo. It could use a DNA guide to cleave DNA, but only up to 70 degrees," explained Enghiad. "DNA strands start to separate over 75 degrees, which could allow a protein to create sticky ends. If there were a protein that was active at higher temperatures, I reasoned, that protein could be used as an artificial restriction enzyme. "So I started looking for that, and what I found was PfAgo." In addition to replacing restriction enzymes in genetic engineering processes, Enghiad and Zhao believe their technology will have broad applications in the biological research. By creating arbitrary sticky ends, PfAgo could make assembly of large DNA molecules easier, and enables cloning of large DNA molecules such as biochemical pathways and large genes. The application of these techniques is broad-reaching: ranging from discovery of new small molecule drugs to engineering of microbial cell factories for synthesis of fuels and chemicals to molecular diagnostics of genetic diseases and pathogens, which are the areas Zhao and Enghiad are currently exploring. "Due to its unprecedented simplicity and programmability (a single protein plus DNA guides for targeting), as well as accessibility ... we expect PfAgo-based AREs will become a powerful and indispensable tool in all restriction enzyme or nuclease-enabled biotechnological applications and fundamental biological research," said Zhao. "It is to molecular biology as the CRISPR technology is to cell biology."