Innovations in medical diagnoses, treatments
Injectable devices may allow for organ regeneration
Injectable medical devices are now reaching a new level. Researchers at the University of Chicago are now reporting they have come up with a light-activated injectable device that could be used to stimulate nerve cells and manipulate the behavior of muscles and organs.
The new material is soft and tiny and less than the width of a human hair. It degrades naturally inside the body after a few months. Each particle is built of two types of silicon that together form a structure full of nano-scale pores, like a tiny sponge. The material constitutes half of an electrical device that creates itself spontaneously when one of the silicon particles is injected into a cell culture or a human body.
“You don’t need to inject the entire device. You just need to inject one component,” said study investigator João L. Carvalho-de-Souza, who is with the University of Chicago. “This single particle connection with the cell membrane allows sufficient generation of current that could be used to stimulate the cell and change its activity. After you achieve your therapeutic goal, the material degrades naturally.”
The scientists have added the particles onto neurons in culture in the lab, shone light on the particles, and seen current flow into the neurons which activates the cells. The next step is to see what happens in animals. The investigators are particularly interested in stimulating nerves in the peripheral nervous system that connect to organs. These nerves are relatively close to the surface of the body, so near-infrared wavelength light can reach them through the skin.
The researchers hope to use the light-activated devices to engineer human tissue and create artificial organs to replace damaged ones. Currently, scientists can make engineered organs with the correct form but not the ideal function.
Urine test may help diagnose aggressive prostate cancer
For the first time, researchers have created protein signatures that accurately diagnose prostate cancer and can distinguish patients with aggressive disease from those with non-aggressive disease using a simple urine sample. The urine sample may serve a “liquid biopsy” that could provide a faster, cheaper and easier method to detect prostate cancer with fewer complications.
Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, along with researchers at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, have identified a subset of proteins unique to each grouping and developed two signatures. One of the signatures can be used to accurately indicate whether a man has prostate cancer and a separate signature can indicate outcome.
“The amazing thing about these signatures is that their rate of accuracy is as good or better than the invasive tests that are used today, with far fewer drawbacks,” said principal study investigator Dr. Paul Boutros, who is with OICR. “They can replace invasive, expensive, uncomfortable tests with something much easier and simpler. This type of cheap, non-invasive testing could allow patients to be screened much more frequently, allowing for more accurate monitoring of patients’ non-aggressive cancer over time, sparing patients biopsies, imaging tests and even unnecessary surgeries.”
Current methods to diagnose prostate cancer include a combination of digital rectal exams, prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests and biopsies, all of which have drawbacks. Finding new ways to accurately diagnose prostate cancer is considered a priority for many research institutions.
“Computational biology can help to identify the most probable protein biomarkers that show significant change of expression between two clinical or pathological conditions and could be involved in cancer development and progression,” said study investigator Dr. Clare Jeon, a bioinformatician at OICR.
“Initial proteomics work in this study generated expression information from 624 proteins. Computational analyses performed here at OICR reduced the number of proteins by identifying significantly differentially expressed proteins and finally characterized a set of six protein biomarkers for diagnosis and a set of seven protein biomarkers for prognosis of prostate cancer.”
Broccoli packing powerful punch
Love it or hate it, broccoli is touted as a superfood because it provides an array of health benefits. Now, it’s about to get even more super. University of Illinois researchers have identified candidate genes controlling the accumulation of phenolic compounds in broccoli. Consumption of phenolic compounds is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, asthma and several types of cancer.
“Phenolic compounds have good antioxidant activity, and there is increasing evidence that this antioxidant activity affects biochemical pathways affiliated with inflammation in mammals. We need inflammation because it’s a response to disease or damage, but it’s also associated with initiation of a number of degenerative diseases. People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases,” said study investigator Jack Juvik, who is a geneticist at the University of Illinois.
The researchers crossed two broccoli lines and tested their progeny in terms of total phenolic content. They used a genetic technique called quantitative trait locus analysis to search for the genes involved in generating phenolics in the most promising progeny. By identifying the genes involved in accumulating these compounds, the researchers are one step closer to breeding broccoli and related Brassica vegetables like kale and cabbage with mega-doses of phenolic compounds.
“It’s going to take a while,” said Juvik. “This work is a step in that direction, but is not the final answer. We plan to take the candidate genes we identified here and use them in a breeding program to improve the health benefits of these vegetables.”
The good news is that phenolic compounds are flavorless and stable, meaning the vegetables can be cooked without losing health-promoting qualities. Once these vegetables are consumed, the phenolic compounds are absorbed and targeted to certain areas of the body or concentrated in the liver.
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.