BRIEF: Alzheimers – Bacteria – BEP – Bone – Brain – Cancer – Colon – Muscles – Stem Cells – Tissue

Medical Researchers Develop Silicon Chip for Detecting Cancer

CTC-chip can detect cancers from cells in the blood stream and accurately reflects changing tumor size

Treating and diagnosing different types of cancer is a difficult and arduous process that requires many invasive procedures. Since early identification of cancer and close monitoring of response to cancer treatments is vital to the survival of the patient, lots of research is being conducted into better ways to diagnose cancer.

Medical researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Biomicroelectromechanical Systems (BioMEMS) have developed a new method of sampling circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from blood. The problem in the past with sampling these cells is that CTCs are rare in the blood stream and very fragile. Previous methods of analyzing CTCs require pre-processing of large blood samples, which often damaged the CTCs needed for testing.

The researchers have developed a new device called the CTC-chip intended to allow for sampling of the CTCs easily from the blood. Previous microchip based systems for measuring CTCs were only used with samples of blood from fingerpicks like diabetics use for testing blood glucose with a glucometer. Detecting CTCs in quantities useful to doctors required blood samples 1,000 to 10,000 times larger.

One of the researchers, Dr. Daniel Haber, MD, said, “This use of nanofluidics to find such rare cells is revolutionary, the first application of this technology to a broad, clinically important problem. While much work remains to be done, this approach raises the possibility of rapidly and noninvasively monitoring tumor response to treatment, allowing changes if the treatment is not effective, and the potential of early detection screening in people at increased risk for cancer.”

The CTC-chip is described as a business card sized silicon chip covered with 80,000 microscopic posts coated with an antibody to a protein expressed on most solid tumors. In trials, researchers say that the chip was able to detect CTCs from 116 tested blood samples from cancer patients with a 99% success rate. At the same time, the chip was tested with volunteers that were cancer free and no CTCs were found.

The chips is sensitive enough according to researchers to be able to use it for real time monitoring of the effectiveness of cancer treatments in patients and to look for potential drugs that the cancer will be susceptible to.

Mehmet Toner PhD and senior author of the report on the CTC-chip in the December 20 issue of Nature explains the process of using the CTC-chip, “We developed a counterintuitive approach, using a tiny chip with critical geometric features smaller than a human hair to process large volumes of blood in a very gentle and uniform manner – almost like putting a ‘hose’ through a microchip.”

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab

A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers’ eyes. It’s the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events.

Twenty years ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University in East Lansing, US, took a single Escherichia coli bacterium and used its descendants to found 12 laboratory populations.

The 12 have been growing ever since, gradually accumulating mutations and evolving for more than 44,000 generations, while Lenski watches what happens.

Researchers show how the brain can protect against cancer
Scientists have been aware for many years that if cancer patients are not able to deal with the stress associated with being sick, the cancer will progress faster than in calmer patients. To counteract this phenomenon, physicians encourage treatments that help cancer patients handle their stress. Scientists theorized that the stress relief may have come as a result of increased beta-endorphin peptide (BEP), the “feel good” hormones in the brain that are released during exercise, a good conversation, and many other aspects of life that give humans pleasure.

Researchers at Rutgers hypothesized that BEP producing neurons do not just make us feel good, but also play roles in regulating the stress response and immune functions to control tumor growth and progression. In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Dr. Dipak K. Sarkar and his colleagues demonstrate the physical mechanisms that support their hypothesis.

“Our findings show promise for future therapeutic treatments for bolstering the immune function,” said Sarkar, professor of animal sciences and director of the Endocrinology Program at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and principal investigator of the research project.

Previous research has shown that too few, or inactive, BEP neurons are associated with various diseases. For example, low numbers of BEP neurons have been identified in the brains of patients with depression and schizophrenia. Neurons that produce too little BEP are found in many obese patients. In both these cases the patients also had higher levels of infection and more incidence of cancer.

Scientists Close to Reconstructing First Living Cell


Making Old Muscle Young
Manipulating stem cells in old muscle can restore youth to aging tissue, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley. Scientists altered the activity of a molecular pathway to make stem cells in older tissue produce new muscle fibers at levels comparable to young stem cells. They say that their findings may one day lead to novel therapies for age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as possibly to the reversal of the atrophying effect of aging.

“When we exert ourselves, like going to the gym or running after the bus, we always damage muscles which are being replaced over time [by] muscle stem cells,” says Irina Conboy, assistant professor of bioengineering and an investigator at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. “But when we get older, cell death is faster than cell replacement.”

Muscle wasting–loss of muscle mass–occurs both during aging and in a number of diseases, such as cancer and muscular dystrophy. Because muscle loss often correlates with poor health outcomes, pharmaceutical companies have been striving to find new treatments that boost muscle mass without the harmful side effects of anabolic steroids.

In previous research, Conboy’s team found that old stem cells, placed in culture with young blood and muscle tissue, were able to churn out new cells at a speedier rate. Conversely, young stem cells exposed to old tissue grew prematurely old, significantly scaling back new-cell production. Conboy reasoned that stem cells must receive different chemical cues in youth versus in old age, and identifying and manipulating those cues may successfully restore youth to old muscle.
study – muscles

Adult Stem Cells Aid Fracture Healing: UNC study lays groundwork for potential treatments article

Making New Muscle: Researchers in Rome produce a mouse that can regenerate its tissues

Magnetic Genes: Genetically engineered cells make their own nanomagnets, providing clear MRI images

Virtual colonic irrigation gives clear view of cancers

Study indicates grape seed extract may reduce cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease

science has been busy!


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