Welcome to my colon: A tech pioneer turns to virtual reality to guide his own surgery

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Photo - STAT NewsSpend enough time with Larry Smarr and, chances are, he’ll invite you to step inside his colon.

Like more than a million Americans, Smarr has inflammatory bowel disease. Unlike most, he also runs a cutting-edge institute replete with reams of ultrafast computers, crack graphics programmers, a towering wall of digital screens and a pitch-black virtual reality cave — all the better to summon up a digital 3-D version of himself that he calls “Transparent Larry.” Among its features is a larger-than-life replica of his colon that includes every nook, cranny, and section of inflamed tissue.

Smarr, 69, is a physicist widely recognized for his work on creating the national network of campus supercomputers that evolved into today’s internet. Now, he runs a futuristic institute called Calit2, housed on the University of California campuses in San Diego and Irvine, that works to advance a host of fields, including medicine. For the last decade, he’s been turning technology on to himself to quantify his body’s most intimate workings, with no clear idea where the experiment might lead.

By Usha Lee McFarling | STAT News

Image Credit: Jurgen Schulze, UC San Diego


An Innovative New Cancer Therapy Hijacks Bacteria to Fight Tumors

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zq9xmldag6mehi5p7e08Researchers from South Korea have engineered a strain of bacteria that infiltrates tumors and fools the body’s immune system into attacking cancer cells. In experiments, the modified bacteria worked to reduce cancer in mice, raising hope for human trials.

In a study published today in Science Translational Medicine, a research team led by biologists Joon Haeng Rhee and Jung-Joon Min from Chonnam National University in South Korea describe a new immunotherapy in which a bioengineered strain of Salmonella is converted into a biological version of the fabled Trojan Horse. Once inside an unsuspecting tumor, the modified bacteria transmits a signal that triggers nearby immune cells into launching an attack on the malignant cells.

By George Dvorsky | Gizmodo

Image Credit: NIH


Tiny chip looks deep inside your body with millimeter-wave radiation

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radiator_closeupResearchers at the University of California Irvine have created a chip for use in medical imaging and other applications that’s as powerful as it is tiny. The pint-size millimeter-wave radiator could lead to better scanning of tissues and organs, but may also work as part of our everyday wireless data ecosystem.

“We’re very excited about the successful design of this radiator because it represents a complete breakthrough,” said UCI’s Payam Heydari, the lead investigator of the project, in a university news release. “We’re offering an entirely new kind of physics, a new kind of device really. Our power and efficiency is an order of magnitude greater than other designs.”

By  | TechCrunch

Featured Image: Steve Zylius/UCI


Meet the World’s First Completely Soft Robot

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demo1The “octobot” is a squishy little robot that fits in the palm of your hand and looks like something in a goody bag from a child’s birthday party. But despite its quirky name and diminutive size, this bot represents an astonishing advance in robotics.

According to the Harvard researchers who created it, it’s the first soft robot that is completely self-contained. It has no hard electronic components—no batteries or computer chips—and moves without being tethered to a computer.

The octobot is basically a pneumatic tube with a very cute exterior. To make it move, hydrogen peroxide—much more concentrated than the kind in your medicine cabinet—is pumped into two reservoirs inside the middle of the octobot’s body. Pressure pushes the liquid through tubes inside the body, where it eventually hits a line of platinum, catalyzing a reaction that produces a gas. From there, the gas expands and moves through a tiny chip known as a microfluidic controller. It alternately directs the gas down one half of the octobot’s tentacles at a time.

The alternating release of gas is what makes the bot do what looks like a little dance, wiggling its tentacles up and down and moving around in the process. The octobot can move for about eight minutes on one milliliter of fuel.

By Julia Sklar | MIT Technology Review


Nanoparticles deliver engineered protein to prevent joint damage

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nanoparticle-arthritis-7x4-700x400Researchers at Washington University have developed nanoparticles to treat the inflammation that wears away at joint cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis.

Traditional treatment methods to reduce inflammation involve steroid injections, but the body quickly washes them away, leaving the cells vulnerable to more inflammation.

“I see a lot of patients with osteoarthritis, and there’s really no treatment,” senior author Dr. Christine Pham said, according to the university. “We try to treat their symptoms, but even when we inject steroids into an arthritic joint, the drug only remains for up to a few hours, and then it’s cleared. These nanoparticles remain in the joint longer and help prevent cartilage degeneration.”

The nanoparticles, which are smaller than red blood cells, carry a protein bound to a small interfering RNA molecule. The molecules interfere with the process of inflammation, preventing further damage. Researchers tested the nanoparticles on mice after an injury and saw effects within 24 hours, which lasted for weeks after, according to a study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Sarah Faulkner | Drug Delivery


How miniaturized electronic devices can be used as medical therapeutics

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poon-680x320_0Twice in her career, Ada Poon has experienced the vulnerability of the human body in ways that led her to become an associate professor of electrical engineering and a pioneer in research to develop electronic therapies to heal the body from within.

The first incident occurred while she was an undergraduate studying computer programming in Hong Kong. Poon spent so many hours writing code that she developed intense shoulder pain. Her doctor advised her to switch to a field that involved less keyboarding, and when she arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, to attend graduate school, Poon shifted her focus to the study of information theory for wireless communications.

By Carrie Kirby | Stanford Engineering


Researchers use graphene to heal damaged muscles

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hopeformuscuIranian researchers from Stem Cell Technology Research Center, Tarbiat Modarres University and Sharif University of Technology used graphene to synthesize a scaffold to treat damaged muscles.

According to Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC), researchers produced polymeric nanofibers and used graphene to synthesize a scaffold with optimized properties that can be used in the treatment of damaged muscle tissues.

In the past few decades, polymeric nanofibrous membranes and carbon-based nanostructured materials have been introduced in tissue engineering as scaffolds. Graphene and graphene oxide sheets have also attracted the attention of researchers due to their high physicochemical properties and biocompatibility in various aspects such as biosensors and smart drug delivery.

By Mehr News Agency