Putting the lab into the patient to improve chemotherapy success (Day 341)

The fight against cancer is ongoing and I have blogged about this before; see ‘Twin track cancer attack’ and ‘Fighting lung cancer with personalised medicine’. Each new discovery we make shines more light onto effective treatments.

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more chemical substances to kill cancerous cells. It can be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, or given alone. But as there are over 100 different chemotherapy drugs, our ability to prescribe the most effective drug to treat a particular tumour can be difficult.

MIT chemical engineers have designed an implantable device that can deliver many drugs at once, allowing researchers to determine which drugs are the most effective against a patient's tumor.

Picture Credit | MIT
MIT chemical engineers have designed an implantable device that can deliver many drugs at once, allowing researchers to determine which drugs are the most effective against a patient’s tumor.

A new device, developed by chemical engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, could provide a solution.

The device, which is about the same size as a grain of rice, is not swallowed or injected, but instead is implanted directly into a cancerous tumour, where it can directly administer small doses of up to 30 different drugs.

 

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Sneaky shape-shifting molecule mimics DNA to trick viruses (Day 333)

Very few discoveries truly revolutionise the way we look at the world.

However, the discovery of the structure of DNA is one of them. And it was on this day in 1953, that the structure of DNA was published in the journal Nature.

dnaThis discovery is often seen as controversial, not due to its scientific content, but the fact that the work was largely attributed to one team; Watson and Crick.

This work was published at the same time in a number of papers in Nature by three teams: Watson and Crick; Wilkins, Stokes, and Wilson; and Franklin and Gosling.

The key break through for Watson and Crick’s work came from Rosalind Franklin who studied DNA using X-ray crystallography, but this was largely unacknowledged at the time. In 1962 Crick and Watson, along with Wilkins, received a Nobel Prize for their discovery. Rosalind had died four years earlier so was not eligible for a Nobel Prize.

So to ensure that we celebrate all their work today, I thought I would bring to your attention a recent innovation, which would not have been possible without this major discovery.

A team of scientists and engineers from the University of Chicago (UChicago) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, have developed a new spectroscopy method that could prove useful in developing the next generation of anti-viral treatments.

The team used synthetically designed shape-shifting molecules which are able to resemble natural DNA bases, but can convert into a different molecular structure by repositioning their hydrogen atoms on nitrogen and oxygen atoms.

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Smart bandage could save lives (Day 295)

When someone suffers a serious injury, timing can literally be a matter of life or death. Blood loss must be tackled immediately, but care must also be taken to prevent infection of the wound.

Chemical engineers working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a dual-function ‘smart bandage’ that could save lives, not only by stopping bleeding but also by preventing infection.

The bandage is designed to rapidly dispense a coagulating agent that stops bleeding and then slowly release an antibiotic to prevent infection. This work is published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering under the title: Multifunctional Self-Assembled Films for Rapid Hemostat and Sustained Anti-infective Delivery.

Professor Paula T. Hammond

Photo Credit | MIT
Professor Paula T. Hammond

The group developing these smart bandages is led by Professor Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Chair Professor of Engineering in the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT. Paula suggests that the bandages might prove particularly effective in the treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield when a medic is not present.

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Suspending a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid… (Day 280)

When I read through scientific journals, the articles that grab my attention aren’t always the ones describing the most novel ideas. Sometimes it’s enough to just make something easier. That’s why today’s story appealed to me.

Many everyday products including medicines, beauty products and foodstuffs contain emulsions: liquids with tiny droplets of another liquid suspended within them (see my blog ‘food, glorious, food…emulsions‘).  A classic example that we all can create at home is vinaigrette (salad dressing), which is an emulsion of oil and vinegar.

MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.

Photo Credit | Christine Daniloff\MIT
MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.

Vinaigrette is a straightforward two component mixture. However, things get far more interesting when you suspend a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid. These complex emulsions (in this case a double emulsion) can be tailored for use in specific applications.

A team of chemists and chemical engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, have found a way to simplify the process of creating complex emulsions. Their method offers possibilities for rapid production at scale.

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Robert Langer, chemical engineer, wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (Day 253)

My aim in writing this blog has been to ensure the voice of chemical engineering is heard in all corners of the world.

Trophy

Photo Credit | Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering
Trophy

Yesterday was a breakthrough moment in terms of recognition, as Robert Langer – chemical engineer and professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US – was awarded the second ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Bob Langer’s achievement demonstrates the importance of chemical engineering on a truly global scale.  His pioneering work in drug delivery, tissue engineering and nanotechnology has touched the lives of billions of people.

He has developed a field that, quite simply, didn’t previously exist.  This highlights the most important role that chemical engineers play in society today – improving quality of life for all.

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Using cellular backpacks to deliver drugs (Day 241)

back packThe way we deliver treatments to our bodies can have a huge impact on how successful it is. Being able to target a specific area can make drug delivery more efficient and have a greater impact.

As engineers we are always looking for ways to simplify procedures and get the best for consumers.

Often the best lessons we can learn come from taking cues from systems that already exist in nature.

New research from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has done just that by developing a method of targeting inflamed tissues with cellular backpacks.

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Even chemical engineers can pamper (Day 198)

EyesIn some countries, chemical engineers don’t receive the respect they deserve.

Our contribution is hidden from the public as companies don’t want people to think about the ‘chemicals’ in their products.

I discussed the perception that anything natural is good and anything man-made is bad in my blog ‘Can you lead a chemical-free life?’, which demonstrates that this is not the case.

The US gets a lot of bad press about the public perceptions of science and engineering, but one thing they are getting right is the respect that seems to be increasing for chemical engineers working in the cosmetics industry.

An excellent example of this is the company Living Proof, set up by a team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including chemical engineering Professor Robert Langer, which initially focused on hair products.

The company has such a strong technological reputation that actress Jennifer Aniston (who I am told is famous for her hair?!) was not only was willing to advertise their products but also invested in the company as a co-owner.

Photo Credit | Living Proof Dr Betty Yu

Photo Credit | Living Proof
Dr Betty Yu

Living Proof is now launching its first skin product – Neotensil – spearhead by another MIT chemical engineering alumnus Dr Betty Yu.

Neotensil uses polymer technology to compress and flatten eye bags.

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Can chemical engineers change the world? (Day 177)

Change the WorldIn IChemE’s marketing literature you’ll often find phrases like: ‘Join approaching 40,000 peers worldwide to share best practice, find out about new discoveries and change the world.’

I know from talking to colleagues at IChemE the phrase ‘change the world’ has been pounced upon and some believe it is hard to justify.

However, chemical engineers, chemical engineering principles and the fields we work in can and do change the world and you’ll find at least 177 examples in my blog.

If you’re still not convinced let’s take a look at this year’s World Changing Ideas 2014 published by Scientific American. Continue reading

‘Injecting’ from the inside (Day 136)

Most of our prescription medicines are administered orally or by injection. As a patient, the general preference is to receive medicine orally in pill or ‘syrup’ format. Indeed a phobia or fear of needles is common and with billions of injections given each year that’s a lot of nervous patients.

Injections pose other challenges too for patients and medical professionals. There is always a risk of infection caused by piercing the skin, especially from contaminated needles, and medical professionals need to be wary of ‘stick’ injuries.

But sometimes injections are unavoidable. Drugs made from large proteins can be broken down in the stomach before they can take effect. But what if there was a way to use the powerful acids in our stomachs to deliver an injection in the form of a pill – from the inside?

It seems implausible, but that’s what researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital have managed to do.

Microneedle pill

A schematic drawing of a microneedle pill with hollow needles. When the pill reaches the desired location in the digestive tract, the pH-sensitive coating surrounding the capsule dissolves, allowing the drug to be released through the microneedles. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT, based on images by Carol Schoellhammer and Giovanni Traverso

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The Zebrafish solution (Day 133)

ZebrafishIf you’ve ever had a tropical aquarium there’s a good chance you’ll have owned and been delighted by the vibrant colours of a darting Zebrafish.

What you may not know is that the Zebrafish has become a firm favourite of the research community. One reason for this is that Zebrafish embryos are completely transparent making them ideally suited for studying developmental processes as they occur.

As a general introduction to why Zebrafish are so attractive to the science community, take a look at this YouTube video produced by University College London (UCL).

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A new approach to bone injuries (Day 101)

X ray of human bodyTypically, we all have 206 bones in our body by the time we are adults. It’s not surprising that we break them every now and again.

Collarbones, arms, wrists, hips and ankles are parts of the body most at risk of breakage.

I always think the body is remarkable in how it can heal itself. In children, bones can repair in as little as three weeks.

But sometimes, nature needs a little help, especially if the defect is so severe that a normal approach won’t work.

Now some clever chemical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have devised a new implantable tissue scaffold coated with bone growth factors that are released slowly over a few weeks.

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It’s in our genes (Day 85)

DNAThe world of genetics is fascinating and there always seems an endless stream of findings and breakthroughs with the potential for predicting and treating health problems.

This month, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated women with mutations in the PALB2 gene face a one in three chance of getting breast cancer by age 70.

A team at the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, have shown 14 separate genetic mutations can greatly increase the odds of aggressive prostate cancers and form the basis for genetic screening in a similar way to breast cancer in women.

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