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Intestinal inflammatory pharmaceutics

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

AbbVie Invests in Synthetic Microbes for Treatment of Intestinal Disorders

Aaron Krol    http://www.bio-itworld.com/2016/2/10/abbvie-invests-synthetic-microbes-treatment-intestinal-disorders.html

 

February 10, 2016 | This morning, AbbVie announced a partnership with Synlogic of Cambridge, Mass., to create microbiome-based therapies for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The two companies have sketched out a suggested three-year timeline for preclinical research and development, after which AbbVie will take over advancing any drug candidates into clinical trials.

Drugs inspired by the microbes that live in the human gut are a hot topic in biotech. Companies like Seres Health and Vedanta Biosciences are pursuing the idea from a variety of angles, from making traditional small molecule drugs that interact with the microbiome, to creating probiotics or microbial cocktails that restore a healthy balance to the gut ecosystem. IBD, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is an especially popular target for these companies, thanks to strong suggestions that bacterial populations can affect the course of the disease. Already, Second Genome and Coronado Biosciences have taken prospective treatments into the clinic (though the latter has been dealt serious setbacks in Phase II trials).

But even among this peculiar batch of startups, Synlogic’s approach to drug design is exquisitely odd. The company calls its products “synthetic biotics”―in fact, they’re genetically engineered bacteria whose DNA contains intricately designed “gene circuits,” built to start producing therapeutic molecules when and only when the patient needs them.

“We are not looking at correcting the dysregulation of microbes in the gut, like other microbiome companies,” CEO José-Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos tells Bio-IT World. “We have one bacterium, and it’s engineered to do different functions.”

Synlogic was founded in 2013 by two synthetic biologists at MIT, Timothy Lu and Jim Collins. (Bio-IT World has previously spoken with Lu about his academic work on bacterial gene circuits.) Gutiérrez-Ramos joined almost two years later, leaving a position as the head of Pfizer’s BioTherapeutics R&D group, where he had plenty of opportunity to turn emerging biotechnology ideas into drug candidates ready for submission to the FDA.

Still, synthetic biotics are a good deal more unusual than the biologic drugs he worked on at Pfizer.

His new company doesn’t quite spin functions for its microbes out of whole cloth. All the genes the company uses are copied either from the human genome, or from the bacteria living inside us. But by recombining those genes into circuits, Gutiérrez-Ramos believes Synlogic can finely control whether and when genes are expressed, giving its synthetic biotics the same dosage control as a traditional drug. Meanwhile, choosing the right bacterium to engineer―the current favorite is a strain called E. coli Nissle―ensures the biotics do not form stable colonies in the gut, but can be cleared out as soon as a patient stops treatment.

“We’re pharma guys,” he says. “What we want is to have pharmacologically well-defined products.”

The Molecular Circuit Board

Even before the partnership with AbbVie, Synlogic had a pipeline of drug candidates in development, all meant to treat rare genetic disorders caused by single mutations that shut down the activity of a crucial gene. In principle, there seems to be no reason that bacteria carrying the right genes couldn’t pick up the slack. “We know the patient is missing a function that is typically performed by the liver, or the kidney, or the pancreas,” says Gutiérrez-Ramos. “What we do is shift that function from an organ to a stable fraction of the microbiome.”

The approach is in some ways analogous to gene therapy, where a corrected version of a broken gene is inserted into a patient’s own DNA. “We don’t use that word, but the fact is it’s a non-somatic gene therapy,” Gutiérrez-Ramos says. “And if something goes wrong, you can control it just by stopping treatment.” The most advanced synthetic biotic in Synlogic’s pipeline targets urea cycle disorder, exactly the sort of disease that might otherwise be addressed by gene therapy: patients are missing a single enzyme that helps remove nitrogen from the body and prevent it from forming ammonia in the bloodstream. Synlogic will meet with the FDA this March to discuss whether and how this first product can be tested in humans.

Gutierrez Ramos

The new IBD program with AbbVie, however, adds a whole new level of complexity. Executives from the two companies have been in discussions for around six months, and both agree that no single mechanism will be enough to provide significant relief for patients. Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are painful autoimmune diseases that involve both a weakening of the epithelial lining in the stomach, and a buildup of inflammatory molecules. The development plan that AbbVie and Synlogic have agreed on includes three separate methods of attack to relieve these symptoms.

“One approach AbbVie is very interested in is for our synthetic biotics to produce substances that could tighten the epithelial barrier,” says Gutiérrez-Ramos. “Another approach is to degrade pro-inflammatory molecules”―the same tack taken by AbbVie’s current leading IBD drug, Humira, which targets the inflammatory protein TNFα. “Finally, we can produce anti-inflammatory molecules.”

Uniquely, synthetic biotics can perform all three functions at once; it’s just a matter of inserting the right genes. But that alone might not be a decisive advantage over some sort of combination therapy. The biggest selling point of Synlogic’s microbes is not the genes they can be engineered to express―what you might call the “output” of their gene circuits―but the input, the DNA elements called “inducible promoters” that decide when those genes should be activated.

The core idea is that patients will have a constant population of synthetic biotics in their bodies, taken daily―but those microbes will only generate their therapeutic payloads when needed. In IBD, Gutiérrez-Ramos explains, “it’s not that the patient is always inflamed, but they have flares. Our vision, and AbbVie’s vision, is that the bacteria that you take every day sense when the flare is coming, and then trigger the genetic output.”

This would be a major improvement over a drug like Humira, which after all is constantly inhibiting a part of the immune system. Patients taking Humira, or one of the many other immunosuppressant drugs for IBD, are at a constantly heightened risk of infection; tuberculosis is a particular specter for these patients. If Synlogic can find a genetic “on-switch” that responds to a reliable indicator of IBD flares, it could potentially create a much more precisely administered treatment, while still giving patients the simple dosing schedule of one pill every day.

The company has leads on two inducible promoters that might do the trick: one that reacts to nitric oxide, and another tied to reactive oxygen species. Of course, there’s no guarantee that either will respond sensitively to IBD flares in a real clinical setting. “This is an early time for the technology,” says Gutiérrez-Ramos. “We have demonstrated this in animals, but we have to demonstrate it in humans.”

Although it’s far too early to say if synthetic biotics will become an ordinary part of the pharma toolkit, AbbVie’s decision to invest in the technology offers the means to test this approach on a large scale. Synlogic expects to raise its own funding for trials of its rare disease products, which the FDA does not expect to enroll huge numbers of patients, but IBD is a problem of a very different order.

“We are very honored to work with truly the leader in treatment of inflammatory bowel disease,” says Gutiérrez-Ramos. With the backing of big pharma, it will be possible to trial microbiome-based therapies for the kinds of common, chronic diseases that are the biggest drain on our healthcare system. What’s more, the AbbVie partnership is an important signal of the industry’s faith in synthetic biology as an approach to treating disease.

 

 


Continuous diffraction crystallographics analysis

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Biomolecular Structure Emerges from the Crystallographic Shadows

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/biomolecular-structure-emerges-from-the-crystallographic-shadows/81252359/

 

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_Feb11_2016_DESY_DisorderedCrystals7411016594.jpg

Here’s the caption/credit for the image: Slightly disordered crystals of complex biomolecules like that of the photosystem II molecule shown here produce a complex continous diffraction pattern (right) under X-ray light that contains far more information than the so-called Bragg peaks of a strongly ordered crystal alone (left). The degree of disorder is greatly exaggerated in the crystal on the right. [Eberhard Reimann/DESY]

 

In keeping with the adage, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” an international team of scientists has shown that if X-crystallography relies on low-quality crystals, it can still derive high-quality structural information. In fact, resolutions can be achieved that surpass the Bragg diffraction limit.

The key, it turns out, is to make the most out of continuous diffraction data, which is ordinarily considered a nuisance in crystallographic analysis. Continuous diffraction data could be obtained from a single molecule, but would be too weak to yield any kind of analysis. But if such data could be combined from a collection of molecules, analyses would be possible. Each of the molecules in the collection, however, would have to be misaligned only in the translational sense. That is, the molecules could not be misaligned rotationally or differ intramolecularly.

With these limitations in mind, scientists based at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science, DESY, in Germany “read” the atomic structure of complex biomolecules by crystallography without the usual need for prior knowledge and chemical insight. “This discovery has the potential to become a true revolution for the crystallography of complex matter,” said the chairman of DESY’s board of directors, Professor Helmut Dosch.

The work of the DESY-led scientific team appeared February 10 in Nature, in an article entitled “Macromolecular diffractive imaging using imperfect crystals.” The article described how the scientists took advantage of a phenomenon called continuous diffraction.

Protein crystals, particularly imperfect protein crystals, do not always “diffract,” in the traditional Bragg sense. A proper, perfect crystal scatters X-rays in many different directions, producing an intricate and characteristic pattern of numerous bright spots, called Bragg peaks (named after the British crystallography pioneers William Henry and William Lawrence Bragg). The positions and strengths of these spots contain information about the structure of the crystal and of its constituents. Using this approach, researchers have already determined the atomic structures of tens of thousands of proteins and other biomolecules.

“Continuous” scattering arises when crystals become disordered. Usually, this non-Bragg continuous diffraction is not used to derive structural information. Instead, it is used to provide insights into vibrations and dynamics of molecules. But when the disorder consists only of displacements of the individual molecules from their ideal positions in the crystal, the “background” takes on a much more complex character—and its rich structure is anything but diffuse. It then offers a much bigger prize than the analysis of the Bragg peaks: The continuously modulated “background” fully encodes the diffracted waves from individual “single” molecules.

The possibility of using continuous diffraction for structural determinations leads to a paradigm shift in crystallography—the most ordered crystals are no longer the best to analyze with the novel method. “For the first time we have access to single molecule diffraction—we have never had this in crystallography before,” explained DESY’s Professor Henry Chapman. “But we have long known how to solve single-molecule diffraction if we could measure it.” The field of coherent diffractive imaging, spurred by the availability of laser-like beams from X-ray free-electron lasers, has developed powerful algorithms to directly solve the phase problem in this case, without having to know anything at all about the molecule.

“We show for crystals of the integral membrane protein complex photosystem II that lattice disorder increases the information content and the resolution of the diffraction pattern well beyond the 4.5-ångström limit of measurable Bragg peaks, which allows us to phase the pattern directly,” wrote the authors of the Nature article. “Using the molecular envelope conventionally determined at 4.5 ångströms as a constraint, we obtain a static image of the photosystem II dimer at a resolution of 3.5 ångströms. This result shows that continuous diffraction can be used to overcome what have long been supposed to be the resolution limits of macromolecular crystallography.”


New anti-Malarial treatment

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Malaria Proteasome Inhibitors Could Reverse Parasite Drug Resistance

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/malaria-proteasome-inhibitors-could-reverse-parasite-drug-resistance/81252358/

 

http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_108676_web2680362491.jpg

This structure (bottom left) of the malaria parasite’s proteasome, obtained using the revolutionary Cryo-Electron Microscopy technique, enabled the design of a specific inhibitor (front) against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite (pictured at back). [University of Melbourne]

 

  • With media attention recently focused on the spread of the Zika virus, it’s easy to forget about the mosquito-borne disease that has been credited with killing one out of every two people who have ever lived—malaria. Currently, close to 50 percent of the world’s population live in malaria-endemic areas, leading to between 200–500 million new cases and close to 500,000 deaths annually (mostly children under the age of five).

    Adding to the complexities of trying to control this disease is that resistance to the most effective antimalarial drug, artemisinin, has developed in Southeast Asia, with fears it will soon reach Africa. Artemisinin-resistant species have spread to six countries in five years.

    A collaborative team of scientists from Stanford University, University of California, San Francisco, University of Melbourne, and the MRC in Cambridge have used cutting-edge technology to design a smarter drug to combat the resistant strain.

    “Artemisinin causes damage to the proteins in the malaria parasite that kill the human cell, but the parasite has developed a way to deal with that damage. So new drugs that work against resistant parasites are desperately needed,” explained coauthor Leann Tilley, Ph.D., professor and deputy head of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute at The University of Melbourne.

    Malaria is caused by the protozoan parasite from the genus Plasmodium. Five different species are known to cause malaria in humans, with P. falciparum infection leading to the most deaths. The parasite is transmitted through the bite of the female mosquito and ultimately ends up residing within the host’s red blood cells (RBCs)—replicating and then bursting forth to invade more RBCs in a recurrently timed cycle.

    “This penetration/replication/breakout cycle is rapid—every 48 hours—providing the opportunity for large numbers of mutations that can produce drug resistance,” said senior study author Matthew Bogyo, Ph.D., professor in the department of pathology at Stanford Medical School. “Consequently, several generations of antimalarial drugs have long since been rendered useless.”

    The compound that investigators developed targets the parasites proteasome—a protein degradation pathway that removes surplus or damaged proteins through a cascade of proteolytic reactions.

    “The parasite’s proteasome is like a shredder that chews up damaged or used-up proteins. Malaria parasites generate a lot of damaged proteins as they switch from one life stage to another and are very reliant on their proteasome, making it an excellent drug target,” Dr. Tilley noted.

    The scientists purified the proteasome from the malaria parasite and examined its activity against hundreds of different peptide sequences. From this, they were able to design inhibitors that selectively targeted the parasite proteasome while sparing the human host enzymes.

    The findings from this study were published recently in Nature through an article titled “Structure- and function-based design of Plasmodium-selective proteasome inhibitors.”

    Additionally, scientists at the MRC used a new technique called Single-Particle Cryo-Electron Microscopy to generate a three-dimensional, high-resolution structure of a protein, based on thousands composite images.

    The researchers tested the new drug in red blood cells infected with parasites and found that it was as effective at killing the artemisinin resistant parasites as it was for the sensitive parasites.

    “The compounds we’ve derived can kill artemisinin-resistant parasites because those parasites have an increased need for highly efficient proteasomes,” Dr. Bogyo commented. “So, combining the proteasome inhibitor with artemisinin should make it possible to block the onset of resistance. That will, in turn, allow the continued use of that front-line malaria treatment, which has been so effective up until now.”

    “The new proteasome inhibitors actually complement artemisinin drugs,” Dr. Tilley added. “Artemisinins cause protein damage and proteasome inhibitors prevent the repair of protein damage. A combination of the two provides a double whammy and could rescue the artemisinins as antimalarials, restoring their activity against resistant parasites.”

    The scientists were excited by their results, as they may provide a much-needed strategy to combat the growing levels of resistance for this deadly pathogen. However, the researchers tempered their exuberance by noting that many more drug libraries needed to be screened before clinical trials can begin.

    “The current drug is a good start, but it’s not yet suitable for humans. It needs to be able to be administered orally and needs to last a long time in the blood stream,” Dr. Tilley concluded.

Regulatory DNA engineered


Regulatory DNA engineered

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

New Type of CRISPR Screen Probes the Regulatory Genome

Aaron Krol    http://www.bio-itworld.com/2016/2/8/new-type-crispr-screen-probes-regulatory-genome.html

February 8, 2016 | When a geneticist stares down the 3 billion DNA base pairs of the human genome, searching for a clue to what’s gone awry in a single patient, it helps to narrow the field. One of the most popular places to look is the exome, the tiny fraction of our DNA―less than 2%―that actually codes for proteins. For patients with rare genetic diseases, which might be fully explained by one key mutation, many studies sequence the whole exome and leave all the noncoding DNA out. Similarly, personalized cancer tests, which can help bring to light unexpected treatment options, often sequence the tumor exome, or a smaller panel of protein-coding genes.

Unfortunately, we know that’s not the whole picture. “There are a substantial number of noncoding regions that are just as effective at turning off a gene as a mutation in the gene itself,” says Richard Sherwood, a geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Exome sequencing is not going to be a good proxy for what genes are working.”

Sherwood studies regulatory DNA, the vast segment of the genome that governs which genes are turned on or off in any cell at a given time. It’s a confounding area of genetics; we don’t even know how much of the genome is made up of these regulatory elements. While genes can be recognized by the presence of “start” and “stop” codons―sequences of three DNA letters that tell the cell’s molecular machinery which stretches of DNA to transcribe into RNA, and eventually into protein―there are no definite signs like this for regulatory DNA.

Instead, studies to discover new regulatory elements have been somewhat trial-and-error. If you suspect a gene’s activity might be regulated by a nearby DNA element, you can inhibit that element in a living cell, and see if your gene shuts down with it.

With these painstaking experiments, scientists can slowly work their way through potential regulatory regions―but they can’t sweep across the genome with the kind of high-throughput testing that other areas of genetics thrive on. “Previously, you couldn’t do these sorts of tests in a large form, like 4,000 of them at once,” says David Gifford, a computational biologist at MIT. “You would really need to have a more hypothesis-directed methodology.”

Recently, Gifford and Sherwood collaborated on a paper, published in Nature Biotechnology, which presents a new method for testing thousands of DNA loci for regulatory activity at once. Their assay, called MERA (multiplexed editing regulatory assay), is built on the recent technology boom in CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, which lets scientists quickly and easily cut specific sequences of DNA out of the genome.

So far, their team, including lead author Nisha Rajagopal from Gifford’s lab, has used MERA to study the regulation of four genes involved in the development of embryonic stem cells. Already, the results have defied the accepted wisdom about regulatory DNA. Many areas of the genome flagged by MERA as important factors in gene expression do not fall into any known categories of regulatory elements, and would likely never have been tested with previous-generation methods.

“Our approach allows you to look away from the lampposts,” says Sherwood. “The more unbiased you can be, the more we’ll actually know.”

A New Kind of CRISPR Screen

In the past three years, CRISPR-Cas9 experiments have taken all areas of molecular biology by storm, and Sherwood and Gifford are far from the first to use the technology to run large numbers of tests in parallel. CRISPR screens are an excellent way to learn which genes are involved in a cellular process, like tumor growth or drug resistance. In these assays, scientists knock out entire genes, one by one, and see what happens to cells without them.

This kind of CRISPR screen, however, operates on too small a scale to study the regulatory genome. For each gene knocked out in a CRISPR screen, you have to engineer a strain of virus to deliver a “guide RNA” into the cellular genome, showing the vicelike Cas9 molecule which DNA region to cut. That works well if you know exactly where a gene lies and only need to cut it once—but in a high-throughput regulatory test, you would want to blanket vast stretches of DNA with cuts, not knowing which areas will turn out to contain regulatory elements. Creating a new virus for each of these cuts is hugely impractical.

The insight behind MERA is that, with the right preparation, most of the genetic engineering can be done in advance. Gifford and Sherwood’s team used a standard viral vector to put a “dummy” guide RNA sequence, one that wouldn’t tell Cas9 to cut anything, into an embryonic stem cell’s genome. Then they grew plenty of cells with this prebuilt CRISPR system inside, and attacked each one with a Cas9 molecule targeted to the dummy sequence, chopping out the fake guide.

Normally, the result would just be a gap in the CRISPR system where the guide once was. But along with Cas9, the researchers also exposed the cells to new, “real” guide RNA sequences. Through a DNA repair mechanism called homologous recombination, the cells dutifully patched over the gaps with new guides, whose sequences were very similar to the missing dummy code. At the end of the process, each cell had a unique guide sequence ready to make cuts at a specific DNA locus—just like in a standard CRISPR screen, but with much less hands-on engineering.

By using a large enough library of guide RNA molecules, a MERA screen can include thousands of cuts that completely tile a broad region of the genome, providing an agnostic look at anywhere regulatory elements might be hiding. “It’s a lot easier [than a typical CRISPR screen],” says Sherwood. “The day the library comes in, you just perform one PCR reaction, and the cells do the rest of the work.”

In the team’s first batch of MERA screens, they created almost 4,000 guide RNAs for each gene they studied, covering roughly 40,000 DNA bases of the “cis-regulatory region,” or the area surrounding the gene where most regulatory elements are thought to lie. It’s unclear just how large any gene’s cis-regulatory region is, but 40,000 bases is a big leap from the highly targeted assays that have come before.

“We’re now starting to do follow-up studies where we increase the number of guide RNAs,” Sherwood adds. “Eventually, what you’d like is to be able to tile an entire chromosome.”

Far From the Lampposts

Sherwood and Gifford tried to focus their assays on regions that would be rich in regulatory elements. To that end, they made sure their guide RNAs covered parts of the genome with well-known signs of regulatory activity, like histone markers and transcription factor binding sites. For many of these areas, Cas9 cuts did, in fact, shut down gene expression in the MERA screens.

But the study also targeted regions around each gene that were empty of any known regulatory features. “We tiled some other regions that we thought might serve as negative controls,” explains Gifford. “But they turned out not to be negative at all.”

The study’s most surprising finding was that several cuts to seemingly random areas of the genome caused genes to become nonfunctional. The authors named these DNA regions “unmarked regulatory elements,” or UREs. They were especially prevalent around the genes Tdgf1 and Zfp42, and in many cases, seemed to be every bit as necessary to gene activity as more predictable hits on the MERA screen.

These results caught the researchers so off guard that it was natural to wonder if MERA screens are prone to false positives. Yet follow-up experiments strongly supported the existence of UREs. Switching the guide RNAs from aTdgf1 MERA screen and a Zfp42 screen, for example, produced almost no positive results: the UREs’ regulatory effects were indeed specific to the genes near them.

In a more specific test, the researchers chose a particular URE connected to Tdgf1, and cut it out of a brand new population of cells for a closer look. “We showed that, if we deleted that region from the genome, the cells lost expression of the gene,” says Sherwood. “And then when we put it back in, the gene became expressed again. Which was good proof to us that the URE itself was responsible.”

From these results, it seems likely that follow-up MERA screens will find even more unknown stretches of regulatory DNA. Gifford and Sherwood’s experiments didn’t try to cover as much ground around their target genes as they might have, because the researchers assumed that MERA would mostly confirm what was already known. At best, they hoped MERA would rule out some suspected regulatory regions, and help show which regulatory elements have the biggest effect on gene expression.

“We tended to prioritize regions that had been known before,” Sherwood says. “Unfortunately, in the end, our datasets weren’t ideally suited to discovering these UREs.”

Getting to Basic Principles

MERA could open up huge swaths of the regulatory genome to investigation. Compared to an ordinary CRISPR screen, says Sherwood, “there’s only upside,” as MERA is cheaper, easier, and faster to run.

Still, interpreting the results is not trivial. Like other CRISPR screens, MERA makes cuts at precise points in the genome, but does not tell cells to repair those cuts in any particular way. As a result, a population of cells all carrying the same guide RNA can have a huge variety of different gaps and scars in their genomes, typically deletions in the range of 10 to 100 bases long. Gifford and Sherwood created up to 100 cells for each of their guides, and sometimes found that gene expression was affected in some but not all of them; only sequencing the genomes of their mutated cells could reveal exactly what changes had been made.

By repeating these experiments many times, and learning which mutations affect gene expression, it will eventually be possible to pin down the exact DNA bases that make up each regulatory element. Future studies might even be able to distinguish between regulatory elements with small and large effects on gene expression. In Gifford and Sherwood’s MERA screens, the target genes were altered to produce a green fluorescent protein, so the results were read in terms of whether cells gave off fluorescent light. But a more precise, though expensive, approach would be to perform RNA sequencing, to learn which cuts reduced the cell’s ability to transcribe a gene into RNA, and by how much.

A MERA screen offers a rich volume of data on the behavior of the regulatory genome. Yet, as with so much else in genetics, there are few robust principles to let scientists know where they should be focusing their efforts. Histone markers provide only a very rough sketch of regulatory elements, often proving to be red herrings on closer examination. And the existence of UREs, if confirmed by future experiments, shows that we don’t yet even know which areas of the genome to rule out in the hunt for regulatory regions.

“Every dataset we get comes closer and closer to computational principles that let us predict these regions,” says Sherwood. As more studies are conducted, patterns may emerge in the DNA sequences of regulatory elements that link UREs together, or reveal which histone markers truly point toward regulatory effects. There might also be functional clues hidden in these sequences, hinting at what is happening on a molecular level as regulatory elements turn genes on and off in the course of a cell’s development.

For now, however, the data is still rough and disorganized. For better and for worse, high-throughput tools like MERA are becoming the foundation for most discoveries in genetics—and that means there is a lot more work to do before the regulatory genome begins to come into focus.

CORRECTED 2/9/16: Originally, this story incorrectly stated that only certain cell types could be assayed with MERA for reasons related to homologous recombination. In fact, the authors see no reason MERA could not be applied to any in vitro cell line, and hope to perform screens in a wide range of cell types. The text has been edited to correct the error.


Medical 3D Printing and Metals in use in Medical Devices,
Presentation by Danut Dragoi, PhD

The main objective of medical 3D printing (M3DP) is to build solid / semi-solid / scaffolds / or gel structures from bio-compatible materials that can be utilized in medicine in order to correct, alleviate, support certain surgeries, or even cure some diseases based on medical / biological principles applied to human body.

Materials that replace bones are metals like Ti, Ti alloys, Tantalum, Gold, Silver, Zr and other. For replacement of teeth is traditionally used a combination of Ti-pivots and ceramic / polymers / or in some cases Hydroxylapatite (HA) coated Ti.

In order to produce a metallic object implantable in the human body, most useful technology is 3D printing of metals, commonly known as AT (addition manufacturing) technology. A definition of 3D printing is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material. If a printer system uses metal powders and binder instead of normal ink the printed layer by layer will develop a 3D object.

The printed object may be an orthopedic bone replacement, a tooth pivot or an artificial tooth. The picture on Slide 4 shows a Laser Sintering System (SLM) for Medical 3D Printing for metals, find specs in here.

Slide 4

Slide4

The machine shown on Slide 5 is one of the three metal printers from SLM Solutions using the technology of Selective Laser Melting, find specs in here,
Slide 5

Slide5
Feature highlight: for aerospace and medical orthopedics. Large build volume.
Material: Stainless steel, tool steel, aluminium, titanium, cobalt-chrome, inconel
Build capacity: 19.68 x 11.02 x 12.80 in. / (500 x 280 x 325 mm)
Build rate: 70 cm³/h
Resolution/Layer thickness: 20 – 200µm
Machine dimensions: 118 x 98 x 43 in.

An important aspect of metal source for M3DP is the shape of the particles, uniform size distribution and chemical purity. Using a new manufacturing approach, Zecotek, a company in Germany, link in here, developed metallic powders that can be successfully used in M3DP. Next Slide 6 shows some characteristics of this breakthrough technology.

Slide6
Slide 7

Slide7

More information on Slide 7 can be found in here.

Slide 8

Slide8

Information on Slide 8 can be found in here .
Slide 9

Slide9

Information on Slide 9 can be found in here, which is a novelty in terms of materials, the fusion for the first time between a Ti alloy and a ceramic.
Slide 10

Slide10The schematic on Slide 10 can be found in here . SLS technology is in wide use around the world due to its ability to easily make very complex geometries directly from digital CAD data. While it began as a way to build prototype parts early in the design cycle, it is increasingly being used in limited-run manufacturing to produce end-use parts. Here is how it is working. The powders are in a compartment controlled by a piston going one small step up, the roller swipes to the right a thin layer of metallic powder on the second compartment controlled by a piston that goes only one small step down, due to the fact that the printed model starts to grow up. The tip of the laser beam melts the powder or fusion the particles according with a real drawing section of the model. The process is repeated until the model is done. The key element of this technology is the laser scan device that follows exactly the drawing section of the model.

Slide 12

Slide12

Slide 12 shows a 3D printed foot that is light and well manageable for the patient. The picture can be found at this link in here. This prosthetic introduces the traces concept on light-weighting of replaceable parts for human body.
Slide 13

Slide13

Slide 13 shows a 3D printed light orthopedic pieces that are using the concept of light-weighting using traces. Their picture can be found here.

Slide 14

Slide14

Slide 14 shows tiny parts obtained with 3D printing technology, details in here.

Slide 15

Slide15

A second way to obtain solid parts is using a 3D Bioplotter, link in here .

EnvisionTec’s 3D-Bioplotter builds its products in much the same way as a traditional 3D printer. However, instead of using plastics, metals or resins, the Bioplotter uses biologic materials to form a scaffold that will be used to grow more advanced cellular cultures.

Just like a traditional 3D printer, the 3D-Bioplotter can be fed a 3D model generated in a CAD program or from a CT scan. Users can slice and hatch a 3D model to define how it will be printed. That information is then translated to code and shipped off to the Bioplotter where the real work begins.

While prototype objects in the mechanical, architectural and civil worlds can be built from a single material, in the biological world it’s rare that the desired objects have a uniform material. To meet that reality, the Bioplotter can print a model in 5 different materials making it suitable for more complex cellular assemblies.

This ability to jet different materials during a single build requires the 3D-Bioplotter to change print heads. It comes equipped with a CNC-like tool holder that can be programmed to change “print-heads” based on the material being extruded. Most bio-engineering builds favor porosity. This machine’s ability to change print heads can also help alter the flow and spacing of successive print layers to give users greater control of their models.

Slide 16

Slide16

The scaffold on slide 16 obtained with a 3D Bioploter, is useful in dentistry to augment the base of the future implantable tooth. The fixation in the picture is made of Vivos Dental’s OsteoFlux product, link see in here.
Slide 17

Slide17

Slide 17 Metals in medical dental implants, Ti becomes fused with the bone, and the tooth attached to one end of the Ti pivot, see link in here.

Slide 18

Slide18

Slide 18, Hot plasma spray bio-ceramics is the solution that doctors used for biocompatibility of an artificial jaws, link in here.

Slide 20

Slide20On slide 20 the traditional Ti casting is compared with Ti 3D printing from the powders. The advantage of 3D method is low cost and high productivity. This link in here is for traditional method, and this link here for 3D printing method.
Slide 21

Slide21Slide 21 For 3D Bioploter made by EnvisionTec we notice the usage of materials such as metal followed by post-processing sintering, Hydroxylapatite, TCP, Titanium. Using a preciptation method the machine can handle Chitosan, Collagen, 2-component system of the two possible combination: Alginate, Fibrin, PU, and Silicone. More details in here.

Slide 26

Slide26

Slide 26 shows two ultra-miniature medical pressure sensors in the eye of a needle, for details see the link in here.

Slide 27

Slide27

Slide 27 The electrodes of the bio-mems implanted on the surface of the heart are made of Gold for the electrical contact and good bio-compatibility. Classes of materials and assembly approaches that enable electronic devices with features – area coverage, mechanical properties, or geometrical forms – that would be impossible to achieve using traditional, wafer-based technologies. Examples include ’tissue-like’ bio-integrated electronics for high resolution mapping of electrophysiology in the heart and brain. The research on bio-integrated electronics can be found here.

Slide 28

Slide28

Slide 28 shows a polymeric material for determining pressure inside the eye, which is useful to monitor patients at risk from glaucoma. Again the circular electrode is made of Gold and its role is that of an antena to transmit data to a iPhone / receiver about the intraocula pressure data.
Slide 29

Slide29

The device in slide 29 is a bio-MEMS implantable for drug dosage. It has multiple micro-needles that are equivalent to a needle of a normal syringe, but painless since theyr tips do not reach the pain receptors. This picture taken from here, shows a side size of the MEMS of about 25 mm.

Slide 30

Slide30

Slide 30 lists some effects of metals in human body. Traces of heavy metals are dangerous for human body. Human body is made of light elements C,H,N,O. Heavy metals: Pb, Hg, accumulate in the body, they disrupt the metabolic processes since they are very toxic to humans. Therefore, heavy metals don’t have “+” physiological effects and Al as element is known to produce Alzheimer’s which has been implicated as a factor. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the medical and scientific opinion is that studies have not convincingly demonstrated a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, some studies, cite aluminium exposure as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Some brain plaques have been found to contain increased levels of the metal. Research in this area has been inconclusive; aluminium accumulation may be a consequence of the disease rather than a causal agent, see link in here.
Slide 31

Slide31

Slide 31 shows percent distribution of elements in human bodies, It is interesting that Ti is not making the list, see link in here.

Slide 32

Slide32

Slide 32 has Ti element circled on the Table of the elements, we notice that Zr as element was found to be a bio-compatible element too just like Ti. It is very possible from chemical point of view that all elements in Ti group have same property. The only inconvenient of elements bellow Ti is that they are heavier and their density should be adapted closer to that of human body.
Slide 33

Slide33

Slide 33 is a plot of stress (MPa) of some human implantable materials as a function of Young modulus E (GPa), their principal mechanical characteristic. There are crystalline materials such as: MgZnCa, MgZr, etc.) as well as amorphous materials bio-compatible such as: MgZnCa BMG, Ca based BMG, Sr based BMG, etc.) that have important mechanical strength that can be used in various applications. The circle in green centered on the point (75GPa, 650 MPa) is that for HydroxylApatite, which is a component of teeth and bones. Further details on this plot can be found at this link here,  .

Magnesium and its alloys are suitable materials for biomedical applications due to their low weight, high specific strength, stiffness close to bone and good biocompatibility. Specifically, because magnesium exhibits a fast biodegradability, it has attracted an increasing interest over the last years for its potential use as “biodegradable implants”. However, the main limitation is that Mg degrades too fast and that the corrosion process is accompanied by hydrogen evolution. In these conditions, magnesium implants lose their mechanical integrity before the bone heals and hydrogen gas accumulates inside the body. To overcome these limitations different methods have been pursued to decrease the corrosion rate of magnesium to acceptable levels, including the growth of coatings (conversion and deposited coatings), surface modification treatments (ion implantation, plasma surface modification, etc) or via the control of the composition and microstructure of Mg alloys themselves.

Slide 34

Slide34

Slide 34 shows two types of three point bending tests, one in which the flexural stress is plotted against displacement and second in which the stress intensity factor is plotted against the length of the crack extended beyond the notch. It is interesting that both plots can differentiate between young and aged bones. The plots can be downloaded from here,  where more experimental details and explanation can be found.

Slide 35

Slide35

Slide 35 shows the geometry for 3 point bending for fracture toughness testing. in which the stress intensity factor can be considered as a function of delta a, the depth of the notch at various values of loads. The equation of stress intensity factor can be found here.

Slide 36

Slide36

Slide 36 describes a family of stress-strain curves as function of composition for four Ti alloys. As we can see the mechanical strength of Ti alloys is well above 400 MPa, which is more than enough for replacement of bones that have a lower mechanical strength of about 175 MPa. The plot in this slide can be reviewed at this site.
Slide 37

Slide37

Slide 37 Mechanical strength of cortical bone, see link in here,  and mechanical strength of Ti alloys, seen in here.

The comparison shows a limit of elasticity of 160 MPa which is well below 400 MPa of Ti alloys or even simply Ti element which has a yield strength of 434 MPa, see link video here.
Slide 38

Slide38

Slide 38 provides information about the oxide layer on Ti binding biological tissues. Rutile and Anatase, are the two crystalline species of TiO2 formation on Ti surface. Rutile is less bio-reactive than Anatase, info in here, http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/33623.pdf . The metal work function changes as a consequence of the formation of the passivisation layer (the oxide), but ΔΦ is positive for rutile and negative for anatase, info in here, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jp309827u?journalCode=jpccck .

Slide 39

Slide39

Slide 39 provides information about the crystal structures of three species of Titanium oxide: Rutile, Anatase, and Brookite. As seen from the slide, the density varies with the crystal structure. The valence of Ti in these structures is 4+, same as Carbon in many organic molecules.
Slide 40

Slide40

Slide 40 provides information about the crystal structures of Titanium monoxide. As seen from the slide, the density is the highest among all Titanium oxides. The crystal structure of Titanium monoxide is shown in this slide. The valence of Ti in these structure is 2+, that makes this oxide special in applications.
Slide 41

Slide41

Slide 41 provides information about two metals, Ti and Zr that are used in human body implantable. An explanation of why these two metals are bio-compatible is given in this slide. As we know not all metals are inert/not reactive in human body environment. As a fact bulk cubic structures of metals is less preferred such as Al, Cu, Nb, Pb, etc.. Based on a symmetry remark for living structures (carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids and proteins), the lower implantable metals symmetry the better. As an example Lysozyme (S.G. P43212, space group number 96) as a possible interface material with an implantable metal such as Au, Ti, Zr, admits lower space groups such as Ti ( P63/mmc. Space group number: 194). Gold is not preferred for multiple reasons too: it has a high symmetry S.G. 225 (Fm-3m) 96<225, it has has a high density 19.32 g/cc, and it is expensive.

Many metals have a degree of leachability in human body fluids except the rare/precious metals Au, Pt, Ir that are expensive as implants. The coatings of Ti with a tiny thin layer of oxide or laser coated organic ceramics, makes Ti as the best choice as human body implantable with extremely low leachability in human body fluids.
Slide 42

Slide42

Slide 42 provides crystallographic information on Ti crystal structure, unit cell size and directions.
Slide 43

Slide43

Slide 43 provides information on Zr metal as the second choice on human body implantables. The crystal structure of Zr is same as Ti, with hexagonal close packed (HCP) unit cell. The HCP cell is shown together with a body center cubic (BCC) unit and face close cubic (FCC) unit for comparison reason.
Slide 44

Slide44

Slide 44 shows the Table of major biomedical metals and alloys and their applications. More details about materials in the Table can be found here.

Slide 45

Slide45

The Table on Slide 45 shows a comparison of mechanical properties for three metal alloys. Notice the the increase of the ultimate tensile strength of Ti 64, from 434 MPa for Titanium (see slide 37) to 900 MPa for Ti 64. More data about other materials can be found here.

Slide 46

Slide46

Slide 46 lists some medical devices as they were created by the inventor Alfred Mann’s companies. Such devices are:
-rechargeable pacemaker,
-an implant for deaf people,
-an insulin pump and a
-prosthetic retina. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times)
Slide 47

Slide47

Slide 47 As we imagine, the implanted devices should be coated with one of these Ti, Zr, ceramic coated Ti and Stainless Steel. Three example are given as: Ti-plates and rods, 3D printed Jaws + plasma coated HAp, Gold nano-wires.
Slide 48

Slide48

In the example on slide Slide 48, the pacemaker casing is made of titanium or a titanium alloy, electrodes are made of metal alloy insulated with polyurethan polymers, more info in here.

Slide 49

Slide49

The second device shown in slide 49 is an implant for deaf people, whose surface in contact with human body fluids is coated with Ti. More info on how this implant works can be found in here.
Slide 50Slide50The insulin pump shown in slide 50 is a schematic of the pump controlled electronically by a control algorithm device, a sensor, an electronic receiver that connects with an iPhone through an wireless channel.
Slide 51Slide51

The prosthetic retina on slide 51 is an example of a bio-MEMS based optical sensor that takes the outside image through a tiny camera, the electrical signal of the camera is sent to a receiver and then to an array of micro-electrodes tacked to the retina which send electrical impulses to the brain through the optical nerve. More details can be found in here.

Slide 52Slide52Slide 52 describes how easily available bio-compatible metal powders
can revolutionize 3D printing for medical implants. The surgical implants need to generate expected responses from neighboring cells and tissues. Cell behavior (adhesion, functional alteration, morphological changes, and proliferation) is strongly affected by the surgical implants’ surface properties. Surface topography, surface chemistry, and surface energy influence decisively the biological response to an implanted device.
The well controlled 3D printing atmosphere (neutral gases and restricted oxygen) guarantees the high purity of the 3D printed parts and preserves the materials’ properties.
The advantages of 3D printing for medical applications is thoroughly discussed in here.

Slide 53Slide53

Slide 53 shows five conclusions of the presentation, in which 1) many engineered metals are mechanically resistant in human body, but prone to certain corrosion if not coated,
2) Ti, Zr coated bio-ceramics are bio-compatible materials in human body, 3) medical devices implants and MEMS are useful as heart stent, orthopedic prosthetic, prosthetic retina, 3) M3DP has low costs, high quality, long life cycle and 4) Metal/bio-ceramic and Vivos dental’s synthetic bone for oral augmentation is a solution for today’s dental health care.
Slide 54Slide54Slide 54 shows conclusions regarding the hardware of the presentation, in which: 6) there are two types of metal 3D printing hardware for medical applications: Selective Laser Melting / Selective Laser Sintering, and 3D Bioploter (metal powder mixed with binder and further thermal treatment to remove binder and sinter the metallic matrix in a solid object that can be used as a replacement. Thank you for your attention!


Turning Tumor Cells Against Cancer: Reporter Evelina Cohn Ph.D.

This information was released by The Scientist in February 8, 2016
Recently, at the University of New Mexico’s Wadih Arap, Renata Pasqualini (http://cancer.unm.edu/lab-arappasq/arap-pasqualini-laboratory/), and their colleagues engineered murine tumor cells derived from three tumor types—melanoma, lung, and mammary adenocarcinoma—to express and release tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α).

It is known that, TNF-α is a cytokine that may damage tumor vasculature, among other anticancer activities. “It’s extremely potent as an anticancer agent but also extremely toxic, which makes it a perfect payload to use as a targeted agent,” Pasqualini told The Scientist. “When given only locally, the efficacy is increased and the toxicity decreases.”

When any of the three types of TNF-α–expressing CTCs were injected into immunocompetent mice with implanted mammary adenocarcinoma, the tumors’ growth rates were reduced. Challenging the mice that had the TNF-α–expressing tumor cells in circulation with additional, cancer-initiating tumor cells appeared to prevent the formation of tumors, suggesting that the genetically modified (GM), CTCs helped protect mice from new tumors. The researchers also observed that the TNF-α–expressing CTCs did not propagate in vivo. “The cells that are producing TNF eventually die, so we are not injecting cells likely to backfire,” which could fuel cancer growth, said Pasqualini. “They are surrounded by TNF-α—booby-trapped, so to speak.”

When injected into mice with the corresponding primary tumors, each of the three TNF-α–expressing CTC lines resulted in inhibition of tumor growth by 50 percent to 65 percent, the researchers reported. Injecting the GM CTCs into the bloodstream appeared more effective than subcutaneous administration, they noted.

To test whether the GM CTCs might impact metastasis, the researchers first injected standard tumor cells into mice with growing primary tumors. Normal CTCs formed lung metastases, but when the mice with metastatic tumors were injected with the GM CTCs, the researchers observed fewer metastatic colonies formed than in control animals.

This research published on February 8, 2016, in PNAS, suggest cancer cells may be useful tools for anticancer therapies (E. Dondossola et al., “Self-targeting of TNF-releasing cancer cells in preclinical models of primary and metastatic tumors,” PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1525697113, 2016).

Schematic of the process of tumor cell self-targeting UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER, ELEONORA DONDOSSOLA

source: (http://www.the-scientist.com/images/News/February2016/640_TST.jpg)

This research was based on the knowledge of circulated tumor cells CTC’s acquired 5 years ago by the scientists of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which showed that circulating tumor cells (CTCs) could both colonize new metastases and travel back to their tumors of origin (http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674%2809%2901437-8).
Several scientists came forward and acknowledged the research of University of New Mexico University’s group

“This paper is an elegant example of thinking outside the box,” said Elizabeth Comen (https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/doctors/elizabeth-comen), a medical oncologist and researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering who was not involved with the work. “To leverage the cancer cell’s powerful ability to travel all over the body against tumors is fascinating.”

“The idea is interesting and audacious,” Joan Massagué (https://www.mskcc.org/research-areas/labs/joan-massague) of Memorial Sloan Kettering, who was a coauthor on the 2009 paper showing bidirectional CTC movement but was not involved in the present study, wrote in an email to The Scientist.

“While so many scientists are trying to design nanoparticles delivery agents to bring drugs selectively to tumors, [the authors] have capitalized in the inherent ability of certain tumor cells to “’elf seed,’” Bruce Zetter (http://www.dfhcc.harvard.edu/insider/member-detail/member/bruce-r-zetter-phd/), who studies the mechanisms of tumor progression at Harvard and was not involved in the work, told The Scientist in an email. “It’s appealing that the tumor cells should be able to find their counterparts both in primary and in secondary tumor sites.”

Using TNF-α as a “warhead” was a good first choice, wrote Zetter. “TNF-α is probably working here principally as an antivascular agent. . . . One can imagine that others will employ many different types of agents over time.”

Comen noted that the challenge, now, will be to make sure the GM CTCs don’t contribute to metastasis. To Arap’s mind, irradiatiating the engineered cells—so they cannot divide—is one potential solution. (In the present study, the researchers showed that irradiated GM CTCs inhibited tumor growth, but not to the same extent as nonirradiated GM CTCs did.)

Going forward, Massagué said he would like to see an attempt to target an endogenous tumor in mice with modified CTCs derived from the same tumor. “If that experiment worked, the [cancer] field would get excited,” he told The Scientist.

Sources:
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45268/title/Turning-Tumor-Cells-Against-Cancer/
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-02-genetically-circulating-tumor-cells-tumors.html


@MIT: New delivery method boosts efficiency of CRISPR genome-editing system

 

Reporters: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN and Stephen J Williams, PhD

 

Presented as

Curing disease by repairing faulty genes | MIT News

http://news.mit.edu/2016/crispr-curing-disease-repairing-faulty-genes-0201?elq=37b2f4be24124fa0af9027e821c3acc4&elqCampaignId=6&elqaid=14645&elqat=1&elqTrackId=762ec0b78f784efaa0d47de49f95cb77

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