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Posts Tagged ‘organ on a chip’


Google Glass Meets Organs-on-Chips

 

Reported by: Irina Robu, PhD

Google Glass is a recently designed wearable device capable of displaying information in a smartphone-like hands-free format by wireless communication designed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital that mimic the human physiological system. The device allows researchers to test drug compounds and predict physiological responses with high acccuracy in laboratory setting.

The Glass also provides control over remote devices, primarily enabled by voice recognition commands and offers researchers a hands-free and flexible monitoring system. To make Google Glass work, Zhang et al. custom developed hardware and software that takes advantage of the voice control command in order to not only monitor but remotely control their liver and heart on chip systems. The Google Glass device is also capable in monitoring physical and physiological parameters such as temperature, pH and morphology of liver- and heart-on-chips.

The Google Glass has particular importance in cases where the experimental conditions threaten human life, as when researchers work with highly contagious bacteria and virus or radioactivity.
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Curbing Cancer Cell Growth & Metastasis-on-a-Chip’ Models Cancer’s Spread

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

New Approach to Curbing Cancer Cell Growth

http://www.technologynetworks.com/Metabolomics/news.aspx?ID=189342

Using a new approach, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and collaborating institutions have discovered a novel drug candidate that could be used to treat certain types of breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

The new study focused on serine, one of the 20 amino acids (protein building blocks) found in nature. Many types of cancer require synthesis of serine to sustain rapid, constant and unregulated growth.

To find a drug candidate that interfered with this pathway, the team screened a large library of compounds from a variety of sources, searching for molecules that inhibited a specific enzyme known as 3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), which is responsible for the first committed step in serine biosynthesis.

“In addition to discovering an inhibitor that targets cancer metabolism, we also now have a tool to help answer interesting questions about serine metabolism,” said Luke L. Lairson, assistant professor of chemistry at TSRI and principal investigator of cell biology at the California Institute for Biomedical Research (CALIBR).

Lairson was senior author of the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), with Lewis Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College and Costas Lyssiotis of the University of Michigan.

Addicted to Serine

Serine is necessary for nucleotide, protein and lipid biosynthesis in all cells. Cells use two main routes for acquiring serine: through import from the extracellular environment or through conversion of 3-phosphoglycerate (a glycolytic intermediate) by PHGDH.

“Since the late 1950s, it has been known that cancer cells use the process of aerobic glycolysis to generate metabolites needed for proliferative growth,” said Lairson.

This process can lead to an overproduction of serine. The genetic basis for this abundance had remained mysterious until recently, when it was demonstrated that some cancers acquire mutations that increased the expression of PHGDH; reducing PHGDH in these “serine-addicted” cancer cells also inhibited their growth.

The labs of Lewis C. Cantley at Weill Cornell Medical College (in work published in Nature Genetics) and David Sabatini at the Whitehead Institute (in work published in Nature) suggested PHGDH as a potential drug target for cancer types that overexpress the enzyme.

Lairson and colleagues hypothesized that a small molecule drug candidate that inhibited PHGDH could interfere with cancer metabolism and point the way to the development of an effective cancer therapeutic. Importantly, this drug candidate would be inactive against normal cells because they would be able to import enough serine to support ordinary growth.

As Easy as 1-2-800,000

Lairson, in collaboration with colleagues including Cantley, Lyssiotis, Edouard Mullarky of Weill Cornell and Harvard Medical School and Natasha Lucki of CALIBR, screened through a library of 800,000 small molecules using a high-throughput in vitro enzyme assay to detect inhibition of PHGDH. The group identified 408 candidates and further narrowed this list down based on cell-type specific anti-proliferative activity and by eliminating those inhibitors that broadly targeted other dehydrogenases.

With the successful identification of seven candidate inhibitors, the team sought to determine if these molecules could inhibit PHGDH in the complex cellular environment. To do so, the team used a mass spectrometry-based assay (test) to measure newly synthesized serine in a cell in the presence of the drug candidates.

One of the seven small molecules tested, named CBR-5884, was able to specifically inhibit serine synthesis by 30 percent, suggesting that the molecule specifically targeted PHGDH. The group went on to show that CBR-5884 was able to inhibit cell proliferation of breast cancer and melanoma cells lines that overexpress PHGDH.

As expected, CBR-5884 did not inhibit cancer cells that did not overexpress PHGDH, as they can import serine; however, when incubated in media lacking serine, the presence of CBR-5884 decreased growth in these cells.

The group anticipates much optimization work before this drug candidate can become an effective therapeutic. In pursuit of this goal, the researchers plan to take a medicinal chemistry approach to improve potency and metabolic stability.

 

How Cancer Stem Cells Thrive When Oxygen Is Scarce

(Image: Shutterstock)
image: Shutterstock

Working with human breast cancer cells and mice, scientists at The Johns Hopkins University say new experiments explain how certain cancer stem cells thrive in low oxygen conditions. Proliferation of such cells, which tend to resist chemotherapy and help tumors spread, are considered a major roadblock to successful cancer treatment.

The new research, suggesting that low-oxygen conditions spur growth through the same chain of biochemical events in both embryonic stem cells and breast cancer stem cells, could offer a path through that roadblock, the investigators say.

“There are still many questions left to answer but we now know that oxygen poor environments, like those often found in advanced human breast cancers serve as nurseries for the birth of cancer stem cells,” said Gregg Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Medicine and a member of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. “That gives us a few more possible targets for drugs that diminish their threat in human cancer.”

A summary of the findings was published online March 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Aggressive cancers contain regions where the cancer cells are starved for oxygen and die off, yet patients with these tumors generally have the worst outcome. Our new findings tell us that low oxygen conditions actually encourage certain cancer stem cells to multiply through the same mechanism used by embryonic stem cells.”

All stem cells are immature cells known for their ability to multiply indefinitely and give rise to progenitor cells that mature into specific cell types that populate the body’s tissues during embryonic development. They also replenish tissues throughout the life of an organism. But stem cells found in tumors use those same attributes and twist them to maintain and enhance the survival of cancers.

Recent studies showed that low oxygen conditions increase levels of a family of proteins known as HIFs, or hypoxia-inducible factors, that turn on hundreds of genes, including one called NANOG that instructs cells to become stem cells.

Studies of embryonic stem cells revealed that NANOG protein levels can be lowered by a chemical process known as methylation, which involves putting a methyl group chemical tag on a protein’s messenger RNA (mRNA) precursor. Semenza said methylation leads to the destruction of NANOG’s mRNA so that no protein is made, which in turn causes the embryonic stem cells to abandon their stem cell state and mature into different cell types.

Zeroing in on NANOG, the scientists found that low oxygen conditions increased NANOG’s mRNA levels through the action of HIF proteins, which turned on the gene for ALKBH5, which decreased the methylation and subsequent destruction of NANOG’s mRNA. When they prevented the cells from making ALKBH5, NANOG levels and the number of cancer stem cells decreased. When the researchers manipulated the cell’s genetics to increase levels of ALKBH5 without exposing them to low oxygen, they found this also decreased methylation of NANOG mRNA and increased the numbers of breast cancer stem cells.

Finally, using live mice, the scientists injected 1,000 triple-negative breast cancer cells into their mammary fat pads, where the mouse version of breast cancer forms. Unaltered cells created tumors in all seven mice injected with such cells, but when cells missing ALKBH5 were used, they caused tumors in only 43 percent (six out of 14) of mice. “That confirmed for us that ALKBH5 helps preserve cancer stem cells and their tumor-forming abilities,” Semenza said.

How cancer stem cells thrive when oxygen is scarce    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160328100159.htm

The new research, suggesting that low-oxygen conditions spur growth through the same chain of biochemical events in both embryonic stem cells and breast cancer stem cells, could offer a path through that roadblock, the investigators say.

“There are still many questions left to answer but we now know that oxygen poor environments, like those often found in advanced human breast cancers serve as nurseries for the birth of cancer stem cells,” says Gregg Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Medicine and a member of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Chuanzhao Zhang, Debangshu Samanta, Haiquan Lu, John W. Bullen, Huimin Zhang, Ivan Chen, Xiaoshun He, Gregg L. Semenza.
Hypoxia induces the breast cancer stem cell phenotype by HIF-dependent and ALKBH5-mediated m6A-demethylation of NANOG mRNA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201602883     DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1602883113

Significance

Pluripotency factors, such as NANOG, play a critical role in the maintenance and specification of cancer stem cells, which are required for primary tumor formation and metastasis. In this study, we report that exposure of breast cancer cells to hypoxia (i.e., reduced O2 availability), which is a critical feature of the tumor microenvironment, induces N6-methyladenosine (m6A) demethylation and stabilization of NANOG mRNA, thereby promoting the breast cancer stem cell (BCSC) phenotype. We show that inhibiting the expression of AlkB homolog 5 (ALKBH5), which demethylates m6A, or the hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) HIF-1α and HIF-2α, which activate ALKBH5 gene transcription in hypoxic breast cancer cells, is an effective strategy to decrease NANOG expression and target BCSCs in vivo.

N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modification of mRNA plays a role in regulating embryonic stem cell pluripotency. However, the physiological signals that determine the balance between methylation and demethylation have not been described, nor have studies addressed the role of m6A in cancer stem cells. We report that exposure of breast cancer cells to hypoxia stimulated hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α- and HIF-2α–dependent expression of AlkB homolog 5 (ALKBH5), an m6A demethylase, which demethylated NANOG mRNA, which encodes a pluripotency factor, at an m6A residue in the 3′-UTR. Increased NANOG mRNA and protein expression, and the breast cancer stem cell (BCSC) phenotype, were induced by hypoxia in an HIF- and ALKBH5-dependent manner. Insertion of the NANOG 3′-UTR into a luciferase reporter gene led to regulation of luciferase activity by O2, HIFs, and ALKBH5, which was lost upon mutation of the methylated residue. ALKBH5 overexpression decreased NANOG mRNA methylation, increased NANOG levels, and increased the percentage of BCSCs, phenocopying the effect of hypoxia. Knockdown of ALKBH5 expression in MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells significantly reduced their capacity for tumor initiation as a result of reduced numbers of BCSCs. Thus, HIF-dependent ALKBH5 expression mediates enrichment of BCSCs in the hypoxic tumor microenvironment.

Specific Proteins Found to Jump Start Spread of Cancer Cells

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/specific-proteins-found-to-jump-start-spread-of-cancer-cells/81252417/

Metastatic breast cancer cells. [National Cancer Institute]
http://www.genengnews.com/Media/images/GENHighlight/thumb_Feb29_2016_NCI_MetastaticBreastCancerCells1797514764.jpg

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center, with colleagues in Spain and Germany, have discovered how elevated levels of particular proteins in cancer cells trigger hyperactivity in other proteins, fueling the growth and spread of a variety of cancers. Their study (“Prognostic Impact of Modulators of G Proteins in Circulating Tumor Cells from Patients with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer”) is published in Scientific Reports.

Specifically, the international team, led by senior author Pradipta Ghosh, M.D., associate professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, found that increased levels of expression of some members of a protein family called guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) triggered unsuspected hyperactivation of G proteins and subsequent progression or metastasis of cancer.

The discovery suggests GEFs offer a new and more precise indicator of disease state and prognosis. “We found that elevated expression of each GEF is associated with a shorter, progression-free survival in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Ghosh. “The GEFs fared better as prognostic markers than two well-known markers of cancer progression, and the clustering of all GEFs together improved the predictive accuracy of each individual family member.”

In recent years, circulating tumor cells (CTCs), which are shed from primary tumors into the bloodstream and act as seeds for new tumors taking root in other parts of the body, have become a prognostic and predictive biomarker. The presence of CTCs is used to monitor the efficacy of therapies and detect early signs of metastasis.

But counting CTCs in the bloodstream has limited utility, said Dr. Ghosh. “Enumeration alone does not capture the particular characteristics of CTCs that are actually tumorigenic and most likely to cause additional malignancies.”

Numerous efforts are underway to improve the value and precision of CTC analysis. According to Dr. Ghosh the new findings are a step in that direction. First, GEFs activate trimeric G proteins, and second, G protein signaling is involved in CTCs. G proteins are ubiquitous and essential molecular switches involved in transmitting external signals from stimuli into cells’ interiors. They have been a subject of heightened scientific interest for many years.

Dr. Ghosh and colleagues found that elevated expression of nonreceptor GEFs activates Gαi proteins, fueling CTCs and ultimately impacting the disease course and survival of cancer patients.

“Our work shows the prognostic impact of elevated expression of individual and clustered GEFs on survival and the benefit of transcriptome analysis of G protein regulatory proteins in cancer biology,” said Dr. Ghosh. “The next step will be to carry this technology into the clinic where it can be applied directly to deciphering a patient’s state of cancer and how best to treat.”

Metastasis-on-a-Chip’ Models Cancer’s Spread

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2016/03/metastasis-chip-models-cancers-spread?et_cid=5200644&et_rid=461755519

In the journal Biotechnology Bioengineering, the team reports on its “metastasis-on-a-chip” system believed to be one of the first laboratory models of cancer spreading from one 3D tissue to another.

The current version of the system models a colorectal tumor spreading from the colon to the liver, the most common site of metastasis. Skardal said future versions could include additional organs, such as the lung and bone marrow, which are also potential sites of metastasis. The team also plans to model other types of cancer, such as the deadly brain tumor glioblastoma

To create the system, researchers encapsulated human intestine and colorectal cancer cells inside a biocompatible gel-like material to make a mini-organ. A mini-liver composed of human liver cells was made in the same way. These organoids were placed in a “chip” system made up of a set of micro-channels and chambers etched into the chip’s surface to mimic a simplified version of the body’s circulatory system. The tumor cells were tagged with fluorescent molecules so their activity could be viewed under a microscope.

To test whether the system could model metastasis, the researchers first used highly aggressive cancer cells in the colon organoid. Under the microscope, they saw the tumor grow in the colon organoid until the cells broke free, entered the circulatory system and then invaded the liver tissue, where another tumor formed and grew. When a less aggressive form of colon cancer was used in the system, the tumor did not metastasize, but continued to grow in the colon.

To test the system’s potential for screening drugs, the team introduced Marimastat, a drug used to inhibit metastasis in human patients, into the system and found that it significantly prevented the migration of metastatic cells over a 10-day period. Likewise, the team also tested 5-fluorouracil, a common colorectal cancer drug, which reduced the metabolic activity of the tumor cells.

“We are currently exploring whether other established anti-cancer drugs have the same effects in the system as they do in patients,” said Skardal. “If this link can be validated and expanded, we believe the system can be used to screen drug candidates for patients as a tool in personalized medicine. If we can create the same model systems, only with tumor cells from an actual patient, then we believe we can use this platform to determine the best therapy for any individual patient.”

The scientists are currently working to refine their system. They plan to use 3D printing to create organoids more similar in function to natural organs. And they aim to make the process of metastasis more realistic. When cancer spreads in the human body, the tumor cells must break through blood vessels to enter the blood steam and reach other organs. The scientists plan to add a barrier of endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels, to the model.

This concept of modeling the body’s processes on a miniature level is made possible because of advances in micro-tissue engineering and micro-fluidics technologies. It is similar to advances in the electronics industry made possible by miniaturizing electronics on a chip.

Scientists Synthesize Anti-Cancer Agent

A schematic shows a trioxacarcin C molecule, whose structure was revealed for the first time through a new process developed by the Rice lab of synthetic organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou. Trioxacarcins are found in bacteria but synthetic versions are needed to study them for their potential as medications. Trioxacarcins have anti-cancer properties. Source: Nicolaou Group/Rice University
A schematic shows a trioxacarcin C molecule, whose structure was revealed for the first time through a new process developed by the Rice lab of synthetic organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou. Trioxacarcins are found in bacteria but synthetic versions are needed to study them for their potential as medications. Trioxacarcins have anti-cancer properties. Source: Nicolaou Group/Rice University  http://www.dddmag.com/sites/dddmag.com/files/ddd1603_rice-anticancer.jpg

A team led by Rice University synthetic organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou has developed a new process for the synthesis of a series of potent anti-cancer agents originally found in bacteria.

The Nicolaou lab finds ways to replicate rare, naturally occurring compounds in larger amounts so they can be studied by biologists and clinicians as potential new medications. It also seeks to fine-tune the molecular structures of these compounds through analog design and synthesis to improve their disease-fighting properties and lessen their side effects.

Such is the case with their synthesis of trioxacarcins, reported this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Not only does this synthesis render these valuable molecules readily available for biological investigation, but it also allows the previously unknown full structural elucidation of one of them,” Nicolaou said. “The newly developed synthetic technologies will allow us to construct variations for biological evaluation as part of a program to optimize their pharmacological profiles.”

At present, there are no drugs based on trioxacarcins, which damage DNA through a novel mechanism, Nicolaou said.

Trioxacarcins were discovered in the fermentation broth of the bacterial strain Streptomyces bottropensis. They disrupt the replication of cancer cells by binding and chemically modifying their genetic material.

“These molecules are endowed with powerful anti-tumor properties,” Nicolaou said. “They are not as potent as shishijimicin, which we also synthesized recently, but they are more powerful than taxol, the widely used anti-cancer drug. Our objective is to make it more powerful through fine-tuning its structure.”

He said his lab is working with a biotechnology partner to pair these cytotoxic compounds (called payloads) to cancer cell-targeting antibodies through chemical linkers. The process produces so-called antibody-drug conjugates as drugs to treat cancer patients. “It’s one of the latest frontiers in personalized targeting chemotherapies,” said Nicolaou, who earlier this year won the prestigious Wolf Prize in Chemistry.

Fluorescent Nanoparticle Tracks Cancer Treatment’s Effectiveness in Hours

Bevin Fletcher, Associate Editor    http://www.biosciencetechnology.com/news/2016/03/fluorescent-nanoparticle-tracks-cancer-treatments-effectiveness-hours

Using reporter nanoparticles loaded with either a chemotherapy or immunotherapy, researchers could distinguish between drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tumors in a pre-clinical model of prostate cancer. (Source: Brigham and Women's Hospital)

Using reporter nanoparticles loaded with either a chemotherapy or immunotherapy, researchers could distinguish between drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tumors in a pre-clinical model of prostate cancer. (Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Bioengineers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new technique to help determine if chemotherapy is working in as few as eight hours after treatment. The new approach, which can also be used for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy, has shown success in pre-clinical models.

The technology utilizes a nanoparticle, carrying anti-cancer drugs, that glows green when cancer cells begin dying. Researchers, using  the “reporter nanoparticles” that responds to a particular enzyme known as caspase, which is activated when cells die, were able to distinguish between a tumor that is drug-sensitive or drug-resistant much faster than conventional detection methods such as PET scans, CT and MRI.  The findings were published online March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Using this approach, the cells light up the moment a cancer drug starts working,” co-corresponding author Shiladitya Sengupta, Ph.D., principal investigator in BWH’s Division of Bioengineering, said in a prepared statement.  “We can determine if a cancer therapy is effective within hours of treatment.  Our long-term goal is to find a way to monitor outcomes very early so that we don’t give a chemotherapy drug to patients who are not responding to it.”

Cancer killers send signal of success

Nanoparticles deliver drug, then give real-time feedback when tumor cells die   BY   SARAH SCHWARTZ

New lab-made nanoparticles deliver cancer drugs into tumors, then report their effects in real time by lighting up in response to proteins produced by dying cells. More light (right, green) indicates a tumor is responding to chemotherapy.

Tiny biochemical bundles carry chemotherapy drugs into tumors and light up when surrounding cancer cells start dying. Future iterations of these lab-made particles could allow doctors to monitor the effects of cancer treatment in real time, researchers report the week of March 28 in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is the first system that allows you to read out whether your drug is working or not,” says study coauthor Shiladitya Sengupta, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Each roughly 100-nanometer-wide particle consists of a drug and a fluorescent dye linked to a coiled molecular chain. Before the particles enter cells, the dye is tethered to a “quencher” molecule that prevents it from lighting up. When injected into the bloodstream of a mouse with cancer, the nanoparticles accumulate in tumor cells and release the drug, which activates a protein that tears a cancer cell apart. This cell-splitting protein not only kills the tumor cell, but also severs the link between the dye and the quencher, allowing the nanoparticles to glow under infrared light.

Reporter nanoparticle that monitors its anticancer efficacy in real time

Ashish Kulkarnia,b,1,Poornima Raoa,b,Siva Natarajana,b,Aaron Goldman, et al.
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/03/28/1603455113.abstract

The ability to identify responders and nonresponders very early during chemotherapy by direct visualization of the activity of the anticancer treatment and to switch, if necessary, to a regimen that is effective can have a significant effect on the outcome as well as quality of life. Current approaches to quantify response rely on imaging techniques that fail to detect very early responses. In the case of immunotherapy, the early anatomical readout is often discordant with the biological response. This study describes a self-reporting nanomedicine that not only delivers chemotherapy or immunotherapy to the tumor but also reports back on its efficacy in real time, thereby identifying responders and nonresponders early on

The ability to monitor the efficacy of an anticancer treatment in real time can have a critical effect on the outcome. Currently, clinical readouts of efficacy rely on indirect or anatomic measurements, which occur over prolonged time scales postchemotherapy or postimmunotherapy and may not be concordant with the actual effect. Here we describe the biology-inspired engineering of a simple 2-in-1 reporter nanoparticle that not only delivers a cytotoxic or an immunotherapy payload to the tumor but also reports back on the efficacy in real time. The reporter nanoparticles are engineered from a novel two-staged stimuli-responsive polymeric material with an optimal ratio of an enzyme-cleavable drug or immunotherapy (effector elements) and a drug function-activatable reporter element. The spatiotemporally constrained delivery of the effector and the reporter elements in a single nanoparticle produces maximum signal enhancement due to the availability of the reporter element in the same cell as the drug, thereby effectively capturing the temporal apoptosis process. Using chemotherapy-sensitive and chemotherapy-resistant tumors in vivo, we show that the reporter nanoparticles can provide a real-time noninvasive readout of tumor response to chemotherapy. The reporter nanoparticle can also monitor the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibition in melanoma. The self-reporting capability, for the first time to our knowledge, captures an anticancer nanoparticle in action in vivo.

 

Cancer Treatment’s New Direction  
Genetic testing helps oncologists target tumors and tailor treatments
http://www.wsj.com/articles/cancer-treatments-new-direction-1459193085

Evan Johnson had battled a cold for weeks, endured occasional nosebleeds and felt so fatigued he struggled to finish his workouts at the gym. But it was the unexplained bruises and chest pain that ultimately sent the then 23-year-old senior at the University of North Dakota to the Mayo Clinic. There a genetic test revealed a particularly aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia. That was two years ago.

The harrowing roller-coaster that followed for Mr. Johnson and his family highlights new directions oncologists are taking with genetic testing to find and attack cancer. Tumors can evolve to resist treatments, and doctors are beginning to turn such setbacks into possible advantages by identifying new targets to attack as the tumors change.

His course involved a failed stem cell transplant, a half-dozen different drug regimens, four relapses and life-threatening side effects related to his treatment.

Nine months in, his leukemia had evolved to develop a surprising new mutation. The change meant the cancer escaped one treatment, but the new anomaly provided doctors with a fresh target, one susceptible to drugs approved for other cancers. Doctors adjusted Mr. Johnson’s treatment accordingly, knocked out the disease and paved the way for a second, more successful stem cell transplant. He has now been free of leukemia for a year.

Now patients with advanced cancer who are treated at major centers can expect to have their tumors sequenced, in hopes of finding a match in a growing medicine chest of drugs that precisely target mutations that drive cancer’s growth. When they work, such matches can have a dramatic effect on tumors. But these “precision medicines” aren’t cures. They are often foiled when tumors evolve, pushing doctors to take the next step to identify new mutations in hopes of attacking them with an effective treatment.

Dr. Kasi and his Mayo colleagues—Naseema Gangat, a hematologist, and Shahrukh Hashmi, a transplant specialist—are among the authors of an account of Mr. Johnson’s case published in January in the journal Leukemia Research Reports.

Before qualifying for a transplant, a patient’s blasts need to be under 5%.

To get under 5%, he started on a standard chemotherapy regimen and almost immediately, things went south. His blast cells plummeted, but “the chemo just wiped out my immune system,”

Then as mysteriously as it began, a serious mycotic throat infection stopped. But Mr. Johnson couldn’t tolerate the chemo, and his blast cells were on the rise. A two-drug combination that included the liver cancer drug Nexavar, which targets the FLT3 mutation, knocked back the blast cells. But the stem cell transplant in May, which came from one of his brothers, failed to take, and he relapsed after 67 days, around late July.

He was put into a clinical trial of an experimental AML drug being developed by Astellas Pharma of Japan. He started to regain weight. In November 2014, doctors spotted the initial signs in blood tests that Mr. Johnson’s cancer was evolving to acquire a new mutation. By late January, he relapsed again , but there was a Philadelphia chromosome mutation,  a well-known genetic alteration associated with chronic myeloid leukemia. It also is a target of the blockbuster cancer drug Gleevec and several other medicines.

Clonal evolution of AML on novel FMS-like tyrosine kinase-3 (FLT3) inhibitor therapy with evolving actionable targets

Naseema GangatMark R. LitzowMrinal M. PatnaikShahrukh K. HashmiNaseema Gangat

Highlights
•   The article reports on a case of AML that underwent clonal evolution.
•   We report on novel acquisition of the Philadelphia t(9;22) translocation in AML.
•   Next generation sequencing maybe helpful in these refractory/relapse cases.
•   Novel FLT3-inhibitor targeted therapies are another option in patients with AML.
•   Personalizing cancer treatment based on evolving targets is a viable option.

For acute myeloid leukemia (AML), identification of activating mutations in the FMS-like tyrosine kinase-3 (FLT3) has led to the development of several FLT3-inhibitors. Here we present clinical and next generation sequencing data at the time of progression of a patient on a novel FLT3-inhibitor clinical trial (ASP2215) to show that employing therapeutic interventions with these novel targeted therapies can lead to consequences secondary to selective pressure and clonal evolution of cancer. We describe novel findings alongside data on treatment directed towards actionable aberrations acquired during the process. (Clinical Trial: NCT02014558; registered at: 〈https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02014558〉)

The development of kinase inhibitors for the treatment of leukemia has revolutionized the care of these patients. Since the introduction of imatinib for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia, multiple other tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have become available[1]. Additionally, for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), identification of activating mutations in the FMS-like tyrosine kinase-3 (FLT3) has led to the development of several FLT3-inhibitors [2], [3], [4] and [5]. The article herein reports a unique case of AML that underwent clonal evolution while on a novel FLT3-inhibitor clinical trial.

Our work herein presents clinical and next generation sequencing data at the time of progression to illustrate these important concepts stemming from Darwinian evolution [6]. We describe novel findings alongside data on treatment directed towards actionable aberrations acquired during the process.

Our work focuses on a 23-year-old male who presented with 3 months history of fatigue and easy bruising, a white blood count of 22.0×109/L with 51% circulating blasts, hemoglobin 7.6 g/dL, and a platelet count of 43×109/L. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of AML. Initial cytogenetic studies identified trisomy 8 in all the twenty metaphases examined. Mutational analysis revealed an internal tandem duplication of the FLT3 gene (FLT3-ITD).

He received standard induction chemotherapy (7+3) with cytarabine (ARA-C; 100 mg/m2for 7 days) and daunorubicin (DNM; 60 mg/m2 for 3 days). His induction chemotherapy was complicated by severe palatine and uvular necrosis of indeterminate etiology (possible mucormycosis).

Bone marrow biopsy at day 28 demonstrated persistent disease with 10% bone marrow blasts (Fig. 1). Due to his complicated clinical course and the presence of a FLT3-ITD, salvage therapy with 5-azacitidine (5-AZA) and sorafenib (SFN) was instituted. Table 1.
The highlighted therapies were employed in this particular case at various time points as shown in Fig. 1.

http://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S221304891530025X-gr1.jpg

References

    • [1]
    • J.E. Cortes, D.W. Kim, J. Pinilla-Ibarz, et al.
    • A phase 2 trial of ponatinib in Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemias
    • New Engl. J. Med., 369 (19) (2013), pp. 1783–1796
    • [2]
    • F. Ravandi, M.L. Alattar, M.R. Grunwald, et al.
    • Phase 2 study of azacytidine plus sorafenib in patients with acute myeloid leukemia and FLT-3 internal tandem duplication mutation
    • Blood, 121 (23) (2013), pp. 4655–4662
    • [3]
    • N.P. Shah, M. Talpaz, M.W. Deininger, et al.
    • Ponatinib in patients with refractory acute myeloid leukaemia: findings from a phase 1 study
    • Br. J. Haematol., 162 (4) (2013), pp. 548–552
    • [4]
    • Y. Alvarado, H.M. Kantarjian, R. Luthra, et al.
    • Treatment with FLT3 inhibitor in patients with FLT3-mutated acute myeloid leukemia is associated with development of secondary FLT3-tyrosine kinase domain mutations
    • Cancer, 120 (14) (2014), pp. 2142–2149
    • [5]
    • C.C. Smith, C. Zhang, K.C. Lin, et al.
    • Characterizing and overriding the structural mechanism of the Quizartinib-Resistant FLT3 “Gatekeeper” F691L mutation with PLX3397
    • Cancer Discov. (2015)
    • [6]
    • M. Greaves, C.C. Maley
    • Clonal evolution in cancer
    • Nature, 481 (7381) (2012), pp. 306–313

 

 

 

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Current Advances in Medical Technology

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

Pumpkin-Shaped Molecule Enables 100-Fold Improved MRI Contrast

Tue, 10/13/2015 – 9:16amby Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/pumpkin-shaped-molecule-enables-100-fold-improved-mri-contrast

Assuming that we could visualize pathological processes such as cancer at a very early stage and additionally distinguish the various different cell types, this would represent a giant step for personalized medicine. Xenon magnetic resonance imaging has the potential to fulfil this promise – if suitable contrast media are found that react sensitively enough to the “exposure”. Researchers at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie in Berlin have now found that a class of pumpkin-shaped molecules called cucurbiturils together with the inert gas xenon, enables particularly good image contrast – namely around 100 times better than has been possible up to now. This finding published in the November issue cover article of Chemical Science by the Royal Society of Chemistry points the way to the tailoring of new contrast agents to different cell types and has the potential to enable molecular diagnostics even without tissue samples in the future.

Personalized medicine instead of one treatment for all – especially in cancer medicine, this approach has led to a paradigm shift. Molecular diagnostics is the key that will give patients access to tailor-made therapy. However, if tumors are located in poorly accessible areas of the body or several tumor foci are already present, this often fails due to a lack of sufficient sensitivity of the diagnostic imaging. But such sensitivity is needed to determine the different cell types, which differ considerably even within a tumor. Although even the smallest of tumor foci and other pathological changes can be detected using the PET-CT, a differentiation according to cell type is usually not possible.

Scientists from the FMP are therefore focusing on xenon magnetic resonance imaging: The further development of standard magnetic resonance imaging makes use of the “illuminating power” of the inert gas xenon, which can provide a 10,000-fold enhanced signal in the MRI. To do this, it must be temporarily captured by so-called “cage molecules” in the diseased tissue. This has been more or less successful with the molecules used to date, but the experimental approach is still far from a medical application.

Cucurbituril Provides Stunning Image Contrasts
The research group led by Dr. Leif Schröder at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) has now discovered a molecule class for this purpose that eclipses all of the molecules used to date. Cucurbituril exchanges around 100 times more xenon per unit of time than its fellow molecules, which leads to a much better image contrast. “It very quickly became clear that cucurbituril might be suitable as a contrast medium,” reports Leif Schröder. “However, it was surprising that areas marked with it were imaged with a much better contrast than previously.” The explanation is to be found in the speed. Upon exposure, so to speak, cucurbituril generates contrast more rapidly than all molecules used to date, as it only binds the xenon very briefly and thus transmits the radio waves to detect the inert gas to very many xenon atoms within a fraction of a second. In this way, the inert gas is passed through the molecule much more efficiently.

In the study, which appeared in the specialist journal “Chemical Science”, the world’s first MRI images with cucurbituril have been achieved. With the aid of a powerful laser and a vaporized alkali metal, the researchers initially greatly strengthened the magnetic properties of normal xenon. The hyperpolarized gas was then introduced into a test solution with the cage molecules. A subsequent MRI image showed the distribution of the xenon in the object. In a second image, the curcurbituril together with radio waves destroyed the magnetization of the xenon, leading to dark spots on the images.

“Comparison of the two images demonstrates that only the xenon in the cages has the right resonance frequency to produce a dark area,” explains Schröder. “This blackening is possible to a much better degree with cucurbituril than with previous cage molecules, for it works like a very light-sensitive photographic paper. The contrast is around 100 times stronger.”

Time-of-Flight IC Revolutionizes Object Detection and Distance Measurement

Tue, 10/13/2015 – 9:07amby Intersil

New ISL29501 signal processing IC detects objects up to two meters

http://www.mdtmag.com/product-release/2015/10/time-flight-ic-revolutionizes-object-detection-and-distance-measurement
Intersil Corporation has introduced an innovative time-of-flight (ToF) signal processing IC that provides a complete object detection and distance measurement solution when combined with an external emitter (LED or laser) and photodiode. The ISL29501 ToF device offers one-of-a-kind functionality, including ultra-small size, low-power consumption and superior performance ideal for connected devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as consumer mobile devices and the emerging commercial drone market.

The ISL29501 overcomes the shortcomings of traditional amplitude-based proximity sensors and other ToF solutions that perform poorly in lighting conditions above 2,000 lux, or cannot provide distance information unless the object is perpendicular to the sensor.

The ISL29501 applies Intersil’s power management expertise to save power and extend battery life through several innovations.

“Prior to Intersil’s time-of-flight technology breakthrough, there was no practical way to measure distance up to two meters in a small form factor,” said Andrew Cowell, senior vice president of Mobile Power Products at Intersil. “The innovative ISL29501 provides customers a cost-effective, small footprint solution that also gives them the flexibility to use multiple devices to increase the field of view to a full 360 degrees for enhanced object detection capabilities.”

Key Features and Specifications

  • On-chip DSP calculates ToF for accurate proximity detection and distance measurement up to two meters
  • Modulation frequency of 4.5MHz prevents interference with other consumer products such as IR TV remote controls that operate at 40kHzOn-chip emitter DAC with programmable current up to 255mA
  • Allows designers to choose the desired current level to optimize distance measurement and power budget
  • Operates in single shot mode for initial object detection and approximate distance measurement, while continuous mode improve distance accuracy
  • On-chip active ambient light rejection minimizes or eliminates the influence of ambient light during distance measurement
  • Programmable distance zones: allows the user to define three ToF distance zones for determining interrupt alerts
  • Interrupt controller generates interrupt alerts using distance measurements and user defined thresholds
  • Automatic gain control sets optimum analog signal levels to achieve best SNR response
  • Supply voltage range of 2.7V to 3.3V
  • I2C interface supports 1.8V and 3.3V bus

The ISL29501 can be combined with the ISL9120 buck-boost regulator to further reduce power consumption and extend battery life in consumer and home automation applications.

Optoelectronic Implantable Could Enable Two-Way Communication with Brain

Mon, 10/12/2015 – 4:04pmby Brown University

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/optoelectronic-implantable-could-enable-two-way-communication-brain

Brown University researchers have created a new type of optoelectronic implantable device to access brain microcircuits, synergizing a technique that enables scientists to control the activity of brains cells using pulses of light. The invention, described in the journal Nature Methods, is a cortical microprobe that can stimulate multiple neuronal targets optically by specific patterns on micrometer scale while simultaneously recording the effects of that stimulation in the underlying neural microcircuits of interest with millisecond precision.

“We think this is a window-opener,” said Joonhee Lee, a senior research associate in Professor Arto Nurmikko’s lab in the School of Engineering at Brown and one of the lead authors of the new paper. “The ability to rapidly perturb neural circuits according specific spatial patterns and at the same time reconstruct how the circuits involved are perturbed, is in our view a substantial advance.”

First introduced around 2005, optogenetics has enriched ability of scientists seeking to understand brain function at the neuronal level. The technique involves genetically engineering neurons to express light-sensitive proteins on their membranes. With those proteins expressed, pulses of light can be used to either promote or suppress activity in those particular cells. The method gives researchers in principle unprecedented ability to control specific brain cells at specific times.

But until now, simultaneous optogenetic stimulation and recording of brain activity rapidly across multiple points within a brain microcircuit of interest has proven difficult. Doing it requires a device that can both generate a spatial pattern of light pulses and detect the dynamical patterns of electrical reverberations generated by excited cellular activity. Previous attempts to do this involved devices that cobbled together separate components for light emission and electrical sensing. Such probes were physically bulky, not ideal for insertion into a brain. And because the emitters and the sensors were necessarily a hundreds of micrometers apart, a sizable distance, the link between stimulation and recorded signal was ambiguous.

The new compact, integrated device developed by Nurmikko’s lab begins with the unique advantages endowed by a so-called wide bandgap semiconductor called zinc oxide. It is optically transparent yet able readily to conduct an electrical current.

“Very few materials have that pair of physical properties,” Lee said. “The combination makes it possible to both stimulate and detect with the same material.”

Joonhee Lee, with Assistant Research Professor Ilker Ozden and Professor Yoon-Kyu Song at Seoul National University in Korea, co-developed a novel microfabrication method with Nurmikko to shape the material into a monolithic chip just a few millimeters square with sixteen micrometer sized pin-like “optoelectrodes,” each capable of both delivering light pulses and sensing electrical current. The array of optoelectrodes enables the device to couple to neural microcircuits composed of many neurons rather than single neurons.

Such ability to stimulate and record at the network level on spatial and time scales at which they operate is key, Nurmikko says. Brain functions are driven by neural circuits rather than single neurons.

“For example, when I move my hand, that’s an example of action driven by specific network-level activity in the brain,” he said. “Our new device approach gives scientists and engineers a tool in applying the full power of optogenetics as a means of neural stimulation, while providing the means to read activity of perturbed networks at multiple points at high spatial precision and time resolution.”

Ozden led the initial testing of the device in rodent models. The researchers looked at the extent to which different light intensities could stimulate network activity. The tests showed that increasing optical power led to distinct recruitment of neuronal circuits revealing functional connectivity in the targeted network.

“We went over a range of optical power that was large–over three orders of magnitude–and in so doing we got a range of network-related responses, in particular we could replicate an activity pattern naturally occurring in the brain.” Ozden said. “It gave us a new insight into how optogenetics operates on the network level. This gives us encouragement to go ahead and extend the repertoire and application of the device technology.”

Nurmikko’s group together with the Song lab in Seoul plan to continue further development of the device, ultimately include an access via wireless means. Their next steps anticipate the use of the new device technology as chronic implant in non-human primates at potentially hundreds of points and, depending on progress in worldwide research on optogenetics ahead, perhaps even one day in humans.

“At least, the initial building blocks are here,” Nurmikko said, who conceived the idea with his Korean colleague Song.

Study Advances Possibility of Mind-Controlled Devices

Mon, 10/12/2015 – 10:50amby Ryan Bushey, Associate Editor, R&D

A study published in the journal Nature Medicine has shown a possible path to creating effective neural prosthetics.

http://www.mdtmag.com/blog/2015/10/study-advances-possibility-mind-controlled-devices

The study’s subjects, only listed as T6 and T7, have Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The scientists performed surgery on them one year ago to place a “neural recording device” in the part of the brain in charge of controlling hand function, notes Bloomberg.

The test documented in the study required T6 and T7 to perform a variety of tasks, such as moving a cursor to hit different targets on a computer screen. The device receives electrical impulses from the brain and morphs them into a computer signal to operate the cursor.

Both test subjects had the highest published performance so far, and even doubled the results of the previous clinical trial participant, according to the study.

The hope is that these devices can improve quality of life for people suffering from paralysis.

You can watch how T6 performed in her test below.

https://youtu.be/9P-qsiIORVU

Removing 62 Barriers to Pig–to–Human Organ Transplant in One Fell Swoop

Mon, 10/12/2015 – 9:09amby Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

The largest number of simultaneous gene edits ever accomplished in the genome could help bridge the gap between organ transplant scarcity and the countless patients who need them

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/removing-62-barriers-pig%E2%80%93%E2%80%93human-organ-transplant-one-fell-swoop

Never before have scientists been able to make scores of simultaneous genetic edits to an organism’s genome. But now in a landmark study by George Church, Ph.D., and his team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, the gene editing system known as “CRISPR–Cas9” has been used to genetically engineer pig DNA in 62 locations – an explosive leap forward in CRISPR’s capability when compared to its previous record maximum of just six simultaneous edits. The 62 edits were executed by the team to inactivate retroviruses found natively in the pig genome that have so far inhibited pig organs from being suitable for transplant in human patients. With the retroviruses safely removed via genetic engineering, however, the road is now open toward the possibility that humans could one day receive life–saving organ transplants from pigs.

Church is a Wyss Core Faculty member, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT. The advance, reported by Church and his team including the study’s lead author Luhan Yang, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Fellow at HMS and the Wyss Institute, was published in the October 11 issue of Science.

The concept of xenotransplantation, which is the transplant of an organ from one species to another, is nothing new. Researchers and clinicians have long hoped that one of the major challenges facing patients suffering from organ failure – which is the lack of available organs in the United States and worldwide – could be alleviated through the availability of suitable animal organs for transplant. Pigs in particular have been especially promising candidates due to their similar size and physiology to humans. In fact, pig heart valves are already commonly sterilized and de–cellularized for use repairing or replacing human heart valves.

This artistic rendering shows pig chromosomes (background) which reside in the nucleus of pig cells and contain a single strand of RNA, and the Cas9 protein targeting DNA (foreground). The CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing system works like molecular scissors to precisely edit genes of interest. A new advance reported in Science by Wyss Core Faculty member George Church and his team used Cas9 to make 62 edits to the pig genome to remove latent retroviruses, presenting a solution to one of the largest safety concerns that has so far blocked progress in making pig organs compatible for xenotransplant in humans. (Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

But the transplant of whole, functional organs comprised of living cells and tissue constructs has presented a unique set of challenges for scientists. One of the primary problems has been the fact that most mammals including pigs contain repetitive, latent retrovirus fragments in their genomes – present in all their living cells – that are harmless to their native hosts but can cause disease in other species.

“The presence of this type of virus found in pigs – known as porcine endogenous retroviruses or PERVs – brought over a billion of dollars of pharmaceutical industry investments into developing xenotransplant methods to a standstill by the early 2000s,” said Church. “PERVs and the lack of ability to remove them from pig DNA was a real showstopper on what had been a promising stage set for xenotransplantation.”

Now – using CRISPR–Cas9 like a pair of molecular scissors – Church and his team have inactivated all 62 repetitive genes containing a PERV in pig DNA, surpassing a significant obstacle on the path to bringing xenotransplantation to clinical reality. With more than 120,000 patients currently in the United States awaiting transplant and less than 30,000 transplants on average occurring annually, xenotransplantation could give patients and clinicians an alternative in the future.

“Pig kidneys can already function experimentally for months in baboons, but concern about the potential risks of PERVs has posed a problem for the field of xenotransplantation for many years,” said David H. Sachs, M.D., Director of the TBRC Laboratories at Massachusetts General Hospital, Paul S. Russell Professor of Surgery Emeritus at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Surgical Sciences at Columbia University’s Center for Translational Immunology. Sachs has been developing special pigs for xenotransplantation for more than 30 years and is currently collaborating with Church on further genetic modifications of his pigs. “If Church and his team are able to produce pigs from genetically engineered embryos lacking PERVs by the use of CRISPR-Cas9, they would eliminate an important potential safety concern facing this field.”

Yang says the team hopes eventually they can completely eliminate the risk that PERVs could cause disease in clinical xenotransplantation by using modified pig cells to clone a line of pigs that would have their PERV genes inactivated.

“This advance overcomes a major hurdle that has until now halted the progress of xenotransplantation research and development,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The real value and potential impact is in the number of lives that could be saved if we can one day use xenotransplants to close the huge gap between the number of available functional organs and the number of people who desperately need them.”

The remarkable and newly demonstrated capability for CRISPR to edit tens of repetitive genes such as PERVs will also unlock new ways for scientists to study and understand repetitive regions in the genome, which has been estimated to comprise more than two–thirds of our own human genome.

Contributors to the work also included: co–lead authors Marc Güell of the Wyss Institute and Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics, Dong Niu of HMS Dept. of Genetics and Zhejiang University’s College of Animal Sciences, and Haydy George of HMS Dept. of Genetics; and co–authors Emal Lesha, Dennis Grishin, Jürgen Poci, Ellen Shrock, and Rebeca Cortazio of HMS Dept. of Genetics, Weihong Xu of Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery, and Robert Wilkinson and Jay Fishman of MGH’s Transplant Infection Disease & Compromised Host Program.

Novel Gut-on-a-Chip Nearly Indistinguishable from Human GI Tract

Fri, 10/09/2015 – 1:17pmby University of North Carolina Healthcare

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/novel-gut-chip-nearly-indistinguishable-human-gi-tract?et_cid=4876632&et_rid=535648082

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University has received a $5.3 million, five-year Transformative Research (R01) Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create fully functioning versions of the human gut that fit on a chip the size of a dime.

Such “organs-on-a-chip” have become vital for biomedical research, as researchers seek alternatives to animal models for drug discovery and testing. The new grant will fund a technology that represents a major step forward for the field, overcoming limitations that have mired other efforts.

The technology will use primary cells derived directly from human biopsies, which are known to provide more relevant results than the immortalized cell lines used in current approaches. In addition, the device will sculpt these cells into the sophisticated architecture of the gut, rather than the disorganized ball of cells that are created in other miniature organ systems.

This is a picture of a schematic of colonic epithelial tissue. Crypt units are pointed down, flat surface faces center of the gut tube. Stem cells are red, progenitor cells are pink, differentiated cells are grey, blue and green. Yellow cells are stem cell niche cells. Lumenal surface is above crypts. (Credit: Scott Magness, PhD, UNC School of Medicine)

“We are building a device that goes far beyond the organ-on-a-chip,” said Nancy L. Allbritton, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the UNC-NC State joint department of biomedical engineering and one of four principle investigators on the NIH grant. “We call it a ‘simulacrum,’ a term used in science fiction to describe a duplicate. The idea is to create something that is indistinguishable from your own gut.”

Allbritton is an expert at microfabrication and microengineering. Also on the team are intestinal stem cell expert Scott T. Magness, PhD, associate professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, and cell and molecular physiology in the UNC School of Medicine; microbiome expert Scott Bultman, PhD, associate professor of genetics in the UNC School of Medicine; and bioinformatics expert Shawn Gomez, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State.

The impetus for the “organ-on-chip” movement comes largely from the failings of the pharmaceutical industry. For just a single drug to go through the discovery, testing, and approval process can take as many as 15 years and as much as $5 billion dollars. Animal models are expensive to work with and often don’t respond to drugs and diseases the same way humans do. Human cells grown in flat sheets on Petri dishes are also a poor proxy. Three-dimensional “organoids” are an improvement, but these hollow balls are made of a mishmash of cells that doesn’t accurately mimic the structure and function of the real organ.

Basically, the human gut is a 30-foot long hollow tube made up of a continuous single-layer of specialized cells. Regenerative stem cells reside deep inside millions of small pits or “crypts” along the tube, and mature differentiated cells are linked to the pits and live further out toward the surface. The gut also contains trillions of microbes, which are estimated to outnumber human cells by ten to one. These diverse microbial communities — collectively known as the microbiota — process toxins and pharmaceuticals, stimulate immunity, and even release hormones to impact behavior.

These are fluorescent images of the side view of two synthetic crypts. Blue: nuclei of the cells. Red: proliferating stem cells in similar location to those in the human colon. (Credit: Scott Magness, PhD, UNC School of Medicine)

To create a dime-sized version of this complex microenvironment, the UNC-NC State team borrowed fabrication technologies from the electronics and microfluidics world. The device is composed of a polymer base containing an array of imprinted or shaped “hydrogels,” a mesh of molecules that can absorb water like a sponge. These hydrogels are specifically engineered to provide the structural support and biochemical cues for growing cells from the gut. Plugged into the device will be various kinds of plumbing that bring in chemicals, fluids, and gases to provide cues that tell the cells how and where to differentiate and grow. For example, the researchers will engineer a steep oxygen gradient into the device that will enable oxygen-loving human cells and anaerobic microbes to coexist in close proximity.

“The underlying concept — to simply grow a piece of human tissue in a dish — doesn’t seem that groundbreaking,” said Magness. “We have been doing that for a long time with cancer cells, but those efforts do not replicate human physiology. Using native stem cells from the small intestine or colon, we can now develop gut tissue layers in a dish that contains stem cells and all the differentiated cells of the gut. That is the thing stem cell biologists and engineers have been shooting for, to make real tissue behave properly in a dish to create better models for drug screening and cell-based therapies. With this work, we made a big leap toward that goal.”

Right now, the team has a working prototype that can physically and chemically guide mouse intestinal stem cells into the appropriate structure and function of the gut. For several years, Magness has been isolating and banking human stem cells from samples from patients undergoing routine colonoscopies at UNC Hospitals. As part of the grant, he will work with the rest of the team to apply these stem cells to the new device and create “simulacra” that are representative of each patient’s individual gut. The approach will enable researchers to explore in a personalized way how both the human and microbial cells of the gut behave during healthy and diseased states.

“Having a system like this will advance microbiota research tremendously,” said Bultman. “Right now microbiota studies involve taking samples, doing sequencing, and then compiling an inventory of all the microbes in the disease cases and healthy controls. These studies just draw associations, so it is difficult to glean cause and effect. This device will enable us to probe the microbiota, and gain a better understanding of whether changes in these microbial communities are the cause or the consequence of disease.”

On-Chip Optical Sensing Technique Detects Multiple Flu Strains

Tue, 10/06/2015 – 10:11amby University of California – Santa Cruz

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/chip-optical-sensing-technique-detects-multiple-flu-strains?et_cid=4876632&et_rid=535648082

A schematic view shows the optical waveguide intersecting a fluidic microchannel containing target particles. Targets are optically excited as they flow past well-defined excitation spots created by multi-mode interference; fluorescence is collected by the liquid-core waveguide channel and routed into solid-core waveguides (red). (Credit: Ozcelik et al., PNAS 2015)

New chip-based optical sensing technologies developed by researchers at UC Santa Cruz and Brigham Young University enable the rapid detection and identification of multiple biomarkers. In a paper published October 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe a novel method to perform diagnostic assays for multiple strains of flu virus on a small, dedicated chip.

“A standard flu test checks for about ten different flu strains, so it’s important to have an assay that can look at ten to 15 things at once. We showed a completely new way to do that on an optofluidic chip,” said senior author Holger Schmidt, the Kapany Professor of Optoelectronics in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz.

Over the past decade, Schmidt and his collaborators at BYU have developed chip-based technology to optically detect single molecules without the need for high-end laboratory equipment. Diagnostic instruments based on their optofluidic chips could provide a rapid, low-cost, and portable option for identifying specific disease-related molecules or virus particles.

In the new study, Schmidt demonstrated a novel application of a principle called wavelength division multiplexing, which is widely used in fiber-optic communications. By superimposing multiple wavelengths of light in an optical waveguide on a chip, he was able to create wavelength-dependent spot patterns in an intersecting fluidic channel. Virus particles labeled with fluorescent markers give distinctive signals as they pass through the fluidic channel depending on which wavelength of light the markers absorb.

“Each color of light produces a different spot pattern in the channel, so if the virus particle is labeled to respond to blue light, for example, it will light up nine times as it goes through the channel, if it’s labeled for red it lights up seven times, and so on,” Schmidt explained.

The researchers tested the device using three different influenza subtypes labeled with different fluorescent markers. Initially, each strain of the virus was labeled with a single dye color, and three wavelengths of light were used to detect them in a mixed sample. In a second test, one strain was labeled with a combination of the colors used to label the other two strains. Again, the detector could distinguish among the viruses based on the distinctive signals from each combination of markers. This combinatorial approach is important because it increases the number of different targets that can be detected with a given number of wavelengths of light.

For these tests, each viral subtype was separately labeled with fluorescent dye. For an actual diagnostic assay, fluorescently labeled antibodies could be used to selectively attach distinctive fluorescent markers to different strains of the flu virus.

While previous studies have shown the sensitivity of Schmidt’s optofluidic chips for detection of single molecules or particles, the demonstration of multiplexing adds another important feature for on-chip bioanalysis. Compact instruments based on the chip could provide a versatile tool for diagnostic assays targeting a variety of biological particles and molecular markers.

The optofluidic chip was fabricated by Schmidt’s collaborators at Brigham Young University led by Aaron Hawkins. The joint first authors of the PNAS paper are Damla Ozcelik and Joshua Parks, both graduate students in Schmidt’s lab at UC Santa Cruz. Other coauthors include Hong Cai and Joseph Parks at UC Santa Cruz and Thomas Wall and Matthew Stott at BYU.

In another recent paper, published September 25 in Nature Scientific Reports, Schmidt’s team reported the development of a hybrid device that integrates an optofluidic chip for virus detection with a microfluidic chip for sample preparation.

“These two papers represent important milestones for us. Our goal has always been to use this technology to analyze clinically relevant samples, and now we are doing it,” Schmidt said.

Boom in Gene-Editing Studies amid Ethics Debate over Its Use

Mon, 10/12/2015 – 1:54pmby Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/boom-gene-editing-studies-amid-ethics-debate-over-its-use-0

The hottest tool in biology has scientists using words like revolutionary as they describe the long-term potential: wiping out certain mosquitoes that carry malaria, treating genetic diseases like sickle cell, preventing babies from inheriting a life-threatening disorder.

It may sound like sci-fi, but research into genome editing is booming. So is a debate about its boundaries, what’s safe and what’s ethical to try in the quest to fight disease.

Does the promise warrant experimenting with human embryos? Researchers in China already have, and they’re poised to in Britain.

Should we change people’s genes in a way that passes traits to future generations? Beyond medicine, what about the environmental effects if, say, altered mosquitoes escape before we know how to use them?

“We need to try to get the balance right,” said Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. She helped develop new gene-editing technology and hears from desperate families, but urges caution in how it’s eventually used in people.

The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine will bring international scientists, ethicists and regulators together in December to start determining that balance. The biggest debate is whether it ever will be appropriate to alter human heredity by editing an embryo’s genes.

“This isn’t a conversation on a cloud,” but something that families battling devastating rare diseases may want, Dr. George Daley of Boston Children’s Hospital told specialists meeting this week to plan the ethics summit. “There will be a drive to move this forward.”

Laboratories worldwide are embracing a technology to precisely edit genes inside living cells — turning them off or on, repairing or modifying them — like a biological version of cut-and-paste software. Researchers are building stronger immune cells, fighting muscular dystrophy in mice and growing human-like organs in pigs for possible transplant. Biotech companies have raised millions to develop therapies for sickle cell disease and other disorders.

The technique has a wonky name — CRISPR-Cas9 — and a humble beginning.

Doudna was studying how bacteria recognize and disable viral invaders, using a protein she calls “a genetic scalpel” to slice DNA. That system turned out to be programmable, she reported in 2012, letting scientists target virtually any gene in many species using a tailored CRISPR recipe.

There are older methods to edit genes, including one that led to an experimental treatment for the AIDS virus, but the CRISPR technique is faster and cheaper and allows altering of multiple genes simultaneously.

“It’s transforming almost every aspect of biology right now,” said National Institutes of Health genomics specialist Shawn Burgess.

In this photo provided by UC Berkeley Public Affairs, taken June 20, 2014 Jennifer Doudna, right, and her lab manager, Kai Hong, work in her laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. The hottest tool in biology has scientists using words like revolutionary as they describe the long-term potential: wiping out certain mosquitoes that carry malaria, treating genetic diseases like sickle-cell, preventing babies from inheriting a life-threatening disorder. “We need to try to get the balance right,” said Doudna. She helped develop new gene-editing technology and hears from desperate families, but urges caution in how it’s eventually used in people. (Cailey Cotner/UC Berkeley via AP)

CRISPR’s biggest use has nothing to do with human embryos. Scientists are engineering animals with human-like disorders more easily than ever before, to learn to fix genes gone awry and test potential drugs.

Engineering rodents to harbor autism-related genes once took a year. It takes weeks with CRISPR, said bioengineer Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, who also helped develop and patented the CRISPR technique. (Doudna’s university is challenging the patent.)

A peek inside an NIH lab shows how it works. Researchers inject a CRISPR-guided molecule into microscopic mouse embryos, to cause a gene mutation that a doctor suspects of causing a patient’s mysterious disorder. The embryos will be implanted into female mice that wake up from the procedure in warm blankets to a treat of fresh oranges. How the resulting mouse babies fare will help determine the gene defect’s role.

Experts predict the first attempt to treat people will be for blood-related diseases such as sickle cell, caused by a single gene defect that’s easy to reach. The idea is to use CRISPR in a way similar to a bone marrow transplant, but to correct someone’s own blood-producing cells rather than implanting donated ones.

“It’s like a race. Will the research provide a cure while we’re still alive?” asked Robert Rosen of Chicago, who has one of a group of rare bone marrow abnormalities that can lead to leukemia or other life-threatening conditions. He co-founded the MPN Research Foundation, which has begun funding some CRISPR-related studies.

So why the controversy? CRISPR made headlines last spring when Chinese scientists reported the first-known attempt to edit human embryos, working with unusable fertility clinic leftovers. They aimed to correct a deadly disease-causing gene but it worked in only a few embryos and others developed unintended mutations, raising fears of fixing one disease only to cause another.

If ever deemed safe enough to try in pregnancy, that type of gene change could be passed on to later generations. Then there are questions about designer babies, altered for other reasons than preventing disease.

In the U.S., the NIH has said it won’t fund such research in human embryos.

In Britain, regulators are considering researchers’ request to gene-edit human embryos — in lab dishes only — for a very different reason, to study early development.

Medicine aside, another issue is environmental: altering insects or plants in a way that ensures they pass genetic changes through wild populations as they reproduce. These engineered “gene drives” are in very early stage research, too, but one day might be used to eliminate invasive plants, make it harder for mosquitoes to carry malaria or even spread a defect that gradually kills off the main malaria-carrying species, said Kevin Esvelt of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

No one knows how that might also affect habitats, Esvelt said. His team is calling for the public to weigh in and for scientists to take special precautions. For example, Esvelt said colleagues are researching a tropical mosquito species unlikely to survive cold Boston even if one escaped locked labs.

“There is no societal precedent whatsoever for a widely accessible and inexpensive technology capable of altering the shared environment,” Esvelt told a recent National Academy of Sciences hearing.

Researchers Use ‘Avatar’ Experiments to Get Leg Up On Locomotion

Mon, 10/12/2015 – 5:09pmby North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University scientists take a giant leap closer to understanding locomotion from the leg up

http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/10/researchers-use-avatar-experiments-get-leg-locomotion

Simple mechanical descriptions of the way people and animals walk, run, jump and hop liken whole leg behavior to a spring or pogo stick.

But until now, no one has mapped the body’s complex physiology – which in locomotion includes multiple leg muscle-tendons crossing the hip, knee and ankle joints, the weight of a body, and control signals from the brain – with the rather simple physics of spring-like limb behavior.

Using an “Avatar”-like bio-robotic motor system that integrates a real muscle and tendon along with a computer controlled nerve stimulator acting as the avatar’s spinal cord, North Carolina State University researchers have taken a giant leap closer to understanding locomotion from the leg up. The findings could help create robotic devices that begin to merge human and machine in order to assist human locomotion.

Despite the complicated physiology involved, NC State biomedical engineer Greg Sawicki and Temple University post-doctoral researcher Ben Robertson show that if you know the mass, the stiffness and the leverage of the ankle’s primary muscle-tendon unit, you can predict neural control strategies that will result in spring-like behavior.

“We tried to build locomotion from the bottom up by starting with a single muscle-tendon unit, the basic power source for locomotion in all things that move,” said Greg Sawicki, associate professor in the NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and co-author of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that describes the work. “We connected that muscle-tendon unit to a motor inside a custom robotic interface designed to simulate what the muscle-tendon unit ‘feels’ inside the leg, and then electrically stimulated the muscle to get contractions going on the benchtop.”

The researchers showed that resonance tuning is a likely mechanism behind springy leg behavior during locomotion. That is, the electrical system – in this case the body’s nervous system – drives the mechanical system – the leg’s muscle-tendon unit – at a frequency which provides maximum ‘bang for the buck’ in terms of efficient power output.

Sawicki likened resonance tuning to interacting with a slinky toy. “When you get it oscillating well, you hardly have to move your hand – it’s the timing of the interaction forces that matters.

“In locomotion, resonance comes from tuning the interaction between the nervous system and the leg so they work together,” Sawicki said. “It turns out that if I know the mass, leverage and stiffness of a muscle-tendon unit, I can tell you exactly how often I should stimulate it to get resonance in the form of spring-like, elastic behavior.”

The findings have design implications relevant to designing exoskeletons for able-bodied individuals, as well as exoskeleton or prosthetic systems for people with mobility impairments.

“In the end, we found that the same simple underlying principles that govern resonance in simple mechanical systems also apply to these extraordinarily complicated physiological systems,” said Robertson, the corresponding author of the paper.

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Organs-on-Chips: An Alternative to 3D Bioprinting?

Reported by: Irina Robu, PhD

“Human “organs-on-chips” are composed of a clear, flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick, and contain hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells.
These 3D organ and tissue models allow researchers to recreate the physiological and mechanical functions of the organ, and have the potential to eliminate the need to use animals for drug development and toxin testing. While saving animals has a certain feel good element to it, it is more likely the cost savings that will appeal to pharmaceuticals looking for alternatives to existing drug testing methods. Scientists test potential pharmaceuticals on animals because it is too dangerous to perform initial tests on humans. The problem with this method is that more often than not, the predictions gleaned from animal tests will fail when a compound is tested on humans.”

Source

http://www.nanalyze.com/2014/07/organs-on-chips-an-alternative-to-3d-bioprinting/

Human-on-a-chip

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