News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized form.

1. Nanoparticle communication could lead to cancer treatments

Researchers have managed to manipulate two nanoparticles to communicate with one another to perform a task for the first time.

The team from the University of Buffalo in New York used a pair of specially prepared Janus particles ̶ which has two faces. One face of the particle was made of porous silica to carry a dye and the other face was coated in gold.

The gold faces were specially treated with different enzymes that respond to signals from one another, handling the communication.

The gold face of the first particle was exposed to a molecule of lactose, breaking it down and releasing glucose, which the second particle transformed it into acid. Triggered by the acid, the second particle's silica face released an amino acid back to the first, which recognised the compound and released the dye ̶ provided that the communication process goes as planned.

This could pave the way for more complex nanomachines that could be useful in areas such as cancer treatment. The researchers are improving the system by creating communicating networks for more complex tasks, before testing it inside the human body.

2. Electrode cap allow paralysed stroke patients to control limbs again


Medical resident Jarod Roland, MD, tries out a device that detects electrical activity in his brain and causes his hand to open and close in response to brain signals. Photo credit: Leuthardt Lab, Washington University Medical School

Medical resident Jarod Roland, MD, tries out a device that detects electrical activity in his brain and causes his hand to open and close in response to brain signals. Photo credit: Leuthardt Lab, Washington University Medical School

US scientists have developed a device which retrains the undamaged side of the brain in stroke patients to take over tasks of the damaged parts ̶ such as moving paralysed limbs. 

A decade ago, Professor Eric Luthardt and Dr David Bundy discovered that a small area of the brain on the same side of the limb send the first 'movement' signal.

They set out to harness and amplify that initial signal to control movement in a paralysed limb and developed a cap containing electrodes to pick up the brain signal and send it to a moveable brace on the arm.

The device detects the wearer's intention to control the hand and moves it accordingly. The cap has been tested by 10 patients who were still suffering significant paralysis six months on from their stroke. At the end of the study, their ability to grasp objects was better and patients' movement scores increased an average of 6.2 points on a 57-point scale which was deemed an improvement in quality of life.

The team is looking to improve the device and carry out a bigger study. 

3. Colour-changing faeces can diagnose gut diseases

Doctors can soon check the hue of faeces to diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases or colon cancer in patients.

A team at the University of Cambridge genetically modified gut bacteria in mice to make coloured pigments when they detect the presence of disease.

They used a harmless strain of E.coli bacteria and modified them to be sensitive to a chemical called tetrathionate, which is excessively found in the guts of people with ulcerative colitis. When the bacteria come in contact with tetrathionate, a gene is switched on to produce an enzyme, which turns blue in lab tests.

The modified bacteria have to be isolated from faeces and grown in the lab before blue colonies can be observed. The team says different coloured pigments could be inserted into bacteria.

The team hopes that the modified bacteria could help diagnose other diseases linked to gut bacteria.

4. Silkworms could fix ear drums

Named "ClearDrum", it looks like a contact lens, but it is instead a device on which the patient's cells can grow. Photo credit: Ear Science Institute

"ClearDrum" that looks like a contact lens, is a silk-incorporated ear implant on which the patient's cells can grow to repair damaged eardrums.

The device developed by a team of researchers based in Perth and Melbourne is moving towards clinical trials.

The silk is degummed ̶ the sticky substance called sericin is removed ̶ and heated into a liquid before combining it with other materials such as glycerol and polyurethane to create a "scaffold". It is then placed under the eardrum and is expected to dissolve over time.

The cells called keratinocytes, were found to thrive and migrate and move across the scaffold, helping the healing process.

The team is now looking to recruit patients with chronic middle ear disease, active and inactive, to include patients with complex perforations. The project is granted AUS 4 million from the UK-based charity, the Wellcome Trust.

5. Accidental discovery could spark new drug discovery for hair loss

A new insight into baldness could pave the way for a new generation of drugs to treat hair loss.

California dermatologist, Dr Michael Rosenblum, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco found that Tregs, a type of cell known to control inflammation, work together with epithelial stem cells to stimulate follicles to grow hair.

Dr Rosenblum was studying how Tregs help heal damaged skin and temporarily removed the Treg cells from mice. Upon shaving patches of hair from the mice, the hair did not grow back.

It was discovered that if Tregs was knocked out, hair does not grow back. This could shed some light on a variety of hair loss conditions such as alopecia areata and male and female pattern baldness.

But experts warn that the work in mice has yet to be proven to human hair cycling and stem cell activation but Rosenblum thinks that understanding Tregs' role in stimulating hair follicles could lead to the development of drugs for hair loss. MIMS

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