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Archive - Nov 14, 2013

Blood Test Shows Promise for Early Detection of Breast Cancer

What could someday be the first blood test for the early detection of breast cancer was shown in preliminary studies to successfully identify the presence of breast cancer cells from serum biomarkers, say the Houston Methodist Research Institute scientists who are developing the technology. With a New York University Cancer Institute colleague, the researchers reported online on October 21, 2013 in Clinical Chemistry that the mixture of free-floating blood proteins created by the enzyme carboxypeptidase N (CPN) accurately predicted the presence of early-stage breast cancer tissue in mice and in a small population of human patients. "In this paper we link the catalytic activity of carboxypeptidase N to tumor progression in clinical samples from breast cancer patients and a breast cancer animal model," said biomedical engineer Tony Hu, Ph.D., who led the project. "Our results indicate that circulating peptides generated by CPN can serve as clear signatures of early disease onset and progression." The technology is not yet available to the public, and may not be for years. More extensive clinical tests are needed, and those tests are expected to begin in early 2014. There are currently no inexpensive laboratory tests for the early detection of breast cancer, providing the impetus for researchers around the world to invent them. "What we are trying to create is a non-invasive test that profiles what's going on at a tissue site without having to do a biopsy or costly imaging," Dr. Hu said. "We think this could be better for patients and -- if we are successful -- a lot cheaper than the technology that exists.

Penguin Is Model for New Propulsion System

Back in 1991, Nature published a picture from the IMAX movie Antarctica, along with the caption: "Emperor penguins may be waddling jokes on land, but underwater they can turn into regular rockets…accelerating from 0 to 7 m/s in less than a second." That's all it took to inspire Flavio Noca, who at the time was a graduate student in Caltech's Aeronautics Department, and now teaches aerodynamics at the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (hepia) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), to explore leveraging penguins' "rocket" properties to create new propulsion technologies with high maneuverability and improved hydrodynamic efficiency. At the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting, November 24 – 26, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Noca will present a penguin-inspired propulsion system that uses a novel spherical joint mechanism developed and manufactured by Bassem Sudki, a research assistant within Noca's aerodynamics group, under the supervision of Professor Michel Lauria who leads hepia's Robotics Laboratory. Based on a penguin's shoulder-and-wing system, the mechanism features a spherical joint that enables three degrees of freedom and a fixed center of rotation. "Unlike an animal shoulder joint, however, this spherical joint enables unlimited rotational range about the main shaft axis like a propeller," Noca said. To achieve this, they needed to overcome the technical challenges of spherical joints, such as the lack of rigidity and the inability to generate high torques. To understand the challenge involved, just try lifting a 10-pound weight on your hand with your arm extended. The researchers maneuvered around these challenges by choosing a parallel robotic architecture for this type of mechanism, because it enables rigidity as well as high actuation frequencies and amplitudes.

Annexin A5 Is Possible New Treatment for Sepsis

Sepsis is the leading cause of in-hospital death and there is no specific treatment for it. Now, research led by Dr. Qingping Feng of Western University (London, Canada) suggests a protein called recombinant human annexin A5 may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of this disease. The paper has been published in advance, online in Critical Care Medicine. Sepsis is caused by an overwhelming immune response to an existing infection. It's estimated there are 18 million cases annually worldwide. The mortality rate is 30 to 40 per cent for severe sepsis and 40 to 80 per cent for septic shock. Dr. Feng, a professor in the Departments of Physiology and Pharmacology, and Medicine at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute is particularly interested in how sepsis causes cardiac dysfunction. Annexin A5 is a lipid-binding protein produced by cells. Using mice with induced sepsis, Dr. Feng, Dr. Xiangru Lu, and Paul Arnold, M.Sc., studied the effects of annexin A5 on cardiac function and animal survival. "We treated the septic animals and to our surprise we found a dramatic, significant effect in improving cardiac function during sepsis and improved survival rates in the mice," says Dr. Feng. "We also found it helped even if administered hours after the septic infection. This is important because the delayed treatment simulates what usually happens in a clinical setting. The patient often has had sepsis for several hours, or a few days when they seek treatment." Annexin A5 is not currently used as a therapeutic agent, but its safety has been tested in humans. It's currently used in imaging studies to identify cells undergoing apoptosis (cell death). While this study looked at the heart, Dr.

Patients and Scientists Join Forces to Tackle Friedreich’s Ataxia with Gene Therapy Approach

In a November 14, 2013 press release, it was announced that The Spanish Federation of Ataxia (FEDAES)—in representation of the GENEFA Platform for a Friedreich's Ataxia cure—, the Babel Family association for biomedical research into Friedreich’s Ataxia, the “Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa” (CMBSO), and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have signed an agreement through which these patients’ associations will fund, by means of donations, a three-year research project addressing Friedreich’s Ataxia. Friedreich’s Ataxia is a rare degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects coordination, balance, and movement. It is a monogenic disease, that is to say, it is caused by a defect in only one gene. Those affected by this disorder have inherited an altered frataxin gene from both parents. The project aims to develop molecular tools to transport a correct copy of the defective gene to all the cells of the body and particularly to a kind of neuron that undergoes degeneration and causes the disease. This approach seeks to restore the normal levels of frataxin and to stop the manifestation of the degenerative symptoms of the disease. The GENEFA Platform heads the money-raising campaign to collect the 300,000 euros required to develop this gene therapy project. Juan Carlos Baiges, in representation of FEDAES/GENEFA and the Babel Family for this project, expresses his enthusiasm, “it is the first step towards achieving an effective treatment based on solid basic research knowledge,” and adds, “we have a motivating project ahead that may lead us closer to a treatment.” Dr. Ernest Giralt, at IRB Barcelona, and Dr.