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Archive - Nov 8, 2015

World’s First Simple, Cheap, Non-Invasive, Low-Risk Prenatal Blood Test for Blood Group, Sex, & Certain Genetic Conditions of Fetus May Signal End to Invasive Amniocentesis & Chorionic Villus Sampling; Droplet Digital PCR Technique Used

Research into a simple, accurate, and low-risk blood test that can detect Rh blood group, D antigen (RHD), sex, and certain genetic conditions of the fetus, has been published in the November 2015 issue of Clinical Chemistry. The article is titled “Fetal Sex and RHD Genotyping with Digital PCR Demonstrates Greater Sensitivity than Real-time PCR.” The research is the result of a collaboration between Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and Plymouth University, both in the UK. The DNA test costs pence and is non-invasive, as opposed to the traditional amniocentesis test that is available on the NHS, involves a needle, and carries a minor (1%) risk of miscarriage. The newly developed test can be carried out on mothers at risk of X-linked genetic recessive diseases, including hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and on mothers at risk of hemolytic disease of the new-born. The test can use the blood that is taken from the mother when she has her first appointment with her general practitioner or midwife at the early stages of pregnancy, negating the need for multiple appointments and making best use of resources. Lead corresponding author for the study, Professor Neil Avent, Ph.D., from the Plymouth University School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences where he is Professor of Molecular Diagnostics and Transfusion Medicine; explained. "Although fetal blood grouping and sexing using maternal blood has been done for over a decade, this research proves a much more accurate and sensitive method of detecting fetal DNA. This offers great opportunities to detect other conditions using this technique, but is much cheaper than current non-invasive methods. The end is now in sight for the invasive techniques of amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling." He added the following.

UCLA Team Awarded BRAIN Initiative Grant to Develop Mini (<3 gm) Head-Mounted Fluorescent Microscopes to Image & Manipulate Firing Activity of Large Numbers of Mouse Neurons in Real Time During Specific Behaviors

Five UCLA scientists have received a grant from the NIH for a study that could provide a better understanding of how neural circuits in the brain process, encode, store, and retrieve information. The three-year, $2.3 million grant will support the team’s work to develop methods for recording the activity of intact neural networks in living animals. The funding is through the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative (, which was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2013. With more than 500 neuroscientists throughout its campus, UCLA is well-positioned to play a significant role in this effort. The grant award was described in a November 4, 2015 press release from UCLA (see link below). The investigators, led by Peyman Golshani, M.D., a UCLA Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, aim to build a new generation of miniature fluorescent microscopes to image and manipulate the activity of large numbers of brain cells in mice. The mice will be studied while moving freely in their natural environments. The tiny head-mounted microscopes, which are expected to weigh less than three grams, will monitor brain cell activity in real time, in ways that were not possible before. The microscopes will visualize individual neurons expressing calcium-triggered fluorophores, which light up when specific wavelengths of light from the microscope are shone on them. The method will illuminate cells that are flooded with calcium, which happens when neurons fire. “When we image calcium levels, what we are really finding out is how large numbers of cells fire during specific behaviors,” Dr. Golshani said.

Silica Nanoparticles Containing Moxifloxacin, and with pH-Sensitive Nanovalves, Deliver Antibiotic Directly within Macrophages and Vastly Improve Drug’s Effectiveness Against Pneumonic Tularemia Caused by Francisella tularensis

Scientists from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have developed a nanoparticle delivery system for the antibiotic moxifloxacin that vastly improves the drug’s effectiveness against pneumonic tularemia, a type of pneumonia caused by inhalation of the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The study, which was published online on October 5, 2015 in the journal ACS Nano, shows how the nanoparticle system targets the precise cells infected by the bacteria and maximizes the amount of drug delivered to those cells. The article is titled “Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles with pH-Sensitive Nanovalves for Delivery of Moxifloxacin Provide Improved Treatment of Lethal Pneumonic Tularemia.” Jeffrey Zink, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and a senior author on the study, developed the mesoporous silica nanoparticles used for drug delivery. Dr. Zink and his research team conducted an exhaustive process to find the best particle for the job. “The nanoparticles are full of deep empty pores,” Dr. Zink said. “We place the particles in drug solution overnight, filling the pores with drug molecules. We then block the pore openings on the nanoparticle’s surface with molecules called nanovalves, sealing the drug inside the nanoparticle.” When the drug-bearing nanoparticles are injected into the infected animal, in this case a mouse, the drug stays in the nanoparticles until they reach their target: white blood cells called macrophages. Macrophages ingest nanoparticles into compartments that have an acidic environment. The nanovalves, which are designed to open in response to the more acidic surroundings, then release the drug.

Rapid-Detection, Point-of-Care Saliva Test for Ebola Deployed in Mobile, Suitcase-Sized Labs in Senegal & Guinea

A rapid-detection Ebola test developed by an international team of scientists, including a University of Stirling, Scotland virologist has been deployed following a highly effective pilot project. Manfred Weidmann, Ph.D., from the University's School of Natural Sciences, was part of a Wellcome Trust project led by the Pasteur Institute of Dakar. Together, the scientists developed a sophisticated, point-of-care saliva test, all contained within a suitcase-sized mobile laboratory. Three mobile labs have now been deployed in Senegal and Guinea, and a test evaluation of 928 samples showed that the new test performs exceptionally well under field conditions. "There are more than 25 laboratories in West Africa and everyone is using different tests," said Dr. Weidmann. "Ours, which uses a method called recombinase polymerase amplification, was compared to two other tests and results show it can be reliably used without the need for a confirmatory test, and it appears to outperform a widely used WHO recommended test.”"There has been a huge push for robotic testing systems, but they are difficult to establish and expensive to maintain. Our project has successfully developed and deployed a low-cost mobile laboratory, using a rapid, highly sensitive and specific assay that can be stored at room temperature and operated by local teams with its own energy supply." Dr. Weidmann has also developed a range of assays to detect other mosquito-borne viruses, such as Dengue virus and Rift Valley Fever virus. He added: "Mosquito-borne viruses can affect high numbers of people much faster than Ebola, and outbreaks of Dengue virus and Rift Valley Fever virus have recently erupted in West-Africa. The system represents real progress in the quest to take the laboratory into the field.

$1.5 Million Awarded for Oxford Research to Develop Brain-Targeted, Systemically-Administered Exosomes That Will Cross Blood-Brain Barrier to Deliver Gene-Silencing Drugs to Inhibit Expression of Mutant Huntington’s Disease Gene in Brain

Matthew Wood (photo), Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, has been granted an award of £1,008,110 ($1,517,155) from the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) for a three-year research project (September 2015-August 2018) intended to develop an systemically-administered, exosome-based, gene-silencing therapy for Huntington’s disease (HD). In the project description (see link below), it is noted that, although therapeutic compounds are being actively developed to treat HD, the delivery of these drugs into the brain is a major impediment to the successful development of these candidate drugs into effective treatments. Consequently, in the newly funded project, Dr. Wood and his Oxford team intend to develop what they term “an entirely new solution” to this major problem. Over the course of 36 months (September 2015 to August 2018), the researchers will attempt to develop a new treatment that can switch off the mutant huntingtin (HTT) gene, and that can successfully cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to enter the brain using small, natural sub-cellular particles called exosomes. Exosomes are fat-encapsulated, sub-cellular particles (vesicles) that are generated naturally by all cells of the body and that Dr. Wood and his team have previously exploited for the delivery of drugs into the brain by modifying the exosomes in such a way that they display small molecules on their surface that allow them to home into the brain following their injection into a vein in the body. Perfecting this systemically-administered, exosome-based, brain-targeted drug delivery approach will open the door to testing many compounds that have been proven potentially capable of reducing the levels of the mutant HTT protein that is coded for by the mutant HTT gene in HD.