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  • richardmitnick 8:47 am on October 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Applied Research & Technology, , , Pegivirus   

    From COSMOS: “The virus that could help stop HIV” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    5 Oct 2015
    Viviane Richter

    Researchers are starting to unravel the secrets of a virus that not only doesn’t make you sick, but can help you fight off other diseases.

    Macaque monkeys can become infected with the primate version of the pegivirus Credit: egortupikov/gettyimages

    We’ve all heard of friendly bacteria, but a friendly virus? Called the pegivirus, catching it doesn’t make you sick. Instead, it can help the immune system to keep HIV infections in check. Discovered in 1995, scientists do not understand how it works, but that could soon change. Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Centre recently discovered baboons have their own pegivirus strain, offering a new way to study the oddball virus. Their investigation, published in Science Translational Medicine in September, may inspire new ways to tackle HIV.

    The pegivirus is found in about one in every six people, with infections lasting up to a decade before being cleared from the body. It can be transmitted from mother to child, through contact with an infected person’s blood, or sexually. In the US, where the virus is not included in routine blood bank screens, an estimated 1,000 people receive pegivirus-positive blood or blood products each day.

    While the pegivirus is genetically related to the hepatitis C virus, it doesn’t cause disease. On the contrary, researchers discovered in 2001 that the pegivirus appeared to protect some HIV-positive patients from developing AIDS. An 11-year study of 362 patients found 56% of HIV-positive people who did not carry pegivirus died. But among those patients infected with the pegivirus, the death rate was only 29%.

    How pegivirus thwarts HIV “has really been a bit confusing”, says Stephen Kent, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne. “But if you could mimic that with something that’s more potent – that would be good.”

    So what’s the pegivirus’ secret? “That’s the million-dollar question,” says Adam Bailey, lead author of the new study. Researchers need to study the pegivirus in an animal before it can be answered – one where the virus behaves much as it does in humans, happily cohabiting with its host without causing disease. Macaques failed the test: after being given human pegivirus they quickly cleared the infection. Maybe it was a matter of finding a money-version of the virus? Primates are known to carry viruses closely related to those we carry. For instance many primate species carry a virus closely related to HIV, called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)

    So Bailey’s team hunted for a pegivirus that had struck up a long-term relationship with a non-human primate. They found it in 30-year-old samples of baboon blood stashed in a colleague’s freezer. Although that virus was genetically similar to the human strain, when it was injected into macaques it stayed in their blood for up to 200 days without causing harm, long enough for the researchers to study it.

    The researchers euthanised some infected monkeys, analysed their tissues for pegivirus RNA, and found most of the virus nestled in the spleen and bone marrow. These are also the tissues where HIV holes up. Pegivirus appeared to be actively replicating only in bone marrow, since removing the spleen of an infected monkey did not change the blood levels of the virus.

    The fact that pegivirus and HIV are replicating in the same tissues – though not necessarily in the same cells – offers a further a clue to how pegivirus may thwart HIV, says the study’s senior author, David O’Connor.

    When the immune system detects an invading virus, it pumps out more T cells – the infantry of the immune army. Alas that strategy plays right into the enemy’s hands since HIV replicates in and destroys those very cells. More T cells are produced to make up the casualties, giving HIV more cells to exploit. This vicious cycle decimates the immune system.

    Cell infected with HIV. HIV attacks T cells, which are crucial in the body’s immune system. The pegivirus helps the body resist HIV.Credit: THOMAS DEERINCK / NCMIR / getty images

    The researchers found pegivirus seems to slow the recruitment of new T cells from bone marrow. Kent speculates the pegivirus might prompt T cells to make molecules that lock HIV out. For instance the anti-HIV drug Maraviroc acts this way by blocking the CCR5 receptor on T cells.

    The Wisconsin team’s next step will be to co-infect macaques with pegivirus and SIV, the monkey form of HIV, to see how the viruses interact. They hope that once they discover how the pegivirus blocks HIV, they’ll be able to mimic the action with a drug.

    Today’s antiretroviral drugs are good at keeping HIV at bay – it’s estimated they’ve lowered the number of HIV deaths by two-thirds. But as O’Connor says “there’s a lot of space to help people even further”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:39 pm on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Monitoring nuclear reactors,   

    From New Scientist: “Neutrino detectors could keep discreet tabs on nuclear reactors” 


    New Scientist

    2 October 2015
    Jacob Aron

    Osiris is only a modest research reactor – the next step will be to try the detector out on the real thing (Image: PF Grosjean/CEA)

    Researchers have managed to peer into a nuclear reactor to track the amount of plutonium inside – without needing access to data from the control room. Although the technology is still at an early stage, it could open up new ways of keeping tabs on whether reactors are being used to make material for nuclear weapons.

    Earlier this year, Iran agreed to a deal with major world powers to limit its nuclear activities. Iran has promised it will allow monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its plants and ensure they are being used strictly for peaceful purposes.

    The deal is built on fragile trust – Iran doesn’t want to reveal any more of its nuclear secrets than it has to. A magic box that could monitor reactors from a distance, without the need for foreign inspectors to visit, would smooth the way such deals are implemented.

    As it turns out, we have a way to build one. Specialised detectors can pick up particles called antineutrinos, produced by nuclear reactions. They barely interact with ordinary matter, so stream away from reactors and can be picked up far away with a suitable instrument.

    Flashing liquid

    For the past year, researchers in France have used one such detector, dubbed Nucifer, to monitor a reactor next door. Nucifer is full of a liquid scintillator, one which flashes on the rare occasions that a neutrino interacts with it. The rate at which this happens reveals the activity level inside the reactor.


    The detector was only 7 metres away from the reactor, meaning it was within reach of other energetic particles streaming out, like gamma rays. But the team was able to build shielding for Nucifer and get useful readings.

    Over the course of 145 days, the team could detect whether the reactor was switched on or off – and more importantly, track the amount of plutonium-239 inside. This isotope is especially useful for producing nuclear weapons, so any sudden change in its level suggests armaments may be the actual goal.

    Researchers have previously run detectors on the same principle in Russia and the US, but they were one-off creations and required maintenance, which wouldn’t be possible in a real-world monitoring situation. “With Nucifer, we wanted to improve the performance and use off-the-shelf parts,” says team member David Lhuillier of the Saclay Nuclear Research Centre near Paris.

    Nucifer kept tabs on the small Osiris research reactor at Saclay. A larger reactor would produce more antineutrinos and so could be monitored from a discreet distance and with greater accuracy, since the distance would reduce unwanted background radiation.

    Fifteen years off

    The team are trying to find such a reactor for further tests, says Lhuillier. “In a commercial reactor we could put the detector in place, close the door and leave it like that for one year, in conditions very close to what the IAEA inspectors would like to see.” But it would probably be at least 15 years before the technology is ready for use somewhere like Iran, he says.

    “The IAEA is aware of the development of this technology as one of a number… that seek to contribute to the same verification goals,” an IAEA spokesperson told New Scientist. “The Agency already has a variety of technologies to hand and has no current plans to deploy this particular idea.”

    Patrick Huber of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg works on similar detectors and says Nucifer is a great step forward. “We’re not quite there yet, but it goes a very long way from where we were 10 years ago.”

    Production costs will need to come down further before the IAEA can afford them, he says, but the results should get people on board. “If you explain to people you have a technology that can look into a nuclear reactor while it’s running, you get everyone’s attention.”

    Reference: http://arxiv.org/abs/1509.05610

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:22 pm on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Biomedical engineering,   

    From NSF- “Year of Light: A new way to see inside the body” 

    National Science Foundation

    October 2, 2015

    Biomedical technologies have changed tremendously over time, such that they now enable health care providers to both picture and quantify the severity of health issues – even things happening down at a nanometer level! In some more recent advancements, researchers have progressively learned that when you couple some of the ways we deliver or intake medicine with fluorescent techniques, light can play a dramatic role in how scientists can improve the safety and efficacy of current medical treatments.

    Yang Lab

    Currently, medical treatments rely heavily on biomaterials – those materials that interact with living systems and which are critical components of biomedical devices and products, such as heart valve or joint replacements. Researchers in this field bridge biochemical and materials science research to improve a range of medical challenges including drug delivery systems, tissue engineering, orthopedic devices, and even nanomedicine, which is a relatively new field of medicine involving some of the smallest tools ever, including things like sensors.

    To further advance research in this field, Jian Yang of Pennsylvania State University synthesized a novel biodegradable photoluminescent polymer (BPLP). In other words, he combined biodegradable polymers (molecular structures that degrade naturally, over time) with fluorescent imaging techniques (imaging techniques commonly used to visually track diseases and molecular processes). What made Yang’s research special was that it was the first polymer of its kind that could be implanted into the body with current procedures and treatments, and it could simultaneously emit a natural light, which would allow scientists to track the efficacy of medicinal treatments implanted in a patient without needing more toxic materials like quantum dots or dealing with dyes, which is the current standard protocol. The image above shows the natural glow of Yang’s naturally fluorescing polymers, while the image on the left shows how it appears as it naturally fluoresces in a cell.

    Further research in this unique line of polymers offers an extraordinary range of opportunities for researchers to address unmet needs in drug delivery, biosensing, bioimaging, tissue engineering and nanomedicine. From detecting early cancers to tracking cancer drug delivery processes, or even to monitoring medical implant performances, Dr. Jian Yang’s cutting-edge research in BPLP’s holds extraordinary promise for the future of medical treatment systems.

    NSF is celebrating the International Year of Light with weekly images and information about NSF-funded light-based research – and new materials for light-based technologies. Check back every week.

    See the full article here .

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Fuel Cells,   

    From UBC: “Fuel cells are the future: UBC expert” 

    U British Columbia bloc

    University of British Columbia

    October 1, 2015

    Public Affairs
    310 – 6251 Cecil Green Park Road
    Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
    Tel 604 822 6397
    Fax 604 822 2684
    Website http://news.ubc.ca
    Email public.affairs@ubc.ca

    Temp 1
    More fuel-cell cars are in development.

    The recall of 11 million Volkswagen diesel vehicles highlights the challenges of reducing emissions from fossil fuel-powered cars. Fortunately, there’s an alternative and it has zero emissions. The fuel-cell car is currently being developed by major automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Hyundai.

    Walter Mérida, director of UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), has been researching fuel-cell technology for more than 15 years. When Mercedes-Benz rolls out its new fuel-cell cars in a few years, they’ll feature Canadian technology.

    What are some of the benefits of fuel cells?

    Fuel cells convert hydrogen and other fuels into electricity quietly, efficiently, and without pollution. A fuel-cell car produces zero emissions. You’ll only see water coming out of the tailpipes. And it’s quickly refueled, unlike battery-powered cars which can take hours to recharge.

    Fuel cells can be used to build a renewable, carbon-free energy system if you produce the hydrogen from renewable sources, such as hydroelectricity. The geopolitical impact can be profound. Countries without fossil fuel sources such as oil or natural gas can generate the energy they need, cleanly.

    How far along is fuel cell adoption?

    Auto manufacturers are investing in fuel cell cars, trucks, and other types of vehicles. Hyundai is already leasing fuel-cell SUVs in Vancouver, while Toyota expects to begin delivery of hydrogen fuel-cell cars in California next year. Mercedes-Benz is expected to introduce its new generation of fuel-cell cars in a few years.

    By 2017, fuel-cell car sales are expected to approximate that of electric cars in their early adoption stage.

    As well, refueling networks are being laid out in places like California, where there are 10 public hydrogen fuel stations, and in Japan, where 23 stations have opened and hundreds more are being planned. Germany recently opened its first hydrogen filling station on the autobahn. There are plans for the rollout of more than 50 stations across Europe over the next few years.

    Fuel cells are already part of the power grid in some cities. New York is an example. You could also have small applications, such as cellphones, because fuel cells can be miniaturized.

    Tell us about your work on fuel cells.

    My group at CERC is working on new techniques to ensure the durability and reliability of fuel cells as they move into mass manufacturing. We collaborate with hydrogen fuel-cell manufacturer Ballard Power Systems, based in Burnaby, and with Germany’s Mercedes-Benz.

    British Columbia is seen around the world as the leader in this field, and so when Mercedes-Benz decided to open their own production facility for automotive fuel cells in 2012, they chose to come to B.C.

    Is the internal-combustion engine slated for the trash heap?

    Not quite yet. Right now about 80 per cent of our primary energy supply comes from fossil fuels–coal, oil and gas–and combustion will remain an important technology for many more years.

    The main barriers for fuel-cell technology at the moment are the cost of generating power from it, and the lack of an efficient, extensive refueling network. But I see a future for hydrogen fuel cells as a way out of transportation’s extreme dependence on fossil fuels.

    How does the new program you helped develop at UBC fit into all this?

    We’re at the threshold of a big transition in the way we think about energy. The global investment in renewable energy was more than $200 billion in the last year alone. Engineers and executives should know how clean technology can transform the global economy. The new master of engineering leadership (MEL) in clean energy engineering offered by UBC Applied Science will give them that perspective through a combination of management education and advanced engineering courses.

    Walter Mérida is one of the speakers at UBC’s Innovate 2015, a dialogue that brings applied research to the community. For more information or to book interviews, contact ErinRose Handy at 604.822.1524 or erinrose.handy@ubc.ca.


    About the Clean Energy Research Centre at UBC
    Established in 2000, CERC develops viable solutions for sustainable energy. It is focused on energy systems that simultaneously minimize environmental impact, promote geopolitical stability, and enable economic diversification. CERC works closely with an extensive scientific network across Canada and around the world, and with a number of industry partners.

    About the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL)
    The new master of engineering leadership is a one-year, full-time degree program offered by UBC Applied Science in collaboration with the Sauder School of Business. There are seven engineering specializations: advanced materials manufacturing, clean energy, dependable software systems, green bio-products, integrated water management, naval architecture and marine engineering, and urban systems. UBC Applied Science also offers a master of health leadership and policy in seniors care through the School of Nursing. All eight programs combine technical instruction with personal leadership development, with the first students starting in January 2016.

    See the full article here .

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    U British Columbia Campus

    The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the 40 best universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s West Coast spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. Its entrepreneurial perspective encourages students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.

  • richardmitnick 11:52 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ,   

    From Nature: “Gains in Antarctic ice might offset losses” 

    Nature Mag

    02 October 2015
    Alexandra Witze

    The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest single ice mass on Earth. Radius Images/Alamy

    So much ice is piling up in the vast expanses of East Antarctica that, overall, it counterbalances the losses seen at glaciers thinning elsewhere on the frozen continent. It will take decades for Antarctic melting to overtake the mass gains and begin contributing substantially to sea-level rise, a new study argues.

    The calculations are the latest in a long-running effort to weigh Antarctica’s ice. Whereas melting in Greenland has dramatically reduced its ice sheet, the situation in Antarctica is more complex.

    “Parts of Antarctica are losing mass faster than before,” says Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of a paper to appear in the Journal of Glaciology1. “But large parts have been gaining mass, and they’ve been doing that for a very long time.”

    The findings do not mean that Antarctica is not in trouble, Zwally notes. “I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this, and say this means we don’t have to worry as much as some people have been making out,” he says. “It should not take away from the concern about climate warming.” As global temperatures rise, Antarctica is expected to contribute more to sea-level rise, though when exactly that effect will kick in, and to what extent, remains unclear.

    But the work does highlight lingering uncertainties about Antarctica’s ice sheets, says Edward Hanna, a climatologist at the University of Sheffield, UK, and leader of a 2013 review2 that explored the difficulties in measuring ice sheets.

    Many earlier studies have found an overall net loss of ice from Antarctica. A 2012 review3, which aimed to reconcile findings from the many techniques that are used to measure ice-mass balance, calculated a loss of 72 billion tonnes of ice from the entire Antarctic ice sheet each year between 2003 and 2008. For roughly the same period, Zwally’s team calculated a gain of 82 billion tonnes a year.

    Zwally and his colleagues used data on the changing height of the ice-sheet surface from the European Space Agency’s European Remote Sensing radar satellite between 1992 and 2001, and from NASA’s ICESat laser-ranging satellite between 2003 and 2008.

    Across the period of the study, East Antarctica gained the most mass, followed by the West Antarctic interior. Glacial ice forms as snow compresses under its own weight. In this case, the gain in ice mass in parts of Antarctica has not come from snowfall in the modern era, but from heavier snows that fell about 10,000 years ago, says Zwally. That snow became ice and started to flow slowly towards the sea — but so slowly that the ice began to thicken.

    The effect is not big — a little more than a centimetre of thickening each year. But over thousands of years, and over the vast expanse that is East Antarctica, those tiny bits of extra ice add up to a lot of extra mass.

    Around the edges of the continent, Zwally’s team saw the same rapid retreat of glaciers that many other groups have documented. At places such as the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, and along the Antarctic Peninsula, glaciers are melting at rates unprecedented in recorded history.

    Disputes about the rate of Antarctic ice loss will probably continue. The gravity-measuring Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, run by NASA, have measured accelerating losses in Antarctica4 (although Zwally argues that the discrepancy is due at least partly to how GRACE researchers account for changes in the height of the bedrock as ice melts). And ESA’s Cryosat-2 radar satellite found small losses5 in that region in 2010–13.

    More work is needed to understand the various measurements obtained using different techniques over different time periods, says polar scientist Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who led the 2012 reconciliation effort.

    See the full article here , especially for noted references.

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 11:15 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ,   

    From Oxford: “Behind the scenes of creating the ground-breaking Ebola vaccine” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    Professor Adrian Hill of Oxford’s Jenner Institute led the first clinical trial of a successful Ebola virus vaccine last year. To target the outbreak his remarkable team compressed a process that takes six months into six weeks.


    The recent Ebola outbreak was the deadliest since the virus’ discovery in the 1970s. Fortunately Professor Adrian Hill, Director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, and his team managed to create a vaccine response in record time.

    At his Alumni Weekend talk, Professor Hill described the desperate situation that West Africa was in last year. Ebola was in the news every day, with death tolls spiralling up through the summer. There were no vaccines known to protect against Ebola, or drugs to treat those infected at the time. Promising vaccine candidates did exist in the US, but only one had been tested in humans and had been subsequently abandoned.

    Usually Ebola outbreaks have been contained using the traditional methods of containment in Central Africa, but it was spreading through the continent rapidly – in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – in 2014. With no vaccines ready to be tested out in West Africa the situation was grave, Professor Hill explained.


    The resulting ambitious trial at Oxford was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and Department for International Development. Phase one began in mid-September 2014 with 60 volunteers, and a further 80 out in Mali in October – after the team was swamped with volunteers anxious to help.

    For the successful vaccine Professor Hill’s team used a single Ebola gene in a chimpanzee adenovirus to generate an immune response. As it did not contain any infectious virus material, it did not cause the patient to become infected. The trial’s efficiency exceeded all expectations, with a novel vaccine ready from the trial to finished product in nine months.


    The researchers then used an innovative trial design in West Africa, in which the family, friends and contacts in a ‘ring’ around an Ebola patient would be given the vaccine. In March 2015, the first infected individuals were identified and the ring vaccination began in Guinea, which continues to have the majority of cases. Both this ‘ring’ approach and the vaccine were a great success.

    Looking to the future, Professor Hill reflected that it would be wonderful if Britain could manufacture vaccines ‘on a significant scale’ once again. David Cameron has promised £20million to protect Britain from future pandemics this year, but how that money will be allocated has not yet been decided.

    Professor Hill explained more broadly the challenges left facing vaccination development. On the positive side, only two countries in the world are left with polio, and smallpox has been eradicated. This leaves the big three vaccinations to find as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and an improved TB jab.

    In terms of Ebola itself, the vaccine that Professor Hill’s team worked on was for the Zaire strain, but there still remains to be one for the Sudan strain. He pointed out that there will ‘almost certainly’ be more major outbreaks, especially as Africa’s population increases, people travel more and cities expand.

    For all of the team’s hard work, the University decided that their contributions should be recognised, and commissioned a University of Oxford Ebola medal this summer. The medals were presented by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, and the head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Professor Peter Ratcliffe. Professor Hamilton reflected: ‘The work of the team was absolutely critical. These kinds of outbreaks can arise at any time and we need to be ready to respond. They responded magnificently.’

    For further details about the Jenner Institute click here.

    Photographs courtesy of Oxford University Images

    See the full article here.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

  • richardmitnick 9:36 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , ,   

    From Wyss Institute at Harvard: “How stem-cell research has received a boost” 

    Harvard University

    Harvard University

    Harvard Wyss Institute
    Wyss Institute

    Sep 18 2015
    Benjamin Boettner
    Kat J. McAlpine


    Possible stem cell therapies often are limited by low survival of transplanted stem cells and the lack of precise control over their differentiation into the cell types needed to repair or replace injured tissues. A team led by David Mooney, a core faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, has now developed a strategy that has experimentally improved bone repair by boosting the survival rate of transplanted stem cells and influencing their cell differentiation. The method embeds stem cells into porous, transplantable hydrogels.

    In addition to Mooney, the team included Georg Duda, a Wyss associate faculty member and director of the Julius Wolff Institute for Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Regeneration at Charité – Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, and Wyss Institute founding director Donald Ingber. The team published its findings in today’s issue of Nature Materials. Mooney is also the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

    Stem cell therapies have potential for repairing many tissues and bones, or even for replacing organs. Tissue-specific stem cells can now be generated in the laboratory. However, no matter how well they grow in the lab, stem cells must survive and function properly after transplantation. Getting them to do so has been a major challenge for researchers.

    Mooney’s team and other researchers have identified specific chemical and physical cues from the stem cell niche (the area in which stem cells survive and thrive with support from other cell types and environmental factors) to promote stem cell survival, multiplication and maturation into tissue. Whereas chemical signals that control stem cell behavior are increasingly understood, much less is known about the mechanical properties of stem cell niches. Stem cells like those present in bone, cartilage, or muscle cultured in laboratories, however, have been found to possess mechanosensitivities, meaning they require a physical substrate with defined elasticity and stiffness to proliferate and mature.

    “So far these physical influences had not been efficiently harnessed to propel real-world regeneration processes,” said Nathaniel Huebsch, a graduate student who worked with Mooney and who is the study’s first author. “Based on our experience with mechanosensitive stem cells, we hypothesized that hydrogels could be leveraged to generate the right chemical and mechanical cues in a first model of bone regeneration.”

    Two water-filled hydrogels with very different properties are the key to the Mooney team’s method. A more stable, longer-lasting “bulk gel” is filled with small bubbles of a second, so-called “porogen” that degrades at a much faster rate, leaving behind porous cavities.

    By coupling the bulk gel with a small “peptide” derived from the extracellular environment of genuine stem cell niches, and mixing it with a tissue-specific stem cell type as well as the porogen, the team can create a bone-forming artificial niche. While the bulk gel provides just the right amount of elasticity plus a relevant chemical signal to coax stem cells to proliferate and mature, the porogen gradually breaks down, leaving open spaces into which the stem cells expand before they naturally migrate out of the gel structure altogether to form actual mineralized bone tissue.

    In small-animal experiments conducted so far, the researchers show that a void-forming hydrogel with the correct chemical and elastic properties provides better bone regeneration than transplanting stem cells alone. Of further interest, the maturing stem cells deployed by the hydrogel also induce nearby native stem cells to contribute to bone repair, further amplifying their regenerative effects.

    “This study provides the first demonstration that the physical properties of a biomaterial can not only help deliver stem cells but also tune their behavior in vivo,” said Mooney. “While so far we have focused on orchestrating bone formation, we believe that our hydrogel concept can be broadly applied to other regenerative processes as well.”

    The collaborative, cross-disciplinary work was supported by the Harvard University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    “This is an exquisite demonstration of MRSEC programs’ high impact,” said Dan Finotello, program director at the NSF. “MRSECs bring together several researchers of varied experience and complementary expertise who are then able to advance science at a considerably faster rate.”

    Additional funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health; the Belgian American Education Foundation; the Einstein Foundation Berlin; the Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies; the Harvard College Research Program; and NSF Graduate Research, Einstein Visiting, Harvard College PRISE, Herchel-Smith and Pechet Family Fund Fellowships.

    See the full article here .

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    Harvard University campus

    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 4:49 pm on October 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , Dry California   

    From Discovery: “California Once Had a 2,000-Year-Long Dry Spell” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Oct 2, 2015
    Patrick J. Kiger

    Above, the Jerusalem Fire burns at the Lake and Napa County lines after jumping north of the highway Tuesday afternoon. Will El Nino Trigger An Extreme Wildfire Season?

    California’s current lengthy drought is really punishing the state’s residents, who’ve been compelled by government restrictions to reduce their water use by nearly a third in a desperate effort to conserve the dwindling amount of H2O left in the state’s reservoirs.

    But as a recently-published study in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews reveals, the state once experienced a much longer dry spell — a series of mega-droughts as bad as the one today, strung together over a 2,000-year-period.

    California Drought by the Numbers

    Fortunately, though, they occurred at a time — 25,500 to 27,500 years ago — when there weren’t any Californians around yet to complain about not being able to water their lawns.

    Paleoecologists Linda Heusser and Jonathan Nichols, of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, did a high-resolution analysis of pollen levels in a sediment core drilled from the bottom of Lake Elsinore, which is to the east of the Santa Ana Mountains near Los Angeles. That method provides the first detailed continuous record of ecological changes in coastal southern California from 32,000 to 9,000 years ago, with shifts measurable on a scale of decades rather than centuries.

    Pollen records are unique in that we can capture the vegetation distribution,” Heusser said in a press release. “There are no other records of vegetation that extend through this time. The best we had been able to do before for this time frame was stalagmites inferring precipitation in a cave in New Mexico.”

    NEWS: What If California Runs Out of Water?

    The pollen count at various levels of the sediment showed that pine trees and juniper, which dominated the region’s ecosystem until about 27,500 years ago, were replaced by dryland herbs, shrubs and chaparral for about 2,000 years. Then, the pine trees and junipers began to return.

    The researchers also found that changes in the pollen record also correlate with analysis of sediment cores from the Pacific Ocean just off Santa Barbara, which show that that the ocean was warmer during the periods that droughts occurred. That suggests that ocean conditions may have been the driver of the mega droughts.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:34 pm on October 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ,   

    From CBS: “Is ancient 800-ft megatsunami wave a sign of things to come?” 

    CBS News

    CBS News

    October 2, 2015
    Michael Casey

    Temp 1
    The tsunami generated by Fogo’s collapse apparently swept boulders like this one from the shoreline up into the highlands of Santiago Island. Here, a researcher chisels out a sample. RICARDO RAMALHO

    Off the west coast of Africa, scientists have found evidence that tens of thousands of years ago a collapsing volcano sparked a megatsunami producing waves up to 800 feet high.

    The tsunami, which engulfed an island 30 miles away, raises questions over whether such a collapse poses a threat to people living on volcanic islands today. By comparison, waves from biggest tsunami in modern times – the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – were only 100-feet tall.

    The apparent collapse occurred some 73,000 years ago at the Fogo volcano, one of the world’s largest and most active island volcanoes. These days, it towers 2,829 meters (9,300 feet) above sea level, and erupts about every 20 years.

    Pico do Fogo

    “(Collapses) probably don’t happen very often,” said Ricardo Ramalho, who did the research as a postdoctoral associate at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and is the lead author of a new study in Science Advances. “But we need to take this into account when we think about the hazard potential of these kinds of volcanic features.”

    Ramalho and his colleagues found the evidence of the ancient megatsunami on Santiago Island, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Fogo. Today the island is home to some 250,000 people.

    The researchers spotted unusual boulders – some as big as delivery vans – lying as far as 2,000 feet inland and nearly 650 feet above sea level. The only realistic explanation the scientists could come up with for how they got there: A gigantic wave must have ripped them from the shoreline and lofted them up.

    To date the event, Ramalho and Lamont-Doherty geochemist Gisela Winckler measured isotopes of the element helium embedded near the boulders’ surfaces. Such isotopes change depending on how long a rock has been lying in the open, exposed to cosmic rays. The analyses centered around 73,000 years – well within an earlier estimate of a smaller event.

    The analysis “provides the link between the collapse and impact, which you can make only if you have both dates,” said Winckler.

    Tsunami expert Bill McGuire, a professor emeritus at University College London who was not involved in the research, said the study “provides robust evidence of megatsunami formation [and] confirms that when volcanoes collapse, they can do so extremely rapidly.”

    “Our point is that flank collapses can happen extremely fast and catastrophically, and therefore are capable of triggering giant tsunamis,” said Ramalho.

    Though some scientists question whether a volcano of this size really would collapse, the new study is the latest evidence to support concerns about the threats posed by volcanic flanks. Several have collapsed over the past several hundred years, including eight smaller ones in Alaska and Japan.

    A handful of previous other studies have proposed much larger prehistoric collapses and resulting megatsunamis, in the Hawaiian islands, at Italy’s Mt. Etna, and the Indian Ocean’s Reunion Island. But critics have said these examples are too few and the evidence too thin.

    Based on his own work, McGuire said that such megatsunamis probably come only once every 10,000 years.

    “Nonetheless,” he said in a statement, “the scale of such events, as the Fogo study testifies, and their potentially devastating impact, makes them a clear and serious hazard in ocean basins that host active volcanoes.”

    Ramalho cautions that the study should not be taken as a red flag that another big collapse is imminent here or elsewhere. “It doesn’t mean every collapse happens catastrophically,” he said. “But it’s maybe not as rare as we thought.”

    Still, he said the Fogo eruption last year produced lava flows that displaced some 1,200 people, and destroyed buildings including a new volcano visitors’ center. “Right now, people in Cape Verde have a lot more to worry about, like rebuilding their livelihoods after the last eruption,” said Ramalho. “But Fogo may collapse again one day, so we need to be vigilant.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:36 pm on October 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From UBC: “Climate change moves mountains — literally” 

    U British Columbia bloc

    University of British Columbia

    October 1, 2015

    Public Affairs
    310 – 6251 Cecil Green Park Road
    Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
    Tel 604 822 6397
    Fax 604 822 2684
    Website http://news.ubc.ca
    Email public.affairs@ubc.ca

    The Surprise Glacier in Alaska. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr

    Climate change is causing more than just warmer oceans and erratic weather. According to scientists, it also has the capacity to alter the shape of the planet.

    In a five-year study published today in Nature, lead author Michele Koppes, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, compared glaciers in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. She and her team found that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

    Michele Koppes in Alaska.

    “We found that glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica,” said Koppes. “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster. We are already seeing that the ice sheets are starting to move faster and should become more erosive, digging deeper valleys and shedding more sediment into the oceans.”

    The repercussions of this erosion add to the already complex effects of climate change in the polar regions. Faster moving glaciers deposit more sediment in downstream basins and on the continental shelves, potentially impacting fisheries, dams and access to clean freshwater in mountain communities. “The polar continental margins in particular are hotspots of biodiversity,” notes Koppes. “If you’re pumping out that much more sediment into the water, you’re changing the aquatic habitat.”

    The Canadian Arctic, one of the most rapidly warming regions of the world, will feel these effects acutely. With more than four degrees Celsius of warming over the last 50 years, the glaciers are on the brink of a major shift that will see them flowing up to 100 times faster if the climate shifts above zero degrees Celsius.

    The findings by Koppes and coauthors also settle a scientific debate about when glaciers have the greatest impact on shaping landscapes and creating relief, suggesting that they do the most erosive work near the end of each cycle of glaciation, rather than at the peak of ice cover. The last major glacial cycles in the Vancouver region ended approximately 12,500 years ago.

    The study, Observed latitudinal variations in erosion as a function of glacier dynamics, appears in Nature.

    See the full article here .

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    U British Columbia Campus

    The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the 40 best universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s West Coast spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. Its entrepreneurial perspective encourages students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.

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