Minimally invasive brain imaging

Picture: University of Utah

With just an inexpensive micro-thin surgical needle and laser light, University of Utah engineers have discovered a minimally invasive, inexpensive way to take high-resolution pictures of an animal brain, a process that also could lead to a much less invasive method for humans.

A team led by University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon has now proven the process works on mice for the benefit of medical researchers studying neurological disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and aggression. Menon and his team have been working with the U. of U.’s renowned Nobel-winning researcher, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Human Genetics Mario Capecchi, and Jason Shepherd, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy.

The group has documented its process in a paper titled, “Deep-brain imaging via epifluorescence Computational Cannula Microscopy,” in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. The paper’s lead author is doctoral student Ganghun Kim.

The process, called “computational cannula microscopy,” involves taking a needle about a quarter-millimeter in diameter and inserting it into the brain. Laser light shines through the needle and into the brain, illuminating certain cells “like a flashlight,” Menon says. In the case of mice, researchers genetically modify the animals so that only the cells they want to see glow under this laser light.

The light from the glowing cells then is captured by the needle and recorded by a standard camera. The captured light is run through a sophisticated algorithm developed by Menon and his team, which assembles the scattered light waves into a 2D or potentially, even a 3D picture.

Typically, researchers must surgically take a sample of the animal’s brain to examine the cells under a microscope, or they use an endoscope that can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times thicker than a needle.

“That’s very damaging,” Menon says of previous methods of examining the brain. “What we have done is to take a surgical needle that’s really tiny and easily put it into the brain as deep as we want and see very clear high-resolution images. This technique is particularly useful for looking deep inside the brain where other techniques fail.”

Now that the process has been proven to work in animals, Menon believes it can potentially be developed for human patients, creating a simpler, less expensive and invasive method than endoscopes.

“Although its much more complex from a regulatory standpoint, it can be done in humans, and not just in the brain, but for other organs as well,” he says. “But our motivation for this project right now is to look inside the brain of the mouse and further develop the technique to understand fundamental neuroscience in the mouse brain.”

Source: University of Utah

Zinc in Retina May Protect and Regenerate Optic Nerve in Glaucoma Patients

Connecting pieces of information by finding a common thread often takes glaucoma researchers in unexpected directions. Zinc is one such thread that joined together different experts at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Their collaboration uncovered surprising information about zinc in the retina, which led to the discovery that removing excess zinc helps protect the optic nerve and encourages regeneration. Only more research will tell whether this will lead to future glaucoma treatments, but one thing is certain—these scientists plan to keep moving forward together.

Zinc is the second most abundant trace metal in the human body (next to calcium) and an essential dietary nutrient that’s crucial for normal cell growth, a strong immune system and healthy nerve function—to name just a few of its widespread influences. It’s also indispensable for vision and keeping eyes healthy. Vitamin A may be known as the main nutrient responsible for vision, but it needs zinc to help it convert into the substance that enables low-light vision.

There’s a significant amount of zinc in the retina, where it’s responsible for many jobs beyond transforming vitamin A. For example, if you could see what’s happening at the cellular level, you’d see zinc regulating communication between retinal cells and controlling channels that allow ions to flow in and out of cells. The retinal pigment epithelium, a barrier that transports nutrients into the retina, can only function when zinc-dependent proteins are present. All of the different types of nerve cells in the eye contain zinc, where it triggers biochemical reactions and helps control neurotransmitters that travel between retinal nerve cells.

But there’s something else to know about zinc: too much can be toxic. The body maintains a precise balance by increasing or decreasing the amount absorbed in the gut and by active mechanisms that take place inside cells after zinc is digested. The retina also has several ways to protect itself, like transporters that can carry away unwanted zinc. When these protective mechanisms aren’t working properly or they’re overwhelmed, health problems can arise.

Ophthalmologists at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have spent years exploring ways to protect and regenerate nerve cells in the eye. Meanwhile, experts in the Department of Neurology were busy studying the role of zinc in cell death. In 2010, they decided to collaborate to learn about zinc’s impact on retinal ganglion cells, which receive visual signals and form the optic nerve that delivers information to the brain.

They discovered that zinc is released from cells within an hour after the optic nerve is injured acutely—but they were surprised to find that it didn’t come from retinal ganglion cells. Instead, zinc was released from amacrine cells, which are interneurons in the retina that communicate with ganglion cells. Retinal ganglion cells only began to die after they’re affected by high levels of zinc leaking from injured amacrine cells.

That news alone was an exciting breakthrough, but there’s more: In lab mice, damaged retinal ganglion cells survived longer and were able to regenerate when excess zinc was removed through a chemical process called chelation. To top that off, they learned there’s a delay before zinc impacts ganglion cells, which means that chelation could lead to significant cell survival and regeneration even if treatment was delayed for several days.

It took the team from Boston about six years to achieve these results and they’re not stopping now. They plan to explore how zinc causes cell death and blocks regeneration. If they can get the funding, they’d like to develop a slow-release formula that would chelate zinc for an extended time. Then they’d have to conduct clinical trials to prove zinc chelation in the retina is safe and effective in people with other conditions, such as glaucoma. In the meantime, the glaucoma community has a new road to follow, one that could lead to treatment possibilities previously unimagined.

Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation

Solvay to launch dental care product line

Picture: Solvay

Solvay is entering into medical devices building on its world-leading portfolio of high-performance polymers with a new dental care business line. “Solvay Dental 360™” spans from an innovative material to replace metal in removable partial denture frames, to enabling a digital workflow that accelerates the work of dental laboratories and dentists.

Removable partial denture (RPD) frames replace missing teeth and are typically made of metal. Under Solvay Dental 360™, Solvay’s new high-performance material allows for metal-free, biocompatible, more comfortable, natural-looking RPD frames which are over 60% lighter than a metal frame.

Solvay uses its new Ultaire™ AKP (aryl ketone polymer) material to make its Dentivera™ milling disc. From this device, trained and qualified dental lab technicians use software tailored to this material to design and mill the RPD frame. This enhances speed and efficiency as fewer manufacturing steps are needed compared to the metal frame.

“Solvay’s entrepreneurial initiative to launch into medical devices is driven by our innovation power as a world leader in metal-replacing materials and their proven track record in healthcare,”said Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, CEO of Solvay.

“Solvay proudly starts off in dental care devices with a unique full-circle offering that increases the comfort of patients and efficiency for dentists and lab technicians,”said Shawn Shorrock, Global Director Solvay Dental 360™.

Solvay’s unrivalled portfolio of high-performance polymers cover over 35 brands in more than 1,500 formulations. In healthcare, they are used in orthopedic, cardiovascular, renal and other markets.

The Dentivera™ milling disc is approved by the EU and U.S. health regulators. The launch of Solvay Dental 360™ takes place at the 2017 International Dental Show (IDS) in Cologne, Germany.

Source: Solvay

China CFDA releases 2016 Drug Review Annual Report

China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) recently released the 2016 Drug Review Annual Report. The Annual Report describes the general situation of drug registration acceptance, review and approval in 2016, and analyzes the data of acceptance and review in 2016 for chemical drugs, traditional Chinese medicines and biological products respectively.

Medtronic recalls implantable infusion pumps due to software problem

Photo: Medtronic

According to FDA Recall Notice, Medtronic is recalling the SynchroMed Implantable Infusion Pumps because a software problem may cause unintended delivery of drugs during a priming bolus procedure, used to quickly deliver large dose of medication from the device to the patient’s spine. During this procedure, patients may receive the drug unintentionally at a high rate of infusion in the cerebrospinal fluid followed by a period of reduced drug delivery after the priming bolus. This can result in a drug overdose or under dose which can lead to serious adverse health consequences such as respiratory depression, coma or death.

The SynchroMed II and SynchroMed EL Implantable Drug Infusion Pumps (SynchroMed Implantable Infusion Pumps) are programed to deliver prescribed drugs to a specific site inside the patient’s body. The SynchroMed pumps are used to treat primary or metastatic cancer, chronic pain, and severe spasticity.

$15 million award planned for Center for Dialysis Innovation

Photo: University of Washington

Seattle-based nonprofit dialysis provider Northwest Kidney Centers intends to make a $15 million grant over the next five years to support startup projects within the University of Washington’s Center for Dialysis Innovation. The center, a collaboration of the UW Medicine Kidney Research Institute and UW Biomaterials/Bioengineering, opened last November.

It aims to use biomaterial and bioengineering technologies to transform dialysis care, which today keeps more than 400,000 Americans alive. The center envisions that future dialysis therapy will be free of complications and will completely restore kidney health.

“We are incredibly grateful to Northwest Kidney Centers for the gift to launch the Kidney Research Institute in 2008, and now for such a significant boost to the momentum of the Center for Dialysis Innovation,” said Jonathan Himmelfarb, a professor at the UW School of Medicine and director of the Kidney Research Institute. He and Buddy Ratner, UW professor of bioengineering, co-direct the dialysis innovation effort.

The grant from Northwest Kidney Centers represents 60 percent of the center’s five-year fundraising target of $25 million.

“We are excited about the Center for Dialysis Innovation because it brings together creative, entrepreneurial, can-do minds from a wide range of fields including nephrology and bioengineering. This team also wants to involve people living with kidney disease to help direct the center’s focus,” said Joyce F. Jackson, Northwest Kidney Centers president and CEO.

“Their aim is to develop revolutionary dialysis technologies, including a wearable dialysis system that is low-cost, and energy- and water-efficient. This would not only sustain users’ lives, but give them more vitality and productivity. This work is desperately needed,” Jackson said.

The grant builds on longstanding ties. After the University of Washington team invented technology for ongoing dialysis in 1960, independent Northwest Kidney Centers was founded in 1962 to provide the life-sustaining treatments. It was the first dialysis organization in the world.

As a nonprofit health care provider, Northwest Kidney Centers provides extensive community benefits. For example, gifts from Northwest Kidney Centers to UW Medicine fund fellowships for training nephrologists, and provide ongoing support for the Kidney Research Institute, a collaboration of Northwest Kidney Centers and UW Medicine established in 2008.

Source: University of Washington