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In a feat once as unlikely as the miller's daughter of fairytale fame spinning straw into gold, scientists in the United Kingdom have spun fine threads of biocompatible silicone that contain living human brain cells. The cells remained alive and capable of growth afterward, they say.
“This has far-reaching implications and will enable significant advances to be made in technologies ranging from tissue engineering to regenerative medicine,” Suwan N. Jayasinghe and Andrea Townsend-Nicholson state in their report. It appeared Nov. 13 in ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a bimonthly journal. “The ability to electrospin biologically active threads and scaffolds of living organisms will be tremendously useful for the development of a whole host of novel bioengineering and medical applications.”
Electrospinning is a well-established process for drawing fibers out of a thick polymer by use of an electric field. The scientists used an electrospinning approach in which a concentrated suspension of living cells flowed through a tiny inner needle while thick poly(dimethylsiloxane) flowed from an outer needle. The silicone material formed a fiber around the cells. One of the many topics awaiting study, the researchers said, is how the process affects the biological properties of the cells in the long term.
Journal Article: "Cell Electrospinning: A Unique Biotechnique for Encapsulating Living Organisms for Generating Active Biological Microthreads/Scaffolds"
The technology for making ultrasmall containers ― essential in a wide range of modern scientific research ― has taken a giant step forward with new research by scientists in India. In a report scheduled for the Nov. 16 issue of the ACS weekly Journal of Physical Chemistry B, researcher G. U. Kulkarni and colleagues report "a simple and straightforward" method for producing metal cups with a capacity measured in femtoliters. To show that the cups work as nanocontainers, Kulkarni's group filled some with fluorescent biomarkers and metal nanoparticles.
A femtoliter, which is one quadrillionth of a liter (1.1 quarts), may seem uselessly small; however, Kulkarni describes a growing need for ultrasmall containers in scientific research. Uses for such small vials range from holding nanoparticles to serving as nano inkwells for a technology termed “dip pen nanolithography.”
The new method of producing the tiny cups involves blasting melts (viscous solutions) with a laser beam in a vacuum to produce droplets of molten metal that form into cuplike structures.
Although scientists previously have made even smaller containers, including some with a capacity of a zepto liter ― one million times smaller than a femtoliter ― the new method of producing the tiny cups has advantages, including simplicity, over previous methods, according to the researchers.
The greenhouse effect may be happening much faster than previously believed, scientists in Finland and the United States report. The University of Helsinki's Anatoli Bogdan and colleagues, who include chemistry Nobel laureate Mario J. Molina, reached that conclusion from laboratory studies of the low-temperature thin and subvisible cirrus (SVC) clouds that have such a powerful impact on climate.
SVCs cover about one-third of the planet and affect global temperatures by reflecting sunlight back into space and preventing terrestrial heat from escaping into space. In addition, ice particles in SVCs have a drying or dehydrating effect on the upper troposphere. “Here we show, to our best knowledge for the first time, that the small ice particles are not completely solid, as is usually believed, but rather coated with a sulfuric acid/water overlayer,” the researchers state. Their study is scheduled for publication in the Nov. 16 issue of the ACS weekly Journal of Physical Chemistry A.
The coating reduces the rate at which ice particles grow and remove water vapor ― a key greenhouse gas ― from the upper troposphere. That leaves more water vapor to contribute to the greenhouse effect. The coating further affects greenhouse warming by slightly increasing reflection of sunlight back into space and reducing the escape of terrestrial heat.
Journal: American Chemical Society
Journal Article: “Multimodal Image-Guided Enzyme/Prodrug Cancer Therapy”
An advance that may speed the use of “prodrug chemotherapy” — one of the most promising new strategies for reducing the side effects of anti-cancer drugs — is being reported by scientists from Johns Hopkins University’s In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center (ICMIC).
This two-part chemotherapy involves giving patients the inactive form of an anti-cancer drug (the "prodrug") and an enzyme that changes the prodrug into an active, cancer fighting form. Patients first get the enzyme, which is gradually eliminated from normal tissue but builds up and remains in the tumor. Then patients get the prodrug, which changes into its active and toxic form only upon encountering the enzyme in the tumor.
“Determining the optimal time-window for prodrug injection is therefore of utmost importance for success of these strategies,” Zaver M. Bhujwalla, lead author Cong Li and their colleagues note in a report scheduled for the Nov. 29 issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society. If the prodrug were injected before all the enzyme cleared from normal tissue, it could damage normal tissue and cause body-wide side effects, they say.
The report describes the synthesis and early laboratory testing of the first prodrug¬-activating enzyme that can be imaged in tissue to time administration of the prodrug. The enzyme produces the active form of the common anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil. Its elimination from normal tissue can be monitored with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or optical imaging, according to the researchers.
With petroleum and natural gas prices likely to remain high — due to increased demand from China and India and other pressures — the future promises unprecedented emphasis on biofuels, solar energy and new technology to squeeze more oil from existing fields, according to the cover story in the Nov. 20 edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
In the article, C&EN reporters Rick Mullin, Marc Reisch and Alexander Tullo focus on progress and challenges in those three key approaches to easing the energy crunch.
Reisch, for instance, explains how biofuels, almost invisible in gasoline’s $1-per-gallon era, have become a near-obsession today. Chemistry and agriculture are joining to make a new generation of renewable fuels, including fuels not just from corn but also from the leaves and stalks of corn plants.
Mullin points out that barely one-third of available oil has been extracted from existing oil fields. But with today’s higher oil prices, chemists and chemical engineers are on the track of promising new technologies to tap the mother lode of remaining oil. Tullo describes the status and likely future growth of photovoltaics, as new technologies make solar energy more economical.
Chemistry has an increasingly important role in research on cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.
To spotlight that role, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will cosponsor a special conference entitled, “Chemistry in Cancer Research: A Vital Partnership,” Feb. 4-7 in San Diego, Calif.
The program will feature presentations by prominent scientists on drug discovery, proteomics, the chemical biology of carcinogenesis, biomarkers and analytical chemistry, modeling and bioinformatics, and structural biology.
The American Chemical Society – the world’s largest scientific society – is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
Journal: Chemical & Engineering News
Journal Article: “Fuels of the future: An obsession with biofuels”
Journal Article: “Solar revolution: The market for photovoltaics is expanding rapidly and chemical companies are taking notice”
Journal Article: “The next increment: Chemistry targets cost-efficient extraction of oil and gas from mature reserves”