Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) - originally found in a jellyfish - has played a crucial role in life science research, providing insights to many fundamental questions that have paved the way to the biology and medicine of the future. Since the mid-1990s, when the protein was successfully cloned, GFP can be found in research laboratories worldwide used as a visual marker of gene expression and protein localization, easily observed via light (optical) microscopy. GFP can be linked to other proteins and is primarily used to track dynamic changes in living cells. In 2008, biologists who discovered and developed the protein as a laboratory tool won a Nobel Prize for their work. Researchers in Spain have now demonstrated how GFP can also act as an efficient nano-thermometer inside cells.
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant that catches and digests little insects. Its trapping mechanism consists of a series of tiny hairs at the crease where the plant's two leaves join. When a fly or spider walk across these hairs, touching two or more of them in succession, the two leaves will close quickly enough - within hundreds of milliseconds - to prevent its escape. Now, researchers have used it as inspiration for a new biomimetic robot made with artificial muscles. The device offers promise in the development of electrically stimulated artificial muscle that could be implanted in people to help overcome muscular disease or paralysis.
Carbon nanotubes, like the nervous cells of our brain, are excellent electrical signal conductors and can form intimate mechanical contacts with cellular membranes, thereby establishing a functional link to neuronal structures. There is a growing body of research on using nanomaterials in neural engineering. Now, researchers have, for the first time, explored the impact of carbon nanotube scaffolds on multilayered neuronal networks. Up to now, all known effects of carbon nanotubes on neurons - namely their reported ability to potentiate neuronal signaling and synapses - have been described in bi-dimensional cultured networks where nanotube/neuron hybrids were developed on a monolayer of dissociated brain cells.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) offer a number of advantages for delivering drugs to specific locations inside the body which suggest that they may provide an improved result over nanoparticles. They have a larger inner volume which allows more drug molecules to be encapsulated, and this volume is more easily accessible because the end caps can be easily removed, and they have distinct inner and outer surfaces for functionalization. Recent research has shown the ability of CNTs to carry a variety of molecules such as drugs, DNA, proteins, peptides, targeting ligands etc. into cells - which makes them suitable candidates for targeted delivery applications. Researchers have now developed a unique two-dye labeling method to directly track the release process of a anti-cancer drug from carbon nanotube carriers in living cells.
At the core of tissue engineering is the construction of three-dimensional scaffolds out of biomaterials to provide mechanical support and guide cell growth into new tissues or organs. In another advance for the field, researchers have now demonstrated a strategy to fabricate tubular structures with multiple types of cells as different layers of the tube walls. This method may be widely used in simulation of many tubular tissues and enriches the toolbox for 3D micro/nanofabrication by initially patterning in 2D and transforming it into 3D. Tubular tissues such as the trachea, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and intestines, have two distinguishing features: They have specific 3D shapes;and they have different types of cells at specific locations, i.e. different parts of the tube wall are made up of different cells. Mimicking both of these features is a prerequisite for fabricating functional tubular tissues in vitro, and the realization of structural-tissue mimicry may have wide applications.
With the advent of nanomedicine, the concept of a "magic bullet" to fight cancer is getting closer to reality. Previously an idea straight out of science fiction, researchers around the world are working on perfecting nano- and microscale drug carriers that get injected into the body, transport themselves to the correct target, such as a tumor, and deliver the required dose of a medication or other substance to effectively destroy or repair this target. The controlled drug release required by these systems, however, has proven to be quite a challenging issue. To avoid the side effects of prematurely released toxic cancer drugs on healthy tissues, researchers have designed and fabricated an "active defense" system which could effectively keep the drug entrapped in its carrier in the blood and normal tissues whereas it would allow the explosive drug release under the right physiopathological stimuli once the drug carrier reaches the cancerous tissues.
Repellents play an important role in protecting humans from insect bites. An effective and safe repellent is useful in reducing human-vector contact, and thereby helps in the interruption of vector-borne disease transmission - mosquito bites can cause causes diseases like dengue and malaria. There are two types of repellents - synthetic and natural. DEET and DEPA are two of the best studied and most common active ingredient in insect repellents. Researchers in India have developed a cream of microencapsulated DEPA with two natural biodegradable polysaccharides which increases the efficiency of mosquito repellency from 6 hours to 12 hours. No DEPA-based formulation with up to 12 hours of protection time has been reported so far.
Nitric oxide (NO) is known to possess impressively broad antimicrobial activity due to both its inherent ability to inhibit growth and kill pathogens as well as its function as a potent immunostimulatory signaling molecule. Research data shows that NO is a potentially powerful therapeutic for serious skin and soft-tissue infections, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) infected wounds. However, as a highly reactive gas, NO has proven difficult to deliver in a convenient and cost effective therapeutic format. This limitation has largely precluded its routine use, even in hospital settings. In new work, researchers have now demonstrated the potential application of NO as an antimicrobial agent in the setting of skin and soft tissue infections.