Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gene RADAR: Instant Medical Diagnosis For The Masses?

Even though it still awaits a substantial venture capital investment for mass implementation, is Dr. Anita Goel’s Gene RADAR the future of instant medical diagnosis for the world’s poor?

By: Ringo Bones

Even though her invention is a 500,000 US dollar XPRIZE Foundation Challenge winner, Dr. Anita Goel’s Gene RADAR still awaits substantial venture capital investment for it to begin benefitting the medical diagnostic cost burden to those over a billion people around the world who earns less than 2 US dollars a day. Current reliable medical diagnostic tests to find out if whether someone has HIV / AIDS, the dreaded Ebola virus or just your garden variety flu used to take about a month for results, while the upcoming Gene RADAR was recently demonstrated to accurately do the same feat within an hour using just a drop of blood from the patient.

Dr. Anita Goel received a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University and is globally recognized for her pioneering research in nano-biophysics particularly for the study of molecular mechanisms behind the reading and writing information in DNA.  Currently the chairwoman and CEO of Nanobiosym Diagnostics, the Harvard-M.I.T. trained physicist and physician now eagerly awaits for substantial venture capitalist investment to make her Gene RADAR a commercially viable product that could benefit patients who earn less than 2 US dollars a day.

The nanotechnology platform based Gene RADAR developed by Nanobiosym Diagnostics is the first medical diagnostic tool of its kind that is not only as accurate and reliable as existing medical diagnostic lab equipment used in testing HIV / AIDS, Ebola and the flu, but can also produce reliable results within an hour at a fraction of the costs of current similar medical diagnostic tools. When deployed in Ebola hot-spots in the near future, Gene RADAR could make the 2014 West African Ebola Pandemic a thing of the past. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Can Robots Help Stop The Spread Of The Ebola Virus?

Even though the worse is over but global health policymakers warn the dangers of a reemergence, can robots help health workers stop the spread of the dreaded Ebola virus? 

By: Ringo Bones 

As of late, epidemiologists recently found out that the Ebola virus strains that affected Liberia and neighboring countries in Africa had somehow mutated. Given that by only stopping the further spread of the dreaded Ebola virus is the only viable way to prevent it from further mutating, would robots in conjunction with health workers help stop the spread of the Ebola virus? 

Back in November 2014, three leading U.S. robotics universities and the White House got into a meeting to discuss if they can design a new batch of robots that could lessen the risks of health workers’ exposure to the Ebola virus. One idea presented by Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts is to avoid designing new robots from scratch because it involves a huge investment in time and money that governments around the world in search of ways to control the spread of the dreaded Ebola virus cannot currently afford. Rather, WPI says existing robots should be repurposed on Ebola specific tasks. The other universities involved in the discussion are Texas A&M and the University of California, Berkeley.   

One of the robots WPI has begun repurposing into an Ebola virus decontaminating robot is the AERO or Autonomous Exploration Rover. It was originally designed for space exploration but is now being converted to help with decontamination work by adding decontamination sprayer tanks and sprayers to its body. The idea is that a health worker will be situated safely outside an Ebola virus contaminated area and would control most of the hazardous decontamination work remotely. “We’re trying to pull the workers further away from the disease,” says Velin Dimitrov, a robotics engineer and Ph.D. candidate. “Ebola doesn’t (yet?) spread through the air, so if you can tele-operate a robot from just outside, it reduces the risk to workers”. WPI’s team hopes to deploy AERO in conjunction with other Ebola virus decontamination robots like the Baxter automotive assembly robot now repurposed as an Ebola virus decontamination robot and scores of former bomb disposal robots that are formerly used to disarm IEDs in Iraq to help with the decontamination efforts in West Africa. 

Can We Grow Vaccines And Other Pharmaceuticals As Crops?

Even though it has been hyped as one of the benefits of genetic engineering, can we soon grow vaccines and other pharmaceuticals like crops in an economically viable manner? 

By: Ringo Bones

If Prof. Henry Daniel has his way, we would all be soon growing our vaccines and other pharmaceuticals as easily as we crow corn and other cash crops. For some years now, Prof. Daniel of University of Pennsylvania has been growing an experimental batch of genetically modified lettuce that could eventually lower the cost of dosage of vaccines from hundreds of dollars a batch to produce to pennies per batch. A 1-acre greenhouse could produce 350 million doses of plant based vaccines using Prof. Daniel’s method.
 Other benefits of genetically modified crops that are infused with oft needed pharmaceuticals – i.e. pharming – is that soon we can manufacture insulin inside a plant cell that can be viably used as orally taken insulin tablets. Orally taken insulin tablets were experimented in the mid 1980s via artificially grown protein crystals that are grown in the weightless conditions of low earth orbit during NASA’s Space Shuttle program, but with a lack of a “cheap” way to create these specialized protein crystals, orally taken insulin research was eventually abandoned as “not economically viable”. 

Prof. Henry Daniel joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine back in 2013 is a molecular biologist with a focus on plants, pursued basic science research after earning his biochemistry Ph.D. from Madurai Kamaraj University in his native India. Yet he began to think differently about his work upon recognizing what he perceived as a human-rights injustice: the sky-high costs of medications taken for chronic or lengthy illnesses. 

“Interferon, a common anti-cancer drug, for example, costs $30,000 to $40,000 for a four-month treatment, and a third of the global population earns $2 or less a day” Daniel says. “To me, there is something morally not right about that. If you have something that saves lives, you have an obligation to make it available to everyone.” 

Prof. Daniel’s outside of the box thinking has turned lettuce leaves into drug delivery systems, with results that have the potential to make disease treatment and prevention to most of the global population. Now at Penn, Prof. Daniel is working to take his plant based medicine platform from the lab to the clinic and to begin saving lives. 

Prof. Daniel’s platform addresses a shortcoming in vaccine production, because vaccines contain pathogens – even if they are killed or inactivated – they must be refrigerated to ensure that the organisms don’t reproduce and pose threats to people receiving the inoculations. So if Prof. Daniel “sidesteps” the cold chain problem of vaccine production and distribution by “genetically manipulating” plants to become room temperature vaccines. 

Plants have several properties that lend themselves well to producing and carrying biomedical molecules in the body. First, their cells are totipotent, in other words, all the different tissues of a plant can be grown starting from a single cell in a culture dish. This characteristic enables scientists to make modifications to one plant cell and from that grow a plant to which every cell has those modifications. 

Plant cells also have fibrous walls made of cellulose which cannot be broken down by human enzymes, though they can be digested by microbes that reside inside in the gut. This feature enables therapeutic proteins produced inside plant cells to travel partway through our digestive systems before being released in the intestines, where they can disseminate into the bloodstream. 

In addition, because plants are commonly consumed as foods, most people won’t be allergic to them as they might to some synthetically produced drugs that are based on egg proteins – to which a substantial number of people are sensitive to. And finally, plants can easily be grown; Prof. Daniel has reported that just an acre of genetically modified tobacco plants, for example, could produce enough anthrax vaccine / anti-toxoid to immunize every person in the United States. And it was a batch of genetically modified tobacco plants that produced the first truly effective anti-Ebola cure – ZMapp. 

Since developing the concept of a plant based vaccine in the 1990s, Prof. Daniel has methodically tested each step – from introducing proteins into a plant to designating molecular tags to direct the protein from the gut into the bloodstream or immune system, to harvesting and freeze-drying the specially engineered plants in capsules. Animal studies have shown this platform’s power. In 2012, Prof. Daniel and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Plant Biotechnology describing the creation of lettuce plants engineered to express a protein that stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. Mice fed capsules of the freeze-dried material produced insulin and had normal sugar levels in their blood and urine, the appearance of a fundamental cure for diabetes. What’s more, the capsules could be stored at room temperature for as long as 15 months and still retain their potency. Similarly, a 2010 publication in the journal PNAS demonstrated the ability to block severe immune reaction and death in hemophilic mice. Prof. Daniel’s lab has also developed oral vaccines against cholera, malaria, anthrax and the plague. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Can Over The Counter Pharmaceuticals Cause Dementia In Older People?

Dementia may be just a fancy word for insanity, but do some popular over-the-counter pharmaceuticals cause such problems in older people? 

By: Ringo Bones 

In a recent preliminary study of how commonly available over-the-counter pharmaceuticals can affect older people, it has been found out that there is a statistically significant rise in dementia of older people using quite common over-the-counter drugs like some popular antihistamine anticholinergic drugs like Benadril and some tricyclic antidepressants like sertraline or mirtazapine. Most of the pharmaceuticals causing the increased dementia risk are found out to be older formulations – developed back in the 1950s or so – of common over-the-counter drugs.     

Common treatments for insomnia and hay fever are also linked to a statistically significant rise in the dementia incidences of older people using such drugs over a long period of time, as in regularly taking these drugs for 3 years or more. But the U.K.’s National Health advises older people not to panic and quit their meds abruptly, whereby causing more heath problems as a result. Many of them are advised to consult their General Practitioners to switch them to newer formulations if they are currently taking older formulations of antidepressants. 

People of all ages are also advised to update their current meds to newer formulations if they are currently taking older formulations of antidepressant medication. This incident reminded me on when Duke University pharmacologist Dr. Mohamed Abou Donia discovered that the anti nerve gas medication Pyridostigmine Bromide issued during Operation Desert Storm causes the so-called Gulf War Syndrome if troops taking Pyridostigmine Bromide uses Deet – a common mosquito repellant. And during the mid 1990s, Dr. Mohamed Abou Donia also found out that some asthma inhalers causes Gulf War Syndrome like symptoms if asthmatics using these inhalers are exposed to common lawn pesticides.