Tag Archives: gene therapy

university technology

6 Disruptive University Technologies

All of these international innovations seek collaboration with businesses for co-development and knowledge transfer. Find out more on the university technology collaboration platform, IN-PART. To find industry-ready technology from Australian universities, visit Source IP.

Interacting with Virtual Reality

Credit: IN-PART
Credit: IN-PART

What is it?

A technology that allows users to interact with and control 3-dimensional virtual images through natural hand gestures.

What are the benefits of this university technology?

This new concept offers an immersive, engaging and responsive experience for users. Using positional trackers a touchless interface can register hand movements to move a 3D visualisation generated through stereoscopy – a technique that creates the illusion of depth in an image. This technology, developed by university researchers from the UK, can be applied in high and low cost applications including mobiles phones, video games, teaching aids, and also visual interfaces for medical purposes. What’s more, depending on the specific technology, the user may not even need to wear a head set!


A Gene Therapy for Major Depression

Credit: Brett Keane, Youtube

What is it?

A method that can change the genetic expression of a protein (p11) responsible for regulating the response of serotonin receptors – the chemical messenger related to mood, appetite and sleep.

Why is this innovative?

Using a virus-mediated gene transfer to alter the protein’s expression, researchers at an Ivy League US university have been able to normalise depression-like behaviour. The advantage of using gene therapy in patients with depression is, that unlike antidepressants or talking therapy – which may not always be effective in the long-term – this innovation provides durable relief from major depressive disorders and treatment-resistant depression.


Solar Power for a Changing Climate

Credit: Karen and Brad Emerson, Flickr
Credit: Karen and Brad Emerson, Flickr

What is it?

An all-weather combined photovoltaic-thermoelectric solar cell, designed to perform under extreme and varying conditions.

What makes this tech so special?

This hybrid solar cell, invented by academics from the Sunshine State, is adaptive and smart. By efficiently transforming excess heat uncaptured by the photovoltaic process, it generates surplus energy and avoids the increased resistance that traditional solar cells face under high temperatures. In snowy situations it can call upon this thermoelectric energy to keep ice-free, and during extreme heat it minimises operation to ensure a prolonged lifetime. All these are vital functions for a solar cell in a climate tending towards extremes.


Harvesting Energy from Vibrating Skyscrapers

Credit: Matthew Wiebe, Unsplash
Credit: Matthew Wiebe, Unsplash

What is it?

A system that can transform earthquake and wind-induced oscillations in high-rise buildings into electricity.

Why is it cool?

With the transition to a sustainable energy economy it’s imperative that every spare vibration is captured. This unique system, developed by researchers at a London university, offers simultaneous vibration suppression and energy harvesting from dynamically excited structures, aka – skyscrapers! The system can be tuned to weather forecasts and early-warning earthquake systems. And to the pleasure of office workers, it’s an on/off system; oscillation dampener by day, renewable energy capture by night.


Wearable Tech to Ward Off Deadly Pests

Credit: Erik F. Brandsborg, Flickr
Credit: Erik F. Brandsborg, Flickr

What is it?

A wearable device that releases micro-doses of scents (such as insect repellent) in response to the sound of a mosquito buzzing.

How might this change lives?

Preventing the transmission of mosquito-borne disease such as the Zika virus, malaria and the West Nile virus is an ongoing global health priority. This technology is being developed by researchers at a prestigious UK university to detect the sound of buzzing mosquitoes within a certain range, and then release repellent within that range to deter the offending pests. The device – which will be able to recognize the sounds of over 2500 breeds of mosquito! – can be easily embedded into an item of jewellery, piece of clothing, or even camping equipment and furniture.


Tunable Manipulation of Advanced Materials

Credit: IN-PART
Credit: IN-PART

What is it?

A micro-scale composite structure, designed so that its surface adhesion can be controlled by the application of a shear force.

Why is it needed?

As our ability to make increasingly delicate and complex materials rapidly grows, so does our need to be able to manipulate and work with these materials in manufacturing processes. In some cases, advanced materials cannot be suitably handled using vacuum or mechanical handling, and glue residues from traditional adhesives are unacceptable. This scalable composite, developed by researchers at an Ivy League university, could be used to manipulate thin layers of delicate materials without damage – simply by applying or removing a force on the composite.


The innovations in this article are hosted on the IN-PART university technology repository, based in the UK. All actively seek engagement and partnerships with businesses. Register to the platform for free to learn more and connect with the researchers.

To view industry-ready technology from Australian universities seeking partnerships, visit Source IP.

This article on disruptive university technology was first shared by IN-PART on 12 July 2016. Read the original article here.

reverse ageing

Is it possible to reverse ageing?

Featured image above: reverse ageing.

Since successful genome sequencing was first announced in 2000 by geneticists Craig Venter and Francis Collins, the cost of mapping DNA’s roughly three billion base pairs has fallen exponentially. Venter’s effort to sequence his genome cost a reported US$100 million and took nine months. In March, Veritas Genetics announced pre-orders for whole genome sequencing, plus interpretation and counselling, for US$999.

Another genetics-based start-up, Human Longevity Inc (HLI), believes abundant, relatively affordable sequencing and collecting other biological data will revolutionise healthcare delivery. Founded by Venter, stem cell specialist Robert Hariri and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, it claims to have sequenced more human genomes than the rest of the world combined, with 20,000 last year, a goal of reaching 100,000 this year and over a million by 2020.

HLI offers to “fully digitise” a patient’s body – including genotypic and phenotypic data collection, and MRI, brain vascular system scans – under its US$25,000 Health Nucleus service. Large-scale machine learning is applied to genomes and phenotypic data, following the efforts at what Venter has called “digitising biology”.

The claim is that artificial intelligence (AI) can predict maladies before they emerge, with “many” successes in saving lives seen in the first year alone. The company’s business includes an FDA-approved stem cell therapy line and individualised medicines. The slogan “make 100 the new 60” is sometimes mentioned in interviews with founders. Their optimism is not isolated. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel admits he takes human growth hormone to maintain muscle mass, confident the heightened risk of cancer will be dealt with completely by a cancer cure, and plans to live to 120.


“We understand what the surgeon needs and we embed that in an algorithm so it’s full automated.”


Bill Maris, CEO of GV (formerly Google Ventures), provocatively said last year that he thinks it’s possible to live to 500. An anit-ageing crusader, biological gerontologist Dr Aubrey de Grey, co-founder and chief science officer of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS, whose backers include Thiel), has claimed that people alive today might live to 1000.

Longevity expectations are constantly being updated. Consider that, in 1928, American demographer Louis Dublin put the upper limit of the average human lifespan at 64.8. How long a life might possibly last is a complex topic and there’s “some debate”, says Professor of Actuarial Studies at UNSW Michael Sherris.

He says there have been studies examining how long a life could be extended if certain types of mortality, such as cancer, were eliminated, points out Sherris.

“However, humans will still die of something else,” he adds. “The reality is that the oldest person lived to 122.”

Will we see a 1000-year-old human? It isn’t known. What is clear, though, is that efforts to extend health and improve lives have gotten increasingly sophisticated.

The definition of bioengineering has also grown and changed over the years. Now concerning fields including biomaterials, bioinformatics and computational biology, it has expanded with the ability to apply engineering principles at the cellular and molecular level.


Reverse ageing
A team led by Professor Jason Cooper-White at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Biotechnology and Nanotechnology (AIBN) recently published research showing a novel stem cell screening method, a “lab on a chip”, almost. The credit card-sized device looks a boon for productivity. According to AIBN, it is able to run “8,100 experiments at one time”, deliver a five- to ten-fold increase in stem cell differentiation, and decrease the cost of this by 100 to 1,000 by reducing cell media culture used. The Cooper-White Lab focusses on “cardiac and vascular development, disease and regeneration”. Among many awards, Professor Cooper-White last year picked up the Aon Risk Solutions Regenerative Medicine Award. Credit: AIBN

Editing out problems to reverse ageing

What if, further than reading and comprehending the code life is written in, it could also be rewritten as desired? A technique enabling this with better productivity and accuracy than any before it, has gotten many excited about this possibility.

“In terms of speed, it’s probably 10 times as quick as the old technology and is five to 10 times as cheap,” says Professor Robert Brink, Chief Scientist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s MEGA Genome Engineering Facility.

The facility uses the CRISPR/Cas9 process to make genetically-engineered mice for academic and research institute clients. Like many labs, Brink’s facility has embraced CRISPR/Cas9, which has made editing plant and animal DNA so accessible even amateurs are dabbling.

First described in a June 2012 paper in Science, CRISPR/Cas9 is an adaptation of bacteria’s defences against viruses. Using a guide RNA matching a target’s DNA, the Cas9 in the title is an endonuclease that makes a precise cut at the site matching the RNA guide. Used against a virus, the cut degrades and kills it. The triumphant bacteria cell then keeps a piece of viral DNA for later use and identification (described sometimes as like an immunisation card). This is assimilated at a locus in a chromosome known as CRISPR (short for clustered regularly spaced short palindromic repeats).

In DNA more complicated than a virus’s, the cut DNA is able to repair itself, and incorporates specific bits of the new material into its sequence before joining the cut back up. Though ‘off-target’ gene edits are an issue being addressed, the technique has grabbed lots of attention. Some claim it could earn a Nobel prize this year. There is hope it can be used to eventually address gene disorders, such as Beta thalassemias and Huntington’s disease.

“Probably the obvious ones are gene therapy, for humans, and agricultural applications in plants and animals,” says Dr George Church of Harvard Medical School.

Among numerous appointments, Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Last year, a team led by Dr Church used CRISPR to remove one of the major barriers to pig-human organ transplants – retroviral DNA – in pig embryos.


You can have what are called, ‘universal donors’. That’s being used, for example, in making cells that fight cancer.


“We’re now at the point where it used to be that you would have to have a perfect match between donor and recipient of human cells, but that was because you couldn’t engineer either one of them genetically,” he says. “You can engineer the donor so that it doesn’t cause an immune reaction. Now, you can have what are called, ‘universal donors’. That’s being used, for example, in making T cells that fight cancer – what some of us call CAR-T cells. You can use CRISPR to engineer them so that they’re not only effective against your cancer, but they don’t cause immune complications.”

Uncertainty exists in a number of areas regarding CRISPR (including patent disputes, as well as ethical concerns). However, there is no doubt it has promise.

“I think it will eventually have a great impact on medicine,” believes Brink. “It’s come so far, so quickly already that it’s almost hard to predict… Being able to do things and also being able to ensure everyone it’s safe is another thing, but that will happen.”

And as far as acceptance by the general public? Everything that works to overcome nature seems, well, unnatural, at least at first. Then it’s easier to accept once the benefits of are apparent. Church – who believes we could reverse ageing in five or six years – is hopeful about the future. He also feels the world needs people leery about progress, and who might even throw up a “playing God” argument or two.

“I mean it’s good to have people who don’t drive cars and don’t wear clothes and things like that, [and] it’s good to have people who are anti-technology because they give us an alternative way of thinking about things,” he says.

“[Genetic modification] is now broadly accepted in the sense that in many countries people eat genetically-modified foods and almost all countries, they use genetically-modified bacteria to make drugs like Insulin. I think there are very few people who would refuse to take Insulin just because it’s made in bacteria.”


Reverse ageing
The Australian Centre of Excellence in Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong, is a leader in biological 3D printing. Alongside three other universities, it offers the world’s first masters degree in biofabrication. The highly-interdisciplinary role of biofabricator “melds technical skills in materials, mechatronics and biology with the clinical sciences” says ACES Director, Professor Gordon Wallace. One of its projects is “layered brain-like structures”. Using layered bio-ink made of carbohydrates and neurons, the work adds to progress on a “bench-top brain”. Such a brain would be hugely useful for new drugs and electroceuticals. Professor Wallace, recently in the news for the BioPen stem cell printer, believes, in the coming years and with regulatory approval, cartilage for preventing arthritis, islet cells to treat diabetes, and stem cells will all be biofabricated treatments. Credit: ACES

A complete mindshift

Extended, healthier lives are all well and good. However, humans are constrained by the upper limits of what our cells are capable of, believes Dr Randal Koene.

For that and other reasons, the Dutch neuroscientist and founder of Carbon Copies is advancing the goal of Substrate Independent Minds (SIM). The most conservative form (relatively speaking) of SIM is Whole Brain Emulation, a reverse-engineering of our grey matter.

“In system identification, you pick something as your black box, a piece of the puzzle small enough to describe by using the information you can glean about signals going in and signals going out,” he explains, adding that the approach is that of mainstream neuroscience. “The system identification approach is used in neuroscience explicitly both in brain-machine interfaces, and in the work on prostheses.”

No brain much more complicated than a roundworm’s has been emulated yet. Its 302 neurons are a fraction of the human brain’s roughly 100 billion.

Koene believes that a drosophila fly, with a connectome of 100,000 or so neurons, could be emulated within the next decade. He is reluctant to predict when this might be achieved for people.

There’s reason for hope, though, with research at University of Southern California’s Center for Neural Engineering pointing the way.

 “The people from the [Theodore] Berger lab at USC, they’ve had some really good results using the system identification approach to make a neural prosthesis,” Koene says.

Koene counts being able to replace the function of part of a brain as the “smallest precursor” to whole brain emulation, with the end goal a mind that can operate without a body.


reverse ageing
Professor Milan Brandt, Technical Director of RMIT’s $25 million Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, has led the university in numerous collaborative projects. These include an Australian-first 3D printed spinal replacement with Anatomics, a vertebral cage for a patient with a deformity and excruciating back pain.  Other endeavours include the university’s provisionally patented Just-In-Time patient-specific bone implant method. To be useful away from its creators, the process – which creates implants with lattice-like mesh structures that emulate the weight and flex of bone – needs to be usable by surgeons with no prior experience with 3D printing. “We understand what the surgeon needs and we embed that in an algorithm so that it’s fully automated,” Dr Martin Leary tells create. Credit: RMIT

 – Simon Lawrence

This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of create – Engineers Australia‘s member magazine. Read the original article here.