Japanese researchers using silkworms to create COVID-19 vaccine

August 17, 2020

A team of scientists at Kyushu University in Japan is working to develop a possible COVID-19 vaccine using silkworms, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The vaccine is scheduled to be tested on humans in 2021.

The researchers, led by Professor Takahiro Kusakabe at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, are utilising the silkworms like factories. Each worm produces a protein which will become the key substance in a possible vaccine. “We have about 250,000 silkworms in about 500 different phylogenies (family lines),” Kusakabe was reported as saying. From the thousands of insects in the lab, “we have found a type of silkworm that can efficiently manufacture the proteins.”

The project sees genes of the protein that forms the outer “spikes” of the coronavirus incorporated into the virus, which is then injected into a silkworm. After about four days, spike proteins that can serve as vaccine material start to be produced in large quantities by the silkworms, the report explained. Once this has happened, these proteins are removed and refined and can be made into a vaccine.

Producing spike proteins using silkworms is believed to be a safer method than using an ‘attenuated vaccines’, in which a weakened form of the virus is introduced into the human body.

Kusakabe plans to inject the spike proteins into mice first to see if this creates antibodies to block the coronavirus infection. He will then check if the antibodies can actually block the virus’s intrusion into cells. Animal testing is scheduled to be completed by early 2021, after which clinical testing on humans will begin.

“Using silkworms, you can shorten the time it takes to produce candidate substances for the vaccine to as little as about 40 days,” Kusakabe was quoted as saying.

The cost of producing the vaccine will also be lower as the silkworm method does not require large equipment.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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Tata Chemicals to build UK’s first industrial carbon capture plant

June 30, 2019

Image: Tata Chemicals Europe

UK producer of soda ash, sodium bicarbonate and salt, Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) has announced plans to build the UK’s first industrial-scale carbon capture and utilisation demonstration plant to trap carbon dioxide emissions for use in its baking soda manufacturing operations.

According to the company, the project marks a world first in capturing and purifying carbon dioxide from power generation plant emission gases to use as a raw material to manufacture high purity sodium bicarbonate. Food grade liquid carbon dioxide is an essential raw material in the production of high-grade sodium bicarbonate, a chemical used in a range of products including hemodialysis, pharmaceuticals, food and animal feed, flue gas treatments, detergents and personal care products. TCE exports 60 per cent of its sodium bicarbonate to more than 60 countries across the globe.

The cost of the project, estimated at £16.7m, will be covered by TCE with the support of a £4.2m grant from the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through the Carbon Capture and Utilisation Demonstration Programme.

The company’s Northwich industrial site is scheduled to commence the carbon dioxide capture operations in 2021.  “The project will help pave the way for other industrial applications of carbon dioxide capture and is an important step in decarbonising industrial activity and supports the Government’s recently announced target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” TCE said in a press release.

TCE explained the carbon capture and utilisation process as follows:

The plant will “capture carbon dioxide from the flue gases of TCE’s 96MWe gas-fired combined heat and power plant (“CHP”), which supplies steam and power to the company’s Northwich operations and other industrial businesses in the area.  The CCU plant will then purify and liquify the gas for use directly in the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. Deploying CCU technology will reduce emissions, as captured CO2 will be effectively utilized in the manufacturing process rather than being emitted into the atmosphere.

Commenting on the project, TCE Managing Director Martin Ashcroft, said:

“The CCU demonstration plant will enable us to reduce our carbon emissions, whilst securing supplies of a critical raw material, helping to grow the export of our products across the world.  Implementing this industry leading project, with such strong environmental and operational benefits is hugely exciting, and we’re pleased to be working closely with BEIS to deliver the demonstration plant.

“We hope that this project will demonstrate the viability of CCU and pave the way for further applications of the technology to support the decarbonization of industrial activity.  Our parent company, Tata Chemicals Ltd, has supported this innovative project, enabling our UK operations to continue to reduce its carbon emissions. This project is a great example of business and Government working together to rise to the challenge of decarbonising industrial production.”

Source: Tata Chemicals Europe

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High-tech goggles allow surgeons to ‘see’ cancerous tissue

April 18, 2014

A new type of goggle currently under development in the USA has the potential to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and intrusive surgery are currently the only treatments available to doctors and surgeons when combatting cancer, which affects approximately one in every three people in some form. Removing cancerous tissue by surgical means is particularly challenging, as the difference between healthy tissue and tumorous tissue is often difficult, if not impossible, to perceive. This can often lead to cancerous cells being left behind in the body, often resulting in further bouts of surgery.

The new ‘high-tech goggles’, currently being tested at pilot stage by scientists in the USA,  could potentially be an answer to the challenges posed by detecting cancerous tissue. The goggles allow surgeons to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy tissue, by causing cancerous cells to ‘glow’. Scientists hope that the goggles will enable surgeons to remove all the affected tissue in a single surgery, leaving no part of the tumour behind.

Dr Ryan Fields, a surgeon at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said: “The technology is quite amazing – almost like having a microscope to guide your surgery in the operating room.”

Just how do the goggles work? In fact, the goggles are not the only thing to play a role in this incredible technology. Before undergoing surgery, the patient is injected with a type of dye, containing a small protein called peptide. This protein has a unique quality, in that it is able to seek out and bind to cancer cells – and cancer cells only – effectively ‘dying’ them.

These ‘dyed’ cells emit light: a specific speed of light that is imperceptible to humans. The goggles are designed to overcome this problem, by using a sensor, which  The dyed cancer cells emit light at a wavelength that cannot be seen by the human eye, but can be detected by a sensor in the goggles worn by the surgeons.

“The sensor captures the fluorescence from the dye lodged in cancer tissue and projects the image into the surgeon’s [field of] view,” explained a doctor working on the development of the dye and goggle technology.  “This creates an augmented reality that allows the surgeons to see cancer cells glowing, providing real-time guidance during surgery.

Whilst the goggles are still in their prototype form, scientists and surgeons alike have strong hope in their potential to reduce the number of secondary surgeries in cancer-related cases. Indeed, it is thought that up to 40 per cent of breast cancer patients in the USA require secondary follow-up surgeries to remove cancerous tissue left behind in the first operation.

“It has the potential to reduce the size of operations, when safe, and guide us to take out more tissue, when required,” said Dr Fields.

However, the goggles will require much larger trials to prove their reliability before they can be considered for routine use.

 

Sources include: BBC News, The Week

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Feel no pain? Congenital analgesia research paves the way to new pain medicine

September 18, 2013

A girl who does not feel pain may hold the key to new developments in painkiller medicine.

Researchers who have studied the girl, who has congenital analgesia (a disorder which means that she is unable to feel physical pain) have discovered a gene mutation in her DNA which they believe disrupts and often blocks the perception of pain. Using their findings, they hope to go on to develop new types of pain medication, which would work in much the same way by blocking the neural impulses which transmit pain.

The gene in question, identified by a team of researchers (led by Ingo Kurth) at the Jena University Hospital in Germany, is named SCN11A, and is responsible for controlling the way in which pain-detecting neurons develop. Kurth and her team were able to identify and locate the gene by comparing the young girl’s DNA sequence against those of her parents. Upon further investigation, the team found that in typically developed people, sodium ions travel through these pain-sensing neurons, creating electrical nerve impulses to the brain. It is these electrical impulses which are responsible for alerting the brain to painful sensations. In people with congenital analgesia, the researchers found that the SCN11A gene was overactive, causing a build-up of  the electrical nerve impulses, which are not discharged and thus fail to transmit the pain signals to the brain. As a result, those with the disorder are numbed to all physical pain.

Kurth and her team confirmed their findings by injecting mice with a mutated form of the gene and testing the subjects to learn whether their ability to feel pain was affected. A common feature of people with congenital analgesia is the acquisition of wounds without the person realising. Indeed, the mice who received the mutated gene were found to develop such injuries, whereas the control group of mice did not.  The mice who received the gene were also noted to take over twice as long as the control group to react when a hot light beam was placed close to their tails. Speaking of the experiment, Kurth said: “What became clear from our experiments is that although there are similarities between mice and men with the mutation, the degree of pain insensitivity is more prominent in humans.”

The team hopes that with these positive results, they will be able to begin the development of new drugs which would selectively block the SCN11A channel, thus acting as a painkiller.

Sources include New Scientist

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Stick insects a clue to the secrets of antibiotic resistance

September 9, 2013

Scientists in Norwich have discovered an entirely new source of antibiotics, in a very surprising location: stick insects.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich claim that a microbe located in the gut of a particular stick insect, the giant lime green stick insect, could be an unexpected aide in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

The giant lime green stick insect feeds primarily upon eucalyptus, a plant which is well-known for its antibacterial properties. In fact, the stick insect, when introduced to certain toxins and infections, which it would almost certainly never have come across naturally in the wild, showed a remarkable resistance to them. Such a response is, claim the Norwich researchers, indicative of an exciting mechanism at work, one which could hold the key to the secrets of antibiotic resistance.

Katarzyna Ignasiak, who is working on the research with the stick insects at the JIC, said: “This research is at the very early stage but it is exciting to investigate new solutions to the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Indeed, this is a problem which has become increasingly worrisome for scientists in recent years, as large numbers of drugs become less effective or even ineffective each year due to microbes evolving to become resistant to antibiotics.

Professor Tony Maxwell, head of biological chemistry at the JIC, said of the situation: “If we don’t take action now, antibiotic resistance could mean that widely used treatments for diseases including cancer and common operations such as hip replacements could become impossible.”

The antibiotic properties of the stick insect are not entirely new. In the recent past, scientists have also discovered similar effects in the leafcutter ant, who carries an antibiotic on its skin. These ants cut sections off the leaves, which they carry underground to allow it to decompose into a type of fungus. In order to protect this fungus from microbes and bacteria, and to encourage the fungus’ growth, the ants carry an antibiotic-producing bacteria on their skin.

One antibiotic discovered on leafcutter ants is already used in an antifungal in modern medicine, and the researchers at the JIC hope that further study of the giant lime green stick insect will lead to the uncovering of new antibiotics in the future.

Sources include BBC News, Pharmiweb

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Research reveals why the chance of getting both Cancer and Alzheimer’s is low.

July 16, 2013

The next generation may live to see 100, and with old age inevitably comes illness. While older people may be more prone to getting cancer or Alzheimer’s, it seems they are unlikely to get  both. Understanding this link could offer insights into treating both diseases.

The association was first noticed in 2005 when researchers looked at how many people over 65 with cancer later developed Alzheimer’s, and vice versa. To further explore the link, Massimo Musicco at the Institute of Biomedical Technology in Milan, Italy, and his colleagues recorded cancer and Alzheimer’s diagnoses for over a million people by looking at registries of drug prescriptions and hospital admissions between 2004 and 2009. In each case of cancer or Alzheimer’s, they checked for the other disease before the person was treated, as well as in the years after.

Previous studies have examined the possible relationship between Alzheimer’s and cancer in old age, but Musicco said the studies did not utilize enough research subjects.

“All the papers reported a negative association between the two diseases, but the number of people being studied was quite small,” he said.

Looking to use a larger group of people for observation, Musicco analyzed a population of 204,468 people in northern Italy aged 60 and over during a six-year period. Over the course of that time, 21,451 people developed cancer and 2,832 people developed Alzheimer’s disease.

The results showed that a total of 161 people had both cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Based on how frequently these diseases develop in the general population, that number would have been expected to be 281 for cancer and 146 for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, the risk of cancer was significantly reduced by half for people with Alzheimer’s disease, while the risk of Alzheimer’s disease for people with cancer decreased by 35 percent.

“It’s a very convincing demonstration of the links between two pathologies that we often think of as separate,” says Richard Faragher of the British Society for Research on Ageing. “The question is: what is going on?”

Although both diseases are linked to ageing, they work in very different ways. While cancer results from the uncontrolled growth of cells, Alzheimer’s is related to the death of brain cells.

“There may be some genetic factor that, if it’s tipped one way, it may cause abnormal cell growth, and tipped another way, it may cause abnormal cell death,” says Catherine Roe at Washington University in St Louis, who first reported the association. She suggests a tumour-suppressing gene called TP53 might play such a role. Its activity is elevated in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but inactivated in about 50 per cent of cancer tumours, she says.

The link between the two may also be explained by the ageing of cells. As we get older, many of the body’s cells undergo senescence – a process that stops them dividing and triggers the release of inflammatory proteins. This is thought to protect us from cancer, the idea being that any ageing cells that have accumulated DNA damage are destroyed, perhaps by the immune response triggered by the proteins.

But senescence may also be linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Last year, Claudio Torres at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia found huge numbers of cells that had stopped dividing in the brains of people who had died of Alzheimer’s.

People may have cells that are more or less likely to senesce, protecting them from one disease, but putting them at risk of the other, says Faragher. We need to look for ways to selectively kill senescent cells or ameliorate their effect, he adds. “This opens entirely new routes for treatment for quite a lot of conditions.”

Sources: New Scientist, Fox News

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TJC-Global offers an extensive global network of professional & experienced multilingual translators, proof-readers and interpreters. We also have academic researchers, specialists and speakers, who are all native speakers of over 180 languages.

TJC Global‘s medical interpretation service offers a complete package. Medical interpreting is a highly specialized area, and should only be attempted by qualified, experienced medical interpreters. Instructions, dosages and procedures must be conveyed accurately, and medical terminology must be fully understood. TJC Oxford has a network of Translators often holding a degree or certificate in the medical sciences, as well as being a native speaker in at least two languages. This means we can provide a bespoke medical interpretation service of unparaled quality, covering all aspects of the industry.

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