On the cutting edge

A roundup of instrumentation, software and other tools and technology news

Jeffrey Bouley
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—There are a growing number of uses for sensors that can operate inside the body, and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed and demonstrated a small voltaic cell that is sustained by the acidic fluids in the stomach. The system can generate enough power to run small sensors or drug delivery devices that can reside in the gastrointestinal tract for extended periods of time.
“We need to come up with ways to power these ingestible systems for a long time,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “We see the GI tract as providing a really unique opportunity to house new systems for drug delivery and sensing, and fundamental to these systems is how they are powered.”
Traverso, who is also a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is one of the senior authors of the study. The others are Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, and Anantha Chandrakasan, head of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. MIT postdoc Phillip Nadeau is the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Feb. 6 issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The research team took inspiration from a very simple type of voltaic cell known as a lemon battery, which consists of two electrodes—often a galvanized nail and a copper penny—stuck in a lemon. The citric acid in the lemon carries a small electric current between the two electrodes. To replicate that strategy, the researchers attached zinc and copper electrodes to the surface of their ingestible sensor. The zinc emits ions into the acid in the stomach to power the voltaic circuit, generating enough energy to power a commercial temperature sensor and a 900-megahertz transmitter.
In tests in pigs, the devices took an average of six days to travel through the digestive tract. While in the stomach, the voltaic cell produced enough energy to power a temperature sensor and to wirelessly transmit the data to a base station located two meters away, with a signal sent every 12 seconds.
The current prototype of the device is a cylinder about 40 millimeters long and 12 millimeters in diameter, but the researchers anticipate that they could make the capsule about one-third that size by building a customized integrated circuit that would carry the energy harvester, transmitter and a small microprocessor.
“A big challenge in implantable medical devices involves managing energy generation, conversion, storage and utilization. This work allows us to envision new medical devices where the body itself contributes to energy generation enabling a fully self-sustaining system,” Chandrakasan says.
And now that we’ve touched on the world of academia in this roundup, read on for more tools and technology news recently from the corporate side of the life-sciences world.

Advancing 3D and 4D visualization of microscope image data
MUNICH, Germany—In late 2016, arivis AG hosted a special event for guests to journey inside biological structures during an immersive virtual reality experience with the newest version of the InViewR software.
InViewR allows its users to view not only 3D images of biological structures, but also interact with volumetric images and time series of these structures. The company’s direct volume rendering technique allocates every single data point of the original 3D images to a voxel within the rendered object, enabling the user to move freely and inspect the target areas of their specimen from any angle and position without limitations. InViewR software was first introduced at a Society for Neuroscience meeting in 2015, and this next-generation version implements improvements suggested by the scientific community, including exploration of 3D and 4D time-lapse movies from image series, higher frame rates and low latency for smooth and responsive viewing and avenues for sharing insights with peers and collaborators.
“Researchers argue that surface rendering alone is insufficient for revealing inner structures and intensity changes inside cells and along a timeline,” states Michael Wussow, vice president of sales and marketing for imaging. “This software is enabling scientists to take image data collected from their own microscopes and view this data as 3D and 4D interactive renderings, allowing researchers to visualize tissues and interconnected structures in context for a deeper understanding of cellular processes.”

Unique approach for generating bispecific antibodies
SEATTLE—Aptevo Therapeutics Inc., a biotechnology company focused on developing novel oncology and hematology therapeutics, recently announced that Dr. John Blankenship, a lead scientist at Aptevo, presented new data on the company’s bispecific antibody program based on the ADAPTIR platform technology at the 16th Annual PEPTALK conference in San Diego in January. In a presentation entitled “ADAPTIR Platform, a Novel Platform for Development of Immuno-Oncology Therapeutics,” Blankenship presented new in-vivo, in-vitro, pharmacokinetic and stability data highlighting the advantages of using the ADAPTIR platform to develop novel immuno-oncology therapeutics.
“The field of bispecific therapeutics is a rapidly emerging area in biotechnology and parallels the development of monoclonal antibodies many decades ago, but with greater therapeutic promise," said Dr. Jane Gross, senior vice president and chief scientific officer for Aptevo. “The ability to engage the immune system to fight cancer and other chronic diseases is a concept that has been heralded for some time, yet recent technological and scientific advances have made the promise of immunotherapy more achievable.”
Data were also presented showing that ADAPTIR molecules have unique properties for redirecting T cell cytotoxicity compared to other bispecific platforms, including a favorable cytokine release profile. Preclinical studies presented by Blankenship at PEPTALK showed ADAPTIR molecules inducing T cell proliferation and serial lysis of target-bearing cells, but with lower levels of T -cell dependent cytokines compared to other bispecific formats. If these data are confirmed in clinical studies, it could suggest the potential for enhanced safety and tolerability compared to other immuno-oncology approaches.

Chemistry data integration in StarDrop
CAMBRIDGE, U.K. & DEL MAR, Calif.—Optibrium, a developer of software for small-molecule design and optimization, has entered a collaboration with eMolecules, provider of a comprehensive chemical sourcing database. The collaboration provides StarDrop users with seamless access to eMolecules’ extensive collection of screening compounds and chemical building blocks, further extending StarDrop’s capabilities to guide compound selection and design.
The database contains more than 7 million unique chemical structures and 1.5 million building blocks. StarDrop users are now provided with direct access to eMolecules’ database via a free extension, so that they can quickly search for commercially available screening compounds. This enables users to easily enrich their understanding of structure-activity relationships in their project’s chemistry. Researchers can apply all of StarDrop’s capabilities to the compounds returned from eMolecules, including in-silico predictive models and multiparameter optimization, guiding the selection of high-quality compounds for their project’s specific objectives. Users can also select eMolecules building blocks with which to design new compounds using StarDrop’s Nova module. Imported building blocks are available in Nova’s flexible and user-friendly library enumeration tool, enabling the rapid exploration of new, synthetically accessible chemistry ideas.

Nano-reinforced nylon alloys
PUTNAM, Conn.—Foster Corp., a leader in polymer solutions for healthcare markets, has introduced Nanomed MAX compounds for medical device components that require high strength, yet cannot use metals or traditional reinforced plastics. These compounds, based on an alloy of meta-xylene diamine polyamide (MX nylon), are USP Class VI tested and suitable for reusable instruments or components that must withstand gamma, e-beam and ethylene oxide sterilization.
Minimally invasive procedures are increasingly used throughout the healthcare industry. New procedures require instruments, fixtures and components that do not interfere with magnetic resonance imaging, computerized axial tomography, fluoroscopy and X-ray imaging. Metals are not suitable and plastics often require reinforcing additives, such as glass fiber, to provide sufficient strength for structural components. However, these traditional additives are too large for molding or extruding intricate device components with thin wall sections. Unreinforced, high strength plastic options, such as polyetheretherketone, are often cost prohibitive.
Nanomed MAX compounds incorporate nanoclay particles into a high strength nylon alloy. These platelet-shaped particles, less than a nanometer thick and up to 1,000 times greater in surface diameter, provide reinforcement at the molecular level. Nanomed MAX compounds include less than 10 percent by weight nanoparticles, resulting in 15 percent more tensile strength than unmodified PEEK, for approximately half the price.

Jeffrey Bouley

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