Cynthia Wolberger Named Director of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry

Structural biologist Cynthia Wolberger, Ph.D., has been appointed director of the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The first woman to lead the department, she will take over the director position from Mario Amzel, Ph.D., who is stepping down after 15 years of leading the department during his more than 50-year career at Johns Hopkins.

UCI-led team awarded $2.3 million by California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine

Scientists have grown small amounts of self-organizing brain tissue, known as organoids, in a tiny 3D-printed system that allows observation while they grow and develop. The advance uses 3D printing to create a reusable and easily adjustable platform that costs only about $5 per unit to fabricate, and the design includes imaging wells for the growing organoids and microfluidic channels to provide a nutrient medium and preheating that supports tissue growth. The work is reported in Biomicrofluidics.

Preparing for exascale: Aurora supercomputer to help scientists visualize the spread of cancer

In advance of Argonne’s Aurora exascale supercomputer, Duke University assistant professor Amanda Randles is leading a new study to analyze cancer metastasis using HARVEY, a code that simulates blood vessels within the human body.

Injectable Porous Scaffolds Promote Better, Quicker Healing After Spinal Cord Injuries

In APL Bioengineering, researchers have developed materials that can interface with an injured spinal cord and provide a scaffolding to facilitate healing. To do this, scaffolding materials need to mimic the natural spinal cord tissue, so they can be readily populated by native cells in the spinal cord, essentially filling in gaps left by injury. The researchers show how the pores improve efficiency of gene therapies administered locally to the injured tissues, which can further promote tissue regeneration.

Measuring Hemoglobin Levels with AI Microscope, Microfluidic Chips

A complete blood count can help ascertain the health of a patient and typically includes an estimate of the hemoglobin concentration, which can indicate several conditions, including anemia, polycythemia, and pulmonary fibrosis. In AIP Advances, researchers describe a new AI-powered imaging-based tool to estimate hemoglobin levels. The setup was developed in conjunction with a microfluidic chip and an AI-powered automated microscope that was designed for deriving the total as well as differential counts of blood cells.

FRESH 3D-Printing Platform Paves Way for Tissues, Organs

Research into 3D bioprinting has grown rapidly in recent years as scientists seek to re-create the structure and function of complex biological systems from human tissues to entire organs. In APL Bioengineering, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University provide perspective on the Freefrom Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels 3D bioprinting approach, which solves the issue of gravity and distortion by printing within a yield-stress support bath that holds the bioinks in place until they are cured.

Hydrogel Promotes Wound Healing Better Than Traditional Bandages, Gauzes

For explosion wounds as well as some incurred in disasters and accidents, severe hemorrhage is a leading cause of death. Hydrogel dressings, which have advanced in recent years, may help; they are good at promoting wound healing and can better meet the demands of different situations. Many are antibacterial, biodegradable, responsive, and injectable and can fill irregularly shaped wounds. In APL Bioengineering, researchers in China examine some of the recent advances.

The AI-driven initiative that’s hastening the discovery of drugs to treat COVID-19

Ten organizations have created a pipeline of artificial intelligence and simulation tools to narrow the search for drug candidates that can inhibit SARS-CoV-2.

Biosensors Require Robust Antifouling Protection

Some promising biosensors and medical devices work well within pristine laboratory environments but may stop working once exposed to real-world conditions. A thick layer of foulants will quickly cover biosensors, and there is no good way to revive them once they quit working. Essentially, a biosensor is only as good as its antifouling properties. In APL Materials, researchers review a variety of approaches developed to combat fouling.

New self-assembly method creates bioelectronics out of microscopic structures

Bringing together soft, malleable living cells with hard, inflexible electronics can be a difficult task. UChicago researchers have developed a new method to face this challenge by utilizing microscopic structures to build up bioelectronics rather than creating them from the top down – creating a highly customizable product.

Personalizing Cancer Care with Improved Tumor Models

While decades of research have resulted in substantial improvements in surviving cancer, a key challenge remains in identifying new drugs that improve outcomes for patients. In APL Bioengineering, researchers suggest a major hurdle is the paucity of models for cancer research that accurately represent patient tumors. They provide a perspective on strategies using models from individual patients and where the field needs to go in terms of research in animal systems and in culture systems.

Combining Best of Both Worlds for Cancer Modeling

Treatment options for many types of cancers remain limited, due partly to the in vitro tools used to model cancers and that results from animal studies do not always translate well to human disease. These shortcomings point to a clear need for a better, patient-specific model. Researchers suggest bioengineered microscale organotypic models can address this need. They discuss the advantages and capabilities of this technique, as well as its challenges, in the journal APL Bioengineering.

Eggs Reveal What May Happen to Brain on Impact

Our brains consist of soft matter bathed in watery cerebrospinal fluid inside a hard skull, and in Physics of Fluids, researchers describe studying another system with the same features, an egg, to search for answers about concussions. Considering that in most concussive brain injuries, the skull does not break, they wanted to find out if it was possible to break or deform the egg yolk without breaking the eggshell and did a simple experiment using an egg scrambler, measuring the soft matter deformation.

COVID-19 Virus Survives on Surfaces Within Thin Film

To find out how the COVID-19 virus survives on surfaces, researchers in India are exploring the drying times of thin liquid films that persist on surfaces after most respiratory droplets evaporate. While the drying time of typical respiratory droplets is on the order of seconds, the survival time of the COVID-19 virus was found to be on the order of hours. In Physics of Fluids, the researchers describe how a nanometers-thick liquid film clings to the surface, allowing the virus to survive.

Biophysics Reviews Publishes First Articles, Focuses on Experimental, Theoretical Research

AIP Publishing is pleased to announce the first published articles from its latest journal, Biophysics Reviews. BPR plans to publish articles that have the potential to influence thinking in the biophysics field or report a significant discovery. In both the reviews and research articles, the editors look to provide readers with the ideas and tools necessary to advance the field of biophysics.

Inducing Plasma in Biomass Could Make Biogas Easier to Produce

Producing biogas from the bacterial breakdown of biomass presents options for a greener energy future, but the complex composition of biomass comes with challenges. Cellulose and woody lignocellulose are especially hard for bacteria to digest but pretreatment can make it easier. Researchers are testing plasma formation in biomass and finding a promising method: A plasma-liquid interaction forms reactive species that help break down the biomass and decrease the viscosity of the biomass material.

Progress Toward Antiviral Treatments for COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, which is structurally similar to the viruses that cause SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. In The Journal of Chemical Physics, scientists report molecular-level investigations of these viruses, providing a possible pathway to antiviral drugs to fight the diseases. They looked at a viral protein that plays a role in the virus’s ability to replicate and in defeating the host’s immune system, making it an attractive target for potential drug treatments.

Chemotherapy Drug More Effective When Combined With Microbubbles

Hepatocellular carcinoma is usually treated by blocking the flow of blood to the tumor to induce cancer cell death, but the common treatment, transarterial chemoembolization, is invasive and too imprecise to be a local drug delivery method. Aiming to increase the precision, researchers at Tulane University created a treatment that involves vaporizing tiny droplets of perfluorocarbon, a common organic material composed of carbon and fluorine. The method of gas embolization is published in APL Bioengineering.

Brain’s Immune Cells Promising Cellular Target for Therapeutics

Inspired by the need for new and better therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, Rutgers University researchers are exploring the link between uncontrolled inflammation within the brain and the brain’s immune cells, known as microglia, which are emerging as a promising cellular target because of the prominent role they play in brain inflammation. In APL Bioengineering, the group highlights the design considerations and benefits of creating therapeutic nanoparticles for carrying pharmacological factors directly to the sites of the microglia.

Detecting Small Amounts of Virus in Early Infections

Diagnostic devices that are used at home or in doctors’ offices are often not sensitive enough to detect small amounts of a virus that might be present in samples from asymptomatic patients, which can occur in early stage COVID-19. In Biomicrofluidics, scientists report a membrane-based invention that can concentrate the virus content of a sample of urine or saliva, allowing it to be detected.

Biohybrid Model Uses Organic Lungs, Synthetic Muscles to Re-Create Respiration Mechanics

Discussed in APL Bioengineering, researchers created a high-fidelity respiratory simulator that accurately represents the interplay between the abdomen, diaphragm, lungs and pleural space, the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the thorax and lungs. The model, using swine lungs, soft robotic materials and artificial muscles, allows precise tuning of pressure in each part of the system, so specific disease conditions can be tested. It also proved extremely useful for testing ventilator-only respiration by removing the elastomeric diaphragm.

Paper-Based Device Provides Low-Power, Long-Term Method for Analyzing Sweat

Researchers at North Carolina State University have constructed a paper-based device as a model of wearables that can collect, transport and analyze sweat in next-generation wearable technology. Using a process known as capillary action, akin to water transport in plants, the device uses evaporation to wick fluid that mimics the features of human sweat to a sensor for up to 10 days or longer. They discuss their work in the journal Biomicrofluidics.

Targeting SARS-CoV-2 Enzyme with Inhibitors

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, many researchers are studying epidemiological models to predict its propagation. However, a mathematician and expert in complex systems decided to focus on finding targets within SARS-CoV-2 for new drugs to attack. In the journal Chaos, he discusses the dramatic increase in the sensitivity of the main protease of SARS-CoV-2 to small disturbances, which made him suspect there is a role for inhibitors to play in killing the virus.

New View on How Tissues Flow in the Embryo

Watching and measuring what happens in tissues inside the human embryo is currently not possible, and it’s difficult to do in mammalian models. Because humans and the fruit fly Drosophila share so many biological similarities, Columbia Engineering and Syracuse University researchers tackled this problem by focusing on fruit flies. The team reports today that they can predict when the tissue will begin to rapidly flow just by looking at cell shapes in the tissue.

Image Analysis Technique Provides Better Understanding of Heart Cell Defects

Many patients with heart disease face limited treatment options. Fortunately, stem cell biology has enabled researchers to produce large numbers of cardiomyocytes, which may be used in advanced drug screens and cell-based therapies. However, current image analysis techniques don’t allow researchers to analyze heterogeneous, multidirectional, striated myofibrils typical of immature cells. In the Journal of Applied Physics, researchers showcase an algorithm that combines gradient methods with fast Fourier transforms to quantify myofibril structures in heart cells with considerable accuracy.

Nanodevices for the brain could thwart formation of Alzheimer’s plaques

Researchers designed a nanodevice with the potential to prevent peptides from forming dangerous plaques in the brain in order to halt development of Alzheimer’s disease.

How Blood Cells Deform, Recover When Traveling Through Tiny Channels

In this week’s Biomicrofluidics, a method to characterize the shape recovery of healthy human RBCs flowing through a microfluidic constricted channel is reported. This investigation revealed a coupling between the cell’s mechanical properties and the hydrodynamic properties of the flow. In addition, the method could distinguish between healthy red blood cells and those infected by the malaria parasite. This suggests a possible new technique for diagnosing disease.

Self-Assembling Ribosome Could Lead to Novel Vaccines

The Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Roy Bar-Ziv has demonstrated the self-synthesis and self-assembly of a ribosomal subunit on the surface of a chip. The breakthrough could lead to novel types of vaccines, including for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or to assembly lines to produce complex molecules for a range of industries.

Evaluating Embryo Quality with Ultrasensitive Protein Detection

Infertility is estimated to affect 9% of reproductive-aged couples globally, and many couples turn to assisted reproductive technology. Selecting embryos with maximum development potential plays a pivotal role in obtaining the highest rate of success in ART treatment.
Researchers can evaluate the quality of an embryo by detecting the content of proteins secreted. In Biomicrofluidics, a method to detect trace proteins secreted by embryos using microfluidic droplets and multicolor fluorescence holds promise to select embryos for ART.

Atomic Magnetometer Points to Better Picture of Heart Conductivity

Mapping the electrical conductivity of the heart would be a valuable tool in diagnosis and disease management, but doing so would require invasive procedures, which aren’t capable of directly mapping dielectric properties. Significant advances have recently been made that leverage atomic magnetometers to provide a direct picture of electric conductivity of biological tissues, and in Applied Physics Letters, new work in quantum sensors points to ways such technology could be used to examine the heart.

Adjusting Processing Temperature Results in Better Hydrogels for Biomedical Applications

Biohydrogels have been studied closely for their potential use in biomedical applications, but they often move between sols and gels, depending on their temperature, changes that can pose issues depending on the intended use. In Physics of Fluids, researchers discuss their work studying the effect of temperature on hydrogels. They found that creating hydrogels at room temperature or below results in more robust materials that function more effectively when used in the body.

Composing New Proteins with Artificial Intelligence

Proteins are the building blocks of life and scientists have long studied how to improve them or design new ones. Traditionally, new proteins are created by mimicking existing proteins or manually editing their amino acids. This process is time-consuming, and it is difficult to predict the impact of changing an amino acid. In APL Bioengineering, researchers explore how to create new proteins by using machine learning to translate protein structures into musical scores, presenting an unusual way to translate physics concepts across domains.

Scientists Have Discovered the Origins of the Building Blocks of Life

Rutgers researchers have discovered the origins of the protein structures responsible for metabolism: simple molecules that powered early life on Earth and serve as chemical signals that NASA could use to search for life on other planets. Their study, which predicts what the earliest proteins looked like 3.5 billion to 2.5 billion years ago, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Crosstalk Captured Between Muscles, Neural Networks in Biohybrid Machines

Researchers created a platform to observe stem cell-derived neurons grow toward muscle cells, representing a critical milestone towards the realization of future biohybrid machines. In tiny biorobots using muscle cells as actuators, the ability to tune parameters would allow more precise designs with desirable characteristics and predictable behaviors for intelligent drug delivery, environment sensing, biohybrid blood circulation pumps and other uses. But big questions remain about future experiments.

Advances in Computer Modeling, Protein Development Propel Cellular Engineering

A review of recent work in biophysics highlights efforts in cellular engineering, ranging from proteins to cellular components to tissues grown on next-generation chips. Author Ngan Huang said the fast pace of development prompted her and her colleagues to take stock of promising areas in the field as well as hurdles researchers can expect in coming years. They discuss their work in this week’s APL Bioengineering.

Opening Up DNA to Delete Disease

Protein editorial assistants are clearing the way for cut-and-paste DNA editors, like CRISPR, to access previously inaccessible genes of interest. Opening up these areas of the genetic code is critical to improving CRISPR efficiency and moving toward futuristic, genetic-based assaults on disease. The DNA-binding editorial assistants were devised by a U.S.-based team of bioengineers, who describe their design in APL Bioengineering.