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  Technology Networks' Blog

Scientific News
The Rise of 3D Cell Culture and in vitro Model Systems for Drug Discovery and Toxicology
An overview of the current technology and the challenges and benefits over 2D cell culture models plus some of the latest advances relating to human health research.
New NIH-EPA Research Centers to Study Environmental Health Disparities
Scientists will partner with community organizations to study these concerns and develop culturally appropriate ways to reduce exposure to harmful environmental conditions.
Structure of Essential Digestive Enzyme Uncovered
Using a powerful combination of techniques from biophysics to mathematics, researchers have revealed new insights into the mechanism of a liver enzyme that is critical for human health.
Air Pollution Linked to Heart Disease
10-year project revealed air pollutants accelerate plaque build-up in arteries to the heart.
World’s Largest Coral Gene Database
‘Genetic toolkit’ will help shed light on which species survive climate change.
A Boost for Regenerative Medicine
Growing tissues and organs in the lab for transplantation into patients could become easier after scientists discovered an effective way to produce three-dimensional networks of blood vessels, vital for tissue survival yet a current stumbling block in regenerative medicine.
Breast Cancer Drug Hope
A drug for breast cancer that is more effective than existing medicines may be a step closer thanks to new research.
Untangling Disease-Related Protein Misfolding
Work advances understanding of genetic forms of thrombosis, emphysema, cirrhosis of the liver, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammation, among others.
Early Genetic Changes in Premalignant Colorectal Tissue Identified
Findings point to drivers of early cancer development, targets for cancer prevention therapies.
Harnessing Nature’s Vast Array of Venoms for Drug Discovery
Scripps scientists have developed a method for rapidly identifying venoms.
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Safeguarding the World’s Water Supply
25 May 2016

A growing population is putting increasing demands on the world’s water supply; more water is needed for drinking, agriculture and industry, along with more contamination being introduced from waste products. It is vital that we safeguard water sources to protect ecosystems and ensure that future populations will have access to clean, safe water.

To discuss current water supply challenges and some of the solutions being developed to help overcome them, we spoke to Craig Marvin, Global Environmental Industry Manager at Agilent Technologies. 

The state of the world’s water supply is of increasing concern. Can you tell us about some of the challenges facing the population?

Craig Marvin: The global population is currently more than 7.3 billion and grows every day. Millions live without water sanitation and lack access to clean potable water. Because of this, billions of dollars are lost due to health effects related to unsafe drinking water. The United Nations predicts water demand will increase 55% by 2050 and expects a 40% shortfall in water availability by 2030. 

Sustaining the growing population will require significant increases in crop yields per acre and developing a sustainable access to clean safe water. The use of chemicals in agriculture increase opportunity for water contamination. Increased water demand for irrigation represents a high percentage of human water usage, and can exacerbate water shortage in drought challenged areas. 

Drought conditions and water shortages drive demand for new water sources including desalination and reuse of treated waste water for municipal purposes, e.g., irrigation and direct potable drinking water operations. Similarly, everyday industrial contamination introduces new chemicals to the ecosystem. 

How is Agilent Technologies helping to address these challenges?

CM: Understanding chemical composition of waste effluent, source waters and finished drinking water help to protect the environment and human population. Through collaborations with key opinion leaders, our technical teams help support innovative research focused on identifying, assessing and quantifying chemical contaminant loads in environmental samples, how these chemicals affect cell metabolism and intracellular metabolic and physiological processes, and understanding processes for water purification and reuse. Agilent manufactures research and analytical tools that facilitate the identification of emerging contaminants and assessment of their chemical toxicity. Our analytical systems are the gold standard for environmental monitoring requirements, especially our gas chromatograph (GC)/mass selective detector (MSD) solutions. 

You can find out more about some of the ways that Agilent is helping to address the world’s water supply challenges here

Can you describe the impact pharmaceuticals have on water supplies and resources?

CM: Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are becoming ubiquitous in environmental waters. Research has demonstrated that the presence of hormones in water has affected the reproductive development of fish and amphibians. Concerns exist that exposure of developing adolescents may have similar disruptive effects on their endocrine systems. In most cases, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) are present at concentrations below therapeutic doses but the toxicological effect of chronic (daily) exposure to humans is unknown. These compounds can undergo natural transformation that yield secondary compounds (metabolites) having potentially greater toxicological impact. Research is underway to understand how the interplay between varying families of compounds at lower doses affects biological systems. Drinking water treatment may not remove all APIs from treated water raising concern that the purification processes and final polishing can yield disinfection by-products that present a risk to biological systems. 

How does Agilent Technologies help to address these issues?

CM: Agilent actively supports research involving water safety, quality and sustainability. We collaborate with a number of laboratories working to identify emerging contaminants and related transformation products and to characterize water treatment efficiency and biological exposure in aquatic systems. These relationships provide experts in their field access to analytical technology that elevates the depth of investigation and help drive innovation that allows for optimization of treatment systems. 

Similarly we support regulatory agency research into chemical risk, update existing methods and developments of new methods designed to monitor environmental contaminant levels, regulate industrial discharge permit compliance, and ensure that potable water from municipal distribution system meets regulatory requirements. Our analytical solutions are used for regulatory analyses performed by routine third party laboratories accredited to perform compliance monitoring. 


You can find out more about how Agilent is helping to address the impact of pharmaceuticals on water supplies here.

Can you tell us about some of your research partnerships that aim to safeguard water sources?

CM: Agilent has a long standing partnership with many experts including Prof. Shane Snyder at the University of Arizona. Dr. Snyder’s research focuses on water sustainability, water reuse and understanding the biological impact of transformation and disinfection by products. Collaborative projects involve understanding efficiency of waste water treatment processes, characterizing chemical removal and transformation through the treatment process, production of disinfection by-products through drinking water polishing and the toxicological impact of these by-products on biological systems. 

Through his involvement with the Network of reference laboratories, research centres and related organisations for monitoring of emerging environmental substances (NORMAN Network), a consortium of laboratories monitoring chemical contamination of the Danube River, our collaboration with Prof. Christian Zwiener helps develop methods for identification of emerging contaminants and transformation products in natural waters. 

The Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) represents a unique research opportunity. Built in conjunction with the Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, ACWA opens the door to a direct access of waste water effluent to laboratory, pilot plant and controlled field streams for environmental contaminant and exposure research. Agilent’s ongoing partnership with Prof. Lee Jackson, Director of ACWA and Professor at the University of Calgary supports research with several unique approaches to characterize treatment processes and environmental impact. The research streams mimic aquatic ecosystems that can be dosed under controlled experimental design to measure the chemical effects on the ecosystem. The pilot plant provides a platform for evaluating novel and developing technologies for wastewater treatment, and the laboratory supports non targeted screening for as-yet unknown chemicals and quantitative analysis using Agilent analytical solutions.

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Craig Marvin was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor at Technology Networks.

Posted By: A MacDonald0 Comments

Supercomputer Aids Wheat Genome Analysis
20 May 2016

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) recently installed the largest SGI® UV™ 300 supercomputer for life sciences worldwide, greatly increasing processing speeds for researchers.

We spoke to Dr Tim Stitt, Head of Scientific Computing at TGAC, to learn how the addition of the SGI® UV™ 300 will help to overcome some of the challenges researchers at TGAC face in genomics analysis.

What are some of the current problems in genomics analysis?

Dr Tim Stitt: At TGAC, our researchers are working some of the largest and most complex genomes. In particular, TGAC scientists have contributed significantly to the sequencing and assembly of the wheat genome that is approximately 5 times bigger and more complex than the human genome. A typical wheat assembly computation on our existing supercomputing platforms can take over 4 weeks to run and can require between 4-6 Terabytes of shared RAM on a single computer. This is a hugely demanding computation that requires state-of-the-art high-performance computing technology to make it achievable.

How will the addition of the new SGI® UV™ 300 help to overcome these problems at TGAC?

TS: The quicker we can obtain our results from the assembly calculation the sooner we can share those results with other scientists and wheat breeders worldwide. With the introduction of the new UV 300 platforms at TGAC, we expect to significantly reduce the runtime for our wheat assemblies. The new UV 300 platform comprises faster RAM technology, a newer generation of the Intel Xeon processor with the potential to be up to 80% faster than our existing processor technology, and with the new addition of 32 Terabytes of Intel SSD NVMe technology to greatly boost the performance of reading and writing data to disk, which can become a critical bottleneck during the assembly process. So with the technology uplift provided by this next-generation SGI UV 300 platform, TGAC researchers will be able to undertake bigger genome assemblies in much less time.

Can you tell us more about TGAC’s collaborations with SGI and Intel?

TS: TGAC has had a long-standing relationship with both SGI and Intel since it was established in 2009. The first supercomputing platform installed at TGAC for large genome assembly was an older generation SGI UV system that included Intel processors. Over the years this technology has repeatedly demonstrated its reliability and capability in supporting some of the most demanding computing tasks at TGAC and we are delighted to be continuing this partnership with deployment of the latest SGI UV technology with Intel processors and SSD NVMe technology. 

More information can be found here.  

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Dr Tim Stitt was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks.

Posted By: A MacDonald0 Comments

Developing a Rapid Zika Diagnostic
18 May 2016

In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Since emerging as a global threat the virus has been linked to a number of conditions including microcephaly in newborn babies.

In an effort to address this outbreak, Rheonix has recently been selected to receive funding to develop a rapid diagnostic for Zika virus infection. The $656,414 award will allow Rheonix and their collaborators at the NYU College of Dentistry to pursue the development of a fully automated screening and self-confirming assay that will simultaneously detect and confirm the presence of Zika virus in a single, small sample of saliva or blood. 

To discuss this development we spoke to Richard Montagna, Senior Vice President for Scientific and Clinical Affairs at Rheonix.

JR: Rheonix has a long standing partnership with Dr. Dan Malamud’s laboratory at New York University College of Dentistry. Could you tell us about this relationship and how it started out? 

RM: Dr. Malamud was the principal investigator on a multiyear, multimillion dollar program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to develop a rapid point-of-care test for HIV. His team developed a novel assay that required considerable hands on time. He reached out to Rheonix so that we could work together to automate the assay on our system. That effort, which went on for a couple of years, led to Rheonix and New York University College of Dentistry being awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I/Phase II Fast-track grant to further simplify the original assay and develop the microfluidic device and the instrument required to automatically perform a “dual assay” for the presence of both antibodies against HIV/AIDS and the actual AIDS virus RNA.

JR: What expertise does each side of the partnership bring to the project? 

Dr. Malamud’s group brings considerable assay development knowledge and experience, while the Rheonix group has been focused on the automation of the assays under development.

JR: The new Zika diagnostic will build on a previous assay you co-developed for the detection of HIV. How will the assay work and what will it test for? 

As we have published for the “dual assay” for HIV, we plan to split the sample on the disposable Rheonix CARD cartridge using our microfluidic device. One portion of the sample will be flowing through a pathway that will detect antibodies in a manner similar to ELISA, while the remainder of the sample will be processed for molecular amplification using LAMP technology. Those steps include viral lysis, extraction and purification of viral RNA, and finally, amplification of Zika-specific sequences by LAMP and detection.

JR: What challenges need to be overcome in order to develop this diagnostic assay? 

One of the most difficult technical challenges is that the Zika virus genetic information (RNA) does not persist very long. Typically it is no longer detectable within a few days. We are striving to utilize modifications of existing gene amplification techniques to improve the analytical sensitivity, hoping to detect the virus for longer periods of time. In addition, since we wish to detect both viral RNA and host antibodies (similar to our “dual assay” for HIV), we have to assure that the antibodies we seek to identify do not cross-react with other infectious agents that are similar.

JR: What are the key benefits of utilizing the Rheonix CARD and Encompass Optimum workstation for this diagnostic? 


The Rheonix CARD

Major benefits provided by the Rheonix CARD and Encompass Optimum workstation are ease-of-use (no user intervention should be required), fully automated analysis and interpretation of results and anticipated low cost of the disposable and instrumentation.


Richard Montagna was speaking to Jack Rudd, Editor at Technology Networks.

Posted By: J.Rudd0 Comments

New Device for Circulating Tumor Cells Separation
12 May 2016

A new device for tumor cell separation from whole blood is developed by research team from the University of British Columbia. The tech employs the different deformability of cells with identical sizes, and then achieves the aim of dividing them.

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are the cells that escape from the tumor tissues and enter into blood with the tendency to grow in other healthy tissues and reproduce. The analysis on CTCs can be very significant in the prescription of therapy. The previous isolation and analysis of circulating tumor cells relies on labeling, which is at risk to influence the purity and performance of the cells, resulting in huge differentiation on the analysis. That is the drive for a better approach.

The device is composed of a tiny funnel where the tapered micrometer scale constrictions are installed and reverse flow prevention unit is included to ensue the stream flow in single direction. Tests on the efficiency of the device showed a good performance on this task. It’s firstly applied to separate blood samples with a known number of cancer cells, and more than 90% of the tumor cells were successfully isolated from the blood.

Then the blood samples of 25 cancer patients were filtered with the new device. And it was about 25 times of the traditional ways in the number of captured tumor cells. Besides the method is of great meaning for the developing judgment of cancers that are hard to get a biopsy for later analysis, like prostate cancer as the metastasis usually happens to bone.

This new way for escaped tumor cells capturing may also provide a better treatment to control the tumor metastasis as it can isolate the free tumor cells in blood. It may be possible for a much smaller version of the device that can be installed in blood vessels and finish the whole process with bodies in near future.

Author Bio
Creative Bioarray is a professional supplier of tumor cells, as well as many other cells including stem cells and primary cells. Related reagents and kits are also available. The recent featured tumor cells of the company are Hepatoma cells. Creative Bioarray will keep following the most advanced discovery in the field to present more related information.

Posted By: Betty Cummings0 Comments
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