The road to the future of medicine is being paved by clever engineers - the folk who use new tools and knowledge to build impressive new technologies. As the capabilities of biotechnology advance, so too does the quality of the engineering; it'll really take off once the cost drops to the point at which the talented amateurs join the party. There's no such thing as too many cooks when it comes to progress.
A couple of good examples of clever medical engineering caught my eye today, starting with another piece on developments contributing towards the future development of artificial eyes - to go alongside the few noted at the Longevity Meme in past weeks.
The process starts with a glass plate and then builds a layer-by-layer sandwich of two kinds of ultra-thin films, one made of mercury-tellurium nanoparticles and another of a positively charged polymer called PDDA. The scientists then added a layer of ordinary clay and a cell-friendly coating of amino acid, and placed cultured neurons on the very top.
When light shines on them, the mercury-tellurium nanoparticle film layers produce electrons, which then move up into the PDDA film layers and produce an upward-moving electrical current. "As you build up the layers of this, you get better capabilities to absorb photons and generate voltage," said UTMB research scientist Todd Pappas, lead author on the Nano Letters paper. "When the current reaches the neuron membrane, it depolarizes the cell to the point where it fires, and you get a signal in the nerve."
The researchers caution that despite the great potential of a light-sensitive nanoparticle-neuron interface, creating an actual implantable artificial retina is a long-range project. But they're equally hopeful about a variety of other, less complex applications made possible by a tiny, versatile light-activated interface with nerve cells - such things as new ways to connect with artificial limbs and other prostheses, and revolutionary new tools for imaging, diagnosis and therapy.
Researchers have found a way to activate Epstein-Barr viruses inside tumors as a way to identify patients whose infection can then be manipulated to destroy their tumors.
A variety of blood and solid cancers are more likely to occur in people who have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), but not everyone with these cancers has such infections. For those who do, researchers, such as Hopkins oncologist and co-author Richard F. Ambinder, M.D., Ph.D., have been working on ways to activate the reproductive, or "lytic" cycle, within the virus to make it replicate within the tumor cell. When enough viral particles are produced, the tumor will burst, releasing the virus. In animal experiments, this experimental therapy, called lytic induction therapy, results in tumor death.
Other groups are achieving similar results with other viruses - everything in biochemistry can be a tool for medicine when viewed by the right set of eyes.