VENOM THE HEALER
Clotting medication unaffected by blood-thinning drugs has been developed with snake venom. Scientists at Rice University, Texas, have produced an injectable nanofibre hydrogel that stops bleeding within a few seconds. The nanofibres combined with venom from two species of South American pit viper to form a gel that heals wounds, and the mixture was found to work even when the anticoagulant heparin was present. Several years of testing are now needed to clear the hydrogel for clinical use.
A Europe-wide project is under way to find a new motor neurone disease treatment using a naturally occurring molecule. The researchers hope to show that a low dose of interleukin-2, which can minimise harmful immune responses, will significantly slow the progress of MND. Dr Tim Tree, of King’s College London, one of the participating universities, highlighted an additional benefit: “By identifying biomarkers of disease progression and response to treatment, these studies offer the potential to personalise therapies.” The project, involving centres in Britain, France, Italy and Sweden, has received £5.98m funding from the European Commission. Trials are to start in September, and the research should end in 2019.
BETTER FOR THE LIVER
A non-antibiotic alternative to beat the gut bacteria that exacerbate cirrhosis is being developed in a study financed by the European Union. Trials are being conducted on a nanoporous carbon that stops many of the bacterial products from entering the bloodstream. The treatment could replace antibiotics, which are poorly absorbed, can lead to bacterial resistance, and are often costly. Laboratory work supporting the trials is being contributed by Brighton University as part of a consortium led by University College London.
A microscopic pump that can be implanted into the eye is being designed to regulate ocular pressure and save sight. Researchers hope it will prevent the pressure build-up in glaucoma that destroys the optic nerve and causes blindness, and counter the lack of fluid in phthisis bulbi that makes the eye collapse. The pump is combined with a sensor control, a battery and a telemetry module for relaying data. The team at the Munich-based Fraunhofer Research Institute are producing a functional model for laboratory demonstrations before making the pump.
The memory-enhancing drug J147 has been found to improve motor functions and restrict pathological signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain in experiments on ageing mice. Specialists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California hope J147 will therefore be able to combat Alzheimer’s and aspects of ageing associated with the disease. Earlier work showed the treatment could prevent and even reverse memory loss in a rarer inherited form of Alzheimer’s. Human trials are expected this year.
DIAGNOSIS ON THE SPOT
A pocket-sized analytical device plugged into a laptop has shown it can identify bacteria and viruses within six hours, offering the potential to diagnose disease quickly. The device, which reads the sequencing of DNA strands, could give on-site diagnoses in remote locations, particularly in developing countries, without the time-consuming sending of samples to laboratories. The manufacturer, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, has requested rigorous testing by research groups.