Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Urine Test for Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Diagnosing hepatitis C can be made simpler with an easy urine test instead of the conventional and costlier two-step approach with a blood test that is currently utilized. Scientists at University of California Irvine School of Medicine have developed a test that uses enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)—a common diagnostic tool when using wet lab samples—to detect hepatitis C antigens indicative of a current infection.

With the traditional blood test, the first step involves detecting anti-hepatitis C antibodies. A positive result, however, does not indicate an active infection as these antibodies will be present if a person was exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the past and the immune system fought off the pathogen. A positive test is followed by a HCV RNA test to detect viral RNA in the blood to determine an active infection. Genotyping may also be ordered to discern the most effective treatment and predict the expected length of therapy.

Urine from 110 people and blood from 138 people was collected. The results were compared using the two approaches, in which the urine test matched the blood test results completely. The new method not only increases sensitivity and specificity, it is also less expensive as the HCV RNA test can cost up to $200. In less developed nations where skilled phlebotomists and blood-processing equipment are not readily available, a simple urine test for diagnosing hepatitis C may be a lifesaver.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen and is acquired through blood and bodily fluids, i.e. passed from infected mother to child, sharing of needles, engaged in unprotected sex, received organ transplants before 1992 and blood transfusions before 1987. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 130-150 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis C, of which 2.7 million are Americans. During the early stages, a person infected with HCV is asymptomatic and usually goes undetected until complications develop later, which includes cirrhosis and liver failure. Diagnosing hepatitis C effectively and efficiently can staunch transmission rates and prevent future generations from unknowingly acquiring the disease.

Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles

If You Can’t Prevent Them, Destroy Them: Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Allows Immune System to Kill Virus that Causes Genital Herpes

A vaccine for herpes has eluded scientists, mainly because the virus that cause herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and 2 (HSV-2)—one causes cold sores and the other causes genital warts and birth defects in newborns if a woman gives birth while infected, respectively—does not stay in the bloodstream where vaccines are most effective. Researchers from University of Illinois at Chicago, in collaboration with scientists from University of Kiel in Germany, have discovered that tetrapod-shaped zinc oxide nanoparticles, that they dubbed ZOTEN, are effective in preventing healthy cells from being “hijacked” by the virus, and allowing the body’s natural defense system to kill the virus before it spreads.

Herpes has a tendency to hide in the nervous system when dormant, where symptoms are treated with oral antiviral medications and topicals for genital warts in the case of HSV-2 to shorten the duration of the outbreak. HIV infection is three or four times higher when infected with genital herpes, and with increased use of medication drug resistance can occur with little methods to prevent future outbreaks.

ZOTEN nanoparticles are manufactured using a patented flame transport synthesis technology, and work by electrically attracting positively charged proteins on the surface of HSV-2 virus with its own negatively charged surface. Once bound, HSV-2 can’t infect healthy cells and are subject to dendritic cells—antigen-presenting cells of the immune system that takes processed foreign cells and “present” them to antibody-producing cells to create arsenal for complete destruction of the pathogen.

When tested on female mice swabbed with HSV-2 and then treated with an ointment with ZOTEN as well as without, fewer genital lesions were witnessed on mice treated with ZOTEN than without, with also less evidence of central nervous system inflammation, where the virus makes its hideout when inactive in the bloodstream. The immune system at work was also observed under high resolution fluorescence microscopy as dendritic cells attacked HSV-2 virus while being held by the zinc oxide nanoparticles.

Once safety and effectiveness is established for human use, a cream containing ZOTEN nanoparticles would be applied to vaginal just before sexual intercourse. If applied regularly as a preventive measure and a dose was skipped, scientists speculate there is enough protection from the built-up immunity.

HIV also has positively charged proteins on their outer surface, and the researchers hope to expand their treatment modality to encompass HIV prevention as well.

Heart Patch

Bionic Heart Patch Replaces Need for Cardiac Transplants for Patients with Irreparable Heart Damage

Scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have created a bionic heart patch by melding human tissue and pliant electronics held together using latest nanotechnology to be used as a high-tech Band-Aid placed over irreparably damaged cardiac tissue, either through myocardial infarction (heart attack) or heart disease. The inventors claim it’s even better than regular cardiac tissue as the heart patch can remotely monitor heart rate, regularity of electrical impulses, and release medication as needed. Due to the supple nature of the materials, the patch can expand and contract, just like a normal heart, and then some.

Utilizing advanced nanotech provided by TAU’s Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Lab, the scientists have developed a fully operational proxy, or replacement, tissue to replace completely traumatized tissue. Only, it’s intertwined with flexible electrical cords and embedded with sensors so that when a patient feels unwell while relaxing at home, the patient’s physician can remotely login to a computer and assess the situation in real time and adjust the patient’s electrical firing or authorize the release of medications stored in the heart patch’s electroactive polymer to help stabilize the patient—without the patient having to move a muscle.

In the United States, 25 percent of Americans are on the waiting list for a heart transplant. While improvements in technology have procured artificial hearts and veritable organs are being grown in petri dishes, it will still be several years before they appear on the market. With the heart patch, the need for transplants can be eliminated as the broken version—though not entirely mended—can be fully functional.

The scientists are looking to extend their application of the heart patch to the brain for irreversible neurological disorders. In the fashion of true artificial intelligence, they hope to upgrade the electronic sensors within the patch so that any irregularities, e.g. heart rate, high levels of inflammatory mediators detected, can be automatically rectified without the prompting of a physician or a technician.

Urine Odor for Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

Using Urine Odor for Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Noninvasively

A device known as Odoreader can accurately detect signs of prostate cancer by essentially “sniffing out” urine. Scientists at University of Liverpool in conjunction with University of the West of England in Bristol originally developed Odoreader in 2013 to analyze urine samples for bladder cancer by examining odors in the specimen. Researchers claim 100 percent were accurately diagnosed with bladder cancer in 98 urine samples using this method. Now, this technique is being adapted to noninvasively diagnose prostate cancer.

Current prostate cancer screenings include measuring prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in men through a blood test, which are not specific to prostate cancer. Elevated PSA levels can also indicate prostatitis (inflamed prostate) or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as an enlarged prostate. PSA levels above 4.0 ng/mL are considered high and a prostate biopsy is usually performed to confirm cancer diagnosis. Over time, scientists have found PSA measurements revealed too many false-positives, as well as false-negatives, to be used as a reliable screening method, not to mention unnecessary prostate biopsies were performed as a result.

Odoreader is a machine that uses gas chromatography to analyze odors emitted in urine. A mix of heated tin and zin oxide is used as a detector in the column (in the gas chromatography oven) and heats the liquid urine sample into a gas. As the gas moves along the 98-feet column, adsorption rate varies by molecules found in the sample, which is used to identify cancer cells by comparing the readings to an algorithm. Results are displayed on a computer screen within 30 minutes.

Urine samples from 155 men were analyzed using Odoreader and diagnosed 58 men with prostate cancer, 24 men with bladder cancer, and 73 men as having a weak stream with hematuria (blood in urine) without cancer. Accuracy rate of diagnosing prostate cancer was 90 percent and over 95 percent for bladder cancer, compared to PSA screenings which amount to 65-75 percent accuracy.

If Odoreader passes clinical trials, using urine odor for cancer diagnosis will be hot on the heels of urologists and save several men from undergoing needless painful prostate biopsies.

Pressure-Monitoring Socks

Foot Ulcer Prevention with Pressure-Monitoring Socks for Diabetics

A team of scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is creating pressure-monitoring socks, dubbed SenseGo, to detect and alert the wearer when too much pressure is exerted on an area. This wearable technology is being designed with diabetics in mind to prevent foot ulcers from occurring.

The socks are machine washable and contain several micro-fabricated pressure sensors that are connected to a microprocessor—a mini-computer with its own central processing unit (CPU) that accepts digital data and releases processed information from a set of preprogrammed parameters stored in its memory. When the sensors detect tremendous pressure applied in a single region, the wearer receives an alert on their smartphone through an app, which also indicates the area of the foot where the immense pressure was detected so the user can change posture, change into better-fitting shoes, or otherwise deal with the situation to alleviate the pressure.

Due to constant spikes in blood glucose levels, diabetics are at increased risk of neuropathy—damage to the nerves—that increases their likelihood of losing sensation in their feet and toes. As a result, excessive pressure may be exerted in one region of the foot, in which prolonged pressure degrades the skin’s integrity, forming ulcers.

Diabetics need to have their feet checked regularly and wear special support shoes to help balance out the pressure. With pressure-monitoring socks to supplement any foot care, the wearer is alerted before any ulcer formation occurs, saving time and resources that would be allotted to treating the ulcer.

There is no release date for SenseGo socks but researchers are currently working on the final version for market release.

Transdermal Ibuprofen Patch

Transdermal Ibuprofen Patch for Local Pain Relief

Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used widely for its analgesic, antipyretic, and, in higher doses, for its anti-inflammatory effects. NSAIDs are commonly used to treat everyday maladies, such as headaches, menstrual cramps, joint pain, and low-grade fever. NSAIDs in pill form are designed to work systemically, although pain and discomfort experienced by a person who uses this medication are typically isolated to one area. As a method of solving this conundrum, scientists at University of Warwick in England have developed the first transdermal ibuprofen patch that, when applied to the skin, can achieve local pain relief.

NSAIDs work by inhibiting cyclooxygenases (COX-1 and COX-2)—enzymes responsible for producing prostaglandins, which, in turn, promote inflammation, pain, and fever. COX-1, however, also produces prostaglandins that activate platelets and protect the stomach and intestinal lining from the stomach’s acidic environment. Due to the drug’s systemic effects, large doses and long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding and ulcers.

With the help of the Bostik company, who custom-designed a flexible adhesive polymer, the transdermal ibuprofen patch can hold up to 30 percent ibuprofen by weight—compared to other drug-carrying patches and gels that contains 5-10 times less. There are ibuprofen-containing gels currently on the market, but they don’t hold as much of the drug as the patch and application is messy. Once on the skin, the patch delivers continuous and consistent levels of ibuprofen directly to the affected area for 12 hours, without passing through the bloodstream first. Once applied, the patch remains on the skin for 12 hours and easily peels off with no sticky residue, while causing no discomfort to wearer.

The scientists are currently testing the polymer for other types of medication for transdermal drug delivery that weren’t possible with traditional polymers. In the meantime, the transdermal ibuprofen patch is expected to be to be released by Medherant, an offshoot company of University of Warwick, in two years’ time.

New Nebulizer Device

New Nebulizer Device Better at Delivering Medications than Injections and Inhalers

Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed a new nebulizer device dubbed Respite engineered to deliver higher doses of medication into the lungs at a faster rate than traditional nebulizers, while fitting comfortably in the palm of one’s hand. Asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and lung cancer sufferers may greatly benefit from this new technology.

Utilizing several AA batteries, Respite works by producing surface acoustic waves—a specific form of sound wave that travels parallel to the surface of a material that exhibits elasticity—on a small microchip device measuring 2 cm by 1 cm. The sound waves agitate the liquid medicine resting in a compact drug vial and convert it into an aerosol, or mist, to be inhaled by patients through a mouthpiece at the end of the device. Current nebulizers deliver medication at 0.4 mL/minute, in which the fine mist that’s generated cannot be used to deliver insulin, protein, peptides, or DNA. On the other hand, Respite can deliver medication at a rate of up 3 mL/minute, with a resulting mist that’s thicker and heavier that can potentially aerosolize larger molecules and carry them directly into the lungs.

The research team tested Respite with monoclonal antibodies for lung cancer and stem cells for lung regeneration in hopes of developing a low-cost, cancer drug-delivery mechanism. Success came when they tested a DNA flu vaccine using the prototype on a sheep subject, which elicited comparable immune response as that of an injection. The scientists are also looking into nonmedical applications, such as cosmetics and surface and equipment sterilization.

As the new nebulizer device is made ready for market slated to be released sometime in the next five years, RMIT researchers are looking to streamline the device so that it uses less battery power and ultimately sell it for less than $50 US.

Oral Insulin Patch

Oral Insulin Patch for Diabetes Sufferers on the Horizon

For several years, scientists have been experimenting with oral insulin delivery mechanisms, including the use of liposomes, to shield insulin from being destroyed by gastrointestinal (GI) secretions customarily used to break down food particles into items our body can extract energy from. Hence, subcutaneous injections are thus far the only effective delivery system of the hormone to keep blood glucose levels within normal parameters in diabetics. Contributing to the efforts of creating a needleless insulin delivery system, scientists at University of California, Santa Barbara have developed an oral insulin patch made from mucoadhesive polymers, to help stick to the intestinal wall lining, in addition to being treated with an intestinal permeation enhancer, for better absorption and exposure to the bloodstream, to be encapsulated into a pill with an enteric coating to withstand the corrosive environment of the GI tract.

Once swallowed, the patch is designed to be released from the pill at a designated time and expected to attach to the intestinal wall for superior insulin delivery into the bloodstream. When patch adhesiveness was tested after 30 minutes upon being attached, stickiness was found to be “excellent” based on the force required to pull off the patch. Release of drug was tested on pig and rat intestines, in which 100 percent of the insulin and permeation enhancer was disseminated within five hours.

In animal studies, the scientists found insulin patches with 10 percent permeation enhancers to be the most effective than control groups, dropping blood glucose levels to 70 percent of normal levels.

Studies are ongoing to discover ways to deliver insulin faster as well as prolong the effects of the patch. For diabetic sufferers who cannot rely on oral medications to control their blood sugar levels, an oral insulin patch may be just the ticket to forgoing the daily prick.

ELISA-on-a-Chip

‘Lab-on-a-Chip’ Graduated to ‘ELISA-on-a-Chip’ with the Help of Engineers

Team of engineers and scientists at Rutgers University have developed ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology to potentially replace expensive conventional benchtop assay laboratory tests—hence, ‘ELISA-on-a-chip’—to aid in diagnosing and treating a wide array of medical conditions, including HIV, Lyme disease, and syphilis.

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is a common “wet-laboratory” technique that uses large amounts of bodily fluids to analyze proteins (antigens or antibodies) to determine its concentration. Apart from requiring a relatively large volume of blood sample, the ELISA method utilizes expensive chemicals and skilled technicians who have to mix the fluids and chemicals by hand, making any diagnostic test run by the technique laborious and costly.

ELISA-on-a-chip uses microfluidics technology that allows the device to use 90 percent less body fluid sample as well as one-tenth the volume of chemicals used to analyze the sample than its traditional counterpart, without compromising the accuracy and sensitivity of the results. One ‘lab-on-a-chip’ can simultaneously analyze 32 samples and measure widely varying concentrations of up to six proteins in a sample.

Apart from cutting costs (chemicals used in a standard multiplex immunoassay runs approximately $1500), animal research that halted due to lack of sufficient sample can now be resumed. A miniscule amount of cerebrospinal fluid is required in comparison to the traditional benchtop assay in order to further study central nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury. Similarly, only small samples of synovial fluid are necessary to delve into possible treatments for autoimmune joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Currently, the research team is exploring potential commercial applications for ELISA-on-a-chip while continually conducting large-scale controlled studies to discover other potential uses of their ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology.

Portable Vital Signs Measuring Device

Portable Vital Signs Measuring Device Hits Homes Soon

Viatom CheckMe is a portable vital signs measuring device that monitors heart rate, systolic blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and temperature, potentially saving people with chronic medical conditions several trips to the emergency department by simply checking their vital signs routinely at home.

People with chronic diseases, like hypertension, can benefit from regular blood pressure screenings. However, sphygmomanometers are bulky and unwieldy, making them difficult to use one-handed. Viatom CheckMe is a compact “tricorder” device that measures, analyzes, and records systolic blood pressure, heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, blood oxygen levels (SpO2), and temperature, using built-in cableless sensors and liquid-crystal display (LCD) interface that enables the user to calibrate and operate the tech by following the series of prompts initiated once it’s turned on.

Vital signs are measured in 20 seconds within the palm of the user’s hands. The device is fashioned with three electrodes located on the front, back, and left side, where both right and left hands have to be positioned just right to get the correct ECG signals. If signal is weak, the left thigh and right hand can also be used. A photodiode sensor lies on the top right to measure SpO2 levels when the right index or middle finger is inserted. Systolic blood pressure can be checked daily after it has been calibrated with a mercury manometer, usually performed by a physician. The device also comes retrofitted to accommodate an external cable for both ECG and SpO2 readings. Lastly, the device comes equipped with an infrared thermometer that measures temperature on the user’s forehead.

Readings can be transmitted via Bluetooth or an app to a mobile device, in which 10 hours of data can be saved and stored. A “Home” mode is available that reminds users to take their medications and comes with an installed 3D motion detector that converts Viatom CheckMe into a pedometer that counts steps taken, distance traveled, while calculating burned calories and fat.

The portable vital signs measuring device is slated to hit Bloomingdale’s in New York starting August and priced around $249 US to be sold under the brand name BodiMetrics.