Scientists develop lab-grown bone using tech originally used to detect gravitational waves

Scientists have described how technology originally developed to detect gravitational waves can be used to generate lab-grown bone.

Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, the West of Scotland and Galway scientists have developed the technique known as nanokicking, which allows scientists to grow three-dimensional samples of mineralised bone in the laboratory for the first time.

The technique could eventually be used to repair or replace damaged sections of bone in humans.

“This is an exciting step forward for nanokicking, and it takes us one step further towards making the technique available for use in medical therapies,” said Matthew Dalby, professor of cell engineering at the University of Glasgow.

“Now that we have advanced the process to the point where it’s readily reproducible and affordable, we will begin our first human trials around three years from now in the NHS along with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and reconstructive and orthopaedic surgeons in Glasgow.”

Although bone is the second most grafted tissue after blood and is used in reconstructive, orthopaedic and cosmetic surgeries, currently surgeons can only harvest limited amounts of living bone from the patient for use in a graft, and bone from other donors is likely to be rejected by the body.

Instead, at the minute, surgeons have to rely on inferior donor sources that contain no cells capable of regenerating bone, which limits the size of repairs they can affect.

“For many people who have lost legs in landmine accidents, the difference between being confined to a wheelchair and being able to use a prosthesis could be only a few centimetres of bone,” said professor of bioengineering at the University of Glasgow Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez.

However, the process of nanokicking subjects cells to ultra-precise, nanoscale vibrations while they are suspended inside collagen gels.

The cells in the gels are the turned into a ‘bone putty’ that has the potential to be used to heal bone fractures and fill bone where there is a gap.

Using patients’ own mesenchymal cells, which are naturally produced by the human body in bone marrow, surgeons will be able to prevent the problem of rejection, and can bridge larger gaps in bone.

Before beginning human trials, the nanokicking technique developed by the researchers is currently being further tested in a network of laboratories across the UK.

“We have already proven the effectiveness of our scaffolds in veterinary medicine, by helping to grow new bone to save the leg of a dog who would otherwise have had to have it amputated,” said Dalby.

“Combining bone putty and mechanically strong scaffolds will allow us to address large bone deficits in humans in the future.”

The scientists work has been funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find a Better Way, which help individuals and communities heal from the devastating impact of landmines and other explosive remnants of war, and is published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Scientists, software developers and artists have begun using VR to visualise genes and predict disease

A group of scientists, software developers and artists have taken to using virtual reality (VR) technology to visualise complex interactions between genes and their regulatory elements.

The team, which comprises of members from Oxford University, Universita’ di Napoli and Goldsmiths, University of London, have been using VR to visualise simulations of a composite of data from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data.

When all this data is combined the team are provided with an interactive, 3D image that shows where different regions of the genome sit relative to others, and how they interact with each other.

“Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,” said Stephen Taylor, head of the Computational Biology Research Group at Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

“It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.”

The team believe that being able to visualise the interactions between genes and their regulatory elements will allow them to understand the basis of human genetic diseases, and are currently applying their techniques to study genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

“Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another” said Professor Doug Higgs, a principal researcher at the WIMM.

“Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.”

There are around 37 trillion cells in the average adult human body, and each cell contains two meters of DNA tightly packed into its nucleus.

While the technology to sequence genomes is well established, it has been shown that the manner in which DNA is folded within each cell affects how genes are expressed.

“There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease,” said Prof Jim Hughes, associate professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University.

Using CRISPR, UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

For the first time in the UK, scientists have altered human embryos. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, the scientists turned off the protein OCT4, which is thought to be important in early embryo development. In doing so, cells that normally go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and foetus failed to develop.

Source: BBC

Tesla and AMD developing AI chip for self-driving cars

Tesla has partnered with AMD to develop a dedicated chip that will handle autonomous driving tasks in its cars. Tesla's Autopilot programme is currently headed by former AMD chip architect Jim Keller, and it is said that more than 50 people are working on the initiative under his leadership.

Source: CNBC

Synthetic muscle developed that can lift 1,000 times its own weight

Scientists have used a 3D printing technique to create an artificial muscle that can lift 1,000 times its own weight. "It can push, pull, bend, twist, and lift weight. It's the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle," said Dr Aslan Miriyev, from the Creative Machines lab.

Source: Telegraph

Head of AI at Google criticises "AI apocalypse" scaremongering

John Giannandrea, the senior vice president of engineering at Google, has condemned AI scaremongering, promoted by people like Elon Musk ."I just object to the hype and the sort of sound bites that some people have been making," said Giannandrea."I am definitely not worried about the AI apocalypse."

Source: CNBC

Scientists engineer antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and is built to attack three critical parts of the virus, which makes it harder for the HIV virus to resist its effects. The International Aids Society said it was an "exciting breakthrough". Human trials will begin in 2018.

Source: BBC

Facebook has a plan to stop fake news from influencing elections

Mark Zuckerberg has outlined nine steps that Facebook will take to "protect election integrity". “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity," he said during a live broadcast on his Facebook page. "I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine our democracy.”