Fighting Infections and Mimicking Muscles

11 October 2011

Interview with

Robert Modlin, UCLA; Andrew Schwartz, University of Pittsburgh; Ray Baughman, University of Dallas at Texas; Marc Vendhoen, Babraham Institute

Using Vitamins to Fight TB

An assortment of drugsVitamin D supplements could be used to fight Tuberculosis in at-risk populations.

Darker skinned communities are known to suffer from deficiencies in Vitamin D when living in Northern climates and as a result, are also more susceptible to infections such as TB. By Comparing groups of African-Americans and Caucasians, UCLA's Robert Modlin discovered the cause of this link to be a change in the immune system's ability to attack the TB bacteria. A change controlled by vitamin D.

Robert - When you go to the doctor and have your Vitamin D measured, that's the precursor form and that gets into the infected cell and if that cell becomes activated, it gets converted to the active form triggering antimicrobial peptides that kill the bacteria.  What happens if your precursor level is low, you can't achieve high enough levels to trigger this antimicrobial mechanism and then you can't kill the bacteria.  There's probably a correlation with the level of the Vitamin D in your blood and your risk of getting TB.

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21.

Brain Computer Interfaces to aid Prosthetics

A brain-computer interface is enabling patients with spinal cord injury to move a prosthetic arm using their thoughts alone.

The technology, currently being trialled at the University of Pittsburgh School of medicine, uses electrodes to collect and decode signals in the brain directing an object, in this case a prosthetic, to move. A feedback loop is with the patient seeing they movement generated by their signals and correcting for any discrepancies.

Andrew Schwartz is leading the trial...

Andrew - There's been a big effort sponsored by the Defence Department of the US Government, and National Institute of Health to develop a very nice prosthetic device.  This device has many of the capabilities of our own arm and hand.  So we'd like to be able to get a rich enough control signal that we can operate that device.  We'd like the subject to be able not only to reach out and grab things but to actually do dexterous tasks that require coordinated finger movements.

Another reason to eat your greens

CabbagesEating your greens really does keep you healthy, by
keeping infections at bay.

Working with mice, Marc Veldhoen from the Babraham Institute found that reducing the amounts of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli in the diet over 2 weeks, caused a 70-80 percent decrease in intra-epithelial lymphocytes, or IELs. These are white blood cells found in the skin and the gut which are the first line of defence in the body.

With reduced levels of these cells the mice has fewer anti-microbial proteins and increased susceptibility to injury as these lymphocytes are needed for wound repair in addition to their role as a barrier from the outside world.

Marc -  If you have reduced numbers of IELs, your intestine is much more prone to injury.  You're much more prone to inflammation when the IEL numbers are reduced.  The intra-epithelial lymphocytes express a receptors which is called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor to very high levels and compound found in green vegetables which is called indole-3 carbinol, creates a ligand which has very high affinity for this receptor.  It's a very direct effect.  If they don't have the component or they don't have the receptor then they don't survive.

Mimicking Muscles with Nanotubes

The twisting movements of muscles can be mimicked using
bundles of Nanotubecarbon nanotubes.

The strong, but stiff characteristics of these nanotubes have been manipulated by Ray Baughman and colleagues from the University of Texas at Dallas to create flexible yarns that twist rapidly when dipped into an electrolyte and injected with charge. They then untwist when the charge is removed. This rotation simulates that seen in elephant trunks, squid tentacles and human tongues.

Ray - Right now, people are imagining micron scale robots that do self-repair in the human body but in order to have such microrobots, perhaps in swarms, you need motors and our technology can provide a type of motor.  Bacteria in nature use torsion to propel themselves.  Our artificial muscles provide this type of torsion.

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