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My perspectives as an investor and consumer

A glimpse into the future II

ashbee_work02In this second issue of what I intend as a weekly tradition, I present five recent research findings from diverse areas:

  1. Stem cell therapy grows new blood vessels. Research led by David Hess at The University of Western Ontario has identified how to use selected stem cells from bone marrow to grow new blood vessels to treat diseases such as peripheral artery disease.  It’s one of the severe complications often faced by people who’ve had diabetes for a long time.  Reduced blood flow (ischemia) in their limbs can lead to resting pain, trouble with wound healing and in severe cases, amputation. The research is published in Blood.  These stem cells have a natural ability to hone in on the area of ischemia to induce blood vessel repair and improve blood flow.  The preclinical data from Hess’ research was used by a biopharmaceutical company, Aldagen (www.aldagen.com ) to receive FDA approval for a multi-center clinical trial now underway in Houston, Texas, involving 21 patients with end-stage peripheral artery disease.  “These principles could be applied not only to ischemic limbs, but to aid in the formation of new blood vessels in ischemic tissue anywhere in the body, for example after a stroke or heart attack.” says Hess.
  2. Algae could help in manufacture of solar panels that are simpler and more efficient. Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy.  The secret: diatoms.  These tiny, single-celled algae have dye-containing rigid shells that can be used to generate electricity in a natural way at a nanoscale.  Researchers have created a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells, in which photons bounce around inside the shells like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.  This technology may be slightly more expensive than existing approaches to make dye-sensitized solar cells, but can potentially triple the electrical output.  These solar cells work well in lower light conditions and offer manufacturing simplicity and efficiency.  The process involves letting the diatoms settle on a transparent conductive glass surface.  The living organic material is removed, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template.  Titanium dioxide is then precipitated creating a thin film semiconductor for the dye-sensitized solar cell device.  This process was presented in ACS Nano.
  3. If you think current microprocessor fabrication is impressive, think again. The ability to create tiny patterns is essential to the fabrication of computer chips and many other current and potential applications of nanotechnology. Yet, creating ever smaller features, through a widely-used process called photolithography, has required the use of ultraviolet light, which is difficult and expensive to work with.  John Fourkas, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Maryland, and his research group have developed a new, table-top technique called RAPID (Resolution Augmentation through Photo-Induced Deactivation) lithography that makes it possible to create small features without the use of ultraviolet light. This research was published in Science magazine.  Nanofabrication has depended on short wavelength ultraviolet light to generate ever smaller features.  RAPID lithography allows the creation of patterns twenty times smaller than the wavelength of light employed and structures that are 2500 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  RAPID is expected to find applications in areas such as electronics, optics, and biomedical devices.
  4. What if you could repair the damaged cells following a heart attack? A protein that the heart produces during its early development reactivates the embryonic coronary developmental program and initiates migration of heart cells and blood vessel growth after a heart attack, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found. The molecule, Thymosin beta-4 (TB4), is expressed by embryos during the heart’s development and encourages migration of heart cells. The new findings in mice suggest that introducing TB4 systemically after a heart attack encourages new growth and repair of heart cells. The study appears in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology.  “This molecule has the potential to reprogram cells in the body to get them to do what you want them to do,” said Dr. J. Michael DiMaio, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. Obviously, the clinical implications of this are enormous because of the potential to reverse damage inflicted on heart cells after a heart attack.”
  5. The dream of a Hydrogen Economy moves one step closer to reality. The design of efficient systems for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen underpins the long term potential of hydrogen as a clean, sustainable fuel. But man-made systems that exist today are very inefficient and often require additional use of sacrificial chemical agents.  Prof. David Milstein and colleagues of the Weizmann Institute’s Organic Chemistry Department demonstrated a new mode of bond generation between oxygen atoms and even defined the mechanism by which it takes place.  Their results were recently presented in Science magazine.  The new approach is divided into a sequence of reactions, which leads to the liberation of hydrogen and oxygen in consecutive thermal- and light-driven steps, mediated by a “smart” complex consisting of a metal core – ruthenium – and an outer organic part.  They were able to demonstrate the production of hydrogen gas, oxygen gas, and reversion of the metal complex to its original state.  For their next study, they plan to combine these stages to create an efficient catalytic system, bringing those in the field of alternative energy an important step closer to realizing this goal.
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