Researchers Fabricate Complex Optical Components from Fluids

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Researchers Fabricate Complex Optical Components from Fluids

Inexpensive, fast method to make freeform optics could benefit applications from eyewear to telescopes

Lenses made by shaping fluids

WASHINGTON — Researchers have developed a way to create freeform optical components by shaping a volume of curable liquid polymer. The new method is poised to enable faster prototyping of customized optical components for a variety of applications including corrective lenses, augmented and virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, medical imaging and astronomy.

Common devices such as eyeglasses or cameras rely on lenses – optical components with spherical or cylindrical surfaces, or slight deviations from such shapes. However, more advanced optical functionalities can be obtained from surfaces with complex topographies. Currently, fabricating such freeform optics is very difficult and expensive because of the specialized equipment required to mechanically process and polish their surfaces.

L-R : Omer Luria, Professor Moran Bercovici and Mor Elgarisi

“Our approach to making freeform optics achieves extremely smooth surfaces and can be implemented using basic equipment that can be found in most labs,” said research team leader Moran Bercovici from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. “This makes the technology very accessible, even in low resource settings.”

In Optica, Optica Publishing Group’s journal for high-impact research, Bercovici and colleagues show that their new technique can be used to fabricate freeform components with sub-nanometer surface roughness in just minutes. Unlike other prototyping methods such as 3D printing, the fabrication time remains short even if the volume of the manufactured component increases.

“Currently, optical engineers pay tens of thousands of dollars for specially designed freeform components and wait months for them to arrive,” said Omer Luria, one of the contributors to the paper. “Our technology is poised to radically decrease both the waiting time and the cost of complex optical prototypes, which could greatly speed up the development of new optical designs.”

From eyeglasses to complex optics

Dr. Valeri Frumkin

The researchers decided to develop the new method after learning that 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to corrective eyewear. “We set out to find a simple method for fabricating high quality optical components that does not rely on mechanical processing or complex and expensive infrastructure,” said Valeri Frumkin, who first developed the method in Bercovici’s lab. “We then discovered that we could expand our method to produce much more complex and interesting optical topographies.”

One of the primary challenges in making optics by curing a liquid polymer is that for optics larger than about 2 millimeters, gravity dominates over surface forces, which causes the liquid to flatten into a puddle. To overcome this, the researchers developed a way to fabricate lenses using liquid polymer that is submerged in another liquid. The buoyancy counteracts gravity, allowing surface tension to dominate.

With gravity out of the picture, the researchers could fabricate smooth optical surfaces by controlling the surface topography of the lens liquid. This entails injecting the lens liquid into a supportive frame so that the lens liquid wets the inside of the frame and then relaxes into a stable configuration. Once the required topography is achieved, the lens liquid can be solidified by UV exposure or other methods to complete the fabrication process.

Lenses made by shaping fluids

After using the liquid fabrication method to make simple spherical lenses, the researchers expanded to optical components with various geometries — including toroid and trefoil shapes — and sizes up to 200 mm. They show that the resulting lenses exhibited surface qualities similar to the best polishing technologies available while being orders of magnitude quicker and simpler to make. In the work published in Optica, they further expanded the method to create freeform surfaces, by modifying the shape of the supportive frame.

Infinite possibilities

Mor Elgarisi

“We identified an infinite range of possible optical topographies that can be fabricated using our approach,” said Mor Elgarisi, the paper’s lead author. “The method can be used to make components of any size, and because liquid surfaces are naturally smooth, no polishing is required. The approach is also compatible with any liquid that can be solidified and has the advantage of not producing any waste.”

The researchers are now working to automate the fabrication process so that various optical topographies can be made in a precise and repeatable way. They are also experimenting with various optical polymers to find out which ones produce the best optical components.

Click here for the paper in Optica

Click here for video demonstrating the research

About Optica

Optica is an open-access journal dedicated to the rapid dissemination of high-impact peer-reviewed research across the entire spectrum of optics and photonics. Published monthly by Optica Publishing Group, the Journal provides a forum for pioneering research to be swiftly accessed by the international community, whether that research is theoretical or experimental, fundamental or applied. Optica maintains a distinguished editorial board of more than 60 associate editors from around the world and is overseen by Editor-in-Chief Prem Kumar, Northwestern University, USA. For more information, visit Optica.

About Optica Publishing Group (formerly OSA)

Optica Publishing Group is a division of Optica, the society advancing optics and photonics worldwide.  It publishes the largest collection of peer-reviewed content in optics and photonics, including 18 prestigious journals, the society’s flagship member magazine, and papers from more than 835 conferences, including 6,500+ associated videos. With over 400,000 journal articles, conference papers and videos to search, discover and access, Optica Publishing Group represents the full range of research in the field from around the globe.

Improvement on the effect of anti-cancer drugs

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Medical technology developed at the Technion improves the effect of anti-cancer drugs:

The technology, based on the Nano-Ghosts platform, makes it possible to reduce the drug dose a million-fold without reducing its efficacy

Prof. Marcelle Machluf

Researchers in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion developed a technology that inhibits development of melanoma using one-millionth of the active ingredient. The study, published in Advanced Functional Materials, was led by Prof. Marcelle Machluf, dean of the faculty, and PhD student Lior Levy.

Immunotherapy in action. This development is a significant breakthrough in the field of immunotherapy – an innovative medical approach that has become one of the most promising trends in cancer treatment. The approach is based on the ability of the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells. This system can do that more accurately and specifically than synthetic anti-cancer drugs. However, since the malignant tumor is heterogeneous and evasive, it can sometimes fool the immune system, and this is where science enters the picture, with new tools that help the immune system deal with this challenge.

Lior Levy

TRAIL protein. At the core of this new development is a protein called TRAIL, which exists in the body’s immune system and knows how to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells. In other words, it is a Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). Another advantage: it is selective, meaning it only affects cancer cells, a highly desirable feature in anti-cancer treatment. The application of TRAIL in immunotherapy has so far encountered various technical challenges, including the absorption of the protein in the body, its distribution (pharmacokinetics), and the fact that it does not survive for very long. This study offers a solution to these problems.

Nano-Ghosts technology. The development presented in the Technion researchers’ article is based on original technology developed by Prof. Machluf in her years at the Technion: Nano-Ghosts. The platform is produced by emptying specific biological cells (mesenchymal stem cells) in a way that leaves only the cell membrane and reducing their size to a nanometer scale. Any drug can be inserted into the membrane and injected directly into the bloodstream. Because the body’s immune system treats nano-ghosts as natural cells, it delivers them to the affected site. They do not release the drug on the way, and therefore do not harm healthy tissue. They target the malignant tissue, where they deliver the drug into the tumor cells.

Integration. The study integrates the three aforementioned factors: the immunotherapy concept, the TRAIL protein, and the Nano-Ghost technology developed by Prof. Machluf. The result: a drug delivery system with the active protein on its outer layer, which allows reduction of the drug dosage by a factor of a million while maintaining the same treatment effect.

A schematic description of preparing Nano-Ghosts from cells that underwent genetic or metabolic manipulation and now carry the TRAIL protein. These cells, with Nano-Ghost targeting for cancer and with the TRAIL protein, can reach the cancer site and fight effectively while using one millionth the concentration of the active ingredient required without this system.

According to Prof. Machluf, “this integration turns the Nano-Ghost platform from a “taxi” that delivers the drug to the target into a “tank” that participates in the war. The integrated platform delivers the drug to the tumor and enables a significant reduction in drug dosage yet still does the job. We also showed that our method does not harm healthy cells.”

The technology was demonstrated on cells in the lab and on human cancer cells in mice. The researchers estimate that this new strategy, which was demonstrated in their study on a melanoma model, will also be effective on other types of cancer.

 

For the article in Advanced Functional Materials click here

Selective Filtration

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Selective Filtration

Membranes developed at the Technion and Germany enable precise selective separation of nanoparticles

Researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and the Helmholz-Zentrum Hereon Center in Germany have developed a new concept for fabricating membranes for on-demand nanoparticle separation with high selectivity. These membranes are relevant for diverse applications that include pharmaceutical processing, materials separation, water purification, and wastewater treatment.

Assistant Professor Tamar Segal-Peretz

Published in Advanced Materials, the research study was led by Assistant Professor Tamar Segal-Peretz and Ph.D. student Assaf Simon of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering at the Technion, together with Dr. Zhenzhen Zhang and Professor Volker Abetz of the Helmholz-Zentrum Hereon Research Center.

High-selectivity molecular separation is a common process in nature that occurs, for example, in cell membrane channels. Membrane channels separate the interior of the cell from its outside environment and regulate which materials can pass into and out of the cell. Inspired by nature, numerous research groups have attempted to develop similar membrane channels that enable precise filtration of various materials for diverse industrial applications. But synthetic fabrication of such membranes, with high levels of well-ordered pores, and high uniformity and selectivity, poses a complex engineering challenge, made even more complex when the membranes are intended for extremely small nanoparticle separation.

Assaf Simon

The Technion and Helmholz-Zentrum Hereon researchers succeeded in fabricating such membranes using block copolymers – spontaneously self-assembled polymer molecules, in combination with metal oxide growth on and within the block copolymer pores. The process developed by the researchers provides an excellent method for precisely tuning the pore size as well as other properties of the membrane. In addition, the metal oxide is an ideal base for incorporating functional groups on the membrane surface, granting it unique properties, such as electric charge and hydrophobicity (water repellency). These membranes exhibited superior performance in the separation of nanoparticles based on size, charge, and/or hydrophobicity.

On the right: The fabrication process of the membranes. Metal oxides are grown within the membrane channels to precisely tunes the pore size, after which a reaction is generated to create a membrane possessing unique physical properties. On the left: Cross-sectional image of the membrane, showing the incorporation of the metal oxides on the block copolymer membranes.

Prof. Segal-Peretz estimates the breakthrough will provide various industries with a new, versatile, and accurate tool for the filtration of molecules, pollutants, and other particles.

 

Click here for the paper in Advanced Materials

AI improves the accuracy of antibiotic selection for the treatment of UTI

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Maccabi Healthcare Services and the Technion: AI improves the accuracy of antibiotic selection for the treatment of UTI

Shortly after the AI-based advanced tool was introduced, there was a 35% drop in the need to switch antibiotics. The technology was developed by the Technion and Maccabi Healthcare Services

Doctors at Maccabi Healthcare Services have recently begun to work with an AI-based predictive algorithm developed by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology together with KSM (Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi), the Maccabi Research and Innovation Center. The new algorithm advises doctors in the process of deciding on personalized antibiotic treatment for patients.

The first diagnosis on which Maccabi chose to focus is urinary tract infection (UTI) – the most common bacterial infection among women. Around 30% of the females suffer from the infection at least once during their lifetime, and up to 10% experience recurrent infections. Until now, in most cases general treatment has been administered based on clinical guidelines and medical judgment. Sometimes, the bacteria prove to be antibiotic resistant, resulting in the need to change the treatment plan.

Since the new algorithm was introduced, Maccabi doctors have treated tens of thousands of cases, and there has been a drop of around 35% in the need to switch antibiotics following the development of bacterial resistance to the drug prescribed. This is significant because accuracy in the choice of antibiotic is far greater thanks to the new technology. In light of the success of this new development in the treatment of UTI, Maccabi has begun working on the development of additional detection systems that will help to contend with other infectious diseases that require personalized treatment with antibiotics.

How does it work?

The automated system recommends the most suitable antibiotic treatment for the patient to the doctor, based on clinical guidelines and other criteria such as age, gender, pregnancy status, residence in an assisted living facility, and personal history of UTI and antibiotics administered.

The unique algorithm was developed by Professor Roy Kishony and Dr. Idan Yelin of the Technion Faculty of Biology, in cooperation with KSM, Maccabi’s Research and Innovation Center, headed by Dr. Tal Patalon, and was introduced and implemented among Maccabi’s doctors by the HMO’s Medical Informatics team and Chief Physician’s Department. According to Prof. Kishony, “The algorithm we developed together with Maccabi’s experts is a major milestone in personalized medicine on the way to AI-based antibiotic treatments, which are personally tailored to the patient according to the prediction of treatment response and mitigate the development of resistant bacteria.”

Dr. Shira Greenfield, Director of Medical Informatics at Maccabi Healthcare Services, said, “The significance of administering personalized antibiotic treatment is that it lowers the risk of antibiotic resistance developing – a global problem which all healthcare entities are working to solve.”

We’re Losing Oxygen, and It’s Great!

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We’re Losing Oxygen, and It’s Great!

 Researchers in the Technion Department of Materials Science and Engineering have succeeded in changing a material’s electrical properties by vacating an oxygen atom from the original structure. Possible applications include electronic-device miniaturization and radiation detection

What do ultrasound imaging of a fetus, cellular mobile communication, micro motors, and low-energy-consumption computer memories have in common? All of these technologies are based on ferroelectric materials, which are characterized by a strong correlation between their atomic structure and the electrical and mechanical properties.

 

Dr. Hemaprabha Elangovan, Assistant Professor Yachin Ivry and Ph.D. student Maya Barzilay

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology researchers have succeeded in changing the properties of ferroelectric materials by vacating a single oxygen atom from the original structure. The breakthrough could pave the way for the development of new technologies. The research was headed by Assistant Professor Yachin Ivry of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, accompanied by postdoctoral researcher Dr. Hemaprabha Elangovan and Ph.D. student Maya Barzilay, and was published in ACS Nano. It is noted that engineering an individual oxygen vacancy poses a considerable challenge due to the light weight of oxygen atoms.

In ferroelectric materials, a slight shift of the atoms causes significant changes in the electric field and in the contraction or expansion of the material. This effect is the result of the fact that the basic repeating unit in the material contains atoms that are organized in an asymmetric structure.

In order to explain this further, the researchers use the seminal ferroelectric material, barium titanate, the atoms of which form a cubic-like lattice structure. In these materials, a unique phenomenon occurs: the titanium atom draws away from the oxygen atoms. Since titanium is positively charged and oxygen is negatively charged, this separation creates polarization, or in other words, an electric dipole moment.

In the micrograph: Image of the structure before (on the right) and after (left) removing an oxygen atom.

A cubic lattice has six faces, so the charged atoms move into one of six possibilities. In different parts of the material, a large number of neighboring atoms shift in the same direction, and polarization in each such area, which is known as a ferroelectric domain, is uniform.  Traditional technologies are based on the electric field created in those domains. However, in recent years, a great deal of effort has been directed at minimizing the device size and using the borders, or walls, between the domains rather than the domains themselves, and thus converting the devices from three-dimensional structures to two-dimensional structures.

The research community has remained divided in opinion as to what happens in the two-dimensional world of the domain walls: How is the border between two domains with different electric polarization stabilized? Is the polarization in domain walls different to the polarization in the domains themselves? Can the properties of the domain wall be controlled in a localized manner? The great interest in addressing these questions stems from the fact that a ferroelectric material in its natural form is an excellent electric insulator. However, the domain walls may be conducting electrically, thus forming a two-dimensional object that are controllable by will. This phenomenon encompasses the potential to reduce significantly the energy consumption of data storage and data processing devices.

In this project, the researchers succeeded in deciphering the atomic structure and electric field deployment in domain walls at the atomic scale. In their recent article, they corroborate the assumption that domain walls allow for the existence of a two-dimensional border between domains as a result of partial oxygen vacancy in areas that are common to two domains, thus enabling greater flexibility in the deployment of the local electric field. They succeeded in engineeringly inducing an individual oxygen atom vacancy and demonstrated that this action creates opposing dipoles and greater electric symmetry – a unique topological structure called a quadrupole.

With the aid of computer simulations by Shi Liu of Westlake University in China, the researchers demonstrated that engineering the oxygen atom vacancy has a great impact on the electrical properties of the material not only at the atomic scale, but also at the scale that is relevant to electronic devices – for example, in terms of electrical conductivity. The significance is that the present scientific achievement is likely to be of help in miniaturizing devices of this kind as well as reducing their energy consumption.

Collaboration with researchers from the Negev Nuclear Research Center, the Technion research group also demonstrated that oxygen vacancies can be engineered by exposing the material to electronic radiation. Consequently, in addition to the technological potential of the discovery in electronics, it may also be possible to utilize the effect for radiation detectors, allowing for the early detection – and prevention – of nuclear accidents, such as the one that happened in 2011 in Fukushima, Japan.

The research, which was carried out at the Electron Microscopy Center in the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering, was funded by the Israel Science Foundation and the Pazy Foundation. The Nano and Quantum Functional Structures Laboratory, headed by Asst. Prof. Ivry, is supported by the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program.

For the article in ACS Nano click here

 

Molecule that inhibits degenerative processes related to Alzheimer’s disease

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 Researchers at the Technion developed a molecule that inhibits degenerative processes related to Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Galia Maayan

Researchers at the Technion – Israel institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers from CNRS, recently published findings about the development of an artificial molecule that may inhibit the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The molecule breaks down the toxic chemical complex Cu–Aβ, thus inhibiting the cell death that is thought to be related to Alzheimer’s. The study was led by Professor Galia Maayan and doctoral student Anastasia Behar from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, in collaboration with Prof. Christelle Hureau from the Laboratoire de Chimie de Coordination du CNRS, Toulouse, France.

Copper ions are a key component of the structure and function of various cells in the body. But their accumulation can lead to cell toxicity, causing dangerous conditions such as oxidative stress, cardiovascular disorders, and degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s.

Doctoral student Anastasia Behar

One of the mechanisms involved in the development of Alzheimer’s is the formation of free radicals that damage the brain cells. These are oxidizing agents formed, among other things, by Cu–Aβ, a complex of copper and amyloid beta. It is already known that the breakdown of this complex, and the removal of copper from the amyloid, prevents cell death, followed by the inhibition of the disease. The extraction of the copper is done by chelation – using molecules that bind the copper ions and extract them from the amyloid.

However, this is not a simple challenge, because the chelators must meet several critical chemical and kinetic conditions, including stability and resistance to oxidation-reduction reactions. It is also important that the chelator does not bind zinc ions during the copper extraction process, as they are also essential for neuron function (but do not cause toxicity when they are bound to the amyloid); if the chelator does not bind the zinc, it can continue to bind the copper ions, but if it binds zinc, copper binding will be inhibited.

In the figure, from left to right: Oxidation of copper ions in an amyloid complex (that also contains zinc ions) leads to the formation of a toxic amyloid complex and harmful oxidizing agents (ROS). The water-soluble chelator extracts the copper ion from the amyloid complex

The Technion and CNRS researchers report in the Angewandte Chemie on the successful development of a new artificial chelator that meets all these requirements. The chelator, called P3, is a peptide-like water-soluble synthetic molecule that performs its task selectively; it strongly binds copper and forms the complex CuP3, extracting the copper from the amyloid. By doing so, it inhibits and even suppresses the formation of harmful oxidizing agents, without creating new oxidation processes. Although it binds zinc ions and even extracts them from the amyloid faster than it extracts the copper ions, the binding to zinc is weaker, making the zinc-amyloid complex unstable, so in practice P3 mostly binds copper ions. by creating a new, stable complex, and inhibits the formation of harmful oxidizing agents (NO ROS), thereby neutralizing amyloid toxicity.

Click here for the paper in Angewandte Chemie

 

An Inflammation to Remember

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An Inflammation to Remember

Technion scientists uncover a physiological mechanism of psychosomatic illness

Your phone pings. It’s a notification from your friend, who you just went out for a drink with last night. According to her text, she has just tested positive for COVID-19. You start feeling your throat, you sneak a short cough, and start to feel your body temperature rising. But then you calm down (after receiving your negative COVID results, of course) and realize these feelings were all in your head. But what if this is exactly it – what if there were indeed neurons in the brain that could induce a sensation of illness, or even an actual disease?

Psychosomatic disorders are described as diseases emerging with no apparent biological cause, and often include a strong emotional component as a trigger. In a study recently published in Cell, Technion scientists explore the brain’s potential to cause diseases on its own. Specifically, they induced inflammation in mice, and then triggered the neurons in the brain that were active during the initial inflammation.

Tamar Koren (right) and Professor Asya Rolls

The study was conducted by the research group of Associate Professor Asya Rolls from the Technion Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, led by Tamar Koren, an M.D./Ph.D. student in the lab. They showed that during colon inflammation, several brain regions exert enhanced neuronal activity, one of which was the insular cortex (insula). The insula is an area in the brain responsible for interoception, that is the sense of the body’s physiological state. This includes hunger, thirst, pain, and heart rate.

The researchers postulated that if report of inflammation in some area of the body is stored somewhere in the brain, this area responsible for interoception would be involved. Armed with this hypothesis, they induced in mice an inflammation in the colon and using genetic manipulation techniques, “captured” groups of neurons in the insular cortex that showed increased activity during the inflammation. Once the mice were healthy, the researchers triggered these “captured” neurons artificially. Without any outside stimulus other than this triggering of cells in the brain, inflammation re-emerged, in the exact same area where it was before. “Remembering” the inflammation was enough to reactivate it.

If the brain can generate disease, is it possible that it can also turn it off?

Scientific photo: Upper panel: Insular neurons (in red) that were captured during colitis and reactivated (in green) upon recovery. Lower panel: Colon sections showing white blood cells (in red) present in the tissue of a mouse after insular neurons reactivation (Gq, right) and its non-activated control (Sham, left).

In a similar manner, Tamar also demonstrated the opposite effect: in mice with active inflammation, suppressing the neurons that remembered it produced immediate reduction in the inflammation. Although this was a basic study in mice, and there are multiple challenges in translating the concept to humans, these discoveries open a new therapeutic avenue for treating chronic inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, and other autoimmune conditions, by attenuating their memory trace in the brain.

The Research group of Professor Asya Rolls

“There are evolutionary advantages to such a connection,” said Prof. Rolls in explaining the strange phenomenon whereby the immune system should be activated by memory alone, without an outside trigger. “The body needs to respond to infection as quickly as possible before the attacking bacteria or viruses can multiply. If certain activity, for example consuming particular foods, has exposed the body to infection and inflammation once, there is an advantage to gearing up for battle when one is about to engage in the same activity again. A shorter response time would allow the body to defeat the infection faster and with less effort. The problem of course is when such an effective mechanism goes out of control and can on its own generate the disease.”

The group’s findings have broad implications for understanding the way the human mind and body affect each other, but also more immediate implications for understanding and treating illness with a psychosomatic element, like irritable bowel syndrome, and even autoimmune diseases and allergies.

The study was done in collaboration with Dr. Kobi Rosenblum, of the University of Haifa and Dr. Fahed Hakim, of EMMS Hospital, Nazareth. This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, the Allen and Jewel Prince Center for Neurodegenerative Disorders of the Brain, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and the Wellcome trust.

 

For the full article in Cell click here.

Click here for video demonstrating the research

Scientists Discover Emergency Pathway to Help Human Cells with Protein Damage Survive

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Scientists Discover Emergency Pathway to Help Human Cells with Protein Damage Survive

Cell proteins damaged by oxygen radicals can be chemically “tagged” for elimination, but an “emergency pathway” bypasses strict protocol and can eliminate even without the need for prior tagging.

An international research team headed by Technion scientists has found an alternative manner for eliminating damaged proteins when the cells are impaired by “oxygen radicals,” as can happen in failing human hearts where there is poor cell respiration and cells become oxygen depleted, or suffer “hypoxia,” because of poor oxygen uptake.

Significantly, the researchers discovered that there can be a shift from the tightly controlled process of eliminating proteins in the cells to a less strict mechanism when cells enter an “emergency protocol.” This shift can “clear up” the toxic proteins before their toxicity levels get too high.

Their study was published on 26 October 2021 in Nature Communication. To carry out their study, the researchers investigated several “proteasomes,” protein complexes that work by a chemical reaction to degrade unneeded or damaged cell proteins. The researchers found that elevated levels of one type of proteasome, 20S, appears to contribute to cell survival, even for those cells under stress from damaged proteins.

L-R: Professor Oded Kleifeld, Professor Michael Glickman and Professor Ashraf Brik

Human cells – both functional and damaged – are constantly recycled by chemically “tagging” and targeting for removal when they are under stress by the ubiquitin system (2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry). At the same time, a few proteins that are intact and functional can also be dragged into the 20S proteasome “molecular disposal unit” along with the toxic proteins that have be targeted for destruction. Nevertheless, rather than harm cells, this mode of action by 20S proteasome may aid cells in rapidly remove toxic proteins. In their conclusion, the authors raised the interesting speculation that this emergency pathway can help even damaged cells to withstand bouts of stress and allow them to “age gracefully”.

Professor Michael Glickman (left) and Professor Indrajit Sahu

To carry out the study, Technion researchers Professors Indrajit Sahu, Michael Glickman, Ashraf Brik, and Oded Kleifeld, worked with Professor Sharlene Day, from the University of Pennsylvania, and the research team of Professor Yao Cong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China.

 

Click here for the paper in Nature Communications

Between Computation and Architecture

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Between Computation and Architecture

An algorithm that streamlines and automates architectural form-finding has been developed at the Taub Faculty of Computer Science

A computer rendered image of one of the segmented 3D models computed by the new algorithm.

The use of robots in construction and architectural manufacturing is a vision steadily becoming a reality and is perceived as a key trend in the next revolution in the construction industry. For years, complex architectural projects have been planned by computer. On the ground, however, these projects continue to be executed using construction methods that have remained virtually unchanged for decades.

In recent years, thanks to continuous development, robotic instrumentation has begun to close the gap between the level of planning sophistication and practical execution on-site. Consequently, anyone who has seen videos of robotic manufacturing processes in architectural projects will find   it hard not to be swept up in the tide of enthusiasm. The good ones show robotic arms in motion, lifting building parts that interlock with ease. The pace of production is accompanied by accurate cutting and precise detail.

Fabrication of one of the models from construction paper. (a) Planar hexagonal mesh, (b) 2D face templates for cutting, (c-d) intermediate and (e-f) final constructions

Despite the impressive tempo of the robots and the infinite possibilities inherent in these production processes, human intervention is usually necessary behind the scenes from the production aspect as well as in calculating and planning the various deliverables. This is especially true when architectural planning is based on complex spatial systems such as thin, doubly-curved surfaces, also known as “shells.”

A research group from the Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is working on narrowing the gap between the promise and reality. The researchers, Professor Mirela Ben Chen, Dr. Kacper Pluta, and Michal Edelstein, together with their colleague, Professor Amir Vaxman of Utrecht University, responded to a request from an architect and developed an algorithm that finds automated solutions that meet robotic manufacturing needs for complex surfaces. The researchers created a computational framework that takes as input complex and diverse doubly curved surfaces and computes its segmentation into planar panels. The researchers have shown that the planar segments can be assembled from cardboard, a first step towards robotically manufactured shells made from timber.

Professor Mirela Ben Chen

“It’s important to recognize that industrial robotic manufacturing is not a technological whim,” Prof. Ben Chen explained. “It has numerous advantages in different aspects of sustainability such as material savings, reducing construction time and mitigating the environmental impacts of the construction process. The algorithm we developed can take complex surfaces and break them down into small segments, hexagons, in a way that increases the surface’s mechanical advantages. Further development of the computational tool will enable an optimal implementable solution to be devised.”

“In order for the computational system to be applicative in the ‘real world’ as well, collaboration with architects is necessary,” Prof. Ben Chen continued. “Ultimately, we hope that our research will lead to the development of a system that can compute and manufacture building segments through automation, so that they can be assembled on-site without detracting from or compromising on architectural or structural complexity.”

To read the researchers’ paper in ACM Transactions on Graphics, click here.

“Nano-Taxis” Shuttle Therapeutics to Neurons

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“Nano-Taxis” Shuttle Therapeutics to Neurons

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology Assistant Professor Assaf Zinger and Dr. Caroline Cvetkovic from the Center for Neuroregeneration at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have created a novel means of delivering medicine to neurons in a targeted manner.

The biomimetic nano-vesicles, or nature-mimicking, nanometer-scale “vehicles,” are capable of specifically targeting neurons such as nerve cells. These nano-vehicles pave the way for the treatment of multiple neurodegenerative diseases and traumatic brain injuries.

Assistant Professor Assaf Zinger

Drug delivery is a major challenge that must be overcome in drug development, and it is one of the focus areas of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering at the Technion. It is not enough that a substance can lead to the desired therapeutic effect in a specific cell. This therapeutic substance must also reach these cells without being changed or destroyed en route, and it must not end up in other organs if it might cause harm there.

Nano-vesicles are similar in structure to human cells, but much smaller — one millionth of a hair’s width in diameter. They can carry within them cargo that needs to be delivered to the cells such as medication, mRNA, etc.

Nano-vesicles can be targeted by incorporating specific cell membrane-derived proteins on their surface, thus letting them be recognized and taken in by the correct cells. In essence, the nano vesicles (or taxis) masquerade as neurons, resulting in their being recognized and welcomed by other neurons, thereby making it possible for them to deliver their therapeutic cargo.

Potentially revolutionizing the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and traumatic brain injuries

“Neurosomes”- Humanized Biomimetic nano vesicles (red) for neuron targeting (green)

These findings have broad implications. More than one neurodegenerative disorder might be treated if the correct medicine or genetic cargo (e.g., mRNA, SiRNA, miRNA) could be delivered to the brain. But these are not the only possible applications.

“With [nano-taxis], we can also potentially revolutionize the treatment of traumatic brain injuries,” Prof. Zinger explained. “In the case of a car accident and or a sports injury, as examples, the brain is first damaged by the impact, as it is struck against the skull. As a result, multiple brain cells are damaged. This starts a process of inflammation. If we could immediately deliver anti-inflammatory drugs to the brain, we could reduce the inflammatory processes, and hopefully prevent fatalities and long-term disabilities.”

The lion’s share of this study was conducted by Prof. Zinger at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and Houston Methodist Hospital as part of his postdoctoral fellowship. Prof. Zinger recently opened a multidisciplinary laboratory at the Technion, in the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering. His lab aims to create advanced bioinspired technologies and translational therapeutics through a highly multidisciplinary approach.