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Chan Zuckerberg BioHub Awards $50 Million to “Risky” Science

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The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub—the nonprofit medical research institute launched by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg—has announced its first class of scientific grantees, each of whom will receive up to $1.5 million in funding. The biohub was created to provide a safe but exciting space for scientific experimentation, all with an eye to eliminating disease around the world.

Biohub co-leader Stephen Quake is a bioengineer at Stanford University, one of the organization’s major partners. “We told researchers, 'Give us your riskiest ideas,'” Quake told Nature. “There is a creative anarchy in the atmosphere here in the Silicon Valley that we want to harvest.”

The 47 grantees represent a broad range of scientific specialties from immunology to (perhaps unsurprisingly) human social networks. Here are 10 of them.

1. JILL F. BANFIELD, UC BERKELEY

Banfield studies geomicrobiology and environmental microbiology—that is, the tiny organisms living in the rock, soil, and sand.

2. MARTIN KAMPMANN, UC SAN FRANCISCO

Kampmann’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms behind neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

3. MARKITA LANDRY, UC BERKELEY

Landry uses her background in chemical and biomolecular engineering to develop infrared and nanosensor scanners that will produce super-high-resolution images of the inside of the brain.

4. JURIJ LESKOVEC, STANFORD

Leskovec analyzes information and social networks from the large-scale (humans) to the microscopic (neurons) and even the invisible (data).

5. MICHEL MAHARBIZ, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LAB

Maharbiz develops very, very, very, very small implantable biosensors, including one he calls “neural dust.”

6. RIKKY MULLER, UC BERKELEY

Muller is creating wireless microsystems that could be directly attached to the human brain for long-term, non-invasive monitoring, and treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

7. KATIE POLLARD, UC SAN FRANCISCO

An epidemiologist and biostatistician, Pollard researches the ways our microbiome influences our health and response to disease and treatment.

8. MANU PRAKASH, STANFORD

Prakash and his colleagues have invented a number of low-cost, hand-powered tools for researchers and medical practitioners working in remote areas. Their latest invention was a paper centrifuge that can be made for about $0.20.

9. ELIZABETH SATTELY, STANFORD

Sattely’s focus is plants—specifically food plants like grains, and how they might be engineered to become more nutritious.

10. KE XU, UC BERKELEY

Xu has invented new microscope techniques so advanced that we can now see biological structures we’d never seen before.

Check out the Biohub website for the complete list of grantees.

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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