Bioengineering

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Although affecting less than one million people in the United States, junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) is a lethal genetic condition that causes severe blistering and erosions on the skin by means of injury or from friction by scratching. Those who survive endure chronic wounds that can often lead to skin cancer, and sometimes even death.

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Today, there are many projects that investigate new and emerging treatments that address a critical factor in cancer progression: the tumor microenvironment. This is a complex process, in which cancer cells adjust the conditions within, and also possibly in the immediate vicinity of, the tumor they have formed to their own ‘liking’. Tumors develop their own internal environments for a number of reasons, which include resistance to aspects of the patient’s immune system which could be capable of destroying or damaging them otherwise.

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Many material scientists and engineers work with the goal of making synthetic polymers with the strength and conformation to rival or exceed natural products such as silk. This is done to create textiles, sheets or other implements to be used in construction or outerwear for their durability, strength and longevity. Unfortunately, though, there are often drawbacks linked to the compounds these researchers develop. They may be made from toxic substances, be expensive to manufacture, or require a large amount of energy in their formation.

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Many drugs available today act by targeting one pathological protein associated with an illness. This protein might be a toxin from bacteria or virus particles, or a dysfunctional human protein that cancer cells use to avoid the natural process of cell death. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and researchers can achieve this because they have been able to study the protein in question in enough depth to find locations within their molecular structure that are highly relevant to disease risk or progression.

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Many scientists hypothesise that the creation of life as we know it required a pivotal stage in which primal, simple biological building blocks (such as amino acids) were bonded together, most likely as a result of phosphorylation (a reaction in which two molecules are conjoined with the input of one phosphorus atom and the loss of one atom from the molecules’ existing structure). Phosphorylation underpins a huge range of important biochemical reactions (e.g.

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The AIDS virus, HIV, continues to threaten communities globally, affecting more than 35 million people each year. Although there have been attempts to develop vaccines for this life-threatening syndrome, it is the virus’ genetic diversity that has posed challenges in the past. Researchers at pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, and the US National Institutes of Health have collaborated to engineer specific broadly neutralizing antibodies with the capacity to fight 99 percent of HIV strains, and potentially prevent infection too.

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Millions of people in the United States suffer from ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), a chronic brain disorder that results in children or sometimes even adults having a limited attention span, being extremely hyperactive and taking rash decisions or showing impulsivity. This automatically reduces their ability to meet deadlines or perform daily duties, as per usual.

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One of the most common phrases a medical doctor hears on introducing themselves as a member of said profession is probably along the lines of ‘Can you look at this mole for me?’ A specialisation in dermatology aside, most doctors would hesitate to eliminate a skin cancer diagnosis on the spot.

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Artificial limbs, such as prosthetic legs or arms, are a common solution nowadays for patients who have gone through the process of amputation. Prosthetic parts of the body are being used for such medical cases since the 16th century and as the centuries pass, their quality is dramatically improving.

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Pacemakers are devices that regulate the rhythm at which the chambers of the heart pump blood, intended for people who have developed irregular heartbeats. This may happen for reasons related to genetic, environmental or lifestyle factors, or a combination of all these. Some pacemakers are designed to co-ordinate the pumping action of the left and right sides of the heart, which if left uncorrected can lead to abnormal cardiac rhythms or other conditions. They work by delivering a tiny electrical impulse into the existing nervous circuitry of the heart.

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Pediatric leukemia, a cancer of the blood in children, is classified into two types — acute lymphocytic/lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Of the two, ALL is more common, occurring between the age groups of two and four. Apart from when chemotherapy is successful, these children are left with a bleak prospect of survival because of this devastating disease.

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The next generation of electronics is likely to come in the form of smart textiles and textile-like materials that may be more ergonomic, flexible and versatile. Their ability to support electronics and interfaces will be derived from the superconductive and conductive nanoparticles embedded in these fabrics, which can form circuits, sensors and antennas when laid down or ‘woven’ into appropriate formations.

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If you’re into tattoos, bioengineering and high-tech health-sensing devices, this new development may be just the thing for you. A new project completed as a collaboration between researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School has resulted in a prototype ‘tattoo’ that changes colour in response to variations in certain health metrics, and can be read through the skin. This clinical ink has been shown to be able to indicate skin pH, glucose and sodium levels.

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Ceramic is amazing stuff. It’s extremely strong and durable, has an amazing capacity for heat absorption and is also stable at high temperatures. This could well make ceramic an excellent component in materials or biomaterials, were it not for their tendency to shatter at any given opportunity. The structure of ceramics as they are typically produced allows even very minor structural flaws to propagate within them easily, thus causing a crack to ‘spread’ through a solid layer of ceramic with ease.

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End stage liver diseases, such as Stage 4 cirrhosis takes the lives of about 10,000 people every year in the United States, and unfortunately this number only seems to be increasing.

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Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a branch of neurological medicine in which small devices that can deliver electric impulses are placed into the brain, in areas that are damaged or affected by disease. The central idea behind DBS is that these devices, which are most often electrodes, are used to replace, augment or modulate abnormal activation (or ‘firing’) in the neural circuits found in these brain regions. This may in turn correct or alleviate their manifestations in the mind or body, which include uncontrollable movements in Parkinson’s disease (PD).

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Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are a relatively well-established way of analysing brain activity. They use non-invasive sensors that detect the electrical activity of this organ through the skull. They then represent this activity in graphical forms than can be recorded, stored and used by people such as medical professionals. EEGs have been observed to be reliably associated with the brain activity they are supposed to visualise. Many normal, healthy brain regions even produce reproducible EEG feedback patterns, or frequencies.

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Robots are increasingly accepted as the first line in automation, human-computer interfaces and even entertainment. However, they are often thought of in a limited way, as machines that could be designed to resemble humans, or body parts such as arms, designed to perform in a manner that is a variation on how a human would. Therefore, robots are often in a fixed shape with relatively limited dimensions of movement, articulation and manipulation.

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Many wearable devices can now track your heart rate, steps, speed, balance, body temperature and sleep. Smart devices are definitely the future and will be used in people’s everyday lives. A new generation of brain-reading technology was created by the company NeuroSky, with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) biosensors.

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When we think of mind reading, we may imagine a process by which an entity, perhaps aided by super-advanced technology, ‘listens in’ on our thoughts to capture or record them. However, thoughts and how they manifest in the brain are much more complicated than simple voices in our heads. Currently, the best of our scientific tools that come close to representing how it works are non-invasive techniques that can produce accurate 2D, 3D or 4D (i.e. ‘real-time’) images of a person’s brain and which specific regions are involved in thought formation.

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