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Gizmorama - February 19, 2018

Good Morning,

Today, learn about light-activated drugs and 3D printing nanoscale metal structures. Both of these developments sound unbelievably amazing!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Light-activated cancer drugs may minimize chemotherapy side effects --*

Chemotherapy drugs activated by light to treat cancer can minimize side effects by targeting strictly non-healthy cells, according to new research in Britain and Australia.

The Monash Warwick Alliance, an intercontinental collaboration between the University of Warwick in Britain and Monash University in Australia, examined how a platinum-based chemotherapy drug candidate kills cancer cells in targeted areas after being activated by light -- but can be directed away from healthy tissue.

'"The current shortcomings of most chemotherapeutic agents are unfortunately undeniable, and therefore there is ongoing effort to develop new therapies and improve our understanding of how these agents work in effort to develop not only more effective, but also more selective, therapies to reduce the burden on patients," said Robbin Vernooij, a joint doctoral student from the Monash Warwick Alliance who led the study, said in a press release from Warwick.

The treatment was originally developed by Professor Peter Sadler's research group in the University of Warwick's Department of Chemistry.

Roughly 650,000 cancer patients receive chemotherapy in an outpatient oncology clinic in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Platinum-based chemotherapy compounds, such as cisplatin, were developed more than half a century ago. Chemotherapy can cause side effects, including feeling ill or very tired, as it attacks healthy and cancerous cells. Healthy cells that get destroyed can include skin, hair, intestines and bone marrow.

"About half of all chemotherapy treatments for cancer current[ly] use a platinum compound, but if we can introduce new platinum compounds that avoid side effects and are active against resistant cancers, that would be a major advance," Sadler said. "We hope that new approaches involving the combination of light and chemotherapy can play a role in combating the current shortcomings of cancer therapy and help to save lives."

For the study, published in Chemistry: A European Journal, researchers used infrared spectroscopy to see what happens to the compound's structure by following the metal as well as molecules released from the compound.

When the treatment is inserted into cancerous areas, and exposed to directed light, the compound degrades into active platinum and releases ligand molecules to attack cancer cells.

In the laboratory, researchers shone infrared light on the inorganic-metal compound and measured the molecules' vibrations while it was activated.

''This is an exciting step forward, demonstrating the power of vibrational spectroscopic techniques combined with modern computing to provide new insights on how this particular photoactive chemotherapeutic agent works, which brings us one step closer to our goal of making more selective and effective cancer treatments," Vernooij said.

Researchers hope to develop photoactive chemotherapy drugs for clinical trial.

"Photoactivated platinum compounds offer such possibilities," Sadler said. "They do not kill cells until irradiated with light, and the light can be directed to the tumor so avoiding unwanted damage to normal tissue."

*-- Scientists can now 3D print nanoscale metal structures --*

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have found a way to make sophisticated nanoscale metal structures using a 3D printer. If effectively scaled, the technology could have a range of commercial applications.

Objects made via 3D printing are constructed using additive manufacturing, the deposition of material layer by layer. The technology can yield unique substructures -- nanostructures that would be impossible to produce using more common manufacturing methods like etching or milling.

Scientists have succeeded at creating unique nanostructures using polymers, ceramics and other materials, but 3D printing metals has proven difficult.

When 3D printing polymer structures, extremely precise lasers use just a pair of photons to harden the liquified polymer. To fuse metals, however, more energy is required.

"Metals don't respond to light in the same way as the polymer resins that we use to manufacture structures at the nanoscale," Caltech materials scientist Julia Greer said in a news release. "There's a chemical reaction that gets triggered when light interacts with a polymer that enables it to harden and then form into a particular shape. In a metal, this process is fundamentally impossible."

Andrey Vyatskikh, a grad student and researcher in Greer's lab, developed a workaround using organic ligands to create a metal-enriched resin. Organic ligands naturally bind with metal. The resin functions like a polymer, but can carry along tiny fragments of metal.

In the lab, Vyatskikh and Greer created a resin of metal and organic ligands. The resin is used just like a normal polymer, zapped with the laser to harden into a preprogrammed design. With each zap, the chemical bonds between the organic molecules are strengthened, and because the organic ligands are already bonded with the metal, the nickel becomes incorporated into the newly hardened material.

Once printed, scientists put the metal-enriched polymer scaffolding into vacuum oven and heated it to 1,000 degrees Celsius, roughly 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit -- just hot enough to vaporize the organic molecules but not hot enough to melt the nickel.

Through a process known as pyrolysis, the heat strengthens the bonds between the metal molecules. Though the material shrinks, the organization of the scaffolding's nanoscale structure is maintained.

"That final shrinkage is a big part of why we're able to get structures to be so small," said Vyatskikh. "In the structure we built for the paper, the diameter of the metal beams in the printed part is roughly 1/1000th the size of the tip of a sewing needle."

Vyatskikh and Greer -- who described the work this week in the journal Nature Communications -- believe their technology could be used to build parts of computer chips or lightweight aerospace components.

The technology could also be used to create new kinds of metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, a unique material with an expansive internal surface area. In a recent study, another group of scientists used MOFs to remove salt and ions from water.

In future studies, Vyatskikh and Greer hope to experiment with other metals and measure the impurities caused by pyrolysis.


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