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Gizmorama - June 6, 2018

Good Morning,

Nanorobots can do a body good. No, seriously! These mini-machines are being used to remove harmful bacteria and toxins from the bloodstream. Little things really do help in big ways.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Nanorobots help remove bacteria, toxins from blood --*

Nanorobots that are about 25 times smaller than the width of a human hair have been developed to remove harmful bacteria and toxins by swimming through the bloodstream.

Engineers at the University of California San Diego hope one day their proof-of-concept method will offer a safe and efficient way to detoxify and decontaminate biological fluids. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics.

"The idea is to create multifunctional nanorobots that can perform as many different tasks at once," co-first author Berta Esteban-Fernandez de Avila, a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego, said in a press release. "Combining platelet and red blood cell membranes into each nanorobot coating is synergistic -- platelets target bacteria, while red blood cells target and neutralize the toxins those bacteria produce."

Researchers said their ultimate goal is not to use the nanorobots to treat MRSA infections but generally to detoxify biological fluids. They are planning to eventually test them in live animals.

The researchers built the nanorobots by coating gold nanowires with platelet and red blood cell membranes.

They can travel up to 35 micrometers per second in blood powered by ultrasound.

Researchers used the nanorobots to treat blood samples contaminated with MRSA and their toxins. These blood samples had three times less bacteria and toxins than untreated samples after five minutes.

"By integrating natural cell coatings onto synthetic nanomachines, we can impart new capabilities on tiny robots such as removal of pathogens and toxins from the body and from other matrices," said Dr. Joseph Wang, a professor in the Department of NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. "This is a proof-of-concept platform for diverse therapeutic and biodetoxification applications."

Researchers separated entire membranes from platelets and red blood cells, and applied high-frequency sound waves to fuse the membranes together. They coated the hybrid membranes onto gold nanowires using specific surface chemistry.

The coating protects the nanorobots from biofouling, or proteins collecting on the surface of foreign objects and preventing them from operating normally.

The team is also developing a way to make nanorobots out of biodegradable materials instead of gold.

* Study: Phone app that screens for autism in children is beneficial *

An iPhone app that screens for signs of autism in young children was found to be scientifically reliable, easy to use and supported by caregivers, according to a study.

In 2015, researchers and software developers from Duke University and the Duke Medical Center introduced the free iOS app. In one year, the app was downloaded more than 10,000 times.

Duke researchers analyzed data from 1,756 families with children aged 1 to 6 years about the success of the app over one year. Their findings were published Friday in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 59 children in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Current tools for objectively measuring young children's observed behaviors are expensive, time-consuming, and require extensive training and professional administration," the researchers wrote. "To address this gap, we developed mobile technology to collect videos of young children while they watched movies designed to elicit autism-related behaviors and then used automatic behavioral coding of these videos to quantify children's emotions and behaviors."

For example, after a short movie of bubbles floating across the screen, the video-coding algorithm looks for movements of the face that would indicate joy. In the study, children whose parents rated their child as having a high number of autism symptoms showed less frequent expressions of joy in response to the bubbles.

Parents completed 5,618 surveys and uploaded 4,441 videos, 88 percent of which were usable.

"This demonstrates the feasibility of this approach," said study co-leader Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. "Many caregivers were willing to participate, the data were high quality and the video analysis algorithms produced results consistent with the scoring we produce in our autism program here at Duke."

Each test took about 20 minutes to complete.

After completing the questionnaire, participating families received feedback from the app about what the child's apparent risk for autism might be. They were encouraged to seek consultation from medical professionals if parents reported a high level of autism symptoms.

"This technology has the potential to transform how we screen and monitor children's development," the researchers wrote.


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