Detecting Disease Through Your Breath

One of the major challenges in modern medicine is how to accurately detect disease when people are still feeling healthy. Researchers and doctors alike have long since wondered how to diagnose diseases such as cancer before it progresses too far.

Now, the medical community may find that answer in a new development out of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology called the Na-Nose.

The Na-Nose is a newly developed device that can analyze the chemical signature of exhaled gases to diagnose diseases with 86 percent accuracy. The science behind the device uses carbon nanotubes and gold particles to isolate volatile biomarkers in a patient’s breath.

Researchers then used a computer algorithm to recognize the biomarkers, creating a tool that can quickly and accurately detect diseases such as ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis in early stages without any invasive procedures.

“It works in the same way we’d use dogs in order to detect specific compounds,” Hossam Haick, co-author of the study, told Smithsonian. “We bring something to the nose of a dog, and the dog will transfer that chemical mixture to an electrical signature and provide it to the brain, and then memorize it in specific regions of the brain … This is exactly what we do. We let it smell a given disease but instead of a nose we use chemical sensors, and instead of the brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent.”

A scanning tunneling microscope image shows two three-wheeled nanoroadsters.Image: Alex Saywell/Leonhard Grill

A scanning tunneling microscope image shows two three-wheeled nanoroadsters.
Image: Alex Saywell/Leonhard Grill

Past ECS lecturer James Tour and his team at Rice University have developed a tiny three-wheeled, single-molecule call they’ve dubbed the “nanoroadster.”

This new research builds on Tour’s light-driven nanocars, which he developed six years ago. Since then, additional research efforts have allowed researchers to drive fleets of the nanoroadsters at once.

“It is exciting to see that motorized nanoroadsters can be propelled by their light-activated motors,” Tour says. “These three-wheelers are the first example of light-powered nanovehicles being observed to propel across a surface by any method, let alone by scanning tunneling microscopy.”

This from Rice University:

Rather than drive them chemically or with the tip of a tunneling microscope, as they will do with other vehicles in the upcoming international NanoCar Race in Toulouse, France, the researchers used light at specific wavelengths to move their nanoroadsters along a copper surface. The vehicles have rear-wheel molecular motors that rotate in one direction when light hits them. The rotation propels the vehicle much like a paddle wheel on water.

Read the full article.

“If we have to ‘wire’ the car to a power source, like an electron beam, we would lose a lot of the cars’ functionality,” Tour says. “Powering them with light frees them to be driven wherever one can shine a light—and eventually we hope they will carry cargo.”

The ability to activate multiple fleets of nanocars at once opens possibilities of using nanomachines like ants, in which they could work collectively to perform some construction.

By: Sameer Sonkusale, Tufts University

Nanowires

Image: Alonso Nichols, Tufts University, CC BY-ND

Doctors have various ways to assess your health. For example, they measure your heart rate and blood pressure to indirectly assess your heart function, or straightforwardly test a blood sample for iron content to diagnose anemia. But there are plenty of situations in which that sort of monitoring just isn’t possible.

To test the health of muscle and bone in contact with a hip replacement, for example, requires a complicated – and expensive – procedure. And if problems are found, it’s often too late to truly fix them. The same is true when dealing with deep wounds or internal incisions from surgery.

In my engineering lab at Tufts University, we asked ourselves whether we could make sensors that could be seamlessly embedded in body tissue or organs – and yet could communicate to monitors outside the body in real time. The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that the materials wouldn’t cause infection or an immune response from the body. The sensors would also need to match the mechanical properties of the body part they would be embedded in: soft for organs and stretchable for muscle. And, ideally, they would be relatively inexpensive to make in large quantities.

(more…)

Carbon nanotubes have a potentially wide variety of applications due to their strength, flexibility, and other promising properties. While many researchers have been focused on applying carbon nanotubes in nanotechnology and electronics, ECS members Kris Dahl and Mohammad Islam are looking to give the nanotubes a new use in medical applications.

Dahl, a chemical and biomedical engineer; and Islam, a materials scientists; are taking their respective skills and putting them to use in the novel interdisciplinary development, making possible carbon nanotubed-based structures for drug delivery.

This from Carnegie Mellon University:

Picture feeding a dog a pill. In order to do so, one would wrap it in cheese to mask the medicine and make it more appealing. In a similar vein, to enhance drug delivery, Dahl and Islam have engineered proteins that wrap around the drug-coated carbon nanotubes. The cells, which love these proteins, more readily take up the drug—much as a dog would more readily eat the cheese-coated pill.

(more…)

Nanowire cooling

Flexible electrocaloric fabric of nanowire array can cool.
Image: Qing Wang/Penn State

The utilization of nanowires has opened a new branch of science for many researchers. While some have focused on applying this technology to energy systems, researchers from Penn State are using the nanowires to develop solid state personal cooling systems.

A new study from the university shows that nanowires could help develop a material for lightweight cooling systems, which could be incorporated into firefighting gear, athletic uniforms, and other wearables.

“Most electrocaloric ceramic materials contain lead,” says Qing Wang, professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State. “We try not to use lead. Conventional cooling systems use coolants that can be environmentally problematic as well. Our nanowire array can cool without these problems.”

This from Penn State:

Electrocaloric materials are nanostructured materials that show a reversible temperature change under an applied electric field. Previously available electrocaloric materials were single crystals, bulk ceramics, or ceramic thin films that could cool, but are limited because they are rigid, fragile, and have poor processability. Ferroelectric polymers also can cool, but the electric field needed to induce cooling is above the safety limit for humans.

(more…)

Improving Energy Storage

Nanoparticles have been central to many recent developments, including computing, communications, energy, and biology. However, because nanoparticles are hard to observe, it’s often difficult to pick the best shapes and sizes to perform specific tasks at optimal capacity.

That may be a problem no longer thanks to research out of Stanford University, where researchers gazed inside phase-changing nanoparticles for the first time – allowing them to understand how shape and crystallinity can have dramatic effects on performance.

Practically, this means that the design of energy storage materials could begin to change.

Take the lithium-ion battery, which stores and releases energy due to the electrode’s ability to sustain large deformations over several charge and discharge cycles without degrading. By nanosizing the electrode, researchers recently improved upon the efficiency process.

(more…)

Nanostructures

Nanostructures on the surface of the fabric.
Image: Queensland University of Technology

Oil spills have had an extensive history of disrupting the environment, killing ecosystems, and displacing families. Impacts of massive oil spills are still felt in many parts of the world, including the undersea spill at the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that dumped an approximate 39 million gallons of oil into the gulf.

But what if these devastating oil spills could be easily cleaned up with a piece of fabric rooted in electrochemistry?

That may be a reality soon thanks to researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). According to a release, the QUT researchers have developed a multipurpose fabric covered with semi-conducting nanostructures that can both mop up oil and degrade organic matter when exposed to light.

(READ: “Superhydrophobic Fabrics for Oil/Water Separation Based on the Metal-Organic Charge-Transfer Complex CuTCNAQ“)

The fabric, which repels water and attracts oil, has already has promising preliminary results. In the early stages of research, the scientists have already been able to mop up crude oil from the surface of both fresh and salt water.

(more…)

Bruce Weisman, chemistry and materials science professor at Rice University, is internationally recognized for his contributions to the spectroscopy and photophysics of carbon nanostructures. He is a pioneer in the field of spectroscopy, leading the discovery and interpretation of near-infrared fluorescence for semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Aside from his work at Rice University, Weisman is also the founder and president of Applied NanoFluorescence.

Weisman is currently the Division Chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division, which will be celebrating 25 years of nanocarbons symposia at the upcoming 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego, CA, May 2016. Since starting in 1991, the symposia has totaled 5,853 abstracts at ECS biannual meetings, with Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley delivering the inaugural talk.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Glucose monitoring has had a long history with electrochemical science and technology. While ECS Honorary Member Adam Heller’s continuous glucose monitoring system for diabetes management may be the first innovation that comes to mind, there is a new electrochemical bio-sensing tool on the horizon.

(WATCH: ECS Masters – Adam Heller)

Researchers have combined graphene with a tiny amount of gold to enhance the wonder material’s properties and develop a flexible skin patch to monitor blood glucose and automatically administer drugs as needed.

This from Extreme Tech:

[As] cool as a non-invasive blood-glucose monitor is, it’s nearly as revolutionary as what comes next: treatment. The patch is studded with “microneedles” that automatically cap themselves with a plug of tridecanoic acid. When high blood-glucose levels are detected, the patch heats a small heater on the needles which deforms the plug and allows the release of metformin, a common drug for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Cooling naturally restores the plug and stops drug release.

Read the full article.

This development is a huge stepping stone in the transformation of graphene as a laboratory curiosity to a real product. While it has taken a while due to the questions of the new material’s intrinsic properties, researchers believe that graphene-based products could soon be hitting the market.

Measuring the pH level of a solution is usually a relatively simple process. However, that process begins to get more complicated as things get smaller.

Examining changes in acidity or alkalinity at the nanoscale, for example, has been a nearly impossible feat for researchers. Now, a team from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, including 11 year ECS member Gunter Wittstock, has developed a novel method of pH measurement at the nanoscale.

The group has developed a nanosensor with the ability to continuously monitor changes in pH levels.

This from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw:

Used as a scanning electrochemical microscope probe, it allows for the precise measurement of changes in acidity/alkalinity occurring over very small fragments of the surface of a sample immersed in a solution. The spatial resolution here is just 50 nm, and in the future, it can be reduced even further.

Read the full article.

“The ability to monitor changes in the acidity or alkalinity of solutions at the nanoscale, and thus over areas whose dimensions can be counted in billionths of a meter, is an important step toward better understanding of many chemical processes. The most obvious examples here are various kinds of catalytic reactions or pitting corrosion, which begins on very small fragments of a surface,” said Marcin Opallo, lead author in the study.

The team hopes that this new method could lead to monitoring of pH changes taking place in the vicinity of individual chemical molecules.

  • Page 2 of 4