Tag: Parkinson’s Disease

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) this week in a special section (not online yet) deals with prion diseases such as Kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, BSE and scrapie and the history of the discovery that some CNS disorders are caused not by pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses, but by infectious proteins. In one of the articles, Volker Stollorz deals with the implication of the discovery. It led to the notion that CNS diseases can be caused by misfolding of proteins, and meanwhile  about 2 dozen neurological disorders are classified as “proteopathies”, among them Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Stollorz features research that points to the possibility that proteopathies spread through the body by some sort of domino effect. In this case, it cannot be ruled out that they are contagious – which would have enormous consequences for medicine. To rule out the possibility that modern medicine contributes to the spread of neurodegenerative diseases, some researchers already call for sterilizing medical instruments with procedures that also deactivate proteins.

Ralph Diemann in Süddeutsche Zeitung this week introduces photovoltaic company Konarka, which is using the site and machinery of Polaroid company to manufacture sheets producing electric current. Using the old Polaroid instant film technology, the company is printing conductive molecules on extremely thin, light and flexible films that can be applied to common goods – sunshades, car bodies, window panes or even clothes. First products – daypacks and bags producing current to charge mobile phones, already have reached the market. Other companies – BASF, Thyssen-Krupp and Bischoff Glastechnik – will follow suit, Diemann writes. Disadvantages at present are a very low efficiency, a durability of a few years only and a high price.

The Economist this week reports on experiments of various research groups, which have turned mind-reading into reality. The results are still crude, but already, recording brain activity has proven to be an inroad into this area.

Belle Dumé in The New Scientist makes the case for green tea and red laser to treat Alzheimer’s disease. While epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an ingredient of green tea can reduce beta amyloid plaques in the brain, red laser light which penetrates tissue and even bone can facilitate uptake of EGCG by the brain and by brain cells. The results come from animal experiments.

Last not least, Robert McMillan in Wired reports about the symbiotic relationship between IT and manure. IT company Hewlett-Packard (HP) seriously is thinking about using cow dung to power future data centers. These centers produce a lot of heat which can be used to heat cow dung for the production of methane, which in turn can power the data center.

Food for Thought: Europe Will have to Buy Stem Cell Therapies in the US, Asia

The European Court of Justice today ruled that biological procedures cannot be patented if they are based on the prior destruction of human embryos, with “human embryo” defined in the broadest possible sense.

Background of the ruling is a patent filed by German stem cell researcher Oliver Bruestle in 1997. The patent covers isolated and purified neural precursor cells produced from human embryonic stem cells and used for the treatment of neurological diseases. The cells are already being used clinically for the treatment of patients suffering from Parkinson`s disease.

Greenpeace filed an opposition to the patent and after the Federal Patent Court, Germany, ruled that the patent was invalid in so far as it covers processes for obtaining precursor cells from human embryonic stem cells, Bruestle appealed to the Federal Court of Justice, Germany, which referred the case to the European Court of Justice, saying the concept of ‘human embryo’ was not defined in EU Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions. The question was whether the exclusion from patentability of the human embryo covers all stages of life from fertilization of the egg or whether other conditions must be met, for example that a certain stage of development is reached.

Today, the European Court of Justice stated that its decision was not about ethical or moral questions, but solely on the legal interpretation of the EU Directive, adding that the Directive defines “human embryo” in the widest possible sense, i.e. every human egg able to divide must be classified as a “human embryo”.  This even comprises enucleated eggs, into which the cell nucleus of a human body cell has been transplanted, as well as non-fertilized human eggs, in which cell division and further development have been stimulated without fertilization, e.g. by parthenogenesis. Taking the definition even further, it adds that all inventions that are based on the prior destruction of human embryos or their prior use as base material are excluded from patentability.

Greenpeace hailed the decision as a “landmark case”, stating the ruling was protecting humans from being commercially exploited. The press release was illustrated by the picture of a baby carrying a “patent clip” in its earlobes.

Oliver Bruestle, who was placed under police protection together with his family when the campaign against his patent application was started, commented that fundamental research on human embryonic stem cells can still take place in Europe – however, it means that “others will pick the fruits in the U.S. and in Asia.”

The ruling is the result of the EU’s Directive, which was adopted in 1998 after a decade of debates and compromises between the EU member states, the EU parliament and the EU Commission.

Company News: Aleva Neurotherapeutics Closes EUR 9.5 Million Series A Financing Round

– Novel Products for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to Be Advanced Into the Clinic –

Aleva Neurotherapeutics, a company developing next-generation implants for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in major neurological indications such as Parkinson´s disease or depression, today announced the closing of a Series A financing round totaling EUR 9.5 million. Aleva was founded in 2008 as a spin-off from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Microsystems Laboratory.

The round was funded by a group of seasoned industry specialists and co-led by BioMedInvest AG (managed by BioMedPartners AG, Basel, Switzerland) and BB BIOTECH VENTURES III, L.P. (advised by Bellevue Asset Management AG, Kuesnacht, Switzerland). Initiative Capital Romandie (Lausanne, Switzerland) and renowned private investors also participated in the financing.

The proceeds will be used to support the development of Aleva’s pioneering product pipeline for neurostimulation, which is based on the company’s proprietary microDBS™ technology. microDBS™ is a next-generation technology addressing Deep Brain Stimulation therapy, currently a US$ 450 million market with strong double-digit growth rates.

Aleva’s microDBS™ technology for target-specific stimulation has been developed to significantly reduce the side effects and potential complications as well as the costs of DBS therapy. Moreover, its features allow for expanding the existing DBS market to new indications which cannot be addressed by currently available technologies.

The company is developing three products based on its microDBS™ technology: directSTIM™, an intelligent electrode compatible with existing DBS platforms; spiderSTIM™, a full solution for both intra-surgical and long-term therapeutic use; and the cortiSTIM™ device for cortical stimulation. All products will be compatible with marketed pulse generators. Clinical trials of the lead product, directSTIM™, are scheduled to start later this year.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-up

Die Welt this week reports on attempts by researchers from the University of Heidelberg to grow a human heart as a replacement organ. As a matrix, they plan to use the collagen structure of a pig’s heart depleted by all its cells. The structure will be incubated in a bioreactor with the cells of the patient who needs a new heart.

How damaged arteries or wounded skin may be regenerated by a new method, which will be available soon, is described by Wendy Zukermann in New Scientist. The trick is done by turning tropoelastin, a precursor of elastin found in skin and blood vessels, into a flexible fabric by electrospinning. The technology will now be further explored with support by Australian biotech company Elastagen.

Novel insights into how tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC,  exerts its mind-altering and pain-relieving effects revealed that THC binds to different molecular targets on cells to produce the to effects. As Andy Cochlan describes in New Scientist, the pain-relieving effect is caused by THC binding to glycine-receptors, increasing their activity. The typical “high” in contrast is caused by THC binding to the cannabinoid type-1 receptor (CB1). As a result, it may now be possible to create new pain killers.

In the same magazine, Mark Buchanan features a computer model of neural networks supporting the idea that the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by excessive uncontrolled synchronization of neurons. This makes it more difficult for the brain to end a task or begin a new one. In healthy brains, neurons fire synchronously only in a brief and controlled way.

Gina Kolata in the New York Times features two new, large gene association studies on Alzheimer’s disease that led to the discovery of five novel genes involved in the disease, making onset more likely and/or influencing disease progression. The studies, which are to appear today in Nature Genetics, confirm already existing hypotheses that the onset of AD is linked to inflammatory processes in the brain as well as to blood cholesterol levels.

The Economist introduces a powerful new battery suitable for cars that can be recharged completely in minutes. It is based on Nickel and charging rates are ten to 100 times higher than that of marketed battery. However, the development is still at a very early stage.

Much more advanced is a revolutionary car battery developed by German DBM Energy. The lithium polymer based battery enabled an electrically powered Audi A2 last autumn to drive 600 km from Munich to Berlin without recharging and has now been meticulously tested by the Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM). Jürgen Rees in Wirtschaftswoche reports that  BAM found the battery to be safe and confirmed the extraordinary cruising range. In the BAM tests, the car drove more than 450 kilometers on a single charge. Media reports had cast doubt about the features and performance of the battery after the test car was destroyed by a fire shortly after the record drive last year.

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