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Robot jaws to test drug delivery; 3D-printed heart; brain cancer gene

This is a recurring column on early-stage research in animals or other laboratory models that has not entered the clinic yet but could have implications for future research and development of human medicines.

Robot jaws offer hope for new drug delivery method

Researchers have been hoping to test the delivery of drugs via medicated chewing gums, but carrying out preliminary studies before moving on to clinical trials with human subjects has always been a challenge.

SNL ImageRobots offer a way for scientists to test medicated chewing gums.

Scientists at the University of Bristol have come up with a potential solution: a humanoid chewing robot. The aim of the study was to confirm whether a humanoid chewing robot could be used to assess medicated chewing gum.

The robot's built-in humanoid jaws created an artificial oral environment that closely mimics what is found in humans, and the study showed the robot was capable of replicating the human chewing motion in a closed environment.

The chewing robot's release rate of xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in chewing gum, was similar to that seen in human participants.

Researchers collected human saliva and artificial saliva and studied the xylitol that remained in gums. Both the robot and human participants released the highest level of xylitol in the first 5 minutes of chewing and very little xylitol remained in the chewing gum after 20 minutes.

These findings may allow scientists to test medicated chewing gums on chewing robots in the future.

"The chewing robot gives pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to investigate medicated chewing gum, with reduced patient exposure and lower costs using this new method," said Kazem Alemzadeh, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol, who also led the research.

"This research, utilizing a novel humanoid artificial oral environment, has the potential to revolutionise investigation into oral drug release and delivery," added Nicola West, professor in restorative dentistry at the Bristol Dental School and co-author of the study.

The research was published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

3D printing to study the heart

SNL Image
The 3D-printed heart could allow scientists to track movements at the cell and molecular level.
Source: Pixabay

Researchers at the University of Minnesota used 3D printing to create a functioning human heart pump in the laboratory, which has the potential to be used for heart disease studies and drug trials in the future.

They first combined human stem cells with specialized ink made with certain proteins, and used 3D printers to print a three-dimensional chambered structure of the heart.

These stem cells, which have the ability to develop into different types of cells in the body, were then expanded in the chambered structure to reach high cell densities.

Once that was achieved, these cells were reprogrammed into heart muscle cells, enabling the 3D model to start beating like a human heart.

Traditionally, the stem cells were reprogrammed into heart muscle cells before printing them in the chambered structure, but the cells failed to reach high density in order for the heart to function.

Brenda Ogle, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, said the printed heart could allow scientists to measure how a heart moves blood within the body and track changes at the cell and molecular level.

"We can introduce disease and damage into the model and then study the effects of medicines and other therapeutics,” he said.

The research, primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health, appeared in Circulation Research, a publication of the American Heart Association.

Gene causing glioblastoma identified

Researchers at the University of Virginia found the AVIL gene may be responsible for a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

So far there is no effective therapy for the disease, which is nearly always fatal. The current standard of care a combination of radiation and cancer drug temozolomide — can only extend a patient's life by about two and a half months.

AVIL normally helps cells maintain their size and shape. However, various factors can cause the gene to overreact, which leads to the formation and spread of cancer cells.

SNL ImageBlocking the activity of the AVIL gene helped to destroy glioblastoma cells in mice.
Source: Stockvault

Blocking the activity of AVIL managed to destroy glioblastoma cells in mice without affecting healthy cells, according to the study published July 10 in Nature Communications.

The gene is also found overly expressed in all glioblastoma cells but hardly seen in normal cells and tissues, according to Hui Li, a researcher from the University of Virginia, adding that high AVIL expression also correlates with poor patient outcomes.

"The novel oncogene we discovered promises to be an Achilles' heel of glioblastoma, with its specific targeting potentially an effective approach for the treatment of the disease," he said.

An oncogene refers to a cancer-causing gene.