Research Report: Nanofibers sense toxic fumes

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

By Lynne Friedmann

First responders protect themselves from toxic fumes by breathing through respirators equipped with activated charcoal filters. As filters become saturated, however, toxic chemicals pass through eventually rendering the protection useless. Currently there is no easy way to determine when a filter is spent.

A team of researchers from UCSD and Tyco Electronics in Menlo Park has developed carbon nanostructures with the same chemical properties as activated charcoal to absorb organic pollutants. The difference is the nanofibers — arranged into iridescent photonic crystals — reflect specific light wavelengths, changing color as they absorb toxins. This could lead to new sensors that provide accurate readings of how much toxic material a respirator’s filter has absorbed.

The research is described in the journal Advanced Materials. News release at

Fighting multiple sclerosis

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed the first of a new class of compounds that suppresses the severity of multiple sclerosis in animal models.

Researchers focused on a pair of “orphan nuclear receptors” (receptors with no known natural binding partner) involved in both autoimmune and metabolic diseases. These receptors play a role in the development of TH17 cells, a newly discovered subset of T helper cells. TH17 cells have been implicated in numerous autoimmune diseases, including MS.

The study compound selectively targets Th17 cells; eliminating the cell signals and effectively eliminating MS in animal models. Because the new compound blocks only the actions of a specific cell type, it avoids many of the side effects of current therapies that suppress a patient’s entire immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infection and other complications. The study appears in the journal Nature. News release at

Slowing vision loss

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes cells in the macula — the part of the eye that allows us to see in fine detail — to die and is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans age 60 and older.

Now, a phase 2 clinical trial for the treatment of a severe form of AMD has become the first study to show the benefit of a therapy to slow the progression of vision loss for this disease.

The multi-center research team, including the UCSD Shiley Eye Center, found that long-term delivery of ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) — a protein that effects cellular function and serves as a “neuroprotective” agent that stops cell death or can rescue photoreceptors on their way to dying — re-nourished the retina and stopped or slowed the loss of visual acuity.

Delivery was via encapsulated cell therapy (ECT) — implanted in the back of the study subject’s eye — containing genetically engineered cells to continuously produce CNTF over a 12-month period. The implant allows the CNTF molecules to diffuse into the eye tissue, while keeping out antibodies and immune cells that would attack and destroy the CNTF-producing cells.

The results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). News release at

Related posts:

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  3. Research Report: Study may help in studying atmosphere
  4. Research Report: Stress signal in cancer cells aids tumor growth
  5. Research Report: Nanoparticles improve survival after blood loss

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Posted by Staff on May 4, 2011. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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