Dear Bloggers,  We’re in Camden, Maine for the annual PopTech conference we go to each year.  Below, are some photos of Camden, which looks exactly the same each year.  Will post articles on the Blog from Maine, and be back at Target Health Inc. next week.

Joyce Hays

 

Camden, ME

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Downtown Camden consists primarily of two main streets, both lined with stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

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Camden, ME – The harbor is home to numerous sailboats (plus a few schooners) that take guests on excursions around the harbor. The annual Windjammer Weekend in September claims to be the largest gathering of windjammers in the world.

(Photos by T.S. Amarasiriwardena/Boston.com staff)

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Camden, ME – Just to the north of Camden, Camden Hills State Park is well worth a stop. Take the auto road to the top of the hill and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the town, harbor, and the surrounding forests, including the distant peaks of Acadia National Park.

(Photos by T.S. Amarasiriwardena/Boston.com staff)

 

Hartford, ME

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By cantonme

Posted by Chris Jablonski

GoogleNews.com, ZDNet.com, October 20, 2009  —  Implantable organ and tissue “scaffolds” are currently in the spotlight for regenerative medicine, and may allow for the replacement of most body parts that flounder with age within 30-50 years, according to a report from BBC.

That means future centenarians born today could have a “physical” age of 50 at a calendar age of 100.

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A “scaffolding” technique developed at Leeds University allows for transplantable tissues, and eventually organs, that the body can make its own. Once the scaffold has been transplanted, the body takes over and repopulates it with cells without any fear of rejection – the main reason why normal transplants wear out and fail .

Using this technique, a research team at Leeds has managed to make fully functioning heart valves, which involves taking a healthy donor heart valve – from a human or a suitable animal, such as a pig – and gently stripping away its cells using a cocktail of enzymes and detergents. The inert scaffold left can be transplanted into the patient, writes the BBC.  According to Eileen Ingha, a professor at the university’s Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, trials in animals and on 40 patients in Brazil have shown promising results.

Across the continent, another approach to scaffolding is underway at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. There, professor Meital Zilberman has developed an artificial biologically active scaffold made from soluble fibers, which may help humans replace lost or missing bone.

Her flexible scaffolding connects tissues together as it releases growth-stimulating drugs to the place where new bone or tissue is needed – like the scaffolding that surrounds an existing building when additions to that building are made.

“The bioactive agents that spur bone and tissue to regenerate are available to us. The problem is that no technology has been able to effectively deliver them to the tissue surrounding that missing bone,” says Zilberman.

The invention could be used to restore missing bone in a limb lost in an accident, or repair receded jawbones necessary to secure dental implants, says Zilberman. (Recently, Columbia University researchers used adult stem cells to create a jaw bone.) The scaffold can be shaped so the bone will grow into the proper form. After a period of time, the fibers can be programmed to dissolve, leaving no trace.

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Composite drug-releasing fibers used as basic elements of scaffolding for tissue and bone regeneration. (Credit: AFTAU)

“The fibers not only support body parts like bones and arteries. They’re also specially developed to release drugs and proteins in a controlled manner. Our special 3-D matrix can hold together drugs that are particularly vulnerable to breaking down easily. The matrix gives the body shape and form, coaxing it to re-grow and strengthen missing parts,” she says.

According to Zilberman, until now in vitro results on bone have been good, and some basic unpublished results from animal models have shown excellent promise for bone regeneration. “It sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s quite difficult to develop a process for scaffold formation for bone growth. It’s a delicate balance to apply only mild conditions that will not destroy the activity of the growth factor molecules,” she says.

With more research, Zilberman says, it could also serve as the basic technology for regenerating other types of human tissues, including muscle, arteries, and skin.

Posted by Chris Jablonski                                  

DNet.com, October 20, 2009  —  A cross-national team of researchers have developed a technique to replicate biological structures, such as butterfly wings, on a nano-scale.

The new bio-material could be used to make optical devices, such as optical diffusers for solar panels or coverings that maximize solar cell light absorption.

Researchers from the State University of Pennsylvania and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), Spain developed a fabrication technique to develop wings at the nano-scale level that could replicate the optical responses of butterfly wings. The replicas contain light emitting properties similar to those of insects, mimicking the colors, iridescence (the ability to change colors depending on the angle) and the metallic appearance which is visible with a changing viewing angle.

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A section of a butterfly wing under a microscope (Credit: The Pennsylvania State University/ SINC)

According to the researchers, they fabricated the butterfly wing by using a coating made of compounds based on Germanium, Selenium and Stibium (GeSeSb) and a technique called Conformal-Evaporated-Film-by-Rotation (CEFR), which combines thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber.

Key to the process was the use of a bio-template, which was an actual butterfly wing. After it was coated with the GeSeSb material, they had to immerse the wing in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin ( a substance typically found in the exoskeleton of insects and other arthropods). The free-standing replica left behind was undamaged by the dissolution process.

Until now, the methods used to replicate bio structures are very limited when it comes to obtaining effective copies on a nanometric scale, say the researchers.  Citing that they often damage the original biostructure because they are used in corrosive atmospheres or at high temperatures. “The new technique ‘totally’ overcomes these problems, as it is employed at room temperature and does not require the use of toxic substances,” they said.

The scientists have presented their findings in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, and their paper, “Fabrication of free-standing replicas of fragile, laminar, chitinous biotemplates”, can be downloaded here (PDF, 418KB).

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(Credit: Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Raul J Martin-Palma, Michael A Motyka and Carlo G Pantano)

The image to the right shows the uncoated wing (left), a coated wing (middle) and a free-standing replica (right). The coating and, therefore, the replica are made of GeSbSe chalcogenide glass. (Unfortunately, a fraction of the replica partially broke off and curled up during handling, the researchers said.)

The practical applications of the discovery are wide-ranging. In addition to optical devices, the technique can be used to replicate other biological structures, such as beetle shells or the compound eyes of flies, bees and wasps, said Raúl J. Martín-Palma, a lecturer at the Department of Applied Physics of the UAM and co-author of the study.

According to Martín-Palma, the compound eyes of certain insects are sound candidates for a large number of applications as they provide great angular vision. “The development of miniature cameras and optical sensors based on these organs would make it possible for them to be installed in small spaces in cars, mobile telephones and displays, apart from having uses in areas such as medicine (the development of endoscopes) and security (surveillance),” he said.

New technique described as a Band-Aid for damaged muscle

GoogleNews.com, October 21, 2009, by Ed Edelson, (HealthDay News) — Researchers report a major step toward the goal of literally rebuilding a broken heart — creating a strip of working heart muscle in the laboratory by using a newly identified human cardiac master stem cell.

“This work moves us closer to heart stem cell therapy,” said Dr. Kenneth Chien, director of the Massachusetts General Center for Cardiovascular Research, a member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and leader of a group reporting the work online Oct. 15 in Science.

That therapy, he said, would be “almost like slapping a Band-Aid on the heart.”

One possibility is that a thin layer of muscle cells of the ventricles, the heart chambers that pump blood to the body, would be placed over the area of tissue damaged by a heart attack, where it would expand and grow into working heart muscle. Another is that the cells would be injected into the damaged area, with the hope that they would grow to form healthy new tissue.

“For doing this in animals, I anticipate being able to do some version of this in the coming year,” Chien said. “Talking clinically, I believe that in five years or so the groundwork would be laid for very early clinical studies to deliver these cells to humans.”

A key discovery was identifying the specific stem cells used to produce the strip of heart muscle, Chien said. Those cells were identified in humans just two months ago, the latest step in a series of discoveries, first in mice and then in humans, that, among other things, determined that a completely different stem cells gives rise to the left side of the heart, where most disease occurs, he said.

Once those cells were identified, a technique developed in the laboratory of Kevin Kit Parker, an associate professor of applied science at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was used to grow the strip of heart muscle.

The cells are grown on a thin layer of polymer film, he said, with the same technology used to form the microelectronic components found in cell phones and other advanced gadgets.

“We squeeze the cells onto a circuit, and they reorganize themselves spontaneously to form a piece of cardiac tissue,” Parker said. The dimensions of the piece of created heart muscle tissue are controlled by limiting the space within which they are allowed to grow, he said.

“Then we can graft the tissue into the heart where ventricular muscle has died and restore contractibility in that area of the heart,” he said.

Chien said that other questions would have to be answered before the stem cell technology could be put to medical use — such as how to create an appropriate blood supply for the grafted heart muscle tissue.

“What we would like to do now is find new ways to deliver a heart patch that is three-dimensional,” Chien said. His overall assessment was that “this is a first step toward moving from stem cell research in humans to cardiac regenerative medicine.”

The Harvard report was called “a solid piece of scientific work” but hardly revolutionary by Dr. Eduardo Marban, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. “Its implications for clinical practice are limited,” he said.

The Harvard researchers have simply added details to the well-established principle that embryonic stem cells differentiate into heart muscle cells, Marban said. He described the prediction of human trials within five years as “wildly optimistic.”

Marban is leading a human trial of cardiac stem cell therapy in people who have suffered heart attacks. The study has enrolled 10 participants, with a goal of 30 getting treatment with stem cells that are obtained from their own bodies and injected into a coronary artery. First results of the study are expected in the second half of 2010, he said.

“The usual progression of these things is from in vitro [laboratory] work, then small animal models using human cells, then to larger animals, such as pigs,” Marban said. “It took us five years to a first human trial, and that was a wildly aggressive schedule. Ten years for them would be a remarkable achievement.”

Posted by Chris Jablonski

New research from the University of Southampton has demonstrated that it is possible for communication from person to person through the power of thought alone.

ZDNet.com, October 20, 2009  —  Looking to take brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to the next level, Dr. Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, set out to show that brain-to-brain (B2B) communication is possible. Utilizing electrodes, computers, and the internet, he claims that his experiment is a “proof of concept” that shows, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing.

Dr James noted: “Whilst BCI is no longer a new thing and person to person communication via the nervous system was shown previously in work by Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading, here we show, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing. We have yet to grasp the full implications of this but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called ‘locked-in’ syndrome, to communicate and it also has applications for gaming.”

Below is a three and a half-minute video detailing the BCI experiment:

In his experiment, James had one person using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the internet to another person whose computer receives the digits and transmits them to the second user’s brain through flashing an LED lamp. A news release from the university’s media centre explains the rest:

“While attached to an EEG amplifier, the first person would generate and transmit a series of binary digits, imagining moving their left arm for zero and their right arm for one. The second person was also attached to an EEG amplifier and their PC would pick up the stream of binary digits and flash an LED lamp at two different frequencies, one for zero and the other one for one. The pattern of the flashing LEDs is too subtle to be picked by the second person, but it is picked up by electrodes measuring the visual cortex of the recipient.

“The encoded information is then extracted from the brain activity of the second user and the PC can decipher whether a zero or a one was transmitted. This shows true brain-to-brain activity.”