The 2013 Virtual Conference is now online. All of the presentations made during the Annual Plenary Meeting are available in streaming video and powerpoint format, all the posters and the prize winning videos are also available.
Under the skin, a tiny laboratory
The Nano-Tera project i-IronIC, led by Prof. Giovanni De Micheli, EPFL, has led to the developement of a tiny, portable personal blood testing laboratory: a minuscule device implanted just under the skin provides an immediate analysis of substances in the body, and a radio module transmits the results to a doctor over the cellular phone network. This feat of miniaturization has many potential applications, including monitoring patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Humans are veritable chemical factories - we manufacture thousands of substances and transport them, via our blood, throughout our bodies. Some of these substances can be used as indicators of our health status. A team of EPFL scientists has developed a tiny device that can analyze the concentration of these substances in the blood. Implanted just beneath the skin, it can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously, and then transmit the results directly to a doctor's computer. This method will allow a much more personalized level of care than traditional blood tests can provide. Health care providers will be better able to monitor patients, particularly those with chronic illness or those undergoing chemotherapy. The prototype, still in the experimental stages, has demonstrated that it can reliably detect several commonly traced substances. The research results will be published and presented March 20, 2013 in Europe's largest electronics conference, DATE 13.
A dozen cubic millimeters of technology
The device was developed by a team led by EPFL scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara. The implant, a real gem of concentrated technology, is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but includes five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient's skin - thus there's no need to operate every time the battery needs changing.
Information is routed through a series of stages, from the patient's body to the doctor's computer screen. The implant emits radio waves over a safe frequency. The patch collects the data and transmits them via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which then sends them to the doctor over the cellular network.
A system that can detect numerous substances
Great care was taken in developing the sensors. To capture the targeted substance in the body - such as lactate, glucose, or ATP - each sensor's surface is covered with an enzyme. "Potentially, we could detect just about anything," explains De Micheli. "But the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible." The enzymes currently being tested are good for about a month and a half; that's already long enough for many applications. "In addition, it's very easy to remove and replace the implant, since it's so small."
The electronics were a considerable challenge as well. "It was not easy to get a system like this to work on just a tenth of a watt," de Micheli explains. The researchers also struggled to design the minuscule electrical coil that receives the power from the patch.
Towards personalized chemotherapy
The implant could be particularly useful in chemotherapy applications. Currently, oncologists use occasional blood tests to evaluate their patients' tolerance to a particular treatment dosage. In these conditions, it is very difficult to administer the optimal dose. De Micheli is convinced his system will be an important step towards better, more personalized medicine. "It will allow direct and continuous monitoring based on a patient's individual tolerance, and not on age and weight charts or weekly blood tests."
In patients with chronic illness, the implants could send alerts even before symptoms emerge, and anticipate the need for medication. "In a general sense, our system has enormous potential in cases where the evolution of a pathology needs to be monitored or the tolerance to a treatment tested."
The prototype has already been tested in the laboratory for five different substances, and proved as reliable as traditional analysis methods. The project brought together eletronics experts, computer scientists, doctors and biologists from EPFL, the Istituto di Ricerca di Bellinzona, EMPA and ETHZ. Researchers hope the system will be commercially available within 4 years.
Malignant melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer. In more than 50 percent of affected patients a particular mutation plays an important role. As the life span of the patients carrying the mutation can be significantly extended by novel drugs, it is very important to identify those reliably. For identification, researchers from the University of Basel and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Lausanne have developed a novel method, as they report in the renowned journal "Nature Nanotechnology".
In Switzerland, every year about 2100 persons are affected by malignant melanoma, which makes it one of the most frequent tumors. While early detected the prospects of recovery are very good, in contrast at later stages the chances of survival are reduced drastically.
In the past few years, several novel drugs have been developed that take advantage of the presence of particular genetic mutations related to fast cell growth in tissue. In case of melanoma, the so-called BRAF gene is of importance, which leads in its mutated state to uncontrolled cell growth. Since only about 50 percent of patients with malignant melanoma show this mutation, it is important to identify those patients who respond to the novel therapy. Taking into account the negative side effects of the drug, it would not be appropriate to apply the drug to all patients.
Diagnosis involving molecular interaction
The teams of Prof. Christoph Gerber from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute of the University of Basel and Dr. Donata Rimoldi from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Lausanne have recently developed a novel diagnostic method that analyzes the ribonucleic acid (RNA) of cancer cells using nanomechanical sensors, i.e. microscopically small cantilevers. Thus, healthy cells can be distinguished from cancer cells. In contrast to other methods, the cantilever approach is so sensitive that neither DNA needs to be amplified nor labeled.
The method is based on binding of molecules to the top surface of a cantilever and the related change in surface stress. For this purpose the cantilevers are first coated with a layer of DNA molecules which can bind mutated RNA from cells. The binding process deflects the cantilever. The bending is measured using a laser beam. The molecular interaction must take place very close to the cantilever surface to produce a signal.
Detection of other types of cancer
In experiments the researchers could show that cells carrying this genetic mutation can be distinguished from others lacking the mutation. RNA of cells from a cell culture was tested in concentrations similar to those in tissue samples. Since the researchers could detect the mutation in RNA stemming from different cell lines, the method actually works independent of the origin of samples.
Dr. François Huber, first author of the publication, explains: "The technique can also be applied to other types of cancer that depend on mutations in individual genes, for example in gastrointestinal tumors and lung cancer. This shows the wide application potential in cancer diagnostics and personalized health care." Co-author Dr. Donata Rimoldi adds: "Only the interdisciplinary approach in medicine, biology and physics allows to apply novel nanotechnology methods in medicine for the benefit of patients."
The work was supported by the NanoTera project "Probe Array Technology for Life Science Applications" of the Swiss National Science Foundation, by the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the Cleven foundation and the microfabrication division of IBM Research in Rüschlikon.
François Huber, Hans Peter Lang, Natalija Backmann, Donata Rimoldi, Christoph Gerber
Direct detection of a BRAF mutation in total RNA from melanoma cells using cantilever arrays Nature Nanotechnology (2013); Published online 3 February 2013 | doi 10.1038/NNANO.2012.263
Top figure: Nanosensor: Eight cantilevers of 500 μm in length are applied for detection of the genetic mutation.
Bottom figure: Schematic of the method: When the mutated RNA molecules (green) bind to DNA molecules (red), the cantilever will bend. The deflection is measured using a laser.
Calls for Proposals 2011 and 2012 - Medicine and Energy come to the fore
Giovanni De Micheli, Program Leader of Nano-Tera, has been awarded the 2012 Mac Van Valkenburg Award for sustained contributions to theory, practice and experimentation on design methods and tools for integrated circuits, systems and networks.
The Mac Van Valkenburg Award is the highest honor given by the IEEE Circuit and Systems Society to one of its members. It honors an individual for outstanding technical contributions and distinguishable leadership in a field within the scope of CAS Society.
The Swiss Finals which were held on May 22 in parallel with the Swiss NanoConvention (see opposite), was won by Edwin Dornbierer from ETHZ and Andres Heldstab from NTB Buchs. With their project “Beat Tracker”, the team constructed a device that calculates the rhythm of one's movement using a 3D accelerometer and 3D gyroscope, then transmits this information to a smart phone which in turns plays a corresponding song with an appropriately matching rhythm.
A demonstration was conducted using walking, jogging and running movements, as well as using a stationery bike.
Nano-Tera.ch was prominently featured at the Swiss Nano Convention which was held on May 22-24 in Lausanne. It was present with a booth and praised by EPFL Vice-President for Academic Affairs Philippe Gillet during his introductory remarks.
The Swiss NanoConvention 2012 brought together Swiss and international leaders from science and industry in the field of «nano», key figures in innovation and technology, entrepreneurs, investors, administrators and politicians. Key topics included Nano for Energy, Life sciences, Computer sciences and Consumer products. Another focus was the potential risks associated with free nanoparticles, and how society sees and handles these issues.
Registration is open for Swiss e-Print, 1-2 December 2011
Aimed at anyone interested in printing technologies, printed electronics, associated tools and functional materials/inks, this conference includes an impressive list of experts invited to give presentations on the status and trends in the field.
Registration is now open and participants are kindly invited to present their activities by submitting a poster, the deadline for abstracts submission is the 1st of November.