Tech Universe: Wednesday 17 April

By Miraz Jordan

Nanosponges could help removed the venom found in the blood stream after a snake bite. Photo / Thinkstock
Nanosponges could help removed the venom found in the blood stream after a snake bite. Photo / Thinkstock

ANY OLD BITE: Snake bites, bee stings and many other things can fill your blood with venom. So how can that venom be removed? The answer may lie in a nanosponge invented by researchers at the University of California. The nanosponges are made of a biocompatible polymer core wrapped in a natural red blood cell membrane. In tests with mice the nanosponges lowered mortality rates to around a half or even a tenth, depending on when the nanoparticles were injected. This means the nanosponges could be used as a generic therapy for toxins, rather than the current method of using specific remedies for specific bites and stings. Perhaps that could eventually mean an over the counter kit travellers could carry for emergency use.

VISIBLE BRAIN: Researchers have problems studying the brain because they simply can't see through the lipids or fats that surround each cell. Instead they have to slice a brain into sheets only a fraction of a millimetre thick and study each sheet separately.

In the process they may sever vital connections or introduce deformities. A new technique from Stanford University called Clarity uses a hydrogel to replace the lipids that hold everything in place. The result is a brain that is transparent to light and permeable to molecules that can act as markers. Researchers can now study the brain or in fact any organ much more easily. It's just a pity techniques like these can't be used on live brains. io9. Video:

LIT UP BRAIN: US researchers used tiny devices containing LEDs the size of individual neurons to activate brain cells in mice. The LEDs caused the mouse brains to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure. The LEDs, thinner than a human hair, were housed in a fibre implanted deep into the brain, so the mice were free to run around, go through a maze or run on a wheel. The researchers used the LEDs to reward the mice for specific behaviours. The devices may be used in future to learn more about the brain or perhaps for pain control. And eventually, we'd guess, may end up in the same markets as illegal substances.

LIGHT WORK: More than 19% of the world's electricity consumption is accounted for by lighting. A prototype tube LED from Phillips could bring huge savings of both money and electricity because at 200 lumens per watt it's twice as efficient as lights currently used in offices and industry. Philips expects the light to go on the market in 2015. Save even more by installing windows and skylights too. BBC.

KIDNEY EXCHANGE: People whose kidneys fail may need to wait a very long time for a donor organ. A team at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston achieved a breakthrough in growing a new functioning kidney for a rat. They used a collagen scaffold made from healthy rat kidneys and a wash of human stem cells in a bath of oxygen and nutrients. The kidneys grew and were shown to function in a rat, although only at 10% efficiency. This approach could eventually lead to human kidneys being grown from a recipient's own stem cells, based on kidneys from a pig. Which would change a great many lives, if it's ever actually achieved. New Scientist.

Miraz Jordan,

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