This week we learned about a robot surgeon that successfully operated on a live pig for the first time, genetically engineered immune cells that sent into remission 93 percent of patients with advanced leukemia involved in a medical trial and fat-seeking nanoparticles loaded with medicine that can help doctors fight obesity. Take a look.
Surgeons at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., used a robot to stitch up a piglet and complete what might be the first robotic surgery. Besides having robotic arms that can suture cuts, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) can see in 3D, sense force and find a location with “submillimeter” precision. “Inspired by the best human surgical practices, a computer program generates a plan to complete complex surgical tasks on deformable soft tissue, such as suturing and intestinal anastomosis,” the team wrote in a paper published in the journal Science. The team reported that “no complications were observed in the postsurgery follow-up of 7 days.” They wrote: “The operating room may someday be run by robots, with surgeons overseeing their moves.”
Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, using genetically modified cells to cure patients suffering from an advanced type of leukemia, achieved a stunning success when 93 percent of them went into remission after treatment. For this type of immunotherapy, doctors first remove each patient’s disease-fighting T cells, then reengineer them so they recognize the cancer, multiply them in a bioreactor and pump them back into the patient’s body. The team reported that 27 of the 29 patients in trial with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which had proved resistant to multiple other forms of therapy, went into remission after treatment. “A few weeks after the infusion, a high-sensitivity test could detect no trace of their cancer in their bone marrow,” the team reported. “This is just the beginning,” said study leader Dr. Cameron Turtle. “It sounds fantastic to say that we get over 90 percent remissions, but there’s so much more work to do [to] make sure they’re durable remissions, to work out who’s going to benefit the most, and extend this work to other diseases.”
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have engineered tiny missiles that can deliver anti-obesity drugs to fat tissue. The team injected the medicine-laden nanoparticles into overweight mice. The particles then targeted fat-storing cells and converted them into a fat-burning variety. The scientists reported that the mice lost 10 percent of their body weight over 25 days, without showing any negative side effects. “This is a proof-of-concept approach for selectively targeting the white adipose tissue and ‘browning it’ to allow the body to burn fat,” said Omid Farokhzad, director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at Brigham and a senior author of the study. “The technology could then be used with other drug molecules that may be developed or other targets that may come up.” The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Engineers at the Technical University in Vienna, Austria, have proposed building a football-field-long floating platform that doubles as a solar power plant. The team says the lightweight design, called Heliofloat, uses barrels made from a soft, flexible material that floats on water. The team says it can be used to “build platforms spanning one hundred meters long which remain steady and firmly in place — even in rough sea weather.”
The gene-editing tool CRISPR pulled off impressive feats recently and showed its disease-fighting promise. But it’s not invincible. According to a story in the journal Nature, an HIV virus attacked with CRISPR to make it harmless was able to recover and possibly emerge stronger. “The very act of editing — involving snipping at the virus’s genome — may introduce mutations that help it to resist attack,” the journal reported.