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Iranians New Sci-Tech Achievements

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

*Thanks to Iran’s Kazerooni: Paralyzed Student Walks Again

Austin Whitney is walking proof that dreams do come true. Paralyzed from the waist down since a 2007 driving accident, he had worked hard to graduate on time--and with honors--from the University of California at Berkeley, CNN reported.

That was reason enough to celebrate. But nothing compared to how he accepted his diploma on Saturday.

Pressing a button on his walker, Whitney rose to his feet. Then, with the flick of a switch, his legs moved across the stage at his commencement.

The journey lasted seven steps. Halfway through, he glanced over to the crowd and saw 15,000 people cheering in a standing ovation.

“It really was beyond my wildest dreams,” Whitney said Sunday night. “I’m still decompressing ... it really was overwhelming.”

Whitney was able to move thanks to an ‘exoskeleton’ designed by Iran-born Berkeley mechanical engineering professor, Homayoon Kazerooni, and his group of mostly graduate students.

In a way, the dream first took root in 2000, when Kazerooni’s team got a grant from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency to make something to allow people to carry heavy loads, according to Berkeley’s Media Relations Department.

The idea was to allow people to trek across rugged or remote terrain for extended periods, such as when firefighters trudge up stairs.

Four years later, that culminated with the creation of BLEEX--the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton. The contraption, with a backpack frame, is connected to a person’s legs, using its own power source to move them without putting undue stress on the muscles of the human attached to it.

“We’ve designed this system to be ergonomic, highly maneuverable and technically robust, so the wearer can walk, squat, bend and swing from side to side without noticeable reductions in agility,” Kazerooni said in a Berkeley press release at the time.

The professor said he envisioned bigger plans for his exoskeleton--helping a person who cannot walk be able to.

While Kazerooni was perfecting his device, Whitney was a star student at St.

Margaret’s High School in San Juan Capastrano, California. There, he participated in sports and acted in plays. On July 21, 2007 Whitney got in a horrific crash.

He suffered a broken back and his spinal cord was instantly severed--leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Whitney met the professor last year after a friend from wheelchair basketball told him about Kazerooni’s project. Whitney called Kazerooni who invited him to his lab.

He became an integral part of the research team, which named the specially-designed exoskeleton ‘Austin’ in honor of its first test subject.

Because others in the lab don’t have paralysis, “there’s a lot of things they don’t anticipate”, Whitney said. “Once I test the system, I give them feedback. It’s a very active role.”

Whitney said the exoskeleton isn’t designed to replace the wheelchair, as it doesn’t have the same amount of speed, agility and maneuverability.

*IFAC Awards Iranian Researcher

An Iranian researcher won the prize of the 18th International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) World Congress for his article titled “Multi-Objective Evolutionary Optimization of Polynomial Neural Networks for Modeling and Prediction of Explosive Cutting Process.”

Nader Nariman-Zadeh, a member of Department of Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Faculty of Gilan University, will receive his prize in September 2011, ISNA reported.

In his paper, evolutionary algorithms (EAs) are used for the multi-objective pareto optimal design of group method of data handling (GMDH)-type neural networks that have been used for modeling an explosive cutting process using some input-output experimental data.

The important conflicting objectives of GMDH-type neural networks that are considered in this work are training error (TE), prediction error (PE) and number of neurons (N) of such neural networks.

Different pairs of theses objective functions are selected for two-objective optimization processes. Therefore, optimal pareto fronts of such models are obtained in each case, which exhibit the tradeoff between the corresponding pair of conflicting objectives and provide different non-dominated optimal choices of GMDH-type neural networks models for explosive cutting process.

The overlay graphs of these pareto fronts also reveal that the three-objective results include those of the two-objective results and, thus, provide more optimal choices for the multi-objective design of GMDH-type neural networks in terms of minimum training error, minimum prediction error, and minimum complexity.

IFAC, founded in September 1957, is a multinational federation of national member organizations, each one representing the engineering and scientific societies concerned with automatic control in its own country.

The aim of the federation is to promote the science and technology of control in the broadest sense in all systems whether, for example, engineering, physical, biological, social or economic, in both theory and application.

IFAC is also concerned with the impact of control technology on society. It pursues its purpose by organizing technical meetings, by publications, and by any other means consistent with its constitution and which will enhance the interchange and circulation of information on automatic control activities.

International World Congresses are held every three years. Between congresses, IFAC sponsors many symposia, conferences and workshops covering particular aspects of automatic control.

The 18th World Congress of IFAC will be held in Milan, Italy, in September 2011 half a century after the 1st memorable congress of Moscow held in 1960.

The IFAC World Congress is the forum of excellence for the exploration of the frontiers in control science and technology, attended by a worldwide audience of scientists and engineers from academia and industry. It offers the most up-to-date and complete view of control techniques, with the widest coverage of application fields.

*Iranians Prepare Superior Bone Scaffolds

Researchers at Royan Institute, Iran Polymer and Petrochemical Institute, and Amir Kabir University of Technology took a joint step for the advancement of tissue engineering by combining two state-of-the-art technologies, namely stem cells and nanotechnology.

“The main objective of our research work was to fabricate an optimum osteogenic structure via tissue engineering techniques,” Mohammad Reza Eslaminejad, a researcher with Royan Institute, was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.

“To fulfill such an aim, mesenchymal and scaffold stem cells of nano/micro dimensions were utilized and their effectiveness was investigated.”

Eslaminejad noted that the employed scaffold has to be similar to the extra cellular matrix of the target tissue, hence polylactic acid/nano hydroxyl apatite scaffolds were synthesized.

“The composite of these materials offers the most favorable mechanical properties and provides enhanced osteogenic connections. Thanks to the nanometric dimensions of the applied hydroxyl apatite particles, the obtained scaffold bears a close resemblance to its natural counterpart,” he said.

“Another positive point on this research is the application of mesenchymal stem cells.

Such cells are non-immunogenistic and of interest for their special multiplicative characteristics.”

At the initial stage of the work, the fabricated scaffolds were examined for their structural and mechanical properties. Subsequently, mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow were purified and assessed. The cells were then placed in the scaffolds and their biocompatibilities as well as some other characteristics were studied.

The results indicate the superiority of osteogenic composites made of mesenchymal stem cells and nanostructured scaffolds.

*Iran Makes Synthetic Cornea

Iranian scientists have made synthetic cornea to restore vision to patients suffering from severe corneal disorders and damaged eye stem cells.

The implantation of the newly developed synthetic cornea reduces the risk of immune response in patients, Iranian ophthalmologist Mahmoud Jabbarvand said on the sidelines of the opening of the 17th Farabi Annual Seminar.

Therefore, synthetic cornea is a better option for patients, whose bodies are more likely to reject cadaver corneas and have to take immunosuppressant drugs for a long time to prevent the condition, he was quoted by IRNA as saying.

Jabbarvand added that the new synthetic cornea has fewer side effects and that there is no risk of infection so patients do not have to take antibiotics after the operation.

The Iranian-developed artificial cornea, also called LAC, has also been successfully implanted in five patients with severe cornea cloudiness after its safety was confirmed following tests on animals.

During the procedure, doctors remove the cloudy layer of the cornea and replace it with LAC and there is no need to remove the whole cornea or make an intraocular operation, Jabbarvand said.

The cornea is a five-layer transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber, refracting light. It accounts for approximately two-thirds of the eye's total optical power.

*Iranian Researcher Discovers Congenital Blindness Gene

An Iranian researcher discovers congenital blindness gene NCRNA for the first time in the world.

The discovery has been published in the Nature magazine.

Dr. Noor Mohammad Ghiasvand from Shahid Beheshti Medical University has identified a new mechanism of gene expression in his study of a type of congenital blindness prevalent in a village in Iran’s Northern Khorasan Province.

In Chaharborj village affected newborns are completely blind in spite of having no apparent birth defect.

The researcher says the patients’ eyes have two main clinical defects: retinal detachment which floats inside the eye, and agenesis of optic nerve which cause neural connection loss between one’s eyes and brain so that no light stimulation is transferred from eyes to brain and causes complete blindness.

*Mini Energy Harvester Uses Vibrations

Electrical engineers at the University of Michigan have built a device that can harness energy from vibrations and convert it to electricity with five to ten times greater efficiency and power than other devices in its class. And it’s smaller than a penny.

“In a tiny amount of space, we’ve been able to make a device that generates more power for a given input than anything else out there on the market,” said Khalil Najafi, one of the system’s developers and chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Physorg said.

This new vibration energy harvester is specifically designed to turn the cyclic motions of factory machines into energy to power wireless sensor networks. These sensor networks monitor performance of machines and let operators know about any malfunctions.

The sensors that do this today get their power from a plug or a battery. They’re considered wireless because they can transmit information without wires. “Being tethered to a power source drastically increases their installation and maintenance costs,” said Erkan Aktakka, one of the system’s developers and a doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Long-lasting power is the greatest hurdle to the large-scale use of pervasive information-gathering sensor networks, the researchers say.

“If one were to look at the ongoing life-cycle expenses of operating a wireless sensor, up to 80 percent of the total cost consist solely of installing and maintaining power wires and continuously monitoring, testing and replacing finite-life batteries,” Aktakka said. “Scavenging the energy already present in the environment is an effective solution.”

The researchers have built a complete system that integrates a high-quality energy-harvesting piezoelectric material with the circuitry that makes the power accessible.

Piezoelectric materials allow a charge to build up in them in response to mechanical strain, which in this case would be induced by the machines’ vibrations.

“There are lots of energy sources surrounding us. Lightning has a lot of electricity and power, but it’s not useful,” Najafi said. “To be able to use the energy you harvest, you have to store it in a capacitor or battery. We’ve developed an integrated system with an ultra-capacitor that does not need to start out charged.”

The active part of the harvester that enables the energy conversion occupies just 27 cubic millimeters. The packaged system, which includes the power management circuitry, is the size of a penny. The system has a large bandwidth of 14 Hertz and operates at a vibration frequency of 155 Hertz, similar to the vibration you’d feel if you put your hand on top of a running microwave oven.

“Most of the previous vibration harvesters operated either at very high frequencies or with very narrow bandwidths, and this limited their practical applications outside of a laboratory environment,” Aktakka said.

The new harvester can generate more than 200 microwatts of power when exposed to 1.5-gram vibration amplitude. (1g is the gravitational acceleration that all objects experience by Earth’s gravity.) The harvested energy is processed by an integrated circuitry to charge an ultra-capacitor to 1.85 volts.

In theory, these devices could be left in place for 10 or 20 years without regular maintenance. “They have a limitless shelf time, since they do not require a pre-charged battery or an external power source,” Aktakka said.

A novel silicon micromachining technique allows the engineers to fabricate the harvesters in bulk with a high-quality piezoelectric material, unlike other competing devices.

Aktakka said the market for power sources for wireless sensor networks in industrial settings is expected to reach $450 million by 2015.

“These new devices could have applications in medicine and the auto industry too. They could possibly be used to power medical implants in people or heat sensors on vehicle motors,” Najafi said.

*1st Iranian ISI Journal On Nanotechnology

“Scientia Nanotechnology Journal” published by Iran’s Sharif University of Technology was added to the list of world ISI journals on the “Science Direct” website.

Pursuant to the recent negotiations between Sharif University of Technology and Elsevier Publications, it was decided that this journal would be placed in the “Science Direct” databank, Fars News Agency reported.

“Scientia Nanotechnology Journal” is one of the new sub-branches of “Scientia Iranica Journal” that is published by Sharif University of Technology Publications.

In addition to nanotechnology, it includes other journals in the fields of science and engineering such as mechanical engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering, computer and electronics engineering, industrial engineering and civil engineering.

According to Dr. Simchi, the editor-in-chief of “Scientia Nanotechnology Journal”, about 30 articles have been published in the Iranian journal since past two years of its publication.

He also stated that following negotiations between Sharif University of Technology and Elsevier Publications, the journal was added to the list of journals on the “Science Direct” website, and its third issue would soon be available online.

“We intend to promote the level of articles we receive from domestic to international. Therefore, the articles submitted by foreign researchers will be published in ‘Scientia Iranica Journal’ after being judged by the jurors,” Dr. Simchi said.

The inclusion of “Scientia Nanotechnology Journal” on the “Science Direct” website can be a turning point for the activities of Iranian researchers in the field of nanotechnology.

*IUT Researchers Develop Remote Control Treatment

Researchers at Isfahan University of Technology (IUT) have developed a new method to remote control the process of treatment of patients.

IUT’s website announced on Wednesday that the success was achieved by two graduates from the prestigious university, IRNA reported.

This concept is a substitute method to eliminate hospitalization for some diseases such as diabetes and epilepsy given the need for accurate monitoring of the treatment process.

One of the researchers, Baqerzadeh, said the method can help increase the efficiency of the treatment.

“In remote control of the treatment process a monitoring system is used which is regular contact with the physician through sensors installed on the body of the patient. In the method, known as Multisensor Data Fusion, the data is combined through sensors and the physician regulates the monitors.

“The method offers patients guidelines, namely if and when to change the dose of medicine, reminds suitable time for taking the medicine, warning to leave dangerous places and proper nutrition during treatment…” he added.

Among the key things needed for using the method are wireless sensor networks and the possibility to create a databank with high level of reliability regarding health conditions of the society at large.

Given the increase in the application of wireless sensor networks and implementation of projects with a broad database, the capabilities of the country’s specialists in this respect have been demonstrated, the student said.

The latest achievement of IUT researchers was selected as a superior work at the 8th National Festival of Superior Ideas and the 6th Exhibition of Innovations and Inventions held in Yazd in March.

*Iranians Produce Transgenic Mice

Iranian researchers at National Institute of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology have succeeded in producing a transgenic mouse carrying the PIWIL2 gene.

Dr. Farid Heidari, a faculty member of the institute, said the mice can help the country’s researchers study breast cancer and male infertility, ISNA reported.

The PIWIL2 gene has a role in breast cancer and a transgenic mouse lacking the ADAM27 gene is effective in improving male infertility.

The institute plans to produce transgenic mice with hemophilia for the Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization.

Previously, the institute produced Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) transgenic mouse. A transgene is a genetic material that has been transferred naturally or by any of a number of genetic engineering techniques from one organism to another.

In its most precise usage, the term transgene describes a segment of DNA containing a gene sequence that has been isolated from one organism and is introduced into a different organism. This non-native segment of DNA may retain the ability to produce RNA or protein in the transgenic organism, or it may alter the normal function of the transgenic organism’s genetic code.

In general, the DNA is incorporated into the organism’s germ line. For example, in higher vertebrates, this can be accomplished by injecting the foreign DNA into the nucleus of a fertilized ovum. This technique is routinely used to introduce human disease genes or other genes of interest into strains of laboratory mice to study the function or pathology involved with that particular gene, Wikipedia reported.

In other words, transgene can describe any DNA sequence, regardless of whether it contains a gene coding sequence or it has been artificially constructed, which has been introduced into an organism or vector construct in which it was previously not found.

In practical terms, a transgene can be either a cDNA (complementary DNA) segment, which is a copy of mRNA (messenger RNA), or the gene itself residing in its original region of genomic DNA. The difference between these two lies in the fact that the cDNA has been processed to remove introns and also, usually, does not include the regulatory signals that are embedded around and in the gene.

The advent of annotated cloned regions of the genome alongside the genome sequence, in particular as large clones in BACs (bacterial artificial chromosomes) or fosmids, and recombineering, which is the method that permits the engineering of these large clones, has changed the practice of transgenesis from its origins with cDNA-based constructs towards the more reliable genomic-based constructs.

*Nature Publishes Iranian Article

Nature, which is the world’s most cited interdisciplinary science journal, published an Iranian researcher’s article on the causes of non-syndromic congenital retinal disease.

Dr. Nour Mohammad Ghiasvand from Neuroscience Research Center and Department of Medical Genetics, School of Medicine, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, who led the research, said individuals with non-syndromic congenital retinal non-attachment (NCRNA) are totally blind from birth, ISNA reported.

He added that the disease afflicts 1 percent of Kurdish people living in a group of neighboring villages in North Khorasan, Iran.

“We found that NCRNA is caused by a 6,523-bp deletion that spans a remote cis regulatory element 20 kb upstream from ATOH7 (Math5), a bHLH transcription factor gene that is required for retinal ganglion cell (RGC) and optic nerve development,” he said.

He also said that in humans, the absence of RGCs stimulates massive neovascular growth of fetal blood vessels in the vitreous and early retinal detachment.

The researcher noted that the remote ATOH7 element appears to act as a secondary or ‘shadow’ transcriptional enhancer.

“It has minimal sequence similarity to the primary enhancer, which is close to the ATOH7 promoter, but drives transgene expression with an identical spatiotemporal pattern in the mouse retina,” he said, adding that the human transgene also functions appropriately in zebrafish, reflecting deep evolutionary conservation.

Ghiasvand said these dual enhancers may reinforce ATOH7 expression during early critical stages of eye development when retinal neurogenesis is initiated.

*Reducing Microbial Load of Beverages

Researchers at Islamic Azad University’s Science and Research Branch reduced the microbial load of carbonated beverages by producing nano-silver antibacterial lid for canned dinks.

Dr. Amir Ali Anvar and Dr. Hamed Ahari, who produced the lid, won a silver medal from Salon International Des Inventions (Exhibition of Inventions) that was held in Geneva during April 6-9, IRNA reported.

Worldwide Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) and International Federation of Inventors Associations (IFIA) organized the exhibition. More than 40 countries participated in the event.

Canning is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. It provides a typical shelf-life ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances a freeze-dried canned product can last as long as 30 years in an edible state.

In canning toxicology, substances migrate from the can itself into the contents. A potential toxic substance that can migrate is lead, which causes lead poisoning, or bisphenol A, a potential endocrine disruptor that is an ingredient in the epoxy commonly used to coat the inner surface of cans.

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