New Sci-Tech Developments in Iran

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

Active Image*Iran's First Transgenic Goats Produced in Royan Institute

Iran and Middle East’s first transgenic goats which can produce recombinant proteins for treatment of Hemophilia were born on January 9, 2010 at Royan Institute.

Hamid Gourabi, the head of Royan Institute said: Following 3 years of research on transgenic animals, the institute has succeeded in producing of two transgenic goats containing coagulation factor IX in their milk which is an important drug using in treatment of hemophilia patients.

Transgenic animal is defined as one that has undergone a modification in its genome. The main purpose of producing transgenic animals is to produce animals that contain the gene for secretion of some proteins in their milk which can be used in treatment of human diseases.

Transgenic goats, cows, sheeps and pigs are already produced in USA, France, UK, Japan, Denmark, Canada, Scotland, Netherlands and China to extract tissue plasminogen activator (TPA).

Gourabi notified that producing drugs in transgenic livestock milk is an economical and cost benefit method since the expenses are much less than producing the same drugs in laboratory by tissue culture methods.

Scientists who were cooperating in this project explained the procedure:

Hemophilia is an X-linked disorder causing by deficiency of coagulation factor IX, which is commonly produced in liver. In this project we tried to produce this protein by transferring the related gene from human liver cells to the goat embryonic fibroblasts. The embryos were then transferred to the recipient goats. Different tests such as PCR have confirmed that the goats born from these embryos contain the gene in their cells and can secrete the protein in their milk.

Upon the completion of Royan Institute’s project on transgenic animals, Iran is expected to take an effective step for mass production of factor IX and other thrombolytics so as to increase its affordability for patients.

In 2006, Royan Institute produced the Iran and Middle East's first cloned lamb named Royana, and then in 2009, Hanna, the first cloned goat was born. Bonyana and Tamina were also first cloned calves produced in Royan Institute in 2009 and were died due to an infectious disease in a couple of days.

Royan TGF91 and Royan TGF92, the two transgenic goats were also named ""Shangoul"" and ""Mangoul"", names of the two leading characters of an Iranian traditional children story. They are now in a good health condition.

Active Image*Iranian Software Predicts Bone Loss Risk

Iranian researchers have managed to develop a software that predicts the risk of osteoporosis, the silent bone disease associated with fragile fractures, with high accuracy.

Osteoporosis is the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time. The silent disease, which is more common in women older than 50, is often diagnosed too late when the patients suffer severe bone loss or related fractures.

Physicians usually diagnose osteoporosis through measuring bone mass using different techniques including Bone Mineral Densitometry (BMD) which exposes the patients to certain amounts of x-ray radiation.

The Dual-emission X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), which is considered as the most common and standard method in this regard, lacks desirable accuracy especially in studying lumbar spines.

The new software developed by Amirkabir University of Technology researchers showed promising results in determining the risk of bone loss as well as diagnosing patients with osteoporosis, said lead researcher Maede Mohammadifar.

The accuracy of the new software in predicting the risk of osteoporosis is higher than 97 percent, said Mohammadifar, adding that the new method can also help physicians detect individuals who need to undertake BMD as a screening test.

According to the evaluation study, the software, which provides the radiography images of the five lumbar spines, has also showed 81 percent accuracy in diagnosing individuals suffering from the disease.

Moreover, the software is capable of detecting subtle changes in fractured vertebra and subsequently the severity of the fracture, researchers noted.

Active Image*Royan Institute Fertilizes Ovum without Need to Sperm

The Royan Institute has succeeded to fertilize ovum without a need to sperm.

“An offspring inherits half of genetic material from father and the other half from mother; we have omitted maternal and paternal DNA in our research and have used a complete genetic maternal cell to fulfill fertilization,” Dr. Aazam Dalman, an embryologist, told reporters on the sidelines of the first embryology symposium.

Dalman said, “Simulation is asexual generation. Living creature is naturally formed by conjoining of ovum and sperm; however, sperm is omitted in simulation and a somatic cell substitutes it.”

Genetic material conjoins the somatic cell to fulfill fertilization, she explained.

She said some successful sperm-free fertilization have been achieved in Royan Institute.

Dr. Dalman added although mother can be fertilized without father’s sperm it is not morally acceptable and it is usually practiced in animals like the simulated goats at Royan Institute.

Active Image*Iran Unveils Supercomputers, Hydro Car

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unveiled two domestically-designed and manufactured supercomputers, and a smart hydrogen car.

The supercomputers were unveiled via video conferencing in Tehran's Amirkabir University of Technology (AUT), and Esfahan University of Technology.

Amirkabir University's supercomputer has a power of 34,000 billion operations per second, and a speed of 40 gigahertz.

The project was carried out by a group of 20 Iranian researchers from the faculties of electricity and computer.

The other supercomputer project carried out by Esfahan University of Technology is among the world's top 500 supercomputers.

Iran's first supercomputer was introduced about nine years ago with a power of 860 billion operations per second by AUT.

Supercomputers are computers that are at the frontline of current processing capacity, particularly speed of calculation. They are used for highly calculation-intensive tasks such as problems involving quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling, physical simulations (such as simulation of airplanes in wind tunnels, etc.), and nuclear research.

China's Tianhe-1A supercomputer is currently the world's top supercomputer, weighing 155 tons, and consuming 4.04 megawatts of electricity.

Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad also unveiled Iran's electric-hydro smart car on the same day.

The experimental model of the electricity-hydrogen-powered vehicle is manufactured by Iranian researchers and is the first of its kind in the Middle East. It has a maximum speed of 180 kph and can travel a distance of 500 kilometers with every instance of recharging.

It consumes 140 watts per hour and weighs 1350 kilograms, with a recharge time of two to six minutes.

Active Image*Nanocomposite Scaffold For Bone Repair

Researchers at Isfahan University of Technology have produced a scaffold to be used in bone tissue repair.

Mahmoud Azami, who led the research, said, “In this study, a scaffold was designed for repairing bone tissue and the effect of glutaraldehyde (GA) concentration was investigated as the cross-linking agent.”

“To mimic the mineral and organic component of natural bone, hydroxyapatite (HAp) and gelatin (GEL) were used as the main components of this composite,” he said, adding that nanopowders of HAp were synthesized and used with GEL to engineer a three-dimensional nanocomposite scaffold.

He noted that the results show GEL/HAp nanocomposite is porous and has a three-dimensional interconnected structure, with pore sizes ranging from 300 to 500 μm, and about 85 percent porosity.

“In addition, increasing GA concentration provokes the enhancement of compressive strength until 1 w/v percent GA solution followed by a reduction to 2.5 percent, whereas it causes work fracture to decrease,” he said.

The researcher further said that optimum concentration for cross-linking GEL matrix for this purpose is 1 w/v percent GA solution.

He added that a combination of commonly-used techniques was applied to engineer a scaffold with almost ideal properties for bone tissue engineering.

Azami said scaffolds are prepared via this compound process has the potential of being used in the solid free form applications and in any dimension relevant to the defect size and shape.

Active Image*Iran Produces Biodiesel

Iranian experts and scientists have for the first time produced biodiesel using the oil extracted from Jatropha plant cultivated in southern Iran.

“Iran could produce biodiesel by extracting oil from Jatropha plant, which was grown in Bandar Abbas in a pilot project,” a member of the Presiding Board of Iran’s Scientific Forestry Association, Payman Yousefi Azar said.

“The oil is used as biodiesel, which is a common method in the world,” he added.
Elaborating on the advantages of biodiesel for different machines and systems, Yousefi said the use of biodiesel decreases air pollution and CO2 up to 85 percent.

Jatropha curcas is a flowering plant in the spurge family Euphorbiaceae that is native to the American tropics, most likely Mexico and Central America.

It is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, becoming naturalized in some areas. The specific name, curcas, was first used by Portuguese doctor Garcia de Orta more than 400 years ago and is of uncertain origin. The plant’s seeds are processed into oil, which may be used directly to fuel combustion engines or may be subjected to trans-esterification to produce biodiesel. When jatropha seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel that can be used in a standard diesel car. The residue, which contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, can also be processed and used as biomass feedstock to power electricity plants or used as fertilizer.

The plant may yield more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean and more than ten times that of maize. A hectare of jatropha has been claimed to produce 1,892 liters of fuel.

Active Image*University of Tehran Ranks First in Islamic World

The University of Tehran ranks first in the world of Islam, Jafar Mehrad, president of the Islamic World Science Citation Center (ISC) said.

ISC published a list detailing the ranking of top universities at the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science, Research, & Technology.

ISC, a newly established rating center, ranks the universities of the Islamic countries. The ranking was done during a period of June 22, 2010 to December 22, 2010.

Mehrad also said that Iran stands second in the regional countries in scientific productions.

*Iran Builds Nuclear Fusion Machine

Iran has designed and built the nuclear fusion machine through Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran’s (AEOI) Research Center, becoming the sixth country in the world with access to this technology.

Active ImageThe apparatus, designed and built in the spring of 2010, was registered as an invention in the winter of 2011. Previously, the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia and France had acquired this technology.

IEC systems provide an economical and technologically simple method of producing fusion reactions.

Among the features of this device is confinement of ions with the electrostatic method at the center of two concentric spheres with a maximum working voltage of 135 kilovolts, a maximum electrical current of 250 milliamperes, electrical resistance of plasma over one megaohms, continuous nuclear fusion reaction D-D, continuous emission of over 106 neutrons per second due to the nuclear fusion process of D-D and the possibility of nuclear fusion with the three generations of nuclear fusion fuels.

The IR-IECF machine has many applications, which will greatly help scientific activities of the country.

This machine offers the only method for undertaking continuous nuclear fusion p-11B through a radiation-free process.

The machine can produce isotopes and medicinal radioisotopes for diagnosing and treating cancer, helium 3 and tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen).

Other features of this machine include neutron activation, tracing advanced explosives, destroying radioactive materials with a high atomic number, examining electrical, optic and mechanical properties of solid materials and sterilizing equipment for medicinal purposes and food applications.

Active Image*Iran Clones Calves

Iran has cloned two calves through frozen embryo in laboratory. The calves named Abgoun and Abgineh were born in the Biotechnology Research Center of Rouyan Institute.

“The birth of the two calves marks a new page in the improvement of domesticated animal breed. The two animals have healthy genes,” the project manager, Mohammad Hossein Nasr Esfahani. He said the birth of the two calves indicates the capability of Iranian research scholars in the field of biotechnology for producing domesticated animals.

“The production of frozen embryos is the quickest and the most optimized way of improving the genetic potentials of domesticated animals,” he said.

Esfahani noted that the country carries out artificial insemination for domesticated animals through indigenous and foreign sperms. The Middle East’s first and the world’s fifth cloned goat, ‘Hanna’ was successfully born at Rouyan Institute in Isfahan, Iran, in April 2009.

The cloned goat was implanted in a surrogate uterus of a black Bakhtiari goat for 147 days and was born through a cesarean section. Iran’s first cloned lamb, Royana, born on Sept. 30, 2006, in Rouyan Institute, and was able to survive the postnatal complications common in cloned animals.

Royan Institute is a public non-governmental, non-profitable organization established in 1991 by the late Dr. Saeed Kazemi Ashtiani as an infertility clinic. In 1998, this institute was approved by the Health Ministry as a cell-based research center. Today, this institute acts as a leader of Stem Cell research and is also one of the best clinics for infertility treatment.

Active Image*Strengthening Thin-Wall Vessels

Researchers at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology have managed to introduce a new method based on Severe Plastic Deformation (SPD) for the construction of pipes and thin-wall vessels with nanostructures.

“Parts with circular and hollow profiles such as pipes, cylinders and vessels have wide applications in a variety of industries as one of the most important engineering parts. Therefore, formation of nanostructure and its resulting strength in those parts may be of great interest,” Mohammad Sadeq Mohebbi, PhD student at Materials Science and Engineering School, Sharif University of Technology, said in an interview with the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council news service.

Elaborating on the procedure of the research, he said, “We first introduced a process called spin-bonding based on flow forming process to interconnect pipes and make a composite multilayered pipe.”

Mohebbi noted that two pipes or vessels, after an appropriate surface treatment, were placed on each other and their thicknesses were decreased by flow forming process.
“It led to the establishment of connection between two layers and production of a two-layered pipe or vessel. Afterwards, the idea of severe plastic deformation by applying different cycles of SB process to pipes was proposed and developed,” he added.

Elaborating on the results of the research, Mohebbi said, “The project was first undertaken for aluminum pipes AA1050 for four cycles so that a 16-layered pipe was fabricated. According to TEM and EBSD tests, application of SPD resulted in changing the initial grain size from 30 µm to 419 and 186 µm. It is notable that their yield stress and tensile strength increased from 36 and 112 MPa to 195 and 235 MPa respectively.”

Active Image*Iran Produces Vaccine for Burn Bacteria

Iranian scientists have produced a vaccine that prevents the life-threatening infection commonly associated with severe third-degree burns.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most common bacteria infecting victims suffering from severe third-degree burn. The gram-negative blood-borne bacteria can eventually kill the patient.

“Usually most severe third-degree burn victims die from Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections,” Dr. Davoud Mehrbani from the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences said.

“Similar to tetanus, the extracted and deactivated forms of its toxin can be used for treatment purposes. We, therefore, separated the toxin of the bacteria, deactivated it and used its immunization properties,” Mehrbani added.

The vaccine can prevent possible deaths particularly in individuals at risk of getting burned because of their profession.

According to the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, 96 percent of the nation's required medicine is being produced domestically.

Active Image*Nano-Particles Can Lessen Cancer Drug Side Effects

Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have shown that they can deliver the cancer drug cisplatin much more effectively and safely in a form that has been encapsulated in a nanoparticle, targeted to prostate tumor cells and activated once it reaches its target.

Using the new particles, the researchers were able to successfully shrink tumors in mice, using only one-third the amount of conventional cisplatin needed to achieve the same effect. That could help reduce cisplatin’s potentially severe side effects, which include kidney damage and nerve damage.

In 2008, the researchers showed that the nanoparticles worked in cancer cells grown in a lab dish. Now that the particles have shown promise in animals, the team hopes to move on to human tests.

"At each stage, it’s possible there will be new roadblocks that will come up," noted Stephen Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry and a senior author of the paper, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Jan. 10. Additional animal testing is needed before the cisplatin-carrying particles can go into human clinical trials, says Farokhzad. "At the end of the day, if the development results are all promising, then we would hope to put something like this in humans within the next three years," he says.

Omid Farokhzad, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is also a senior author of the paper. Shanta Dhar, a postdoctoral associate in Lippard’s lab, and Nagesh Kolishetti, a postdoctoral associate in Farokhzad’s lab, are co-lead authors.

Cisplatin, which doctors began using to treat cancer in the late 1970s, destroys cancer cells by cross-linking their DNA, which ultimately triggers cell death. Despite its adverse side effects, which also include nerve damage and nausea, about half of all cancer patients receiving chemotherapy are taking platinum drugs. Read about other MIT research on cisplatin.

Conventional cisplatin has a relatively short lifetime in the bloodstream. Only about 1% of the dose given to a patient ever reaches the tumor cells’ DNA, and about half of it is excreted within an hour of treatment.

To prolong the time in circulation, the researchers decided to encase a derivative of cisplatin in a hydrophobic nanoparticle. First, they modified the drug, which is normally hydrophilic, with two hexanoic acid units. That enabled them to encapsulate the resulting prodrug -- a form that is inactive until it enters a target cell -- in a nanoparticle. To help the nanoparticles reach their target, the researchers also coated them with molecules that bind to PSMA (prostate specific membrane antigen), a protein found on most prostate cancer cells.

Using this approach, much more of the drug reaches the tumor. The researchers found that the nanoparticles circulated in the bloodstream for about 24 hours, at least 5 times longer than un-encapsulated cisplatin. They also found that it did not accumulate as much in the kidneys as conventional cisplatin.

After showing the nanoparticles’ improved durability in the blood, the researchers tested their effectiveness by treating mice implanted with human prostate tumors. They found that the nanoparticles reduced tumor size as much as conventional cisplatin over 30 days, but with only 30% of the dose.

This type of nanoparticle design could be easily adapted to carry other types of drugs, or even more than one drug at a time, as the researchers reported in a PNAS paper last October. It could also be designed to target tumors other than prostate cancer, as long as those tumors have known receptors that could be targeted. One example is the Her-2 receptor abundant in some types of breast cancer, says Lippard. Read about breast cancer research involving MEMS.

The particles tested in this paper are based on the same design as particles developed by Farokhzad and MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer that deliver the cancer drug docetaxel. A Phase I clinical trial to assess those particles began last week, run by BIND Biosciences.

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