New Sci-Tech Improvements in Iran

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

*Enzyme-Producing Gene Registered

Active ImageAn Iranian researcher at Shahr-e Kord University registered an alpha-amylase enzyme-producing gene in the international gene bank of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Dr. Mohsen Mobini Dehkordi said α-Amylase is an enzyme that hydrolyses alpha-bonds of large alpha-linked polysaccharides such as starch and glycogen, yielding glucose and maltose, adding that it is the major form of amylase found in humans and other mammals.

He said it is also present in seeds containing starch as a food reserve and is secreted by many fungi.

“Amylase is an enzyme that breaks starch down into sugar,” he said.

He further said amylase is present in human saliva, where it begins the chemical process of digestion, adding that foods containing much starch but little sugar, such as rice and potato, taste slightly sweet as they are chewed because amylase turns some of their starch into sugar in the mouth.

He stressed the alpha-amylase enzyme-producing gene can produce an enzyme for breaking down starch in the wastewater of pasta and chips factories.

“The process reduces the environmental effects of starch wastewaters,” he said.

Dehkordi also said the gene can be used in biotechnology industry and applied researches in bioinformatics.

*Newly-Produced Nanofibers Regenerate Bone Cells

Active ImageResearchers at Tehran University’s Faculty of Science, in collaboration with their colleagues at Iran’s Stem Cell Technology Research Center, exploited nanofibrous scaffolds for bone tissue engineering applications.

“In the conducted research, nanofibrous poly (lactic acid) scaffolds were synthesized via electrospinning in the first phase. These scaffolds underwent plasma processing for superficial modifications. Prior to that, nanohydroxyapatite (n-HA) was coated on the scaffolds,” Ehsan Seyjafari, the chief researcher of the study, said.

According to Seyjafari, the synthesis procedure of the discussed scaffolds is so simple and cost-effective that their production on an industrial scale looks very likely. Coating nanohydroxyapatite particles upon the nanofibers provides direct contact onto cells and surrounding tissues. As a result, their bioactivity effect for osteogenic repair and regeneration is enhanced.

“Electron microscopic analyses revealed that all the scaffolds possessed nanofibrous structures of planar type and the superficial modifications brought about no changes on their development,” Seyjafari said, elaborating on the procedure of the research.

“Furthermore, nanoparticles were perfectly coated upon nanofibers’ surfaces and did not disturb scaffold porosity. FTIR ascertained the presence of nanohydroxyapatite particles attached to nanofibers by the relevant peaks. Nanofibers’ surfaces became highly hydrophilic and their contact angle inclined towards zero.”

Seyjafari said cell growth and multiplication tests confirmed biocompatibility of the nanostructures.

“In vitro investigations in mice demonstrated that the fabricated scaffolds are capable of simulating osteogenesis and forming the bony baffles,” he concluded.

*Breakthrough in MRI Technology

Active ImageIranian researchers at University of Tabriz have made a breakthrough in MRI technology.

Nasser Arsalani, one of the researchers of the project, said on Sunday PVP-functionalized superparamagnetic Fe3O4 nanoparticles were synthesized as an MRI contrast agent.

“In recent years, superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles have shown great potential applications in many biological fields, including targeted drug delivery, bioseparation, tissue repair, cancer treatment through hyperthermia, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast enhancement,” he said.

MRI is an appealing noninvasive approach for early cancer diagnostics and therapeutics.

However, in clinical diagnosis, it is often the case that the diseased and healthy tissues are similar in composition and MRI technology alone will not always differentiate the two. A contrast agent is necessary to distinguish the normal and diseased tissue.

The conventional gadolinium compounds have been used as T1 contrast agents that cause positive contrast enhancement and provide a bright state in the image where the compounds are accumulated. However, with the increasing use of paramagnetic gadolinium chelates for MRI, shortcomings of gadolinium chelates have been identified, such as fast elimination of tissue; non-specific distribution in vivo and limited effect in improving MR imaging.

Since superparamagnetic Fe3O4 nanoparticles can enhance the alterations of proton relaxation in the tissue microenvironment, these are suitable as T2 contrast agent in MRI. These T2 contrast agents cause to decrease the signal intensity in the region where they are accumulated, and hence cause negative contrast and provide a dark state in the image where the compounds are accumulated.

However, the direct use of magnetic nanoparticles as in vivo MRI contrast agent results in biofouling of the particles in blood plasma and formation of aggregates that are quickly sequestered by cells of the reticular endothelial system (RES) such as macrophages. Furthermore, aggregated nanoparticles change their superparamagnetic response.

Therefore, in order to minimize biofouling and aggregation of particles and escape from the RES for longer circulation times, the nanoparticles are usually coated with a layer of hydrophilic and biocompatible polymer such as dextran, dendrimers, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), and poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) (PVP).

Of the synthetic polymers, PVP is water-soluble, non-charged, non-toxic and used in various medical applications. While there is a potential concern about covalent interaction between hydrophilic polymers and magnetic nanoparticles to increase their stability in physiological medium, PVP coating on Fe3O4 nanoparticles in all previous works has been achieved through noncovalent interaction.

Active ImageNow, the polymer grafting of magnetic nanoparticles is one of the most attractive methods of surface modification. In the present study, researchers carried out chemical synthesis and characterization of PVP-functionalized magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoparticles.

Since the PVP was bonded to the surface of magnetite nanoparticles through covalent bonds, the prepared magnetic fluid (ferrofluid) was very stable for a long period of time. To achieve this, first magnetite nanoparticles were synthesized by the chemical co-precipitation of Fe3+ and Fe2+ ions with NH4OH. Then, the nanoparticles were modified directly by 3 (trimethoxysilyl) propyl methacrylate (silan A) to introduce reactive vinyl groups on the particles surface, and poly(N-vinyl pyrrolidone) was grafted onto modified nanoparticles by surface-initiated radical polymerization.

The structure, particle size and composition of PVP-functionalized magnetite nanoparticles were examined by FT-IR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy), XRD (X-ray diffraction), TEM (transmission electron microscopy), VSM (vibrating sample magnetometer) and TGA (thermogravimetric analysis).

Furthermore, the PVP-functionalized MNPs were dispersed in water to form stable magnetic fluids.

T2-weighted MRI images of PVP-grafted magnetic nanoparticles were obtained and the results indicated that they have great potential for application in MRI as T2 contrast agent.

*Kit Helps Diagnose Alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency

Active ImageIranian researchers at National Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology have produced a kit for diagnosing Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Gelayol Modabber, director of the center, said Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder caused by the defective production of alpha 1-antitrypsin (A1AT), leading to decreased A1AT activity in the blood and lungs, and deposition of excessive abnormal A1AT protein in liver cells.

She further said there are several forms and degrees of deficiency, adding that severe A1AT deficiency causes panacinar emphysema or COPD in adult life in many people with the condition (especially if they are exposed to cigarette smoke), as well as various liver diseases in a minority of children and adults.

“It is treated by avoidance of damaging inhalants, by intravenous infusions of the A1AT protein, by transplantation of the liver or lungs, and by a variety of other measures, but it usually produces some degree of disability and reduced life expectancy,” she said.

She also said symptoms of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency include shortness of breath, wheezing, rhonchi and rales.

“A1AT deficiency remains undiagnosed in many patients,” Modabber said, adding that patients are usually labeled as having COPD without an underlying cause.

It is estimated that about 1 percent of all COPD patients actually have A1AT deficiency. Thus, testing should be performed for all patients with COPD, asthma with irreversible air-flow obstruction, unexplained liver disease or necrotizing panniculitis.

The initial test performed is serum A1AT level. A low level of A1AT confirms the diagnosis and further assessment with A1AT protein phenotyping, which should be carried out subsequently.

*Two Iranians Awarded AIM Prize

Active ImageIranian father and son, Massoud and Ali Afsarmanesh, were awarded top prize in the first Architects in Mission (AIM) International Competition in Beijing, to reinvigorate Cable 8--a former factory complex--located blocks away from China’s Central Television Headquarters.

The high profile urban location is rapidly developing whilst the former factory building remains largely in its original form.

The AIM competition was started by Boston-based architecture firm Zeybekoglu Nayman Associates (ZNA) as an annual contest challenging students and young professionals to demonstrate their “designing gifts and abilities”.

Currently being used as an exhibition facility for art and design professionals, the focus of the first annual AIM competition jars against its highly commercialized urban surroundings, eight of its existing buildings converted from manufacturing floors to loft spaces hosting designers and artists of various disciplines.

The proposal put forward by Iranian architects comprised of a glass roofing system, extending and encasing the existing cultural complex in a protective shroud. The interior spaces are rejuvenated and extended, bathed in extreme volumes of natural sunlight. Darren Chang, Senoir Architect of ZNA, explained, “They won the competition because their project was doable and practical. Their model was fluent, bright and eye-catching.”

It is also possible to view the architectural progression of the building from a fluid pedestrian walkway. Visitors pass through the old existing site, following the pathway through the new glass extension and end at the top level, where the glass roofing affords panoramic views across the continually changing Beijing skyline.

*Iranians to Produce Botulinum Toxin Type A

Active ImageIranian researchers will produce Botulinum toxin type A with trade name, Masport, by next year.

Dr. Nasser Mohammadpour, researcher of Masoundarou Company, said the drug will be produced by the company and will enter Iran’s market next year.

He added that Botulinum toxin is a protein produced by the bacterium clostridium botulinum that is extremely neurotoxic.

“Popularly known by one of its trade names, Botox, it is used for various medical and cosmetic procedures,” he said.

Mohammadpour noted that in the early 1980s university-based ophthalmologists in the US and Canada further refined the use of botulinum toxin as a therapeutic agent.

“By 1985, a scientific protocol of injection sites and dosage had been empirically determined for treatment of blepharospasm (excessive blinking) and strabismus (squints),” he said.

After formal trials, on April 12, 2002, the FDA announced its regulatory approval of botulinum toxin type A (Botox cosmetic) to temporarily improve the appearance of moderate-to-severe frown lines between the eyebrows (glabellar lines).

Botox is currently used in the treatment of spasms and dystonias by weakening the muscles involved for the drug’s 60-70 day effective period.

Treatment and prevention of chronic headache and chronic musculoskeletal pain are emerging uses for botulinum toxin type A. In addition, there is evidence that Botox may aid in treating spastic disorders associated with injury or disease of the central nervous system including trauma, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy.

*Magnetic Nanoparticles Remove Organic Pollutants

Active ImageA new type of magnetic nanoparticles of Fe3O4 was synthesized at Tarbiat Modarres University (TMU) in Iran through a simple method with the potential of large-scale removal of different organic and inorganic contaminations.

Using magnetic nanoparticles is one of the extraction and separation methods aimed at concentrating and separating or removing high contents of various organic and inorganic contaminations.

The advantage of using magnetic nanoparticles is that they could be absorbed by an external magnetic field, an interesting feature for chemical analysis, so there would be no need to centrifuge and filter samples after their extraction.

“These magnetic nanoparticles could be applied as a new brand absorber for extraction and measurement of different analytes and also for the optimum removal of pollutants,” Yadollah Yamini, chemistry professor at TMU, said.

Yamini and his colleagues have designed a reactor for the synthesis of Fe3O4 magnetic nanoparticles via co-precipitation method and modified nanoparticles surface to extract and remove contaminations. They also extracted and analyzed traces of metallic ions and drugs in aqueous mediums and biological samples. Lastly, they successfully removed metallic ions and pigments from textile industry wastewaters.

“There is a possibility of synthesizing pure or silica-coated magnetic nanoparticles at large scales at present. Our research group is willing to design appropriate absorbers for the removal of pollutants from industrial wastewaters,” he said.

*PSI Becomes Member Of Int’l Physics Union

Active ImageThe Physics Society of Iran (PSI) has become a member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP).

PSI President Dr. Hadi Akbarzadeh said PSI was accepted for membership in the IUPAP in the November session of the union.

The society is Iran’s largest professional and academic physics body and was founded in 1921 by Iran’s elite physicists and engineers.

It is a non-profit organization aimed in establishing and strengthening scientific and research contacts between physicists and between academic members of the country’s institutes of higher education in the field of physics.

The society has over 5,100 members inside and outside Iran.

In addition to its awards scheme and publications program, the Physics Society of Iran holds conferences in different fields annually, including optics and condensed matter physics. The society has proved instrumental in improving the state of education and research in physics throughout the country.

IUPAP is an international non-governmental organization devoted to the advancement of physics. It was established in 1922 and held its first General Assembly in 1923 in Paris.

The aims of the union are: to stimulate and promote international cooperation in physics; to sponsor suitable international meetings and to assist organizing committees; to foster the preparation and the publication of abstracts of papers and tables of physical constants; to promote international agreements on the use of symbols, units, nomenclature and standards; to foster free circulation of scientists; to encourage research and education.

The union is governed by its General Assembly, which meets every three years. The council is its top executive body, supervising the activities of the 19 specialized international commissions and the three affiliated commissions. The union is composed of members representing identified physics communities.

IUPAP is a member of the International Council for Science.

*Industrial Cultivation Of Echinacea Successful

Active ImageIranian researchers at Tarbiat Modarres University have succeeded in the industrial cultivation of Echinacea.

Dr. Majid Aqa Alikhani, lead researcher of the project, said there are nine species of echinacea and three of these are most commonly used for medicine: Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida.

“Echinacea is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family Asteraceae,” he said, adding that the nine species it contains are commonly called purple coneflowers.

He further said they are endemic to eastern and central North America, where they are found growing in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas.

They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. Some species are used in herbal medicines and some are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers.

Alikhani said Echinacea are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm in height.

Some Echinacea supplements could have antitumor properties.

Echinacea can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days. Echinacea extracts have no clinically significant effects on rates of infection or duration or intensity of symptoms. The effects hold when the herb is taken immediately following infectious viral exposure and when taken as a prophylaxis starting a week prior to exposure.

It is best known for its ability to enhance immune system function. The immune system is the body’s defense system against infection, illness and bodily damage.

Echinacea is thought to stimulate and support the immune system to function optimally, which is especially helpful prior or during illness or infection. It contains polysaccharides, alkylamides and cichoric acid, which work together to enhance the ability of immune cells--specifically, macrophages--to destroy and dispose of undesired matter in the body. Also, Echinacea increases the numbers and functions of various immune system cells.

The herb contains copper, iron, iodine, potassium and vitamins A, C and E.

*Stem Cell Therapy Treats 6 Diseases

Active ImageRoyan Cell Therapy Center (RCTC) announced that stem cells have been used for treating cardiac, bone and cartilage, digestive and liver, skin, eye and psychological diseases.

RCTC Chief Nasser Aqdami also said that major research projects have been implemented for each of these diseases. He also said studies were conducted for treating diabetic foot ulcers. “Ultimately, we succeeded in preventing amputation by using cell therapy in 70 percent of diabetic patients,” he said.

The official noted that some of the research accomplishments of RCTC are the world’s first. “The production of tissue seal from the blood of umbilical cord is one such achievement. Tissue seal is used as medication in surgeries,” he said.

Major Research Projects
Referring to treatment of bone and cartilage diseases by utilizing cell therapy, Aqdami said broken bones that have not healed, bone cysts and arthritis are among research areas of RCTC, which have produced suitable results. “The results of these research projects have been applied in clinical cases,” he said. The official said one of the biggest research studies of RCTC pertains to treating digestive and liver diseases by using stem cells.

“The first phase of this research study started with 10 patients. In the next phase, studies will be conducted on 100 patients,” he said. He pointed out that presently 8,000 patients are awaiting liver transplants. “By applying cell therapy in treating liver diseases, we have cured 365 patients,” he said.

Aqdami said RCTC is applying cell therapy to treat skin diseases such as vitiligo, wrinkles and scars as well as epidermolysis bullosa. “In the research stage, 10 patients were selected and at present 250 people suffering from dermatological diseases were treated. These patients could not have been treated with any method other than cell therapy,” he said.

Epidermolysis bullosa is an inherited disorder in which skin blisters develop after a minor injury. The patient with this disease gradually loses skin. “One of our priorities is to treat this disease by using cell therapy,” he said.

He also gave word of the start of studies involving stem cells for treating corneal damage from mucus. Aqdami referred to research by his center on treating psychological diseases. “The center has on agenda studies for treating polio and multiple sclerosis,” he said.

New Accomplishments
Referring to new accomplishments of RCTC, Aqdami noted that research has been carried out on eye diseases linked to retina and cornea.

“Studies have been carried out for treating corneal damage and we have obtained good results,” he said. Another achievement was a serum therapy that used the blood of umbilical cord for treating eye irritations. “We have also produced TCP containing stem cells, which is a medicine for orthopedic problems,” he said.

RCTC was founded in 2009 at Royan Institute. The focus of this center’s activities is cell transplantation methods that undergo clinical trials before marketing. The center also offers different cells and products for bioresearch, drug discovery as well as cell therapy applications.

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