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Scientific & Technological Achievements of Iranians

Friday, January 13, 2012

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

*CIBMTR Awards Iranian Scientist

Iranian scientist Professor Ardeshir Qavamzadeh has won the 2012 award of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR).

Professor Qavamzadeh was honored as the best researcher in oncology and blood-related cancers. He will receive the CIBMTR Distinguished Service Award during the five-day BMT Tandem Meeting on February 2, 2012.

The BMT Tandem Meetings are the combined annual meetings of CIBMTR and the American Society of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT) that are held in San Diego, United States.

Professor Qavamzadeh is a faculty member of Tehran University of Medical Sciences and the Head of TUMS Hematology-Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation Research Center (HORCSCT).

He is also the Chief of Oncology-Hematology and BMT at Shariati Hospital in Tehran, where he began his work in stem cell transplantation in 1980 and has continued his activity until now.

He is currently serving at an Executive level on the Boards of Asian Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean Registries and has been the Chief of the Iranian Board of Hematology since 1991.

Professor Qavamzadeh has been praised worldwide for the successful development of a stem cell transplantation program and for his vital role in advancing the field of transplantation.

*New Method for Retinal Detachment Surgery

Researchers at Tehran Medical University have introduced a new method of retinal detachment surgery.

Dr. Khalil Qasemi Falavarjani, who led the research, said “We evaluated the outcomes of internal tamponade using heavy silicone oil in complicated retinal detachment (RD) surgery,” ISNA reported.

“In this interventional case series, patients with complicated RD involving the inferior retina were enrolled,” he said.

Qasemi added that inclusion criteria included RD secondary to proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR CP6 and/or CA6) involving the inferior retina, inferior or posterior tears, giant tears, penetrating trauma or RD combined with choroidal detachment.

Heavy silicone was injected at the end of surgery after peeling retinal membranes or retinotomy.

“Follow-up examinations were scheduled one day, one week, one month and four months after surgery,” he said, adding that additional visits were made depending on the condition of the eye.

*Iran's Professor Designs Electronic Lenses for Blood Sugar Control

An Iranian professor Babak Amir Parviz from the University of Washington managed to design electronic contact lenses with glucose sensor, capable of monitoring blood sugar levels wirelessly.

The initiative carried out jointly with Microsoft Research would make great contribution to people with type I diabetes patients, who must keep a check on their blood sugar daily.

Amir Parviz said, "We have been able to put a glucose sensor on a contact lens which can detect glucose at levels that are found in the tear film. Our research team has managed to design small radios interacting with this glucose sensor and send out information wirelessly."

This research uses an enzyme-based electrochemical process sensitive to glucose.

Microsoft hopes to hit the market with the technology as soon as possible which will be possible with tiny, flexible electronics, control circuits, communication circuits and glucose sensors inside the lenses.

Babak Amir Parviz has already developed a new generation of contact lenses which could monitor images before eyes. Its function was similar to computer and let users check their emails and use internet and play computer games through eyes.

He was known as one of 35 young inventors in 2007 by MIT University's Technology Review Science Journal who has already managed to design contact lenses with different usages.

*Iran Ranks First in Scientific Growth

Iran's Deputy Minister of Health and Medical Education Mostafa Qanei says the country has ranked first in scientific progress in the world in 2011.

“According to the statistics published in Nature, Iran ranks 40th in science production and first in scientific growth in the world in 2011," Qanei said.

He went on to say that the Islamic Republic has witnessed a 20% growth in science production in the current year.

“Iran is ranked second after Turkey (in the region) in terms of science production, with a difference of 2000 articles,” Qanei added.

In 2000, the Islamic Republic gained the 53rd place in the world in terms of highly cited medical articles. With a steady growth, Iran took the 23rd place in 2011.

According to the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), Iranian researchers and scientists have published a total of 60,979 scientific articles in major international journals from 1999 to 2008.

During the first half of 2011 only, Iran produced 12,000 articles in science and research.

Iranians Develop Hand Rehabilitation Robot

Researchers at Sharif University of Technology have succeeded in developing a hand rehabilitation robot to optimize the exercise speed in passive working mode.

Mina Arab Baniasad, who led the research, said the robotic rehabilitation device can undertake the difficult physical therapy tasks and provide improved treatment procedures for post-stroke patients, ISNA reported.

She also said that during passive working mode, the speed of the exercise needs to be controlled continuously by the robot to avoid excessive injurious torques.

“We have designed a fuzzy controller for a hand rehabilitation robot to adjust the exercise speed by considering the wrist angle and joint resistive torque, measured continuously, and the patient’s general condition, determined by the therapist,” she said.

The researcher further said that with a set of rules based on an expert therapist experience, the fuzzy system could adapt effectively to the neuromuscular conditions of the patient’s paretic hand.

“Preliminary clinical tests revealed that the fuzzy controller produced a smooth motion with no sudden change of the speed that could cause pain and activate the muscle reflexive mechanism,” she said.

Baniasad noted that this improves the recovery procedure and promotes the robot’s performance for wide clinical use.

*Iranian, German Scientists Identify 50 Mental Retardation Genes

Iranian and German researchers have succeeded in indentifying 50 new mental retardation genes.

 Hussein Najmabadi, director of Genetics Research Center at the Iranian University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, said mental retardation comprises 2 to 3 percent of the total cases of retardations in the world.

He noted that the university began the research project in 2004 jointly with over 20 Iranian scholars and a German research center, ISNA reported.

Najmabadi, known for his significant contribution to the genetics of mental retardation, stressed that the method used in the research is unique and of great value.

The study report has been published in the distinguished international journal ‘Nature’.

Mental Retardation (MR), a generalized disorder appearing before adulthood, is characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors.

It has historically been defined as an Intelligence Quotient score under 70. Once focused almost entirely on cognition, the definition now includes both a component relating to mental functioning and one relating to individuals’ functional skills in their environment.

As a result, a person with a below-average intelligence quotient may not be considered mentally retarded.

Syndromic mental retardation is intellectual deficits associated with other medical and behavioral signs and symptoms. Non-syndromic mental retardation refers to intellectual deficits that appear without other abnormalities.

*Changes in Gray Matter In Adolescents With OCD

Researchers at Oxford University conducted studies on changes in gray matter volume and white matter microstructure in adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Mojtaba Zarei, an academic neurologist at Tehran Brain Mapping Center and Visiting Research Fellow at University of Oxford, who led the research, said there is a paucity of neuroimaging data in pediatric-onset OCD.

He added that this multimodal neuroimaging study aimed to identify structural gray (GM) and white matter (WM) microstructure changes in pediatric OCD, Ncbi.nlm.nih reported.

“We obtained structural and diffusion tensor magnetic resonance images from 26 OCD patients and 26 matched healthy adolescents,” he said, adding that image analyses, including volumetric and shape analysis of subcortical gray structures, as well as voxel-based morphometry on GM volume and fractional anisotropy of the WM, were carried out.

“Patients had increased GM volume in the caudate bilaterally and right putamen. Shape analyses revealed specific hypertrophy of the dorsal caudate in pediatric OCD,” he said.

Zarei further said the striatum was larger in healthy boys compared with healthy girls, whereas such a gender effect was not seen in the OCD group.

“OCD subjects showed higher fractional anisotropy values in left inferior longitudinal fasciculus, bilateral superior longitudinal fasciculus, right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, bilateral corticospinal tract, corpus callosum splenium and genu, bilateral forceps major, bilateral forceps minor, left cingulum, and right uncinate fasciculus,” he said.

Zarei also said OCD symptom severity was positively correlated with GM volume in right insula, posterior orbitofrontal cortex, brainstem and cerebellum, and inversely correlated with widespread reduction in cortical GM volume.

“Furthermore, symptom severity positively correlated with increased WM fractional anisotropy in various WM tracts, including the anterior limb of the internal capsule,” he said.

Adolescents with OCD had a wide range of GM and WM changes compared to healthy control subjects that are broadly consistent with those identified in the adult OCD literature but are more extensive.

*Tricking Cancer Cells Into Eating Poison

Honing chemotherapy delivery to cancer cells is a challenge for many researchers. Getting the cancer cells to take the chemotherapy ‘bait’ is a bigger challenge.

But perhaps such a challenge has not been met with greater success than by the nanotechnology research team of Omid Farrokhzad, MD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Department of Anesthesiology Perioperative and Pain Medicine and Research, HealthCanal reported.

In their latest study with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital, the BWH team created a drug delivery system that is able to effectively deliver a tremendous amount of chemotherapeutic drugs to prostate cancer cells.

The process involved is akin to building and equipping a car with the finest features, adding a passenger (in this case the cancer drug) and sending it off to its destination (in this case the cancer cell). To design the perfect ‘vehicle’, researchers used a selection strategy developed by Farrokhzad’s team that allowed them to essentially select ligands (molecules that bind to the cell surface) that could specifically target prostate cancer cells.

The researchers then attached nanoparticles containing chemotherapy, in this case docetaxel, to these hand-picked ligands.
To understand the beauty of Farrokhzad’s selection strategy, one must understand ligand behavior.

While most ligands mainly have the ability to bind to cells, the strategy of Farrokhzad and his colleagues allowed them to select specific ligands that were not only able to bind to prostate cancer cells, but also possessed two other important features: 1) they were smart enough to distinguish between cancer and non-cancer cells and 2) they were designed to be swallowed by cancer cells.

“Most ligands are engulfed by cells, but not efficiently,” said Farokhzad. “We designed one that is intended to be engulfed.”
Moreover, the ability for a ligand to intentionally be engulfed by a cell is crucial in drug delivery since it enables a significant amount of drug to enter the cancer cell, as opposed to remaining outside on the cell surface. This allows a better way to kill a cancer cell by not only bringing poison to it, but getting it to swallow. Another important aspect of this drug delivery design is that these ligand-nanoparticle components are able to interact with multiple cancer markers (antigens) on the cell surface. Unlike other drug delivery systems, this makes it versatile and potentially more broadly applicable.

According to the study’s lead author, Zeyu Xiao, PhD, a researcher in the BWH Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials, current strategies for targeting nanoparticles for cancer therapy rely on combining nanoparticles with ligands that can target well-known cancer markers. Such strategies can be difficult to execute since most cancer cells do not have identifiable cell surface markers to distinguish themselves from normal cells. This makes targeting nanoparticles to cancer cells nearly impossible.
“In this study, we developed a unique strategy that enables the nanoparticles to specifically target and efficiently be engulfed into any desired types and sub-types of cancer cells, even if their cancer markers are unknown,” said Xiao.

“Our strategy simplifies the development process of targeted nanoparticles and broadens their applications in cancer therapy.”
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, David Koch-Prostate Cancer Foundation and Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated healthcare delivery network.

*Neuron Finding Lifts Hopes for Down Syndrome Drug

Discovering a dearth of acetylcholine and norepinephrine in the hippocampus of a mouse model of Down syndrome opens promising therapeutic avenues for people with the disorder.

Down syndrome is usually due to each cell in the human body having three copies, rather than two copies, of chromosome 21. This heartbreaking illness leads not just to a spate of physical abnormalities and cognitive dysfunction, but often to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.A pivotal brain region affected by Down syndrome is the hippocampus. Now scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine have made two important findings about what occurs in that region in a mouse model of Down syndrome, which purportedly translates to people with the syndrome.

One is a loss of two types of neurotransmitter-producing neurons in the hippocampus—acetylcholine-producing neurons and norepinephrine-producing neurons. The other is that this loss is linked with the overexpression of the amyloid precursor protein gene in the hippo-campus. Mutations in this gene, which is located on chromosome 21, are known to lead to early-onset Alzheimer’s, and it may be that early onset of Alzheimer’s pathology in people with Down syndrome is due in part to overexpression of the amyloid precursor protein gene.

These findings have provocative therapeutic implications for people with Down syndrome, the scientists also pointed out online September 27 in Biological Psychiatry. For instance, although the amyloid precursor protein gene should be a primary therapeutic target in Down syndrome, there are no safe and effective medications on the market to reduce the gene’s expression. In contrast, since a paucity of norepinephrine-producing neurons in the hippo-campus also seems to contribute to Down syndrome, medications that enhance norepinephrine levels in the brain and are already on the market to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder might be of therapeutic benefit to individuals with Down syndrome. Moreover, such medications might also subdue the action of the amyloid precursor protein gene in such individuals, they speculated.

“We are indeed working on this group of drugs—drugs that are able to increase norepinephrine levels and that have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration—in our mouse models,” Ahmad Salehi, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford and the study’s senior investigator, told Psychiatric News. “This strategy could speed up the development of a treatment for cognitive function in Down syndrome enormously.”

The scientists’ discovery of a paucity of acetylcholine-producing neurons in the hippocampus of an animal model of Down syndrome holds therapeutic promise, the researchers noted. In fact, other researchers reported eight years ago that the Alzheimer’s drug donepezil, which slows the break down of acetylcholine in the brain, might improve cognitive scores and expressive language in children and adults with Down syndrome.

Yet if donepezil improves cognitive function and language in these individuals, is there reason to believe that medications that increase norepinephrine would be superior to donepezil in that regard? Asalehi believes there is. “I think using norepinephrine-ergic drugs would be far superior to cholinergic ones for the following reasons: The norepinephrine system has some regulatory effects on the cholinergic one. It has been shown that lesions in the former lead to increased severity of cholinergic deficits; most adults with Down syndrome will show Alzheimer’s-related pathology, particularly amyloid plaques. There are new studies showing that increasing norepinephrine levels in mouse models of Alzheimer’s significantly reduce amyloid accumulation. These findings suggest that using norepinephrine-ergic drugs might not only restore cognition in kids with Down syndrome, but also reduce Alzheimer’s-related pathology in adults with the syndrome.”

“Studies such as this one help to further our overall understanding of central nervous system function and in particular differences seen in individuals with Down syndrome,” Melanie Manning, M.D., director of the Center for Down Syndrome at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, told Psychiatric News. “Many of the families of individuals with Down syndrome follow results from research studies such as this one with great interest. They express a desire to learn more about potential clinical applications that lie ahead.”

The research was funded by the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center Department of Veterans Affairs; Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation; Thrasher Foundation; and Alzheimer’s Association.

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