Shanghai, a spring-time life-science hub

Spring brings a large number of Life-science events to Shanghai. Among which, the Sino-Euro Biopartnering event (SEBP) and the China Medical Equipment Fair (CMEF) in May.

SEBP focuses on innovative European SMEs and life-science organisations and capital from China. This year, projects spanned from a novel approach against antibiotic resistance to a technology-assisted epidural technique. Moreover, one could generally discriminate a focus on non-(or less) invasive technologies, precision diagnostics, and (bio)molecular disease treatment and prevention. With ca. 150 participants, SEBP was an effective networking event with easy access to Chinese counterparts, European companies active in China, and officials from e.g. the China Chamber of Commerce from Import/Export of Medicine. Most prominently present on SEBP were the science clusters from Belgium, Switzerland and France.

Photo life-science

CMEF is held twice yearly since 1979 and this year’s spring edition took place in Shanghai. This spectacle draws a lot of attention both nationally and internationally, attracting thousands of companies and tens of thousands of visitors. Being more focused on sales within the medical sector, this year’s exhibitors showcased their state-of-the-art equipment, hosted lectures, invited customers and created business. Like SEBP, at CMEF there was a clear trend this year towards imaging technology too, as well as imaging-guided non-invasive treatment techniques.

The combination of SEBP and CMEF is particularly strong for creative SME’s, who would like to showcase their innovative business at SEBP in a dedicated setting while aligning with the latest techniques presented at CMEF. With ca. 10 participating companies at CMEF and only one attending SEBP this year, we look forward to welcome many more innovative Dutch life science SME’s next year.

More information available here: RVO Actueel nieuws


PM series: human naïve embryonic stem cells

In a short series, we will focus on various topics on personalized medicine in China. Third in this series: the on-going search for naive human stem cells.

At a cellular level, controlling multiplication and specialization drives growth and development. The less a cell is specialized, the more directions it can develop into. For instance, once a cell has started to develop into a brain cell, it will be complicated –though perhaps not impossible- to turn around and become a skin cell.

Finding the least specialized cell – know as the naive stem cell – may open up exciting developments in therapeutics and research. They are difficult to find, though: researchers have been looking for them in embryonic tissue, where they are mixed with a bunch of non-naive stem cells. From animal systems other than human, they have been pretty well identified and described. For numerous reasons – including obvious ethical ones – the hunt for the naive embryonic stem cell in humans has not been as productive yet.

An international consortium, from Germany, Canada, the UK and China has come one step closer in resolving the presence of naïve embryonic stem cells in human stem cells, either derived from induced stem cells, or cultured embryonic stem cells. They identified the molecular fingerprint of these cells.

The findings are promising, as the naïve stem cells can be labeled and collected for down-stream research. At the same time, the findings were unexpected: a prominent genomic structure that was associated to the naïve stem cell state appeared to be a functional trace of a virus that is only present in primate (monkey and ape) genomes. This does not fit with the expectation that maintaining a naïve state is conserved throughout, at least, vertebrate species. This study was published in nature


Endlessness in genetic info: circular RNA.

Researchers at the Partner Institute for Computational Biology (PICB), established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the German Max Planck Gesellschaft, unraveled the existence and mechanisms behind circular RNA molecules.

RNA usually carries information from cellular DNA. This information is used to produce proteins and to regulate all kinds of cellular processes. Historically, DNA and RNA are approached as linear carriers, although exceptions have been observed already since the 70s.

A recent line of reports has gradually started to dismiss the idea of rarity with respect to circular RNA. Now, a group of scientists lead by Yang Li from the PICB has indicated that the existence of circular RNAs is actually quite common… and very complex. A number of homologous genes in human and mouse both produce circular RNA molecules, although some sequences of the murine and the human ones may tend to be quite different.

These circular RNA molecules are likely to be functional, and in theory could consist of an endless array of possibilities. Most intriguingly, the information content of genes is now theoretically without limitations, and this would spark a new revolution genomics. Alternatively, circular RNA molecules may also functions based on their spatiotemporal presences regardless of their information content, such as being a decoy for RNA degrading enzymes.

The article was published in Cell in September 2014.

PM series: Nanoporphyrin

In a short series, we will focus on various topics on personalized medicine in China. Second in this series: personalized nano-medicine.

A group of Chinese and American researchers recently published a paper in Nature Communications on a nano-particle with a high potential in diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. The investigators designed particles, consisting of nanoporphyrins, to specifically target tumors in mice. When applied in vivo, these nano-particles revealed a broad range of clinically relevant properties. Applications ranged from diagnosis to treatment, as particles:

– enhanced the visibility of tumors by imaging techniques such as MRI and PET;

– could be activated on-site to produce heat or oxygen radicals to destroy tumor cells;

– could act as vehicles for targeted drug delivery in tumors.

All together, the investigators developed a versatile platform that is likely to find its application in patient-specific cancer diagnostics and treatment. It works in mice, and a successful application in humans is anticipated.





Cystic fibrosis links to diabetes

Researchers from Hong Kong, Chengdu, Beijing and Tokyo recently reported a functional link between diabetes and cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis occurs when mutations in the CFTR gene hamper the function of the Cystic Fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. This leads to a “tough mucus” secretion in the lungs, and its most acute symptoms are therefore shortness of breath. Indigestion is also a serious symptom, as organs in and around the gastrointestinal tract are affected as well. Without proper management, the respiratory and metabolic consequences of this disease are fatal at young age.

Despite the high frequency of diabetes in adult cystic fibrosis patients, the relationship between the two diseases is still hardly understood. Now, a consortium of Chinese/Japanese institutes has shown that the conductance regulator also regulates glucose-dependent electrical signaling in insulin-producing Beta cells. In other words, defects in the gene that lead to problems in mucus secretion also affect insulin secretion. As most Cystic Fibrosis patients develop insulin deficiency (belonging to the Type I Diabetes category), this finding indeed resolved an important missing link.

Whether the new insights also lead to new treatment options is not clear yet. The investigators have been able to focus at one specific gene mutant. Extrapolating their findings to known >1900 mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene in humans is a daunting task. Nevertheless, in their mice model, they have not witnessed a destruction of pancreatic islets, where the Beta cells are located that produce insulin. If in patients, insulin secretion would also be decreased before islet are destroyed, timely anticipation could potentially provide leads to effective non-invasive treatment options.

A summary of the paper has been published here.

Cystic Fibrosis organs - from Wikipedia