Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A better way to culture central nervous cells

A protein associated with neuron damage in Alzheimer's patients provides a superior scaffold for growing central nervous system cells in the lab. The findings could have clinical implications for producing neural implants and offers new insights on the complex link between the apoE4 apolipoprotein and Alzheimer's disease. Results appear in the journal Biomaterials.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A protein associated with neuron damage in people with Alzheimer’s disease is surprisingly useful in promoting neuron growth in the lab, according to a new study by engineering researchers at Brown University. The findings, in press at the journal Biomaterials, suggest a better method of growing neurons outside the body that might then be implanted to treat people with neurodegenerative diseases.

A more dependable scaffold for neural cell culture
central nervous system cells cultured in the apoE4
protein (right) fare better, with more axons and dendrites
than cells cultured in laminin (left). Ironically, apoE4 is
associated with the neural deficits of Alzheimer's disease
in the body. Credit: Palmore Lab/Brown University
The research compared the effects of two proteins that can be used as an artificial scaffold for growing neurons (nerve cells) from the central nervous system. The study found that central nervous system neurons from rats cultured in apolipoprotein E-4 (apoE4) grew better than neurons cultured in laminin, which had been considered the gold standard for growing mammalian neurons in the lab.

“Most scientists assumed that laminin was the best protein for growing CNS (central nervous system),” said Kwang-Min Kim, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Brown University and lead author of the study, “but we demonstrated that apoE4 has substantially better performance for mammalian CNS neurons.”

Kim performed the research under the direction of Tayhas Palmore, professor of engineering and medical science and Kim’s Ph.D. adviser. Also involved in the project was Janice Vicenty, an undergraduate from the University of Puerto Rico, who was working in the Palmore lab as a summer research fellow through the Leadership Alliance.

One size doesn't fit all
Tayhas Palmore and Kwang-Min Kim showed that lamnin,
the preferred scaffold for peripheral nerve cells, is not the
best choice for culturing cells from the central nervous
system. The protein apoE4 works much better.
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
The results are surprising partly because of the association of apoE4 with Alzheimer’s. Apolipoproteins are responsible for distributing and depositing cholesterols and other lipids in the brain. They come in three varieties: apoE2, apoE3 and apoE4. People with the gene that produces apoE4 are at higher risk for amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. But exactly how the protein itself contributes to Alzheimer’s is not known.

This study suggests that outside the body, where the protein can be separated from the cholesterols it normally carries, apoE4 is actually beneficial in promoting neuron growth.

Growing new neurons
In the body, neurons grow in what’s called an extracellular matrix (ECM), a protein-rich scaffold that provides cells with nutrients and a molecular structure in which to grow. To grow neurons in the lab, scientists try to mimic the ECM present in the body. Laminin is a common protein in the body’s ECM, and studies have shown that laminin aids the growth of neurons from the peripheral nervous system (nerve cells that grow outside the brain and spinal cord).

It was largely assumed, Kim said, that because laminin was good for growing peripheral nerve cells, it would also be good for growing central nerve cells. That turns out not to be the case.

Kim was inspired to test the effects of apoE4 by a previous study that found that a mixture of apoE4 and laminin promoted CNS cell growth better than laminin alone. “The previous work hadn’t tested the effects apoE4 by itself,” Kim said. “So we started working on a side-by-side comparison of apoE4 and laminin.”

Kim and his colleagues cultured rat hippocampal cells — a model for mammalian CNS neurons — in four different treatments: laminin, laminin and apoE4 mixed, apoE4 alone, and bare glass. They found that cells cultured in apoE4 alone performed substantially better than any other treatment. The apoE4 cells were more likely to adhere to the protein scaffold, which is necessary for proper growth. They also showed more robust growth of axons and dendrites, the wire-like appendages that enable neurons to send and receive nerve signals.

Laminin doesn’t seem to be of much benefit at all for culturing CNS cells, according to the study. Cells cultured on laminin alone did not perform any better than cells cultured on bare glass.

That was another big surprise, Kim said, because laminin is so widely used in all kinds of neuron cultures.

A second part of the research looked at the chemical pathways through which proteins may enhance neuron growth. Previous work had found two neuron receptors, the gateways through which neurons interact with the outside world, that play a role in how external proteins trigger cell growth. However, when Kim blocked these two receptors, known as integrin and HSPG, he found that apoE4 still enhanced neuron growth. That finding suggests that neurons use an as yet unknown pathway to interact with apoE4.

“This discovery opens up a new target for researchers who are interested in identifying receptors that are important for spurring neural growth,” Palmore said.

Application to neural prosthetics
Unlike other cells in the body, nerve cells tend not to regenerate after being damaged by disease or trauma. So researchers hope that they can eventually implant lab-grown cells in the body to treat trauma or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“People are looking at all these different proteins to see if we can make a material — a scaffold — that to a neuron, looks and feels like their natural environment,” said Palmore. “The finding that apoE4 is a better protein to add to neural scaffolds is a good breakthrough because most people have been using laminin for the central nervous system models, which turns out to be less than optimal.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (HRD-0548311) and the National Institutes of Health.

- by Kevin Stacey

Brown Engineering Student Cory Hargus Wins Award at National Collegiate Research Conference

Brown engineering student Cory Hargus ’13.5 has won an Award of Excellence and a $250 prize at the second annual National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard on January 26, 2013. He entered the poster presentation competition with his research titled, “Solar Enriched Biofuels Via Oxidizable Metal Catalysts.” Hargus was one of more than 200 students entering the poster competition.

A biomedical engineering concentrator, Hargus is a member of the AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) student group at Brown and a research assistant in the Peterson Catalyst Lab.

“Since the day he joined our group, Cory has continued to surprise me with the level of sophistication he employs in his research,” said Andrew Peterson, assistant professor of engineering. “He started this work as a 'side project' while he helped with experimental work, but he quickly broadened it into a sophisticated and innovative analysis, teaching himself the key concepts in thermodynamics and electronic structure he needed to succeed. The recognition he received in Cambridge this weekend is well-deserved.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Brown/RISD/Erfurt Team Selected to Compete in 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe

Team Inside Out, composed of students from Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design and University of Applied Sciences of Erfurt (Germany), has been selected to compete in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 competition. The Brown/RISD/Erfurt team is one of only 20 teams from 16 countries selected to participate in the international competition which will be held in Versailles, France, in June-July 2014.

These 20 teams now have 18 months to work on the design, production and implementation of their respective projects, to be assembled and presented in Versailles. The teams will have to meet the challenge of fully designing and constructing an energy independent solar house.

The Solar Decathlon team brings together a diverse group of participants from Brown, RISD and Erfurt. Its evolution goes can be traced to Jonathan Knowles, professor of architecture at RISD, who led the RISD Solar Decathlon team in the 2005 edition of the competition. His positive experience in 2005 inspired him to start building the current team. The University of Applied Sciences of Erfurt was a natural partner for several reasons, including Prof. Knowles’ longstanding collaboration with Prof. Rolf Gruber, Erfurt’s expertise in passive architecture, and Erfurt’s proximity to the 2014 Solar Decathlon competition site in Versailles.

“Brown University offers talented students and strength in science and engineering that will help develop the project’s technical innovations that are an important component of the competition,” said Derek Stein, assistant professor of physics and the faculty liaison for the team.

The Solar Decathlon core team members from Brown include engineering students Matt Breuer ’14, Montana Feiger ’14, Isby Lubin ’16, Beverly Xu ’14, and Gareth Rose ’16 in addition to Howard Carter ’16, Jonah Fay ’12.5, Sage Green ’14, and Haily Tran ’16.

The students have already developed the project’s concept of a “woven” house, whose reconfigurable walls will be made of textiles, and whose various uses will be intertwined with the needs of the community. The team is rethinking what materials can go into energy and cost-efficient housing, as well as what designs will promote efficient interactions between people and their environment.

“We are designing the house to have impacts beyond its walls; users will interact with elements of the house playfully, and we will design positive feedbacks to teach users about sustainability best practices,” said Breuer. “As part of this, we are weaving the systems that are traditionally kept in the background into the foreground - users will be aware of the presence of electrical, heating, and water systems and how their behavior impacts their resource consumption. We hope this will strengthen the relationship that users have with their living space and will promote a responsible and environmentally friendly lifestyle.”

About Solar Decathlon
The Solar Decathlon is an international competition organized every other year by the Department of Energy (DOE) in the United States. Since 2010, a Solar Decathlon has been organized in Europe in the alternating years between the American competitions. The first two European competitions were held in Madrid. The next competition, to be held in June/July 2014, is being organized by France and will take place in Versailles. A competition will also be held in 2013 in the United States and China.

Professor Nitin Padture Honored by IIT Bombay

Nitin Padture, professor of engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Materials Research at Brown University, received a Distinguished Service Award from his undergraduate alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. Since 1999 the awards have been given to IIT Bombay alumni who have contributed in a notable and sustained manner to the progress of the Institute.

Padture was honored as the co-leader of the Class of 1985 Legacy Projects, which include promoting entrepreneurship, supporting recruitment of top junior faculty at IITB, and supporting a Faculty Wellness Fund to benefit retired IITB faculty members and their families lacking medical coverage. Padture received the award last month at IITB’s alumni day.

Padture's research and teaching interests are in the broad areas of synthesis/processing and properties of advanced materials used in applications ranging from jet engines to solar cells to computer chips, impacting transportation, energy, and information technology sectors. He has published 125 journal papers, which have been cited over 5,000 times, is co-inventor of four patents, and he has delivered over 150 invited/keynote/plenary talks in the U.S. and abroad. Padture is the recipient of several awards and is Fellow of the American Ceramic Society and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is editor of a prominent international journal, Scripta Materialia.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brown to Host Second Annual Internship and Career Fair

On Saturday, January 26, 2013 the School of Engineering will host its second annual internship and career fair at Barus and Holley. More than 150 students and over 20 different companies are expected to attend.

This year, the career fair has been expanded slightly – nearly twice as many companies are expected to attend, the fair is now open to sophomore engineering students, and companies are encouraged to recruit for internships as well as full-time positions. In addition, more time has been allotted for interaction with engineering students and company representatives.

More than 20 high-tech companies have registerd to attend this year’s fair, including Analog Devices, Avid Technology, Bay Computer Associates, Charles River Analytics, Cogent Systems, DPR Construction, Gilbane Construction, Google, IBM, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Oracle, Qualcomm, Raytheon, Sensata Technologies, Stanley Black & Decker, and Wistia.

The fair is open to current Brown School of Engineering sophomores, juniors, seniors and master’s students. Students wishing to attend should register, using only a Brown University e-mail address at the following link: http://tinyurl.com/c2vuyyw

12:00 - 12:25    Lunch
12:25 - 12:30    Welcome/Opening Remarks
12:30 - 2:00     Company Presentations
2:00 - 4:00      Informal Conversations and Networking/Visit Company Tables

One extra incentive for students attending this year’s fair – prizes will be raffled off throughout the day. Students must be pre-registered and must be present in order to win.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Entrepreneur and Engineer Kyle Schutter ’10 Powers Takamoto Biogas Forward

As Kyle Schutter ’10 and his roommate were riding back to Providence on the train from Boston one day during their senior year, they did what they often did during their discussions. “We’d just throw these crazy ideas at each other,” Schutter says. The crazy idea this time was biogas. “Have you ever heard of it?” his roommate asked. Schutter hadn’t. “You just take anything that can rot and turn it into fuel.”

After this, Schutter, a biomedical engineering major, couldn’t get biogas out of his head. For a class, he drew up a plan for a biogas company operating in the developing world. After graduation, he considering earning a PhD, but he changed his mind.

“I could get a PhD and know what I’ll be doing for the next seven years,” he thought, “or I could start this company, and I won’t even know what I’ll be doing a year from now.” Young and adventurous, he chose the second option.

After graduating, he went on a fact-finding trip to Africa and started an internship with a biogas construction company in Ghana. It didn’t work out. Schutter didn’t like his boss, and he was being given only menial tasks to do. After five days, he quit and went on his own to Uganda, Rwanda, and, finally, Kenya, which he decided “was a great place to live and start a business.” The country has a reliable cell phone network, he says, and an educated, business-oriented population. Farmers in rural areas—his target customers—have access to banking services. And finally, well ahead of the United States, Kenya has developed a mobile money system in which phones can be used to purchase goods. This makes handling cash unnecessary, which Schutter says reduces “the chances of theft and increases transparency.”

He opened Takamoto Biogas in Nairobi in 2011. He used a biogas system developed by a nonprofit company, taking cow dung, vegetable scraps, cooking grease, and even human feces—pretty much anything organic—mixing in water, and placing it in an oxygen-free container. Bacteria digest the waste, generating natural gas that can be captured and used to fuel anything from a milking machine to a propane cooking range. Over a six-month period, Schutter sold twelve biogas systems, each one costing $1,000.

Schutter turned to friends and family for additional capital, and during the next year and a half he sold twenty more units. If the cost of research and growth are excluded, he says, his company is already profitable.

Ever the engineer, several months ago Schutter began working in his backyard on a new model for the biogas system. He has now lowered the upfront cost to $100 and reduced installation time from twelve days to three hours. This winter he plans a renewed push to sell more units. He also will begin to court outside investors and apply for grants from foundations.

“Right now we are in a good place,” Schutter says. “We could grow faster if we had more cash, but we have to keep” enough cash on hand “because one of the biggest threats to an enterprise is stress and burnout.”

Government corruption can also be a hindrance. A Kenyan official once asked him for a $200 bribe in exchange for a permit. Schutter said he would sell the bureaucrat a biogas system at a reduced price: $1,000. The official didn’t know that what Schutter was charging him was the regular retail price for the system. The bluff worked, and no laws were broken.

For now, Schutter plans to concentrate on Kenya, but he eventually hopes to distribute his biogas systems throughout the developing world. Already, he’s received inquiries from officials in Cameroon, Somalia, and Uganda. “Whether it’s me or someone else,” he says, “this idea will be spread worldwide.”

- by Lawrence Goodman/Brown Alumni Magazine

Friday, January 11, 2013

Seth Coe-Sullivan ’99 of QD Vision Wins Best in Show at Consumer Electronics Show for Sony TV

The Sony Bravia 4K 65-inch television was selected Best in Show and Best Home Theater Product at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The television features Color IQ™ technology developed by QD Vision. Brown engineering alumnus Seth Coe-Sullivan ’99 is the co-founder and chief technology officer of QD Vision.

“Brown Engineering was exactly the right place to get my engineering entrepreneurship career started,” said Coe-Sullivan. “Engineering is coupled to an atmosphere of creativity that the liberal arts college imbues.”

Color IQ™ is the world’s first high volume quantum dot product for LCD televisions. This new technology enables the next generation of LCD televisions, monitors and other display products to deliver more lifelike, brilliant colors.

“My exploration of displays started at Brown with a grad-level course on LCDs that then Professor Greg Crawford opened up to undergraduates,” said Coe-Sullivan. “I was hooked, and though the journey took me from LCD to OLED, to a PhD on QLEDs and then back to LCDs, I can trace my foundations of knowledge and interest to that one uniquely Brown course.”

“Seth was an incredible student in my electricity and magnetism course and I will never forget his enthusiasm in my graduate level displays course--he took it and excelled in it as a junior,” said Greg Crawford, former Brown professor and now dean at the College of Science at Notre Dame. “I knew then he was going to be successful in life and in his career. It is wonderful to see his success as an entrepreneur and his wonderful achievement honored at the Consumer Electronics Show. More importantly Seth is a great person -- a Brown graduate we are all extraordinarily proud of."

QD Vision, Inc. is a nanomaterials product company delivering a new generation of display and lighting solutions that provide unmatched color. The only quantum dot company solely focused on displays and lighting, QD Vision's technology harnesses the unique light-emitting properties of a new class of nanomaterials called quantum dots.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Brown Entrepreneurs Storm Silicon Valley

Ten Brown students will venture to Silicon Valley January 13th - 18th to launch the inaugural Brown University West Coast Accelerator. These student entrepreneurs will meet dozens of like-minded alumni and supporters from companies such as Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., Google, Facebook and Stanford’s StartX. The lucky ten will hone their business concepts through hands on marketing and technical training. They’ll explore funding opportunities through introductions to Brown alumni with the Band of Angels and Mohr Davidow Ventures. For these ten students, this trip is the opportunity of a lifetime to accelerate their ventures. With one week until show time, students are diligently re-working business models, perfecting pitches, and hosting all-night hackathons to create viable products. The inaugural class exemplifies what is uniquely Brown - a mindset to change the world in meaningful and creative ways. Meet the teams:

Determined to transform political engagement in the United States, Joschka Tryba ’12 and Max Fowler founded LoveGov, an online hub for every citizen to understand and engage in politics, from a local to federal level.

Will Barkeley ’16, the son of a deaf-blind mountain climber and marathon runner, has created Elevate, the next Nike for athletic apparel and equipment, dedicated to serving and recognizing disabled athletes like his father.

Exersaur tackles childhood obesity with a dinosaur avatar watch and a social gaming experience. Founded and led by Shawn Medford ’12, Roseanne Fleming ’12, Mark Buller Ph.D. candidate, and Ryan Sailor ’13, Exersaur fights childhood obesity with some fun.

Luke Sherwin '12, Neil Parikh '11, Giles Holt RISD '14, Gabe Flateman '12 and Chris Smothers '11 are disrupting e-commerce with Consignd, a new kind of platform for retail consignment. Consignd allows anyone to consign to or buy from influential content creators.

After spending years preparing for Taiwan preparatory exams, Sabrina Yu '15 co-founded gsuccess, a series of mobile applications to help test-takers in the greater China area conquer standardized exams on-the-go with little cost.

Will Hewson ’14, Gaurav Nakhare '15, and Daniel Hackney ’14 are jazzing up the tedious purchasing headache for consumer durables. They’ve taken their experiences in quick-service management and home-improvement sales to create durgood, an independent online product recommendation tool for durable goods

Brown University has had a long and fruitful history with entrepreneurship with alumni that include the founders of CNN, Nantucket Nectars, National Public Radio, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Ariba, House of Air, Slideshare, and many others. In 2012, Forbes Magazine ranked Brown 13th in the nation for entrepreneurship. Brown is the up and coming University for innovation.

Conceived by Brown alumnus and Trustee Emeritus Jonathan Speed ’84, and planned by the Brown Entrepreneurship Program in partnership with the School of Engineering, the Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations program, the Swearer Center for Public Service, and the Development Office, the West Coast Accelerator will expand the University’s entrepreneurial footprint to the Silicon Valley, building essential bridges between the University and its many successful West Coast alumni entrepreneurs. A visit to the nation’s technological capital will catalyze the University and Providence’s resources for entrepreneurs.

The spirit which epitomizes the University’s student body is that of an activist and creator. Unsatisfied with the world as it is, students at Brown eagerly seek opportunities to initiate improvements via new knowledge and ways of thought. The Brown Entrepreneurship Program is bringing this mission to new heights this winter. Look for updates and highlights of the Accelerator in coming months at brownep.org

By Elizabeth Weber