Biotechnology a growing sector in Maine

Research and development (R&D) in biotechnology is the main cause of the industry’s growth, and the latest biotech news shows how important R&D is for the industry. Unfortuantly, Maine hasn't had any R&D voter approved bonds for biotechnology since the Baldacci administration. Yet, there has never been a better time for the people of Maine to take out bonds, with low interest rates, to help a growing industry and to create great paying jobs.

The latest biotechnology news demonstrates what the future of this field might hold for healthcare and beyond, and Maine is at the forefront.

Maine's bioscience industry employs nearly 6,200 people in 225 business establishments across the state. Maine has a specialized employment concentration in drugs and pharmaceuticals, a sector which has also seen strong job growth since 2007, increasing by nearly 17 percent.

The state is also highly concentrated in research, testing and medical labs. State inventors have been issued 243 bioscience-related patents since 2009. The focus of these patents have been in biochemistry, surgical and medical instruments, and drugs and pharmaceuticals.

Maine BioScience is the lead organization for the bioscience community in the state, representing Maine's largest employers, emerging start-ups, universities, research institutions, service companies, students, and individuals.

The latest news-

Inventions and innovations in 2016 span diagnostics, consumer electronics, artificial human tissue and cryopreservation.

3-D Bioprinting

A team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center developed an integrated tissue-organ printer able to produce human-scale tissue of any shape, according to Nature Biotechnology.

The printer improves on previous attempts by using a technique that 3-D prints tissues that includes micro-channels, which allows nutrients to penetrate the tissue. Tissues are given a water-based gel, containing the cells and encouraging them to grow, according to the BBC.

The study found that sections of bone, muscle and cartilage all functioned normally when implanted into animals. Scientists called it a significant advance for regenerative medicine, and Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, told the BBC the results were “striking.”

“The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress,” Birchall said, predicting that it will be less than a decade before surgeons begin trials of customized printed organs and tissues.

Google Glass Applications

Stanford University graduate student Catalin Voss’ Autism Glass project won the $15,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2016. The competition is open to new inventions in healthcare as well as transportation, food and agriculture or consumer devices.

The 20-year-old inventor’s project adds emotion-recognition software for Google Glass that tells a child with autism whether a person the child looks at is happy, sad or angry, Scientific American explains. Autism Glass uses a smartphone with software to analyze data from the Google Glass and provide feedback to the user. It also records video for parents to review and to help children improve their learning.

Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced the remote monitoring of organs-on-chips via Google Glass, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Organs-on-chips are microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs. They are used for drug testing and development as well as studying the function of healthy or diseased organs.

The custom Google Glass application allowed researchers to monitor and control microfluidically sustained liver and heart tissues. They were able to oversee parameters like temperature, pH and morphology of organs-on-chips. They were also able to activate valves remotely to introduce pharmaceutical compounds to organoid tissues. The technology could make applications in biomedicine and healthcare safer (such as work with viruses, radioactive compounds and highly pathogenic bacteria) and more efficient.

Lung Cancer Testing

A fast and accurate test is able to detect biomarkers of lung cancer in saliva, according to Medical News Today. In just 10 minutes, patients can receive a result in the comfort of a doctor’s office.

The breakthrough comes after 10 years of research, led by oral cancer and saliva diagnostics researcher David Wong of the School of Dentistry at UCLA. The “liquid biopsy” method searches for circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The saliva test detects genetic mutations in a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which normally helps cells grow and divide. Mutations in the EGFR are associated with lung cancer.

Trials in lung cancer patients are taking place in China, as of February 2016. Wong and his colleagues are looking at a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

Orchid Cryopreservation 

A literature review from Biotechnology Advances details orchid cryopreservation efforts, focusing on recent advances in the development of orchid cryobiotechnology. This field applies a wide range of cryopreservation methods to orchid explants (cells, organs or pieces of tissue), such as the following applications.

* Programmed freezing for pollen.

* Encapsulation-dehydration and encapsulation-vitrification for seeds, protocorms and shoot tips.

* Vitrification for seeds, cultured cells, shoot tips and protocorms.

* Droplet-vitrification for shoot tips and protocorms.

* Preculture-desiccation for shoot primordia and rhizomes.

Successful development and application of cryobiotechnology extends to nearly 100 species and commercial hybrids of orchids. However, given the diversity of the orchid family (Orchidaceae), this covers less than 0.5 percent of the species. Further efforts are needed to safeguard genetic diversity of the socioeconomically important and culturally valuable orchid species. Orchids derived from cryogenically stored material can be propagated and later reintroduced into their native habitats.

Orchids are used as food, flavorings, medicines, ornaments and perfumes. Recent clinical trials have proved the medicinal value of some traditional used orchid species. The presence of medicinally active chemicals such as polysaccharides and secondary metabolites including alkaloids, glycosides, phenolic compounds and many others have been also documented in orchid tissues. Orchids are most often used in the modern world as ornamentals and represent 8 percent of the global floriculture trade.