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The Gander – 28 April 2016

Special delivery

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde, UK, are working on a system to administer antibiotics that has the potential to revolutionise the way antibiotics are delivered and radically reduce the risk of infections.

Attendees at the recent UK Macrobiology Society heard how the concept is based on foam produced by the tiny Trinidadian Tungara frogs. As they mate, these 5cm-long creatures produce a mixture of proteins, which they ‘whip’ into a foam using their back legs. They then lay their eggs in this foam to protect them against environmental threats and predators.

The researchers, led by Dr Paul Hoskisson, found that the foam is extremely stable and can contain drug therapies and release them in a stable, non-toxic fashion and has significant potential for antibiotic delivery, for example in patients with severe burns that would otherwise require IV antibiotics.

They found that when the foam was filled with the antibiotic vancomycin, it could prevent in vitro growth of Staphylococcus aureus for 48 hours. When tested in vitro against keratinocytes for 24 hours, the cells were still alive and viable after this time. The researchers said this showed that the foam is not toxic to humans and they are now working on a synthetic version that would contain the same properties.

Dr Hoskisson commented: “Foams are unusual in nature and are typically made of inactivated proteins, yet this foam is stable and importantly, compatible with human cells, making it potentially ideal for pharmaceutical applications.

“While foams like these are a long way from hitting the clinic, they could help in burns and wound treatment, providing support and protection for healing tissue and delivering drugs at the same time — all from a humble little frog.”

Co-researcher at the University of Strathclyde Dr Sarah Brozio added: “Foams are usually very short-lived so they’re not considered for long-term drug release, even though they have great potential for topical treatments. This foam comes from a tiny frog and yet offers us a whole new approach that could prevent wound infections, and with increasing antibiotic resistance, it’s important that all new tactics are explored.”

Food for thought

The UK’s Royal Society of Public Health has called for the introduction of ‘activity-equivalent’ calorie labelling on packaged food in a bid to tackle the obesity epidemic.

This would involve using symbols to show how many minutes of activity, and what type, would be required to work-off a meal or snack. The Society hopes that this will communicate the realities of calorie consumption to consumers in a way that would make it more ‘real’ and impactful.

Royal Society of Public Health CEO Ms Shirley Cramer wrote in the BMJ that the current system of calorie labelling is in fact having a minimal impact on changing behaviour in the general public.

The symbols would include text to show: a 330ml can of soft drink typically contains 138 calories and would require 26 minutes of brisk walking and 13 minutes’ slow jogging; a standard chocolate bar of 229 calories would require 42 minutes of walking and 22 minutes of jogging; a medium mocha coffee, at 290 calories, would need 53 minutes’ walking and 28 minutes’ jogging; one-quarter of a large pizza would require one hour and 23 minutes of walking and 43 minutes of jogging; and a packet of crisps, at 171 calories, would need 31 minutes of walking, or a 16-minute jog.

The list also includes exercise guidelines for such items as a chicken and bacon sandwich, blueberry muffin, iced cinnamon roll, a bowl of cereal and a packet of dry-roasted peanuts.

“The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active,” wrote Ms Cramer.

“We have a responsibility to promote measures to tackle the biggest public health challenges facing our society, such as obesity.”

 

Urine luck for a power supply

A scientific paper titled ‘Self-sufficient Wireless Transmitter Powered by Foot-pumped Urine Operating Wearable MFC’ has described the development of the first self-sufficient system powered by a wearable energy generator based on microbial fuel cell technology.

Prof Ioannis Ieropoulos of the Bristol Bioenergy Centre, UK, and his team embedded mini-microbial fuel cells (MFCs) into a pair of socks, which were supplied with fresh urine. While MFCs would normally rely on a pump for circulation, in this case the circulation was provided simply by the normal walking actions of the wearer, with tubes under the heels acting as a pump.

The power was then used to send a wireless transmitter signal to a PC.

The power generated was sufficient to send a message every two minutes to a receiver module, which was controlled by the PC.

MFC technology can use any form of organic waste and turn it into energy without relying on fossil fuels and the scientists based their theory on the simple but effective circulatory system of a fish.

“Having already powered a mobile phone with MFCs using urine as fuel, we wanted to see if we could replicate this success in wearable technology. We also wanted the system to be entirely self-sufficient, running only on human power — using urine as fuel and the action of the foot as the pump,” commented Prof Ieropoulos.

“This work opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics. For example, recent research shows it should be possible to develop a system based on wearable MFC technology to transmit a person’s co-ordinates in an emergency situation. At the same time, this would indicate proof of life, since the device will only work if the operator’s urine fuels the MFCs.”

The Bristol Bioenergy Centre also recently launched a prototype urinal that uses urine-powered technology to light cubicles in refugee camps.

The research was reported in ScienceDaily.

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