New Worlds: Nanotechnology makes better glues

Like glue for the brain - glia cells and the brain's plasticity; MADA's electronic book of lifesaving.

By
March 11, 2012 03:36
4 minute read.
nanostructures

nano material 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Israeli scientists have used nanotechnology to make internal structural changes in epoxy glue, creating a product with twice the power of conventional adhesives. The special glue is not for producing stickier envelopes or putting parts of furniture together but for applications in the aerospace industry.

The researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and Schenkar Engineering added tiny particles of the chemical compound tungsten sulfide (with the formula WS2), which occurs naturally as a rare mineral called tungstenite. Nano-size refers to substances one-billionth of a meter, thus the mineral in the glue is much, much smaller than conventional particles. The tungstenite was added at a concentration of half a percent to conventional glue, thus doubling the strength. This compound, they said, has brought about a “revolution” in the adhesive industry.

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Nanostructured WS2 has been used so far for the chemical storage of hydrogen and the metal lithium, material for solid-state secondary lithium battery cathodes, a component of batteries and other electrochemical devices; a dry lubricant and as catalyst in hydrodesulfurization of crude oil.

The team, including Prof. Reshef Tenne, research student Mark Schneider, Prof. Hanna Dudayok and Prof. Shmuel Koenig, predict that the nano-glue will be useful to aviation and space engineers in the development of new vehicles in the atmosphere and beyond. It can also be of use to engineers in a variety of other industries, they said.

Like Glue for the Brain

The brain’s glia cells, named for the Greek word for glue, hold the neurons together and protect the cells that create thoughts and behaviors, but scientists have long puzzled over their prominence in the activities of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. Now Tel Aviv University researchers say that glia cells are central to the brain’s plasticity – how the brain adapts, learns and stores information.

According to doctoral student Maurizio De Pitta of TAU’s schools of physics and astronomy and electrical engineering, glia cells do much more than hold the brain together. A mechanism within the glia cells also sorts information for learning purposes, De Pitta says.



“Glia cells are like the brain’s supervisors. By regulating the synapses, they control the transfer of information between neurons, affecting how the brain processes information and learns,” he says.

His research, supervised led by Prof. Eshel Ben- Jacob and Vladislav Volman of the Salk Institute and the University of California at San Diego and Hugues Berry of the University of Lyon in France, has developed the first computer model that incorporates the influence of glia cells on synaptic information transfer.

Detailed in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the model can also be implemented in technologies based on brain networks such as microchips and computer software, Ben-Jacob says, and aid in research on brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.

The brain is constituted of two main types of cells – neurons and glia. Neurons fire off signals that dictate how we think and behave, using synapses to pass along the message from one neuron to another. Scientists suggest that memory and learning are dictated by synaptic activity because they have the ability to adapt to different stimuli.

But Ben-Jacob and colleagues suspected that glia cells were even more central to how the brain works.

Glia cells are abundant in the brain’s hippocampus and the cortex, the two parts of the brain that have the most control over the brain’s ability to process information, learn and memorize. In fact, for every neuron, there are two to five glia cells. Taking into account previous experimental data, the researchers were able to build a model that could resolve the puzzle.

The brain is like a social network, says Ben-Jacob. Messages may originate with the neurons, which use the synapses as their delivery system, but the glia serve as an overall moderator, regulating which messages are sent on and when. These cells can either prompt the transfer of information or slow activity if the synapses become overactive. Thus, the glia cells are the guardians of our learning and memory processes.

The team’s findings may have important implications for a number of brain disorders, as almost all neurodegenerative diseases are glia-related pathologies, says Ben-Jacob. In epileptic seizures, for example, the neurons’ activity at one brain location propagates and overtakes the normal activity at others.

This can happen when glia fail to properly regulate synaptic transmission. Alternatively, when brain activity is low, glia cells boost transmissions of information, keeping the connections between neurons “alive.”

De Pitta says the model will provide a new tool to begin revising computational neuroscience theories and lead to more realistic brain-inspired algorithms and microchips, which are designed to mimic neuronal networks.

Electronic Book of Lifesaving

Magen David Adom has produced its first electronic book (eBook) to help train hundreds of thousands of medics, paramedics and first-aid givers around the country and the world (those who know Hebrew, at least). They can download to their own computers guides for resuscitation, delivering a baby, treating victims of physical trauma and more. Senior experts in the training department of the first aid, ambulance and blood-supply service – Natan Kudinsky, Itamar Avramovich and Eli Yaffe – prepared the volume. The material can be viewed by anyone at www.mdais.org/Book and on MDA’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mdaisrael.

The eBook contains over 250 pages of the most updated material in emergency medicine. The proper use of resuscitation equipment, the order of actions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation and proper bandaging procedures are among the subjects included.

MDA says it continues to prepare additional eBooks that would make such lifesaving data completely accessible. Obviously, it is very important that professional rescuers undergo hands-on training to on lifesaving and not use the electronic textbook alone.

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