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Harvester Cuts Appetite

Could a centimeter-sized device replace gastric bypass surgery? Yes, and it’s a wireless gadget called the “harvester.” It creates the feeling of fullness by using LED lights to stimulate the vagus nerve—a nerve that oversees many bodily functions, including connecting information from the digestive tract to the brain. “We wanted to create a device that not only requires minimal surgery for implantation but also allows us to stimulate specific nerve endings in the stomach,” said Sung II Park, College of Engineering. The project received funding from Texas A&M’s President’s Excellence Fund X-Grants program, NARSARD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems (PATHS-UP) and the University of Washington Diabetes Research Center, and the National Institutes of Health. College of Engineering.

Image: Matthew Linguist, Texas A&M Engineering

Sleeping with the Enemy

Called the silent killer, hypertension affects approximately 30 percent of Americans, causing up to 60,000 deaths per year. High blood pressure typically has no symptoms until it has done significant damage. “Nighttime blood pressure is actually a really good indicator for the health of the cardiovascular system,” said Roozbeh Jafari, College of Engineering. “At nighttime, typically the body itself shows its true behavior.” Jafari’s team is developing a comfortable wrist-worn device that measures pulse-wave velocity, heart rate, and blood volume changes to continuously gauge nocturnal blood pressure. The device should generate a wealth of information for doctors about short-term dynamics and variations in blood pressure, as well as responses to medications. The project has received $3.6 million from the National Institutes of Health. College of Engineering.

Image: courtesy of Dr. Roozbeh Jafari, Texas A&M Engineering

Nasal Spray Treats Brain Damage

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million sport-related concussions occur annually—football reportedly being responsible for over 300,000 of those. “Imagine a football player who has a concussion,” said Ashok Shetty, College of Medicine. “You just have to give him a simple nasal spray to prevent brain inflammation and long-term adverse effects such as cognitive and mood dysfunction.” Shetty’s team is working with stem cell–derived therapeutic extracellular vesicles (EVs). Those tiny particles carry proteins and microRNAs that can regenerate brain cells, curb inflammation, and promote new connections between nerve cells. The nasal spray method of administration also makes EVs a potentially low-cost, nonsurgical therapy for brain injuries, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. College of Medicine.

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Optical Biosensor Monitors Glucose

Pricking a finger to obtain a blood sample several times a day has long been standard practice for adults and children to manage diabetes. New technologies have recently become available to continuously monitor blood sugar—an implant that sits partially outside the skin but that must be changed every few weeks. A&M researchers Melissa A. Grunlan and Gerard L. Coté, College of Engineering, are working on a more comfortable option: a tiny optical biosensor that fits under the skin and transmits results continually to a wrist-worn device. Grunlan recently took a major step toward making the biosensor practical. With funding from federal and private sources, her team created a hydrogel membrane that makes the biosensor far more efficient. The result, Grunlan said, “is a promising candidate for building long-term functioning glucose biosensors” that could last several months per implant. College of Engineering.

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Controlling Fear

More than 7.5 million US adults will suffer this year with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a mental health condition triggered by experiencing a terrifying event or witnessing it. To help improve their quality of life, Stephen Maren, College of Liberal Arts, and his interdisciplinary team are developing a wireless, low-power pacemaker that will restore normal function to brain circuits that generate unreasonable fear. The device will use LED lights to turn on or shut off neurons in the brain to control PTSD attacks. “The principles that we’ve learned will allow for monitoring and reducing physiological fear responses such as heart rate and blood pressure in humans,” Maren said. The project was supported by the X-Grants Program. 2020 President’s Excellence Fund Symposium.

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Escaping Death

Humans have long pursued the secret of immortality, but one species—known as the immortal jellyfish—appears to have found it. When starved or injured, Turritopsis dohrnii forms a cystlike ball and settles on the seafloor. In a few days, the ball changes into a polyp that eventually produces a new jellyfish. “This process lets T. dohrnii escape death, and it becomes potentially ‘immortal,’” said Maria Pia Miglietta, a marine biologist at Texas A&M’s Galveston campus. “So our ultimate goal is to understand its life cycle and its genetics.” Her study of the process—known as transdifferentiation—could inspire advanced treatments for aging, muscular diseases, genetic disorders, and memory issues. Miglietta’s work is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Texas A&M Today.

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Jellyfish Illustration: VIP1001 / Shutterstock.com