PM series: Nanoporphyrin

In a short series, we will focus on various topics on personalized medicine in China. Second in this series: personalized nano-medicine.

A group of Chinese and American researchers recently published a paper in Nature Communications on a nano-particle with a high potential in diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. The investigators designed particles, consisting of  nanoporphyrins,  to specifically target tumors in mice. When applied in vivo, these nano-particles revealed a broad range of clinically relevant properties. Applications ranged from diagnosis to treatment, as particles:

- enhanced the visibility of tumors by imaging techniques such as MRI and PET;

- could be activated on-site to produce heat or oxygen radicals to destroy tumor cells;

- could act as vehicles for targeted drug delivery in tumors.

All together, the investigators developed a versatile platform that is likely to find its application in patient-specific cancer diagnostics and treatment. It works in mice, and a successful application in humans is anticipated.





PM series: Cystic fibrosis links to diabetes

In a short series, we focus on various topics on personalized medicine (PM) in China. First in this series: a functional link between diabetes and cystic fibrosis, reported by researchers from Hong Kong, Chengdu, Beijing and Tokyo.

Cystic fibrosis occurs when mutations in the CFTR gene hamper the function of the Cystic Fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. This leads to a “tough mucus” secretion in the lungs, and its most acute symptoms are therefore  shortness of breath. Indigestion is also a serious symptom, as organs in and around the gastrointestinal tract are affected as well. Without proper management, the respiratory and metabolic consequences of this disease are fatal at young age.

Despite the high frequency of diabetes in adult cystic fibrosis patients, the relationship between the two diseases is still hardly understood. Now, a consortium of Chinese/Japanese institutes has shown that the conductance regulator also regulates glucose-dependent electrical signaling in insulin-producing Beta cells. In other words, defects in the gene that lead to problems in mucus secretion also affect insulin secretion. As most Cystic Fibrosis patients develop insulin deficiency (belonging to the Type I Diabetes category), this finding indeed resolved an important missing link.

Whether the new insights also lead to new treatment options is not clear yet. The investigators have been able to focus at one specific gene mutant. Extrapolating their findings to known  >1900 mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene in humans is a daunting task. Nevertheless, in their mice model, they have not witnessed a destruction of pancreatic islets, where the Beta cells are located that produce insulin. If in patients, insulin secretion would also be decreased before islet are destroyed, timely anticipation could potentially provide leads to effective non-invasive treatment options.

A summary of the paper has been published here.

Cystic Fibrosis organs - from Wikipedia

BGI and Edinburgh start to synthesize

Following a MoU (memorandum of understanding) earlier this year, the University of Edinburgh and the BGI in Shenzhen have now started a collaborative project on synthetic biology.

This emerging discipline combines techniques in the sequencing and DNA synthesis fields to re-create and re-model entire chromosomes, that can replace the original chromosomes in host organisms such as yeast. As such, new platforms are created with a wide scope of applications, such as the production of proteins, nutrients, drugs and fuels, or fermentation processes.

In the Sino-Anglo collaborative project, researchers will focus on the re-creation of yeast chromosome VII as part of the Sc2.0 project, initiated by Johns Hopkins University and the first synthetic eukaryotic genome project.

The construction project is initially worth 1M pound and is largely supported by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences research council.

For further reading, please see here for the collaboration and here for the Sc2.0 project.

obtained from Sc2.0

obtained from Sc2.0

nanoparticles as catalysts

A group of scientists lead by the Xiamen-based investigator Nanfeng Zheng have developed nanoparticles that act as catalysts for the oxidation of CO (carbon monoxide) to CO2 (carbon dioxide).

Bringing two catalytic materials close to each other enables two separate reactions to occur simultaneously at almost the same location. The scientists used platinum nanocrystals covered with thin layers of iron hydroxide and nickel hydroxide, leaving gaps on the surface. Iron hydroxide ion combination with platinum can efficiently oxidize CO to CO2. Without nickel, this reaction is however unstable and intermediates are quickly dehydrated.

The nanoparticle catalyst proved efficient at room temperature and was stable for long periods, up to one month.

(adopted from nature China and Science)





AkzoNobel invests in Coatings R&D lab in Shanghai.

The Colour Run In Beijing

AkzoNobel is expanding its Songjiang research site near Shanghai with a facility devoted to the company’s Performance Coatings businesses. The focus of the center will be on finding innovative solutions aimed at packaging, coil, specialty finishes, and powder coatings markets. The company invested more than 6.5 million in the center and plans to have it finished by June 2015.

With the expanded research center AkzoNobel will increase its capability and capacity to serve the growing Asian demand and fulfill the company’s desire to grow. Currently the Chinese region generates around €1.6 billion revenues for the company. The new facility enables the company to innovate closer to its Chinese customer base and accelerate the development of products adapted specifically to the Asian market.

The Songjiang site near Shanghai was already recently expanded to create one of AkzoNobel’s largtest resin plants for performance coatings in the world. The new facility will double the number of people working in R&D at Songjiang and will be the company’s second largest research base in the world, behind Felling in the UK.

By Annemieke Zuurman

Source: AkzoNobel

China supercomputer world’s fastest

China has the world’s most powerful supercomputer for the third time in a row as the country once again ups its presence in the global top 500 of powerful computers. The computer with the name Tianhe-2 was top of the twice-yearly list that keeps tabs on supercomputer development and growth.

The top performing computer, Tianhe-2, had its power measured at 33.86 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second). It has been just five years since IBM’s Roadrunner became the first computer to break the 1 petaflop/s mark. That machine was shut down in 2013 due to excessive power consumption.

tianhe2 or Milky Way2 in Guanzhou

China had 76, up from 63 in the last count. This is almost as many as the UK (30), France (27) and Germany (23) combined. The full list will be published on Monday at a conference in Leipzig, Germany. The top500 list is a widely-recognized barometer of the state of worldwide supercomputing. It has been published twice yearly since 1993.

Tianhe-2 is owned by the Chinese government and operated by the National University of Defense Technology. It is used as a “research and educational” tool.


HAMR Platform launched successfully.


Yesterday afternoon the first edition of HAMR took place at the Holland High Tech Center in Suzhou.

The Holland Advanced Machinery and Production Rotation (HAMR) is an initiative by NOST Shanghai to connect Dutch companies within this industry. The platform fulfills the need for these firms to connect and share industry know-how. The Advanced Machinery sector is facing various challenges in China, for instance; high turnover rates of personnel, training, talent management and legal issues, dealing with suppliers, establishing a healthy company-infrastructure and business development on the local market. These challenges are mostly dealt with on an individual basis.

The objective of the HAMR platform is for companies to connect and share experiences on these challenges. The platform aims to create an informal atmosphere to ease communication between members. Yesterday started off with two presentations by the Holland High Tech Center and Nanopolis. Afterwards, the Dutch concept of a ‘borrel’ was introduced to the participants which led to lively discussions and new contacts. The hosting of the event will be rotated among members, so everyone gains the opportunity to present their company.


By Annemieke Zuurman

Impressions: _DSC6202_副本 _DSC6209_副本 _DSC6230_副本

Open access for Chinese publications within 12 months

The National Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have announced a new open access policy for academic researchers (see CAS statement). All articles that are based on governmental Science and Technology programs, as well as all  publicly funded projects should become accessible to everyone within 12 months after publication. This is either achieved via the publishers, and universities will also provide access via their own repositories to which researchers upload their published manuscripts.

Open access has become a subject of debate on a global scale. In the recent years, open access publishing groups like the Public Library of Science (Plos) and Biomed central (BMC) have gained both impact as well as popularity, and originally closed publishers such as the Nature publishing group have also opened a number of open journals.

The aim of an open access policy is to enhance knowledge and global involvement in the scientific community. CAS and NSFC made the announcement a week prior to the Global Research Council, a platform for major funding agencies worldwide, which was organised in Beijing in the end of May.





Sinovac’s organized battle against HFMD

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has become a serious childhood disease in Asia. The disease has a viral origin. The virus that is associated to the most severe form of HFMD is the enterovirus 71 (EV71). In most cases, infection does not cause symptoms or only leads to rash and speckles around the mouth, hands and feet, but the infection may occasionally spread and cause other symptoms as well, such as meningitis and airway infection. In 2008, out of 490,000 reported infections in China, 126 children died after being infected by this virus.

Whereas EV71 may be most dangerous virus among those that lead to HFMD, there are other viruses as well that cause the disease and lead to serious and critical symptoms. It is therefore not surprising that the disease is battled from multiple directions. Governments, schools, companies, hospitals and researchers are all trying to limit the damage caused by HFMD by imposing hygiene and school-closing programs, developments of vaccines and drugs for treatment.

This year, a large Chinese consortium, indeed consisting of a number of health centers and universities, either national or from Jiangsu, Beijing, Xi’an, and Sinovac, a vaccination developer from Beijing, successfully completed the phase 3 clinical trial for a vaccination against EV71. Over 10,000 children between 6 and 35 months of age received two doses of a vaccine, or placebo, and were followed for 12 months. The vaccinated children were 7 times less likely to develop EV71-cuased HFMD; also, while EV71 infections lead to 24 hospitalizations in the placebo group during this period, none of the vaccinated children were hospitalised. Altogether, the vaccine was reported to be safe and effective for one year. The consortium will continue to develop this vaccine, in order to maximize its efficacy for a longer period of time.

This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1304923) and the Lancet (doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61049-1) with clinical trial numbers NCT01508247 and NCT01507857.


… and make sure schools are closed in case of a HFMD outbreak (image from


ESA-MOST Dragon workshop in Chengdu

Sentinal 1A. One of the new European satellites whose date will be shared within the Dragon programme.

Sentinal 1A. One of the new European satellites whose date will be shared within the Dragon program.

Last week 300 earth observation experts from Europe and China gathered in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan for the 2014 Dragon 3 International Symposium. The Dragon program is a joint undertaking of ESA and the National Remote Sensing Center of China (NRSCC), under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of China.

It promotes exploitation of ESA, third party mission and Chinese earth observation satellite data within China for science and applications. Thematic areas covered are Atmosphere & climate; Ocean & coastal zones; Hydrology & Cryosphere; Geoid & Terrain measurement; Forrest mapping; Land & environment. Originally launched in 2004, Dragon is now in its 3rd phase, lasting until 2016.

Among the 160 or so involved institutes The Netherlands plays an active role. At the symposium scientific contributions came from Alterra, Delft University of Technology, ITC, and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. Their projects with Chinese partners focused on a wide range of topics, such as prediction of NOx air pollution in coastal China and new hydrological models for the Yangtze basin. There was also plenty of room for discussion after the scientific sessions. Improved access to higher resolution Chinese satellite imagery proved to be a hot topic among many of the researchers.

More information on the Dragon 3 website. Contact beijing [at] nost [dot] org [dot] cn for a digital brochure of the Dragon program.