Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

Nov. 14, 2014

side effects
Lawrence Livermore scientists have identified adverse drug reactions before reaching the patients.

Computing the side effects

A combination of computer programs allowed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers to identify adverse drug reactions outside of the drug development laboratory.

Their method, helped researchers accurately pinpoint certain adverse events based on the interactions between drug proteins and drug compounds.

“We need to do something to identify these side effects earlier in the drug development cycle to save lives and reduce costs,” Monte LaBute, a researcher in LLNL’s  Computational Engineering Division.

There have been cases in which medications with off-target protein side effects have reached the marketplace and later been recalled. “We need a way to determine the safety of such therapeutics before they reach patients. Our work can help direct such drugs to patients who will benefit the most from them with the least amount of side effects,” LaBute said.

Lawrence Livermore scientists Aleksandr Noy, Kyunghoon Kim and Jia Geng hold up a model of a carbon nanotube that can be inserted into live cells, which can pinpoint an exact area to treat without harming other organs. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Channeling biological systems

Biological membranes are selectively permeable, maintain the chemical identity of the cells and regulate the exchange of material between them. To control the transporting of ions and small molecules through cell membranes, highly specialized proteins that transport these molecules through the membrane are used.

Lawrence Livermore scientists and colleagues have synthesized and manufactured artificial compounds destined to fulfil the functions of transmembrane channels and transporters.

Unlike taking a pill which is absorbed slowly and is delivered to the entire body, carbon nanotubes can pinpoint an exact area to treat without harming surrounding other organs

LLMDA photo
Shea Gardner, a bioinformaticist at Lawrence Livermore, and Tom Slezak, scientific leader for LLNL’s Bioinformatics, look over results from the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

In one simple test

Diagnostic technology developed for rapid detection of pathogens in the wounds of soldiers has been licensed to a private company that intends to use it to create new medical laboratory tests.

The Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA) is designed to improve on two pathogen identification techniques: Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis and DNA sequencing. PCR diagnostic techniques can process no more than 50 DNA signatures at one time and the likelihood of discovering new species are low with PCR. The new technology is capable of identifying thousands of bacteria and viruses in a single test.

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory developed the LLMDA. The microarray’s checkerboard has several dozen squares for each of the thousands of organisms sequenced to date. That allows it to simultaneously examine multiple regions from each organism.

LLNL researcher George Farquar swabs DNA Trax off a persimmon to trace the produce back to its source. Farquar led a team of Lab researchers who invented the technology. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Scanning the produce aisles

You buy some fruit at the farmers market. But before taking a bite into that ripe strawberry, you scan something so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Using technology invented at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, DNATrek is creating liquids that each contains a unique DNA sequence. The odorless, colorless and tasteless solution peppers the surface of produce, or blends into other oils and liquids, with a genetic bar code that can be identified by a special machine.

The technology could solve the enormous challenge of tracing an outbreak’s source -- the places where food items are grown, packed and shipped. When people start feeling the symptoms of salmonella or E. coli, many clues about the contaminated product’s origins, such as the shipment boxes, already have disappeared.

Lawrence Livermore researchers have found that phase changes -- transitions between states of matter -- can take a multitude of paths.

Changing states

The process of changing states of matter, for example from solid to liquid, is not as simple as previously thought, according to recent research. 

It all seems so simple: Apply heat to the solid and eventually “a change in degree becomes a change in state”. The bonds between the atoms or molecules are weakened to the point where the lattice breaks apart to become a liquid or, under sufficiently low pressures, a gas.

However, it turns out that during these transitions, materials can spend time in metastable states. Amit Samanta of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that when melting copper and aluminum, the process “occurs via multiple, competing pathways involving the formation and migration of point defects or dislocations.”