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raman DMD blood test
New blood test for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Raman DMD blood test
Duchenne model and control responses (courtesy of Nature Scientific Reports)

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) affects almost exclusively boys and there are around 2,500 people with the disease in the UK. It develops rapidly from around age 4 and is a life-limiting condition, with muscle tissue gradually degrading until it becomes lifeless. Life expectancy is typically 26 years. As a rare disease, research into DMD is not widely funded but research is also held back by the lack of a quick, definitive blood test. Such a test would permit studies to start at an early stage and allow treatment to slow the progression of the disease to start earlier too.

This month, researchers at the University at Albany in New York reported development of a new blood test for DMD. Writing in Nature Scientific Reports, they validated the test in so-called mdx mice (which have the disease). Encouragingly, they gave a measurably different response to healthy control mice.

The usual way to diagnose DMD is with a muscle biopsy. Even with stained tissues, it can be difficult to tell the difference between healthy and diseased samples. White fatty regions can be fairly easily seen in 12 months old mice but at 3 months, differences are not so obvious.

Muscle biopsies from healthy mice (A and C) and mdx mice (B and D). A & B at 3 months; C & D at 12 months (courtesy of Nature Scientific Reports)

Principal Investigator Professor Bijan Dey and his team took blood samples from the diseased and healthy mice, separating the blood plasma from the red blood cells and other components in the blood. Drops of blood plasma were allowed to dry and then multiple points on the residues were analysed with a Raman microscope.

Laser Raman microscopy is a non-destructive analysis technique that gives a ‘finger-print’ of the vibrations of molecules in a sample under analysis. Large molecules have many vibrations and give complex Raman finger-prints, while small molecules have just a few and give simple finger-prints. Heavy molecules vibrate at low frequencies whereas light molecules vibrate at high frequencies. The finger-print is a spectrum of these Raman vibrations, from low frequencies to high frequencies.

The figure at the top of this blog shows the subtle differences the Albany team found between blood from the healthy mice group (in red) and the diseased mice group (in blue). Looks easy to imagine how measuring at just a few points in the spectrum would give a simple test doesn’t it?

Actually it involved quite a bit more work. The figure shows averages of all the blood samples used in the test and the differences between individual tests were not always obvious. To find a way around the variation in the data in each group the researchers used a statistical method known as PLS-DA (Partial Least Squares – Discriminant Analysis). This mathematical method allows just the parts of the finger-prints that change the most to be used to classify a blood sample as either diseased or normal. Half the blood samples were used to devise a PLS-DA classification model which was then applied to the remainder.

Discrimination of blood samples from healthy and diseased mice (courtesy of Nature Scientific Reports)

Plotting three discriminating variables (LV1, LV2 and LV3) derived from the PLS-DA model, the figure above shows how the two clusters of blood sample results are clearly separated.

There is still much to do to fully validate the new Raman blood test for DMD. mdx mice are a widely model for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy but further work is necessary to extend these promising results to patients.

Further information about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy can be found at the National Organization for Rare Disorders. The Nature Scientific Report can be downloaded here.

innovation fund
EU launches Innovation Fund

The European Commission announced a new €1 billion fund for clean technology implementation on Friday 3rd July 2020. The Innovation Fund as it is known will fund mainly implementation of large capital projects but there is also €8 million set aside for project development. Development projects represent technologies that are not yet ready for implementation but could have a major benefit to the environment.

Up to 60% of capital costs will be covered by the Innovation Fund and the really interesting bit for businesses is that the matching funds can come from other government sources. This is because the Innovation Fund is funded by revenues from the EU Emissions Trading System.

Companies in the EU, Iceland and Norway are eligible to apply for Innovation Fund support. As usual, proposed projects should be European in scope and can involve small cap companies as well as large ones. The fund is also open for small-scale projects with capital costs up to €7.5 million.

To qualify for Innovation Fund funding projects must demonstrate: potential for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions; innovation potential; financial and technical maturity; potential for scale-up and efficiency savings. The deadline for proposal submission is 29th October 2020.

Contact Corbeau if you want to discuss potential project ideas or look for possible European partners.

UK business support

As we all get back to a new normal, the UK government has announced innovation funding support to help us make it a better normal.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are projects of around £110k, with SMEs contributing around £35k and larger businesses £55k. These are particularly useful when you want to add a competitive advantage to an existing product or service. Deadlines: 15 July/ 7 October/ 2 December 2020

IETF Industrial energy efficiency and decarbonisation study grants for manufacturers or data centres of any size in England, Wales or N Ireland for feasibility and pilot projects. These are large projects, with a minimum grant award of £250k representing 30-65% of project costs. Deadline: 28 October 2020.

Digital Supply Chain feasibility study grants for any UK manufacturer. These are also large projects between £1-3m total costs. Deadline 7 October 2020.

Sustainable Innovation Fund for economic recovery from COVID-19. It is open to any UK business(es) and a SME partner. Businesses can claim up to 80% funding which makes this one of the most attractive funding opportunities. Projects must be £100-500k total costs and each business can claim up to a grant up to £175k. Projects must be prompted by business changes required due to COVID-19 but these cover a wide range of opportunities. Deadline: 29 July 2020.

EUREKA GlobalStars Singapore for product, process or service development in a collaborative research and development project. Project costs up to £350k will be covered representing grants of 50-70%. The project can include any EUREKA country participants but must include a partner in Singapore. Deadline: 15 October 2020.

Designing Sustainable Plastic Solutions to reduce plastics’ harm to the environment, increase productivity and help the economy. This is a small project grant for total costs £20-80k with 50-70% of costs met by the grant award. Deadline: 16 September 2020

EUREKA Healthy Aging projects to develop digital health technologies in collaboration with other EUREKA countries. Any UK business can apply but the project must be organised by a SME. 25-70% project costs are funded up to a maximum of £500k. Deadline: 5 August 2020

Contact Corbeau for help finding suitable partners and submitting proposals.