Bringing Bone Back to Life

Bone transplants often fail, but a new technique invented by Edward Botchwey, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery, might make them more successful in the future. The technique involves the application of a very thin drug-infused coating to the donor bone’s external surface and throughout its internal porous network prior to the transplant. Measuring just hundredths of a millimeter thick, this coating delivers a healing agent to the bone while leaving its microscopic pores open and free to integrate with host cells.

Seeing the Eye

Medical school professor Paul Yates has invented a smaller, easier-to-use and less expensive retina camera. Physicians look at the retina—located on the back of the eye—to determine the health of microvessels, which are early indicators for larger health issues. “Usually you don’t get heart attacks, you don’t get renal failures, you don’t get strokes until big things happen to the big vessels,” Yates says. Ken Tran (Engr ’11), a biomedical engineering student and photography enthusiast, helped improve the lens and thus reinvigorated the camera project, which had been on Yates’ back burner for four years.

Decoding the DNA of Germs

The Earth has an estimated 150 million species of microbes in, on, around and under its surface. Researchers are decoding the genomes of only about 2,000 microbes, with a vast number awaiting investigation. UVA biologist Martin Wu published an analysis of the first 56 microbes sequenced thus far in a fledgling genomic encyclopedia. “A key prerequisite for studying microbial evolution and diversity is the accurate determination of the evolutionary relationships among the organisms of interest,” Wu says. “The explosive growth of bacterial genomic sequences makes it possible to reconstruct the bacterial tree of life on the genome level.” The genomic encyclopedia is expected to shed light on the diversity of gene families and improve understanding of how microbes acquire new functions, which in turn could lead to new genetic products and enzymes previously unknown to biologists.