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Much of the Western world was introduced to the promise (and peril) of cold chains—supply chain networks that keep products cool or frozen during storage and shipping—during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, when suppliers struggled to deliver mRNA shots to those who needed them while keeping the jabs at their required sub-zero temperatures.

But cold chains also pose a hurdle for people around the globe to access other life-saving drugs and vaccines. Products like insulin, cancer drugs, and diagnostic enzymes need cold chains, too, and vast global disparities limit countries’ cooling infrastructure.

Luckily, a team of molecular engineers from ETH Zürich and Colorado-based startup Nanoly Bioscience have developed a new method of keeping drugs, enzymes, vaccines, and entire viruses stable without the need for a cold chain. Their technique stabilizes these products for weeks at a time with a hydrogel that can be switched off by adding a sugar. The method, detailed in a study published on Friday in Science Advances, could one day shake up the multibillion-dollar cold chain logistics industry.

    “For many people around the world who need life-saving drugs, access is super complicated,” Eric Appel, a materials scientist at Stanford who was not involved in the study, told The Daily Beast. “It's an important and complex challenge, and [these researchers] have a really elegant solution.”

    Not all drugs require a cold chain for distribution—small molecules, like aspirin, can be stored and transported at room temperature without much trouble. But for larger compounds like proteins, heat can cause their precise, origami-like structures to unfold, degrade, or clump together. These changes can reduce both the safety and efficacy of a drug, Appel said.

    “You could have the best active pharmaceutical ingredient in the world, but if it's too unstable to put in a vial and ship anywhere, then it's useless as a drug,” he said.

    While cold chains stabilize drugs, vaccines, and enzymes by freezing the compounds in place, hydrogel research aims to reap the same benefits without the need for refrigerated trucks. Hydrogels are highly absorbent, but maintain a definite structure and do not dissolve in water—you probably use them already, since they’re the gel inside disposable diapers and the flexible material used to make most contact lenses.

    ““You could have the best active pharmaceutical ingredient in the world, but if it's too unstable to put in a vial and ship anywhere, then it's useless as a drug."”— Eric Appel

    In the new study, the scientists linked polyethylene glycol hydrogels together to form a molecular mesh, like a soccer net, that they said could entrap compounds like proteins and even entire viruses to prevent them from deforming or aggregating. They added the gel to solutions of large, temperature-dependent compounds including hemagluttanin (which is a key component of flu vaccines), topoisomerase I (used for cancer diagnosis), and lactase (the enzyme used to make lactose-free milk). In all cases, the gel kept the solutions potent, even after days and weeks of room temperature storage, while solutions without the gel degraded rapidly.

    Appel said one of the beauties of a hydrogel is that it functions across the board based on size, and not any other characteristic specific to a compound.

    “It could be a basketball, it could be a shovel, or a dining room table,” Appel said. “Anything that's bigger gets stuck in the net.”

    The drugs, enzymes, and other compounds are inert while trapped in the hydrogel, but the researchers designed an “on” switch. They showed that the net could be dissolved in as quickly as an hour by adding sugar.

      Appel said future research to ready the technique for the clinic should focus on reducing the gel’s release time. Imagine a patient who sees a nurse for a vaccination: The health care worker pulls a vial off a shelf and adds a sugar solution to reactivate it.

      “If you have to wait an hour before administering that vaccine, that's a fairly long period of time,” he said.

      Though the hydrogel-contained compounds were much better preserved than the ones left at room temperature without the gel, they did lose some of their efficacy over time—so it’s not perfect, Appel said. The hydrogel can’t prevent all of the ways the vaccines and drugs can break down chemically.

      And don’t expect cold chains to go away anytime soon. The hydrogel used in the study still needs to be approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration before it can start stabilizing drugs or vaccines. While preliminary data suggested that the gel components should be safe for human use, the authors warned that “one of the gel components could be found to be unsuitable for clinical translation.”

      Even so, Appel said that he is “highly enthusiastic” about this approach, which could complement existing drug storage and transportation and preserve compounds for longer.

      “Cold chains lead to so much waste, even here in the West,” he said. Hydrogel-based methods “could reduce costs, expand global access, and dramatically improve the stability of these kinds of drugs.”

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      Tags: fever dreams pets it’s useless useless but if it’s if it’s too then it’s without the need people around it could be it could be in the study a cold chain compounds used to make storage a molecular

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      I was devastated after my son took his own life at just 22 – my ‘mother’s instinct’ told me that something was wrong

      A DEVASTATED mum said that her "mother's instinct" told her something was wrong before she lost her 22-year-old son to suicide.

      Tyler Robertson tragically took his own life while working away in London as an electrician.

      3Nicola Robertson was left devastated after her 22-year-old son took his lifeCredit: NCJ MEDIA 3Nicola said her "mother's instinct" had told her something was wrongCredit: NCJ MEDIA

      His mum Nicola Robertson, 42, said she knew something was wrong when she was unable to get in touch with him on the phone.

      She said his boss went to the apartment where he was staying in Camden and discovered that he had passed away.

      Cops then arrived at his family home in Hebburn, South Tyneside, and gave Nicola and his dad Lee, 50, the heart-breaking news.

      Nicola, who is also mum to Skye, 21, and Libby, 18, said: "I don't know if it was a mother's instinct but I had a gut feeling when I couldn't get in touch with him and he hadn't rang me.

      Read More in NewsBEHIND BARS Millionaire, 70, JAILED after refusing to tear down Britain's best man cave

      "Tyler was always outgoing, happy-go-lucky and he was always the class clown.

      "He was dead cheeky and he would do anything for anybody.

      "I knew he hadn't been well for a few weeks. I could tell by his mood and his mannerisms. He wasn't himself."

      Tyler took his own life in July 2020 after bravely battling his mental health difficulties.

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      Nicola said her son had been struggling in the months prior to him travelling down to London for work.

      She said his mood was low and he had admitted to her that he had tried to end his life.

      On one occasion, he was taken to South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields after ringing the police and asking them for help.

      Nicola said: "He was dead sensitive. He took things in and they played on his mind but he didn't let on.

      "In around May time I saw the change in him. The first time I knew there was something really wrong was when he was looking for his car keys for work and he couldn't find them.

      "I said 'You're useless you, you're always losing something!'. He said 'I know I'm useless, I tried to hang himself and that didn't work'.

      "I tried to ring the doctors and get him help. He went out one night and he rang the police and he said 'I need help, I can't live in his life anymore'.

      "We rang the police and reported him missing and they said 'we've already had a phone call from him'.

      "The police found him at 7 o'clock the following morning and took him to hospital.

      "He used to go to Morgan's Gym in Pelaw. He was a proper gym fanatic, he was at the gym everyday.

      "It wasn't until after he died that I found out that he had messaged the owner saying "Can you not just sneak me in the back door because I feel like I need it right now".

      "The gym helped him a lot. I think he was struggling because he couldn't go. He must have been otherwise he wouldn't have sent that message to the gym owner."


      EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.

      It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society - from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

      It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

      Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

      That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.

      The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

      Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others... You're Not Alone.

      If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

      • CALM,, 0800 585 858
      • Heads Together,
      • Mind,, 0300 123 3393
      • Papyrus,, 0800 068 41 41
      • Samaritans,, 116 123

      Nicola said that Tyler had been paid off from his job as an electrician due to the covid-19 pandemic.

      She said that he was offered work in London and so he travelled down to the capital for the job.

      Nicola said Tyler had worked away before with his dad Lee and that his mood seemed to pick up.

      She said the following Monday, on July 13, he told her that he was going for a few pints with a lad from work.

      She said: "I told him to watch what he was doing and I'll speak to him on the Tuesday."

      However she was unable to get in touch with her son the following day.

      Nicola said: "Come the Wednesday I knew for a fact he wasn't coming back. I had a gut feeling."

      Dad Lee, who also works as an electrician, rang Tyler's boss and he told him he would ring him back.

      She said: "At this point, his boss had literally just found him.

      "Obviously he hadn't turned into work on the Tuesday. When he went into work on the Wednesday the other lads on the job told him his electrician hadn't turned in for two days.

      "He went around to the apartment where Tyler was staying and that where he found him.

      "About 15 minutes later, the police knocked on the door saying our son's passed away."

      'A LOVELY LAD'

      Nicola said that Tyler was well-known in his home town and hundreds of people turned up to his funeral at Hebburn Cemetery.

      She said she also received numerous messages from people she didn't know.

      She said: "He was just a lovely lad and he had lots of friends. Even when he died people were messaging me from all around the world - I thought how did he know these people.

      "Whenever he was on holiday or working away he would talk to anybody.

      "He had a great relationship with his dad. His dad always says he's lost his best friend, his son, his work mate and his gym partner.

      "They used to work together, go to the gym together and go to the pictures together."

      Nicola said she is proud of her daughters for the way they have handled their brother's death.

      She said: "The year Tyler died, I tried to push them to still do their studies.

      "My youngest daughter was doing her GCSEs and my oldest daughter was doing her teaching qualification. I didn't want them to struggle and chuck their careers away or put them off.

      "Libby has just done her A Levels and she's doing nursing in September and Skye has graduated as a primary school teacher. I'm so proud of them. They didn't feel like it but they pushed through and they did it."

      His dad always says he's lost his best friend, his son, his work mate and his gym partner. "

      Nicola Robertson, 42

      Nicola is now in the process of setting up a support group called Suicide Affects Family & Friends Everywhere (SAFFE).

      She said: "I have my good days and my bad days that's why I wanted to start this group up.

      "With suicide it's totally different, there's no answers. Tyler never left a note and he wiped his phone.

      "So I have got nothing what so ever. He hasn't been in the right frame of mind, no one is when they do that, but nothing has influenced him to do it.

      "There was no alcohol in his system and no drugs in his system. When I talk to somebody who has lost somebody to suicide I feel like I can relate to them.

      "I try to put Tyler to the back of my mind and focus on helping them and that makes me feel better. But when I'm on my own it's totally different.

      "I have met a few people since it's happened who have been in the same situation. I think it's easier to talk to somebody who's been there and experienced it."

      Nicola plans to hold group meetings at St Oswald's Church in Hebburn and she has also set up a group on Facebook.

      The first meeting will be held from 6.30pm until 8.30pm on September 5. Anybody is welcome to attend.

      To donate, go to

      3Nicola has set up a help group (SAFFE) in honour of her son TylerCredit: NCJ MEDIA

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