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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

This past weekend I drove up to Sedona and Flagstaff where I hiked by day and star gazed by night.  A light sleeper I decided to bring my pillows and a blanket with me so as to not risk a restless night at the hands of the hotel’s accommodations.  Friday night I was able to park right by my room so no one noticed me coming in.  But Saturday night I had to walk through the hotel lobby in order to get to my room.  Here I am, a grown man, walking through a hotel lobby carrying my blankie.  I dreaded the stares and comments that I would get and sure enough the hot girl at the front desk made fun of me.  Fine.  I probably deserved it.  But there are plenty of people who could soon benefit from carrying around a 25 pound blankie.  And that’s no laughing matter.

According to Futurism:

“In the United States alone, roughly 10% of the population is affected by a sleep disorder, and a staggering 18% of the population lives with an anxiety disorder. More than 11 million people suffer from ADHD. And this is just the beginning of the problem.”

So what can we do about it?  Drape ourselves in a comfortable blankie!!! The blanket, known as Gravity, works by applying pressure to key parts of our body and in so doing helping us to relax.

As Futurism describes, the process is called, “proprioceptive input (also known as “deep touch pressure stimulation”). It works by activating pressure points across your body. This relaxes the nervous system by increasing serotonin and melatonin levels while decreasing cortisol levels. In this respect, research into proprioceptive input shows that deep pressure stimulation produces a calming influence—one that decreases stress, improves sleep, and boosts mental health.”

The Gravity Kickstarter page adds that the blanket is, “engineered to be around 10% of your body weight, [and] helps relax the nervous system by simulating the feeling of being held or hugged.”

So the next time you see someone carrying around a blanket try not to make fun of them.  Even if they are a 34 year old man walking through the lobby of a hotel.  For all you know they could be an anxiety sufferer rocking the Gravity blanket.

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Is the Gravity Blanket the Greatest Idea Ever?

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People who are familiar with the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique are aware of its truly transformative ability to change the world.  Capable of ending hunger and curing all diseases (including cancer and AIDS) it has a chance to be the most important scientific discovery of all-time.  In fact, as scientists and researchers continue to play around with this nascent technology it’s becoming clear that we have barely just scratched the surface of what it can do.  As witnessed by its newfound ability to act as an antibiotic.

A few years ago, when researchers from my alma mater Northeastern University discovered a new antibiotic in soil, it was the first new antibiotic discovered in more than thirty years.  This was a historically important discovery that is likely to be downright pivotal in our on-going fight against drug resistant super bugs. That’s because super bugs have evolved to fight and even become resistant to most antibiotics thanks to our misguided insistence that we should wipe out all of our gut bacteria in one fell swoop every time we are sick.  As it turns out though not all gut bacteria is bad.  Some of it lives symbiotically with us and plays a vital role in maintaining our health.  Using an antibiotic as a proverbial sledgehammer to destroy everything in its path is counterproductive.  The correct approach is a targeted one that would eliminate only the bad bacteria.  Thanks to CRISPR-CAS-9 that may now be on the verge of happening.

As Futurism explains, it may soon be possible to provide patients with a CRISPR pill that could target specific bacterium such as Clostridium difficile which can kill 15,000 people per year:

“Jan-Peter van Pijkeren, a food scientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is creating a probiotic cocktail that patients can swallow as a liquid or pill.  The cocktail of bacteria will include a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – capable of carrying a customized, false, CRISPR message to C. difficile. This message would cause C. difficile to make lethal cuts to its own DNA.”

Instructing bacterium to kill themselves on purpose?  That’s straight up savagery.  And it could very well be the future of medicine.  A future in which we deliver drugs to specific parts of our body using gene editing techniques as part of complex personalized healthcare plans that our doctors specifically design for us.  With this approach you won’t need a sledgehammer to get the desired results.  Just a pair of scissors.

Considering the already limitless potential of the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique it’s somewhat surprising to find yet another novel use for it.  Which begs the question: what else can it be used for?!?!

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Is a CRISPR pill the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Science fiction does a great job of capturing our collective imaginations.  Sometimes even a little bit too good of a job.  We see hover boards and self-lacing sneakers in Back to the Future, talking holograms in Star Wars, and flying cars in The Jetsons and we instantly lust for those items.  Holding out hope, even well into adulthood, that someday they will be real.

Our desire for these fictional items is so strong that it even overshadows the actual pace of innovation.  For instance, when a fictional item finally does come to fruition as Dick Tracey’s famous wrist watch did with the Apple Watch we complain that the real thing didn’t meet our fake expectations.  Seeing something in a fictional world that we think should easily exist, such as the way that Tom Cruise in Minority Report manipulates information on giant computer screens with a wave of his hand, is even worse, liable to send us into a tizzy.  How come we don’t have that?!  That seems like something that would be easy to make nowadays!!!  When the pace of innovation slows some people even try to take matters into their own hands inventing real life Iron Man suits and the like to try and emulate their on screen heroes.

Suffice it to say, if there’s a cool fictional technology there’s someone out there trying to recreate it IRL (in real life).  From Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to Captain America’s shield to the lightsabers from Star Wars there are dozens of examples of scientists and regular folk working around the clock to turn science fiction into science fact.  So much so that one of the most highly talked about and desired fictional items of all-time: Star Treks’ hand-held disease detecting device, the Tricorder, is now a real invention.

As the Washington Post reports, “Final Frontier Medical Devices, led by Basil Harris, a suburban Philadelphia emergency room doctor, won the $2.6 million top prize. The open competition, launched in 2012 [by X-Prize], challenged applicants to produce a lightweight, affordable health kit that diagnoses and interprets 13 health conditions and continuously monitors five health vitals. The team’s kit, equipped with noninvasive sensors, collects information that is synthesized on a diagnostic device — an iPad was used in the competition, but it could ultimately work on a smartphone.”

What’s great about the team’s prototype, dubbed DxtER (or Dexter), is that it doesn’t just diagnose those 13 health conditions that the competition asked for.  After all the tinkering throughout the competition it can now detect up to 34 medical conditions.  Furthermore, the device appears to be a step above the fictional device on Star Trek as it will provide an actual diagnosis of the health issue not just detect it.

I imagine that using one is going to be a comparable experience to filing one’s own taxes using a program such as TurboTax as the accompanying iPad software walks patients through a series of questions while interpreting the data that’s been fed into it.  It’s designed in such a way to be fully intuitive so that people can use it on their own without having to necessarily visit an actual doctor every time they are feeling under the weather.

The invention of an actual Tricorder speaks volumes on two fronts.  First of all, it shows just how pivotal the X-Prize and other global competitions offering monetary prizes are to driving the pace of innovation.  If it wasn’t for the $2.6 million dollar grand prize the Tricorder might have never been made.  The same holds true for contests designed to further our space travel efforts or cure diseases.  A sad but true commentary on our society although one that we can live with if it continues to deliver the results that we desire.

Secondly, it points to how vitally important it is for science fiction writers to continue pushing the envelope, to continue to spark our imaginations, to continue to dream up things that aren’t just likely to be around a few years from now, but rather, a few decades from now.

Just like with the old adage from Field of Dreams: “if you build it, they will come”, modern ingenuity building off of science fiction gives us a new adage for the modern age: “if you dream it, we will make it.”

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Is the Tricorder the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

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The other day I saw a video of a color blind kid who got to see colors for the first time thanks to a pair of special glasses.  It was a touching and heartfelt moment as the boy realized what he had been missing out on his entire life.  And it got me thinking.  What if I was in a similar circumstance to that boy?  What if I was the one who could suddenly see images that had been kept from me for my whole life?  How incredible would that be?  And what if that’s what was really happening?  What if the world as we know it isn’t really the way that the world is?!

Well, just a few days later it would seem as though I’m about to get my wish thanks to a breakthrough that could allow people to see additional colors and shades of colors that we didn’t even know existed!  What the what!!?

According to I Fucking Love Science, “Tetrachromacy is considered a rare condition in humans, which allows those with it to distinguish and see hundreds of shades of colors that, to the rest of us, simply look the same. But now researchers may have developed a special pair of glasses that will allow those without tetrachromacy to have a glimpse at what it is like to see the extra colors.

Reported in New Scientist, the special kit has been designed by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and could be used to aid those looking to counteract camouflage, or even to spot counterfeit bank notes. It can allow the wearer to distinguish between two shades of color that initially look identical but are actually subtlety different, known as metamers.”

It’s said that Tetrachromats can see ten colors in the rainbow and over 100 million colors in total.  So I wonder just how many colors the glasses would enable you to see? I also wonder if these glasses will have additional uses aside from the military and financial applications listed above?  Could you build the technology into an Augmented Reality app?  Could artists or photographers use them to create works of art that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to create?  Could magazines include these glasses as free inserts in their publications to unlock additional hidden content?  And what about fashion designers?  What could they do with this technology?

I don’t know.  All I know is that I can’t wait to try them.

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If you could see extra colors would you want to?

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Without even counting advances involving CRISPR and attempts to reverse the aging process in animals and humans, which I’ve already covered, 2016 was a tremendous year for medical breakthroughs.  Here’s a look back at the greatest ones:

An On/Off Switch For Sperm – Known as the Bimek SLV, the gummy bear sized device can be implanted during a quick Vasectomy like procedure that lasts only thirty minutes.  Upon getting implanted the device can be toggled by touching the skin above the scrotum.  When activated it prevents sperm from being released during an ejaculation thereby preventing the possibility of getting pregnant.  When switched off everything goes back to normal and the man is once again capable of having children with no change whatsoever to his sperm count.

Reverse Menopause – Never get married. Never have kids. Those are the two keys to life long happiness.  But not everyone sees it that way.  Some people actually want to have kids.  Apparently those people have never flown coach before.  Unfortunately, not all of those people can have kids once menopause kicks in though.  Which for some women can happen relatively early in life.  However, there is now hope for those women for scientists have found a way to reverse menopause!

Zipline – Drones are going to be a large part of our future.  That much is certain.  What’s less certain is in what capacity.  Will they be used for corporate espionage and other nefarious pursuits?  Or more mundane tasks like taking selfies for us?  Will they just remain the purvey of weekend tinkerers and hobbyists?  Or will we be subjected to watching highlights from a drone racing league on Sportscenter? Will Amazon and Pizza Hut use them to deliver us goods and services?  Or will they actually transport us around as glorified driverless taxis?  Only time will tell but of all those use cases the one that seems to be gaining the most traction is drone as delivery method.  Especially when it comes to delivering critically needed medical supplies to hard to reach places.  That’s where a new startup known as Zipline comes in. Launched in 2014, Zipline began delivering medicine and blood in Rwanda last year to great success.  The hope is that they can now get past FAA regulatory hurdles governing the usage of drones in order to expand their operations to the United States.

Stem Cells Treat Heart Attacks – In the near future suffering a heart attack may not be the death sentence that it once was.  That’s because an injection of stem cells into the heart during bypass surgery could have tremendous healing effects such as reducing the size and quantity of scar tissue that forms during an attack thereby fixing what was previously thought to be irreversible damage.

IBM’s Magic Bullet – IBM appears to be on the verge of finding a cure for every major virus from Zika and Ebola to Herpes and Influenza.  The trick was that instead of going after the virus’ RNA or DNA they instead went after the glycoproteins that surround the virus.  These glycoproteins are what enable viruses to stick onto the cells that they want to afflict.  Take away that ability and you’ve effectively neutralized the virus’ ability to cause harm.

Powdered Blood – Paramedics and hospitals always struggle with having a viable supply of blood at the ready since blood needs to be properly refrigerated at all times and generally speaking, there’s usually a shortage of it.  Thankfully, there may soon be a workaround in the form of artificial blood that would ensure that we always have access to usable blood should the need ever arise.  The Artificial Blood, known as ErythroMer, was created by the aptly named Dr. Allan Doctor and comes in a powdered form.  When needed a paramedic would just have to add water to the mix and would then have blood ready for transfusion.

Withings Thermo – Thermometers are very invasive.  Whether we’re putting them in our mouths, ears, or you know where.  Soon there may be a better way.  The Withings Thermo, a new thermometer that doesn’t go in you at all.  Rather it can tell your temperature just by getting placed up against your forehead for two seconds.

Grail – Doctors may soon have an important new weapon to add to their arsenals in the war against cancer: a single blood test capable of early stage detection for all variations of the disease regardless of what part of your body is afflicted.

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Is Withings Thermo the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,005 – Powdered Blood

Anyone who has ever participated in a Blood Drive, been seriously injured, undergone a medical procedure, or seen an episode of ER, knows how vitally important it is to have blood on hand in case a life-saving transfusion is needed.  The problem is that it’s hard to always have a viable supply of blood at the ready since blood needs to be properly refrigerated at all times and generally speaking, there’s usually a shortage of it.  Thankfully, there may soon be a workaround in the form of artificial blood that would ensure that we always have access to usable blood should the need ever arise.

The Artificial Blood, known as ErythroMer, was created by the aptly named Dr. Allan Doctor and comes in a powdered form.  When needed a paramedic would just have to add water to the mix and would then have blood ready for transfusion.  While this sounds almost too good to be true there is promising research to validate the concept.

According to Time, “The research is in the very early stages, but the researchers have so far shown promising results in a proof of concept study in mice. They were able to show that when mice were inserted with ErythroMer, the artificial blood was able to deliver oxygen to tissues in the same way as normal mice blood. They were also able to use ErythroMer to resuscitate rats that were in shock and had lost about 40% of their blood, Medscape reports.”

Considering its ability to recoup that much blood loss ErythroMer could prove to be a real life saver for military personnel as soldiers could easily carry around lightweight powdered packets of their own blood in case they get wounded on the battle field.  Eventually we could then get to the point where ambulances and hospitals would have it on hand too.

Before we get to that point we first need to continue the promising research that’s been conducted so far.  Hopefully, the early results from testing on mice will show up in humans as well.

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Is powdered blood the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#977 – Zipline

Drones are going to be a large part of our future.  That much is certain.  What’s less certain is in what capacity.  Will they be used for corporate espionage and other nefarious pursuits?  Or more mundane tasks like taking selfies for us?  Will they just remain the purvey of weekend tinkerers and hobbyists?  Or will we be subjected to watching highlights from a drone racing league on Sportscenter? Will Amazon and Pizza Hut use them to deliver us goods and services?  Or will they actually transport us around as glorified driverless taxis?

Only time will tell but of all those use cases the one that seems to be gaining the most traction is drone as delivery method.  Especially when it comes to delivering critically needed medical supplies to hard to reach places.  That’s where a new startup known as Zipline comes in. Launched in 2014, Zipline began delivering medicine and blood in Rwanda last year to great success.  The hope is that they can now get past FAA regulatory hurdles governing the usage of drones in order to expand their operations to the United States.

To start out Zipline’s pilot program, or in this case pilotless program, will begin operating in Maryland, Nevada, and Washington state.  The long term plan is garner the support of the FAA in order to roll out the program across the U.S.  Considering the state of healthcare in this country in rural areas Zipline is a really big deal.  But how does it work?

According to the Verge:

“Zipline’s electric-powered drones, called “Zips,” can carry up to three pounds of blood or medicine, and can fly for up to 75 miles on a single charge. Hospitals can order blood or medicine via text message, and have them delivered by parachute from a Zip. The 22-pound planes navigate using GPS and cellular networks, and can make deliveries within 30 minutes, negating the need for on-board refrigeration.”

It remains to be seen how drones will influence our society but it’s encouraging to know that they won’t all be about delivering pizzas and taking selfies.  They may just save some lives too along the way.

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Is Zipline the Greatest Idea Ever?

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