Category: Disruptive Technology

16 Oct 2017

Scientists Confirmed the Theory Behind the Quantum Networks of the Future

IN BRIEF

Scientists have finally been able to demonstrate and prove the theory of quantum entanglement of many atoms — 16 million, in fact — revealed by a single photon.

QUANTUM LIGHT ANALYSIS

Quantum theory predicts entanglement; that huge numbers of atoms can be intertwined due to quantum forces, across distances, or inside macroscopic structures. However, “predicts” has been the key phrase up until recently — as actual hard evidence from experiments has been lacking. Experimental evidence was just presented by University of Geneva scientists, who demonstrated the entanglement of 16 million atoms in a one-centimeter crystal.

Achieving entanglement hasn’t been the real challenge for physicists looking to generate empirical proof of the concept, though. Researchers can generate entangled photons by splitting a photon. It is the observation and recording of entanglement that has proven next to impossible — until now. With one caveat, as explained by UNIGE applied physics group researcher Florian Fröwis explained in a press release  about the team’s research. “But it’s impossible to directly observe the process of entanglement between several million atoms since the mass of data you need to collect and analyze is so huge.”

Image Credit: UNIGE
Image Credit: UNIGE

Therefore, Fröwis and his team took inventory of which measurements they were able to take, and of those, which might be able to generate the evidence they were searching for. They settled on the single direction of light re-emitted by the crystal, and analyzed its statistical properties. This was how the the team was able to show the entanglement of 16 million atoms, rather than a few thousand.

QUANTUM FUTURES

Quantum networks will be essential to data protection in the future, because they make it possible to send a signal and detect any interception of that signal by a third part immediately. To send and receive these kinds of signals, you need quantum repeaters which can unify entangled atoms with a strong quantum relationship despite being separated by great distances. These quantum repeaters house crystal blocks supercooled to 270 degrees below zero and enriched with rare earth atoms. Once these blocks are penetrated by a photon, entanglement is created.

Particle entanglement is at the heart of the coming revolutions in quantum computing and quantum encryption, which will themselves be driving everything from artificial intelligence to personalized medicine. And while this is high-level stuff, it all depends on the entanglement of atoms at the quantum level, which this research has demonstrated on an unprecedented scale.

Read more: Futurism

10 Oct 2017

New Eyeglass Accessory Translates Sound Into Light for the Hearing Impaired

IN BRIEF

A group of students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design have designed a clip-on accessory for glasses that turns nearby sounds into flashing lights. The project, called Peri, is meant to help those suffering from hearing loss.

Peri is an accessory that clips onto eyeglasses and translates nearby sounds into flashing lights — perfect for those with hearing problems, who sometimes miss out on what’s being said to them, or on noises that could alert them to events occurring nearby.

The design takes some inspiration from video games, which alert the player to nearby threats via a red glow. In games, however, they typically only appear when someone takes damage, while Peri could help the wearer avoid harm.

Pavithren Pakianathan, lead designer of the team from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), told Mashable it took about four months to complete the current prototype, which utilizes four microphones and LED lights. Peri’s circuits create a specific lighting pattern according to the loudest sound detected, and indicate the direction of the sound. The project was so impressive it won the James Dyson engineering award.

The Peri prototype, worn by one of the team members. (Image Credit: Peri/Pavithren Pakianathan)

Pakianathan and his team aim to improve the accessory’s design while maintaining the low cost to users. Future iterations may be able to better separate sounds in busy areas, and could include light sensors capable of adjusting the brightness of the LED lights.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 5 percent of the world’s population(360 millions people) suffer from hearing loss, with 32 million being children. If Peri, or a similar idea, gets proper funding, development, and becomes mainstream, it could improve the lives of those with hearing problems, and provide some additional color to their quieter world.

Source: Futurism

04 Oct 2017

Disney Built a Blockchain — Can It Compete With Ethereum?

From animatronics to digital animation, the Walt Disney Company has long been a pioneer in emerging technology. And blockchain technology is no exception.

In 2014, Disney’s tech-focused Seattle office started building what’s now known as Dragonchain, a blockchain protocol designed to allow for more data privacy than is possible on other enterprise-oriented blockchains like Ethereum. The idea was to develop a secure asset management system to be used internally.

However, Disney dropped the project in 2016 and decided to make it open source. Soon after, a group of former Disney employees founded the Dragonchain Foundation, a non-profit which manages upkeep of the protocol.

Now, they’re looking to build a commercial business — called Dragonchain Inc. — on top of the platform to help other companies quickly and easily start using blockchain.

But first they need to raise money to do so.

Gap in the Market

It’s commonly believed in blockchain circles that the technology could some day make up an entirely new infrastructural layer of the internet, replacing traditional contracts and payment systems used in industries like law and real estate, because the design of the technology makes it difficult to commit fraud.

Dragonchain Inc. chief business officer George Sarhanis (left) and CEO Joe Roets. Image Source: Dragonchain

This promise has drawn in research and development funds from industry powerhouses including IBM and Cisco, which have joined various unifying organizations such as Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance to better understand how this new technology can be leveraged commercially.

But many large corporations, such as Disney, have been hesitant to put their own data on public blockchains because the design would leave much of their proprietary and sensitive data open to prying eyes. The hope for Dragonchain is that other companies feel the same way.

Joe Roets, now CEO of Dragonchain Inc., was one of the engineers behind the original project at Disney.

“Disney was very forward thinking and wanted to know how people use different tech,” Roets said. “We started building things. It took two years to build out the platform, give or take.”

Roets described Dragonchain Inc’s platform as a “turn key” product, which makes it easier for companies to build what they want on top of the Dragonchain blockchain protocol, without investing in expensive and hard-to-find technological expertise.

Roets said that while it is possible to build security and encryption on top of a public blockchain, it’s a costly and time-consuming project. With Dragonchain, the encryption and obfuscation is built in.

“We realized some of the real world problems are that companies have access to traditional engineers, but they don’t necessarily have a crypto background,” Roets said . “If you go even further into blockchain, you need an economist or a game theory expert.”

More Private Than Ethereum

Like the technology behind the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ethereum, Dragonchain is a digital ledger that uses complex algorithms to document transactions in a way that cannot be easily modified. Every blockchain contains a complete history of everything that has happened on it, which makes it harder for fraud to occur in financial transactions. Unlike the public bitcoin and ethereum protocols, however, Dragonchain is a hybrid. This means some information is private, and some is public.

“The main difference would be that with ethereum or any public blockchains, your data is out there,” Roets said. “You can do certain things to obfuscate your data. You could encrypt it. But it won’t matter in 10 years or 20 years.”

While Disney originally built the project as a private blockchain, this method doesn’t have the same authenticity benefits as a public or hybrid protocol. Having some of the data public is vital to making the technology effective in protecting fraud. That’s because the ability to spread data across a decentralized network is a key component of authenticating the validity of transactions. The blockchain usually requires consensus from multiple companies and computers in order to make a change to the blockchain’s history. Theoretically, this makes it difficult for solo actors to delete receipts for their own benefit.

Initial Coin Offering

Whether or not Dragonchain Inc. is able to move forward with its commercial ambitions depends a lot on how things go over the next month.

From October 2 to November 2, Dragonchain Inc. will hold an initial coin offering (ICO), also known as a token sale, to raise money for the company. Around 238 million tokens, which the team calls “dragons,” will be available for sale to the public.

Artwork, such as Mimmo Rotella’s “Palinsesto,” is for sale by auction on Look Lateral’s website. The company is working with Dragonchain to build a secure way to authenticate and pay for art. Image Source: Look Lateral

“Disney has no involvement in Dragonchain’s initial coin offering,” a Disney spokesperson said.

ICOs are an increasing common fundraising technique in the blockchain world. Companies like Dragonchain Inc. offer up a select number of tokens that can be purchased with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. The tokens can be exchanged for goods and services within the blockchain platform. On its website, Dragonchain describes dragons as “tokenized micro-license for interaction with Dragonchain commercial platform services.”

While tokens are not currencies, they can be traded on token exchanges for higher or lower cash value than they were purchased for. Not every investor necessarily wants to use services within Dragonchain. Some may see it as an investment that could generate gains in the longterm.

Those that do want to use the service will have access to three different commercial products. The first is a developer-friendly platform for building new projects on top of Dragonchain. There’s also a marketplace that has a library of pre-built smart contracts and features to make the building process faster. The company will also fund an incubator for teams that want to develop projects on top of the protocol.

Several companies are already working on Dragonchain to develop new tools and businesses.

Look Lateral is an Italian fine art site which is using Dragonchain to create proof of authenticity for the art that it sells on its platform. Some pieces of art on the site cost over $100,000, so the blockchain will function as a way of paying for art, as well as a record of ownership. In the art world, this is referred to as “provenance.”

Another company called LifeID is working to build a secure identity platform on the blockchain. This would allow users to verify that they are who they say they are in digital and physical spaces, without relying on state-issued IDs, or corporately-owned social media, like Facebook profiles.

Dragonchain Inc’s ICO begins October 2.

Read more at: Futurism

17 Sep 2017

A Stanford Neuroscientist is Working to Create Wireless Cyborg Eyes for the Blind

IN BRIEF

Stanford neuroscientist E.J. Chichilnisky has a bold plan—Create implantable devices to restore vision to a number of people who have gone blind. But to do this, he’ll have to revolutionize the way electronic devices interface with the human brain.

Seeing The Light

For the nearly two million Americans who have degenerative eye conditions, the ability to see is anything but a guarantee. Although we can slow the progression of vision loss—for example, patients can take special vitamins for the disease—there is no cure. And once it’s lost, vision can’t be restored.

Two of the most notable conditions, retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cause cells on the retina, which is the region at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals, to die off. As a result, those afflicted with the diseases lose their sight as they get older. Thus, these conditions are of increasing concern, given our growing aging population.

Fortunately, a futuristic solution is on the horizon. And it has to do with becoming cyborg.

In the past few years, some patients have been fortunate enough to get devices implanted on their retinas to help them see again. Unfortunately, these devices aren’t very good, only illuminating blotches of light and dark, devoid of details. Alos, they’re expensive, costing patients upwards of $150,000. To some, that’s better than nothing. “I understand that I will not have 20/20 vision and that I won’t be able to distinguish faces. But at least I will be able to know that my grandchildren are running across the yard or walking into my house,” one recipient told the University of Michigan in 2014.

But E.J. Chichilnisky, a professor of neurosurgery and ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has a much grander vision for retinal implants. To fulfill it, he plans to create a device that revolutionizes the way electronic devices interface with the brain.

A Dialogue With The Retina

To break down the issue a bit more, in a healthy eye, light passes through the cornea and lens, entering the eye through the pupil. That light then falls on the retina, where a series of different cells turn light into electrical signals that are then transmitted into the brain via the optic nerve.

As previously noted, retinitis pigmentosa and AMD cause many of the cells in the retina to die, so the signals that transmit visual information are stopped before they can reach the brain. Current retinal implants simply take the place of those dead cells, turning light into electric signals.

But the disease doesn’t kill all cells in the retina—and this is where the problems arise with current implants.

Retinal ganglion cells, which pull in information from all the other cells in the retina, seem to survive the culling. There are about 20 different types of retinal ganglion cells scattered across the retina, each of which transmits a different type of information to the brain.

Timing is essential to the function of these cells. One type of cell could tell the brain a region on the image is brighter now than it was a moment ago, and another could tell the brain the image is darker. If both are activated at once, “that’s a nonsense signal sent to the brain,” Chichilnisky says.

That’s part of the reason current retinal implants are so limited. As Chichilnisky notes, they ignore the functioning retinal ganglion cells, activating them all at once. “Vision is like an orchestra trying to play a symphony. It depends on having [the right signals] at the right time and right place,” Chichilnisky tells Futurism. “If you instruct all the instruments to play indiscriminately, someone will hear you. But it’s not music.”

The tiling effect of cells on the retina. Image credit: Chris Sekirnjak

Chichilnisky aims to get each type of ganglion cell, each “instrument,” to play at its proper moment. Eventually, his team’s so-called smart prostheses will be surgically implanted into patients’ eyes and be powered wirelessly, probably from a pair of specialized glasses that the patient would wear.

But they’ve got to do a lot to get there. Getting the right signal to the right cell at the right time is difficult because the mixture of different types of ganglion cells varies between individuals and may even change over time, Chichilnisky says.

Chichilnisky’s solution is to create a device that can not only transmit the right signals to the ganglion cells, but also read the retina to figure out which kind of ganglion cell sits where. Then, the device can stimulate it at the right time to create a cohesive image. “It’s a dialogue with the retina—you have to talk back and forth to the circuit,” he notes. He envisions that the final version of the device will “write” all the time, but “read” the retina only occasionally.

But there are other technical challenges. The device has to be made of the right material so that it can stay on the retina for long periods of time without damaging it or sparking an immune response. It also demands a dense concentration of fine-grained electrodes on a small chip that doesn’t emit too much heat. “We have to take everything we know and program it effectively into chip that can sense its environment, figure out what’s going on, and do the right thing at right time in the right place, always. And it has to be smart enough to talk to a neural circuit,” Chichilnisky says. “It’s a tall order.”

A Bright Future

Chichilnisky’s team, made up of neuroscientists, circuit designers, and an eye surgeon, is still figuring out the exact design of their device. Currently, the researchers are testing different techniques on the excised retinas of animals used for other experiments. To perform all the tasks that their compact device will eventually perform, they need an entire room full of scientific equipment. They plan to reduce all this to a small implanted chip.

But this isn’t the only team in the game.

Other scientists are working to restore vision in patients with retinitis pigmentosa and AMD, and already, tests of gene therapy and stem cell therapy techniques have produced interesting results. But Chichilnisky isn’t worried. “I’ll be thrilled if someone comes along and cures AMD while we’re doing this stuff,” he says.

The retina—one of the best-understood and most accessible avenues to the brain—is only the beginning

This is because Chichilnisky believes that, regardless of what other developments in treating blindness come about, the technology he is developing will represent the future of neural implants, as their utility extends far beyond just sight. Devices that can both listen and talk to the brain in the same “language” will enable humans to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or control prosthetic limbs.

The same tech will likely be used to hack our own biology, augmenting our memory and pushing our vision to new limits. “It’s going to happen. If you think it won’t, you haven’t been reading enough,” Chichilnisky says. According to him, the retina—one of the best-understood and most accessible avenues to the brain—is only the beginning.

Chichilnisky hopes to have a lab prototype in the next couple of years and to start testing it on live animals within five years. Predicting when such a device could be tested in humans, to say nothing of when it could be widely available, becomes murkier. But he hopes that human studies could happen within the next decade.

Though the technology is still at too early a stage to spin off into a company and seek investors, Chichilnisky has no doubt that many will be interested…and soon. “The thing I’m talking about is a revolution,” he says. And we are fortunate enough to be here to witness the start of it all.

Source: Futurism

29 Aug 2017

Scientists Move One Step Closer To “Curing” Diabetes Using First-Ever Stem Cell Implant

Clinical trials have begun for ViaCyte’s PEC-Direct, an implant that grows insulin-producing cells from stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes patients. If successful, the implant could eliminate the need for these patients to inject themselves with insulin.

NO MORE INJECTIONS

The World Health Organization reports that more than 422 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, a condition that can take two forms. In the first, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, preventing the organ from producing enough insulin [type 1 diabetes (T1D)]. In the second, the body doesn’t know how to use the insulin that is produced [type 2 diabetes (TD2)].

T1D accounts for roughly 10 percent of diabetes cases, and unlike T2D, which can often be reversed through lifestyle changes such as weight loss or increased exercise, scientists have yet to figure out how to prevent or cure T1D.

Right now, T1D is best managed by balancing insulin doses, but this method can be problematic in high-risk cases, taking time to act. Moreover, patients with hypoglycemia (low glucose) unawareness may not notice when their blood sugar drops dangerously low. Thankfully, researchers all over the world are hard at work looking for a cure that will free T1D patients from their dependence on insulin injections and from risky situations when their levels drop low.

Now, one group may have found such a cure.

Just last week, California-based company ViaCyte began trials involving two T1D patients who were implanted with the company’s PEC-Direct device.

Each of these credit card-sized implants carries cells built from stem cells. These cells are designed to mature inside the human body into the specialized pancreas cells the immune system destroys in those with T1D. The implant is placed just below the skin and releases insulin whenever necessary.

“Patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes complications, such as hypoglycemia unawareness, are at constant risk of life-threatening low blood glucose,” clinical trial investigator Jeremy Pettus from University of California, San Diego, said in a ViaCyte press release. “The PEC-Direct islet cell replacement therapy is designed to help patients with the most urgent medical need.”

“There are limited treatment options for patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes to manage life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes,” added ViaCyte president and CEO Paul Laikind. “We believe that the PEC-Direct product candidate has the potential to transform the lives of these patients.”

INSULIN INDEPENDENCE

Truly, freeing T1D patients from the need for constant insulin shots hasn’t been an easy task. Researchers in Finland have been looking into it for 25 years and only recently did they manage to develop a vaccine for type 1 diabetes — that breakthrough will go to clinical trials by 2018. ViaCyte’s device is another promising discovery.

 

Prior to last week’s clinical trial, PEC-Direct implants using smaller amounts of stem cells were tested in 19 diabetes patients. Although these did mature into the desired islet cells, the limited number wasn’t designed to treat the condition. The PEC-Direct implants received by the two patients last week contain more cells. The hope is that three months from now, when the cells have matured, they’ll be able to take the place of injections by releasing insulin automatically when needed.

If it does work, the only thing T1D patients will have to do is take immunosuppressant drugs to make sure their bodies don’t reject the new cells. That’s a small price to pay to be freed of daily injections. As James Shapiro at the University of Alberta, Canada, told New Scientist, “A limitless source of human insulin-producing cells would be a major step forward on the journey to a potential cure for diabetes.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated. A previous version implied that individuals should take insulin when blood sugar levels are low. This has been updated to note that individuals need insulin when sugar levels are high. 

 
09 Aug 2017

Neuroreality: The New Reality is Coming. And It’s a Brain Computer Interface.

The Virtual World

With the release of the Oculus Rift in March 2016, the age of virtual reality (VR) truly began. VR tech had been generating buzz since the 1990s, but the Rift was the first high-end VR system to reach the consumer market, and early reviews confirmed that it delivered the kind of experience users had been hoping for.

Virtual reality was finally real.

Research into VR exploded in this new era, and experts soon started to find innovative ways to make virtual experiences more immersive…more real. To date, VR technologies have moved beyond just sight and sound. We’ve developed technologies that let users touch virtual objects, feel changes in wind and temperature, and even taste food in VR.

Before we can create a world that is truly indistinguishable from the real one, we will need to leave the age of virtual reality behind and enter a new era — the era of neuroreality.However, despite all this progress, no one would mistake a virtual environment for the real world. The technology simply isn’t advanced enough, and as long as we rely solely on traditional headsets and other wearables, it never will be.

Reality 2.0

Neuroreality refers to a reality that is driven by technologies that interface directly with the human brain. While traditional VR depends on a user physically reacting to external stimuli (for example, swinging a controller to wield a virtual sword on a screen) a neuroreality system interfaces directly with the user’s biology through a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Notably, this technology isn’t some far-flung sci-fi vision. It’s very real.

To rehash the basics: BCIs are a means of connecting our brains to machines, and they can be either invasive (requiring an implant of some sort) or non-invasive (relying on electrodes or other external tech to detect and direct brain signals). Experts have predicted that advances in BCIs will lead to a new era in human evolution, as these devices have the potential to revolutionize how we treat diseases, learn, communicate…in short, they are set to utterly transform how we see and interact with the world around us.

In fact, some companies are already innovating in the newly emerging field of neuroreality.

Founded by physicist Dan Cook in 2013, EyeMynd’s goal is to create a VR system that allows the user to navigate a virtual world simply by thought—no immersion-breaking controller required.

“When you’re in the virtual world—whether you’re playing a game or something else—you don’t want to have to keep thinking about what you’re doing with your hands,” Cook told Digital Trends in November. “It’s much better to have pure brainwave control. It will be a much more satisfying experience and will allow for a much greater level of immersion. You can forget about your live human body, and just focus on what’s going on in front of you.”

Cook likens the experience to dreaming. “In a dream, you can run around without moving your physical legs. That dreaming and imagining creates brain signals that we can read,” he told The Guardian. “With what we want to do, you won’t need eyeballs to see, or ears to hear, or hands and feet. We can bypass all of that.”

EyeMynd’s system is non-invasive, meaning it wouldn’t require the user to undergo any sort of device implantation. Instead, they would wear a headset that includes EEG sensors to track their brainwaves.

Cook’s isn’t the only company exploring the use of brainwave-detecting external tech to make the VR experience feel more seamless. Boston-based startup Neurable, bioinformatics company EMOTIV, and social networking giant Facebook are all working on non-invasive devices that would allow users to navigate the virtual world through thought alone.

However, as Joy Lyons, chief technology officer of audio tech startup OSSICtold Vice at the 2016 VRLA Summer Expo, the ideal hardware for creating a new reality isn’t an external headset, no matter how advanced. It’s “a chip in the brain.”

A World in Your Mind

Earlier this year, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk founded Neuralink, a company with the goal of developing cutting-edge technology that connects a person’s brain to the digital world through an array of implanted electrodes. Shortly before Musk’s announcement, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson announced a similar venture—that he is investing $100 million to unlock the power of the human brain and make our neural code programmable. Johnson’s company, Kernel, is working to create the world’s first neuroprosthesis

Musk himself has predicted that we’ll eventually be able to create computer simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, and if these brain interfaces come to fruition, they could act as the platform through which we experience those simulations, allowing us to not only see a realistic world but touch it and truly feel it.

“There would be no more need for screens of course — because you could just make a virtual screen appear in your visual cortex. Or jump into a VR movie with all your senses,” asserted Urban. “You’ll be able to actually experience almost anything for free.”In a detailed report announcing the launch of Neuralink, Tim Urban described the potential impact of this proposed tech on our understanding of reality. Instead of relying on external hardware like goggles, gloves, and headphones to trick our senses into believing that what we encounter in the virtual world is real, we could program realities that trigger the same parts of our brains that would be engaged if the experiences actually were real.

The same part of your brain that is stimulated when you taste pizza could be triggered to engage when you bite into a slice in this new reality, and the same part that lets you smell the ocean air in reality could  be simulated and provide that feeling while standing on the shore of a virtual Atlantic ocean.

The difference between the real world and the virtual one would be undetectable. For all intents and purposes, a difference would not exist.

Figuring out the tech to actually make this happen won’t be easy, and overcoming the non-tech related obstacles will present an additional challenge (such as developing a comprehensive map of the human brain and all our neurons). Elective brain surgery is an extremely controversial subject, and past experiments haven’t yielded such promising results. Neuralink and like-minded companies will need to engage in years of research before their devices will be ready for human implantation, and even then, they’ll have regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, BCI research is progressing rapidly, so while a system of electrodes that can effectively project an entirely new world directly into our brains might seem like a sci-fi pipe dream, it really shouldn’t. After all, just two decades ago, the virtual reality experience delivered today by the Rift felt woefully out of reach, and now, anyone with $600 can bring it home with them (and the price is dropping at a remarkable rate).

As Cook told The Guardian, we aren’t as far as we may think from the day when navigating virtual worlds using just our thoughts is the norm: “Ten years from now, this will seem obvious.”

References: Digital TrendsWait But WhyForbes, Futurism

29 Jun 2017

A New Gene-Editing Breakthrough Could Forever Change Life on Earth

CRISPR

The discovery of the gene-editing technology CRISPR came, in part, from Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s very profound,” she told NBC News. “It means that we can control human evolution now.”

With collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, Doudna was able to harness a curiosity in the DNA of certain bacteria and help turn CRISPR into the world’s most accessible gene-editing technology. The discovery is detailed in Doudna’s new book titled “A Crack in Creation.”

The Dangers of Gene-Editing

In the book, Doudna says that the days of costly, complicated processes to edit DNA are over. We’re now in an age of CRISPR, and it’s a profoundly simple technique. Doudna compares CRISPR to word-processing software that allows someone to correct a typo in a hefty document.

At the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley where Doudna is executive director, teams of scientists are working to find new approaches to treating disorders like cancer, sickle cell anemia, and some forms of blindness. But CRISPR isn’t limited to Doudna’s lab. Its low cost and ease of use have helped the technology proliferate to labs all over the world.

hiv crispr-cas9 gene editing hiv cure
Image Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

At UT Southwestern in Dallas, Dr. Eric Olson is chasing a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. At an insectary at UC Irvine, Dr. Anthony James has created mosquitoes that can pass on malaria resistance to some of their offspring. At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., CRISPR is being used to pursue a gene-engineered pig with transplantable human organs.

But with the thrill of discovering such a powerful tool came a somber realization. Doudna describes a nightmare: “Hitler was leaning forward and looking at me very intently. And he said, ‘So please tell me about the CRISPR technology.’ And I just felt this chill running down my back.”

Doudna knows better than anyone that with the power to alter evolution comes a daunting responsibility: Make sure it doesn’t get misused.

This Gene-Editing Breakthrough Could Change Life on Earth was originally published by NBC Universal Media, LLC on June 15, 2017 by Munir Atalla and Brenda Breslauer. Copyright 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

30 Apr 2017

Cryogenically Frozen Brains Will Be ‘Woken up’ and Transplanted in Donor Bodies Within Three Years, Neurosurgeon Claims

IN BRIEF

After he attempts the world’s first human head transplant, neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero plans to attempt another world first: reawakening a brain that has been cryogenically frozen.

ONE WORLD’S FIRST AFTER ANOTHER

Given the remarkable advances that have been made in medicine in recent years, it’s hard to believe anything is still truly impossible. Artificial intelligences are diagnosing diseases, real-life cyborgs walk among us, and we’re finding promising new clues on our quest for immortality. Even more remarkable breakthroughs are on the way,  but if any one research team truly faces seemingly insurmountable odds, it has to be that of Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group.
However, the most remarkable news to come out of Canavero’s interview doesn’t have anything to do with the head transplant at all, but what he plans to do afterwards: “As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e., no later than in 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head.”Four years ago, the acclaimed neurosurgeon announced his plan to complete the world’s first human head transplant, and this week, in an interview with OOOM, he confirmed that the controversial operation will take place within the next 10 months. According to Canavero, the operation will occur in Harbin, China, with Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical University leading the surgical team, and contrary to previous reports, a Chinese citizen, not Russian Valery Spiridonov, will be the recipient of a donor body.

LIFE AFTER DEATH?

Canavero plans to remove the brain from a head that has been frozen at -196 degrees Celsius (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) and submerged in liquid nitrogen. He’ll then place the brain in a donor body in an attempt to effectively bring the patient back from the dead and, in the process, clear up humanity’s questions about the afterlife.

“If we bring this person back to life, we will receive the first real account of what actually happens after death,” said Canavero. “The head transplant gives us the first insight into whether there is an afterlife, a heaven, a hereafter, or whatever you may want to call it or whether death is simply a flicking off of the light switch and that’s it.”

Clearly, this is the stuff of science fiction, and the medical community — and society at large — has every reason to be very skeptical of its potential for success.

“The advocates of cryogenics are unable to cite any study in which a whole mammalian brain … has been resuscitated after storage in liquid nitrogen,” Clive Coen, Professor of Neuroscience at King’s College London, told The Telegraph, adding, “Irreversible damage is caused during the process of taking the mammalian brain into sub-zero temperatures.”

Even if it did work and the frozen brain did “wake up,” there’s no telling what kinds of complications the patient could experience, from decreased mental faculties to unimaginable mental trauma. Though we do now live in a world in which the seemingly impossible is becoming possible, some experiments might be better suited for works of sci-fi than modern hospitals.

23 Apr 2017

Facebook Engineer Asserts That Augmented Reality Will Replace Smartphones in 5 Years

IN BRIEF

At Facebook’s developer conference last week, Oculus Research predicted that AR glasses would replace smartphones in the near future. The ability to augment reality is just one of the futuristic technologies Facebook is working on.

AUGMENTING TECHNOLOGIES

Last week, Facebook’s annual developer conference (FB8) gave us a glimpse of the future. While most of the announcements made during the event were meant for developers, it doesn’t take a techie to understand how they will impact the lives of Facebook’s more than 90 million consumers.

Manahel Thabet - VR, AR, And MR: What’s The Difference? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

One of the most interesting project announcements came from Facebook’s uber-secretive Building 8 (B8). The division is currently working on a top-secret brain-computer interface (BCI) similar to Elon Musk’s neuralink, but that BCI project isn’t the only “future tech” Facebook currently has in the works.

According to Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus Research, super augmented reality (AR) glasses could replace smartphones as the everyday computing gadget in the next five years.

AUGMENTING REALITIES

It’s definitely not an outlandish prediction. Abrash explained that despite all the current hype around AR, the tech hasn’t yet reached its defining moment. “[I]t will be five years at best before we’re really at the start of the ramp to widespread, glasses-based augmented reality, before AR has its Macintosh moment,” he said on Day 2 of FB8.

Widespread adoption, however, would take a few more years. “20 or 30 years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we’ll wear stylish glasses,” claimed Abrash. “Those glasses will offer [virtual reality], AR, and everything in between, and we’ll use them all day.”

Manahel Thabet
Image credit: Facebook, screenshot

If Facebook’s Oculus team has any say, these super AR glasses would be capable of far more than just augmenting reality. They could give the user “superpowers” by enhancing the wearer’s memory, providing them with instant foreign and sign language translation, and isolating and muting distracting sounds and noise.

Facebook isn’t the only company invested in AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also been rather bullish about AR as the technology of the future, and with so many tech behemoths involved, five years seems like a completely realistic timeline for tech that will change everything about reality as we know it. After that, it’ll be on to combining these AR glasses with BCI, and that’s a truly high-tech future worth waiting for.

09 Apr 2017

New Bio-Sensing Contact Lenses Will Utterly Transform Our Lives

IN BRIEF

One day, your regular old contact lenses could serve as non-invasive diagnostic device, thanks to innovative new biosensors.

BIO-SENSING CONTACT LENS

Using ultra-thin transistor technology, researchers from Oregon State University have found a way to design contact lenses capable of registering information about the wearer’s physiological state.

The prototype thus far is only able to detect blood glucose levels, but that could be particularly useful for many patients, particularly those who are diabetic. If the lenses can actively detect physiological changes — like a rise or drop in blood sugar — and subsequently alert the wearer, the implications as a medical device would be clear.

The researchers developed a biosensor with transparent sheet of IGZO transistors and glucose oxidase as a prototype. The mechanism of the biosensor would ideally function by the enzyme oxidizing the blood sugar when it comes into contact with it. This would cause a shift in PH levels which would in turn elicit a change in the electrical current flowing through the transistors. That means the sensors would ideally be able to detect even the smallest levels of glucose concentrations, which are present in tears.

 

NONINVASIVE DIAGNOSTIC DEVICE

These futuristic contact lenses are still very much in the prototype phase, though the researchers hope to complete animal testing in the coming year. Even though they won’t be hitting pharmacy shelves anytime soon, given that researchers have access to the technology they need to create their noninvasive diagnostic device, the turnaround could be quick in the grand scheme of development, clinical trials, and approval. Beyond just making it available with glucose-detecting capabilities, researchers are optimistic that it will be able to one day be used to monitor other medical conditions, and perhaps even detect cancer.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Gregory Herman notes that:

There is a fair amount of information that can be monitored in a teardrop. Of course, there is glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.

While the sensors are in development, researchers haven’t yet managed to attach them to the contact lenses. But the biomedical tech industry is already abuzz with interest: the researchers have published their work in several journals, including Nanoscale, and have presented at theNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.