Monthly Archives: July 2008

Animal tissue rejection advance

Scientists have found a way to overcome the problem of the human body rejecting animal parts used in transplants.

The work, by the University of Leeds, means the use of animal tissue such as blood vessels, tendons and bladders may become common in surgery.

Human organs for transplant are constantly in short supply, meaning long waits for many patients.

Currently, the use of animal tissue for human transplant is restricted, and of limited effectiveness.

For instance, chemically treated heart valves from pigs have been transplanted into patients for more than a decade, but have a limited life span as they are inert and cannot be populated by the patient’s own cells, and ruling out any possibility of repair to damage.

This poses a particular problem for young patients, as the valves do not grow with the child, and must be replaced frequently.

The Leeds team used a combination of freezing, chemical baths and ultrasound to strip the animal tissue of the cells and biological molecules that trigger a response from the immune system.

This left a biological scaffold which could then be populated by cells from a patient’s own body, creating a tissue which carries no risk of rejection, which can be repaired, and which can grow with the body.

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Drug for deadly prostate cancer

Scientists are hailing a new drug to treat aggressive prostate cancer as potentially the most significant advance in the field for 70 years.

Abiraterone could potentially treat up to 80% of patients with a deadly form of the disease resistant to currently available chemotherapy, they say.

The drug works by blocking the hormones which fuel the cancer.

The Institute of Cancer Research hopes a simple pill form will be available in two to three years.

Richard Pflaum talks about his trial of Abiraterone

An advanced clinical trial involving 1,200 patients around the world is currently under way, with more trials likely later this year.

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Could a Contact Lens Save Your Vision?

Drug dispenser?

Soon contact lenses won’t just correct eyesight; they could save your vision.

By applying electrically conductive, antibiotic nanosilver particles to contact lenses, researchers at the University of California, Davis, can continuously map the pressure inside a human eye while administering medication directly and painlessly into it.

The new lenses promise to advance understanding of diseases like glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, and could save the eyesight of millions, say the researchers.

“It would be really helpful to measure the pressure inside the eye continuously,” said Tingrui Pan, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of a paper describing the lenses in Advanced Functional Materials.

Pressure inside the eye, the leading indication of glaucoma, can vary widely from day to day, even minute to minute. Currently, doctors only measure pressure every few months (depending on the patient), said James Brandt, a physician at UC Davis who is involved in the research.

“Compare that to another chronic disease like diabetes, where we can have blood sugar measurements several times a day,” he added.

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My own contact lenses have been bugging the crap out of me for as long as I can remember.

Every time a new and better generation of contacts is brought to the market, my life gets a tiny bit more comfortable.

Just imagine… contacts that work with you, instead of against you.

We’ve seen the future … and we may not be doomed

UN report finds life is getting better for people worldwide – but that governments are failing to grasp the opportunities offered at ‘a unique time’. Geoffrey Lean and Jonathan Owen report

Humanity stands on the threshold of a peaceful and prosperous future, with an unprecedented ability to extend lifespans and increase the power of ordinary people – but is likely to blow it through inequality, violence and environmental degradation. And governments are not equipped to ensure that the opportunities are seized and disasters averted.

So says a massive new international report, due to be published late this month, and obtained by The Independent on Sunday. Backed by organisations ranging from Unesco to the US army, the World Bank to the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2008 State of the Future report runs to 6,300 pages and draws on contributions from 2,500 experts around the globe.

Its warning is all the more stark for eschewing doom and gloom. “The future continues to get better for most of the world,” it concludes, “but a series of tipping points could drastically alter global prospects.”

It goes on. “This is a unique time in history. Mobile phones, the internet, international trade, language translation and jet planes are giving birth to an interdependent humanity that can create and implement global strategies to improve [its] prospects. It is increasingly clear that the world has the resources to address our common challenges. Ours is the first generation with the means for many to know the world as a whole, identify global improvement systems, and seek to improve [them].”

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Hoping Two Drugs Carry a Side Effect: Longer Life

Sirtris has two drugs in clinical trials. One is being tested against Type 2 diabetes, one of the many diseases of aging that the company’s scientists hope the drugs will avert. With success against just one such disease, the impact on health “could be possibly transformational,” said Dr. Patrick Vallance, head of drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline.

The new drugs are called sirtuin activators, meaning that they activate an enzyme called sirtuin. The basic theory is that all or most species have an ancient strategy for riding out famines: switch resources from reproduction to tissue maintenance. A healthy diet but with 30 percent fewer calories than usual triggers this reaction in mice and is the one intervention that reliably increases their life span. The mice seem to live longer because they are somehow protected from the usual diseases that kill them.

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Could this be the beginning of a massive tidlewave?

Will life extension follow the same path as solar is doing right now?

MIT identifies cells for spinal-cord repair

A researcher at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory has pinpointed stem cells within the spinal cord that, if persuaded to differentiate into more healing cells and fewer scarring cells following an injury, may lead to a new, non-surgical treatment for debilitating spinal-cord injuries.

The work, reported in the July issue of the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology, is by Konstantinos Meletis, a postdoctoral fellow at the Picower Institute, and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Their results could lead to drugs that might restore some degree of mobility to the 30,000 people worldwide afflicted each year with spinal-cord injuries.

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I know somebody who’s paraplegic (paralysed from the neck down). Every time I read stuff like this, I pass it on to him right away.

Puts a little smile on my face every time.

Intel: Human and computer intelligence will merge in 40 years

At Intel Corp., just passing its 40th anniversary and with myriad chips in its historical roster, a top company exec looks 40 years into the future to a time when human intelligence and machine intelligence have begun to merge.

Justin Rattner, CTO and a senior fellow at Intel, told Computerworld that perhaps as early as 2012 we’ll see the lines between human and machine intelligence begin to blur. Nanoscale chips or machines will move through our bodies, fixing deteriorating organs or unclogging arteries. Sensors will float around our internal systems monitoring our blood sugar levels and heart rates, and alerting doctors to potential health problems.

Virtual worlds will become increasingly realistic, while robots will develop enough intelligence and human-like characteristics that they’ll become companions, not merely vacuum cleaners and toys.

Most aspects of our lives, in fact, will be very different as we close in on the year 2050. Computing will be less about launching applications and more about living lives in which computers are inextricably woven into our daily activities.

“What we think of as a computer and what we think of as IT, in general, is likely to change,” said Rattner, who has been at Intel for 35 of the company’s 40 years. “The intelligent systems will move from being information systems to intelligent systems that will carry out a whole variety of tasks that we just won’t think of as computing tasks…. The technology will find its way into so many things we do, and we won’t even think about it. The explicit way we’ve done computing in the past will be there, but it will be a very small subset of what we’ll be doing.”

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How can you predict that the merger will happen in 40 years, while also saying it will start in 2012.

If it starts in 2012, I’d say we’re going to get ‘there’ one helluva lot quicker than 40 years.

Intel Launches System-on-a-Chip Design “Tolopai”

Intel launched its new embedded x86 system-on-a-chip (SoC) today, and in doing so, moved a small step closer toward eventually competing head-to-head with ARM. Formally, the new SoC platform is known as the Intel EP80579 Integrated Processor Family, but the project was code-named Tolapai, and that name trips off the tongue more readily. Tolapai isn’t just a new integrated SoC; it’s Intel’s first volley into a mobile and “embedded” market space that the company believes will grow enormously in the coming years. Unlike how ARM and other companies use the term, when Intel talks about “embedded systems,” the company isn’t just referring to point-of-sale terminals or industrial applications, but to a category of what it refers to as mobile Internet devices (MIDs).

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U.S. Takes Global Lead in Wind Energy Production

Thanks to blow-hard winds, the United States has just become the world’s largest generator of wind energy.

Germany previously held this distinction, though since the United States has about 26 times more land than Germany, the milestone isn’t a huge surprise. Nonetheless, we weren’t expected to reach this point until late 2009.

“Our wind energy capacity is growing faster than anyplace else,” said Randall Swisher, the executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, the national trade organization for the wind energy industry. “So it’s no longer really alternative energy. This is very mainstream.”

During the first half of 2008, the United States, for the first time, generated more wind energy electricity than Germany, despite the fact that the smaller European country still has more turbines than we do.

Germany has enough turbines to collect about 22,000 to 23,000 megawatts of power, while the United States has a capacity of about 18,000 megawatts, Swisher said.

“The difference is that because the winds are so much stronger here in the U.S. we are actually providing more wind-generated electricity than Germany,” Swisher told LiveScience. “Our turbines are so much more productive that theirs.”

Though we are winning the race in terms of volume of wind energy produced, we are far behind when it comes to the proportion of our total energy we get from wind.

While wind currently supplies about 1.2 percent of the United States’ power, it accounts for about 7 percent of Germany’s total energy consumption. And the even-smaller country of Denmark gets roughly 20 percent of its energy form wind.

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How refreshing to post something about alternative energy that is not solar!

I always thought solar would be the main deliverer of renewable energy. But Mr. T. Boone Pickens seems to think different.

It’s all fine with me. As long as my energy bills are coming down.