Tag: medicine

Apps and gadgets for the ‘Blade Runner’ future we didn’t ask for

Punks, monks and Harrison Ford running scared through a poisonous cityscape were just a few of the details that made the original Blade Runner feel like its environment was a standalone character in the film. It felt as alien and familiar as the way we live today, with an environment turning against us, a government that couldn't care less, and a corporate ruling class that would make the Tyrell Corporation jealous.

The dystopian world of Blade Runner felt like it had naturally come to be. Unlike the version of Blade Runner we seem to be living in now, which feels like someone threw a switch at New Year's, and surprise, we're living in hell. Suddenly we have to catch up to living in dystopian fiction really fast, lest we die from fires, hurricanes, connected Nazis or nuclear war. So it's probably best that we use every bit of tech to our advantage so we make it to the next noodle bar, as it were.

Roy Batty's survival kit

Despite the best efforts of our federal government to deny it, climate change is real and the planet has had enough of our foolishness. From hurricane destruction to extreme heat and cold, everyone needs to plan for a local disaster -- at the very least. The way things are now, with fires and floods, and even hurricanes hitting Ireland, it seems like we need to prepare for everything. But not everyone can afford a survival pod.

Survival kits start with the basics: A "go bag" to keep by the exit, a kit (or extra supplies) for staying in your house, and an off-site stash in case you have to literally run from disaster (such as a "car kit"). Pick one, or all three if you have the luxury. The American Red Cross has a good starting list, while the Disaster Supply Center has a multitude of readymade kits.

Now that we're living in a Blade Runner future on Krack, we'll have to fill in the details of true life in a future gone wrong. Like many in Northern California, this past week set a record for locals comparing life in San Francisco to existing in the film itself. That had a lot to do with the fires, which have us investing in daily-wear face masks and conditioned to air quality worse than Shanghai. We realize that we're just catching up with the rest of the world in so many ways in terms of life with poisoned air.

Prep your cyberpet

On the Set of 'Blade Runner'

As Pris surely knew, real animals are rare in Blade Runner's universe. Animals were the first to start dying of the pollution which pushed humans Off-World. From fires to dust to gale-force winds, or bombs, your kit needs a face mask with N95 and N100 ratings.

Sure, you can get any old thing at the hardware store or Amazon, but this is the future. You can take advantage of living in a time when even product designers are allergic to everything, and get an air mask fit for a city dweller. In many instances, these nouveau air-pollution masks are better than what you'll get in that prepper survival kit.

Great daily use (or temporary daily use) masks that look good are now a competitive market. For the Cal Fires, a number of SF locals grabbed a Vogmask off Amazon for getting around town. Other recommended masks that will make you actually want to wear it are those from Airinum and the Cambridge Mask Co.

If Pris had survived her encounter with Deckard, she'd surely have an animal companion -- and the gear to make her darling doggo or kitteh ready for anything. For starters, she'd make sure that sweet little manufactured beast stayed far away from any actual blade runners with GPS tracking. One option is the Whistle Pet Tracker; internet famous travel cat Willow stays connected with the Tabcat tracker and a long-range (no cell service needed) MarcoPolo Tracking System.

Pris would also have a Pet First Aid Kit, certainly, but for the oppressive heat in a climate gone wrong, she'd own a swamp cooler pup jacket or a canine cooling harness. Or like me, she'd have read about the woman fleeing the Cal Fires who put her 80-lb pit bull in a backpack and bicycled to safety, and would want a quick escape solution -- like a U-Pet escape pod.

Off-World isn't yet an option

Blade Runner

Fire is one thing, but looking at recent events, everyone will probably need waterproof everything. When you can, get a waterproof (or water-resistant) case for all your devices, or try to invest in the newest versions of things like the Kindle, which is now waterproof.

Harrison Ford's character Deckard drank whiskey -- Johnny Walker Black Label, to be precise -- so that's one way you might be able to avoid the poisonous drinking water of our collective future. For those who may find this impractical for daily applications, a top-end water filtration device is the gadget you want. The most advanced consumer model is the MSR Guardian™ Purifier, but day trippers living in the future-now will want a handheld UV water purifier like the SteriPen.

Your biggest asset in a dystopian climate change emergency might just be your backups. You can make your backup with a reputable cloud service, like Crashplan or iCloud. But to be safe from today's security threats, you should have a secure backup hard drive that you keep at home (or in another safe place) and one that you can grab and go.

This portable drive can hold copies of everything you might have to leave behind, from family photos to scans of your passport. It should also be waterproof, shock-proof, and password protected. The gold standard for this type of external hard drive is IOSafe, which claims to also be fireproof. For a small drive to keep in a bag, in case the replicant hunters come looking for you or a hurricane strikes out of nowhere, consider a Silicon Power drive, with small versions storing up to 4TB.

Power will be a concern, no matter if you're in a sci-fi climate disaster future or just on the go in our Blade Runner day-to-day lives. For those who are oppressed by the sun, solar chargers are now easy to use and take everywhere with you. Adafruit's DIY solar charger tutorials will have your devices constantly charged, and can help you keep others charged as well.

If your modern-day Blade Runner experience doesn't include DIY tinkering, the American Red Cross FRX3+ All Purpose Weather and Radio Charger has it all. It includes a NOAA AM/FM weather alert radio, LED flashlight, a charger via its USB port, and it stays powered for a week when fully charged via hand crank, its solar panel, or its 2600 mAh rechargeable battery.

Alcon Entertainment

Apps for humans and replicants alike

One of the apps that made day to day living safe in the Bay Area over the past two weeks was AirVisual's air quality app. More immediate than local alerts, it let us know when we needed to wear masks to go to the grocery store, and when we'd expect to get a break with some fresh air.

That said, many were stuck inside worrying how fast we were dying from the air in our apartments. That's where the AirVisual Pro would come in handy, showing inside air quality as well as that outside our doors. Yet, inside is really where it counts in polluted dystopias like ours, which is why an air purifier is probably the "coolest" gift anyone can give in this coming holiday season. For the most tech-inclined, Dyson's pricey hot-cool air purifier is definitely the Cadillac of purifiers, and comes with its own app to help you monitor your space.

Radiation wasn't an influence on the original Blade Runner's storytelling, but it might be in ours. In case our dystopia takes a Fallout 4 turn, Idaho National Laboratory scientists created an Android app for detecting radiation -- and they tested it on several different smartphone models (Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung SIII and LG Nexus 4).

The CellRAD app wasn't released to the public, but a similar app called Radiation Alarm works on the same functionality. It uses an Android's camera app to detect gamma radiation, as long as you follow the instructions closely (and keep the camera covered to get a reading).

There are apps I wish I'd had before the fires, and apps I've found that make me glad I'm installing them now. Climate change has made Weather alert apps completely invaluable. Weather Underground, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, RainAware, and Hurricane by the American Red Cross would've helped me decide to get an air purifier in time, and will probably save me and my replicant cat before the next disaster.

It's too bad that IBM's mesh network weather alert app isn't available in America yet, but I'm setting an alert to download it when it can help us out. This will negate the need to have cell service to get alerts, and I wonder how many lives it might've saved this year so far.

Should hurricanes hit San Francisco, or if Deckard comes looking for me and my friends, I've now got the Red Panic Button. This app sends email, text, and GPS coordinates to trusted contacts in the event of an emergency, as well as notifying 911. The "ICE" app (In Case of Emergency) from American Red Cross keeps an unlocked medical alert on the lockscreen of my phone, just in case.

While we're on the subject, the American Red Cross has its problems, but the apps they provide are invaluable. Those include a Shelter Finder app, a hurricane/wildfire/earthquake app, and their first aid apps. The medial aid apps come in both human and pet versions, and they are stored offline should you end up without cell service and need to save a fellow replicant's life.

Some might say that Blade Runner was just a movie. But for the rest of us, it's suddenly a way of life, and also a guide to survival. Hopefully this little guide helps, too.

Images: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty); Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images (Joanna Cassidy as Zhora Salome with Snake); Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos as Deckard and Gaff); Alcon Entertainment / Blade Runner 2049 (Weather display)


Gene therapy for advanced lymphoma gets FDA approval

People with advanced lymphoma now have another type of treatment to consider. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Yescarta, a cell-based gene therapy designed to treat large B-cell lymphoma created by Kite Pharma. It's the second time the FDA has approved a gene therapy for use in the US following a procedure meant to treat leukemia earlier this year.

The therapy requires a patient's T-Cells, one type of white blood cells, to be harvested and modified. These engineered cells are designed to be attracted to a certain protein in tumor cells in order to kill them. Due to the complex nature of the procedure, a healthcare professional will have to go through training to be able to administer the pricey treatment -- The Wall Street Journal says it will cost patients around $373,000.

Kite Pharma conducted a multicenter clinical trial involving 101 adults with relapsed large B-cell lymphoma to convince the FDA to give the therapy its approval. The tumors in 72 percent of the test subjects shrunk and even disappeared completely in 51 percent of the subjects. Despite being effective, the therapy can only be used if a patient has relapsed or failed to respond to at least two different kinds of treatment. That's because Yescarta could cause pretty severe and life-threatening side effects, including anemia and low white blood cell counts. The worst possible reaction to the therapy? It's none other than death: according to The WSJ, Kite Pharma determined that the deaths of two of its test subjects were related to the treatment.

Source: FDA, Gilead


Artificial pancreas uses your phone to counter diabetes

If you live with type 1 diabetes, you have to constantly keep track of your blood sugar levels and give yourself just the right amount of insulin. It's arduous, and more than a little frightening when you know that the wrong dose could have serious consequences. However, researchers might have a way to let diabetics focus on their everyday lives instead of pumps and needles. They've successfully trialed an artificial pancreas system that uses an algorithm on a smartphone to automatically deliver appropriate levels of insulin. The mobile software tells the 'organ' (really an insulin pump and glucose monitor) to regulate glucose levels based on criteria like activity, meals and sleep, and it refines its insulin control over time by learning from daily cycles. Effectively, it's trying to behave more like the pancreas of a person without diabetes.

The simulated pancreas isn't trying to hit a fixed glucose level, we'd add. Rather, it's trying to keep that level within an acceptable range based on a predictive model.

The trial results were promising. A 12-week test saw "significant" improvements, including reduced levels of a key hemoglobin and less time spent in a hypoglycemic state. And these were already disciplined patients who knew how to take care of themselves -- the algorithm was one step ahead of them. This doesn't mean that diabetics will never have to think about insulin again, and there's still plenty of testing and approvals necessary before an artificial pancreas like this can reach the market. If it does, though, it could reduce some of the stress in diabetics' lives.

Source: Harvard, Diabetes Care


FDA-approved robot assistant gives surgeons force feedback

Surgeons are trained to accurately operate on you when you need it, but robotic assistants could help them get to hard-to-reach areas and boost their accuracy even more. Senhance, the robotic surgical assistant that has just earned the FDA's approval, was designed to accomplish both of those. The machine can help surgeons carry out minimally invasive surgery -- in fact, the FDA has approved its use because after a pilot test involving 150 patients, the agency has concluded that Senhance is as accurate as the da Vinci robot when it came to gynecological and colorectal procedures.

According to TransEnterix, the company that developed the machine, it's the first surgical assistant for the abdominal area to get the FDA's approval since 2000. The company claims it's also the first one with eye tracking and force feedback. As you can see above, surgeons sit behind a console with a 3D view of the site of operation to control three surgical arms. Senhance's camera can follow their eye movements and show what they'd be looking at if they were manually performing the surgery on screen. The machine's controllers can also make surgeons feel the stiffness of the tissue they're operating on.

Now that Senhance has been approved by the FDA, you'll likely start seeing it -- from afar, we hope, and not while you're on the operating table -- in hospitals across the US. Here's a sample procedure being performed with the machine's help if you'd like to watch it in action.

Source: FDA, TransEnterix


Edible sensor can measure your gut from within

Studying the stomach for a long period can be tricky, which is why medical tech has turned to experimenting with sensors you can swallow. Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have built one designed to cling to the walls of the gastrointestinal tract and monitor its contractions to track afflictions.

There, the sensor can measure atypical movement, like food slowdown potentially caused by gastrointestinal disorders. Or they could help doctors monitor food intake for patients treated for obesity. The team reported their research in the latest issue of the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The sensors themselves are made from piezoelectric materials, which generate a current and voltage when they're bent out of shape. They also contain polymers that imitate the elasticity of human skin, so when the gastrointestinal walls they cling to flex and stretch, so do they. Plus, they're robust enough to survive up to two days during tests, when the researchers immersed the sensors in the stomachs of pigs.

In the future, the researchers hope to harness the sensor's piezoelectric potential -- i.e., generating energy whenever the device flexes to power other features. Such sensors of the future might not even need batteries and rely on the motion of the human body.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: MIT News


Anti-doping agency to ban gene editing starting in 2018

Anti-doping agencies are constantly playing whack-a-mole with cheating, as new drugs pop up as soon as tests are found for the old ones. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) now says it wants to to crush a new one before it grows into a monster: Gene-editing. Starting next year, the list of banned substances includes "gene editing agents designed to alter genome sequences and/or the transcriptional or epigenetic regulation of gene expression," the agency says.

If you're thinking that sounds a lot like CRISPR gene editing, the new rule seems to be targeting just that. As it stands, WADA already bars genetically modified cells and other types of gene therapy that can enhance performance, the existing rules don't cover CRISPR-type methods.

The agency said that certain types of gene therapy might be allowed, as long as they don't significantly enhance athletic prowess. "Generally, performance enhancement implies enhancement beyond a return to normal, although you may appreciate that this is not always easy to prove definitively," WADA spokesperson Maggie Durand told New Scientist.

WADA seems to be well ahead of any actual cheating. Only one CRISPR trial with humans has been completed, a form of lung cancer treatment at Sichuan University in China -- though dozens more are planned in the nation. Unlike regular drug doping, CRISPR requires sophisticated, expensive equipment and techniques, so it's not like shady MDs can do it their garages -- for now.

It's a good thing that WADA doesn't have anyone to catch yet, because it doesn't really seem to have any detection methods, either. When quizzed by New Scientist (Engadget has reached, out too) about how it plans to catch gene-editing cheaters, the agency had no response. It's been working on techniques to detect such doping for over ten years, but only came up with a single test least year. For now, the best method might be the "biological passport" that can detect significant changes in an athlete's body.

Via: New Scientist

Source: WADA


Scientists create ‘tooth cracker’ device to harvest stem cells

That pesky wisdom tooth you're glad you got rid of is apparently a great source of stem cells that could save lives. However, it's not easy getting to the tooth root pulp that contains those cells: drilling into the tooth generates damaging heat that lowers the number of cells that can be harvested. In addition, the water used to rinse the tooth could have corrosive elements and the enamel particulates from the drilling could contaminate the pulp. To solve that issue, a team of researchers from the University of Nevada Las Vegas have developed a device they hilarious call the "Tooth Cracker 5000" to extract 80 percent of the stem cells a pulp contains.

The "Tooth Cracker 5000" has a clamp that holds a tooth in place while a blade carefully cracks it. This method doesn't damage or contaminate the pulp and results in a perfectly halved tooth -- the team proved that the technique is effective by testing it on 25 teeth samples and achieving a 100 percent success rate. The scientists were able to harvest 80 percent of those sample pulps' stem cells, which is four times more than what you could typically extract from a pulp that was extracted by drilling or shattering teeth.

Dr. James Mah, team leader and director of UNLV's advanced education program in orthodontics, said:

"Saying the test results were promising is a gross understatement. We realized we'd invented an extraction process that produced four times the recovery success rate for viable stem cells. The potential application is enormous."

Stem cells, as you might know, can transform into other cells and have the potential to be used as treatments for various diseases. They could turn into neurons, for instance, and be used to treat people suffering from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. They could also turn into cells that produce insulin for patients with diabetes. Most stem cell therapies are still experimental, though. That's why the next step for Mah and his team has something to do with preserving them: they're thinking of developing a cryogenic process to freeze stem cells harvested from teeth for future use.

Source: University of Nevada Las Vegas


FDA clears implant that treats severe sleep apnea

Sleep apnea (where your brain doesn't properly send breathing signals while resting) is horrible enough by itself, but the solutions to it can be scary: you may have to take medication, rely on ungainly breathing machines or opt for invasive surgery. You might have a gentler treatment going forward, though. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved an implantable device, Respicardia's Remede System, that fights more serious cases of sleep apnea.

The hardware amounts to a battery pack (slipped under your skin in the upper chest) and wires that enter the blood vessels near the nerve that stimulates your breathing. If you stop breathing normally in mid-sleep, Remede stimulates that nerve to move your diaphragm and keep you breathing. Think of it as an on-demand jumpstart for your respiratory system.

This isn't a surefire fix. While there's evidence that Remede works, only about half of study subjects saw the hoped-for dramatic reduction in breathing problems. Also, it can't be used for obstructive sleep apnea (where the upper airway is blocked), people with active infections or those who need MRI scans. An implant is better than having to wear bulky equipment to bed, however, and even a modest improvement could add years to your life.

Source: FDA


Amazon is thinking of selling medicine online

There might come a time when you can order prescription meds with household items and groceries from Amazon. According to CNBC, the e-retail giant is thinking of breaking into the pharmacy business, and it will have to decide if it wants to push through with it before Thanksgiving. Eric French, Amazon's grocery and Pantry chief, reportedly ramped up hiring for the project dubbed "healthcare" this past year and consulted with "dozens of people."

CNBC reported a few months ago that the company even hired Mark Lyons from nonprofit health insurance company Premera Blue Cross to create an internal pharmacy benefit manager to serve its employees. It's apparently possible for that project's success to determine whether Amazon will launch its pharmacy business.

While the retail titan is in the final stages of conjuring up a viable strategy for the new business, it won't be delivering meds to your home anytime soon. In case it does decide to push through, it has to hire drug supply chain experts to add to the team before it can do anything. Some analysts think it'll take a year or two before the company can announce the new venture, and it could initially team up with a pharmacy benefits manager instead of going straight for drug delivery.

Via: CNET

Source: CNBC


Researchers create a fast-sealing surgical ‘glue’ for closing wounds

Closing up wounds typically calls for sutures or staples, but neither are able to create a complete seal. And when it comes to internal injuries that are harder to get to and wounds on organs that move a significant amount, such as lungs, treatment becomes even more difficult. Sealants offer a solution to those problems, but none of those available meet all of the requirements of an effective surgical tool. However, researchers have just developed a new type of sealant that may actually check all of the boxes. Their work was published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

"A good surgical sealant needs to have a combination of characteristics: it needs to be elastic, adhesive, non-toxic and biocompatible," Nasim Annabi, an author of the study and a researcher at Northeastern University, said in a statement. "Most sealants on the market possess one or two of these characteristics, but not all of them. We set out to engineer a material that could have all of these properties." Their product, dubbed MeTro, is biocompatible because it's created with proteins similar to those that make up elastin in humans and changing the concentrations of those proteins in the sealant allowed the researchers to create MeTro hydrogels with a range of different elasticities. Further, MeTro sets in just 60 seconds with the help of a UV light.

MeTro was tested in rats by using it to seal incisions in arteries and punctures in lungs. It was also able to successfully seal wounds in pig lungs even during repeated inflations and deflations. The next step is to test the sealant in people.

"The potential applications are powerful, from treating serious internal wounds at emergency sites such as following car accidents and in war zones, as well as improving hospital surgeries," said Anthony Weiss, a researcher at the University of Sydney and an author of the study.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: Science Translational Medicine